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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:We are to please our neighbours and accept them
Text:Romans 15:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 29
Hymn 11:9
Psalm 69:1,4
Psalm 133
Hymn 65

Scripture reading: Romans 14
Text:  Romans 15:1-7
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When it comes to how we live as Christians, there are areas where brothers and sisters will disagree.  For example, one person will insist that listening to the radio or watching TV on Sunday is breaking the Fourth Commandment.  After all, radio and TV are business ventures and by listening or watching you’re participating in business on the Lord’s Day.  Another person will say that they themselves aren’t working and they’re not really making anyone else work, so what’s the problem?  Those people at the radio or TV station are going to be there anyway, regardless of whether you listen or watch or not.  So why not just listen or watch if you want to?  It doesn’t make any difference and it could actually make your Sunday more relaxing.  Committed Christians land on either side of the question while many others don’t even think about it.

As another example, take the use of alcohol.  One person will insist that Christians should never drink alcohol, because many people abuse alcohol.  Drinking alcohol often leads to drunkenness, many people drink to get drunk, therefore Christians shouldn’t even touch the stuff.  When we see all the hurt caused by alcoholism, it’s obvious that Christians should not drink at all.  Why do anything that might lead to sin?  Another person will say that the Bible certainly does condemn drunkenness, but it doesn’t forbid the drinking of alcohol and in some places even commends it.  The Bible gives us the freedom to drink beer, wine, and whiskey and therefore we can, in moderation.  Again, we find that committed Christians land on both sides of the issue, even in our Reformed churches.

I’m not going to try and resolve those matters for you here and now.  We’re faced with a different question this morning:  how do we deal with such disagreements as brothers and sisters in the church of Christ? 

Such disagreements have always been there in the church.  In the days of the apostle Paul too, believers found themselves disagreeing about certain lifestyle issues.  Paul mentions a couple of the ones facing the church at Rome in chapter 14 of Romans.  One had to do with eating.  Some Christians felt free to eat anything.  Another had scruples about meat for some religious reason and therefore ate only vegetables.  The other example mentioned has to do with days.  It seems that some of the Roman Christians still wanted to observe Jewish holy days besides the Sabbath.  Others saw it differently:  all the days are the same; we don’t have to observe special holy days anymore after the coming of Christ.  These sorts of issues were a source of division in the Roman church.  The believers there didn’t have the maturity or knowledge to deal with these differences in a godly way.  For that reason, Paul lays out the will of the Lord concerning this in chapters 14 and 15.  The teaching found here is from the Holy Spirit and therefore it has abiding value – we can and we need to learn from this too. 

However, before we get into our text, it’s important to keep in mind where we are in the book of Romans.  We’re speaking here about questions of lifestyle, how we live as Christians, specifically how we live together as believers in the church.  However, we can’t look at our text in isolation from everything that’s come before in the book of Romans.  Context is critical.  The first chapters of Romans speak of our sin and misery without Christ.  Paul exposes the universal need for a Saviour.  The middle section of the book outlines our deliverance in Christ.  It’s in the middle section that we find the doctrine of justification clearly taught.  The last section of the book begins in chapter 12.  The last section deals with our sanctification, with our Christian lifestyle in response to the gospel of grace.  Because we are saved by grace alone through Christ alone, we are going to love God and want to thank him by walking in his ways.  So we need to keep in mind that this text is not about us doing anything to earn favour from God.  No one should think that this passage is a list of must-do items that you need to check off in your passport to heaven.  Instead, this is about how we live together as believers on our way to heaven through Christ alone.  This is about how people already redeemed through Christ live in union with him because they love him and want to serve him. 

With that in mind, this morning we’re going to see how the Holy Spirit teaches us to deal with differences in the body of Christ.  I’ve summarized our text with this theme:  Instead of pleasing ourselves, we are to please our neighbours and accept them.

We’ll consider: 

1.      The goal

2.      The pattern

3.      The ultimate aim

Building on his argument from chapter 14, Paul speaks of the strong and the weak in verse 1.  By the “weak,” he means those who have scruples on certain lifestyle issues.  He means those who don’t see themselves as free to do certain things as Christians.  The “strong” are those who do see themselves free and don’t have the scruples.  Now some of this has to do simply with how we perceive ourselves in relation to others.  After all, a person can have scruples in one area, but not in others.  In other words, I might consider you “weak” on one point because you have a scruple, but you might consider me “weak” on another point because I have a scruple.  So these are not necessarily absolute categories – they can shift and they can overlap.

