Scripture Reading: Romans 15 - 16 …
One of the blessings of believing in Jesus Christ is knowing that you are never alone, not only because God is with you as His Spirit lives within you, but also because you are part of the Body of Christ. God brings believers into fellowship with Himself and then brings us into fellowship with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are God’s family and we are ONE in a way that the world, those who do not know Jesus Christ or confess Him as Savior and Lord ... in a way they cannot experience or understand. All of this is part of God’s gift of salvation to us.
As Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, it was with a sense that he was but one part of a large body that together were called by God to accomplish His purpose and His mission to the world. While we view the Apostle Paul as perhaps the most outstanding person in the early Church, he understood that God was at work before he was born, that he was here for that time, that others were partners with him and that for God's purpose to be fulfilled, more people would need to hear the Gospel and follow Jesus Christ. That was his time … this is ours! As he wrote about the way God works in every believer, Paul wrote in Chapter 12, verse 5: “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Having spoken about how the “weak” and the “strong” should live together, making “every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (“building up”), Chapter 15 begins with Paul speaking about HOPE - the hope that only God can give and that only those who know God can receive. He explains that those of us who are "strong," who by God's grace are more mature in our faith in Christ, must lift up those who are weak "so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (15:4). Such hope, centered in God's work in His Son Jesus Christ, brings unity, oneness, to the body of Christ, "so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:6).
As a part of Christ’s Body it is not acceptable to isolate yourself or to have a “one-way relationship” with your brothers and sisters in Christ. You and I must always be aware that there are times when we need to receive from other members of God’s family and there are times when we are called to give to other members of God’s family. The oneness of those who are in Christ, produced by His Spirit, is essential for the Church to expand, to grow and to thrive. God's goal was to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one body, and it is God's desire and purpose to bring some from every people, tribe, nation and tongue into Christ's body today, so His name will be known throughout the world.
We share a HOPE that people without Christ know nothing about. Our hope is not like the world’s hope. It is not based on what might happen or on luck or chance. Rather, our hope is based on the FACT of God’s love for us in Christ and the FACT of His Spirit living within us. Our hope is based on the promises of God that are all “YES” in Christ (II Corinthians 1:20). This hope brings joy and peace to those who trust in Him (15:13), and produces hope as the Holy Spirit works in us and through us, for God's glory.
In the remainder of Chapter 15, Paul encourages the Romans to counsel one another, reminding them that they know the truth, even as he has been proclaiming it through much of the then-known world. We need to hear this today. Think of what these people knew. They didn’t even have the New Testament in written form yet; but they knew the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They knew the One who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Many today run to counselors who will tell them things they want to hear and who often point them to SELF to “fix” what is wrong with them. We are called to point each other to our Father in heaven, for it is in HIM that we find our life, our purpose, our peace and our hope!!
As Paul nears the end of his letter to the believers in Rome, he expresses his plans to visit them on his way to Spain … a trip Paul never made (so far as we know). Paul had been a powerful instrument in God’s hands to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Even now, his desire to visit the believers in Rome reveals his passion to make the one, true God known and to bring salvation, God's promise of forgiveness and eternal life, to those who had not yet heard, as well as to encourage those who had heard and believed. We need that same passion to proclaim the Gospel and to go where God sends us, whether across the street or around the world.
As he closes his letter, Paul sends his greetings to those in Rome, whom he apparently knew personally and by name. What a beautiful picture of the inter-woven pieces of God's Church! The true Church is not merely an organization, but is a gathering of special PEOPLE, people made special not because they are “better than others,” but made special by the grace of the God who called them to be His! We who believe are people who know God, who love God and who labor together in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His one Spirit. None of us can do this on our own. We NEED each other. The Church is a body of people called by God to bring Him glory, to make Him known, to proclaim the Gospel and to display His power to the world. We ARE the "light of the world" and "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13-14).
Paul warns, already in his day, of those "who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned" (16:17). The oneness of the body that comes through sound teaching must be a priority, for only when the disciples of Jesus know the truth and labor together for God's purposes will God's will be done. So Paul ends with this beautiful benediction … let this be our prayer today:
"Now to Him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey Him - to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen!!" (16:25-27).