Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not please ourselves.
As I read this verse, an old song came to mind. The song says that you can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself. While the tune is catchy and the sentiment expressed is decidedly in keeping with the world’s philosophy, God calls His children to something higher: to please our brothers and sisters.
There are, in this verse, two groups and two courses of action for one of the groups.
Group one is we who are strong. Paul classes himself in this group. If I have grown in faith the point where I can exercise Christian liberty — i.e. I can eat what I want and wear what I want and so on — then I can also class myself in the group of we who are strong. To put Christian liberty in context, I read an account of an exchange between D.L. Moody and a woman in his congregation. She claimed that Moody was too severe and too stringent and never did anything that he wanted like go to the theater and other entertainments. Moody replied that he went to the theater and enjoyed other entertainments exactly as often as he wanted to … and he did not want to. Christian liberty is not only the freedom to do something, but also the freedom to refrain. This becomes important to Paul’s instruction.
Group two is those without strength. These are folks whose faith is young or weak or just happens not to extend as far as my own does in a particular arena. I am one of these without strength in some areas of my walk, so I am hardly in a position to throw stones. And I will not.
So we have the weak and the strong. What to do with that? Paul gives instruction: bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not please ourselves. The weaknesses in question could also be translated as errors coming from weakness of mind. The weaknesses that must be borne are bad thinking; misunderstandings of grace or forgiveness or Christian liberty or a host of other things. And these are weaknesses, indeed, as they hinder the ability of the person without strength to move forward in Christian living.
Walk with God long enough and quite a bit falls within the purview of Christian liberty. My liberty should never be a cause for stumbling to my brothers and sisters, but should be an opportunity for me to exercise the other part of liberty, viz. the freedom to refrain from something that is perfectly acceptable. Liberty, true liberty, is the freedom to do or not do as seems best. God’s call to me through Paul’s instruction is to be free enough to not do the things that might cause my brothers and sisters to stumble.