The God of Hope And Endurance
[Romans 15, verses 1-13]
For this week’s Bible study I will begin with the first 13 verses of Romans chapter 15. In these verses, the apostle Paul is talking about how Christians should be building each other up, and of being supportive of one another in the face of all kinds of trials. As you know, daily living is filled with all kinds of trouble and conflict, and everybody has days like these from time to time, including myself. The important thing we should understand about this is that God sometimes allows these trials and tribulations to happen in our lives to build up our character so that we can become stronger in Christ. He allows us to be placed into stressful situations so we can be refined in the fire of the Holy Spirit, and so that He can mold us and sharpen us into becoming the worshipful Christians that we are all meant to be. When iron is being forged and crafted to make a sword, it must first be heated up to very high temperatures and then hammered into shape. So it is when God molds and shapes human beings into instruments for performing God’s work and living according to his will. Furthermore, we as Christ followers are to uphold one another and pray for each other during this sometimes difficult process. Paul explains this beginning in verse 1.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’. 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. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15: verses 1-6 NIV)
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves”. In this opening statement of Romans 15, Paul is talking about different people who happen to be Christians who may be at one stage or another of their development in Christ. Those who are further along in their lives in Christ should not look down on those who may be new believers or recent converts. It is wrong to take too much pride in our development as Christians, especially when it is done at the expense of new believers. We should never make the assumption that just because we are at a different stage of maturity than others, it may be that we are somehow better than others who may not be. Instead, we are to minister to one another with faithfulness and empathy as Paul writes, “Each of us should please his neighbor, to build him (or her) up”. We are to encourage one another so that the entire body of Christ and all the people therein can be lifted up in order to build up and strengthen the church as a whole. Also, we should take every opportunity to do this in the sight of non-believers in order to make the best possible impression on them, hopefully motivating them to follow our example. After all, one never knows when doing so will inspire non-believers to become Christians, thereby saving their souls from eternal judgment. God gives us credit for this when we do so, and it counts heavily in our favor.
“…[E]verything 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”. I will use going to school as an example. Schools do not put students with learning disabilities into college any more than they would put someone with a 3.9 average into a high school class. So it is in our walk with Christ. Different people are at various stages of their faith and growth in Him, but Jesus gives us equal credit for all our efforts regardless of how they compare to one another. The Spiritual credit we receive for this is distributed equally by the Lord, and without qualification, provided that we are faithful and obedient to Christ. Paul then continues with this train of thought in verse 7.
“Accept one another then, as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy, as it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name’. Again it says, ‘Rejoice O Gentiles with His people’. And again, ‘Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him all you peoples’. And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him’. 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”. (Romans 15: verses 7-13 NIV)
“Accept one another then, as Christ has accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”. We are to emulate Christ’s example that He set for each of us when He died on the cross of Calvary. When He died for our sins, He did so with no particular preference to any group of people. Paul uses the Jews of his day as an example. The Jewish faith at the time of the early church was one of being God’s chosen people, based on the fact that God led the Jewish nation out of Egypt and out of slavery to deliver and guide them to the promised land that is modern Israel. This is based on the Law of Moses which we now call the Old Testament, so the Bible does say that the nation of Israel is the chosen people of the Lord. But the purpose of Christ’s ministry was to unite all of mankind under the banner of being a chosen people, as Paul writes further: “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…” In a modern context, Paul is talking about the fact that while once upon a time it was exclusively the Jews who were regarded as God’s chosen people, as a result of Christ’s death on the cross and His subsequent resurrection on the morning of the third day, Jews and Gentiles have become equals and peers in the sight of God. This free offer of salvation is now being made equally to all people regardless of their religion, or sometimes the lack thereof.
This Scriptural equality, which is unconditional and freely offered to all who confess and repent of their past sins and become new believers in Christ, is the true Gospel that has been preached throughout the world from the time of the early church up until the present day. And this Scriptural equality is not confined to religion – far from it. This is an equality that transcends social and economic status, race, religion, nationality, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability, and has no regard for what has happened in the past. Jesus doesn’t care about who you are, where you are from, what you have done or where you have been. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, all can come to Him equally and become new believers, and all believers can grow and mature in their faith at their own pace without having to worry about whether their efforts are going to be good enough in God’s sight. The shedding of His blood on the cross has already paid for it all. All Christ is asking of us is faith, honesty and diligence.
So let us ask ourselves these few basic questions. First, have we truly given ourselves and our hearts and minds to Jesus Christ so that we may obtain eternal salvation in Him? Second, if we have done this, have we developed our faith freely and independently of those around us, knowing that we are to please God first and not worry about what others might think of us? And third, are we using our faith and growing maturity in Christ as a good example for non-believers by the way we conduct ourselves in order to win them over to Christ? Finally, are we using our growing faith and good works to help along and to encourage new Christians in their walk with the Lord? We can only do the will of God and only make manifest our belief in the salvation of Christ if we are doing all these things on a daily basis, having formed these practices into a habit of daily devotion in order to give praise, honor and glory to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. I want to encourage and motivate each and every one of my readers to do this starting today. Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ, so that together we can all better imitate Jesus, the One who has saved us all.