Starting in chapter 12, Paul has basically been giving a series of admonitions regarding life in the church. The church is not a building nor an organization, per se. It is an organism, a living, breathing community of believers who are connected in spirit, soul and body. The church is the temple of God, of which indwelled by the Spirit of God. 1Peter 2:5 says, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And beginning in chapter 12, Paul has been teaching practical ways in which the church is to minister as the body of Christ in the world. And the primary way that the church will be manifested in the world is by our love for one another, and by our love for our neighbor, and even by our love for our enemies.
Then in chapter 14 and the first half of 15, Paul has been trying to instruct us in practical terms how as members of Christ’s church we are to fulfill the second commandment, which is to love one another in the church. As I have emphasized so often in the past, Christian love is not based on attraction, it is not based on emotion or sentimentality. Christian love is not based on the principle of reciprocality. In other words, Christian love is not based on how others respond to you. Christian love does not say, “I will love him or her as a long as they treat me the way I want them to treat me.” Or, “I can’t love that person because they don’t treat me right.” That’s not Christian love. That may be the world’s perspective of love, but it is not God’s perspective on love.
Christian love is by definition a sacrificial love. It is interested in the benefit of others MORE than your own benefit. Christian love seeks for the benefit of the other person, without considering how you can benefit from it, or how they might make you feel. Christian love is the kind of love that Christ had for the church, as He laid down his life for her. His sacrifice was not based on our ability to reciprocate, but based on His love for us. And that type of sacrificial love is what we are to have for one another in the church.
But in the church, Paul recognized that there were varying backgrounds and traditions and convictions on the part of it’s members. These factions could be categorized by two characterizations, what he calls the strong and the weak. The strong, for the most part were comprised of the Gentile Christians in the church. And the weak were more than likely the Jewish component of the church. And yet Paul, speaking through the Holy Spirit, wants both factions to be united as one.
This goal for the church is stated in vs 5 “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The goal is that they have the same mind, connected to one another, with one accord, and with one voice glorify God. That unity is essential to the goal of the church. The church could not glorify God if they were dishonoring one another, if they were fighting among themselves, if they were separating over non essential issues.
So their differing backgrounds, their differing traditions, their different nationalities, different races, different convictions about certain non moral issues about Christian life, threatened that unity. And so he has been trying to show them what they need to do and how they needed to act towards one another so that the church could have the unity that it was designed to have.
We preached two messages about chapter 14 which covered all the ways that the church is to consider others needs, and if necessary to restrict your own liberties for the sake of edifying the other, and to keep from putting a stumbling block in front of someone else. And to be truthful, I don’t know why the Holy Spirit has made such an issue out of this principle. It seems to me that it could have been stated in 3 or 4 verses. But instead, He has spent one and half chapters talking about this issue. I can only imagine that unity in the church is very important to the Lord. And also I believe God is very concerned over the possibility that a believer could be discouraged and possibly be caused to stumble or even fall because of discord in the church, or a bad example being set before a weaker believer by a stronger believer, which may cause the weaker believer to have a shipwreck in his faith.
But I don’t want to spend our time today reviewing what we have already said in our previous messages, and besides, they are available online if you need to be reminded of what we covered so far. But even better than that, in vs 1 Paul gives a two verse summary of what has been said up to this point concerning this matter. Notice vs. 1and 2, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”
So there are two rules of thumb for when you have to decide whether you should exercise your liberty in a certain area, or restrict your liberty for the sake of someone else’s convictions or different perspective on a non moral issue. And let’s be sure we are clear about this. Paul is not addressing sinful areas which the Bible makes clear are sinful. He is not saying that there can be differences in perspectives on what is sinful and what is not, say in the matter of adultery, or coveting, or lying and so forth. Those areas are well defined in scripture. He is speaking of believers who are sincerely attempting to live the Christian life in a way that honors God through the observance of certain restrictions in their diet, in their observance of certain days, or in their liberty or restraint in regards to traditions and ceremonial aspects of worship, that have been influenced perhaps by their upbringing or certain teaching that they have received, but which are not clearly stated in the Bible, or yet fully understood in regards to their Christian liberty. And though with the Jews and the Gentiles it basically had to do with eating certain foods and observing certain religious holidays, in our culture, the principle can be applied to a whole host of potential areas of Christian life in the church. The key principle which I think is at the heart of this argument, is not to let anything in your life be a stumbling block to others, but to sacrifice what you think may be fine for you, for the benefit of others. That’s really the point of this whole passage.
