54. Romans 15:1-6


Endurance and encouragement

Paul went to great lengths to show that issues of food and holy days should never divide true believers. In this chapter he continues this theme of unity and mutual support by admonishing believers to bear with one another and to find their endurance through the encouragement of Scripture and of the unity that the Holy Spirit gives to believers.

In the first verse, Paul again stresses that the strong need to bear with the failings of the weak—and not for their own sakes. Once more we will identify “the weak” and remind ourselves what their failings are. Romans 14:1 says to accept the one whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters. “Weak faith” has the sense of “immature” or “young” faith. People who are recently rescued from deception and darkness will have habitual responses to certain forms of observance, worship, and lifestyle. If any practice was connected to their previous false religion and belief system, that practice will continue to trigger old responses and fears.

The more seasoned believer is never to shake the faith of a young believer by ridiculing their resistance to practices from the past, nor are they to insist that the new believer can participate in those old practices now that they “know” they are meaningless. To the new believer, those old practices need to be avoided because they draw him back into his old fears.

An example is Sabbath-keeping for those of us who grew up believing the Sabbath was the sign of our loyalty to God. A Christian who does not share our background may tell us that worshiping on Saturday is OK, and we shouldn’t worry about it. We, however, have to place all our trust in the Lord Jesus. We have to stop hedging our bets and give up the “security” of the Sabbath in order to know for sure that we are eternally safe with Jesus alone. No day is needed to ensure our eternal salvation.

We are obligated never to encourage subtle fear or legalism by telling new believers that practices they believe to be connected to false beliefs are OK for them now. The Holy Spirit is faithful to convict believers of truth and faithful practice.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul admonishes believers to respect those who are spiritual leaders and who “work hard” among them, to hold them in high regard because of their commitment and faithfulness to God’s work. At the same time, we are to live in peace with one another and also to minister to each other. We are to warn the idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, and be patient with everyone.

This passage makes it clear that we are not to turn a blind eye to the reality of our brothers’ and sisters’ weak spots. Some people need to be warned; idleness is spoken against repeatedly in the epistles. Some people need encouragement to do the things God asks them to do. We are to “help the weak”, those who struggle with confidence in the Lord and retain residual fears and misconceptions about salvation and about God’s will. At the same time, we are to be patient with everyone.

The weak are those who may be new in the faith or immature. They have not grounded themselves deeply in God’s word and haven’t internalized the truths of Scripture that reveal God’s faithfulness and truth. We are to encourage them to trust God at whatever “place” they are, directing them to the Bible and encouraging them to study and know truth. We must never push them beyond where the Holy Spirit has already led them, but helping them does include explaining Scripture and challenging them to root themselves deeply in its words.

Our focus with the weak in faith should be helping them to learn to trust God and to give Him their fears. Focusing on their practices is not helpful; rather, directing them to what God reveals about Himself is what will grow their faith.

If we insensitively indulge in or promote practices in front of the weak in faith that cannot do without compromising their consciences, we sin against them. 1 Corinthians 8:9-12 clearly calls us to refrain from encouraging or even indulging ourselves in something that we know is a trigger for them. We are obligated to guard the hearts and faith of those near us who are young and not yet firmly rooted in the word of God. Spiritual growth, like physical growth, takes time, and we cannot risk encouraging compromise in a weak believer.

As time passes, the Holy Spirit reveals more and more reality as we study the Bible. We have to allow Him to grow the weak at His speed. Our job is to uphold them, encourage them, be ready to teach them from the word, and demonstrate respect for their own compunctions. We are to speak truth, but we are never to encourage someone to go against his conscience.


Please our neighbor

Verse 2, pleasing our neighbor for his sake, not ours, is part of Paul’s command in verse 1 to bear with the failings of the weak. His point here is not that we need to flatter another or to respond to manipulation. Rather, his point is that we accommodate our neighbor’s concerns and weaknesses.

Paul spent the first eight chapters of Romans setting forth the most scholarly and detailed treatise of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus that is found in the Bible. He has explained un detail that salvation is never enhanced, much less accomplished, by works of the law. Rather, our justification is accomplished solely through our faith in Jesus which itself is credited to us as righteousness.

