For the past few months I have been listening to a podcast that’s walking through the book of Romans. And what I have appreciated as much as anything over these months is the manner in which the “why” of Romans continually is re-emphasized as we walk through the “whats” of Romans. I so often think of this letter as only a theological treatise, a master defense of the gospel and it’s implications in the lives of believers. True enough. It is. But Paul wrote to the Roman church because it was a divided church.
After the gospel had come to Rome, a church of Jew and Gentile believers had been established. But then, all Jews (Christ-followers or not) were expelled from Rome by the emperor. When they were allowed to return some five years later, the Jewish believers came back to a pretty Gentile feeling church. And it created some tension. Tension along ethnic lines, Jew and Gentile. Tension along religious lines, adherence to the “old ways” vs. freedom to walk in some new ways. Tension in terms of understanding what God was doing now vs. what He had promised to do in the past. And so, Paul writes a pretty comprehensive and theological letter, not only to educate but to reconciliate. Not only to provide a gospel catechesis, but more importantly to spell out how to live as a gospel community.
Can’t help but think that Romans is a timely book to be reading given the tension in the North American church today as a result of the many polarizing and dividing issues of the last couple of years. A reminder that the gospel is not for individuals only, but that its power is also manifest where those individuals come together to form a community which, apart from the gospel, would have no natural inclination to be a community.
That’s the filter that seasons what I’m chewing on in Romans 15 this morning.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. . . . May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
(Romans 15:1-2, 5-7 ESV)
An obligation. That’s we have when it comes to arguing about “opinions” (Rom. 14:1) or “disputable matters” (NIV). An obligation of the strong to bear with the weak. And let’s be honest, in any disputable matter each side thinks they are “the strong” and the other is “the weak”. So, each side shares in the obligation to bear with others (who we think are wrong) and not please ourselves (by proving we’re right).
Beyond the debate there is a decision, is pleasing my neighbor and building them up a greater prize than being right? Is harmony within my church community priority over conformity as to our church conduct? Does my voice have to be the right voice over others, or am I more concerned that with one voice we together glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?
This obligation is my obligation. For I’m the only one who knows my heart towards my brothers and sisters. I’m the only one who can check my rhetoric in my brain before it proceeds out of my mouth. Only I know whether I want to be right above all or righteous for the sake of all.
And the power to fulfill my obligation? The source of my righteousness? It’s the gospel, the grand subject of Romans. The power of God for all who believe, Jew and Gentile — revealed from faith and for faith (Rom. 1:16-17).
An obligation, only by God’s grace. An obligation, ultimately for God’s glory.