A Video Update from Devon
Devotional on Romans 15:1-7
When we begin meeting next Sunday, we will need to make some changes with “how” we meet; changes that will impact us all because they have the potential to either unify us or create tension among us, and we must humbly do all we can to avoid the latter.
When Paul wrote the book of Romans, the Roman empire was under the rule of Caesar Nero. The previous Caesar prohibited the Jews from meeting together, eventually expelling them from Rome. Even though laws had relaxed by the time Nero’s began his reign the church was still made up of a majority of Gentile believers when Paul arrived in 60 AD. Many of these believers were either freed slaves or still slaves with customs and “freedoms” that created a significant problem for the Jewish believers in the church. It is a problem that Paul addresses in his letter.
To many, the book of Romans is the Mount Everest of the New Testament because of its exposition, defense, proclamation, and exaltation of the gospel, but it not only proclaims the gospel it also spells out the ethical implications of the gospel for the Christian community particularly in response to the problem we see in our passage today.
Like those reading this letter many centuries ago, these ethical implications of the gospel are clearly defined for the health and unity of the church, much like we see in Philippians, and in particular for our church now as we begin meeting again next Sunday.
Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome were being divided by two issues: food and the observance of the Jewish Sabbath and festivals. This is the context of Romans 14 and the beginning of chapter 15. Gentile Christians had no trouble eating whatever food was available, while the Jewish believers continued to follow ceremonial laws. The Gentile believers also didn’t observe Jewish laws that the Jewish believers in the church observed.
The ceremonial laws the Jews followed were put into place for a temporary period, and a temporary purpose. The gospel fulfilled all the law of Moses, and brought freedom from the ceremonial law God had required the Jews to follow. The Gentiles never lived under the law, and now having come to faith by the gospel were free from the penalty of sin and death just as the Jews who came to faith in Christ were free. However, the Jewish believers had a hard time living in the freedoms of the gospel that Gentile believers had, and so Paul addressed the divisive tone this was setting in the church.
The believers who Paul addresses as “weak” were not the Gentile believers who could eat whatever they wanted, but the Jewish believers whose conscience prohibited them from enjoying the greater gospel freedom that came from knowing Christ. In the following verses Paul addresses both “weak” and “strong” believers.
Although the context of our passage this morning is about “food and festivals,” Jew and Gentile, and how these believers should treat one another when they disagree, it’s principles and application fit well into our current experience. When we begin meeting we will face the prospect, not of “food and festivals,” but in having different approaches about “how” we should gather together. Beginning in Romans 14 Paul gives instructions that will help guide us on how we should treat one another should we disagree on the differing approaches we will face when we begin meeting next week.
[Read Romans 14:1]
The weak in Paul’s thinking are the Jewish believers whose conscience won’t allow them the freedom to set aside Jewish ceremonial laws. These Jewish Christians have spent a lifetime not eating certain foods, and now they are living side by side with Gentile believers who use their freedom to eat any food they want, and that right before their eyes without considering the effect it has on those who don’t have the same freedom.
It is not surprising that in the midst of this pandemic those who do not have concerns about being in large groups or feel the freedom to not wear a mask are offensive to those who do carry a greater concern for these things. Who is weak and who is strong in our context? Some may think that the weak person is the one who lacks faith because they avoid getting close to others and wear a facemask at all times. Others may identify the weak person as the one who lacks compassion and concern for the safety and well-being of others.
But who we view as “strong” and “weak” is not the question that we should give our attention to; rather, the question for us today is this: how do we walk in love and unity when the issues we face are disputable matters?
There is a word that describes this dilemma: “Adiaphora.” It means “indifferent things,” that is, things that are neither right nor wrong, spiritually neutral things. Adiaphora, in biblical terms, would be the “disputable matters” mentioned in Romans 14:1 (the ESV calls them “opinions”). We are not to quarrel over them. Some things are right, because the Bible says they are right; other things are wrong, because the Bible says they are wrong. But some things the Bible neither condemns nor approves. We often refer to these issues as “gray areas” or “matters of conscience.”
Adiaphora is, simply put, the things you can do or refrain from doing.
This is the very concern Paul is addressing here in Romans 14 and 15. How do both the strong and the weak handle a “disputable” matter? He begins by addressing the strong, but he wisely does not leave out how the weak should respond as well.
