Romans 15:1-13 continues Paul’s argument that began in chapter 14. In Romans 14:1 Paul says welcome the one who is weak in faith (ESV), but not to quarrel with him over opinions. That undermines the welcome! We are to accept the Christian whose faith is weak (NIV), those who only eat vegetables (14:2). Paul includes himself among the strong (15:1), for he’s persuaded that Jesus called nothing unclean in itself (14:14 cf. Mark 7:19).
If so, we may eat all foods. The dietary laws no longer apply for they were to distinguish the Jews from the Gentiles by reminding the Jews when they ate that they were God’s people. Now, in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abram (Genesis 12:3), the gospel goes to all nations. There’s no longer a Jewish-Gentile divide; all are one in Christ. So the Gentiles were to be welcomed, accepted and loved by the Jews and vice versa (Romans 14:1, 15:7).
Now to the strong Paul says, ‘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 neighbour for his good, to build him up’ (Romans 15:1-2 ESV). In doing this they would be imitating Christ (15:3). We are so often impatient and intolerant of the failings and faults of others. ‘Love bears all things’ (1 Corinthians 13:7). ‘With all humility and gentleness’ and patience, we are to bear ‘with one another in love’ (Ephesians 4:2). Love is not self-centred but pleases and builds up her neighbours. That is the way to social harmony in our differences and disagreements.
Paul then utters a prayer-wish: ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony 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’ (15:5-6 ESV). What Paul prays for, he commands: ‘Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God’ (15:7 ESV).
This is powerful: we must accept and welcome one another because Jesus welcomed us into the family of God! This was not easy for the Jews and Gentiles, with their long history of hostility and hatred towards each other. It’s not easy for us with our long history of excluding others or being excluded, dominating or being dominated. Christ brings us together in the church and, in the power of the Spirit, we are to welcome and embrace ‘the other’. The gospel demands that, the gospel empowers that. That’s the answer to our bitter alienation.
Paul then strengthens his argument by showing that the acceptance of the Gentiles was in God’s plan all along. Christ was a servant of the Jews ‘to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, … that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy’ (15:8-9). Remember God’s promises to Abram that through him all the families and nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3, 22:17-18). Paul quotes from 2 Samuel 22, Deuteronomy 32, Psalms 18 and 117, and Isaiah 11, showing that salvation would come to the Gentiles. We, who were excluded under the Old Covenant, have now been welcomed into God’s family. If God has welcomed us through Christ, how much more must we welcome all Christians whatever their ethnicity, language, class, gender or age.
Paul ends by reminding them that it was because of God’s grace given to him to be a minister of Christ to the Gentiles, that the nations became an acceptable offering to God (15:15-16). Through Christ, in the Spirit’s power, he accomplished this work, bringing about the obedience of the Gentiles, from Jerusalem to Illyricum (modern Croatia) (15:18-19). It was always his ambition to preach the gospel where Christ wasn’t known (15:20). So now Paul wants to preach Christ in Spain, at the end of the known world. To do this he needed their support; so he plans to visit them in Rome after his trip to Jerusalem (15:23-32).