The Church: Unity in Diversity (Part 3), Romans 15:1-13

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”    – Romans 15:5

You may read Romans 15:1-13 here: Bible Gateway. This section wraps up Paul’s talk from chapter 14 and highlights the last principle in this series for promoting unity in the church.

Principle #3: Follow Christ’s example of mercy

Paul identifies himself as a strong Christian as he encourages the “strong” to bear with the failings of the “weak.” To help others mature in the faith, he exhorts the “strong” to build his neighbor up. How? He cites Jesus as our greatest example of self-denial for the sake of others.

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The Relevance of Scripture (vs. 4)

Paul also reminds his readers that all of Scripture—although written in the past—is still alive and relevant today, meeting our deepest needs (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 4:23-24).

Paul’s Benediction (vs. 5-6)

Paul prayed for unity among the Roman Jews and Gentiles as they followed Christ so they would glorify God with one heart and voice.

Shepherd’s Notes comments on the remainder of this section: “In support of the universal scope of God’s redemptive work through Christ His Son, Paul cited four Old Testament Scriptures . . . . Christ’s acceptance of both Jewish and Gentile believers, played out in the universal scope of His redemptive work, is to be the measure of their acceptance of one another.”

So What?

Self-denial doesn’t mean we are to be people-pleasers (see Galatians 1:10), but rather set aside our self-pleasing actions and/or willfulness in order to build others up. If Christ—God’s Son—prioritized others above His own comforts and desires, how much more should we?

God communicates hope and encouragement through His Word, the Bible. We can live in unity when we read God’s Word with a receptive heart, focus on Christ, and genuinely accept each other.

 

The Remnant, Romans 11:1-6

Did God reject His people? By no means!” – Romans 11:1

This chapter begins in classic Paul style of question-declaration. What follows is a discussion of the remnant of Israel, the salvation of Gentiles, Israel’s jealousy of the fruitful Gentile mission, and the prophetic declaration of Israel turning toward Christ.

“The Remnant”, according to Shepherd’s Notes, “consists of the righteous people of God who remained after divine judgment . . . . For example, Noah and his family may be understood as survivors, or a remnant, of a divine judgment in the flood (Gen. 6:5-8; 7:1-23). In Romans 9:25-33, Paul quoted from the prophets Hosea and Isaiah to demonstrate that the saving of a remnant from among the Jewish people was still part of the Lord’s method of redeeming His people. There would always be a future for anyone among the covenant people who would turn to the Lord for salvation.”

God did not reject Israel as an entire nation. There remained a remnant of Jewish believers. Paul points to himself being a Jew, (so were Jesus’ disciples and most of the early Christian missionaries). Paul backs up his claim—God didn’t reject His special people—by using the great reforming prophet, Elijah, as an example. During a corrupt time when Israel’s priesthood and king’s court strayed from God, Elijah thought he alone remained faithful. But God replied, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all who have not bowed down to Baal,” (1 Kings 19:18).

Paul then connects the dots: 4caade4f52332582b74b797142db9fc8“so too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace,” (vs. 5-6).

So What?

We are not saved because of our religion, good works, or heritage. We are saved only through faith in Jesus Christ.

On whom, or on what, or you depending for salvation?

The Salvation of Israel, Romans 11:25-36

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Paul’s response to God’s grace. Only God could turn disobedience into an opportunity for His mercy toward those who would believe.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” -Romans 11:25

Paul then boldly declares: “. . . . all Israel will be saved,” (vs. 26). This surprising statement should be studied within the big picture of Paul’s previous statements about the nation Israel.

What is the basis of Paul’s claim?

Shepherd’s Notes suggests the following:

  • Although interpreters differ widely in their understanding of this difficult passage, the most probable interpretation of the phrase “all Israel” is that it indicates a great turning of Israel to Christ, without specifying the conversion of every individual Jew, just as the “full number of Gentiles” does not mean that every Gentile will be saved.
  • Israel’s salvation will be like all other people—responding in faith to the forgiveness made possible by Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection.
  • Paul describes this as a “mystery”, which had been previously kept secret, but now revealed. This mystery contained the revelation of God’s will made known to all (1 Cor. 2:1,7; 4:1), which included Gentiles (Rom. 16:25-26; Col. 1:26-27; Eph. 3:3-6).
  • The mystery of the New Testament is described as an open secret: “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
So What?

