SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 25 September 2022
Sermon Text: Romans 15:1-13
Sermon Series: “Romans Chapters 9-16”
I. Living in God-granted harmony
II. Participating in Jesus’ mission
III. Welcoming to glorify the Father
God is great as He sent His Son to us to build His church that is harmonious among her members. I say God is great because such harmony and unity among natural men and women is impossible. But God establishes His church through Jesus His Son and our Saviour, and keeps His church in His grace. Christians might take the unity and harmony they enjoy in their churches for granted, but unless God – in Jesus and by the Holy Spirit – keeps it, there could and would be in churches multiple and continuous relationship troubles that are complex and serious in nature. Sinful men cannot live in harmony, but God enables His children who are called and renewed through faith in Jesus to live in unity.
We know this is true that God sent Jesus to us to call us to be His church. Jesus has done it through His death on the cross and resurrection from the empty tomb. We know He purified His church by His blood and His church eternal is in full harmony and glory.
But, the earthly church is not yet fully harmonious but growing continually and gradually in this aspect. As each local congregation differs from another in her growth, individual members of a local congregation differ in understanding and practising Christian harmony and unity among fellow church members. And to these individual church members – that is, you and me – God speaks through the Apostle Paul, ‘You have an obligation to bear the weak, and not to please yourselves; moreover, you altogether should glorify God as you welcome one another.’
A few important points can be drawn from this truth. Firstly, God sent His Son, and Jesus came to build a church whose members are one and harmonious; secondly, every local church is led by the Holy Spirit and growing and becoming a united and loving body of Christ; thirdly, as God the Holy Spirit leads each of us in His church, we should willingly take part in this growth and welcome one another. The last and most important truth is that we do glorify God when we welcome one another and live in harmony with fellow Christians! It is a delightful and grand truth of Jesus Christ who is the Head of His church!
So I want to look at this great truth God speaks to us through Paul in Rom. 15. I want to look at what it is to live in harmony in Christ’s church and what is required of us in our welcoming one another, and what it means that by welcoming each other we glorify God.
I. LIVING IN GOD-GRANTED HARMONY
As we begin, we need to know what sort of harmony God is telling us about. Is it getting along well with everyone in this church? Or, is it having a good relationship with neighbouring congregations also? Or should our welcoming be extended to be cross-denominational? What is the scope of harmony that is commended to us?
We need to be clear of this as vs. 1-2 of today’s passage tell us that ‘we who are strong’ should bear with the failings – or weaknesses – of ‘the weak’ and please ‘our neighbours’ instead of ourselves. Here, we hear of two groups of people – the strong and the weak in faith who are neighbours to each other. Are these groups from one and the same local congregation? Or should we understand our ‘neighbours’ as other congregations either within our denomination or all other churches from various denominations?
Its answer is both. It includes both our fellow church members of this congregation and other churches. We should welcome one another in this our own congregation as well as others from neighbouring churches. Denominational differences should not be a hindrance to our welcoming and living in harmony. This is, I believe, what God tells us through Paul in this section of Romans. Although Paul is speaking to a local church that existed at Rome in the 1st century AD, we know and believe that this is God’s word given to all His churches on earth throughout generations, thus, we cannot draw line between congregations or exclude other denominations from our consideration. Our welcome should be extended to all Christians. Moreover, our welcome needs to be extended to all unbelievers to reach them with the free and saving grace of Jesus Christ.
However, the harmony we seek is not unconditional. It should not be unconditional but under one strict condition, that is, we welcome one another to live in God-granted harmony. I say this because there’s a different kind of harmony – that is, the harmony and unity this world imposes.
Look at v. 2 of today’s passage which says, “Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.” You’ve just heard from this reading of v. 2 the condition of Christian’s mutual welcoming, that is, ‘for our neighbour’s good and to build him/her up.’ This means that we can never welcome our neighbour to please him for the opposite, that is, for his evil or to play him down, if not destroy him. That is the form of harmony this world insists – a harmony in seeking evil. The unification this world seeks and imposes on people is the way of sin. We cannot welcome anyone to follow and live in the harmony this world imposes. So, as long as we pray and seek to build one another up in Jesus, we should welcome and live in harmony with each other.
What does this mean in practice? Simply put, we extend our hands to our neighbours – that is, to the fellow church members of this congregation and other believers from various churches and denominations – and welcome all and live in harmony with them only to build one another up in Jesus, seeking each other’s good in God. But, never can we condone the sins of our neighbour; never can we sweep his/her falsehood under the carpet for the sake of peaceful cohabitation. For doing so is to play him down or destroy him, doing so is to add more evil to our neighbour.
