We who are strong ought to bear with the shortcomings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
I. THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY. Where we differ from our fellow-Christians in details of doctrine, worship, or practice, we are very prone to be uncharitable in our judgments. We are inclined to doubt their Christianity because they do not just see as we do on such matters. One great fact the apostle would have us remember when we are tempted to condemn our brethren. It is the fact of the judgement to come. "Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ" (ver. 10). "So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more" (vers. 12, 13). It is not we who are to be the judges of our fellow-Christians, but God. We should not like that they would be our judges: then why should we judge them? The thought that we ourselves must stand before a higher judgment-seat, where all our sins and secret thoughts and unchristian motives shall be known, should make us more cautious in our condemnation of others. And, as regards our fellow-Christians, is it not enough for us that God will judge them? Surely we may leave their trial with confidence in his hands.
II. THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN SELF-DENIAL. There is a gradual progress in the principles here laid down. First of all, it is shown that we ought not to judge our brethren. This is a purely negative command. The next command is somewhat more positive. "But judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way" (ver. 13). The apostle enforces the exhortation to Christian self-denial by three special reasons.
1. The Christian should not injure those whom Christ has died to save. "Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died" (ver. 15). This is the true basis of total abstinence. "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (ver. 21).
2. The Christian has higher enjoyments than those of selfish indulgence. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (ver. 17). The giving up of a merely bodily comfort or enjoyment should not be a great hardship to the Christian. God is able to give us much more than this.
3. The example of Christ is an example of self-denial. "For even Christ pleased not himself" (Romans 15:3). Self-denial is an essential part of truly following Christ. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." This law of Christian self-denial covers a wide field. Not merely abstinence from meats and drinks, from bodily indulgences which do harm to others; but also to put a bridle on our tongues, lest by our words we should give offence to others; to abstain from gratifying even lawful desires and wishes where the attainment of our purpose would cause pain or injury to others; - this is self-denial, this is to follow the example of Christ. Self-pleasing is a besetting sin with most of us.
III. THE LAW OF CHRISTIAN HELPFULNESS. Here the apostle takes another forward step. Here he states a still higher principle. "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (ver. 19); "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (Romans 15:2). Here is the truly positive principle of Christian life. The Christian life should not be merely an abstinence from evil, but a positive doing of what is good. We should not merely refrain from injuring our neighbours, but we should be actively engaged, as Christians, in rendering them all the spiritual help we can. As a rule, our Christianity is negative rather than positive. It is too selfish. Many Christians are perfectly content with attaining the salvation of their own souls, and going through the world as harmlessly as possible. This, after all, is but a low type of Christianity True Christianity, the Christianity of the sermon on the mount, is as the salt, the light, the leaven; an active, helpful, beneficent influence upon those around us. - C.H.I.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves.
I. THE PRINCIPLE OF ASSOCIATION. How much has this come to the fore! We have Life, Fire, and Co-operative "Associations." Men begin to see the advantages of these things, and we should not forget that it was Christianity which gave the key-note to their existence. But Paul goes further. He would have the whole world one vast co-operative association — men and women associating in all things, and remembering that they are members of one great family, and acting as such.
II. THE LAW OF ASSISTANCE. This would be a poor world if we were not to lend a helping hand one to another; the strong man is to bear the infirmities of the weak. He is to do so by advice, by bestowing alms, by giving encouragement, by kindly help. How highly does our Lord praise those who helped others (see parable of Good Samaritan), and Himself set us the example.
III. THE LAW OF EQUALISATION. The inhabitants of this world are diverse; they differ in character, appearance, and position. The law of our text teaches the rich to help the poor, the strong the weak, and so adjust the inequalities of life.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
1. That conscientiousness has respect often to very unimportant matters. Some Christians in Rome had a conscientious belief concerning diet. There have always been men in the Church who have made a conscience of trifles.
2. That the conscientiousness of one man is no rule for the conduct of another. Because one man in the Church exalts trifles, whilst respecting his sincerity, I am not bound to follow his example.
