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Paul is approaching his final conclusion and in chapter 15 he wants to address what it means for the church to be a welcoming place.  If it is to welcome new converts into the faith then it must be a welcoming place for each other.  The believers are to be of one accord in Jesus Christ.

Paul continues to use Scripture to show us the enteral plan of God in ingrafting Gentiles into his covenant family.  He demonstrates why our knowledge of Scripture is important as we live for him today.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

When picking the hymns for our Sunday services, I don't always appreciate the significance that they might have. And I didn't expect, maybe in my mind anyway, uh, just how good that would be fitting for what we're about to look at. Because actually, as we fix our eyes on Jesus, the things of earth grow strangely dim. And that's what Paul is pointing us to in this penultimate chapter of his letter to the church in Rome. Chapter 15 of Romans sees Paul head towards his conclusion because chapter 16, although it is the final chapter, it's going to contain greetings and some final instructions for the church. It will let us know of some of the things that are going on. It'll introduce us to some of the people that are there. But this is a book, as we've known, of two halves. The first half ended in chapter 11 and that, those first 11 chapters considered what faith in Jesus means and the second half from chapter 12 has explored how this faith is lived out. Well chapter 15 is really Paul's great conclusion of living well for Jesus and living well together as the church. Chapter 14 has very much set us on the path of how we worship together as God's And not only how we worship together but how we live. together as people in the world. Paul knew then, as we experience still now, that the world is not a welcome place for the followers of Jesus. We've said this throughout these, uh, studies in the book of Romans. So the great hope for the church, and by the way, that's a word that's going to come up again and again tonight. We've already mentioned it a number of times, but this great hope for the church is its togetherness. in the gospel as it worships and as it lives. So these first 13 verses of chapter 15 draw our focus to a great reception, with verse 7 being our central verse, because there we read, Now this might already give you an indication of what Paul is building up to, certainly up until the halfway point of this passage. There's an expectation that there will be action, on the part of the followers of Jesus. Paul encourages the church to recognize the unique position that it has in its togetherness. No other part of society is like the church. We don't have to support the same sports teams because if we FA Cup final yesterday, be at opposite ends of that spectrum. We don't even have to have the same hobbies. We don't even have to attain the same level of education or all work in a similar industry. We don't even have to be of the same age range. And the one thing that's been lovely about our evening service is this greater spread from younger through the older who are coming. Now, not those who are a thousand years, as some of our children might have thought this morning, a thousand year old people in the building. You see, the church is unique because you don't get anywhere else in society like it. The church is the gathering place of all peoples, from all places, and it is all because of Jesus Christ and the message of Jesus. Now I think we all like to feel welcomed. Wherever we go, be it to the shop, be it out for a walk, into the school playground and into the church, we like to see a smiling face and a word of greeting, be it hello, or some other form of acknowledgement, or welcome and a handshake. And we, when we are welcome to wherever it is we're going into, it communicates that we are wanted and valued. What makes you feel more like a valued customer when someone at the checkout or someone on the aisle spends time with you, talking to you or helps you and supports you in what you're trying to find? And even if the greeting is coming from a complete stranger, be it along the shore path, it still acknowledges our humanity, that this is a place in which we recognize each other for who we are, from our perspective of course, made in the image of God. And Paul begins in this chapter by picking up on a theme that we saw in chapter 14. Uh, that, that difference between the strong and the weak. Not that he's looking to point out what those differences are, but how the strong and the weak continue to live and worship together. And tonight he's going to focus on what a welcome, given by both and to both, should look like. In verse 19 we read the conclusion of how the strong and weak in faith worshiped together. And so in chapter 14 he wrote, So then let us pursue what makes for peace for mutual upbuilding. Because Paul's whole thrust in chapter 14 was to see the church built up together, not separated off by those who believed they were stronger in the faith than others, and looking down on those who they perceived had weak faith. But notice what he says now in verse 1 of chapter 15. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Paul clearly recognises here himself as being among those stronger in faith, and we would say rightly so, the great Apostle himself. But he is not using this as a position of superiority. Rather, he is making it clear that his maturity and strength in faith is to bear with those who just don't get it yet. He wasn't to rush on without them, but to support them and build them up. And this is the example that Paul gives in verse 2. When Paul speaks of pleasing our neighbor here, he's not referring to some sort of cheap amusement, but as an act of, or gesture that will meet a real need, or enhance a spiritual, uh, spiritual stability in their lives. And so Paul's letter to the Romans is an example of a huge effort For their sake. And if the Romans get behind what Paul's talking about, and in due course get behind his Spanish mission, which we'll come to in verse 24, they will be building him up. Not because he is weak, but because they recognize their strength as a church in their role in sending out a missionary. who is strong and to continue to support him. And so that's where the rest of this chapter will take us to see how even this church, mixed with the weak and the strong, can still be one to support Paul in his plan to be a missionary in Spain. And Paul's basis for writing verses 1 and 2 is seen now in verse 3 as he points us to the example of Christ when he says, For Christ did not please himself. But, as it is written, the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me. Paul presents to us the life of Christ as Exhibit A. Paul, we know, has written a defense of the faith, and here we have another defense of how we are to live. Christ did not live as an overlord, but was himself someone who lived. for the Father's pleasure. Paul finds support from Christ's attitude and practice in the latter half of Psalm 69 verse 9 which is quoted here in these verses. And here Paul is pointing us to the reproaches that the Jews had, or that Jesus had to bear from the Jews because they chose to ignore the truth of who he is. They thereby then have reproach for God, as they reject the Son, so they are rejecting the Father. But Christ is the one who bore that reproach, because he was faithful to the mission of the Father in sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And as ever, Paul is the lawyer here, and in verse 4, he continues his argument for why we are to live in a way that bears each other in the faith as he points us to Scripture. Now, none of us can ignore the amount of Scripture that Paul uses throughout this letter. And these aren't simply proof texts to justify his argument. Rather, they show us how the full counsel of God, as revealed in Scripture, fits together in one great message of the Gospel. And here in verse 4, he impresses on us the intention of the written Word of God. It has its importance for the times and places first intended, but it was also written for successive generations too, since God's wisdom and God's spirit transcends localities and transcends times. The spirit who first inspired scripture is the same spirit who renews its message in subsequent generations, including our own. But scripture isn't just a record for us, It's not simply telling us a story, it gives us instruction, and in using this word here, the word instruction, Paul is reminding us of a central component of the Christian faith. We are to learn scripture and we are to know it. That's why what we do with the girls and boys, although we may not remember everyone we do, it at least is a start of remembering some aspects of God's word and hiding them in our hearts. You see, the Bible is not a novel. We don't simply pick it up, read it, say that it's a good story, and put it back down again. Scripture is given to us to learn and to live. That's why we call it a standard. It is God's revealed standard to us as to how we are to live for him. As question three of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers, what do the scriptures principally teach? The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. Do you remember that from your Sunday school days? Well, if you do, it's now coming back to bear good fruit. Because in this one succinct answer, we know what Scripture is all about. Scripture is for our good. Scripture teaches us about what we are to believe. It reveals to us who God is, so that we might believe in Him. And thereby, as we worship together as His people, our worship will, we know what we're worshiping for. But it also tells us what God requires of us. God has a standard. And we are to live by that standard. So scripture is for our good. We are to read it. We are to love it. We are to enjoy it. And we are to follow its instructions. In doing so, Paul says, we will have, and hope is important, because hope is a motivation that is required each and every day for that long term perseverance in the reading and understanding of God's Word. What is the Bible to you? I've told you before, I have two shelves full of Bibles. What is it to you? Isn't it amazing how we can fit so many other things into our day and ignore even a five, ten minute reading? And by the way, you don't even have to read it alone. There's audio Bibles that you can listen to, you can download, and put things on in your car as you drive to pay attention to what God's Word says. Of course, nothing beats sitting in a quiet room, reading it. But can't we even give 10, 15 minutes a day to the Lord? First thing in the morning, last thing at night, over our lunch break, going out into our car, at whatever opportunity we have at work. Can't we do that for the Lord? Because scripture is for our good. And Paul says that it is scripture that gives us hope. So he tells us, read the Bible, understand what it principally teaches us. That it teaches us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of us as we worship him. And so now as we come to the climax of this first half of this portion of Scripture this evening, Paul now tells us why all of this is important. And once again we have one of these moments in Romans where it seems Paul is so excited about this truth that his words run away from him. Listen to what he says in verses five and six. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we have a blessing for the church and a vision for what Paul sees the church to be. Look at the outcome that he tells us of. Living in harmony together. That with one voice we may glorify. That's a wonderful picture. It's a wonderful image of what the church should be. Imagine it for a moment. If you've ever listened to a piece of music played by an orchestra, you don't hear its full depth in the first listen. It's the second, third or fourth listen that you hear all the instruments and all the harmonies coming together. Harmony is to be natural. and unobtrusive. You notice when an orchestra hits a wrong note or an instrument is slightly out of tune but you really don't notice the harmony when it is all together. You simply enjoy the music that they're playing because harmony should be natural to an orchestra. This is the picture that Paul is painting for us. As the church in its local expression, here, we are to be in harmony and in one accord with Jesus Christ. We may not always agree on everything, but our focus is not on the secondary, but on the primary of the gospel. And notice that we don't do this on our own strength, because verse 5 tells us that we do this in God's strength. Paul describes him as the God of endurance and encouragement. He is the one who will keep us in fellowship with himself and with each other. All that we may worship, and all so that we may worship him well in Jesus Christ. This is why verse 7 tells us to welcome each other. We will do this because we are together in Christ. And that's why this first half is about a welcome for us. A welcome that should be the demonstration of our love of Christ that we have for each other. And I think here in Analong, we do well in how we greet each other and how we encourage each other. But like everywhere, we could probably do a little better. But we don't do this in our own effort. We do this in God's strength. If the welcome is not what we're hoping to receive, then we have to ask ourselves, have we welcomed well? Have we given a welcome to a brother or a sister as we would like to be welcomed? Because remember how all of this started. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. If you want the strongest reason why there shouldn't be grumblings in the church, this is it. The church is not about pleasing ourselves, It is about the body of believers. And so when we see things from this perspective, then our actions and our attitudes change as we submit to God's standard, not our own. And why all of this matters is now detailed for us in verses 8 to 13. Because Paul explains his teaching so far in this chapter by saying in verse 8, 8. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's faithfulness in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. Again, Paul brings us back to Christ's ministry. The church is to be a place so different from the world because it follows the example and the teaching of Jesus. If it doesn't, then it actually has nothing to offer. William Haslam lived in England in the 1840s, He decided to go into Christian ministry, but he knew nothing of the gospel. He didn't, in fact, know Christ at all. So, what did he do when he became a reverend? Well, he worked on his building. That's all he could see. He made it really pretty. And then he helped others who were also lost in churches to work on their buildings, to make them better buildings. But he had nothing to say to the people who came. Until he was preaching one Sunday. And as he was preaching, his kind of blind, tedious, boring sermon suddenly spoke to him. He suddenly realized in the middle of his own sermon who Christ was. And the whole sermon took off with zeal and with great joy. And a visiting preacher sitting in the back row stood up and called out to the church, Your parson has been converted! Hallelujah! And the whole church stood up and sang the doxology. Praise God from whom all blessings flow over and over again because their minister had finally been converted. Maybe we wouldn't expect that in a church service. I would be very surprised if someone stood up and shouted hallelujah that I'm only being converted now. But that's another story. I hope you know my proclamation of faith. But you see what happens to a dead church where there is no gospel? Nothing happens. Nothing flourishes. Yes, our buildings are good and we need them. But if they're our only focus, then we offer nothing. But the point is not about buildings. That's just what this illustration that I heard someone else give helps us with. What Paul is drawing us to is that we follow an example that is the gospel. Not dead religion. See what's interesting about Haslam is that he was religious. Yes, he was. He was a good man. He prayed prayers. He loved the prayer book as an Anglican reverend. He was an upright man, but he was completely spiritually lost until the lights came on and the gospel took hold of his life. Paul is saying here that the gospel needs to take hold so that we can proclaim this good news. Jesus came and spoke truth to the Jews and they ignored it so that in this present age the Gentiles would benefit from salvation. But it is all to do with the truth. And again, we see the power of scripture as Paul now quotes from four passages from the Old Testament. H1 assuring the reader that the mission to the Gentiles is not simply quickly thought up. God has had his plan for salvation and we can trust it. And here Paul is quoting from Psalm 18 verse 49, Deuteronomy 32 and verse 43. Psalm 116 verse 11 verse 10. And each one points us to the truth that the Gentiles now have the opportunity to be engrafted into the family of God and become full heirs of his covenant promise because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And this is done through the church. And so the church must be a place ready to welcome and to receive, no matter what spiritual level people are at. For the hope of the unsaved is not in themselves or in the world, but in Jesus, who is the root of Jesse. And so Paul concludes this section with a blessing as he says in verse 13, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound. Paul wishes on this mostly Gentile audience the joy and peace that the Old Testament references have just spoken of. This growth and maturity in faith comes from God as we believe the truth of Jesus Christ. And Paul gives us an aspiration of the Father that we would abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit's act of work that moves us towards the Lord and the worship of God. This then is the natural response to God so that indeed our hope would abound. I've said already that there'll be a lot of mentions of the word hope in this service this evening. So let me ask you, what are you hoping for in this life? Are you hoping for longevity, freedom from pain, riches, stability, security, or perhaps the more practical things like employment, safety of family, peace? Paul points us to a hope that secures us in the Father, regardless of our human circumstances. It is the hope in the Gospel, because the Gospel truly changes us, and that's why Paul, or what Paul wants to see in the Church. It changes us from eternal death, to eternal life. It changes our attitudes to one another and sets us on a course of upbuilding one another and it should change the church so that it may live in such harmony with one another in accord with Jesus Christ. Tonight our response to God's word is to live as hope filled people. people who trust in Jesus so that we can be built up together as His and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. True hope rests only in Him. That's why our opening hymn said, Rejoice in glorious hope, because Jesus the judge shall return and take his servants up to their eternal home. See, that's what glorious hope is. The assurance that on that day when Jesus returns, we indeed will be caught up with his servants and go to what is promised as our eternal inheritance. Because this is what Peter says to us. We're not to waver from this living hope, but to live as he says in 1 Peter chapter 1 and verse 3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You see, this passage started with a welcome that indeed we would truly welcome one another, that we wouldn't lord it over each other, but that we would live together as God's people, strong and weak together. And it concludes with pointing us to the great welcome that awaits us in heaven and what a day that will be. Is this your hope? Is this your hope tonight? Hope so much that you will be changed to live for Jesus here and now as you await the future eternal realities. Will you live by His standard, not by your own self righteous standard, but live by what He has revealed to us, so that indeed, truly together, we will be of one accord in Jesus Christ and glorify our Father God for His goodness towards us. May this be our response to His Word this night. Let's pray. Our Father God, the heart of the gospel challenges us to think deeply about what it means to live for you. The first step is simply knowing salvation in Christ and knowing Christ is our Savior. But the steps that follow are about living your way. So may we never be fooled into believing that what happened to us in a moment is all that is concerning to us. Father, we need to live what we profess so that our faith will be proved genuine and that our good works will demonstrate what is our core, what is our heart, and what we fully believe about this gospel and about Jesus Christ. So Father, by your grace, your grace so irresistible and free, may we live well for you. In what is truly glorious hope as we await the coming of Jesus to take us to our eternal home. So keep us in fellowship and in sweet communion with you and your people. And we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

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