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Romans 15 God-glorifying Harmony

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

Introduction

The Strong and the Weak

In Romans 14, Paul introduces two groups of believers: the “strong” and the “weak”. Dave did an excellent job of discussing these two categories last week. 

The weak were converts from Judaism who were still stuck in either the Jewish food & festival laws and customs, and/or converts from Paganism who were still stuck with superstitions of their various cults about foods and holy days. 

The strong were converts from either camp who realized that they had immense freedom in Christ! That the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking or recognition of specific days as special, but (Romans 14:17) was a matter of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Another way of saying that is that righteousness, peace, and joy do not come from conformity to these rules and superstitions, but they come from The Holy Spirit’s work in believers as we follow Jesus’s teaching.

In Romans 14 and 15, Paul is telling the strong how to interact with the weak. Because there were problems in the early church. Not just in Rome, but it would seem most of the letters Paul wrote address this in some fashion.

Weaponizing Romans 14

I wanted to start out by saying that I have often gotten this passage wrong. Two of my favorite verses in Romans 14 are verse 14 and verse 23; or at least the first half of 14 and the second half of 23.  These two truths, put together, do make a powerful combo, dialing in the essence of sin:

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself…”

“…whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

These verses are essentially saying (and I think the passage itself indicates) that no thing is inherently sinful. That anything used or done in faith and in line with God’s commands (two very important caveats) can be pure. Any anything even “ministry” can be sinful, if not done in faith.

But you know, rather than resting in the security of my freedom in Christ, and using that freedom from slavery to sin and the law as the motivator and power source for the ministry of reconciliation, I liked to weaponize it. And I used to judge and look down on those who felt that alcohol was sinful or that free-range, organic, whole foods were more righteous. 

Which is the exact opposite of what Paul is teaching! In fact, in 1 Corinthians 8 where Paul says: “Knowledge puffs up…” — this is exactly the context.  He doesn’t mean knowledge generally puffs you up, he means “knowledge that all things are clean” can puff you up.  It can make you judgmental toward those who are weaker in faith.  The antidote that Paul gives to being puffed up and judgmental about your greater strength (in terms of freedom to eat and drink whatever you want to God’s Glory)? Love.

In fact it's only in the last couple months running up to Romans 12, 13, 14, and 15 in our teaching that I began to see this in myself. Some of you remember a few weeks ago, my confession about judging based on strengths and weaknesses in gifting. Well, surprise! Here it is for me again.

Overview

Let’s look through our passage today, and then I’ll spend some time on some reflections and applications.

Romans 15:1-2

1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 

The surprising thing about verse one to me: I had always thought this phrase “bear with the failings of the weak” meant something like “put up with” or “tolerate”. The actual word is more like “carry”. This is not mere tolerance that he has in mind. It is active partnership. We are to be actively in partnership with our brothers and sisters in the church.

The word strong and failing and weak all share the same root, so an awkward literal phrasing could be “we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weak in their weakness.”

Who are the strong and the weak? Have you given much thought to who around you are the weak ones and who are the strong ones? I’ve noticed that most people I talk to tend to think that they are definitely in the strong camp. I know I do. 

In our life group discussion on Thursday one of our sisters wisely said something like “it seems to me that the more mature you are spiritually, the weaker you realize you are, and that it tends to be the less mature who are pretty convinced they are strong.” How true.  

So to you various folks out there who right now are putting yourself in the strong camp, maybe turn the mirror around on to yourself.. You’ll see in a minute that we are all in the weak camp from time to time.

I am fairly certain that the Jews in the Roman church were assuming that Paul was implicating gentiles when he said “weak” — they probably felt that gentiles were weak in what God required of them in terms of holiness and conformity to God’s law! 

I’m fairly certain that the gentiles were assuming that Paul was implicating Jews when he said “weak” — they probably felt that the Jews didn’t understand their freedom in Christ, and the equivalence of all nationalities in God’s eyes.

I’m also fairly certain that Paul was implicating both groups in the judgmental attitudes toward each other. That the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking in either direction!

The “pleasing ourselves” that we are to not do here: seek our own comfort, or ease, or directly in context, the exercise of our freedom in Christ especially with regard to food and drink and holidays. We should not demand that things be done our way. 

When I was in college we used the phrase “die to yourself” a lot. In other words, do what Christ did.

Romans 15:3

3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 

This is a quote from Psalm 69.  It’s wonderful to pause and read the whole Psalm. David was so concerned that God be glorified that he didn’t want to get in anyone’s way of trying to please God, even to the point of allowing himself to be mocked and cursed and even though he was the rightful king of Israel, he did not claim the throne from Saul by force!

The Psalm is definitely Messianic and Jesus quoted it, lived it, and had it at the front of his mind throughout his ministry. I’m going to ask you to read and discuss it in your small groups this week.

Romans 15:4

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 

In Romans 6 Paul says we are now dead to the law. In chapter 14 he says that all foods are clean, and it is acceptable to view all days as alike, rather than recognizing some as more holy or special than others. This would seem to go against the teaching of the law in the Old Testament, so what gives? 

Paul is saying that Christians, both Jew and Gentile are no longer bound by the statutes of the law! And this fact is supported in almost every other one of the epistles, Acts, and Christ’s teaching himself. Christ has fulfilled the law. It has accomplished its purpose. So what do we do with it now? Should we still pay attention to the Old Testament? Yes! 

