What does it take to live in harmony? I suspect it requires the same things whether one is talking about having harmony in the home, the church, on a sports team or on the job. It is very easy to recognize when harmony is there and to know when it is missing. Harmony in life or music has a drawing power to it. But a lack of harmony tends to push people away. Imagine going to hear a band perform in a local auditorium and as you begin to hear the sounds of sweet music rising from different instruments it hits you like a person striking their thumb with a hammer as discordant notes arise from the instruments. Instead of being drawn in by the beautiful harmony you are driven from the room where the band is attempting to play. While beautiful harmony has a drawing power to it and pulls us closer to the music and in the process pulls us closer to each other, discordant music pushes us away. The same thing is true when the music being played is spiritual rather than physical.
In Romans 15: 5-7 Paul offered the following challenge to the people in Rome. “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.” One of the amazing things in the Bible is all the different ways particular writers speak of God. In the Book of Romans we’ve seen God referred to good and severe. We seen him referred to as the God of all grace and Paul has spoken of his justice and wrath, along with his love. Later in chapter fifteen Paul refers to God as the God of hope. Paul calls him the only wise God in chapter sixteen. In verse 20 of chapter 16 he calls him the God of peace who will soon crush Satan under your feet. All of these, plus many more give us a tremendous amount of references to the nature of God. Every such description is important and let’s us in on some aspect of God’s nature in his relationship with us as his children.
Focus on the descriptive terms used in our text in Romans 15:4. He is the God of endurance and encouragement. He doesn’t give up on us as he works with us to build us up and to keep us away from sins that destroy our harmony in him. Think of some of the times in your life when you became so discouraged it was hard not to be bitter in your dealings with others. God’s longing for his children is that we would be in such harmony that being with us draws others to the Him. The result of God’s longing for us is that he encourages us to grow up in him. Notice in the verse just before this Paul had reminded them of the things God had written down before hand for our learning that we through endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures might have hope. So the very marks that stand out for the word of God are marks of God’s nature as well. During the wilderness wandering for the Jews, God became frustrated with the people of Israel because of their constant complaining about everything from food to water, to the desert itself. He said their constant complaints was discouraging the hearts of his people and warned them to stop the whining and see the blessings that he was providing for them.
But notice that Paul said it was through the endurance and encouragement of God that we can live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify God, the father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was on the theme of stronger Christians bearing with the failings of the weak. He had spent all of chapter 14 discussing the whole problem of people judging each other because of their understandings on matters that were of little significance when it came to the real goal of the kingdom of the Lord. God’s kingdom isn’t about food and drink but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. But they couldn’t seem to get away from long arguments about what you could eat, drink or what to observe in life. The result was division in the body and the loss of influence on the world as a whole. He challenged the ones who saw themselves as strong to not please themselves but to work to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. Let’s face it, such thinking isn’t natural for people of that day or ours. It is far more natural to focus on what we need and want others to look after our longings. But selfishness in the body of Christ always results in the total loss of harmony. When harmony is lost the sounds that are given off by the church are hard to listen to and never serve to draw others to Jesus.
He had pleaded all through chapter fourteen for them to stop judging each other and realize that God was the judge of each of us and our obligation was to please him not each other. We are God’s servants and it is what he thinks that matters. He challenged us to follow our conscience in matters that God hasn’t given clear teaching on what is right or wrong. His final challenge on how the strong Christians should conduct themselves in the body was, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” What if the church were made up only of people that I personally welcomed in with enthusiasm? Our sense of welcome is too often limited to people that are a lot like us. Yet God looked at a Saul of Tarsus, who was blaspheming him and trying to destroy his people and welcomed him into the family. He welcomed Gentiles, he welcomed those with major moral problems, with family problems and who struggled with addiction. Look closely at I Corinthians 6:9-11 at people who were headed away from God whom God invited into the kingdom. They were sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. Many in the Corinthian church had lived that kind of life, but now they were washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord and by the Spirit of our God.
Jesus died for all people and his graces reaches out to all people. He sent the gospel message out to every creature in every ethnic group in every part of the world. But if people ever come to the Lord it will largely depend on the welcome they get from those who are in the church already. When we welcome those very different from us God is glorified, and the people in the body of Christ live in such harmony that it sends out a beautiful sound that attracts more people from around the world. God help us to produce such harmony as your people today.