Relationships between “Strong” and “Weak” Believers Part 4 Accept One Another! – Romans 15:7-13
Pastor Mark Hardy February 9, 2014
As the president of Wheaton College for 17 years (1965-1982), Dr. Hudson Arm-er-ding faced a particular issue of personal preference in the college that had the potential to cause a serious financial crunch. While many of the heavy financial contributors to the college had been visiting the campus they observed that a number of the Christian young men on campus had long hair and were wearing beards. Because of this, some of these big donors had withdrawn their support and others were threatening to do the same.
Since obviously there was no school policy on this matter at the time, the administration had to make a decision. At a chapel meeting for the student body, Dr. Arm-er-ding made an announcement that got everyone’s attention. As he stood on the stage and scanned the student body with his eyes he called by name one young man who had particularly long hair and a beard. He asked him to please stand and to come forward and join him on the platform, which the young man did with reluctance. Looking him straight in the eyes, Dr. Arm-er-ding said to him, “Young man, your long hair and beard represent the very thing that these supporters of the school are against. I want you to know that the administration of this school does not feel as they do. We accept you and we love you. We believe you are here to seek and to find the truth as it is in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
With that, the president reached out his arms, drew the young man to himself, and publicly embraced him. Immediately, the entire student body jumped to its feet and gave spontaneous applause to this brave president. The point I want to make from this illustration is not that it’s wrong if a Christian school chooses to set a policy on a certain hair length for men. But rather that this is a good example of the kind of loving acceptance that believers are to show each other concerning matters of personal preference, which are things not directly commanded or forbidden in Scripture. It is this acceptance of one another that we will be looking at this morning.
As we come to the last paragraph of our study of Romans 14:1-15:13, Paul now draws a conclusion to his teaching on Christian relationships. Turn in your Bible to Romans 15.
In Romans 15:7-13 we see three reasons why all true believers must accept one another in the family of God. This passage unfolds in a similar way as we saw in vv. 1-6.
The first reason is because:
I. The Prescription that Believers show mutual Acceptance
A. Having just prayed in vv. 5-6 that God would grant them unity, so that the entire church could glorify God, Paul now says to the church at Rome in v. 7: Therefore, accept one another… (Stop there)
1. The word “Therefore” (dio) here functions as a conclusion to Paul’s discussion to the “strong” and “weak” concerning personal preferences, but it also contains a summary of some of the major themes in the letter as a whole to support this final appeal to them.
2. Whereas in 14:1 Paul commanded the “strong” to “accept the one who is weak in faith,” here he widens his “prescription” or command to include every believer in the church, both the “strong” and “weak.” Everyone in the church is to “…accept one another,” regardless of their differing opinions.
3. The word “accept” (proslambanesthe), as we saw in 14:1, literally means “to take alongside oneself.” It doesn’t simply refer to warmly welcoming new believers into the church family, which it certainly includes, but it means to wholeheartedly receive fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and treat them with the same love and concern you would a dear family member.
4. The present tense of the word indicates that this mutual acceptance of one another in the church is to be a continuous reality. Christlike “agape” love demands no less!
5. Now it is this mutual acceptance of one another in Christ’s church that is the main point of this paragraph. The second reason why all believers must accept one another is because:
II. The Pattern of Christ must be Followed
A. Look again at v. 7: Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.
1. Here Paul makes a comparison between Christ’s acceptance of us and our acceptance of each other with the words “just as.” Back in 14:3 Paul prohibited the “weak” from judging the “strong” on the grounds that “God has accepted him,” but here he says that we are to accept one another because “Christ has accepted us.”
2. Paul has no problem saying “God” and then “Christ” because Christ is God. Now how did Jesus Christ accept us?
3. Despite the infinite chasm that existed between the sinless God and sinful men, He lovingly accepted us into God’s family just as we were. In His mercy and grace He saved us by opening our blinded eyes to the truth of the gospel, drawing us to Himself, and giving us saving faith in Him.
4. And He continues to accept us in Him and works to conform us more and more into His likeness, despite as James says in 3:2 that “we all stumble in many ways.”
5. John MacArthur rightly states, “If the perfect, sinless Son of God was willing to bring sinners into God’s family, how much more should forgiven believers be willing to warmly embrace and accept each other in spite of their disagreements over issues of conscience.” (Mac Study Bible pg. 1689)
6. We have no excuse to not accept one another. The pattern of Christ must be followed.
7. Jesus said in Matthew 10:24-25, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master.”
8. And Ephesians 5:1-2 states, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
9. And as we accept one another just as Christ accepted us, Paul says that we do so “…to the glory of God.” In other words, God gets all the credit, for He is the One who took the initiative through Christ to reconcile us to Himself and to each other.
B. Paul then applies this obligation of mutual acceptance to the ethnic differences in the church by explaining how Christ accepted both Jews and Gentiles for the glory of God. Look at vv. 8-9: For I say (i.e. to declare or proclaim) 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; (Stop there)
1. Thus far, we have seen that Paul’s commands to both the “strong” and “weak” believers in the church at Rome to not judge but mutually accept one another have focused on the non-moral issues of diet, days, and drinking. But here Paul reveals that another issue was taking place in the Roman church, which was one of discrimination ethnically between the Jews and Gentiles.
2. Remember that the “weak” in the Roman church were primarily Jewish Christians but also included some Gentiles, and the “strong” were primarily Gentile Christians but also included some Jews. Both are represented in the two groups.
3. As we come to v. 8 Paul declares “…that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision.” The word “servant” (diakonon) speaks of the lowly, humble service or ministry of Jesus Christ.
4. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
5. Now notice who Christ was a servant to—“…to the circumcision.” And the word “circumcision” (peritomes) here is a synonym for the Jewish people, who’s most distinctive sign of the Abrahamic covenant was physical circumcision.
6. John 1:11 says about Jesus that “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” Jesus said in Matthew 15:24, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
7. C.E.B. Cranfield accurately states, “He is the servant of the Jewish people, inasmuch as, born a Jew, of the seed of David according to the flesh, living almost all His life within the confines of Palestine, limiting His ministry of teaching and healing—apparently with the deliberate intention of obeying God’s will—almost exclusively to Jews, He both was in His earthly life and His atoning death, and also still is, as the exalted Lord, the Messiah of Israel.” (pg. 741)
8. The one Greek word translated “has become” is in the perfect tense, indicating a permanent state, one that remains. In other words, Christ’s ministry to Jews was not confined to His earthly life or sacrificial death, but continues even now as the benefits of His death are appropriated by both Jews and Gentiles.
9. In these two verses Paul shows two divine purposes for Christ becoming a servant of the Jewish people: The first purpose is for the Jews as Paul says that Christ has become a servant to the Jews “…on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers.”
10. The word “truth” (aletheias) here means fidelity, reliability, faithfulness. And the word “confirm” (bebaiosai) means to make good or fulfill.
11. Here we see that God the Son became incarnate as a Jew to bring God’s truth to the Jews, to show that God is faithful to His Word and can always be trusted, and to fulfill the covenant promises God had given to the fathers. These are the saving promises that God made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; 17:7; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4), Isaac (Gen. 26:24), and Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 32:28; 46:2-4).
12. Although Jesus Christ came to bring a New Covenant, Matthew 5:17 says He did not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets” but “to fulfill” them. John MacArthur says about this, “He fulfilled the law by upholding its sacredness and reestablishing its truth. He fulfilled the law by keeping it perfectly. He fulfilled the law in every other possible way, and Paul’s point here is that Christ came to verify the whole revealed truth of God. He came to save sinful man and to bring glory to His Father by fulfilling His Father’s promises in both ‘the Law [and] the Prophets.’” (pg. 323)
C. But God’s purpose in Christ was not exclusively for the nation of Israel. The second purpose is for the Gentiles as Paul goes on to say in v. 9 why Christ has become a servant to the Jews “…and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy.”
1. Although God made covenants with Israel and gave them privileges (3:1-2; 9:4-5) that He never did with the Gentiles (Eph. 2:12), it was always His intention that the Jews bring God’s message of salvation to the Gentiles. In His very first covenant with Abraham, God said in Genesis 12:3, “And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
2. Speaking about Abraham, God said in Genesis 18:18, “…in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” It was always within the “promises given to the fathers” that believing Gentiles would be saved, for Abraham is the spiritual father of both Jew and Gentile believers (Rom. 4:9-17).
3. According to God’s redemptive plan, the Jews were given the first opportunity to receive their Messiah. To the woman at the well, Jesus said in John 4:22, “…for salvation is from the Jews.”
4. Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
5. However, when the Jews rejected their Messiah and His gospel they were temporarily set aside (Rom. 11:1-31) and the gospel then went to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:5-6; 19:8-9; 28:25-28). Now the church is being formed from both Jew and Gentile believers into one new man in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22).
6. It is by God’s inexplicable “mercy” (eleous), His loyal love and compassion that has brought salvation to the Gentiles. And because of His saving mercy the Gentiles “glorify God.”
7. But remember that salvation is always because of the sovereign mercy and grace of God for both Jews and Gentiles (11:30-32).
D. Now to support that Gentile believers are also the beneficiaries of God’s salvation and will worship Him, Paul quotes four Old Testament passages (primarily from the Septuagint—LXX) in vv. 9-12.
1. Before we read them it is important to understand that each of these quotations contain the word “Gentile,” and are taken from the three major divisions of the Old Testament: one from the Law (v. 10), two from the Psalms (vv. 9b, 11), and one from the Prophets (v. 12).
2. Now as we read these passages some scholars see a progression in these four quotations. Look at the first passage in the second part of v. 9 where Paul quotes Psalm 18:49 (2 Samuel 22:50): as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.”
• Here we see where King David is giving praise to God and singing to His name “among the Gentiles.” God’s people are worshiping God and the Gentiles are observing them but not yet participating.
3. The second passage is in v. 10 where Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:43: Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.”
• The word “he” can refer to Scripture, to Moses, or to God. It makes no difference since what Scripture or Moses says is really what God says.
