Romans 15:7 – Accept one another then …

St Michael & St Barnabas, June 9th 2013

Readings – Romans 15:14-22; Matthew 7:24-29

A couple of weeks ago, I started with an outline of Paul’s teaching in Romans, right from chapter 1 up to our reading in chapter 14. We saw how the first 11 chapters of this letter are the theological foundation for everything that follows, and how his very practical instructions in chapter 12 onwards, build on that foundation. I’m not going to go through it all again this morning, you’ll be relieved to hear, but if you missed it, or need a reminder – take a look at the church website, or ask me for a paper copy.

We’ve seen throughout this series that the key or principle image is that of the church as the body of Christ. Building on Tim’s outline from chapter 12, that we are the body of Christ, that we belong to God and that we belong to each other (you should be familiar with that by now!), we’ve looked carefully at certain significant verses along the way, each time seeing how they fit into this overall theme.

Last week here at St Barnabas, we concentrated on the Matthew reading for the sake of the baptism, but had we continued with our study in Romans we would have discovered another key verse … actually, the focus of the entire letter … Romans 15:7 … Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

It seems to me that sums up everything we’ve been reading together, so this morning I’m going to put this verse into context, before briefly moving on to today’s reading, at which point Paul is beginning to bring his letter to a close by moving on to some personal comments – and Tim will bring this series to a close next week by looking at those in more detail.

So, we’re going to focus for the moment on Romans 15:4-7 …

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.

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.

The first thing that struck me about these verses is that endurance and encouragement originate with God.

Did anyone ever tell you that being a Christian was going to be easy? Having a relationship with God in Christ, is life changing, it’s exciting and challenging. It brings you moments of peace and joy, fulfilment and a sense of purpose. It gives you a sense of connection – not only to God but also to others around the world, and to the world around you. But easy? I don’t think so …

Actually, despite what others may have told you, Jesus was totally honest and quite blunt about what it would cost to follow him. He warned us to count the cost, told us that we will be persecuted because people hate him, he even told us that a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. (John 16:2) probably because they have not understood that faith isn’t a matter of birth and breeding, but of relationship and reliance.

And some Christians have to endure so much … I’m not only thinking of world issues of conflict and starvation, or persecution by those of other faiths or none. I’m thinking of the families I know who experience one hardship after another through no fault of their own, or multiple bereavements, or health problems that won’t go away.

In those situations, it’s natural to feel that holding on to your faith is hard work … an effort you’re not sure you have the energy for. My own personal testimony is that there was a time when I wasn’t sure I could carry on as a believer … I felt like I’d been hanging on by my fingernails for so long, and I just couldn’t do it any more. So I let go … but God didn’t let go of me.

Living as a disciple isn’t something we have to do in our own strength … it’s a two way relationship, and endurance originates with God. But who wants to live as a Christian with dogged persistence, gritted teeth and in perpetual gloom. The God who enables us to endure, also offers us encouragement … but notice the source of that encouragement … v4, 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.

The encouragement of the scriptures … I hope you know by now that Tim and I are both passionate about the Bible. But I hope you also understand that it’s because we think, we know, that the Bible is God’s word to us in written form … this book is God speaking to all of us. So this book is not just for the Vicar and Reader, nor does it require a library of books to help you understand it. Yes, there are hidden depths to it, and having a guide to help you find your way is a good thing, and week by week, in sermons and in small groups we try and explain and clarify. But my greatest concern is that all too often, our knowledge of this book is, at best, second hand. We think we know what it says … we hear the sermon each Sunday, we’ve heard the bible quoted elsewhere, parts of it are phrases in common use, the media use it in headlines to shock or attract us to some story or other.

There’s a proverb (not a biblical one!) that says a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and our secular society is only too happy to take something out of context to make a point. We need to be sure that what we think the bible says is actually what’s there … we need to read it for ourselves. We can’t always depend on the preacher getting it right, nor can any one sermon encompass all the possible meaning and application of a passage … sometimes, God has something specific, something personal to say to us – we need to be reading the bible for ourselves. We’ve talked before about the need to be growing in knowledge and understanding of God’s word.

Because it’s as we read that God’s word comes alive … a verse here or a snippet there that speaks directly into a situation we face, or challenges a behaviour we take for granted. Or a word about thankfulness … redirecting our focus onto what we have, not what or who is missing from our lives. Or even a first encounter with Jesus as we meet him face to face while reading the gospels.

