(Written By Pastor Tim Redfield)
Romans 15:4-13 – 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.
5 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. 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.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, there were people within the church who were sinfully judging the faith of their fellow Christians. There were conflicts between the weak and the strong Christians. The strong Christians wanted to use their Christian freedom to show that it was unnecessary to follow all of the Old Testament customs. The weak Christians were saying that those rules and regulations still needed to be followed. They were trying to follow the Old Testament food laws and they wanted to keep the Old Testament religious festivals. They were not recognizing that these customs pointed to the coming of the Christ. Now that Christ had come, these regulations did not need to be followed.
Rather than trying to work through theses disagreements in a spirit of love and humility, these two groups within the congregation were passing judgment on each other. Each group thought that the other group was not “real” Christians. The group that wanted freedom from these regulations thought that the other group was being too legalistic. The group that wanted to keep the regulations thought that the other group was being too liberal by allowing people to avoid those customs. Paul encouraged them to stop judging each other. They needed to work through these issues by looking at what God has to say. Those who are strong may have to give up some of their freedom for a little time so that they can help those who are weak to grow in their faith.
These disagreements are what led to the focus on the Gentiles in the section from Romans15. Verses 8-9 say, “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 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy.” Paul wanted to emphasize that the message of salvation was meant for all people – both the Jews and the Gentiles. The people needed to hear this so that they would stop judging each other inappropriately. Each side of the aisle needed to encourage the other side so that the body of believers would be strengthened in their faith.
We could see how the Jews might mistakenly consider themselves stronger because of the Old Testament customs that they wanted to hang on to. The Gentiles might consider themselves stronger because they understood that they were free from those Old Testament customs. Either way, Paul’s main point is that the body of believers works together to build each other up. The Jews might have thought that the message of salvation was only for them. Paul uses many Old Testament passages to show that the gospel was always meant for all. He quotes from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah. Jesus came to save Jew and Gentile. That is something the people needed to consider as they worked to build each other up.
Paul tells them to go back to the written Word. He said, “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” (Romans 15:4). The Gentiles saw Jesus as their Savior but they still needed to spend time learning to appreciate those Scriptures that had been written down. The Jews emphasized the wrong aspects of those Scriptures. They needed to learn to keep the focus on Christ and his forgiveness rather than emphasizing a religion of good works based on following certain customs and regulations. Only through the study of God’s Word would the people be able to come together and have a spirit of unity among them.
The Spirit works to bless his believers with unity. Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6). It certainly is easier said than done when it comes to being united. It was quite difficult for the Jews and Gentiles to get past their disagreements. It was even more difficult because of their sinful natures. Each group wanted to be right. No one likes to be wrong. Pride can easily get in the way of repentance.
Think about how we at times can struggle with the same temptations toward disunity today. We may be tempted to make comparisons between ourselves. We may incorrectly think ourselves to be among the strong believers when actually we are behaving like the weak. Thinking that we are strong can actually lead to disunity in the church. We may think that we are strong because we have been in the church longer than others and this may cause us to look down upon more recent converts. We could even think we are strong because we think that we live a morally upright life. This may cause us to look down on those members who struggle with sins. But be careful, this might actually be a weakness. We may be looking to our good deeds rather than looking to Christ.
We need to repent of the times that we have sinned by causing divisions among the body of believers. We need to continue to look to God’s Word so that we can grow in our faith. Repent of those times that you have ignored the value of spending more and more time in the Word of God. Repent of the times that you have failed to encourage others to look to God’s Word. We all need to grow spiritually. None of us are so strong that we don’t need the spiritual food that the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Have we taken this Word of God and the gospel of Christ for granted? What is our reaction when we see others having a disregard for God’s Word? Do we encourage them to come back to the Word and join with their fellow believers in worship? Or do we let their wandering away from the Word become one more thing that promotes disunity in the body of believers?
We confess that we have sinned by not being in the Word like we ought to be. We confess that we have at times failed to build up the body of believers. In spite of our sins, Jesus continues to work in us to build us up. He gives us peace in spite of our sin. He gives us joy even though our sin should bring us sadness. Verse 13 gives us gospel encouragement. It says, “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.” The power of the Holy Spirit is incredible. Even though we don’t deserve his blessings, he continues to work in us to strengthen us.
He gives us an incredible peace and joy. Even though we have failed again and again when it comes to keeping the commandments, the Holy Spirit gives us the peace of knowing that our sins truly have been washed away. Think about how joyful we are. Especially at this time of year, as we approach the Christmas celebration, we think about the joy that we have as we receive the greatest present that has ever been given. God the Father gave us his one and only Son. In that manger at Bethlehem we received the child who would suffer and die in our place. That is why we keep gathering together for worship even though we continue to sin. We know the joy of our forgiveness.
The Scriptures remind us of our peace and joy again and again. Everything written in the Bible was written with a purpose. It is all about pointing us to our Savior Jesus Christ. This word is living and active. It is not a book like other books. This book is the very Word of God. The power of the Holy Spirit works through these words. Through this message, God is working in our hearts. That is why we see truths for our lives every time we look at this Word. We are convicted of our sin and we are comforted with the message of our Savior. In the Word, we also see the example of many other believers who have gone before us.
Think about the very first Christmas. Think about the joy that the Shepherds must have felt when the angels appeared to them to announce the birth of the Savior. Think about how incredible it was to hear the heavenly choir singing. The Shepherds hurried off to see the baby. After they had seen Jesus, their joy urged them to tell others about this blessed event. Think about Mary. She treasured up all those events and pondered them in her heart. Try to think about how she must have felt. She recognized her unworthiness to be the mother of the Savior of the World. She knew her sins. She became the mother of the perfect Son of God. She pondered these wonderful truths.
We have the same kind of joy in our hearts. We think about our unworthiness. We confess all our wickedness before our holy and just God. He has been so gracious to us. We have such great joy. We know that all of our sins have been washed away. We know this because the Word tells us this truth. It is certain because it is an accomplished fact. The price has been paid. The death of Christ earned us forgiveness. Since he conquered the grave, we too will conquer the grave. It is an incredible blessing that we can share this joy with our brothers and sisters in the faith.
The joy of salvation is not just something we can keep to ourselves. That is why we gather as a body of believers. We rejoice to be in the house of the Lord because we see that we are not alone. We receive the encouragement that we need. We can confess our sinfulness to each other and we can receive the proclamation of forgiveness. We receive that growth that we need. We gather around God’s Word and the Holy Spirit works to build up our unity. He gives us strength that we need. He helps us overcome temptations toward disunity. He gives us our joy.