Romans 15:5-12 “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.’ Again, it says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’ And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.’ And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’”
In the last forty years there has been an absolute obsession with different structures of worship in the professing church both Protestant and Catholic. Singing has been labeled ‘worship’ and the Word of God preached has been labeled ‘teaching.’ But the fact is that we worship most sincerely during the preaching. Let me explain; when we sing our lips and voices are repeating words – often projected on the overhead. We sing in rapid succession, “we rejoice . . . praise . . . grieve . . . confess . . . love . . . seek . . . declare . . . draw near . . . fear . . . wonder . . . bow . . . give you glory, might, dominion, power . . .” and they are all great words. Are they reflecting what is going on within our hearts as we sing? Are they our own understood and assured words or are they the words that are printed before us? They hymnist says
“I may as well kneel down and worship gods of stone,
As offer to the living God a prayer of words alone.
For words without the heart the Lord will never hear;
Nor will he to those lips attend whose prayers are not sincere.” (John Burton 1803-1877)
I noticed a review of a film which has just been released. Its title caught my eye; it is called Babel, and as I had been reading Genesis chapter eleven and the tower of Babel I wondered what the film was about. I learned that it stars Brad Pitt, and this is what the reviewer said about his acting; “Mr. Pitt does a perfectly fair job with all the emotions he is called upon to do – fear; panic; anger; despair.” What about your singing? Is it like that? Are you doing a perfectly fair job with the emotions of wonder, love and praise you are called upon to do? Do you lower your voice when you sing, “Vile and full of sin I am,” and then heighten it to sing the next phrase, “Thou art full of truth and grace.” The singing could become a little contrived, though it is called the worship part of the service.
When you listen to sermons that get under your skin, that magnify Christ, that show you your sins, that describe the glory of God, that warn of the perils of hell, then there is a certain pace to such truths coming to you, and certain explanations given for your response to them. There is exhortation and challenge as the word is laid on you, and so you are drawn in and involved in them. You come under the power of those words so that you do thank God that he is indeed loving and saving, or there’d be no hope for you, that he did send his Son to save you. Or you pray to God for understanding or help, or you ask God for strength to do the things you know you should be doing, or you confess sins to God. We sit down after the service and we pray in silence that God will help us to do the things we’ve been hearing. The word of God lives on afterwards. So word-centred worship is very genuine because you are saying in your words to God how things are; this is your own personal response to the Lord speaking to you at that moment in the sermon. The heights of worship are experienced as God deals with us in his word and we are responding to his pastoring and healing and convicting love.
What has all this got to do with our text? Notice that Paul recognizes how the divisions in the congregation over diets’n’days have affected everything in the church including their worship. He longs for a spirit of unity in their midst (v.5) because one result of that will be with one heart and mouth they would glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (v.6). You understand that the praise in Rome has been muted because there are church members not happy with the way things are going in the congregation. They are not being done as some people want. Eating meat is still being tolerated; sacred days are not being kept and as a result the people who support those things can hardly sing; they refuse to pray in the meetings for prayer because they’ve been hurt by some things that are or are not being done. They parade publicly their unhappiness before the congregation by choosing to be dumb. They don’t have one heart with the church, and so they won’t sing with one voice. This division over eating or not eating meat, and keeping or not keeping days has impacted the worship of God.
There is not a church in the world that is unfamiliar with this response, the silent remote minority in its midst. The issues causing people’s disaffiliation are legion, but the token of their unhappy protest is their refusal to sing praise to God. They take it out on the Lord who has allowed such things to happen. How does Paul deal with this?
1. TRUE WORSHIP IS BASED ON THE ACHIEVEMENT OF JESUS CHRIST ALONE.
Paul says this, “Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy” (vv.7-9). How are you able to worship God? Because of what Jesus Christ did. What did he do? It is very simple, he accepted you. You think, “But of course he would. I am a decent bloke. I am not a thief or a murderer. I have a sense of humour and I get on well with everyone. Why shouldn’t Christ accept me?” The problem is that you have never seen Christ as he is. He is the one whom Saul of Tarsus met on the road to Damascus and that experience was something else! It was discontinuous for every religious experience that Saul had ever had. It was as if Saul was put in a spotlight that came from heaven, a light a million times brighter than he had ever seen before, far brighter than the sun, a light that seemed to shine right through him. It was focused on him and his companions so that they all fell to the ground. That is meeting Jesus Christ; he lights you up; he is light and in him is no darkness at all.
