(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
May 4, 2003
Getting Along with One Another, Part 3
We have been looking at the topic of how Christians who come
from very diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds are supposed to
get along with each other within the church. Some groups have
concluded that it is either not possible for this to happen or
just not wise to try to do it because there are too many
conflicts over differences in personal preferences and practices.
Instead they advocate churches that are made up of people that
are culturally and ethnically the same. While there may be some
merit to this idea and historically this has been the common
practice by churches, there is a major problem. The Bible
presents the church as an ethnically and culturally diverse body
from the very beginning of its existence.
In Acts 2, when the church begins on the Day of Pentecost, the
people present were mostly ethnic Jews, along with a few
proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, but culturally they came from all
over the known world. Acts 2:8 -11 states that they were
Parthians Medes and Elamites, those from Mesopotamia, Judea,
Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya,
Cyrene, and Rome. In Acts 8 Samaritans are included as part of
the church and by Acts 15 is it settled that the Gentiles are
also to be welcomed into the church. As we have seen in our study
of the book for Romans, the church in Rome was made up of a
mixture of Jews and Gentiles. While the prevailing practice among
most churches may be monocultural, the Biblical model is that the
local church reflects the community it is in. It is ethnically
and culturally diverse. The question then remains, how is such a
diverse group of people supposed to be able to get along with
each other when their personal preferences and practices will
vary so much? How do they love each other and achieve unity when
some of those practices may even be offensive to others in the
In our study of Romans 14 we saw the foundational principles
by which Christians of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds
can be unified with each other. This morning we will continue in
this topic by studying Romans 15 and what Paul says about
Christians can get along with each other if both the
"stronger" and the "weaker" believer will
stop judging and condemning each other and instead learn to
accept each other regardless of personal preferences and
practices. Remember that the "weak" here refers those
who are weak in their understanding of the full freedom that is
granted in the gospel message. They are immature in their
understanding and faith. Their tendency to judge
the "strong"as participating in "worldly"
things. They considered the "strong" as being less holy
and less concerned about holiness than themselves and therefore
less useful to God. The "strong"
are those who have a greater understanding of the freedom we have
in Jesus Christ. They are the more mature in their understanding
and faith which allows them to do things that the
"weak" believe they cannot do. The
strong tend to judge the weak as being legalistic and lacking in
mercy and grace and therefore being less useful to the Lord.
Neither the "weak" nor the "strong" are to
judge one another in such condemning ways.
In Romans 14 Paul gives us five reasons why Christians are to
accept each other and not condemn other believers over personal
preferences and practices. First, God accepts both – vs 3.
Second, each is God’s servant and He sustains both – vs 4.
Third, each is to live for the Lord – vs 5-9. Fourth, God is
judge of both – vs 10-12. And fifth, there are in fact differing
standards of righteous or sinful practice for different people –
vs 13-23. In other words, the standards of good and evil do vary
among different people. This is not a reflection of any changing
standard in God’s character or his instructions to us, but
rather a recognition of the varied backgrounds, understanding and
maturity among believes.
The ramifications of these truths places more responsibility
on the strong. They are the more mature ones so they must be more
careful to watch out for and care for the less mature. Out of
love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they take note of
their weakness and voluntarily limit the practice of their own
freedoms in order that what is good for them would not become an
obstacle or stumbling block to the weaker Christian. Remember
from our study last week that the cultural background and
experiences of the weaker brother could cause them to identify a
practice as being evil or associated with evil even though a more
mature believer may correctly understand that there is nothing
evil at all in the practice. Because the weaker brother has an
immature faith in this area, for him to do that thing would be
evil for him, for as 14:23 states, "whatever is not from
faith is sin."
Here in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul uses the
practice of eating meat that had been offered to idols as an
example. The stronger brother would correctly understand that
idols are nothing therefore there is nothing wrong eating such
meat. However, the weaker brother would view the eating of such
meat as part of the worship of that idol and the demon associated
with that idol. With a correct motive of not wanting to
participate in such idolatry, they would refuse to eat such meat.
Doing so would be sin for them. The responsibility then rests on
the stronger brother to be careful of his practice and neither
offer such meat to a weaker brother, nor by his own example
entice a weaker brother to eat such meat against his conscience.
