Joining and Loving Specific Communities (Study of Romans, Part 8: Romans 14–16)

Key Thought: We grow in joy, peace, and hope by joining and loving specific communities.

Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 8th part of this study, we consider how Paul wrote to a specific community of Christians who had a lot of differences. How would they come together in love? This is the 8th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and part 7 here.

Paul, as a Christian missionary, took it for granted that when people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior they would join specific communities in which they would praise and worship God, help each other grow, and serve one another. This is what we often call church, which simply means a gathering. Remember that the whole goal of this letter is that people would glorify God together (Romans 15:5–6). How would they learn to do this? They would gather in specific communities and build relationships based on the practices of worshiping God, personal growth, and serving Him.

As we noted in the last post, this can be hard. Human relationships are our greatest source of joy and pain. Love is a risk. It is worth it, but it often hurts.

Loving is also hard because people are different. They do things differently than we do. They come from a different place than we do. They come from different cultures than we do. They have different opinions than we do.

In spite of this, Paul was successful in building communities consisting of people of vastly different cultures, backgrounds, and social status. It’s really an amazing accomplishment. Over the past few years, I have built many relationships with both Latino and white Americans. I have tried to bring them together. I have been surprised at how hard it was to do so. The whites would arrive at 5 for a party and would leave at 8. The Latinos would not even arrive until 8. It was a simple difference, they both did what was natural to them, and this made it harder for them to come together. This is just one minor example of many differences people can have. My small efforts have made me appreciate what Paul did in bringing Jews and Gentiles together in one community.

What Paul accomplished was not easy. Paul and other leaders in the church had to constantly remind the people what it meant to love a community well. I want us to consider here five principles for loving a community well that Paul explains in Romans 14–16.

How to Love and Bless a Specific Community
1. Start with acceptance. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). Community begins with acceptance. We ought to have a basic stance of welcoming and accepting people. How we greet each other matters. Notice that in Romans 16, Paul lists all sorts of people that he greets. This is not a minor point. These are the people who are on his heart. We should have a list like that, and it should be long. We should care about as many people as we can.

This is rooted, Paul says, in the basic truth that we already considered. God accepts us in Christ. “Accept others . . . as Christ accepted you . . .” This is the basis for community. God starts the process. He says to you, “I accept you.” How, then, can we not say that to others? We should show others in our words, acts, and face that we accept them.

2. We should think of how to please others, not ourselves. Paul says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up” (Romans 15:1–2). We should develop the habit of thinking of what is good for everybody and not just ourselves. Note: this also does not mean simply pleasing the loudest, angriest, or richest. It means everybody. We should look for the interests of the community as a whole, what will be good for everybody.

That’s what Jesus did. He came to earth not to please Himself but to please others. “Christ did not please himself . . .” (Romans 15:3). The irony is that in not pleasing Himself, He reached the highest state of blessedness. As Jesus said elsewhere, “He who desires to save His life will lose it, and whoever loses His life for my sake will gain it.” This ability to please others is rooted in a deep trust that God accepts us and is making us whole and that He will do us good. If we find ourselves not able to please others, then we should go back to what we studied in the previous lessons.

3. We should tolerate differences of personality, custom, and secondary doctrines. When we join a community, we will find all sorts of differences. This is not a bad thing. It is part of the process. It will help us grow, and it will help our neighbors grow. Paul begins this discourse by saying, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1). There are many things that can be done differently. There are many things that are important but not central. Paul talks here about foods. He had an opinion about what the Bible teaches. However, he says that there should be tolerance for these differences, even though he says it is a matter of truth. He recognized that this was not something that was of first importance (see 1 Cor. 15:1–11).

4. We should not become a stumbling-block for others. We should be careful not do those things that will harm others. This means that we avoid putting burdens on people that they are not ready to bear. It may also mean that we don’t flaunt our freedom in a way that some people are not ready for. When we make a big deal out of a minor issue, then we can be a stumbling-block. When we don’t take care of major issues, then we can also be a stumbling-block. The point is to think of others as well as ourselves. As Paul puts it, “Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Rom. 14:13).

