Let’s start this article by playing a game. I’ll start a verse and you finish it. All right here we go… “For whatever things were written before hand were…” Can you finish it? That’s right, they were “written for our learning, that we though the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” Good job, you know your Bible verses.
Okay, for extra credit can you tell me the context of this verse? What was Paul talking about when he told us why the things of old were written for us? Don’t know? That’s okay; I didn’t know what it was either until last week. And therein lies the problem. We quote some passages so often and used them to make our standard applications that we have either forgotten or neglected their usage in their original context. By doing this, we fail to embrace the richness of their original meaning and application. Such is the case with Romans 15:4. Let’s take a fresh look at this great passage and together let’s gain a greater understanding of its message in light of its context.
The Context of Romans 15:4 – For the context of Romans 15:4 we must first start with what is written in Romans 14. In the 14th chapter Paul addressed the need for patience between the strong Christian and the weak Christian in the area of “doubtful things.” The weak felt they could not eat any meat (14:2, 14), drink wine (14:21 cf. 1 Tim 5:23), and had to esteem some days as being more important than others (14:5). While on the other hand the strong believed they could eat anything since nothing was unclean, drink wine, and that all days were of equal importance. Paul wanted both the strong and the weak to have a mutual acceptance for one another. He called for the weak to not judge his stronger brother because he didn’t refrain from eating certain foods, or from drinking wine, or keep days (14:4). Nor does Paul want the stronger brother to destroy the faith of the weaker by allowing the exercise of his liberties to become as a stumbling block, or hindrance, to the faith of the one who Christ has saved (14:13-21).
Paul concludes his teaching by saying, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” (15:1-2) He illustrate the point of the strong bearing with the scruples of the weak by turning to the example of Jesus saying, “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’” (15:3 cf. Psalm 69:9) Why should the strong bear with the weak? Because even the strongest, Jesus the Christ, bore the failings of us, the weak. It is at this point that Paul says, “For whatever things were written before hand were written for our learning, that we though the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (15:4).
Now that we have established the context of Romans 15:4 let’s turn our attention to understanding its contextual meaning.
The Contextual Meaning of Romans 15:4 – Paul was encouraging his readers not to neglect the things that were written before hand, the Old Testament, because in its pages the strong would learn patience in dealing with their weak brethren and be comforted in refraining from their liberties for the good of the others. With these two lessons firmly planted in their hearts they could then have hope.
And what was their hope? For the answer look at vv. 5-6, “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be likeminded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In the context of the passage their hope was that both the strong and the weak have unity of mind (i.e. be likeminded, with one mind) and glorify the Father together.
Now do you see the richer meaning of this passage when we examine it in its context? Before we end let’s make two points of application.
The Application for Us – There are two points of application that we should make from our examination of the context of Romans 15:4.
The first is, make sure you understand the context of a passage and the way the speaker/author used it before make applications and teachings from your chosen passage. While you may teach the truth, it’s always best to keep passage(s) in context so as to not go beyond what the speak/author intended. Remember, if it’s true there’s a passage that teaches it.
The second is, read the Old Testament. While the names, places, and events may seem foreign to us, there is a great wealth of knowledge and insight to be gained from the Old Testament. In keeping with the theme of dealing with weaker brethren you might read about how Joseph dealt with his brothers, or Moses dealt with the Children of Israel, or Nehemiah dealt with the people of Jerusalem when the walls were rebuilt. In reading these stories you’ll learn strategies for being patient and be comforted in that you too can deal with your weaker brethren. While we may not be justified by the Old Testament today Paul tells us we shouldn’t ignore it.
I hope that this has helped you see the richer meaning of God’s word. Keep on reading, keep on studying, and keep on praying for wisdom and understanding. May God bless.