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Bearing One Another’s Burdens
Last time we looked at the principle of the weaker brother. Above all else, stronger believers should bear with the weaker brother, and should never place in his path a cause of stumbling.
Now in Chapter 15, Paul will continue this theme, taking it even a step further. He has higher ground to map out for us. It is a great thing to treat a weaker brother in the spirit of love. But it is greater still to treat him in the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of Christ demands that we take the hard road.
The hard road is, first:
The cross-demonstrating road. Paul says:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Selfishness has no place in the Christian life. Paul is not stating that we should give in to the weaker brother’s desires. Rather, we are to act in a way which will be to his lasting benefit. We will help him carry the cross of his weakness.
The word “bear” means “to carry along” as one might help lift something too heavy for another to carry alone.
Paul reminds us:
For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’
The Lord Jesus lived to serve God, and to serve and help men. He died not just for the strong, but for the feeble and faltering as well. He always went out of his way to bear someone else’s burden. He always went the second mile.
He was patient with Peter when he blundered; with James and John when they wanted to call fire down on Samaria; with Thomas when he doubted; and even with Judas when the blood money jingled in his purse.
Romans 15 not only directs to the cross-demonstrating road, but also to the character-building road.
The Apostle turns our attention to the O.T., pointing out its permanent value. It should be, he says, read and studied because it points to this same character-building road:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Do we find the road of following Christ difficult? This character-building road of shouldering the weaknesses of others? Are we apt to lose patience with the weak brother and his scruples? The antidote is in the Word of God. We must delve into the scriptures regularly to see how God helped others over the hard places. As we do we shall find comfort and renewed hope!
Paul says that we should not only take the hard road, but the high road as well.
May the God of patience and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus…
God is “the God of patience” and that same characteristic is to be among His children. The qualities that make for harmony in the local fellowship of believers are to be found in God himself.
The “high road” leads to rejoicing with other believers, which leads to corporate joy and happiness.
…so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then, too, the high road leads to the receiving of other believers, and consequently hospitality in the local church.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
So then, Paul’s point has come full circle. He began by telling us that God has received the weak brother (14:3). He finishes by reminding us that Christ has received us. With all our own foibles and failures, weaknesses and wickednesses; with all our defeats of character and spiritual infirmities, He has received us. So must we do the same with the failings and faults of others.
Next, Paul brings the main body of his letter to the Romans to a close. First, he will reiterate that Christ became a servant of the Jews to demonstrate the truthfulness of God:
For I say that Christ has become a servant to the Jew on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers.
He then confirmed the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by fulfilling them. Now even the Gentiles can glorify God for the mercy He has shown them. In support of this, Paul quotes four O.T. scriptures:
…and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” (King David in Ps. 18:49)
10 Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” (Moses in Deut. 32:43)
11 And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” (David again in Ps. 117:1)
12 Again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” (Isaiah in 11:1, 10)
In a nutshell: God’s redemptive plan was that through His Son, born a Jew as to His human nature, He might reach out in reconciling love to those of every nation.
The ministry of the Lord Jesus is preserved in us through hope, joy and peace:
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God is the God of patience in vs. 5 and the God of hope in vs. 13. There is nothing hopeless about the Christian life—we have blessed assurance. And there is nothing hapless about the Christian life—we have boundless assistance.
Next, Paul points out characteristics in the brethren worthy of praise.
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
To be a good man is to be the very best kind of man that can be. The goodness Paul is praising is the practical goodness manifested in helpfulness to others, in bearing the burdens of the weaker brother.
But they also were diligent students, “filled with knowledge.” The word for knowledge here is the Greek word gnosis which means “to progress in knowledge by learning, effort or experience.” These good men had applied themselves to learning and studying the great doctrines of the Christian faith, and Paul praises them for their grasp of truth.
Finally, these good and knowledgeable men used their gifts to stir the believers up to their responsibilities. They were “able to admonish one another” which means “to caution or reprove gently.”
The gift of exhortation possessed by these good men is crucial to the church because Christians (and all people) have such a tendency to settle down to a comfortable life. The Christian life is a race to be run, a battle to be fought. It calls for discipline, drive and determination. Hence, we need exhortation.
Next, Paul has a word of explanation about his missionary philosophy. The verses that follow go to the very heart of global evangelism. He begins by explaining his own responsibility before the Lord.
I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Paul was called to minister to the Gentiles and he regarded his ministry in a remarkable light. He viewed himself as a spiritual priest to the Gentiles. While Moses and Aaron had offered up animal sacrifices to the Lord, Paul’s offering was the offering up of the Gentiles as “an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”
APPLICATION: What we do for the Lord might be seen as a “fragrant sacrifice” to God.
Next, Paul points out the reality of what had been accomplished through him. He was not being boastful. Remember, he had once said “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14).
Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written: ‘Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.’”
We see that Paul never rested on his oars. He never kicked back and said, “Time to retire.” Time was too short, the task too great, the laborers too few, and the issues too grave. He saw a lost world, a world which in his day was focused on Rome. And although it was no part of his plane to reside at Rome, it was part of his plan to reach Rome:
This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you.
He has admittedly placed Rome on his itinerary over and again, only to have it postponed until the time was ripe. While Paul planned with care, he never became a slave to his plans and always allowed the Holy Spirit to set them aside for better ones.
When he finally went it was not as a pioneer but as a prisoner. Yet now, we see his determination to yet go:
I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.
But then the Apostle tells when his visit to Rome will fit into his plans. He has a trip eastward before the planned trip westward:
Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. 28 So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.
Very soon after writing this letter to the Romans, Paul left Corinth and took with him a delegation from the various churches he had been visiting, which were sending a financial gift to relieve the poverty of the Jerusalem churches.
Finally, Paul tells why he’s coming to Rome:
I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.
He wanted only to bring a blessing. In Chapter 1:11 he had said as much: “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.”
Finally, he beseeches them to join in the struggle with him. His fight is their fight; his victory will be their victory:
I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.