For our purpose of this morning, we must be careful not to get tripped up by the use of “strong” or “weak”. Strong does not mean “better or godlier,” nor does weak mean “worse or less godly.” It simply means that we have differences of opinion, and in our particular season these differences have the potential to create tension and disunity as we begin gathering together again. How each person or family approaches the many guidelines on social gatherings will differ, and so we must give great consideration to Paul’s exhortation and appeal to “maintain the unity of the faith in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Whether weak or strong, Paul’s greater concern is how we think about others, and how we care for others.
[Read Romans 15:1]
Here Paul addresses the “strong” (those who had a freedom to eat any food) by exhorting them to not please themselves above the care and concern for the believers they fellowship with. He states emphatically that they have an “obligation” to bear with those whose conscience or concern will not allow them the same freedoms that they have. He makes a similar point in his letter to the Galatians.
[Read Galatians 6:2]
In both Romans and Galatians, the word “bear” means not, “to put up with”, but “to carry” the burdens of another. Paul doesn’t mean just bear with one another (“Okay, I’ll put up with this person until they eventually change”), but to carry one another in order to serve them. How then do we carry the burdens of others? How did the Gentile believers in Rome carry the burdens of the Jewish believers whose conscience would not allow them to eat certain foods?
[Read Romans 15:2]
Paul gets right to the heart of the matter in this verse: the Christian believer can never take an attitude of indifference with his fellow believers with respect to the things that are “indifferent.” In other words, the strong need to care for the weak, and seek to please them for their good that they might be built up in matters that are not moral, but simply differences of opinion.
Those who have a liberty or freedom have the freedom not to use that liberty. The moment we feel we have to exercise our freedom or liberty is the moment we lose it. The moment we say, “I must be free to exercise my freedom” is the moment I am in bondage to pleasing myself first. Paul appeals to us to use our freedom to serve others rather than ourselves because this will build up the church rather than tearing it down.
[Read Romans 15:3]
Paul does here what he so effectively did in Philippians 2, namely, he holds up Christ as our example and turns our eyes towards him who is the perfect example of pleasing others for their good. Jesus did not seek to please himself rather than his Father by remaining in heaven, but emptied himself by becoming a man, bearing our burden, feeling our pain, taking on our suffering, and dying in our place. All of the reproach that we rightly deserved because of our sin he bore on our behalf. All of our weakness was covered by his strength that he might bring us to God.
While for Jesus to not please himself meant that he suffered and died for our sins, all we are asked to do is not please ourselves above others in areas that are not of eternal importance.
[Read Romans 15:4]
How does this verse fit into Paul’s conversation about serving and pleasing others? He has just quoted Psalm 69:9 to instruct these believers on how they are to be like Christ, and here in verse 4 he speaks of the purpose of scripture; it brings endurance, encouragement, and hope to us in every situation. Especially ones where we find life difficult.
[Read Romans 15:5-6]
Paul prays for these believers that through the instruction of God’s word they will have endurance and encouragement granted to them so that they would “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is it brothers and sisters. Unity for the sake of God’s glory. One voice, together, in accord, and with one another. This is what true worship looks like in the church.
[Read Romans 15:7]
Paul ends where he began. For the glory of God, whether strong or weak, welcome (or accept) one another just as Jesus accepted you when you were unacceptable, all for the glory of God.
Next Sunday, we will be together again after eleven weeks of being unable to gather. Let’s seek to please one another and seek the good of each other doing all we can to be patient by using whatever freedom we have to serve and please others for the glory of God.
Come ready to celebrate dear friends!
Listen or Sing to These Songs
A Prayer Guide
Thank God for his unchanging character and faithfulness and that he is the one whose sovereign hand is in control of every circumstance we face.
Pray through the list of prayer requests that Nora sent out this morning
Ask God to give us increasing humility in the coming days for the sake of our unity in Christ and our witness to the world.
Thank God that soon all the pain, sickness, loneliness, and tears will all be over when Jesus Christ returns for his bride. Ask the Lord to come quickly.
A Sermon to Listen To
Take some time today or this coming week to listen to the below sermon from 1 John 4:7-21 from Devon.