The book of Romans was meant to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles in two ways: By highlighting the mercy of God to both (salvation, justification, sanctification and righteousness), and by showing them their mutual obligations of service. Before Romans 12, Paul wrote about the importance of holy living.
Next, Paul shifted his focus to getting along in religious matters not essential to salvation (such as eating habits and the observation of holy days).
“None of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone... don’t put a stumbling block or obstacle in anyone’s way… Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (building up; growth don’t cause your brother or sister to fall.” (Romans 14:5-20)
This call to service was not a passive call. No, this was a call to actively create a community characterized by people committed to peace as well as helping each other grow, build and encourage each other. What has to happen for a community like this to grow?
1. We must embrace essential Christian beliefs (14:22)
“How blessed is the person who has no reason to condemn himself because of what he approves!” Think of the core claims in the historic creeds in the church: Jesus is God incarnate; because of His life, death and resurrection our sins can be forgiven and we can be redeemed. Paul wrote that Jesus “is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14) and has broken down the walls between Jews and Gentiles, between those near and far from Christ. If that's true, it’s important that our beliefs about Jesus – and salvation, righteousness, and justification - are in agreement with Scripture. Otherwise, peace will always feel elusive.
2. We must keep non-essential beliefs between ourselves and God (14:22), but live them in faith (14:23)
“If you have a conviction, keep it to yourself before God... whoever compromises their convictions is condemned… but everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Have you ever said or thought and of the following:
- “You know, I really need to correct Bob’s view of end times. All true Christians are pre-trib (or post-trib.)”
- “Sally should know that she is wrong about the days in Genesis. I think I’ll argue and hurt our friendship.”
- “I think all secular entertainment is wrong (or all Christian entertainment should be whole-heartedly supported)!”
- “Christians should never drink alcohol.”
- “You should boycott (or support) company X or you are out of God’s will.”
If you have ever said or thought something along those lines, Paul is talking to you. If God has convicted you on one or more of these matters, you must be faithful to this conviction. But others are not necessarily required to agree with you. Own them boldly – but not coercively. They are not essential doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
3. We must accomodate the failings of those who are “weak” - for their growth (15:1-2)
“We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should all be concerned about our neighbors and the good things that will build their faith.” Let’s say you are spiritually strong. What follows from that? Sacrificial service. This is actually the attitude Christ had toward us (15:3-5). The more we live in sacrificial service, the more we embody the heart of Christ for the world. What will happen if we do this?
"So accept one another in the same way the Anointed has accepted you so that God will get the praise He is due. For, as I am fond of saying, the Anointed One has become a servant of the Jews in order to demonstrate God’s truth. Effectively this confirms the promises He made to our ancestors and causes the non-Jewish nations to glorify God for His mercy… I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:7-13, excerpted)
This is the way to build a genuine Christian community of faith, joy, peace and hope.
And then, just before Paul wraps up Romans, we see why Paul longed to see this:
"My brothers and sisters, I urgently plead with you by the name of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed, and by the love of the Spirit to join together with me in your prayers to God for my success in these next endeavors. Pray that I will be rescued from those who deny and persecute the faith in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem will meet the approval of all the saints there. If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can find refreshing rest in your presence. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen." (Romans 15:30-32)
Romans 15:32 uses a word for “rest” that in the original writing is unique in the entire New Testament. It's synanapaúomai, a mix of sýn (“identify with”) and anapaúō, ("pause completely"). To rephrase it,
“If that happens, then my journey to you will be filled with joy; and, if God wills, I can pause completely with those who identify with my struggles. I pray the God of all peace will be with you all. Amen.”
We talk a lot about the role of the church in our culture as one of taking a stand and being a moral voice for God, of raising the bar in personal integrity and morality, and/or being evangelistic. In plenty of other places Paul challenges the church in these areas. But we see here two crucial roles that often get overlooked.
We need to struggle together so we understand each other.
- This means honesty about ourselves. If we have never been stunned by seeing our sinful self clearly, we will never understand the anguish others feel when God’s Spirit enlightens and convicts them.
- This means accountability. If we have never experienced how humbling it is to confess our sins to human ears, we will never understand what it costs someone to confess to us.
- This means acknowledging our pain, grief, shame and disillusionment. If we have never wept over the hardness of this world, how will we weep with those who weep? If we have never taken the measure of our own burdens, we will never ask others to help us, and we will never understand when someone else asks us to help them.
- This means boldly living our faith. If we have never suffered fro the sake of our commitment to Christ, we won’t be able to identify with those who have. Maybe it’s Lent…tithing our time and money…being bold with friends about our faith…taking a stand in college or at work…
We need to “pause completely” (rest together) so we can refresh each other at certain moments in our lives.
- Comforting instead of confronting.
- Listening to a problem instead of fixing it.
- Letting a conversation wander instead of making it pointed and purposeful.
- Putting aside our differences about non-essentials and simply resting in the peace that comes from a unity about Jesus.
- Entering into someone else’s world by asking about their stories, their hobbies, their family, their lives, their hopes and dreams – simply because they are people of worth, who bear God’s image, who are flawed and imperfect but loved by God anyway.