Unity in Diversity.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 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. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. – Romans 15:1-7 ESV

For fourteen chapters Paul has gone out of his way to establish the fact that there is no place for bragging or pride in the body of Christ. There is no reason for anyone to think he is better than anyone else. All men, regardless of race, color, religious background, or the extent of their sins, stands before God as guilty and condemned. And all who enjoy a right standing before God do so because of what God has done in Christ. No one has earned their way into God’s good graces. No one was less sinful and, therefore, more deserving of God’s favor. As the old hymn states, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all enjoyed a sense of unity in our shared guilt and sinful standing before God. And those who have been shown grace and mercy by God also share a unity based on their complete dependence upon the gift of His Son’s sacrificial death on the cross. As Paul wrote the Galatian believers, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NLT). We are all one in Christ. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been adopted by the same Father into a single family and enjoy a shared inheritance. And while there is diversity in the body of Christ, there is not to be division or disunity.

In chapter 14, Paul addressed the relationship between stronger and weaker members of the body of Christ. He continues to address this issue in the opening verses of chapter 15. But when Paul refers to strong and weak, he is not talking about degrees of spirituality or holiness. The strong are not better than the weak. They are all one in Christ and there is to be a selfless, loving relationship between the two. In the Greek, the word Paul uses for “strong” is dynotoi and in this context it means, “able to do something” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). These individuals, like Paul, know that what they eat does not defile them and so they are able to eat meat without guilt. They know that their relationship with God is based on faith, not a list of dos and don’ts or legalistic regulations. But their “weak” brothers and sisters in Christ are adynatoi or “unable” to do the same thing. As of yet, they lack a freedom in their faith and a knowledge of their relationship with God that would allow them to break away from their self-imposed rules of conscience.

But rather than the strong dismissing the weak and flaunting their freedoms in their faces, Paul urges the stronger believers to “bear with the failings of the weak” (Romans 15:1 ESV). He is not telling them to simply put up with or endure their weaker brothers and sisters in Christ. He is telling them to bastazō or “take up in order to carry or bear, to put upon one’s self (something) to be carried” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). This is the same word Paul used when writing to the believers in Galatia: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 ESV). We are not simply to tolerate those whose lives are still marked by a less developed understanding of faith, we are to walk alongside them and lovingly assist them. There is no place for self-pleasing in the body of Christ. Elsewhere, Paul tells us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 NLT). This is the same passage where Paul wrote, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” (Philippians 2:1-2 NLT). We are to be ready, willing and able to give up our rights in order to help a brother or sister grow in their faith.

And our model in all of this is Christ. “For even Christ did not please himself,” Paul reminds his readers. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that we are to have the same attitude that Christ had, who, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 26-7 NLT). He willingly gave up His divine rights and took on human flesh so that He could provide mankind with a way to be made right with God. He modeled selfless, sacrificial love and gave Himself up for those who did not deserve God’s grace, mercy of forgiveness. And Paul is encouraging us to live our lives with the same attitude or mindset, so “ that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6 ESV). Paul knows that this will not be easy. It will require endurance and encouragement. It will demand that each of us dies to self daily. As we live in unity as the body of Christ, patiently loving one another and bearing with one another, God receives glory. This does not mean there are never to be any  disagreements or points of debate within the church, but it does mean that unity is to trump disunity every time. Loving is to supersede winning. Being one is to be a higher priority than being right.

We are to welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us. That word means “to receive, i.e. grant one access to one’s heart” (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). No walls. No lines of division. No barriers that prevent unity or discourage mutual love. Our goal should always be oneness. Our objective should always be the building up of the body of Christ – for our mutual good and God’s ultimate glory.