Again, the Christ who receives us is the one the apostle John met on the isle of Patmos, “someone ‘like a son of man’, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:13-17). That is the only Christ there is.
I am saying that we may worship God today because this Christ – who knows everything about us from the moment of our conception to the present moment – receives sinners like Saul of Tarsus and John. “You mean he just shrugs his shoulders and accepts them?” No. Not at all. He cannot do that. He cannot be indifferent to actions that contradict and despise all that he is, revolting, vile words and deeds. He himself tells us that there are many he refuses to receive. In the Day of Judgment he will say to them “Depart from me I never knew you.” Then why will he accept sinners like us? Because we are good people? No. Jesus himself said, “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” He said that he was the great Physician, and that the only people who would come to him would be those who were sick through sin – blinded to God’s glory in Jesus’ face, and deaf to God’s voice, with calcified hearts which refused to love him, covered in the sores of sin from head to foot, lame prodigals who wouldn’t go back to the Father from the distant country. Healthy people would never feel their need of visiting Dr. Jesus, but sick ones did. So the message of the gospel was that Jesus accepted people who knew that they were sinners who needed a Saviour.
Sinners Jesus will receive;
Tell this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall;
This can bring them back again:
Christ receiveth sinful men. (Erdman Neumeister 1671-1756 tr. by Emma Bevan d.1909)
How was it possible for the Christ who dwells in blazing light to receive them? Through the incarnation, thought his being made flesh, through his living the life they should have lived as a real man in our low condition, through his dying the death they must suffer. He became the Lamb of God for them, and fulfilled all righteousness for them. He made atonement for their sin; he satisfied all the just requirements of the law which they had failed to do, and so he can take them to himself, like the father of the prodigal son took him into his arms again, like the dying thief was received into heaven by Jesus, like a little child was received by Christ and blessed. So too if you go just as you are to him, without one plea, and tell him you are a sinner and need his mercy and pardon he is both able and willing to accept you.
Then you begin to worship him. Paul had been very correct with ten thousand acts of worship every year of his life, but he had never worshipped God until he fell before him on the road to Damascus and said, “Who are you, Lord?” Only after Jesus had accepted him did Paul begin his life of worship. This is a rule of Christianity that if unbelievers can do it then it is not true worship. Worship is something only Christ’s loved one can know about. Only when Saul fell before Christ did his life count for anything in God’s sight. Only then was it for the glory of God. Before that it had been for the glory of Saul of Tarsus. After the Damascus road event Saul’s life was for the praise of God; before that it had been for the praise of Saul. That is what our text says, “Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (v.7). What is worship all about? Giving glory to God. There is no worship before conversion; there may be singing, and lifting your hands in the air, saying prayers, and gaining knowledge, and listening to sermons, and sprinklings, and baptisms, and the hands of bishops on our heads, and dedications, and the stirring of emotions, but no worship until you are born from above. None whatsoever! Only when Christ has accepted you does worship begin.
But then Paul explains this by another truth, that Christ had come into the world to become a servant (v.8). That is why he came, not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Only then would our worship be acceptable. But the Jews didn’t want his service. They thought he was a blasphemer and full of the Spirit of Beelzebub. They killed him; they crucified the one who came to serve them. They nailed to a cross the great servant of God who had been announced through Isaiah in chapter 42, “Here is my servant.” Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the promised seed of the woman, great David’s greater Son, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 – “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That is why he came to serve his fellow country men, and the greatest service he rendered was to fulfil all that the millions of sacrificed lambs and goats could only picture, he himself became a sacrifice, for without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. The days of those Old Testament pictures had finally come to an end; the Lamb of God had come to serve us by shedding his divine blood and so taking away our sins.
