Paul has brought several difficult things to our attention. We know they are difficult! Only those who have little experience in what he talks about, or whose attitude is trite, will find them ‘easy’. Here, he again prompts us to stand alongside the weak in faith, as ‘props’ in their lives. This tends to offend stronger Christians, who feel they have enough to get on with in their own lives, besides ‘wet-nursing’ weaker brethren. Yet, this is what they are called to do by God. It is not ‘wet nursing’ but a vital part of our walk with God. It is obnoxious to say we are going about God’s business if we ignore the plight of those less spiritually developed. They are our responsibility, not an unnecessary burden!
As Paul points out, Christ, God Himself, came to put right the woeful state of the Israelites. If He came for that purpose, surely we can spare time to care for those He saved? Some who write to me apologise for ‘taking up (my) time’! I respond by saying that it is my pleasure and my love to help them or to be at their side. I am afraid I cannot muster the arrogance to complain because they dare to speak to me!!
How can we be likeminded when we think we are superior or have a duty that does not include the weaker brethren? It is very comfortable to only mix with those we prefer, know well, and who speak as we do. It is very much harder to cater to those whose faith is far from our own, or who we wish not to mix with! But, it is our duty and love to do so.
Verses 1 - 4
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
These verses are very powerful, and should admonish us all! How many Christians shun those believers they think are weak and sinful? How many shun them because they do not believe exactly as they do? How many prefer to seek out those who are on the same ‘wavelength’, ignoring all who are not? How many cannot be bothered with those who seem to have a lesser intelligence or education than they have, or are of a ‘lower class’? How many will not give time and effort to those who are weak in faith and perhaps are ‘bothersome’? And how many demand obedience to their own wishes and opinions, often with anger or hostility? This section speaks to them in the strongest of terms!
We who are strong in faith and belief must “bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” We do not have a choice in the matter, because helping those we would not normally bother with is a command! How nice it would be if everyone thought as we do… or so we fondly muse. We may not please ourselves and ignore these people. Do we not understand that whatever we know has been allowed and given by God? Do we not understand that if others do not yet know what we know, it might be because the Holy Spirit has yet to give them that knowledge? If they are weak, then, it might be their lot to this date. And, if we are strong, we may not boast or think anything of ourselves – it is a gift of God… and we may ourselves become weak at some time.
The man or woman who is strong in Christian character and soul, excelling in knowledge and spiritual might, is the product of God, not of themselves. Whatever their seemingly high spiritual status, it is not of their own making. God gave them what they have, for His own purposes. And that purpose does not include ignoring or shunning Christians of a weaker disposition, or bullying others into complying with what they believe. Give me a weak Christian any day, rather than those pompous, arrogant Christians who think they are something.
The ‘infirmities’, asthenēma, are errors experienced by those who are weaker, because of their weakness. To stronger Christians these errors can be frustrating and annoying, if not anger-provoking. But, we are commanded to reject these emotions, and not to act against the weak-minded. It could easily be that though weak-minded spiritually, these weaker Christians have a high intelligence. Their weakness is not the result of being stupid or unable, but of not yet having the ministration of the Holy Spirit in the matter, for whatever reason.
It does not matter how many times you explain truths to them, they still cannot seem to take it in and act upon it. In turn, the stronger Christian may turn away from them, shun them, or become very angry. But, if the Holy Spirit has yet to act in that weaker Christian’s life, there is nothing we can do, except continue helping them… unless, that is, their walk becomes fully heretical. Be honest: you do not want to help them, do you? Recognize your own prejudices and faults! Tell God how you feel about it, and get back to the task of helping that weaker Christian. Stop harbouring anger and bad feelings toward him or her, and look upon them with kindness and love. They are weak, without strength, powerless to do anything better. You have been blessed by God with stronger soul and abilities; share these with the weaker brother or sister.
This is what Paul means when he says we are to “bear the infirmities of the weak.” To ‘bear’ their inability and powerlessness is to carry their burden for them; it means to take up what they cannot do; it means to carry them on your back: much as in that superb poem, ‘Footsteps’, where Christ carries us on His back when, all the while, we think He is nowhere to be seen. When the other Christian is weak and incapable, we must carry him and sustain him, until the time the Spirit acts upon his life and changes him.
So, can you do this? Can you look kindly upon the weaker Christian without feeling superior or angry? Can you take up his life and bear it until he can carry it himself? Yes, it puts you out. Yes, it might sometimes make you feel angry or irked. But, we may not please ourselves: we must live on behalf of that weaker person, even when they express things in a poor way, or perhaps a wrong way. It does not mean accepting sin; it means looking kindly upon them, as a brother. We are only stronger and better equipped spiritually because God has given us that strength and favour. We have nothing personal to boast about.