3. That conscientiousness directed to unimportant matters indicates great weakness of character. Men who attach importance to trifles Paul regards as "weak" men. Now what is the duty of strong men to such? Not to despise and denounce them; to force them to renounce their trivialities nor to grant them a mere toleration; but to bear their infirmities. This is a duty —
I. NOT VERY PLEASANT TO SELF. The language seems to imply that it would be more pleasant to detach one's self altogether from such. Nothing is more irritating to strong men than the twaddlings of little souls. But Paul says, notwithstanding the disagreeableness of it, you must come down to their little world, and be loving and magnanimous. Don't kick at their toys, but show them something better. The most painful thing is that they regard themselves as strong, and that in proportion to their very feebleness is their insolence. If they confessed their weakness there would be some pleasure in "bearing their infirmities."
II. TRULY GRATIFYING TO THE WEAK (ver. 2).
1. The weak man, by this treatment, is gratified by the reception of "good." The breath of a nobler spirit upon him has dispersed in some measure the fumes about his soul, broadened his horizon, and touched him into a fresher life. He is pleased because his moral circulation is quickened, and he feels himself a stronger man.
2. The "good" he has received is through his "edification." Not through flattering his prejudices, but by indoctrinating his soul with higher truths.
III. PRE-EMINENTLY CHRISTLIKE (ver. 3). To "bear the infirmities" of others Christ sacrificed Himself. How Christ bore with His disciples
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
(J. Brown, D.D.)I. There are three stages of development in human life and society.(1) That in which men regulate their life by rules. Such things you may do, and such things you may not do.(2) The higher life of principle, when men open up a consideration of the reasons of the why you shall do so or not do so.(3) The higher development is reached when to rules and principles is added intuition, the flash by which men discover right and wrong by their harmony or their discord with their own moral faculties.
2. As men go up, along the scale, they change gradually; and men that during all the early part of their life have been subject to rules, begin to substitute their own intelligence for them. A little child is told, "No, you must not go there." When, however, the child comes to be fourteen or fifteen years of age, we no longer say, "You shall not do this or that thing"; but "You must study the peace of the family"; or, "You must see to it that you do nothing to interfere with health." Instead of having practical rules, he begins to have principles by which to guide himself. Note —
I. THE DANGERS INCIDENT TO THIS DEVELOPMENT.
1. Christians who are on the lower plane — where they act from rules — are strongly inclined to believe that those who go higher and act from principles are acting from lawlessness, because they are not acting from considerations once in force. Hence, religious development may seem deterioration. A conscientious idolator, e.g., cannot dissociate religion from the use of superstitious observances; and if a native near to such an one forsakes the god of his father, and turns to Jehovah, the convert may seem as if he was abandoning all religion. He is abandoning the only religion that this heathen man knows anything about. And I can understand how to an honest Romanist, when one neither will tell his beads, nor respect holy hours, nor accept the voice of the priest, it should seem as if he abandoned all religion.
2. On the other hand, while there are dangers of this kind to those who are left behind, there are many dangers incident to those who go up; and it was to those especially that the apostle wrote. And this is not so strange after all.(1) We know that sudden changes, e.g., from barbarism to civilisation do not prove beneficial to adults. If you take a Chinaman, twenty-five or thirty years old, and bring him into New York, he becomes a kind of neuter. He is neither a good Chinaman nor a good American. As a tree transplanted, and shorn of roots below, and of branches above, is slow to regain itself, and perhaps never will make its old top again, so it is with human transplantation.(2) Among civilised men sudden violent changes, e.g., from great poverty to great wealth, are not beneficial.(3) Sudden and violent moral changes carry their dangers, too. There are men who have trained their consciences all their life long to believe that right or wrong consisted in the performance of certain duties. But by and by it was made known to them that being a Christian depends on love, and not on a certain routine; and that the law is the law of freedom. And this is a new liberty; and new liberty stands very close on to old license. And men who begin to feel their freedom are like birds that have been long in a cage, and do not know what they can do with their wings, and fly to where they are quickly seized by the hawk. With this sense of intoxication comes a certain contempt for the old state. When a bean comes up it brings up its first two leaves with it — great thick covers, full of nutriment, to supply the stem until it begins to develop other leaves, and to supply itself. Now suppose the bean, looking down, should say contemptuously, "What a great clumsy stiff leaf that is down there! See how fine, how delicate the blossoms are that I am having up here" — why the whole of this up here came from that down there. And yet, how many persons, as they are developing into a higher religious life, feel, as the first-fruits of their spiritual liberty, contempt for their past selves, and for other people who are in that state from which they have just emerged! Then comes almost spontaneously the air of superiority; and then the judging men, not by comparing their conduct with their views of duty, but by comparing their conduct with your views of duty — which is the unfairest thing you can do to a man. In other words, dictation and despotism are very apt to go, with arrogant natures, from a lower stage to a higher one.
II. THE APOSTLE'S PRESCRIPTION FOR THIS STATE. Superiority, he tells us, gives no right to arrogate authority. Because I am an architect, or a statesman, or in any direction God has given me eminent gifts, and culture to develop them, I have no right of authority over others. Leadership does not go with these relative superior-tries; but responsibility does. "We, then, that are strong ought... not to please ourselves" — which is generally considered the supreme business of a man! When a man has acquired money and education, he makes it his business to render himself happy. He fills his mansion with luxuries, that he may not be mixed up with the noisy affairs of life. But, says the apostle, ye that are strong have no right to do any such thing. You ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. All human trouble ought to roll itself on to the broadest, not on the feeblest, shoulders. Rich men are to bear the infirmities of the poor. If a rough and coarse man meets a fine man, and the question between them is as to which shall give preference to the other, the man that is highest up is to be the servant of the man that is lowest down. Everywhere this is the law. "Let every one please his neighbour." What! are we to be mere pleasure-mongers? No; "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" — please him in that sense which shall make a better man of him. As a watchmaker never can see a watch that is out of order that he does not feel instinctively impelled to take hold of it and put it in order, so I feel like putting my hand on a man that is too small, and making him large. Paul says that you must not do it rudely, authoritatively, but that you must please him. And there is more — "For even Christ pleased not Himself," etc. Well, that is a hard task; and therefore the apostle adds, "Now the God of patience," etc.
1. If this seems impossible to any of you, if it even seems romantic and fanciful, I reply that you see it every day. Not in business or in politics. But go where father and mother have a little commonwealth of their own, and where the children are, and see if the wisest and the strongest and the best are not absolutely the servants of the poorest and the weakest. Now, if you can do it in the family, you can do it out of the family.
2. If this be so, we see the application of it to those who are set free, by larger thinking, from the narrow dogmas of the past. What is the evidence of your superiority? Every change of latitude, as you pass towards the equator from the poles, is marked, not by the thermometer, but by the garden and the orchard; and I know that I am going toward the equator, not so much by what the navigator tells me as by what the sun tells me. The evidence of going up in the moral scale is not that you dissent from your old dogmas, and have rejected your ordinances, and given wide berth to your Churches. If you have gone higher up, let us see that development in you of a true Christian life which shall show that you are higher. What use is your freedom of thought, if with that freedom you do not get half as many virtues as men who have not the freedom of thought?
3. Those who have risen above others are not at liberty to divide themselves from those with whom they are not in sympathy. To bring the matter right home, you are frugal, and your brother is a spendthrift. You take the air of superiority, and talk about him, and say, "William is a sorry dog. He never could keep anything." And the implication of it is, "I am different." But the apostle says, "Are you superior to him because you are frugal? Then you are to bear with his spendthriftness." I put on you the responsibility of taking care of him. You are to bear with him; and you are to do it not for your own pleasure, nor for his mere pleasure, but for his pleasure to edification, that Christ may save his soul. Here is a man that says of his neighbour, "He is an exacting, arrogant, brute creature." Yes, but Christ died for him, as He died for you; that hard man is your brother; and you are to seek his pleasure to edification. If there is either that ought to serve the other, it is the good man. That is what you do. Good men pay the taxes of bad men. Patriotic men pay the war bills of unpatriotic men. The good bear up the bad, and are their subjects.
