Romans 15:5-13Preached Sunday morning, January 30, 2005New York Avenue Church of Christ
Here in chapter 15 we’re coming to the end of the main section of Romans. Chapters 1-3 deal with mankind’s need for God’s righteousness. Chapters 3-8 show that God has imputed his righteousness on those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Chapters 9-11 explain that God is righteous for giving us his righteousness through grace, and chapters 12-15:13 exhort Christians to practice righteousness in our lives . This is also the ending of the “Christian liberty” section, running from Rom. 14:1 through 15:13 . After this point, Paul begins to conclude the letter. We will conclude this series next week by looking at part of those concluding comments.
The section ends with two benedictions, one at the beginning of this week’s passage, and one at the end. In between, Paul reminds Christians that the Gentiles have now been accepted among God’s covenant people. We will focus today on the first benediction, in Rom. 15:5-7. It is a picture of how the church ought to be.
This benediction, or what some call a “pious wish” , begins with a wish for blessings from “the God of endurance and encouragement” (v. 5). Isn’t that an interesting title? The God of endurance and encouragement. We’re probably used to thinking of God as almighty, righteous, holy, maybe even Father. But the God of endurance? What does he endure? Us, of course—our weakness and failures and stubbornness and sin. Not only does he endure—he encourages us. We are broken, flawed, and sinful, but God still loves us. We’re fickle, but he’s steadfast. We provoke him, but he is patient. We are bad, but he makes us righteous. That, brothers and sisters, is an encouraging picture of God.
And notice that it is God who grants us the blessings that follow? He is the Father of all blessings, just as he is the Father of righteousness. God grants us good things. We do not create righteousness or harmony or glory. It is up to us, though, to accept and nurture God’s blessings. And what are the blessings Paul wishes for Christians here?
First, he wishes that Christians will “live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the meaning here is that Christians be of one mind, that Christians be unified in their thinking. And what a rich unity that is. Christian unity doesn’t mean uniformity. As we saw in chapter 14, unity doesn’t depend on making others do what we want. And it doesn’t mean we all do the same thing. Rom. 12:3-8 explains that we are one body with many members. That’s a wonderful picture, because it means we don’t all have to try to look or act exactly the same. God has created each one of us with talents and gifts to use for his purposes. Over the past few years we’ve completed some significant renovations to the building and office here. I’m glad we have men here with talents in those areas, because if the church had to depend on people like me, we wouldn’t have these new facilities. I can’t even hammer a nail straight, let alone enclose a carport. But the wonderful truth is that God doesn’t expect every one of us to be handy with power tools any more than he expects all of us to be handy with words. Yet together the church, with a variety of talents and gifts, can do all the work God has set out for us. That’s encouraging. That’s Christian unity.
And at the risk of stating the obvious, there is one more essential element of Christian unity and harmony. Paul wishes the Roman Christians to have unity and harmony “in accord with Jesus Christ.” Jesus Christ—he is the key to real Christian unity. We are not called to have unity at any and all cost. One of the major Protestant denominations is now being threatened by wide-scale division over the issue of homosexuality. In the midst of this struggle, one of the denominational leaders recently proclaimed that no doctrinal issue was worth dividing the church over.
Oh yes, some are. Throughout the pages of the New Testament, we see that some issues are so important that those who don’t hold to them have no place among God’s people. Among those issues are belief in the need for repentance and the Lordship of Christ (1 Cor. 5:2-5; 16:22; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 John 10-11; Jude 4). So unity is not unity at all costs. Repentance from sin and the lordship of Jesus Christ are essential to being Christian. Real Christian unity has to come through Jesus Christ. He’s the one who makes our relationships real. Christian unity is a whole lot more than "Hi-howya-doin’" fellowship. Real Christian unity is where we bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), share our possessions (Acts 2:44), and serve one another sacrificially, just as Jesus came to earth as a servant (Phil. 2:7-8; 2 Cor. 4:5). This is the heart of the matter for Christian fellowship—Jesus Christ, here in our midst, the one we should be seeking. Christian unity is all about Jesus.
Naturally, we’d like it to be about us. It’s so much easier to try to have Christian unity based on doing the right things—following the pattern of the New Testament, for example. There is certainly nothing wrong with trying to follow the teaching of the New Testament. The problem, however, arises when we begin to take pride in our ability to interpret and follow that teaching. When we go too far down that road, we begin to look the wrong way. Instead of looking to Jesus, we begin to say, “Look how well we’re doing!”
