“Pleasing Others for the Glory of God”
Series: Not Guilty!
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church Henderson, KY
- Take God’s Word and open to Romans, chapter 15.
Last week we were a little short on time and I had to present a very brief exposition of the latter verses of the chapter. This is by the design of God’s providence, because going back to chapter 14 reminds us that these two chapters go together. The subject of Christian liberty runs from chapter 14 verse one to chapter 15 verse 13.
The Apostle Paul has been addressing the theme of Christian liberty in the churches at Rome. Theses churches consisted largely of two groups of Christians. One group of Christians were ethnic Jews. They had come to see that Jesus Christ was indeed the promised Messiah and had embraced Him as Lord. These Jews, of course, were brought up under strict adherence to the Torah, particularly the Jewish laws of the first 5 books of the Old Testament, laws that included the prohibitions of eating of certain foods, foods considered non-Kosher. The other group of Christians in the early churches at Rome were non-Jews. They were Gentiles who came out of a pagan background. They were not raised under the Torah and so food prohibitions meant nothing to them.
The Apostle Paul identifies these two groups as the “weak” in faith and the “strong” in faith. These titles do not mean that one group has more or less faith than the other, nor even does he mean to stress that one group is “right” and the other is “wrong.” He identifies these two groups of believers with respect to their faith and their conscience. The weak Christian is the Jew, the one whose conscience does not allow him to eat foods from the marketplaces in Rome. The strong Christian is the Gentile, the Roman believer whose conscience does not bother him at all.
The Bible teaches that, with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, all foods previously considered unclean in the Old Testament are now considered clean. Christians are free to eat anything they wish. Paul himself identifies, then, with the “strong” Christians, the Gentiles, whose conscience allows them to eat anything. At the same time, however, he recognizes that the Jews, the ones he calls “weak” in the faith, feel very strongly about not eating certain foods and so he calls for these two groups of Christians to get along. They were not to be looking down their noses upon one another. As Paul puts it in chapter 14, verse 17:
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In some sense, that verse encapsulates the very essence of what will bring these two groups of Christians together. They shouldn’t be dividing over whether one group is right and the other is wrong. These matters of food and drink are non-essentials to the Christian faith. It would be one thing if they were talking about the deity of Christ, or the truth of the resurrection, or something essential to Christian faith and life, but they were arguing and bickering over food and drink. Paul reminds them that Christianity is not about that. Christianity is not about keeping certain laws. Christianity is about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. “Get your focus right,” Paul might have said.
In the remaining verses of chapter 14, Paul teaches that each Christian must act in accordance to his faith and conscience. If you feel uncomfortable concerning a non-essential to the Christian faith—and we identified some of these non-essential activities in previous weeks; watching certain movies, dressing a certain way, the use of tobacco, etc.—then avoid them, but do not condemn others if they feel differently. Each person must act in accordance to his faith and conscience. Also remember, however, that other Scriptures provide guidelines for some of these gray areas and that we must consider our present culture and context before exercising our freedom on these non-essentials.
Bottom line: live in accordance with this important principle Paul lays out in verse 21:
21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
That really is the bottom line, isn’t it? Avoid doing anything that would push people further away from Christ rather than leading people closer to Christ. Now, we are ready to move on to chapter 15.
- Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”
When I studied the text this week, particularly those verses we just read, I was struck by how counter-culture they are. Paul says in these opening verses that we are not to please ourselves. Did you see that in verse 1? We ought not to please ourselves. Verse 2: Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. Verse 3: For even Christ did not please (whom?) Himself.
That is so against the culture of our day! We find it far more easier to please ourselves. We identify more readily with Rick Nelson’s autobiographical chorus in the song, “The Garden Party.”
But it’s all right now
I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone
So ya got to please yourself
That is not what Paul is teaching here in Romans 15! This is quite the opposite. And it’s not that Paul is saying we’re to be these wimpy, spineless pushovers who just allow everyone else to have his or her way. It’s not that. Paul is simply saying, “Look, be loving. Be understanding. Your church is made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Love each other. Don’t insist on having your way. Lovingly stay united on the essential things and show a little grace, mercy, and compassion towards one another on the non-essential things. So Paul teaches here about pleasing others for God’s glory.
Like a two-sided coin, this morning’s text divides neatly into two sections, sections that become for us a call to show God’s mercy to our neighbor and to the nations. So if you’re taking notes, first:
I. Show God’s Mercy to your Neighbor (1-7)
Paul teaches in verse 1 that these two groups, the strong and the weak, need to get along with one another. In fact, he calls upon the strong—those who know that the Bible allows them to eat anything—he calls upon them “to bear” with the scruples of the weak so as to not please themselves. The word “bear” there does not mean, “just put up with them.” It means more like, “really try to understand their position. Love them. Get in their shoes. Get in their hearts. It’s not about you. It’s not about—verse 1—Pleasing yourselves.” It’s about—verse 2—pleasing your neighbor for his good, leading to edification, building up your neighbor not tearing your neighbor down. Show God’s mercy to your neighbor!