Then you see how Paul amplifes that by telling us that Christ did this, “on behalf of God’s truth” (v.8). In other words, as Jesus’ life and death were prophesied in the Scriptures that had to be fulfilled. You see this wonderful definition that Paul gives us of Scripture, “God’s truth.” That is what it is, truth that has come from heaven. Truth that has been saved from error by a special supervision of God, so that it says exactly what God wants it to say. So the appearance of Jesus of Nazareth was not out of the blue, it was rather out of the prophecies of Scripture preparing men, making them eager and expectant. He was a foreordained Servant and his life and death served the truth of the Bible and it also served his fellow countrymen.
Then Paul amplifies this even further. He tells us that Christ came “to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs” (v.8). There is the great prophecy made to the patriarch Abraham that through his seed One would appear who would bless all the nations of the earth. There were the theophanies when, for example, the Lord himself appeared to Jacob wrestling with him. The glory of God appeared to these leaders in tabernacle and temple and they say, “He is coming!” A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son. He will be called Immanuel, the wonderful counsellor and the Mighty God. The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. All these promises were made to patriarchs and prophets. Promises of suffering and promises of glory; all had to be fulfilled by Christ. He must confirm the promises made to the patriarchs because God is true in all he has said. How do we worship God? By believing all the promises God made in his truth.
Imagine a great hero like Winston Churchill, the leader of his country through the darkest days of the war, that when victory comes and peace is restored he is going to be honoured in a great banquet by his generals and chiefs of staff and the cabinet. But imagine that many of them were openly envious of him and hated him, and as they stood together in the anti-room before the dinner they came up to him one by one and talked to Churchill and they said, “We don’t believe many of your claims to lead the nation. We don’t believe you wrote your speeches; they were written by a committee of writers and read over the radio by an actor impersonating you. We don’t believe that you visited the bomb sites during the blitz – that was a paid look-alike dressing up and waving your cigar. We were think you were a hindrance to the war effort” And so on and on they show their contempt for Churchill and deride him. Do you think that that banquet is going to be a success? Do you think that it will honour Churchill? Do you think he will even want to go to it? Of course not. They are going through the motions of praising him, but in their hearts they disbelieve him and hate him. So it is, if we are to worship God we have to honour God by believing God’s truth as Jesus believed it, and trust in all Christ has done to fulfil God’s truth. True worship only comes when a person is accepted by Christ, when he goes to him as God’s great servant, the one promised, whose life confirms all God promised through the prophets and patriarchs.
2. TRUE WORSHIP HAS TO BE SUSTAINED BY A DIVINELY GIVEN SPIRIT OF UNITY.
You see what Paul says here; “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 5&6). True worship is not something we can control and fine tune; it is a gift of grace. You go to a certain church and in the reverence and godly fear you find there you appreciate that God is meeting with these people. The Spirit of God is enabling them to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The way this is sustained Sabbath after Sabbath in this congregation is not something switched on like the lights and the central heating. It is the grace of endurance given by God that causes it. But if we grieve the Spirit then it can be taken away.
i] Every part of the Christian life needs the grace of endurance, and worshipping with other Christians is no exception. All of us seem to take it in turns to be awkward, or have a fall, or retreat from the place of duty especially at times when we are needed, or grab at the high moral ground to justify living in a sub-Christian way. If you read the gospels you find the Twelve behaving at times like twelve demons not followers of the Son of God. They want to ‘nuke’ a Samaritan village where they’ve been rejected. They argue as to who is going to be top in heaven. They are tough with women and children and drive them away, and they all boast that they themselves will never, ever, ever forsake their beloved Jesus, and yet every man jack of them takes off like frightened rabbits when the troops arrive with swords and clubs and lights. Peter, in spite of having so brilliant a pastor as Christ, swears and curses that he has had nothing to do with that man. Though Jesus has told them of the cross and resurrection that lie before him they will not and cannot believe it. They have seen the dead raised; they were there when he spoke to the winds and waves and they obeyed him; they saw him walking on the water; they heard the Sermon on the Mount; they saw the transformation of the Gadarene demoniac, and yet they struggled and fell often. The twelve disciples needed endurance, and so do we all. There is no true worship without endurance in discipleship.