The stronger brother voluntarily restrains his freedom and
refrains from eating such meat out of love for his weaker
brother. Only after the weaker brother is more mature in his
understanding and faith would he have the freedom to also eat
The example explains a principle that is to be applied to all
sorts of cultural practices including issues of diet,
entertainment, dress, style, music, social practices, manner of
celebrations, observation of days, hobbies, etc. If you are a
stronger Christian, you may have freedom in these areas, but you
must also be careful not to cause a weaker brother to stumble
into sin through the manner in which you practice your freedom. A
weaker brother must learn not to judge a stronger brother while
at the same time making sure he does not follow his example until
he has faith to do so, or it is sin to him.
The Next Level
In Chapter 15 Paul continues his discussion of this topic and
takes it to the next level. It is not enough to just strive to
avoid offending another brother. Our love for one another is to
push us beyond that to also bearing our brother’s weaknesses
and seeking to please them because that is the example that Jesus
Christ gave us.
15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of
those without strength and not [just] please ourselves. 2 Let
each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
The strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of their
less mature Christian brothers and sisters. The idea of
"bear" is from bastazw / bastaz‘ which is used in a
literal sense for picking up something and carrying it, such as a
pitcher of water (Luke 22:10), a man (Luke 7:14) or even a child
in the womb (Luke 11:27). In a figurative sense it is used of
enduring hardship (Matt. 20:12) or trying to fulfill an
obligation (Acts 15:10). In this passage it shows that the mature
are not just to tolerate the immature, but being the stronger in
faith they are to help carry the burden the weak have by showing
respect for their sincere views and practices even though they
disagree with them.
This does not mean that we cannot talk with them about their
beliefs and seek to help them mature in their faith, but such a
conversation must be done with all respect for them. Too often
those who are practicing their liberty become more concerned
about their freedom than their weaker brother. They become
defensive and then attack the weaker brother by becoming critical
or condescending of them. That is not loving. That is
self-serving, which is exactly the opposite of what Paul says
here that the strong are to be. We are not to be seeking to
please ourselves, instead, we are to see how we can please our
neighbor for their good, to their edification.
The correct manner of dealing with a weaker brother is to have
a regard for them and a disregard for your own rights. This is
the same principle Paul brings out in Philippians 2:1-4 in which
he discusses the basis of unity within the body of Christ.
"If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there
is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the
Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete
by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in
spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or
empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard
one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely]
look out for your own personal interests, but also for the
interests of others."
It is with love that the stronger are to be sensitive to take
in consideration the weakness of those around them and strive to
not put an obstacle before them or be a stumbling block to them.
It is with humility that the mature strive to help the weak
become more mature in their faith. With gentleness they go to the
Scriptures themselves to explain and show the greatness of our
God and the extent of His mercy and grace to us sinners. We
magnify the holiness of our Lord while pointing out the manner in
which Jesus actually lived. All the while we voluntarily limit
the practice of our own freedom out of deference to our weaker
brother. We are not to seek to persuade the weak to our viewpoint
so that we can continue practicing our freedoms and doing what we
want. That is self serving. We do it because we sincerely desire
the weaker brother to become more like Jesus Christ because that
glorifies our Lord.
As Paul pointed out in Romans 14:17, the issue in these
matters is not the particular practice itself, for the kingdom of
God is not about eating, and drinking. The issues are what lie
behind the actions. The right motive will result in the right
action. The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace and joy
in the Holy Spirit.
The Example of Christ
Interesting enough, when Paul talks about the necessity of
humility among Christians in Philippians 2, he points out Jesus
Christ as the great example we are to follow in becoming humble.
Our attitude is to be the same that Jesus exhibited. Though Jesus
existed in the form of God and did not regard equality with God a
thing to be grasped, he emptied Himself and took on the form of a
bond-servant and was made into the likeness of men. And being
found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming
obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross (Phil.
2:5-8). Here in Romans 15, Paul also uses Christ as the example
of how we are to deal with one another.
3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is
written, "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell
Jesus did not seek to please Himself. He sought to please His
Father. In John 4:34 Jesus said, "My food is to do the
will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work." In
John 5:30 Jesus said, "I can do nothing on My own
initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because
I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."
