Lesson 54: Romans 15:1-12
by Bob Burridge ©2012
In the previous chapter, Paul was urging Christians to be considerate of the things that confuse or distract the less mature believers in the Church. Now in Chapter 15 he takes us to our motives and the things that might hinder us from dealing with the weaker ones among us.
In our fallen world we are surrounded with self-centered attitudes toward those who have different customs and tastes than we have. People get annoyed with others they label as immature, ignorant, or just plain stupid. They wish the bothersome ones would just go somewhere else and leave them alone. They take that “let them fend for themselves” attitude. The easy way out is to expect someone else to handle problems that disturb their comfort zone, or that would take away their own pleasures if they had to deal with them. In society in general some expect the government to develop an agency or program for those people. In the church they would rather leave those they look down upon to the Pastors, Elders, or Deacons.
There is a general lack of neighborly concern. People look to their own interests, to what makes them comfortable. They neglect the interests of those who have some maturing to do. Those classed that way tend to be shunned, degraded, or even mocked.
This whole section of Romans clarifies Biblical love, and how we should show it to all types of people.
Chapters 12 and 13 tell us to love God, our fellow Christians, even our enemies. It is God’s job to punish evil, not ours. In the state God has ordained our leaders to be the ones to execute his wrath upon breakers of the civil laws. The job of the individual is to overcome evil by doing good. Real love fulfills God’s holy law.
Chapter 14 explained how we are to love other believers who are not as mature in Christ. Some may not yet rightly understand what God has said about some matters. They may hold to principles not founded upon his word and promises. Areas of liberty within the bounds of God’s law should not be a cause for contempt or judgment of other believers. Those offended by things not specified in God’s word are called “weak”. Those who understand this liberty, and who exercise it for God’s glory, are the strong. However, they must not use their liberty in ways that offend the weaker believers.
Chapter 15 goes on to show that we must bear the weaknesses of others for their good.
The first two verses set out the basic theme.
Romans 15:1-2, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”
The believer who better knows and appreciates God’s word has an awesome duty. The word “ought” points out the responsibility God places upon us. Galatians 6:2 says we are morally bound to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”
The duty commanded of us is to bear the weaknesses of believers who are not as strong as God by grace has made us. To “bear” [bastazo, (βασταζω)] is not just “to tolerate”, but to lift up and carry their load. We are to help them grow into spiritual maturity. The imagery of these words is that of a traveler who helps a weaker companion with his heavy load along on their journey together. So this is not about tolerating ignorance or minimizing error. It pictures us patiently avoiding offense while we help the brother along the way. We concern ourselves for them out of brotherly love in Christ.
Our motive is important too. Our actions should not be just to please ourselves. We are not to use our liberty irresponsibly, or in self-pride presuming that we are more mature. We should not help so that we appear stronger. It is never to be for praise or for pride. We are not to force others to conform to principles which are against their own consciences. Wrong motives in pleasing our weaker neighbor can be evil. Paul very humbly wrote in Galatians 1:10 that if he was trying to please men, he would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
We should bear others along to encourage them for their good and edification, for their spiritual well being and growth. We are to help them to be growing in understanding and in their walk with Christ.
Absolom was the son of King David. He coveted the power of his father’s throne. 2 Samuel 15:2-7 shows us how his motives were evil when he tried to “win the hearts of people”. He appeared to sympathize with those who came with problems. He complained with them about poor government. He made political promises. He convinced them that what they needed was someone like him in charge. He appeared to be helping the weak in the Kingdom, but he was really using them to gain power for himself. He “stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” Politics has not changed much since that time.
Then Absolom staged a revolution, declared himself king, and condemned David as an enemy of the state. He tried to please his neighbor deceitfully, for self gain. God did not honor that kind of help. It condemned Absolom to certain and horrible judgment.
We are to bear the infirmities of others by serious consideration of their spiritual needs, not for the advancement of our own desires. Hebrews 10:24 says, “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to encourage them in faith and fellowship, build them up, and help them grow stronger.
Paul followed this example himself when he was in Corinth, and later wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”
This is why we should voluntarily set aside our own liberties for the sake of not offending others. We may have to swallow our pride, take some abuse, let others think what they will about us personally, so that God’s ways, not our own, become apparent.
