In one of my previous posts, I wrote that Paul’s commands to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 to encourage and edify one another should be prompted by their shared salvation through Jesus Christ. (see my post “Salvation as the motivation for mutual edification“)
There is another interesting occurrence of edification language in Romans… specifically in Romans 14:1-15:13.
In this passage, Paul’s primary goal seems to be to instruct his readers in how to deal with differences of belief and doctrine. Paul gives two examples of differences in this passage: what someone eats or doesn’t eat (Romans 14:2-3) and whether or not someone sets aside a specific day as special to God (Romans 14:5-6). These two examples are interwoven throughout the passage.
Also, interwoven throughout the passage, we find exhortations from Paul that are not specific to these two issues, but can be applied to almost any difference of opinion between believers (for example, see Romans 14:1, Romans 14:4, Romans 14:7-9, Romans 14:10-13, Romans 14:18-19, and Romans 15:1-13). Here is Paul’s final exhortation concerning differences of belief between brothers and sisters in Christ:
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 neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 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. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:1-13 ESV)
As we read, Paul ends his instructions with a reminder that Jesus Christ is our example of “bearing with” those whose faith may be weaker and who fail. Instead of judging brothers and sisters because they disagree with us, we are to serve them and accept them, just as Jesus Christ served us and just as God accepts us in Jesus Christ. If God has accepted them, then we are to accept them also.
This leads us to the two occurrences of edification language in this passage: Romans 14:19 and Romans 15:2.
Romans 14:19 follows from what was just said concerning eating different foods and observing certain days (i.e. “so then” or “therefore”). When we find that brothers and sisters have differences of opinion (even about very important issues) we are to “strive for” peace and edification. We are to seek unity with those with whom we disagree and we are to seek to help them grow towards maturity in Jesus Christ.
In the following verse – Romans 14:20 – we see that the opposite is possible if we focus on our differences and require that everyone hold to our beliefs. Instead of unity and edification, our actions can lead to destruction and stumbling.
Similarly, we find Romans 15:2 at the beginning of Paul’s final exhortation about differences of belief. He tells us to “strive to please” or even “accommodate” our neighbor with the goal of seeing him or her grow for the better. The following verse (Romans 15:3) sets our “striving to please our neighbor” in the context of Christ’s “striving to please” by accepting the reproaches that should have fallen on us. Thus, in order to help our brother or sister grow, we should be willing to be reproached even and to serve them, recognizing them as accepted by God.
How will we be able to do this? Only because God (who is the master of both perseverance and encouragement) lives with us in harmony and unity. It is only in unity (even in spite of our differences) that we can glorify God together (Romans 15:5).
When we find that we are “at odds” with brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul is saying that we have two choices: 1) we can require that the other(s) yield to our understanding which may lead us to separate ourselves from one another, or 2) we can submit to them and seek their good and their maturity even at our own expense. Paul exhorts us to the second option, which is also the example that we have been given in Jesus Christ.
Some Thoughts on Mutual Edification:
- Salvation as the motivation for mutual edification
- Acceptance and edification
- What is edification?
- Who edifies whom?
- How do we edify others?