The stronger brother is chided not to abuse his Christian freedom toward the weaker brother (Romans 14:13-21), for what does not proceed from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). Apart from faith, everything a person does is tainted with sin and, thus, not perfect enough to merit anything before God. So, we turn to Christ to understand what the Christian life should be like between the strong and the weak.
Learning from Christ: What Not to Do
Read Romans 15:1-2
- What two ways of response are the strong to do for the weak? (vs. 1)
- How strong of a word does Paul use to make his point?
“obligation”: Greek, opheilo. Though a noun in the ESV, this is a verb in the Greek, meaning indebted, what someone must do, or owe.
- What is the motive for what the stronger does for the weaker? (vs. 2)
Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek vengeance or bear a grudge against your own people, but love your neighbor as yourself, for I am Yahweh.
Read Romans 15:3
Psalm 69:9: For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
- Because of what Christ did for us, how does that shape the stronger brother in his life toward the weaker brother?
- The Psalm quotation uses “reproaches” (insults). What does this reveal about what the stronger Christians (the Gentiles) may be receiving from the weaker (the Jewish Christians)?
Read Romans 15:4-6
Here, Paul builds on 1 Maccabees 12:9, adding “endurance”: “We have as encouragement the holy books that are in our hands.”
- What is the purpose of Scripture (in this case the Old Testament) for the stronger brother as he relates to the weaker? (vs. 4)
- Who is the source, through what “was written in former days,” of this endurance and encouragement?
“to live”: Greek, phroneo, “to think.” Of course, someone’s thinking will cause him “to live” a certain way. The point, however, is focusing on the cause behind how someone lives, not only the results. The focus on where, whether inside or outside, makes sense. For the Jewish Christians brought with them a results-oriented view. “The end justifies the means”—if you are righteous enough on the outside, you can please God. A “deeds not creeds” thinking misses the mark, for our “creeds lead to our deeds,” our thinking leading to our doing.
Jesus tells us, “What goes into a person from the outside does not defile him. No, what comes out the person is what defiles him” (Mark 7:15). The inside is what taints the outside. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). The change on the inside, to one’s thinking, comes from God (Romans 15:5).
If people in a group all “think the same way,” hold to the same confession, each will try to be strong and bear the weaknesses of others. This is the thinking “according to Christ Jesus.”
- What is the result of such thinking? (vs. 6)
Excursus: Psalm 69 and Christian Suffering and Sacrifice
In Psalm 69, David, the writer, speaks of identifying with the Lord (vs. 7, 9a), which leads others to insult God and causes him much anguish. From David’s mouth arises a complicated cry of despair in mortal agony, but also a determined faith. In Christ’s fulfillment of David’s words, a Christian will still receive insults but will bear them for the benefit of “the neighbor” (Romans 15:2).
In the agony of David endured, the psalm points forward to Jesus. The promised Savior shows Himself to be someone who loved others and obeyed His Father, which exposed Him to insults and violence, leading to His death. Like David, Jesus also identified with God—our salvation. Like David, who cried out for the Lord’s “steadfast love” and “saving faithfulness,” so also is the Father for us through His Son (Psalm 69:13).
The implication is this: Those who consider themselves followers of Christ should also be willing to sacrifice their “strength” (Romans 15:1). For Jesus set aside “the form of God” (Philippians 2:6) and “being rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9) for the well-being of the “weak.”
So, Psalm 69 shows our Savior’s sufferings as part of a divine plan. The Son will obey the Father, which will lead Him through death to be exalted and enthroned as Lord (Philippians 2:8-11). With Jesus leading the way, the Scripture encourages the believer during his suffering and sacrifice because we are united to Christ (Romans 6:3-5) and “co-heirs” with Him (Romans 8:17).
The Father’s saving work, revealed in His Son, tells us our travails are not in vain.
- Not only this, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, knowing affliction can produce endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope [Romans 5:3-4].
