- What does it mean biblically to "welcome one another?" Why can this feel so difficult to do?
- We are called "not to please ourselves, but to please others for their good, to build them up". In what ways in the life of the church are you tempted to please yourself over pleasing others? Describe.
- Paul says that God gives us endurance and encouragement through the scriptures so that we would have hope. How does this help us in our minsitry of "welcoming one another?"
- Verse 7 says, "Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you." How has Christ welcomed you? How should that inform the way that we welcome one another?
- How do you personally need to grow in welcoming others as Christ has welcomed you? Describe.
- How can our small group (or family) grow in "welcomging one another?"
This morning we’re going to consider what it means to “welcome one another.” If you were to do a survey of the New Testament, you’d find that there are roughly 59 ‘one another’ commands given to Christians to obey. And many of these we would quickly recognize and understand intuitively: Love one another (John 13:34). Forgive one another (Eph 4:2). Comfort one another (1 Thess 4:18). Be patient with one another (Col 3:13). It’s not too difficult to understand the significance of commands like that, but the command to welcome one another seems less obvious, doesn’t it? When you think of a Welcome Ministry at a church you probably envision volunteers holding doors open, handing out bulletins along with a smile and a handshake. Sure, it’s nice to receive a warm welcome when you come to church on Sundays, but the ministry of “welcoming one another” might not really feel all that significant. But I want to argue this morning that the command to “welcome one another” perhaps more than any other of the ‘one another’ commands most comprehensively explains how Christians, in light of the gospel, are called to interact with other Christians.
Let’s read Romans 15:1-7.
"We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
Our outline for this sermon is going to be really simple, and it’s all found in verse 7: 1) Welcome one another; 2) As Christ has welcomed you; 3) for the glory of God.” The command, the encouragement, and the purpose.
1. The Command: Welcome One Another
What does it mean to “welcome one another” biblically? I think our text this morning gives us 3 building blocks for understanding what is entailed in the ministry of welcoming one another:
1. Welcoming is burden-bearing.
2. Welcoming is self-denying.
3. Welcoming is people-pleasing.
Welcoming is burden bearing
15:1a: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak”
Paul begins chapter 15 by referencing the argument he was forming starting in chapter 13, that although the greatest change the gospel of Jesus Christ brings about is our transformed relationship with God, the gospel also transforms all of our earthly relationships: with governing authorities, unbelievers, and other Christians. In chapter 14, Paul addresses Christians who understand that their freedom in Christ means that they are no longer bound to the Old Testament law and it’s dietary and Sabbath restrictions. Some of these “stronger” Christians in the Roman church thought their freedom in Christ gave them license to argue with, belittle, and despise those “weaker” Christians in the church who felt conscience-bound to eat and live in a more restricted way. Paul makes no effort to hide his own opinion (14:14): “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself,” but his next phrase is startling: “but [the eating of meat] is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Why? It’s not like the nature of the food has changed. No, but it is unclean for that Christian because in eating it, they are going against their conscience which earnestly believes that to eat meat is to dishonor God. In fact, Paul says that any Christian who goes against their conscience is condemned and committing sin, because “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (14:23)!
But do you know what’s fascinating? What’s fascinating is that Paul’s admonition to the stronger Christians is not to correct the weaker Christians’ theology! Paul’s response is basically this: “Who cares!” Who cares whether you eat meat or not, or drink alcohol or not, or put your kids in cloth diapers or public schools, or mow your lawn on Sundays, or go to the movie theater. (14:17-18): “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” So, what does God call these stronger Christians to do? God calls them to support these weaker brothers and sisters in their earnest strivings to please God and to not use their own freedom to cause these weaker Christians to feel pressured or condemned. They are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19). In fact, it is because of their strength of faith that Paul places the greater obligation upon the stronger Christians. Notice what he doesn’t say, that because they’re right, they should work really hard pressure and persuade the Christians who are misguided on these secondary matters. No, these stronger Christians are called to restrict their liberties in these matters for the protection of the weak Christian’s conscience and for their upbuilding. The stronger you are, the more responsibility you bear to lay down your liberties for the weak.
