Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#37 – Bearing One Another’s Burdens

(Romans 15)

We are coming to the end of the book of Romans.  I will never get tired of preaching from this book.  Luther called it “The clearest gospel of all.”  And E.J. Waggoner said, “This book can never be separated from the Three Angels’ Messages.”

The first seven verses of chapter 15, unfortunately, do not belong to chapter 15.  They should belong to chapter 14 because it’s dealing with relationships.  Remember, chapter 14 dealt with relationships and we saw that in the first 13 verses of chapter 14 that Paul was admonishing the believers that we need to receive one another.  Why should we receive one another?  Because Christ has received us.  And if Christ has received us, who are we to question?  That’s the first half of chapter 14.  The second half of chapter 14 is that we need to edify one another.  Now, in chapter 15, in verse one Paul says:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

In Romans 14:1, he spoke about two groups of people:  the weak in faith, in contrast to the strong in faith.  Here in chapter 15, it is not the same two groups but he is dealing with the mature Christian in contrast to the babe in Christ.

You see, when a person accepts Christ, it doesn’t matter how old he or she is, but the moment that we accept Christ we are babes, spiritually, in Christ.  Like human babies, we have to learn to walk.  The trouble is that some of the mature Christians tend to look down upon the babes in Christ.  “I don’t see why they are having so many difficulties.  I can do it.”  But let me remind you that when you were a baby, you did not learn to walk straight away.  You fell many times.  If you didn’t, boy, you were a genius.  But you see, a babe in Christ will fall many times.

What should be the attitude of a mature Christian towards a baby in Christ?  The answer is in verse two:

Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

When a baby falls, what do the parents do?  Do they kick it?  Do they yell, “You get up”?  No.  They go down and lift the baby and help the baby.  And that’s exactly what Paul is saying.  To do that, we need an ingredient which we don’t have naturally.  The Bible calls it agape.  When we have this gift, which comes from God, we will be able to practice what Paul is teaching here.

Before Jesus left this world, He made a statement to His disciples. You’ll find it in John 13:34-35.  He said:

A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

“I want you disciples to love one another just as I loved you.”  At that time, when Jesus spoke these words, they were not loving each other.  They were fighting against each other.  They were fighting as to who will be the greatest.  Jesus said, “That is not the kingdom of God.  You must love one another just as I love you.”

But that kind of love doesn’t come automatically, so I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 13.  There Paul describes that love as the greatest gift.  Now we must get the context, because He’s talking in terms of spiritual gifts.  The greatest gift, we all know, is Jesus Christ.  But, in the context of spiritual gifts, the greatest gift is agape.  Notice what happens when that gift is manifested in the church.  Note 1 Corinthians 13:4-6:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

If you have love, you will not “delight in evil,” or “rejoice in iniquity” [as some translations read], which is of course sin.  Why not?  Not because sins condemn you, but because something took place on the cross.  I want to remind you what took place on the cross.  If you read Isaiah 53, which is the chapter on the cross, there we read (verse 6):

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

We must hate iniquity because of what it did to our Lord Jesus Christ.  Every time you sin, it is like putting a knife into Him.  That’s how the Old Testament taught what sin is in a Christian experience.

We do not rejoice in iniquity, but we rejoice in the truth.  And what is the truth?  That’s the question Pilate asked, “What is truth?” [John 18:38].  And Jesus said, “I am the truth” [John 14:6, 18:37].  So a Christian who rejoices in Christ will hate sin.  A Christian who has love in his heart will “suffer long, not be envious, not puff himself up, not be rude, not seek his own.”

That is exactly what Paul is admonishing.  Going back to chapter 15 of Romans, I want you to look at verse three.  I want now to bring out a very important point.  Here, Paul is using Christ not as a Saviour but as an example.  The New Testament presents Christ in two ways:  as a Saviour and as an example.  What comes first?  Did Christ come to this world primarily to be our example or did He come primarily to be our Saviour?  That needs to be emphasized because there are many who tend to emphasize Christ as an example.