4. There is an application, also, to the various sects. A Church is nothing but a multitude of families. All you want is, that those that are purest, those that are "orthodox," shall bear with those that are not orthodox. You must go down and serve those that have a poor worship. The higher must serve the lower.
(H. W. Beecher.)I. DEFINED.
1. We must bear with their infirmities.
2. This will require the sacrifice of our own will to please others.
3. But the end is their edification.
1. By the example of Christ.
2. Who sacrificed Himself.
3. And bore our infirmities.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
(English Hearts and English Hands.)1. In the grouping of nature dissimilar things are brought together, and by serving each other's wants and furnishing the complement to each other's beauty, present a whole more perfect than the sum of all the parts. The several kingdoms of nature are not like our political empires, enclosed with jealous boundaries. They form an indissoluble economy; the mineral sub-doing itself with a basis for the organic, the vegetable supporting the animal, the vital culminating in the spiritual; weak things clinging to the strong, as moss to the oak's trunk, and the insect to its leaf; death acting as the purveyor of life and life playing the sexton to death. Mutual service in endless gradation is clearly the world's great law.
2. In the natural grouping of human life the same rule is found. A family is a combination of opposites; the woman depending on the man, whose very strength, however, exists only by her weakness; the child hanging on the parent, whose power were no blessing were it not compelled to stoop in gentleness; the brother protecting the sister, whose affections would have but half their wealth, were they not brought to lean upon him in trustful pride; and even among seeming equals, the impetuous quieted by the thoughtful, and the timid finding shelter with the brave.
3. This principle distinguishes natural society from artificial association. The assortment of civilisation unites all elements that are alike and separates the unlike. Instead of throwing men into harmonious groups it analyses them into distinct classes. Life is passed in the presence not of unequals but of equals. Only those who of the same sect, rank, or party and are found in the same society. Not that this is entirely evil. To live among our equals teaches self-reliance and self-restraint, and enforces a respect for other's rights, and a vigilant guardianship of our own. But while it invigorates the energies of purpose it is apt to blight the higher graces of the mind; and in confirming the moralities of the will to impair the devoutness of the affections. A man among his equals is like a schoolboy at his play, whose eager voice, disputatious claim, defiance of wrong, and derision of the feeble, betray that self-will is wide awake and pity lulled to sleep. But see the same child in his home, and the deferential look, the hand of generous help, show how with beings above and beneath him he can forget himself in gentle thoughts and quiet reference. And so it is with us all. The world is not given to us as a playground or a school alone, where we may learn to fight our way upon our own level; but as a domestic system, surrounding us with weaker souls for our hand to succour, and stronger ones for our hearts to serve.
4. The faith of Christ throws together the unlike ingredients which civilisation had sifted out from one another. Every true Church represents the unity which the world had dissolved. The moment a man becomes a disciple his exclusive self-reliance vanishes. He trusts another than himself; he loves a better spirit than his own; and while living in what is human aspires to what is Divine. And in this new opening of a world above him a fresh light comes down upon the world beneath him. Aspiration and pity rush into his heart from opposite directions. If there were no ranks of souls within our view; if all were upon a platform of republican equality, no royalty of goodness and no slavery of sin; if nothing great subdued us to allegiance, and nothing sad and shameful roused us to compassion, I believe that all Divine truth would remain inaccessible and our existence be reduced to that of intelligent and amiable animals.
5. A great Roman poet and philosopher was fond of defining religion as a reverence for inferior beings: and if this does not express its nature it designates one of its effects. True there could be no reverence for lower natures were there not to begin with the recognition of a Supreme Mind; but from that moment we certainly look on all beneath with a different eye. It becomes an object, not of pity and protection only, but of sacred respect; and our sympathy, which had been that of a humane fellow-creature, is converted into the deferential help of a devout worker of God's will. And so the loving service of the weak and wanting is an essential part of the discipline of the Christian life. Some habitual association with the poor, the dependent, the sorrowful, is an indispensable source of the highest elements of character. If we are faithful to the obligations which such contact with infirmity must bring, it will make us descend into healthful depths of sorrowful affection which else we should never reach. Yea, and if we are unfaithful to our trust; if sorrows fall on some poor dependent charge, from which it was our broken purpose to shield his head, still it is good that we have known him. Had we hurt a superior, we should have expected punishment; had we offended an equal, we should have looked for his displeasure; and these things once endured the crisis would have been past. But to have injured the weak, who must be dumb before us, and look up with only the lines of grief which we have traced, this strikes an awful anguish into our hearts. For the weak, the child, the outcast, they that have none to help them, raise up an Infinite Protector on their side, and by their very wretchedness sustain the faith of justice ever on the throne.
(J. Martineau, LL.D.)
I. THIS IS NOT LAW IN THE BRUTE CREATION.
1. Beneath man all life is engaged in a fierce struggle for existence. Each is bent on his own profit. The strong look out for themselves. The weak go to the wall. If the fittest do not always survive, the most cunning and the strongest do. The infirm are preyed upon or left mercilessly to perish.
2. An exception is found in the generous instinct of motherhood, but for which most animal races would become extinct. Another exception is afforded by the domestic animals. The dog will risk his life in his master's service, and die of a broken heart when he is dead. But once left to roam, these animals also seem to abandon themselves to the brute principle of utter selfishness.
II. THE LAW OF THE BRUTE CREATION PREDOMINATES LARGELY AMONG MEN WHERE THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL IS NOT FELT.
1. Human life is also a struggle for existence. Man, too, like the brute, is forced to be continually at work to keep off hunger, disease, and death. In the rush for fame and success the strong trample upon the feeling of the weak and increase their own strength by preying upon their infirmities.
2. Out of this root have come all despotisms, servitudes, and inhumanities. It is the human way to enforce the brutal principle of surviving by the sufferings and humiliations of the weak. Wars have for the most part grown out of the determination to exalt one's self by the losses of another. If a nation was weak, a stronger one would do in about the same way what the fierce king of the forest does with the passing gazelle. All slavery was for the most part in the first instance the outcome of the principle which the text tears to shreds. It is not so long ago that tortures were applied to the weak on rack and in cell, which could yield no profit except to the morbid appetite of the strong.
3. The spirit is not extinct. The refinement of the methods by which strength makes merchandise of the weaknesses of the infirm may cover up the brutality of the instinct, but does not change it.
III. THE GOSPEL HAS ANNOUNCED ANOTHER LAW OF LIFE FOR MAN. Here love and not force is supreme. Here no man liveth unto himself.
1. The struggle for self-existence goes on. The effort to survive is pressed. "Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure." "Work out your own salvation." "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence," etc. The obligation to help ourselves loses none of its emphasis. But with self-care is coupled concern for others, and those two draw the chariot of a regenerated life to the highest attainment and to the approval of God. The Christian law summons each to afford to others the most opportunity for the development of their faculties.
2. The world utters often a motto which is good as far as it goes. It is a great advance upon brutehood — "Live and let live." But behind this half-truth selfishness may hide itself. "Live and help others to live" is the motto of the gospel. "Look out for Number One" is a favourite maxim of the street, which, pushed alone, is the brutal principle in full sway. "Do good unto all men" is a maxim coming from a different atmosphere.
3. A chief test of Christian civilisation is the consideration with which the strong regard the infirmities of the weak. The home for the aged, the hospital, the refuge, etc., are the glory of our civilisation, as the brothels, the gambling dens, the saloons, etc., are its disgrace, but not its despair; for so long as the Cross lifts high its spectacle of mercy, the principle that the "strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak" will go among men like a stream of waters, pure as crystal. Our literature bears witness to the infusion of this human principle. The "Song of the Shirt" has a large circle of sympathetic readers. Lowell's "Sir Launfal" and a thousand other poems have their interest from the Christly spirit of regard for the weaknesses of others which they magnify. We read, as indicative of a great heart, the incident of Luther, who, instead of joining in the chase, caught the hunted hare and hid it under his cloak, because the chase reminded him of the way in which Satan hunts for souls. And we step aside from his widely known deeds to the incident in Mr. Lincoln's life when, on his way with other lawyers to the court, he stopped to replace two young birds who had been blown out of their nest, saying, "I could not have slept if I had not restored those little birds to their mother." It was a most noble thing, when Naples was suffering from the ravages of cholera, for King Humbert to turn aside from the races, where he had made appointment to be, and to hasten to the relief of his people. For the motto, "The fittest survive," the gospel substitutes the watchword, "The lost must be saved."
IV. IN CHRIST WE HAVE THE FULL EMBODIMENT OF THE LOFTY RULE. Who had better right to please Himself than the Son of God? But of Him it is said, "Even Christ pleased not Himself." He humbled Himself unto the death of the Cross, that He might bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.
(P. S. Schaff, D.D.)
(N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.)
(T. H. Leary, D.C.L.)I. WHENCE DOES IT ARISE? From the secret feeling in man that —
1. His own views are the most correct.
2. His own plans the best.
3. His own words the wisest.
4. His own doings the most excellent. In a word, that he is superior to all others.
II. WHAT ARE ITS EXHIBITIONS?
1. A harsh judgment of others.
III. HOW MUST IT BE OVERCOME?
1. By bearing the infirmities of the weak.
2. By endeavouring to please others for their good.
3. By a believing contemplation of the character of Christ.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. WE OUGHT NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES. "We," i.e., strong Christians. Among Christians there are the strong and the weak, and always will be. You notice that the apostle has no corresponding exhortation to the weak, one reason for which may be that very few are willing to regard themselves as such.
1. As to self-pleasing, it never is good.(1) In its first and lowest form it is pure animality. The tiger pleases himself when he seizes the fawn; and the fox when he carries the fowl away to his den. 'Tis no sin in either; it is their instinct and necessity. And if a man will do the like he has no pre-eminence above the beast.(2) It is of the essence of sin which in one form is just the enormous exaggeration of the self. It is the little unit trying to take itself out of all relations and beyond laws. It is the plant repudiating the soil that feeds it, insulting the air and light on which it lives. It is the figure one presenting itself as an epitome of the whole science of numbers. If self-pleasing were to get into the heart of the physical world there would be no growth; for growth is secured by one part allowing nourishment to flow through it to another, and in the joint combination of all organs to provide for the nourishment of the whole. And it is in such a world that man stands up and says, "I live to please myself" — man who was made to show the greatness of service, made in the image of the God who serves all.(3) It always tends to meanness of character. It is clean against magnanimity, patriotism, and the charities of life.(4) It tends to corruption, just as anything must rot when it ceases to give and take; just as stagnant water becomes unfit for use.(5) It always inflicts injury and misery upon others.(6) It is so enormously difficult to the self that is always seeking to be pleased, as to be ultimately quite impossible of realisation. More, and yet more, must be had of this, and that, until more is not to be had.
