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

The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode

Sometimes I talk in bulldoze mode. It’s not something I want to do. It’s something I can do without thinking. It’s something I want to change.

What is bulldoze mode? It’s a way of trying to force your opinion through. You get in a mode of talking where you make it clear to people that if they contradict you or even try to nuance what you are saying, they are going to have a fight on their hands. You may start interrupting. You may speak more loudly. You may just say something in a way that warns people against any challenge.

Bulldoze mode is connected with anxiety. You may feel anxiety that something you feel is important won’t be heard. You may feel like you are no longer safe to share your opinion or that you are not respected. When anxiety goes up, people can either become completely silent, withdraw, talk to someone else, try to fix it, act helpless, or seek to bulldoze an opinion through.

The advantage of going into bulldoze mode is that it does release some anxiety. When you prepare yourself to fight, you feel like you are doing something productive. There is a payback of some sort, or no one would do it.

The problem is that people may not feel safe talking to you. They may not want to be with you or work with you. They may feel more comfortable talking behind your back. Continue reading “The Benefit of Not Talking in Bulldoze Mode”

4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 1)

Our default is to lead by reaction. We see something we don’t like in people, and then we react to it. We criticize. We complain. We attack. We withdraw. We show our displeasure and hope people will change. That’s leadership by reaction. It’s all too common. We rarely stop and think and pray about situations. We just react to them. This does not do much good to us or to those we are leading.

Effective leadership requires something different. It requires thought and vision. It requires clarity on where we want to be and how we are going to get there. It requires communication of that vision and the path that people need to take. It requires connecting well with the people we want to lead.

But that’s not enough. Leaders also help people move forward on the path. How? The Apostle Paul lists four ways or four tools in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. He told the leaders in that church, “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). I will deal with these in the reverse order. I see the Apostle Paul as telling us: remember it’s a process, give people steps, encourage people to take those steps, and have the hard conversations.

Remember It’s a Process
One thing about reactive leadership is that it is impatient. I don’t like what you’re doing, and it needs to stop right now! This is based on a dislike of what is observed and a desire for it to be different.

However, that’s not really how humans work. Change takes time. If we are going to help people move forward, we have to remember that it’s a process. This is true not only for others. It is true for ourselves. We don’t and didn’t change in a day. Change occurs over time. It is more complex than we often think. We have a set of assumptions that govern our behavior and are wired into our bodies. This can change, but it takes place over time. Continue reading “4 Tools to Help People Move Forward (Part 1)”

Love Is Patient

[Listen to an audio version here]

Imagine a community that is deeply divided. There are numerous factions all vying for their interests. This confused state allows some people to break the rules in the most flagrant way and other rules to be enforced with exacting rigor. Everyone wants their gift to be recognized. The rich feast, and the poor go hungry, even in the same church.

Such a place was the church of Corinth. It was a highly polarized church. It was out of control. What did they need?

The Apostle wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to help them work through all these issues and try to bring about some semblance of order. It was clear that there were two things that would make a huge difference: to find their boast in Christ not in themselves and to let that shape them into loving people.

Paul calls love “the most excellent way,” the surefire way to restore community. He refers to three great virtues: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these, he says, is love.

Paul writes about love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is justly one of the most famous chapters of the Bible for its beauty and power. We should remember that he wrote this to a congregation that was deeply divided. He wrote it to a community that needed to be restored.

When community needs to be restored, we can turn to this chapter for wisdom on how God builds community. And how does God build community? He creates the virtues within people that build the community. In this series, we are considering some of these virtues: being a listener, being patient, being humble, and being a servant. In 1 Corinthians 13, we discover the importance of patience.

Love is patient
In 1 Corinthians 13, there is a beautiful description of love. We can define love as an affection for someone and desire for union and communion with that person.

If you wanted to describe love, what word would you use first? The Apostle Paul begins, perhaps surprisingly, with patience. “Love is patient.” He says.

Patience and love are deeply connected in Paul’s mind. He says elsewhere: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). Love and patience go together.