- Now, if [the Father’s] children, we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so we may also share in his glory [Romans 8:17].
The connection may not be obvious, but Paul wants to deliver a message to the “strong.” In Scripture’s revelation of Christ, the sacrifice Paul is asking “the strong” to make for the “weak” is not meaningless. For “the God of endurance and encouragement” enables Christians “to think in such harmony,” and Psalm 69 reveals, “God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah” (Psalm 69:35).
Through what we do, we live in the eternal hope attached to all suffering done in Christ (Romans 8:18). For such hope roots itself in what the Father does for us in His Son, which we live out, united to Him in His torment, death, and resurrection.
Learning from Christ: Do
Paul now switches from addressing “the strong” to include everyone in the congregation at Rome through his use of “one another.”
Read Romans 15:7
- What are Christians to do with one another?
“welcome”: Greek, proslambano. Here, Paul uses an imperative, a command. Proslambano means to receive or accept someone into one’s circle of friends, acquaintances, or home.
- What is the result?
Read Romans 8-9a
“became a servant”: Greek, deacon. Jesus became a “deacon,” to serve others through His saving work. The perfect tense in the Greek gegenesthai (became) points to the enduing nature of this service. Not only did Jesus become a deacon to His people, he also continues to be so. The point is this: What Jesus did to serve us did not only take place in the past but continues now, in the present, implying He comes to bring His salvation to us even today.
- By Jesus coming to serve the circumcised shows what about God?
- For God’s truthfulness to be lived out in Christ meant what?
Paul now brings in four quotations from the Scriptures, the Old Testament, to affirm what he asserts.
Read Romans 15:9b-12
Psalm 18:49: I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations [MT, goyim, pagans; LXX, ethnasin, Gentiles], and sing to your name.
Deuteronomy 32:43: Rejoice, all nations [MT, goyim, pagans; LXX, ethnasin, Gentiles], with his people.
Psalm 117:1: Praise the Lord, all nations [MT, goyim, pagans; LXX, ethnasin, Gentiles]! Extol him, all peoples [MT, amim, peoples; LXX, laoi, peoples]!
- Earlier in Romans 15:8-9, Paul mentioned God’s “truthfulness… mercy.” In the Greek, these words are alatheia and eleos, which do mean “truth” and “mercy.” The Septuagint uses “truthfulness” for the Hebrew emeth, “faithfulness.” The Hebrew chesed, “a faithful, enduring love in action” becomes “mercy.”
- Psalm 117:2 is, “For great is his steadfast love [LXX, eleos, “mercy”] toward us, and the faithfulness [LXX, alatheia, “truthfulness”] of the Lord endures forever.” If we follow the flow from the Masoretic Text into the Septuagint, we find God’s enduring love leads Him to treat us with mercy. His faithfulness and truthfulness become inseparable. If He is faithful, He is being truthful; if He is truthful, He is also faithful.
Isaiah 11:10, Masoretic Text:
In that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples [yam, peoples]; the nations [goyim, pagans] will seek him, and his dwelling will be glorious.”
Isaiah 11:10, Greek Septuagint:
In that day, the root of Jesse will rise to rule the Gentiles [ethnon, Gentiles]: in him the Gentiles [ethna, Gentiles] will hope, and his dwelling place will be honorable.”
There will be a root of Jesse, and he will rise to rule the Gentiles [ethnon, Gentiles]: in him the Gentiles will hope [ethnon, Gentiles].
- Paul quotes from the Law (Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Isaiah), and the other writings (Kethuvim, the Psalms). What is he trying to achieve through these citations?
- If Jesus didn’t come also for the Gentiles, what does that mean about what He did to the Jews?
Read Romans 15:13
Romans 8:23b-24: “…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?”
Hope = “the redemption of our bodies”
- How does the hope we have fill us with joy and peace?
- What is crucial to have this hope?
To keep Paul’s flow of thought intact in Romans 15:41-21, we now stop.