It is a sad truth that churches are very often known as places of interpersonal warfare and party squabbling. The stories of ridiculous church fights are legendary. The typical tale is that the brawl was sourced in the color of the carpet or drapes or something of that level of relative insignificance. Many times controversies have broken out over the music program – historically called “the worship wars.”
My father was not especially excited to see his son heading off to Bible College and Seminary with a view toward church work, beginning with music. Though he was a generous supporter of the local church and superlative servant, when it came right down to it, he would rather that the pastor be someone from someone else’s family! He had seen so many pastors brutalized over the years, he would have rather I had chosen to go into finance and investing. Dad was especially wary of me doing the music component; and he was famous for saying to me, “Randy, don’t you know that when the Devil fell, he fell into the choir loft and he’s been there ever since!”
In my first church ministry position in Texas, I remember that there was some sort of controversy in the music program – the details of which have long since slipped my mind. But one of the things I did at the time in the midst of it was put a sign on my office door that covered over the “Minister of Music” label … my new sign saying, “Office of the Department of War.”
Of course, it is not supposed to be this way at all. And when any church is acutely a place of conflict, the end result is a shameful appearance to the unbelieving world … in front of people who either recall specifically, or minimally sense, that the way it should be is like Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.”
The prescription for the fast track to church unity is really very simple and is found in our passage today. It is simply this: Don’t think about yourself; give yourself completely to help and build up others around you, and in doing this, you will do the same thing Jesus did when he gave his life for you; and when all of you within the same walls do this, the end result will be that you will with one voice together worship the Lord in incredible unity.
Is this realistic? Maybe not fully, at least not as it will be finally in heaven. But certainly we (like any church) can be a lot better than we are. That is our goal and vision … as it is also God’s vision for us. Notice from this passage how God anticipated incredible diversity within the church even centuries and millennia ahead of when it was realized in Christ. We may think that this inclusion of Gentiles into God’s overall scheme of things was sort of like a “plan B” when “the Jewish Messiah plan A” failed. Not so. Look at verses 9-12 today, which are a series of quotes from the Old Testament – talking about grace to the Gentiles and quoting from the books of 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah!
God’s heart for diverse people of all nations and ethnicities is pervasive in the Scriptures. His love is expansive; and our love should certainly be expansive enough to cover even the crop of eccentrics and unique personalities within our church community. It has to go beyond simply the people we naturally love and gravitate toward. The text today says that when Christ accepted us and died for us, it was not at a time when we loved him first! NO, we love him because he first loved us – at a time when we were in total rebellion against him. That is an amazing love! And it is the goal and vision toward which we strive together.
Romans 15:1-13 – One voice of unity from the same attitude as Christ Jesus
15:1 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. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 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.
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.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”
12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.