Romans 14 challenges us to not quarrel with one another over matters that don’t matter. We are to accept one another and not let disputable matters get between us. It’s knowing Christ that matters. God has accepted all who come to Christ. This doesn’t leave us with a hippy church where everything is acceptable – but that we are all to judge for ourselves what is right and live by faith and live at peace. We are to be serious about not destroying people’s faith but building it up in love. Trust God and seek his kingdom – a church filled with people like that would be an awesome church.
Romans 15 continues close to this same theme but gives us two sources of input for our thinking – the teaching of God and the mind of Christ.
Look at the paragraph breakdown of the NIV (1-4, 5-6, 7-12, 13) What do you think of this breakdown? What is good about it and what is unsatisfactory?
It seems like a great division but it hides the continuity of verses 1-6.
15:1 – this is a great summary of chapter 14! Bearing with others is close to the idea of being merciful. We can begin to see that the way we are instructed to behave toward others is the same way that God bears with us. God doesn’t wipe us out with every fault that we have but he extends his mercy to us and reaches his hand out to us in love and grace. We, as a church, are to live out the gospel to others.
15:2 – Paul seems to extend our relationship from the sphere of the church family to the greater world by using the term ‘neighbour.’ The church are made up of brothers and sisters but the greater world is our neighbour – all who we interact with in our week. We are told here to do good to our neighbour with the expectation that they will be built up. It may not be clear at this stage that Paul is looking outside the church but as the passage proceeds, we’ll see that he has in mind the expansion of the gospel to all the world. How does somebody become part of the church – it may well begin with the good relationship that they experience with someone inside the church body.
15:3 – ‘..even Christ did not please himself…’ the link between verse 3 and 2 is that Jesus displays for us what it looks like to love your neighbour even when your neighbour is impossible to relate to. The quote in this verse is from Psalm 69:9. The whole Psalm is of an Old Testament Jew who trusts in God desires to serve God even when everyone around him is treating him harshly. Paul seems to be able to take this quote and apply it to Jesus as if it were always talking about Jesus. Jesus was willing to receive the insults that ultimately were aimed at God.
15:4 – I have this verse underlined in my bible. I don’t know when or where I did that but I like that it is. In Paul’s day, the Scriptures were, by and large, the Old Testament. The New Testament was still under construction and being written by Paul and Peter and a few others. To say that the Old Testament was written to teach us so that we might have hope – that’s amazing. Paul writes this to New Testament believers like us! 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Christians are fully equipped by the Scriptures. What does it do? It teaches us endurance and gives us encouragement. We see in the Scriptures how much time God used to fulfill his promises. We see in the Scriptures how much pain and conflict the people of God went through in service to the Almighty. We see in the Scriptures how consistant God is with his message and with the faulty and weak people who he called to be his own.
15:5 – First we are told that the Scriptures teach us endurance and encouragement and now we are told that it is God who gives them. Well, which is it? Does God magically impart perseverance and courage? Or is it the bible that teaches us these things? Well, isn’t it both? God gives these things to us and it is the word of God that he uses to impart them to us. Lookup 2 Timothy 3:15-17 again. The bible is sufficient and effective. Anyone who goes looking elsewhere for God to speak to them is treating the Scriptures as less valuable than it is. Paul had a perfect opportunity toward the end of Romans to explain how we can connect best with the Almighty and to receive clear direction in our life. Well, he had the opportunity to tell us and he did! It is through the word of God – the bible. This is where we get to know the mind of God – how he acts and what he loves. The other source of wisdom about God is to know Christ Jesus and understand his mind on things. He demonstrates for us (also through reading the gospels in the bible) how to love our neighbour.
15:6 – Now, God gives us perseverance and encouragement and he can also give us an attitude of mind that is modelled off Christ Jesus. The end result is that we will all together be united in glorifying God. What is the opposite of this? Isn’t it that we remain in conflict and divided over matters that don’t matter and miss the point that God desires to reconcile the world together in His Son? The end result is to glorify God as one voice instead of a noise of bickering.
15:7 – We are told to accept on another just as 14:1 told us to accept the weaker brother or sister. The difference here, though, is that we are to accept our neighbour too – those outside the faith – not because God has accepted them (14:3) but because Christ has accepted you! (15:7). If Christ only accepted those who were already righteous, then there would be nobody righteous except Jesus. For us to have the mind of Christ, we must accept everybody and seek to please them for their good. The result of this will come out of verse 9 and following but first, what did Jesus do?
15:8 – Let’s work backwards through this verse. God made promises to the ancient father’s of Israel – namely Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. See Genesis 12:1-3. All the nations would be blessed through them. That is, the whole world would benefit from the descentants of Abraham. Well, that might have looked truish in Solomon’s prime years but the rest of the Old Testament shows a weak and selfish nation – not much different from the rest of the world. What does verse 8 say next (backwards)? On behalf of God’s truth – or on behalf of God’s word and promises – Christ became a servant of the Jews. He did for them what they were unable to do – please God and become a blessing to the whole world.
15:9 – Not only were the Jews blessed because of Jesus but, true to the promise to Abraham – the whole world – the nations – the Gentiles – the non-Jews are now able to glorify God for mercy has been shown on them too!
15:9-12 – 2 Samuel 22:5 (also Psalm 18:49); Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10 are all quoted with a similar message: that the Jewish writer, through the Holy Spirit, is calling on all the nations to praise God. Praise and rejoice in God – put your hope in Him and acknowledge God as the ruler of all. The gospel going out to all the world is not a New Testament theme absent from the Old. The God who created the whole earth (Genesis 1-11) is the one true God who promised to bless the whole earth (Genesis 12:1-3). The story of the Old Testament is the story of God teaching perseverance to wait on the promises to be fulfilled and giving encouragement to the reader to be sure and trust in the God of hope.
15:13 – I feel that this contains the truth of this whole passage. God is the God of hope. Hope – real and complete hope – can’t be found anywhere else. Trusting in God and putting you trust in him first, second and last provides a joy and peace that transcends our current situations. Jesus Christ trusted his Father completley and knew that suffering and betrayal and an increasing number of enemies would mark his life and death. True joy and peace comes from the one source of hope. This hope can overflow from your life into the life of others. Whether your neighbour will one day come to accept Christ or not is not the point – but your neighbour may receive unwarranted love and peace from you because your rock is The Saviour and your peace is found truly in Him.
God has made promises, given his word and given us his Son to ensure that we will praise him and glorify the God of hope. We are to be like Christ to people in our path – they ought not to experience hostility and judgment but acceptance, patience, mercy and knowledge of the hope. So God gives and teaches mercy to us, let’s give and teach mercy to others.
- Christians need to work harder at not being hostile to others. Even when the temptation comes to judge a non-Christian’s behaviour as ‘wrong’ or something similar – God has not called us to judge the world we live in but to love our neighbour and do good to them. As we seek to follow Jesus’ example, we will seek to live at peace and do good to our neighbour regardless of how they treat us.
- All Scripture is there to teach us and point us to the God of hope. Let’s use it! Open it up. Set a plan to read it every day. Think about what parts of the bible that you have never read before or have not read in a long time and go to those parts. Find a friend to read the bible with. Look at the pages in the bible and look out for words that help you to persevere in the faith and that give you encouragement to stay strong in the faith.
- If Joy and peace is not a description of your experience, perhaps you have wandered back to saving yourself rather than putting your trust in God. Us sinners tend to do that.
- Get your mind straight on where God’s plans are headed. They are to reconcile everything under Christ (Eph 1 – esp verses 9-10). Peace cannot be found outside of Christ. The result of God’s work is that people from all over the world who have turned to Christ will praise and glorify God our Father because of his promises, his mercy, his acceptance of sinners and the perfect work that he has done in Christ.
- If you are finding life hard at the moment – share that with your group and ask for endurance and courage. Pray for healing, release, resolution and all other good outcomes but thank God for this time of hardship which produces good character and ignites hope within you. This hardship may be the best thing that could happen to you.