"Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, `The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'" (vv.1-3)
What does it take to be strong? In chapter 14 we learned that the strong have faith. To be strong in faith we have to receive revelation knowledge of who the Father is, who Christ is, and the all-encompassing greatness of our salvation in Christ! We need to understand that God loves us and truly wants the best for us! This knowledge gives us complete reliance upon Him!
Caring for others requires sacrifice. So often we think that we have special privileges as God's children, and should therefore be free from hardships and suffering. Yet God purposed that His beloved Son should suffer as no other person has ever suffered. Why? His unfailing obedience under the most strenuous conditions proved that He was worthy of the very highest honor - of receiving the name that is above every other name! Why is the strong brother to care for the weaker brother? God wants the very best and the highest honor for both!
The strong are filled with the love of God! A church office does not make a person strong; only the work of the Holy Spirit can do that! The love that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit needs an outlet - otherwise we become like the Dead Sea. Even as Christ poured out His love, so our love needs to be poured out - not only on those who love us, but also on those who are weak and on those who despitefully use us!
The love of God gives us compassion for those who are weak, and patience with them in their growth process. It not only brings us into intercessory prayer, but into a life that lives on behalf of others! For example, if we have the faith to include meat in our diet, and are called upon to entertain vegetarians, it calls for a certain sacrifice - more work and planning and enough love to close the door to contempt or to self-pity. To bear with their weakness, we have to give of ourselves and our energies.
Who are the weak? The weak exhibit a mixture of the carnal and the spiritual because there are so many things they do not understand. They do not understand the new covenant nor the grace and love of God, so their faith is weak. They go to pieces when things don't work out according to their plans, or when God works things out differently than they had envisioned. They still seek the righteousness of the law in certain areas. They have received salvation through faith in Christ, but have not yet come into the realization that they cannot add to that righteousness. They think they can come into greater perfection by certain do's and don'ts. They do or don't do certain things sincerely and unto the Lord.
We are not speaking of immoral issues, but of things like whether it is permissible for a woman to wear makeup and a pantsuit when ministering the word, or for a man to be dressed casually when ministering the word. Is it OK for a man to have long hair? Should he have a beard or be clean-shaven? God looks at the heart, not at the external.
It is the privilege and responsibility of those who are strong to help the weak, to be patient with them, and to bring them into an understanding of what the new covenant really means. They must bear with the weaker and less enlightened brethren, until they too become strong in faith and knowledge. This teaching practice excludes judging. It is important to promote unity in the process of caring and teaching, for there is strength in unity. However, our goal is not unity but truth. We cannot have unity at the expense of truth. The example of Christ is sufficient proof. The scribes and Pharisees were not in the category of the weak.
There is nothing Christian about pleasing ourselves. That comes naturally to all of us. Good relationships between Christians are far more important than `our rights'. We must do all we can to promote real oneness. This may require leaving some of our beloved customs and habits. Bearing the weaknesses of others is not an easy task; it takes a strong person to do that.
Pleasing our neighbor for his welfare and edification, is not always a 50-50 proposition. It may mean giving up our rights. For example, some years ago we wanted a new driveway, and we hired someone to do the work for us. After we had the forms in place, ready for the cement to be poured, our neighbor complained that it was a few inches too close to his property, and we had to redo the forms. We were not very happy about the extra expense and work, and wondered what difference those few inches made to him. After all, we were still on our side of the property. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to us and said, "So what difference do those few inches make to you?" That took care of our complaining! Later on, his children enjoyed playing on our driveway, and we sometimes wondered whether he was sorry that he had not allowed us to make it wider.
Christ is our example! He showed us the way, for He did not please Himself - He lived on behalf of others instead of for His own interests. The quote that He would endure reproach for His Father's sake is from Ps. 69:9. In all the rejection, reproaches and pain He endured, He never complained! What an example!
"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (v.4) The word whatever refers to the Old Testament scriptures. This quotation reminds us that all scripture is given for the instruction and encouragement of God's people! "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." (2 Tim. 3:16)
The scriptures give us hope! They are not meant to be a Bible club held over people's heads with a menacing and threatening, "Do or die". Instead they bring us encouragement and hope - something we all need! It brings us the encouragement to keep on going - there are better things to come! There is light at the end of the tunnel, and grace and strength to get to the light! Hopelessness brings people into depression, and many commit suicide. In Christ we have faith, hope and love! Knowing God's love for us and knowing that He only has goodness for us, is the foundation of our hope!
"Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." (vv.5-7) Paul recognized the difficulties involved with "being of the same mind with one another." That is why he prefaced this with a reminder that God gives perseverance and encouragement.
There are various reasons why this challenge to be like-minded is difficult. One of them is that we do not know what it means to be like-minded according to Christ Jesus. It means that we have the same goals. Our goal is to love one another, to love the lost, to have patience with those who have different opinions, to have a desire for unity, a desire to manifest Christ in all we say and do, to glorify God, and to desire truth! To be disciples we have to be learners!
Another reason is that we think we must not differ in our interpretation of the scriptures. There is a literal, or natural and legalistic interpretation of the scriptures and a spiritual interpretation. Those who have a natural and legalistic interpretation are very convinced that their interpretation is correct, and those who have spiritual interpretation are convinced that their interpretation is correct. Since the natural mind is in darkness and cannot understand spiritual realities, intellectual discussions result in debates - like the blind men who each felt only one part of the elephant, and could therefore not agree on what the elephant was like.
Jesus said that His words are spirit and are life. Words that are spirit need to be interpreted by the Spirit! But difference of interpretation is not to stop the flow of love. If we lack the ability to love those whose views differ from ours, we are not exercising our God-given love, and the unity of the Spirit will be broken. Only by hearing the Spirit can we have unity. If we love truth, we will be willing to leave our traditions that are not based on truth. We are one body, and each member contributes truth according to what he has received. It is presented in the uniqueness of each personality. Very often we fail to recognize that truth is enhanced when it is viewed from different angles.
Another difficulty lies in the fact that people are living on different levels of faith. Some are living in Passover - on the salvation level. This level is symbolized by the outer court of the temple with its sacrifices and washings. They rejoice in the sacrifice of Jesus, in the forgiveness of their sins, and in the knowledge that they will go to heaven when they die. Their light is the light of the outer court; it is the light of the sun and moon - natural light. Natural light symbolizes natural knowledge. They have no idea what it is like to live in the light of the Holy Spirit, for they have not yet entered the holy place, and therefore do not know what it is like.
Then there are those who are living in Pentecost, the feast of the first fruits. They have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and walk by the light of the Holy Spirit. They are being nourished by the showbread that symbolizes the truth that Jesus Christ is. Jesus said that unless we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, we do not have life. He is the truth the way and the life! Partaking of His flesh means to receive His truth; drinking his blood means to receive His soul, His consciousness of being! The soul is in the blood; life is in the Spirit! Their prayers rise up as sweet incense to the Father.
There are also some who are living in Tabernacles; they have left their natural abode - the thinking of the carnal mind; they have moved to a higher realm - the mind of Christ. They are living in the presence of God that is typified by the holy of holies. He is their light and their sustenance! There is no darkness there.
In 1 John 2:13 John also mentions three levels of living. "I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil on. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father."
Our unity should be in the Spirit, not in the unity of doctrine. We need to be united on the point of not judging one another. Christians are to accept each other in spite of the different levels of faith and the differences of interpretation. We are to accept others as Christ has accepted them.
Along with spiritual insights comes the challenge of living out of the life we have received. Every spiritual insight we receive has to become experience. The evil in this world provides the opportunity to put our insights into practice. The ignorance of other Christians is a trial to us, especially when they do not want to receive more light. This also provides an opportunity to demonstrate God's love!
The truth will make us free, and this is the freedom we are to exercise. This freedom releases us from the slavery to self! It enables us to become intercessors, that is, to live on behalf of others. In an attitude and atmosphere of love, it won't be long before we will be able to share with our brothers and sisters, what God has accomplished in Christ! Whether our fellow believers in Christ eat meat or vegetables is their business. Our part is to bring forth a revelation of Christ Jesus, and to trust God to give us that ability. The Holy Spirit has to take the words and cause them to become life in us and in others.
In John 17 Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me...that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity...so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (vv.21-23;26b) What a glorious calling! Exercising the love that God has poured into us brings acceptance and unity.
