serm0755, Relating To Fellow Believers
RELATING TO FELLOW BELIEVERS
ROMANS 15: 1-13
Several metaphors are used to describe the Christian church. It is the body of Christ; it is the bride of Christ; it is a fellowship of believers; it is the family of God. And, the Bible has much to say about how the members of God’s church are to relate to one another. The Apostle John wrote in his first letter, “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love one another does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4: 7-8).
Perhaps the strongest command given in Scripture about how Christians are to relate to one another is that we are to love one another. But there is more to it than that. The Bible also tells us that we are to
depend upon one another
be devoted to one another
honor one another
rejoice with one another
weep with one another
not judge one another
accept one another
build up one another
admonish one another
live in unity with one another
care for one another
serve one another
be kind to one another
forgive one another
bear with one another
be humble toward one another
not grumble against one anther
confess our faults to one another
pray for one another
fellowship with one another, and
bear one another’s burdens.
That’s just some of the “one another” statements that we will find in the Bible. What becomes clear as we list these things is that God is concerned about how we treat our fellow believers. The Bible holds up a high standard for how we are to relate to one another.
Unfortunately, Christians often fall short of God’s standards, and instead of living up to these high ideals, we sometimes fall way short of them. We become judgmental, angry, unloving, and unforgiving. We get upset about the smallest issues of inconvenience. We don’t like the way the ushers take the offering, or how the kids mess up the gym. We cringe when a soloist misses a high note, or when a baby’s cry disturbs worship. We nit-pick the budget of the church line by line, and instead of coming to worship the living God, we come and critique the choir and the pastor. We complain about the song selection, the style of music, the thermostat setting, or the level of the sound. Our focus is on pleasing ourselves at the expense of others.
While it’s never wrong to respectfully share your personal opinions and preferences, it is wrong to be angry and demanding. When we care only about our own desires and needs, we show gross selfishness and immaturity. For believers, the main issue should always be, “What’s best for God’s kingdom and the widest range of people?” But those who are carnal and spiritually immature ask instead, “How can I have everything exactly like I want it?”
In Romans 15, as the Apostle Paul begins to wrap up his letter to the Roman believers, he addresses the all important issue of how believers are to relate to one another. Now, at this point in Paul’s life, he had never been to the Roman church, but he had planted enough churches to know how human nature works. He knew, like we know, that you can’t live closely with others without experiencing some friction from time to time. In the first thirteen verses he will share with us four truths about how Christians should relate to one another. Please take out your Bible and find Romans 15, and let’s begin by looking at verse one. (read)
1. Bear with one another. (v. 1)
The first truth that Paul teaches us in chapter 15 is that we are to bear with one another, specifically bear with the failings of the weak. Back in March and April of this year, we worked our way through the fourteenth chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul talks about the proper relationship between weak believers and strong believers. In those verses, he makes the point that the strong believers are not to look down on the weak believers and the weak believers are not to despise the strong believers. Rather than passing judgment on each other, we, instead, need to focus on judging ourselves. If we’re doing something that might cause our brother to stumble, we should refrain from it. We should limit our liberty so that we won’t “…destroy our brother for whom Christ died.” In chapter 14, verse 19, Paul writes, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification.”
The opening verses of chapter 15 tie up Paul’s thoughts from chapter 14. In issues that involve disputable matters—those things that the Bible neither commands nor forbids—we are to bear with one another and not please ourselves. Instead of getting upset with weak believers, or frustrated with them, we are to bear with them—bear with their weaknesses. The idea is that of showing genuine love and practical concern for our fellow believers.
Now, that may mean that we who are strong will have to relinquish some of our personal liberties from time to time. But that’s all right. We who are strong must be willing to do this for the sake of the fellowship. Why? Because, apart from outright sin, nothing will shatter the unity, the spiritual growth, and the witness of a church so much as disharmony among its members. Our spiritual adversary uses disharmony in the church to distract, discourage, and deter God’s people from being all they can be in Christ. When the saints of God are fussing with one another, then God’s church is kept from fulfilling God’s purposes.
As a Christian, we have tremendous liberties. As a matter of fact, as long as it isn’t sinful, Christians are pretty much free to do as we please. However, we aren’t to use our freedom just to selfishly please ourselves. Why? Paul addressed this in chapter 14 teaching us that the careless exercise of a liberty by one member can do great harm to the conscience and spiritual well-being of another, weaker believer. Therefore we won’t do everything we have a right to do if it causes another believer to stumble. We who are strong will “bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves.” We will bear with one another.
2. Build up one another. (vv. 2-4)
Not only will we bear with one another, we’ll go one step further. We will build up one another. Look with me at verses 2. (read)
Instead of pleasing ourselves, mature believers will work at pleasing others—we will please our neighbor for his or her own good, to build them up. That’s the purpose of pleasing our neighbor.