2. So much for self-pleasing in general. But here is a peculiar form of it — the Christian form of an unchristian thing.(1) The beginning of Christianity in a human soul and life is the death of self begun. But the process of dying is a lingering one — it is a crucifixion. Many and many a time self says, "I will not die."(2) Christian people, then, ought to be constantly on their guard against this thing. There is no one whom it will not beset. The vivacious will have it presented to them in forms of excitement, which will draw them away from the duties of daily life and of Christian service. The modest and retiring will think that it can injure no one that they should take their rest. In fact, all the vices are but different dresses which the old self puts on as it goes up and down the world murmuring, "We ought to please ourselves!" Please the higher self and welcome — your conscience, love, the powers of the Christian life — and then, not you alone, but angels and God Himself will be pleased. But as to pleasing that other self, all danger and all soul-death lie that way. "Let that man be crucified." Put fresh nails into the hands and the feet.(3) But "the strong" — why should they, at least, not please themselves? "The strong" here are the advanced men in the Christian community, the men of higher intelligence and clearer faith who have come out into an ampler liberty. Surely it were better that such men should have their way. Strength is a beautiful thing both in the region of thought and of action. Yes, but it is beautiful no longer when it becomes intolerant of anything that is not as strong as itself. So, then, we who are strong ought not to drive when we find we cannot lead; nor wax impatient of delays which are inevitable; nor lose temper — for that will show that we ourselves are growing weaker; nor even to think ungenerous thoughts, but rather seek to settle our strength in this — in the universal charity which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," and then, as the result, achieveth all things.
II. IF NOT OURSELVES, THEN WHOM? Our "neighbour."
1. "Every one of us!" Not one can be exempted. 'Tis no use to plead peculiarity in temperament or circumstance. You have a neighbour, and you must please him.
2. But here comes a difficulty. If the neighbour is to be pleased by me why should not he please in return? If there be an obligation it must surely be mutual. And so we shall end in self-pleasing after all. Besides, how do I know that to please him will profit him? He may be self-willed, or luxurious, or cowardly; and if I please him I may very likely nourish in him these bad qualities. But here is the safeguard, "I am to please my neighbour for his good to edification." It is not that one is to yield to another simply because he wishes it. That would be childishness, and would produce very bad fruit. And there is no room for concession in matters of vital importance. It would be a cruel kindness to a fellow-Christian to yield to him in any matter affecting saving truth or duty. The whole question is about things less than vital. This way may seem best to me; may be best for me. Yet it may not be the best for all. Or it may be abstractly the best for all, and yet it is not to be forced on them.
3. For good to edification. Why, what is that but pleasing the new, the better self in the man, just as I seek to please it in my own breast?
III. WAS NOT THIS JUST THE BEHAVIOUR OF CHRIST HIMSELF? "Even Christ," "who was with God," "who was God," pleased not Himself by retaining that condition, when a great need arose, and when, by a change in His state, He could supply the need, "He was rich, and for our sakes He became poor," etc. And when He was here He never spared Himself. He never chose the easier way. Shall I then please myself, and say that I am following Him? Shall I not rather gaze anew at this great sight — a holy, happy being denying Himself, and suffering for others through life and death?
(A. Raleigh, D.D.)
I. AN UGLY THING. One thing that helps to make our bodies look beautiful is when the different parts are all of a proper size or shape. But suppose we should see a boy or girl with a head as big as a bushel, and with feet as large as an elephant's! And when we give way to wrong feelings one part of the soul becomes larger than it ought to be. There is nothing that makes a person look so ugly as selfishness.
1. Anne Dawson was a little girl, lying in bed with a fever. In the same room was her brother, busily engaged in making a boat. The noise was very distressing, and his sister begged him to stop. But he still went on. Presently she said, "Robbie dear, please get me a glass of cold water? My throat is very dry, and my head aches terribly." But Robbie paid no attention till she asked a second time, when he called out sharply: "Wait awhile, Anne, I am too busy now." Again his sister pleaded for a drink. Then he hastily poured out some water from a pitcher which had been standing all day in the sun. "Oh I not that water, brother," said Anne, in a gentle tone, "please bring me some fresh and cool from the spring." "Don't bother me so, Anne. You see how busy I am. I'm sure this water is good enough." And the selfish boy went on. "Oh, my poor head!" said Anne, as she sipped a little of the warm water, and then lay back on her pillow. That was her last movement. She died that night. For thousands of gold and silver I would not have had Robert's feelings when he stood by the grave of his sister and thought of all this. We cannot imagine anything more ugly than this makes him appear.
