Unity In Times of DisagreementOur study of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome has been an incredible journey for me. I’ve learned so much. I’m in awe of His Sovereign plan to reclaim those that He has knit together in their mother’s womb, but who have chosen to go their own way. I’m in awe of His patience with those of us who continue to battle with the flesh, our own desires that are contrary to His will. I’m in awe of His grace that has been demonstrated through the life of His Son who was willing to die for us though, at the time, we were His mortal enemies. I’m humbled by His desire to use people like you and me to affect, impact this broken world with the message of the Gospel. I’ve been challenged at every turn to really examine my heart, my motives, and my daily walk with the Lord in the areas that Paul has brought to the attention of his readers in Rome, and to us today.
Today, as we take a look at Romans 15:7-13, we are coming to the end of Paul’s teaching. For the remainder of Romans 15-16 Paul will turn to more personal matters. There are still good lessons left for us to learn, but his words and tone will be different for the next few weeks than the previous fifteen chapters of his letter. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and see what we can learn.
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, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” 10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” 12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” 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. (Romans 15:7-13 NIV)
The first three words of Romans 15:7 sound familiar to us don’t they? “Accept one another…” This is not the first time that Paul has urged the folks in Rome to accept one another. If you will remember, the Greek word that is translated, “Accept one another” is the word, “???????????” (proslambano) and it means, “to take to oneself, to take by the hand in order to lead aside, or to grant one access to one’s heart.” Remember, it does not mean to simply tolerate or put up with, but it means to take to oneself with the interest of the other person’s welfare in mind. Let me show you one of the places where the same word is used.
In Acts 18:25-26, we’re going to jump in the middle of the story that Luke tells about a man named Apollos. He was a native of Alexandria. Luke tells us that he was a “learned man,” I think that means he was smart. He also had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had come to Ephesus and he was preaching his heart out while the crowd listened in. In the crowd that day was a husband and wife ministry team, Priscilla and Aquila. Now that I’ve set the scene for us, listen to this.
25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:25-26 NIV)
I love this story. You know that as Priscilla and Aquila, husband and wife ministry team that they were, sat and listened to Apollos preaching they noticed some holes in his theology. Luke gives us some hints. Hint #1: He “taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” Hint #2: “They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” The New International Version says that Priscilla and Aquila “invited him to their home,” but literally the Greek reads that they “took him to themselves” or they “took him aside,” away from the crowd. They didn’t sit and take notes during his sermon so that they could attack him after he was done. They didn’t brand him a heretic. They didn’t throw him under the bus in front of all of the people who were listening to him teach. They had Apollos’ best interest at heart so they took him aside, after the lesson was over, and they expanded his understanding of the Gospel. They accepted Apollos as a brother in Christ even while there were holes in his theology. What a beautiful picture! Why did they do that? Why would they do that? Well, that leads us back to Romans 15:7.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7 NIV)
If Paul would have placed a “period” after “Accept one another” then there wouldn’t be any chance of that ever happening. If we are to get along with one another and accept one another simply for the sake of it being the “right” thing to do then it isn’t going to get done. We are just too different. We are just too accustomed to the familiar, to the comfortable, to ever push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and associate with others who make us uncomfortable. Praise God for the “comma” instead of the “period!” Paul tells us to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Do you see what Paul has done? He has given us the precedent for accepting one another and he has given us a purpose for accepting one another. The precedent was set when Jesus accepted us.
Back in Romans 14:3, Paul told the believers in Rome who were free to eat any and everything to accept those who refuse to eat some things because of their convictions—to accept one another because “God has accepted him.” (Romans 14:3 NIV) We accept others not because we agree with them, but because Jesus has accepted us. So our precedent is Jesus and our purpose is, as Paul writes, “in order to bring praise to God.”
