We now come to our study of Chapter 15 of the book of Romans. We would make a few remarks of an introductory nature at the outset.
First of all; after a second thought it seems better to us not to go off on a tangent on what has been considered the interpretation of the term “faith” in the phrase in Romans 14:23, “for all that is not out of faith is sin,” whether this refers to faith in Christ, justifying and sanctifying faith, or whether this refers simply to subjective certainty of doing the right thing in relationship to the things indifferent, the adiaphora. For it is quite evident, that, shall faith mean the latter of the two just mentioned alternatives, it still cannot be aught else but the faith whereby we are justified and have peace with God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Secondly, in close connection with the foregoing, we will also forbear to enter upon what we called “directives for Christian psychiatry,” a term unknown in the vocabulary of Scripture, since this would lead us too far afield from our present objective in this study of Romans. Suffice it to say, the testimony of so-called Christian psychiatrists to the contrary, that many a Christian has come to the cross-roads of life, because, what he did, could not square with a walk which is out of faith, and, therefore, walked subjectively in sin and with an accusing conscience. The Lord is not mocked,Gal. 6:7. What a man sows that shall he reap! And no high-sounding and flattering words of an unbiblical psychiatry can erase that reality, least of all in him who is brought by the Lord to these “cross-roads.”
The principle that all, which is not out of faith is sin, is maintained by Paul also in this fifteenth chapter of Romans.
Forsooth Paul does not really begin a new subject in this chapter. He only takes a little different approach and argumentation to the same matter of the Christian attitude which is necessary in the body of Christ, the church, of the strong members in relationship to the weak members. Had Paul in the foregoing chapter motivated his admonitions by pointing the weak to the fact that the strong are accepted of God, and are, therefore, not to be judged or condemned by them, and the strong that they must by their meat not destroy the work of God in the weak, now he will admonish them unto a like-mindedness in the Lord by pointing out to them that such is the quintessence of a Christianlife, patterned after, and incited by, what Christ did for us on the Cross of Calvary!
Christ did not please himself! He came not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many! Thus the strong are not to please themselves, but to be pleasing to their brother in Christ, unto edification!
The text here in Romans 15:1-6 reads in part as follows: “Now we that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for that which is good, unto edifying . . .”
It is quite evident that Paul is still speaking of how to treat our brother or sister who is weak in the faith, that is, one who cannot apply all the freedom which is ours in Christ to the matters of meat and days in a good conscience. Their conscience is weak. Before God they do not dare to account all days the same and eat everything. Such a conscience is not the ideal. However, it is not evil intention on their part but weakness. It is the “weakness of the weak” with which the strong must reckon! The translation “infirmities of the weak” is a very good translation. These brethren are weak in the faith. From this weakness spring forth certain “infirmities.” The Luther’s German translation has “Gebrechlichkeit.” ‘These infirmities are fears, scruples, wrong prejudices, tendencies to criticize the strong because of their very weakness!
Such people are the touch not, taste not, handle not Christians. They call themselves ultra-conservative. The plain truth is that the leaven of legalism is not wholly overcome by such. They do not live wholly out of faith in the Gospel-promise! Such must not be despised, nor must we ignore them or walk over them and brush their scruples aside as being of no account. To them these scruples are very real—and burdensome! They are not wholly the easy yoke and light burden of Christ, these scruples. Hence, we must be useful to the weak, bear long and patiently with them, and live in hope that under the gracious nurture and love of God they will, presently too, come to a richer season of grace. Meanwhile we are to study ourselves to be approved of God in relationship to such. For all that we are we are by God’s grace! Is not the law of faith such that it excludes all boasting in our own native strength, boasting only in the Lord? (Romans 3:27) And does not this faith establish the law of God, being energized by love? (Gal. 5:6) And is not the entire law fulfilled in one word, namely, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself? (Gal. 5:14)
How easily do not the strong forget that knowledge puffeth up and that only knowledge and faith energized by love edifieth! (See I Cor. 8:1.) when such puffed up attitude is present then we live to please ourselves, and that, too, at the price of wounding our brother’s conscience which is weak. And thus, “sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, we would sin against Christ himself!” Why disquiet the conscience of the weak? Christ died to give them peace of conscience. Shall we by our reckless strength disquiet their conscience? Shall we become the occasion for their being wrongly, yetsincerely disquieted?! Is such a reckless conduct in harmony with faith which is energized by the love of God?! No, that is, simply self-pleasure! It is making the liberty which is our sin Christ an occasion for the flesh(Gal. 5:13). Grace certainly cannot be the fountain-head from which fleshly actions receive their incentive! God forbid!
