SUNDAY NIGHT CROSSTRAINING NOTES
What Spiritual Strength is For - Welcome One Another as Christ has Welcomed You
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Sunday, November 29, 2009 - 6:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1325
Pastor Don Horban

Romans 15:1-7 - “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. [2] Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. [3] For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." [4] For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. [5] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, [6] that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [7] Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

In the middle of the tightly reasoned logic of Paul’s argument in chapter fourteen there is a wonderfully melodic theme verse that captures our hearts with its truth - Romans 14:17 - “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit is the agent of the kingdom of God in our lives and He brings in righteousness, peace, and joy to replace a slavish, fearful, works-based standing before God. And because righteousness, peace, and joy are presented as the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit, one could easily assume these fruits will just grow inevitably and supernaturally in the church where the Spirit dwells. But there’s more to it than that. Genuine unity in Christ can’t be ushered in merely by singing songs of love and peace. This is the case Paul will make in chapter fifteen:

1) THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN A CHURCH CONGREGATION CAN ONLY BE NOURISHED AND SUSTAINED WHEN SPIRITUAL STRENGTH IS EXERCISED IN THE RIGHT WAY - Romans 15:1 - “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

Once again, for the sake of his argument, Paul divides up the Christians at Rome into the same two groups - strong and weak - this time placing himself among the strong - “We who are strong....” The brunt of his instruction is aimed directly at the strong. Spiritual strength, like physical strength, is to be used. The strong aren’t in the body of Christ so they can, like those with chiseled physical bodies, just admire themselves in the mirror under the floodlights. Spiritual strength is strength for something. And Paul tells us what that something is: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

Note the tone of command. The strong (Paul says nothing of the weak right at this point) have an obligation. There is something they must do if they perceive their own inward spiritual strength. And what they must do is stated first positively - “....bear with the failings of the weak,” and then negatively - “....and not please ourselves.”

Paul has already given examples of how apparently strong Christians can use their strength incorrectly. Ironically, they can use their spiritual strength to abuse those who are weak and vulnerable. In fact, chapter fourteen begins with just such an example - Romans 14:1

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” Paul has to actually remind the strong to, indeed, “welcome the one who is weak,”(14:1) but not to “quarrel” - not to force change into his mind or win an argument, or make a point. The strong mustn’t use strength to make a major issue over a minor matter. There may, indeed, come a time when correcting a brother or sister is a Christian imperative. People can drift into sin and specific disobedience to the revealed will of God. In those situations love demands we correct and warn one another. But not over minor disputable matters. “Welcome the one who is weak,” says Paul, “but not to quarrel”(14:1).

“Well then, what’s the point in being strong? What’s the point in actually being right?”

And Paul’s answer to that legitimate question is pure, spiritual genius. Because you are one of the strong, you know that you have freedom in these disputable matters. You know we’re not talking about issues of true Biblical holiness when we’re considering the issues of one’s past religious upbringing and the forming of conscience around issues not dealt with in the Scriptures. And because you are strong in Christ Jesus you know you stand by faith through grace. You walk in a freedom formed by a strong understanding of the finished work of Christ Jesus.

And here’s the point. That strong knowledge of your freedom in Christ means you already know these issues are no big deal. And that means it should be easier for you to give up your rightful involvement in these things than it would be for your weaker brother, who thinks they are a very big deal indeed. Your freedom gives you an advantage and a responsibility your weaker brother doesn’t have. He’s not ready to forfeit his views on these issues. But you should be ready to forfeit yours.

2) PLEASING MY NEIGHBOR IN CHRIST IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PROVING I’M RIGHT - Romans 15:1-2 - “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. [2] Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Truly strong people, as opposed to merely inflated people, don’t have to flex. They don’t pose with their spiritual strength. They sense their obligation to “bear with the failings of the weak....”(15:1). That means they carry the confusion and the fear and the spiritual near-sightedness of the weak graciously. They know how to lovingly yield to the weaknesses of the weak in non-essential matters.

The picture Paul finally settles on is the image of constructing a building - Romans 15:2 - “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Many translations use the word, “to edify,” or “for his edification.” The picture is one of a construction process. Even today we may speak of a structure as being “quite an edifice.” So we all understand that edification is a construction process rather than a demolition process. The strong are not in the business of tearing down the structure of the weaker brother. Their only concern is the building up of the weaker brother or sister.

3) THE LOVING RESPONSIBILITY OF THE STRONG TOWARD THE WEAK IS MODELED ON THE PATTERN OF CHRIST’S RELATIONSHIP WITH US - Romans 15:3 & 7 - “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’....7....Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

In quoting Psalm 69:9, and placing these words into the mouth of Christ speaking to the Father, Paul draws our attention to the entire earthly mission of Jesus Christ. Both in His incarnation and His sacrificial death on the cross, Christ is the ultimate example of One who spent all His personal rights for the blessing of those who were, not only weak, but positively rebellious (see Philippians 2:4-8). The conclusion of this lesson is made clear in the contrast held forth between Romans 14:1 and 15:7 - “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions....15:7....Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Christ welcomed us and meekly gave Himself for us while our being weaker than He would be the understatement of the century. “There,” says Paul. “Let that be your guide in how to “bear with the failings of the weak”(15:1).

4) THE LESSONS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT FOR THE CHURCH TODAY - Romans 15:4-5 - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. [5] May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus....”

The main idea here is we get endurance and encouragement(4) through the Scriptures because it’s through the Scriptures that the “God of endurance and encouragement”(5) speaks. Notice the planned repetition of the exact words. When we study the Scriptures it is God who speaks. And He speaks to us through all of the Scriptures. The Old Testament was written to give hope and encouragement to New Testament people because all of the Scriptures point us to their fulfillment in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

But there’s a second idea in these verses. It’s never easy for any of us to pull in the reigns of our rights and freedoms - especially legitimate freedoms. Where does the strength to lay down our rights for others come from? It comes only from the power of a greater hope. We need to have something more solid and something bigger to aim our lives at than immediate self-fulfillment. We need a driving, consuming future hope.

With respect, we need to aim higher than merely having a purpose driven life. That purpose must be one which embraces a larger realm than our temporal fulfillment. And that kind of eternal hope can only be sustained through the enlightenment and promise of the Scriptures. It may not feel tingly every time you open your Bible. At times, studying it can feel laborsome and dry. But something is happening at a deeper level than your emotions. Hope is anchoring, way down deep. Your attention is being gradually shifted. The strength from your study of God’s Word today isn’t necessarily felt today. But one day soon it will be needed. Biblical hope accrues. Don’t neglect the hope sustaining power that only the Scriptures can bring.

5) THE GOAL OF OUR CONGREGATIONAL LIFE TOGETHER - Romans 15:6-7 - “....that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [7] Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Briefly, it’s emphatically not enough that your life glorifies God. And it’s not enough that my life glorifies God. God is not searching merely for our individually expressed praise and honor. He desires a unified corporate expression of worship and honor to His name. He desires a unified witness - a witness that proves He is the creator God of all people who is greater in our own perception than all that might ordinarily divide us. Corporate unity shows what we truly praise because unity - and disunity - reveals what we truly prioritize and prize. That’s why genuine, God-glorifying praise can only be manifested to this watching world in the corporate adoration and mutual submission of Christ’s redeemed church.