In the context of this paradigm shift of the new covenant, Paul expounds in the last chapters of this letter how to live with one another in the body of Christ. He is not setting forth a new “law” of behavior, as the Jews might have expected. Similarly, he is demonstrating that life as a Christ-follower is not antinomian, or self-pleasing and lawless. The new standard, instead, is the standard of love—the very righteousness of God.

We would be misreading these practical chapters in Romans if we were looking for new rules to follow or for a new “method” of living. Paul is showing here that the deep, fundamental issue of living as part of the body of Christ is to allow the Lord Jesus to live His life in and through us. This living as an active representation of the Lord Jesus requires us to see our own desires as secondary to the purposes of God.

1 Corinthians 10:23-33 develops the idea summarized in these words: “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial …[or] constructive.” In this passage Paul’s point is that our decisions regarding disputable matters such as food and drink and holy days need to be determined by our brother’s conscience. When we are with a less mature brother or sister, we must refrain from eating or drinking or doing anything that would make them stumble or cause them to sin against their own conscience.

The issue here is not hypocrisy; it is submission. We cannot accommodate a weaker brother or sister’s conscience properly if we are not submitting our rights and privileges to the Lord Jesus. We do not squelch our desires for the sake of another person’s judgment—we surrender them to the Lord Jesus for His glory. Another person’s judgment can be twisted or selfish or manipulative. Instead, we submit our rights and privileges to Jesus, and He reveals to us when they would confuse or compromise a weaker brother—and when that “weaker brother” might be exerting his own manipulative pressure on us.

Paul expands his explanation of how to live with our brothers and sisters in 1 Corinthians 13. In verses 4-7 he says that love is kind; it does not envy or boast, and it is not proud. It’s not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered. It doesn’t “keep score” and remember other’s wrongs. Love never delights in evil but rejoices with truth. It always protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres.

This passage clarifies how we understand our responses to our brothers and sisters. Using the love of God as our standard, we can see that our own egos and desires are always secondary. The purposes of God motivate of our lives. We are to trust God with our feelings and emotions and treat our brothers and sisters with respect, kindness, and patience. We also are to forgive when they transgress against us.

This passage sheds light both on how a strong brother relates to a weaker one, and vice-versa. The sentence, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth,” shows that as believers, we are to be discerning. Loving and pleasing our neighbor for his own good does not mean that we naively allow him or her to pressure or manipulate us for their own “feelings’” sake. Paul’s instruction to us is that we are to protect the other’s conscience, not his or her camouflaged desire for control.

The issues we face with regard to eating, drinking, and other observances are significant when they involve another’s sincere obedience to the Lord Jesus. The command to love, however, is for all Christ-followers—strong and weak. Never are we at liberty to manipulate another based on our own “comfort”. Never are we to insist that either we or they behave in certain ways for the sake of maintaining the status quo.

Love is not self-seeking, and it rejoices in the truth. This fact means that each of us, weak or strong, must submit our understanding and desires to the Lord Jesus, committing ourselves to knowing the truth and personally sacrificing what we must in order to have nothing between Him and us. We can’t ask our neighbor to alter his behavior for the purpose of keeping us happy. Rather, we sacrifice to the Lord Jesus for the sake of the other’s faith.

Romans 14:19-21 stressed the importance of one’s observances and eating coming from faith. Paul doesn’t ask us to adapt our behaviors to accommodate a false gospel or a weak person’s manipulation or comfort. Rather, he asks us to honor the other’s conscience. Approving anything that is a compromise either to ourselves or to another is sin.

Paul’s words in Philippians are a challenge to all believers, strong and weak: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.… For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.”

Paul is pointing out that people naturally look out for their own interests. This self-interest is often camouflaged as piety in those whose identity is defined by anything other than the Lord Jesus. It can be just as much an act of self-interest to attempt to subtly force a spouse to worship, eat, or dress in ways that enhance one’s position and image as it is to insist on one’s right to break all the “rules” and to indulge in whatever one wishes.

We are never to shape our behavior by another’s expectations. Rather, we are to evaluate ourselves on the basis of Paul’s comments in Philippians 2:21: “Everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Our behaviors and decisions are to be made—always—on the basis of serving Jesus Christ. We are never to shape ourselves by a human’s expectations but always surrender our rights and fears to the Lord Jesus. If we are serving Him, the questions of what to approve and how to behave resolve.

