We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.…
Having just counselled the strong to defer as far as possible to the consciences of the weak, the apostle continues the subject in the thirteen verses now before us. He urges as the principle of the Christian life, not self-pleasing, but neighbour-pleasing. He limits this, of course, by the condition of edification. In short, a Christian is to be a public character, regulating his life by the spiritual interests of all around him. In this respect he will be following Christ.
I. THE PLEASING OF OTHERS, NOT THE PLEASING OF OURSELVES, IS TO BE THE RULE OF OUR CHRISTIAN LIVING. NOW, this does not mean:
1. Popularity-hunting. For this is securing a selfish end by means of gratifying our neighbours. It is self-pleasing in a subtle and deceptive shape. It is self-pleasing, even though it may involve the degradation of our neighbour. And it does mean:
2. The conciliation and even humouring of our neighbour with a view to his edification. This is real love, going all lengths to serve and edify a neighbour. We will bear with him, even humour him, with the thoroughly unselfish end of securing his edification. It is the very essence of public service. What a contrast it presents to the self-seeking which, alas! goes on among men under the name of public services!
II. IN THIS LIFTING UP OF OUR FELLOWS WE SHALL BE STRENGTHENED BY LOOKING UP TO CHRIST. For the whole spirit of our Master's ministry consisted in pleasing ethers and not himself. Not, indeed, that men understood his plan. The gospel does not appear at first to promote men's pleasure. It humiliates, it breaks them down, it calls for penitential tenderness; but it secures peace through pardon, and the joy which comes through believing. Our Lord's sufferings were consequently in the long run with a view to the real and abiding pleasure of men. And so he was constantly lifting them up, so far as they would allow him. His very crucifixion was to please others, and secure their edification. A broad view of Christ's history, therefore, shows it to have been a pleasing of others, not of himself. He became a servant of the circumcision that the Jews might be brought to peace and joy; he became the Saviour and so the Joy of the Gentiles. In both respects he was pleasing and edifying others, not pleasing himself. HIS self-sacrificing life becomes thus the fountain-head for public service.
III. THE GOSPEL THUS DISTINGUISHES ITSELF FROM UTILITARIAN TEACHING. For instead of directing us to regulate our conduct by self-pleasing, which is at bottom the utilitarian principle, it directs us to please our neighbour unto edification, and in the spirit of Christ. Nor is our pleasing of our neighbour to secure personal comfort; this may ultimately be given into the bargain, but it will assuredly be missed if made our end. "A great German poet and philosopher," says Dr. Martineau, "was fond of defining religion as consisting in a reverence for inferior beings. The definition is paradoxical; but though it does not express the essence of religion, it assuredly designates one of its effects. True, there could be no reverence for lower natures, were there not, to begin with, the recognition of a Supreme Mind; but the moment that recognition exists, we certainly look on all that is beneath with a different eye. It becomes an object, not of pity and protection only, but of sacred respect; and our sympathy, which had been that of a humane fellow-creature, is converted into the deferential help of a devout worker of God's will. And so the loving service of the weak and wanting is an essential part of the discipline of the Christian life. Some habitual association with the poor, the dependent, the sorrowful, is an indispensable source of the highest elements of character."
IV. A BUOYANT, HOPEFUL SPIRIT SHOULD BE OURS IN ALL OUR PUBLIC WORK. For it is "the God of hope" with whom we have to do. And humanity is being lifted up by the Christian spirit of service. And great things are in store for the earth. Peace, joy, hope, should in consequence characterize every one who names the name of Jesus and professes to follow him in service. God grant it to us all! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.