The more I read Scripture, the more I’m struck by how completely counter-cultural its teachings can be. A snapshot of some of our culture’s teachings and values can be found in some of its slogans and exhortations:

Look out for number one;

Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps;

Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing;

Be your own boss;

Find yourself!

Our society values independence from others—and winning—and putting ourselves first. Yet when we turn to Scripture what we see valued is dependence upon God and others—and sharing what we have with those who have less—and using whatever power or influence we may have for the good of others—and placing God and others, not ourselves, first in our lives.

The apostle Paul is clearly following these Scriptural teachings in this passage from Romans 15. Right off the bat in verse 1 he states, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Now in the previous chapter Paul addressed those who were young and/or weak in their faith as he began chapter 14 by stating, “1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters,” and later exhorting “13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” And again, “19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”[1] Being mindful of and caring for a weaker brother or sister is a priority all believers ought to have and display.[2] If there’s a particular activity, even one permitted by Scripture, that nonetheless might cause a fellow believer to fall into or turn to a particular sin, then those who are strong in their faith ought to refrain from it for the sake of their weaker brother or sister in Christ. This is why some choose not to drink any alcoholic beverage—even though Scripture prohibits only drunkenness not drinking—if they believe a fellow believer who may struggle with alcoholism may be tempted to return to it should they see another believer drinking, even if they’re drinking responsibly. Those who are strong are called to be compassionate towards the failings and shortcomings of their weaker family in Christ.

What is more, as followers of Christ, verse 2, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” Given that Paul spoke of not pleasing ourselves in verse 1 and now is speaking of pleasing our neighbors, it’s likely that our neighbor here refers to the weak whose failings we are to bear. This is the other side of the coin of the coin, isn’t it? Not only should the strong not be involved in activities that may cause one with weaker faith to stumble, but they should also do everything in their power to help one whose faith is weak become stronger in it. They should do whatever they can to help build up their faith. How they should do so isn’t spelled out but perhaps it’s by turning to Scripture with them. Or praying with them. Or spending time with them. Or talking with them about matters of faith. Whatever the strong can do to help the weaker brother or sister become stronger in their faith, this they should do.

Next Paul provides the rationale for his teaching in verse 3: “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’” Paul here is applying Psalm 69 to Jesus. The particular verse he is quoting[3] is a portion of a prayer in which David, the psalmist, speaks of being alienated from those around him because of his relationship with God. Listen to part of David’s lament to the “Lord, the LORD Almighty”[4]: “For I endure scorn for your sake, and shame covers my face.I am a foreigner to my own family, a stranger to my own mother’s children;for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.” Jesus’ disciples, if you’ll recall, remembered the first half of this verse, “for zeal for your house consumes me,” when they observed Jesus driving out from the temple courts, with a whip out of cords, those who were selling cattle, sheep and doves, and exchanging money.[5]

But, again, returning to the second half of this verse, “and the insults of those who insult you fall on me,” we see that because of his love for and commitment to the LORD, David had had to pay a price. And here Paul, quite appropriately, applies the second half of this verse to Jesus for all that Jesus did similarly, and to an even greater degree than David, was done to please his Father in heaven. What his Father in heaven cared about, he cared about. Jesus’ priorities were ever in line with those of his heavenly Father. Therefore any insult that fell upon his Father he received as an insult upon himself. This is how strongly Jesus identifies with his Father in heaven even, as we saw a couple of weeks ago, he, the Good Shepherd, also identifies with his sheep.[6] And this is how we ought to care about our LORD and one another: If someone insults Jesus, it is we who have been insulted; if anyone insults a brother or sister in the LORD, again, it is we who have been insulted. As did Jesus, we’re ever to identify with our LORD and with each other for he has made us one with him and each other by his Holy Spirit sent to all who believe in him.

In the end, what pleases our heavenly Father is seeing us adopt and take on the values and ways of his Son as an expression of our love for him and for each other. And the way we can learn how better to love and care for him and one another is by reading, dwelling upon, and praying our LORD’s help by his Holy Spirit in correctly understanding and applying the holy Scriptures he has left us. As stated in verse 4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” We are to read and study the Old and New Testaments that we might learn endurance and receive the hope they provide. For I’m pretty sure that God knew just how difficult life in this fallen world would be. Therefore he gave us his Son—and he left his Word—and he sent us his Holy Spirit—and he gave us an eternal family in himself and each other that we might persevere, that we might endure, to the end.

As Paul goes on to state starting in verse 5, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We cannot by our fallen nature possibly know “what would Jesus do” in any given situation. For even those who have come to a saving faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ still need his Word to learn what God in Christ would have us do; to learn how God in Christ would have us live; to learn who God in Christ would have us become. In other words, we cannot have “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” by virtue of our own strength and will. No, it is God “who gives endurance and encouragement;” it is God who enable us to view each other the way our Lord Jesus did. It is only with God’s help that we, his children; we, his family, will be able to “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” with “one mind and one voice.” And the way in which each of us does this will differ for we all have been given different gifts. But these various gifts are to be used to build up his body. As Paul states elsewhere, “Now you [plural] are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”[7] And because we are one body, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”[8] This is the kind of oneness our LORD seeks. This is the kind of oneness that enables us together, as a body, to “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In verse 7 Paul provides one instance of how we may glorify our Father and Christ’s: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” If God has demonstrated his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us,[9] then who are we not to accept a fellow sinner? Paul was addressing this need for acceptance of others within the broader context of a conflict that existed in his day between Jewish and Gentile believers. As reflected in a well-known ancient Jewish morning prayer, “Thank you, God, for not making me a woman, a Gentile, or a slave.” Now offensive though this prayer may initially appear, it’s important to keep in mind that Jewish men who prayed this prayer were likely expressing gratitude because women, Gentiles, and slaves—unlike Jewish men—were not allowed to participate fully in the community of faith. Yet in his letter to the Galatians Paul stresses just how powerfully Christ’s redemption upsets these cultural norms in saying, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[10] Belonging to Christ takes precedence over everything in that all who are his are called to participate fully in the community of faith. Therefore all—even women, Gentiles, and slaves—can give thanks to their gracious Father in heaven. For though our LORD Jesus Christ came to provide salvation first to his own Jewish people and then to the Gentiles, or all non-Jewish people and nations, these Gentiles were always part and parcel of his plan of redemption. As God promised Abraham that one day all of the nations of the earth would be blessed through him,[11] once God in Christ came to earth, that promise was powerfully fulfilled in him.

As we read starting with verse 8, “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.’” We see then that God intended his blessing to extend even to the Gentiles, even to the nations, not only from the covenant promise he made to Abraham—and later reiterated with Isaac[12] and Jacob[13]—but also in other portions of Scripture as well for Paul here is quoting 2 Samuel and Psalm 18, both of which record David’s song.[14] And in this song of David, it’s made clear that Christ came not only to confirm the promises made to the Jewish patriarchs but Christ also came that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy of which they, too, would be the recipients.

Paul then turns to more Scriptures that similarly point to the inclusion of the Gentiles, the nations, in God’s plan of redemption. In verse 11 he quotes Deuteronomy 32: “And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.’”[15] Christ’s coming, his advent, allows not only the Jews who acknowledged him but also the Gentiles, all peoples who acknowledge him as Savior and LORD, likewise to praise and extol him.

And though Paul was not intending to provide an exhaustive list, he completes this portion of his letter by turning to yet another pertinent Old Testament Scripture in verse 12, “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.’”[16] This is a reference the last verse, verse 10, from our earlier reading from Isaiah 11. The “Root of Jesse” is a Messianic title and Jesus is that Messiah. He is the Christ, the root from the tribe of Jesse, father of David, who offers hope not only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. As stated in the second half of verse 10, “the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”

Well these are but a few examples of what Paul stated in verse 4 concerning Scripture, namely, that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” What greater basis of encouragement and hope can we have but that of knowing that Christ has opened a way for us to be reconciled to our Father in heaven and to each other? As Paul states in the benedictory closing verse of this portion of Romans 15, “May 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.”

Dear sisters and brothers, let us never forget that the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, were given that we might have hope;

and that the God we love and serve is a God of hope who desires to fill us all with joy and peace as we trust in him;

and, what is more, that he wants us to “overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” His Holy Spirit who seals and indwells us is the means, is the One, he has provided that we might overflow with such hope.

This hope—and joy—and peace is the message of advent, of Christ’s coming to earth; this hope—and joy—and peace is the good news that God in Christ came to bring.

For he came to deliver us from our sin into his righteousness;

from our blindness into his sight;

from out darkness into his light;

He came to make us a new creation in himself.[17] And he calls us to become like him by reading and learning and applying his Word. For to become like Jesus,

Rather than looking out for number one we should love our Father in heaven;

Rather than pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps we should love and help and take care of each other;

Rather than being our own boss, we should turn to his Holy Spirit for wisdom and help and encouragement;

Rather than finding ourselves, we should turn to our LORD Jesus who instead taught “whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”[18]

To become like Jesus we need to turn to him so that we might live out the hope we have in him. And we can have confidence that this hope is a sure hope for as John writes in his Revelation Jesus, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.”[19] And his sure testimony is this: “‘I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.’ 17 The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”[20]

Let us pray.

[1] Romans 14:1, 13, 19.

[2] See the example of eating food sacrificed to idols found in 1 Corinthians 8:9–13:Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

[3] Psalm 69:9: for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

[4] Psalm 69:6: Lord, the Lord Almighty, may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me; God of Israel, may those who seek you not be put to shame because of me.

[5] John 2:13–17: 13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

[6] See sermon preached November 24, 2019, On Saving the Sheep! On Jeremiah 23:1–6 (Luke 1:68–79).

[7] 1 Corinthians 11:27.

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:26.

[9] Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

[10] Galatians 3:26–29.

[11] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.2 I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This covenant is reinforced later when the LORD changes Abram’s name to Abraham as recorded in Genesis 17:1–7: 17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

[12] Genesis 26:2–5: The Lord appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions.”

[13] Genesis 28:10–15: 10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

[14] 2 Samuel 22:50: Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.; Psalm 18:49: Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing the praises of your name.

[15] Psalm 117:1: Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.

[16] Isaiah 1:10: In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

[17] 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here!” See also 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

[18] Mark 8:34. See parallels in Matthew 10:39: Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it; Matthew 16:25: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it;

[19] Revelation 5:5: Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

[20] Revelations 22:16–17.