At the beginning of chapter 15, Paul reminds the strong believers of their responsibility to bear with (or support) the weaker believers. Paul stresses this as an obligation for them to work to maintain unity and help those who are weak to grow strong. Paul then focuses on the important role that the scriptures play in this growth and achieving unity.
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It's important to remember that we are all still growing in our faith and in our understanding of God's grace. No matter where we are on that continuum, there are some who are further along, and others who are shortly behind. Just as we receive encouragement from those who are stronger, we are to bear with the weaker brothers and sisters to strengthen them. This is what scripture refers to as "mutual up building" or "edifying."
While this may require strong believers to make certain sacrifices (in expressing their liberty or investing time to help build up new believers) Paul reminds us all that any sacrifice or reproach we may bear pales in comparison to what Christ endured for our sake.
If you think you have it hard, Jesus had it worse. If you think you should escape any difficulty or persecution, consider Jesus' words in John 15.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you."
So how are we to overcome this persecution? How do we have victory over the lies of the world, the desires of our own selfish flesh, and the attack of the evil one? How can we find the strength to endure and to be sacrificial for the sake of others?
Paul tells us that the written word of God is a powerful source of instruction, encouragement and 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."
What Paul refers to as being "written in former days" are the Hebrew scriptures we know as the Old Testament. As Paul emphasizes here, the Old Testament is not just a collection of old cultural stories, it's God's revealed word through historical accounts that contain truths that are relevant for instruction in Paul's time and for continuing generations.
Paul is speaking here to this primarily gentile (non-Jewish) church admonishing them to carefully study the Hebrew scriptures. These former things are not to be thrown out or disregarded. This point is just as relevant to our modern church. Unfortunately, many believers today focus exclusively on the New Testament scriptures neglecting these riches that testify to God's glory and his faithfulness.
Truth is that all the scriptures, both Old and New Testament speak of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 5:39:
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me."
Then in verses 45-46, Jesus continued:
"Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me."
Hebrews 10:7, speaking of Christ and quoting the Psalm 40 says:
"Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'"
Perhaps one of the most compelling examples can be found in Luke 24:27 when the resurrected Jesus walked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
And they said their hearts burned within them as they recognized the truth as Jesus spoke.
Paul then offers a prayer that the church will receive God’s grace and will live in harmony with one another. God’s desire for believers is to be in unity and in harmony; aligned and united as one body under one head that is Jesus Christ.
In John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father that He would protect the church while it remained in this world, that the church would be sanctified with the truth of God's Word, and that we would be unified together and with Christ. It's this supernatural unity that serves as a testimony so that others can see the goodness of God and believe the Word of God.
In these scriptures we see the clear connection between the power of the Word of God and the unity we are to have with each other. While we may gather in different locations, and we may worship in different styles, we should all understand and agree with the fundamentals of scripture that teach us truth about God. In that agreement and shared understanding of good doctrine, we have unity and harmony.
God has supernaturally revealed His word to us. It's written in scripture for us to consume like daily bread (Deut. 8:3/Matt.4:4). Guided by the Holy Spirit and applied to our lives, the Word of God gives us supernatural endurance, encouragement, comfort, harmony and hope.
This happened at a time in history through the person of Jesus Christ as the Word of God became flesh (John 1), but it also is available to us through the revealed, inspired Word of God we have in our hands today.
The revealed Word of God includes many promises for our future. When we look back to see how faithful God has been to His Word in the past, we can take encouragement and have hope (confident expectation) that God will continue to be faithful to His Word and the promises to give us a future and a hope.
Paul concludes this section encouraging us not just to welcome each other politely, but as Christ welcomes us. Jesus welcomes us in our weakness. He welcomes us in love. He welcomes us completely even though we don't deserve it. It's this welcoming and loving heart, that seeks to build up our brothers and sisters in their faith, that we are supernaturally gifted to have for one another. When we come together as one unified body, in agreement, loving and serving each other; we bring glory to God.