Dr. Richard L. Strauss
September 29, 1991
Purpose: To help us accept people who are different from us.
I don't like conflict. I much prefer to get along with the people in my life. And it seems to me that we could all get along with each other much better if we were more like each other. It's our differences that account for our disagreements. We were all raised differently. We have different ideas, different opinions, different perspectives, and different values. And most of us are convinced that our way of looking at things is right. So when we encounter people who don't agree with us, we may feel honor-bound to try to convert them to our way of thinking. And the result is often conflict. I say again, it seems that we would be able to get along with each other much more easily if we were all more alike.
But it shall never be. God made us to be different. He wants it that way. He has always wanted it that way. You would think that if anybody could have agreed with each other it would have been the believers in the early church. They were only a few years removed from the personal presence of Jesus Christ on earth. The excitement of His birth, death and resurrection was still at fever pitch. They were ministered to by the apostles themselves, men with divine authority who had been with Jesus. But if there is one thing that leaps off the pages of the New Testament, it is that the people in the early church had differences, and their differences often led to conflict.
The church at Rome was no exception. There was both a strong Jewish element and a strong Gentile element in the church. Before they came to know Christ, they didn't like each other at all. In fact, Jews and Gentiles wouldn't even talk to each other. And even after they came to know Christ, their different ways of looking at things brought them into conflict, particularly in dietary matters. Paul devotes four chapters to helping them learn to get along with one another and live with each other in love--it's been the major theme from chapter 12 on. Two of these chapters deal primarily with those dietary differences.
We don't have a big problem with differences between Jews and Gentiles in our church today, and diet is certainly not one of the things that divides us. But we do have different groups with different opinions, and that sometimes threatens to bring disunity and disharmony to the body.
For example, we have younger people and we have older people, and the gap between them seems to get wider all the time. Besides that, we have traditionally minded people and we have people who are much less conventional in their approach to things--more avant-garde. Furthermore, we have people who are quite narrow in what they feel is proper conduct for Christians, and others who are much broader in their views. These differences sometimes lead to conflict. How are we to deal with them?
Paul has been helping us learn how to deal with differences. He's taught us that when we disagree we're not to look down on one another and we're not to condemn one another. That's been the theme of chapter 14. And the reasons he's given us is that we belong to the Lord, and we each want to honor the Lord, and we each answer to the Lord, not to each other. He has also encouraged us not to do anything that could cause other Christians to fall into sin. We're to build each other up, not break each other down.
But he has a few concluding thoughts on the subject, and he begins by suggesting three actions to take.
The Action to Take
Bear One Another (Romans 15:1)
Romans 15:1. "We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves."
Now remember, the strong were those whose faith allowed them greater liberty in what they did. For example, they could eat meat that had been dedicated to idols with no thought of worshipping the idol. But there were others in the church whose faith with regard to that particular issue was not as strong. For them to eat that meat would have been sin.
So how are we going to deal with those differences? The strong need to bear the scruples of the weak. Not just put up with them grudgingly, but lovingly undergird them, carry them, support and sustain them. That would mean not flaunting our liberty in front of them, and not doing anything that would encourage them to sin, just as Paul has already taught us.
We are to be more concerned with other people's spiritual well-being than we are to be with our own comforts and pleasures, and doing what we want to do. That's what the Bible teaches. It's Christ-like love.
I know it doesn't sound fair. I mean, it just doesn't seem right that I have to regulate my conduct by somebody else's weakness. They're weak, but I have to suffer for it? What kind of justice is that? But when the love of Christ is in control of our lives, that won't be a problem to us. We'll be willing to put their best interests before our own in a spirit of unselfishness. We will teach them the great truths of their liberty in Jesus Christ and not just confirm them in their weakness. But until they learn it, we're going to support them. We're going to bear with their scruples. That's the word of God. And that's going to keep us from conflict.
There's a second thing in verse 2. He's just said we ought not please ourselves. Now he's going to tell us to please one another.
Please One Another (Romans 15:2)
Romans 15:2. "Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification."
Pleasing others rather than myself doesn't mean I can never do what I want to do. What a miserable life that would be! I wear the clothes that please me--some people may wonder how I could be pleased with them, but it's probably because I found them on sale. I could never please everybody with the clothes I wear. I drive the car that pleases me. Some people raise their eyebrows at that, too, but the reason I bought it is because Consumer's Report gave it high marks on maintenance, and that's something that's important to me. I could never please everybody with the car I drive. Somebody suggested that the key to failure is to try to please everybody.