We stand opposing and not accepting any Christian’s or church’s view on homosexuality or euthanasia or abortion or drugs or gambling and so on; we expel and do not welcome any doctrine that is contrary to the Scriptures. Yet we extend our hands to anyone who seeks God’s truth as recorded and taught in the very Word of God. We should endure the failings of the weak in faith and work together for their good and for mutual growth in Jesus. We’re commanded to seek and live with one another in this God-granted harmony.
II. PARTICIPATING IN JESUS’ MISSION
Living in this harmony and unity of God is, in fact, to participate in Jesus’ mission. When we welcome the weak, when we endure one another’s failings or weakness, when we pray for one another, seeking each one’s well-being in Jesus and growth in faith, then, we’re living in God-granted harmony and unity, and that’s how we take part in Jesus’ mission.
To explain this, Paul brings to our attention several OT passages such as 2 Sam. 22 (v. 50) and Ps. 18 (v. 49) in v. 9 and Dt. 32 (v. 43) and Ps. 117 (v. 1) in vs. 10 and 11, respectively. Then, Isa. 11 (vs. 1, 11) in v. 12 of today’s passage. The point Paul makes here with these OT quotes is that Jesus’ mission to earth was never accidental nor superficial but weighty and sublime. From the beginning of time, it was planned and intended by the Triune God and foretold again and again to the ears and hearts of God’s people.
What is this purpose? Simply put, to be the Saviour and Lord of both the Jews and the Gentiles. Being the Lord of both, to be their only hope, and to hear and receive joyful praises and worship from both the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul summarises this in vs. 8-9 of Rom. 15, saying this: “Christ became a servant to the circumcised [that is, the Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.” Then, he proves it in v. 11, quoting Ps. 117:1 which invites both, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with [God’s] people,” and in v. 12, “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope” – this is taken from Isa. 11. Jesus came for this mission, to form one nation of God from two who used to be enemies to each other.
Eph. 2 is one of many places of the NT that explain this purpose, and listen to v. 13 of Eph. 2, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” and v. 14 and following continues, “For [Christ] Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility … that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
This means, simply put, that Jesus came to make you and me one in Him, came to make each of you to live in harmony with another in Him. So, as you and I welcome one another, we’re participating in the purpose of Jesus’ birth, life and death.
Of course, we don’t always get along with everyone in our church. Sometimes, we break away from church unity for various reasons. Some other times, we concentrate more on our own interests or rights than on seeking others’ good. Occasionally, we think we’re better than others, to say frankly, and in our own pride we go against unity. It happens because we’re sinful beings, still growing in godliness. But, you and I both do not deny that God’s will for us through Jesus’ death on the cross draws us to each other to make us live in harmony and be one united body of Christ. Not only in the form of intellectual comprehension, but also in daily living are we summoned and urged and strengthened to live in harmony with fellow members of Christ’s church.
This is so because Jesus has already made us one in Him. And we’re living in Him and Christ lives among us. In a word, we’re participating in the mission Jesus came for and has accomplished. Truth is that you and I are being led – and forced, in a sense – by Jesus to take part in His mission since the moment we began trusting in Him and worshipping Him as our Lord. For this reason, we cannot reject nor deny nor be indifferent to welcoming one another; instead, we ought to seek to live in harmony and in peace with all true worshippers of God in Jesus!
III. WELCOMING TO GLORIFY THE FATHER
So, what does all this mean? By welcoming each other and living in harmony with all fellow members of Christ’s church, we’re participating in Jesus’ mission. And our participation in Jesus’ mission is our glorifying God.
Hear what the apostle says in vs. 5-6, “May … God … grant you to live in such harmony with one another … that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul adds in the following verse, saying, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Living in harmony with all in Christ’s church is our act of glorifying God.
This is to follow Jesus in glorifying the Father. Listen to the Lord when He prayed to the Father as recorded in Jn. 17. He says, “I glorified You [Father] on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave Me to do.” And His work on earth was to make one new man in place of two!
So, let us welcome one another in Jesus; and by living in harmony with all, let us enjoy the honour and great blessing of participating in Jesus’ mission. In our patient bearing with the weakness of fellow members of Christ’s church, we glorify the Father.
No wonder why the apostle says rich benediction, that is, blessing, twice in this short section – once in v. 5 and then in v. 13, saying, “May … God … grant you to live in such harmony with one another … 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”! ***