Notes (NET Translation)
1 But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves.
The use the word “we” indicates Paul identifies with the “strong”. As the previous verses indicate, “to bear the failings of the weak” means to respect their scruples regarding food. The “strong” should refrain from criticizing and judging the “weak”. The “strong” are not simply to please themselves whenever they eat with the “weak”. In Greco-Roman culture the weak were supposed to submit to the strong so Paul’s advice is counter-cultural.
2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up.
Love is described here as “pleasing” (ἀρεσκέτω, aresketō) one’s neighbor. Such an admonition could be radically misunderstood, for some neighbors may be pleased with gossip, sexual sin, violence, and so on. Moreover, Paul elsewhere eschews pleasing people (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4), contending that it is incompatible with his apostolic ministry. Compromising the gospel of Christ by flattering people or trimming back the scandal of the cross (Gal. 5:11) is unthinkable. What Paul calls for here, however, is pleasing people “for their good, for their edification” (εἰς τὸ ἀγαθὸν πρὸς οἰκοδομήν, eis to agathon pros oikodomēn). The two purpose clauses mutually interpret one another. It is appropriate to please others insofar as it helps them advance in goodness, that is, be built up and strengthened in their faith and godliness. The reference in this context is to fellow Christians in the community, not to unbelievers. Paul applies this principle to himself, seeking to please others if it will advance the possibility of their salvation (1 Cor. 9:19–23; 10:33). Pleasing others to advance their selfish interests is excluded. Pleasing others so that they will be stronger in the faith, however, is a beautiful quality.1
3 For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Primarily in his sufferings and death upon the cross did Christ not please himself. The quote is from Ps 69:9 (68:10 LXX), a psalm which is used elsewhere in the NT in connection with Christ’s death (Matt 27:34; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36; John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28-29; Acts 1:20; Rom 11:9). The “you” in the quote is God and the “me” is Christ. The insults in question may be the tauntings Jesus endured on the cross (Matt 27:27-31, 39-41).
The noun ‘insult’ and the verb ‘to insult’ connote finding fault and shaming. In its context this quotation is part of the psalmist’s lament over the scorn and shame heaped upon him because of his zeal for God:
For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
(Ps 69:7-9, italics added)
The quotation suits well Paul’s purpose to reinforce the statement that Christ did not please himself. There is a clear correspondence between the psalmist’s experience of suffering for the sake of God and because of his zeal for the house of God, and Christ’s experience of suffering as the insults of those who insulted God fell on him and culminated in his death upon the cross. All this Christ bore, not only for the sake of God but also for the sake of human beings. Paul implies that the ‘strong’ in the Roman Christian community ought to be willing to act like Christ did and not seek just to please themselves, but to please others by limiting the exercise of their freedom for the sake of the ‘weak’.2
4 For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
The word “for” indicates that this statement functions as justification for the use of Ps 69 in v 3 (cf. Rom 4:23-24; 1 Cor 10:11; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The OT Scriptures help Christians understand the climax of salvation history. “Reading the OT and seeing its fulfillment in Christ and the church fosters the believer’s hope, a hope that is accompanied by the ability to ‘bear up’ under the pressure of spiritually hostile and irritating circumstances.”3
V. 4 makes a statement about the virtue and value of Scripture for the Christian life. It is suitable for teaching and helps believers to endure and be encouraged so that they may look forward to the future in hope. This should be compared to what is said in the later Pauline text 2 Tim. 3.16. We must distinguish between Scripture as a source of instruction and encouragement on the one hand and the keeping of particular covenants contained within the OT on the other hand, in this case the Mosaic covenant with its Law code. Paul believes Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but this does not mean that he thinks there is nothing to be learned from the OT as a book of prophecy, promises, and instruction. Quite the contrary. He believes the OT is still the inspired word of God and is profitable for teaching and encouragement. Christians are under a different covenant and obliged to its commandments. They still should learn from previous revelation and covenants, not least because God operates in a consistent way throughout salvation history, and what he requires under the new covenant, which involves both grace and obedience, is not radically different from some of what he required under the Law, which also involved grace and obedience. There is overlap, and so there are things to be learned from the old covenants and from the OT as Scripture.4
5 Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 5-6 are a prayer-wish that Paul offers to God for the benefit of the Roman Christians.
What Paul has in mind is that people should reach agreement in their thinking. This does not mean that they will necessarily agree about every disputed matter (Paul did not expect that to be the case, cf. 14:2-8), but rather that they will seek to maintain unity in the Spirit when they must agree to differ. This agreement will be one that is similar to what Jesus Christ had, the one of whom Paul said he did not please himself. The apostle hopes that those who differ will refrain from pleasing themselves and seek to please others, and perhaps that those who are able to do so might be willing to compromise a little so that they can share food at the common meals.5
The words “in accordance with Christ Jesus” refer to Christ’s example (v 3) and/or will. The goal of unity is to glorify God. “Divisions in the church over nonessentials diverts precious time and energy from its basic mission: the proclamation of the gospel and the glorifying of God.”6
Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.
Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.
Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.
Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.
Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.