Have you ever listened to a beautiful choir performance? I’m not a musical person, but I do know a few things about what makes a good choir performance and what makes bad one. For starters, there must be a sense of whole among the choir members. Each member must be able to hear the harmonies working, check the blend, get the volume balance of each part right, wait for the choir to take a single in-breath to start the next song, and hit the right notes at the right time. A good choir functions as one living organism. If one person is out of tune, the whole song can be ruined. Similarly, unity is an important aspect and calling of the Church.
Consider God’s Word to us through Paul in Romans 15. It is evident that Paul was very concerned about the early church’s unity and their relations with one another. Throughout this chapter of the epistle, we see his concern for how believers treat one another. He makes it quite clear that their unity is ultimately for the glory of God. He calls us to live together with “one voice” like a harmonious choir.
One evidence of the grace of God in our lives is our willingness to put others’ needs in front of our own. Our willingness to die to self in order that we may serve others is what displays God’s love to the world.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” Romans 15:1-3
What does it mean to bear with the failings of the weak? What’s so fascinating about the Bible is that it often presents an upside-down kingdom where God’s way appears to be counter-intuitive. The weak are elevated above the strong. In our fallen world, the vulnerability of another is often seen as an opportunity for the strong to dominate the weak. Rather, here we see Paul exhorting “strong” believers to be patient with the “weak”. The “weak” are those who have a misinformed conscience and, while they are saved by the blood of Christ, they are still enslaved to extra-biblical practices that bind their conscience. Paul considers himself one of the “strong”, or one who has fully realized his freedom in Christ, and yet he emphasizes that such believers have a responsibility to avoid flaunting one’s freedom in case it makes another brother stumble.
Do you practice this in your own life? Or do you find that you are more prone to flaunt your freedom in Christ? Sisters, we mustn’t be prideful toward those who hold different convictions than us, even if we believe their convictions are silly. Rather, we are called to be patient toward those who may not have realized their freedom in Christ in an area of life. As an example, let’s say a brother or sister is convinced that a type of food is evil and sinful to eat. You may argue that they are free in Christ to eat to the glory of God and that no food is inherently evil, but you are still called to avoid behavior that might distress this person or harm their conscience.
Is there a time and place for having honest discussions about our different convictions and comparing them with scripture? Yes. Should our motivation be to judge, criticize, and belittle another believer? No.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God; not seeking your own profit, but the profit of others. This is indeed selfless love. (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6
Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t major in the minors”? This is what Paul is getting at when he emphasizes the importance of unity among believers. His argument is that we not break fellowship over minor matters and that we not view any other believers as “lesser” in His Kingdom.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:7
It is not Christ-like to reject others over minor disagreements and differences. We need to always be working toward unity by remembering our commonality, namely that we are all members of the Church for which Christ died. And that is precisely the point, Christ died for you. By dying for you, He welcomed you into the family of God. You were fought for, bought by the blood of Christ, and welcomed as a wretched sinner. In light of this glorious truth, why do we so often find it difficult to welcome another follower of Christ for whom Christ also died?
In Romans 15:8-12, Paul gives us even more reason to welcome other believers by reminding us that God brought Jews and Gentiles together in worship of the covenant Lord of Israel. Jesus became a servant so that the Gentiles, non-Jews, would have salvation also. He brought together two very different people groups and made them one. They became unified in their redemption.
John Murray writes, “If we place restraints upon our acceptance of believers, we are violating the example of that redemptive action upon which all fellowship in the church rests.” Do you ever find yourself rejecting the fellowship of other believers simply because they are different than you? Maybe they are of a different ethnicity or have a different background. Maybe they are more “rough around the edges” than you are. Maybe they are in a different stage of life. If so, remember that visible love and embrace of your brothers and sisters in Christ – especially those who are different than you – is a mark of the redeemed.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
We Have This Hope
“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.” Romans 15:13
Sisters, we have a hope that unifies us. That hope lies at Calvary. Christ welcomed you when you were dead in your trespasses. By our flesh alone, we cannot love like Christ does. In fact, we will continually fail at this because we are sinners. But those who are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb have the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in us and dwells in us, reminding us of our future hope and giving us power to overcome our flesh and live for God. Remember this: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). By His Spirit, and because of His love, we can be unified as one voice for God.