What is the key to living in harmony?

As much as you may like other people, one of the most difficult aspects of life is getting along with the people the Lord brings into your life. If you serve in a people-centered vocation, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about. One of my friend's daughters was recently telling us about her new job as a server in a local restaurant. It's been an eye opening experience for her to attempt to meet the different wants and preferences of her customers while keeping a pleasant smile on her face.

Likewise, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that there might be a few people in your life that you've decided not to interact with frequently because you're trying to "keep the peace." Living in harmony with others, even our brothers and sisters in Christ, can be a challenging task that, in the end, requires us to depend on the strength of the Lord to empower.

As Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, I'm sure he was grateful for them and for what Christ was doing among them. I'm sure he rejoiced over their growth, but he was also concerned for their well-being and ongoing spiritual and relational development. And since this group of people was as diverse as it was, he wanted them to understand the key to living in harmony. So what advice did the Holy Spirit inspire Paul to give the church about the nature of harmony in the body of Christ?

I. Bear with the failings of the weak

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.  For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”
— Romans 15:1-3, ESV

My sons and I recently agreed to attempt an exercise challenge for thirty days. Each day for one month, we agreed to do 100 push-ups. The push-ups didn't have to be done in a row, but in each 24-hour period, that's the pattern we agreed to follow. It wasn't necessarily an easy challenge to keep, but we enjoyed the camaraderie it helped foster as well as the physical strength it helped build.

Over the course of your life, you're going to experience trials and you're going to learn things that deepen your understanding. Your faith is going to be stretched, but as it is stretched, it's going to become stronger. As you walk through difficult seasons with the help of Christ, you're going to realize He can be trusted and relied on, and He's going to make you strong with the kind of strength only He can provide.

As you become strong, you're going to interact with those who are at a different season in their walk with Christ. They may be many years earlier in the journey than you are. And as you interact with them, don't forget that you were once where they are right now. If the Lord has taken years to make you strong, honor His investment in you by patiently bearing with the failings of those who are presently weaker.

Yes, you might be hurt at times by their failings. Yes, you might be inconvenienced or even embarrassed, but that's not an excuse to abandon them. Rather, our goal as believers is to please them and build them up because that's exactly what Christ has done for us.

Romans 15:3 speaks of what Jesus did for us, and we're reminded that, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” What is that verse trying to tell us? Mankind reproached the Father, and those words of reproach fell upon Christ, the Son. In part, this Scripture is telling us that Jesus came to this earth and put up with the effects of problems He didn't cause. We sinned, and He bore the consequences of our sin upon Himself.

So if Jesus can do that for you and me, is it too much of Him to expect us to bear with each others' failings?

II. Let the Scriptures inform your hope

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.  May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:4-7, ESV

Last week, I was listening to an album that I haven't listened to in a while. As I listened to the words I thought to myself, "This music is very encouraging. I like what this artist is trying to say." Why do you suppose her words encouraged me like they did? I think a big part of why I found them so encouraging was because the artist was conveying Scriptural concepts in her lyrics and singing about how the Lord deepened the nature of her hope in Him.

I'm so grateful that the Lord has given us access to His word. We're told in Romans 15:4 that the word of God was written to instruct us, encourage us, and produce hope in our lives. The Scriptures continually point us to Jesus. The Scriptures give us a glimpse into the heart and mind of God. The Scriptures reveal the promises of God to us, and our hope grows strong as we watch Him fulfill what He has assured us of.

And as the Lord uses His word to foster hope within your heart, while at the same time He uses His word to foster hope in my heart, we'll find ourselves growing in the same hope at the same time. And since we possess the same hope, we can enjoy harmony with one another. Then since we're living in hope and harmony, we can be intentional about welcoming one another as Christ has welcomed us.

Consider for a moment what this means. How has Christ welcomed us? Well, He welcomed us before we were cleaned up, and while we had nothing to offer Him. He took us as we were, then the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit to live within us, counsel us, and sanctify us. We came to Him with filthy hands and He has graciously washed our filth away. We are presented before Him as a bride without any stain, wrinkle, or blemish.

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.”
— Romans 5:6, NLT
“For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.”
— Ephesians 5:25-27, NLT

So how do we know these powerful and refreshing truths? We know these things because the Lord has revealed them in His word. And through these Scriptures, He informs our hope.

III. Understand that Christ is the confirmation of God's promises

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.”
And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
— Romans 15:8-12, ESV

I saw a few Superbowl 52 bumper stickers this week. Admittedly, as a Philadelphia Eagles fan, I haven't grown tired of them even though that game is drifting further and further into the annals of history. But for many of us who have followed that team our whole lives, that game was the fulfillment of something we were wishing to see since childhood. We finally got a win in the big game like we knew we one day would.

Imagine living during the Old Testament era. During that period of time, God revealed that the day was going to come when He would send the Messiah. Abraham was told of Him. Moses was told of Him. All the Jewish patriarchs were given hints and glimpses of Jesus as they awaited the day of His arrival. God also revealed to these men that when the Messiah came, even the Gentiles would place their trust in Him and glorify God the Father for the mercy He has shown humanity in sending His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the fulfillment of these long-standing promises. His arrival and ministry are confirmation of God's truthfulness. He is the proof of the promises of God. He is the assurance of the accuracy of Scripture. Our common faith in Christ facilitates harmony among us.

IV. Experience the fruit of genuine faith

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
— Romans 15:13, ESV
One night at dinner a man, who had spent many summers in Maine, fascinated his companions by telling of his experiences in a little town named Flagstaff. The town was to be flooded, as part of a large lake for which a dam was being built. In the months before it was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town were stopped. What was the use of painting a house if it were to be covered with water in six months? Why repair anything when the whole village was to be wiped out? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more bedraggled, more gone to seed, more woebegone. Then he added by way of explanation:

“Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”
— Halford E. Luccock, Unfinished Business.

As you approach each day, do you do so as someone with eyes of faith? Are you filled with joy, peace, power, and hope as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live within you and work within your life?

If you're downcast and discouraged right now, please do me a favor and ask yourself the question, "Which direction are my eyes looking?" Are you looking down at the ground, stuck in a defeated moment, or can you see beyond your temporary circumstances with eyes of hope that are the product of genuine faith?

Our Lord has called us to "abound in hope." We have the power of the resurrection living within us. And this is true for everyone who has genuine faith in Christ. So, knowing that we have a common Lord, common history, common joy, and a common future, we can also enjoy the experience of living with a Spirit-empowered common harmony.

© John Stange, 2019