So when we are faced with any potential point of disagreement in the church, the first rule of thumb for maintaining Christian love and unity is to make the decision to please your neighbor rather than yourself. Don’t insist on your way of doing things; be quick to do what is best for them. This is what love does. Love does not insist on its own rights. 1 Cor. 15: 5 says “love does not seek it’s own.” Therefore, if you let love guide your approach to disagreements, you will adjust and adapt to others views so that you may encourage them and not hinder them. Notice again vs 2, “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Seek the other one’s good rather than your own. That is love.
The other rule of thumb is found in the first verse, which is that the strong is to bear the weaknesses of the weak and not just please ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we bear with people, as in put up with people with a kind of disdain because we think they are weak, or they haven’t gotten as far along in their walk as you have. But it may be correlated to Galatians 6:2, which says “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” We are to help them in their weakness. To bear their burden with them so as to relieve them, even if it means we are burdened with them.
Now to encourage us to love one another in this way, giving preference to the other rather than yourself, he gives us three factors that can help us when we encounter these problems. The first one is the encouragement of example that comes to us from the past.
Vs 3,4: “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.” For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
The first example that Paul gives to us is that of Jesus himself. Jesus encountered these kinds of problem even though he was perfect. Even though he never on any occasion conducted himself in a way that was in the slightest degree displeasing to God the Father, nevertheless, he ran into these kinds of difficulties. And Paul says that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures that predicted that those who did not like God’s methods would take it out on him. Paul quotes Psalm 69:9, saying, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” The Lord Jesus bore the insults intended towards God. And in the same way, we should follow Christ’s example, and bear the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Love requires that we suffer with them, rather than cause them to suffer, so that they might receive benefit.
Not only do we have Jesus’s life as our example, but as vs 4 tells us, the Old Testament also provides many examples of yielding up our privilege for the sake of another. Remember when Abraham and Lot were to divide the land among them, and Abraham, who was the older of the two, and the one who, by rights, should have had the first choice, gave that choice to Lot? Lot chose first, and he chose the beautiful, well watered areas of the Jordan valley, leaving Abraham the barren hills. Abraham is an example of love in action; he gave up his privilege to benefit his nephew.
Then there is the story of Moses who gave up his place as a prince in the household of Pharaoh for the sake of his people. As Hebrews 11:25 says, he gave up his position as a prince of Egypt in order that he might “suffer reproach with the people of God for a season.” Also remember David and Jonathan who were such close friends? We see Jonathan yielding his right to the throne to David, because he knew God had chosen him. Jonathan was willing to give up his privilege for David’s benefit. And yet none of these men who gave up their rights ever lost anything. God was glorified, and they themselves ultimately gained an eternal benefit, because, in giving up, they achieved the goal that God was after.
So we get encouragement from the past, in the example of Jesus and in the examples from the Old Testament figures. But not only do we get encouragement from the past, but Paul goes on to show us there is encouragement now in the present.
Vs 5,6: “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What that verse teaches is that God is able to help us work these sort of disagreements out if we are His church. Paul is expressing a prayer for unity in the church. And our prayers are also to be for this unity. Our prayer is that God would grant us to be of the same mind with each other. And when we pray for this unity, God can and will grant it to us.
Notice that he says the same mind is according to Christ Jesus. What he means in that is that as we are in agreement with Christ, we can be in agreement with one another. As both sides adopt the mind of Christ, then we will find we are both on the same page. This shows us that we need to be under the sound teaching of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. We find unity in the truth. Not unity at the expense of truth. But as we study the gospel, we are conformed to the mind of Christ, and as we are conformed to the mind of Christ, then we become of the same mind with one another.
