On its face, Romans 15:4-13 appears to be a challenging text for Advent themes. But, preacher, be patient. Note how the Apostles opens the chapter by setting forth Jesus and His accomplishment as the foundation for the Church, indeed, for understanding humanity and world history itself. This, to be sure, is the theme of Advent.
Verse 4 takes us on an apostolic excursion to the way in which the Bible, meaning the Old Testament (!), should function in Christian living. Paul says it has been given to us to strengthen our hearts and hands to live with patience and hope in these troubled days. He wants his readers to know that the Church, as long as it tarries for the reappearing of Christ, really and truly participates in God’s controlling narrative stretching back to the first page of Scripture; all of which contains the story of Christ. It is all Christological. Consequently, we of all people, because of Christ, can build securely on the future because the truth of Christ runs from the past to the present, establishing a most certain future. Ah, there it is, the eschatological theme of Advent.
Paul argues that now the Messiah has come and has achieved what the entire Hebrew Bible (meaning the Old Testament) has been moving toward, the Scriptures can be read as an open book. No longer is it a messy story in search of an ending. Instead, because of the Advent (the great Christic event) it preserves and proclaims God’s great achievement in Jesus the Son. If the Scriptures were a blessing to the Jews, how much more so for the Christian! The Scriptures (again, the Old Testament) could not be anything but a monumental encouragement toward faithful, Christian living, reinforcing the belief that God would perfectly complete what He already accomplished from Genesis through John the Baptist in Jesus Christ. These Scriptures, Paul exclaims, are a treasure trove of Christian hope.
These Scriptures, Paul exclaims, are a treasure trove of Christian hope.
What does it look like when the rubber meets the road? How should it play out in the lives of God’s people? The Apostle draws in themes from Psalm 69, Philippians 2:6-8, and 2 Corinthians 8:9, where Jesus humbles Himself, refusing honors and privileges which were His by right, in order to “be made perfect” through obedience and suffering (Hebrews 2:10) so redemption may be accomplished. Self-humiliation, the renouncing of rights (not the assertion thereof), which formed the path Jesus had to tread to complete His messianic work, is also the path Christians must tread as they put life-in-the-Spirit into practice (reference 1 Corinthians 9 and Philippians 2:1-5).
The upshot should be like-mindedness (verses 4-5). All Christians ought to be possessed by a desire, a striving, a mutual encouragement toward conformity to the will and likeness of Christ. This should yield doctrinal and liturgical unity, perhaps not in every aspect of ceremony, but certainly in rites and those things which actuate the Church, per se, namely the pure preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel. This is the first part of the pericope.
In the second part, verses 7-13, Paul ends his argument as he began it, with another remarkable statement on the same theme. We have come full circle. Beginning in verse 9, he delineates a series of Old Testament passages to evidence how God always intended to bring the nations of the world, the gentiles, into equal fellowship with His chosen people, Israel. Preacher, your congregation, almost in its entirety, is probably made up of those gentiles who are now God’s people. In other words, God has reconstituted Israel to consist of both Jews and gentiles in Christ. This is possible because Jesus Himself, as Israel’s King, represents all of Israel. He is the last Adam and represents all humanity. He is the “greater than Abraham” who was justified by God’s grace as a gentile and not yet a Jew. Paul’s selection of verses from Psalm 18:49 (in verse 9), Deuteronomy 32:43 (in verse 10), Psalm 117:1 (in verse 11), and finally Isaiah 11:10 (in verse 12) tell this story. Note how Paul closes here and the way it matches with chapter 1:3-4. We have come full circle. Everything hinges on Christ. He is the key to all Scripture. He is the fulfillment of all history for all peoples.
Through this story of God redeeming and reclaiming both Jew and gentile as His people, His chosen Israel in Christ, Paul summons obedience, faith, and, supremely, worship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is one more loop for the Apostle to close from 1:4-5. In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul underscored God’s public vindication and affirmation of Jesus as the world’s rightful and reigning King in the resurrection. This resurrection took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. In verse 13, Paul invokes the same power, the power which will enliven the Church. From Rome to the ends of the earth it may be found in Spirit and truth, to proclaim, to celebrate, to reconcile, to hold firm the faith, and, above all, to abound in hope.
In sum, new life in Christ, such as it entails being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, means God intends to be glorified in the faithful, worshipful life of His people.