Yes, He is our example but FIRST He’s our Saviour.  He first redeems us, He first gives us peace, He first gives us justification.  That’s what Paul has been dealing with in the first half of Romans.  Now he’s saying, “Having accepted Christ as your Saviour, having accepted Christ as your life, I want to present Him as your example.”  Romans 15:3:

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written:  “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Paul is quoting from Psalms 69:9, one of the Messianic prophecies.  What is this text saying?  All the blame, not only the sins, but all the blame that is heaped upon God, Jesus took.  All the blame that was heaped upon the human race, Jesus took.  I want you to notice what Paul is doing here.  He is using Christ as an example.  How is it possible that Christ could take our reproaches and the reproaches that are on God?

We face the same problem today.  There are many people today who are cursing God, blaming God for all the terrible things that are happening in this world.  Of course, we are sinners, too, and some of us are blaming God.  “I can’t help it; God made me this way.”  But the big issue is that Jesus was willing to take blame for something that He had not done.  That’s the issue I want to bring to your attention.  It’s one thing to accept the blame for something you have done but it’s another thing to accept the blame for something you have not done.

Paul is saying, “I want you to take the blame of the mistakes done by those baby Christians.  I want you to take the blame of those who have done something wrong.”  We are experts at pointing out the things that others have done that is wrong.  But to take the blame of somebody else, we cannot do it naturally.  It takes the grace of God.

I would like to lay some very important rules.  First of all, we must remember that, if we are to take the blame of each other, we must stop looking at ourselves as individuals.  That’s a humanistic approach.  We must look at ourselves in the context of corporate identity.  What do I mean by that?  I’ll give you an illustration.

We arrived in Ethiopia in 1973.  When we arrived, there was a real problem.  It was not between members and members; it was even worse.  The problem was between workers and workers.  The national workers of Ethiopia for this denomination and the missionaries for this denomination were at loggerheads.  It was a real crisis.  So much so that the division had to step in.  The union president called me to his office.

“Well, Jack,” he said, “you have an advantage.”

I asked, “What’s my advantage?”

“You were born in Africa,” he said.  “You can consider yourself to some extent as a national.  But you also are a missionary.  You are both, and here we have these two groups fighting like cats and dogs.  Also, you are new to Ethiopia, so why don’t you please try to solve this problem?  We have tried desperately.”

“Well,” I said, “I’ll do my best, but I want you to know that all those three advantages that you have pointed out to me are of no value because it will take the grace of God to solve the problem.”  Just like it would take the grace of God to solve the problem of South Africa.  It took the grace of God to bring the pastors of the black churches in South Carolina and the white churches together.  It took the grace of God.  You cannot do it by promotional programs.

He said, “You try whatever method, as long as we can solve this problem, because it is destroying our work in Ethiopia.”  The communists had not come in there yet.  It was a year later that the Marxist revolution took place.

The first thing I did was to bring the two groups together.  Now here was the problem.  Two cultures think differently.  The Africans have a solidarity concept of society.  They came up with 30 grievances.  Some of them were very insignificant from our point of view.  One missionary called an African a donkey.  That was an insult.  We had a missionary who would come and visit us and she always called our son, when he was a little baby, “How are you doing, little monkey.”  The Africans thought that was an insult but the Americans didn’t think of it as an insult.  It was just a term that we use for little kids because sometimes they are mischievous.  So they came up with 30 grievances.  Some of them were tough ones and some genuine and some misunderstandings.

I looked at the grievances and I noticed part of the problem.  All these grievances were done by the previous missionaries, most of whom came from Europe.  So the American missionaries were saying, “Why are you accusing us of something we never did?”

And the Africans said, “Yes, you did it.”

But the Americans said, “We weren’t here when these things took place.”

“But aren’t you missionaries?”  They put all missionaries into one basket because they thought in terms of solidarity.

So the American missionaries said, “No, why should we repent for something we have never done?” And, of course, they began finding fault with the nationals and they were pointing their fingers.

I said, “The issue is not who is right and who is wrong.” I asked a question of both the groups.  “Tell me,” I said, “How many of you have seen a human being whose legs are American and whose hands are Ethiopian?”