I’ve been thinking about that phrase this past week. We bring praise to God by accepting one another, by loving others, in the same way that God has accepted and loves us. If I were to ask a group of people what they could do to best bring glory and honor to God they might say that worship would be one of the best ways to glorify God. Still others might say that serving God by serving His people would work best. Some, preachers probably, might say that teaching God’s Word would be the best way to glorify God. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul lists some of these. He says,
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NIV)
When Paul gets to the end of his lesson on love, he writes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV) If you and I will pray for God’s grace, patience, and provision to truly love one another then God will be glorified in ways that teaching and preaching, serving the poor, and singing the songs of our faith can’t touch. All of these things are important, vitally important, but they are empty, utterly meaningless if we do not genuinely, tenderly, and passionately love another in the same way that God loves and accepts us.
I hope we are getting the message. I hope that it is sinking in. For the past several weeks Paul has been hammering home this theme and there is a reason for it. There was tension and division in Rome just as there is in the United States today. The church in Rome couldn’t change society, but they could sure model unity, love, and acceptance to a divided city.
A few years ago I got an email encouraging me to check out a pledge that was written by 100 Christians from across the United States who are concerned with what is happening in our nation. These 100 leaders who signed “A Covenant of Civility” are not cookie cutter conservative or liberal Christians, they don’t agree with one another on all matters of theology or politics, but they agree that Jesus is Lord and He alone is the answer to what ails our nation. Let me read you the opening paragraph of the covenant.
As Christian pastors and leaders with diverse theological and political beliefs, we have come together to make this covenant with each other, and to commend it to the church, faith-based organizations, and individuals, so that together we can contribute to a more civil national discourse. The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “ put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). (A Covenant for Civility: Come Let Us Reason Together. http://tiny.cc/wnmhq)
Two of the leaders who were instrumental in putting together the covenant are the late Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Two men who are very different and yet they realize that they are brothers in Christ. As soon as the covenant was posted on the internet Christians began taking shots because one of the signees is “this” or “that.” Some Christians think that Chuck Colson and conservative Christians shouldn’t associate with the likes of folks like Jim Wallis or others, and other Christians think that Jim Wallis and others shouldn’t associate with the likes of Chuck Colson and his type.
The very next day I got word that Pastor John Piper had invited Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church to speak at The Desiring God National Conference coming in October. You would have thought that John Piper had asked satan himself to preach. I read a few blog posts to try and find out what all of the controversy was about and I learned that not only are the followers of John Piper upset with him, but some folks who like Rick Warren are appalled that he would accept an invitation by John Piper. Tune in next week for another episode of “As The Christian World Turns…”
Folks, the Body of Christ desperately needs to come together and recognize that we are not clones of one another, some of us may even be wrong at some point in our beliefs, but how in the world can we have the Gospel more adequately explained to us, like Priscilla and Aquila explained it to Apollos, if we do not come together and listen to one another?
Let me ask you a question. “Do you think Jesus was different from the Jews of His day?” Jesus was Jewish right? Absolutely. He is the Messiah who was Jewish in his ethnicity and spiritual heritage. Jewish through and through. He knew the Torah. He was circumcised on the eighth day. He kept the law. Yet, Jesus was very different from His Jewish brothers and sisters and not just because of His divinity. The Jews believed that we were made for the Sabbath—the Sabbath took precedence over every activity of humanity, but Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NIV) The Jews believed that Gentiles were dirty, despised, and almost non-human, but Jesus said of the Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant, but didn’t want Jesus to come to his house because he was unworthy—“I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10 NIV) Jesus was very different from the Jews in matters of theology and yet we read in Romans 15:8-12.
8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” 10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” 12 And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” (Romans 15:8-12 NIV)
As divided as our society is today there can be no comparison between our society with its racial, political, and socio-economic divisions and the division between Jew and Gentile in Jesus’ day. In the thick of dissension and division Paul says that “Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy…” It is interesting that Paul uses the title “Christ” instead of Jesus. “Christ” means “anointed one.” It is the Greek version of the Hebrew word for Messiah. The Greek word for “servant” is “????????” (diakonos) and it means, “servant, minister, or deacon.” Jesus became a servant, a minister, to those who yelled out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Why would He do that? Why didn’t He just shake the dust from His sandals and head on down the road? Jesus said in Matthew 15:24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24 NIV) He was sent. He was commissioned. He had come to confirm the promises of God that were made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that God would send a Messiah to deliver His people one day. The Messiah had come!
