Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.Romans 15:1-2
There are two thumbnail rules to follow when you have to make a quick decision whether you ought to insist on liberty in a certain area, or give way to someone else's qualms, or prejudices, or differences of viewpoint.
The first rule is: Choose to please your neighbor rather than yourself. Do not insist on your way of doing things; be quick to give in. This is what love does. Love does not insist on its own rights, Paul tells us in First Corinthians 13. Therefore, if you are loving in your approach, love will adjust and adapt to others.
The second rule, however, says to be careful that your giving in does not allow your neighbor to be confirmed in his weakness, that you do not leave him without encouragement to grow, or to rethink his position. We are to seek to build one another up. If we do nothing but give in to people's weaknesses, the church eventually ends up living at the level of the weakest conscience in its midst. This presents a twisted and distorted view of Christian liberty, and the world gets false ideas about what Christianity is about. So this helps to balance the situation. Please your neighbor, but for his own good, always leaving something there to challenge his thinking, or make him reach out a bit, and possibly change his viewpoint.
A man made an appointment to see me and told me he was a teacher in a Christian school. He had been asked by the board to enforce a rule prohibiting students from wearing their hair long. It was a rule that he did not agree with, so he found himself in a dilemma. If he did not enforce the rule, the board had told him that he would lose his job. If he did enforce it, he would be upsetting the students and their parents, who felt that this was a matter that did not merit that kind of attention. Our culture has long since changed from regarding long hair as a symbol of rebellion, so this man found himself in between a rock and a hard place. His plea to me was,
What shall I do? My counsel was that we should not push our ideas of liberty to the degree that they would upset the peace. So I said to him,
For the sake of peace, go along with the board and enforce the rule for this year. But make a strong plea to the board to rethink their position and to change their viewpoint. At the end of the year if they are unwilling to do that, perhaps you might well consider moving to a different place. That way you would not be upsetting things, and creating a division in the school.
That illustrates what Paul is saying. People can lose sight of the main objectives of being together as Christians, and they get so focused in on these issues that a church can split right down the center. Or else these issues will create such arguing, bickering and dissension within the group that the whole atmosphere of the church is changed. Paul is saying to us that this is really not necessary as there are things that can be done to work these problems out.
Father, thank you for the liberty and freedom that you give. I pray that we who regard ourselves as strong, may be willing to bear the burdens of the weak. May your people manifest a spirit of unity to the watching world that knows no way to get divergent factions together.
Are we committed to pleasing our 'neighbor' for their good? How will we discern the good that is needed? Do we have increased awareness of our own need for discernment from the Word, both written and indwelling us His people?