2. But sometimes we can understand a thing better by contrasting it with its opposite. Some time ago an accident occurred in a coal mine. Two boys managed to get hold of a chain, and had the hope of being saved if they could hold on till help came. Very soon a man was lowered down, and he first came to a boy named Daniel Harding, who said: "Don't mind me. I can hold on a little longer; but there is Joe Brown just below nearly exhausted. Save him first." Joe Brown was Saved, and so was his unselfish friend. How beautiful his unselfishness makes him appear!
II. A DISAGREEABLE THING. When the things about us mind the laws which God has made to govern them, then they are all agreeable. The light is pleasant to see; the wind is pleasant to hear; and the fragrance of flowers is pleasant to smell, just because the sun, wind, and flowers act according to the laws which God has made for them. And God's law for us is, that "we ought not to please ourselves." If we mind this law it will make us unselfish, and then we shall always be agreeable. But if we do not mind this law, this will make us disagreeable.
1. A Christian lady talking to her class, said, "When I was a little girl, my grandma, who was dangerously ill when I was playing with my doll, asked me to bring her a glass of water. I did not mind her at first, but when she called me again, I carried the water to her in a very unkind way. She said, ' Thank you, my dear child; but it would have given me so much more pleasure if you had only brought the water willingly.' She never asked me to do anything for her again, for soon after she died. It is forty years ago to-day since this took place; and yet there is a sore spot in my heart which it left there, and which I must carry with me as long as I live."
2. And now we may take some illustrations in the way of contrast. Two little girls nestling together in bed one night were talking about their Aunt Bessie, who happened to be passing at that moment. So she listened and heard Minnie say, "Do you know what it is that makes my Aunt Bessie's forehead so smooth?" "Why, yes, she isn't old enough to have wrinkles." "Oh! she is, though; but her forehead is smooth because she is so unselfish, and never frets. I always like to hear her read the Bible, for she lives just like the Bible. She's just as sweet, and kind, and unselfish as it tells us to be. And this is what makes Aunt Bessie so pleasant." Our next story is about Turner, the great landscape painter, who was a member of the committee which arranges about hanging up the pictures in the Royal Academy. On one occasion when they were just finishing their work, Turner's attention was called to a picture by an unknown artist who had no friend in the Academy to watch over his interest. "That is an excellent picture," said Mr. Turner. "It must be hung up somewhere for exhibition." "That is impossible," said the other members of the committee. "There is no room left." Whereupon the generous artist deliberately took down one of his own pictures, and put the painting of this unknown artist in its place. In what an interesting light his unselfishness presents him to our view!
III. A SINFUL THING. When we commit sin in most other ways we only break one of God's commandments at a time. But when we give way to selfishness we break six of God's commandments all at once. How? Well, when Jesus was explaining the ten commandments, He said that the substance of the six on the second table was, that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. But, if we are selfish we cannot love our neighbours. Selfishness is the root out of which any sin may grow. It is like carrying powder about us in a place where sparks are flying all the time. A dreadful explosion may take place at any moment. Many years ago there lived in Egypt an old man named Amin. A great famine came upon the land just as it once did in the days of Joseph. Amin had a great store of wheat in his granaries. When bread began to get scarce his neighbours came to him to buy grain. But he refused, saying that he was going to keep his stock till all the rest of the grain in the land was gone, because then he would be able to get a higher price for it. Many died of starvation, and yet this selfish man still kept his stores locked up. At last the hungry people were willing to give him any price he asked, and then with a cruel, selfish smile he took the iron key of his great granary. He opened the door and went in. But in a moment all his hopes of great gain faded away like a dream. Worms had entered and destroyed all his grain. Hungry as the people were they yet raised a great shout of gladness for what happened to that wretched man. They saw that it was God's judgment which had come down upon him for his selfishness, and that it served him right. But such was the effect of his disappointment upon the old man himself, that he fell down dead at the door of the granary. His selfishness killed him.
(R. Newton, D.D.)
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