In Chapter 14, Paul spends much time demonstrating that our judgment should not be centered upon one another, but upon ensuring we are not putting occasions in our brother’s say that would cause the to stumble. Being one in Christ is an important reality for believers to grasp and consider as they express their liberty in Christ. As Paul beings chapter 15, we are going to see a continuation of this concept of being one in Christ.
Romans 15:1 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 15:2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. 15:3 For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. 15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 15:6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15:7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
In Chapter 14, we found that believers who were strong were not to use their strength at the expense of the weak. Paul continues on with that idea those who are strong are to use their strength usefully. The strong have strength for a reason and a primary exercise of that strength is to bear the infirmities of the weak, not to bear their own self-gratifications. This is a consistent theme throughout Paul’s letters that we are to bear the burdens of one another and to look to the needs of others above ourselves. Our purposing in pleasing our neighbor (fellow believers) by bearing their weaknesses is that is ultimately serves to edify (build up) our neighbors.
Let me be clear here as well – bearing the infirmities of the weak doesn’t mean telling them to pray about it. We are told to bear the infirmities of the weak. Shrugging it off with a nonchalant “just pray about it” isn’t what we are called to do. You may not have the means to bear them fully, but by no means should we simply pick and choose what we want to get involved with based on our comfortability. We are to actively be working to build each other up. If that means praying jointly AS PART of your bearing their weaknesses, that’s great, but don’t let it stop there. Note Paul does not say, once you are informed of a weakness to pray for God to bear it. Don’t misunderstand – I’m not suggesting that God isn’t involved or that prayer shouldn’t happen. What I’m saying is that we should not pass up the opportunity to edify a fellow believer, actively, by simply reserving a “I’ll pray for ya” and nothing else.
In verse 3, Paul simply draws on Christ’s example of this of how our reproaches were laid upon Him – He bore our infirmities. Recall Paul’s words from Chapter 5,
Romans 5:6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 5:7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Did Christ come to earth, see the infirmities of mankind and just say, “I’ll pray for ya”? No, clearly not. Now, not that we could ever match Christ’s actions, but nonetheless, Paul wants us to understand how much of the ‘extra mile’ believers should go for one another in bearing their burdens while remembering the extra miles Christ went for us.
To make this point, Paul quotes from Psalm 69. Let’s look at this,
Psalm 69:9 For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
David is writing of how overcome he feels with the reproaches of his people. He is worn out by his weeping – he has nothing left to cry. He speaks of them hating him without a cause and how he has become even as a stranger unto his own. Remind you of anyone? David, speaking of himself and his own experience knew not that he was expressing the same things that Christ would go through. Even though the reproaches weren’t His own, yet Christ would bear them nonetheless.
Paul uses this opportunity, by quoting Psalm 69, to make a statement about the usefulness of the scriptures. He says in verse 4 of Romans 15 that whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Paul, after drawing on Psalm 69, makes it clear that the things that were written aforetime provide us with the means of learning. The word learning is the same word we get doctrine from. Paul affirms that anything of the scriptures that was written of old is for our doctrine. Paul echoes this to Timothy in 2Timothy 3:16 in that all scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. The fact is that none of the scriptures are written TO us. We are not living at that time, nor are we the audience being addressed. All scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable FOR doctrine, etc. The scriptures are certainly FOR us, but we can hardly claim that they are written TO us…at least with a straight face. By extension, we can benefit from the principles and teachings of scripture, but we should not hastily put ourselves into the text as if it is written directly to us. Paul’s point is that even though Psalm 69 may be about David or ultimately about Christ, you can extrapolate from it, not a “modern meaning”, but you can extrapolate hope. Paul uses Psalm 69 to explain to a group of Jews and Gentiles how the scriptures function – that by our patience, coupled with the comfort of the scriptures, we are undergird with hope.
How often when bearing the infirmities of those around us do we resort to the comfort of the scriptures to produce hope? Notice Paul doesn’t say to rake someone who is weak over the coals of your biblical understanding. Paul says that there is comfort in the scriptures and hope to be had. In this, we accomplish verse 5 – that just as God is the God of all patience and consolation, we, in His light, work in one accord with one another. This unity in the faith works for the Body of Christ to glorify God in one voice and one mind. Therefore, Paul says, to receive one another just as Christ received us.
