Alex T. Valencic is a life-long Mormon, born and raised in central Illinois. He served a full-time mission in southern California (ostly in Victorville), and spent a semester studying abroad in Melbourne, Australia. He is currently the Webelos Den Leader in his ward and works as a substitute teacher in his community. He also unabashedly uses non-American English spellings.
Romans 15 continues on from the advice started in chapter 12, giving practical advice to how the Saints can “present [their] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [their] reasonable service.” Having discussed a variety of aspects of practical Christian behaviour in the previous chapter, Paul starts off by admonishing the Romans to “bear the infirmities of the weak” and to “every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.” Paul then gives counsel that we be “likeminded one toward another” that we “may with one mind and one mouth glorify God”.
Paul acknowledges that the people to whom he was writing were “full of goodness” and “filled with all knowledge” but he had written boldly to them on several subjects because it was his duty. He then talks about his own mission among the Gentiles and admits that he was worried about building on the foundation others had started—he felt his mission was to go to those who had not yet heard of Jesus.
He ends by promising to visit the Romans the next time he goes to Spain, but, first, he had to stop at Jerusalem because the Saints in Macedonia and Achaia had a contribution for the benefit of the poor in those parts. He asks for them to pray with him and for him, so that he can avoid being arrested by their persecutors in Judaea.
There are three items that Paul brought up in this chapter that I find of particular application to my life:
I. How are we to bear the infirmities of the weak, and how does this help strengthen them?
I can’t help but draw a comparison to the classic sermon in Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, in which Alma tells those desiring to join the fold of Christ to “mourn with those who mourn” and to “comfort those who stand in need of comfort”. It is one thing to feel bad that someone else is sad. We can make them a casserole, drop it off, say the trite things that don’t really help, and then we carry on with our day. But to truly mourn with others, we feel their sorrow as if it were our own. To bear another’s infirmities, we feel the struggle they go through. Their struggles become our struggles. A friend of mine is trying to help one of her friends stop smoking. For every day that her friend goes without a cigarette, Sarah is going to go a day without shaving. Another friend of mine attends AA meetings with his friend, to be a support to his buddy. The LDS church has recently implemented an Addiction Recovery Program, patterned after AA, that allows people to attend simple to help those struggling with addictions. All of these examples show how we can bear the infirmities of the weak. Having a support system helps the weak overcome and become strong. And, by being that support system, we often find ourselves growing stronger, as well.
II. How can we be likeminded one toward another?
I don’t actually have a complete answer to this. I am reminded of Paul’s angry letter to the Corinthians:
10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?
14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;
15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.
This should be one of the great issues facing the Christian world today, but I don’t think it is. I fear that this is a passage that is glossed over or ignored. Or, worse, we all blame everyone else for what’s wrong. I am interested to know how others respond to this verse.
III. Paul teaches that we are full of goodness.
In several places in the scriptures, we find passages that tell us that “there are none that are righteous”, that “none of us are good”, and that what we think is good is really “as filthy rags before the Lord”. Even the Book of Mormon teaches us that we are lower than the dust of the earth. Yet here we have Paul saying, “Look guys, you really aren’t that bad. Yeah, I know, I’ve called you to task on a lot of stuff. But really, by and large, you are good people. You mean well. You do well. You’re smart, you’re funny, and, gosh darn it, people like you!”
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how he put it, but that is what I hear him saying. I hear Paul telling us that, yes, we screw up. A lot. And we are so very, very fortunate to understand that it doesn’t matter how badly we screw up, because Christ can overcome everything. His mercy, His grace is stronger. To paraphrase a children’s song, Jesus is bigger than the boogeyman. And because of that, we don’t need to be flogging ourselves every night. We don’t need to be groveling on the floor saying, “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy.” We know we aren’t worthy, but Christ can make us worthy, and He will, if we will let Him. So, instead of beating ourselves up, we can acknowledge that we are capable of doing good and that, in so doing, we are going to have a positive influence on others.