Summary: Jesus models unity with the God the Father and requires it of his disciples (cp. John 17).
May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! (Romans 15.5-6, The Message)
Paul devotes considerable space in his letter to the subject of unity among the members of the body of Christ. There is but one body of Christ—the body is made up of both strong and weak Christians. There is a component that enjoys a Jewish heritage and Gentiles who have found salvation through faith in Christ. Some, giving respect to their heritage, feel constrained to observe certain restrictions with respect to food, drink and the observance of the Sabbath; others, with their newly found freedom in Christ, acknowledge no such limitations. Christ has made peace between these two groups by breaking down the dividing wall of hostility. He did this by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, so that in himself he might create one man out of the two (Ephesians 2.14-16). For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then your are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3.27-29; cp. Ephesians 4.1-7). When a church compartmentalizes itself into groups it fails properly to appreciate what it is that Christ has done and what he requires of his church: I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17.20-21). The lack of unity among believers leads to fragmentation and most certainly impedes its witness to the saving work of Jesus Christ.
THE MODEL OF CHRIST (15.1-6)
The strong Christians, that is, those who recognize their liberties in Christ, ought not to go about their business as though the feelings of their weaker brethren are of no consequence. To the contrary, because they are bound together in Christ, the attitudes and feelings of each group affects the other. Those who are the strongest are obliged to help those who are weaker. “This does not necessarily mean that the ‘strong’ are to adopt the scruples of the ‘weak.’ But what it does mean is that they are sympathetically to ‘enter into’ their attitudes, refrain from criticizing and judging them, and do what love would require toward them. Love demands that the ‘strong’ go beyond the distance implied in mere toleration: they are to treat the ‘weak’ as brothers and sisters” (Douglas Moo, Romans, p. 866). The Christian is to give deference to his neighbor. How can a believer claim to be fulfilling the law of love and fail to take into account the obvious sensibilities of his brother or sister? The Christian lives within the community of faith and is obligated to consider the needs of others before himself as Paul indicates in Galatians 6.2: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (cp. Romans 12.3; Philippians 2.3; 1 Thessalonians 5.14). The question Christians should ask themselves is, “What is helpful for my sister or brother in the faith?” Paul makes reference to this principle when he writes about the believer’s speech: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasions, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4.29; cp. Colossians 3.12-17).
Christ himself is the model of this servant life-style. Paul has adopted this as his own modus vivendi and he frequently encourages others to do the same: Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 10.32-11.1; cp. Philippians 3.17; 4.8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1.6). Paul introduces the words of the psalmist as the words of Jesus: “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me” (Psalm 69.9). That is to say, Christ bears reproaches and suffering that he has the power to stop, but his own well-being is not his foremost concern. By submitting to the reproaches of mankind Jesus was able to secure the salvation of all to whom the Father had given eternal life (John 17.2). By his obedience Jesus became the model for all Christian behavior.