📖 (Read Passage)
Paul is continuing his exhortations about judgement and unity. I have divided this text into three main points,
- The first is from vv1–2 which says: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up”. I want to pick up on a couple of points here. Firstly, the solution to our disagreement is not judgement, it is to bear with one another. I will take a look at what it means to bear one another’s burdens. Secondly, it gives us two motivations: 1) For his good, and 2) to build him up.
- The second is in v4: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”. This is another point about the Scriptures and what they are for: 1) Our instruction, and 2) To give us hope.
- The third is vv5–6: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Living in harmony (Paul describes it as such harmony) will enhance our worship—our CORPORATE worship (note the word ‘together’ and the phrase ‘one voice’). Our unity glorifies God.
Bear with one another (v1)
Paul starts this section with an exhortation, he says “we who are strong have an obligation to bear the failings of the week” (v1).
Paul doesn’t call this is a good thing to do, he calls it an obligation. Very few things are described in the New Testament as obligations. The Jews had a whole series of laws and obligations they had to comply with, but the overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is that such things are not necessary in the Christians experience. We live, says Paul, under grace and not law (Romans 6:14).
Interestingly, in Galatians 6:2, when Paul says we should bear one another’s burdens, he says that it is part and parcel of fulfilling Christ’s law: *“Bear one another’s burdens, and **so fulfil the law of Christ**”*. What is the ‘law of Christ’? 1 Corinthians 9:21 also talks of the ‘law of Christ’. It says: “To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law”.
Nowhere, however, does the NT specify exactly WHAT the law of Christ is. The closest we get to it is in the Gospels, where we read about ‘the greatest commandment’. So Mark’s take on it is found in Mark 12:28–34:
📖 (Read Mark 12:28–34)
The point here is that one of the strongest exhortations to people who follow Christ is that they love one another, 1 John 4:7–8 calls us to love one another and that in loving one another we are showing who we really are. John puts it like this: “us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love”. He goes on to say in Chapter 5: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2–3).
This exhortation from Paul to “bear with the failings of the weak” is not a law we have to follow, it does not in any way add to the work of Christ on the cross. It does, however, show that we belong to Christ and, Paul sees its value in how it impacts the church.
The first thing is that this ‘obligation’ is for the strong to accommodate the weak. This is something we see throughout the New Testament, those who are strong in some way should love and support those who are not. Last week, we looked at the way it is incumbent on we who have a stronger faith to accommodate those whose faith is weaker. We noted that this is not to say that we should capitulate to moaners or difficult people, but the bottom line is that if it’s an issue for them and not for you, provided there is no accommodation of some form of sinfulness, we would show Christian love and ‘prefer one another’s need’ by deferring to them.
For example: If you really don’t care about what kind of seat you sit on, but they feel very strongly about the pews, sit on a pew and don’t insist on removing them!
The outworking of the strong bearing with the week is this: If you have an advantage, you are called by God to use that advantage to help and minister to those who do not have that advantage.
- Do you have money? Use it to God’s glory by helping those who have nothing.
- Are you ‘able-bodied’? Help out those who are not. e.g. mow their lawn, do some DIY for them.
- Can you drive? Become the church taxi service.
You get the idea?
Ecclesiastes 4:9–12 is often used in weddings, but speak to this:
📖 (Read Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).
Alongside the fact that bearing one another’s burdens is something that is an obligation for us, Paul gives us two other reasons:
- for their good
- to build them up
When we think of needs, we have numerous Biblical texts which say basically this: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). “I want MY way” is anathema to true Christians. Our focus, our motivation, our actions should always be following Jesus and building up His people. Whatever that looks like.
📖 (Read Philippians 2:1–11).
The Scriptures (v4)
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.
There are a couple of internal references in the New Testament to other NT writings, so for example 1 Corinthians 11 is generally recognised as being derived from Luke’s account of the Last Supper, Paul cites Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18 (the worker is worthy of his hire) and Peter specifically cites Paul’s writings as being something that people distort like the ‘other scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:16). But overwhelmingly, whenever the New Testament talks about the Scriptures, it means what we know as the Old Testament.