Maybe you heard the fable about the old man who was traveling with a child and a donkey. As they passed through a village, the man was leading the donkey and the child was walking behind. The townspeople said the old man was a fool for not riding, so to please them he climbed on. When he came to the next village, the people said he was being cruel to let the child walk while he enjoyed the ride. So to please them, he got off and set the boy on the animal's back. In the third village, the people accused the child of being lazy for making the old man walk and suggested that they both ride. So the man climbed back on and they set off again. In the fourth village, the townspeople were indignant because the poor donkey was being overworked having to carry two people. When last seen, the old man was carrying the donkey.
We just can't please everybody in everything. And Paul is not suggesting that we try. But he wants us to be careful about pleasing ourselves without regard for how our actions affect other Christians. That's the point here. None of us is an island unto himself. We're a family, a fellowship. And what we do affects others in the fellowship. So we're to look out for their good, what will build them up and strengthen them in their faith. And that's more important than doing what we want to do. Let's look out for the other guy.
So we need to bear one another. We need to please one another. There's one more action Paul encourages us to take and it's down in verse 7.
Receive One Another (Romans 15:7)
Romans 15:7. "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God."
That's the same word Paul used when he first introduced this subject back in Romans 14:1 (proslambano). It means to welcome warmly. Both the weak and the strong are to accept each other into their fellowship and favor. Not just put up with each other with suspicious glances--"Oh, I don't know if he's truly a believer because he doesn't agree with me at all." Not that kind of thing--but truly accept each other freely and enthusiastically, reach out cordially and endeavor to make one another feel welcome and feel like an important part of the body.
Let's bring that right down here into the pews at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, where we are this morning. Old folks are to accept warmly the young folks with their "strange" clothes and hair-styles. Young folks are to accept warmly old folks who seem to be stodgy, slow-moving and set in their ways. Traditionalists who like a more formal service with more classical music are to reach out and accept warmly the people who prefer a more contemporary format, not grumble and complain about the praise choruses, the drums or the periodic applause. Those with a less conventional bent are to reach out and accept warmly the more traditionally minded folks, rather than grumble and complain about the old-fashioned hymns and the stuffy service. It goes both ways. Both sides need to read God's word and put it into practice. We need to receive one another and welcome each other warmly.
We can have our differences of opinion. We will have them. Nothing can change that. But we need to respect one another's opinions even when we disagree. And we need to let one another know that people and relationships are more important to us than pet peeves and cherished opinions.
When was the last time you reached out with warmth and cordiality to someone who is distinctly different from you, who holds an opinion clearly contrary to yours? Did you know that that is required of you as a believer, that it is a command in God's Word? Are you willing to do it now that you know?
Ron Lee Davis tells an interesting story about accepting one another in his book on Romans entitled Becoming a Whole Person in a Broken World. It's about a West Coast church located near a college campus, where the students dressed informally and enjoyed a relaxed style of worship. They thought the old-timers in the church were rigid and archaic. The older folks, on the other hand, were much more conservative. They believed in more traditional modes of worship and viewed the young people with suspicion. Their differences were a source of growing tension in the church.
"One Sunday morning, a young man came into the service during the second hymn. He was dressed as if he had just beamed down from another galaxy. There were streaks of fluorescent orange in his hair and an earring dangled from one ear. He walked up the center aisle to the front of the sanctuary, scanning the pews for a place to sit. The pews, however, were full, so he simply sat down in the aisle next to the first pew.
"Looking up from their hymnbooks, gray-haired men in charcoal suits and black ties frowned. White-haired matrons in silk dresses and white gloves sniffed their disapproval.
"Then one of the deacons, a dignified looking man in his eighties, rose from his seat in the back of the sanctuary, steadied himself on his cane, and began to walk slowly up the center aisle. His eyes were fixed on the back of the young man's head.
"The hymn ended, and the congregation sat down. Around the sanctuary, eyes shifted apprehensively to the elderly gentleman as he reached the place where the young man sat in the aisle. Everyone seemed to be awaiting the inevitable confrontation, and no one knew how to avert it.
"The deacon bent slightly, gripping his cane, and put one hand on the young man's shoulder. The entire congregation held its breath. Then the deacon slowly eased himself down onto the carpet, joining the young man in the aisle. The two of them now sat cross-legged together, side-by-side on the floor.