“Impossible,” they said.

“Why not?” I said. “Why is it impossible?”

“Because it is impossible to have legs that are American and hands that are Ethiopian.  You are either all American or all Ethiopian.”

I said, “Let us go to the Bible.”  So I took them to 1 Corinthians 12.  I took them to Ephesians, Galatians, and then I said, “Look, the Bible is clear that, when you become a Christian, you are baptized into the body of Christ.  There is no Ethiopian, there is no American, there is no Jew, no Greek, no male, no female.  We are all one in Christ.  Therefore, your behavior is a contradiction of the gospel and you are supposed to be workers.  What are you preaching to your churches?”

I gave them a second illustration.  Ethiopia follows the Bible methods.  Christianity came into Ethiopia by the Third Century A.D., so they follow a lot of the laws of the Old Testament.  One of the laws that they practice in Ethiopia is, if you are caught stealing, the punishment is forty strokes but one.  Here’s the problem.  Stealing is done by your hand.  The forty strokes are given on your sitting department.

I said to them, “Why should the sitting department suffer for the mistake of the hand?”

“Because it is one body,” they said.

“Very good,” I said.  “Therefore, you missionaries, the mistakes of your predecessors are your mistakes.  The mistakes of the nationals are your mistakes because you are one body.”

And I said to the nationals, “If you have seen mistakes in the missionaries, you need to identify yourselves with those mistakes.”

Have you ever read Daniel’s prayer in Daniel nine, the prophet of God?  He does not say, “The church has gone wrong.”  What did he say?  “We have gone wrong.  We have sinned.”  He identifies himself with the church.  Are you willing to identify yourself with the mistakes of your fellow believers?  If you are going to use Christ as an example, the answer is yes.  If you are going to behave like a human being, the answer is no.  But the question is, “What are you, a Christian first or an American first?”  That’s the question that you need to ask yourselves.

But I know one thing and that is that if Christ took my reproaches, then He wants me to do the same.  He wants me to identify myself with the mistakes of my members.  And you must be willing to identify yourself with my mistakes.  Are you willing to do that?  That is what Paul is saying.  Then in verse four, having quoted Psalms 69:9, he says:

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.

In other words, “I am not teaching you anything new.”  The words “written in the past” means the Old Testament.  All the things that were written in the Bible were written for our learning... that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

In other words, the Bible and the Bible only must be the guide line, the standard, the direction for us.

This brings me to two important points.  Let us turn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

“All scripture” to us would mean both Old and New Testament.  When Paul wrote this, he was referring to all of the Old Testament.  The New Testament had not been canonized at that time.

This brings me to the second problem.  In the days of the Bible, the majority of the members could not read and write.  Therefore, the only way the scriptures could be explained and expounded and studied to the people was through the preaching of the Word.  Well, the church multiplied through the preaching of the apostles.  It grew in size and then problems came.  The apostles began to get involved in the problems because they had a burden for the people.  They began looking after tables.  They became involved in all of the administrations of the church and the ministry of the Word suffered.  The apostles realized that and they immediately decided to do something about it.

So in Acts 6:2-4 we are told that they called the church together and said, “Look, it is not right for us to serve tables and leave the ministry of the Word.  Therefore, here is a solution.  I want you members to choose seven men of honest and good report and let them deal with these needs.  We will take care of the ministry of the Word and pray.”  And the church developed strongly that way.

One morning, the Sabbath School superintendent came to me and said, “We need to do something about the early teens.  Here we have a church full.  Is there anybody who is willing to say, ‘I want to sacrifice for the sake of our kids’?”  We need desperately such people.

I’ll tell you what the problem is today.  It is the same problem that the apostles faced.  Do you know why the South Carolina Conference called me?  They gave me the topic; I did not choose the topic.  They said, “We want you to teach our pastors how to preach Biblically because our members are starving.”  Now the situation is different here.  Today most people, the majority of people, can read and write.  The trouble is that they don’t make the time or take the time to study this book.  And whatever they do do is very superficial and the result is that preaching is still the most important part of feeding the flock.

