Building a Peaceful, Strong Body
Last night I enjoyed the company of women from my church for some social time at a local family and dog-friendly restaurant. I sat next to a favorite four-year-old who was a bit mopey and doted on her a little, just like a grandma comforts her granddaughter. I also brought my good friend, aged ninety-five, who is like a mother to me and wanted to be with her church friends. I also conversed with women of all ages in-between and met two new women who recently started attending our church. One brought a friend; another brought her puppy. I was encouraged to see our diverse group enjoying our company and getting to know each other better. We are building a body with many newcomers moving into our rapidly growing neighborhood and city. Christ’s disciples work at building each other up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance. Mature Christians desire, pray for and demonstrate the humility, tolerance, and selflessness that will mold God’s people into a peaceful, united organ for God’s use.
We have explored Paul’s warnings at the end of Romans previously. It won’t hurt to revisit the context since we can all use a daily reminder that we do not live by ourselves, but with the family of God. In Chapter 14, Paul instructs us who are strong to welcome those who are weak or new to Christianity. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s… Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:1, 7-8, 13, 18) “The section as a whole is bracketed with a concept that has not yet appeared in Romans—to edify or build up. This word pictures Christians as a building (or part of a building) that needs to be carefully constructed, and it contrasts this work with actions or attitudes that would tend to tear the building down…Paul usually employs the word [edifying] to building up individual Christians, helping individuals grow spiritually.” (1) Here is one of Paul’s application of this truth: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19) Unselfish peacefulness is a vital aspect of helping each other to grow in faith, countering our natural inclination towards independence and self-sufficiency.
“[Peace] should be eagerly followed after, closely pursued, and all ways and means should be made use of, to promote and secure it: this is the will of God…it is one part of the Gospel dispensation; church fellowship cannot be profitable and pleasant without it; it suits with the character of saints, who are sons of Peace…edification is promoted by deeds, by acts of charity, or love; charity edifies not by bare words [but also] by serving one another in love…by laying aside the use of things indifferent, when disagreeable to any brethren…[and] things which make for the edification of the body, as well as our own, are diligently to be sought after.” (2 We don’t make it our goal to agree with Christians about everything, but about things that are of little difference or importance. (At least this is what I think he is saying; let me know if you have a better understanding.) There are many things that we should not be adamant about since they are not the “essentials” of the Christian faith. I remember one incident about twenty years ago when I refused to participate in a training exercise because I felt that it was disrespectful to our leader. Imagine my surprise when our leader, my mentor, rebuked me for refusing to join the others. She made a point I will never forget: if sin is not involved, I had no right to decline, no matter how offensive the I thought it was toward her. So, in the end, I did my part; our leader wasn’t offended at all but thought it hilarious. In that case, I was the less mature believer who needed to be built up by her loving rebuke.
For twenty-five years, my friend mentored me with tolerance and selflessness, providing a model for my mentoring today. I’m sure there were many times when she tolerated my unwise or self-motivated actions with love and humility, as we are to do with less mature believers. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Rom. 15:1-2) Sometimes new believers come across as harsh, legalistic, or demanding. However, “they are not to be treated as wicked men, but as weak brethren: their peevish tempers, morose dispositions and conduct, their hard speeches and censorious expressions, are patiently to be endured; they should be considered as from whence they arise, not from malice and ill will, from a malignant spirit, but from weakness and misguided zeal.” (3) Matthew Henry brings us to the feet of Christ: “He is the most advanced Christian, who is the most conformed to Christ…Those are most learned who are most mighty in the Scriptures…Should not we be humble, self-denying, and ready to consider one another, who are members one of another?…Our Divine Master invites his disciples, and encourages them by showing himself as meek and lowly in spirit. The same disposition ought to mark the conduct of his servants, especially of the strong towards the weak. The great end in all our actions must be, that God may be glorified; nothing more forwards this, than the mutual love and kindness of those who profess religion.” (4)
As we work at building others up through humility, selflessness, and tolerance, we follow his example with his power for peaceful, holy toleration of others. “Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” (Romans 15:3) “[Since] God is in the process of building his church…We need to keep several things in mind…To build something properly you need to know what you are trying to build. You need a design or blueprint. We do not have to go very far to find this idea in Romans 14, because immediately after his first use of the word edification (in v. 19) Paul speaks of the project as “the work of God,” saying, “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (v. 20). This is not a complete blueprint, but it gets us started by reminding us that the church is God’s church, not ours, and that what matters is what God is doing in the lives of individual Christians, not whether those people conform to our ideas of what a pious or useful Christian should be. For a fuller blueprint, we go again to Ephesians 4:11-13. ‘The whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ is what we should be trying to see in other Christians. Therefore, to the extent that we are following God’s blueprint rather than our dim vision of what we think other people should be, we will be doing everything in our power to help them become like Jesus Christ and be equipped to serve others for his sake…The second requirement for putting up a good building is a solid foundation. In fact, at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used this image to distinguish between those who would build well by hearing his words and putting them into practice and those who would not in Matthew 7:24–27. To the Corinthians Paul writes of the foundation as Jesus Christ himself: ‘For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 3:11).” (5)
Are you helping to build up the body of Christ? How can you be a more effective peacemaker and up-builder for others? Toward which people, in particular, do you need to be more encouraging and less critical? How do you actively work on the corporate strength of the body with your brothers and sisters in Christ? In what way can you follow Christ’s example of tolerance more sincerely? “You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
(1) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 14:19 – 15:3, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(2) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-14.html
(3) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 14:19, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-15.html
(4) Henry, Matthew “Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible,” Romans 15:1-7, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/romans-15.html
(5) Boice, Ibid.
October 18, 2019