Welcoming each another—Romans 15:1-7

In Romans 14:1-23 Paul summons believers to respect one another despite their differences on issues secondary to the gospel that unites us. In light of Paul’s language there and the larger context of Romans, Paul is especially calling Jewish and Gentile believers to welcome one another (see esp. 15:7-12). This welcome transcends a barrier that God himself established in history, so it certainly summons us to surmount prejudices of merely human origin: prejudices against ethnic, cultural, and similar differences.

In 15:1-13 Paul further summons us not just to tolerate secondary differences but also to serve one another’s interests (to “please” one another, 15:1-3). Just as those who are physically strong would be expected to help weaker family members, Paul reminds those apt to criticize the “weak” that they should be helping them instead (15:1). Echoing the earlier context, the “weak” refer to those weak in faith hence abstaining from particular foods lest they injure their relationship with God (14:1-2).

Paul ranks himself among the “strong” here, and will soon offer himself as an example of serving the poor saints in Jerusalem (15:25-27). But the strong are called to serve the weak. “Build up” in 15:2 evokes 14:19-20, where believers should build up (by the fruit of the Spirit) rather than tear down one another over foods.

“Pleasing” others rather than oneself (15:1-3) refers not to entertaining others’ every whim (e.g., if they are bothered by your music style, e.g., Christian rap), but to being considerate of what might cause them to fall from the faith. Although Paul regarded circumcising Gentiles as too much to ask, for Gentiles to accommodate Jewish food tastes in mixed company was a minimal sacrifice for the objective of unity in Christ’s body.

Christ himself offered the example of this readiness to forgo pleasing himself; in 15:3, Paul cites Ps 69:9 from a psalm of a righteous sufferer, applied par excellence to Jesus (cf. Jn 2:17 for a different part of the same verse; Matt 27:34 for Ps 69:21). Here Jesus suffers on behalf of God, offering a model of laying down one’s desires to serve others.

As Jesus is the example for not seeking one’s own interests (15:3), he is also the example for seeking this unity: we should have the same mind “according to [the standard of] Christ Jesus” (15:5; cf. Phil 2:1-11, especially 2:2-5). Believers may with united voice glorify the Father (15:6) just as Jesus prayed to the Father in 15:3 (and establishes Gentiles’ praise in 15:9-12). Believers should again follow Jesus’ example by accepting one another as he accepted us (15:7). (Consider one of Jesus’s lines in an episode of Dallas Jenkins’ recent TV series, The Chosen. When Peter objects to Jesus calling a tax collector, Jesus points out that Peter made no such objection when Jesus called Peter. “That’s different!” Peter insists. “Get used to different,” Jesus replies.)

This expectation climaxes the section’s opening exhortation to accept one another (14:1) because of God’s acceptance (14:3). That Christ accepted believers to the Father’s “glory” (15:7) fits the exhortation to “glorify” God together (15:6), a model relevant for Gentile believers (15:9).

(This post is adapted from Craig S. Keener, Romans [New Covenant Commentary; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2009], 170-72.)

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