Jesus as He prayed in the Upper Room on the night before His crucifixion, prayed for unity, and said that unity would be the factor by which the world would come to know the gospel. John 17:22-23 “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
The second thing Paul says is that we find unity in the exercise our faith together in the community of the church, praising God with one another. We are a new family, a new community, bound together by the Spirit of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And when we come together to worship the Lord we confess the truth of the gospel and we offer praise to God. We become united in the truth as we proclaim it in the church.
The point is this, when we come together as a church, to praise and glorify God in worship, we are united in one accord, in one voice. Rather than focus on the things that divide us, we focus on the things that unite us. And coming together physically is much to be preferred over separating physically. How can you love one another if you are not together? If we go off on our own and lick our wounds, we don’t heal our relationships, we don’t grow in our relationships with one another, but we allow those wounds to fester, to become entrenched in our attitudes. Separation doesn’t repair relationships. Coming together in Christ repairs relationships. So the church corporate is a present means that we have of securing peace with one another.
So we are given encouragement from the past, and encouragement from the present, and now Paul tells us to be encouraged by what the future holds.
Vs 7-12 “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises [given] to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” Again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.”
What Paul is saying here is that God is already working out a great program of redemption that involves reconciling the Jews and the Gentiles. God has promised that he is going to do that, and he will bring it to pass. It has already started. It started when Christ accepted both Jews and Gentiles on the basis of faith, regardless of the great differences between them.
The Jews traditionally held the Gentiles in contempt; they called them dogs. They would have nothing to do with them. The Jews even regarded it as sinful to go into a Gentile’s house and they would never dream of eating with a Gentile. Of course, the Gentiles retaliated with the same kind of disdain for the Jews. They hated the Jews. They called them all kinds of names; they looked down on them. These were opposing factions who hated one another, and would have nothing to do with one another, Yet, Paul says, as bad as that is, that kind of division God can heal by the work of Jesus.
Vs 8 says that Jesus began that work of reconciliation by becoming a servant, or minister of circumcision. Most modern versions translate that text as having become a servant of the circumcision, which was another way of speaking of the Jews. They had so identified with the rite of circumcision that it was used as a euphemism for the Jews. But some commentators point out that the “the” is not in the original text, and what Paul is talking about here is the customs and rituals and ceremonies of the Jews.
So what Paul is saying is that the Lord healed this division between the Jews and the Gentiles by taking on the burden of the Jews and limiting his own liberty. He is the Creator, He is Lord. He was not subject to the laws of Moses. The rituals and ceremonies spoke of Him. He was not under compulsion to them. But because of His love for the Jews, and because of His desire to bring Gentiles to salvation, He subjected Himself to the laws and customs of the Jews, even the rite circumcision. He was without sin, and yet He subjected Himself to the baptism of repentance for our sakes.
Philippians tells us what Christ gave up so that He could win both Jews and Gentiles. Phil. 2:6-8, “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Vs 8 says that Christ became a servant of the circumcised for the sake of God’s truth. The truth of God is the gospel of salvation, which was made possible by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that all men might receive mercy. Salvation is by faith in Him and the work that He has done in paying the penalty for sin, that men might receive mercy not in accordance with keeping the law, but according to faith in Him.
Paul then gives a series of quotations from the Psalms, from Deuteronomy, and from Isaiah, all intended to show that God can through Christ create a new body of believers that are unified in Him. So you have the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings all agreeing that God can eliminate even these endemic kinds of differences between Jews and Gentiles in order to create His unified church. It is a promise that God has made and that He will fulfill. Jesus said “I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” God is creating the bride of Christ, and one day Christ will return to consummate that marriage at the marriage supper of the Lamb, which will be populated with a vast multitude from every tribe and tongue and nation.
So no matter how great the disparity, no matter how deep the divide, the disagreements, God is able to bring them together in unity as His body, and we have encouragement from the past, the present and the future that gives us hope.
So Paul concludes with a great benediction of hope for the church in vs 13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” All the great promises of the Christian faith appear here: hope, joy, peace, and faith, and finally, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God working in us change us and mold us into the image of Jesus Christ, that we might be one, and with one accord, and one voice, enable us to glorify God by the testimony of our lives and our love for one another.
Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. … 9 [Let] love [be] without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 [Be] devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.