Friday, August 25, 2017

Romans 16: Let Brotherly Love be Genuine

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Verses 1-16: Greetings to those in Rome. 
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also. Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. Not only do I thank them, but so do all the Gentile churches. Greet also the church that meets in their home. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you.  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow countrymen and fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.  Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow countryman. Greet those who belong to the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother—and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send you greetings.

We’ve learned a good bit about true brotherly love in this letter, and here we see evidence of one aspect of this characteristic of God’s people. Paul the apostle wants the saints in Rome, who he has not met, to embrace other saints they do not know because of their service to Christ and help to Paul in his ministry. Note the specifics of Paul’s description of each person – denoting a close personal relationship and a desire for those in Rome to accept them. Note also how each person contributed to equipping each other – benefactor, coworkers, servants, prisoners, worked very hard, risked their necks, approved in Christ; nobody along for the ride, merely showing up and being polite. This is the hallmark of a true church, saints serving one another, putting others first, knowing details about them and their service. This is a far cry from the superficial acquaintances that comprise most local churches. May it not be so with us!

Verses 17-18: Final warning.
Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them, for such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites. They deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting with smooth talk and flattering words. After a long paragraph describing a vibrant, Christ-focused group of people Paul gives a stern warning to the church at Rome. Unity in the truth is a critical trait for a local church – knowing the truth is essential. This warning comes after much teaching on gospel truths and Paul contrasts the unity and humility of the saints with the discord and selfishness of these enemies. They serve their own appetites, not caring for the best of others.

We see this same contrast, a little more clearly, in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
Philippians 3:13-21 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, all who are mature should think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Join in imitating me, brothers, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For I have often told you, and now say again with tears, that many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction; their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. They are focused on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.

Notice how the apostle starts off reminding us how he had not attained the end state; he pressed on and reached out for the prize and tells us all mature saints ought to be like minded. He then warns about enemies of the cross who serve their own sinful appetites, being focused on earthly things. The danger of this perspective we learned about in chapter 12 as Paul moved from theology to doctrine. He also taught us what we read in Philippians – our home is in heaven, from whence our Savior will come and on that day He will transform us from this miserable state to the likeness of Himself. We have confidence in this because Christ has the power to subject all things to Himself and on the day He comes to judge the nations and make the earth new, the consummation of all things will take place and He will make all of His enemies His footstool.

If we compare ourselves to these two groups Paul has described, here in Romans and in Philippians, we will see some of those bad traits (if we’re being honest) but we had better be seeing a growing and maturing trend in the good traits we’ve read about!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Romans 15:14-33 Growing in Grace and Knowledge

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Romans 15:14-21 (HCSB) My brothers, I myself am convinced about you that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God  to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed,  by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. My aim is to evangelize where Christ has not been named, so that I will not build on someone else’s foundation, but, as it is written: Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.

The apostle begins winding down his letter to the church in Rome. Having prayed for the God of hope and His Spirit to be their joy and hope so as not to be overwhelmed by the wicked age in which they lived, he now assures them that he is certain they are maturing in Christ – able to teach one another.  As he made note of in Ephesians 4, this is one of the major areas of responsibilities in the local church. That passage tells us God personally gave men with certain gifts to train the saints for ministry, growing and maturing in Christ so we won’t be tossed about by human cunning and deceit. The author of Hebrews made the same point in chapter of that letter, telling those saints they should have been teachers. But they were lazy and not ready or able to teach. Teaching is not given only to the men who serve in church offices – it is a responsibility for every child of God. Parents are to teach their children the things of God. We are to teach one another – and learn from one another.
But Paul indicates that he thinks the Romans need a wake-up call, a reminded of things he has already taught them; much as Peter did: 2 Peter 1:12 (HCSB) Therefore I will always remind you about these things, even though you know them and are established in the truth you have. We’ve learned about the call to humility in this letter and we cannot learn from one another if we think we have all the answers, have arrived at full maturity. As he brings this letter to its conclusion, he wants both Jew and Gentile saints in Rome to know God has called Gentiles into His kingdom. He nails the coffin shut on boasting in our own works by saying he has reason to boast ONLY in Christ Jesus and what He had accomplished through the apostle to make the Gentiles obedient in word and deed.

There are some professing Christians who believe obedience is not required, that they should “let go and let God.” The Bible is full of exhortations for Christians to be active in obedience – deed and word. Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead.  Galatians 6:9-10 So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything. However, they do it to receive a crown that will fade away, but we a crown that will never fade away. We must be teaching one another and walking so that the name of our God is not profaned by lazy, indolent people who should be shining like a bright light on hill so everyone can see our good works and praise our Father Who is in heaven.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Romans 15:1-13, Teaching on Biblical Love

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Chapter 14 of our epistle was focused on realizing the priority of heavenly matters and being understanding and accepting of brothers and sisters with whom we have differences of opinion. Paul referred to those who cling to religious rituals as “weaker” but does not call upon them forego these as long as they do not make them essential matters.

In this chapter, the apostle builds on this, giving instruction to those who do not rely on religious rituals as “the strong.” Paul includes himself in this group. Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1) This mitigates against the world’s view of strength and how to use it, but – as we will see – it reflects perfectly the godly view of strength.

As we’ve noted, biblical love is focused on doing what is best for the other person. That’s what Paul instructs us on here. Verse 2: Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. This is the same message we’ve been hearing – remember this verse from chapter 14: So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another (Romans 14:19). The apostle’s reasoning is constant: Christ Jesus is the savior of sinners, but He also has left us an example to follow. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” (Romans 15:3)

In none of the teaching of how we are to live – as individuals or as the local church – do we find the answer within self. Always we are instructed to look to Another; the One upon Whom our reproaches fell. Contrary to some what professing Christians teach, we must look to the Scriptures alone to find how Jesus walked, how we are to walk. When we get discontented with what God has revealed to us in His Word, we are vulnerable to falling into error by seeking wisdom from men, self, the world. When you read of preachers who tell stories, looking to the newspaper for topics, seeking experience as the theme of abundant living you see in action one who does not follow the apostle’s teaching. We are to be willing to suffer the reproach of the world, knowing His approval is what matters.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Romans 14 - A Contrast Between Two Kingdoms

You Can Listen to the Entire Message Here.

This short chapter is comprised of 4 paragraphs that demonstrate the error in placing importance on temporal things with a reminder of why this important woven throughout and emphasized smack in the middle. Paul is addressing two groups of people, as he has often done; but this time it’s not the people of God against the people of the world. This time, it’s two groups of God’s people – who differ over matters of opinion.  Paul also addresses this topic in 1 Cor 8; I encourage you to read that chapter later, to provide more context to our passage here. These matters were part and parcel of the reason the council in Acts 15 was called.

Eating, religious days, eating and drinking, eating and drinking – contrasted with the kingdom of God within the brotherhood of Christ. When teaching on the Lord’s Supper, in 1 Cor 11, Paul begins with a rebuke to those saints over their selfish behavior with food and drink. In that passage, the unity we have in Christ, as exemplified in the Lord’s Supper, is set forth as the supreme reality for Christians and we should NOT get entrapped in disputes over food and drink. About these things, the Lord Jesus taught, So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear? ’  For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. This is not to say we are not to work for our temporal needs; it is to remind us to put spiritual things, heavenly things first and work at our jobs as unto the Lord, knowing all good things are gifts from the Father of lights.

You may recall that we were told at the end of chapter 13 that one of things we are supposed to avoid is quarreling with each other. Here we are told not to quarrel over matters of opinion. This first paragraph tells us that food must have come between saints in the early church; we see some evidence of this in 1 Cor 11. In some churches in our day, we see this in the realm of what some consider more healthy foods. Paul says neither the one who abstains nor the one who eats should look down on the other – both are children of God and neither has standing to judge the other. God is the Lord of each and He will uphold every one of His sheep; He will make us stand firm. 

It’s this end-of-the-age event that Paul drapes over this discussion, as he tells us not to pass judgment on one another; reminding us again that judging another over what he eats or drinks is contrary to walking in love. And what greater witness is there to world than seeing Christian brethren truly loving one another? The night He was betrayed, Jesus declared, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) In our text, Paul says if your brother is grieved or distressed by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not tear down, undermine your brother by what you eat. Such disregard for those Christ bought is evil! 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Romans 13:8-14 A Passionate Plea to Walk as Children of Light

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You may recall how the bulk of chapter 12 was a passionate plea from Paul that God’s children walk as those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and gave description of what that looks like.

This chapter ends in a similar fashion. Romans 13:8-10 (ESV) Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Recall last week how we were told to pay what owed, taxes, revenue, honor to whom it was owed? This section starts off confirming that – owe nothing to anyone, except love. Doug Moo points out that this is the one thing we cannot pay off, as we are to love one another as God in Christ has loved us. No matter how honestly and consistently we may truly love one another, we cannot love each other as He has loved us. So we will continually owe a debt of love – to Christ Jesus and His body – until we die or He returns. He presses this point as a lead-in to what is for some a controversial passage on the Mosaic Law.

If one rushes through this passage, it’s possible to see the familiar commandments that Paul quotes without grasping the message. Paul is making the same argument that Jesus did in Matt 22 when asked what was the greatest commandment. Matthew 22:34-40 (HCSB) When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

National Israel was commanded to love God with all heart, soul, strength, and mind – Jesus cites from their law found in Deut 5 and then from Lev 19 to love one another. We should know that even the most mature child of God is unable to love God completely as commanded; and that without His Spirit we cannot love one another rightly. And we cannot love God unless He first loved us (1 John 4:19). Biblical love, recall, is not the emotional reaction our culture calls love; it’s not something one falls into and out of. Biblical love is deliberate, informed, focused on the good (as God sees it) of another. Greater love than has no man, that he lays down his life for his friend. This is what Jesus did for us; this is biblical love. And so if we are loved by God and we actively seek to love one another, we fulfill the demands of the Old Covenant law.

