23 Dec 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 15:1-13. c). Do not please yourselves.
*We who are strong*, he begins. Thus for the first time he both identifies them with this name and at the same time identifies himself as one of them. What then ought the strong to do? What is their Christian responsibility towards the weak?
First, the strong *ought to bear with the failings* (literally, ‘weaknesses’) *of the weak* (1a). Strong people are of course tempted to wield their strength to discard or crush the weak. Paul urges them instead to bear with them. The Greek verb *bastazo*, like the English verb ‘bear’, can mean either to ‘endure’ in the sense of ‘tolerate’, or to ‘carry’ and ‘support’. The context suggests that the latter is correct here. One person’s strength can compensate for another person’s weakness.
Secondly, *we who are strong ought…not to please ourselves* (1b). To be self-centred and self-seeking is natural to our fallen human nature. But we ought not to use our strength to serve our own advantage. As Paul has been arguing, Christians with a strong conscience must not trample on the consciences of the weak.
Thirdly, *each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up* (2). Neighbour pleasing, which Scripture commands (Lv. 19:18; cf. Rom. 13:9), must not be confused with ‘men-pleasing’, which Scripture condemns (E.g. Gal.1:10; Col.3:22; 1 Thess.2:4). In this pejorative sense, to ‘please men’, usually in antithesis to pleasing God, means to flatter people in order to curry favour with them, to win their approval by some unprincipled compromise. It is always incompatible with integrity and sincerity. Perhaps it is to avoid such a possible misunderstanding that Paul qualifies his appeal to please our neighbour with the clause *for his good, to build him up* (cf.14:19). Instead of causing to stumble (14:13. 20,21), tearing down (14:20) or damaging (14:15) our neighbour, we are to build him up. Edification is a constructive alternative to demolition. And this upbuilding of the weak will doubtless include helping to educate and so strengthen their conscience.
Once again Paul adds a theological foundation to his appeal. This time it concerns Jesus Christ himself, who is now mentioned in almost every verse, and in particular his example. Why should we please our neighbour and not ourselves?
(i) Because Christ did not please himself (3-4).
This simple statement ‘sums up with eloquent reticence both the meaning of the incarnation and the character of Christ’s earthly life’. Instead of pleasing himself, he gave himself in the service of his Father and of human beings. Although he, ‘being in very nature God’, had the greatest right of all persons to please himself, yet ‘he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’ for his own advantage, but first ‘emptied himself’ (RSV) of his glory and then ‘humbled himself’ to serve (Phil. 2:6ff.).
Instead of referring specifically either to the incarnation or to some incident of his incarnate life, however, Paul quotes from Psalm 69, which vividly describes the unjust, unreasonable sufferings of a righteous man, and which is quoted of Christ four or five times in the New Testament, being regarded as a messianic prediction. Its verse 9 includes the words Paul quotes. *As it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me*’ (3). That is to say, as an example of his refusing to please himself, Christ so completely identified himself with the name, will, cause and glory of the Father that insults intended for God fell upon him.
Christ’s fulfilment of Psalm 69:9 leads Paul into a brief digression about the nature and purpose of Old Testament Scripture. *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* (4). From this thoughtful statement it is legitimate to derive five truths about Scripture, which we would do well to remember.
First, its *contemporary intention*. The books of Scripture were of course primarily intended for those to and for whom they were *written in the past*. Yet the apostle is persuaded that they were also *written to teach us* (cf. 1 Cor.10:11).
Secondly, its *inclusive value*. Having quoted only half a verse from one psalm, Paul declares that *everything* written in the past is for us, although obviously not everything is of equal value. Jesus himself spoke of ‘the more important matters of the law’ (Mt. 23:23).
Thirdly, its *Christological focus*. Paul’s application of Psalm 69 to Christ is a fine example of how the risen Lord could explain to his disciples ‘what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself’ (Lk.24:27; cf. Jn. 5:39).
Fourthly, its *practical purpose*. Not only is it able to make us ‘wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 3:15), but it can bring us *encouragement* with a view to *endurance*, so that *we might have hope*, looking beyond time to eternity, beyond present sufferings to future glory.
Fifthly, its *divine message*. The striking fact that ‘endurance and encouragement’, which in verse 4 are attributed to Scripture, in verse 5 are attributed to God, can only mean that it is God himself who encourages us through the living voice of Scripture. For God continues to speak through what he has spoken.
Tomorrow: Romans 15: 5-6 (ii) Because Christ is the way to united worship.