Now, you might be tempted to wonder, “How does this apply to me today? I don’t see many Christians in 2023 arguing about whether we’re allowed to eat meat, or whether we should enforce the practice of the Sabbath on a specific day.” But as we move into chapter 15 and the text we’re dealing with this morning, I think we see Paul’s language broadening here: 15:1: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak.” He’s moving on from the specifics of meat eating and Sabbath-keeping to a broader principle. We see Paul giving similar advice to the mature Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 when he says, “we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” So what we’re seeing here is a move away from the very specific in chapter 14 to a broader principle in 15:1: “We who are strong [in the faith, in general] have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak [in the faith, in general].”
I want to make a note of clarification here. I’m sure there are many of you who are hearing all of this and thinking, “I am not a strong Christian. In fact, isn’t it a bit arrogant or presumptuous to think of yourself in that way?” But this misses the fact that you can’t simply reduce Christian maturity to something that is black and white—“you either are or aren’t mature in the faith.” Christian maturity exists on a broad continuum. You might be very mature in some areas as a Christian, and very immature in other ways. And no matter how long you have been a Christian, and how mature or immature you may feel in your faith, there will almost always be some in the church who are more mature than you, and some that are less mature and will need your strength.
So the question is, how does God want those who are strong in the faith to interact with those who are weak in the faith?
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak”. What does this mean—to “bear with the weak?” Is Paul saying to the stronger Christian, “Hey, I know it’s not fair, and you don’t have to happy about it, but please just try to be nice to your weaker brother?” Is it a win if these stronger Christians in the church simply tolerate the existence of the weaker believers?
When I was 18, I was asked to coach a soccer team of 5-year-olds for “Upwards Sports,” a ministry that leverages sports to reach out to non-Christians in the community. The main point was to build relationships with these 5-year-olds and their parents and to share the gospel with them. The focus was supposed to be primarily on the gospel and not the competition. They didn’t even keep track of the goals scored--but I did. I wanted to win! Now, my team was mostly made up of the kind of 5-year-old soccer players you’d expect: kind of half-focused, easily distracted, content just kind of mindlessly chasing the ball around the field. But my secret weapon was this one boy named Jonathan who just dominated every other 5-year-old on the field. He was at least a foot taller than the other players and scored like 10 goals per game. He was a beast. Throughout the season my coaching strategy quickly devolved into me just shouting at the other kids, “Pass the ball to Jonathan!” Now it wasn’t that I was critical of the other kids on my team, but I just didn’t give them a whole lot of thought so long as they didn’t get in the way of my star athlete. Now, obviously, I was not in a great place emotionally or spiritually at 18 to coach a team of 5-year-olds, but I think the way I thought of my other players is similar to how some of us think those in the faith who are weaker than us—those who drag us down, inconvenience us, and feel in our way.
But is that the kind of “bearing with” God has in mind? No. The Greek word Paul is using here for “bear with” is bastazō, which doesn’t simply mean to “tolerate” or “put up with” but is the same word Paul uses in Galatians when he says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2), the “law of love” (5:14). Weaker brothers and sisters are not to be looked down upon, or thought of as “lesser than,” but cherished, encouraged, and welcomed into the life of the church. Douglas Moo, a theologian and Bible commentator says it this way: “In this light, what Paul is exhorting the strong to do is willingly and lovingly to assume for themselves the burden that these weak believers are carrying.”
Welcoming is burden bearing.
Welcoming is also self-denying
15:1c: “…and not to please ourselves”
The very nature of burden bearing requires self-denial and sacrifice. A hike you could do by yourself in 1 hour takes 5 hours when you bring young children with you. Last Saturday we were walking around Middleton Farms with our small group and I saw this dad literally with one kid fastened to his back, a baby wrapped to his front, while pushing a stroller holding two more kids. That man needed some prayer! Sometimes we’re tempted to feel like other weaker Christians are just slowing us down.
Maybe this is how some of the believers in Rome were also feeling. “Man, if it wasn’t for these weak Christians, think how fast our church could grow and the reach of the gospel could expand! Think of all the ministries we could start and things we could accomplish for the kingdom!” Or maybe they were frustrated by these weaker Christians for less grandiose reasons. “I’ve been trying to teach this person really basic things about God and the gospel and they just aren’t getting it.” Or, “I can’t believe this person is struggling with the same sin after all this time. Why can’t they just grow up?”
Think about this in your own life. In what ways are you tempted to please yourself in the life of the church?
