Most New Testament letters are situational. That is, there is some situation that informs the content and purpose of each letter. Nothing we read is random.
The letter to the Romans, for example, sought to unite Roman Christians. There was a strong point of contention among them that Paul addressed. It’s thought that Paul spoke to tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. I’ve learned recently of another idea. That Paul was writing, by and large, to a Gentile audience. Some Gentile Christians thought it was necessary to take on Jewish identity. Others did not.
Those ideas shape how we read some of Paul’s admonitions in the letter.
As I reread Romans, I can’t help but see how most of what Paul spoke of thousands of years ago could help us in our modern context. We may be arguing and disagreeing about different topics today, but we are still arguing and disagreeing with each other.
Paul frames the tensions facing the Romans through worship. There were some who had a constrictive idea of what was faithful. This had to do with eating unclean food. Paul called these people weak. Now, he wasn’t insulting them. Although you can imagine how someone may take a word like that. But in chapter 14 he says, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
Is that anything we need today?
Part of Paul’s prescription for doing so involved a level of humility a lot of us aren’t willing to share. If you consider yourself one of the strong ones, then it’s up to you to “put up with the failings of the weak.” Let that sink in for a moment or two. Most times, putting up with someone carries a negative connotation.
In light of pursuing what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding, what does it mean to put up with someone?
Here’s how the Message translation says it: Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient. Strength is for service, not status.
Let me repeat that last line: Strength is for service, not status.
Paul’s recipe, then, for God’s kind of peace is humble service toward one another. It’s not winning arguments. It’s not shaming others into belief. It’s certainly not holding yourself in high regard.
He goes on to remind us of Christ’s willingness to take on the insults of the world for our salvation. We are weak. Christ is strong. What did Christ do for us? That’s what we’re called to do for one another.