It is not enough to send out more missionaries in order to evangelize the world. God says that as we love one another the world will take note and believe that God did send Jesus into the world! Loving one another and living in unity is the best advertisement and promotion of the reality of Jesus Christ! When churches and missionaries demonstrate this love and unity, the world will take notice.
Our prayer for ourselves and others is found in Eph. 1. "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." (vv.17-19a)
Let us bow before God, and in humility and repentance ask God's forgiveness for all our judging, condemning, criticizing and bullying, as well as for our superior arrogant attitude, and the pressure we have put on others to be like we want them to be. Let's realize that God is working in each of us to conform us to the image of Christ!
"For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, `Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name.' And again he says, `Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.' And again, `Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.' And again Isaiah says, `There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.' Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (vv.8-13)
These verses portray Christ as our example - how He fulfilled the promises made to the patriarchs. They reveal that the Gentiles are also included in the promises! Christ became a servant to the Jews and Gentiles alike. The Old Testament scriptures are drawn from the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible - Law, Prophets and Psalms. The Jews could not deny such arguments from their own prophets. It is very important for both Jews and Gentiles to know that the Gentile mission has been foretold in the scriptures, and that the ingathering of the Gentiles would be accomplished by incorporating them as fellow members of the body of Christ - not as second-class members, but on an equal footing with Jewish believers! This mystery was first revealed in New Testament times, but their ingathering had been foretold or predicted.
Paul closes this division of the letter with a benediction, emphasizing the fact that we can only abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jews and Gentiles have the same God, the same Holy Spirit, the same belief, the same hope, and the same joy and peace!
"And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another." (v.14) How could Paul be so convinced of this? Jesus said that only God is good. How can anyone be filled with all knowledge? Notice that he does not say they had all knowledge, but that they were filled will all knowledge!
Paul was not speaking of earthly knowledge but of spiritual knowledge. The Holy Spirit within us has all knowledge, and it comes to us in the Holy Spirit! In the residency of the Holy Spirit within us, we have His knowledge and His goodness. As He imparts His knowledge and wisdom to us, we can admonish one another and minister to the needs of others. We can trust the Holy Spirit within us to give us the right words.
Paul was speaking to people who were new creations in Christ; they were born of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit! Because of this they had God's love within them. In Eph. 3:19 Paul said, "And to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God!" In knowing the love of Christ we are filled with goodness, the very essence of who God is! We can be filled up to all the fulness of God! Knowing the greatness - the breadth, length, height and depth of the love of Christ, surpasses knowledge! In fact, it brings us up to all the fulness of God, because He is love! As we let God's love flow through us, we are manifesting Christ in our everyday living.
"But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (vv.15-16)
Paul has written very boldly in view of his apostolic office to the Gentiles. He was commissioned by Jesus Christ to minister the gospel of God to them. His ministry, even as all ministries, was given him through the grace of God. He wanted the offering from the Gentiles for the believers in Jerusalem to be well received. This gift was sanctified, for it had a holy purpose.
"Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (vv.17-19)
In more than 20 years as an apostle to the non-Jewish world, the Greek world in the eastern part of the empire had first been evangelized. (vv.19,23) The flame had been kindled and the fire was spreading. Paul had seen churches established all over the countries we now call Cyprus, Syria, Turkey and Greece. It was during his third missionary journey that Illyricum was evangelized. Illyricum included Montenegro, Albania, and Dalmatia or modern Yugoslavia.
Now Paul desired to transfer his ministry to the Latin world, going as far west as Spain. Maybe he expected the church in Rome to serve as his base of operations, much as the church at Antioch in Syria had served previously. He had hoped earlier to go directly to Rome from Achaia, but his presence was essential at Jerusalem if the Gentile contribution were to carry the full meaning he wanted it to have.
Paul did not have any desire to entertain them with an account of all his adventures in preaching the gospel. His only desire was to bring honor to Christ. Only Christ has the power to transform lives and to bring the Gentiles into the obedience of faith! Christ's amazing power was authenticated and substantiated by miracles, signs and wonders!