This fits well with the rule that we discussed last week. James says that every one of us should be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. What this means is that we can’t rush getting our ideas and thoughts into a conversation. We have to go through the process of carefully listening, understanding, and interacting. This takes time. This requires patience.

Why does it require patience? Because the reward of community doesn’t come immediately, and there are obstacles to bringing it about. We will have to work through them. For this, we need patience!

We have opportunity to grow in patience every day. It took me a long time to realize that when you work with physical objects like putting a desk together or fixing a printer, nothing fits together exactly right. You’ve got to have the patience to overcome these obstacles. I’m still learning that. Relationships are no different. It takes time to build relationships, and it will involve obstacles.

Can we accept that community is a process and embrace it? When we do, we will have learned that love is patient.

Love is a process
What I mean is that love is not a mere feeling. It’s certainly not a one-time thing. It is a process of bringing people together. Relationships aren’t built overnight.

Aristotle said that to have a good friend, you have to eat a pound of salt together. He did not mean that you could magically build a friendship by sitting down and eating a pound of salt together in one sitting. He meant that you had to have enough meals that the salt added together would add up to a pound. Relationships take time. They take patience.

Our expectation is so often that relationships will come quickly. We come to a new place or church or family, and we expect it to be like the place we left. The trouble is that we have forgotten how much patience it took to build the relationships we had before. We’ve forgotten the process. We’ve forgotten how many pounds of salt we ate together to get the relationships that we have.

James warns us against being quick to speak and slow to listen. Sometimes, we think we can get heard quickly. This is not true. It’s a process. With people, fast is slow, and slow is fast. Relationships take time. Are we willing to engage in the process?

To do this two virtues are necessary. The first is perseverance. Perseverance is the virtue that enables us to continue doing good in spite of the fact that it gets boring or hard. It means that you keep doing your devotions, even when you don’t feel like it. You keep going to small group. You keep practicing an instrument. You keep exercising. The virtue that enables us to do this is perseverance.

Patience is a little bit different. Patience is the virtue that enables us to put up with obstacles and pain in pursuit of something good. Patience enables us to stick with people even when they disappoint us. It enables us to continue serving a community, even when it hurts us. It enables us to keep playing the guitar, even when we can’t seem to hit the F chord correctly. That’s patience. It is crucial for community. Why? Because love involves pain.

Love Involves Pain
When we enter into the adventure of community, it will involve obstacles, and it will involve pain. This requires patience, a willingness to endure for the good goal of community.

Let’s be honest, though, many of the things that hurt us aren’t because people do us wrong. Community is a challenge because people are different. They have different views that they come to at different rates than we do. They have different gifts that lead them toward different activities. They have different priorities. This requires patience.

What helps us with patience? It is re-envisioning the community. Differences are actually an asset not a hindrance to community. We are a body with different parts. Our differences show we need one another, not that we should break up into factions. Here’s how God shows us this in 1 Cor. 12:18–20:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

It’s a familiar image, but one we need to take in deeply, if we are going to develop the patience we need.

But we will not only experience differences. We will experience offences large and small. Coming together will hurt us. This requires patience. A willingness to forgive and bear with wrongs is going to be a big part of building community. This is how the Bible speaks of these virtues in Colossians:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Col. 3:12–13).

People will say things that hurt us. They will disappoint us. Can we move forward in the face of these and keep going? Sometimes we should confront, but sometimes we should forgive and just move forward.

One of the most challenging and rewarding examples of this came within my former Presbytery (a regional group of churches). The Presbytery was completely polarized. At the heart of it was the disagreement between myself and another Pastor over important theological issues. It started there, but it spiraled out of control.

After a time, the Lord did some things in me that caused me to look at that relationship differently. At one meeting, we were able to talk. Over the next year and half, we entered into the process of slowly unraveling several years of hurts and mistrust. Eventually, we became close friends and are to this day (you can read the whole story here). It took a lot of patience, on both our parts. I need to remember this lesson as I engage in a variety of relationships, even in ones where there has not been as much polarization.

Love Is Rooted in God’s love
So, how do we get the strength to patiently endure? How do we get the strength to love?

When the Apostle Paul thought of patience, I imagine the first thing he thought of was God’s patience. Here’s what he said to his associate Timothy:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (1 Tim. 1:15–16).

