Romans 15:1–6—Unity by following the example of Christ.
The first 13 verses of chapter 15 bring to a conclusion Paul’s teaching on the controversy between the strong and the weak in faith in Rome. In making his case for unity grounded in love, Paul appeals to the two highest authorities: Christ and the Old Testament Scriptures.
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
4 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.
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Verses 1–3: Christlike burden sharing
Now using the first-person plural, Paul aligns himself with the strong, who are obligated to forgo their own interests and serve the weak. The verb for “bear” is the same one Paul used in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” That law is to love one another (John 13:34).
The phrase “the failings of the weak” literally means “the weaknesses of the not strong.” Paul suggests a weak conscience places a burden on a person, and rather than criticize the weak person for carrying a self-imposed burden the strong ought to share that burden through self-denying love and self-giving.
There is no better example of this than Jesus Christ, who during his arrest and crucifixion bore the insults and taunts that were directed at God himself—“you” in this quotation from Psalm 69. Paul does not even mention the obvious fact that Jesus also died for our sins. Jesus did not serve his own interests, but humbled himself as a servant and went obediently to the cross (Philippians 2:3–8). Peter likewise points to Christ as our example: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Though we were to blame, Jesus bore the shame.
Verse 4: the OT’s continuing importance
Christians who think the Old Testament has no value for believers today are mistaken. The Bible is a unified whole, and if we look close enough we see that the OT points to the person and work of Jesus Christ. To this verse we can add Romans 4:23–24, 1 Corinthians 10:11, and 2 Timothy 3:16–17 as claiming the ongoing relevance of the OT for our instruction.
How do the OT Scriptures encourage us to have hope? My answer is three-pronged. They reveal the sovereign hand of God over salvation history. Second, they give example after example of people like us who believed God’s promises, faithfully endured even when they did not see in their lifetimes the fulfillment of those promises, and received God’s commendation. For a quick refill of hope, read Hebrews 11 and 12. Finally, through the Scriptures God speaks to our mind and heart. As RC Sproul says, “what an unbelievable opportunity it is to be instructed by God himself!”
Sproul advises, “If you are deeply discouraged, if you are bordering on the rim of despair, that is a clear indication that you have been neglecting the Word of God, because the Word of God produces encouragement.”
Verses 5–6: Unity based on Christ for the glory of God
Unity does not require that all members think alike but rather that they share the mindset of Christ with the goal of glorifying the Father. Douglas Moo says, “Divisions in the church over nonessentials diverts precious time and energy from its basic mission: the proclamation of the gospel and the glorifying of God.”