So what are we to do when faced with fellow believers in the church who have lifestyle scruples where we see freedom?  Verse 1 says that we are obliged to bear with the failings of those we consider weak.  We do not attack them.  We do not bully them into thinking our way.  We do not threaten them or insult them.  Instead, we bear with them patiently in love as brothers and sisters.  Love not only covers a multitude of sins, but also a multitude of weaknesses.

When faced with those weaknesses in others, our inclination might be to please ourselves.  What that means is that we might want to do things that build ourselves up, things like defending ourselves and our freedom, things like provoking others by rubbing our lifestyle beliefs in their faces, or things like tearing down the other person to build ourselves up.  Isn’t it true that we have a hard time handling differences in the church?  To be sure, there are some differences in doctrine and ethics that should be serious issues.  Those would be matters that are clear in the Bible and therefore also clear in our Confessions.  But here we’re speaking about ethical matters that are either not clearly spoken of in Scripture or that have a less weighty significance in the Scriptures.  When it comes to those things, we often see ourselves as right and everyone else better get into line with us and if they don’t, then we will mock them, attack them, undermine them, provoke them, gossip about them, and just basically tear them down whatever way we can until we win and they conform.  All of this to build ourselves up, to please ourselves in the words of Paul in verse 1.

Instead of pleasing ourselves, we should look out for the good of our neighbour – that’s what it says in verse 2.  Our goal should be to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person.  What God’s Word is calling for is loving empathy and sensitivity to our brothers and sisters.  We want to please them, instead of ourselves.  What that means is that more than looking to our own feelings, we look to theirs and how we can give them encouragement.

Skipping ahead to verse 7, there’s another part to this.  Paul says, “accept one another.”  As believers, we are to be open-hearted towards one another, welcoming one another with arms wide open.  We don’t let differences over lifestyle issues come between us as brothers and sisters.  Even if we disagree, we should still be able to look each other in the eye and accept one another in Christ as fellow believers.  Behind all of this is God’s will that Christians have harmony and unity together in the church.  Verses 5 and 6 speak of that.  Paul expresses his wish that the Roman believers have a spirit of unity, and they together with one heart and mouth praise God.  If Christians are at each other’s throats over lifestyle issues, the unity of the church will obviously be hindered.

So the reason why we bear with the failings of the weak is to please and accept them, to look outside of ourselves to the needs of others.  But the final goal with respect to our fellow believers is at end of verse 2:  to build him up.  That’s what we want for our brothers and sisters in the church.  We want them to be built up, to be edified and strengthened.  We want them to grow in Christ.  Pleasing ourselves is not the way to do that.  Pleasing the other person and accepting them is.

Now that doesn’t mean that all conversation about our differences has to stop.  There’s a place for believers to engage one another in a loving way about our different views on Christian lifestyle issues.  We can talk about those things respectfully as brothers and sisters.  When it comes to scruples, we can try to persuade one another.  However, we don’t have to let things deteriorate into heated arguments where we can no longer accept one another and where we can only go to the Lord’s Supper with some kind of denial about how we’re really feeling about that other person.  It doesn’t have to be like that.  If we listen to our text, there is a way for Christians to disagree and to bear with one another’s differences in love. 

That way has everything to do with Christ.  That’s my next point.  You see the commands and admonitions of this passage are not just “naked” commands and admonitions, it’s not like they just fall out of the clear blue sky:  “Here, do this, don’t do that.  Period.”  I’ve already mentioned the broader context of the book of Romans.  Paul has already been very clear about how our living as Christians is connected to the person and work of Christ.  Because you have Christ as your Saviour, your life is going to be transformed.  That’s taught for instance in Romans 12:1-2.  That not only comes out in the broader context, it also comes out very vividly in our text itself. 

