Christian Self-giving-ness (Romans 15.1-4)

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When I was a bachelor, I was selfish. When I married, I realized that selfishness is no way to build a home. My motto for marriage is, “Happy wife, happy life.” Something similar could be said of all good relationships.

Paul writes about the relationship of “strong” and “weak” Christians in Romans 15.1-4:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Strong Christians are people with a robust understanding of Christian freedom. They know that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14.17). They exercise their personal preferences in good faith and with a clear conscience. Weak Christians, on the other hand, have a feeble understanding of Christian freedom. They often confuse personal preferences with moral principles. They are bound by scruples about eating and drinking, thinking that such things do in fact matter in God’s kingdom.

Now, it’s always very easy for strong Christians to ride roughshod over the feelings of weak Christians. Strong Christians are tempted to act selfishly, like bachelors, when they should act selflessly, like happily married men. They are tempted, in other words, to please themselves when they should really aim to please others. But as Paul argues, strong Christians should use their strength to benefit others. They should “bear with the failings of the weak” and “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Such selflessness is not rooted in low self-esteem. Strong Christians have strong, healthy egos. They know that they can leverage their strengths to help others. Come to think of it, selflessness is not really the word I should be using. Self-giving-ness hits closer to the mark. Strong Christians give themselves in service to others precisely because they know that they have something to offer them.

Jesus Christ is the best example of a strong, self-giving person. As Paul points out, “Christ did not please himself.” Rather, he let the insults intended for us fall on his strong, broad shoulders. No doubt this experience was unpleasant for him, but it resulted in pleasant consequences for us.

Obviously, we’re talking about the cross here. As the TNIV translation of Philippians 2.6-7 reminds us, Jesus, who was “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Christ’s self-giving-ness for us flowed from a robust understanding of his divine equality. 

Anyone who claims to be spiritually strong should follow his example.

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