THE STRONG AND THE WEAK GLORIFY GOD WHEN HELD TOGETHER
BY UNSELFISHNESS AND DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT
Frank Thielman: Main Idea — Both the strong and the weak believers in Rome should repay the debt of love they owe one another by agreeing to worship together and work for the common good of the community. To do this is to follow the example of Christ and of the author of Psalm 69, both of whom took up the cause of another rather than pleasing themselves. . .
Romans 15:1–6 reminds believers that they should bear the scorn involved in unpopular associations with other believers in order to build those believers up and offer praise to God with a united voice. It is a reminder that recalls Jesus’s own deepest concern for his followers.
Thomas Schreiner: The first two verses summarize the exhortation to the strong. They should strive to edify the weak instead of satisfying their own desires. Verse 3 provides support for the exhortations in verses 1–2 by citing Ps. 69:9. Christ did not live to please himself but took upon himself the reproaches directed against God. Verse 4 functions as an aside in the argument. In verse 3 the OT was cited as support. In verse 4 Paul now observes that these previous writings were penned for the instruction of believers in the new-covenant era so that they would have hope. Finally, Paul turns to prayer in verses 5–6, asking God to work so that believers would live in harmony, in order that God would be glorified by their unity.
Warren Wiersbe: Disunity and disagreement do not glorify God; they rob Him of glory. Abraham’s words to Lot are applicable to today: “Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee . . . for we be brethren” (Gen. 13:8). The neighbors were watching! Abraham wanted them to see that he and Lot were different from them because they worshipped the true God. In His prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church to the glory of God (John 17:20-26). Receive one another; edify one another; and please one another – all to the glory of God.
John Witmer: Paul had written that Christians should not despise or condemn others (14:1-12) nor should the hinder the conduct of other Christians (14:13-23). Now he gave a third principle to observe when a believer is dealing with fellow Christians: he is to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was supremely the Person who ministered on behalf of others, not for Himself. It is fitting, therefore, that those who take His name should imitate him.
David Harrell: So, finally, not only are we to
- respect the weak,
- restrict our liberties and
- resemble Christ, but we are to
- rejoice in unity.
I. (:1) ENCOURAGE THE WEAK RATHER THAN FLAUNTING YOUR LIBERTY
A. By Respecting the Weak
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength”
Frank Thielman: For the first time, Paul gives a name to the strong and includes himself within this group. The phrase “the strong” (οἱ δυνατοί) could refer to society’s “powerful” or “influential” members (1 Cor 1:26; Josephus, J.W. 1.242), and the term may carry something of that connotation here. Its clearest reference, however, is to the strength of conviction with which this group feels free to ignore Jewish dietary customs. The strong person “believes in such a way that he eats everything” (14:2), and Paul agrees with this position (14:14, 20). Similarly, “the weak” (οἱ ἀδύνατοι) could refer to “the impotent,” “the poor,” and “persons of no importance” (cf. Job 31:20 LXX), but its primary reference here is to the vulnerability of the group’s faith because it is expressed through dietary observances that are actually no longer in force (14:14, 22).
David Harrell: We do not need preference police and rule Nazis running around in the church. Nor do we need freedom fighters flaunting their freedom and condemning those that don’t agree with them and trying to violate their conscience which will ultimately drive people into a deeper form of Legalism. . .
Bear literally means to lift up, to come underneath and help carry a burden. And in this context we are going not see it carries the idea of respecting those who have sincere views that we may not agree with and help carry them. . .
Beloved, the gospel is the gospel of self-denial, not self-fulfillment. You want to reach the unchurched and do what Christ modeled and what he commanded. Go into all the world and preach the gospel teaching them to observe all the things that the Lord has commanded. See, the gathering of the saints on Sunday morning is for the purpose of transcendent worship and edification, not accommodating those who hate the God that we love. Evangelism is merely a byproduct of what should happen in a Sunday morning service. To claim that this text is a mandate of pragmatism in ministry is to betray not only a profound ignorance of hermeneutics, which is the science and art of biblical interpretation, but it also betrays a staggering misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and the holiness of God. Paul was not a man pleaser. He said in Galatians 1:10:
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
Beloved, I would submit to you that had Paul been preaching a seeker sensitive, contextualization he would have never been stoned. He would have never been left for dead. He would have never been scourged, beaten and imprisoned and finally killed for the sake of the gospel. What we must understand in 1 Corinthians nine and other passages what we see is Paul is making the point that Christian liberty must be circumscribed or restricted by love. That is the whole theme of 1 Corinthians chapters eight through 10 when he addresses the very issues that he is dealing with again now here in Romans 14 and 15 regarding strong and weak brothers.
