The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2018 (page 1 of 2)

He Listens

“Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:1-3).

Jesus, the Lord, sits on a flat rock, comfortably.
In my imagination I approach.
How will he receive me?
Warmly he smiles, lovingly his eyes look.
I sit at his feet.

“ O LORD, you hear my voice . . . “
Jesus, Lord of creation, of eternity, listens.
As if I am alone of all men,
as if my words are weighty,
needing hearing.
He attends to my speaking,
without a hint of disinterest.
The Lord listens.

“ . . . in the morning I lay my requests before you”.
I give words to my weakness, admit my fears
and ask him to heal.
But more than requesting his help
I tell him my mind, my heart.
Though he is Lord, he listens as friend.
I unburden my soul.
Not once does he turn away
“O LORD, you hear my voice.”

Here, on my mind’s hillside, is the throne of grace.
I come as if a little child,
but a child of the King.
So I come expecting (like a child)
to receive mercy and grace to help
in my time of need
“ . . . and wait in expectation.”

 I remember a younger man,
who thus prayed often.
Not a carefree man
(the cares of his flock were heavy).
But healthy and strong he was–
capable, expectant.
He’s turned old, ill, weak,
needing care.
His feelings darker, words heavier.
But the Lord listens.

Now:  I’ve outpoured my heart to him.
He still sits, eyes searching my soul,
smile warm and caring,
hand on my shoulder resting.
His eyes mist, bringing tears to mine.
“O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice”. 

All for now has been said; he bids me go.
Outwardly, nothing’s changed.
Weakness is still mine.
Death still threatens.
But for moments, I’ve sat in a safe place,
a peace-place of hope.
The Lord has listened.
I go–to wait in expectation.
To see what he may yet do.
I go knowing he knows—
and somehow he stays with me.

 

 

 

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Travelogue

A travelogue is a ” movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler.”  Here author Luke gives us a travelogue of the end of Paul’s third missionary journey.

ENCOURAGEMENT

 Image result for map Paul's 3rd missionary journey

 

“After the uproar [in Ephesus] had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days” (Acts 20:1-6).

Inspiring, no?  Well . . . no.  Makes you wonder why author Luke wrote it.  Some ideas.  First, Luke was giving us a sense of Paul’s travels as his third missionary journey ends.  They took him westward to Macedonia and Greece.  Luke tells us three months in Macedonia, but says nothing about Greece time.  Commentators suppose a year.

Second, Luke is telling us Paul encouraged the believers to persevere in the faith.  Living as a Christian meant opposition could explode any minute, as it did at Ephesus.  The Greek is parakaleo—literally, “to call alongside”, often translated “to encourage/exhort”.  Paul calls the disciples and he “comes alongside” them to give them support and confidence and hope.  The apostle didn’t just plant churches, he pastored them.  Although each church had its own elders, Paul could never think of, pray for, or write to any of these churches without thinking of them as “his own”.

Third, Luke is telling us that Paul’s ministry was dangerous.  Here, as he’s about to sail for Syria, he learns of a Jewish plot against him.  To kill him?  To raise false charges against him to the Roman authorities?  Whatever, Paul saw it as a real threat and changed his plans.

Fourth, Luke is telling us Paul didn’t travel alone.  The men named are Gentiles.  Probably representatives of the churches taking their offering for the poor Jerusalem church.  The “we” and “us” indicate author Luke  rejoined the party at Philippi.

RESURRECTION

“On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.  But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:7-12).

This is the first clear evidence we have of Christians meeting on Sunday for worship.  Luke only notes they met “to break bread”; but almost certainly their worship contained more.  The central part  was Paul’s “discussion”.  Since he was leaving the next day, he had much to say.  The late hour, the darkness, and the smoky lamps were too much for young Eutychus (“young” suggests 8-12 years old).  The longer Paul talked the deeper the window-sitting Eutychus slept.  Until he fell out.  Three floors down.  He was“picked up dead”.  Paul “took him in his arms”, in a manner reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, who both lay down on a dead child and were instrumental in raising both back to life (1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34-37) and announced, ” . . . his life is in him”.

Luke gives us a bare-bones account.  Certainly Paul’s audience panicked.  Certainly they all rushed downstairs.  Certainly they grieved noisily according to Oriental custom.  Certainly there were ooohs and aaahs when Eutychus revived and stood.  Certainly the crowd was amazed.  But Paul performed no theatrics.  He had faith the Lord Jesus would raise the young boy and simply acted accordingly.

