15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:1-7 (ESV)
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” This is church life, bearing with the failings of others, even as they bear with your failings. We all have them. Christ bears with our weakness by taking them upon himself, by becoming weak like us, that he could overcome our failings.
It’s not always an easy thing. And there are times when the hardest part is figuring out if you are really dealing with a weaker brother, or one who is trying to rob you of freedom. Weak brothers, don’t know they are weak. And those who think themselves strong often prove to be rather weak.
One has to wonder. Again today this is most often applied to things that don’t even seem to be on Paul’s radar, and I imagine he would not have framed all of this in quite the same way. The whole dialogue is in an area that applies to the perceived worship of false gods. Today we do it in regards to things that Christians really have no right to have had passed judgement on in the first place. An alcoholic for instance is not a weak brother in the sense that Paul is talking about here. And while I may not want to invite him over for a beer if I know he is an alcoholic, I am also aware that he is not going to be tempted to worship false gods by seeing me drink a beer at a potluck. A vegetarian can be one if he likes, but he has no standing for making this a rule for anyone else and if he claims to be offended by someone eating meat he needs to bear with the others and learn to bear with them. No one gets to play the “weaker brother card.”