When most people think of Romans, they think of the doctrine of salvation. After all, the most famous personal evangelism plan is called the “Romans Road.” Although many people see the book of Romans for the doctrine it teaches, few people see Romans as a practical guide for living out their faith. Yet from chapter 12 to the end of the book, Romans is full of practical instruction on Christian living.
Here are four of those practical instructions…
1) Put Up With Each Other
In this text, the word infirmity refers to those with a weak conscience, not a weak body. Given the contents of Romans 14, where Paul is speaking about the way people interact on issues of conscience, the verses in chapter 15 are directed to them. You see, in the church there are things which the scripture forbids and things which it allows. But, sometimes in the life of the church there are those whose weak conscience will not allow them to do things which the scripture allows. In those cases, Paul teaches us in chapter 14 to exhibit Christian love and deference (14:15-16). Now in 15:1 he says we that are strong (that is those of us who understand there are things which the bible allows us to do) ought to bear the infirmities of the weak (that is those who refuse to do something, even though the bible allows it, because of their weak conscience).
It’s pretty easy to see here that in the church there are times when we have to put up with each other. There are times when I cannot get my way, and that has to be alright. There has to be times when you don’t get your own way and that has to be alright too.
Isn’t this Christ’s example? When he was criticized and condemned, he put up with it. Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9b, which indicates that Jesus had an easier path – smiting everyone who persecuted him – but he chose to do God’s will instead. Be encouraged by these verses, v.4 says, because through patient endurance and though the comfort of the scriptures, you will have hope! What does this mean? Paul is teaching us that if we practice patience with each other, commit ourselves to finding the comfort in our trials that the word can bring, then we will not lose hope.
Where have you given up hope? Where have you allowed bitterness and cynicism to ruin your joy in the Lord? How have you moved away from people in anger, rather than toward them in love? Where have you sought to build someone up instead of tearing them down? Where have you deferred to someone who is obviously struggling to realize all they are in Christ?
2) Be Like Minded Toward One Another
If you have ever been caught in a conflict with another person and you felt threatened and angry and bothered, and tense, and agitated, you know how challenging such a relationship can be. But, v.5 carries on with the hope we heard about in v.4. Notice something interesting here about the language. In v.4 Paul refers to the patience and comfort you need, and in v.5 he tells you where you get it. In the midst of conflicts in the church, we each of us need to seek God more diligently, more passionately then is our normal habit. In fact, such conflict drives us to God where we should have been all along. Paul says that the God who is patient and who is encouraging will enable you to be like minded – notice this – toward one another. So, although the strong brother, who understands the liberty which is his in Christ, defers to the one who is weak because he does not want to cause him to stumble, the weaker brother has to work on his understanding too. It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, it means we are willing to engage in discussion, interaction, and dialogue to try to get some understanding. If we are unwilling to engage each other in the body, until we can come to agreement, how will the church be blessed and move forward?
You see, as a church we come to praise God together. We open our mouths in praise, with minds focused on God’s truth. Our praise is hindered when we allow matters of conscience to interfere with our interpersonal relationships. It’s easy to do. It’s a difficult thing to keep engaged with each other on sensitive, but secondary issues. But, we come together to praise and worship so being likeminded toward one another is a must! We must be thinking together in order to effectively raise our voices in song.
Ask yourself – have I allowed a matter of conscience to so disrupt my life that I am ineffective in my praise to God? Do I run from facing problems by repeating my problems over and over to people who are no involved in my problem? Do I confidently move forward, trusting in God’s patience and encouragement to guide me? Am I more willing to talk to someone about a problem than to actually address the person involved in my problem?
3) Welcome Each Other
In v.7 Paul says we must receive one another. So to this point we have bear with one another, even when that is tough. We have to work with each other so we are able to establish a common mind, seeing each other’s perspective and working together to see God’s name exalted. Now, we are told in v.7 that we must receive each other. What’s this mean?
I believe Paul is saying that we have a responsibility to be welcoming toward one another. This goes beyond shaking hands and smiling. We must really find a place for each other in our heart. You see, Christ received us. Christ did not maintain an “arms length” relationship with you. Your relationships with others are to be modelled after the way God relates to you in the gospel. Christ received you. You were welcomed into God’s family because of his grace – now why isn’t that grace extended from you to others?
It should not matter to us if someone is of Middle Eastern descent, of African descent, or Chinese descent, or of native Canadian descent! I must be prepared to welcome everyone (read the verses Paul quotes noting God’s work among the Gentiles)! And it shouldn’t matter how much history I have with so and so across the church auditorium. I must welcome everyone!
4) Instruct one Another
Paul now provides us with a context for moving forward. He prays that God – the God of hope would fill them with joy and peace. Instead of tension, frustration and anger over failed relationships and constant arguments, Paul sees God doing a work in the lives and heart of people, filling them with hope – as they trust in him, as they walk with him, and as they yield to him, he fills them with joy and hope, in fact they abound in hope. They have hope for their relationships and hope for those who are weak, in fact, Paul says in v.14 that he sees them as mature, growing saints, practically, intellectually, and relationally. These people were able to instruct each other, able to teach each other. As they lived together in community, they had something to learn from each other – and Paul encourages them as they see this pattern developing.
What’s your relationship with others like in your church body? Is there anyone you avoid? Is there anyone you would rather not speak to? Has anyone gotten under your skin so that you carry around some agitation with that person? Do you have a problem with someone and yet have not spoken to them about it? Do you feel as though you have arrived, and have nothing left to learn? These attitudes do not speak well of Christ. It is my prayer that our church community (and yours too) will become a place where people are welcomes, where people help instruct each other, where people are prepared to do the hard work which relationship involve in order to see the work of God prospered!