We live in a competitive culture that touches everything from politics, to sports, to debates, to car shows, to economics, and to beauty. There is glory in winning and lording it over those who have lost. It is not enough that you win, the one who lost needs to get behind you and support you or otherwise submit in defeat. The winner may even aim to shame those who have lost. Some would argue that competition is the reason that we have better products for a better price and that competition prevents corruption in government. But there is no benefit to competition among Christians to be the greatest in the kingdom of God. His kingdom is different and Jesus is a different kind of king. Jewish believers were waiting for a Christ who would conquer the world with military might such that the Gentiles would bow before them. Such feelings of superiority persisted among some Jewish Christians in the early church. In Roman society the weak were expected to submit to the strong and forced to do so if necessary. Such attitudes persisted among some Gentile Christians in the early church. In Rome, the strong in faith—largely Gentile Christians—wanted those who were weak in faith—mostly Jewish Christians—to submit to the strong because the strong were right. To the extent that this kind of thinking persisted among the Christians in Rome, whether they were Jewish or Gentiles, to that extent the church resembled more the surrounding world than the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not come to lord it over others but to serve the weak so that the nations might be saved to glorify God. So glory is not to be seen in victory over others. Paul tells us how glory is to be seen:
God’s glory isn’t seen in victory over others but in welcoming one another.
- Paul says, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” This is more than a call for acceptance of one another – to which this is often reduced today. It is a call for actually welcoming one another with hospitality and joint worship. It is a call for the members of one house church to welcome those with different views in another house church to come over for a feast and vice versa. It is a call for an end to their competition to be the greatest and moreover to seeing the other group as fully legitimate Christians. Literally the Greek says, “Therefore welcome one another as the Christ has welcomed you.” Instead of simply using Christ as His name, calling Him “the Christ” is a subtle reminder for Gentile readers that Jesus is the Jewish Christ—the Messiah—who welcomes both Jews and Gentiles who had formerly made themselves into His enemies. So God’s glory is not seen in “the Christ” conquering the nations with an army so the nations will serve the Jews. Paul was very careful in putting together quotes from the Hebrew Scriptures in this passage to avoid the common misconception of Christ as a military conqueror of the Gentiles on behalf of Israel. Moreover, God’s glory is not seen in the strong in Rome forcing the weak to do their will. In other words, it is not in the victory of one group over the other group that the glory of God is seen but God’s glory is seen in welcoming one another just as Christ has welcomed you.
- We who have been welcomed by Christ today are likewise to welcome one another for the glory of God. To the extent that we continue to be in competition with one another to be the greatest whether within congregations or between different congregations to that extent we are more like the world around us than exhibiting the kingdom of God to the world. The church is not the marketplace – we don’t become a better church because of competition with other churches or because of competition between groups within a church for power. Just the opposite. The glory of God is seen today not in competition and success but community and service. The church is not the state – we do not avoid corruption because of competition with other churches or because of competition between groups within a church for power. Just the opposite. The church is not the state…Competition for power corrupts the church. Christ has shown us a different kind of kingdom where if anyone would be first he must be last of all and servant of all. Thus the world sees a glimpse of the glory of God when we genuinely welcome one another just as Christ welcomed us. Again, not just accepting one another but showing one another hospitality to one another and worshiping together. (Indeed, we manifest the glory of God’s kingdom when we serve one another just as Christ served us so that others might glorify God for His mercy. For…)
- God’s glory is seen in Jews and Gentiles together praising God for His mercy.
- Paul tells us that Christ became a servant to the circumcised in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. For the Gentile reading this in Greek the grammar suggests that Christ not only became a servant to the circumcised but that Christ continues to be a servant of those that many Gentile Christians considered weak. The kingdom of heaven turns all of our thoughts about power upside down. Christ the King is the servant of the weak. Yet He is not their servant with a view to their salvation alone but also with a view to the salvation of the Gentiles. He serves the weak in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. For the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes – to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. The message of Romans about the righteousness of God by faith is the message of the mercy of God for all kinds of ungodly people. So Paul envisions Jews and Gentiles together praising God for His mercy and shows us how this fulfills the Scriptures. In verse 9 the Scriptures show Jewish Christians praising God among the Gentiles. In verse 10 the Scriptures show Gentile Christians are encouraged to rejoice with the Jewish Christians. Quoted in verse 12, Isaiah says that the Gentiles hope in the Jewish Christ. Hope in Romans 15 has been not hope in general, nor merely the hope of eternal salvation, but the hope of the conversion of the nations to Christ – the hope of the salvation of all kinds of people. Paul’s hope that he expects all the Christians in Rome to share is for the righteousness of God by faith to go to the ungodly people of Spain. So God’s glory is seen in Jews and Gentiles together praising God for His mercy in order that the ungodly people of Spain might join them in glorifying God for His mercy.
- God’s glory is most clearly seen today when we genuinely welcome one another to praise God together regardless of personal preferences or style and regardless of race or ethnicity. So let’s come together to praise God for His mercy rather than segregating ourselves apart by ethnicity or style or anything else. And Paul would encourage you to reach out to those who are different both as you share the good news of God’s mercy in Christ with people in the surrounding community and as you reach out with this message to people in another part of the world. God is on a mission to reach all kinds of ungodly people. Thus hear this blessing from the end of today’s passage: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope – the hope of the gospel going to all nations. Amen!