MESSAGE FOR OCTOBER 15, 2000 FROM ROMANS 15:7-13

 

          This morning we come to the end of the section of Paul’s letter to the Romans that began back in 12:1.  After carefully presenting the glory of the gospel in the first eleven chapters, in this section, Paul tells us how the gospel is expressed in the lives of people.  Beginning in chapter 14, Paul applies the truth of the gospel to a particular conflict brewing in the Roman church.  As we have seen, there has been a division in the church at Rome between the Jewish believers in Christ and the Gentile believers.  Many of the Jews Paul calls “weaker” brothers because they were unable to live out the freedom Christ has purchased them with respect to Old Testament food laws.  Even though the cross had liberated them from observing ceremonial laws, their faith was not yet strong enough for them to be feel free to eat restricted foods with a clear conscience.  So Paul tells them that, even though they have been liberated to eat all foods, they should eat only what they can eat in good faith because “anything that does not come from faith is sin.”  He further tells these weaker brothers not to judge the other, predominantly Gentile believers, who are enjoying their freedom to eat all foods. 

          We saw last week that Paul tells these Gentile, stronger brothers that they must “bear with the weaknesses of the weak” and not eat foods that will cause the Jewish believers to stumble when they eat together.  We saw that unity in the church is made possible when we likewise bear with the weaknesses of the weak.  We saw last week, this necessitates that we refuse to live for ourselves, but instead choose to live to be pleasing to others for the purpose of building up their faith.  This will consistently cause us to live outside our comfort zones.  To live in a comfort zone requires no faith and “without faith it is impossible to please God.”   This calls us to live supernaturally because it is not possible for us to live for anyone other than ourselves unless the grace of God gets hold of us and enables us to live for others.

          With that to set the context, let’s read Romans 15:7-13.  Paul says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:  "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name."  10Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people."  11And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples."  12And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him." 13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

            In this concluding text of this section of Romans, the main command Paul issues is “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…”  When Paul commands us to accept one another he is telling us to live as a loving family together, giving the kind of love and concern that is consistent with being in a family.  Only sick, dysfunctional families exclude certain members and it is the same in the church of Christ.  If we will understand and apply this one command to accept one another, much of not only this text, but this entire section dealing with how we are to treat each other, can become a reality for us by God’s grace. What does it mean to accept each other as Christ accepted us?  The statement implies that we are to relate to others in a certain way BECAUSE Christ has related to us in a certain way.  It similar to the parable of the unforgiving servant where the message is that we are to forgive one another because God has forgiven us.  In other words, the way Christ has dealt with us should dictate how we deal with others.  Its as if God has given us a great gift that we are indebted to give others.  We are not to think of ourselves as being in debt to God, but to see ourselves as debtors to each other as we saw in 13:8 where we are told to pay the ongoing debt of love we owe to each other.  A foundational truth that should cause or motivates us to accept others is the fact that Christ has accepted us.  If that foundational truth is not well known and accepted by us, it will be impossible for it to motivate us to accept others.  We see this in so many areas of the Christian life.  The person who truly knows what its like to be picked up out of the dirt as a useless, pitiful sinner is far less likely to look down their noses at other useless, pitiful sinners who haven’t yet been rescued.  It’s our own experience of being accepted by Christ that informs us, equips us and should cause us to accept others.  The implication of this is clear.  You show me a church that knows in their hearts what a wonder it is to be accepted by Christ and who knows how little they deserve it, and I will show you a church that is motivated to accept one another.  Conversely, you show me a church that knows little of what a wonder it is to be accepted by Christ, who fails to appreciate the wonder of God’s accepting grace, and I will show you a church that will have little motivation to accept one another.  Let’s think just for a moment about Christ’s acceptance of us in the hopes of strengthening our motivation to accept others in Christ.

          When Christ accepted or received me before the foundation of the world I had done nothing for him and I could offer him nothing He needed.  Because He is totally sufficient in Himself, I could never give Him anything He needs.  He is a debtor to no one. There was and is no native goodness in me.  If there was ever going to be any love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control in me, He was going to have to put it in me.  He knew that and still, He accepted me.  As we saw in chapter one, the only kind of obedience He accepts from me is the obedience that comes from faith.  He has to give me both the faith and the desire to obey Him so that I can obey Him acceptably. The only things I will ever be able to give Him are things He has first given to me. He knew all that about me and still, He accepted me. 