SAILING

“We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:13-16).

Paul had sent the others ahead by boat to Assos.  He walked the 20 miles and joined them there.  They sailed 44 miles to Mitylene, a chief city of the island of Lesbos and a resort for Roman aristocrats.

They set sail the next day and arrived at Kios—twelve miles from Smyrna and five from the mainland.  The following day they crossed over to Samos, which lay at the mouth of the Bay of Ephesus.  The city was known for its works of art and also for its manufacture of pottery made of smooth clay with a deep red color.

The next day they put in at Miletus.  It was a prosperous city with beautiful architecture and significant religiously.  The temple of Apollo stood nearby.

This island-hopping was necessary, because on the Aegean summer winds blew  during daylight hours.  Sailing ships could make no headway at night. Furthermore, narrow channels along Asia Minor’s west coast were dotted with small islands.  Night navigation was dangerous.

Again:  why did Luke include this itinerary?  Perhaps he’s giving his readers a taste of the travel challenges Paul endured to preach the gospel and encourage “his” believers.  Also Luke tells us why Paul by-passed Ephesus:  he was eager to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

* * *

In the movie, “Breathe”, Robin and his wife, Claire, are a young adventurous couple, until Robin is suddenly stricken with polio.  He’s paralyzed from neck down and dependent on a respirator.  But, with the help of skilled friends, Claire devises a respirator-carrying wheelchair.  Robin is freed from the hospital.  He’s back in the outside world.  But, after fifteen-plus years, the respirator has irritated his lungs.  He’ll drown in his own blood.  “It’s time,” he announces.  The movie ends sadly with Claire and their son saying goodbye to Robin, who has been euthanized by a doctor friend.  “Breathe” makes death a noble relief from suffering.  The Bible calls death an enemy to ultimately be destroyed.  When Christ resurrects the believing dead, death will be swallowed up in victory.  I understand raised-from-the-dead Eutychus to be a foretaste.

And in a text that started with Paul encouraging believers, Eutychus alive and well is great encouragement for us all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Demetrius Was Right

I used to think the story of Demetrius was  just about money.  Nope. It was about a culture war brought on by the Kingdom.

By “the Kingdom” I mean God’s sovereign, saving reign through Jesus Christ who is Lord.  God isn’t just forgiving sinners; he’s creating knew creatures in Christ, who, even now, live under Christ’s authority, anticipating God’s new, righteous creation.

What happens when that Kingdom invades an alien culture.

PAUL’S PLANS

“Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome’.  So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia” (Acts 19:21,22).

Paul invested two years in Ephesus contending.  As a result,  the Lord’s Word spread mightily through all Asia (Acts 19:1-20).  Now Paul prepares to cross the Aegean for Macedonia and Achaia, then east to Jerusalem, and finally, he hopes, Rome.

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament

BIG TROUBLE BREAK-OUT

With those plans in mind, preparing to leave Ephesus . . .

“About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23).

“ . . . no little disturbance”– the inevitable consequences of “the Way” invading a culture of another “way”.

DEMETRIUS’ WARNING

“A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her’”  (Acts 19:24-27).

He’s a silversmith.  He makes silver shrines of the goddess Artemis.  Plaques, actually.  Metal sheets. Dedicate them in  the Great Temple of Artemis, and they become charms of protection against evil and danger.  The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a statuette of the goddess.

Bronze statuette of Artemis, Bronze, Greek

The business was a money-making machine for the craftsmen.  But this stranger, this Jew preaching Messiah, claims handmade gods are no gods at all.  Demetrius is afraid  business may suffer.  The Artemis-trade may fall into disrepute.  Artemis’ temple may be disgraced.  She may topple from  majesty.  Worldwide worship may go silent.

So the preaching of the Kingdom (“Jesus is Lord”) threatens the city’s economy . . . the religion of the city—indeed of all Asia . . . the worldview of hundreds of thousands . . . potentially opens the population to the powers of evil.

No exaggeration.

Artemis is mother goddess, fertility goddess and nature goddess.  She holds power over animals and can deliver her worshippers from fear.  She wields unsurpassed cosmic power.  She was called Savior, Lord, Queen of the Cosmos and Heavenly Goddess.  Each March or April Ephesus hosted a month-long festival in her honor.  Worshippers flocked from all over the Roman Empire for offerings at her sacred grove, athletics, plays, concerts and banquets.

The Artemis cult produced Asia’s worldview, which in turn created certain social structures and lifestyles.  Now, “the Way” threatens that culture to its core. Ephesus is in an uproar.

