ONE HEART AND MOUTH Romans 15
“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” (Rom. 15:5–6).How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)
Christ modeled an attitude which leads to unity and glorifies God (15:1–6). Christ’s acceptance of us sets the pattern for all believers’ relationships with each other, and opens the door to joy and peace (vv. 7–13). As for Paul, he found fulfillment in serving God (vv. 14–22), and hoped soon to visit Rome (vv. 23–29). He urged the Romans to pray with and for him (vv. 30–33).
Understanding the Text
“Bear with . . . and not to please ourselves” Rom. 15:1–7. These verses belong with chapter 14. Paul had shown that in “disputable matters” each Christian must accept responsibility for his own convictions, and give others the same freedom to be responsible to Christ as Lord. Matters not clearly defined as sin in Scripture are disputable, but not debatable. Now Paul reminds us of the attitude we must have if the unity of the body of Christ is to be preserved. It’s never enough to just leave others alone. “Do what you think is best,” we may say. But what we may mean is, “Don’t bother me. I don’t really care what you do.” That’s not what it means to let Christ be Lord in another believer’s life. Paul says we “bear with” the “failings of the weak.” For Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of our fellow believer, we “please [our] neighbor for his good, to build him up.” We live to serve, even as Jesus lived, and died, to serve us. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you in order to bring praise to God” Rom. 15:7. Here’s that word again. “Accept.” In Romans 14 we saw that it means to welcome: to open our arms and hearts to each other. To value the individual so much that he or she experiences warmth and belonging. Here Paul shows us the standard by which acceptance is to be measured. We are to welcome others as Christ has welcomed us. Did Jesus open His heart to us because we were such beautiful people? Because we had so much to offer to the group? Because we were well dressed, or wealthy? No, Jesus opened His heart and welcomed us when we were sinners, hostile toward God, clothed in the filthy rags of our own pretentions of righteousness, without a cent of heavenly currency. Jesus accepted us freely, with no preconditions, and despite our flaws. That’s how you and I are to relate to others. As Jesus has related to us. And just as Jesus’ redeeming love has begun to transform our lives, so in the fellowship of a loving, accepting congregation, the sinful and the weak will also be transformed. “A servant . . . on behalf of God’s truth” Rom. 15:8–12. What is the truth that Jesus served so well? That God loves both Jew and Gentile. That He has been faithful in keeping His covenant promises to Israel, and at the same time has opened the door of salvation to the rest of humankind. The result of Jesus’ servanthood? He gathers up and brings all mankind’s praise to God. No less than five different Greek words for praise are used in three brief Old Testament quotes, reminding us how significant praise is in God’s sight. It reminds us of something else as well. Others may not appreciate what you do for them. That’s actually good! The goal of Christian servanthood isn’t to be praised. It is to gather up the praise of others and direct it toward God. When others are praising us, we intercept what really belongs to our Lord. “The God of hope” Rom. 15:13. This is the second of two very special descriptions of God in this chapter. Verse 5 portrays God as the “God who gives” (see DEVOTIONAL). Verse 13 pictures Him as “the God of hope.” “Hope” is a unique word in Scripture, where it indicates “confident expectation.” The person with hope has complete assurance about the future. And the overflow of the hope we have as we trust in God fills us with joy and peace. So give yourself up to serve. And let God fill you with that hope which overflows with joy and peace. “Competent to instruct one another” Rom. 15:14–20. There’s nothing that stunts spiritual growth quite so much as paternalism. That idea that big Daddy has to be there, or poor little you will be sure to make some horrible mistake or do something unutterably dumb. Paternalism is a terrible temptation to anyone in ministry. If big Pastor isn’t there, that small group Bible study will probably wander off into false doctrine. If big Preacher doesn’t preach, nothing of value will happen in the service. If big Reverend doesn’t do the counseling, how will those terribly messed up folks ever find the way out of their dilemma? Well, big Apostle Paul didn’t share that attitude at all! He’d said earlier, very plainly, that believers are united to Jesus and given the Holy Spirit (Rom. 6–8). He’d said that every believer has a gift that equips him or her to minister (Rom. 12). He’d shown that growth can take place when believers accept one another warmly, serve one another, and let Christ exercise His lordship in each life (Rom. 14–15). So Paul backed off, not only from paternalism, but from even the hint of paternalism! Paul wanted to visit Rome to enjoy “your company for a while” (v. 24). He wasn’t driven to visit Rome from the neurotic fear that the church there would go down the tubes without him. In fact, Paul was “convinced” that the church in Rome was “competent to instruct one another.” The Romans had the Word, the Holy Spirit, and each other. Paul would bring a blessing. In the last analysis any church grows because of its relationship with God, not with God’s servants. How desperately both pulpit and pew need to hear this word from Paul. The pulpit needs to rid itself of paternalistic attitudes and actions, and nurture ministry by the laity. The pew needs to stop mistaking God’s servant for God, and trust the Lord rather than the leader. “A contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” Rom. 15:26–28. Judea was heavily dependent on income from the temple and from pilgrims who came to visit it. In time, as the little Christian community became more and more isolated from the rest of Judaism, Christians suffered more during times of depression or famine. One of Paul’s ministries was that of famine relief: raising funds from believers throughout the Gentile world to bring relief to the poor believers in Jerusalem. To Paul, who developed a theology of giving in 2 Corinthians 8–9, seeing to the material needs of those Jewish believers from which the church sprang was an obligation and a joy. Spiritual and material needs were not kept in separate compartments, as we sometimes do. Any known need of a believer was an opportunity to serve. How wonderful when we are able to see fulfilling our obligation to help one another as a joy and a priority. Paul was eager to go to Spain to open that land for the Gospel. But he saw no conflict in setting aside that mission for a time, to carry funds and food to those in need.
Giving Till It Hurts(Rom. 15:1–6)
I sometimes hear a “Talknet” host on our local 620 AM station, whose major premise is that people ought to live more selfish lives. “You are important,” he tells those who call in. “Think of yourself for once. Put you and your own needs first, because if you don’t, no one else will.” It’s a popular philosophy, and I’m sure there are folks who need to hear it. Folks who think of themselves as worthless, and so have lived doormat lives, walked on by petty tyrants from Mom and Dad to their own kids. But for mature Christians, confident of their value and worth in Christ, the “let’s live selfish lives” message is totally wrong. Paul even went so far as to say, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” To our talk show host, Paul’s advice is utter nonsense. Even many Christians find it a little hard to swallow. We may very well think, “Why should I always have to be the one to give up what I want for the sake of someone else?” Many a time we think, “I’m tired of putting myself out for others, who don’t even appreciate what I do for them.” If you ever feel that way, that you’ve been giving till it hurts, remember this little phrase from Romans 15:5: “The God who gives.” What you and I give up in following Christ’s example of selflessness is nothing compared to what God gives us in return. He gives us endurance. Encouragement. And a “spirit of unity among yourselves.” When we give of ourselves to others, God gives us all the privilege of glorifying Him together with “one heart and mouth.” So next time you feel a little put upon, or unappreciated for the sacrifices you make for others, remember. God knows. And He gives you far more precious gifts in return than anything you have given up for Him.
It would be a privilege to follow Jesus’ example, even if there were no rewards.
“My mind was faced with choosing between my pleasure and God’s, and since my mind saw the glaring inequality between the two, even in the slightest matter, I would be forced to choose what then seemed more pleasing to God.”—Anthony Mary Claret