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 neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." 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. 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. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name."
Just the way he has done all through Romans 14 Paul continues to use his biggest biblical, doctrinal truths to support the most personal, practical behaviors. Let’s look first at the behavior he wants to motivate. Then look at the big doctrinal support for it.
The Behavior Paul Wants to Motivate
The behavior he is pressing is in verse 7: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Welcoming, or receiving, or accepting, or loving each other is the practical behavior he wants to press on for the Roman church and for Bethlehem Baptist Church. If he were here today, he would look us in the eye and say, “Bethlehem, look around you. When you come and when you go, welcome each other. Be a receiving people. Welcome each other not just into the church and not just into your space. Welcome each other into your homes.” “Practice hospitality” is a Christian biblical command (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).
And the stress falls on the fact that this should happen in spite of non-essential differences we have from each other—disagreements over days and food and drink. And today we can take it a step father because he moves seamlessly from talking about the weak and the strong in verse 1 to talking about Jews and Gentiles in verses 8 and 9. Verse 1: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” Verses 8-9: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised (that means the Jews) to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles . . .” He moves from the weak and the strong to Jew and Gentile, but the issue is the same for both: welcome each other.
So probably there is some pretty deep ethnic tension behind this weak and strong matter. Jews are probably bringing some of their food scruples, and Gentiles are probably bringing some of their looseness. So now we can say that what Paul is pressing in verse 7 is not just a general command to welcome each other, but to welcome each other across ethnic and racial lines. So he would say, “Be encouraged Bethlehem to broaden the range of your welcoming. Cross the aisle. Cross the commons. And by all means cross the ethnic lines. Get in each other’s lives. Pray toward it. Move toward it.”
And the end of verse 7 makes sure that we do not view this as an end in itself. Do it for the glory of God. Verse 7: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Nothing human is an end in itself. Only God is an end in himself. Everything human will be more human if we do not make it an end in itself, but put its end in God. And everything human that is treated as an end in itself will in the end be dehumanized. God made us human for his glory. And we are fully human only when we live for his glory. Human community, human togetherness, human bonding, human society was ordained by God for his glory. Therefore where human community does not live as community for the glory of God, it will become in the end destructive.
Even more specifically, we can say that human life and human community were conceived and created to consciously glorify God. You were not created and put in relationships to unconsciously or inadvertently glorify God—like mountains and birds and galaxies do. They make God look amazing without knowing that’s what they are doing. That is not what Paul means here. He doesn’t mean: Love each other and someone might see God’s beauty in that, whether that’s your goal or not. We know that’s not what he means because of verse 6, “That together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The aim is voluntary, joyful, authentic, vocal acclamation that God is great and glorious.
So Bethlehem, for the glory of God, cross the commons, cross the aisle, cross the parking lot, cross the city from home to home, and cross ethnic lines and welcome each other—into your church, and into your pew, and into your classes and small groups, and into your homes and into your lives—your prayers and pains and joys.
The Big Biblical Support for Paul’s Practical Passion
Then comes the big biblical support for this practical passion that Paul has for our lives. And the basic thrust of the argument is that we should do this—welcome each other for God’s glory—because Christ became a servant to the Jews for God’s glory. Before we unfold that, let the inspired structure of Paul’s thinking land on you. Be a welcoming community, Bethlehem, because the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God was incarnate in history as a Jew to serve the Jewish people for God’s glory. Do you see what this implies just structurally: Don’t join those who say that doctrine isn’t relevant for life. Paul is laboring to cultivate a welcoming, mutually loving and accepting community in Rome (and at Bethlehem), and he does it by taking us into some of the biggest biblical doctrines there are. If you say this doesn’t work for you, you need to ask God to change you. The inspired word of God makes the doctrine of Romans 15:8-9 the motivating foundation of our becoming a more welcoming church.
Let’s look at this foundation. Welcome each other—weak and strong, Jew and Gentile—why? . . . Verses 8-9: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised [that is, to the Jews] to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
I see six steps in this argument. So let’s walk through it and let the fullness of Paul’s doctrine fill your mind and shape your thinking and your passions. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the renewal of your mind. Fill your mind, shape your mind, mold your way of thinking and feeling about how you welcome people and love people, by brooding with me over Paul’s argument here.
Step 1: Jesus Became Incarnate as a Jew
Step #1. The Son of God became incarnate as a Jew. Verse 8: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised.” Here’s the way Paul puts it in Galatians 4:4-5, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” That is, God sent his Son as Jew into the world. Don’t minimize the importance of the Jewish people in history. Jesus is the fulfillment of 2,000 years of Jewish history. To this very day the sheer existence of the Jewish people is a wonder. Anne Rice, the vampire novelist who recently turned from 30 years of atheism, said in her new book Christ the Lord, “I stumbled upon a mystery without a solution, a mystery so immense that I gave up trying to find an explanation because the whole mystery defied belief. The mystery was the survival of the Jews. . . . It was this mystery that drew me back to God.” 1 Step #1, the eternal Son of God was incarnate as a Jew.
Step 2: Jesus Came as a Jew to Serve the Jewish People
Step #2. He came as Jew to serve the Jewish people. He came as a servant for the Jews. Verse 8: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised.” Jesus said in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The primary service that Christ rendered for the Jews was to pay a ransom for the disobedience of the people so that they could be saved from the wrath of God. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Christ paid the ransom to free us from the wrath of God so that every Jewish person who believes on him would be saved.
Step 3: Jesus Confirmed the Promises of God
Step #3. In coming to serve the Jews Christ confirmed the promises of God. Verse 8: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 puts it like this: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” Or Galatians 3:16 puts it like this: “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” Everything promised to Abraham is found in Christ. The ransom that he paid, not only averted the wrath of God, but secured and confirmed all the promises of God. When sins are covered by the blood of Christ, there is no hindrance to any promise coming true.
Step 4: Jesus Did This to Vindicate the Truthfulness of God
Step #4. Christ did this promise confirming work to vindicate the truthfulness of God. Verse 8: “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” In other words, Paul is telling us to welcome each other and serve each other specifically for the glory of God, because Christ came to serve the Jews for the glory of God’s truthfulness.
Step 5: Jesus Showed Mercy to the Gentiles in the Way He Served the Jews
Step #5. The Gentiles—that’s most of us—have been shown mercy in the way Christ served the Jews. Verse 9 gives the second reason why Christ became a servant to the Jews: First, verse 8 says, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised . . . to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” And then verse 9 adds the second reason: “. . . and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” So in the very act of serving the Jews by his incarnation and his ransom and his confirmation of promises he also served and had mercy on the Gentiles. Here’s the way Paul put it in Galatians 3:28-29, “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” When we Gentiles put our faith in Christ, the Jewish Messiah, we become offspring of Abraham and heirs of all the promises. We didn’t deserve any of this. It is all mercy.
Step 6: Jesus Gave Us This Mercy So That We Would Glorify God for It
Step #6. We Gentiles received this mercy so that we would glorify God for it. Verse 9: “. . . in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” Our receiving mercy is not the ultimate end of salvation. God being glorified for it is the ultimate end.
And so you can see how Paul has never moved far from his practical purpose in verse 7: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Do it for the glory of God, Bethlehem. Serve each other this way—for the glory of God. Because Christ became a servant to the Jews so that they would glorify God for his truthfulness and so that the Gentiles would glorify God for his mercy. Welcome each other for the glory of God because Christ came and died for the glory of God.
Why Christmas? Why did he come? So that we might glorify God for his mercy. And show how precious it is by the way we welcome each other mercifully for the glory of God.
Anne Rice, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), pp. 308-309. ↩