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Romans (Series 1)

Building Up the Brotherhood

Romans  15:1-13

(This lesson starts with a review exercise first.) Sometimes it happens that a Christian appears inconsistent. There are two possible reasons for this:

·         He really is inconsistent, or

·         He is consistent to something other that what you expected.

For those who expect a Christian to be consistent with a set of rules and regulations (often an imaginary set), it’s difficult for the world to reconcile our behavior with our label. Our consistency should be to Christ, not to the rules. We are “born of water and the Spirit”[1] and not under the Law -- or any other set of rules and regulations. Thus, to the world, we look inconsistent; it is a hidden consistency.[2] This morning we will examine how that inconsistency is used to build others up, and thus build up the church, as she imitates her Lord.

Building Others Up

(Rom 15:1-4 NIV) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. {2} Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him 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 endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

In this precious, short passage we have four principles of great importance:

Bearing with the failings of the weak. Some of us feel “put upon” in this; we do not see what an opportunity we have:

(Gal 6:2 NIV) Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Note the phrasing here (much better than the NIV in Romans) -- it carries with it the sense of carrying the burden with others, not “putting up with” others. Paul often uses the metaphor of the church as a “body” -- and in a body, when one part hurts, the body hurts (have you ever had a migraine headache and tried to be cheerful?). We can also take that metaphor in a modern sense: for those of you who are body fitness fanatics -- you exercise the weak muscles more, to help them to grow strong. So we also ought to assist the weak among us, to produce the spiritual fitness needed for Christ’s own body on earth.

Pleasing others -- for their good. We began this discussion with thoughts on the concept of consistency. Paul was the most inconsistent person on earth -- just for this principle.

(1 Cor 9:19-22 NIV) Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. {20} To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. {21} To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. {22} To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

One note of warning must be sounded. We are to please others “for their good.” This sometimes means that we must say hard things and do hard things. Time is short, eternity is long and hell is hot -- but Jesus saves.

Learning from the Supreme Example. Any parent can tell you that children learn by example. God’s children should learn the same way from their chief example, Jesus Christ. The passage quoted here comes from the Psalms; as is often the case, Paul is tickling us with a small quotation from a larger context:

(Psa 69:8-9 NIV) I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons;[3] {9} for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

In this little quote we learn one thing from that example: our faith will at times cut us off from those we love; we will be insulted by those we love the most. Paul shows us here the pain that our Lord suffered by rejection from within his own earthly family. We are his students, his disciples; therefore, we can (by example) expect the same.[4]

Learning from the Scriptures. I frequently encourage my students to read the Scripture on a daily basis. Indeed, I can state definitely that my studies in the Scripture have been the greatest help in my intellectual life -- for in them I find the Christ. Here is the “proof text;” it is worth a second look:

(2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, {17} so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Most Biblical literalists slam the Bible shut after verse 16, having proved their particular interpretation of literal infallibility (a word which is not used in Scripture to describe itself). We miss the point: the inspiration of the Scriptures is not given to us to prove us right, but rather that we “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The rightness of your doctrine is nothing compared to the equipment for every good work.

Indeed, Paul gives us the twin methods of learning the faith: endurance and encouragement. One is our experience (in which we are to help each other); the other words -- either those of the Scripture or those encouraging words from our fellow believers.

The result of this (verse 4) is hope. Hope refers to what has not yet been delivered to us.[5] We are to live our lives pointed forward to His coming again.


The consistent metaphor for the unity of the church is that of “one body.” The idea is that we are united in Christ -- but we are not uniform. The mathematicians understand this. Most of us are familiar with the “equals” sign, two parallel lines. Mathematicians also have a symbol called the “identity” sign, three parallel lines. The first means that the two sides of the sign are equal in some specific respect. The second means that the two sides of the sign are equal in all respects -- they are identical. For us to have unity does not mean that we are identical; in fact, it means we are not. It means that we are joined together.

