In Romans chapter 15 verse 7 through 13 Paul gives an exhortation to fellowship. It's interesting here that Paul sees that Christian conduct is to be controlled not so much by our accepting Christ, but by Christ accepting us. In fact, He sees Christ's accepting us as key for how we get along with one another and instructive in how life ought to be in a local body of believers.

I. General exhortation to accept one another despite differences.

In verse 7 where we see this general fellowship exhortation. That is, Paul calls on believers in Rome to accept one another even though they are very different. We learn from Paul's words there that we are to accept one another in the Christian church the same way that Christ accepted us. Paul's exhortation here for believers is for us to emulate the same kind of patience and forbearance that Christ has shown towards us. If Christ had dealt with us as we deserved, He would have condemned us.

He goes on to say in verse 7, this accepting of one another is promotive of the glory of God. We glorify God by accepting one another, because Christ glorified God by accepting us. You are doing the work of glorifying God when you accept brothers and sisters in the Lord who are different from you.

This whole discussion that Paul is having with us here assumes that the church is made up widely different constituencies. It is diverse. There are people with different ideas about life, there are people from different backgrounds, and there are people from different socioeconomic groups. There are people from different political persuasions. There are people from all over the map. The church is not a homogenous people group. It's not a collection of all sort of people who are all the same. It's a collection of all sorts of people, many of whom are really different.

This whole discussion also assumes that is precisely our unity, in spite of that diversity, that glorifies God in the world. The thing that gets God glory in this world is the world looking in at the Church and asking, "How in the world do those people get along with one another?" They're not like one another. And that unity in midst of diversity glorifies God in the world .

We like to be with people that are like us. The Apostle Paul says that it is the unity of the church, especially in its local expression, where people are gathered together that are not like one another, yet they love one another, and accept one another because they have a prior and a deeper bond that is not bound in all the natural similarities that seem to form the major groupings of other people everywhere in the rest of the world.

Realizing those dynamics, friends, would force us to create an exclusively gospel based community in the church, and that's what Paul is looking for here. A community that is based not on our background, not on our social preferences and orders and experiences, but is based on our having been accepted by Jesus Christ, brought into His family and embracing His gospel.

II. Our fellowship is based in the work of the Messiah.

Paul gives us, in verses 8 through 12, the basis of this fellowship exhortation. He's called us to real fellowship, real acceptance of one another, real care and love for one another. The purpose of the Messiah's mission was to build one Church of Jew and Gentile. That was His purpose, that Jew and Gentile would be together in one church. Paul piles up Scripture passages here. He quotes the Psalms and he quotes from the Law and he quotes from the Prophets. In other words, he quotes from all the major portions of the Old Testament just to make it clear to us that this isn't some peripheral emphasis of the Old Testament. It's a central emphasis of the Old Testament.

Paul has never entertained the idea that there was some other way for any of the Gentiles into fellowship with God apart from Jesus. You hear that all the time. That's fine. "Jesus is Messiah for you; that's great, but not for me. There is another way for me." Paul says it all the time, and he just said it again in verses 8 through 12, "Jesus is the only way." He is the Messiah of the Gentiles, but it is the mission of the Messiah to bring unity to His body, bring unity in His church between Jew and Gentile, to bring unity in His church out of that former enmity between Jew and Gentile. That was the mission of Jesus as the Messiah, coming into the world to build His one church. It would have both Jewish and Gentiles believers in it.

III. The source of peace and fellowship is a work of the Holy Spirit.

Then finally in verse 13, he reminds us of the source of peace and fellowship in the church. It's in the work of God. It's in the power of the Holy Spirit. The antidote for a divided congregation, Paul says, is found at the throne of grace. Paul has just come to the end of his argumentation in the most important polemical presentation of the gospel and its effects ever written in the history of man, and how does he conclude it? He concludes it with prayer. A prayer which expresses a desire of his heart, and it has two parts. Look at verse 13.

Part one tells you that God is the origin and object of hope. "Now, may the God of hope." God is the One who gives hope. He is the source, He is the origin of hope. He is the object of our hope and He grants His people peace and joy as they believe.

The God of hope is the one who fills you with joy and with peace. In this case, this is not the peace that we have with God because of His reconciliation of us in Christ, but the subjective peace that we experience because of that peace He has made with us. Paul pauses here and says, I pray that God would inundate you with joy and peace as you trust in Him.

Then secondly he goes on to tell you the goal of his prayer. He petitions God that He would fill you with joy and peace as you believe. Why? Well, it's that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the prayer is that we would be characterized by the abounding hope derivative of the power of the Spirit.

Paul knows that unity in the church is no automatic proposition. He knows that lacking unity in the church can be soul killing. It's so discouraging. Some of you have come to a point where you have become so disappointed in the church that you wondered if you could go on. You've been so disappointed by broken relationships that you wondered if you could go on.

So Paul concludes his grand argument in Romans with a prayer for you, that you would know the hope of God, and it would lead to a unity of fellowship in the body of believers that would witness to God's glory. May He bring that about as a reality in our congregations.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.