Romans (Part 48) – Unity and Humility (15:7–13)
Before continuing on with our Romans 14 discussion, there is another point regarding the atonement that I want to clear up. We understood God to forgive us (our spirits) for sins we have committed, but the cross was required to cleanse our essence (what I have consistently called our physical part). One may ask why God could not simply decree cleansing of our physical bodies. Why did that cleansing require Jesus’s death?
The answer is complicated but, I think, clear. First, we need to hold to our basic understanding that everything is done for love relationship. Thus, even the forgiveness of our spirits for sin did not simply occur because of baseless command. The forgiveness was the infinitely merciful response of God, based on his creative purpose (everlasting love relationship), to our desire to depend on that relationship for life (which in itself was a response to God’s awakening revelation given to us). Our faith—that desire for relationship dependent on God—was the necessary justifying reason for God’s forgiveness response. Therefore, the sin guilt on our spirits could be removed by God only as God had justifying reason to do so. (And this is also why both universalism and Calvinism fail. Both those systems depend on God acting in forgiveness of spirit without justifying reason.)
To remove the sin-induced corruption from our physical essence also required a justifying reason. But this physical essence, not able to hold a spirit/personal desire, could not of its own reach out for relationship. How then can it be cleansed? Of course, only God’s essence—his TGB—can cleanse sin, but God had given this physical essence to us and to our control(Gen 1:26; Ps 8:6). Therefore, it is only the combination of God’s TGB and the righteous human that could cleanse this essence. Thus, it was necessary for God to become human—while remaining God—to live without sin, showing human righteousness (sinlessness), completing that human physical life (by physical death), so as to justifiably cleanse and reclaim that essence through his embodiment as God and human. Without the sinless human life, the cleansing of our essence by the divine TGB would not be justified.
And this is also why Christ’s atonement must apply to all physical creation. Christ’s return at the end of the age will see the removal of those spirits who defy God from all physical essence, departing from God forever. And all physical essence indwelled by Christ—our perfect God and the perfect human—will have the curse removed so as to be forever the dwelling place of God.
Therefore, both forgiveness and redemption (the cross) have justifying reasons, which are founded in God’s creative purpose—everlasting love relationship.
Now back to Romans 14. What we have talked about through the chapter—the accepting of the weak into relationship and then caring for the vulnerabilities of the weak must follow certain guidelines. Again, the specifics for a situation must be worked out by the individual Christian. You must be convinced in your own mind that what you do is the way to honor God and promote his TGB. And in your consideration of that, here are the five major thoughts that Paul offers as you evaluate your heart and behavior:
Guideline 1: Determine that the goal of both the strong and the weak is truly for love relationship with God. Anything less by either party destroys the relational intent. And notice that this requires you to judge others. I know Jesus says not to judge in Matthew 7, but we must recognize context and intent. We see Paul doing a lot of judging both by testimony of Luke in Acts and by Paul’s own writing. Did Paul therefore disobey Jesus? No. We see the difference in Jesus himself. Jesus said in John 3:17 and 12:47 that he did not come into the world to judge, but then he certainly did claim elsewhere the right and obligation to judge (John 5:22, 27, 30). Therefore, we cannot simply assign to the term “judge” any of its possible meanings and consider them forbidden on the basis of Matthew 7. The intent of Jesus is clearly seen. The world was full of sin. Jesus did not come simply to rightly condemn (judge) the world for that sin. Jesus was coming with relationship as his mission. He was going to perform the perfect work of restoration. Yet, that restoration required a dividing—a judgment—of what was for God and what was not, of what constituted the TGB of God and what was opposed to it by clinging to the creature rather than the Creator. That requires judgment. Just so, the mature Christian seeks for God’s TGB. As we recognize in our fellow Christians that shared desire for God’s TGB, we embrace. As we recognize pursuit of other than God’s TGB, we judge them to be wrong. So in seeking for relationship, the first principle (or guideline as here) is to judge not the pursuit of God—not the quality but rather whether it exists.
Guideline 2: Recognize that you hold no authority to judge how someone else should live his or her pursuit of God. Guideline 2 is within the confines of Guideline 1: we do not have the authority to condemn (judge) those who are earnestly pursuing God for the sincere choices they make in that pursuit. We certainly may judge the issues and the actions and be convinced in our own minds. But we cannot take the next step to treat others either as outsiders from God or in such a way as to cause them harm in their relationship with us or in their relationship with God. Interestingly, this idea directly opposes what we may call second degree separation—the separating from a fellow Christian because that Christian is not separating as we believe he or she should from the world.
Guideline 3: Discuss issues freely, but ensure you avoid relationship-harming attitudes, such as criticism and disdain. Again, there is a fine line here, making our intentional interaction among Christians something that must be diligently and meaningfully pursued. We are called to reprove, rebuke, and exhort, but that is impossible to do without hurting each other if we predominantly conduct our relationships on a superficial basis. So as we understand issues, we should speak them, both to help our Christian brothers and sisters advance andto help us in case our own thinking is off.
Guideline 4: Do not use your liberty in such a way as to harm yourrelationship with another. This guideline extends the activity of accepting the other into relationship (Romans 14:1; 15:7) to ensuring the criticism and disdain do not crop up to create an obstacle for continued relationship.