He accepted me knowing that I was bringing with me a ton of vile, putrid garbage.  I had all the sin of Adam in me—the rebellion, the arrogance, the self-centeredness.  I came into this world as a wicked, God-hating, idol-making rebel.  He knew that in order for me to turn to Him, He would have to wrestle me down as I fought against Him with every ounce of my strength.  He knew that after that initial wrestling match, He would have to, on a regular basis, pin my shoulders to the mat just so I would accept His loving rule of my life.  He knew that.  He accepted me.  There was and is nothing to commend me to Him—nothing good about me except His own image in me which has been horribly tainted by sin.

Finally, think about what was required of Him to make it possible for Him, a holy God to accept me, a sin-drenched, rebel. He would need to hang naked on a cross and endure the crushing, holy wrath of His Father.  He would have to drink the cup of His father’s wrath—the cup I deserved…and He did it…He drank it to the dregs.   He hung on the cross and became sin, pouring out his blood, enduring His Father’s tortuous wrath, so that it would be possible for Him to accept… me.  He, a holy, perfect God who doesn’t need anything I could ever give Him had to pay an inestimable price to accept me, a rebel sinner who is totally dependent upon Him for everything. Do you see how having the ongoing attitude that we are accepted by Christ into His kingdom ONLY because of His scandalous, outlandish, undeserved grace and mercy enables us to accept others who are in the same boat?  How on earth is a believer who understands even a small fragment of what it means to be accepted by Christ going to ever be able to look at a fellow redeemed sinner and turn their nose up at them?  If we are walking around wide eyed, awed by God’s grace and mercy to us in accepting us, do you see how that will motivate us to be accepting of other believers?  To be a sinner accepted by God at the terrible cost of His own Son’s life is the most humbling truth we will ever encounter.  It’s as we find ourselves gloriously humbled by regular meditation on the glory of Christ’s merciful acceptance of us that we will be liberated to accept others.

People who refuse to accept others are operating out of pride, not out of the humility produced by an understanding of what it is to be accepted by God. Think about it. If we will not accept one another, we are showing tremendous pride.  We may very well be communicating that the person we refuse to accept may be alright for God to accept, but not me.  As if our taste is more discriminating that God’s!  Our standards are a bit higher than His.  How arrogant!  Second, if we fail to accept those Christ has accepted, we are implying that there is something in US that is worthy of acceptance, but is lacking in them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We are all dead, beggarly, bankrupt sinners before God apart from Christ.  Who are we to be drawing artificial distinctions upon which to base who we accept and don’t accept?  We’ll accept the ones who have this kind of personality or appearance or background, or talents, but not these.  Our acceptance of each other can so easily be based on what they can offer us.  What a blessed thing Christ did not accept us on the basis of what we had to offer Him.  

For the stronger brothers in Rome, this meant they were to accept the weaker brothers even though they were wrong on the food laws.  Acceptance for the stronger brothers meant surrendering their choice of menu when they ate with the weaker ones.  For the weaker brothers, accepting the strong meant not resenting their freedom from the law or judging them for it.  They had to accept each other as they were.  Paul did not tell the stronger brothers, “Now, as soon as the weaker brothers understand their freedom from ceremonial food laws, accept them.”  No, he said just the opposite—accept them AS THEY ARE and live in sacrificially for them so as not to cause them not to stumble over the baggage of their own weak faith.  For any one of us, we don’t have to look very far for things about us that would make us unacceptable to some people.  These are not moral issues involving sin, they are just differences.  Differences in personality or emotional make up or age or appearance or race or ethnic background or other external factors. 

