Climbing on the Altar
Quarter 3, Lesson 12

Lesson Twelve

The Strong Help the Weak

Text: Romans 15:1-13

Begin your study by looking at the Romans 12-15:13 section in a single, comprehensive view. Rather than examining the "individual trees" in this section, get an overall picture of the "forest." After an in-depth examination of the basic concepts concerning salvation (chapters 1-11), Paul began a new section in 12:1. This section made practical applications of the concepts in the first eleven chapters. It is as if Paul said, "If you trust God's workings that produced salvation for everyone, you will behave in this manner."

Remember the context. In Rome, Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jews experienced significant disagreement. Relationships within Rome's Christian community were strained. Can you imagine the discussions, arguments, even confrontations that occurred as Christians debated who were the strong? Can you hear some Jewish Christians arguing they were the spiritually strong because of their history, their knowledge of the scriptures, and their messages from the prophets? Can you hear some Christians who were not Jews arguing they were the spiritually strong because they better understood God's accomplishments in Christ? Can you see some Jewish Christians struggling to understand God's purpose through Israel was to send Jesus to become the Christ for all people? [These Jewish Christians had almost 1500 years of Jewish tradition to adjust!] Can you see some Christians who were not Jews struggling to understand the one God who sent Jesus Christ? [Their religious past had hundreds of years of experience in acknowledging many gods, not one God.]

The result: devout Jewish Christians argued with devout Christians who were not Jews about who were the strong. "Who called the shots in Rome's Christian community? Who had the lead? Who determined what was and was not done?" In the context of today's church, should the elders be Jewish Christians, Christians who were not Jews, or a mix? As the devout argued, the weak "fell through the cracks." Confused and struggling, the weak lived in the religious fog of a paganistic society that influenced every aspect of their everyday lives. The devout were unconcerned because the important issue was who determined the direction of Rome's Christian community and controlled what happened.

Simplifying and paraphrasing Paul's instruction to Christians in Rome, he said [beginning in chapter 12], "If you understand God's workings to produce the salvation of all people, this is how you will behave. First, you will understand your indebtedness to God's mercy. Second you will climb on God's altar every day.

Note Paul's emphasis. (1) This is how Christians behave toward each other. (2) This is how Christians behave toward the evil. (3) This is how Christians respect Rome's government. (4) This is how Christians behave toward other people. (5) This is how strong Christians behave toward weak Christians.

Note which relationship received the most emphasis [by volume of words]. Paul devoted almost a chapter and a half to the strong Christian's responsibility to the weak Christian. Obviously, among Christians in Rome, that was a primary problem. But does that not always tend to be the primary problem in any congregation? In an individual Christian's list of spiritual priorities, do we not decide that caring for the weak is neither as important nor as essential as other "spiritual priorities?"

Note Paul's emphasis. Remember, verses were not added to the text until the 1500's [in a Greek New Testament in 1551, and in a New Testament of what became the Geneva Bible in 1557]. Verse divisions were added hundreds of years after Paul wrote his letter to Christians in Rome. The significance: Romans 14 and 15 were merely a continuing emphasis in his letter.

Note the truth Paul stressed: strong Christian ought to bear the weakness of Christians without strength. No Christian exists to please himself or herself. On a mature Christian's priority list, commitment to mercy eliminates "my preference." A Christian's devotion to personal preferences decreases usefulness to God's will. A mature Christian's devotion is to edifying others. In a mature Christian, spiritually building up others, advancing the spiritual maturity of others, and the spiritual development of others receives priority over personal preference.

Why should that be a standard for spiritual maturity? Why should God recognize that standard? Surely the spiritually strong should have and enjoy "the privilege" of having their preferences predominate! That is the way it works in the everyday world! The preferences of those holding the power control the situation! In common society, yes. Among God's people, no.

Jesus Christ is the reason that standard is recognized among God's people. Jesus' life and death were not about pleasing himself. For that reason God's will could be accomplished through him.

Note Paul affirmed Psalms 69:9 existed to instruct Christians. It existed to urge Christians to trust God as their source of perseverance and encouragement. Paul said Old Testament scripture was written to give Christians hope.

Note Christians who came to opposite conclusions about sacrificial meat offered to idols could be "of the same mind with one another." Paul did not argue that Christians must hold identical positions and conclusions to be of one mind. Then how could they be of one mind? They were of one mind about Jesus the Christ. Weak Christians, strong Christians, Jewish Christians, and Christians who are not Jews must be of the same mind about Jesus the Christ.

Note Christians were of the same mind about Christ for the purpose of glorifying God. They accepted each other just as Christ accepted all of them. The end result of acceptance is the glorification of God.

Note that Christ was the servant to the Jews confirming that God kept promises made to their ancestors. At the same time Christ was servant to those who were not Jews so they could glorify God for His mercy. Paul documented God's commitment to providing mercy for people who were not Jews by citing 2 Samuel 22:50; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; and Isaiah 11:10.

Note Paul said that their hope would fill them with joy and peace if they believed. Changes in their understanding and behavior would occur only if they trusted God enough to climb on the altar.

Personal thought questions: share your thoughts only if you choose to share them.

  1. In judgment, if Christ read you a list of people you encouraged and a list of people you discouraged, which list would be the longest? Do you bear the weakness of Christians without strength?

  2. In judgment, how would you deal with the fact that someone was not with God because of your discouragement?

Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 12

Copyright © 2001
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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