Summary: In Christ we have a living hope that lifts us from fear and despair. We also have unity, which is not uniformity but a celebration of diversity. We are truly blessed.
Bible Blessings – the Blessings of Unity & Hope, Romans 15:5-13 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts (22 November 2015)
With Thanksgiving approaching, we have lots of blessings to be thankful for. We've seen in this series that the Bible is a treasury of blessings. Without them, it is hard to live well. Today we're focusing on Romans 15, verses 5 & 13, Paul's two-fold blessing of unity and hope.
UNITY...Let's look again at verse 5: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing to a diverse church consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers--Jews who were finding it hard to move from some of their traditions, and Gentiles who've forsaken idols for a new allegiance. Some Jewish followers of Jesus were uncomfortable having to worship with “goyim.” Paul is saying that we have no right to reject those whom God has received. We need to widen our “circle”. All who are within the circle of Christ’s love must be within the circle of our love. This means accepting people who are “different”.
I remember taking a training course at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. At a break, I asked a Chaplain from another Protestant denomination if he'd like to join me for coffee, and he said no; he needed to remain separate from other faiths...in other words, he regarded me as a heretic and unbeliever. My “circle” included him, but his excluded me. And old-time Saugonians tell me of the sad days when Catholics and Protestants had nothing to do with each other. Thank God we've made progress.
Unity comes from God and is a divine mandate. However, unity is not uniformity. “Unity is diversity held together by love and truth” (Wiersbe). When we sing together the melody line of a song, it sounds pretty good; add harmony and it sounds even better. We need harmony in the church. Psalm 133 says “How good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity.” What unites us in Christ is greater than that which divides us. The grace that brings us to Christ brings us to one another. John Wesley urged, Though we can’t all think alike, may we not love alike?”
Paul says that we enjoy unity “as we follow Christ,” verse 5. We follow the standard He sets. When Christ is first in our lives, we will be able to walk with others. And we do so “with one heart” verse 6. Unity begins in the heart. Warren Wiersbe says that “Diversity is transformed into unity when our hearts fully belong to Christ, when we love and obey Him and want to glorify Him above everything else.” When we insist on having our own way, disunity results. Let's put aside our minor differences and work together.
HOPE...In verse 13 we see that God's encouragement and endurance brings not only unity but hope: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” This is something we won't find as we watch the daily news or in the speeches of world leaders. Yet hope is essential. Rabbi Harold Kushner (from Newton) stated, “People can live for a week without food, but they cannot live for one day without hope.” You can go to the movie theater to be entertained and escape reality for a few hours, but at the end, when the lights come on, do you have hope?
Hope begins with salvation. We have hope “as we trust in Him.” Ours hope is not empty optimism, positive thinking, or blind trust. Our hope is in Christ and in His unfailing promises. Earlier in Romans (4:18), Paul reminds us that “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and became the father of many nations.” We are anchored in hoped and are firm and secure. We see this in Jeremiah 29:11, where God promises: “I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The opposite of hope is despair...in fact, without God, life is meaningless and futile. Sigmund Freud lamented, “As an atheist I can only only let my arms sink before the terrors of death.” For Freud, death held no hope. He was convinced that at death he would cease to exist. Were it not for hope our hearts would break. We no longer need to fear or obsess over death. To live without hope is to cease to live. We have the blessedness of a living hope that will guide us through life with purpose and usher us into eternity, thanks be to God.