We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
I read this verse this morning, and there's a lot here to chew on. By itself, it carries a great truth that's seen all throughout Scriptures. The Christian's life is to be focused on serving others. We need to help people, love people, and please other people. What's even more interesting about this verse is when it's placed in context. When the Bible was originally written there were no chapter and verse divisions. These were added much later to make it easier to find the passages. The book of Romans is a letter. When Paul wrote it Romans 15:1 was not separated from Romans 14. It all just flowed together in one continuous thought.
I'm amazed at how often I see/hear Romans 14 used improperly by Christians to justify all sorts of horrible behaviours. You know, the statement "It's a 'Romans 14' issue, so you can't judge me." It's like people who use Romans 14 forget that Romans 15:1 even exists!!! Romans 15:1 is what makes Romans 14 make sense. You can't separate them. Paul didn't, and we shouldn't either. Without Romans 15:1, we miss a major point that Paul is trying to get across in Romans 14.
I heard it just the other day used to justify tattooing. I've even heard Romans 14 twisted in a way that offensive behaviour is OK, if it's a stronger brother we're offending. It's only the weak we need to be concerned about. Huh??? That just made no sense to me whatsoever. Who decides if a Christian is strong? Who decides if they are weak? And what about the "pleasing ourselves" part in Romans 15:1? That pretty much does away with the strong/weak argument. It seems to me that if my behaviour offends a Christian brother or sister, it shouldn't matter if they are strong or weak. We are to live blameless lives that are without offence (Phil. 1:10).
Here's the thing. I think a lot of people turn Romans 14 into a "self" passage, but it's really an "others" passage. It just goes to show how the selfish, me-first mentality of the world has influenced Christian culture so much. Paul's intent in Romans 14 and 15 is not to give us an excuse to please ourselves. It's not to give us some biblical justification for living by our own selfish desires, and yet that's what this passage is used for over and over again! For instance, Romans 14:4 says, Who art thou that judgest another man's servant?... so Christians take this and say, "You can't judge me." But, what is that passage really about? It's not about how people are treating ME, it's about how I am treating OTHERS! What about verse 7 and 8? For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself... we are the Lord's. Again, it's not about me. I am not my own. I can't live selfishly. I belong to the Lord, and His will should rule in my life. Verse 10, Why dost though judge thy brother? or why dost though set at nought thy brother? How often do we hear, "Romans 14 says you can't judge me." Is that what verse 10 is saying? No! It's not about others judging ME. It's about how I treat others!! How about verse 13, ... judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. Again, it's about how I treat other people. I love verse 19, Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and the things wherewith one may edify another. So often when the "Romans 14" card is played, there's nothing but strife, arguments, bickering, self-justification, and even judging (*gasp*). Doesn't that fly in the face of EXACTLY what Paul was writing about here? If the issue isn't bringing peace, and it isn't edifying, then Romans 14 cannot be used to say it's OK.
I believe that if we were applying Romans 14 they way Paul was encouraging the Roman Christians to apply it, we'd have much fewer debates and arguments. Why? Because instead of trying to justify why it's OK for a Christian to get a tattoo, we'd simply not do it realizing it could cause someone to stumble. It would cease to become an issue. If a new Christian had a question about tattoos, we would answer it based on the serving others principle of Romans 14, because THAT'S what Romans 14 is about! I use tattoos as an example, simply because it's something I came across recently. The truth is, there are a many things that are "Romans 14" issues, and that could be cleared up quite easily with little arguing if we just applied Romans 14 AND Romans 15 properly in our lives. The sad reality is that we struggle with these things because of our pride and carnality.
Reading Romans 14 and 15 today gave me a new perspective on those passages. It's a perspective that says, Hey, what I want doesn't matter! My selfish desires are NOTHING! What's truly important is following after the things which make for peace and edifying one another and not pleasing myself. That's what this passage is teaching. The only one I can truly be accountable for is myself, and it's up to me to make sure I don't cast a stumblingblock before my brother (Rom. 14:12-13). As Paul said, Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend (I Cor. 8:13). What's your "meat?" What's my "meat?" We could fill in that blank with many, many personal things in our lives. If Paul was going to give up something as benign as meat because it might have offended someone, surely we can give up some things as Christians in our lives in order to strive for peace and edification of other believers.