This teaching harkens back to chapter 13. Paul was setting up this discussion by laying the groundwork of love. Remember this from chapter 13? Chapter 13:8-10:
8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments…are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul says if we will love one our neighbor we will fulfill all the law of the Old Testament. Who is our neighbor? Anyone God brings to our attention. So Paul takes this teaching now and applies it to these two groups in the church. Your neighbor is sitting next to you. Your neighbor is in the pew behind you and in the pew in front of you. So let each of us please his neighbor for his good.
I read about two churches located within a few blocks of one another that decided to combine and become one large church. It was a great idea, but the problem was that the two churches could not agree on how to recite “The Lord’s Prayer.” One church said they should say, “Forgive us our trespasses” and the other church said they should say, “Forgive us our debts.” The two churches just couldn’t agree and so the local newspaper reported, “One church went back to its trespasses and the other church went back to its debts!” (Kent Hughes)
We do not live to please ourselves, but we live as Paul teaches in Philippians 2:3-4: “in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” This is the mind of Christ! Indeed, that is precisely where Paul goes next in this chapter. Verse 3:
3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”
Paul quotes from Psalm 69, a messianic psalm, that is, a psalm foretelling about the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, “the reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” Jesus was scorned and reproached. But Jesus didn’t return those reproaches. He did not lash out or strike back. Why? Because He did not please Himself. He did not come to this earth the first time for His comfort. He came for others. He lived for others. He died for others. Paul says, “I’m playing the ‘Christ card,’ okay?! I want you to remember how Christ lived and you live the same way, living for others.
I live for myself, myself alone,
For myself and none besides,
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if he had never died.
So Paul brings Jesus into the equation. It’s like He’s saying, “If you call yourself a Christian—a follower of Christ—then you will want to live as He lived, right?” Well He lived for others. Even when people were hurling insults at Him, He continued to place others before Himself, just as taught in Psalm 69.
4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Paul is saying, “Remember your Scriptures! They were written for your learning.” In this case, of course, he is referring to the Old Testament. Read the Old Testament. It was written so that “we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”
Time does not permit our camping out upon that verse, but oh, how important it is! There in verse 4 is a call to read and study and live the teachings of the Scriptures, especially the Old Testament, the part of the Bible to which Paul was referring. Are you reading your Bible through this year? Will you read it through next year? “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of what?—(popular books by the latest faddish Christian?)—no! “that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Read the Bible!
5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus,
6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 5 and 6 are something of Paul’s “wish prayer.” It’s like he shuts his eyes for a moment and speaks from the heart and we’re listening in. He says, “May God grant you to be “like-minded…with one mind and mouth glorifying God.”
He’s not talking about every Christian acting in complete uniformity, as though we were all mechanical robots, all equally talking alike, looking alike, and acting alike. No. He is talking about our having unity in the church. That’s what he’s saying in verses 5 and 6. Church, be united. Love each other enough to show mercy to one another. Don’t insist on having your way. Show some deference to one another. Put the other person first. Then again, Paul plays the ‘Christ card.’” Here it comes, verse 7:
7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
Welcome one another, accept one another, receive one another into your homes and into your hearts, how? Just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
How did Christ receive you? Did Christ come to you and say, “Look, you’ve got to get your act in order, buddy! If you expect me to accept you, then you’ve better get some things together. You’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do, a lot of fixing up to do, before I’m even going to look at you!” Is that how Jesus received you?
No, Jesus comes to us in the depth of our sins, down into the deep, dark grave of our fallen condition, down where we lay dead in trespasses and sins and He lovingly lifts us up out of the grave and takes off the stinking grave clothes of our own righteousnesses. He puts on new clothing—the righteousness of Christ—He dresses us up in His righteousness and lovingly receives us as His bride and He enters into a loving relationship that lasts forever.
Paul says, “Love your fellow church member that way.” Who has offended you recently in this church body? Don’t answer out loud! Love your fellow church member that way. Receive one another, just as Christ also received you, to the glory of God. Show God’s mercy to your neighbor. And the other side of the coin:
II. Show God’s Mercy to the Nations (8-13)
Christianity is not just about those inside this building who look like us and think like us and act like us. Christianity is about God’s redeeming for Himself people “out of every tribe and tongue and nation (Revelation 5:9).” The reach of God’s mercy is wide. The reach of God’s mercy is huge. “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”
Paul inserts the Lord Jesus Christ into this equation and then reminds the churches in Rome that Christ came to redeem people of all nations. He did not come just so that one race of people would be saved and have their own little church full of people who all looked alike and thought alike and acted alike. Christ came to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. Christ came so the church would be full of people of various races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The church is to be comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.