We must look for ways to please our neighbour… it does not just apply to the brethren. We must try to edify him in his life, and not cause him further pain or distraction. In this way if he turns ‘bad’ after such help, our help will become his stumblingblock. But, if he comes to spiritual betterment, we will prevent him heaping coals upon his head.
Why do it, especially when our own lives are turned upside down because of the other person’s ineptitude? We do it because Christ first did it. He was attacked and persecuted, yet He displayed love and compassion for the lost and those who were spiritually weak. He knows all about it! So, He knows (and sees) your anger, or frustration, or refusal to help. Stop, and see it His way.
Then, use scripture to put things right. All of scripture is for our benefit and teaching. In its pages we learn how to act, believe and speak. We should patiently seek what God says and thereby get comfort, for scripture gives us hope and future glory. Note that all of scripture is for our benefit, not just the New Testament. Paul refers to the Torah of the Hebrews “written aforetime”.
Verses 5 - 7
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:
That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
Paul prays that God, Who exemplifies patience and consolation, will make us all likeminded, just as Christ taught. Patience is steadfastness, a refusal to be moved from a sure foundation, keeping faith and purity through any trial. Consolation is encouragement and an assurance of salvation (Jewish teachers call the Messiah ‘the consoler’ or ‘comforter’). The word also applies to a calling, exhortation and the delivering of powerful preaching/teaching.
To be likeminded, phroneō, is to be in a condition rarely seen today: it includes understanding and wisdom, shared by all who are believers. Do we see this today? It means to be modest about one’s self and not to impose views on others, even if we think they are wrong. Do we see this modesty today? Or, do we see Christians commanding others to think as they do? The true position is to demand only what Christ demands in scripture. For myself, I state scripture, to be taken or rejected.
The major meaning of ‘likeminded’ in this context, though, is to be of the same mind: agreeing, holding the same views, and being in harmony. Few Christians are like this, and even fewer local churches. Whilst denominations manage to instil a form of ‘likemindedness’ in their members, few of those members truly believe in the same things, holding them superficially for the sake of smooth group dynamics. Genuine likemindedness leads to harmony, love for one’s fellows and a refusal to become disruptive just for the sake of one’s own views. Recognize any of this in your own local church or circle? I hope so, because it is demanded of us by Jesus Christ.
It is a sad fact that most local churches are a hotch-potch of saved and unsaved, and people all holding to their own peculiar, personalised beliefs. Harmony is ditched in favour of self, and few bother to link beliefs with scripture. Almost invariably, they believe that the way they read scripture is the right way, even when their beliefs are wrong and cannot be sustained by the same scripture!
As I have said before, scripture can only be interpreted one way: this is an obvious statement to make, because if there were many ways, or even just two ways, it would mean that scripture is unstable, not of God! Logically, then, only one way is true and the rest, by definition, are false. If we do not understand this, then we will always be susceptible to error, and we denigrate God’s word. We cannot believe as we wish… we cannot “please ourselves”. This kind of teaching is certainly frowned upon by modern Christians, who all think they can ‘interpret’ in their own way, pretending their way has been given to them by God. The only proof is that what they say is scriptural.
Many Christians think the answer is to just shut up and keep one’s beliefs private. They say we must accept the differences ‘in love’. This, however, is not scriptural and allows heresy to grow without challenge. This is why Paul says we must be of “one mind (and) one mouth” when glorifying God. That is, we must not only think alike but speak alike, saying the same things. Today, most Christians say whatever they like! And, if other Christians do not believe as they do, they automatically assign what the others say to a trash-can, and elevate what they themselves say to the heights, as supposed ‘truth’. Usually, though, their ‘truth’ is a lie: because they refuse to acknowledge their error they continue in sinful beliefs.
Paul says that the Father of Christ is God, and the Father of the saved is the same God. And we are servants of both the Father and the Son. We have no ‘human rights’ of our own. We are here to serve God. We may not, then, hold to beliefs that contradict His word, but may only believe what He says. There is only one truth, which means there is only one ‘version’ of interpretation. From observation, few Christians today know what interpretation is or how to use it. (See my articles on this topic). True interpretation arises from scripture (not from hypotheses) and is bound by it. Our personal attempts are useless and worthless.
Because we have the same Father and same Lord Christ, we are all equally bound to Him and His word. It is this that leads to one mind. Therefore, each of us must welcome the other. Sadly, in my home-town, most Christians avoid myself and our local church members, because we do not think as they do. Of course, they believe the way they think is true, and the way we think is therefore false. Some have even read what we say and state that they ‘disagree’ with us – but, tellingly, they never define what they mean, nor do they explain in scriptural terms what they ‘disagree’ with! Thus, it is of personal dislike rather than a Biblical truth. I know that many others have a similar experience.