So Paul saw his liberty in Christ as something to be used for the glory of God, not his own enjoyment. So he was willing to set those things aside if in so doing it would raise the probability that he could share the gospel to the lost and edify those that knew Christ.
David Thompson: The Greek word “bear” is one that means to endure, to lift and to take away. This is more than just a toleration of the weakness; it is an attempt to help take the weakness away. The word “weakness” is a word used for one who is sick and lacks strength as in some bodily deficiency.
What Paul is saying here is that because of the weak person’s lack of true Biblical and doctrinal understanding of the “faith” system (14:1), he is deficient. It is the responsibility of the strong brother or sister to endure the nonsense and work toward lifting that deficiency. Weak people in the faith are sick and they need help, and the strong believer in the church has the responsibility to help.
Now the actual way you help lift the deficiency is by patiently enduring the weakness and by lovingly communicating the truth. This is the responsibility of the strong believer to the weak.
B. By Restricting Our Liberties
“and not just please ourselves.”
S. Lewis Johnson: Strong believers should avoid confirming legalists in their weakness by continually yielding on the things that offend the legalists. It is the responsibility of weak believers to grow to strength, and that can hardly be done if the strong always yield without explanation. Then the life of the body of believers becomes determined by the narrowest and the most prejudiced of its members.
Everett Harrison: As Paul draws the discussion to a close, he openly aligns himself with the strong. They are the ones who hold the key to the solution of the problem. . . “Ought” is not to be watered down as though it means the same thing as “should.” It speaks not of something recommended but of obligation. . . The temptation to be resisted by the strong is the inclination to please themselves, to minister to self-interest. This is the very antithesis of love. For example, were a strong brother to indulge his liberty openly in the presence of a weak brother, this would be labeled self-pleasing, for it would do nothing for the other but grieve or irritate him.
II. (:2-3) EDIFY ONE ANOTHER RATHER THAN LIVING FOR SELF
A. (:2) Unselfish Orientation in Conduct
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”
R. Kent Hughes: If you are prone to judgmentalism and exclusiveness, this is a big pill to swallow. If you are the kind of person who is sure he is right and must have his way, you will not like this at all.
The call here to please others and not ourselves is directed to the “strong”—those who have a broader, more Biblical understanding of their freedom in Christ. This, of course, does not mean the “weak” are exempt from the responsibility of accepting and being patient with the strong, because verse 7 subsequently indicates that both strong and weak are to be accepting. Nevertheless, the greater burden is on the strong. In God’s household strength denotes obligation. An unwillingness to forgo our rights for others indicates we are not so “strong” after all.
B. (:3) Unselfish Example of Christ
- Summary of the Unselfishness of Christ
“For even Christ did not please Himself;”
John Schultz: As in all the gray areas of moral decisions, we must ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do?” Paul would later write to the Philippians: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” In every instance, Jesus went farther than any of us could ever go. He, not only, bore the failings of the weak in the sense that He accepted them, He literally took all our weaknesses upon Himself on the cross and carried them away. In support of his statement, Paul quotes from Psalm Sixty-nine, which contains several prophecies about Christ’s sufferings. The whole verse that mentions the insults reads: “For zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Another prophecy about the crucifixion is found in Verse 21 of that Psalm: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” We may conclude that if Jesus took our failures upon Himself in such an extreme manner, the least we can do with other people’s weaknesses is to endure them. To the Galatians, Paul wrote: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The Greek word, rendered “carry” is bastazo, which means, “to endure.”
- Supporting Scripture
“but as it is written,
‘The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me.’”
Frank Thielman: Paul now grounds the preceding exhortation in the example of Christ and the authority of Scripture. His “even” (καί) implies that had anyone been entitled to please himself, it would have been Christ, the “anointed” (χριστός) king of God’s people. The Messiah, however, was the sort of king who did not exploit his power for his own advantage but, instead, was willing to suffer in order to help others (cf. Phil 2:6–8). This essential unselfishness should also characterize believers in their relationships with one another (Eph 4:32–5:2; Phil 2:4; cf. 1 Cor 10:33–11:1; 2 Cor 8:9). . .