In this passage we have several “unities” -- things intrinsically different, but connected in our lives. They are indeed the “consistency” we sought at the beginning of this lesson. In those unities of self we are encouraged to bind the unity of the church:

(Rom 15:5-7 NIV) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, {6} so that with one heart and mouth 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.

The “unities” There are three interesting “unities” in the passage.

Endurance and encouragement. Endurance represents our experience and encouragement the words of others, including the Scriptures.

Heart and mouth. The heart represents the “inside” of a person -- the thoughts and emotions. The mouth represents, of course, what we say. We recognize hypocrisy as having these two not united.

God and Father. Interestingly enough, we have a central mystery of the church in this unity. Break the sentence apart. We have the “God ... of our Lord Jesus Christ” (the human side of Jesus, acknowledging God as divine) and “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (which emphasizes His divinity). God and Christ are one; and Christ prayed that we too should be one.[6]

The “Why?” of Unity. If you want to motivate an American soldier, you have to tell him not only what to do but why he’s doing it. Paul takes that same principle here; he gives us the “why.”

·         The internal side: to glorify God. This is essential to keeping us in a right relationship with God. If you want a solid relationship with any person, you must know (and acknowledge) who that person is. If you think not, try treating your boss as your subordinate.

·         The external side: to bring praise to God. Wisdom is proved right by all her children.[7] Do we, the children of God, bring praise to God? If we glorify Him in the church, should we not bring praise to him outside the church.

The “How?” of Unity. The basic instruction for the “how” of unity is to accept one another. I would offer you three points on this:

·         We must accept that each of us has different gifts. We are explicitly told this[8]; yet sometimes we expect more of others than their gifts will allow. This is yet another reason we are told “judge not.”[9]

·         We are all possessed of the same Spirit, and that Spirit gives us peace with each other:

(Eph 4:3 NIV) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

·         Over all this, the love that God commands of us binds us together:

(Col 3:12-14 NIV) Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. {13} Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. {14} And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

There is one overriding aspect of unity in the church: we are to be united, in imitation of our Lord, that the world may know that He is God, and that He loves us:

(John 17:23 NIV) I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The Example of Christ

(Rom 15:8-12 NIV) 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."

We began this lesson by talking about consistency. We said it was difficult to understand from the outside unless you understood that to which a Christian is being consistent. We can now see the consistency of Christ:

·         He came to be a servant. It is therefore consistent that He did not “conquer the world” (in the military sense).

·         He came to confirm the promises. This is just another way of saying that the root of consistency is the root of all reality: God’s truth.

The quotations are in an interesting sequence, particularly to the Gentile audience (which is still us!) They reflect the way in which God is reaching out from His chosen people, the Jews, to the whole world. It’s worth a look:

·         In the first quotation[10] we see the Jew praising God among the nations -- representative of spreading the Gospel.

·         In the second quotation[11] the nations are commanded to join in praising God.

·         In the third quotation[12] the nations are commanded to praise him directly, without reference to the Jews.

·         In the fourth quotation (actually a paste of two verses from Isaiah) [13] completes the cycle by looking forward to his coming again.

Paul ends this section with a benediction:

(Rom 15:13 NIV) 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.

We see one last consistency, one last unity here.

·         On the inside, we are to have joy and peace -- as we trust in Christ.

·         On the outside, to our brothers and those outside the faith, we are to overflow with hope -- the hope of his coming again -- but again connected from the inside: the Holy Spirit.

[1] John 3:5

[2] See, for instance, Matthew 6:3, and consider how THAT looks to the world.

[3] See, for a parallel, Matthew 12:46-50.

[4] (Mat 10:25 NIV) It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!

[5] Romans 8:24-25

[6] John 17:21-22

[7] Luke 7:35

[8] Ephesians 4:11-13

[9] Matthew 7:1

[10](Psa 18:49 NIV) Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD; I will sing praises to your name.

[11] (Deu 32:43 NIV) 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.

[12] (Psa 117:1 NIV) Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.

[13](Isa 11:1 NIV) A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

(Isa 11:10 NIV) 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.

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