Guideline 5: Take care that your liberty does not tempt a fellow pursuer of God, with whom you have relationship, to act against conviction. And here the legalist in us wants more definition: what can I do; what can’t I do? But each individual pursuer of God must decide his or her actions for the primary sake of relationship.
Chapter 15 begins by encouraging bearing the weaknesses of the weak. Bearmeans to carry. But the concept here is not merely about putting up with or tolerating those weaknesses. Paul gives purpose in it. We are to bear the weaknesses to please our neighborsfor their good, to build them up to strength. The point is not to leave the one weak in knowledge weak in knowledge. In other places the New Testament frowns on those who do not grow (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12, 13). And the predominant view of relationship in the whole Bible is that those who are more able in any aspect of life should always help those who are less able—the vulnerable. This idea, then, requires—to somedegree—the strong to accommodatethe weak but nevertheless to continue to lead and teach to build upthe weak toward strength—not by coercion but rather by guidance.
Paul uses the example of Christ who did not simply exercise his liberty as perfect follower of God for his own purposes but gave himself up for the weak—us—for our mutual benefit. And so Paul continues in verse 5 praying for the endurance and encouragement of his readers toward living in harmony.
With verse 7, Paul restates his opening point to accept each other, but he adds “just as the Messiah also accepted you, to the glory of God.” Perhaps we would read too quickly past that line if he had not added “to the glory of God.” Of course, all is done for the glory of God, but Paul doesn’t add it after every line. So why here?
When we read Scripture, we may often read it as if the writers were talking personally to us. When Paul says, “You,” then, I may slide right along thinking he is addressing me. But Paul did have an audience in mind. And the “you” in verse 7 is the same “you” as in 14:1. There Paul told them (the you) to accept the weak. He must, therefore, have been talking to the strong. But more precisely who are these strong? Just a generic bunch? Were the weak not supposed to be reading this letter?
Thinking back to the beginning of our study, we had determined that Paul’s primary audience were the Roman (gentile) Christians. Recall that Claudius had ousted the Jews from Rome back sometime in the AD 40s. And it was in the late 40s that Paul began his missionary journeys (starting in Galatia). Remember that Paul wasn’t visiting established churches; he was starting churches. The message of Christ and the gospel was only beginning to be spread beyond Palestine, and it was Paul who was largely (almost exclusively) responsible for its spread to the Mediterranean world.
Remember also that when Paul went to a city or area, he would preach first in the synagogues, and therefore his initial audiences were Jews. This activity, of course, made sense since the gospel message was the culmination of God’s revelation through the Jews of his restoration plan. However, it wasn’t until after Claudius’s death in AD 54 that Jews began to start filtering back in to Rome. And Paul’s letter to the already established Roman church came before AD 57. The clear implication, then, is that the Roman church, unlike most of the others, probably began with only Christian Gentiles. It had been only a year or two since Jews (and Jewish Christians) had begun returning to Rome and joining the church there. So the primary recipients of Paul’s letter were the gentile majority.
And that means that the idea of strong and weak (knowledge and lacking knowledge) should be thought of along the lines of Gentile (strong) and Jew (weak), which gives additional meaning to the illustrations Paul used at the beginning of chapter 14. The issues of meat and special days most likely related to the Jewish dietary laws and feast/Sabbath observances. Jews who had the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures as fully integrated in their lives were learning about the fulfillment of the Messiah prophecies in Jesus. But they still weak in knowledge of the liberty that entailed through the Messiah’s fulfillment of all the Jewish law symbolism seemed to be insisting on those laws as they started becoming part of the Roman church. The already established gentiles were resisting based on their understanding of the liberty in Christ. And so the conflict had arisen (just as it had in Ephesus and other places).
That is the reason Paul has been explaining in the letter so far what the Jewish pattern signified and why Christ goes beyond it—for the sake of the OT Jews and also so that the Gentiles would grasp where the Jewish mindset was coming from.
Note that these Roman Jewish Christians who wanted to insist on those Jewish customs of law did not seem to be as those of the “circumcision party” (Acts 15:5; Phil 3:2–3) who appeared to be legalists rather than pursuers of God. These Roman Jews seemed merely confused (weak) because of their lifelong indoctrination in what pursuing God looked like for a Jew. And therefore Paul’s argument in chapter 14 was for both sides of this issue—Gentiles and Jews—to accept each other without criticism and disdain.
In verses 7 through 13, Paul is working on the Gentiles, urging them toward acceptance by reminding them when they were the weak—the vulnerable in relation to the understanding of Christ. Even though weak in knowledge, Paul says, the Messiah accepted them. The Messiah came, becoming a servant of the Jews by confirming the promises made to them, but he did so also for the sake of the Gentiles—that they would be able to “glorify God for his mercy.” And verses 9 through 12 show these promises of Gentiles glorifying God from the Jewish Scriptures.
Paul, then, concludes the section (and actually the whole intentional thrust of this letter) with the benediction of verse 13, expressing God’s desire for them to have joy and peace as they believe, thus overflowing them with hopeby the powerof the Holy Spirit. (Notice the inclusion in this benediction of the faith, hope, and love[HS power] that is the result of God’s revelation.)