Our great example is our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:3-6, “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’ For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We need to learn to bear the other’s burden by the example of our Savior. If ever one deserved glory and praise it was him. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says of Jesus, “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
Jesus showed what humble service and care for others looked like. He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. He endured the ridicule of those unaware that they were degrading the one who made them, and who held their life and eternal destination in his hand. He laid aside the display of his eternal glory to come into this world to redeem sinners, to make children out of those who had most rebelliously offended his holy ways.
Following his usual method of appealing to Scripture to support his ideas, Paul quoted from Psalm 69:9, “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” David spoke those words as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. This verse is applied to Jesus directly in John 2:17. Jesus came to bare the infirmities of his people, for their benefit.
In 1 Peter 3:18 Peter said, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” Jesus bore the reproach of those who had offended the Father. He took up the moral burden for those he loved eternally.
Of course we are not able to bear another’s weakness as Jesus did. He took up their guilt! He redeemed the lost! We can’t do that. The lesson for us is that the strong should lay aside their privileges and honor for the moment, and should patiently put up with abuse and dishonor, so that they might help those who are in real spiritual need. If we neglect the example of Christ, if we are impatient or unkind to those who have yet to mature in Christ, we disrupt the peace of the church with our foolishly presumed maturity.
Here in Romans 15:4 we are reminded that God has preserved in Scripture important lessons from the past. As we learn God’s principles and cling to his promises in Christ, we are encouraged and made to persevere having a certain hope in God’s faithfulness to us. God, the almighty Creator, has redeemed a people for himself. All along he has been actively carrying out his covenant promises. He will indeed reward his people according to his riches in glory.
In verses 5 and 6 Paul forms his words as a prayer. He calls upon God to patiently and with comfort “give us the same mind among one another according to (the example of) Christ Jesus” (my own translation). He adds that this should be done not for our own advancement, but that together we would bring glory to God the Father in our thoughts and words.
God alone is the author of true unity and the graces of patience and encouragement. Being of the same mind does not mean always being of the same opinion. Our harmony is in our love for God’s glory and a diligent submission to his word. So our patience is not meant to include ignoring someone’s weaknesses, or tolerating error. It is to find kind ways to encourage the weaker brothers to grow in strength.
It is right and needful to look to God in prayer as you try to bear your brother’s burdens. We need to keep in mind that in ourselves we would fail being taken in by the sin of pride. As we dare to counsel we need to follow Paul’s advice to the Galatians in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
All this is to be done in accord with Christ. That means agreeably with His will and example. To properly help our weaker neighbor we must know and submit prayerfully to the lessons taught about and by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is also our example in how we can
accept one another in our weaknesses.
Romans 15:7-12, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: ‘For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.’ And again he says: ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!’ And again: ‘Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!’ And again, Isaiah says: ‘There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.’ “
For the sake of God’s glory, we must accept one another just as Jesus accepted us. Christ became a servant to all kinds of people. The original Greek word for “servant” here is diakonos (διακονος), the word later used for the office of Deacon. As our example, our Lord set aside the radiance of his glory and majesty while on earth to care for the weak among the Jews and the Gentiles alike. There was a lot of discrimination and bigotry in some places between those groups of believers. Paul used this prime example of our Savior to guide us in all matters of pride and prejudice.
Christ became a servant to the Circumcision (that is, to the Jew). They knew and hoped in the promises through meaning behind the priestly rituals and sacrifices. Jesus came to confirm that the promises of God to the Ancient Fathers had been fulfilled. Sadly, some of them still looked down upon Gentile believers as if the rituals still applied, and the promises were not yet completely fulfilled.
Christ also came for the Gentiles. They had not grown up with the words of the Prophets, and did not know the rituals which taught the promises of God’s Gracious Covenant. So to them he declared God’s mercy, his undeserved kindness in calling the unworthy, the unprepared.
This was a troublesome issue between these groups. Paul again used Scripture to show that his message was nothing new, nothing other than God’s eternal plan. The Jew, who still insisted on rejecting the Gentiles, was stopped cold in his weakness, and gently reminded about what God said in his holy word.