In John 8:29 Jesus said, "And He who sent Me is with Me;
He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are
pleasing to Him." In John 12:27, 28 we find that even
when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying and pouring
out the anguish of His soul as He considered the cross He would
face the next day, the cry of His soul was, "Father,
glorify Thy name."
What was true of Jesus is also to be true of us. Our lives are
not about fulfilling our wills and building our kingdoms. God
created us and saved us from our sins so that we might fulfill
His will and build Christ’s kingdom. The Christian life on
this earth is lived in the state of transitioning from the former
to the latter. As we grow in Christ, we are being changed from
selfish self-centered people seeking to please ourselves into
being godly other-centered people seeking to please God. That is
what Paul means in Romans 8:29 that we are predestined to be
conformed to the image of Christ. None of us are there yet, but
there will be a day that we will stand holy and blameless before
God in both our position in Christ and in our practice.
At the end of verse 3 Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9 and applies
it to Jesus. Jesus sought to please the Father even though it
meant that all the hatred of those that opposed God would fall
upon Him. This is also true for us and it is why that Jesus
warned in John 15:19 "If you were of the world, the world
would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I
chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." Or
as Paul said in 2 Tim. 3:12 "And indeed, all who desire
to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." We
must always keep the purpose of our lives in view if we are to
fulfill that purpose and resist the pressure and persecution of
the world as well as its enticements to remain sinful and
Old Testament Examples
There are times when we get discouraged in the Christian walk.
There can be times when we might feel alone or even like our
friends have abandoned us or persecution has isolated us from
them. As Paul points out in verse 4, even in such hard times, we
still have in the Scriptures the examples of so many that have
preceded us. "For whatever was written in earlier times
was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and
the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
God’s purpose in having their stories recorded and preserved
was for our benefit. In the Bible we find instruction for life
that we might have hope, confident assurance for the future. The
examples of those who have gone before us encourage us and help
us persevere in the present.
The tragedy is that so many professing Christians do not take
the time to learn the Old Testament and its many stories and
examples. The writer of Hebrews understood the importance of this
and so mentions several of those in the "great cloud of
witnesses" that make up the hall of faith. People such as
Abel, who offered a better sacrifice; Enoch who walked with God;
Noah, who heeded God’s warning about things not yet seen;
Abraham, Sarah, and their son Isaac, and grandson Jacob, who
believed God’s promises concerning a future inheritance;
Joseph, who also believed God’s promises, so he gave orders
concerning the burial of his bones to take place hundreds of
years in the future; Moses, who believed God and lead the nation
of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The list goes on to include
Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and the prophets.
We all would do well to take encouragement from their stories and
heed the examples of their lives.
In Verses 5 & 6 Paul expresses his prayer for his readers
based on these truths. "Now may the God who gives
perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind
with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one
accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ."
What God the Father did in the life of Jesus and the Old
Testament saints He can also do for us. He can encourage us and
cause us to persevere in the midst of whatever our enemies can
bring against us. We must learn to be dependent upon Him. But
notice that Paul’s desire here is not for God to do this in
some general sense, but for the specific purpose that we would be
of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, and
that out of this unity would come a harmonious voice of praise to
Unity in the church does not come about from finding the
lowest common denominator upon which everyone can agree. That is
the fallacy that the ecumenical movement and its related
step-children continue to follow. Unity in church comes about
because of common doctrinal belief and subsequent practice. We
can only be in harmony when we all believe what the Bible says
and agree to keep God’s commandments and live by its
principles. This is also true when it comes to the
"gray" areas that the Bible does not directly address,
but for which the Bible does give us clear command about how to
deal with each other. Harmony in the church will only exist when
both the strong and the weak humbly submit themselves to doing
what Paul has explained here in Romans 14 & 15. Both must
stop being selfish and condemning and instead seek how they might
build each other up in Christ. Our common goal is to become more
like Jesus Christ. Any other goal is both inadequate and unworthy
for bringing about the unity that will cause us to join together
and with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Paul gives further example of how this unity among believers
is to be developed in verse 7-13 by again pointing to the example
Jesus’ Example of Acceptance
"Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also
accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has
become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of
God to confirm the promises [given] to the fathers, 9 and for the
Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written,
"Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles,
And I will sing to Thy name." 10 And again he says,
"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people." 11 And again,
"Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples
praise Him." 12 And again Isaiah says, "There shall
come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the
Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope." Jesus is our
example. We are to accept or receive to ourselves other believers
in the same way that Jesus has accepted us to Himself and thereby
bring glory to God. Paul then points out how Jesus has received
both the Jew and Gentile to Himself. Remember that Paul was
writing to both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome for both
made up the church there. Jesus did what was needed to receive
both groups to Himself though they are very diverse from each
other culturally and ethnically.
