United We Stand

Romans 15:1-7

March 6, 2011 | Brian Bill

There is a two-letter word in English that has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is ‘UP.’   It’s easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP?  At a meeting, why does a topic come UP?  Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election.  Why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report?  We call UP our friends, brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, warm UP the leftovers, and clean UP the kitchen.  We lock UP the house and fix UP the old car.  

At other times this little word is used in unusual ways.  People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.  To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special!  A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.  We open UP a store in the morning but we close it UP at night.  We seem to be pretty mixed UP about the word UP!  One could go on and on, but I’ll wrap this UP for now because my time is UP!  

Sorry, don’t get UP.   The sermon’s not over.  With all the uses of “up,” we often get really down on people, don’t we?

I have some good news and some bad news this morning.  The good news is that everyone who has received Jesus Christ is going to heaven.  The bad news is that we’re traveling there together.  It’s easy to get out of sorts with those around us, isn’t it?  

I heard a story about a little girl who was forced to eat alone at a small table in the kitchen as part of her discipline for disobeying.  As her parents tried to ignore her, they heard her pray out loud: “I thank Thee, Lord, for preparing a table for me in the presence of mine enemies.”

Some of us have family friction on a regular basis and many of us have been kicked by people in God’s kingdom.

A knight and his men returned to their castle after a long hard day of fighting.  “How are we faring?” asks the king.  “Sire,” replies the knight, “I have been robbing and pillaging on your behalf all day, burning the towns of your enemies in the west.”  “What?!?” shrieks the king. “I don’t have any enemies to the west!”  “Oh,” says the knight. “Well, you do now.”

Do you ever feel like you have enemies on the east and are you weary of those on the west?  Do you treat as nothing those to the north (in Wisconsin) or are you out of sorts with those to the south?  For some of us, no matter what point of the compass we turn to, we run into conflict.

If the evil one can get us to become annoyed, upset, and out of sync with the saints of God, our mission will be compromised.  If we don’t work at it, our idiosyncrasies will become irritants and our unity will unravel.  That’s why we must follow the exhortation in Ephesians 4:3 to: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Eight years ago I checked the Internet for information about annoying people (don’t ask me why I still have this information in my files).  Amazingly, Google listed over 1.1 million sites.  When I checked again a couple weeks ago the number had grown to over 22 million sites.  I don’t know if that means the number of annoying people is growing or that we’re just letting more things get under our skin.

those who hang in there and hold on to Scripture will have hope

In a book called “People I Could Do Without,” Donald Smith presents a commentary on conflictive people.  He writes that our pent-up irritation can send us into one of two modes: we can go on a “reactionary rampage” or we can respond with a “silent seethe.”   Romans 15:1-7 gives us some ways that we can tolerate those who try our patience as we hold on to hope in the midst of hard times.  While it’s difficult to put up with people who drive us crazy, we must learn to bear with those who bug us.  The first big idea for today is that those who hang in there and hold on to Scripture will have hope.

Just for kicks, I looked up to see how many times the word “up” is used in the Bible.  Any guesses?  Over 1,900 times!  That alone tells us something.  Let’s look at seven “ups” that we can put into practice.

  • Put up (1)
  • Build up (2)
  • Look up (3)
  • Grow up (4)
  • Circle up (5)
  • Point up (6)
  • Warm up (7)

Over the past five years we’ve been roaming through the Book of Romans.  This is our 59th sermon from this life-changing book and we have six to go!  Paul is writing to two distinct groups of people in the church at Rome: the weak and the strong.  And each group grated on the other.  The big problem back then was whether it was OK for a Christian to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol.  The “strong” saints had no problem with this at all, while others felt that by eating meat a person could become spiritually contaminated.  

We can easily fall into thinking that the way we do things, or our perspective, is proper and right, and those who differ from us must somehow be wrong.  Some of us go out of our way to try to control how other believers think and behave, secretly judging them according to our own spiritual standards.  Let me make an important point.  What we’re talking about today are not sin issues.  We are not asked to tolerate someone’s trespasses.  Instead, we’re called to give grace to those who are wired differently than we are.  These differences are sometimes expressed in lifestyle choices or they may just be annoying habits.  While the person who rubs me the wrong way may not be sinning against me, I can very easily sin against him or her by my attitude and actions.

1. Put up (1). 

The first thing we’re called to do is to put up with people.  Look at verse 1: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”  The stronger believers are to bear with believers who behave differently than they do.  When Paul uses the word “ought,” he’s saying that we’re obligated to be gracious with others.  

The word, “bear” means to “endure patiently and to be indulgent.”  It’s the idea of longsuffering and being slow to be angry.  To bear with someone is to be willing to suspend a rightful demand out of consideration for the plight or weakness of another.  Unfortunately, we don’t tolerate much today.  We sound off, or run off, or run others off.  Sometimes we square off and we may want to knock someone off, but we seldom bear with people.  I read this quote recently: “If you only love those who agree with you, your circle of love will exclude most of the world.”

Have you heard the phrase, “Opposites Attract?”  It’s equally true that “Opposites Attack.” 

We’re called to endure the frustrations of living closely with others, as we tolerate disputable matters about which we disagree, or as we simply put up with personality quirks and preferences.  We’re challenged here to restrain our natural reaction towards odd or difficult people by just letting them be themselves, without thinking that they need to become just like us.  

The key here is found in the last part of the verse: “and not to please ourselves.”  While our tendency is to strive for first place, we’re to lunge for last place as we follow the example of the One who died in our place.   Are you willing to put up with sandpaper saints so that God’s work is not squandered?

One pastor says that verse 1 contains a challenge to live a crucified life and verse 2 tells us how to live a constructive life.

2. Build up (2). 

We’re to put up with people and next we’re to build them up.  Look at verse 2: “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”  The phrase “build up” is a construction term.  When we bear with one another, we allow God to use us to help construct Christians.  When we blast away at people, we willingly or unwillingly participate in the process of tearing them down.  We’re not to just endure those around us but instead we’re to encourage them.

God is committed to building people up and is greatly grieved when we pull back or demolish that which He is constructing.  Isaiah 57:14: “Build up, build up, prepare the road!  Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  Are you a hindrance or a help?  God doesn’t want obstacles to stand in the way of people’s growth.  He longs for builders in the body of Christ.  1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”  Someone said it like this: “Never look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.”  

3. Look up (3). 

We can put up when we build up, but we can only do that if we’re looking up.  Notice verse 3: “For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’”  As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we’ll be reminded that He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).  Paul is quoting Psalm 69:9 here to show that Jesus embraced the insults of irritating people.  He didn’t please Himself and He took on reproaches that were not His to bear, so that good could come to others.

Friend, look up at Jesus and remember that He puts up with you and He puts up with the person who is bugging you

If you find yourself getting really perturbed with people, then it’s probably because you’re not looking up enough.  Matthew 17:8 describes what happened when three of the disciples saw Jesus transfigured before their eyes: “When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”  Friend, look up at Jesus and remember that He puts up with you and He puts up with the person who is bugging you.  Take your eyes off yourself and resist the urge to judge others.  Let’s look up and see Him alone.

4. Grow up (4). 

If we’re ever going to bear with the porcupine people in our lives, we must also take responsibility to grow up in our faith.  We do that by spending time in Scripture.  Verse 3 urges us to follow the example of the Savior and verse 4 moves to the encouragement of the Scriptures: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  

The word “endurance” relates to how we deal with life’s problems and people’s weaknesses.  The Bible encourages us so that we can be filled with hope – hope that others will change, and more importantly, that we will change.  Those who hang in there and hold on to Scripture will have hope.

I wonder if you feel hopeless about anything right now.  It could be your health or your finances or a sinful habit or a relationship or the future.  Hope happens when we do two things:

  • When we endure.  The simple act of hanging on to the Lord when going through some sort of stressor will build your hope.  Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
  • When we allow the Scriptures to encourage us.  Having said that, it’s not enough to “just hang in there” because we must have something to hold onto. The promises and prophecies of Scripture help us to persevere in spite of what we see or don’t see.  While all Scripture is invaluable, notice that Paul is referencing the Old Testament in particular in this passage.

Some of you know that February was a rough month for our family.  Among other things, I had a medical procedure a week and a half ago that I was quite nervous about and I found that it was a challenge to discipline my mind to hang in there.  I endured for awhile but that didn’t last long so I needed to lock in to Scripture to find encouragement.  One of my favorite verses on hope is found in Romans 15:13.  I have it taped to the wall in our basement right over my desk: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

5. Circle up (5). 

Instead of slamming each other and trying to live the Christian life on our own, God wants to keep us from division and strife.  Since God bears with us, we must be willing to circle up with those who have fallen down, or are just different from us.  Look at verse 5: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.” God’s heart is for the church to be united and to stand together according to Acts 4:32: “All the believers were one in heart and mind…”  

I love how God’s heart for unity is revealed in Zephaniah 3:9.  He knows that we’re sinners and so he purifies us.  And, we’re cleansed so that we can circle up and serve side-by-side: “Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.”

6. Point up (6). 

The ultimate goal, or the reason why we are to bear with one another, is so that we can bring glory to God.  God does not want our fellowship fractured because when we’re divided we can’t accomplish our purpose in life, which is to love Him and enjoy Him forever.  Look at verse 6: “So that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The phrase “one heart” means “with one accord” and is only possible when there is no contention or strife.  When we allow others to bug us, or we hold on to hurts, then our worship will be short-circuited and our service will be splintered.  

What do people grasp about God when we’re griping about each other?  How can they learn about God’s glory if we are not pointing up with one voice?

7. Warm up (7). 

Some of us need to move toward some people we’ve moved away from.  It’s time to warm up instead of giving the cold shoulder or the icy glare: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Here’s the second big idea today: Unity comes when we accept one another.  The Greek word translated “accept” is a long word that is packed full of meaning.  It means to see another person and then to open your arms to take that person to yourself.  The standard here is our Savior.  Since Jesus accepts us in our sinfulness and inadequacies, how can we not but be warm toward others?

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?