When we consider our own guilt before God, we know our own sin better than anyone else’s. This can lead us to see ourselves as “the chief of sinners.” When we see ourselves this way, it will cause us to be amazed at “His immense patience.” This amazement will make it easier to be patient with others.

In this world, there are many righteous causes. We need to stand for righteous causes. It is important to fight for justice and righteousness. However, we also need to recognize the imperfection of our own righteous causes. The doctrine of justification by faith alone teaches us that both we and our opponents stand condemned before a holy God and are justified only by grace. This should moderate our feelings of antipathy to a degree and give us a feeling sympathy for our fellow human beings. We need both perspectives to retain balance. In this way, as Reinhold Niebuhr said, we can be both in the battle and above it.

When we understand our own sin, we can grasp that God has been more patient with us than we will ever be with others. Can we bear with others as He has born with us?

So, here’s what I would like you to do and what I will endeavor to do by God’s grace. First, I will recognize that building community is a process. This mean that I will try to do the little things day by day that will build the community and that I won’t be deterred because it takes time or is difficult.

Second, when I encounter obstacles or differences in relationships, I will not give up. I will remember that love is patient. Obstacles are part of the process not an end to it.

Third, I will believe that patient building of community will produce fruit. I will believe that God wants to use me to build community, and I will submit to His process of doing that with full hope that it will make a difference.

Finally, I will take in deeply of how many obstacles our Lord Jesus overcame to bring us to Himself, remembering these words:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:2–3).

Building a Better Community

When we look for community, our basic tendency is to ask, what will this community do for me? Will they like me? Will they accept me? Can they help me?

The biblical approach to community is very different. Instead of asking, what can this community do for me, it asks, what can I do for this community? How can I love it, serve it, and accept it?

A great description of this perspective is found in Romans 15:1–13. It was a community with significant differences based on the different perspectives of Jews and Gentiles who both believed in Jesus. There was significant reason to think that either this community would not be good for them or to think that everyone had to be the same in order to make it a supportive community. Instead, God told them how to do it.

  1. We bear with each other (v. 1). Every person we meet will be at a different place than us. On a variety of biblical issues, moral issues, and character, there will be significant differences. We need to recognize that people progress at different levels at different rates with different thinking and bear with others. Love is patient.
  2. We seek to please others (v. 1b and 2a). We should not approach things in such a way that wants everything to be our way. We should be ready to yield, especially in matters that are indifferent. It is a totally different perspective to ask, what would please others here rather than, what would please me?
  3. We seek to build others up (v. 2). We don’t merely want to leave people where they are. We want to help them grow, to build them up. We should ask not merely, what do I need for my growth, but what would help others grow? We should encourage them when we see them doing good and making progress. We should use words that will help them take the next steps.
  4. We accept people. “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you.” So often our basic attitude toward others is judgment. What if our basic attitude was acceptance? I think it’s important to see that this not only means that we love people. We like them. We appreciate them. We value the gifts and good things they bring to the table.
  5. If we followed these prescriptions, this would make a better community. Everyone would be loved, everyone would be cared for, and everyone would be encouraged.

    So, where do we get the idea that this is the way we should build community? Jesus.

    Jesus led the way. That’s how He lived. He thought of others and their good. He did not please Himself. He was willing to bear with people and move toward them, even when they reproached Him (v. 3).

    It’s important, however, that we see how Jesus was able to live this way. He was able to live this way because His life wasn’t centered in other people. His life was centered on His heavenly Father. He was filled with all joy and peace because He trusted in His heavenly Father. And that’s how we can get the power to build a better community. We need to love people, but we need to be centered on the Father.

    From our perspective, we are centered on a relationship with the Triune God. We are centered on the fact that we as believers have a loving relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    Note what God says to us in Romans 15:7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” When we believe that Christ has accepted us, then we will be in a position to accept others. And note, Jesus not only loves us, He likes us. He made us and values who we are and the gifts and good things we bring to the table. He gave Himself on the cross to cover our sins. When our lives are centered on this fact, then we will be in a position to build a better community.