VIOLENT PROTESTS IN THE THEATER

“When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions.  Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him;  even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people.  But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28-34).

The city’s theater holds anywhere from 12,000 to 24,000 (historical estimates), an arena for various citizens’ gatherings.  Today it holds chaos.  Confusion.  Two of Paul’s men are grabbed and dragged in.  Think TV video of Middle East riots.  Even though author Luke tells us “Paul wanted to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him”, many think this is what Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 when he wrote . . .

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”. 

RIOT QUIET

“But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven?   Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.  You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess.  If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another.  If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly.  For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’  When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:35-42).

The city clerk is the administrative assistant to the magistrates and liaison to the Roman authorities.  He’s the cool head stepping into the crowd’s fury.  And he succeeds.  Not only is he able to quiet the crowd so he can speak.  He dismisses them–and they apparently disperse.  Anti-climactic.  We can assume the Artemis cult continued, as did the Kingdom through the church

* * *

Demetrius was right.  The gospel of the kingdom (Jesus is Lord!) Paul preached did inevitability threaten Ephesian economy, religion and worldview.  Demetrius was no theologian.  But he saw the sweeping consequences of “Jesus is Lord”.

Do we?

Do we realize “Jesus is Lord” affects how we manage our money?  What kind of work we do?  (Nothing demanding dishonesty, for example.)  How we practice religion?  (We can’t compartmentalize it into “Sunday only”.)  What worldview we choose?  (It must be one that reverences Jesus as Lord over everything, from history to future outlook, to how we treat our husband/wife.)  How and what we worship?  (As important as it is, we can’t love money–or regard anyone or anything as valuable as Christ.)

“Lord” is an archaic term (except in Great Britain).  So, when we say, “Jesus is Lord”, it sounds like religious jargon.  If we said, “Jesus is President” or “Jesus is Premier” we’d be edging closer to “Lord’s” impact.  Even better is to check out the English definition:  “a person who has authority, power or control over others.”  Except in Jesus’ case, the authority, power and control is absolute.

“Jesus is Lord!”  Therefore, every knee will bow.  And everything out of harmony with his reign will fall.

Demetrius was right.  Can I hear an “Amen”?

 

 

 

 

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Not Quite Christians

June 25, 2017.  That’s the last time we were in Acts.  So you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten my plan to walk through Acts, stopping where Paul wrote a letter.  So, finished with Romans, back to Acts.

 Paul has begun his 3rd missionary journey . . .

 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.  After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.  (Acts 18:22,23).

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism'” (Acts 19:1-3).

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament

 

Ephesus was 400,000-citizens large.  But Paul focused on twelve “disciples” he found. Given that Apollos had preached only the baptism of John the Baptist earlier in the city (http://theoldpreacher.com/apollos-and-the-not-full-gospel/), Paul’s question is understandable.  It’s also a reminder that in the early years of the church (Acts),  the mark of a believer was the Holy Spirit.  Anything less constituted a deficient Christianity.  However, that they “had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” is mystifying.   John the Baptist announced one to come “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11). If Apollo taught something akin to John, how could the twelve not know about “a Holy Spirit”? 

In any case, these men were not regenerate.  Whatever they believed, they weren’t  Christians.  Because no one becomes a Christian without the regenerating work of the Spirit.  So Paul corrected them  . . .

“Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them” (Acts 19:4-7).

As at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and with Gentile Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46), the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit came with tongues and prophesy.

Is this to be normative?  I would contend, along with many others, these signs came when the gospel reached to unreached peoples.  The Holy Spirit must come to birth a Christian.  But outward signs are the province of the Lord.

Paul had briefly visited Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:17-21).  On his return, he will plant a church, beginning with these twelve.

“He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:8-10).

Following his pattern in other cities and keeping his promise to the Jews from a previous visit (Acts 18:21), Paul preaches the gospel in the Ephesus synagogue for three months, arguing “persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  But some Jews were obstinate.  They “refused to believe” and publicly maligned “the Way”.  So Paul left, taking “disciples” with him and “argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus”.  Some ancient authorities claim he taught daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For two years he taught.  The result?  Author Luke claims “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

Years later when Paul wrote his prison letters, they were addressed to churches planted as a result of his preaching these two years in Ephesus.  When he wrote two letters to Timothy, he was writing to a young man at the Ephesus church.  And when John wrote Revelation, he was writing to churches started from Paul’s ministry in  Ephesus.

