Romans 15 calls Christians to seek each other’s good ahead of their own, even to please each other rather than themselves.
Such self-denial is done in imitation of Christ, living out with one another the story of Christ, who also did not please himself. Instead, as singer of a psalm, Christ says, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell upon me.” The cross of Christ, where he bore reproach, models life in Christian community. (Indeed, I would argue that the reason Paul says that the things written beforehand apply to us is precisely because they apply to Christ first.)
But right now I want to suggest that there is a surprise awaiting us as we start delving more deeply into Paul’s call that we imitate Christ’s self-giving.
The psalm Jesus recites, Psalm 69, is a song of a righteous sufferer, a song addressed to God. The reproaches that fall on Christ do not refer to the sins we should have borne but to the mockery heaped up on the God of Israel.
When Paul calls us to dramatize the story of Jesus in our community, he is not calling us to look at ourselves as the savior and our brothers and sisters as sinners who need us to deliver them. He calls us to look at ourselves as the one who bears ridicule directed at God. He calls us to bear with one another because when we look at the face of our brothers and sisters we see in them the image of God, the ridicule of whom denies the truth about the very structure of the cosmos.
This is a call to live into the future that awaits us, seeing those “without strength” as though they are, already, “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect.”
The family of God bears the family likeness. I seek my sister’s good, I seek my brother’s good, rather than my own because in so doing I live into my family’s story, the story of the elder brother who died for the honor of the Father. When I set aside my own desires and seek to please my siblings, I also am giving up myself for the honor of my Father whose likeness I see in them.
To be like Christ entails aligning myself with God by aligning myself with God’s family–even at the cost of myself.