We are to make decisions on the basis of faith and subservience to the Lord Jesus. If we submit to Him, we will honor our brothers and sisters. God doesn’t ask us to be shaped by every human demand; He asks us to be shaped by submission to the Lord Jesus and thus by His righteous love and care.


Not to please Himself

Paul undergirds his discussion about our need to bear with the failings of the weak and to accommodate the consciences of the weak in faith by looking to the motives of Jesus who, he said, “did not please himself”. Whom, then, did Jesus come to please?

The Bible reveals a double layer of purpose in Jesus’ ministry. 2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us that Jesus, who had been rich, became poor for our sakes “so that you through his poverty might become rich”. Similarly, Mark 10:45 states, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus’ incarnation was a sacrifice He made in order to save us and to give us hope and an eternal inheritance with God. God the Creator took on the flesh of His own creations and put Himself on their turf, exposing Himself to their self-protective, mortal purposes and manipulation. He knew what they could not know; they not only needed rescue, but reality was far different and bigger than they could see. He came to rescue them from one kingdom and put them into another (Col 1:13).

Matthew 20:24-28 gives further detail about Jesus’ purpose. After James’ and John’s mother asked if her sons could sit at Jesus’ right hand in His kingdom, He told his indignant disciples that, unlike the Gentiles, they had to know that whoever wants to be great must be a servant. Whoever wants to be first must be your slave, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Here Jesus was explaining that he came to serve, not to be served—and this service included dying as a ransom for people who didn’t understand what He was doing.

Paul expounds on this sacrificial purpose of Jesus’ incarnation in Philippians 2:5-8: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

Far from serving Himself, Jesus came explicitly to serve and to sacrifice Himself for the sake of His own creation. There is an underlying foundation to Jesus’ sacrificial attitude toward humanity, though. This foundation is what defines the difference between redemptive ministry and social activism.

In Psalm 69:6-12 David, the kingly father of Jesus and the type of Christ whose psalms prophesied the experience of his own Offspring and Savior, wrote this: “May those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face. I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me. When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards.”

About a millennium before Jesus was born, David described Jesus’ experience as a man on earth. This psalm describes the scorn, shame, shunning, and disgrace that Jesus would experience. It also identifies what would motivate Jesus: “zeal for [God’s] house consumes me.” Further, this passage implicitly states that people’s insults toward God Himself fall on the psalmist and also would fall on Jesus. He endured scorn for the sake of God.

When Jesus came in person, He repeatedly stated His deepest purpose. Jesus was God the Creator, but He lived on earth as a man, enduring and experiencing all the temptations and suffering of His creation. As a man, Jesus did not live by His own wits and perception. Moreover, he did not come as a man to do his own will. In John 4:31-34 Jesus told his disciples who were worrying that He was not eating and taking proper care of Himself, “My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”

Again in John 6:38-39 Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”

Even though He was God, Jesus the man was subject to His Father. As a man living within the confines of space and time, Jesus did not live by His own purpose and grit. While He shared His Father’s purpose to save mankind, He conducted His ministry in obedience to His Father.

Jesus’ primary purpose was not merely to accomplish the saving of humanity. His primary purpose was to do His Father’s will. As a man He had many competing desires and temptations, including the desire to avoid the inexpressible suffering of the cross. He had to live by something more powerful than His own decision and understanding. He had to live in obedience to One He trusted, One who was outside the limitations of the earth and of physical, material understanding.

As a man Jesus depended on God to instruct Him, strengthen Him, and keep Him focused and faithful. While Jesus was fully participating in the decision and work of saving man, His life on earth was driven primarily by love for and obedience to His Father. His purpose of being the sacrifice for sin which His own eternal law demanded was subsumed in His personal obedience and love for God. As a man Jesus had to submit to God and to work for and please Him, not His own purposes.

The foundation of Jesus’ successful propitiation for our sin was His offering of Himself as a living sacrifice to His own Father.

Our consideration of each other and our guarding of our weaker brothers’ consciences is never our primary motive. Our service and social concern is largely ineffective in alleviating suffering and does little to help others achieve better lives unless what we do is an outflowing of submission to God and a willingness to lay down every impulse for good works and every desire for “making a difference” at His cross.

