We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.…
I. WE OUGHT NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES. "We," i.e., strong Christians. Among Christians there are the strong and the weak, and always will be. You notice that the apostle has no corresponding exhortation to the weak, one reason for which may be that very few are willing to regard themselves as such.
1. As to self-pleasing, it never is good.
(1) In its first and lowest form it is pure animality. The tiger pleases himself when he seizes the fawn; and the fox when he carries the fowl away to his den. 'Tis no sin in either; it is their instinct and necessity. And if a man will do the like he has no pre-eminence above the beast.
(2) It is of the essence of sin which in one form is just the enormous exaggeration of the self. It is the little unit trying to take itself out of all relations and beyond laws. It is the plant repudiating the soil that feeds it, insulting the air and light on which it lives. It is the figure one presenting itself as an epitome of the whole science of numbers. If self-pleasing were to get into the heart of the physical world there would be no growth; for growth is secured by one part allowing nourishment to flow through it to another, and in the joint combination of all organs to provide for the nourishment of the whole. And it is in such a world that man stands up and says, "I live to please myself" — man who was made to show the greatness of service, made in the image of the God who serves all.
(3) It always tends to meanness of character. It is clean against magnanimity, patriotism, and the charities of life.
(4) It tends to corruption, just as anything must rot when it ceases to give and take; just as stagnant water becomes unfit for use.
(5) It always inflicts injury and misery upon others.
(6) It is so enormously difficult to the self that is always seeking to be pleased, as to be ultimately quite impossible of realisation. More, and yet more, must be had of this, and that, until more is not to be had.
2. So much for self-pleasing in general. But here is a peculiar form of it — the Christian form of an unchristian thing.
(1) The beginning of Christianity in a human soul and life is the death of self begun. But the process of dying is a lingering one — it is a crucifixion. Many and many a time self says, "I will not die."(2) Christian people, then, ought to be constantly on their guard against this thing. There is no one whom it will not beset. The vivacious will have it presented to them in forms of excitement, which will draw them away from the duties of daily life and of Christian service. The modest and retiring will think that it can injure no one that they should take their rest. In fact, all the vices are but different dresses which the old self puts on as it goes up and down the world murmuring, "We ought to please ourselves!" Please the higher self and welcome — your conscience, love, the powers of the Christian life — and then, not you alone, but angels and God Himself will be pleased. But as to pleasing that other self, all danger and all soul-death lie that way. "Let that man be crucified." Put fresh nails into the hands and the feet.
(3) But "the strong" — why should they, at least, not please themselves? "The strong" here are the advanced men in the Christian community, the men of higher intelligence and clearer faith who have come out into an ampler liberty. Surely it were better that such men should have their way. Strength is a beautiful thing both in the region of thought and of action. Yes, but it is beautiful no longer when it becomes intolerant of anything that is not as strong as itself. So, then, we who are strong ought not to drive when we find we cannot lead; nor wax impatient of delays which are inevitable; nor lose temper — for that will show that we ourselves are growing weaker; nor even to think ungenerous thoughts, but rather seek to settle our strength in this — in the universal charity which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things," and then, as the result, achieveth all things.
II. IF NOT OURSELVES, THEN WHOM? Our "neighbour."
1. "Every one of us!" Not one can be exempted. 'Tis no use to plead peculiarity in temperament or circumstance. You have a neighbour, and you must please him.
2. But here comes a difficulty. If the neighbour is to be pleased by me why should not he please in return? If there be an obligation it must surely be mutual. And so we shall end in self-pleasing after all. Besides, how do I know that to please him will profit him? He may be self-willed, or luxurious, or cowardly; and if I please him I may very likely nourish in him these bad qualities. But here is the safeguard, "I am to please my neighbour for his good to edification." It is not that one is to yield to another simply because he wishes it. That would be childishness, and would produce very bad fruit. And there is no room for concession in matters of vital importance. It would be a cruel kindness to a fellow-Christian to yield to him in any matter affecting saving truth or duty. The whole question is about things less than vital. This way may seem best to me; may be best for me. Yet it may not be the best for all. Or it may be abstractly the best for all, and yet it is not to be forced on them.
3. For good to edification. Why, what is that but pleasing the new, the better self in the man, just as I seek to please it in my own breast?
III. WAS NOT THIS JUST THE BEHAVIOUR OF CHRIST HIMSELF? "Even Christ," "who was with God," "who was God," pleased not Himself by retaining that condition, when a great need arose, and when, by a change in His state, He could supply the need, "He was rich, and for our sakes He became poor," etc. And when He was here He never spared Himself. He never chose the easier way. Shall I then please myself, and say that I am following Him? Shall I not rather gaze anew at this great sight — a holy, happy being denying Himself, and suffering for others through life and death?
(A. Raleigh, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.