Those Weak in Faith
14 1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don't see things the way you do. And don't jump all over them every time they do or say something you don't agree with - even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. 2 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume all Christians should be vegetarians and eat accordingly. 3 But since both are guests at Christ's table, wouldn't it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn't eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. 4 Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God's welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help. 5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience. 6 What's important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God's sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you're a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. 7 None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. 8 It's God we are answerable to - all the way from life to death and everything in between - not each other. 9 That's why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other. 10 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I'd say it leaves you looking pretty silly - or worse. Eventually, we're all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren't going to improve your position there one bit. 11 Read it for yourself in Scripture: "As I live and breathe," God says, "every knee will bow before me; Every tongue will tell the honest truth that I and only I am God." 12 So tend to your knitting. You've got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God. 13 Forget about deciding what's right for each other. Here's what you need to be concerned about: that you don't get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. 14 I'm convinced - Jesus convinced me! - that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 15 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don't eat, you're no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? 16 Don't you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning! 17 God's kingdom isn't a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness' sake. It's what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. 18 Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you'll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you. 19 So let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; 20 don't drag them down by finding fault. You're certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God's work among you, are you? I said it before and I'll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. 21 When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don't eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love. 22 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. 23 But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe - some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them - then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong.
15 1 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. 2 Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, "How can I help?" 3 That's exactly what Jesus did. He didn't make it easy for himself by avoiding people's troubles, but waded right in and helped out. "I took on the troubles of the troubled," is the way Scripture puts it. 4 Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it's written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next.
5 May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. 6 Then we'll be a choir - not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
The Gospel to the Gentiles
7 So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! 8 Jesus, staying true to God's purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. 9 As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance: Then I'll join outsiders in a hymn-sing; I'll sing to your name! 10 And this one: Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together! 11 And again: People of all nations, celebrate God! All colors and races, give hearty praise! 12 And Isaiah's word: There's the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!
13 Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
14 Personally, I've been completely satisfied with who you are and what you are doing. You seem to me to be well-motivated and well-instructed, quite capable of guiding and advising one another. 15 So, my dear friends, don't take my rather bold and blunt language as criticism. It's not criticism. I'm simply underlining how very much I need your help in carrying out this highly focused assignment God gave me, 16 this priestly and gospel work of serving the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish outsiders so they can be presented as an acceptable offering to God, made whole and holy by God's Holy Spirit.
17 Looking back over what has been accomplished and what I have observed, I must say I am most pleased - in the context of Jesus, I'd even say proud, but only in that context. 18 I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. 19 In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. 20 This has all been pioneer work, bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshiped. 21 My text has been, Those who were never told of him - they'll see him! Those who've never heard of him - they'll get the message!
Paul Plans to Visit Rome
22 And that's why it has taken me so long to finally get around to coming to you. 23 But now that there is no more pioneering work to be done in these parts, and since I have looked forward to seeing you for many years, 24 I'm planning my visit. I'm headed for Spain, and expect to stop off on the way to enjoy a good visit with you, and eventually have you send me off with God's blessing. 25 First, though, I'm going to Jerusalem to deliver a relief offering to the Christians there. 26 The Greeks - all the way from the Macedonians in the north to the Achaians in the south - decided they wanted to take up a collection for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. 27 They were happy to do this, but it was also their duty. Seeing that they got in on all the spiritual gifts that flowed out of the Jerusalem community so generously, it is only right that they do what they can to relieve their poverty. 28 As soon as I have done this - personally handed over this "fruit basket" - I'm off to Spain, with a stopover with you in Rome. 29 My hope is that my visit with you is going to be one of Christ's more extravagant blessings.
30 I have one request, dear friends: Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me - to God the Father, through the power of our Master Jesus, through the love of the Spirit - 31 that I will be delivered from the lions' den of unbelievers in Judea. Pray also that my relief offering to the Jerusalem Christians will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. 32 Then, God willing, I'll be on my way to you with a light and eager heart, looking forward to being refreshed by your company. 33 God's peace be with all of you. Oh, yes!
16 1 Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for. I heartily endorse both her and her work. She's a key representative of the church at Cenchrea. 2 Help her out in whatever she asks. She deserves anything you can do for her. She's helped many a person, including me. 3 Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked hand in hand with me in serving Jesus. 4 They once put their lives on the line for me. And I'm not the only one grateful to them. All the non-Jewish gatherings of believers also owe them plenty, 5 to say nothing of the church that meets in their house. Hello to my dear friend Epenetus. He was the very first Christian in the province of Asia. 6 Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be! 7 Hello to my cousins Andronicus and Junias. We once shared a jail cell. They were believers in Christ before I was. Both of them are outstanding leaders. 8 Hello to Ampliatus, my good friend in the family of God. 9 Hello to Urbanus, our companion in Christ's work, and my good friend Stachys. 10 Hello to Apelles, a tried-and-true veteran in following Christ. Hello to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Hello to my cousin Herodion. Hello to those Christians from the family of Narcissus. 12 Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa - such diligent women in serving the Master. Hello to Persis, a dear friend and hard worker in Christ. 13 Hello to Rufus - a good choice by the Master! - and his mother. She has also been a dear mother to me. 14 Hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and also to all of their families. 15 Hello to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas - and all the Christians who live with them. 16 Holy embraces all around! All the churches of Christ send their warmest greetings!
17 One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. 18 They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They're only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren't above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents. 19 And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in these matters - I couldn't be more proud of you! - I want you also to be smart, making sure every "good" thing is the real thing. Don't be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, 20 and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus!
21 And here are some more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner in this work, Lucius, and my cousins Jason and Sosipater all said to tell you hello. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote this letter at Paul's dictation, send you my personal greetings. 23 Gaius, who is host here to both me and the whole church, wants to be remembered to you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our good friend Quartus send their greetings.
25 All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long 26 but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the very last letter. 27 All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes!