The Roman Church was a diverse church not just in racial diversity, but in economic diversity, and in cultural diversity. Some of the folks in the first church born in Rome were from slave families and others were from free. Some were kin to royalty, and others kin to the North African who carried Jesus Christ’s cross (Simon the Cyrene: his son Rufus was in the Roman church). Some were married and some were single. Some made tents, and others worked for the city. No matter their differences they shared a common unity – that of the person of Jesus Christ. They worshipped him together, some of them helped Paul plant churches in Christ’s name, some of them even went to jail alongside Paul for doing so. Paul called them friends, helpers, coworkers, saints, fellow prisoners, fellow countrymen, chosen, brothers, and sisters. The church was a great and wonderful place to celebrate the unity that only God can cause among so many different kinds of people.
But whenever you have diversity, you also have the potential for disunity. Diversity is a great thing, but we also have an enemy that wishes to divide us. God created variety, but Satan and this world like to use it to divide us. The apostle Paul says in these verses that the church must guard against those who seek to divide them, and also those who seek to put obstacles in their way in their walk with the Lord. In other words, there will always be people who have an appetite for division. Why do they? Because it serves something they desire; born out of an appetite for something that they think they must have. Paul is saying they are self-indulgent, and not thinking of the unity of the whole, but only of what they want.
We live in a pretty self-indulgent society, and the idea of a collective unity in the current United States of America almost sounds like a pipe dream. Politically, Rome wasn’t much better, but Paul wasn’t speaking about politics, he said the church must be a people who serve the Lord by serving and loving one another. There is no room for self-indulgence in the church. “The greatest among you must be the servant of all” at least that’s what Jesus taught his disciples. Smooth talking and flattery shouldn’t be the church’s mode of operation, but honesty, humility, loving God, and humanity with all our hearts.
As you examine your own heart, your own family, and your own church, do you see this unity in those areas? Is there an appetite for division in any of these places, or can you say, “No, there is a shared peace, a loving understanding, and a kind welcome.” Most of the relational problems we have in our lives are born out of selfishness not out of love. Some people want to stay divided. They may say they want justice, but what they really want is to be exalted as righteous above the people they are having problems with. They want vengeance instead of mercy. They have closed themselves off, locked up their heart from the person they are having problems with, and they are not seeking to understand or to love. They see humility as some admission of guilt, when what they are really guilty of is causing division, causing strife, and in some cases divorce: divorced from marriage, divorced from a job, divorced from a relationship, or divorced from a church.
The Greek word “just” means to “put away,” and so many times we end relationships because we are unwilling to reconcile. We put it away because we don’t have an appetite for unity, but rather we are selfish. We want what we want, and disunity tastes better to us than humility does. Someone might ask, “Well should we let them have their way?” I don’t know the circumstance. I don’t know what God knows, and I cannot see what he sees, but I do know that more is often gained through sacrifice than through selfishness. Disunity always comes to the lives of self-indulgent people.
I pray that today finds you letting go of more things so that you might hold on to more people. The real winners in this life are people who learn that it is far better to lose an argument if it means I get to keep a brother or a sister. Fight for unity, develop an appetite for humility, and forgive others their trespasses knowing that our heavenly Father forgives you as well.
Brian Taylor is the full-time pastor at Forest Avenue Baptist Church. He began his ministry in the foreign mission field of Togo, West Africa, serving with the International Mission Board of the SBC. He spent almost a decade serving as a music and youth minister in the panhandle of Texas.