I minored in music in college. At the same time I was learning a little bit about music theory, I was also discovering jazz music. My growing understanding of music theory made jazz even more fascinating because I could understand something of the creativity and originality in the way jazz music is constructed, how jazz musicians and composers bent and reformatted the rules on music composition and performance.
I began to buy jazz albums and play them in my dorm room. Then something happened to curtail my forays into the world of jazz: my roommate talked to me about the effects of jazz on his conscience.
My roommate had come to faith as a senior in high school. But before that, he was a party animal. The stories he told me about his party days even led me to think he might have been an alcoholic when he was in high school.
When he heard my jazz, he told me, it awakened appetites in him that he was trying to forget. This was odd, because jazz had no such effect on me. What impressed me as creative and original led him to a dark place he didn’t want to go.
What were my options here? After all, I was listening to music I had purchased, playing it on my equipment. And there was nothing inherently wrong with jazz music, at least in a chapter-and-verse sense of the word. I surely had a right to listen to my music. (You did notice all the first-person pronouns in there, didn’t you?)
But this wasn’t about my rights. I had to weigh the value of my liberty against my love for my brother in Christ, and that wasn’t really a tough call.
In the end, I knew I had to do what Paul urges in his letter to the believers in Rome: “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).
And to be candid, this wasn’t a difficult choice. My brother’s conscience was far more precious to me than my liberty.
We may give a nod to the old saying:
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, charity.
But, like many sayings, that is easier said than done. Sometimes the stakes are so high that we have a hard time deferring to our brothers and sisters in these matters. When some liberty is extremely important to me, I may find it very difficult to lay aside my preferences for the sake of my brother or sister. Worse, when my moral sensibilities clash with someone else’s, when an activity violates my conscience and I have a powerful personal conviction about it, I may not be able to “bear with” my brother and allow to him to enjoy his liberty without judging him.
That’s why bearing with one another may be the most difficult aspect of “one-anothering.” It requires us to examine our motives and clarify what really matters to us. And because we follow our suffering Savior, the answer must always be obvious. We must “bear with” our brothers and sisters because we follow the one “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).