Only when we are willing to let go of our dreams, our good ideas, our impulses for ministry, and our notion that we can make a difference and submit to God alone can our lives begin to yield fruit for the kingdom. God asks us to give up our notions of our own vision and success. We can’t possibly see what others need if our focus is on them.

Focusing on “ministry” is a distraction. Focusing on others’ need or on our own need is a distraction. Rationalizing that we can serve God while compromising our own beliefs or convictions in the interest of avoiding loss or conflict is a deep deception.

Only when we are willing to let go of all our desire to “do” and “serve” and plan ministry and dispense our knowledge and instead submit to God in humility and worship can God’s purposes be accomplished through us.

Jesus accomplished His sacrifice only because He submitted to His Father. He did the will of Him who sent Him. He did not grit His teeth and go to the cross. He submitted to God, honoring Him with His heart and life and obedience, and by His Father’s power He did what God asked Him to do.


By every word of Scripture

In verse 4 Paul comments on his application in the previous verse of Psalm 69:9 to Jesus. The full verse from which Paul quoted says this: “I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.”

Paul, commissioned by the risen Lord Jesus to be His apostle to the Gentiles, is telling us authoritatively that all of Scripture is for our growth, encouragement, learning, and hope. He elucidates this fact of Scripture further in 1 Corinthians 10:6-11. Referring to the rebellion of Israel he wrote, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did-and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did-and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did-and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.”

The Old Testament is only for the purpose of demonstrating God’s discipline against moral rebellion, but it also reveals the basis of salvation and of how we can be right with God. The Old Testament gives the story of Abraham and how he believed God, and his belief was credited to him as righteousness. Not only Abraham, however, was received God’s justification through his faith in God. Paul states in Romans 4:23-24, “The words 'it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness-for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.”

Just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s promise before there was any evidence of its fulfillment and did not “waver in unbelief”(Romans 4:20), so we are counted righteous when we submit our entire lives to Jesus, believing that His blood has paid the price for our sin. Like Abraham, when we trust God even before we see physical evidence, we are justified and counted righteous.

Psalm 102:18 states, “This will be written for the generation to come, [t]hat a people yet to be created may praise the LORD.” And Habakkuk 2:2-3 reveals, “Then the LORD answered me and said, 'Record the vision And inscribe {it} on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.”

The messages given to the Old Testament prophets and writers were not only for their day but also for ours and for the future. In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, Paul uses another Old Testament quotation to illustrate God’s universal revelation of righteous living: “For it is written in the Law of Moses, "YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher {to thresh} in hope of sharing {the crops.}”

Paul explains the role of Scripture clearly in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture Endurance, Encouragement, and Unity

is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

Moreover, the central revelation of Scripture is the revelation of the Lord Jesus who saves us to a life of trusting God and knowing reality. To the people on the Emmaus road He said, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”

We are never to think, however, that studying Scripture will save us. Scripture is only the revelation of our God who saves us. Jesus said to the Pharisees of His day: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”

Paul wrote these things to his Gentile audiences. The Jews knew Scripture was written to and for them; Paul, however, demonstrated that they are also for Gentile believers. Everyone who trusts God and honors the Lord Jesus is heir of the Scriptures and of God’s revelation. The blood of Jesus removed the wall of separation, the law (Ephesians 2:14), and now there is no distinction in God’s eyes between Jew and Gentile. All are called to trust the Lord Jesus for forgiveness and justification. All are called to embrace God’s special revelation of Himself and of His will through His word.

We can insulate ourselves from submitting to the Lord Jesus by barricading ourselves with Scriptural knowledge. If our study of Scripture does not lead us to submit to God and to trust His sacrifice and His promises, staking our existence on Him instead of on our own control, we remain dead in our sins. Scripture reveals God and His will, but the concepts in Scripture do not save us. The Bible is not like literature, open to individual interpretation and personal application. Rather, it reveals the truth of Jesus and the essence of reality. If we do not submit ourselves to the One it reveals and give up our struggle to make Scripture fit our own worldview, it does us no good.

All of Scripture was written to teach us God’s will and to reveal the Lord Jesus as the only way to salvation. It is to the Author of Scripture that we are to submit, not to the words of the Bible themselves. He is the one who makes the word alive and changes us through its revelation.