Both Christ and the psalmist acted unselfishly in their willingness to identify themselves with the cause of God and absorb the abuse of God’s opponents. This unselfish willingness to suffer in defense of someone else should characterize the relationships between the weak and the strong in Rome, and particularly the relationship of the strong to the weak.
Thomas Schreiner: Jesus’s passion is the supreme example of one who forsakes his own pleasures to advance God’s honor. The citation is from Ps. 69:9 (68:10 LXX) and matches the LXX exactly, and the LXX in turn corresponds with the meaning of the MT. The psalm relates how David as a righteous sufferer was forsaken by his friends and attacked by his foes. Paul lifts out the verse, stating that reproaches directed against God have fallen on the righteous sufferer, namely, Christ. Since this psalm is typically used in the NT with reference to Jesus’s passion, here it should be restricted to his death. Even though references to the incarnation or earthly life of Jesus are not inappropriate conceptually, they are not the focus here.
John Murray: We may well ask then: how does this feature of our Lord’s humiliation bear upon the duty of pleasing our neighbour in the situation which Paul has in view? It is the apparent dissimilarity that points up the force of Jesus’ example. There is a profound discrepancy between what Christ did and what the strong are urged to do. He “pleased not himself” to the incomparable extent of bearing the enmity of men against God and he bore this reproach because he was jealous for God’s honour. He did not by flinching evade any of the stroke. Shall we, the strong, insist on pleasing ourselves in the matter of food and drink to the detriment of God’s saints and the edification of Christ’s body? It is the complete contrast between Christ’s situation and ours that enhances the force of the appeal. The same applies to all the passages in which Christ’s example is urged and wit h the particularity relevant in each case.
(:4) ASIDE – VALUE OF OT HISTORY
A. Authority of OT Scripture
“For whatever was written in earlier times”
Thomas Constable: Paul used his reference to David’s experience as an occasion to comment on the usefulness of all Old Testament Scripture (“whatever was written in earlier times“). It provides motivation for perseverance and gives encouragement as we seek to remain faithful in our commitment to do God’s will. These Scriptures give us hope because in them we see God’s approval of those who persevered faithfully in spite of opposition and frustration (cf. Heb. 11).
B. Purpose of Instruction
“was written for our instruction,”
Steven Cole: The historical sections of the Old Testament show us how people succeeded through faith and obedience or failed through unbelief and disobedience. The wisdom books (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) show us how to think and live rightly. The Psalms teach us to worship God and how to cry out to Him in prayer in all our trials. The prophets warn us of the devastating consequences of sin and the threat of God’s judgment if we do not repent. They also encourage us with the truth that God will judge those who persist in evil and He will reward the righteous.
Don’t miss the word “written” in our text; it occurs twice: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction….” God saw fit to have His revelation put into written form. This means that to grow in knowing God and His ways, you must become a reader. This implies becoming a thinker and a student so that you can understand the written Word. You must use your mind in dependence upon the Holy Spirit to grow in understanding the truths of the Word. As we saw in Romans 12:2, Paul tells us that the way not to be conformed to the present evil age is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. The fact that God communicated His revelation to us in written form appeals to us to use our minds so that we become biblical thinkers. Don’t neglect reading and studying the Word. . .
This means that if you’re not reading the Old Testament, you’re missing a major source for hope in the midst of your trials. Or if you are reading the Old Testament, but it’s not changing how you think, how you process your trials, and how you feel in the midst of your trials, you’re not reading it rightly. You need the Old Testament because it points you to Christ, who is your sufficiency in all of life. You need it because it instructs you in godly living in the midst of an ungodly world. You need it to give you perseverance, encouragement, and hope in the midst of your trials. I encourage you to make reading the Old Testament a regular part of your time alone with God each day!
C. Process of Perseverance and Encouragement
“that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures”
D. Goal = Hope
“we might have hope.”
Frank Thielman: Paul intends to describe the Scriptures as the source of both the “endurance” and the “comfort” of believers. This understanding of the two clauses receives confirmation in the next sentence (Rom 15:5) when Paul speaks of God as the source of the “endurance” and “comfort” that Paul prays will characterize his audience.
The goal of the endurance and encouragement the Scriptures provide is “hope” (ἐλπίς). Elsewhere Paul connects endurance in the faith despite suffering with the hope of salvation from God’s eschatological wrath (5:3–5, 9). Here in 15:4, however, Paul was probably thinking of the hope that those who believed the gospel had in a future time when all nations, both Jews and non-Jews, would join together in praise of God (15:13).
