Finding Acceptance in the Church (Romans 15:7-13)
Introduction: The Body of Christ Provides Acceptance
Gary Smalley and John Trent, in their book 'Gift of Honor' told this story:
Keith Hernandez is one of baseball's top players. He is a lifetime 300 hitter who has won numerous Golden Glove awards for excellence in fielding. He's won a batting championship for having the highest average, the Most Valuable Player award in his league, and even the World Series. Yet with all his accomplishments, he has missed out on something crucially important to him -- his father's acceptance and recognition that what he has accomplished is valuable. Listen to what he had to say in a very candid interview about his relationship with his father: "One day Keith asked his father, 'Dad, I have a lifetime 300 batting average. What more do you want?' His father replied, 'But someday you're going to look back and say, "I could have done more."
Of course, I don't know the full story of this relationship. However, from this account, it would seem that no matter how much money, fame, and admiration came for Keith Hernandez, he couldn't escape the fact that his father wasn't able to love him for who he was. His dad's acceptance of him seemed conditional, based upon performance. And it was a performance in which Keith never quite measured up. Sadly, many people spend their whole lives looking for love and acceptance from those whose love should be unconditional. You certainly will never get that in this world that is completely selfish and self-centered. So if you don't get it in family and close friendship, it will never happen.
That is where the church comes in if it is acting like the church. It should be a place where someone comes to find love and acceptance by the community. As we practice Romans 12:1,2 which tells us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, we truly begin to take our place in this new humanity that Christ is putting together. It is one made up of those saved by grace alone, through faith alone in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone.
And as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit to become more and more like Jesus Christ we begin to develop agape love. That is that selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love that God displayed when he sent his Son the Lord Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. God also places us in a new community of believers called the Church, the Body of Christ. In that community, we practice this love, received by God by giving it to others in the community. And, together we go into the entire world and demonstrate God's agape love to those outside the community.
In Romans 15, the first 6 verses, the Apostle Paul is finishing up his talk on what to do with disputable matters. These are things that don't have anything to do with the Gospel or any of the fundamentals of the faith but still cause division in the church. They are matters with which Scripture is silent but to which men and women still have an opinion. And that opinion sometimes is radically different from the other person sitting beside me in the pew. With these matters, Paul says that we are not to be judgmental. And sometimes it may call for me to give up my freedom in order not to cause my brother or sister to stumble and fall into sin.
In verse 7 Paul summarizes the whole thing. He says:
"Therefore, accept one another as Christ has accepted you, for the glory of God."
There are various translations of this Greek word, such as "welcome one another" in the English Standard Version and "receive one another" in King James but the idea is clearer by using the word "accept."
To put this commandment in perspective with the rest of Scripture it is part of the 59 times that the New Testament refers to the idea of "one another." That means that there are just under 60 times that the Bible tells us to do something for or to other people. These things overflow out of our relationship with Jesus Christ but are not done solely unto Jesus. By doing them for others we are said to be doing them for Him and being His servants. They are such acts as "being of the same mind toward one another." giving preference to one another," "being devoted to one another" and "rejoicing or weeping with one another" etcetera. If we do these things, then unity is sure to be a part of the life of the Church.
As far as acceptance is concerned, it is certainly true that of all people on the face of the earth, we Christians should realize that none of us is without sins, quirks, and idiosyncrasies that can be annoying to some, or downright offensive to others. Even the best of us are not perfect. And, if we are to develop the unity that Christ wants of His Church, acceptance is a must.
We all have different personalities and we get along better with people who have the kind of personality traits that complement or are similar to our own. However, in the Church, like in the world, we will encounter those who are not like us and with whom we may not have chosen to spend a lot of time naturally. However, the Church is not natural. It is Supernatural, created by God Himself. And we must accept one another, warts and all.
That is what Paul is talking about in this section of his epistle. And to explain this fact, there is no better illustration of acceptance than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is our role model for unity and getting along with one another and we always need to look to Him for guidance on how to accomplish this daunting task.
In verses 8-13 we can see two ways in which Paul demonstrates to us that we as individuals can practice acceptance and foster unity among ourselves in Christ's Body. We do it by practicing Christ's servant attitude and by praying for one another.
I. Practicing Christ's Servanthood (7-12)
Jesus accepted all of humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike, and demonstrated that fact by becoming a servant. This is seen even more clearly in Philippians 2. The Apostle writes:
"Have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus, who though He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (2:5-7).
Indeed what love and humility it was that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe should not only become a man but, in an even greater act of condescension, He became the servant of mankind by dying and saving us from sin.
Paul tells us that He was a servant to the Jews by becoming a Jew, being circumcised and following God's Law to the letter and became the instrument by which the Lord will yet fulfill all of His promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And, He became a servant to the Gentiles by bringing us into a relationship with Himself by faith in His death and resurrection. He had mercy on us, by not giving to us what we deserved; that is eternal separation from God in Hell.
It is interesting that God always had a plan of having the whole world come to Him by faith. And Paul quotes many Old Testament Scriptures to prove that fact. The Apostle quotes from the Law as well as the Prophets. And, for good measure, he gives us two references from the Psalms. By this, he covers all of the recognized divisions of the Old Testament. All have reference to Jews and Gentiles somehow sharing in the blessing of the Kingdom together.
Of course, we know from Romans 9-11 that the promises of a land and seed along with a literal king sitting on the throne in Jerusalem, that was given to the people of Israel, have temporarily been set aside due to Israel's disobedience. However, the Body of Christ, made up of both Jews and Gentiles. is the instrument by which God is saving all mankind in this present age of grace in which we now live and is moving His program for this universe forward. Because of this we can rejoice that we are able to share in the spiritual blessings given to Abraham.
The point is that Jesus served those with whom He was in a relationship. He gave up His privileges in order to meet the needs of others. You cannot have greater acceptance than that. He not only accepted them, but He also went out of His way to make them acceptable to a Holy God by taking their sins upon Himself and giving them HIs righteousness.
II. Praying for Christ's People (13)
Paul finishes this section of his writing with a prayer for the Roman Christians. In the same way, we demonstrate our unity and acceptance for one another by praying for one another. And if you notice, the prayer isn't for the physical needs of the people but for their spiritual well-being. Not that the physical isn't important. However, growth in spirituality has benefits both for now and for eternity. Praying for physical needs and neglecting the spiritual is neglecting the most important part of your prayer life.
Here is Paul's prayer for the Romans:
"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (15:13).
As the verse tells us, our God is a God of hope. He is the source of eternal hope, life, and salvation. And He is the object of hope for every believer. Hope in Scripture is not a wish. It is rather a desire based upon a promise from the Lord. It encourages the soul because we know that the Lord's promises never fail. The only thing standing in the way of the promise being fulfilled is the Lord's timing. So we wait expectantly knowing that it will certainly come to pass.
Paul loved the Romans and wanted that promise-keeping God to fill them with joy, knowing that He is in control of their lives and is working everything out for their good. Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is based upon happenings or things that happen in one's life. Joy is rather based upon our relationship with Almighty God and our knowledge of Him and His care for us. It is acquired by the anticipation, acquisition or even the expectation of something great or wonderful. And what is more wonderful than knowing God and being part of His spectacular plan for the universe. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. It is a gift, not given by the world and nothing in the world can take it away.
Peace, is also a fruit of the Spirit. Those who know Jesus Christ as Savior have peace with God and are no longer under the condemnation for sin. And they can have daily peace knowing that, no matter what happens, ultimately things will work together for good as the believer is conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
Those who have peace with God have the power of God to have peace with one another as well. They can live in harmony and love with their fellow believers. And it can cause the believer in Christ to accept those whom we call our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Those who desire peace will do their part to maintain it with all whom they come in contact with on a daily basis.
And, as we stated earlier, all of this is Supernatural. It can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in each of us. The peace and joy that comes from the Spirit ultimately is a product of the hope He gives us of a future in Heaven that is greater than any of us can imagine. This unites us all as one people under one Lord who are together anticipating what He has in store for us all. With all of this, how can we not accept each other?
As I thought about this teaching of Paul on acceptance it reminded me of the singer J.J. Heller who sang a beautiful song entitled: "What Love Really Means." In the song, a series of people who are lonely and frustrated with life keep asking: "Who will love me for me? Not for what I have done or what I will become. Who will love me for me? Cause no one has shown me what love, what love really means."
At the end of the song, the Lord replies to one of the persons seeking acceptance. This is a person who is in jail for murder. Here is how the song goes:
He's waiting to die as he sits all alone
He's a man in a cell who regrets what he's done
He utters a cry from the depths of his soul
"Oh Lord, forgive me, I want to go home"
Then he heard a voice somewhere deep inside
And it said,
I know you've murdered and I know you've lied
And I have watched you suffer all of your life
And now that you'll listen I'll, I'll tell you that I
I will love you for you
Not for what you have done or what you will become
I will love you for you
I will give you the love
The love that you never knew
We, the Church, are Jesus to the hurting and the disenfranchised. We are to express God's love to those who feel that they have none. We do this by accepting people just as they are. We don't condone or accept their sins. But we receive them and lead them to the God who loved them enough to send His Son to earth to die so that they can become new creatures in Christ Jesus.
It is my prayer that we will be the Church, Christ's Body, and provide an atmosphere where people feel loved and accepted and not think that they could never fit in. Let us accept one another and accept those who come to us from this world full of selfishness and hatred. May they, through us, find the God who will truly love them for who they are and Who will give them a real love that they can never know apart from a relationship with Him. Let us truly be the Church and accept one another.
© 2019 Jeff Shirley