Look at verse 3 with me.  After giving the instructions in verses 1 and 2, Paul right away goes to Christ as the one who showed the way.  He says that Christ did not please himself.  While on earth, Christ did not build himself up, he did not look out for his own interests.  Instead, Jesus said, that he “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Christ didn’t come into this world in order to defend his own interests; he didn’t come out of self-love.  He came for others.  He came out of love for us, to live a perfect life in our place, to offer the sacrifice that would wipe away all our sins.  Look to the gospel, brothers and sisters, look to Christ, and you see a pattern of self-sacrificial love.  If there was ever anyone who bore with the failings of the weak, it was Christ.  If there was ever anyone who sought to please his neighbour for his good, to build him up, it was Christ.  Our Saviour did these things for us.  If we recognize that, our lifestyle cannot remain unaffected by it.  These gospel truths are going to transform how we respond to the will of God expressed in verses 1 and 2.

Then, still in verse 3, Paul quotes from Psalm 69.  We sang that before the sermon.  Psalm 69 is one of the most quoted Psalms in the New Testament and it’s always applied to Christ.  The New Testament writers clearly regarded this Psalm as prophesying about the person and work of Jesus.  Here too in verse 3.  Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9 and he says that this was speaking about our Saviour:  “The insults of those who insult you have fallen upon me.”  This is meant to have the readers understand the magnitude of what Christ did for sinners.  He took insults and reproaches from those who were really insulting God.  He did that for us.  He did not have to endure this humiliation.  He chose to do it, choosing to please us instead of himself.  Jesus voluntarily went to the cross and bore the mockery of the people, for our good, to build us up, to redeem us.  That’s what Paul is saying with this quote from Psalm 69.  He wants us to look to Christ, see the pattern of his life and death, and then look again at the fellow believers around us.  If we are united to this Saviour through faith and the Holy Spirit, how is that coming out, how is that being reflected?

In verse 4, Paul reminds us why we have the Scriptures.  All these things written so long ago, were written for our instruction.  When Paul wrote this, he was specifically thinking of the Old Testament.  The New Testament was just beginning to come into existence.  The Old Testament Scriptures were written to teach us – now we can apply that to the New Testament as well, but the focus here is on the Old Testament and it’s occasioned by his mention of a verse from Psalm 69.   The Word of God gives us endurance and encouragement, he says.  The Bible is what helps us to persevere as Christians.  The Bible is what encourages us to keep our eyes on Christ and to live out of him.  By keeping our eyes on Christ, we will then also have hope – we can have a joyful and positive attitude towards what lays ahead. 

God is the one who gives us this endurance and encouragement that lead to hope.  That’s what he says in the beginning of verse 5.  God gives us those things through his Word.  He points us to Jesus through the Bible and then also shows us how to live in a way that reflects our connection to him.  Paul’s wish is that there be a spirit of unity amongst believers as they walk in the ways that Christ himself walked – not pleasing himself, but pleasing others.  Looking to the interests and needs of others, out of love. 

Moreover, there is no one who accepted us like Christ did.  In verse 7, the reason Paul says we should accept one another is because Christ has accepted us.  There’s the gospel again.  Christ has accepted you.  Entirely out of grace, he has welcomed you into the family of God.  This is completely because of what he has done in your place.  Without him, you are weak and you are broken.  Without Christ, you are lost and damned, an enemy of the holy God.  Through Christ, the sinner is accepted.  Through Christ, you are welcomed into fellowship with the Triune God.  When you understand God’s grace in this, it has to begin to affect how you relate to the people around you.  That doesn’t mean that you’re automatically perfectly Christ-like.  Sanctification is a process, something in which we have to grow.  The point is that when you get the grace of God in Christ’s acceptance, it can’t leave you untouched.  You’re going to see this as something you want – you want to accept others, because Christ has accepted you.  You want to do it.  Because of the remnants of your sinful nature, you’ll struggle with it.  You may not ever get to a point where you’re satisfied with how you’re doing in this regard, but a true Christian wants to live according to the pattern of Christ, seeks to, prays to, grieves when he doesn’t, asks for forgiveness through Christ, begs for the power of the Holy Spirit to help him with it.

The ultimate aim of all this is also going to be a concern for us as we seek to grow in it.  The ultimate aim is not the good of our neighbour or his edification.  The ultimate aim is not our hope, or even the unity of the church.  All these things are important, but they are all subsidiary or secondary.  The main thing is at the end of each of the two final verses of our text. 

