Welcome One Another (Romans 15:1-7)
Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 15:1–15:7
Welcome One Another
(One Body: Love One Another)
August 10th, 2014
I. Aspects of the New Commandment
This morning we are going to continue exploring that central theme that God revealed to us last week in the Gospel of John.
Last time we described the church as a “master-planned community”; ultimately, the only true master-planned community because there is an incomparable master and planner over this community: Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lords of Lords.
And just like any community, the church has rules that regulate how people live together. But ultimately, to be precise, there is really only one rule for the relationships in this new community, the rule from which every other community rule springs. It is the new commandment that Jesus announced in John 13:34: “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
You see, love is present in many kinds of communities throughout the world. But only the church is called and empowered to love one another with the love of Jesus Christ, that self-emptying love that was so perfectly displayed on the cross where Jesus gave Himself for us.
Now last week we were able to talk a little bit about what it means to love one another. But we need to go deeper, in both out understanding and practice of this new commandment. As we’ll see this morning, there are many aspects, many expressions of this new rule for a new community.
Over the course of the next three Sundays, I want to listen to the Apostle as He points us back to Jesus Christ as our model for living in this master-planned community called the church.
Turn in your Bibles to Romans 15.
II. The Passage: “As Christ has Welcomed You”
Let’s begin this morning by looking at the aspect, at the expression of the new commandment that is revealed in here in verse 7. Listen…Paul writes:
Therefore welcome one another as [or “just as”] Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
“Welcome one another”. What does it mean to “welcome one another”? And is this really related to the new commandment to “love one another”? I think as we come to understand what it means to welcome one another, we will discover that it really IS an expression of loving one another.
One thing that points us toward that conclusion is that this command and the new commandment are both explicitly grounded in the same standard: “just as”... “just as Christ”. Additionally, this section of Romans is filled with the call to love one another:
Love one another with brotherly affection. (12:10)
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (13:8)
He talks about “walking in love” in regard to a Christian brother in 14:15.
But what does it mean to welcome one another? And how do we welcome one another?
Maybe the application of this instruction is to have one really great greeting ministry. We could be welcoming each other with a big smile, good eye contact, and warm handshake or embrace. Maybe that’s a good way to follow this instruction.
But I think all of us have the sense that as important as a good greeting ministry is, there is something more profound involved in this command to “welcome one another”.
A. The Term: “Accept” (15:7)
And maybe a good place to start in understanding this instruction is with the main term itself, “welcome”. If you are using a different Bible, you’ve already noticed that this word is translated differently in different Bibles. Almost every English translation uses one of three words to translate this Greek word, “proslambano”. It is rendered either “welcome” or “receive” or “accept”.
How do we decide which is the best rendering? We have to let the context help us. And when we do, I believe we will find that the term “accept” is the word that we should begin with in order to understand what Paul is saying here.
So what do we know about the context?
B. The Pattern: Christ (15:7)
Well, first, if we look at verse 7 again, we see that our accepting or welcoming is qualified by the example of Jesus Christ.
Therefore welcome [or accept] one another as [or “just as”] Christ has welcomed [or accepted] you…
Our acceptance of one another must be based on the example of Jesus’ acceptance of us. So how has Christ accepted us? Well, the first 11 chapters of Romans explain this acceptance:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (5:1, 2)
As Paul makes clear in the first half of this book, we have been accepted by Christ because we have been redeemed by His death. And this is a result, not of anything in us that deserved this redemption, but purely because of the grace of God.
So we could say that we are to accept one another in grace, just as Christ accepted us in grace.
C. The Context: Forward (15:8-12)
But what about the immediate context here in Romans 15? What does it tell us about this acceptance? Listen to what comes just after our main verse. But let me begin with verse 7:
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
The emphasis is hard to miss here, isn’t it? Paul gives his readers no less than four different Old Testaments quotes that confirm God’s design to bring non-Jewish people into His covenant community.
You see, probably the biggest struggle in the early years of the church, in so many churches, was the tension between Jewish and Gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) Christians. You see this very issue popping up throughout this letter. It’s not surprising, of course. For over a thousand years the Jewish people had been called by God to be set apart: in their dress, in their diet, in so many of their customs and practices.