- Maybe you’re quick to criticize the failings of other Christians and slow to praise their earnest attempts at growth.
- Maybe you avoid interacting with other Christians in the church whose lives are particularly messy and dysfunctional because you want to protect your time and emotional energy.
- Maybe you dominate in conversations and place the emphasis on you and your thoughts, and your feelings, and your struggles instead of loving the person in front of you and drawing them out.
- Maybe you’d much rather choose a quiet Sunday afternoon at home with your family over a potentially awkward lunch with a visitor or new member?
And yet, this feels so difficult for us to do, doesn’t it? As I was preparing this sermon this past week, I was so helped by a book by Rosaria Butterfield called, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. If you are looking to grow in the ministry of hospitality and welcoming, this is a book you need to read. But listen to the encouragement she gives:
“We cannot will ourselves into the deep obedience that God requires. We can’t obey until we ourselves have received this grace and picked up our cross. We can’t obey until we have laid down our life, with all our false and worldly identities and idols. We can’t obey until we face the facts: the gospel comes in exchange for the life we once loved. But when we die to ourselves, we find the liberty to obey.”
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Welcoming is burden-bearing, and welcoming is self-denying.
Welcoming is people-pleasing
“Now, what a minute,” You might say, “People pleasing is wrong. We’re supposed to please God and not man, right? Doesn’t Paul himself say in Galatians 1:10 that “If he were still trying to please man that he wouldn’t be a servant of Christ?” Yes, that is absolutely true. There is a kind of sinful people-pleasing that is wholly unbiblical and demonic. It’s wrong to tell an unbeliever that “God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life” if you do not ALSO tell them that God’s wrath is coming for them unless they repent of their sins and trust in Christ. It’s wrong to see another believer living in a pattern of consistent sin and NOT lovingly call them to repentance. That kind of people-pleasing is unbiblical and demonic.
But that is not the kind of people-pleasing Paul is speaking of here. Notice the qualifiers he adds onto Romans 15:2:
15:2 “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up”
So, our question becomes, what is the highest “good” for every person?
Firstly, their salvation
1 Corinthians 10:32-33: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”
Secondly, their growth in Christ-likeness
Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
The highest good for every person is to be saved by Jesus, and to become more like Jesus. So this our aim—we want to do whatever it takes, whatever is costs, so that every person first would trust in Jesus for salvation, and second, become increasingly more like him as they walk the road of Christian obedience and growth. This is biblical “people-pleasing.”
I want to take a few minutes to think through some practical applications with you. If welcoming one another is burden bearing, self-denying, and people-pleasing, what should this look like for us specifically at Quinault Baptist Church to welcome others in this way?
- It means that in your relationships with unbelievers, you don’t just tell them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. That God is not only a God of love, but a God of holiness and justice. But that in his love, he poured out the wrath that we deserve on Jesus for every person who would repent of their sins and trust in him.
- It means that you assume the best about other Christians in our church who hold a conviction on a non-gospel issue that you disagree with (politics, family life, media, etc.). You tell yourself, “I know this person loves Jesus and is trying to honor him, so I’m going to make the conscious decision not to judge them or treat them as “lesser-than.” (14:18: “Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men”).
- It means that you take it upon yourself to pursue relationships with those in the church who are isolated, alone, or on the fringes. How easy is it for us to show up every Sunday morning and sit in the same comfortable place, surrounded by the same comfortable people, having the same comfortable conversations! Almost every week in this church we have visitors and even members who are sitting on their own, leaving our services largely unengaged by the members of our church. If you are a member of Quinault Baptist Church, do you feel an obligation to pursue other brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the outside of your social circle? To invite them out to lunch, or better yet, into your home? Even if you’re an introvert? Even if it feels awkward? Even if it feels like you’re the one making 99% of the effort?
- It means that you don’t grow frustrated with and give up on the believers in our church who are immature in the faith. But you continue praying for them, meeting with them, and pointing them to Jesus—their highest good—so that they would be built up.
So, Christian, Quinault Baptist Church member, welcome one another. This is our command. But what is our encouragement?
