Beyond the doormat (Romans 15:1-13)

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had to deal with that person or two who just seems unbearable, who places more and more demands on our shoulders until we find ourselves wondering which straw will finally break the proverbial camel’s back. I’ll give you the bad news first: life will always be filled with difficult people. The good news is that God provides us the strength to endure.

Paul had previously addressed the issue of the “weaker” Christians who felt convicted to adhere to certain religious duties in their Christian walk. Now, Paul turns his attention to those who are “strong.”

We might imagine that many early Christians had no qualms about things like eating meat, or skipping certain Jewish “Holy days,” and it would have been easy to look down on those whose convictions ran the other way. In today’s terms, it’s not hard to find those Christians who enjoy their craft beer, stream Hillsong on their iPhone, and wear faded jeans to a Sunday service. And I image that this group might feel a bit of smugness toward those who abstain from alcohol and wear a necktie to their church’s potluck and hymn-sing. Obviously, I’m drawing a bit of a cartoonish caricature, but my point is this: Christ-follower, if you celebrate your freedom in a way that mocks the convictions of others, you’re not operating as a “strong” Christian, but a foolish one.

Paul writes that the strong in Christ have social responsibilities toward those who are weak:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:1-7)

Paul recognized that Christ’s church would be full of different men and women, all of whom are at different places in their walk with Christ. The “strong” may have felt tempted to flaunt their freedom, or to mock the “weak” in an attempt to mold them in a different understanding of their Christian walk. Paul is saying that Christ’s followers should show love to one another—that the strong should “bear with the failings of the weak”—in order to build the body.

But wait, you might object, doesn’t this mean that the weaker Christians win? Paul is saying that this is exactly the sort of question that doesn’t make sense in the Christian community. We fear that tolerating people will turn us into doormats—that they can have their way and we have to cater to them.

But that’s not what Paul is saying either. He’s saying that because Christ took on our reproach and our shame, he also bore the shame of those we struggle to get along with. Therefore the cross sets us free to love our neighbors—even those we don’t get along with.

This is why Paul goes on to say that Jesus served all of God’s people regardless of their original background or the “Jewishness” of their character:

8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
and sing to your name.”

10 And again it is said,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come,
even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 13:8-13)

The gospel application is this: because all people may experience the love and acceptance of Christ, you and I have no basis for drawing boundaries between people at different places along their spiritual walk.

But, if we return to what Paul said in verse 2, our greater obligation is the building of the body of Christ. Bearing with “weaker” Christians doesn’t mean affirming their habits or their beliefs; in many cases our Christian siblings need to be challenged.

People grow; people change. In the meantime, though, Christ’s followers can cultivate a grace-saturated community into which all of God’s people may grow and flourish. We can’t do this by focusing on individual needs, but we can do this by laying down our lives like Christ.

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The Fast Track to Church Unity – Romans 15:1-13

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. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 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.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 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 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.