5. We should aim at helping people grow. We do not want people to stay where they are. We want to help them grow. Growth is a process. You can help a plant grow by watering it, fertilizing it, and pruning it, but growth has to occur through its own internal processes. You can’t rush that. So it is with people. That should be our aim, and we should recognize that it will take time. We should always be thinking about how we can help people grow in faith, hope, and love because that is the most important thing for people to grown in. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Rom. 14:19). Edification means building them up. We should engage in all measures that will help people grow.

When I was serving in Spearfish, South Dakota, we put a strong emphasis on the secondary doctrines of Scripture. When new people came to the church, we emphasized these points strongly. Before they became members, they would have to know a lot about the details of the teaching of Scripture, as we conceived of it.

Eventually, the church as a whole came to a recognition that this approach was wrong. We were putting a stumbling-block in the way of the weak and the seeker. We needed to focus on the simplicity of the Gospel and help people grow from there. We repented. It was amazing to see new people come, departed children return, and current members feel more welcome. When we did this, we were thinking about the community as a whole. It did lead to greater joy and peace. We were aligning ourselves with Christ’s mission.

We are made to live in community. We will have to work at it and continually challenge ourselves but loving a community well is a way to greater joy, peace, and hope in our lives.

Questions for Building Your Own Lesson

  1. How did Paul build and envision the community that believers would be a part of?
  2. What dangers did Paul see that would inhibit the building of community?
  3. What characteristics and actions did people need to develop in order to love the community well?
  4. What were the motivations that Paul gave to encourage people to love well?

Questions for Application

  1. Are you a part of a specific community? What has that been like for you?
  2. Where do you need to adjust your way of participating in a community?
  3. Do you have a list of people you love and care about like the Apostle Paul did in Rom. 16?

Thank you for taking the time to read this study. I hope that it was a blessing to you. If you enjoyed it, consider sharing it on social media or subscribing to this blog in the box below. I would also love to hear your feedback and experiences about being in community in the comment section below. I hope I will see you here again.


Photo by Kylie Lugo on Unsplash

Keeping Sane and Productive in an Insane World, Principle # 3: Don’t Compare Yourself to Others; Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday

A few years ago, I started lifting weights. I started making some progress. Then, I saw a friend on Facebook. He was at a body-building competition. The immediate thought that came into my head was, wow! I am pathetic.

As we engage in any endeavor, we will find a ton of people doing it better than us. For some reason, this can be discouraging. Maybe we feel bad for not starting earlier. Maybe we are basing too much of our self-esteem on our progress. Maybe we don’t like where we are, and this reinforces the contempt. Maybe we feel that others are looking down on us. There’s a lot of reasons. It’s easy to get discouraged.

Framework for Seeing Better
But most of these thoughts are simply unhelpful. That’s why I accepted a rule I heard elsewhere: “Don’t compare yourself to others; compare yourself to who you were yesterday.”

If we think a little more deeply, we can get encouragement from other people’s successes. We can also recognize the amount of work involved. Then, we can focus on the key question, are we moving forward? That’s the comparison of ourselves, where we were yesterday and where we are today.

Example # 1: Languages
Let me give a couple of examples. When we see other people doing things that take a lot skill, we can rest assured that they have been working at it for a long time. We can do the same. If we work at it, we can make progress.

But it will take a lot of work. One thing I am proud of is that I have learned to communicate well in Spanish. People say to me that I have a gift for languages. That may be true, but I also know that I have spent thousands and thousands of hours working on it.

But I also can get discouraged with my Spanish. Sometimes I meet a gringo who speaks Spanish better than I do. There are words I don’t know. There are times I get lost. Seeing that other people can do better and getting discouraged is not going to help me. I just have to keep learning. I can understand Spanish much better than I could six months ago. I know numerous words that I did not know six months ago. I have made progress. I can make progress in the future.

And that’s the better comparison. Am I making progress? If not, why not? Is my goal to get better? The progress may not be easy to see today, but I will see it tomorrow and in a week and in a month.

Example # 2: Friendships
Let me give one more example from a different sphere of life: relationships. When you see someone you like connect really well with someone else, you can feel like you are on the outside. It may even make you feel lonely because you don’t have a relationship like that.

So, let’s apply what I just said. One way to view that relationship positively is this. See and believe that people can build strong connections and friendships. It really is possible. This should be an encouragement.

Second, recognize that behind this very close relationship lies a great deal of time and work. They have experienced many things together, and they have probably had some trials to walk through. A really strong relationship is based on connecting in a hundred different ways over thousands and thousands of hours.

