Devoted To One Another
February 12, 2023 Speaker: Josh DeGroote Series: Devoted
Topic: Fellowship Passage: Romans 15:1–7
We were made for community. In the beginning when it was just Adam, God said, it is not good that man should be alone. And ever since then people have been gathering in communities. Families, villages and cities, religious organizations, clubs, and so forth. People have been organizing communities since the beginning of time. There is something in us that longs for this; and it’s because the Triune God made us for it.
We understand that there is something not altogether right about the guy who wants to be all by himself out in the wilderness. We call him a hermit or a recluse or loner. We were made for community. Interestingly in our time, people have never been more connected to other people and more accessible to other people. And yet at the same time many are starved for real fellowship and don’t even know it. The busyness of life, our own interests and activities and pursuits, the illusion that we are truly connected via our phones, and our love for personal peace and privacy is fracturing us - certainly humanity. But my concern is primarily for the church.
So what does God call us to, that goes in the other direction? Fellowship. Acts 2 says, the first Christians were devoted to “the fellowship”. The word fellowship (koinonia) means to share and participate in a common life. Devotion to the fellowship means devotion to one another - to each other. And the early church really did this. They met together often, they ate together, prayed together, worked together, helped each other. When one was in need, others would help, to the point of selling properties to provide for the genuine need of brothers and sisters in Christ. Contrary to what some may think, the first Christians were not socialists. There was no government (civil or church) requiring people to sell properties and distribute to those in need. It was does without that external coercion.
And the early church was seen as weird, even subversive because of their fellowship. They would gather to feast and celebrate the Lord’s Supper and called them “love feasts”. They would greet one another with “a holy kiss”. They called each other brothers and sisters. They would visit each either in prison, putting a bullseye on their back. They were committed to “the fellowship”. They were devoted to each other. And they were devoted because of their love for the Lord, and because it was their duty. They had been brought into a new reality. The memory verse for last week. It’s all about who we (corporate) are, not who you (individual) are: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…” The verse next verse says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…” Think about that. It’s not just that you individually belong to God, but YOU (ALL) are his people. Which connects us together.
Well, the broader context of our passage addresses this. Romans 15:1-7 is a continuation of what Paul addressed in chapter 14 and how Christians ought to relate to one another. We see in verse 1, Paul exhorts stronger Christians to bear with their weaker brothers and sisters. Then in verses 2-7, we see what appears to be instruction for all Christians - the strong and weak both. And what the LORD of glory calls us to from this text is:
A fellowship deeper, more demanding, and more glorious than anything you may have ever considered, with a motivation stronger and more durable than anything you could muster up, for a purpose higher and more noble than anything the world can offer…
Now, I understand that this sounds grandiose. It is! But we have a grand and glorious God. And as the redeemed people of God, bought by the imperishable blood of Christ, he has called us to his grand and glorious purpose.
Unless the Holy Spirit of God does a work, what is said today will not benefit us. But here is my confidence. The Holy Spirit is here! He indwells each redeemed saint. And the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ is here. And when we have his book opened… he speaks. And his sheep hear his voice. So there are three things shouting at us here: 1) the call to fellowship, 2) motivation, and 3) purpose.
Fellowship is seeking the good of others…
This text is so rich in how we are to interact with one another. The church is not an organization that is primarily about expressive individualism. Everyone gets to express his or her inner rock star. Obviously! It’s also not an avenue primarily for networking for business ventures, meeting a future husband or wife, getting connected with nice people who are interested in similar hobbies. Those things may happen, but it can’t be how or why we approach church. So, how do we participate in “fellowship”? The first thing we see is that it is primarily about seeking the good of others. Verse 2 says,
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (v. 2)
Let each of us please his neighbor. This is not people pleasing. There is a way of being a people pleaser, doing things for the approval of people, that keeps us from being faithful servants of Christ. Paul said as much in Galatians 1 when he asked:
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
The point of pleasing one another in our text is working not for your own advantage, but for the advantage of others. It is to put others first. Imagine the spirit of the fellowship when everyone is genuinely and eagerly putting others first. In other words, putting others before self. This is what Paul has in mind with pleasing your neighbor - working for his or her good. And that’s drawn out in verse 2. Limits are put on what it means to please others. Let each one of us please his neighbor, “for his good, to build him up.” For his good. That’s the point. That means putting others first means working for their good - their ultimate good. Truth can’t die in the name of putting others first. Biblical morality cannot be executed for the sake of pleasing others. NO! In fact, an understanding of “good” and what it means to “do good” must give shape to how seek the good of others. Listen to how Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:33:
I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
[Unpack]. Back to Romans 15. Who is to do this? Each of us. Each one of us is to approach fellowship in this way. And we are given a pretty good reason for doing so. Verse 3 says,
For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (v. 3)
For Christ did not please himself. He did not work for his own advantage, but for ours. This is a quotation from Psalm 69:9. It is Jesus talking to the Father. The reproaches - the insults and slander of those who reproached God fell on Christ. This is most likely referring to the insults and reproaches that Christ endured from the Jewish leaders, the Romans soldiers, the crowds who mocked and derided him.
It’s easy to think about the events that led up to the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ and think, like Peter, “I would never have done that! I can’t believe those people…” The old song How Deep the Father’s Love, I think has a more humble assessment about us; our culpability in Christ’s death and what we may have been doing had we been there. It says,
Behold, the man upon the cross. My sin upon his shoulder. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice. Call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.