First he quoted from Psalm 18:49, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.” Here David spoke in the midst of Gentiles, giving thanks to God. Paul showed that being among Gentiles is no hindrance to the worship of Jehovah.
Then he quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”
Next Paul quoted Psalm 117:1, “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”
Following this he quoted Isaiah 11:10 which said, “… in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious.” Then in verse 12 Isaiah said that Jehovah, “… will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel…”
Charles Hodge says that Paul’s quote from Isaiah is an “explicit prediction of the dominion of the Messiah over other nations besides the Jews. … From the decayed and fallen house of David one should arise whose dominion should embrace all nations.”
This was the example of Jesus Christ. The weak Jews and Gentiles in the early church were offended with one another because of a poor understanding of how Christ set them free from the priestly rituals. Yet, in spite of these immature weaknesses, Jesus came as a servant to redeem both of them, and to adopt them together into one family of God, to be one church on earth for their Creator’s glory.
By this example we ought to accept one another for God’s glory. Some may look down upon those who are slow in adopting certain outward customs. Those who come together in the church family may have grown up with different backgrounds. Some may seem to us to speak a bit more crudely. They may dress either less or more stylishly, or even more strangely than the current customs of a group of believers. They may not have learned to see how God’s law applies to particular areas of their lives. They may differ in political views about how best to promote what honors God in society. Some may eat foods that others will not eat, or drink drinks some abstain from, or celebrate holidays differently. But we need to learn that our union in Christ is a union in which we are to grow together. We are to be like a family where the members love each other and work together. We need to be patient and tolerant as we help one another to mature and to conform to a more biblical view of life here on earth.
This does not mean there are no right or wrong answers. The Gentiles were right in being able to eat some things the Jews still would not eat. They were not bound to the holy days of the priestly rituals. The Jews were wrong if they insisted upon these forms of the Covenant as if they were unfulfilled. The Jews were right in warning against the customs that had pagan origins which the Gentiles brought with them when they became Christians. In that way many of the Gentiles were wrong.
We should never compromise or hide God’s revealed truth, nor should we ignore direct violations of God’s moral principles. However, there are areas of less immediate clarity where we need to learn together with patience. The strong are called upon to become meek and kind for the promoting of peace in the church. They are to become servants, persevering in patient kindness for the sake of our brothers in Christ
We are one Covenant People, one family, gathered by grace out of diverse cultures and backgrounds. We have been given one clear word of truth by which together we submissively test all we believe and do.
For the sake of one another, we must be willing to set aside any comforts, schedules, material possessions, goals, or pastimes that stand in the way of helping other believes grow in the Christian Faith. We do it out of love with real concern for the weaker among us who need to mature in Christ.
One of the strongest things we can do is to admit we are also weak as we try to help others, and we should remember to give all the credit to our Savior for whatever strength we have.
That is a radical idea for this self-indulgent world in which we live today. What changes would such an attitude make in your home? in your friendships? If we grew in this attitude of being here to encourage and to serve those around us in the church, as if they were truly brothers in our family, how many more would be with us in regular worship, in Sunday School, in our gatherings for prayer, and for Bible studies?
What a change that would make in our whole society if all who really trusted in the Savior learned to love patiently as faithful representatives of Christ!
We are duty bound to help the weaker among us to become stronger. We are to persevere with them even if in their immaturity they are annoying. Yet, we are not to condescend to them, not to despise them, not to offend them, as we attempt to be a help to them.
The “it takes a village” attitude of humanistic socialism produces classes of experts and inferiors. It strives to preserve the weaknesses of each group, and resists conforming to God’s standards. Biblical Christianity should make classes disappear. Though some will have less than others, it should not make them feel like they are lesser people who can simply depend upon others who present themselves as better people. Just as some of the Jews were wrong in looking down upon the Gentile converts, we should be careful not to become prideful or arrogant. Appreciating the differences in the way God provides for us and gifts us, we should remain equal members together in the family of God. As servants we are called upon by our Creator to help all those he redeemed to grow in Christ and in the knowledge of his word. We are all lost sinners, undeserving of blessings but by God’s grace.
Rather than leaving those who annoy us to “fend for themselves,” or sending them off to find help elsewhere, we need to show compassion and patience to help them grow in Christ. This is family behavior. This is what honors the God who saved us.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)