There are a few times in Paul’s writings where he makes mention of us doing something in the same manner in which Christ did. Ephesians 4:32, for example, shows that we are to be kind and tenderhearted one to another, forgiving one another EVEN AS God for Christ’s sake has also forgiven us. Our forgiveness of each other is patterned after Christ’s forgiveness of us. Let that resonate in your mind – what did Christ demand of us in order to forgive us? The answer is nothing – nothing we did caused Him to come and die for us – He already determined that would be His course of action. Therefore, we should forgive each other similarly – no strings attached.
In Romans 15:7, Paul says to receive one another AS Christ received us. Again I ask, what did Christ demand of us in order to receive us?
Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 3:2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Reception of God was not predicated upon the flesh or law-keeping or religious performance. It was predicated upon faith – the confident decision that God’s stance on the matter is what I want to be aligned with. Christ received each believer the same – by faith. Regardless of the person’s abilities, no one can stand before the Creator of the universe and claim superiority over his fellow man because all men, at their greatest, can’t escape the shadow of His greatness. If Christ received us by faith, and not by our perceived intrinsic value, then likewise, we should not institute any strings or fine-print in order to receive believers. By the way, what would this tell you about so-called “local church membership requirements”? Perhaps more thought needs to be had there, but for now, I’m just floating it out on the water. Suffice it to say, those who bear the testimony of faith in Christ, we should receive unto ourselves in all readiness, as Christ did for us.
Paul is going to continue on with this notion of hope and describe more specifically how the Gentiles are enjoying this very same truth.
Romans 15:8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 15:9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 15:10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 15:11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Paul explains something about the ministry of Christ as it relates to both groups, Jews and Gentiles. Some will stop at verse 8 and attempt to make a claim that Christ’s purpose only concerned the Jews (initially), but only since Paul was His purpose extended to the Gentiles. Only, it wasn’t an extension of the purpose He had with the Jews, but a new, mysterious purpose never theretofore being revealed. Sounds neat, huh? But, before we start proof-texting, lets try to stay within the context as I believe that would be more pleasing to the guy who wrote it.
Remember, these Romans were a mixed bag of believers – Jews and Gentiles. If, in Christ, they are one and should glorify God with one voice, being in their minds of one accord, then it would make sense that their reception of Christ (by faith) be a fulfillment of what God’s purpose has been all along. We can’t read verses 8 and 9 without verse 7. They will glorify God with one voice because this is God’s eternal purpose. Recall from Ephesians 1,
Ephesians 1:9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 1:11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 1:12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Ephesians 3:11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
So, how did God accomplish this union of people and unity of praise and glorification? Romans 15:8-9 tells us – that Christ came not only as a minister to the circumcision (Jews), but also as a light unto the Gentiles, thus fulfilling the prophetic statements about Christ’s purpose. Paul is yet again quoting Psalms, specifically Psalm 18:49 where David is describing himself praising God by being surrounded by pagans and even being among them. These Gentiles, having been brought out (many of them) of their pagan roots that flooded the Roman world were singing praises with the Jews, as one body in Christ. What David saw was an us/them relationship, but in Christ, Paul shows there is only an US relationship – and, for good measure, Christ is included in the US.
Paul is now going to quote a few Old Testament verses about this very thing. He doesn’t need to spend much time convincing the Jews in Rome that they were going to praise God, but to praise God WITH the Gentiles apparently needed some reminding. Also, interesting how much Paul is using the Old Testament. Let me stop and say that if there are teachers or preachers out there who are encouraging a negligent approach to the Old Testament and a downright dismissal of it as no longer necessary, I would suggest you approach their teaching with great suspicion. It is impossible to “stay in the New Testament” without the Old Testament since the Old Testament is the FOUNDATION to New Testament teaching. Paul quotes the Old Testament over 100 times – and that’s just Paul. There are around 300 quotes (whether partial or full) in the NT of the OT. If we want to go into the world of allusions, then the NT references the OT close to another 500 times. Perhaps we should take the Old Testament a little more seriously? Paul did and as we’ve already seen from Romans 15:4, they serve a purpose of comfort and hope.
Let’s see Paul’s additional quotes to drive home this point of joint-glorification of God by ONE PEOPLE of God (including Gentiles):
Romans 15:10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
Deuteronomy 32:43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
Romans 15:11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. Psalms 117:1 O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. 117:2 For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.
Romans 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
Therefore, as Christ ministered to BOTH the circumcision (Jews) and the uncircumcision (Gentiles), and has brought BOTH into one Body, we should all collectively rejoice in the glory of God for not only having His eternal purpose but its fulfilment of it in Christ. For, without this purpose exacted, you and I have no hope.
Romans 15:13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
As Paul finishes this chapter, he will describe more about the purpose of the Gentiles coming into Christ to join the Jews of faith.
Our story continues…