Christ our hope. 15:1-13
The passage before us serves as an exhortation to the "strong" to be considerate toward the "weak". The strong have the freedom and therefore the latitude to make concessions for the sensibilities of the weaker brother and sister. It is worth remembering that to consider others before ourselves is to act in a Christ-like manner.
v1-3. Those who are strong should bear the encumbrances of the weak and not act in a way that pleases themselves; they should act in a way that builds up their neighbor. Consider the example of Christ, in no way did he please himself. As the Psalmist puts it in Psalm 69:9, Christ willingly accepted the concentrated hatred of mankind so as to save mankind. Therefore, it would be rather ungrateful of us if we couldn't accept a little inconvenience for the sake of a brother.
v4. This verse serves as a little aside to explain why Paul supports his case with an Old Testament verse. These scriptures speak of Christ and they were written, not just for their day, but also for us, that we might grow in Christ-likeness. This, of course, is our hope.
v5-6. Paul's greatest wish for his readers is that they will be a united group. By being one they give glory to God; they honour him.
v7. It's not just a matter of putting up with the failings of others, we should actually "accept / welcome" our brothers and sisters, just as Christ accepted us. Such behavior rebounds to God's glory.
v8-9a. Paul now supports his exhortation; he reminds his readers that Jesus was a Jew who worked exclusively among the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jewish Messiah fulfilling the promises given to the Patriarchs. And yet, along with Jewish believers, Gentiles hare reaped the benefits of God's mercy toward his historic people. So, Gentile believers should show special consideration toward Jewish believers.
v9b-12. Paul goes on to give biblical support for the ingrafting of the Gentiles into God's historic people:
Psalm 18:49. Paul has taken this as a messianic Psalm which promises a proclamation of praise among the Gentiles, in and through the messiah's evangelists (possibly the apostles).
Deuteronomy 32:43 is a summons that the Gentiles rejoice with God's people. Psalm 117:1, makes the same point.
Isaiah 11:10. This is a promise that the one who will rule the nations is the one in whom the Gentiles will find their hope, and he is a Jewish messiah, the shoot from the root of Jesse.
v13. In a closing prayer, Paul expresses the desire that his readers might experience joy, peace and hope within the fellowship, rather than discord, and this through the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
Libertarianism is a problem which concerned the apostle Paul, and is often addressed by him. Paul makes clear that our identification with Christ and thus, the possession of his righteousness, moves us to act in a Christ-like way. I might be free in Christ, but I am not free to sin. It is for this reason Paul encourages us to not use our freedom as an excuse for sin - unrestrained liberty.
When Paul writes to the libertines in the Roman church, he reminds them of the service they owe due to "God's mercy". They are not free to slip all over the place; they have obligations. In their particular situation they were riding rough-shod over the sensibilities of their "weaker" brothers and sisters. These weaker brothers were pious conservative law-orientated believers (most were believing Jews). Being free from the moral law did not give them the freedom to act immorally. Being the "strong" in Christ, the free in Christ, does not mean being the sinful in Christ.
Consider some of the principles Paul lays on these libertines, these "strong" believers:
i] Help the weak, 15:1-2.
ii] Follow the self-denying example of Christ, 15:3-6.
iii] Welcome one another, 15:7-13.
Christian liberty is seen in freedom for service, not freedom for sin. Christian freedom is not easy-going with sin. A believer who is relying on Christ will find within themselves a desire to honor Christ. Of course, the limitations of the old Adam will have his way, but in general, we will want to honor Christ. So, serving Christ comes down to this:
First, we must identify those areas of sin from which we need to flee;
Second, we must rely on the indwelling presence of Christ to daily renew us;
Third, we must strive to live in a way that honors Christ, by grace through faith. Christian liberty demands that we be daily liberated through the death and resurrection of Christ, by grace through faith. It demands that we know the truth as revealed in the scriptures so that we can see sin for what it is. As Luther put it: "I am bound by the text of the Bible, my conscience is captive to the word of God", Luther.
Finally, Christian liberty demands that we make moral decisions in the midst of life's circumstances, knowing before whom we must one day stand.
1. Paul's desire was that the Gentile church might "bring praise" to God. How should they do this and by what means?
2. What is the motivating basis enabling us to "welcome" one another?
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