Yet, this is not how Christ welcomes us as individuals! He does not apply vague or personal beliefs, but speaks only what God the Father says. This is how we ought to believe and speak, but few do. Look to all the beliefs you hold – are they scriptural? Or, rather, are they borne of personalization or denominational theory? It takes more than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to convince. Prove it!
Verses 8 - 12
Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.
Paul says that Christ came to minister God’s truth to the Jews. In this way He put the stamp of authenticity on what the forefathers preached. His coming was prophesied: He came and did what the prophecies said. He also came knowing that when the Jews turned their backs on Him, this would give the Gentiles an opportunity to be saved. This had to be, of course, for all is predestinated. Yet, when the Gentiles were preached to, it was by God’s mercy, not by human right. As Gentiles we are to rejoice alongside the saved of the Jews (verse 9, 10), not because we have chosen Him, but because He chose us.
We must ‘laud’ God; that is, praise Him. Not just because He saves us, but because of Who He is. He requires our praise whether or not we are saved, and whether or not we believe. This goes for “all ye Gentiles” and “all ye people”. God is theocratic even when we are not!
This was prophesied by Isaiah, who said the Messiah would arise from the family of Jesse (David’s father), and that He would become Saviour to the Gentiles, who would then trust Him. Few of us do. Do you? No, I do not mean in your head, or when repeating given-knowledge by your peers. I mean in your heart and soul.
Verses 13 - 16
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.
Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
If so, says Paul, let the God of hope “fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” If you do not have this peace and joy, it means you do not really trust Him. It is a simple equation. If you truly believed you would have this trust. And it would make you “abound in hope”; your faith would cause you to soar to the heavens in every waking moment, and you would know Christ is ‘all in all’, doing only what is good for you in your life. All of this, however, is nothing to do with what you personally think or do; it is given to us by the “power of the Holy Ghost”.
It is a fact that many Christians preach about this power, but reject it, or lack it, in their lives. God’s power has been relegated to a time past. The final vestige of power died with the last apostle (at least, that is one theory). It does not exist today and God no longer intervenes in the world. So, they do not expect Him to intervene and never see anything divine in what occurs today. Most are very confused in their teaching, though, and they cannot see that what Paul says is a definite ongoing imperative. It is for every Christian throughout all of time. Others go the opposite way into grave error. Charismatics, Romanists, and other cults do this. What misery they live in!
Paul now speaks again in what, to modern men, is a riddle. On the one hand he speaks of our sinful failings. Now he speaks to us of our true state in Christ. In a Christian sin is NOT his true state. It is a deviation from truth that must be put right, and which will end at death. Paul now speaks of the true state of Christians. He is persuaded, or convinced, by what he says. He says we are “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” (verse 14). Do you truly believe this about yourself? I hope so, because it is true. If the root is holy, then so is the life that grows from it. Only Satan will have us believe otherwise. And, each time he manages to lead us beyond temptation into sin, we become morose and think we ‘must’ be sinful at heart. Do not listen!
We are saints, which means ‘holy things’! We no longer belong to Satan, but to God through Jesus Christ. Yes, we occasionally sin, but the Lord knows we will, because we still have the ‘old man’ within. It is nothing new to Christ that we sin! When we repent, we are again put back onto the true path and all is right.
We are, then, full of goodness: our real heart is upright, desiring only what is holy, kind and good. Our heart and mind are filled with knowledge of what God requires; we know what is real and true and what is its opposite: sin and falsity. And we know how to live morally and correctly. But, we allow sin to get in the way, and this clouds our clear vision.
And, each one of us is able to admonish each other. That is, to warn and to exhort in the spirit of love and humility. The aim is not to just place blame for sin, but to show the way out again, through repentance and right living. All Christians have this ability given to them by Christ. Yet, many do not understand what it means, and confuse it with human cunning or human counsel. Live as Christ demands and you will know all of this, in truth and sincerity.
Verses 17 - 19
I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.
For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
Through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God; so that from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
Paul says he praised God for his calling, and that he has personal knowledge of the things of God. Today, charismatics boast about countless ‘miracles’ and spiritual experiences, but Paul dare not do so. The charismatics use their stories and false claims to mesmerize adherents and to induce obedience in them. Paul would have none of that. His work was based on truth, preaching and genuine godly interventions, properly attributed to the “power of the Spirit of God”. In this way he preached everywhere he went and did not promise a ‘miracle-a-minute’.
Where the Holy Spirit is genuinely present there is no need to make claims or to boast about this or that charismatic activity. It is either real or it is not! Beware of anyone who feels the need to tell us how wonderful their activities are! Have you seen advertising for those healing campaigns, or those huge meetings where you can go along and ‘claim’ your miracle? There are plenty of them about. Oh, how compliant the Lord is, to come and do the bidding of these charlatans!
Do not think that charlatans are only found in charismatic circles. They are found everywhere. As I have said many times before, the majority of pulpits in the land are filled with men who are not called to teach or preach. And many websites are merely opportunities to spread a personal message or diatribe.
Verses 20 - 24
Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company.
Paul worked hard to preach mainly where no other preacher had been, so that no man could accuse him of building upon the foundations made by another. This does not mean we cannot give our ministry to those who have already heard the truth. This was Paul’s own wish, to avoid accusations of trying to bring about personal loyalties to himself. Today, for example, there are countless preachers, including those who are self-elected. They enjoy the loyalty and following of many, for no reason other than they like to be adulated (and/or paid). It is vital to dislodge their influence by true teaching and preaching, because the people who hear them tend to learn falsity and not truth. We see, in this small section, that the power of the Holy Spirit in a preacher is of greater importance than the display of physical miracles.
Paul went to people who had not yet heard of Christ, so they could hear the truth from Paul and not a lie from false preachers. Because he wanted to reach these people, and took a long time to do so, his visit to Rome was put off. The wording of this chapter tells us that the Christian church at Rome had existed for many years. No mention is made of Peter, on whom the Catholic invention is rested!
Paul’s time in his usual places was now completed; the churches had been established and elders (pastors/bishops) appointed. Paul had done his job as determined by God. So, now he could begin to think of at last going to Rome to see his fellow believers. We should all carry on ‘business’ as believers as we see fit, until the Lord shows us another way. This is why Paul said he would likely go to see the Romans when he travelled to Spain. This shows us how far the Christian faith had already spread; in this case, Spania (‘scarceness’).
Spain was not the only far place the Gospel had reached. It is probable that it had already reached what became Britain, Africa, and, possibly the Germanic lands and maybe even India or China. At any rate Paul was looking forward to seeing his brethren and hearing of their faith first-hand.
In my own ministry I love to hear from saints in other parts. Often, they are alone in their faith, having been disappointed by places called ‘churches’ but which are not so. I enjoy their freshness and determination to stay with the Lord, though I have little opportunity to meet them in the flesh. Some have a kind of ‘bedraggled’ understanding of scripture because of past unfortunate experiences, but it does not matter… we can get over that with time. However, few who call themselves Christian wish to see others of the brethren outside of their own local church.
Verses 25 - 29
But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.
When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.
And I am sure that, when I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
But, first, said Paul, he needs to go back to Jerusalem to be with the Christians there. He had been sent out to preach years beforehand and should now go back to minister and to give an account. There was also another reason for him to return first to Jerusalem: the Christians of Macedonia and Greece had given him a large amount of money to take back to the Christians in need in Jerusalem. It was, he said, their joy to give it. Paul adds that if people are saved they have a duty to not just spread the Gospel but also to assist in physical things, such as giving to brethren in need.
After this, said Paul, he would begin his journey to Spain (though, as we know, this did not happen; God had other ideas). He was sure that when he arrived, he would bring with him God’s blessings. How many Christian teachers or preachers do this? Very few. They are so besotted with the practice of preaching that they have few moments to consider their inward heart and mind. And, in many cases, local preachers who are paid are tied to completing their ‘contractual obligations’, regardless of what God wants… if they actually know what that is in the business of their lives.
Verses 30 - 33
Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me;
That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints;
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.
Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Paul now pleads with them to pray for him, so that the cause of Jesus Christ would be furthered. As we know, he was constantly attacked and hounded by Jews in particular, and he needed deliverance from them if he was to go about his ministry. He also asked for prayers that whatever he did was holy and true, and acceptable to fellow believers in Jerusalem. We also know that some in Jerusalem tried to stir up trouble for him. If the Roman Christians, then, could pray for him, he might at last come to see them free of attack and trouble, and filled with joy.
Note that he wanted to come by the “will of God” and not because he thought it was a good idea. Again, few ministers do their work because God has called them to do it. Because they have taken up a ‘post’ after college, or have been offered a place, they think this is acceptable. But, it is not. What matters is that God calls them, not that they think they ought to do it. And, when he arrived, Paul was looking forward to being refreshed… rested together and built up mutually by each other’s faith and experience. Paul then pronounced a benediction.
© September 2009