People who have no real Biblical knowledge, especially those who are not believers and in fact are antagonistic to and belligerent towards people of faith, view the Bible with a certain ambivalence. They will cite times in history where it has been used as a justification for wielding power over the weak, they will also be very opposed to its clear teaching against certain ‘modern’ lifestyle choices (inverted commas because they are not modern at all!)
Paul gives us these benefits to Scripture:
When we look at Scripture, we should see it as something which is for our benefit. It is not there to control us, or to be used as a club to beat us into submission.
Our Scriptures do a few things:
Look at what Jesus himself says about Scripture: John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me”. We can then make a beeline for 2 Timothy 3:16–17:“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”.
The Psalmist writes this:
📖 (Read Psalm 19:7–11)
Islam is a religion of submission (the word ‘Islam’ means submission), Judaism is a religion of law, Christianity brings freedom and hope.
Hebrews 11:1 describes faith like this: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.
One of the modern understandings of the word hope is that nowadays, hope carries with it a sense of doubt. “I hope it will be sunny tomorrow”; “I hope that I got that question right”; “I hope that my girlfriend will accept my proposal of marriage”. This is not even close to the Christian doctrine of hope, which is sure.
The hymn “Jesus is Lord” carries with it the line “we have a hope which is steadfast and certain”, Peter writes that we should always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us a question. What question? “What hope is in us?.
“Always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
Biblical hope is a certainty, not a doubt. This is because it is based on the certainty of God’s promises, so we can say with confidence, “hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5).
In both the Old Testament and the New, hope means SO much more. It carries a meaning of confidence, security, and peace. Doubt is not in view in Biblical hope. Biblical hope is a confident expectation or assurance based upon a sure foundation, for which we wait with joy and full confidence. Therefore, Biblical hope is a reality and not a feeling. Biblical hope carries no doubt, it is the sure foundation upon which we base our lives. We believe that God always keeps His promises, and therefore our hope is this: “whoever believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
So, hope is what provides for us the rock on which our faith rests, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 declares that it is the foundation of their “work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Throughout the Bible, believers are called to anchor their hope in God himself, and for Christians, that also means we have sure and confident hope in Jesus. Jesus is the one who we hope for. He is the one through whom every believer will experience both the resurrection of the body and the full representation of eternal life. So for example, Hebrews says we are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).
And incidentally – the Hebrews verse suggests very strongly that hope is a choice we make, not a feeling we have. In other words, WE can control whether or not we hope. We are not subject to it. We control hope – it doesn’t control us.
“ May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5–6).
Last week I spoke about the individual nature of our faith, that most, if not all, of the exhortations in Scripture are applicable to individuals just as much as they are to ‘the church’ (that is, the corporate community of God).
We DO worship God in all we do. Whether you or I worship God should not be dependent on or even influenced by people around me.
There is a characteristic of worship which means that when we share our worship one with another, when we gather together and worship God as a corporate gathering, something special happens. We all feel it when we’re in a large church meeting and the worship is really going well. There is something indefinable, something rich and fulfilling about worshipping God in community. I believe that this is one reason there is the potential to divide so much over worship style, corporate worship, worshipping our united God in a united congregation with one voice has REAL power.
But it’s not just about singing songs of worship, Paul says here that our very harmony one with another blesses and glorifies God. We don’t even have to sing songs together, simply being of one accord, being in harmony brings glory to God. It is not surprising. In Ephesians 4 we are urged by Paul to live in harmony with each other, and Paul describes why …
📖 (Read Ephesians 4:1–7)
Paul here says that ‘together with one voice’ we may glorify God the Father. Interestingly, in Exodus, when Moses is challenging the people, the people are recorded as responding with one voice: ‘Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken, we will do”’ (Exodus 24:3).
We also see the importance of Unity in the psalms. One of the most well known says this:
📖 (Read Psalm 133).
Revelation, that great description of heaven, describes unity across all sorts of divide:
📖 (read Revelation 7:9–10).
Back to one of the core texts of the fellowship here … “ A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35).
We cannot understate the significance and the importance of living together in unity. In unity, we care for one another, we bear one another’s burdens, and supremely, we glorify God in doing so. If disunity damages witness as I believe it does, when we truly live together in unity, the whole world will see, we really will glorify God, AND we will be blessed when we do.