E Pluribus Unum

Bible Book: Romans  15 : 1-7
Subject: Unity; Church; Fellowship; Oneness in Christ

On June 20th, 1782, our Congress officially adopted the Great Seal of United States. With typical, congressional speed, it only took six years of discussion. Charles Thomas was the designer, and he presented his final image, which depicts the bald eagle with an olive branch in one talon, and arrows in the other. From the eagle’s beak, a banner unfurls with the Latin phrase inscribed upon it, “E Pluribus Unum”. As many of you learned in school, the phrase means: out of many one. Out of many people, from different states, comes one nation, or so the motto implies.

The same oneness that was an aspiration for our country is something accomplished within the church of Jesus and the body of Christ. Out of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation of the earth, Jesus has redeemed and is gathering a single people who will worship around His throne in the ages to come.

In this body of believers there is great diversity, but through the blood of Jesus there is great unity as well. Out of the many, Jesus makes one church, with one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. (Eph. 4:5) That is not to say that our oneness is always so perfect and pretty, however. The church is not yet what she shall be in eternity.

When the Apostle Paul sat down to pen his letter to the believers in Rome, a letter that would be one of the most important parts of our Bibles, there was more on his heart than just doctrine and theology.

The latter part of the book of Romans is filled with practical instructions for how believers should live in light of the great gospel that is spelled out in the first part of the book.

What Paul desired for the believers in Rome is explained in verse 5 of chapter 12. Paul desired to see a church that was “likeminded one toward another” and therefore could with “one mind and one mouth glorify God.”

Is that not something that we want for this church as a small part of the church? Do you, as an individual member of Sharon Heights, want a unity with the others members that will bring glory to the God of all our members?

If so, then let’s explore what it is the Spirit wants to teach us about how we, as many, can relate to one another, so that we can be “one”.

First of all, we are reminded in this passage that:


One of my favorite stories involves a man who came to the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, and said that he was looking for the “perfect church”. Spurgeon assured him that his church was not perfect, and then warned him, “If you do find the perfect church, I beg you, don’t join it, for you will ruin the whole thing.”

There are no perfect churches, anymore than there are perfect people. It was true of the church in Rome, and it is true of this church in Brookside.

In chapter 15, Paul is continuing to address an issue that existed in the church at Rome, and to some degree still exists in churches to this day.

Let me show you what I mean. We see here that one of the problems Paul speaks to is the fact of:

A. Believers in different stages

In verse one of chapter 15 Paul speaks to those who are “strong” about how they are to deal with those who are “weak”. If you were reading straight through the book of Romans, you’d know that this is not talking about physical strength and weakness, but spiritual strength and weakness. The 14th chapter is all about this. In Rome you had some who were stronger in their faith and understanding of the gospel, and others who were not so far along in their grasp of these things. They had all believed upon Jesus and confessed Him as Lord. They were all Christians. But while some of them were climbing the Everest’s of the gospel, others of them hadn’t even ventured across the street.

In churches still today, there are going to be people on different levels spiritually. Some will be running, others walking, and still others only starting to crawl. In a group like that, there are always going to be runners who feel like the crawlers are slowing down the whole team. The crawlers are going to feel like the runners are wild and reckless, and in danger of running the whole thing over a cliff. This disparity in spirituality can lead to tensions and even divisions in a church body. That appears to be at least a threat for the church in Rome.

We see, though, that the problem was not only believers in different stages, but also you had there:

B. Believers with different stances

We don’t have to time to go over it, but in the previous chapter of this book, chapter 14, Paul speaks to both the spiritually strong and the spiritually weak in Rome. The issue boiled down to this: the strong felt like they had liberty in Christ to live without any bondage to the Jewish religious laws. If they wanted to eat a pork sandwich, they felt like they could eat it. If they wanted to cut the grass on the Sabbath, they cranked the mower and went at it. But there were others in Rome, whom Paul clearly refers to as “the weak”, who felt strong reservations and convictions about these types of things. They would never eat any BBQ. They rested on the Lord’s Day, and didn’t do any work or play at all.

