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ROMANS 15:5-7 THE VERSES we are about to consider supply another illustration of how the apostle was wont to mingle prayer with instruction. He had just issued some practical exhortations; then he breathed a petition to God that He would make the same effectual. In order to enter into the spirit of this prayer it will be necessary to attend closely to its setting: the more so because not a few are very confused about the present-day bearing of the context. The section in which this passage is found begins at Romans 14:1 and terminates at Romans 15:13. In it the apostle gave directions relating to the maintenance of Christian fellowship and the mutual respect with which believers are to be regarded and treat one another, even where they are not entirely of one accord in matters pertaining to minor points of faith and practice. Those who do not see eye to eye with each other on things where no doctrine or principle is involved are to dwell together in unity, bearing and forbearing in a spirit of meekness and love.
TWO CLASSES OF BELIEVERS IN ROME In the Christian company at Rome, as in almost all the churches of God beyond the bounds of Judea at that time, there were two classes clearly distinguished from each other. The one was composed of Gentile converts and the more enlightened of their Jewish brethren, who (rightly) viewed the institutions of the Mosaic law as annulled by the new and better covenant.
The other class comprised the great body of Jewish converts, who, while they believed in the Lord Jesus as the promised Messiah and Savior, yet held that the Mosaic law was not and could not be repealed, and therefore continued zealous for it — not only observing its ceremonial requirements themselves but desirous of imposing the same on the Gentile Christians.
The particular points here raised were abstinence from those “meats” which were prohibited under the old covenant, and the observance of certain “holy” days connected with the feasts of Judaism. The epistle of Hebrews had not then been written, and little explicit teaching was given on the subject. Until God allowed the overthrow of Judaism in A.D. 70, He tolerated slowness of understanding on the part of many Jewish Christians.
It can be easily understood, human nature being what it is, what evil tendencies such a situation threatened, and how real was the need for the apostle to address suitable exhortations to each party; for differences of opinion are liable to lead to alienation of affections. The first party mentioned above was in danger of despising the other, looking down upon them as narrow-minded bigots, as superstitious. On the other hand, the party of the second part was in danger of judging the first harshly, viewing them as latitudinarians, lax, or as making unjust and unloving use of their Christian liberty. The apostle therefore made it clear that, where there is credible evidence of a genuine belief of saving truth, where the grand fundamentals of the faith are held, then such differences of opinion on minor matters should not in the slightest degree diminish brotherly love or mar spiritual and social fellowship. A spirit of bigotry, censoriousness, and intolerance is utterly foreign to Christianity.
THE PARTICULAR CONTROVERSY The particular controversy which existed in the apostle’s time and the ill feelings it engendered have long since passed away, but the principles in human nature which gave rise to them are as powerful as ever. In companies of professing Christians there are diversities of endowment and acquirement (some have more light and grace than others), and there are differences of opinion and conduct. Therefore the things here recorded will, if rightly understood and legitimately applied, be found “written for our learning.” Through failure to understand exactly what the apostle was dealing with, the most childish and unwarrantable applications of the passage have been made, many seeming to imagine that if their fellow Christians refuse to walk by their rules, they are guilty of acting uncharitably and of putting a stumbling block in their way. We know of a sect which deems it unscriptural for a married woman to wear a wedding ring, and of another that considers it wrong for a Christian man to shave.
And these people condemn those who do not adhere to their ideas.
The cases just mentioned are not only entirely foreign to the scope of Romans 14 and 15 but they involve an evil which it is the duty of God’s servants to resist and denounce. That such cases as the ones we have alluded to are in no wise analogous to what the apostle was dealing with should be clear to anyone who attentively considers these simple facts.
Under Judaism certain meats were divinely prohibited and designated “unclean” (e.g., Leviticus 11:4-8). But such prohibitions have been divinely removed ( Acts 10:15; 1 Timothy 4:4), hence there is no point in abstaining from things which God has never forbidden. If some people wish to do so, if they think well to deprive themselves of some of the things which God has given us to enjoy ( 1 Timothy 6:17), that is their privilege; but when they demand that others should do likewise out of respect to their ideas, they exceed their rights and attack the God-given liberty of their brethren.
