Sermon preached on Romans 15:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/26/2013 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“For Even Christ Did Not Please Himself”
People pleasing. Usually that is something we speak negatively about, and rightfully so. And yet our passage today advocates pleasing our neighbor. It points to even how Christ did not please himself. And so is people pleasing a good thing or a bad thing? Well, this highlights an important truth. Sometimes we use a word or a label to identify some specific thing. But sometimes the same words or label can be used with a very different meaning. Context tells us what we really are taking about in each circumstance. And so the label of people pleasing is often used to refer to the negative practice of looking to make everyone happy, by catering to everyone’s wishes, regardless if those wishes are godly or not. Someone might become such a people pleaser because they want everyone to like them, or they just don’t like conflict. But that kind of people pleasing is not a good thing. Paul addressed that kind of sinful people pleasing in Galatians 1:10. There he pitted such pleasing of man against pleasing God. He said we have to please God even if it means not pleasing man. And so this is all to say that this kind of sinful people pleasing is not what Paul is talking about in today’s passage. And yet this is the benefit of a sermon or a Bible study. We get to dig into a passage and see its context and understand how it’s using the various terms.
Well, today here’s how we’ll tackle our passage then. We’re going to walk through the text in three main points. First, we’ll look at verses 1 through 3 and see how we need to be edifying people-pleasers. Second, we’ll look at verse 4 and think about the hope-giving Scriptures. Third, we’ll look at verses 5-7 and see the desire for a God-granted like-mindedness. It’s this third point, which will tie together the first two points. And so these three points will walk us through all the verses here, in the order that they come in the passage.
Let’s begin then with our first point and consider how to be edifying people-pleasers. Verses 1 through 3 talk about this. Verse 1, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Verse 2, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” Verse 3, “For even Christ did not please Himself.” As promised, we’ll begin with a definition in context for such people-pleasing. For that, we need to remember what we’ve studied in Romans the last two weeks. We’ve talked about the conflict that can arise between the weak and strong of faith on certain matters of moral indifference. The strong rightly recognizes their Christian liberty on such matters of indifference. The weak of faith, for various reasons, does not or cannot. The weak of faith, in fact, would be sinning if they engaged in these otherwise morally neutral actions in question, because of they’d be going against their consciences. We saw that if weak person’s conscience thought an actions in question was sinful, even if it wasn’t inherently, then for that weak person they’d be sinning to commit that action. And so last week we saw that the strong had to be on guard in how they exercised their freedom in these areas. The strong had to make sure that they did didn’t exercise their freedom in such a way as to encourage their weaker brother to stumble into sin by going against their conscience. Last week we saw that this was a real concern — that the strong could contribute to the weak’s stumbling into sin by getting them to act contrary to their conscience. Last week’s passage says the weak would be torn down in their Christian walk instead of being built up, edified. The weak would be “grieved” in this sense, grieved over their sin and in going the wrong direction in terms of their sanctification. Chapter 14, verse 15, used that language of grieving the weaker brother.
And so, in contrast, the strong doesn’t want to grieve their brother, they want to please their brother. That’s the context for the use of the word “pleasing” here. It’s not about catering to the whims of every minority desire in the church. Nor is it about satisfying anyone’s requests regardless of its moral virtue. No, the kind of pleasing described here is the opposite of the grief described in last chapter. That means that the strong needs to see that the way they treat their weaker brothers is one that advances their brother’s sanctification. They look to build up and edify their brother, instead of destroying God’s work in them. They look to promote the pleasure their weaker brother will enjoy as they grow in grace, instead of contributing to the grief they will have from sinning by violating their conscience. We know this is the right way to understand this pleasing here because that’s the end of verse 2. If we please our neighbor in this way, it’s for their good, and leads to their edification. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 talks this same way, about this same issue about a weaker brother’s conscience. There he says that he looks to please such people that they would be saved. Again, Paul sees the strong being able to contribute to the weaker’s spiritual well-being by how they are considerate and thoughtful about our brethren’s weaknesses.
I like how verse 1 puts this very bluntly for us when it talks about not then pleasing ourselves. In other words, if you as a stronger brother look to build up your weaker brother this way, it means we have to likely make some sacrifices. It will mean that in some way we look to not please ourselves as it says in verse 1. We will have to limit how we exercise our freedoms in certain cases. We might be tempted to complain about that as inconvenient. But as we said last week, the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking, but about things like righteousness, joy, and peace. In other words, your brother’s spiritual well being is worth the sacrifice. Now, we also said last week that some wisdom is needed here. Sometimes church have been so catering to the various scruples of the weak that it’s actually been detrimental to the overall ministry of the church. We said we need to think about the difference between the stronger giving an offense to the weak — which they shouldn’t do; and the weak unnecessarily taking offense to the strong, which the weak shouldn’t do either. But the principle is clear, even if we need wisdom when applying it. Love your weaker brothers. Look to build them up and don’t let your freedoms be a cause to tear them down instead or get them to stumble into sin.
The example of Christ is then given in verse 3 to drive this first point home. Christ did not please himself. Paul then quotes Psalm 69. “But as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'” When you look at the context of Psalm 69, you see that this is a Messianic psalm that ultimately sees the Christ suffering for God. These reproaches mentioned are the reproaches that were supposed to fall on God. But the Christ didn’t look to please himself but God. And so he took on the reproaches that would have otherwise gone to God. This Psalm makes a reference which elsewhere is applied to how Jesus cleansed the temple, and so you can think of how Jesus took on reproach then. And in general, all of Jesus’ ministry, particularly the cross, was taking on reproaches. Jesus did that to please God his father. To advance the will of God. And of course, that is something that made for our edification; our spiritual well-being. This is Christ’s example. The application is clear. If for God’s plan of salvation, Christ didn’t please himself but willingly sacrificed his liberty in coming to earth to suffer and die for our salvation, how can we complain? Jesus didn’t say it would be too inconvenient or too much of a sacrifice for him to leave the glory of heaven to come here and bear reproach. How much more then should we be willing to make the small sacrifice of limiting how we exercise our Christian liberties? Particularly when they are of small matters with regards to things like eating and drinking?
And so our first point today has been to see the call to build up our Christian brothers. That’s the sense of pleasing them here. That we even willingly constrain how we exercise our Christian freedoms if they will somehow work against our weaker brother’s sanctification. Instead, we look to understand where our weaker brethren are at spiritually, and ask what we can do to help them grow. Let’s turn now to our second point. To consider the hope-giving Scriptures. This is the next verse in our passage. Verse 4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” This verse is almost like a parenthetical note of sorts. He interrupts talking about how the strong and the weak interact to mention the benefits of the Scriptures. The connection in the passage is the quote Paul just made from Psalm 69. He takes a passage that is most immediately about something between God the Father and God the Son, and says it’s applicable to us. Psalm 69 was about how the Christ looked to please God, not himself. And so then here in verse 4 Paul basically says that this was written down for our benefit. Think about it. Usually when there is say some conversation or something between two other people, it’s not something you necessarily need to know about. But the fact that what is essentially a conversation between the Christ and God is written down, is so that we can benefit from that conversation. It’s like when Lazarus was raised in John’s gospel, Jesus prayed aloud to the father prior to raising Lazarus. Jesus said that he said these words aloud, not because he needed to in order for God to hear his prayer. No, Jesus prayed them aloud for the benefit of the people standing there. And so the same is true here. We have Psalm 69, this conversation between the Christ and God for our benefit. The beauty of this, Paul says, is this is true for all the Scriptures. They are for our benefit. That’s why God had them written down and has preserved them for us.
Several things are told to us about these Scriptures to describe how they are for our benefit. First, they are written for our learning. In other words, they instruct us and teach us what we need to know. This includes both issues of doctrine and practical living, of course. Second, the Scriptures’ very character is described as that of patience and comfort. The language here is basically describing the Scriptures in this way. The character of the Scriptures are one that give off patience and comfort. When you study the Scriptures they call us for patience and encourage us to have patience. And when you study the Scriptures, you find much comfort and encouragement and peace in life’s varying circumstances. This leads Paul to conclude here that this all works to give us hope. The Scriptures instill patience and comfort in us as we are trained by them. It produces a fruit of hope in our lives. Hope in the big picture of Christ’s return and the final culmination of our salvation. And hope in the details of our Christian walk. Hope even in things like how we treat our brothers. That in our various scruples and weaknesses and strengths that God can grow us together as a family in Christ.
And so this little quick aside about the Scriptures yet again reminds us why we as a church emphasize Bible study so much. We need the Bible as our guide. For both doctrine and how to live. We need to study it and study it in depth. We care about faithful preaching and teaching from the pulpit and in smaller classes. And we care about families and individuals in the church studying it and meditating on it. This is key to our growth. As Paul says, they were written for that very purpose. For the spiritual well-being of individuals in the church, and to promote the corporate well-being of the church as well. To grow us all individually and together in truth.
And so our second point has been to briefly be reminded about how useful the Scriptures are for our Christian growth. It is then our third point that helps to bring these first two points together. Verses 5-7 talks about how God grows us in like-mindedness as Christians. But notice how verse 5 describes our God. He is the God of patience and comfort. Do you notice the connection with verse 4? Verse 4 talked about the benefits of the Scripture by noting them as being of patience and comfort. Then in the next verse God is called the God of patience and comfort. The character of the Scripture mirrors the character of God. That should not surprise us, of course, because God is the author of the Scriptures. And so the God of patience and comfort has given us the Scriptures which themselves give us patience and comfort and lead us to have hope.
Now, verse 5 talks about something that Paul wishes this God to give us. Verse 5, “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus”. So, Paul sees that this God is able to give us like mindedness. This God who gave us the Scriptures for our instruction and growth, is also the God who can give us like-mindedness. Again, remember the context. The strong and the weak of faith have these difficulties. They are of different minds on certain issues. Yes, they are issues ultimately of indifference. But they threaten to undo us the church. They threaten to breed conflicts, and quarrels, and factions, and schism. In the light of that threat, the God of comfort and peace gives the Scriptures of comfort and peace, that we would have hope. And Paul then turns and utters this wish, essentially a prayer, that God would then see fit to grant them like-mindedness.
And I love that word. “Grant.” God’s sovereignty and his grace is behind that wish and prayer of Paul. Paul exalts God here when he acknowledges that a Christian needs God’s hand in his life to grow. If we are to be one as both weak and strong brothers, it will be God’s doing in our life. We can and should pray that God would bring about such unity among us.
And look at the even bigger goal here in verse 6. Verse 6, “That you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When the weak and strong of faith come together as God’s people, it’s for the purpose of worship. United together to worship God! To give God the glory. To glorify him in Christ. In our common salvation. In and for his work in our lives. And see what this unity entails. Verse 6 highlights both our oneness of mind and oneness of mouth. That oneness of mind is similar to the like-mindedness mentioned in verse 5. It envisions God so working among us that the weak and the strong can walk in unity with regard to how they think about things. Maybe this envisions the weak and the strong coming to the same page on their matters of dispute. Or maybe this side of heaven it simply means that they will be of the same mind to acknowledge that the disputed areas are not something to divide over: agreeing to disagree. Either way, this envisions a greater unity of how we proclaim truth and express our faith. As for the oneness of mouth, this surely has in mind that we are saying the same things. We worship God with the same sorts of affirmations, in truth. And likely envisions us even corporately together in unison uniting our many voices into one voice of praise and worship. And so all of this is fulfilled very literally every Lord’s day when we gather together. We sing together in unison. We confess our faith together. We pray together. We utter amen together when we heard the Word. All of this is our corporate worship. All of it is to God’s glory.
And so then verse 7 summarizes all what we’ve been talking about today and the last few weeks. Receive one another. Just as God in Christ has received us. The gospel says that if we confess our sins and turn to God in Christ in faith, then we are received. He will forgive us and make us part of his family. He will not turn away anyone who truly believes in him and looks to the work of Christ to be saved. Christ will receives us. In turn, we are called to receive other fellow believers. Even those who don’t have it all together yet! Those who struggle with various weaknesses of faith. Receive one another, just as Christ has received you. Christ has received us with grace. Christ has received us with our weaknesses. Christ has shown understanding and kindness to us in our weaknesses. Christ has made sacrifices to help us in our weaknesses. Christ continues to nurture us in our needs. This is how Christ receives us. Go and show that to others. Be encouraged by the Scriptures to that end. Pray to God for help to that end. Trust that he will work this in us. And then as one body, worship God. May all this be to his glory. That is in fact how verse 7 ends this discussion. Receive each other as Christ has received us, “to the glory of God.”
Brothers and sisters, let me end with this final thought. I love the picture we see here about how we grow as Christians. Individually and corporately, it’s all the same. We see in this passage that God is the one to grant us growth — like how it mentions God granting us to be likeminded. God ultimately gives us our growth. At the same time, we are called to act in certain righteous ways. Like the strong bearing with the weak. And like the call to receive one another. So God is ultimately the one who grows us. But we are essentially called to grow at the same time, to begin to act in godly ways that we didn’t before. But there’s one other aspect to this growth. God gives us means for our growth. We see that the Scriptures are given here for this purpose. And we also see Paul praying for this growth, when he asks that God would grant us this like-mindedness. This then is how the Christian strives to grow. By making use of the God-given means for our growth. The Word and prayer are chief in these such means. And so God ultimately is the one who brings us growth, but we are also called to grow. We then respond to that call to grow by using the things God gives us to grow, things like the Word of God and prayer. It’s like how Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6 about how the Corinthians were growing. He described how Paul had planted the seed of the gospel in their lives. He said that Apollos had watered that seed. But he said it was God who gave the growth. God grows us, normally speaking, through the things he gives us for our growth. And so as we look to be more like-minded amidst our various scruples, and weaknesses, and conflicts, let us make use of the Word and prayer. And let us see that to be true not just in the matters of scruples, but in all areas of our Christian growth. To the glory of God who grows us and unites us. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2013 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.