8 Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision (that’s Paul’s way of referring to the Jews, “the circumcision,” the Jews) for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,
9 and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.”
Paul is quoting from the Old Testament to illustrate that Jesus Christ came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies and that He came specifically to fulfill the promise that God is redeeming and saving people of all races in order to bring glory to Himself.
Paul began the book of Romans this way. Remember back in Romans 1:16, the key verse of the Book of Romans? Paul says in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel…for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.”
Paul reminds the churches in Rome that these churches are to be comprised of all peoples. Christ came as a Jew to fulfill the promise of a coming Jewish Messiah, whose mercy would be extended upon all nations, all ethnicities. The word “Gentile” here is the word “ethnos,” from which we get the English “ethnicities.” The Gospel is for all ethnicities. The church is to be comprises of all races, all people groups, all nations. Therefore, we Christians should have a love for people of all races, ethnicities, people groups, and nations. We should have a heart for international missions, reaching the continents for the glory of God.
I have found it exceedingly difficult to convey to others my sense of God’s power as witnessed recently in our mission trip to Southeast Asia. In talking with some folks—and I don’t mean any of you, in particular—but in sharing with some people about our trip, it can be so discouraging. I mean you’re sharing with Christians and you just expect that because they are Christians that they’re going to be interested in hearing about what God is doing all over the world, but there is just a strange sense of missional apathy.
I found many Christians more interested in talking about the marathon I ran two weeks before our trip to Asia. I enjoyed running the marathon, but the marathon is so small, so very small and insignificant, in comparison to being in the presence of brothers and sisters—true heroes of the faith—Christians who for their faith in Christ had suffered the loss of jobs, money, schooling, safety, security and freedom. So many were bound in shackles for days simply for refusing to recant their faith in Christ. We were there! We loved on them. We prayed with them. We encouraged them. We listened in shocked silence as one poor woman shared how her husband had been killed simply for being a Christian. We listened to her cry and sob as she told the story as though it had just happened. And all of these Christians said to us, “Thank you for coming here. Thank you for being with us. It’s so good to know we’re not alone.”
And we come back to our freedom here where people or more concerned about defeating a level on a video game, or posting a comment on Facebook, or whether their team is going to win the big game, and you just feel like something is really wrong, but not in a prideful, holier-than-thou sense. I mean, I know there was a time in my own life that missions just sounded like something other people did. It really wasn’t until about 11 years ago in seminary class when God really began convicting me on my lack of mercy for the nations. And so I’m aware of that and I thank God for the opportunity to lead a congregation to continue showing God’s mercy to the nations.
But you see, this is so frequently in the text, isn’t it? Once God gives you a heart for the nations you can’t read your Bibles without seeing it all over the place. Picking up in verse 10:
10 And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
11 And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”
12 And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
All these Old Testament Scriptures tell of God’s loving worldwide plan to save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The last verse, verse 12, a specific foretelling of the coming of Christ in Isaiah 11. Christ is described as “a root of Jesse.” Christ is the One who came from the father of David in Bethlehem. This is the Christ, the Messiah, “who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, (and) in Him the Gentiles shall hope.” This is Jesus, Savior of both Jews and non-Jews, Jews and all the nations, people from all over the globe, people from Bangladesh and Brazil, people from Mongolia and Malaysia, people from Liberia and Libya.
These are all people for whom Christ died. These are people God created in His image. They are your fellow “image bearers” of God. So show God’s mercy to your neighbor and show God’s mercy to the nations. And Paul ends this section with another wish prayer. He closes his eyes and says in verse 13:
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Twice we read the word “hope” there. New Testament hope is the certainty of God’s blessings in Christ coming to fruition and completion. Whatever God says in His word, you can count on. That’s the idea of biblical “hope.” It is the certainty we have that God will do as He has said. So we look forward with certainty that the promises God has made will indeed come to pass.
Paul says, “May the God of hope fill you—all of you!—with all joy and peace in believing. Why? So that you may “abound in hope.” That is, so that your heart is flooded with this certainty that all God says He will do, namely bringing together Jew and Gentile, people from all the nations, bringing them together for His glory.
In the meantime, what are we to do? Show God’s mercy to our neighbor and show God’s mercy to the nations.
- Stand for prayer.
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