In the world, there are people who are not the least bit hesitant to take note of those things and, without hesitation, hit the “reject” button on us and we have all experienced the pain of that.  We are simply rejected from being part of their group or social circle.  We may not even be sure WHY we have been rejected, but we know we have.  That’s the way of the world. The sad truth is, the church is often just like the world.  We aren’t sure why we are not accepted by certain believers, but the cold shoulder is there and it feels just as cold and impenetrable as the ones we have rubbed up against in the world.  Paul tells us the church is  to be made up of people who will accept us, period, for who we are.  Not accept our sin, but accept us.  What a slice of heaven it would be to know that there was a place where we could be ourselves with all our weaknesses and weirdness and find acceptance and love, in the same way that Jesus has accepted us!!  This is God’s command to us.  This is the church as Christ intends it to be.  This is what the gospel is like when it is lived out.  This is how genuine living sacrifices of God relate to one another.

The motive for this mutual acceptance of one another is, as we saw last week, the glory of God.  The NIV translates the motive in verse seven as being “…to bring praise to God.”  We should want the church to be an organism that accepts one another NOT because we think, “wouldn’t it be a great thing for the church to be like this” but because when the church is like this God is glorified.  God is glorified when Christ’s church accepts one another because God loves to bring differing groups of people together and be the ONLY explanation as to why they can get along with each other.  God is a reconciling God.  He not only reconciles people to himself, but he reconciles people with each other.  He takes people that would in no way have much in common and unites them as brothers and sisters in His family.  That’s a miracle and when it happens it points not to a sociological phenomena, it points ONLY to God.  Only God can take the young and old, the rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, the black and white, the democrat and republican and unify them because He is the only thing big enough to draw such disparate groups of people together.  Unity and mutual acceptance comes only to a group when there is something or someONE big enough uniting them to cause all their difference to fade into the background by comparison.  When Christ does that in a group of people, it shows how big He is—it glorifies Him.

In verses eight and nine, Paul explains HOW Christ accepting The Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome and bringing together these two diverse groups brings glory to God.  In verses eight through 12, Paul gives four Old Testament texts from the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets to show how God is glorified when Christ accepts sinners.  We can unpack three ways that Christ’s acceptance of people, made possible through the cross, brings him glory.  These texts remind us, as others have in Romans, that the fundamental purpose of Christ’s work on the cross was NOT for our blessing, but for His glory.  This is a God-centered mission, not a man-centered mission.

Let’s look at these three ways God is glorified by Christ’s accepting sinners.  The first way is found in verse eight where Paul says, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs…”  Reason number one why Christ’s acceptance of people glorifies God is:  Christ’s acceptance of the Jews by saving some of them shows God’s faithfulness to his promises to the Patriarchs.  God had, from the time of Abraham promised him that his descendants would be his people and that he would establish an everlasting covenant with them.  Now, for us who live 2000 years after Christ, it may not seem like all that remarkable that God was able to fulfill his promise to save some of the ethnic, national Jews through Christ.  But if we think back to the history of the Jews, we will see the miraculous, sustaining, protecting work God had to do to ensure that He would indeed save through Christ a remnant of the national and ethnic Jews.

These were a stiff-necked people.  They were in bondage to Egypt four centuries and yet managed, by the grace of God to remain a distinct, ethnically pure nation.  Their history, for as long as they were in the Promised Land, is marked by repeated apostasy.  They relentlessly and fervently turned from God and sold themselves to the demonic powers behind the foreign gods they worshipped.  They time and time again allowed themselves to become defiled by the pagan nations around them.  The fact that there remained a pure, unadulterated Abrahamic line through which the Messiah could be born after centuries of defilement with their pagan neighbors is nothing less than miraculous—the sustaining hand of God.  They went into captivity for 70 years and came within a whisker of genocide at the hands of Haman during the time of Esther.  Finally, when Christ came to minister to His people, Satan had so infiltrated the Jewish people that the influential religious leaders lobbied against him, turned his own people against Him and murdered Him.  Yet with all this and much more working against God’s promises—things which repeatedly threatened to make their fulfillment nothing but a fantasy, God’s promises held fast.  Christ, a Jew, a descendant of Abraham has indeed saved a righteous remnant of Jews for Himself.  And He is going to save a whole lot more.  God is glorified because His promises to save the Jews through the seed of Abraham which, so often must have looked utterly unreliable, were in fact faithfully kept by God.

