When talking about the need to think about the convictions and consciences of other Christians before acting, the greatest example of such selfless thinking and action is our Lord Jesus. In this final paragraph on the topic of not passing judgment on one another, Paul is going to use the example of Jesus as the model for how to deal with disputes and divisions and maintain fellowship.
Our Obligation To Others (15:1-2)
Bear with the failings of the weak. In our day, we speaking of "bearing" as putting up with something. But this is not Paul’s meaning. When we read about bearing something in the scriptures, we need to think of carrying. For example, Christ bore our sins means that he carried our sins, not that he put up with our sins. In the same way, Paul is not saying to put up with the weak, but that the strong are to carry the weak. Christians are to the shoulder the burdens of one another. We are to support and sustain one another, not ruin the faith of one another. This instruction continues to teaching of Romans 14 that we need to be concerned and thoughtful about the consciences of other Christians.
Not to please ourselves. We carry their burdens, but not to please ourselves. This is not a self-seeking pursuit. We do not do things while having no regard for the impact it will have on others. "Consideration for weaker Christians takes precedence over what we ourselves would like to do" (Morris, 497). We must support those who have a different point of view. Don’t go to battle against one another, but support one another. We can do this by showing respect in how we speak. Not only can we respectfully disagree, but we can also realize and openly state that though I do not agree with brother so and so, I respect that he is a student of the scriptures and desires to serve the Lord. A respect for the scriptures is a large piece that helps us maintain fellowship. When we accept that neither person is trying to overthrow the scriptures but is honestly evaluating and studying the scriptures, then we can respectfully disagree and support one another.
Please others and build them up. Paul is not saying that you cannot enjoy life. But we cannot please ourselves to the detriment of the faith of others. We must continually seek to do what is good for others rather than merely seek our own good. This does not mean, however, that the weak control the church. If taken to an extreme, then any person who expresses any kind of complaint or problem would cause the rest of the church to bend to that person’s will. While this sounds reasonable, the problem is that the local church would not grow because the church could never rise above the level of the weakest member in the congregation. The point is that we are to have gentleness and concern for those who are weak. The strong are to respect the weak, remain in fellowship with the weak, and not hurt them. Paul speaks to the manner in which we deal with such disputes and differences. Accept one another and carry the burdens together, being careful how we exercise our liberties and convictions in Christ. Think about what other Christians need and what you can do for their faith.
The Example of Christ (15:3)
Paul relies upon the example of Jesus in verse 3. Jesus is the supreme example of not pleasing oneself. Jesus suffered for the sake of God’s will. Jesus disregarded himself and did what was God’s will and what was in our best interests. Jesus did what we needed done for us. Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9 to prove his point. It was predicted that the Messiah would accept reproach and insults on our behalf.
What would happen to us if Jesus had pleased himself? Where would we be today if Jesus had put his own interests first? We would be ruined. We would be lost in our sins. We would have no hope. Paul’s point is that we must not be outraged at the idea of building others up and doing what pleases others because that is what Jesus did. He sacrificed for us far more than we ever have to give up for each other. We cannot even begin to compare it! How dare we get so upset about keeping our persuasions to ourselves and practicing some things quietly because we know that such things could cause ruin to another’s faith! Jesus died for you. How about a little sacrifice on your part toward those for whom Jesus died?
The Example of the Scriptures (15:4)
Before we get to the point that Paul makes, I want to observe one thought first. Paul is instructing Christians to study the Old Testament. Every word in the scriptures has value. We should not think that a study of Isaiah has no value for us. Or even think that a study of Leviticus has no use for us today. How easily we can have a study of the Old Testament and our reaction be to immediately shut off and not care. The Old Testament teaches us about God. The Old Testament teaches us about the success and failures of the people of God. God did not have the Old Testament recorded so that we would have a really big book to carry, but only study from one-third of it. The words of the Old Testament, though written so long ago to a different group of people, have purpose, meaning, and usefulness to us today. The Old Testament has a practical role in the life of the Christian. One of the things I am excited about is that many of you marked down your desire to study through the Old Testament prophets. It is my plan after the completion of Revelation that we will do that on Sunday nights. We will look at the major and the minor prophets and the encouragement and hope that is found in those books.