Endurance, Encouragement, and Unity

As he explains that the entire Bible was written not only for the people of old but for all of us today, revealing God, salvation, and the way we are to live, Paul states that the practical result of living by the words of Scripture will be endurance, encouragement, and unity. The God who encourages us through His revelations is the One who gives us the spirit of unity as we follow Christ.

One caveat implicit in verse 5, however, is that this unity is not among those who are dead in sin. It is unity “among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” If we look throughout the epistles, we find this same theme repeated over and over. Unity is possible among fellow Christians who are submitting to God’s instructions, honoring the Lord Jesus, and treating one another with mutual respect because of the love God has shed abroad in their hearts through the Holy Spirit He gave them (Romans 5:5).

To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:2-4). In this passage he overtly states that there is one Spirit and one body of Christ. All believers are united by God Himself indwelling them, and they share the same hope, the same Lord, the same faith and baptism, and the God and Father. There is no place for autonomous achievement or pride in the body of Christ. We all depend upon and support each other.

Endurance and encouragement are possible in the body of Christ because we share the same goals and hopes, and we are obligated to care for one another because we are literally connected through the Spirit of God, functioning as one organism led by the Lord Jesus as our head.

In Romans 12:14-16 Paul admonished believers to bless those who persecute them, to rejoice with those who rejoice and to suffer with those who suffer. As believers we are to live in harmony with one another. We are not to be proud but willing to associate with people “of low position”, and we are not to be conceited.

Paul appealed to the Corinthians similarly. He reminded them in 1 Corinthians 1:8-10 that God will keep them strong so they would be “blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because He is faithful. He appealed to them that they “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among” them, that they might be “perfectly united in mind and thought.”

In his second letter he further admonished them, “We are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority-the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down. Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor 13:9-11).

The Philippians and the Colossians received similar instruction. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:1-4).

And to the Colossians he wrote, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Peter also had similar instruction for his Jewish audience. He reminded them that Sarah was the model for godly women. She was submissive to her husband; she did right and did not give way to fear. Likewise husbands are to be considerate of their wives, treating them with respect “as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” Everyone, finally, is to live in harmony with one another, being sympathetic, loving each other as brother, and being compassionate and humble.

Paul repeatedly described the attitude a Christ-follower is to have about himself and toward his fellow brother or sister in Jesus. We are to be willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus. We are never to think of ourselves as better, more intelligent, superior, or more deserving of honor than our brothers and sisters. We are not to seek position or notoriety; we are to live peacefully and in submission to one another. We are to consider our brothers and sisters as better than ourselves.

Peter instructs wives to respect and honor their husbands, not giving way to fear. In other words, wives are to trust God, not worrying about what will happen if they trust their husbands. They are to obey God’s direction to honor their husbands as Sarah did, and they can remain peaceful, without fear, as they offer their respect of their husbands to god as an act of obedience to Him. Simultaneously, husbands are to respect and treat their wives with care, realizing that they are physically weaker and need their strength and protection. This instruction in Peter’s epistle is serious, and he warns husbands that if they do not treat their wives with respect and care, their prayers will be hindered.

All Christians are to live in harmony, bearing with one another, remembering that they all are members of Christ’s one body. No one is to lord it over another. Each is to submit him or herself to the words of Scripture and to the mercy of God, living their lives as sacrifices to God, not as individuals deserving of recognition and success.

God calls us to hold loosely all our dreams, rights, and responsibilities. He asks us to be submissive to Him, not attempting to control our lives and relationships through “impression management” or through arrogance or a sense of entitlement. Only God is “entitled”. We have absolutely no intrinsic rights to hold authority or to deserve honor. Our only right is to be called a son of God (John 1:12), and each person in Christ’s body has that same right. Our calling is to submit to God, surrendering every dream, desire, and feeling to Him, asking Him to glorify Himself in us and to plant us deeply in truth and reality. As we honor and worship the Lord Jesus, we will find ourselves coming into a truthful, unified relationship with the people who share our life in the body.


One heart and mouth

Paul has spent a significant amount of this book emphasizing the necessity of those in Christ’s church being unified. He culminates this discussion of bearing with one another by saying this unity culminates in being able to praise God with one heart and mouth. Why is this unity of heart and praise important? Why does Paul make a point of emphasizing united praise as opposed to individual praise?