• From God’s people praising Him “among the Gentiles,” here the Gentiles are said to “rejoice” in God along “with His people,” Israel. Because of God’s mercy to them in the gospel, the Gentiles are able to join the remnant of Israel in praising the Lord.
4. The third passage is in v. 11 where Paul quotes Psalm 117:1: And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.”
• From joining Israel in praise to God, here the psalmist calls the Gentiles to praise the LORD on their own independent of Israel.
5. The fourth passage is in v. 12 where Paul quotes Isaiah 11:10: 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.”
• The “root of Jesse” is a messianic designation. It is a way of referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as the descendant of David, and thus of David’s father Jesse. (Isa. 11:10)
• In 1 Samuel 16:1 we read: Now the Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have selected a king for Myself among his sons.”
• Here we see that the Gentiles will not only worship and praise God, but also will live under the rule of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, and in Him they will hope.
6. Therefore, in light of God’s merciful and gracious plan of salvation in Christ, neither Jewish nor Gentile believers can hold a grudge against the other. The Jews can’t because their calling was to reach Gentiles for the glory of God; and the Gentiles can’t because it was through the Jews that God brought them salvation.
7. Therefore, both Jew and Gentile believers, both the “weak” and the “strong” must follow Jesus’ pattern of acceptance.
Douglas Moo said it like this, “Thus Paul implicitly reminds the ‘weak,’ mainly Jewish Christians, that the ‘strong,’ mainly Gentile Christians, are full members of the people of God: they, ‘wild olive shoots,’ have been ‘grafted in’ (11:17). At the same time, however, he reminds the ‘strong’ that the status they enjoy rests on a Jewish foundation: ‘the root supports you’ (11:18).” (pg. 877)
8. The third reason why all believers must accept one another is because:
III. The Prayer to God for His Enablement
A. Paul launches into another prayer-wish as we come to v. 13: 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.
1. As he did in vv. 5-6, Paul characterizes God in his prayer-wish with a concept drawn from the immediate context. As Gentile believers have now come to “hope” in Messiah Jesus, the “root of Jesse” in v. 12, so Paul prays to the “God of hope.”
2. Beloved, never forget that God alone is the Origin of hope and the Object of hope. This is why our hope should never be in our talents and abilities, our financial security, our possessions, our relationships, or anything else!
3. All of these things are temporal and can be lost in an instant! Our eternal souls can find true and lasting hope in nothing and no one other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. No wonder Paul prays to the “God of hope.” And his wish or desire for the entire church at Rome is that God will “…fill you (i.e. will make every believer completely full) with all joy and peace in believing.”
5. Paul desires every believer to be filled with joy. The word “joy” (charas) refers to joy in the Lord (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:4; 1 Jn. 1:4).
6. He also desires every believer to be filled with peace. The word “peace” (eirenes) refers not to peace with God but the peace of God, which is an inner tranquility of soul, calmness, restfulness and contentment, regardless of the difficult circumstances in your life.
7. Speaking about this supernatural inner peace, Paul says in Philippians 4:7, “…the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
8. Now both joy and peace are the “fruit” of the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22) and refer back to 14:17 where these along with “righteousness” characterize the “kingdom of God.”
9. What an encouragement to know that as believers in Jesus Christ we can experience the fullness of “all joy and peace” in our daily Christian lives. But how often do we forfeit these because we fail to do what is required?
10. Notice that they are experienced in our lives only “in believing” (pisteueo) or as the NIV translates, “as you trust in Him.” Our faith in God is the means by which the fruit of joy and peace are manifested in our lives.
11. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
B. Paul then states the ultimate reason for experiencing God’s joy and peace by faith in our lives, “…so that you will abound in hope.”
1. The word “abound” (perisseuein) means to overflow, to have in abundance. It refers to an exceeding measure, something far above the ordinary.
2. Since God alone is the Source of all hope, He wants us to overflow with hope in Him and His Word (v. 4). Again the word “hope” (elpida) doesn’t mean that we are uncertain about something and hope it will happen; it is the confident expectation that what God has promised will happen and so we wait patiently and trust Him for its certain fulfillment.
3. When we truly trust in Jesus Christ for “life for our soul,” our hope is in Him alone. It is only then that we can be internally freed up from fear, anxiety, anger, and depression and experience His supernatural joy and peace in our lives.
4. And as a result of such belief or trust in Him, we overflow with hope in Him that Hebrews 6:19 says is “…an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast.” Are you experiencing these internal realities that the Lord Jesus has made available to you?
5. If not, you can! But notice that these come only “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Since it is the Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers every believer, it is only as we depend on Him and allow Him to control us that these realities are manifested in our lives.
6. And when we experience such joy, peace, faith, and hope in our lives by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, we will have no problem accepting one another as Christ has accepted us.
In closing, since we live in a world that is utterly absent of such internal realities, may we all exhibit these by the power of the Holy Spirit. May our unity and mutual acceptance of one another in the midst of our differing opinions on matters of personal preference bring glory to God and point a lost and dying world to the Lord Jesus Christ who alone makes these realities possible.