2. The Encouragement: As Christ Has Welcomed You
15:3: “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
Have you ever considered that there is no act of obedience that God calls us to that Jesus himself was unwilling to do? There are some who think that their maturity in the faith entitles them to bigger ministries, bigger platforms, and less obligation to care for the least of these in the church. But this is the exact opposite approach that Jesus took. He, who had every reason to please himself, denied himself. He who enjoyed the riches and glory of heaven left his throne to save undeserving sinners like you and me. Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28).
Paul says that Christ did not please himself, and then he quotes Psalm 69:9. The full verse says this: “Zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” This Psalm was originally written by David, but Paul applies it to the life of Jesus: “The reproaches of those who reproached you [God the Father] fell on me [Christ the Son].” On the surface, this Old Testament reference feels a bit obscure, doesn’t it? How does this relate to Jesus not pleasing himself? But Psalm 69 is actually a passage that is quoted all over the New Testament and related to Jesus’ death. Paul wants believers to understand that Jesus, who had every opportunity to use his strength for his own advance and honor, was willing to forsake his own pleasures, and be misunderstood, maligned, and persecuted for the sake of God’s honor and the salvation of sinners. This is the Christ-like attitude that every follower of Christ is commanded to have. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).
15:4 “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Verse 4 might seem a bit out of place at first. But what Paul is saying is this: the Old Testament (that which was written “in former days”) was written to shape and mold Christians in every era and age so that they would receive endurance and encouragement which leads to hope.
So, in light of that, think with me again as we return to Paul’s use of Psalm 69:9—“the reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” How does this Old Testament passage lead us to hope? How can you have a certain hope that spending your strength in this life, not to please yourself and make much of yourself, but to honor God through building up those weaker in the faith, will one day be worth it? That it won’t be wasted effort in a wasted life? You can have this hope because this is the way that God has always worked throughout all of redemptive history! The scriptures tell us that everyone who suffers reproach for the name of God and sacrificially give of themselves for the sake of others will one day be vindicated by God and rewarded for their sacrifice! We see this promise of God all throughout the Bible, but supremely so in Jesus Christ!
Look with me at Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We need endurance in our work of welcoming one another. Why? Because so often in this life we don’t get to experience the fruit of our labor. We invest in relationships with others who are happy to take, and take, and take from us without offering anything in return. We love on the little ones in Children’s ministry who are often rebellious, and sinful, and disinterested in the truth we are trying to share with them. Endurance is needed.
But have you ever considered that this is the same endurance that Jesus has shown in his ministry of welcome to you? Think about this—how has Jesus welcomed you?
- While you were still a sinner—at your very worst” Christ died for you (Romans 5:8)!
- Jesus who knew no sin, bore your sins, so that through him you could be made righteous before God (2 Cor 5:21)!
- He isn’t critical of your weakness and failings but sympathizes with you and offers you mercy and grace in your time of need (Heb 4:14-16).
- Though you continue to sin against him, and forsake him time and time again, he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5).
I love the way Dane Ortlund describes the heart of Jesus in Gentle and Lowly:
“Meek. Humble. Gentle. Jesus is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms.”
If this is how Jesus has welcomed us, how then should we welcome one another!
3. The Purpose: For the Glory of God
We’ve looked at the Command: “Welcome One Another”; and the Encouragement: “As Christ has Welcomed You”; but what is the ultimate purpose of all of this? “Welcome one another” so that visitors will feel more comfortable and at home in your church? So that your members’ meetings will be less contentious?
15:5-6: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The aim of our unity is the glory of God. But how does this work? Does all unity glorify God? You might feel a lot of unity with the members of your book club, or sports league, or Home Owners Association (Ok, maybe not that last one!). But this unity is often skin-deep. If you find that these groups are demanding too much of your time, or become filled with people that are hard to get along with, you likely wouldn’t feel too bad cutting ties. But that is not the radical fellowship that Christ calls his church to. We are the family of God. And like any family, there will be disagreements, and those that we might get along with better than others. But what we don’t do is ignore, criticize, and cut off these family members. They are a part of us, and we are a part of them. What brings God glory is when Christians, united by nothing else than the blood of Jesus—not political allegiances, ethnicity, economic status, or hobby interests—willingly and lovingly lay down their preferences, time, and energy for the good and upbuilding of one another. This is the kind of supernatural community that shouts to a watching world, “God is real! God is glorious!”
So, members of Quinault Baptist Church, “Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”