This call for God’s people to be united in His praise also permeated the Old Testament. Psalm 34:3 sums it up: “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” There is the obvious call to raise massive praise to God, but underneath the duty of honoring one’s Sovereign God, there is a call to each Israelite to join with the others to praise.

The function of and reason for corporate unity and praise is defined more in the epistles. Revelation 1:4-6 introduces God’s letter to the seven churches of Asia. These seven churches were in different cities and were separated from each other by miles. Yet John greets these churches as a composite unit, delivering to them the greeting of “grace and peace” from the Father, the seven spirits [completeness of the Spirit] before the throne, and from Jesus Christ. This greeting reminds each member, even though separated and perhaps strangers to each other, that the same Lord Jesus has loved and saved them by His blood, and has made them corporately “to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father”.

Then John calls them to worship: “To him be glory and power for ever ad ever! Amen.”

Not only John but God, who gave this message, calls the seven church to see themselves as united, as one kingdom and one priesthood. God has not called them to function separately and individually but to see themselves as part of each other, both serving and worshiping the same Lord Jesus.

Paul devotes the book of Ephesians to describing the body of Christ and explaining how and why Christ-followers are to see themselves as one body. In Ephesians 2:14-17 he articulates the mysterious reality that Jesus “is our peace”, that He has “Destroyed the barrier the dividing wall of hostility” which separated Jews and Gentiles.

This barrier Christ destroyed is not a theoretical, abstract racism. The barrier Christ destroyed in His flesh is the law “with its commandments and regulations”. By destroying this barrier in His own flesh, He created “one new man out of the two”. He made peace, not only between man and God but between man and man. In His own body He reconciled them both to God “through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility”. He preached peace to both the Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to Jews, who were near because of God’s choosing them and blessing them with His oracles.

As believers, we have an imperative to see one another as the Lord Jesus sees us: as people He has saved by His blood and reconciled to Himself and to one another. We have no business marginalizing and dividing over issues of theology and culture. We are to defend the gospel, but we are not to divide over secondary matters and issues of law and interpretation. We are each members of Christ’s one body, and we must care for one another and defend one another, honoring and recognizing that Jesus made peace between us, that it is an offense to our Lord Jesus to marginalize and mistreat others in His body.

In Ephesians 3:10-12 Paul further explains the role of the church. We, the whole body of Christ separated by culture, race, and time, are the means of God revealing His wisdom to all creation, “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms”. This means that the church demonstrates to angels, both loyal and evil, and to principalities and powers which we do not fully understand or recognize, the wisdom of God in reconciling sinners to Himself. We demonstrate God’s power and wisdom, by our being able to approach God through Jesus Christ.

Part of this demonstration of God’s wisdom is our own peace among ourselves which Jesus created by dying for us. As the universal demonstration of God’s wisdom, we have no business tearing down what God Himself has built up. We are obligated to honor and defend one another, seeing each other as critically important to our Lord Jesus, sharing with one another the identical Source of life and power. We cannot damage another without also damaging ourselves.

Paul makes an emotional appeal in Ephesians 4:1-6, urging each of us to live “a life worthy of the calling” we have received. We are to be “completely humble and gentle,” “patient, bearing with one another in love.” We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Then Paul tells us plainly, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

We are never to assume that we have “special standing” or more understanding or truth or more critical perception than any other in Christ’s body. We are ONE. We are to build each other up, and the one Spirit who indwells each of us also unites us in Christ and gives us the ability to see each other as vitally connected to Him and each other.

Paul’s instruction in Romans 15:5-6 to glorify God with “one heart and mouth” depends upon our receiving from Him the “spirit of unity”. We are each under obligation to submit to the Lord Jesus and to accept Him as our Head. We are not to see ourselves as autonomous, bringing to Jesus our good ideas and works and offering them to Him. Rather, we are to bring ourselves to the Lord Jesus and offer our own bodies to Him as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We don’t offer our efforts to God; we give Him ourselves.

As we give Him ourselves, we discover that we are part of something much bigger than us personally. We are saved as individuals by the substitutionary blood of Jesus, but we are transferred into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, and we are united by the Holy Spirit into His body with Him as the Head. We are strengthened and helped by one another, and even our praise is greater than the sum of the parts when we are together.

There is no such thing as a “lone ranger Christian”. We are a body, and we are obligated to treat each other as parts of ourselves, united in honoring the One who has transferred us from death to life and has given us an eternal place in His kingdom, eternally united with the rest of the members of His body. Our united praise is far greater and more comprehensive and intense than our personal praise could be.



God is calling you to bear with the failings and weaknesses of those in the body of Christ. He is asking you to surrender your own desires, dreams, ideas, beliefs, and even your own maturity to Him for His own glory. The fact that you may be more qualified or trained or mature in certain areas does not mean you have the right to push forward and assume leadership in those areas.

God assigns our work, and we only truly do the work of the Spirit when we submit our plans and dreams to Him. His Spirit equips us for the work He asks us to do, and our central focus must be on allowing Him to show us His will and to nurture those He brings into our lives both as our leaders and mentors and as those God asks us to mentor. We have to hold loosely even the things God brings to us, because He is the one who leads His own body. We only truly honor Him when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices to Him for His own purposes and glory (Rom. 12:1).

Ask God to show you the areas in which you are self-protective or proud. Ask Him to do in you what needs to be done and to give you humility and a submissive heart so you see yourself as a member of His body, equally important with all the other members. Ask Him to reveal your true identity in Him and to help you surrender your own internal “picture” of yourself and your own autonomy, submitting to His definition of you and to His nurture and growth.

God will make of you more than you can imagine on your own. Who you are in Him is unique, and only He sees the true shape of His glory in you. You can trust Him.



Key Phrases

Failings of the weak

Please his neighbor



Spirit of unity



In chapter 14 Paul went to great lengths to show that issues of food, drink, and holy days should not divide true believers. His foundational argument assumes that he is dealing with true born-again brothers in Christ. He was not allowing for differences in practice resulting from a false understanding of the gospel or for tolerating cultic doctrines or practices. Now, in chapter 15, he continues his admonition to bear with one another, finding endurance through the encouragement of Scripture and through the spirit of unity that comes from God.


1. Who are the “weak”, and what are the “failings” to which Paul refers?

Romans 14:1

1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

1 Corinthians 8:9-12

1 Corinthians 9:22-23

1 Corinthians 3:2-4

Hebrews 5:11-14

Hebrews 6:1

1 Peter 2:2


2. How does one please his neighbor “for his own good” and build him up without feeding pride and ego?

1 Corinthians 10:23-33

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Romans 14:19-21

Philippians 2:4, 21-22


3. ”Christ did not come to please himself,” Paul writes. Who did He come to please, and how are we to understand this statement?

John 4:31-34

2 Corinthians 8:9

Psalm 69:6-12

Matthew 20:24-28

Mark 10:45

Philippians 2:5-8


4. In verse 4 Paul refers to his quote of Psalm 69:9 in verse 3 and of his applying the Psalm to Christ. What truth of Scripture does Paul demonstrate by applying this Psalm to Jesus?

1 Corinthians 10: 6, 11

Romans 4:23-24

Luke 24:44-45

Psalm 102:18

Habakuk 2:2-3

1 Corinthians 9:9-10

2 Timothy 3:16-17


5. How are “endurance and encouragement” related to “unity among yourselves”?

Ephesians 4:2-4

Ephesians 4:11-13, 16

Romans 12:14-16

1 Corinthians 1:8-10

2 Corinthians 13:9-11

Philippians 2:1-4

Colossians 3:12-14

1 Peter 3:5-8


6. How does our praise and honor of God “with one [collective] heart and mouth” bring glory to God in a way different from individuals independently praising Him?

Psalm 34:3

Revelation 1:4-6

Ephesians 2:14-17

Ephesians 3:10-12

Ephesians 4:1-6; 16



7. In what ways is God asking you to bear with the failings and weakness of others in the body of Christ?


8. What is God asking you to surrender to Him for the sake of His glory instead of holding onto what you want for your own satisfaction?


9. In what ways is God asking you to function in unity with the body of Christ instead of as an “independent agent”?


10. Ask God to reveal to you the areas in you that are self-protective or proud. Ask Him to give you humility and a heart of submission to Him so you can see yourself as one member equal to all the others in the body of Christ. Ask God to reveal to you your true identity in Him and to remove your pride and feelings of autonomy, seeing yourself instead as one in unity and interdependence with the rest of the body of Christ.


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