Living for our Neighbour

By Not Known

Like all churches, the Church at Rome had her fair share of contending issues. However, in order for Christian discipleship to be walk rather than mere talk, Christian consecration (as summarised in Rom. 12: 1-2) must be applied onto these problems.

When Paul wrote to Rome, there seemingly were two groups of Christians: The 'strong' and the 'weak'. Most likely, the 'strong' were Gentile Christians who had understood the Gospel and were enjoying the liberty it brought. The 'weak' were Jewish Christians (or those influenced by them) who still held on to certain scruples because of an inadequate appreciation of the liberty of the Christian Gospel. Their contention was over "disputable matters" – abstinence from meat and unclean food, and the observance of sacred days (Rom. 14:1-6, 14-20). There was no issue there over the purity of the Gospel or matters that pertained the believer's salvation and freedom from Old Testament law.

Paul's attitude to the 'weak' brother is consistent throughout his Epistles (e.g. 1 Cor 8:11-12; Rom 14:7-9; 15:7-12): he is to be welcomed as one for whom Christ died. While there is a tendency for the 'strong' brother to be contemptuous of such 'weakness', this 'weakness' reflects a lack of spiritual breadth and preception, rather than a lack of morality (Rom 14: 2). The 'weak' must also not be censorious of the 'strong'. Instead, both 'strong' and 'weak' should be united and submit to the one another out of Christ's love (Eph 5: 21).

Rom 15:1-2 make explicit the principle implied in Romans 14 that the exercise of Christian liberty is limited considerabley the law of love: to please our neighbour "for his good, to build him up" rather than please ourselves. Our model for this attitude is none other than that of Christ, who did not seek to please himself (Rom 15: 3). Christ put God's will first, rather than chose an easier path. He put aside self-regarding considerations even when it meant obedience to death – even death on a cross (Phi. 2:8)

Living for God involves dying to self and living for our neighbour's highest good. This is the highest liberty and is fundamental to the whole of Christian life and experience. It explains what Paul means by "living sacrifice" in Rom 12: 1 and biblically considered, is the true meaning of faith.

Living for another's pleasure has great implications for a society like ours which is so conscious of our rights – particularly the right ot seek our own pleasure. The world has influenced us to become a self-seeking people who often build our pleasure upon someone else's sorrow, pain or suffering. However, Christ by his very example, turns it around and implores us, not to stop at loving God with all our heart, but also our neighbour as ourselves (Mt. 22:37-40).