A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on August 28, 2022.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to 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 (Romans 15:1–6).
Although it would seem obvious, let me put it plainly: Christians follow the example of Christ. We are Christ-ians. We look to Christ, finding not only life in him but how to live. For example, teaching the church at Philippi, the necessity of love, fellowship, affection, sympathy, and unity, Paul points them to the humble example of Christ:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:5-11).
From his incarnation to his exaltation, Christ served in the interest of others, above his own, to the glory of God the Father. He, who is our Lord, is our example as well.
Of course, this is nothing new to us, who believe “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Certainly Jesus, in “the form of a servant, being in the likeness of men” perfectly fulfilled his chief end. But what Paul introduces in our passage is an oft-overlooked or ignored aspect of how we glorify God: living in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.
Rarely do we consider our relations as a means to glorify the God we love and serve. But Paul’s prayer is specific: “May the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5 NET). Unity, or harmony, is not an end in itself—It’s for God’s glory!
Bear and build up the weak
Paul aligns himself with the “strong,” meaning those who live in light of all the liberty the gospel grants. For example, in matters of food and drink, the strong know “that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14), that “Everything is indeed clean” (Rom. 14:20). Free to eat what you want, free to drink as you please, what a relief! What a freedom! And Paul is right there. But the liberty of the strong doesn’t negate the liability of the weak. In fact, by virtue of our strength, the strong are obligated “to bear with the failings of the weak.” We must consider more than our personal pleasure, lest we tempt those who are susceptible to sin.
This is not to say that Paul agrees with the weak. On the contrary, he considers the convictions of their misinformed consciences as “failings.” In fact, Paul’s harshest criticism on record is directed toward those who lead the weak into further failings. Perhaps frustrated he confessed to the Galatians. “I wish those agitators would go as far as to castrate themselves” (Gal. 5:12 NET). That’s harsh! But for the Beloved, Paul knows sanctification is not instantaneous. It takes time and patience. He knows we who are strong, have an obligation, not to ourselves but to the weak, to bear with their failings.
Just because you don’t share your brother’s conscience doesn’t mean you can’t be patient with him. This isn’t the equivalent of “grin and bear it,” however, but bear and build up. Life in the church is not one of mere relational endurance but loving engagement: “bear with the failings of the weak,” and “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (15:2).
Paul’s curious inclusion of the title “neighbor” here does not signal a change of audience. He is still addressing the local church. But what his use of “neighbor” probably implies is the necessity of love: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). Your brother and sister in the church are your neighbor too. Love them like Christ.
Practically speaking, how do we love like this in the church? Paul gives us three action verbs: “bear with,” “please,” and “build up.” The Greek word translated “bear with” also means to “pick up” or “take up,” which provides a brilliant picture of love in the church. Often we want to condemn the spiritually immature among us when in reality what they need us to do is walk with them and share the load for a time.
Often this means pleasing others over ourselves. As Paul uses the word here, “please” connotes accommodation, a verb he uses three times: “not to please ourselves” but to “please [our]neighbor,” for “Christ did not please himself.” Even if you don’t share your brother’s personal conviction, you can still please, or accommodate, him. Demonstrating deference, for example, in points of dispute not only dispels anger it also develops Christlike maturity, “For Christ did not please himself” (15:3a). But as the psalmist sings, and as Paul applies to Christ, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (15:3b). As Jesus came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28), he sought not to please himself but to serve others, even bearing their reproaches, to the glory of his Father in heaven. And those ransomed for whom he died, we build up in Christ, notably the weak among us.
Paul’s appeal is not for flattery but edification, to build up. Employing a construction term, Paul uses it figuratively, meaning to improve someone’s “ability to function in living responsibly and effectively.” We are not enables nor should we patronize the obstinate, but we want and work for the best for our brother or sister. This means pursuing the “good,” not just for the weak but the whole church, building up the brethren. And one of the key ways we build one another up is through the Word of God.