"And there was the sound of sniffling and the sight of lacy white handkerchiefs being dabbed at many eyes as the pastor stepped into the pulpit and said, 'What I am about to preach you will probably forget. But what you have just seen, you will always remember" (p. 213-4).
That's receiving one another that Paul is talking about in this passage of Scripture. I wonder whether you could have done what that old man in his eighties did. What warmth, and joy, and blessing that brings to a local church! God would be pleased if we at Emmanuel Faith Community Church were known for that kind of acceptance. Receive one another. Warmly welcome one another. That's God's word to us.
So much for the action to take. Paul helps us to understand it even more clearly by suggesting the example to follow.
The Example to Follow
(Romans 15:3-4, 7-12)
The prime example is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:3. "For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'"
Paul is quoting a Psalm about the Messiah (Psalm 69:9) predicting that those who were opposed to what God was doing would take it out on Him. That's exactly what they did. They made false accusations against Him throughout his life, and then when He hung on the cross they shouted their blasphemous abuse at Him. And He was willing to accept that because He was more interested in our good than His own.
Paul's point is this, as one writer puts is: "If Christ, the Holy One, was willing to take upon himself so much suffering, in the form of insults hurled at him by his enemies, then should not we be willing to sacrifice just a little eating-and-drinking pleasure for the sake of our fellow-believers?" (Hendriksen, 470).
Romans 15:4. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope."
Paul may be reaching back into the Old Testament here to remind us of other examples of people who gave up their rights for the good of others. For example, there was Abraham standing with his nephew Lot, looking out over the lush Jordan valley. He had the right to choose the best, but he let Lot have it and he settled instead for less desirable land. And God blessed him for it. Stories like that were recorded for our instruction. They remind us that obeying God and unselfishly looking out for others produces patient endurance and persistent encouragement. And that increases our hope--the steadfast assurance that God will indeed honor those who honor Him.
But there's more here about the example of Christ. Romans 15:7. "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God."
He welcomed us into His family without prejudice or discrimination. He didn't say, "Now only you conservative Republicans are eligible for membership in the family of God. You liberal Democrats stay out." He didn't say that. By the way, Jesus had a conservative right-winger among His twelve disciples, a fanatical patriot named Simon the Zealot. Simon was off the scale on the right. And He also had a liberal--Matthew the tax-collector. Matthew was considered so liberal by his contemporaries that they looked on him as a traitor to his country. Matthew was off the scale on the left. And Jesus received them both. Isn't that an amazing thing! If He could handle both, we ought to be able to do it too.
And He accepts Jew and Gentile alike. That's what the next verses establish. Romans 15:8. "Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers."
He was a servant to the Jews. Although He was free from the Jewish dietary laws, and even taught us that no food was unclean in itself, yet He kept the law perfectly. He never had a ham sandwich, and He never ate bacon and eggs for breakfast (Stedman, 167). Because he was a servant. His desire was to please others, to live for their good before His own. That's what it took to win them.
And the result of His ministry to the Jews is great blessing to the Gentiles. Romans 15:9-12:
"And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: 'For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.'
"And again he says: 'Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!'
"And again: 'Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!'
"And again, Isaiah says: 'There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.'"
These quotes represent every major portion of the Old Testament--the law, the prophets and the Psalms. And they all teach the same truth: While the mystery of Jew and Gentile in one body was never revealed in the Old Testament, God did make it perfectly clear that His favor and God's salvation would be extended to Gentiles. He accepts all who believe, Jew or Gentile. How can we do less?
There is no place in the body for prejudice and discrimination of any kind. Christ set the example. It's up to us to follow. And if we do, here are the results to expect.
The Results to Expect
Harmony (Romans 15:5-6)
Romans 15:5-6. "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
To be like-minded doesn't necessarily mean that we agree on everything. That will never happen as long as we live in these bodies and have old sin natures. But it does mean that we live in harmony with each other. And that's reasonable--if I'm living to please you more than myself, and you're living to please me more than yourself, we'll have nothing to fight about? We'll enjoy harmony between us. If I'm reaching out to you with warmth and acceptance, and you're reaching out to me with warmth and acceptance, we're going to get along with each other even if we don't agree on everything.
That is a powerful truth. It will ease marital tensions, settle family squabbles, and resolve other interpersonal conflicts. And best of all, it will enable us to fulfill God's primary purpose for making us--glorifying Him, with one mind and one voice. That is ever and always our goal. Are you moving toward that goal? Will you decide today to begin?