The truth is, however, both those who were strong and free, and those who were weak and cautious were sincere in their convictions and stances about the Christian life. While Paul himself identified with the strong in their position, his instruction in verse 3 of chapter 14 was this: “Let not him that eateth [meat] despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not [meat] judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.”

In other words, Paul said, “I know you have honest differences and disagreements about these things, but you cannot let these differences become divisions.” While the particular stances may be different in the church today, it is still true that people have honest disagreements in church about certain aspects of life and faith, and how they intersect. A group of people this size is not going to agree on everything, and we aren’t always going to see eye-to-eye, even when we are looking right at each other. Good, sincere Christian people often disagree sharply over what they would both consider to be serious matters. And sometimes those differences of opinion can become divisions in the body. That is an all-too-common problem.

With that in mind, as we move on in chapter 15, we find not only that the problem in our group is common, but we see also secondly that:


As Paul writes about the strong and the weak, I can imagine one of the stronger Christians saying, “So, Paul, how do we get the weak on board? What do we do to get them to see it our way?” Paul’s answer is, “You don’t. Instead, you pick up their weakness and bear it like cross in order to please them rather than yourself.” Notice verse one. It says, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”

Why would Paul, as one of the strong, encourage those who are strong to accommodate the weak? Where does he get such a notion? The answer is the gospel.

Notice the principle that the Spirit of God lays out through Paul in this text. He points us to the truth of our gospel, and in doing so, urges us to consider:

A. Who our gospel reveals

Paul’s instruction is that rather than trying to get your way in differences and disagreements, and win the argument, you should rather try to please your neighbor.

Now look at verse 3. Paul said, “For even Christ pleased not himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.”

The Spirit says to us, “Look unto Jesus! No one was stronger spiritually than Him! He was always right and completely righteous, and yet He took onto Himself all the shame and rejection and insults and corrections that should have fallen onto us.”

Even when you are right in a particular disagreement with one of your brothers and sisters, no matter how right may think you are; you are not as right as Jesus. And when you were wrong and He was right, He willingly took your wrong onto Himself and carried it mercifully and graciously so that He could make you right yourself.

There is something that happens to you whenever you look at Jesus. All of sudden, you are humbled in the presence of Him who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death.

One of my favorite writers, Handley Moule, points out that this is the first time in this book of Romans that Paul points to Jesus as our example.[1]

When we understand the gospel, Jesus is first the Lord for our faith; but then He must become the life we follow. We talk about ‘being like Jesus’, but that doesn’t mean that we walk on water, and start speaking in parables. To be like Jesus is to live selflessly, sacrificially, and in service to others for the sake of building them up and helping them.

The principle of the gospel points us always to Jesus. That is who our gospel reveals, but consider also then:

B. What our gospel requires

When we look back at Jesus, and what the Scripture tells us about His life and how He lived, Paul says those things that are written there are for our learning, to encourage us in how we are to live now. So when we look to Jesus in the gospel, what it is we must do if we are to live like Him? Look down at verse 7. This is really the summary of Paul’s instruction. He said: “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”

How did Jesus receive us? He took us as we were, with all our failures and all our flaws and all our foolishness, simply because we believed upon Him.

Woodrow Kroll put it this way in His commentary on Romans: “Paul’s point is that if the Lord can receive us with the great chasm that existed between Him and us, should we not also be able to accept one another even if there are minor differences between us?”[2]

So there is someone in the church that annoys you? You don’t like the way they do things, and you wish they would do them differently, namely, in a way that would please you? The gospel requires you not to confront them and criticize them, but to welcome them with love and mercy and forgiveness because that is exactly what Jesus has done for you, and still does to this day!

Chuck Colson was a cocky, intelligent, high-ranking official in the Nixon Whitehouse. He was a ruthless man, which eventually landed him a conviction in the Watergate Scandal. Just before he went off to prison, Colson heard the gospel and was gloriously saved. When he got to prison, the Lord opened his eyes to the plight of the men who were imprisoned there. While in prison, he was reading his Bible when he came across the words of Hebrews 2:11, where it says that Jesus was not ashamed call sinners his brothers. In a biography of Colson, Eric Metaxas explains what happened to him in that moment. He wrote:

“In reading those words he suddenly understood why he was in prison. If Jesus…was not ashamed to call human beings his brothers, perhaps the high-and-mighty Chuck Colson…was put there to do the same thing – to empty his pride and call his fellow prisoners his brothers and to know that they really were his brothers.”[3]

It is the gospel that teaches us that we are not better than anyone around us, and we are certainly not better than the Savior above us, who came to save us, in spite of us.