God is called by the apostle in our text, “the God who gives endurance,” and that is a wonderful title. How did Moses keep going for forty years looking after sheep in the wilderness? The God who spoke at that burning bush is the God of endurance. How did Job survive when he lost his home, his children and his health? His God was the God of endurance. How did Daniel serve God in Babylon under four kings, beginning when he was a teenage and ending when he was a very old man, and never ever wavering? His God was with him in Babylon and is the God of endurance. What explanation is there for the life of the greatest of all Christians, the apostle Paul other than this fact? Listen to his catalogue of sufferings, all he endured for his Saviour, “been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:23-29). Yet he kept going under all this burden. The only explanation was a strength given to him far above the limitations of his own personality and education and heredity. His loving Father was the God who gives endurance.
How do we keep fresh in worship? How do I keep bringing things new and old out of the Scriptures to stimulate you in trusting the Lord and keeping your spirits high? My God is the same God as Moses’, and Job’s, and Daniel’s, and Paul’s. He is the God who gives endurance. How is it that after bitter disappointment and physical weakness you are still here in your place twice on a Sunday? Our God is the God of endurance. How is it that after you’ve been hurt by the foolishness of some of us you still come here and fully worship God with us? God is the God of endurance. But more . . .
ii] Our Lord is the God of encouragement. Cowper says this in one of his fine hymns, “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings.” There are occasions when a hymn jumps off the page and enters our heart and is taken and sung. We mean every word; we are captivated by its every sentiment. The experience of the psalmist is ours. I was listening to an open air evangelist who chaired a session in which I was going to address the men. He chose a hymn which he said to us when he first read it that an event of recognition took place and his own struggles were explained. The hymn was by John Newton, “I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love and every grace.” Suddenly he understood why God was dealing with him as he was and he was encouraged. God used the hymn to minister to him.
We know this in listening to sermons. There was a preacher in the early church called Barnabas. Why is he remembered? Because he was the son of encouragement. He was one of the outstanding servants of God’s church, not because he was an evangelist, or a theologian or a great preacher but because he had this reputation in the churches, that wherever he went he spread encouragement, inspiration, and renewed aspirations; he made people feel good. He was a man full of the Holy Spirit and faith and he came along to a service and he strengthened a congregation. He didn’t move in and complain that this was wrong, and that wasn’t right; they were deficient here and this also needed attending to. Barnabas arrived and gave them encouragement. I’m sure he pointed these men to the central facts of the gospel, but his sole mission in life, and his reputation in the churches was that he moved in and built up the morale of the people of God. He was an inspirational teacher, and after he left people felt strong. They felt they could climb any mountain, and carry any load, and overcome any temptation. They could do that because it was through him the God of encouragement worked and Barnabas was the son of encouragement. So much in real worship and a spirit of unity depends on the preacher giving ministry that encourages the people of God. That is not easy, and that is why you constantly pray for your preacher.
iii] Again true worship is sustained not only by our enduring and being encouraged, but by our constantly following Christ Jesus. You see that in our text, “as you follow Christ Jesus.” Our worship services are brief; Sunday morning an hour and a quarter; Sunday night an hour and a quarter; Tuesday night and an hour and a quarter. There are in the week 168 hours and of those we are spending three and three-quarter hours in public worship. So what do we do in the other 164 hours? We follow Christ. In college we follow Christ. In the duties of keeping a house we follow Christ. In preparing food and cleaning up afterwards we follow Christ. In our homes and in our jobs, at work and recreation we follow Christ. In our books and at our computers we follow Christ. In every relationship or when we are by ourselves we follow Christ Jesus. In other words we read the Sermon on the Mount and then we do what he says. We consider his life and we follow his example. We see the dirty feet and the bowl of water and the towel and we get down on our knees and wash the feet of the disciples. We follow Christ. We hear him pray for the ones who are crucifying him, “father forgive them for they know not what they do,” and we follow Christ. We see him on his knees in prayer in a quiet place. If there was anyone in the world who did not need to pray we would think of Jesus, but he prayed, and so we pray. We are impressed by his knowledge of the Scriptures which he quotes so appropriately and we familiar ourselves with Scripture. We follow Christ Jesus.
