Second Sunday in Advent: Romans 15:4-13

Paul addresses the divided Roman congregation and exhorts the strong to bear with the weak.  The temptation in conflict is to seek vindication, especially at the expense of the other.  Note, however, that Paul does not say that each is equally right or valid.  “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (Romans 15:2).  We bear with the weaker brother with the aim of building him up, so that he will no longer be weak.  Knowing who is in the right is a matter of knowing the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit, of course, but even being in the right is not a license for arrogance, which was the whole problem.

Christ Himself, the strongest of all because of His sinlessness, bore with our weaknesses, even to the point of taking our guilt upon Himself.  Imitating Christ, therefore, calls for us to welcome the weaker brother with the aim of raising him toward a still more excellent way, just as the Holy Spirit raises us up out of darkness into light.  Arrogance gets this relationship exactly backwards, as if Christ would have nothing to do with us because of our weakness, when in fact we needed Him the most for that very reason.

Paul points here to the Scriptures as a means of building us up.  As he said also to the Corinthians, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).  The judgments of old, in this case upon those in the wilderness, served as a disciplinary example for them, but we in these last days learn from them.  The unbreakable Scriptures, as the living voice of the Holy Spirit, strengthen us and build us up, making us one people.  In the Lord is unity and harmony, something which the Romans were sorely lacking.  Heeding the voice of God in the Holy Scriptures and learning from them is the way out of this sinful impasse.

Paul continues with a few Biblical citations in order to prove his point in another way.  Christ the Master became a “servant to the circumcised” to show that God was not lying when He made His promises to the patriarchs.  More than this, by going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6; 15:24), He was “found by those who did not seek me” (Romans 11:20, citing Isaiah 65:1).  The Strong Man bore with the weak, so that the Gentiles too might praise Him for His mercy.

Since this passage falls within the wider section of Paul’s exhortation, beginning in Romans 12, his point is clear.  Bear with one another’s failings as Christ bore with yours.  Build up one another as Christ has built you up.  Love one another as Christ has loved you.  Turn to the Holy Scriptures and learn from the living Spirit, so that “by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13).  There is no room for boasting or arrogance, nor is it love to assert that there is no weakness.  But imitate Christ, so that you will have “all joy and peace in believing.”