This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on December 4th, 2016.
We are not the only ones to live during times when people are divided by their differences. That describes the reality of the first-century world, too. As the Apostle Paul comes to the close of his letter to the Christians in Rome, he focuses on their “harmony with one another.”
Paul begins this passage with a reference to the scriptures that have been written down, read aloud, studied silently, preached, taught and discussed. He describes the purpose of the scriptures. They are instructional. They are steadfast and patient. They encourage and comfort. If you put it into a formula, it looks like this: Instruction + Steadfastness + Encouragement = Hope.
Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome is the culmination of his 20 years of thought, prayer, life experiences, preaching, teaching, being in conversation and receiving God’s revelation on how to explain the gospel, both theologically (relationship with God) and ethically (relationship with people, the world, and creation).
Next, he describes God as steadfast and as an encourager. The qualities of scripture are the same as God’s qualities. The scriptures express God’s character. A reading of this scripture gives the reader hope, and a relationship with the God of the scriptures makes it possible for diverse and divided people, Jewish and Gentile Christians, to “live in harmony with one another” by imitating the attitude of Christ Jesus.
The result of Christians living in harmony is to point people to the God of Jesus, the God of patience and encouragement who gives God’s people hope.
Then Paul gives the church another behavioral principle that flows from the teachings of the scriptures and the character of God. “Welcome one another.” What does this welcome look like? It looks like the ways that Jesus welcomes you. Why welcome others like Jesus welcomes you? Because it is your witness about God. It points people to the way God relates to people and the way God designed us to relate to one another.
Paul then explains to these Jewish and Gentile Christians in this church what Christ’s welcome looks like. Christ became a servant of the Jewish people, consistent with God’s truth, confirming God’s promises to the patriarchs, so that the Gentiles might experience God’s mercy and God’s inclusivity, too.
To convince his readers that this God, these scriptures, and this gospel is for both Jews and Gentiles, equally. Paul quotes four Old Testament texts that include the Gentiles among God’s people. Paul illustrates for his first-century world and the cultural understandings of Jewish and Gentile Christians, the instruction, steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures.
The first reference is from Psalm 18:49. King David confesses his allegiance and worship to God among the nations that have become subject to him.
The second reference is from Deuteronomy 32:43. The Gentiles are included with Israel in worshiping the Lord.
The third reference is from Psalm 117:1. The Gentiles praise God, along with “all the peoples.”
The fourth reference is from Isaiah 11:10. This prophetic text connects the Gentiles and their hope in God with the root of Jesse, the Messiah.
Paul intends for each of these four references to serve as evidence that God has always welcomed Gentiles fully and equally into God’s people.
Paul concludes this passage with a benedictory blessing. He describes God with the word hope. He asks God to give these Christians in the church at Rome both joy and peace. It’s a joy and peace that comes “in believing.” The joy and peace that God gives flow out of having faith in God. This is a different source of joy and peace than one’s life situation, wealth, status, or freedoms. And, in addition to living with joy and peace, Paul circles back to include hope as a quality of living that Christ-followers experience “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
In addition to writing this exquisite explanation of the gospel for Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church in Rome in order to bring them together through a Christ-like welcome that leads to harmony, Paul engages in two major activities that embody the truth that the gospel is for both Jews and Gentiles. One activity is the Jerusalem Offering (Romans 15:25-28), and the other is the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35). Each of these efforts incarnates the welcome and harmony Paul is working for.
Could it be that what Paul accomplishes with his gospel for Jews and Gentiles is that we do not need a different God for each classification of people, Jew and Gentile? We need, as different people, to see one God who includes every group of people in God’s family. And, our mission, as Christ-followers, is to welcome one another and live in harmony.
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas
Tags: scriptures; harmony; welcome; joy; peace; hope