A second way God is glorified through Christ’s acceptance of people is, His acceptance of the Gentiles within the New Covenant in Christ shows forth the breadth of his mercy.  God showed the quality or depth of his mercy as he labored so patiently with the Jews, giving them chance after chance after chance to repent, waiting for them to repent, giving them the sacred law of God, sending them prophets whom they stoned.  This went on for nearly 2000 years and the Jews repeatedly spit in God’s face. Yet, instead of destroying these people, God, in His great mercy, repeatedly spared them from His wrath.  That shows the depth or the quality of His mercy among this small group of people descended from Abraham.  That is what the mercy of God looks like.  But when God opened the door to the Gentiles through the New Covenant in Christ, he showed not just the depth of his mercy, but the breadth of his mercy.  He showed not only the quality of his mercy, but the quantity of his mercy.  In verse nine, the NASB, which is more literal says, “and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy.”

The promise of God to Abraham was that through His seed, “all the nations of the earth would be blessed.”  God has so much mercy to accept sinners that, to show that mercy to only one small ancient near eastern nation would never be adequate.  From the beginning of redemptive history, God had planned to show the breadth of his mercy by opening the door to it to all the nations of the earth.  We should exult in the cause of global missions because as Christ is busy, through the gospel, accepting more and more sinners to himself, the vastness of his mercy is more and more put on display.  His mercy is magnified the more and more sinners He accepts.  As those called to live for his glory—to make that the central purpose of our lives, the magnification of God’s glory through the ever broadening global canopy of his mercy should delight us—should energize us to become more and more a part of His global plan which manifests his mercy in accepting sinners. 

A third way God is glorified through Christ’s acceptance of sinners is that sinners are accepted so they may worship God together.  Notice the texts that Paul chooses here highlights the Gentiles in worship with the Jews.  Verse nine, “I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.  Verse 10, “Rejoice, O Gentiles with his people.”  Verse 11, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you people.”  In verse 12. Paul doesn’t mention overt worship, but he indicates that the Gentiles will worship God implicitly through their submission to Christ’s rule “over the nations.”  Again, we see the glorious purpose in Christ acceptance of sinners is that when He accepts them, they become worshippers of God.  They are placed within the family of Christ-accepted sinners for the purpose of worshipping God together.

If God is magnified through the Old Testament temple and the elaborate sacrificial worship system instituted within one nation, how much more will He be glorified when He shows that He is worthy to be worshipped, not only by national Israel, but by people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  What a glory it will be when this worship is manifest fully around the throne of God as people from every nation surround the throne and cry out, “You are worthy, Our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power,…worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.”  When all those Christ-accepted, redeemed sinners add their voices to the angelic hosts and all the heavenly creatures and the numbers of worshippers is so vast so as to make us feel like a grain of sand on the sea, do you know what you are going to think when you see this great multitude from every nation?  You are going to magnify God because it will be clear to you, as it never has been clear to you, that only HE is worthy to receive the worship of this vast, diverse multitude.  There is no people group who will not be represented in that worship because He is worthy of worshippers from every nation—Jew and Gentile joining in praise of His glorious name.

Now, for application.  First, are we accepting of other believers?  If we are not—if we accept only those who meet certain conditions, then we know very little of Christ’s unconditional acceptance of us.  The degree to which we fail to receive or accept each other is the degree to which we do not understand the cross of Christ.  Second, if you think you have run out of God’s mercy—that He just can’t spare you any more—that you have done something outside the circle of his mercy, you have 6000 years of redemptive history proving that you are mistaken.  God is a God of infinite mercy and we must come to His throne boldly to receive that mercy.  We must never hang back from Him, believing that we are somehow outside of the reach of that mercy.  Read His bio.  That’s not the way He is.  Come to Him in brokenness and boldness and appropriate His mercy.

          Finally, are we motivated to live for the glory of God?  When we think of missions are we excited by the prospect of obeying God to do our  part so that His glory might be seen among the nations?  That His mercy would be experienced by every people group.  If that is not true of us, we must ask God to change our hearts and give us a zeal for his glory that would move us to send our money, our prayers and even ourselves across the oceans to tell people the good news.  And the good news is; Christ is in the business of accepting sinners and turning them into worshippers.  May God give us the grace to be captivated by his mercy in accepting us and to express that mercy to each other by accepting us as we are. 

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