In verse 6, the unity produced by this way of dealing with our differences results in us together glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  When we live in harmony and bear with one another in love, then we can properly worship God together.  Isn’t it interesting how Paul here ties together ethics and worship?  If we live according to God’s will, following the pattern of Christ, it will enhance our worship of God.  The reverse is also true.  If we hear God’s will here and reject it or ignore it, if we rationalize what we do and just keep on doing it, God will not be glorified.  We will be failing in our worship of him with one heart and mouth, also when we gather together for public worship on the Lord’s Day.  

The same point is made in verse 7.  The gospel of Christ’s acceptance of us in grace is designed to bring praise to God.  When we believe the gospel of free grace, we glorify the God who gave us this precious gift.  When we accept one another the way we have been accepted by Christ, the same thing results:  praise for God, glory for his name.  Believers living together in love and harmony is a sweet sight to God.  We will praise him for the fellowship we enjoy together and he will be pleased with the sound of our praises and with the sight of our love for one another.

Why were we put on this earth?  Why is the church here on this earth?  Why have believers been gathered together by Christ into this body we call the church?  There are several secondary reasons that could be mentioned, but the greatest of all, the highest of all, is the glory of God.  The church here is to magnify his greatness, to make much of him.  Brothers and sisters, this is the greatest motivation that the Holy Spirit can offer for you to pay heed to the words in our text.  Christians want to glorify God.  You want to glorify God, right?  Well, one of the ways to do that is by bearing with the failings of the weak in the church on certain lifestyle issues where some may have scruples.  One of the ways to bring to glory to God is by lovingly looking for the good of others, seeking their edification, rather than tearing them down.

Admittedly, this is not an easy teaching to apply.  One person’s trifle is another person’s sacred cow.  It’s not always easy to draw the line; it’s not always to discern what is a clear teaching of Scripture and what is our own conclusion drawn from conclusions drawn from Scripture.  Sometimes we’re even prone to confusing our own opinions with the express will of God.  That’s why I want to add two additional points of application. 

One is that we must all become better students of Scripture.  This is an area in which we all need to grow.  We will need to grow in this our whole life long.  We need to understand the Scriptures and how they speak to us of Christ and his gracious person and work.  We also need better to understand the will of the Lord for how we are to live as Christians.  It’s too easy to take our cues from the world and our own sinful desires.  If Christ is our Saviour, every aspect of our lives has to be drawn into conscious submission to his Lordship – to his Word.  The Word must shape everything that goes on with our hearts, our heads, and our hands.  The only way that can happen is if we are diligent students of the Bible.

A second point has to do with prayer.  We will never be able to apply the words of our text out of our own resources and power.  We depend entirely on the help of God and his Holy Spirit.  We need to humbly ask him to give us the love of Christ.  We need to beg him to make us more like our Saviour in how we treat the people around us.  We need to ask for wisdom to help us discern what are the failings that we can put up with in love and what are the sinful choices which need to be rebuked.  These are not easy things and because they are not easy, we must pray all the more fervently.  We have to ask God to give us a heart of love for our neighbour and most importantly of all, hearts that desire for him to be glorified through the church and our fellowship with one another.

Loved ones, we are all sinners in the church.  It takes humility to really recognize that.  Moreover, we are all different sinners.  We fall short in different ways.  So easily we judge and condemn others for the sins that we don’t struggle with.  Isn’t it true?  When it comes to lifestyle issues where there are a variety of views, we take this practice right along there too.  We too quickly and easily judge and condemn.  This morning, the Word of God has challenged us on this.  Living out of Christ, let us bear with the failings of the weak.  Let’s aim for the good of those around us – because we have Christ as our Saviour, let’s aim for what builds up.  Let’s live in unity and so bring greater honour to our God.  AMEN.        


O gracious God,

We see again that we have a great Saviour in Jesus Christ.  He did not please himself, but suffered insults and mockery so that we could be saved.  We have been accepted by him and through him and for this we love you, and for this we want to serve you and follow your will for our lives.  Please give us more grace with your Spirit so that we can be patient with the weaknesses of other believers.  Help us to bear with the failings of the weak.  Help us to do and say things that are for the good of people around us, that build them up instead of tearing them down.  We pray that you would also give us unity and harmony in our congregation here.  Please help us to truly love one another as brothers and sisters.  We pray all this because we do want to see your Name exalted above all, both in the church and in the world.   Please glorify yourself through us and through our love for one another and our kind gracious spirit towards one another. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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