Our passage for study is 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. 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. Here Paul exhorts his readers to accept one another, just as Christ has accepted them. Such behavior rebounds to God's glory.
v8. 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. Therefore, Jewish believers have special privileges in the gospel church and should be shown consideration.
v9a. Christ came to the children of Israel, "but" (rather than "so that") the Gentiles are the ones to receive mercy and so glorify God. It is therefore, only reasonable that Gentile believers (the strong) act with care toward Jewish believers (the weak).
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 his desire for the members of the Roman church that they may experience joy and peace within the fellowship rather than discord, and this by grace through faith.
Libertarianism is a problem which concerned Paul, and it is the one addressed in our passage for study. 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. We must strive not to use our freedom as an excuse for sin.
So, 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 (mostly ex 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 honour Christ. Of course, if we have drifted in our reliance on Christ, then our drive to honor him will be weak. 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; and third, we must strive to live in a way that honours 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. "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.
Paul's desire was that the Gentile church might "bring praise" to God and "may glorify God" as promised in the scriptures. How should they do this and by what means?