So when we arrive in church on Sunday after 164 hours of being away from corporate worship we have not been away from Christ Jesus. We bring him with us. We do not need a bright and breezy worship leader to put us in the right mood. We do not need to be reminded every week of the ABC of Christianity. We have been following Christ Jesus anywhere and everywhere. We have got through the week only by his help; we have overcome temptation only by his strength, and so our worship has a resonance and depth because we are meeting with our known and our loved Jesus in the presence of his people. The one we follow has led us to this place where he specially meets with us again. If you do not follow Jesus through the week then you will be as cold as ice and bored with everything on a Sunday. If you want to see worship pepped up and made meaningful then follow Jesus every day!
iv] Again, you have to accept one another if there is to be quality worship. See what our text says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (v7). Our worship is all about bringing our praise to God, and now we are being challenged about our relationship towards one another. How can you worship God aright if you are disaffiliated from others in the church? You remember those searching words in the Sermon on the Mount; “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23). Say to him, “Sorry I’ve been ignoring you . . . sorry I have behaving rather remotely . . . sorry about those odd things I did . . . sorry I let you down . . . sorry for being difficult.” That’s it. Heal the breach with a little word and get on with following Christ. You think of Christ walking amongst the different churches of Asia Minor in the book of Revelation in chapters two and three and he mentions the people creating division or the teachers of error or the seducers in the church. That has to be dealt with, Christ tells them. He doesn’t give them five principles of church growth and ignores a situation in which some people are not accepting others in the congregation. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to give praise to God.”
When we were unbelievers how badly we had treated Christ, but we finally went to him and we said, “Sorry, Lord . . . God be merciful to me a sinner . . . here I am again Lord, an unprofitable servant,” and there was immediate reconciliation. He didn’t say, “Fast for six months and I’ll accept you.” The king’s business requires haste and our King of love is slow to anger and quick to forgive and so must we be in accepting one another. There will be true worship only if these things are dealt with in the church. Cry to God that the Spirit of unity will be poured out upon us all individually and as a body.
3. TRUE WORSHIP IS SHOWN IN A SPIRIT OF PRAISE.
You will see how Paul ends this section. It is quite amazing the manner in which he reminds them that they ought to praise God. He could have said, “So I want all of you to praise God.” He could just have said, “Praise the Lord” as you find in the book of psalms. He doesn’t. His conclusion is quite magnificent in that he quotes four times from the Scriptures on this one theme of how a spirit of praise should characterize every gospel congregation. Everything he has said in the last chapter and in this one has been written for this great and glorious end, “that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.’ Again, it says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’ And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.’ And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him’” (vv. 9-12). The God who spoke to our fathers by the prophets certainly made this one prophecy that when the Messiah came there’d no longer be worshipping exclusively in Jerusalem. The nations of this world wouldn’t need to go on an annual pilgrimage in their millions to Jerusalem with many being killed by crushes and stampedes. No! Nothing like that. When the Root of Jesse is planted in Gentiles hearts he springs up all over the world; the body of the Root of Jesse would be found everywhere. His kingdom will be in every place. He will arise in South America and Asia and Europe and Africa and North America and rule in all those places. The nations of the world would go to God where they were in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, worshipping God in Spirit and in truth, and praising him that his truth had been fulfilled and they who had once been in darkness, under the dominion of Satan, could now praise God that his Son had accepted them and become their Saviour.
The Gentiles are glorifying God for his mercy. This is the theme of the Scriptures. First Paul quotes David from one of those exact portions of Scripture that is actually found in two different places in the Old Testament, in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18. Then he quotes Moses from the book of Deuteronomy, and then he quotes an anonymous psalmist in the little Psalm 117, and finally he quotes from Isaiah in chapter 11. All these four inspired writers spoke of this glorious day when no longer in Jerusalem but in the distant islands and all the nations of the earth there would be people glorifying God for his mercy. “So don’t be silent. If you have received mercy then praise God for it. Don’t let your disagreement and unhappiness with other Christians make you mute. Don’t let it prevent you from praising and thanking God for his great salvation. Here is the Spirit of endurance and encouragement. Why shouldn’t there be one heart and one voice glorifying God together for what he has done. Accept one another as Christ accepted to you in order that you all bring praise to God. That is God’s way of renewing a spirit of true worship among his people.
21st January 2007 GEOFF THOMAS