Romans is drawing to a close. I would suggest to you that the end is not mere wrap-up fluff, but rather Paul’s shorter points. These are not of lesser importance, only lesser print. This is especially true as you hit the first verses of Romans 15. Paul comes to his last chapter of instruction, and we start with this:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for good, to his edification. Romans 15:1-2 (NASB, with one modification by author)
Many of the commentaries on this passage are quick to tie Paul’s meaning here back into the specific area discussed in Romans 14, namely that of eating meat. Specifically meat sacrificed to idols, as some people were concerned that buying and eating such meat was participating in the sacrifice. (Kind of like today thinking that buying from a company is participating in whatever dark rituals they practice.)
I think we would do better to see that one issue as the example case. Paul is using the question of meat sacrificed to idols to illustrate a wider point, rather than thinking that he only meant this for those who shop near idol temples.
What is the principle Paul is addressing?
The right to bare weakness. We who are believers in Christ have the right to bare our weaknesses among the body. Not to be narcissistic or to demand all the attention come our way, but simply to admit that we are not perfect and need prayer.
Even to admit that we need a little help dealing with a problem, and we need that help from the church. That is the right of every member of the body. Why would it be a right? Because it’s an inalienable need of every member of the body as well. We all have weaknesses, and we have the right to bare those.
The right to bear weakness. The other thing that we tend to do to one another is refuse to accept aid for our weaknesses. I am, personally, weak in a few areas. I am abysmal in others, and we’ll talk about that later. However, there are areas where I am strong, as well.
And those strengths line up with someone’s weak points. Just like it is your right to bare your weakness, it is my right to help bear that weakness. Self-sufficiency is not a Christian virtue. In truth, the pride of refusing help does at least as much damage among the body as the pride of denying help does. Your fellow believers have the right to help bear your weakness, and you have the right to bear theirs. This is not Star Trek V, where holding on to our pain keeps us alive. This is the real world.
Side note: the only thing more difficult to admit exists than Star Trek V is Indiana Jones 4. Neither film deserves to occupy a space on your shelf or hard drive.
The right to bear weakness. Again?
Because this brackets with baring our own weakness, and that is the right to have weakness. Too often we want to instant-fix our brothers and sisters. The extent of that which is motivated by love and the desire to limit pain is good. When we get beyond that, though, into thinking that we should get to be surrounded by people with no weaknesses, or expecting that one church service will fix all of their problems, we are very, very wrong.
While we do not have the right to willfully wallow in our sin, we must acknowledge that some weaknesses go deeper than Bob Newhart’s Counseling Service:
We want to help, we want to overcome, but we must admit that it will take some problems a lifetime to lift. We have the right to bear weakness in the church.
We should learn to bare, bear, and bear within the church.
Today’s Nerd Note: A note on letter writing. Romans 15 feels like the end of the letter. Paul has told the church what he has to say, he shares his travel plans, and he says “Amen.” What is the deal, then, with having one more chapter?
Letters, especially from important teachers (Paul was one of many in the Roman world,) were often dictated through a scribal process. The proper term is, I believe, amanuensis for the individual who wrote letters. This person would be told what to write, write it, come back and have it approved or corrected. Then the actual sender would write a closing in their own handwriting. This allowed good handwriting to reign across the bulk of correspondence. I think, and this is partly based in some research, that we likely have the end of the “dictated” (not really the right term, since it implies word-for-word writing, but I’ve left that book elsewhere) portion in Romans 15. There are the closing farewells that are likely recorded by the amanuensis in 16, and then Paul’s farewell.
An additional thought: Paul writes in vv. 24-28 of his desire to go to Spain. Some traditions put him there in later years, but others do not. Do you think he got to Spain? Why or why not?