Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.…
I. THE RULE OF FORBEARANCE AS LAID DOWN BY THE APOSTLE.
1. There were two classes in the Roman Church who refused liberty to others. There were the men of despotic conscience, and the men of despotic intellect; and, that we may cover the whole ground of character, we may add there are men of despotic will. To one or other of these classes belongs almost every case of undue interference with Christian and social liberty. In all these cases there may be much that is good, but there is a subtle form of self-gratification at the root of it, a mistaken self-assertion, which does not leave room for other natures to develop themselves in freedom.
2. It may be asked if, in no case, we are warranted to interfere with our fellow-men. Most certainly we cannot remain indifferent to what they do and are, if we have any regard for God's truth and their welfare. But we should be very sure that it is regard to God's truth and another's welfare that actuates us, and not the mere wilfulness thai seeks its own way. We have to learn that, within the limits of what is not positively wrong, every one has the right to be himself. It is frequently very hard to allow this, especially when there are close relationships. Husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, find it most difficult of all to make allowance for each other's variety of nature, and to remain side by side without undue interference with one another's peculiarities.
3. It is here that the further principle of this passage comes in, that we are not merely to refrain from constraining others into our way, but, as far as we can, we are to meet them in theirs. If there be a separation of taste, instead of compelling them to surrender, we are to forbear, and if the thing be harmless for us, and it will gratify them, we are to take part in their pursuits. But is there no limit to this surrender? Yes. We are to please our neighbour "for his good to edification." This is the end, and the end prescribes the limit. Such a principle saves Christian compliance from sycophancy or characterlessness. But within two limits — the indulgence of our fellow-men in sin, and the compromise of our own true nature — there is ample scope for the exercise of endless charity and compliance. The tree that has its firm-fixed root and upright stem has also its spreading branches and thousand waving twigs, which yield to the breeze and salute the gentlest movement of the surrounding air. How beautiful strength is, when it thus melts away at its extremities into kindliness and courtesy!
II. THIS FORBEARANCE IS ILLUSTRATED BY CHRIST'S EXAMPLE (ver. 3).
1. The quotation is from Psalm 69, in which the speaker is David; but the apostle takes the words as completed in Christ, which this manner of dealing with the Psalms gives us a light to read the Psalms in. Wherever a man is uttering a breathing of the Divine life, it is not merely Christ that he is implicitly looking forward to, but it is Christ that is breathing and speaking in him.
2. To prove the disinterested forbearance of Christ, he cites a passage that shows his self-devotion to God. Right action toward man flows naturally from right feeling toward God. If self-pleasing has been sacrificed on the Divine altar, it has received its death-blow in every other form. We have to show that this was a characteristic of Christ in His intercourse with men — forbearance and freedom. He presented the Divine will, and pressed it on men as the rule of all life, but He refrained carefully from crushing their nature in its flee development.
(1) We see this in the variety of character which His earthly life drew around it. His disciples represent the extremes of temperament. He is careful never to stamp on them a hard uniformity, but leaves them to their own natural development, and aids them in it. Then, outside this circle, we have groups of all possible colours. How different from founders of human systems, who cannot be satisfied unless their formulas are repeated, and their minutest features reflected, by all their scholars.
(2) Christ not merely refrained from interfering with free growth Himself, but He interposed to defend others when they were interfered with. What a lesson there is to contending, narrow-minded religionists, in Luke 9:49! What an admonition to those who would impose their own way of work upon every other, when Martha's complaint is so gently but firmly met! (John 12:7).
(3) Turn now from His earthly life to the work He carries on by His Spirit, which is to enter into each nature by itself, and unfold it from its own germ and centre. It is for wise reasons that a visible Head is removed from the Christian Church. We can perceive how the disciples started up into stronger, broader men, under this new influence, and how their characters struck out on all sides into more marked individuality. How different are the apostles and the epistles of the same apostle, caused by the variety of development in the churches to which they were addressed! And Christ is still teaching us to look with an approving eye on every honest effort to do good and to take pleasure in the wide variety of human character and Christian grace.
III. SOME OF THE ADVANTAGES THAT WOULD RESULT FROM ACTING ON THIS PRINCIPLE.
1. If, in Christian or social intercourse, we wish to deliver any man from what we think error, we must do so by putting him in the way of convincing himself. To beat him down by unreasoning opposition, or even by an irresistible argument, may please us, but is not likely to gain him. To respect a man's freedom, never to press him so hard as to humiliate him, to give him the clue that may help him to guide himself to the right, is according to the Divine model, and would aid us in serving at the same time both our fellow-men and the truth.
2. Take the family circle. Authority must exist, but when authority makes itself felt at every turn, freedom is gone, and influence vanishes with it. Constitutional government here, as elsewhere, is the great thing to be aimed at — that is, firm law on certain great essentials, but freedom within this to grow up according to taste and temperament. If we wish those we are influencing to become valuable for anything, it must be by permitting them to be themselves. They will do very little if they turn out dead transcripts of us.
3. In pursuing such a course we shall best succeed in elevating and broadening our own nature. If we could bring all around us into our own mould, we should only have narrowed ourselves in the process of constraining others. But, if we enter into sympathy with their pursuits, we not merely grow in unselfishness, but add something to our intellectual nature which was not there before. Conclusion: In all this work there are needed two great qualities, love and wisdom. Neither will suffice alone. Love in its earnestness is often too narrow, and wisdom in its breadth may be too cold. They are the light and heat of the moral world which must go together.
(J. Ker, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.