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A Spirit of Unity (15:5-13)

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All of us are different. We come from different families, backgrounds, experiences, traditions and cultures. As a result, we not only have different tastes and preferences, we also think differently. Sometimes we lack the very concepts or point of view which are necessary to comprehend what the other person is saying.

Even the followers of Christ sometimes have difficulty in understanding and getting along with one another because they are different people from different backgrounds. Though they have a common faith, and have submitted themselves to the Lordship of Christ, they still look at things differently from each other. Also, they are at different stages in their journey of faith. Not everyone has had the same opportunity to study the Scriptures. Some have had to face more challenges to their faith than others. As a result, the faith of some is stronger, while the faith of others is weaker. Because of their situation and life-experiences people have different convictions about what is permissible and what is inappropriate for a follower of Christ to do.

This was a problem among the followers of Christ at Rome. Some of them were Jews who had come to believe in Christ. Others came from a pagan background. It was not always easy for people from these various groups to worship and fellowship together in harmony.

Among the issues which divided these people were questions about whether it is permissible to eat meat – particularly meat which had been sacrificed by pagans to idols. Another issue was whether a person should celebrate the various holidays and feast days. Still another issue was whether it is permissible to drink wine.

Not only was there a genuine difference of opinion regarding these things, it also seems that some people might have struggled with feelings of prejudice against those who came from a different tradition than themselves. Prejudice stems from feelings of superiority or inferiority – the idea that one group is better than the other. In turn, prejudice produces factions and divisions.

In chapter 14 of his letter, the Apostle Paul instructed the followers of Christ how they should treat one another in spite of differences in their convictions about disputable matters. He told them not to pass judgment on one another, to not do anything which would be a stumbling block to those whose faith is weaker and to always act in love.

In chapter 15, verses 5 through 13, Paul tells us the secret of unity. He writes, “Now the God of patience and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind one with another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also accepted you, to the glory of God. Now I say that Christ has been made a servant of the circumcision for the truth of God, that he might confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore will I give praise to you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” Again he says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.” Again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Let all the peoples praise him.” Again, Isaiah says, “There will be the root of Jesse, he who arises to rule over the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles will hope.” Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In this passage Paul acknowledges that developing a spirit of unity is not always easy. To do so requires endurance and encouragement. He prays that God will provide these to the people to whom he writes so that they can be united.

We try to achieve unity by trying to eliminate our differences. But Paul writes that the key to obtaining unity is something else. Instead of focusing on our differences, we all must follow Christ Jesus. It is when we turn our eyes on Jesus, rather than the things which we object to in one another, that we can glorify God with one heart and mouth.

Paul does not say so explicitly, but he certainly implies that the reason for our disunity is that we have forgotten our purpose. We are not here to criticize those who are different from us. No, our purpose is to glorify God. When all of us have the same goal of glorifying God, we will be united in purpose and will accept one another in spite of our differences.

There is another reason we ought to accept one another. Paul reminds us that Christ accepted us. Whatever differences there may be between us and another follower of Christ, it is nothing compared to the difference there was between the despicable sinners we were and the holy and blameless Jesus Christ. Earlier in his letter Paul reminds us that all of us, Jew and Gentile alike, were sinners in God’s sight and worthy of punishment. In spite of that, Christ accepts those who turn from sin, believe on Him and are baptized into His death so they can be re-made into His image. If Christ did that for us, should we not accept the other followers of Christ?

To illustrate the point further, Paul reminds his readers that Christ became a servant to the Jews. If our Lord can serve, should we not serve others as well? But why did Christ become a servant? It was not only to bring the Jews salvation, it was also to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs. For example, God told Abraham, “...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NIV) In Christ, God made good on His promise. The Gentile peoples as well as the Jews may now be reconciled to God. Everyone, regardless of cultural, ethnic or religious background can now glorify God for His mercy. No matter who we are, we have hope in Him. As we put our trust in Him, He fills us with peace and joy through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells in Christ’s followers.

There is something else worth mentioning in this passage. Some religions discourage singing. Some even forbid music altogether. Yet, the Scriptures Paul quotes link song and praise. It is with song that the followers of Christ praise God. What Christ has done for us should move us to sing. If there is no song in our heart, is it because we have not submitted ourselves to Christ?