All Joy and Peace in Believing
Sermon for 20 Sept. 1998
Text: Romans 15:7ó13
Today our theme is Christian forbearance. Paul begins in verse 7 saying:
"Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received, to the glory of God."
In brief, he gave us both instruction and the purpose for that instruction. Because we tend to resolve the matters before us, matters of duty and liberty, solely on the basis of reference to ourselves, we need this reminder. It is the harmonious glorification of God by the whole body which matters mostóharmony is the most exalted fruit in the economy of redemption. We would enjoy personal peace and harmony, but what glorifies God is that we live unselfishly, serving each other and preferring each other. In other words, your peace is to be more important to me than my peace. Your innocence, correspondingly, is more important than my innocence and so the defensiveness that so often obstructs healthy, wholesome relationships dies when we take seriously our witness as a loving community.
The supreme example of forbearance, of this kind of preference is, of course, our Lord Jesus Christ who counted not his personal comfort, safety, or pleasure in pursuing obedience to the Father which He expresses as "glorifying" the Father:
"Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify
You. (v.17c) I have glorified you on earth. I have finished the work which You
have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with
the glory which I had with you before the world was. (vv.4-5)"
Then, there is the matter of the nature of our acceptance. Again, Christ is the standard. We are to receive/accept as Jesus accepted us. That means unconditional, undeserving accept-ance . . . without prerequisite of reform. Loving the unlovely speaks to the kind of acceptance promoted here. For of what benefit is it to us that we accept each other in our strength, or in our seemly places? Even unbelievers can manage that much. But we are to be different. We are to love each other in our places of struggle and of weakness . . . in the midst of our imperfections and incompleteness. We are to be most compassionate where compassion is least likely because that is what Christ did.
I do not believe that this means we are to have no standards. Whose standards do we have that exceed those of Jesus Christ in holiness and purity? None. And yet this One who was without sin was friend to sinners and to the lost. . . something we have great difficulty determin-ing to do! We are summoned to show forbearance, not because we lack standards of righteous-ness, but because we have heard the command to love.
What follows in verses 8ó12 are additional motives for forbearance. Verse 8 tells that Christ became a minister, or servant to the Jews (the circumcised) for the sake of the truth of God. He undertook that ministry to demonstrate that God is truthful. Godís veracity, or truthfulness is widely attested to in Scripture. Deut. 7:9 refers to the "God, faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments." 1 Kings 8:24 reads: " You have kept what You promised to Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand, as it is this day." Psalm 57:10: "For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And your truth unto the clouds." "My covenant I will not break, Nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever." (Psalm 89:34-35a) And, again, Psalm 100:5 proclaims: "For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations."
Thereís much more, but before we share other verses letís note together the frequency with which mercy and truth appear together. Just so, in our Christian forbearance mercy and truth must co-exist for when we show Christ-like forbearance we are manifesting the character of God to others, for all to see.
Micah 7:19-20 confirms this observation: "He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all of their (our) sins Into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham which you have sworn to our fathers from days of old." Jacob and Abraham here both refer to Godís people, the children of promise. And our God is the original Promise Keeper. When Paul asks if unbelief can render Godís faithfulness null and void, he exclaims: "Certainly not! Indeed let God be found true but every man a liar. As it is written: That You may be justified in Your words, And may overcome when you are judged." When Paul introduces himself in Titus 1:1-2, he writes: "Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of Godís elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began. . .." In this he echoes the prophet Isaiah (25:1) "O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt you, I will praise Your name, For You have done wonderful things; Your counsels of old are faithfulness and truth."
In verse 9 Paul assembles for the resistant, or merely hesitant Jewish Christian some precious verses from the Old Testament promising the inclusion of the Gentiles which they were witnessing in their day. This development, the inclusion of Gentiles, was something that troubled some sensitive converts to Christianity because it so offended their Jewish brothers. Furthermore, this matter was the express concern of the Judiazers who taught that Gentiles had to come under the law to be really "saved." It is important to state here very plainly that the efficacy of Scriptureóthe power to produce a desired effectóis at stake here! If Scripture says Gentiles are to be included then the matter is both decided and closed, whether we like it, or not. Will the Gentiles glorify God for His mercy? As it is written:
2 Samuel 22:50: "Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the
Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name."
Deut. 32:43: "Rejoice, O Gentiles" with His people;"
Psalm 117: "Praise, the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!
For His merciful kindness is great towards us, And the truth of the Lord endures
forever. Praise the Lord!"
Isaiah 11:10: "And in the day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand
as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting
place (the Messianic kingdom) shall be glorious." Paul renders this: "There shall be
a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the
Gentiles shall hope."
Paulís version is plainly Christological (it reflects his experience of the Lord Jesus), building on the Messianic thrust of the original. Both are truth, with Paulís revelation interpreting the former in it proper sense. Paulís assertion is that, from the start, Godís plan of mercy was to include all peoples. There are some who interpret this verses differently. They would argue that 2 Samuel 22:50 refers primarily to Davidís conquests among the Philistines. Hardly something that the Gentiles would thank God for! Paul, however, in viewing this verse as Messianic, heads in another direction. Deut. 32:43 is hardly subject to the same historical constraint. Moses appears to be claiming that divine retribution is for all His people, including the foreigners who were in the midst of Israel at the time of the Exodus (See Exodus 12:38: "A mixed multitude went up with them also.") as well as the nations. The laws protecting foreigners reinforce this inclusive sense. Psalm 117 is the clearest and least disputable in Paulís progression so far. But the strongest affirmation is found in the Messianic verse, Isaiah 11:10, where in the import is that the Gentiles will share in the kingdom which Christ shall establish for all believers.
The transition in Romans 15:13 to the word hope is plainer in Paulís rendering of Isaiah 11:10. We read:
"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that
you may abound in that hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
This is the natural sense of the phrase "God of hope." God keeps His promises, is truthful, therefore He is reliable, or trustworthy. He is the foundation of well-grounded hope, all other hopes are delusory, or false. Man cannot save himself. The grand socialist experiment is doomed to failure. Any solution imposed from the outside cannot succeed. True hope, in Divine favor, is established in the human heart by God . . . and that kind of hope can be established out of despair itself. By grace good hope comes to the most despondent. The most guilty are by grace most instantly and finally relieved. Both are made to hope through the agency of God. And that same agency creates in us all joy and peace and this occurs as we are brought forward in all obedience, in all the manifold gifts. Then we are able to teach others His ways! Now the agency of this increasing hope is the Holy Spirit. Yes, the Father gives true hope but He does so through the Holy Spirit. On the natural plane, hope may be native to the human mind; but that hope dissolves quickly when confronted with divine realities. What we need, and happily have supplied, is a fruit of the Spirit of God obtained through faith in His Son by the Holy Spirit. There is no way to escape the robust, trinitarian character of our Christian faith!
To conclude, then, we are to accept each other as Christ accepted us because of the great forbearance that God has shown us from before time began. This is the program. We bear with one another to the glory of God and our credibility with the world hinges of forbearance! The most exalted fruit, the most difficult to obtain, is the greatest end of our God in His whole, glorious plan of redemption. We are privileged to be clothed with salvation, to rejoice in goodness. Knowing this letís strive together to love each other more perfectly.