Romans 15, Part 1
Jan 13, 2011
Romans 15 sums up the principle of toleration.
(1) Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.
Paul was repeating his admonition in 14:1, where he spoke of those "weak in faith" whose conscience would be violated if they ate certain food, whether "meat" in general or unclean meat in particular. It appears from Paul's situation that he had in mind the culture of Judaism and Jewish Christians. It is hard to escape the connection. Paul considered the Judaizers to be "weak in faith," while the Greeks in general enjoyed a stronger faith. As we will see shortly, their weakness was manifested and proven by their intolerance.
His purpose in Romans 14 and 15 was to promote peace between the two groups without actually accusing them by name of fighting over these issues of food and holy days. Paul had already torn apart the Judaizers (in his epistle to the Galatians) when the Greeks were being pressured to undergo circumcision. But in other issues, we ought to be tolerant, Paul says.
Though Paul does not tell us outright which position he lived by, he certainly would not call one group "weak in faith" if he himself identified with that group. He was really admonishing the Greek believers--who presumably were stronger in faith--to tolerate their Jewish brethren.
(2) Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. (3) For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached Thee fell upon Me."
Paul was quoting Psalm 69:9, which says,
(9) For zeal for Thy house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me.
John 2:17 quotes the first half of this verse, while Romans 15:3 quotes the last half. John connects it to the cleansing of the temple, when Jesus appeared to be most intolerant of this temple desecration. When Jesus cleansed the temple the second time toward the end of His ministry, the priests then made their final decision to have Him executed (Mark 11:18).
In other words, the crisis came to a head when Jesus could not tolerate their banking practices in the temple; and the religious leaders could not tolerate Him any more. In fact, Psalm 69 itself is one of the main messianic prophecies of the rejection and crucifixion of Christ. So it is amazing that Paul would quote the verse from this particular psalm to support the idea of toleration.
Yet the portion that he quoted says that the religious leaders had reproached (defamed) God Himself, but they took out their anger upon Jesus. The reproaches "have fallen on me." Jesus came to do the Father's will and to manifest His character. The religious leaders did not approve of such acts or character.
Jesus was willing to die, however, and went as a lamb to the slaughter. In that he did not try to defend Himself against them, Jesus gave us a rather extreme example of toleration. In dealing with Jewish viewpoints which he considered non-essential, Paul pointed to Christ's example of a lamb-like character. Of course, keep in mind that Paul applied this food and holy days, whereas in his letter to the Galatians, he was dealing with essential points of justification by faith alone. Paul was fully intolerant of the idea that a covenant relationship with God required physical circumcision.
(4) For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance [patience] and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (5) 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.
Paul was quoting Psalm 69 to set forth Jesus as our example of perseverance. Seeing how Christ's death worked out for good in the long run, His example gives us encouragement and hope, even in the darkest hour, that all things do indeed work together for good. To be patient with people is to be tolerant of differences. Patience is the ability to persevere as one body without becoming angry or discouraged.
(7) Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. (8) For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, (9) and for the ethnos to glorify God for His mercy. . .
Christ has become a servant to both groups of people in order that they might all praise and glorify God. He is our Example. Tolerant people are those who consider themselves servants of others, for they do not feel insulted or offended when others do not submit to their view of truth.
This ties again into the principle of dispensing clean spiritual food. If we believe that we have a truth that is clean food for others, we are to dispense it as servants, not as lords. The servant mentality allows others to examine the food, chew it by meditation, and gives them the right to decide truth for themselves. As a lord over men, truth must be accepted by all without question, in order to avoid the consequence: "Off with their heads."
Christ died on behalf of both the circumcision specifically and the nations (ethnos) in general. Paul then gives four Scriptures to prove His point.
(9) . . . as it is written, "Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the ethnos, and I will sing to Thy name" [Ps. 18:49]. (10) And again he says, "Rejoice, O ethnos, with His people" [Deut. 32:43]. (11) And again, "Praise the Lord all you ethnos, and let all the peoples praise Him"[Ps. 117:1]. (12) And again Isaiah says, "There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the ethnos, in Him shall the ethnos hope" [Is. 11:10].
Paul's divine commission as a minister to the ethnos (Acts 26:17) comes out here once again, for he cannot help but quote some of the Scriptures he had used so often in his ministry which showed that Christ was the ruler of all nations equally. On account of this commission, Paul had been hated by his old colleagues among the Jews, testifying in Acts 26:19-21,
(19) Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, (20) but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem, and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the ethnos, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (21) For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
Paul knew very well the spirit of intolerance, for he himself had been afflicted with that spirit in earlier times when he persecuted the church (Gal. 1:14). It is interesting how God often puts us on the receiving end of our own actions in order to correct us and to teach us by experience the sad consequences of not having the mind of Christ.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 15." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones