Receive One Another

By Jeremiah Bass

“Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” Romans 15:7

The church needs to be unified in order to be effective and edified. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle begins by calling the saints to unity but then goes on to unpack the implications of that unity in terms of the growth of the church (cf. Eph. 4:1-16).  We are to “come to the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13).  A church that is divided will not grow either in faith and love or in number. 

Unfortunately, this was a problem at the church at Rome.  The believers there were divided between the strong and the weak.  The strong were those whose grasp of the gospel allowed them to have liberty to partake in certain things than were forbidden in the Mosaic Law.  On the other hand, the weak were those whose conscience would not allow them such liberty.  The division was not over something so important that your position on it determined whether or not you were a true follower of Christ.  Paul considered both the strong and the weak to be followers of Christ, and even though the weak were wrong on the issue, Paul still calls them God’s work (14:20) and the one for whom Christ died (14:15).  This was a difference between brethren, not between the world and the church. 

And yet even over issues that are not primary in importance, division can cause serious problems.  In chapter 14, you can see that the strong were abusing their liberty and were causing the weak to stumble.  And even though the strong were right on the issue, their attitude towards those with whom they disagreed was wrong.  Not only was it wrong, but it was also wicked because they were destroying the work of God.  When we are divided, we stop seeing those with whom we disagree as our brethren, and we stop loving them as we should (cf. 14:15).  And when we stop loving them, we inevitably start sinning against them – even if we don’t realize that that is what we are doing.  Unity is therefore so very important; we need to hear Paul here. It is a safeguard to the love that we are to give to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is the only environment in which the church can truly grow and flourish.

Before we look at what the apostle does say, however, I think it is important that we consider what he does not say.  He does not encourage anyone to think about leaving the church.  Nowhere in his epistles does he ever even give his readers the slightest hint that leaving and starting another church is an option, or that the believers should split up. You don’t arrive at unity by just hanging out with people you like.  You strive for unity even with people you don’t like and with whom you might not agree on secondary issues.  One of the dangers is always to think the grass is greener on the other side.  “If only our church were filled with this or that sort of person, I would be much happier here.”  Banish thoughts like that; they are foolish and unhelpful.  Love what is near.  A department head I knew at a university would tell disgruntled professors to teach the students they had, not the students they wished they had.  The same advice could go for church goers.  Love the brothers and sisters you have in the fellowship you are a part of; not the ones you wish you had.  To nourish the opposite attitude will only kill love in the fellowship and stir up in our hearts a spirit of discontentment that is inimical to true Biblical unity.

There are three things I want to consider from this text, which is a call to unity: “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (15:7).  From this verse and the previous ones, we learn first, the place of unity, second, the pattern of unity, and third, the purpose of unity.

The Place of Unity

We are to be unified in the heart.  I see this verses 1-3, where the apostle talks about not pleasing ourselves but laboring to please others, especially by bearing with their failings.  You note that he gives Christ as our example here.  It is certain that the unity that our Lord sought with His people was a unity that reflected His heart for them.   Our Lord did what He did for the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:3).  It was His love for His people that motivated His mission to bring salvific unity to them.  In the same way, we are to be motivated by a heart of love for God’s people.  The unity that is to describe us is not supposed to be a unity that is merely external.  Such a unity would be hypocritical and, in the end, will neither last nor bring the edification and growth to the church that true unity brings.

And then in verse 5 the apostle says, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”  The verb “to be likeminded” is the same verb the apostle uses in Romans 8 when he talks about the mind of the Spirit and the mind of the flesh.  The “mind” is therefore more than just the intellect; it involves the whole inner person – the mind and will and affections.   So we are to be unified in heart. 

