Usually when we want guidance for a difficult task we will look for the best role model or example possible, and in these verses Paul mentions the best example we can have, indeed the perfect one, the Lord Jesus. Why do we need such an example?
In verses 1 and 2, Paul connects living for others with imitating the example of Jesus. It is interesting to observe that he counts himself among the strong when it comes to this aspect of Christian living, an assessment that some might not have expected, given that he was a Jew who was willing to practice Jewish rituals when appropriate. He reminds his readers that Christians have obligations and here he focuses on the obligations of the strong towards the weak. Their obligation is connected to brotherly love, which should be at the centre of Christian behaviour, always with the aim of making other believers stronger in the faith.
Paul mentions that they should bear with the failings of the weak. What does he mean by ‘bear’? We can use the word with the meaning of endure, but that would not be an expression of brotherly love. Instead it means to help or to carry those who have the problem. After all, on a difficult journey, the strong usually carry the weak, and Christians are on the journey to heaven and the strong are expected to care for the weak in a spiritual sense.
Verse 3 highlights that Jesus dealt with the sins that others committed against the glory of his Father. We can see that one reason for him doing this was that he loved his Father. The love was so strong that he was prepared to do anything to ensure that his Father’s name was honoured, even being willing to become the sinbearer on the cross. He was prepared to make himself nothing in order for his Father to be worshipped. On one occasion, he explained his mission to his disciples in these words: ‘but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here’ (John 14:31).
The application to the relationship between weak and strong Christians is clear. Even as Jesus was prepared to go to the limits to bring honour to his Father, so the strong should be prepared to go to the limits to help the weak. When they do so, they please God. It is as if we can imagine the Father saying about them, ‘You are like my Son. He was concerned for my glory and you are concerned for the well-being of your family members.’