Paul quotes 4 commandments from the Decalogue and refers to the several hundred others that national Israel had added, and he lines up with Jesus: that loving one’s neighbor as we love ourselves (quoting Lev 19:18 as Jesus did) fulfills the Law. Does everyone love himself, aren’t there some people who have “low self-esteem” and hate themselves? The Creator of all flesh said, through our apostle, Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church (Eph 5:29). Just as there’s no such thing as an atheist (Romans 1), there’s no such thing as a person who hates himself. Lots of people hate their circumstances, based on their opinion that they deserve better. They have high self-esteem. So the ancient law, love your neighbor as yourself, recognizes what the Creator knows about us – we tend to love self above all! If we can love one another as much we as love ourselves, we are doing no wrong to our neighbor, Paul says, and we fulfill the law.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Romans 11:25-36 All Israel Will Be Saved.

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I wonder why nobody asked me why this portion of chapter 11 was left out, as I forgot to post it here in its proper sequence. Nonetheless, here it is!

Romans 11:25-27 (HCSB) So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.

Last week we saw that Paul turned his attention explicitly to the Gentiles in the church at Rome. He argued that Gentiles have no cause of boasting, as it was grace that grafted us into Abraham’s spiritual promise just as it was for the Jews – perhaps more difficult for us as we were not in the covenant people to whom the oracles of God were given. Verse 25 continues in this thought, plainly revealing a mystery to us so we will not be conceited. The mystery, that had confounded many Jews and, no doubt, caused many Gentiles to get the big-head, was that the rejection of Israel was complete; it was a partial hardening. There has always been a remnant in Israel, the 7,000 who did not bow the knee to Baal, who were brought from spiritual darkness that enveloped the nation into the glorious light of Christ that all His redeemed enjoy. As with much of Paul’s use of the word “mystery,” here it does not mean something difficult to understand, it means something revealed that had been hidden. Jew and Gentile both thought national Israel was God’s chosen people, just as the Pharisees demonstrated – through trust in their flesh. The mystery is that most of Israel’s people were hardened and only a small number were reconciled to God. For from the beginning, God made clear that ALL nations would be blessed in Abram – not only national Israel. This partial hardening continues until all the Gentile elect – people from every nation, tongue, and tribe – have been brought into the sheepfold of Christ. As one commentator put it, “until all elect Gentiles come into Israel.” And in the same way, all Israel will be saved. What does he mean, “in the same way”? How are Gentiles saved? Paul explained to us in chapter 10 how one calls upon the Lord and is saved. In the same way means that those Jews who will be saved, the ones who were not hardened, will be saved in the same way as us Gentiles are saved. They will call upon the name of the Lord! Every one of His elect will call upon His name and be saved.

Paul then does what is fairly common in the New Testament – he cobbles together a “quote” from the Old Testament from several fragments that his audience would have been familiar with. Not a precise citation as we are accustomed to when we read books. He grabs part of Isaiah 59 (which has connections with Psalm14, Micah 4, and Isaiah 2) and Jeremiah 31. The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins. These were promises of the Messiah coming to redeem Israel. Paul applies these promises the work of the Spirit that was going on as he was writing to the Romans, and will go on until the full number – all Israel and Gentile – are saved. Those who were by nature captive to the sin we hold so dear will be liberated by the King of Zion. Freedom does not come from Sinai! This King will turn His people away from godlessness, take their sins away, and bring them into the New Covenant. All this action is of God. Our part is godlessness and sin. His part is to take those away and make us new creatures in Christ. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Romans 13:1-7 The Rub With Government

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Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Some have noted the abrupt change in content and tone that takes place here, changing subject and tone from chapter; thinking this passage was inserted later, perhaps by a scribe. However, if we consider other teaching from the New Testament, we see this as a familiar thread: render under Caesar the Lord taught (Mark 12); and pretty much thought-for-thought in 1 Peter 2:13-17: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Both passages tell us the role of earthly governments, our role in submitting to them and honoring them, and the reason we should submit to them.

Doug Moo points out that this passage in Romans 13 actually builds on what we studied in chapter 12 – where we read that we are not to take out vengeance but leave that to God. Here we are told that God has appointed civil governments as His ministers to punish those who do evil. While God will bring His vengeance to bear on dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Revelation 22:15) at the end of this age, He has given to the state the role to do so until then. Verse 4 of our text: if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Paul is not contradicting himself – saying the only wrath to be suffered is at the hand of; he is pointing out God’s provision until He returns.

One complementary point that must be made: we see in the Bible, in history, and in our times that our civil governments are most often comprised of God-haters. Yet they are appointed by God as His ministers of justice! How can this be? In this passage, Paul doesn’t say each and every person in government is appointed by God; he says God established every earthly authority. However, we see in the Old Testament that God selected the good kings and the evil kings for Israel and the Arab nations, and it YHWH Who claims this role for Himself. Psalm 75:6-7 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. So it would seem that Paul assumes his audience would know that not just the institutions are established by God, each person put in a key position is put there by Him. We see in the record of Paul’s life how we might respond when mistreated by ruling authorities.