To the Jew, Jesus satisfied all the requirements of the Old
Testament law and in doing so fulfilled the promises God had made
to the Jewish patriarchs. The scribes and Pharisees often accused
Jesus of breaking the law, but the charge was false. The truth
was that the Scribes and Pharisees had replaced the doctrines and
commandments of God with the precepts and traditions of men (Mark
7:7,8). Jesus did not keep those and therefore He was a threat to
their power and they hated Him for it. Jesus satisfied all the
requirements of the Mosaic law. Jesus said to the Jews in Matthew
5:17, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the
Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill." After
His resurrection Jesus explained to the apostles how He did just
that (Luke 24:44-48).
Jesus was also a servant to the Gentiles. Paul quotes from
several Old Testament passages (Psalm 18:49; Deut. 32:43; Psalm
117:1; Isaiah 11) demonstrating that it had always been in
God’s plan for the Messiah to be a blessing to the Gentiles
too. The Gentiles were to rejoice, praise Him and sing to His
name along with the Jews, and the Messiah would rule over the
Gentiles as well as the Jews.
It is on this basis of a common savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
that both and Jew and Gentile are joined together in unity in one
entity, the church, the body of Christ. Their mutual love for the
Savior is to result in a mutual love for one another, and
therefore a willingness to work through cultural differences in
creating a harmonious body in which God is glorified.
Paul ends this section with a benediction for all the people
of God, regardless of their ethnic background. "13 Now
may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy
It is the God of hope who is the source of joy and peace for
all believers. Our trust in Him gives us confident assurance for
the future because we know that His promises to us are true. We
abound in that hope for the future because of the Holy
Spirit’s work in our lives. It is Paul’s desire for all
believers, Jew and Gentile alike, to live daily in this joy and
peace that can only come from the God of hope.
As we conclude our study of Romans 14:1-15:13, let me
summarize some of the key concepts along with some practical
application of them so that each of us might make sure our
practices are building up the body of Christ instead of tearing
1) The "strong" must love the weaker. Those more
mature in faith must love the "weaker" enough to
self-limit the practice of their freedom so as not to cause them
to do something against their conscience, and thus stumble into
sin. The "stronger" are in sin if they flaunt their
freedom or practice it without concern for others. Learn to be
sensitive. Ask questions such as "Do you mind if I . . .
?" "I am thinking about doing . . . , would that bother
2) The stronger must encourage the weaker. Those more mature
in faith must not look down on the weaker as being less spiritual
or as if they are missing all the joy of freedom in Christ.
Rejoice in the faith that you have, but remember you have room to
grow too. Seek to be used by the Lord according to your gifts to
build one another up in Him. Keep people focused on the Word and
let the Holy Spirit change the conscience of people.
3) The weak in faith are not to judge or condemn the stronger.
That is sin. The weak may need to express their thoughts and
feelings about an issue, but it is to be done as a request or
even a plea, but not a demand. It must be left to that person to
respond in love.
4) The "weak" are those who could stumble. Romans
14,15 and 1 Cor. 8 & 10 define the weak as those who might be
encouraged into a practice for which they do not have freedom of
faith to participate. If the practice of someone with freedom of
faith would not entice them to the same practice, then they are
not weak in faith. They are already convinced for themselves in
what they should and should not do.
5) Beware of Pharisees. Jesus’ greatest conflicts were
with the Pharisees. They originally wanted to simply give
themselves additional protections against breaking God word by
imposing on themselves their own standards of conduct.
Tragically, those standards replaced God’s word. There are
modern counterparts. Remember the "Rules &
Discipline" I read a few weeks ago? Christians are not to
allow their consciences to be enslaved by such men. The faith you
have, you are to have as your own conviction before God. To
refrain from a practice for fear that someone will condemn you
for it shows the degree to which you have allowed yourself to be
enslaved, and to the degree that you are enslaved, you are no
longer operating on faith, but on law – and whatever is not of
faith, is sin.
