God As The Source Of Hope
Re-Translated In April 2000
God As The Source Of Patience And Comfort
1. "We strong ones ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong; we should not seek for our own satisfaction," (15:1).
2. Setting aside whether or not we consider ourselves "the strong ones," in a certain sense this sounds kind of surprising, I say that because people commonly make it a practice to "seek for their own satisfaction."
3. In making choices we expect the basis for making major decisions to be on the kind of satisfaction and happiness it will bring us. That's all well and natural in our hobbies and leisurely pursuits and in other matters, like for example, in one's choice of employment, the level of satisfaction and happiness in our job definitely plays a primary role. Furthermore, even in matters of "romance" and "marriage" it would seem our focus should transfer on to the other person in our life and not ourselves, but when we really think it through, it is always our own satisfaction and happiness that occupies the center of our hearts and not theirs.
4. So, is church life an exception to that? No, I don't think we can always make that claim. Even there, what occupies most of our hearts may be our own gratification and pleasure. Some may seek for satisfaction and happiness in the church from intimate human relationships. Some may be looking for church music and praise songs that they are comfortable with and go along with their own ideas. Some may be looking for that Sunday morning sermon that is enjoyable for them to listen to and is in agreement with their slant on things. Some may seek satisfaction and happiness in church activities in which they can be active. At any rate, some will find what their looking for and be happy and some will be left out still dissatisfied. In any case, whether consciously or subconsciously, for those who don't perceive the church and the faith life as just a means to make themselves happy and to bring themselves satisfaction, this message from Paul must be a stimulus to get them to reconsider the way they really are and ought to be.
5. "We strong ones ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong; we should not seek for our own satisfaction."
6. So, what should we do? Paul continues with the following statement: "We should do each and every deed to please our neighbors and strive for our mutual improvement," (15:2). It says it is not ourselves we ought to please but our neighbors. What's more, it says it is not just about fulfilling the happiness of others, but that we ought to aim for mutual improvement. "Improvement" contains the idea of "building up." What Paul is saying is extremely simple. It is about how we are not here to bring satisfaction to ourselves. It means that our original disposition is this -- regardless of the kind of relationship we have, we live together while continually desiring that we aim for perfection and become persons who build up one another.
7. Having a relationship with our neighbor like this is the essential element in [our] faith life, regardless of whether we like him or her or not. Put another way, it means that our faith life is certainly distorted if our own satisfaction and happiness, our own liberation and salvation take up the inner most part of our hearts and it has no room for other Christians in it any more. Paul presents the basis for this [exhortation]. It is Christ. It is that Christ himself did not seek for his own satisfaction.
8. While Paul states this he quotes a word of scripture. "The slander of those who slander you has befallen me." This is a quote from Psalm 69:10. This was originally a portion in which the lament of a believer in pain from someone rebelling against God is given. And this passage has from of old been understood as pointing to Christ in pain from the sin of this world. What Paul has his eye on is the person of Christ who bore the slander of the slanderers. It is the figure of Christ who bore the sin of this world so treasonous against God. Paul knew it and so did the disciples at Rome and so do we that his sufferings would lead right to the cross. What Christ bore in his sufferings that lead to the cross was nothing less than my sin and yours.
9. In other words, the Christ, who never sought after his own satisfaction, was not a mere model of self denial. We have been sustained and shouldered by him who would not seek his own satisfaction. Paul began his writing of this section with "We strong ones ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong." Yet, before we discuss if we are supporting others in their weaknesses, we ourselves have already been supported by Christ.
10. In addition, we know quite well from our every day experiences that patience (long-suffering) is needed to support someone else. Since that is true, we should be aware of the fact that there is the patience of Christ as well as the patience of God at the backdrop to the truth that Christ carried our sins on him. God has been patient with the people of Israel and he has put up with us Gentiles, [too]. We see the patience of God in the scriptures which point to Christ and testify of him.
11. Paul says, "All the situations which have been written about in days gone by are for the purpose of giving us guidance. With them, we learn patience and comfort from the Bible and we can continue to have hope," (verse four). "For the purpose of giving us guidance" -- that is certainly true. But, we are not just being instructed in that text by way of commandment to "Please be patient. In surviving, it is important to have patience." The Bible is not a text book on moral rules. The first thing we see in it is the patience of God. It is for this very reason that God loves people and is forbearing with them and is such a God like that that he has sent his son into a world of people. To begin with, the patience of God lies at the forefront. This patience of God indeed guides us to patience as well.
12. So, patience alone is not just written in the text and being taught by it. There is in it the comfort of God. In the Bible, comfort and encouragement from God to make us forbear is written in it. And there is hope in this very place where patience and comfort lie. In not knowing neither patience nor the comfort of God, there is no future for the person who is absorbed in only pleasing himself or herself. Neither is there hope [for him or her]. In the Bible we discover true patience and comfort, and in really learning that, we can continue to have hope.
13. The source of patience and comfort is truly not in us, but lies within God. God is the very source of patience and comfort. Therefore, Paul does not only say, "We ought to bear the weaknesses of those who are not strong," but he prays for them. He prays to God, the source of patience and comfort. That [prayer] is [in] the words from verses five and following.
