The quality of our unity either attracts or repels the world. Unfortunately, while the Apostolic Church had some brilliant successes regarding unity, it failed miserably in many places. The church in Galatia was ravaged by legalism. The church in Corinth chose up sides as to what to do about one of its members who was committing incest (1 Cor. 5:1-3). Pergamum was being divided and diluted by Christians’ marriages to unbelievers (Rev. 2:14). And the Lord said in effect that the church at Laodicea made Him sick (Rev. 3:16). The Apostolic Church sometimes fell far short of Christ’s explicit teaching and prayer.
Paul now turns to the supreme example, our Lord Jesus Christ in verses 1-6. Paul writes to the Roman church: “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” (vv. 1-2). If you are prone to judgmentalism and exclusiveness, this is a big pill to swallow. If you are the kind of person who is sure he is right and must have his way, you will not like this at all. The call here is to please others and not ourselves is directed to the “strong” – those who have a broader, more Biblical understanding of their freedom in Christ. This, of course, does not mean the “weak” are exempt from the responsibility of accepting and being patient with the strong, because verse 7 subsequently indicates that both strong and weak are to be accepting. In God’s household strength denotes obligation. An unwillingness to forgo our rights for others indicates we are not so “strong” after all.
We are not to try to be “nice guys” who accommodate men’s sinful ways. There are many who would be pleased if we would flatter and patronize their wrongdoing. So what does Paul mean by pleasing others? It is a determined adjustment of our lifestyle that will contribute to our brother’s “good, to build him up” (v. 2). This is not to be done with a spirit of resignation or an air of condescension. It is to be done with humble love, sympathy, and patience. Such a path is not optional. Our text says we “have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak” (v. 1). Perhaps God has been speaking to you about something you need to change in your lifestyle, and you are sensing it is your obligation. If so, do it by all means!
So intensely concerned is Paul that we be willing to forgo our rights for the sake of unifying and building up our brothers and sisters that he does something he has not done in any of the preceding fourteen chapters of Romans. He holds up the example of Christ to enforce his argument: “For even Christ didn’t live to please himself. As the Scriptures say, ‘The insults of those who insult you, O God, have fallen on me’” (v. 3). How was it that Christ didn’t please Himself? Though Christ existed in indescribable glory from all eternity and was daily rejoicing in the fellowship of the Godhead in perfect holiness, He left all that for the sake of lost humanity.
For Paul, Christ’s example carried immense power. The problem for many of us is that we think Christ’s earthly actions are not quite real to us. But what Christ did is really true! This is what Jesus was, and is like! He really didn’t please Himself. He really did “please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (v. 2). And we are called to follow His example. What is even more remarkable is that He is not only the pattern, but the power. We can do this by Jesus’ power. Thus if we say, “I cannot” we are saying, “I will not.” If God is calling us to change something in our lives for the sake of Christian unity, we can do it through Him.
Paul has made his point powerfully. But having mentioned Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament in Psalm 69:9, he cannot resist adding how helpful the Scriptures are in verse 4. The application is inescapable: believers are to be well acquainted with the Old Testament Scriptures. The ultimate result will be “hope,” that which most strikingly distinguishes the true Christian from his pagan neighbor.
Then in verses 5-6 Paul returns to his main theme with a prayer-wish. First he prays for unity, then for worship. Verse 5 contains his desire for unity. The emphasis here is not that we see everything eye to eye, but rather that we regard one another with minds that are filled with and focused on the Lord as we follow Jesus Christ. In verse 6 his prayer-wish is expressing his desire for unified worship. The apostle understands that worship will not be what it is meant to be unless there is unity. We impoverish our worship and offer poor praise to God by stubbornness and lack of love to fellow believers. But, oh how beautiful the worship is when we worship together in unity. It’s no small thing to be asked to forgo legitimate rights for the building up of brothers and sisters. This is demanding, but perfectly reasonable and possible because Christ did it. And, secondly, it is indispensable to true worship.
In concluding this long exhortation on Christian unity, which began in chapter 14, Paul moves from the call to be willing to deny ourselves in order to please others to the call to accept one another. Again Christ is the example (v. 7), and the primary example here is Christ’s acceptance of the Jews (v. 8). Christ’s becoming a “servant” to Israel reveals the length to which He went to meet the Jews’ needs. But He also accepted the Gentiles. In verses 9-12 Paul quotes four Old Testament Scriptures that predicted that the Gentiles would respond to God’s grace and acceptance.
Christ’s astounding example gives mighty force to Paul’s challenge to “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you” (v. 7). How did Christ welcome you and me? He welcomed us with our many sins, prejudices, and innumerable blind spots. He welcomed us with our psychological shortcomings and cultural naiveté. He welcomed us with our stubbornness. This is how we are to welcome one another. Christ made us one by His willingness not to please Himself.
Are there some legitimate, good things, rightful things that God is asking us to forgo for the good of our brothers and sisters? Then by all means let us forgo them. Are there some believers whom we have been unwilling to accept because they are not our type? God says we must accept them and love them. Let each of us covenant to do this now!
Romans 15:1-13 Study Questions:
In verses 1-6, Paul continues his line of thought from chapter 14 about the “strong” and the “weak.” In this context how does Paul exhort us to follow the example of Christ?
Because he draws on a passage from the Old Testament (Psalm 69:9), Paul briefly discusses his view of the role of Scripture. What is that role?
What do the Old Testament references in verses 7-13 have in common? (They are found in Ps. 18:49, Deut. 32:43, Ps. 117:1, and Isa. 11:10.)
How do these truths, especially as seen in verse 7, help us to mutually welcome Christians from different backgrounds, values, cultures and ethnicities?