Nay, let us by love serve one another!
And, in this case, let the strong serve the need of the weak neighbor in the Lord. That need is hisedification! He must be edified, that is, he must come more and more to see that Christ is all and all for him. He must learn to seek all in Christ, and hold on to the Head. In this he must be built, made strong. Meanwhile we must bear his weakness. Paul includes himself among the strong. He says “we”! And these infirmities of the weak we must bear, that is, we must bear the injustice, scruples of this infirmity. The weak cannot carry the strong. Such is the duty of us who are strong. Think of Gal. 6:1 where we read, “Brethren, even if a man be overtaken in any trespass, ye who are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of gentleness; looking to thyself lest thou also be tempted.” In the German translation we read that the strong must “carry” the infirmities of the weak. We then lift the brother over the hurdles rather than casting them up before him!
The question is then not: how can I coddle the weak brother, pamper him in his infirmities. Such love will not do. It will always seek the real benefit of the brother. It is to change his condition of infirmity into one of strength. It seeks his real advantage. No one will say that one is coddling a little child if he does not maltreat him, would he? But when he corrects his child, bears with much of his whims and fancies that originate in his immature mind, then he seeks the edification of the child.
I believe that we are touching here upon a principle in our life of sanctification that may well be underscored. Dogmatics and ethics by no means coincide. The doctrinal difficulty and the cure from this doctrinal weakness are two different matters! Right is right and wrong is wrong! We are saved by grace and are free! Yet, we are free not to do our own will, but free to love the brother, who is weak. Has that distinction always been kept in mind by us in the recent history in our churches! We can almost spit out the wordschismatics! But do we bear with any possible weakness in those who were deceived by leaders who should know better? Is our writing and speech always such that we give evidence that we have nothing to boast in and of, save in the mercy of God. And are we always so conscious of the fact that our not being “schismatics” is, if it is for principle’s sake and consciously, only the grace of God? Let us beware lest we be like the elder brother in the Parable who said, among other things, “Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and have never transgressed a commandment of thine . . .” Right is right and wrong is wrong, and sin must be confessed. Also the grievous sin of schism in the body of Christ! But how is it healed? Certainly not by coddling a brother who has walked in, or is walking in the sin of schism, etc. Sin cannot be winked at. God is not mocked. However, let us remember that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. And then the question is: Did you restore the erring in the spiritof gentleness? Could Christ be seen in us, who pleased not himself but who complains already through David in the Holy Spirit in Psalm 69:9: “the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me”!
When a brother errs in the faith (not to be confused with willfully walking in false doctrine and life), do we feel that that is a sin first of all against God? Or do we feel like Samuel often, who feels low and outraged, because the people ask for a king? Is our zeal truly the “zeal of God’s house that consumes us”? That is the question. That is not a question of dogmatics and the confessions. They must stand as Paul says: Nevertheless the sure foundation of God standeth. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth. But the truth must be spoken in love! Then we will see that the sin of schism is first of all against God and his Christ! Does the honor of God and of his Christ cause our zeal to glow? Then it is possible to bear with the infirmities of the weak. Christ did this par excellence! And this was written also for our learning that through patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Tone down doctrinal distinctiveness? God forbid! The foundations stand. That is love for the weak brother. Christ laid them in his blood, in the deepest reproaches of hell. It was a reproach against God that came upon him. And he took it. The zeal of God’s house consumed Him. And He cleanses the temple in this pure zeal. And this zeal alone gives us patience with the weak. And looks in hope toward the day when the house shall be completely and perfectly built!
Only when God gives such patience and comfort will the zeal of God’s house consume us and not our own sinful self-will, pleasing ourselves.
Well may Paul end this section with the prayer: “Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that ye with one accord may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Verses 5, 6.
Out of Him and through Him and unto Him are all things!
Here all man’s pride is abased and the Christian thankfully ascribes all that he is to God’s grace.
And Paul says in this consciousness: “but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me”! I Cor. 15:10.
Post-Scriptum: On September 7, it will be twenty-five years ago that the writer of these lines was ordained in the Ministry of the Word. Before his mind passes Doon, Pella, Randolph, Creston, Loveland, Isabel-Forbes. He cannot make the former boast of Paul that he “labored more abundantly than they all,” but he does confess the latter that what small or great labors he may have performed it was “the grace of God which was with me”! Soli Deo Gloria!