"1 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. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, 21 but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.” 22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. 30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen."
"1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. 17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. 21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you. 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen."
Historical Context & Message
Coming off of Romans 14, Paul continues to discuss the ways in which we show to our love our neighbor. In verse 1 of chapter 15, the phrase 'bear with' (bastazo) means to carry one's burdens, to sustain, to support, and to lift. Meaning, we don't simply acknowledge another's struggles, weaknesses and suffering, and we certainly don't judge or persecute another for what they may be dealing with; but, we actually help them carry their burdens. "All too often, Christians find it easier to tear each other down instead of building each other up; this is a classic strategy of Satan against the church that must be resisted." If God seeks to unify the body, then Satan seeks to divide and conquer it. We must remember that people are not our enemy; but, rather, Satan is our enemy. He is the one behind every divisive action and word, every wrongdoing and offense, every wound and attack. Yes, each of us have the choice to be a vessel of destruction or holiness; but, we must remember what Isaiah 44:18 says, "They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand." Satan is a deceiver and master schemer and he can easily place scales over our eyes if we are not seeking the Lord with our whole hearts and minds. So, when an offense occurs, we need to remember that Satan is our true enemy, then we need to remember that God is our avenger. "Jesus showed by example that for the most part we are entirely too quick to vindicate ourselves, instead of letting God vindicate us. Jesus showed how the Father is well able to vindicate us." We think it our responsibility and part to prove we are in the right and to have justice. But, there is a justice to mercy. Our role to play is to love others, show grace and extend mercy. God is the Judge and the Advocate. He pleads our case and delivers a judgment. We will all be judged according to our deeds, and nothing will escape God's sovereign eyes (2 Corinthians 5:10), so we have nothing about which to worry. God can be trusted to righteously judge each and everyone of us.
In verse 5, the word 'endurance' (hypomone) means patience, steadfastness, and constancy. And, the word 'encouragement' (paraklesis) means calling near for help, exhortation, and comfort. Is it a coincidence that Paul prays for these traits while talking of living in harmony with our neighbor? Doubtful. He knew that in dealing with those around us - especially those in close proximity - that we would need both patience and comfort to continue in harmony with one another. Patience because humans are sinful, difficult, needy and selfish; and, comfort, because we get hurt and we hurt others. Loving others isn't easy, and it doesn't come naturally to our sinful nature. Yet, God calls to love others, as He has loved us. It takes much praying and seeking the Lord to fully embrace, love and accept another. Thankfully, we have a God who is abundant in patience and comfort. Charles Spurgeon said, “Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.” Difficult? Yes. Possible? With God - absolutely!
In our last chapter of Romans, Paul begins by specifically pointing out believers within the church who have helped him personally in his ministry. I think this is what we can call the practice-what-you-preach part of the book. Paul has spent so much of Romans telling us how to love one another and that harmony amongst believers is of utmost importance. And, here, he shows he walks his talk by loving on and encouraging those around him.
In verse 17 of chapter 16, he picks up warning against those who seek to divide and deceive. “This is essential to God’s purpose for the church. Truth without unity leads to pride; unity without truth leads to a departure from the true gospel itself. Each of these must be guarded against.” How do we guard against those who seek to destroy us from within? We become wise to what is good (vs. 19). “This is the best defense against dividers and deceivers. It is of far more use to know the good than it is to know the evil, to learn about the genuine rather than the counterfeit.” We dive into God’s Word. We surround ourselves with strong, Christian believers. We attend a faith-filled, Bible-based church. We pray without ceasing. Because we can’t point out a lie if we don’t know the truth. We will be deceived by lies every time if we don’t take up the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit - God’s Word (Ephesians 6:10-18).
I love how verse 20 refers to the God of peace crushing Satan’s head. It sounds oxymoronic but isn’t. Peace doesn’t mean there will never be battles. In fact, in our sin-filled world, there will always be battles to maintain and preserve peace. rather,, peace means that we will remain one and have quietness of the soul no matter what war may rage around us. “We see that God does the crushing, but Satan ends up under the feet of believers.” This is reminiscent of Romans 8:35-39 where Paul tells us that we are more than conquerors; God fights for us and gives us the victory. Why? Because we are His beloved children - the apple of His eye. Let the truth of His message of love strengthen you in believing and bring about the obedience of faith (vs. 27)
Harmony. God created us all to live together peacefully. Now, perfect harmony is not possible in our fallen world because of sin. However, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can live in peace with those around us. There will be difficult times. There will be hurts, offenses and wounds. There will be loss of relationship. But, we have a God who works peace in the midst of difficulties. A God who binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted. A God who restores relationship. I challenge you to focus on people. They are your ministry and mission. Don't worry about money, or work, or your to-do list, or church, or your dreams and desires. All of these things are trivial in comparison to the salvation of another's soul. The lost are brought to knowledge of and relationship with Christ through the testimony of faithful believers. Let the light of Christ shine by embracing others. Only then will Peace be in our midst and true harmony thrive.
Dive into God’s Word. Know the Truth so intimately that those who seek to divide and deceive are spotted immediately. No weapon formed us against us shall prosper and every tongue that shall rise up against us in judgement we shall condemn (Isaiah 54:17). How will we condemn those who seek to destroy our faith? Through the infallible, eternal Word of God. It is a double-edged sword and our weapon that can be wielded against the devil and his schemes (Hebrews 4:12-13). Strengthen yourself in the Truth and love of God so that you will stand against the enemy through obedience to Christ and His commands. God is our battle-fighter (Exodus 17:15) and if He is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
1) Discuss your time in God's Word. Are you in His Word consistently and daily? If so, what does your time with Him look like? If not, discuss your journey with this and what hindrances you experience that inhibit your walk with God.
2) Are you confident in your Bible competency? Do you know how to approach, study and apply God's Word? God's Word is multi-layered and so far above our knowledge and way of thinking (Isaiah 55:9). It is normal to be overwhelmed when approaching God's Word and how best to study and apply it to our lives, but we cannot stay in that state and allow it to paralyze us or turn us off to reading God's Word. Reach out to your life group leaders, pastors and Bible study teachers if you feel you need to be more equipped on how to read and interpret God's Word. We are called to pursue Christ through His Word and IN COMMUNITY.
3) If you're being completely honest, where does your hope lie? In your kids, job, finances, home, circumstances? Discuss a time when your hope was misplaced. What were the ramifications? What did you experience in your relationship with others? What did you experience in your relationship with God?
Father God, I thank you for the people you put in my life. I'll admit they are difficult and sometimes hard to love, and even harder to forgive. But, so am I. Give me grace for them and show me how to extend mercy and love in a way they will receive and understand. Let me be a beacon of light, proclaiming your Name in a fallen and broken world. Father, help me to put aside trivial things and focus on your people. I pray for your Peace to fill me and overflow onto those around me. I pray for harmony among believers and within your Church. Help me to forgive those I have been holding grudges against, and help me to seek forgiveness from those whom I have hurt. Let love be our battle cry. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen!