My text this morning is from Romans 15:1-7.
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Many of us are here today in connection with the national convention of barbershop quartet singers in Australia. Thank you so much for extending the invitation to share this time with you. Those of us who sing barbershop like to spend our time hanging out, singing songs and parts of songs we know. One night back home in the states a friend of mine named Cindy was having a difficult time hearing one of the harmony parts. Finally, she blurted out, “Harmony is hard!” That has become a humorous catchphrase. But it is also very true. Harmony is hard.
It is natural for us to sing or hum or whistle melodies, but unless you are a real barbershop nerd, you don’t walk around singing or humming a harmony part to yourself. We are much more accustomed to singing the melody rather than harmony, because harmony requires us to follow someone else, to adapt to them, to make them sound good rather than being the center of attention. And for the same reasons, it is hard to have harmony in our relationships. It is much more instinctive to do our own thing.
And yet, we also know that as impressive as a wonderful soloist may sound, adding a bit of harmony makes even sweeter music. And in the same way, our relationships are so much more beautiful and satisfying when we learn to live in harmony with one another.
So what can we do to create this kind of beautiful harmony?
In music, for there to be great harmony there must first be a beautiful melody. In our style of singing, we call the melody singer the lead. In our relationships, we have the perfect lead to follow, Jesus Christ. The text says "live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus". It is thorough a passionate relationship with Christ that we can learn how to live in harmony with others.
In particular it is by following his example of relentless concern for others. Listen to verse 3 again: "For Christ did not please himself."
In another place, the Bible defines having the mind of Christ in these very terms. Philippians 2 says,
"3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus."
Christ is our lead, but his way of leading was not by exploiting others for his own advantage but sacrificing himself for the weak and needy.
3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me."
All of us by virtue of our sins have reproached God, all of us have been out of harmony with God, all of us were the weak ones needing someone to bear our load, and that is what Christ did. And now we are called upon to bear the burdens and forbear the weaknesses of others in order to make harmony possible. This is never easy to do, but by reflecting on what Jesus has done for us, we can find the endurance and encouragement we need to bear the burdens of others.
The result of this harmony is described by the apostle in verse 6 - "that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
One of my friends who is not a fan of barbershop once asked me why - of all musical styles - did I enjoy barbershop so much. I explained to her that because of the way it works, four average singers can create sounds that are much greater than any of them could on their own. And as we live in harmony with each other, we create a beautiful overtone - not only do we enjoy richly satisfying relationships with one another, we also give glory to our great God who made these relationships possible.
What a difference it makes when we see that the ultimate purpose of our friendships, our marriages, our churches, is to bear testimony to a world that is roiled by hatred and disharmony on the basis of race or social status that we who belong to Christ stand together defined by our common faith, and what glory we bring to God as our lives put his transforming and reconciling power on display. So let us heed the final verse from our text today - "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."
Is harmony hard? Yes - but through Christ we can make beautiful harmony - and it will be worth it.