14. A spring for a water source does not dry up. No matter how much water there seems to be, a pool of water without a water source will soon dry up. For people to live together they require a water source. Without a water source, those who strain and spread too thin just to live together, end up drying up. It is the same not only in relationships with people in society but in the fellowship of the church as well. Prayer is needed to become [the kind of] people who embrace similar ideas, join their minds, and harmonize their voices together to praise God our Father. We must make Paul's prayer our prayer. We must be firmly connected to the source of patience and comfort.
God The Source Of Hope
15. Let's move along to verse seven and so. In this text Paul is making a recommendation not just to the strong but to the entire body. "Therefore, just as Christ accepted you for the glory of God, please accept each other as well," (verse seven).
16. It's not much of a problem to accept somebody [like yourself] when the person with you has the same way of thinking about things, or the same kind of feelings, or a similar background, or has lived in the same time period. It is when different types of people are together that accepting others becomes a major topic, and they will try to avoid this topic as much as possible. They would rather shy away from it. Thus, they would prefer building a community of like minded people who get along quite well by themselves. They start coming up with actions to try to keep heterogeneous persons out1. It takes place in both little children's groups and adult groups. Thus, people would prefer to shy away from the topic of accepting others. Or, there are even instances where people would rather wash their hands of anyone different from them. They'd try to withdraw themselves and sever relationships with anyone different from them. Thus, by their leaving and going away, they would try to evade the topic of accepting others.
17. Evasion is only evasion no matter what fancy name you call it. There is no salvation in a life of escapism. There is no salvation in a community of running away or rejecting others. What about the church? It can happen all too often that a church becomes an evasive or exclusive association. Without even realizing it we won't even take up the topic of accepting someone, but how hard we will look for the kind of church where we are at peace, at ease, and relaxed.
18. Therefore, we had better wake up. We had better turn our attention in the direction Paul discovered after opening his own eyes. That [direction] is Christ. We had better open our eyes wide and look hard where Christ took his stand. It was right there between two of the most different peoples in society and right among two peoples who frequently had the deepest hostility and hatred between them. [These people] were the Jews and the Gentiles.
19. Christ certainly came into this world as a Jew. The place he lived in was the truly narrow region of Palestine. He served among the circumcised, that is, the Jews. He lead a life that would lead to the cross. It is written that that was "in order to manifest the truth of God" and "in order to prove out the promises made to the forefathers." Christ was here in order to confirm the promises of the true God which had been given to the Jews.
20. However, what originally was the promise made to the forefathers? When God called Abraham, the ancestor of the Jews, he said the following: "That I might make of you a great nation of people, bless you, lift up your name, and make you a source of blessing! Whoever blesses you I will bless and whoever curses you, I will curse. All the families on the earth will enter into blessing through you," (Genesis 12:2-3). In short, the covenants given to their ancestors and the promise of the coming of the messiah were all supposed to be moving towards this. That is, they were supposed to be heading for the place where all the peoples of the earth would enter into blessing. Put another way, the promises of God given to the Jews cannot be fulfilled by the Jews alone. Besides the Jews, they are fulfilled in the mercy of God being shown to the Gentiles, the Gentiles being called by God and sharing in God's blessings with them, and praising the Lord together. It is fulfilled when persons entirely different from them praise the Lord with them. In the Old Testament it says according to the scriptures "O Gentiles, rejoice with the Lord's people."
21. There is the hope of an ultimate salvation which the scriptures are telling us about here. According to them, Jews and Gentiles are different kinds of people from each other. When a person paints a picture in his or her mind of the hope of the kingdom of God and the hope of sharing in the glory of God, the person who can only imagine his or her own saved self in it does not know the hope of which the Bible speaks. If the only ones who appear in it are his or her own family and circle of friends, then the kingdom of God he or she has imagined has nothing whatsoever to do with the hope of which the Bible speaks. It isn't the kingdom of God, but only the projection of his or her selfish desire.
22. The hope of the kingdom of God lies in different kinds of people living together, loving each other through the Lord, and praising the Lord together. The Lord has called us to that type of hope. Christ first forgave us, accepted us, and called us to this hope. Together with those with no affinity to us and who do not match our own personality type, Christ has accepted us and called us to this hope. Therefore, the commandment in verse seven "Just as Christ accepted you for the glory of God, please accept each other as well" is not merely a message speaking about our responsibility. It doesn't say "Unless you do that you cannot turn your face to Christ." That's not what it says, rather it is a joyous exhortation which looks to the hope of the kingdom of God.
23. Therefore, in not running from this topic, but facing the hope ahead, the person who would respond to this and live it ought to start praying to God the source of hope. Paul prays on their behalf to God the source of hope. "That God the source of hope would fill you with every kind of joy and peace obtainable by faith and make you filled with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit," (verse thirteen). We want to make this prayer our prayer. Also, in a real sense we want to live the kind of life that does not go through life running away or that seeks for a community of cop-outs.
1 "Tohhi/Touhi" means "escape, evasion, flight, elusion, cop out, exclude, reject, remove." Here I use "keep out." Through the remainder of the sermon I translate this word in various ways.