In the last chapter, we saw Paul defines the strong as those who are fully convinced that in Christ they have been freed from the restrictions of the law, including the dietary restrictions about food and drink. Their strong faith that Christ has fully satisfied all the requirements of the law allows them to feel comfortable with eating or drinking anything. Paul made it clear that both groups are Christians, and both are trusting Christ for their salvation.

Those less strong in their faith still feel obligated to the old rules of the law about eating certain meats, for example. Paul taught in the previous chapter that, though their convictions are not based on truth, they must not violate their own consciences. In fact, to do so would be a serious sin (Rom 14:23).

To those strong in their faith, Paul has written that they must be willing to set aside their freedom in certain situations in order to avoid leading their less strong brothers and sisters into that sin. “Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Rom 15:1-2)

Paul includes himself when he writes that the strong have an obligation—a duty of love—to bear with the failings of the weak, reiterating what he said in the previous chapter. Yes, he describes their lack of faith about what is permitted as a failing. And, yes, he is still teaching that those of stronger faith must not provoke the weak to violate their convictions. “Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about disputed matters.” (Rom 14:1)

In short, those strong in the faith must put a low priority on pleasing themselves, placing it below their obligation to serve weaker Christians. “And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” (1 Thess 5:14-15) This reminds us of the reason for community: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)