This morning we turn the page into Romans 15, the penultimate chapter in this amazing and revolutionary book. The title for this morning is “Grace & Space”, though it could easily be simply Part IV of our “WAKE UP!” series through Romans 13-14 because it is the same thought.
In the first part of this chapter, Paul is still pleading with the Roman church to WAKE UP and live with one another in love. In fact, in just these fifteen verses we find three “one another” commands that we must not overlook. Let’s read the text together and see what they are.
Did you catch them? Verse 5 – “be like-minded toward one another”; Verse 7 – “receive one another”; Verse 14 – “admonish one another”. The crux of this passage is the same as have been the last couple of chapter’s: for the sake of the Kingdom, LOVE ONE ANOTHER! And this is what love is and this is how it is lived out with one another.
At the very center of this passage is the theme of GRACE. In the same way that Christ extends grace to you, and gives space for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, so you must do in loving and honoring one another above yourselves. Here are four truths that I believe the Holy Spirit would speak to you this morning:
The reason you have hope is because of the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus
Look again at verses 2-3 with me. “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”
Now, there is so much here, and we don’t have time to get into all the implications of this statement this morning. But, we can look at the what Paul says here in verse 3: “even Christ”. Even Christ did what you are now being instructed to do: walk with one another in patience, and in hope, and full of grace. Think about those words for a minute: even Christ. When we begin to whine and complain about people, or our circumstances, or the lack of a particular outcome we are hoping for…even Christ did not please Himself.
God clothed Himself with human flesh and came to serve those He created and brought hope into the world by extending His grace to, literally, everyone. In His grace, He allowed people space to respond to Him in such a way that they failed repeatedly and were never cut off! This is our blessed hope as His children and as His ambassadors into the world.
And yet, despite knowing personally of His grace, how do often treat one another? All too often, we are like the two men lost in the woods and trying to find their way back to camp.
The story goes that two men were in the woods when a giant, angry grizzly jumped out of the bushes. Immediately one of the men reached in his backpack and pulled out his running shoes. His companion said, "You're not going to try and outrun that grizzly, are you? Full grown grizzly bears can run 30-35 mph?" While tying his shoes, his buddy answered, "Don't worry, I know I can't outrun a grizzly bear, but I don't have to! All I have to do is outrun you!”
Sadly, this is the attitude of many Christians. Rather than "bear with" a weaker Christian we run out ahead and leave them behind to get eaten by the spiritual grizzlies. Our goal is to love others, not just save our own skin!
Sadly, this is exactly the way so many of us view the Christian life! What we often fail to wrestle with and grasp is the fact that such a life is completely void of hope. It is, at best, a self-centered Christianity which is not actually biblical at all. If we would remember that whatever hope we have is because of the grace of Jesus, and that He has called us to bring His hope into the world, we would love one another much differently than we do; so differently, in fact, that what we now understand to be love would not be able to be called love at all.
Charles Spurgeon, in talking about how Christ received us and gave us hope, said: “Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because He could see no fault in us, or because He hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, He welcomed us to His heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.”
Notice two things here: how Jesus loves you and how you are to love others. Do you cover their faults? Do you seek their good without considering what would be good for you? Do you welcome them into your heart?
It is imperative that we remember that the hope which we have is a direct result of the grace of Jesus and the space He grants you to grow into a mature and loving Christian. It is impossible to be a person of eternal, unwavering hope without being a regular visitor to the pages of Scripture. This brings us to our next point, which is that:
Scripture is your source of renewed hope by revisiting the GRACE & SPACE of Jesus in your own life and those who came before you
Look at verse 4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Not only do we have this hope because of the person of Jesus, but we have this hope recorded for us to revisit at any time. We just looked at Jesus and how He willingly gave up everything for the glory of God. He served others and sought to fulfill the will of the Father in every area of life.
But, not only did God send us His son to give us hope, but He also gave us dozens, even hundreds, of stories from saints who have gone before us. We read their stories and it further strengthens our hope and assurance in Christ.
A survey of the Old Testament provides numerous instances where people were willing to forego their own freedom and comfort for the sake of others. Noah... Joseph... Moses... Daniel... all bypassed the easy road and chose to live their lives as an influence for God, and for the good of other people. And their impact was worth their sacrifice. They stand out as models for us.
Why do we, in our pompous arrogance, feel that we deserve something easier, cushier, or softer than Noah, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus Himself?
One of the major contributing factors to such an attitude is simply a neglect of Scripture. There is no one on planet Earth who can approach the Bible with a willing Spirit and an open heart who can maintain their arrogance.
If you often find yourself in a place of being downcast, or feeling without hope, or just beat down and discouraged, the medicine you need is Scripture. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed at how many supposed Christ-followers never talk with Him. Why would we expect to be anything more than discouraged or hopeless when we neglect the words of hope and life?
One of my favorite quotes from Spurgeon in regard to people simply not reading their Bibles is: “Some of you have so much dust on the covers of your Bibles, that you could spell out the word ‘damnation’ with your fingertips.”
This hope is not only necessary for us personally, but it is also necessary to walk with in redemptive relationship with others. If we find ourselves failing in this area, we must turn to Scripture to get the hope and encouragement we need to do what Jesus has called us to do and be who He has called us to be.
When we read Scripture, we are also reminded of another great truth and Christ and His grace:
The greatest example of GRACE & SPACE is found in Jesus and His love for both Jews and Gentiles. THIS IS YOUR CALLING.
This is the greatest message of this text and all of the Bible. I won’t read them with you again, but verses 5-12 show us that throughout Scripture this is the theme: God is the God of the Jew and the Gentile. This was one of the messages that the religious leaders could not stand and one which they never could get past.
It has been said that the Christian church is the only place where the requirement for membership is that members understand that they could never be worthy of membership! What a statement! When we have that level of humility – again, as Christ embodied and modeled for us – then we begin to be transformed. We ourselves begin to look like Jesus and our relationships begin to look more like the relationships we are called to have.
Leon Morris, an Australian New Testament scholar, poignantly noted what a genuine biblical concern for others looks like in relationship with one another. And, again, this is nested within what Christ’s concern for you and everyone else looks like.
“A genuine concern for the weak will mean an attempt to make them strong by leading them out of their irrational scruples so that they, too, can be strong.”
This concern is to continually extend grace toward those weaker in the faith for the purpose of making them strong. And, like Jesus, this concern leads our relationships with others to have no parameters on them; not cultural, political, racial, economical, or any other thing that separates people into groups. Like Christ commands of us, our relationships are centered on grace and space to allow others to grow strong in the Lord.
Think, for example, of raising children. How much grace is required to make them strong? BOUNDLESS GRACE! It requires staying up late with them at night, and cleaning their bottoms, and feeding them. As they grow older, it requires grace to teach them basic manners. As they grow older still, it requires a transition from the imparting of specific rules to instilling principles by which they are to live and modeling for them what that looks like. As they grow stronger still, it is being there unwaveringly and unconditionally to continue to guide them until they reach the point at which they can succeed with you entirely, but still desire a relationship with you. This is, in a small way, the “grace and space” of Jesus that we are all familiar with, either as parents or as children.
If you think about your own life, you will no doubt recall the grace of Christ and the space He allowed (and still allows) for such growth to occur in your own life. Failure after miserable failure in your life, and still He walks with you with grace and helps transform you. And, boy do we appreciate God’s patience with us! But, oh how hard it is for us to have patience (grace & space) with others and help them grow to be strong. Yet, when we look again to Jesus, we are humbled by His example and patience to Jew and Gentile, easy people and difficult people and everyone in between. We can do no less and we must do no less.
Finally, we must understand of grace and space that:
One of the greatest exchanges Jesus offers us is that as we pour out GRACE & SPACE on others, we are more than replenished by the Holy Spirit.
Remember the old song, “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart...” Then we’d sing the second stanza, “I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart...” But there were other verses, like... “I’ve got the happy hope that heckles heathens down in my heart...” I love “the happy hope that heckles heathens...” This is what the world today lacks most. Our problems seem insurmountable. Folks have no hope. In contrast, we serve “the God of hope,” thus our situation is never hopeless!
The great irony of the Christian life is that we find our rest in our work. While the world views rest as necessary because of the demands of work, the Christian understands that true rest in found in serving. It is so important that we remember this as those who serve in the kingdom of light, because the world has trained us and programmed us to view work as exhausting and as something which we must do only as a necessary evil. I have been amazed at the number of supposed mature Christians who view Christian service as being akin to mixing and pouring concrete! When you talk about mobilizing for service either locally or in the form of a missions trip, the reaction is as though you are asking people to give birth while running a triathlon while carrying cinderblocks and solving trigonometry problems all at the same time!
But, just how are we to serve others? Oftentimes, when I am preparing for a physical fitness test, I will look only at the minimum requirements. What the fewest number of push-ups and sit-ups I need to do to pass? What’s the slowest amount of time I can run two miles in and still pass? Similarly, it is tragic how many of us think of Christian service in this way? What’s the least amount of service I can do so as to be pleasing to the Lord? What’s the slowest I can run this Christian race and still get my name on the board? However, when we look to Christ as our standard, which He is, we discover again that we can, should, and must serve Christ and the world more.
John Schultz, a former Alliance missionary, says this of the depth of our service to one another: “We may conclude that if Jesus took our failures upon Himself in such an extreme manner, the least we can do with other people’s weaknesses is to endure them [alongside them]. To the Galatians, Paul wrote: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
How are you doing in your relationships with others? Do you endure with them? Do you carry their burdens the way Christ calls you to? Are you personally filled with the hope of Jesus that comes from spending time with Him in His word? If we are not, this morning is the time for repentance and forgiveness. As we pray and take communion this morning, beg Jesus to change you and fill you with hope. Be reminded of His grace, and be encouraged to have a gracious spirit and, like Jesus, extend that grace to others and give the Holy Spirit space to fill them with hope as they experience God’s grace as well.
Let’s pray and then we will take communion together and go before the Lord in repentance.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.