We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”
10 And again it is said,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Over the last three weeks we have learned two significant core principles that Paul seeks to communicate to the Roman church in the final chapters of his letter. The first core principle is “agape love,” which is self-sacrificial love, the love of Christ, and it is what Paul tells the church to exhibit toward each other. The second core principle was “non-judgment.” Rather than making ourselves the judge over another person’s life, instead we seek to judge ourselves. Non-judgment relies on us having a grasp on issues that are primary and secondary and a willingness to allow others to be different than we are, which takes a great deal of emotional maturity.
So, agape-centered non-judgment in views will lead us to a couple of things. First, last week we saw that agape-centered non-judgmental views will lead us towards sacrificing our preferences for the good of others. In particular, agape-centered non-judgment may lead us to not engage in some perfectly fine behaviors because people we know and love view those behaviors as sinful. So, in Paul’s view, it is not only better, but it is a sign of love for you to make some personal sacrifices so that another person might grow in their faith and spiritual maturity.
The second thing Paul says is that agape-centered non-judgment will lead us toward the virtue of patience. But, his language surrounding patience isn’t suggestive; it is imperative. In other words, Paul’s not saying, “I hope you do this;” he is saying, “you must do this.” Look at verse 1:
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
So, remember, Paul has presented this delineation between the strong and the weak. Both the strong and the weak are Christians, but the strong are those who are more spiritually mature. I think Paul’s language notes that he considers himself one of the strong, which is probably a good thing since he was an apostle. But, note this, Paul believes that the cost of being a strong Christian is that you have a responsibility to those who are weak. Now, he’s already scratched the surface of this topic by talking about how critical it is that the strong don’t persist in activities the weak view as sin, but now he takes it a step further. Here’s what I think he is saying, “if you are a ‘strong’ Christian, then you need to operate as a servant to those who are weak.” You need to sacrifice your preferences, even if your preferences aren’t sinful, and you need to have patience with the weak Christians when they fail or fall into sin. Now, let’s pull back and consider the implications of this:
Who do you think is going to “fail” more often? Well, a weak Christian is probably going to fall into sin more often than a strong Christian.
So, Paul says: “Strong Christians, you quite possibly have other weak Christians telling you that some of the things that you are doing are sinful, even though they are not. Rather than trying to simply prove that you are right and they are wrong, you should actually change your behavior so as not to impede their spiritual growth. You should take the high road. But, also recognize, that while these weak Christians are calling out your non-sin as sin, they also will be falling into their own actual sin. And, the temptation will be for you to crush them or punish them or judge them in their failings because you are miffed that they would question you or your actions. But, despite that temptation, you have to stay on the high road and embrace and practice the foundational Christian discipline of patience. Because, as a strong Christian, you have an obligation to the weak.”
I’m reading a fascinating book right now called “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church,” and I’m going to talk about this book when we meet for our book club on January 12 because it dovetails perfectly with “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” But, in the book, theologian Alan Kreider contends that one of the primary practices for the early church was the practice of patience. And, you’ll see that word translated in a variety of forms in the New Testament. Sometimes it’s “patience,” or “endurance,” or “steadfastness,” or “longsuffering.” All of these words relate to the virtue of patience, and the New Testament paints it as a mark of true faith. Now, here’s why this is critical: Kreider quotes the second century Greek philosopher Justin Martyr in talking about the example of patience:
“Justin notes that his community doesn’t consider people true Christians if they simply quote Christ’s teachings but don’t live them. Jesus himself had insisted on this: ‘Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord…but only the one who does the will of my Father.” (Matt. 7:21). Further, Justin believes that the effectiveness of Christian witness depends on the integrity of the believers’ lifestyles.”
Now, we actually say this all the time when we say that we exist to “declare and demonstrate the gospel in all of life.” In other words, we don’t just exist to tell people about the gospel, we exist to show people the gospel as well. For the early church, which was marginalized and persecuted, the demonstration of the gospel was perhaps even more valuable than the proclamation of it because who was going to listen to their words first? No, if society was going to be swayed, it had to be compelled by actions not just words. And, note, this is exactly what God has done for us as well by sending Christ. God didn’t just give us a Bible. He gave us his embodied, incarnate son who demonstrated the love we read about by going to the cross even while we were sinners. Or to put that another way, he showed us his agape for us by bearing with us and our sin and, rather than judging and punishing us, sacrificing himself on our behalf.
That language of bearing with the sin of another person is carrying language. I’m carrying your sin; I’m “bearing” it. Which, again, is a way of emulating Christ. There is an old hymn called “I Stand Amazed in the Presence,” and there is a stanza that reads:
He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered, and died alone.
That is what Christ has done. Now, notice the distinction here: he didn’t validate our sin. He didn’t affirm our sin. He endured our sin so that we would see his example of endurance, so that we would see his patience and turn to him in faith. In other words, Jesus’ faithful actions lead us to redemption. And, what Paul is calling us to do is no different. That we would model the way of Jesus by enduring the weakness of others, continuing to love and serve them sacrificially in spite of their weakness. Hence verse 7:
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you…
Let me ask you this today…on whom have you passed judgment? I think judgment can take a variety of forms, but typically, in a courtroom, a judgment comes along with a sentence. So, maybe another way to ask that question is, who have you chosen to no longer endure? Who have you excommunicated? Who have you judged and sentenced? What would it look like for you to revoke that judgment? To bear with…to endure. For the early church, this is how people change…when strong believers model the way of Jesus over and over and over again in front of them. Think about your children…how did they learn to talk? Well, those who are strong at talking were repeatedly modeled on how to talk. You endured years and years of extremely weak communication, but it was through your actions and example that change occurred. Praise the Lord that Jesus has done that with us. Today, let us resolve to center ourselves on his example so that we might learn it and seek to emulate it.