"And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I would not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, `They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'" (vv.20-21) Paul was a pioneer in bringing the gospel to people who had not yet heard. His endorsement came from Isaiah 52:15, "They who had no news of Him shall see, and what they had not heard they will understand."
In verses 22-29 Paul tells his readers about the present position of his apostolic program. Because of Paul's policy to preach the gospel where it had not been preached, he had been hindered from going to Rome, for they had already had the gospel preached to them. Now that his work in the eastern Mediterranean area was finished, he felt he was free to finally fulfill his fervent longing to see them!
His plan was to go to Spain, and on his way, make a stopover in Rome. He wanted to enjoy their company, impart a blessing, and be helped on his way to Spain. But before this trip could materialize he had to go to Jerusalem.
The church in Jerusalem was suffering poverty and needed financial help. The Gentiles, all the way from the Macedonians in the north to the Achaians in the south had taken up an offering for them. Paul wanted to deliver this contribution himself.
Paul was very concerned about this gathering of money for the relief of the impoverished believers of Jerusalem. So he instructed his Gentile churches in Galatia, Asia, Macedonia and Achaia regarding this. (Rom. 15:25-32; 1 Cor.16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 & 9). It was a great act of kindness, comparable to that undertaken by the Antioch church much earlier.
The believers in Jerusalem had a very difficult time in accepting the Gentiles as fellow-heirs of the promises of God. This offering was very important, because Paul's deep desire was for the Jews to be freed from their bias. He wanted them to see that Jews and Gentiles are one body in Christ, and that the generous offering of money by the Gentiles was evidence of their love for the Jewish believers. The Concordant Literal calls this offering an approach present. An approach present was given so that the recipients would be kindly inclined toward the giver. Paul seems to have viewed it as a symbol of unity which would help his Gentile converts realize their debt to the mother church at Jerusalem, and give Jewish Christians an appreciation of the vitality of the faith existent in the Gentile churches.
Notice that Paul called the believers saints, not only in this chapter, but also in the various letters to the churches. He did not call them forgiven sinners. They do not have to die and be canonized by the church before they can be called saints. Those who are in Christ are saints.
"Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things." (v.27) The Gentiles were happy to help them, and Paul reminded them that it was also their duty! We were reminded of this when we thanked our students in China. They would always say, "It's my duty." We told them that in Canada we would say, "It's my pleasure." Here Paul combines these two concepts. The Gentiles were debtors to the Jews who had been used of God to receive the scriptures, and through whom Christ came according to the flesh. Now he points out that it is only right to help Jews in material things. This the Gentiles were also happy to do!
When this task was completed he would be on his way to Spain! "I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ." (v.29) Paul confidendently stated that he would come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ! What does that mean? Christ is the truth, and His blessing is to turn us from our wrong thinking, and to impart His right thinking! This is the greatest blessing! The fruit of the Spirit is the outgrowth or demonstration of having received truth! The gifts of the Spirit are important in ministering to the needs of others.
"Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company." (vv.30-32)
Paul seemed to anticipate the trouble he was about to experience in Judea. (Acts 21:27-26:32). He is well aware of the hazards which the immediate future might have in store for him. Notice that Paul's urgent request for prayer was not for personal needs, like for a right attitude, but for the ministry. Paul had a strong and vibrant relationship with God, but he desired the full prayer support of the saints that he might be rescued from those who were disobedient to God. (v.30) He recognized that he was only one member of the body of Christ, and for the proper functioning of the body, all members need to work together for the common good!
Whenever Paul asked for prayer, it was for the ministry - for boldness to bring forth the gospel, and for protection from those who oppose the gospel. "And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak...Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be delivered from perverse and eveil men; for not all have faith." (Eph.6:19-20; 2 Thess. 3:1-2) His prayers for believers emphasized the need for them to receive revelation knowledge of Jesus Christ.
God did answer this prayer of Paul's, but not as Paul anticipated. He was rescued from the disobedient in Judea by becoming a prisoner, and he got to Rome as a prisoner - not as a free man! This was God's will for him!
"Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen." (v.33) Paul did not want the Christians in Rome to be worried about him. He was travelling into enemy territory, but he knew he was in God's hands. God would keep him safe and sustain him until he had completed the work God had for him! So we too can enjoy the peace of God at all times!