Good morning. I hope you are starting your Saturday morning off well. Along with your coffee, reading the Word and spending some time in prayer should be a morning routine for you.
As we consider a portion of Romans 15 I wonder if we share the same desire as the Apostle Paul:
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. vv. 5-6
I think all of us would pay lip service to the idea of unity but under our breath we are giving reasons why it is impossible. Why is unity in the Body impossible? It isn't but there is a cost and it takes a different kind of believer than what we find in our churches these days.
Paul has been laying down a fundamental understanding of unity since Romans 12. Now here in Romans 15 he is concluding the matter. In Romans 14 we read:
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. v. 1
Now here in Romans 15 we read:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. v. 1
Do you see anything in common here? In order for there to be unity we almost have to take ourselves out of the equation. Maybe that is a bit strong but consider this from Romans 14:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. v. 19
Every effort he says. We have to make every effort. It is true that unity requires the other person to work at it but it requires the more from us. If we do not have the attitude that the other person is important enough to set aside our own opinions then we will always be trying to prove our opinion and rights or push our opinion and rights. From Romans 12:
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. v. 18
As far as it depends on you. The effort must come from you. Remember this from Romans 12:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. vv.9-10
Love, devotion and honour are the foundations in our relationship with each other. Where these are in place we find unity. Where these are lacking we find discord, tension, individual rights. So now we continue with Romans 15:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. vv. 1-4
To walk in the work we have been given to do self-denial must be an every day reality for us. Certainly there are times of weakness but they usually come after a time of neglecting the Word and prayer. Paul reminds us that we are called to live as Jesus lived. He also reminds us that we have been given Scripture to remind us of our hope. We must constantly be reminded that we belong to something bigger than us and bigger than this moment. That is why I am convinced that none of this is possible until we experience what is written in Romans 12, the starting place for me for unity:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. v. 2
Our way of processing information, our perspective must be made new so we no longer think according to the patterns of this world but we gain the Kingdom perspective, Christ's mind. It is only in this manner that self-denial becomes natural to us as opposed to something to which we conform. There is a difference between conformity and transformation. Romans 15 continues:
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. v. 7
This takes me back to Jesus' prayer in John 17:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. vv. 22-23
Does it make any difference to us knowing that this was Jesus' desire for us? But it comes at a cost. We most be willing to accept those of different maturity and understanding. Despite whether the person thinks the same as us on "disputable matters" we love them and honour them. Even if they are cranky and self-promoting we are devoted to them because Paul pointed out that "each member belongs to all the others" (Romans 12). This one phrase has effected me more than most others in my life, that notion that we belong to each other. Yet, I have failed in this pursuit of unity more than most because I have often allowed myself to slip back to the old way of thinking.
Why is unity so hard? Because we think everyone needs to be at the same level we are in our understanding. We do not make room for different levels of maturity. We do not believe in teh Spirit being our teacher, allowing him to develop people in their maturity. We force people before the Spirit has prepared them. In many cases we are bullies and we damage people, all for the sake of getting people to think like we do. Throughout the ages men have used Jesus as an excuse for force and we do it today, only now we do it mentally. Life in Jesus has always been about a personal relationship within teh context of teh faith community. This relationship is based on love, trust and faith. This is also how unity is achieved when we base our relationships of love, trust and faith.
For me this is one of the biggest issues in our age, being united in all our diversity. Other than Jesus I can think of nothing as beautiful as the Church. I honestly can see her in the glory of her fullness, with all the members united in purpose, devotion and love. It is my longing, my great desire because she is the bride of my Lord, and she must reflect his glory. My continuing prayer is for fresh wind and fresh fire, that we would be renewed in our minds to gain the perspective of Jesus, allowing us to understand the importance other believers are to us.
We could occupy our days with pointing out all the blemishes, the dirt, the imperfections of this bride but what does that profit us. The Church is not self-made but is a work in progress, a work that belongs to the Spirit. It would be more profitable for us if we were to recognize the strengths, beauty and value that each member possesses. More and more each day I grow to understand why the Apostle Paul felt compelled to do what he did. He loved the Body and thus every member of it. He felt he belonged to the members so he gave his very best for their edification. I wonder what your thoughts are on the Church?
Allow me to leave you with Paul's blessing for the believers:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. v. 13