Its purpose now is to bring us hope and encouragement!  How? By seeing God’s faithfulness to his promises to Israel despite their failures, and to see God’s mercy toward gentiles; but more on that in a minute.

Romans 15:5-7

5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 

Look at the image here. The whole church, currently full of political and cultural division, arguments over finer points of performance, dropping those arguments to sing together, in harmony with Christ, so that everyone who saw how much everyone in the church loved one another despite their differences, would see God more clearly for who He is: beautiful, faithful, and merciful. 

This is what is meant by “Glorifying God” — helping people see Him more clearly, like a telescope that helps you see the planets in all their magnificence. It says here that we glorify God with one voice by welcoming one another, as Christ welcomed us.  

And how did Christ welcome us?

Romans 15:8-9

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. 

Christ accomplished His work of glorifying God through serving! And how did he serve them? He fed them, healed them, taught them, died for them… He gave himself up for them. This is the way that he showed “The truth of God”, confirmed the promises, and opened the kingdom to the gentiles.

Romans 15:9-12

As it is written, 

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, 

and sing to your name.” 

10 And again it is said, 

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 

11 And again, 

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, 

and let all the peoples extol him.” 

12 And again Isaiah says, 

“The root of Jesse will come, 

even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; 

in him will the Gentiles hope.” 

Paul quotes from every section of the Old Testament: The Law (Deuteronomy), The Prophets (Isaiah), and the Writings (2 Samuel & Psalms) to show that the whole Old Testament speaks of God’s mission always having included the Gentiles!

Implications and applications

Romans 14 & 15 have massive implications for our lives. Of the marvelous and intricate outline of the Gospel in the first eleven chapters of Roman's here is the culmination and application.  

The Goal: God’s Glory

Our primary goal as believers is to bring God glory. That is, to show by the way we live our lives and by the way we love one another, and by the way we interact with the watching world, who God is.

So with this issue of bearing the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters. The goal in doing so is ultimately to bring God glory! In fact this is the best way to bring God glory!  “All men will know you are my disciples by your…” what?  Moral uprightness? Dietary choices? Celebration of holidays? Political stances? Outrage at the “collapsing society”? Zeal for mission and evangelism? No. By your love for one another.

In light of this goal, to show the world who God is, what does it matter whether or not we drink wine or eat meat? Whether or not we mark certain holidays or festivals? What does matter is our love and service toward one another, and our willingness to put up with each others differences.

The Path: Death to self in the service of others

And not just to put up with one another, but to actually lend our strength to one another. And we do this best by “dying to ourselves”: submitting to our preferences in favor of theirs, not making full use of our freedoms to eat or drink what we want, but instead doing what is going to best help build up the faith of our brother.  We are not to be concerned only with our own self-improvement, or our own goals in life, our own growth and maturity, but seeking to help our brother with these things.

Serving to build them up

There are sideboards on this, and they are mentioned in this chapter. See in verse 2, we are not to please our selves, but please our neighbor to build him up.  The end goal is not that the other person necessarily gets their way over you. The end goal is that they are strengthened in their faith. This often requires correction and instruction and sometimes rebuke. Paul was equally adamant about this. But correct and instruct with patience and gentleness and compassion.

Not just any harmony

Notice too that it says we are to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ. Meaning in line with Christ: His character and his teaching. We are not just singing any song that we feel like. There are going to be people who are “off key from Jesus” — poor theology, rebelliousness, false gospels. We are not to try to harmonize with that. 

Jesus and the apostles had very strong words for those that placed themselves as teachers who were leading people astray with false teaching and bad doctrine. They sought to correct and if the bad teaching persisted, they tossed them out and warned Christians to stay away. The apostles passed this responsibility on to the elders of the church, and those of us that fail in this regard will be dealt with very harshly on Judgment Day.

The Fuel for the Journey: The Gospel (realizing we are/were weak.)

The key to this compassion and patience and ability and willingness to bear the weak in their weakness is the Gospel, which tells each and every one of us that we were once, and still are from time to time and in many different ways, the weak who needed the help. Remember Paul’s words in chapter 5 (which if we were the church receiving this letter, we would have heard just a few minutes ago…)

Romans 5:6–8 (ESV)

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul tells us to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” – and this is how. Christ died for us when we didn’t deserve it, so we should die for those that don’t deserve it. Christ died for us when we were ungodly, weak, sinners. This was and is every one of us in the room. 

When we are dealing with that brother or sister that really bugs us. When we are tempted to demand our rights, or when we are tempted to think that they don’t deserve it, remember how Christ acted toward us when we didn’t deserve it. 

Some of you have a hard time connecting with or remembering the fact that you didn’t deserve it. And I can tell because of  a self-righteous and judgmental attitude. (And by the way, I’m good at telling here because it takes one to know one.) So those of you in that boat with me, we have something to pray about every morning when we get up and face a day where our goal is to glorify God.

Summary: 

We are to follow our savior and lord Jesus’s model of life by bringing aid to our weaker brothers and sisters, with a spirit of compassion, and patience, despite their failings, for the purpose of promoting “harmony” (unity, peace, partnership) in the church, so that God is Glorified by all who see (inside and outside the church, including ourselves!), for His mercy, patience, and compassion. 

We find the source of strength to have this patience and compassion primarily by realizing that we all were once, and from time to time still are, the weaker one in need of aid.