Romans 15:1-13 March 10, 2002
Scripture Reading: John 17:20-26
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."
(John 17:20-26 NIVUS)
Life is so much like a tug-o-war isn't it?
You know the game we played as children with the big rope where we choose up two teams and each side takes hold of one end of the rope and tries to pull the other side across the center line (and sometimes the center is a pit of mud to accentuate the victory and the loss).
One side inevitably scatters all over the ground or in the mud as the other cheers its victory.
But what was the victory achieved? Of course we do this in fun, but it has a real life application.
There was no victory except to defeat the other side. There was no real objective. Nothing of value was accomplished.
Just imagine what could have been accomplished with all that energy if the rope was tied on one end to a real obstacle and both teams pulled on the other end until the obstacle was removed?
We encounter this game all the time in the places we live and work
We forget as marriage partners that our objective is to raise godly children and instead fight over who works the hardest or earns the most or has the most freedom or gets to spend the money or gets the most sexual satisfaction or gets to go on vacation where they want, and we violate that original objective by our bad example.
The marriage can go broke and no one wins.
We forget as employees that our objective is to produce the product and instead fight over who gets the pay raise or who gets the vacation or who gets the day shift or who gets the increase in benefits or who gets the parking spot or who gets the pick of lunch and break times, and we take away valuable energy from producing the product that serves mankind and gives us our livelihood in the first place.
The company can go broke and no one wins.
And we forget as church members that our objective is to advance the Gospel in the Kingdom of God and instead focus on disagreements over the temperature in the sanctuary or what kind of choruses to sing or how long the service runs or how much time and money people give or what missionaries to support or who gets called about prayer requests or what the vision of the church is or how to organize help for events and who does what job or what our doctrine is on who can take communion, and we can destroy the witness of the church to the very people we are trying to reach.
The church can go broke and no one wins.
ILLUS: We must intentionally try to "connect" with each other – Moody Mag., Jan. – Feb., 2002, page 13.
And what happens when a nation is "divided against itself?" (Taken from the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:24-26)
ILLUS: National War on Terrorism.
Christ came to win the victory over sin and death and show us the way we can win too.
And that is the reason Paul was writing to the Roman church.
They were split along ideological and ethnic lines from Jew to Gentile and Paul wanted to remind them to re-conform to the original objective.
Indeed, Paul was reminded of this objective for himself in his opening sentence of his letter to the Romans.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— (Romans 1:1 NIVUS)
We too, as individuals and as a church, are set apart for the gospel of God.
So all along in Romans Paul has been preaching first the necessity of our individual unity with Christ in the gospel and then the natural outflow of that in our unity with each other to accomplish God's purpose and objective for mankind.
ILLUS: Review Romans Index of Messages.
Now here at the end of his letter Paul states his objective clearly as he concludes his argument.
This argument is well connected to other teachings in the NT.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:16 NIVUS)
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10 NIVUS)
Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIVUS)
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3 NIVUS)
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Philippians 2:2 NIVUS)
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14 NIVUS)
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8 NIVUS)
We must be unified in the essentials and not disunified in the non-essentials.
So we ask the question in our text this morning in Romans 15:1-13;
How will we know when we have obtained church unity (what is it and what does it look like)?
I. Cycle One
A. Narrative (vv. 1-4)
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will accommodate legitimate differences of viewpoint and capability among themselves.
We must put the interests of others ahead of our own. We must not become easily offended.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 NIVUS)
We might be called upon to give up some of our own freedoms and rights (eat meat, drink wine, ignore Jewish holy days).
The weak may insult us in these things, but we should bear the burden as those who are stronger in love.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (Matthew 8:17 NIVUS)
See also Philippians 2:1-11.
The outcome of our suffering is hope, since the health and unity of God's people is the basis for our hope.
II. Cycle Two
A. Narrative (vv. 5-6)
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will obtain an interconnected spiritual power of praise that glorifies God in acceptable worship.
We may never all come to the same opinion. Paul gives the "weak" the right in 14:23 not to change their minds until their own faith leads them to do so. But he does pray that they may possess a unity of purpose that transcends those differences.
Paul is not for unity at any price. We need wisdom and a thorough grounding in God's Word to know which issues are essential to the life of the church and which are peripheral.
And if there are battles to fight, they must be fought in the proper Christian spirit.
Paul doesn't urge either group in Rome to give up their beliefs or even to discuss their views with one another. Probably, he hopes that solid teaching and the work of the Spirit will eventually transform weak believers into strong ones.
God is not necessarily displeased when we honestly hold different views on some issues in the church today – even as then.
God doesn't want a bland uniformity in the church where nobody really has an opinion or enough smarts or gumption to hold and defend an honest view.
But he does want us to bring our convictions together with infinite patience and tolerance toward people who hold differing views on various nonessentials.
Unity is only one stage away from the purpose of the church in praising God.
Only when believers cease to quarrel with one another and speak with one heart and one voice will they be able to praise God as they should.
III. Cycle Three
A. Narrative (vv. 7-12)
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will unite with him in the same way that he has united with us according to God's purpose.
God sent Christ to the Jews so that Gentiles also might be able to praise God.
Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth (1) in order to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs and (2) in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
The weak (Jewish Christians) need to accept Gentile Christians because God's ultimate purpose is to include them, and the strong (Gentile Christians) need to remember that the Jews have always been at the center of God's concerns and promises.
Three sections of OT Scripture provide support; Torah (Dt. 32:43 in v. 10), the Prophets (Is. 11:10 in v. 12), and the Writings (Ps. 18:49 in v. 9b and Ps. 117:1 in v. 11).
These passages show the inclusion of Gentiles.
IV. Cycle Four
A. Narrative (v. 13)
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will find joy and peace in an abundance of hope through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
Only when Jew and Gentile rejoice together in their common hope will they be able to praise God as he wants to be praised – with the united hearts and voices of a community of believers.
God is both transforming individuals and forming a community, bringing reconciliation with other people as well as with God.
Or praise must not be muted by the divisions among us. God wants his church to be a place that transcends any cultural, racial, or ethnic division in a unity based on the gospel.
How will we know when we have obtained church unity (what is it and what does it look like)?
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will accommodate legitimate differences of viewpoint and capability among themselves. (vv. 1-4)
We will be effective in our relationships to each other.
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will obtain an interconnected spiritual power of praise that glorifies God in acceptable worship. (vv. 5-6)
We will be effective in our worship to God.
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will unite with him in the same way that he has united with us according to God's purpose. (vv. 7-12)
We will be effective in becoming like Christ.
The people who would please Christ in a unified church will find joy and peace in an abundance of hope through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. (v. 13)
We will be effective in hope.
Only the people in a unified church can advance the Gospel and establish the Kingdom of God. (Rom. 15:21, 24, 30; 16:25-27)
Only the people in a united church are united in power with the purpose of Christ. (John 17:20-26)
Only those in a unified church are those who have known, appreciated and applied his power.