Paul continues his discussion from chapter 14 on how believers should relate to one another, especially when there are disagreements on matters of opinion.
As long as these matters of conviction do not entail disobedience to God, strong believers must not look down on their weaker brothers and sisters, and weak believers must not judge and condemn the freedom of stronger brothers and sisters. (14:1-12).
- Mark 1: the strong bear the weaknesses of the weak (v.1-3).
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
15:1 We who are strong. Paul identifies himself as one of the “strong.” He was comfortable in any company because his main goal was to win others to Christ.
To the Corinthians he wrote: Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22 niv)
The word for obligation is present tense, showing that stronger believers always have this obligation. They may find themselves frustrated by the failings of the weak—their concerns and worries over what, to the strong, seems trivial. But the responsibility lies with the strong to maintain harmony in the church by “bearing” with these brothers and sisters (see Galatians 6:1-2).
The word “bear” (bastazein) does not mean to bear in the sense of putting up with and forebearing with an attitude of begrudging. It means to bear the weak along, to support them, to carry them along as a father or mother would carry a child—in love and tenderness, understanding and care.
The stronger believers demonstrate their spiritual strength precisely at those moments when they are practicing compassion for those who are weaker.
15:2 Please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.NIV The strong believer must never be self-centered, but must be concerned for the spiritual welfare of his neighbor—the weaker person beside him or her in the congregation. This “pleasing” is done with a goal in mind—to encourage and build up that other believer in the faith.
There is a fine line to walk—the stronger person should not push the weaker one to change his or her ways before he or she is ready; neither should the stronger person pander to the doubts of that weaker one by allowing such doubts to become rules for the church.
15:3 Christ did not please himself. Christ was the “strongest” human who ever lived—he did not please himself, but did God’s will. Certainly death on a cruel cross was not the path he would have chosen to please himself, but his mission was to please God.
As it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”NRSV Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9. This messianic psalm prophesied the Messiah’s coming into the world and what would happen to him. Christ faced reproach and insults because he did not choose to please himself; instead, he chose to do what God had called him to do. How much more should we, who are called by his name, also choose to please God rather than ourselves.
Real Christian freedom means inconvenience. In the complexities of relationships, a free person will limit his or her actions in one area in order to accomplish a more important goal in another. Bearing with weaknesses, identifying with those who are persecuted for the cause of Christ, and seeking others’ good demonstrate a life of love. Maturity develops when we don’t allow our convictions to become excuses for treating poorly our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Mark 2: everyone studies the Scriptures (v.4).
4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
15:4 Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.NIV All of Scripture (here referring to the Old Testament) was written and preserved for future generations. Our scriptural knowledge affects our attitude toward the present and the future. The more we know about what God has done in years past, the greater will be our confidence in what he will do in the days ahead. We should read our Bible diligently to increase our trust that God’s will is best for us.
So that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.NRSV How does the Bible encourage us?
(1) God’s attributes and character constantly remind us in whom our hope is based (Psalm 46:1-2)
(2) The biographies of saints who overcame great obstacles give us examples of what can be done with God’s help (Hebrews 11).
(3) The direct exhortation of Scripture calls for endurance and speaks encouragement (James 1:24; Hebrews 12:1-2).
(4) The prophetic statements support our hope for a wonderful future planned for us in eternity (Romans 5:1-5).
Scripture records stories of those who pleased God, those who didn’t, and those who failed but learned from their mistakes.
- Mark 3: everyone works for harmony (v.5-6).
5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How can a church—a church with so many diverse personalities—achieve harmonious feelings and one mind? He has just said that the endurance and comfort necessary to live for God comes from the Scriptures. Now he says they come from God. In fact, he says that God is the God of patience (endurance) and consolation (comfort). Therefore, the believer secures his strength or endurance and comfort from both the Scriptures and God.
This prayer is strikingly similar to the one Jesus prayed with his disciples at the end of his final meal with them, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23 niv).
- Mark 4: everyone accepts one another without discrimination (v.7-12).
7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10 And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12 And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
15:7 Accept one another . . . just as Christ accepted you.NIV If our goal is to glorify God, we cannot be caught up in dissension, disagreements, or arguments, especially about trivial matters of opinions. Instead, we should lovingly accept one another—there is to be no one-sided acceptance. All are to accept one another and live in harmony.
At one time, we all were weak. And many strong believers are still weak in some areas. Christ is our model of what acceptance means. When we realize that Christ accepted us, as unlovely and sinful and immature as we were when we came to him (see 5:6, 8, 10), then we will accept our brothers and sisters.
The world sits up and takes notice when believers of widely differing backgrounds practice Christlike acceptance. This brings praise to God.NIV
15:8-9 Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth.NIV Having referred to unity again, Paul feels compelled to remind his readers that the greatest example of unity brings both Jews and Gentiles under the lordship of Christ.
Jesus came to bring the truth to the Jews and to show that God is true to his promises—the promises given to the patriarchs.NRSV At the same time, Christ came so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.NKJV The promises, the covenants, were made to the patriarchs of the Jewish nation alone, but God, in his mercy, made them available to the Gentiles as well. God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles would cause them to glorify him for his mercy. Without God’s mercy, the Gentiles could never receive his blessings and his salvation.
To offer final proof, Paul quoted four Old Testament passages, taken from the three divisions of the Old Testament—the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The Old Testament pictured the Gentiles as receiving blessings from God.
Paul demonstrated that the Old Testament spoke of the Gentiles being included in the messianic kingdom. Since Christ would rule over both the Jews and the Gentiles, they should accept each other as members of God’s family.
- Mark 5: everyone is filled by the God of hope (v.13).
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.NIV Paul again prays for the believers (as in 15:5). This time Paul prays that the God who gives hope will give them joy (as they anticipate what God has in store for them) and peace (as they rest in the assurance that God will do as he has promised). Then, the believers can overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.NIV It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that God accomplishes his care for his people—giving them endurance, encouragement, unity (15:5), hope, joy, and peace. Hope comes as a by-product of the Holy Spirit’s work. It does not come from our own senses or experiences.