But there are not a few who go yet farther. They not only insist that others should walk by the rule they have set up (or accept the particular interpretation of certain scriptures which they give and the specific application of the term “meat” which they make) but stigmatize as “unclean,” “carnal,” and “sinful” the conduct of those differing from them.
This is a very serious matter, for it is a manifest and flagrant commission of that which this particular portion of God’s Word expressly reprehends. “Let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth.... Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?... Why dost thou judge thy brother?... Let us not therefore judge one another any more” ( Romans 14:3-4,10,13).
Thus the very ones who are so forward in judging their brethren are condemned by God. It is surely significant that there is no other portion of Holy Writ which so strongly and so repeatedly forbids passing judgment on others as this chapter to which appeal is so often (wrongly) made by those who condemn their fellows for things which Scripture has not prohibited.
THE RIGHT OF PRIVATE JUDGMENT One of the grand blessings won for us by the fierce battle of the Reformation was the right of private judgment. Not only had the Word of God been withheld but no man had been at liberty to form any ideas on spiritual things for himself. If anyone dared to do so, he was anathematized; and if he remained firm in refusing bondage, he was cruelly tortured and then murdered. But in the mercy of God, Luther and his fellows defied Rome, and by divine providence the holy Scriptures were restored to the common people and translated into their own language.
Every man then had the right to pray directly to God for enlightenment and to form his own judgment of what the Word taught. Alas that such an inestimable privilege is now so little prized, and that the vast majority of Protestants are too indolent to search the Scriptures for themselves, preferring to take their views from others.
Because many of those who enjoyed this dearly bought privilege had so little courage or wisdom to resist modem encroachments on personal liberty, those who sought to lord it over their brethren have made so much headway during the last two or three generations. The whirlwind has followed the “sowing of the wind,” and that spirit which was allowed to domineer in the churches is now being more and more adumbrated in the world. We are aware of militant forces seeking to invade the right of conscience, the right each man has to interpret the Word according to the light God has given him.
When commenting on Romans 14, John Brown said, “It is to be hoped, notwithstanding much that still indicates, in some quarters, a disposition to exercise over the minds and consciences of men an authority and an influence which belong to God only, that the reign of spiritual tyranny — the worst of all tyrannies — is drawing to a close. Let us determine neither to exercise such domination, nor to submit to it even for an hour. Let us ‘call no man master,’ and let us not seek to be called masters by others.
One is our Master, who is Christ the Lord, and we are His fellow servants.
Let us help each other, but leave Him to judge us. He only has the capacity, as He only has the authority, for so doing.” Let us heed that apostolic injunction “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” ( Galatians 5:1), refusing to heed the “touch not; taste not; handle not... after the commandments and doctrines of men” ( Colossians 2:21-22). “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations” ( Romans 14:1).
The reference was not to one of feeble faith, beset by doubts, but rather to one who was imperfectly instructed in the faith, who had not yet grasped the real meaning of Christian liberty, who was still in bondage to the prohibitions of Judaism. Notwithstanding his lack of knowledge, the saints were to receive him into their affections, treat him kindly (cf. Acts 28:2 and Philemon 15, 17 for the force of the word receive ). He was neither to be excommunicated from Christian circles nor looked upon with contempt because he had less light than others. “But not to doubtful disputations” means that he was not to be disturbed about his own conscientious views and practices, nor on the other hand was he to be allowed to pester his brethren by seeking to convert them to his views. There was to be a mutual forbearance and amity between believers. Matthew Henry stated, “Each Christian has and ought to have the judgment of discretion, and should have his senses exercised to the discerning between good and evil, truth and error.”
