Tonight’s Wednesday night lesson was something I needed to hear. We’ve been looking at the prayers of Paul found in the New Testament, those moments that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write down what he thanks God for, or what his concerns or prayers for his readers are. Because the Spirit inspired him to write them down in those contexts, I believe we are able to see an idea of what God wants to be thankful for in our lives, or what His concerns are for our situations even though our exact circumstances may be different.
Tonight, we were looking at the prayers found in Romans 15. I am proud to say that over the course of a 35 minute discussion, we managed to answer question 1 on my study guide. I forced us to answer # 2 quickly, only partially because it was an important question, but also b/c I wanted to say we at least got through more than one!!!!
The verse we looked at tonight was Romans 15:5-6—“ May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Actually, we only got through the first part of vs. 5. My opening question was, “Why does Paul pray for them to have a spirit of unity?” That lead us back to ch. 14 and all the various ways they had been divided—over whether to eat certain foods, over recognizing certain days, over drinking, etc. That lead into several discussions about doctrinal distinctives (like baptism, alcohol), how do we maintain them without being divisive. Paul in 14 charged his readers with both permissive snobbery and legalistic judgment in their dealings with each other over “disputable matters”, i.e. matters in which believing Christians can come to differing convictions, i.e. disagreeing without being disagreeable or breaking fellowship. Matters of Conviction should not become Matters of Mandate by which we judge other believers and their “rightness” before God. They are His servant, and they will answer to Him, not to you or me.
It was a good and fruitful conversation as well as a helpful one considering some things that had come up during the course of the day. It ministered to my spirit and confronted my attitudes.
Before we closed for the evening, I forced us to answer at least one more question—“ Why do we need a reminder of our source of Endurance and Encouragement when speaking of unity and division?”
The basic answer is that unity and true fellowship is HARD!!! Every single one of us is weird in some way—we have differing backgrounds, histories, struggles, experiences, ethnicities, languages, you name it—and we are still called to come under the “roof” of the Church—unite under One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. With that and our sin nature, we still hurt and injure one another, we still irritate and frustrate one another. We need endurance to maintain a “spirit of unity among [ourselves] as [we] follow Christ Jesus.”
And the purpose of this unity is so that we can with one heart, and with one loud and unified voice, all of us weird people can glorify God with boldness and clarity in the hope that more will become a part of the Bride of Christ.
Unity is hard—it requires the work of the Spirit in us—it requires a movement of forgiveness, of laying aside hurts, of seeking reconciliation, and toleration of those whose faith may be weaker and more needy. That requires endurance and hard work. We must be encouraged to continue doing it even when we feel like not trying.
Lord Jesus, Spirit of the Living God, may you give me the Spirit of unity with my fellow believers. Grant me the endurance to continue even when it is hard, encourage me to go the extra mile. Amen.