Look to the Word with hope
Let me make a bold statement (that I’m prepared to defend): What you believe about the Bible informs and influences what you believe and how you behave. For example, if you believe that the Bible is a collection of wisdom literature containing a mixture of truth, you may find the Bible helpful on a myriad of moral topics but hardly authoritative over the whole of life. But if you believe that “All Scripture is breathed out by God,” (2 Tim. 3:16), you will look to it as the very Word of God as “the rule of faith and life.”
Or, if you consider the Bible an archaic work of religious literature, containing helpful history and gems of wisdom but hardly helpful today, you will struggle to find its relevance in your life. But if you see the Bible as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12), then you will understand that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.
Just as Paul draws from the sixty-ninth psalm to describe Christ’s humble service, so he points us to the whole of Scripture. Certainly, we go to Scripture for various reasons, but Paul lists one for edification: We go to the Word that “we might have hope.” Specific to this hope, we go to the Word and see and learn endurance. This is precisely what the writer of Hebrews does, for example. Starting from the creation account all the way through to Christ, he shows us the faithfulness of God to his people, concluding, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2a).
And with the endurance given, we look to the Word to receive encouragement, or comfort. On this point, I cannot encourage you enough to be in the Word of God daily, systematically working through it. Develop this discipline and you will delight in the Word, not only in reading and studying it but in memorizing and meditating upon it. As the psalmist confesses,
I have stored up your word in my heart,
That I might not sin against you (Ps. 119:11).
In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word (Ps. 119:14-16).
On our recent vacation to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, in the mornings I would sit on the balcony drinking in the beauty of the alpine landscape (and hot coffee!). And as I beheld those majestic mountains, simultaneously in my memory, I beheld a scene of greater grandeur:
I lift my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore (Ps. 121).
And in that moment, I was reminded how trivial my worries are. Though I make them into mountains, my help comes from him who created heaven and earth. And I was reminded that what “was written in former days was written for our instruction,” indeed our encouragement.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). This in itself should give us hope. In an age defined by its trivia, trinkets, and trash, we go not to the world but the Word for everlasting truth. And it is within the Word that Paul directs us, “that we might have hope.” For, we who were previously “separated from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), have heard the truth of the gospel and believed. The hope we have, according to the Word of God, is for the weak and strong, for all who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. And through the Word of God, upon this gospel we are united as Christ’s church, living and glorifying God together.
Live and Glorify God together
This is worthy of our prayers, for ourselves and one another, as Paul prays too: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” We pray that God would grant endurance and encouragement, as he alone is the source of both. John Calvin says, “God alone is doubtless the author of patience and of consolation; for he conveys both to our hearts by his Spirit: yet he employs his word as the instrument.” In the means of grace of Word and prayer, we find our Lord’s gracious provision as his people.
And as his people we pursue the harmony that he gives, remembering that what we pursue is perfectly enjoyed in God. There is no strife among God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, only holy harmony within the one living and true God. As we are the body of Christ, we too are one, living in accord with Christ Jesus, as if one voice.
In a choir, a selfish voice creates dissonance. A submitted voice enjoys consonance. If you can hear one voice above the others, a choir sings not as one voice but a dissonant two. But when every individual submits to one another together, a choir produces the beauty of harmony in one voice. Likewise in Christ’s church, who is composed of many yet sings as one, we submit to one another resulting in harmony, living, singing forth, to the glory of One. May we as Christ’s church, as one voice, sing forth beautiful praise to the One who not only gives us life but also lives that we may glorify him forever.
 Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).
 The Shorter Catechism” Q. 1, in The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Lawrenceville: Christian Education & Publications, 2007), 355.
 Frederick William Danker, Ed., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 171.
 Ibid., 696.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith” 1.2, in The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Lawrenceville: Christian Education & Publications, 2007), 3.
 John Calvin quoted in Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 871.