But unfortunately, this distinction soon inspired pride in many Jews, which led to disdain for the Gentiles. This haughty disgust was clear to everyone, for as the Roman historian Tacitus observed about the Jews, “they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies.”
Since they believed the nations were unacceptable to God, many often treated them as unacceptable.
But as Paul makes clear here, through faith in Jesus Christ, God has accepted the Gentiles.
Even though the nations were like wild olive branches, through Jesus, they “were grafted in among the others [the Jews] and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree” (11:17), that is, they now share in the covenant blessings of being God’s people.
So within the church, among those who had received the grace of God through Christ, there should no longer be divisions driven by such distinctions. As Paul told the Galatian believers:
There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (3:28, 29)
So the disciples in Rome were being called in Romans 15:7 to accept one another as fellow members of God’s covenant community, just as Christ accepted them without partiality.
D. The Context: Backward (14:1-4)
But there’s even more that this context can show us about the meaning of “welcome” or “accept one another”. If we go backwards instead of forward in the text, we discover that Romans 15:7 actually marks the conclusion of an earlier issue that Paul was addressing. Look at Romans 14:1-4:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome [or “accept”-proslambano-same word from 15:7…welcome] him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed [accepted] him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
We see that the struggle here was between those who were “weak” in faith and those who were “strong” in faith. But what does Paul mean by these terms?
Well it appears that there were some in the church, mainly Jewish Christians, but probably not exclusively, who were still holding to the dietary restrictions of the Mosaic Law because, for whatever reason, they did not believe that God had freed them from those restrictions. That is why these believers are called “weak in faith”.
Since these Jewish Christians were in Rome and probably ostracized from the Jewish community in that city, they usually couldn’t be sure whether sanctioned meats had come from a pagan temple. So many simply became vegetarians.
Notice that Paul is not addressing any issue here of a works or law-based gospel. If these “weak in faith” Christians believed that their diet resulted in righteousness before God and somehow secured their standing before Him, Paul would have been quick to confront such false teaching; just as he did with the churches in Galatia.
But that doesn’t mean that these issues were not important. The issue of freedom from the law’s dietary restrictions was important enough that God gave Peter a vision in Acts 10 that God had cleansed all things, all food and all peoples.
Look, the common mistake when it comes to Romans 14 is to believe that Paul is talking here about ‘gray areas’. But that isn’t true. These were not gray areas. Our liberty from Mosaic food restrictions was a black and white issue.
Paul knew this. As he states in Romans 14:14, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” Paul spoke in similar terms when it came to festivals and Sabbaths.
So we’re not talking about agreeing to disagree when it comes to unclear issues. The bulk of what Paul is talking about here is addressing the “strong”, addressing those who were technically right. But their rightness wasn’t resulting in respect.
Those who were “strong”, those that believed what God had said about freedom from food laws, were judging, were despising, they were treating these “weaker” brothers and sisters with contempt. They were insensitive toward their convictions and impatient with their restrictions.
But in the same way, as 14:3 makes clear, those who were continuing to live by the law’s restrictions, those “weak in faith” were judging the “strong”, those who were walking in the freedom of the new covenant.
So as Paul instructs the strong here, “welcome” or “accept” the “weak”. And as he implies for the “weak” in verse 3, “accept” the strong for God has “accepted” him. Which brings us right back to 15:7, where Paul begins to wrap up this section: Therefore accept one another as Christ has accepted you, for the glory of God.
So what Paul is saying here is that through Jesus Christ, God accepts all who come to Him in faith, no matter the strength of that faith, no matter the ethnicity or heritage of the one who believes. These brothers and sisters in Rome needed to accept that very reality: that they were brothers and sisters in the family of God, that they were fellow members of God’s covenant community.
You see, that’s why I think we should begin with the translation “accept”. Because all of us can think of ways in which we or others have not been “accepted”, and the consequences of such prejudice. When a teenager is not “accepted” by his or her peers, they are treated like an outsider; they are rejected. When African-Americans in the South were not “accepted” as fellow human beings and citizens, they were segregated and oppressed.
All of us, at some point, in some circumstance, have felt like we were not “accepted”. All of us know the sting of such ostracism.