So, read the bible for yourself. And read with expectation … vs 4 again, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

As you read the bible – whatever passage you are reading – ask yourself, where is the hope here? It may be obvious, or you may have to read on a bit further, or read it more than once, to find it … but you will find hope there, somewhere. It may speak of God’s love for you, of his plans for his people, of his power or his gentleness. Or it may be a darker passage … where we learn something about God by contrast with the evil in the world, about his holiness or his sovereignty. And as you read, pray … because you never read the bible alone, even if you are on your own at the time … you see, the word for encouragement here – in some versions it’s translated comfort – is the same word Jesus uses of the Holy Spirit … the paraclete or counsellor. The Bible is the written word of God, but whenever we read it, the living word of God is at work.

Paul’s prayer in these verses is that the God who is the source of endurance and encouragement will also give these people a spirit of unity … actually a better translation might be something like, The God of endurance and encouragement give you like minds with one another in (or with) Christ Jesus. It’s the same phrase, like-minded, as Paul used in Philippians 2 …

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

It’s a phrase Paul used often when he wrote to the churches, sometimes it’s translated as ‘live in harmony with one another’ … a phrase we came across in Romans 12 when we studied what it means that love must be sincere.

I hope by now that you are beginning to grasp the mind-blowing fact that Paul wrote this entire letter of Romans, with all it’s theological complexity and detailed practical instruction for this one single purpose … that we, together as a church, should live in unity, accepting one another in Christ, for the sake of giving glory to God.

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So when we meet together, whether on a Sunday morning, or in small groups during the week, or informally as friends, we need to keep in mind that we are the body of Christ, we belong to God, and we belong to each other in order to bring praise to God. I wonder how that understanding could change the way we do some things together?

In Paul’s lifetime, the great divide was between Jew and Gentile, so for the next few verses, he outlines some of the biblical foundation for their inclusion in this acceptance … and then we come to the end of the formal section of this letter, v13 …

v 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.

Do you want to overflow with hope? Do you want joy and peace? Then trust in him, in every detail; he is the source of all lasting encouragement, hope, joy and peace … but our experience of that hope, joy and peace only comes as we trust him. It’s not a case of trust first and peace and joy follow – it’s a simultaneous transaction, if you like! As you trust, you will experience these things … but stop trusting and they’ll evaporate. Do you feel the absence of hope and joy … that’s a good sign that just at the moment, you’ve stopped trusting … maybe lost your focus, allowed something to distract you … but notice once again, that this is an instruction to the church. This is not about you as an individual – though I can testify that it works on that level too. v13 describes a communal experience … God called us to himself as individuals, in order for us to live as a community of faith. And it’s in the context of community that we experience the full effect of that joy, and peace … and power, as the Holy Spirit works in and among us.

Paul now moves into his final section, where he speaks in personal terms and then addresses individual believers in the church … I’m going to read just the first few verses of that section as we draw to a close today …

v14 I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God …

Paul was the great theologian. He had spent years studying the scriptures and had learned from the greatest scholars of his day … yet when he met Jesus he realised he hadn’t really understood all that he knew about God. Once his relationship with God began, he realised that knowing about God wasn’t what mattered, so at the end of this letter, writing to a mixed congregation of both Jewish and Gentile believers, Paul felt confident that their relationship with God was sufficient for them to be complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Brothers and Sisters in Christ … week after week, Tim and I and others stand and the front and teach from the scriptures, but this isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a one way relationship. In any church, some will have specific gifts and a calling to lead and teach … but we all share the responsibility of instructing, and admonishing, each other from the word of God, as to how to live for Christ in order that together we might give God praise and bring him glory. So there are two things you can do to ensure that this applies to you, too.

The first is, as we’ve seen, to get to know the Bible for yourself. Paul taught that the word of God is all we need to know to understand God’s purposes and plans … and that as we grow in our understanding of them and of our relationship with God through them, that we will also grow to maturity in faith. Paul was perhaps the ultimate evangelist, but he didn’t simply bring people to the point of conversion, only to leave them there … he worked and prayed hard,

to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)

So we need to make time to get to know the bible not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of the church, the body of Christ.

And secondly, again as we’ve seen, knowing about God or about the Bible isn’t enough. We need to be sure that we have a living, on-going, growing relationship with God in and through Jesus. It’s so easy for us to imagine that we have it all … we’ve been a Christian for some time, we know our bibles pretty well, we go to church regularly, we play our part in the life of the church, but are we getting to know God better all the time, is the Holy Spirit active in our lives, do we engage with what we hear and read, pray about how it applies to us, look for and offer encouragement to each other, accepting the challenge to live consistently for God because we belong to God and to each other?

This morning we’ve seen that endurance and encouragement originate with God through his word, that we are to be like-minded, living together in unity as the body of Christ, focussed on and trusting in God in all things, living in hope and in the power of Holy Spirit. And that as we each grow in knowledge and understanding of the Bible and in our relationship with Jesus, we belong together, as the church, the body of Christ …

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 

LB

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