We have spent 14 chapters working through Paul’s massive movement toward Christian unity in Rome. Whether it is righteousness by faith, God’s wrath, circumcision of the heart, being immersed in Jesus, glorification, justification, and all in Jesus; Paul wanted Jewish and Gentile believers to understand that they are all in the same boat. This means that we should be working together. He finishes by removing barriers. Even those that eat this or do not eat this; or do this or do not do that should live in Christian unity. Paul is calling us to sacrificial love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. Romans 15:1-2
We spoke about the strong and weak last week, but Paul is continuing his thoughts into Chapter 15. Those that understand they are only accepted and considered righteous by Jesus’ sacrifice are strong. And, by nature, the strong should lend themselves toward others. We are not to please ourself. Is that hard for you? It is for me.
Can you be in an others-focused occupation or ministry and be selfish? What if you are a pastor and your motivation is not pleasing God, but receiving adulation from the congregants? Is that seeking others or self?
We build up others by focusing on their best interest. In spite of the circumstance or result action motivated by sacrificial love will always end in the best interest of another. Paul uses Jesus as the supreme example.
3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”[a] 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. Romans 15:3-4
Did Christ please himself? There were many times that Jesus needed to get away. He would frequently seek out prayerful solitude. And we all need sometime to refresh, rebuild and prepare. But we need to be precisely aware of the tension the Spirit manifests when we begin to focus on self more than others.
In my experience, life goes in phases. Some phases are filled with enough vitality to pour into others, with little self attention. Some phases require a little more self attention, just to have the energy to pour into others. Living in this tension is critical to living a life mimicking our savior.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6
We glorify God when we live Christi-like lives. We glorify God because we use the gifts he has given. He gives endurance and encouragement. Jesus continued to the cross. Many times he would trying to slip away to have some time alone in prayer and out of compassion would respond to the large crowds following him. That is the Christ-like attitude we should mimic. That in spite of our desires, compassion and humility drive us to seek others. This attitude binds the Church.
We may be completely different and have differing theologies, but if we are each focused on Jesus and moving toward him, then we can have true community. What gets in the way of our Churches living in this unity? Is it pride or arrogance? Paul believed that ultimately we needed to be immersed into Jesus’ attitudes, motivations and values to find true unity. What do you think?
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:14-16
Paul is one of the reasons that our Churches look like they do. This letter is an amazing work to unite the Church and set its focus. The Church was called to extreme counter-cultural love. Not self-pleasing, but always seeking the good of others. Only a community of believers that could look past differences could accomplish what the Church has accomplished.
Yet we have divisions amongst us. And no doubt that has impacted our ministry. How can we fix this? What can we do? Paul’s Church was just as divided. Jews and Gentiles were completely different. Jews were God’s people. The whole Bible is a discussion on God and his people. And then these Gentiles enter the flock, without the rituals, ceremonies, holidays. How could these two groups be united? Jesus. Can we be united too?
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Romans 15:14
Paul wants us to build up our neighbors. How can we build up our neighbors in a way that leads them toward a deeper relationship with God?
We are not to please ourself. What are some ways that we can please others? And is it possible pleasing others, can begin to please us in a healthy way? What about an unhealthy way?
We are called to be like Christ. What about Jesus’ ministry brought unity? How does the gospel bring poor and rich, sick and healed, broken and fixed in unified community?
A community of Jesus followers can unite communities in a way no other group can. In a way that does not seek self pleasure, but seeks to please others first, because of the Gospel of Jesus.