The Jews had forgotten some of the promises of God and that is why Paul reminds them by quoting from the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament. Paul lists four different Scriptures: Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; and Isaiah 11:10. You might think that Paul just randomly selected these Scriptures, but you need to know that’s not the case at all. Paul selected Scripture from each of three divisions of the Hebrew Bible. The Jews refer to the canon of the Hebrew Bible as the “Tanakh.” Tanakh is really an acronym formed by the first letter of each of the three divisions: The Torah (Five books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings). Paul was showing that the promises of God to fulfill His covenant promises to the Jews and include the Gentiles ran throughout all of the Jewish Bible. Listen to the Scriptures Paul listed for his hearers.
49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name. 50 He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever. (Psalm 18:49-50 NIV)
43 Rejoice, O nations, with his people,, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people. 44 Moses came with Joshua son of Nun and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people. (Deuteronomy 32:43-44 NIV)
1 Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. 2 For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 117:1-2 NIV)
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10 NIV)
God had made a covenant with His people. He had made promises to Abraham that He would bless him and through Abraham all the nations would be blessed. When Jesus came He said,
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17 NIV)
Jesus did not come to do away with the Law or to negate all that the prophets had spoken—He had come to fulfill, He had come to embody, the promises of God. Jesus was the long awaited Messiah that the prophets had spoken of, yearned for, throughout time. In Galatians, Paul writes about the blessing of Abraham finally coming to the Gentiles when he writes,
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:13-14 NIV)
God made a covenant with the Jews, but we see in Romans 15:9 that we Gentiles glorify God for “His mercy.” There was no covenant made with us. We are not the Chosen People of God, but by His great mercy we have been brought into the family of God through the glorious death and resurrection of Jesus. Let me ask you then, is there any justification for excluding anyone? Is there any good reason why we should not accept one another? Not on your life!
As we come to Romans 15:13 we reach the end of Paul’s teaching that began in Romans 12:1. We are to live our lives in view of God’s mercy. We are not to conform to this world’s ways of doing things, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The transformed mind will lead us to doing life, relating to others, in a way that is absolutely different from the way the people who do not know Jesus relate to one another. Paul ends this section with a benediction, a prayer. How appropriate is that? Let’s read Paul’s prayer together.
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. (Romans 15:13 NIV)
There has been lots of discussion by folks who translate the Bible about the opening of this verse. The question is based upon the structure of the sentence—“Is God the source of hope or is He is the object of hope? The answer is…are you ready for this? He is both. He is the source of our hope and He is the object of our hope. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote these words,
This verse is a great summary of the blessed life in the brotherhood formed by our oneness in Jesus Christ. The source of that life is the God of hope. The measure of that life is that we shall be filled ‘with all joy and peace.’ The quality of that life is joy and peace which he desires for us. The condition of that life is faith—we enter it by believing. The purpose of that life is that we might abound. The enabling of that life is divine power. And the director of that life is the Holy Spirit. (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Glory: Exposition of Bible Doctrines, Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, vol. 10, Romans 14:13-16:27 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, 1964), pp. 72-73.
What Dr. Barnhouse is saying is that it is all of God. The more we surrender our petty differences, our personal preferences, and surrender to God’s call upon each of our lives the more we will become characterized by His love for others. Before we leave here I have to ask you, “Do others experience His love through you? Do others know you as an arms-opened-wide follower of Jesus or as an arms-crossed follower of Jesus? If Jesus lives in your heart then He will direct not only your steps, but your thoughts as well. Do you look with a skeptical eye at others or do you look to bless others? Do you seek to accept those God places in your life or do you only really love and embrace those who walk lock step with you? Aren’t you glad that Jesus sought us out and continues to seek to mold us and shape us even though we are so difficult to love? Won’t you invite Him into your heart and allow Him to give you a love for others that you’ve never experienced before?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 18, 2014