The second rule, however, says to be careful that your giving in does not allow your neighbor to be confirmed in his weakness. Did I confuse you on that one? What I am saying is that you should not leave him without encouragement to grow, or to re-think his position. I think that very important, and it reflects some of the things that Paul has said earlier about all this. We are to seek to build one another up. As I have pointed out before, in all these kinds of issues, if we do nothing but “give in” to people, and to their weaknesses, the church eventually ends up living at the level of the weakest conscience in its midst.
That’s not good because it presents a twisted and distorted view of Christian liberty, and the world gets false ideas about what is important, and what Christianity is all about. This helps to balance the situation. Yes, please your neighbor, but for his own good, always leave something there to challenge his thinking, or make him reach out a bit, and possibly change his viewpoint.
Years ago, when I was actively involved in Pastoral work, a member of our church told me that he was a teacher in a Christian school there and ran into a small dilemma when the Headmaster of the school told the teaching staff that the school board created a new rule, the each teacher was expected to enforce. The new rule prohibited students from wearing their hair long, more specifically, it could not be over their collar. It was obviously a rule that he did not agree with, he didn’t know what he should do? If he did not enforce the rule, the board made it clear that the teacher(s), would lose their job. In his case, if he did enforce it, he would be upsetting the students and the parents who felt it was a silly rule. Of course, when they established a dress code, they had the same reactions, and it worked.
This teacher was asking me what he should do. I thought about it and said that, whether it was right or wrong, with everything we read in the 14th chapter we should not push our ideas to the point it would upset the peace. So I said, “For the sake of peace, go along with the new rule for this year. But make a strong plea to the board to re-think their position and to change their decision. Then, when the year is over see what their decision is. The reality is that you might have to consider moving to a different school. That way you would not be upsetting things, and creating a division or a faction within the school.”
Oh, that is a pretty simple example, but I think it illustrates what Paul is presenting here. These kinds of decisions are not easy to make. Many times people lose sight of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, and what is expected of us. We become so focused in issues that can split a church right down the center. Or they will create such arguing, bickering, fighting and dissension within the group that any sense of peace is long gone, and the whole atmosphere of the church is disrupted.
What Paul is saying is that there are things that can be done to work these problems out. To encourage us in this, he provides three recommendations that we can count on to resolve these problems. The first one is the encouragement of example that comes to us from the past:
“For even Christ did not choose his own pleasure, but as it is written: “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
“For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today; that when we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time” (Romans 15:3-4)
Wow! Paul’s first example is Jesus himself. It seems rather unfair to put us against His example, but Jesus ran into this kind of problem and he never did anything that was wrong or out of line. Even though he never did anything to displease his Father, he certainly experienced these kinds of antagonisms. But as Paul says, Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures that predicted that those who did not like God’s methods would take it out on him. “The insults of those who insult you,” he says, “have fallen on me,” (Psalms 69:9). Our Lord had to put up with all the unhappiness and sometimes the insults from those who could not be pleased even with what God himself was doing.
Remember in Luke, Chapter 14, the Pharisees felt that Jesus was not keeping the Sabbath correctly? They were very upset because he did things they felt were wrong to do on the Sabbath. Now what did our Lord do? Did he give in to their desire? No, he did not. He ignored their protest, went ahead, and did things that upset them even more! If he had gone along with they wanted, they would never have learned what God intended the Sabbath to be. So the Lord did not adjust to their antagonism.
That’s an excellent point, but another time the Lord was accused of not paying his taxes. When the disciples told him about it, he sent Peter down to the lake to catch a fish, and in the fish’s mouth, he found a coin to pay the tax for both Peter and himself. According to Jesus, his reason for doing it that way is so he would not offend them. What I mean is that he adjusted to their complaint at that point.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome