A natural fear is that this: “Am I really a second class citizen?” Nobody wants to be in the second tier of humanity, the lesser in the house when it comes to identity. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone sired came into the world as the offspring of a king? Unfortunately, the fall poisoned humanity with the devil’s penchant for comparison and denigration, such that a horrible self consciousness fills us unless liberated by Jesus Christ into a new view of who we are.
Let’s think of the Romans for a moment. No matter how scurvy a citizen a Romans was, he could at least boast, “I am a Roman, andRomerules the world.” Whether rich or poor, acclaimed or of no notice, being a Roman constituted an identity. Now consider what it was like to be a Roman Christian and then suddenly realizing that as a Gentile, you were the pig-pool of humanity in Old Testament nomenclature.
Paul solves the whole dilemma of identity in his letter by setting forth the revelation that a new humanity was birthed through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To be born again makes for a new man, the old man having been put to death, so that it does not matter what or who we were in terms of old, flesh identity; everyone raised supernaturally from death by Christ stands in the same resurrection.
Not all believers apprehend this immediately; I sure didn’t. Paul here addresses responses to those weak in faith, saying, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak” (RSV). It’s tempting when one sees to suddenly want all around to pop through into what we see. However, we know from all that Paul has already said that by “strong,” he does not mean Christians who are strong of themselves, but those who know that the strong one lives in them and is their strength. That is strength of faith.
Also, the emphasis here is not only on individual faith but on corporate life, the life of fellowship, not one of rules but of the fact that those who believe, touch each other in daily life, and rub each other. This rubbing can be to chafe or to soothe, according to how we see it. Paul goes for the rub that’s soothing and allows for a harmony despite differing levels of maturity. The body of Christ is not like a professional sports team on which only the upper echelon of talent operate together. I love sports and like my teams to have the best players possible, but in the body of Christ everyone is a player.
Operating as such, Paul says that Christ bore the reproaches of others and “did not please himself.” Thus, since Christ lives in us, how can we help but continue in the same Spirit vested in Him? One can fight it, but eventually we just do take our licks and suffer them willingly, even if not wanting to at first. That’s the life of the Cross in us: what we at first resist, we learn to embrace. So then, we welcome people that we never would have before.
Paul then goes on to buttress up his affirmation to the Romans that indeed they are not second class citizens but standing on the same footing as the Jewish believers, for the prophets told that this would be so. As recipients of this, they experience the maximum possible joy, peace, and power in the Holy Spirit. Also, Paul affirms that he is “satisfied” about them. How effervescent!
He tells them he knows that they are competent in faith and able to teach, and that he is reminding them so as to be part of the work in offering the Gentiles to God as his work in the Lord. He has even gotten as far geographically as Illyricum, which is just across the water from where they are inRome, and he hopes to get to them eventually on his way toSpain. He wants to see them face to face.
Paul wasn’t one to build on others’ work; he was one for fresh fields, and what a driving spirit he possessed in his pioneer virgin callings, andRomeoffered a lot of opportunity. As such, he wanted to see the Romans but first had to expedite help for the poor inJerusalem, taking offerings collected from many for that purpose. The saints there needed material help, and there they were in the cradle of opposition from their own countrymen, plus suffering as they were, they were also a mother of faith to the emerging Gentile part of the body.
This section includes Paul’s appeal for the prayers of his readers, for he did not see himself operating apart from the web of grace that included all he knew in Christ. He knew that he would likely meet fierce opposition from the unbelievers inJerusalem, and he willed if possible to enjoy protection from their devices.
As a closing thought, one thing I gather in Paul’s various thoughts is his spirit of pulling together Christians from everywhere in one Spirit of fellowship, not that he was trying to organize on an external basis, but that he could see the unity that is the truth in Christ’s body, despite the unlikely appearances.