We become one, though we are many, when we recognize the principle of the gospel. With that being said, as we look at this text, we find not only that the problem in our group is common, and the principle from our gospel is clear, but thirdly, the Spirit wants us to see that:


The truth is that if we are ever really going to be one, united together as a diverse body of believers, it is going to have to be a work God does in us, not just something we do for one another. If you take a bunch of threads and just throw them together, they are not going to become a blanket just because they are soft and flexible. A weaver has to put them together with skill and precision. We need God’s power in order to get along with another the way the gospel calls us to. Paul understood this when he wrote to Rome.

Notice with me what He said about this. We see in his words:

A. The goal Paul saw for this body

Paul could see the end product of a group of strong and weak believers who set aside their own wants in order to please one another. In verse 5, Paul’s prayer for the believers in Rome was that they would be, “…likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”

Rather than disagreements and differences, Paul wanted everyone to be of the same mind and be on the same page. Why? Verse 6 tells us. “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus.”

Paul could envision a body of believers so closely aligned, so united, that the only thing the world around them ever heard from them was how glorious their God is. No griping, only gratitude. No fighting, only faith. No problems, only praise. Can you imagine that kind of witness?

Picture a group of people in a choir loft singing. They are singing songs, but each one is singing their own song. One is singing Amazing Grace, one is singing the Hallelujah Chorus, and another is singing the National Anthem. It’s a mess, and it sounds horrible. But when that choir sings the same song, in the same key, with the same timing, and the same heart, it is a beautiful thing, and the message of the music is conveyed in the process. Paul’s goal for Rome, and the Holy Spirit’s goal for us, is that we sing the same tune, together with one mind and one mouth. The message of that melody is, “To God be the Glory”.

That is the goal Paul saw for this body, but for that to actually happen, we have to understand also:

B. The grace Paul sought for this body

Look again at verse 5. Paul said, “Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus.”

Paul had been urging them to please one another, and to set aside their differences in light of the gospel. Yet, at the same time, he understood that if they were really going to be unified, it was something God would have to grant them by grace.

You see; they weren’t likeminded. They had many differences. Therefore, only God could so work in their hearts and minds that they would see the same things in the same way.

Handley Moule wrote that God would have to help them by, “…His own sovereign way of acting…in human wills and affections…”[4]

In other words, though they had to respond to one another in ways that reflected Jesus and the gospel, only the work of God could really change and unite their hearts. We must understand that at the root of all our differences, disagreements, and ultimately divisions, is not just personality conflicts – people we just don’t get along with. The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. We need God to change our hearts so that we think as one, speak as one, live as one, and work as one.


Church, we need God to graciously make us what we are not yet, so that we can be what we should be for eternity. And herein lies our great hope. Some of the most comforting words of Jesus, especially to me as a pastor, are His words to Simon Peter in Matthew 16:18. He said, “I will build my church.” What we are trying to build together here, we simply cannot do on our own. Unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain who try to build it. If out of the many here at Sharon Heights, we are ever going to become one, than the many here are going to have fall down at the feet of One, the only One who can save us and help us. Then, like a choir all singing from the same music, when Jesus is the melody, the meter, and the message, we will be one. And the sound the world will hear from us will be the sound of His name, and His name is wonderful, Jesus our Lord.


[1] Moule, Handley C.G., The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, (Pickering & Inglis, London), p. 395

[2] Kroll, Woodrow, The Book of Romans: Righteousness in Christ, (AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 2002), p. 228

[3] Metaxas, Eric, Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness, (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2013), Amazon Kindle edition

[4] Moule, Handley C.G., The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, (Pickering & Inglis, London,) p. 399