Now, let’s understand something at this point. “Neighbor pleasing”, which Scripture commands, isn’t the same thing as “men-pleasing”, which Scripture condemns. A “man pleaser” is one who flatters others in order to gain their favor, or to win their approval by some unprincipled compromise. When Paul says that we are to please our neighbor, it is for the purpose of doing good to them and building them up. Let’s understand that Paul’s appeal for us to please our neighbor in not a request to comply with every wish or whim of our neighbor, but rather to find a way to promote his or her spiritual welfare. If we gave way to every wish or whim of our neighbor, then our church would eventually end up living at the level of its most immature member. So, we are to please our neighbor, but we are to do it for his or her own good. We do it in a way that builds them up. The goal is to help them grow in the Lord. Wouldn’t our church be a better place if we all sought to please one another in order to build each other up?
Still some might ask, “Why should I, as a mature believer, have to limit my liberty and my self-pleasure in order to help a weaker brother or sister?’ The answer is, “So that you can be like Jesus Christ.” Think about this with me. Didn’t Jesus limit His personal freedoms to come to earth in the form of a man for our own good? Look at verse 3. It says, “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Where would we be had Jesus decided to please Himself instead of coming to earth as a man and dying for our sins? What if Christ had put his interests above our salvation? I suppose Jesus could have said to God the Father, “I don’t want to go to earth. Those people aren’t worth it. They will laugh at me; they will question my motives; they will call me crazy; oppose me; arrest me; beat me senseless, then strip me naked and hang me on a cross. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m not giving up my rights for anyone.” Thank God that wasn’t what He said or we would have no hope of eternal life.
Instead of clinging to His rights, Jesus willingly emptied himself and came to earth, not so we could serve Him, but so He could serve us bearing the insults that should have been ours, bearing our sins, and dying in our place. Do you see that our Lord and Savior came to earth not only to show us what God is like, but also to show us what God wants us to be like. The point of verse three is that Jesus is to be an example to us, that we might live as he lived. Our calling is to be like Jesus, who endured the worst men could do to him in order to please His Father and win our salvation. Since that is our high calling, we should be able to overlook the many ways in which other Christians differ from us and get on with the task of building them up and then striving to grow together with them in the Christian life.
Having quoted from Psalm 69: 9 to make his point in verse three, Paul reminds us of how Scripture helps us in verse four. Look at that verse. (read)
Paul’s reference to “everything written in the past” refers, not to every piece of ancient literature, but to what we know as the Old Testament—the only Scriptures that Paul had. His point is that everything that was written in Scripture in days gone by was written for us. Not only did it serve the needs of its own day but it is still relevant in the modern world. Scripture is forever contemporary. Commentator, Grant Osborne, writes, “The difficulties of today are bearable because God in his Word tells us of a better time yet to come. He mediates his comfort and encouragement by speaking through his Word to the hearts of receptive believers.” Scripture is written so that we might know what to hope for from God, and upon what grounds, and in what way. Scripture was written to teach us. John Stott put it this way: “We must allow the Word of God to confront us, undermine our complacency, and overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior,” and that affirms what Paul was saying in verse 4.
3. Live in unity with one another. (vv. 5-6)
As we relate to fellow believers, we must bear with one another, build up one another, and third, we must live in unity with one another. Look with me at verses 5 and 6. (read)
It is extremely important to God that his children live together in a spirit of unity. In Psalm 133, verse 1, King David wrote, “How good and pleasant it is when brother live together in unity.” In John 17, which is the high priestly prayer of Jesus, Jesus prays for our unity. In verses 20-23 He prays: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for all who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Now, understand that neither David, nor Paul, nor Jesus is talking about us all being just like one another. This isn’t looking alike, dressing alike, acting alike, and thinking alike. That’s uniformity, not unity. It’s possible to be brothers and sisters in Christ without being identical twins. Paul is talking about unity of purpose.
Okay, then how do we find unity of purpose? Verse five gives us the answer. It is found as we together follow Jesus Christ. Unity comes not from demanding that you think and act like me. It comes as we all do our best to think and act like Jesus. It comes when we take on his values and priorities. It is true that as we draw nearer to Christ, we will also draw nearer to each other in the body of Christ. The more we agree with him and about him, the more we will agree with one another.
Now, as we develop this spirit of unity, we are able to glorify God as a body of believers with one heart and one mouth. Disunity and disagreement never brings glory to God. According to the portion of the high priestly prayer of Jesus that I just read to you, the way the world knows that Jesus has been sent by God is that there is a spirit of unity among fellow believers. Our disunity destroys our gospel message that Jesus is Lord. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we live in unity with one another.
4. Accept one another. (vv. 7-13)
There is one other truth in these verses that Paul wants us to know. That is, that we must accept one another. Look with me at verse 7. (read)
Regardless of how we differ with fellow believers on disputable matters, we are to accept one another, worshipping and serving God alongside each other. We are to accept one another as Christ has accepted us.