This is the reason God recorded the scriptures for us, according to Paul. "For whatever was written in former days was written down for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (15:4). We are to find hope to stand firm and hope of encouragement by reading the Old Testament scriptures. Do you need some hope in your life? Have you been bogged down by the difficulties of life? You can find hope in reading the scriptures. Do you have need of endurance? Do you need help remaining steadfast and unwavering in the faith? Reading the scriptures will give you that strength. Reading about the people of the past who remained strong through such difficulties gives us the endurance we need to continue. Reading about God’s grace like we did in Romans gave me great strength to continue pushing forward. The scriptures will also encourage you. I fear that the reason we struggle in our Christian walk is that we are not tapping into God by reading his word. The word can transform where you are in life and lift you up. Too often the word sits on the table or on the shelf unread. Read and soak in the word of God.
Live in Harmony (15:5-7)
Notice the descriptions Paul gives of God. Our Lord is the God of endurance and encouragement. God will grant you endurance and encouragement through his word. Now live in harmony with one another. Be unified because that is the will of Jesus. The reason is that they need to come together and with one voice glorify God. Stop being fractured. Stop passing judgment and despising one another. Glorify God in one voice. Stop focusing on your disagreements and start focusing on glorifying God together.
Therefore, they need to welcome one another. But not just welcome one another. They are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Christ has welcomed you with all of your problems and mistakes. You are to welcome each other, even if we do not always agree or have the same understandings.
Christ the Servant (15:8-13)
The second basis of this welcoming and accepting one another is the servanthood of Christ. Christ was a servant to the circumcised to how God’s truthfulness and faithfulness. This verse acts as a hinge. Paul’s point reaches back to show that Jesus became a servant. We are to imitate him and he became a servant. So we need to serve as he served. In fact, Jesus was a servant to the circumcised. Our assessment of the situation appears to come to the forefront again. The Gentile Christians (as the strong) need to serve the Jewish Christians (who are the weak). We carry the weaknesses of our Christian brethren and serve them, just as Jesus did.
Verse 8 also acts as a hinge to press forward a truth upon the Jewish Christians. That truth is that God has accepted and welcomed the Gentile Christians. Notice this point in verse 9. Christ became a servant to the circumcised in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. God is being glorified by the inclusion of the Gentiles.
The rest of the paragraph is Paul quoting scripture to show that the inclusion of the Gentiles was predicted by the prophets and was accomplished for the glorification of God. The first quote is in verse 9 which comes from 2 Samuel 22:50. What Christ has done in reconciling both groups into one people of God, the true Israel, leads the world to glorify God. God will be praised among the Gentiles.
The second quotation is in verse 10 which comes from Deuteronomy 32:43. This quotation speaks of the Gentiles rejoicing as they are part of God’s people. The third quotation is from Psalm 117:1. This quote also predicts the Gentiles glorifying God. The final quotation comes from Isaiah 11:10. The root of Jesse will arise and rule the Gentiles and the Gentiles will have hope in him.
The quotations prove that the Gentiles are included with the Jews as one people in Christ. God’s purpose has not been exclusively directed to the nation of Israel. The Gentiles are to be welcomed because the scriptures repeated say to welcome them as God’s people. Therefore, the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are to rejoice with one another in the plan of God. God always intended to bring the nations of the world into equal fellowship with physical Israel. This was accomplish through the root of Jesse, Jesus. Therefore, be filled with joy and peace and abound in the hope of the scriptures, revealed through the Holy Spirit.
How To Act:
- Imitate the selfless Christ.
- Imitate the servant Christ.
- Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you.
- Glorify God with one voice as you work for Jesus in harmony.