Romans 15:5-7: A Prayer for Unity
One of Christ’s desires for His church is unity, John 17:20-21, ‘”I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ The Spiritual unity that Christ is asking of the Father here was given on the day the Spirit was poured out on Pentecost. Every Christian receives in the gospel a uniting with Christ which is also a uniting with every other Christian so that we are literally members of each other as we co-inhabit Christ by the Spirit. This is a unity that comes from the Father not created by us, it is a unity we receive and not a unity we manufacture, it is a unity as indestructible as Christ Himself and a unity we cannot break. So in the Spirit and invisibly there is a real mystical unbreakable bond between Christ and His people and therefore we are unbreakably bound to every other believer. Death can separate your soul from your body but not from the body of Christ. Death can sever the one flesh union between husband and wife but not the one Spirit union of believers. You are not the one who by your ecumenical efforts answers the prayer of John 17; that prayer was to God and is answered by God. Yet there are also commands to be united and prayers to be united in the church. We are called to manifest the unity we already have, to put on display the unity God has caused to exist. This is the unity Paul is praying for in Romans 15:5-7, ‘May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’
Today we want to talk about unity in the church, not the type God creates when we are united to one another and Christ by the Spirit when we are born again, rather the external and visible demonstration of that inner unity in our love relations towards one another. There are four basic ways to get this external unity. Firstly, if I am incredibly humble and you are right I might be willing to say, ‘I will be more like you.’ Then the conflict of our differences disappears as I be more like you. Secondly, if I am incredibly proud, when there are differences I could insist that you be more like me. Thirdly, there is the road of compromise where we both agree to give up some of our principles and we meet one another half way. The first is rare, the second is sin, the third often comes at the expense of truth and conscience. And so there must be a fourth where we all agree in the Church to be more like Christ. And we see in verse 7 that this is what Paul encourages the Romans, the strong and the weak to do.
So as we look at the apostle Paul seeking to bring unity into this church we want to look at these verses under two headings, firstly, the prayer for unity, and secondly the shape of unity.