Please don’t ask me to stand here and give you do’s and don’ts.  My job is expounding scripture to you because I know one thing:  it is the Word of God that is the power in the life of a Christian.  You have to take it.  You have to absorb it.  You have to apply it, not to somebody else but to yourself.  We need to spend time with the Word of God.  Paul says here that this is where we get comfort.  This is where we get power.  This is where we get direction.  So in verses five and six he goes on to say:

May the God who give endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Once the word of God has gripped you, you need to learn to accept each other, just like Christ has accepted us.” Then this section comes to an end in verse seven:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

How did Christ receive us?  Turn to Luke 15:1:

Now the tax collectors [this is the Internal Revenue Service people, whom nobody likes] and “sinners” [whom everybody despises] were all gathering around to hear him.

Here are the tax collectors and the sinners — the rejects — come to hear Him.  Now listen to the religious leaders of Christ’s day.  Luke 15:2:

But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

How terrible!  But Paul is saying, “We must be like-minded.”

I want to share something with you that has really touched me.  Some time ago I received two letters, rather one letter and one note.  The letter was from a man in the penitentiary who is there for committing murder.  I’ve been studying Romans with them, too.  He said, “Pastor, thank you for opening my eyes.  There is hope for me.  I’m going to enjoy this Christmas and I’m hoping that God will overrule and that I will come out and I will visit your church, I will come to your church.”

My question is, “Will you accept him, an ex-convict, a man who is accused and sentenced for murdering somebody?  Will you accept him?”

The other incident took place the same week.  I was asked to teach a class in a college on “The Sermon on the Mount.”  When I first went there, there was a young man.  If I were to judge him by the outward appearance, he would belong not only to purgatory but to hell.  This is not a woman.  This is a man.  He had an earring on and his hairstyle was very much that of a punk.  But at the end of the exam he wrote a note:  “Thank you, pastor, for bringing me back to Christ.”

What would have happened if I had said to him, “Look, brother, do you not know that the policy, the rule of this college, is that you can’t wear earrings?”  Where would that have led him to?  I received him because we both are sinners, saved by grace.  I thank God that he has found Christ.  “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.”  When we have that attitude, many of the backsliders will come back.  Many.

I think of one more experience.  One day a little boy came into my office.  I was the ministerial secretary of the Ethiopian Union.  He came into my office and said to me, “There is a young man out there who would like to see you.”

“Sure,” I said, “Bring him in.”

“He won’t come in here,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Well, he did not tell me why not.”

I said, “Please plead with him.”

So he went and the boy wrote me a little note:  “I cannot come.  I’ll explain why.  Please come and meet me here.”

So I went.  He was the accountant for our hospital.  He was desperate and he stole some money and was caught.  The pastor of that church told him, “I don’t want you ever to step in this compound.”  That’s what the pastor told him.

He wanted to come back to Christ.  He left the church and went into the world and realized, like the prodigal son, that the world was out to get him and not to help him.  He wanted to come back but he could not step in because the pastor told him not to.

So I put my arms around him and said, “You walk with me.  If the pastor touches you, he will have to touch me and I’m his boss.”  That man wanted to come in but there was no one to welcome him.  Just like the scribes and Pharisees.

Paul is saying, “Please let us receive one another just as Christ also received us.”  Now please remember that Jesus did not condone sin.  He told Mary, “I do not condemn you.  Go and sin no more.”  Now I don’t know that she followed Him, she wanted to, but I’m told He had to cast out the devil six more times.  But I’ll tell you, we need to welcome our people.  Look at Romans 15:8-9; it comes up with a new section:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:  “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”

Now you may not realize what Paul is saying here because he is dealing with a faction that existed in his day and not in ours.  It is the faction between Jews and Gentiles.  God had given a promise to the fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  They are the fathers not of the Jews only, as the Jews thought, but they are the fathers of all who believe, all who are born again, and all who endure to the end.  Anyway, God made promises to them and the promise was of the Messiah.  The Jews felt that salvation belonged only to them because the Messiah had to be a Jew.  That’s what is meant in this verse by “the Jews” or, in some translations, “the circumcision.”  Christ came to be a human being as a Jew to save who?  Only the Jews?  No.  The whole human race.  And that’s why the Gentiles should glorify Him for His mercy.