Third, are you doing the sorts of things that will help you connect in this way? Are you building some relationships like that? Are you on track to build some strong relationships? If not, then what could you do to make that happen?

If you are making progress on this, then you should be encouraged. If you are not, you can make adjustments. That’s the opportunity you have.

Our immediate emotional reactions to others’ successes in areas we want to be successful in is generally not that helpful. By thinking just a bit differently about these things, we can avoid some of the common discouragements we face and set ourselves up for the long haul of building skills, character, and relationships. Wherever we are, we are. Are we moving forward? That is the question. Better not to compare ourselves to others. Better to compare ourselves to where we were yesterday.

4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 2)

Sometimes people won’t take the steps that they are capable of taking. I had a friend who was considering serving as a deacon in his church. I thought he was very capable of doing it. However, he didn’t think that he could. He was afraid to take that step. We had a conversation, and I asked him, “In the Bible, what does God say every time He calls someone to do something?”

He answered, “Get at it?”

I said, “No. He says, ‘I will be with you.'”

That’s what God does. He encourages those who have fear to take the steps they can take and promises them help on the way. That’s also what He told the leaders of the church in Thessalonica to do for others. “And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14).

Last time, we looked at the last two phrases, which I call the first two tools. The first is patience. We need to remember that leadership is a process. People need time to get moving in a particular direction and to grow. The second tool is giving people steps. The goal often seems too daunting. They need steps that will help them get there.

Encourage Them to Take Steps
However, what if people won’t take the steps they can take? We need to encourage their steps. “Encourage the disheartened,” as Paul says. But how do we do it?

1. Remind people of things that they have already done. When my son was 12 and my daughter 9, we hiked Mount LeConte. Mount LeConte is the big mountain that you can see from almost everywhere in our county. We actually ended up hiking about 14 miles that day. They did it, and they did it well. If I had asked them, though, “Can you hike 14 miles?” They probably would have said, “No.” But this showed them that they had more in them than they thought. From time to time thereafter, they would think they couldn’t do something that I knew they could. I would point to Mount LeConte, “Remember hiking Mount LeConte? You’ve got more in you than you think.” Continue reading “4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 2)”

The Great Blessing of Counseling

When people get in deep trouble, they often realize that they need to talk to somebody about it. It’s a correct instinct. There is tremendous help in talking to people about our problems and hearing their perspectives on it. Sometimes, the mere act of sharing our problems can reduce our anxiety significantly.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is the story of Jonathan and David in the Bible. Jonathan’s father Saul was seeking to kill David. Eventually, David got wearied and was, understandably, discouraged. 1 Samuel 23:16 says, “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” How did He do this? Jonathan reminded him of God’s promises. “Don’t be afraid. . . . My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (v. 17). David knew this, but the promises had new power coming from the lips of a friend.

I have had this experience myself. One time I walked into church and was discouraged about some difficult relationships I was experiencing. One of our deacons saw me and asked, “Are you OK?”

I told him, “Not really. I’m struggling with some relationships.” Continue reading “The Great Blessing of Counseling”

Encouragement for Parents

Parenting is a scary thing. You have responsibility for a precious little life, and there are a lot of things that can go wrong. The atmosphere of parenting is anxiety, and the family is a sort of anxiety generator.

The trouble with anxiety is that it is an emotion that is not always (not often?) based on reality. Anxiety leads us away from thinking and to action that is rooted in emotion rather than reality. Sometimes, anxieties about people become self-fulfilling prophecies. We may have had parents whom we thought were too strict. This may have led us or our siblings to act in ways that led to harm. Out of fear of this, we may not set boundaries for our children. This may end up harming them. So, then our kids go overboard emphasizing boundaries. Anxiety has a way of working through the generations.

I have seven kids from ages 5 to 16. I have tried to be a less anxious parent without disengaging from my children. As I have tried to look at reality and not just go by my feelings, I have seen quite a few things that have encouraged me. I would like to share that with you here.

The number one thing is to relax about parenting. In spite of the challenges of our times, parents do have a big influence on their kids. Most kids figure out how to deal with life and become relatively productive members of society. The long-term trends and statistics for parenting are good. There are exceptions, but the overall picture is relatively positive. You can influence your kids in a positive direction. Continue reading “Encouragement for Parents”