Jesus had complete freedom, yet He limited that freedom
according to the context of the situation. He fulfilled the
Mosaic Law, but not that of the Pharisees. He was therefore
accused by these religious leaders of being a glutton and
drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners (Mt. 11:19). You may
be accused of the same for not bending to the rules of such
people. Do not be fearful of such, but rather follow in the
example of the Lord.
We are called to follow the Lord and love our brothers in
Christ. Be ready and willing to restrict your freedom for the
sake of helping them to keep from stumbling into sin. But do not
let your conscience before God be enslaved to men. We are to be
God-pleasers, not men-pleasers (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:4). It was
for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal 6:1) that we might walk
by the Spirit, and on that basis we therefore do not carry out
the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 6:16,17). The yoke of man made rules
cannot quench the desires of the flesh. At most, they only
repress their free expression, but they will express themselves
in some other manner either hidden or in a way accepted by
6) Finally, no one has reached full maturity. Everyone has
areas of strong faith and have the freedom that comes with it.
Each of us also have areas of weaker faith with corresponding
restrictions. Be warned. Don’t do anything contrary to your
conscience, for whatever is not of faith is sin. And don’t
be a Pharisee. Each of us have areas in which we tend to judge
those who do not meet our personal standards, and we do so
without ever talking with them to know their rational for
practicing something we would refrain from.
When it comes to the cultural conflict, each of us need to put
on the Lord Jesus Christ and deal with one another in love. Let
us seek to find solutions to conflicting standards and practices
and build each other up in Christ instead of tearing each other
I met a man from another nation,
I led him to Jesus for salvation,
The angels sang and we also rejoiced,
Until I found he made a diff"rent choice.
On a matter so extremely important to me,
He said, I don"t understand, I thought I was free.
Soon after he was bringing the same question to me,
How could I offend him so much with my liberty?
We sat there quite perplexed and wondering what we could do,
Until we were reminded, Jesus loves both me and you.
Humbly, we now work for the best interest of the other,
Setting aside our pref’rences for the love of a brother.
We now search the Scriptures to find God’s better way,
No longer condemning based on what other’s say.
The solutions to conflict are found in God’s Book,
So set aside your foolish pride, go there and look.
Scott L. Harris
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * *
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your
children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children –
draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon.
Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older
Children : 1) Count how many times the Jesus is mentioned in
the sermon 2) Discuss with your parents the example that Jesus
set in how we are to get along with one another.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
What is the context of Romans 15? Define what is meant by
"strong" and "weak." What important
qualification directs us in pleasing our neighbor? Can you do
something your neighbor does not like and still fulfill the
command of Romans 15:2? Why or why not? Who did Christ seek to
please? Why? Who do you seek to please? Why? What reproaches fell
on Jesus? How have you found the Bible helpful in your spiritual
life? How has it instructed you? Helped you persevere? Encouraged
you? How do Christians develop like mindedness? What part do you
have in doing this? How can you improve at doing it? How has
Jesus accepted us? Explain how you can follow that example in
dealing with others, especially with your enemies? How was Jesus
a "servant to the circumcision"? What parallel
principle would apply to your own life in following Jesus example
in this? How was Jesus as servant to the Gentiles? What parallel
principle would apply to your own life in following Jesus example
is this? What limitations are their to Christian freedom? What
Biblical commands and principles would you apply to the following
"gray" areas in determining what is right and wrong for
you to do: Drinking alcoholic beverages? Type of music for
entertainment? For worship? Standards for seeing movies, TV &
theater? Dress & fashion? Dancing? Dating? Number of
children? How you discipline and educate your children? How you
spend your money? What you do with your time? Use of tobacco
products? Consumption of "junk" food? How to spend the
Getting Along in The Body, Part 3 – Romans 15:1-13
The Next Level – vs. 1,2
The Example of Christ – vs 3
John 4:34; 5:30; 8:29; 12:17,28
Old Testament Examples – vs. 4 & Hebrews 11
Paul’s Prayer – vs. 5,6
Jesus’ Example of Acceptance – vs. 7-12
Our Example (vs. 7)
To the Jew (vs. 8)
To the Gentile (vs. 9-12)
Benediction (vs. 13)