The point of this quotation in Psalm 69:9 is clear: Jesus gave himself in service to others, namely us - and it cost him. An early church Father named Chrysostom said, “He had power not to have been reproached, power not to have suffered what he did suffer, had he been [looking out for himself]”. But he was looking out for us. And this is meant to be a motivating reason for us to do the same. As we consider how Christ, the eternal Son of God, chose to subject himself to reproach, suffering and ultimately death on our behalf. This is exactly what Paul said in what has been called the carmen Chrsti (hymn of Christ) in Philippians 2:
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
When we see Christ and how he behaved on our behalf, it gives us the endurance and encouragement we need to follow his example. And we must… this is what we are called. “Let each of us please his neighbor, for his good, to build him up.” True, biblical fellowship is putting others first, working for their good; building up one another. But fellowship is more than just seeking the good of others… because I suppose there is a way in which you could do that at a distance, at least on paper.
Fellowship is Welcoming One Another
Therefore, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God. (v. 7)
Welcome one another. Some translations say, “Accept”. I don’t like that as much. And it might be because of how that word is used so much in our society. We need to be accepting, and just accept everyone… We already know that there are limits. We are not to accept every truth claim as equal. We are not to accept every way of living as valid. And here in particular, Paul is putting the limits on who we welcome by saying, “one another”. Welcome one another. For Paul, this is family language. The Christian family. Paul uses the words “one another” dozens of times in his letters and it always refers to how Christians are to relate to one another: “Forgive one another, love one another, bear with one another, show hospitality to one another, etc”.
Here, I think the word welcome gets underneath all those others, to the base level way in which Christians are to be devoted to fellowship. Welcome means to receive, to take to one's self. To bring someone close to your heart. And to do that, you need to be large-hearted toward others - especially other brothers and sisters.
There are differences - personalities, age, backgrounds, ethnicities (context of Jew/Gentile), some of our understanding of certain truths (central things we must hold together, but secondary/tertiary matters). And we should work toward unity even on those things, but we do it with a large, warm heart toward one another. Not keeping people at arm’s length. But bringing them near.
I want to grow in this. I want to get better. I want us to. Church should never be like Junior High (cool kids, jocks, band kids, etc.) We need the Lord’s help. We’re shown the way forward. How do we welcome one another?
As Christ has welcomed you…
When our hearts are cold, aloof, and shriveled to others, the problem usually isn’t others. When we just want to isolate and not be around others, the problem isn’t others. The problem is us. And if we are Christians, the problem is we have forgotten how Christ has welcomed us. How he has received us to himself. How he has brought us near to him. Of course, we are wired differently. Not everyone has a super warm and bubbly personality. But, to the degree that we know and experience the rich welcome of Christ unto himself, we will be a welcoming people. Listen to these words from the Lord Jesus Christ:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Have you come to him? How did he receive you? Half-heartedly? Reluctantly? Holding his nose? No. Well, the picture we have is of the prodigal son. How did he receive his shameful, smelly, wreckless son? Wholeheartedly. He ran to him. He took him in with great joy! May the Lord help us experience this and receive other brothers and sisters the same.
So fellowship is seeking the good of one another at the expense of what we want. It is welcoming one another - bringing others close. To help us pursue this, we need to know what the purpose is. What’s the point? What’s the aim?
Purpose / Ultimate Aim
What is the ultimate aim? We see it in the very last phrase of our text. Everything drives to this:
for the glory of God (v. 7)
The highest aim is not for the good of people - you and me. It is for the display of God’s glory. Actually, I think this aim of God’s glory in our fellowship is enhanced in verse 6,
That together with one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The purpose of our deepened fellowship is that together, in one accord and with one voice we may glorify our God and Father. Our fellowship can shine a spotlight on the glory of God, and can magnify it. Our common togetherness is to be such that with one voice we glorify God.
What does that mean? Well, I think it means ultimately we have one message. There is to be such a togetherness in the Spirit, in Christ, committed to his word, devoted to each other, that we speak and communicate as one person. I don’t mean just preaching like I am now. The point is that everything we do as a body speaks, and we want to speak with one voice. We want to draw attention to God, to lift up the name of Jesus. And as such, we have one voice. We see this in Acts 4, when Peter and John were released from custody after being threatened to not speak about Jesus anymore. Here’s what it says,
23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord…”
They lifted their voices together. With one voice they prayed.
We know this is what glorifies God. Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me…” (John 17:22-23). Jesus is praying for something deep. Not fellowship based on some superficial standards. Not a coerced togetherness. But a deep togetherness, a real fellowship of zealously seeking the good of each other, large-hearted toward one another, receiving one another… following the example of Christ, motivated by His heart.
And you know what? Paul prays for this. Look at verses 5-6 and how they connect…
Prayer of Hope
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony (be of the same mind) with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (v. 5-6)
This is how we should pray. May God do it. May he do it! And notice he’s the God of endurance and encouragement. Why is that drawn out? Because we need endurance; we need encouragement to pursue harmony (like-mindedness)… to live in harmony (like-mindedness) with one another.
I believe that as we pray for this and seek the reality of it, we will see the LORD work in glorious ways for the display of his glory!
More in Devoted
March 12, 2023Principles of Prayer From the Master
February 26, 2023Devoted To The Breaking of Bread
January 29, 2023Devoted To the Scriptures Part 2