But does the above verse mean that no effort is to be made to enlighten one who has failed to lay hold of and enter into the benefits Christ secured for His people? Certainly not; Rome may believe that “ignorance is the mother of devotion,” but not so those who are guided by the Word. As Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos “and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” ( Acts 18:26), so it is both our duty and privilege to pass on to fellow Christians the light God has given us. Yet that instruction must be given humbly and not censoriously, in a spirit of meekness and not with contention. Patience must be exercised. “He that winneth [not ‘browbeateth’] souls is wise.” The aim should be to enlighten his mind rather than force his will, for unless the conscience be convicted, uniformity of action would be mere hypocrisy. A spirit of moderation must temper zeal, and the right of private judgment must be fully respected: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” If we fail to win such a man it would be sinful to attribute it to his mulishness.
THE GOSPEL DISPENSATION Space will allow us to single out only one other weighty consideration: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” ( Romans 14:17). “The kingdom of God,” or the gospel dispensation, does not consist of such comparative trivialities as using or abstaining from meat and drink (or other indifferent things); it gives no rule either one way or the other. The Jewish religion consisted much in such things ( Hebrews 9:10), but Christianity consists of something infinitely more important and valuable.
Let us not be guilty of the sin of the Pharisees, who paid tithes of “mint and anise” but “omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” ( Matthew 23:23). John Brown stated, “You give a false and degrading view of Christianity by these contentions, leading men to think that freedom from ceremonial restrictions is its great privilege, while the truth is, justification, peace with God, and joy in God, produced by the Holy Spirit, are the characteristic privileges of the children of the kingdom.”
But another principle is involved here, a most important and essential one, namely, the exercise of brotherly love. Suppose I fail to convince my weaker brother, and he claims to be stumbled by my allowing myself things he cannot conscientiously use? Then what is my duty? If he be unable to enter into the breadth of Christian liberty which I perceive and exercise, how far does the law of Christian charity require me to forgo my liberty and deny myself that which I feel free before God to use? That is not an easy question to answer, for there are many things which have to be taken into consideration. If it were nothing but a matter of deciding between pleasing myself and profiting my brethren, there would be no difficulty. But if it is merely a matter of yielding to their whims, where is the line to be drawn? We have met some who consider is wrong to drink tea or coffee because it is injurious. The one who sets out to try and please everybody is likely to end by pleasing nobody.
MODERATION AND ABSTINENCE A sharp distinction is to be drawn between moderation and abstinence. To be “temperate in all things” ( 1 Corinthians 9:25) is a dictate of prudence — to put it on the lowest ground. “Let your moderation be known unto all men” ( Philippians 4:5) is a divine injunction. It is not the use but the abuse of many things which marks the difference between innocence and sin. But because many abuse certain of God’s creatures, that is no sufficient reason why others should altogether shun them. As Spurgeon once said, “Shall I cease to use knives because some men cut their throats with them?” Shall, then, my wife remove her wedding ring because certain people profess to be “stumbled” at the sight of one on her finger? Does love to them require her to become fanatical? Would it really make for their profit, their edification, by conforming to their scruples? Or would it not be more likely to encourage a spirit of self-righteousness? We once lived for two years in a small place where there was a church of these people, but we saw few signs of humility in those who were constantly complaining of pride in others.
There are some professing Christians (by no means all of them Romanists) who would consider they grievously dishonored Christ if they partook of any animal meat on Friday. How far would the dictates of Christian love require me to join with them in such abstinence were I to reside in a community where these people preponderated? Answering for himself, the writer would say it depends upon their viewpoint. If it was nothing more than a sentiment he would probably yield, though he would endeavor to show them there was nothing in Scripture requiring such abstinence. But if they regarded it as a virtuous thing, as being necessary to salvation, he would unhesitatingly disregard their wishes, otherwise he would be encouraging them in fatal error. Or, if they said he too was sinning by eating animal meat on Friday, then he would deem it an unwarrantable exercise of brotherly love to countenance their mistake, and an unlawful trespassing upon his Christian liberty.
It is written, “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:32); yet, like many another precept, that one cannot be taken absolutely without any qualification. For example, if I be invited to occupy an Arminian pulpit it would give great offense should I preach upon unconditional election; yet would that warrant my keeping silent thereon? Hyper-Calvinists do not like to hear about man’s responsibility; but should I therefore withhold what is needful to and profitable for them? Would brotherly love require this of me? None was more pliable and adaptable than he who wrote, “Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews.... To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak” ( Corinthians 9:20-22); yet when Peter was to be blamed because he acceded to those who condemned eating with the Gentiles, Paul “withstood him to the face” ( Galatians 2:11-12); and when false brethren sought to bring Paul into bondage he refused to have Titus circumcised ( Galatians 2:3-5).
Another incident much to the point before us is found in connection with our Lord and His disciples. “The Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not” ( Mark 7:3-4).
First a tradition, this had become a religious practice, a conscientious observance, among the Jews. Did our Lord then bid His disciples to respect the scruples of the Jews and conform to their standard? No, indeed; for when the Pharisees “saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled [ceremonially defiled], that is to say, with unwashen hands, they found fault” ( Mark 7:2).
On another occasion Christ Himself was invited by a certain Pharisee to dine with him, “and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner” ( Luke 11:37-38).
Even though He knew it would give offense, Christ declined to be bound by man-made laws.
CHRISTIAN CHARITY A DUTY The exercise of Christian charity is an essential duty, yet it is not to override everything else. God has not exercised love at the expense of righteousness. The exercising of love does not mean that the Christian himself is to become a nonentity, a mere straw blown hither and thither by every current of wind he encounters. He is never to please his brethren at the expense of displeasing God. Love is not to oust liberty. The exercise of love does not require the Christian to yield principle, to wound his own conscience, or to become the slave of every fanatic he meets. Love does enjoin the curbing of his own desires and seeking the good, the profit, the edification, of his brethren; but it does not call for subscribing to their errors and depriving himself of the right of personal judgment. There is a balance to be preserved here: a happy medium between cultivating unselfishness and becoming the victim of the selfishness of others.
Under the new covenant there is no longer any distinction in the sight of God between different kinds of “meat” or sacred “days” set apart for religious exercise which obtained under the Jewish economy. Some of the early Christians perceived this clearly; others either did not or would not acknowledge such liberty. This difference of opinion bred dissensions and disrupted fellowship. To remove this evil and to promote good, the apostle laid down certain rules which may be summed up thus.
First , “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” ( Romans 14:5) and not blindly swayed by the opinions or customs of others.
Second , Be not censorious and condemn not those who differ from you ( Romans 14:13).
VARIETY AND DIVERSITY AMONG SAINTS There is great variety and diversity among the saints. This is true of their natural makeup, temperament, manner, and thus in their likableness or unlikableness. This fact also holds good spiritually: Christians have received varying degrees of light, measures of grace, and different gifts.
One reason why God has ordered things thus is to try their patience, give opportunity for the exercise of love, and provide occasion to display meekness and forbearance. All have their blemishes and infirmities. Some are proud, others peevish; some are censorious, and others backboneless, or in various ways difficult to get on with. Opinions differ and customs are by no means uniform. Much grace is needed if fellowship is to be maintained. If the rules above had been rightly interpreted and genuinely acted upon through the centuries, many dissensions would have been prevented, and much that has marred the Christian testimony in public would have been avoided. “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” ( Romans 15:1).
The “then” is argumentative, pointing out a conclusion from the principles laid down in the foregoing chapter. The preceding chapter was necessary for some understanding of these principles. Let it be duly noted that the pronouns are in the plural number: it was not only individual differences of opinion and conduct, with the personal ill-feelings they bred, which the apostle had been reprehending, but also the development of the same collectively into party spirit and sectarian prejudice, which could rend asunder the Christian company. This too must be borne in mind when making a present-day application. “The weak” here signifies those who had a feeble grasp of that freedom which Christ obtained for His people, as reference to Romans 14:1 makes clear; the “strong” indicates those who had a better apprehension of the extent of their Christian privileges, fully discerning their liberation from the restrictions imposed by the ceremonial law and the traditions of men — such as the austerities of the Essenes.
The Greek word here rendered “bear” signifies “to take up.” It was used of porters carrying luggage, assisting travelers. It is found again in Galatians 6:2, only the apostle there mentioned “burdens” rather than infirmities (see also Luke 14:27). The term also helps to determine the interpretation of what is in view, and thus fixes the proper application. We are not here enjoined to bear with the petty whims or scruples of one another, but to render practical aid to those who lag behind the rest. A “burden” is something which is apt to cause its carrier to halt or faint by the way, incapacitating him in his pilgrimage. The strong are bidden to help these weak ones. As charity requires us to ascribe their weakness to lack of understanding, it becomes the duty of the better instructed to seek to enlighten them. No doubt it would be easier and nicer to leave them alone, but we are “not to please ourselves.” Apparently the Gentile believers had failed on this point, for while the Jewish Christians were aggressive in seeking to impose their view on others, the Gentiles seem to have adopted a negative attitude.
It is ever thus: Fanatics and extremists are not content to deprive themselves of things which God has not prohibited but are zealous in endeavoring to press their will upon all; whereas others who use them temperately are content to mind their own business and leave in peace those who differ from them. For instance, it is not the use of wine but the intemperate abuse of the same which Scripture forbids (see John 2:1-11; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 3:8). It was the ex-Pharisees “which believed” who insisted that “it was needful to circumcise” converted Gentiles and “to command them to keep the law of Moses” ( Acts 15:5) and thereby bring them into bondage — a thing which the Apostle Paul steadfastly resisted and condemned.
BEARING THE INFIRMITIES OF THE WEAK In the passage before us the Roman saints were exhorted to desist from their negative attitude, however much easier and more congenial it might be to continue in the same. “And please not ourselves” ( Romans 15:1) signifies not an abstention from something they liked, but the performing of a duty which they disliked — how men do turn the things of God upside down! This is quite evident from the preceding part of the verse where the “strong” (or better instructed) were bidden to “bear the infirmities of the weak.” How would their abstaining from certain “meats” be a compliance with such an injunction? No, it was not something they were told to forgo out of respect for others’ scruples, but a bearing of their “infirmities,” a rendering of assistance to their fellow pilgrims ( Galatians 6:2) which they were called upon to do. And how was this to be done? Well, what were their “infirmities”? Why, self-imposed abstinences because of ignorance of the truth. Thus it was the duty of the Gentile Christians to expound to their Jewish brethren “the way of God more perfectly” ( Acts 18:26).
Try and place yourself in their position, my reader. Imagine yourself to be Lydia or the Philippian jailer. All your past life had been in the darkness and idolatry of heathenism; then, unsought by you, the sovereign grace of God opened your heart to receive the gospel. You are now a new creature in Christ Jesus, and have been enabled to perceive your standing and liberty in Him. Living next door to you, perhaps, is a family of converted Jews. All their past lives they have read the Scriptures and worshiped the true God; though they have now received Christ as the promised Messiah and as their personal Savior, yet they are still in bondage to the restrictions of the Mosaic law. You marvel at their dullness, but consider it none of your concern to interfere. Then you receive a copy of this epistle and ponder Romans 15:1. You now see that you have a duty toward your Jewish sister and brother, that God bids you make the effort to pass on to her or him the light He has granted you. The task is distasteful. Perhaps so, but we are “not to please ourselves”!
PLEASING OUR NEIGHBOR The next verse unequivocally establishes that what we have sought to set forth above brings out, or at least points to, the real meaning of Romans 15:1. “Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification” ( Romans 15:2).
This is obviously the amplification in positive form of the negative clause in the verse before. To “edify” a brother — here called “neighbor” according to Jewish terminology — is to build him up in the faith; and the appointed means is to instruct him by and enlighten him with the truth. It should be carefully noted that this “pleasing our neighbor” is no mere yielding to his whims, but an industrious effort to promote his knowledge of divine things, particularly in the privileges which Christ has secured for him. It may prove a thankless task, but it ought to be undertaken, for concern for his good requires it. If he resents your efforts and insults you, your conscience is clear and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have honestly attempted to discharge your duty. “For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” ( Romans 15:3).
This verse supplies further proof of the soundness of our interpretation of the previous verses. The meaning of “we... ought... not to please ourselves” is placed beyond all uncertainty by what is here said of our Lord. In His case it signifies something vastly different than abstaining from things that He liked, and certainly the very opposite of attempting to ingratiate Himself in the esteem of men by flattering their prejudices.
Rather, Christ was in all things regulated by the divine rule: not His own will but the will of His Father was what governed Him. Not attempting to obtain the approval of His fellows, but rather seeking their “good” and the “edification” of His brethren was what uniformly actuated Christ. And in the exercise of disinterested charity, far from being appreciated for the same, He brought upon Himself “reproaches.” And if the disciple follows His example he must not expect to fare any better.
REMARKS BY CHARLES HODGE In his closing remarks on Romans 14, Charles Hodge pointed out, “It is often necessary to assert our Christian liberty at the expense of incurring censure and offending good men in order that right principles of duty may be preserved. Our Savior consented to be regarded as a Sabbath-breaker and even a ‘wine-bibber’ and ‘friend of publicans and sinners’; but wisdom was justified of her children.
Christ did not in those cases see fit to accommodate His conduct to the rules of duty set up and conscientiously regarded as correct by those around Him. He saw that more good would arise from a practical disregard of the false opinion of the Jews as to the manner in which the Sabbath was to be kept and as to the degree of intercourse which was allowed with wicked men, than from concession to their prejudices.”
Better then to give offense or incur obloquy than sacrifice principle or disobey God. “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” ( Romans 15:4).
This statement seems to be made for a double reason. First, to inform the saints that though the Mosaic law was abrogated and the Old Testament treated of a past dispensation, they must not conclude that the Old Testament was now out of date. The uniform use which the New Testament writers made of it, frequently appealing to it in proof of what they advanced, proves otherwise. All of it is intended for our instruction today, and the examples of piety contained therein will stimulate us (see James 5:10). Second, a prayerful pondering of the Old Testament will nourish that very grace which will most need to be exercised when complying with the foregoing exhortations — “patience” in dealing with those who differ from us; further, it will minister “comfort” to us if we are reviled for performing our duty.
By his example the apostle here teaches us that if we are to discharge the aforesaid duty acceptably to God we must have recourse to prayer. God alone can grant success in it, and unless His aid be definitely and earnestly sought, failure is almost certain to be the outcome. There are few things which the majority of people more resent than to have their religious beliefs and ways called into question. More is involved than perfectly informed understanding: there is prejudice of heart to be overcome as well, for “convince a man against his will, and he is of the same opinion still.”
Moreover, much grace is required on the part of the one who undertakes to deal with the mistaken scruples of another lest, acting in the energy of the flesh, he gives place to the devil, sowing seeds of discord and causing “a root of bitterness” to spring up, thus making matters worse rather than better. Such grace needs to be personally and fervently sought.
ZEAL NOT ACCORDING TO KNOWLEDGE There is a zeal which is not according to knowledge. There is an ardor which is merely of nature and not prompted by the Holy Spirit. If then it should become my duty to pass on to a brother a measure of that light which God has granted me and which I have reason to believe he does not enjoy, I need to ask help from Him for the execution of such a task. I need to ask Him to impress my heart afresh with the fact that I have nothing but what I received from Him ( 1 Corinthians 4:7) and to beg Him to subdue the workings of pride that I may approach my brother in a humble spirit. I need to ask for wisdom that I may be guided in what to say. I need to ask for love that I may truly seek the good of the other. I need to be shown the right time to approach him. Above all, I need to ask that God’s glory may be my paramount concern. Furthermore, I need to request God to go before me and prepare the soil for the seed, graciously softening the heart of my brother, removing the prejudice, and making him receptive to the truth.
Observe the particular character in which the apostle addressed the Deity: as “the God of patience and consolation.” He eyed those attributes in God which were most suited to the petition he presented, namely, that He would grant like-mindedness and mutual forbearance where there was a difference in judgment. The grace of patience was needed among dissenting brethren. Consolation too was required to bear the infirmities of the weak. As another has said, “If the heart be filled with the comforts of the Almighty, it will be as oil to the wheels of Christian charity.” The Father is here contemplated as “the God of patience and consolation” because He is the Author of these graces, because He requires the exercise of the same in us ( Ephesians 5:1), and because we are to constantly seek the quickening and strengthening of these graces in us. In the preceding verse we are shown that “patience and comfort” are conveyed to believing souls through the Scriptures, which are the conduit; but here we are taught that God Himself is the Fountainhead.
THE MERCY TO BE SOUGHT Consider now the mercy sought: that the God of patience and consolation would “grant you to be like-minded one to another.” As Charles Hodge rightly pointed out, the like-mindedness here “does not signify uniformity of opinion but harmony of feeling.” This should be apparent to those who possess no knowledge of the Greek. How can “babes” in Christ be expected to have the same measure of light on spiritual things as mature Christians! No, the apostle’s petition went deeper than that the saints might see eye to eye on every detail — which is neither to be expected nor desired in this life. It was that affection one toward another might obtain, even where difference of opinion upon minor matters persisted. Paul requested that quarreling should cease, ill feelings be set aside, patience and forbearance be exercised, and mutual love prevail. He requested that such a state of unity might obtain that notwithstanding difference of view the saints might enjoy together the delights and advantages of Christian fellowship. “According to Christ Jesus” ( Romans 15:5). The margin renders it “after the example of,” which is certainly included; yet the meaning is not to be restricted thereto. We regard this like-mindedness “according to Christ Jesus” as having a threefold force.
First , according to the precept, command, or law of Christ: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” ( John 13:35). “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” ( Galatians 6:2).
Third , by making Christ the Center of their unity. To quote Matthew Henry, “Agree in the truth, not in any error. It was a cursed concord and harmony of those who were of one mind to give their power and strength to the Beast ( Revelation 17:13): that was not a likemindedness according to Christ, but against Christ.”
THE FULLNESS OF SCRIPTURE Yet there is such a fullness in the words of Scripture that the threefold meaning of “according to Christ Jesus” given above by no means exhausts the scope of these words. They need also to be considered in the light of what immediately precedes, and pondered as a part of this prayer. The apostle made request that God would cause this Christian company (composed of such different elements as believing Jews and Gentiles) to be “like-minded,” which, of course, implies that they were not so. Titus 3:3 describes what we are by nature. Observe that the blessing sought, however desirable, was not something to be claimed, but something to be hoped that God would “grant.” By adding “according to Christ Jesus” we may therefore understand those words as the ground of appeal: grant it according to the merits of Christ. Finally, we may also regard this clause as a plea: grant it for the honor of Christ — that unity and concord may obtain for the glory of His name. “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” ( Romans 15:6).
This is the grand end in view: that such brotherly love may be exercised, such mutual forbearance shown, such unity and concord maintained, that the spirit of worship be not quenched. The God who will not receive an offering while one is alienated from his brother ( Matthew 5:23-24) will not accept the praise of a company of believers where there are divisions among them. Something more is required than coming together under the same roof and joining in the same ordinance ( 1 Corinthians 11:18-20).
There cannot truly be “one mouth” unless there first be “one mind.”
Tongues which are used to backbite one another in private cannot blend together in singing God’s praises. The “Father” is mentioned here as an emphatic reminder of the family relationship: all Christians are His children and therefore should dwell together in peace and amity as brethren and sisters. “Of our [not ‘the’] Lord Jesus Christ” intensifies the same idea.
J. M. Stifler states, “They may be divided in their dietary views: this in itself is a small matter; but they must not be divided in their worship and praise of God. For the patient and comforted mind can join in praise with those from whom there is dissent of opinion. This is true Christian union.” “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” ( Romans 15:7).
This is not an exhortation to one class only, but to the “strong” and the “weak” alike. They are here bidden to ignore all minor differences. And inasmuch as Christ accepts all who genuinely believe His gospel, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, we are to receive into fellowship and favor all whom He has received. We again quote J. M. Stifler: “If He accepts men in all their weakness and without any regard to their views about secondary things, well may we.”
Thereby God is glorified, and for this we should pray and act.