In verse 6, the apostle continues: “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The word for “with one mind” there is a word meaning “with one accord” (cf. Acts 15:25).  This again is more than mere formal and external unity – it is a unity that emanates from the heart.  It is a unity that derives from our love to God and to His children.  When we love each other the way we ought, we will want to be like-minded and in one accord.  We will bear with each other, forbear with each other’s faults, and be slow to anger and slow to speak.  We will not be out to please ourselves, but others.  We won’t end up destroying the work of God, because we will be laboring for the opposite – to build each other up.  Even, perhaps especially, those we clash with on these lesser issues.

Let us therefore welcome and receive each other from the heart.  Let it be real.  Let us not ignore or ostracize others in the fellowship but embrace each other as fellow pilgrims along the way to heaven. Unity in heart is possible as well as desirable when people are genuinely born again.  What prevents unity is not the Holy Spirit, but sin (Eph. 4:1-6).  It is not a question of if we can attain unity, but how hard are we willing to work to try to get there?

The Pattern of Unity

How are we to seek unity?  Paul makes it clear: “as Christ also received us.” (7).  As we noted before, in verses 3-5 the apostle puts the example of the Lord before us as the example for the way we are to receive and welcome each other.  Unity that does not find its strength in the teachings and example of the Lord Jesus is not Christian unity. 

 Like Jesus, we should serve each other and build each other up.  Our Lord said to his disciples who were elbowing each other for the first place that “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:26-28; cf. Phil. 2:2-8).  Those who are like Christ are not out to please themselves but are to put their regard for their brother’s welfare first.

This will mean that we will be in each other’s lives. Specifically, we should be praying for each other, watching over each other, and if need be, to reprove each other in love, to meet together, and to help each other in spiritual and material ways.  In other words, we are to be looking for ways to love each other in a way that reflects Christ’s love for us.  And that also means that at the same time we should avoid things like individualism, pride, backbiting, and seeking preeminence. These are all things we are prone to, but they are inimical to true Christian unity.

All this means that we are going to be willing to sacrifice for the good of others.  The specific instance of our Lord’s example to which the apostle points is His sacrificial life and death for us: “For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (Rom. 15:3). How can we not bear with the weak when we have this example?  How can we insist upon only being around people we like or who don’t rub us the wrong way when Christ took our reproaches upon Himself?  When we have the mind of Christ, when we are like this, how can we not be unified? 

At the same time, we must affirm that unity does not countenance sin (cf. 1 Cor. 5; Rev. 2).  That would be a wrong type of unity, though it is the type of unity that many in the modern church are pursuing.  However, Christ did not die so that we could continue in our sins but so that we would die to sin and live to righteousness. The church should reflect that reality.  And that means, though we are long-suffering with each other, we will lovingly help each other move toward and not away from holiness and Christ-likeness.

The Purpose of Unity

There are many good fruits that come from true Christian unity.  The health of the church, the growth of the church, all depend upon it.  But none of these things are the main reason we are to seek unity.  Why should we seek it?  Paul tells us: “to the glory of God.”  I take this to mean that we are to welcome each other as Christ received us, because this welcoming and receiving each other after the pattern of Christ redounds to the glory of God.

How does this glorify God?  Remember what the glory of God is: it is the public display of His attributes. Our Lord came to live and die and rise again so that those who believe in Him might participate in the unity that comes from salvation – a unity which is a unity that involves us in the participation of the love of the Trinity (cf. John 17).  When we are unified, we are showing the world that the salvation of Christ is real.  In that, God is glorified because His saving work is being put on public display.

On the other hand, disunity gives occasion for non-Christians to mock Christianity.  What happens when we are at each other’s throats?  We make a mockery of the faith.  We don’t draw others to the faith but repel them from it.  We won’t invite people to ask us a reason for the hope; we will push them away from us because they will see us to be the hypocritical pretenders that we are.  On the other hand, it is said that in the early centuries of the Christian mission, pagans would often remark how Christians loved each other, and it drew them to the church.  May we be more like that! Indeed, may the Lord grant us this unity so that we grow and so that God is glorified.

Jeremiah Bass is Senior Pastor of Cincinnati Primitive Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH