Week of June 5

Always on the Grid When It Comes to Love

Read: Proverbs 25-27; Romans 15
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves”
Romans 15:1, ESV


Christ did not come into the world to please Himself but to serve humanity. This passage presents modern Christians with a strong call to a form of sacrificial service that they find to be distasteful, serving a weaker Christian brother or sister. Very often this attitude of surrender is lacking in church communities and the fellowship is weakened significantly as a result.

This passage provides us with a higher motivation to work on maintaining healthy church relationships. Simply put, we need each other because the world will not be brotherly and sisterly toward us. More importantly, we need to follow Christ’s example because He is our Lord and requires us to follow His example of love. Are you among the strong? Do you count yourself among the weak? Let’s receive Paul’s counsel.

Understanding the Bible Context

Carrying forward the previous instruction
Paul carries forward here in this focal chapter a discussion that he launched in chapter 14. There are those who he termed as “strong” whose “clear consciences” permit them to partake of food that had been held to be ceremonially unclean. Some of the Jewish Christians in Rome had been reluctant, it seems, to give up certain “ceremonial aspects of their religious heritage” (NAC). They felt internal conflict between their Christian faith and Old Testament regulations, while others no longer felt such constraints (see 14:1-4). Paul referred to the first group as “weak” (14:1) and the second group as “strong” (15:1). The terms he used should not suggest that he was being judgmental, but descriptive, suggesting that the goal is strength of faith. Get it? Good! Let’s read on.
A warning against devaluing others
Let’s consider the case of believers who are strong on their faith. Sometimes the strong in a congregation can look down upon those that have “tender” consciences. They overlook the fact that their actions may have a harmful effect on the weaker brother or sister by leading him or her to do what he or she is spiritually ill-equipped to handle.

Paul writes that they may learn something from these Christian brothers and sisters on moral matters that cause them no concern. They may well discover that they, themselves, are stubbornly maintaining a position rather than showing love to these tender-hearted brethren. The demonstration of love will help to renew and strengthen their faith and lives (14:19-21).

Now, let’s give attention to those whose scruples will not permit them to engage in certain behavior. At the same time, the weaker believers often pass judgment on the stronger ones in the congregation. Evidently, they were somewhat like vegetarians are today. Perhaps they felt that they were healthier for not eating meat and more spiritual (cf. 14:3). Their concern was not for particular features of doctrine. They were instead plagued with doubts regarding which foods were permissible to eat (14:23). Their zeal did not stop with themselves, and this is where the fellowship-buster enters the picture. They also looked down upon those who did not share this concern as being insensitive to what they judged to be a holistic view of spiritual well-being.
A way forward
Paul represents something of an exemplar in my mind. He openly identifies with the “strong” among Christian believers (15:1). By this, he means that his conscience is not pricked whenever he eats certain foods or drinks wine (cf. 14:23; cf. asceticism). He wants those who look down on such practice to accept him (cf. 14:1). The point is that we should not judge one another on disputable matters and certainly should not judge the thoughts that underlie another person’s conduct.

Paul states that such judgment is for God alone to do. The stronger brother must not be made to feel “morally obtuse,” and the weaker brother must not be made to “feel odd.” Both strong and weak must one day answer to God for their attitudes and actions, so it is premature to pass judgment on one another (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). The point is that God’s approval is more important than men (14:5-8)! In short, get along because we need one another!

Applying the Bible Passage to Our Lives

I will occasionally watch television reality shows that feature families that are seeking to live “off the grid,” meaning they do not want to be dependent upon public utilities like electricity, gas, or water. Many of the sites where they choose to live present stiff challenges for existence. It is understandable that experts are brought in to find creative ways to secure energy and water supplies for these families to live. All these specialists chip in to make survival possible; otherwise, the family might not survive in the harsh conditions. Their example provides us with a key illustration for church relationships.

I never see and hear the solar energy guys mock these folks and label them as “tree huggers” or “sunbaked nuts.” Conversely, I don’t see or hear the “off the grid” folks looking down upon the workmen that live on the grid. We could say that a deep respect for human life and an awareness of the need for community to survive obliges those who are expert (strong) to help those who are novices (weak). The same holds true for the Christian life. We need one another, and we are to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial service to aid our Christian brothers and sisters.

Here is a spiritual principle to consider when we are tempted to judge our fellow believers in hurtful ways. The principle that Paul stressed was this: Even though a believer was free from the ceremonial law, he or she was not free from the law of love. Here is where many contemporary Christians leave the bus. They are along for the ride of love until they must give up their seat to another believer. They do not like being required to “bear the weaknesses of the immature” (15:1). We may learn much from Paul’s injunction because it teaches us that we need one another; even those whose faith is not robust (cf. Galatians 6:1-2; NAC). There is a goal in mind with all of this “towel and basin” service—Christian maturity (15:2).

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Stop for a moment and consider where you fit along the strong-weak moral spectrum in faith matters. Have you in your attitudes or actions opened a rift in the fellowship with another believer? Ask for the love of Christ to fill your heart toward all Christian brothers and sisters.

2. For Families: It is important to help young children, who are still early in their moral development, to learn how to become sensitive to others. As I recall, our young children began by caring for Betas or goldfish. Those creatures were beautiful to watch but required extra attention to keep their living environments healthy! Their need for constant care required encouragement and instruction to help our children provide for the needs of those small fish. Parents may remind their children that all of us need similar care in some area of our Christian lives. We need to be understanding of one another and offer each other tender concern.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock