Where Churches are divided for any reason other than doctrinal the root cause tends to be pride which is selfishness. Such a spirit needs to be crucified and repented of.
God’s People Divided
(c) The Selfless Spirit
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
Paul, in these verses, brings his treatment of the divisions present within the Roman Church, to a conclusion. It is most appropriate that that he should endeavour to solve the difficulties that existed among believers by emphasising a selfless spirit. Disunity within a Church can have two causes. If there is a spirit of compromise and where key doctrines are being denied then disunity is necessary for the sake of Christ. Where the Church is united on the key doctrines of the faith, however, division is usually caused by a proud and selfish spirit. This was clearly the case at Rome where Paul said Christians were not to be consumed with pleasing themselves.
We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (v1)
Rather, God’s people should endeavour to behave in ways that would cause least offence to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
1: The Representation of a Selfless Spirit v3
For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.
In the person of Jesus Christ we observe two vital aspects of faith. In his life, death and resurrection we see the one who took our place, who bore our sin and punishment and who rose victorious. Through his blood we are redeemed and through his resurrection we possess new life. Jesus Christ is also our example; a fact that should never be minimised. Here Paul depicts our Lord as one who behaved in a selfless manner for us. In the words “Christ pleased not himself” we hear our Lord’s prayer, “Not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36) and we observe the one who never spoke in anger nor rose up to defend his rights when abused by the Jews and the Romans. In silence and humility he suffered for us. Paul, draws from Psalm 69:9 in emphasising Christ as the great example of selflessness. How was our Lord reproached? He was taunted for being illegitimate (John 8:41-44), for the town where he grew up (John 1:46), for being crazy (Mark 3:21), for being in league with Satan (Matthew 12:24) and for a being a blasphemer (Mark 14:64). His own brothers did not believe on him (John 7:2-5). To add insult to injury he was mocked as he suffered on the cross (Matthew 27:40-44). Quoting from Isaiah Matthew was clearly struck by the quiet dignity of Jesus in the teeth of arrogance and provocation, “He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets” (Matthew 12:19). Do we follow his blessed example? Grace, toleration and forgiveness should be displayed for Christ’s sake.
2: The Instruction of a Selfless Spirit v4
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
This a key text instructing us that all of our doctrine and practical wisdom is derived from the Scriptures. There is no aspect that is irrelevant because all is inspired by the Holy Spirit for our benefit. Nevertheless we must remember that Paul wrote these words with a view to teaching God’s people concerning the selfless Christlike spirit that they needed to cultivate.
The instruction from God’s Word gives us three graces which help us develop a selfless nature:
Patience – the word means endurance under trial. This is a grace which is only perfected when we suffer. The biographies of many Bible characters illustrate this quality in action. Whatever our circumstance, we commit all to the Lord and we persevere.
Comfort – This word means to draw alongside and help another. It is the same word that is used to describe the Holy Spirit. As we face our trials we will draw encouragement from the Scriptures that will be found nowhere else.
Hope – The Bible keeps us rooted to the ground and ever presents us with a positive future. We have hope today whatever our circumstances and our trials because of the teaching of God’s Word.
“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
3: The Conclusion of a Selfless Spirit v5-7
Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.
If God’s people are blessed with a selfless spirit the Church will be blessed with unity. Where doctrinal unity exists family unity is hindered by pride. Only the crucifying of this spirit can enable the Church to function as a New Testament body. What is true unity?
God’s Gift. He is author of patience and consolation.
Likeminded – A coming together of thoughts, ideas, opinions.
It is based on Christ and promoted for his sake.
Glorify God – The church catches the vision of God’s honour and will advance this with one mind and one mouth, setting all other differences aside.
Receive one another – we will receive rather than reject each other because Christ has accepted us despite our sins and failings. Therefore in conclusion Paul brings us back to his first argument (Romans 14:1) where he exhorted the Church to receive and accept the one who was weak in faith.