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Romans – Unity in Diversity

4 February, 2018

I’ve made a composite picture of our church. This is what we look like! [image]

This image of our church is where we are heading in our final study of the book of Romans. We spent the back half of last year studying through the book of Romans (and we continue to study it in our small groups). We have also spent the last six years working our way each month through a book of the Bible to complete an overview of the whole Word of God. So this morning, we’re combining our final study of Romans with an overview of the whole book.

Here is the whole book of Romans – and the gospel – in a nutshell:

  1. The whole of mankind is fallen; there is no-one righteous, and our wretched condition before God is just and it’s deserved.
  2. But God has made us right with Him again through faith placed in Jesus Christ, and not by our own good works.
  3. Because of this we now have peace with God, and we are careful to live repentant lives, as symbolised in baptism.
  4. When we are in Christ we learn that God’s love for us is so powerful that nothing can separate us from it.
  5. We are reminded that despite the profound nature of Christ’s atoning death, salvation is not a complex matter, but rather is a matter of a simple but honest, spoken confession of belief in the risen Christ.
  6. We learn how to discern the will of God in our lives by having our minds transformed by the Spirit of Jesus through the Word of God.
  7. We are to love, honour and serve others; being joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.

This brings us to our final message from Romans today.

In the final chapters of Romans, after explaining the whole gospel of Christ, Paul talks about the weak (people) and the strong (people) in Christian congregations. He talks about disputable matters and how one person’s conscience shouldn’t become a stumbling block to another. One person’s convictions in disputable matters shouldn’t become a burden to others, especially if they are new believers.

This has practical applications even in today’s church. Very much in today’s church.

I’ve seen tempers rise over the eating of certain foods [image], the putting up of Christmas decorations [image], the handling and layout of furniture [image], which versions of the Bible to use [image], the number and choice of songs for worship [image], whether shoes should be worn in the church or taken off [image], which car park cars should be parked in [image], the frequency of communion [image], and so on and so on and so on.

There is certainly a need for godly wisdom to determine what is a disputable matter and what is not. And I hope and pray that at very least, the leaders in this church can go a long way to helping with this. That’s one reason we’re here.

But there’s something unique about this church. Something really wonderful. Very special.

In Australia, and most western countries, there are churches all over the place. There are a plethora of denominations to choose from, and within those, a number of styles available so that by choosing the one that best matches your personal preferences, you can enjoy a very happy spiritual experience.

We don’t have that luxury here. We don’t have the luxury of church shopping. And praise God that we don’t! Really. We’re it! We’re the local international church. [image]

We all come from different church backgrounds, different denominations, different orders of service, different worship styles, different Biblical emphases, on some minor matters different Biblical interpretation, different dress code, different cultural environment, different languages, different senses of humour, different volumes of speech, different styles of hospitality…but we are one in Christ.

We are one in Christ.

Pastor Mike and I come from pretty different church structures and have different leadership styles. But we are one in Christ.

Shono-san and I have different styles of devotion time. But we are one in Christ.

Euridice and I come from very different walks of life . She can dance, I can’t. But we are one in Christ.

My Korean brothers and sisters have a different way of praying in a group from me. But we are one in Christ.

Let’s look at that image again. [Image] It reflects great diversity and great unity. (And I think we’re actually much prettier than my composite picture might suggest!)

I look around the room and I’m deeply moved by the diversity here. I look at all the faces and I marvel at the diversity. It really moves me.

I’m deeply moved because of the unity we have in Christ in the midst of such diversity.

This message of unity in diversity is how Paul finishes his letter to the Romans. Despite any disputable matters or stylistic preferences, or even some Biblical interpretations or emphases, we are called to unity in Christ.

Let me clarify something here. I’m talking about disputable matters and minor differences. I’m not talking about any of the counterfeit teachings that Daryl was warning us about last week. We need to be firmly and correctly in Christ. That’s vital.

Having agreed on the truth of the gospel in Christ, as spelled out through the book of Romans, we unite in love, and in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s what Paul writes:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up…
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Romans 15:1-2, 5-7


Listen carefully because Paul is speaking to us – non-jews, gentiles, gaijin:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
    I will sing the praises of your name.”
Again, it says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
And again,
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
    let all the peoples extol him.
And again, Isaiah says,
“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”
Romans 15:8-12


Is it clear? The people of the nations in their diversity – us gentiles – unify in praise for God because of the righteousness we all share through Jesus Christ.

I want to encourage every person in this room, from whatever background, to worship God with all their heart, because of the love He demonstrated through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I want to encourage every person in this room to devote themselves to serving and edifying others in this congregation, so that no matter what differences or disagreements or hardships or trials might appear from time to time (and they will) we remain one in Christ, and we remain devoted to one another in love.

Before he finishes his letter to the Romans with personal greetings, he concludes his presentation of the gospel with these words, and I will use them to conclude this sermon:

Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
どうか、望みの神が、信仰から来るあらゆる喜びと平安とを、あなたがたに満たし、聖霊の力によって、あなたがたを、望みにあふれさせて下さるように。 ローマの信徒への手紙15:13

Let’s sing out the overflow of our hearts.