The apostle Paul has been piling one argument on top of another in his attempt to urge these Christians to get along with each other. He has appealed to the judgment seat of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ bestowed on the one you are at odds with, and the folly of slandering the very thing that you think is so good. Here he points to the example of Jesus—He who was strong bore with us, though we were weak.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me. For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:1-7).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT:
Strength should be used for the weak (v. 1), not on the weak. Strength is not a gift that was given to you in order that you might waste it on yourself (v. 1). Every one of us (and not just some of us) should therefore use whatever strength we have in order to please our neighbor, such that he is edified (v. 2). Why? We are Christians, and we follow the example of Jesus Christ. Christ did not please Himself (v. 3). Paul then quotes Ps. 69:9, making the point that Jesus was willing to suffer insult for the sake of God (v. 3), and of course for us as well. That which was written down beforehand in Scripture was written so that through patience and comfort in them we might have hope. Hope in what? Hope that we might learn this lesson, the thing Paul is talking about right now (v. 4). God is the God of patience and consolation and so He is the one to give us patience and comfort. The God of patience and consolation can bless us by making us likeminded toward one another (v. 5) “according to Christ Jesus.” This likemindedness is exhibited by means of one mind and one mouth in glorifying God, who is the Father of Jesus (v. 6). Receiving one another, as Christ received us, is therefore the way to tune up the orchestra, so that we might glorify God with it (v. 7).
As already noted, Paul quotes Ps. 69 in the course of his discussion here. This psalm contains quite a cluster of references that are referenced in the New Testament. “They that hate me without cause” (Ps. 69:4; Jn. 15:25); “zeal for your house consumes me” (Ps. 69:9; Jn. 2:17); the reproaches of those who hate God fell on Christ (Ps. 69:9; Rom. 15:3); they gave the Lord vinegar for His thirst (Ps. 69:21; Jn. 19:29-30); the rebellious Jews will have backs that will be bent forever (Ps. 69:22-23; Rom. 11:9); and Judas would lose his position among the apostles (Ps. 69:25; Acts 1:20). Jesus is the Messiah, and the Messiah lives among His people. But people mean differences, and differences mean conflict, and what are we supposed to do?
As the Bible teaches us to work and live together, it tells us to make sure to strive for like-mindedness (Rom. 15:5; Phil. 2:2; 2:20). This, interestingly, is not what our culture tells us to do—it tells us not to drink the Kool-Aid, and tells us further that we should make sure to stack every committee with divergent opinions. That is because we have come to believe that determining truth is a matter of taking averages, or of statistical analysis. But it isn’t. If we consider Paul’s teaching on the body, and the members of the body, this like-mindedness is not the same thing as birds-of-a-feather-ness. Christians are to have a like mind the same way that knees, and elbows, and tendons do—they express a common desire by doing completely different things, to the same end.
Think of different instruments in the same orchestra. You could have different instruments playing different songs entirely—cacophony. You could have the same instruments playing different music entirely—cacophony of a different timbre. You could have the same instruments playing the same music—boring. Or you could have different instruments playing the same music—glory.
And so two counterfeits we have to deal with is commonality without distinction and distinction without commonality. But the Spirit unites disparate elements. So if we have a duty to be like-minded, and we do, and we have another duty to pull in various directions, according to our various gifts, and we do, then what could go wrong? If we are to be striving toward the same goal, and we are to do so differently, then what problems might arise? The most obvious thing would be counterfeits of each duty. The counterfeit of likemindedness is being a yes man, and the counterfeit of exhibiting different gifts is being a contrarian. And each counterfeit is poised to denounce the genuine article across the way as a counterfeit.
READING SCRIPTURE TO THE SAME END:
Think endurance and encouragement. God gave us the Scriptures so that we might have hope. God has created us in such a way as to be able to draw strength and comfort from examples that are recorded in a story. The culmination of all such stories, of course, is the victory of Christ over sin and death. And in addition, the God who wrote those stories down is the same God who is called the God of endurance and encouragement. What He wrote into the stories He is in the process of writing into us. And what does the God who is called by these attributes do exactly? Well, He grants likemindedness.
IMITATION OF CHRIST:
This is a narrative, a story. Imitate the Christ of the narrative, not the Christ of a snapshot. We serve the living Christ, and not a frozen Christ. As Christ received you, receive the others. As Christ continues to receive you, so you also—receive them. You receiving them is part of the story.