He then gives us a string of quotations from the Old Testament in which he gives us a progression of promises that we should apply.  Let’s go quickly through this progression.

  1. The second part of verse nine, which is a quotation:

    “Therefore I [that is, a Jew] will praise you [God] among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.”

    In other words, the gospel was to come to the human race through the Jews.  Salvation is from the Jews because Christ was a Jew.  What were the Jews supposed to do with this gospel?  They were to take it to the Gentiles.  They were to declare the name of Jehovah to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ.  Well, Paul did that.  But many Jews did not.  Peter did not want to do it in the beginning but he realized that he had to do it because God convinced him that they were saved also.

  2. Verse 10:  The Gentiles should rejoice with the Jews in this promise which they had received from them:

    Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

    “His people” refers to the Jews.  How should the Gentiles respond to this good news?  They should rejoice.  With whom?  The Jews.  Not fight with them but rejoice with them.  Not put them in the gas chamber, but rejoice.

  3. Verse 11:

    And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”

    Jews and Gentiles should offer praises together for the Saviour.  No more fighting.  No more back-biting, no more slanderous remarks, no more accusing each other, no more despising each other.  Together we praise God.

  4. In verse 12:

    And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse [that is, one will come up from the Jews since Jesse was the father of David] will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”

In other words, God uses the Jews to bring redemption to the Gentiles and the Gentiles, in turn, must rejoice with the Jews and they both must accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour.  Verse 13:

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.

He came to bring hope.  He came to bring joy.  He came to bring peace.  Do you have it?  Are you rejoicing in Christ or are you still fighting among yourselves?

Then, in verse 14 to the end, Paul talks about his plan and his ministry.  There are some very important lessons in this section.  Verses 14-16 tells that Paul is ministering to the Gentiles:

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.  I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

His ministry was not something he ordained himself but he was called by grace to be an apostle to the Gentiles.  The last part of verse 15 says “because of the grace given to me by God.”  “I have come to you because God has sent me to you.”

Why has God sent me to you?  Verses 17-19:

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.  I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done — by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.  So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Verses 20 to 24:

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.  Rather, as it is written:  “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.  But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, I plan to do so when I go so Spain.  I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.

According to God’s plan.  Do you know that God’s plan is that all people should be saved?  Not just the elect.

Then in verses 25 to 28, the Gentiles, in turn, minister to the Jews in appreciation.  Look at verses 25-27:

Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there.  For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.

The Gentiles were so appreciative of the gospel that they said, “No longer do we look at Jews as our enemies.  We want to help them. They are suffering in Jerusalem.  Here’s some money; take it to them.”  And Paul said in verses 28-29:

So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.  I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

“But I know that when I am come to you — when I finish my job, when I bring this help to the Jews in Jerusalem — when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.  I am not wanting to come to Rome because I am a tourist.”  Rome was a very attractive city and many people, even today, go to Rome as tourists.  But Paul did not want to come to Rome as a tourist.  Do you know why he did not come before that?  Because he was laboring in Asia Minor.

And now he concludes in verse 30:

I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.

Please, let us not fight.  Let us not have division.  Let us together pray for each other.  Verse 31:

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea....

The Judaizers who were self-righteous people who thought they were right and Paul was wrong.  “Please deliver me from them.”  Unfortunately, God did not answer this prayer in the affirmative.  The Judaizers did get him in Jerusalem.  He did go to Rome, no longer as a missionary nor as an apostle but as a prisoner.  But he prayed, verses 31-32:

Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed.

Jews, please don’t be so proud as to say, “We don’t want this help from the Gentiles here at all.”  And now he concludes, verse 33:

The God of peace be with you all.  Amen.

May God bless us.

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