I am to bear with the failings of the weak.
Paul, the Apostle, writes,
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:1-2, ESV)
People are weak. But Jesus makes people strong.
And Jesus has made me strong. This is not a statement of arrogance but of gratitude.
I once hated people and was drowning in misery and sin.
Now I’m not.
And it’s because of Jesus.
It’s also because Jesus, through other people, bore with my failings. I look back on my walk and cringe at my immaturity, lack of knowledge, cynicism, (the list is lengthy)…
But people put up with me. They overlooked my flaws and walked with me toward Jesus. They were strong, I was weak. And Jesus, working through these amazing people, built me up.
He is still building me up, and mostly through other people. People are still bearing with me!
I am so thankful for this.
But now that I have been strengthened by Jesus, I am called to bear with the failings of the weak. But what does this look like?
Let me tell you about Mike.
Nearly two years ago, a man named Mike walked into Midtown Commons (our coffee shop). He wore a t-shirt and tattered jeans in the middle of November. His shoes had large enough holes in them to reveal that he didn’t have any socks. When we sat down to talk, he told me that he had recently uncovered a terroristic plot to blow up a local bridge and would soon be receiving the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. The details of the story, he said, would be available to the masses once his auto-biography was published.
Of course, none of this was true. Mike is schizophrenic and during months-long psychotic episodes can’t distinguish reality from fantasy. A couple of months after meeting Mike, he started taking his medication and began engaging in normal conversation. He said he wanted to follow Jesus and study the bible. So we started walking together.
It wasn’t much later that Mike quit taking his meds and claimed that Drew Barrymore was communicating to him through magazine articles and late night talk shows. This delusion lasted a couple of months before Mike settled down and wanted to continue seeking Jesus. So we started walking again.
Eventually the pattern kicked back into full swing and Mike declared himself to be Jesus. He cussed me out, got into some trouble with the law, and spent some time in jail. After his jail time, Mike stopped by Midtown Commons to apologize and repent of his claim to be Jesus.
I don’t know if Mike will ever have a life of “normalcy.” He is weak. And for a host of reasons – reasons that I can’t fix or change – he may always be weak. I believe God can heal him, but he may never do so. In the meantime, I am called to bear with Mike’s failings. To listen to his bizarre stories. To let him curse me. To laugh with him as he laughs at himself.
To show him mercy.
Paul’s words in Romans are a reminder that love is not a means to an end. We don’t love others in order to gain something for ourselves. Paul also tells us that love “is not self-seeking.” We love others because we are created to do so. And the greatest love, according to Jesus, is when we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others.
So, we bear with the failings of the weak.
Loving others, when it is really, really hard to do so.
And it doesn’t hurt to find someone who will bear with our failings as well.