When I was a young Christian, a Sunday school teacher asked the class, “What’s the most important thing in the world.” One of the class members answered, “Our relationship with Jesus Christ.” And I sat there thinking, “Wrong. The most important thing is Jesus Christ himself, not our relationship.” And I was so proud of myself. I was looking at myself and my perceived superiority instead of looking at Christ. So although my doctrine was right, my heart was far off the mark. If we do look at Christ, however, then “together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 5).
Harmony with one another is a prerequisite for doing the work God has in store for us. And what is that work? It’s in verse 5—to glorify God as a body of believers. If you’re like me, you’ve struggled with understanding what it means to glorify God. Literally, to glorify means to give light to something. In the case of God, the idea of giving him glory is obviously a metaphor. How could we possibly give light to the source of all light ? I think in the context of worship, glorifying God means turning our eyes toward him—toward the source of life and light. We may choose to run from him or submit to his transforming grace. The first choice is darkness; the second is glory.
Glorifying God is inherent in our harmony with one another. Our harmony itself glorifies God. Jesus described this relationship when he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Jn. 13:35). Our lives are a testimony of Christ in the world. Again, Jesus said, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (Jn. 4:11-12).
We are also unified in a shared purpose. We each are who we are, with many different talents and passions. Yet every Christian has a common mission, a common goal. And what is that goal? To glorify God. When we are united in corporate worship, we glorify God through giving, prayer, song, proclamation of the Word, and by sharing the Lord’s supper. In this way we do something very special—we reflect the unity of God—Father, Son and Spirit. In worship we also prepare ourselves for our time in heaven, when we will for the first time worship God in perfect unity and harmony.
We also glorify God by welcoming one another. This reference in Rom. 15:7 to welcoming one another ties back to Rom. 14:1, where Christians are told to welcome the weak in faith. We are to welcome one another not to quarrel, but as Christ welcomed us. And how does Jesus welcome us? That’s a good question to ask, because the answer shows us how we are to welcome each other.
Christ, first, welcomes us with grace; he gives us better than we deserve. We are called to do the same, especially in the church. Do we truly welcome everyone, or do we secretly want only those who can “contribute” to the church, not only monetarily, but also with time, effort, and social pleasantness. Jesus welcomes us as we are, just as Christians are called to welcome the weak brother. We don’t have to make all our changes before we set foot in the assembly. It is a lifelong process to be welcomed by Christ. And it changes us.
Christ also welcomes us in our repentance. Repentance literally means “new mind.” In that sense Christians repent of their sins at baptism, yes, but we should be continuing to let our minds be changed by God throughout our lives. Jesus also welcomes us in our ignorance. We don’t have to know all their is to know about Christ or do all our growth into Christ at the front end. But we do have to commit to change—deep down in our hearts.
So what does all this point to, this unity, harmony and welcoming? In short, it is a call for us to become more like God.
Notice that we have another benediction or hope prayer in Rom. 15:13. And do you see the words Paul uses there? “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.” Notice the word hope
—it is a way both of describing God himself and describing what new life in Christ looks like. I don’t think those similarities are there by accident.
Hope—I don’t know about you, but I could use a dose right now. The harder you look at the world, it seems, the more hopeless many things looks. The world, in fact, is a “hope sink” that works to suck real joy out of lives and makes us think of ourselves as small and insignificant. But real Christian hope is much more than simply the wish that things will go better. Hope is a condition of the Christian’s heart built on the joy and peace that comes from believing the Word of God (Rom. 15:13).
Yet it is still God who grants us joy and peace as a gift. That is a major theme of Romans, by the way—the gifts of God to us. It’s a major theme of my life right now, too. God is doing so much in my life. He’s making my heart more tender, and at times he’s given me an amazing calm amid the storms of life. Seeing how I’ve changed in that way through the influence of the Holy Spirit gives me hope.
I want you to have that kind of hope, too—hope that God is real and that what he has in store for us is better than all we can ask or imagine. You don’t have to go on the journey alone. God will help you find that kind of hope. Just stop running away and take a step toward the light.REFERENCES 1. Thomas Constable, Notes on Romans, available online at www.soniclight.com, 152-53. 2. Jack Cottrell, Romans, vol. 2, College Press Commentary, 418.3. Constable, 152.4. John 1:4-9.Copyright 2005, Milton Stanley