Let me be blunt. When God accepted you and me, he didn’t get much of a deal. What he got was a sinner, a person who constantly falls short of the His glory. Nevertheless, wretched person that we were, frail creature of dust that we are, He still accepted us when we placed our trust in Jesus. In God’s eyes, you are not your fellow believer’s moral superior. You are a sinner saved by grace. If the perfect, sinless Son of God was willing to accept us into God’s divine family, don’t you think you should be willing to accept your brother or sister in Christ? Don’t you think you could do what Paul encourages us to do in Ephesians 4: 32? “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Let me share with you something we all need to hear. Our failure to accept one another in love and with compassion is an insult to our Savior who accepted us. Friends, this is serious stuff. A congregation that is divisive, quarrelsome, contentious, and judgmental gives the world reason to ridicule Christ’s church and to reject the One who is their only hope for salvation. Do you see that? Do you see the importance of accepting one another as Christ has accepted us? As we do that, Paul says that we bring praise to God, and isn’t that what we want to do—bring praise to God? Sure it is.
The Christians in the Early Church, including those to whom Paul was writing, struggled with accepting one another. One or the main reasons that they struggled with this was that the new believers came from such divergent backgrounds. In the church, there were rich and poor people, slaves and masters, Jews and Gentiles. The Jews and Gentiles really struggled. The Jews were God’s chosen people and they knew it, but then into the church came these Gentiles that knew nothing of the Jewish customs and practices. Many of the Jews thought that the Gentiles needed to become Jews before they became Christians, but that wasn’t necessary. Even so, it made it hard for them to accept the Gentiles.
In verses 8-12, Paul shares four verses of Scripture to show the Jewish Christians that it was always God’s plan to include Gentiles in His kingdom. Look at those verses with me. (read)
Commenting on these verses, John MacArthur says, “In light of the magnificent, gracious, and sovereign plan of God—disclosed in part in His ancient revelation to Israel—Jews can have no grudge against Gentiles, because their calling, their very purpose for existing, was to reach Gentiles, for the glory of the Lord. The Gentiles can have no grudge against Jews, because it was through the Jews that God brought them salvation.” In other words, both Jews and Gentiles were always included in God’s great plan of salvation, therefore, they needed to quit being at odds with each other and instead, accept one another.
Paul closes the doctrinal teaching of Romans with the benediction that we find in verse 13. “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.” Many in our culture want to be without God, and so instead they’ve put their hope in politicians or the economy or the justice system, but, so often, those things fail us, don’t they? What they haven’t yet learned is that without God there is no hope. Our responsibility, dear brothers and sisters, is to remind everyone that where there is God, there is always hope. The only hope we have is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then you have a wonderful hope that should bring you both peace and joy.
Here’s the point of my message, today. How we treat one another is vitally important. It’s more than just being nice to one another, or just being tolerant of each other. If we’re a cantankerous group of believers, looking out for our own interests instead of the interests of others, if we’re unforgiving or unloving and critical of one another, our witness for Jesus will be ruined, and we will negatively impact the kingdom of God. We will turn people away from Jesus, instead of drawing people to Him. On the other hand, if we are a loving congregation that seeks to build up one another, the watching world will be drawn to Christ and His kingdom. So, how we treat one another is exceedingly important.
I want to brag on you as we close. You are a loving congregation. You are warm, friendly, and good at inviting new people into our church family. You do that very well. You are patient with one another and willing to forgive the shortcomings of each other, and I commend you for that. When you get crossways with another church member, most of you won’t let much time pass before you go and try to make things right.
Even so, let me give you a final warning. Satan destroys a church from the inside, not the outside. Satan’s most effective weapon in neutralizing a body of believers is to stir up conflict within the body—to get the members of a church squabbling with each other. When that happens, a church quits focusing on following Jesus and seeking God’s guidance. So, don’t let that happen. Be alert and on your guard. Let’s bear with one another. Let’s build up one another. Let’s do our best to live in unity with one another, and accept one another. Above all, let’s love one another. Remember that Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 34-35)
What a disturbing thing it is to be in a dysfunctional church, and what a tremendous blessing it is to belong to a loving fellowship of believers. Way back in 1765, John Fawcett was pastoring a very small church in Wainsgate, England. He diligently served there for seven years, but his salary was so meager that he and his wife could barely afford the necessities of life. Even so, he loved the people and they loved him and they did their best to compensate for their lack of financial support by their faithfulness and warm fellowship.
One day, Pastor Fawcett received a call to come pastor a larger church in London, and after lengthy consideration and prayer decided to accept their invitation. As his few possessions were being loaded into his wagon to be moved, many of his parishioners came by to say goodbye. Several of them pleaded with him to reconsider.
Touched by this great outpouring of love, he and his wife began to weep. Finally, Mrs. Fawcett said, “O John, I just can’t bear this. They need us so badly here,” and he replied, “God has spoken to my heart, too! Tell them to unload the wagon! We cannot break these wonderful ties of fellowship.”
A short time later Pastor Fawcett sat down at his desk and wrote these words to one of our favorite hymns; “Blest be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love! The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
What a blessing it is to be a part of loving, caring church family. May God always bind our hearts together in Christian love.