Summary: The Christ child as the hope of the nations.
THE UNITY OF HOPE
In many respects we might view Romans 14:1-15:13 as the practical outworking of the Jewish/Gentile debate of Romans 9-11. There was some dissension in Rome over matters of food and drink, and holy days. It is quite probable that it was a question of Jewish customs within the church.
However, Paul’s discussion of how the “strong” should respect the “weak” has a much broader application. The principles which he underlines are always relevant, and apply to many situations of controversy within the churches to this very day. Paul teaches us what our attitude should be on conscientious differences of opinion in things which are not essential to the Christian faith.
(a) Christ died and rose to be our Lord, so we are accountable to Him (Romans 14:6-9).
(b) We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ, so why do we judge one another (Romans 14:10)?
(c) Christ accepts all His people, so accept one another (Romans 15:7).
1. In Romans 15 Paul bases His argument in Scripture. First and foremost, in Romans 15:3, Paul applies Psalm 69:9 to Jesus, arguing that we should follow the unselfish attitude of Christ (see Philippians 2:5-11). We must not forget that Jesus came into this world not only to furnish our nativity scenes with a child for the manger, but ultimately to die for the sins of His people.
2. Having given this quotation as his sermon text, Paul explains the purpose of the Scriptures (Romans 15:4). Jesus and His Apostles are all at great pains to establish their teaching in the foundation of Scripture. The Bible is the only genuinely self-authenticating book in the world: we must approach it with reverence and faith rather than doubt and criticism.
3. Paul prays for the people to whom he is writing (Romans 15:5-6). The prayer takes the form of a benediction, but also carries an exhortation to let God have His way in our hearts. Only when we agree in essentials, and put aside our differences in non-essentials, will true unity come.
4. As we have seen, Paul exhorts his readers to receive one another (Romans 15:7). Again, this is as applicable to us today as it was to the Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome in Paul’s day. Christ has accepted us, so who are we to put asunder what God has joined?
5. Paul speaks of how Christ became a servant to both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 15:8-9). He is the fulfilment of the promise to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but we must remember that the promise to Abraham was in order that he should be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3). This is the mission carried on in the worldwide community of Jesus Christ, “the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), to this very day.
6. Paul grounds his thesis very firmly in several carefully chosen passages which underline the universality of the Gospel (Romans 15:9-12). Four more quotations are used, from all three divisions of the Old Testament. Paul, like Jesus, is teaching “Christ in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44-45).
(i) Paul applies David’s song in 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49 to Jesus Christ, “the son of David” (Matthew 1:1), the one whom one of our carols refers to as “great David’s greater son.” There the witness of Jesus among the nations is anticipated (Romans 15:9). The church joins in this testimony in our Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).
(ii) In Deuteronomy 32:43, Moses exhorts the nations to join in with these praises (Romans 15:10). It is not wrong to see churches full of “unbelievers” at Christmas and other festivals: it is in this place that they are most likely to encounter Jesus. As we join in the celebration of the birth of Christ, perhaps its truth and relevance will break through all the tinsel and trimmings.
(iii) The exhortation to praise the LORD in Psalm 117:1 is addressed to all nations, and to all people (Romans 15:11). It may well be the shortest Psalm in the Old Testament manual of praise, but it is both universal and inclusive. Paul sees in it another argument for unity within the church.
(iv) Isaiah 11:10 anticipates the coming of the Messiah to take up the sceptre to rule over the nations (Romans 15:12). Jesus is identified with the kingly line of David, the son of Jesse. The Christ child is also seen as the hope of the nations.
7. Paul rounds off his discussion with another benediction (Romans 15:13). We are blessed with hope, joy, peace, faith, and power in the Holy Spirit. How can we possibly continue to live at odds with one another?