God—who is always at work in people’s lives—is gracious. He is extremely patient and longs for all to turn to Him for forgiveness and eternal life (2 Peter 3:9). He desires that everyone share in the blessings of the gospel (Eph. 2:11-13), made possible through Jesus’ work (Col. 2:2, Eph. 1:9), and His indwelling Holy Spirit (Col. 1:26-27).

Living Sacrifices, Romans 12:1-2

Paul moves from the theological to the practical in this last section of Romans, laying the groundwork for believers in discipleship. Chapter 12 deals with commitment, spiritual gifts, and relationships.

Call to Commitment

What comes to mind when you think of worship? Many people—including myself—think of Sunday services and singing worship songs. You don’t have to dig deep into the Bible to realize that sincere praise through singing and music pleases God (Psalm 107-150). In fact, about 500 verses speak of worshiping God in this way. But Paul takes our Sunday worship one step further:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”  – Romans 12:1

The word “therefore” directs us to make a connection between Paul’s previous section and his following advice.

3 Qualities of the Believer’s Sacrifice (Shepherd’s Notes):
  1. It is living. This concept may provide a contrast with the [Old Testament] dead bodies of animal sacrifices, or it could denote the new life that the believer possesses in Christ.
  2. It is holy. The Christian is set apart for and belongs to God [sanctification].
  3. It is pleasing. Sacrifices offered to God are not enough in themselves. The offerings must be acceptable to Him.

The greatest motivation for offering ourselves as living sacrifices stem from God’s mercy to us.

A Threat to the Believer

A great threat to the believer appears in verse 2: pressure to conform to this world.

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Credit: Jessica Meggs

The word “world” means “age”. As in Paul’s day, our present age opposes God’s coming world/values. Instead of settling for the world’s standards of living—behaviors and customs—we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds”. This goes beyond strict adherence to moral living. It begins by surrendering our thoughts and attitudes to God.

So What?

Believers become living sacrifices by daily setting aside selfish desires. God is pleased when we devote our time, energy, talents, and spiritual gifts to Him. We do this out of gratitude for His forgiveness and free gift of eternal life.

Like salmon swimming upstream, Christians must work hard to not drift (conform) with the world’s current of values and immorality. The Holy Spirit enables us to swim upstream against the corrupting current when we surrender our thoughts/attitudes to God. He is the One who transforms our lives and gives discernment for His perfect will.

Spiritual Gifts, Romans 12:3-8

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“Sober Judgment”

Robert Mounce, in Shepherd’s Notes, writes: “The use of this term suggests how out of touch with reality the Roman Christians were in their opinions of themselves. Since the metaphor suggests intoxication, we might say they were in danger of becoming ‘egoholics!’”

Knowing the devastating consequences of pride, Paul cautioned believers to not think of themselves more highly than they should. Next, he reminded them that they were members of one body (vs. 4-5), and encouraged them to use their varying gifts to build up the church (vs. 6-8).

Unity in diversity is the theme of this passage: working together as parts of the body function together. This is made possible through Jesus Christ, the head and chief commander of the church.

Paul listed seven different gifts and how they should be utilized (see 1 Peter 4:10, and Seven Primary Spiritual Gifts). Although these gifts differ in power, nature, and effectiveness—according to God’s wisdom and distribution—they are not used in proportion to our willpower. The NIV Application Study Bible suggests: “The ‘measure of faith’ (vs. 3) or the ‘proportion to his faith’ means that God will give spiritual power necessary and appropriate to carry out each responsibility . . . . These are gifts to His church, and He gives faith and power as He wills. Our role is to be faithful and to seek ways to serve others with what Christ has given us.”

So What?

What is your spiritual gift(s)? What do you do best?

Maybe the best gift we can give God this coming New Year is through seeking out the spiritual gift(s) that He has graciously given us, and using them to build up His body—the church.

Related Posts: Seven Primary Spiritual Gifts, God’s Plans—Who Me? What? Why?, God’s Plans—Where? How?, God’s Plan for Spiritual Gifts