But when you accept the reality that another human being is not only your equal, but also a member of your family, a fellow heir of life, a needed part in the body of Christ, it has to change the way you treat that person. It has to bring you back to the new commandment.
If we are to “love one another” then we must “accept” one another in this way. And when that kind of acceptance takes place in your heart, then outwardly, the result is that you “welcome” others into fellowship with you. But what does this look like in real life? What should this look like among us, among the family of God here at Way of Grace?
III. Applying the Command (15:1-7)
Listen to the whole section here that concludes with 15:7. Starting in 15:1…
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 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. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Do you see how everything Paul is calling them to in this passage begins with the “acceptance” that he began with in 14:1 and ends with in 15:7? He’s telling them that when they accept one another, when they “welcome” one another with open arms as brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what that loving embrace should look like.
When we truly accept one another, our differences don’t become reasons for divisions, they become opportunities for service and sacrifice. When we truly welcome one another as fellow citizens of God’s community, then our differences drive us, not to focus on those non-essentials that might separate us, but to look to the common love for Jesus Christ that unites us.
If we’re honest, just like in Rome, we shouldn’t minimize differences that exist among us here at Way of Grace. All of us come from different backgrounds, with different experiences, from different income levels, with different interests, with different ways of talking about things, with different opinions on current issues.
We might come with different sensibilities when it comes to living the Christian life. Like those in Rome, when it comes to certain issues, some of us might lean toward the side of freedom, while others of us might lean toward the side of restraint. We might have different ideas about raising children. We might have different ideas about media, or politics, or issues in the church like music, or dress, or giving.
Those, and many other differences, do exist. And so if we acknowledge the reality that there are and will always be differences, then we must ask the more critical question: “Are the differences between me and another Christian causing me to judge that person in such a way that I am, whether consciously or unconsciously, whether directly or indirectly, treating that person with indifference, neglect, or maybe even contempt?”
Brothers and sisters, the reality that there are differences among us should not discourage us. Every community of people has differences. But what will distinguish the church? The church should be the very place where such differences cause us to look to Jesus Christ as our standard because we have accepted on another as fellow servants of Christ.
When differences arise in your family, you always know that there is something stronger holding you together in spite of your differences; there is a commonality that compels you to love that person in the midst of differences.
Over the next two weeks we are going to talk more about how these realities work themselves out in the church as we seek to obey the new commandment of Christ. But it must begin here. It must begin with the issue of whether or not we accept, whether or not we welcome one another in Jesus.
I understand that sometimes WE do not feel accepted by others. But we can’t change that, can we? The instruction here is not, to “feel accepted by one another”. No, all we can do is obey this command, and thus model this kind of acceptance to others.
But as we spend so much time talking about the reality of differences, we need to remember that Paul was working from the premise that there was so much more uniting these disciples in Rome; there were realities so much bigger than their differences that held them together.
I believe he reminds them of these realities when he prays for them in verses 5 and 6, of chapter 15. He says:
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; 6 that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you see what Paul is calling them back to here? Do you see the basis for their unity? It is two things: it is desire that they would unified according to Christ Jesus, and that they would be glorifying God together. This is where we must begin as a church family. Is it our desire to live “according to Christ Jesus” (v. 5)? Do we want to bring glory to God in all things?
That is the basis of our acceptance! If we are not beginning with these two principles, there will be no grounds to accept one another, there will be no real unity, there will be nothing that enables us to get past the differences in the pursuit of love.
Do you want to strengthen the church this morning? Do you want to nurture unity among God’s people? Then desire to live “according to Christ Jesus” and to bring glory to God in all things. And as you do, welcome others who have the very same heart, in spite of whatever differences there may be in the non-essentials.
When we do this, we are, in love, opening the door of love, in order to walk in obedience to the new commandment of Jesus.
And what will that mean in terms of those on the outside, those who are not yet part of the “one anothers”? I believe that when we accept, when we welcome one another, the world will see the “acceptance”, the “welcome” of God.
Unlike most master-planned communities may our appeal, our attractiveness, not be based on our amenities, perks, or anything else on the surface. May those around us see the welcoming love of Jesus Christ in us as we welcome one another in grace.