Thomas Schreiner: The authority of the OT is clearly evident in this statement (see 2 Tim. 3:16). Paul never understood the newness of his gospel to nullify the OT. Indeed, the gospel fulfilled the Scriptures of old (Rom. 1:2; 3:21, 31; 16:26). Not only are the Scriptures a source of “instruction” (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16), but also believers derive “consolation” (τῆς παρακλήσεως, tēs paraklēseōs) from them: the word γραφῶν (graphōn, Scriptures) is a genitive of source. Here the word “consolation” means that believers receive strength and comfort from the Scriptures to continue living in a way that honors God (cf. 1 Macc. 12:9). In other words, something is wrong if one only studies the Scriptures academically and does not regularly receive nourishment and strength to live the Christian life. The purpose of the Scriptures (ἵνα, hina, in order that) is that believers should have “hope.” Once again, the immensely practical role of the OT in the lives of Christians is unfolded. Hope is generated through carefully reading, understanding, and obeying the OT.
We must distinguish between Scripture as a source of instruction and encouragement on the one hand and the keeping of particular covenants contained within the OT on the other hand, in this case the Mosaic covenant with its Law code. Paul believes Christians are not under the Mosaic Law, but this does not mean that he thinks there is nothing to be learned from the OT as a book of prophecy, promises, and instruction. Quite the contrary. He believes the OT is still the inspired word of God and is profitable for teaching and encouragement.
III. (:5-6) EMBRACE GOD’S RESOURCES TO FACILITATE UNIFIED FELLOWSHIP AND WORSHIP
A. (:5) The Gift = Unified Fellowship
“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement
grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus;”
John Murray: These verses are not directly in the form of prayer addressed to God. They are in the form of a wish addressed to men that God would accomplish in them the implied exhortation, an eloquent way of doing two things at the same time, exhortation to men and prayer to God. Without the enabling grace of God exhortation will not bear fruit. Hence the combination.
Thomas Schreiner: Believers should certainly strive for unity, but ultimately it is God’s gift, not a human attainment. Cranfield (1979: 737; cf. D. Moo 1996: 871) wisely remarks that the unity prayed for here is not unanimity on the issues that divide the weak and the strong. Paul is not praying that unity will be achieved via the weak surrendering their unsatisfactory theology. He prays that they will be unified by learning to love and accept one another in the midst of their differences.
John Schultz: We gather from the context of this chapter that “a spirit of unity” does not necessarily consist of uniformity of understanding of truth, but of an acceptance of one another in things that are peripheral.
Thomas Constable: Perseverance and encouragement come to us through the Scriptures, but they are gifts from God. Paul wished that all his readers, both the strong and the weak, would appropriate these gifts and apply them in their interpersonal relationships. The result would be unity in the church.
Everett Harrison: Endurance and encouragement are ultimately God’s gift, though they are mediated through the Scriptures. They tend, however, to be individually appropriated, some realizing them to a greater degree than others. So Paul prays for a spirit of unity (like-mindedness) that will minimize individual differences as all fix their attention on Christ as the pattern for their own lives (cf. v. 3). This does not mean that believes are intended to see eye-to-eye on everything, but that the more Christ fills the spiritual vision, the greater will be the cohesiveness of the church. The centripetal magnetism of the Lord can effectively counter the centrifugal force of individual judgment and opinion. Though this unity will help the church in its witness to the world, Paul is more interested here in its effect on the worship of the people of God – “with one heart and mouth” glorifying the God and Father whom Jesus so beautifully glorified on earth.
B. (:6) The Goal = Unified Worship
“that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Frank Thielman: The thought of the believing community in Rome glorifying “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” together recalls the letter’s opening greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:7). This echo of the letter’s opening may have alerted Paul’s audience that he was beginning to close his discourse, perhaps emphasizing that one important result of the gospel should be the peaceful coexistence of the believing community expressed in its common worship.
James Dunn: Paul looks not merely for a tacit toleration of differences, but for a mutual acceptance which expresses itself in the common act of worship.
John MacArthur: This expression emphasizes the deity of Christ. Jesus is not an adopted son of God; He is of the same essential being and nature as God. This is such an important connection that it appears frequently in the NT (2Co 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; Col 1:3; 1Pe 1:3).