Not to please ourselves

(Rom. 15: 1–7)

Holy Apostle Paul instructs us to bear the infirmities of the weak and not to please ourselves (Rom. 15:1).

It would be edifying for each one you to reflect deeply on chapters 14 and 15 of the epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, because in it you will find an entire code of behaviour for Christians in relationship to one another and all of them together in relationship to God the Father who is in the Heavens

The Apostle encourages us to bear each other’s burdens. He instructs us who are “strong” to bear the infirmities of the weak

One does not reach the kingdom of God by walking alone and minding one’s own business. Salvation is achieved in the company of those whom the Lord Himself sent to be a part of our surroundings. The strong must help the weak, says the Apostle, and by the way he phrases it, we understand that we do not have any other choice in the matter. The law of God is not obeyed by standing alone and muttering prayers, or by theoretical discourses. Only if we help those in need can we say that we have fulfilled the law of God. St. Paul agrees with St. James completely in this respect. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”(Gal. 6:2)

We have strayed very far from the source of our faith and we are no better in this respect, either. When St. Paul encourages us to bear the infirmities of the weak, he primarily means that if we are really strong in the faith, we should help those who are not, those who have a desire to follow Christ but do not yet know how

There is increasingly less communication between us, less talk, less interaction. We have isolated ourselves with many barriers, both spiritually and physically. It is as though we are afraid of one another. We hardly communicate even with our neighbours, who, as the wise Solomon says, are sometimes closer to us than our own brothers who are far (Prov. 27:10). And so it often happens that we spend many long years in one another’s vicinity, without knowing each other’s names. As we spend several long and boring hours flying over the vast ocean, we do not say a word to our fellow passenger sitting on the seat next to us. And he or she might just be our brother or our sister, someone with the same cares and worries on their minds, and perhaps they are looking for someone to share their troubles with. Maybe they are even believers, who knows?

We have completely forgotten that, as Christians, we are expected to show our faith publicly. “Go, therefore, and teach all nations,” said the Lord to the Apostles and to each one of us. Every single one of us is expected to be an apostle of Christ’s faith in his or her surroundings: in the home primarily, and also everywhere else and at all times. I am not saying that we should be like Jehova’s Witnesses, but there are certain things we could learn from them

The holy Apostle Paul then goes on to tell us that we should be very careful what kind of example we are setting to others.

He is actually telling us that we must be fragrant with love, and that love must be the main “ingredient” in our life. All our actions and deeds towards others should be ennobled by love. Not only are we to avoid being a detriment and a temptation to others – we are also to help them and support them with love, especially those weak in the faith.

Unfortunately, I have to say here and now that our behaviour towards others is often quite the opposite of what the Apostle tells us it should be. We are quick with sharp and malicious words which we fling readily without even a care as to who is listening to us and what kind of impact our words have on others. It does not even cross our minds that our words may reach the ears of someone who is standing on the crossroads of faith and unbelief, someone who is debating which path to follow and which “kingdom to chose.” We do not realize that our malevolent words may influence a person in a negative way and alienate him from God forever.

And so, instead of bearing the weaknesses of others and instead of taking the burdens from those who are heavily laden, we add our own weaknesses to theirs and we burden them with our own heavy burdens.

Let us not forget that we will answer to God for every idle word (Mt. 12:36) and that God will hold us responsible for the souls of those that were led astray through our fault

The epistle reading redirects our steps from egoism to unselfishness.

“Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification” (Rom. 15:2), says St. Paul. When the Apostle says that each one of us is to “please his neighbour,” he does not mean that we should make concessions to everyone at all costs, especially concessions concerning our faith and morals. If you see that someone is making a mistake, tell him so in a friendly but firm manner. If you hear someone saying things about our faith which are not true, instruct him as to what is right. If you hear someone blaspheming and swearing at God, let him know that you will not tolerate such words in your presence, and be quite firm about it. The Apostle’s words are clear: we should please our neighbour for his good to edification

In explaining how to please others, the Apostle gives the example of the Lord Himself. “For even Christ pleased not Himself,” he says. It is because of every single one of us: you, me, him, her, because of all those that we love and all those that we do not love or even like, that the Almighty became a small, helpless babe. The Most Wise and All-knowing God wept with the tears of a child. He who is all-encompassing Love was born in a cold cave, for there was no place for Him among the people, His creatures. And so it continued throughout His life, ending with the iron nails being hammered into His most pure hands and feet and His most painful death on the cross between two criminals

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma (Eph. 5:1–2), says the Apostle. We, of course, know, that we cannot even come close to the Lord in His self-sacrificial Love, but we must try to imitate Him at least in a small way.

Whenever we treat a neighbour as our brother, we are closer to God by one step

St. Gregory the Theologian also gives us some wonderful advice. “Every sailor is close to shipwreck. The higher he holds up his head and the more fearlessly he sails, the closer he is to shipwreck, for he does not see what is ahead. While you are sailing with a good wind, hold out your hand to him who is drowning. While you are revelling in your good health and wealth, help him who is in distress. Do not wait to learn from your own experience how hurtful inhumanity is and how great is a good heart which is open to those who are in trouble

Give someone who is suffering even a little – it will not be little for someone who has nothing. Are you healthy and wealthy? Then give consolation to those who are not. You have never experienced a fall? Then help your neighbour who has fallen and hurt himself to rise to his feet. Are you joyful? Then encourage your neighbour whose spirits are low. Are you fortunate? Make the life of an unfortunate man easier. Give thanks to God for not being numbered among those in need of charity, but among those who are able to give charity, for not watching the hands of others, but for having others watch your hands

If you are unable to perform great charity, perform at least a small one. Lend a helping hand, give out some food, clothing or medication. Tend to a sick man’s wounds, ask about his situation, talk to him, visit him. If you have nothing to give, then share his grief, weep together with him. The warm compassion of a fellow man is very comforting for someone who is afflicted by some misfortune. Suffering is greatly alleviated by heartfelt compassion.

That is the practical meaning of bearing the infirmities of the weak and the burdens of those who are heavy laden, thus fulfilling the law of Christ