There's one more result that we can expect. It's found in the prayer with which Paul concludes this section, and the entire main body of the book. (The rest of Paul's letter is a sort of conclusion, as we shall see.)
Hope (Romans 15:13)
Romans 15:13. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
There is nothing sadder than to talk to people who have lost hope. They are mired down in a pit of despair and they see no way out. Dear Christian friend, as long as the God of hope is alive and well, there is hope. It doesn't matter how desperate your situation appears, there is still hope.
And that hope can be rekindled in your soul if you will only believe Him. Do you see how it works? He fills you with his joy and peace when you believe Him, when you believe that He is in total control of your circumstances, that He will only allow what is best, and that He will work all things together for good. And when you experience that joy and peace, you will begin to abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But we can help each other. That's what this passage is all about; it's all about interpersonal relationships. When we support one another, and please one another and accept one another, it helps us trust God in the trials. It puts skin on God's love and care, and rekindles hope.
Periodically people leave Emmanuel Faith Community Church after being a part of this ministry for a number of years, and sometimes they go to churches with different doctrinal positions. A few have even gone to what we might consider non-Christian cults. My thoughts are usually, "How can they do that?" On occasion I have had an opportunity to talk to some of them and to ask them why they have done it. The reason is invariably the same: They went where they were made to feel accepted. For some reason or other, they just didn't feel acceptance here, and they became discouraged and hopeless. Acceptance sometimes has a way of winning out even over sound doctrine! I wish that weren't true, but we are human and sometimes it works that way.
But if there is anyone--anyone in this wide world--who should be able to offer total acceptance, it is us who believe and teach God's Word. You see, our sound doctrine is of little value if it doesn't make us loving, caring, accepting people. It doesn't mean we don't teach them what truth is and correct error, but they should sense our love. Will you help to make this congregation of believers known for its loving and accepting spirit, so that we can practice what we preach? It depends on all of us. Nobody can do this alone. We all must do it together.
Start by thinking of someone with whom you disagree. Purpose to find them and grant them your acceptance, your warm welcome. That's the word of God. That's what this passage teaches. Then reach out to all you meet, regardless of how different from you then may be. And watch it build harmony, and hope. These are wonderful things that come as a result of obeying God's word. Harmony and hope.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Of course, the best news I have for you is tucked away by way of illustration. In verse 3, "For even Christ didn't please Himself." He went to that cross to bear our sins. And verse 7: "He received us." Because of what He did at Calvary, He could receive sinners like us and still maintain His own righteousness and justice. What a wonderful thing!
Did you know that that's what the Christian faith was all about? Christ died for our sins. He paid the penalty that we deserved, so that God could receive us and forgive us and fit us for Heaven, sinners though we are. That's the gospel. That's good news.
We invite you to accept it. Receive the message. Receive the Person: the Lord Jesus. God's eternal Son. "Because as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God, even to those who believe on His name." And if you've never put your faith in Him for your eternal salvation, and if you thought that being good was what earns you a place in Heaven, the whole Scripture teaches contrary to that. It says we can't ever be good enough. Our righteousness is as are dirty rags in God's sight. We receive the forgiveness that He provided when He sent His Son to the cross.
Let's bow our heads together before Him. And with our heads bowed reverently in His presence, let me ask you if you do know the Lord Jesus personally as your Savior from sin. Have you trusted Him? Have you acknowledged your sinfulness?
Not much talk about sin these days, even in many Christian churches, but it's the reason we need to be saved. It's the reason God sent His Son to save us. It's true of every one of us without exception. All have sinned. Would you acknowledge that to God? Tell Him you do believe that Jesus died on that cross for you to pay for your sins. And then put your trust in Him as your Savior from sin. Rest in Him alone for your eternal salvation. Would you tell Him so in prayer right now? Just in the quiet of your own soul--you don't need to speak out loud.
"God, I'm a sinner. I do believe that Jesus died in my place and paid for my sin. Lord Jesus, I'm resting in You, trusting You as my Savior right now."
Christian, is it possible that you are one of those that's been really critical of others? Seldom do you see where you agree, but you sure see where we disagree and you let people know about it one way or another. Are you willing to be the kind of person that God wants you to be, that His word describes here in Romans 15? Would you commit yourself to that right now--to reaching out warmly to others with whom you differ? That's the spiritually-minded person. That's the person who pleases God.
Oh, Lord, I pray that our lives may honor You, particularly in how we relate to one another. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to ROM 34: Meet the Author