Luke writes that Paul “argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  ” . . . argued” is the Greek word dialegomai.  Paul didn’t preach sermons.  He conducted discussions and contended for the gospel.  Significantly, Luke says Paul’s topic was “the kingdom of God.”  Paul was claiming that the reign of God had broken into this world in the person of Jesus Christ.  God was “taking over”–and the extraordinary miracles Luke reports on next is part of that “take-over”/

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,  so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.  Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”  Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”  Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.  When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.  Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.  A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books  was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:11-20).

Ephesus, home of the pagan goddess Artemis, welcome magicians and sorcerers.  Indeed, metal symbols of the goddess were used to manipulate evil spirits for one’s own benefit.  Whether God did “extraordinary miracles” to counter this sorcery, or just to authenticate Paul’s preaching, we have no way of knowing.  But he did them, so that handkerchiefs (actually “sweatbands”) or aprons (perhaps better “belts”) that had touched him touched the sick, and they were healed and demons fled.

Skeptics may mock.  Mimics may copy.  But miracles were an inherent part of Paul’s ministry.  And to offer “prayer cloths” for an offering is to turn miracle into profiteering magic.

Surprisingly, Jews often were involved in mediating the magic of the East to the Greek-Roman world (Leviticus 20:6,27; Deuteronomy 18:10,11; Josephus Jewish Antiquities).  So, it’s not surprising that “some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits . . . ”  The outcome wasn’t what they’d hoped.  Manhandled by the evil spirit “they fled out of the house naked and wounded”.  This only further exalted the Lord’s name and resulted in many conversions and costly repentance.  Luke sums up Paul’s two years in Ephesus:  “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”

* * *

When you put your faith in Christ, were you baptized?  And, when you were baptized, did you receive the Holy Spirit?  Let me qualify that last question, because the Spirit doesn’t always reveal his presence in tongues and prophecy.  So, were you taught to pray to receive the Spirit?  And did you consciously pray to receive him?

Paul wrote, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).  Christianity, then, isn’t only believing certain doctrines or practicing a certain morality.  It’s a miracle-faith in which God the Holy Spirit actually comes to live in and reveal himself through the believer.

So, if you’ve not been baptized,  plan to be.  And when you are, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart.

Otherwise, you’re “not quite a Christian.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Theology to Doxology

The word “doxology” means a word of glory to God.  That’s what theology aims to lead us to–doxology.  Not only deeper thinking about gospel doctrines, but also higher praise to the God of the gospel through Jesus Christ.  Paul will take us there.  But he’s got a warning about divisions and a list of hellos from friends first .  . .

DIVISIONS

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (16:17-20).

Judaizers are Jewish (professed) Christians who insist Gentiles be circumcised to be justified.  They often trouble Paul’s churches.  Are they whom he warns Romans to watch out for?  Whether they or others, Paul sees their division-causing and obstacle-putting as the work of Satan.  Soon, Paul promises, the “God of peace will . . . crush Satan under your feet”.  Soon when?  Either Paul expects this particular Satanic attack will end soon or he is promising God’s eschatological Judgment Day to dawn shortly.  Having disarmed Satan at the cross (“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”–Colossians 2:16), at the end, the Lord will throw him into hell (“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Paul could be describing some TV evangelists, who pervert the plain truths of the gospel.  On the other hand, denominations, as well as “independent” churches, have been birthed over doctrinal differences.  And, sadly, churches have split over secondary issues or because slanderous tongues sliced up fellow believers.  After 2000 years, we are still struggling to be one in Christ.

HELLO

Having greeted friends in Rome (16:3-16), Paul now sends greeting from friends with him . . .

“Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen” (16:21-24).

“Timothy” was probably Paul’s closest associate in ministry.  We know him best from the two New Testament letters that bear his name.  “Lucius” may be a variant on Luke or he may be the Antioch prophets and teachers mentioned in Acts 13:1. “Jason” is probably the Jason who hosted Paul in Thessalonica and got beat up for it (Acts 17:5-9).  And “Sosipater” is likely the Sosipater who accompanied Paul from Berea (Acts 20:5).  Why does Paul call the last three men “my relatives”?  Probably because they were fellow Jews, perhaps from Gentile churches, traveling with Paul to deliver the offering for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

“Tertius” is a scribe.  As was customary then, Paul dictated, Tertius wrote (and said hello).  “Gaius” is probably the Gaius Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14) and who is now hosting him.  “Erastus” is likely the man Paul sent with Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22).  He is also Corinth’s “director of public works”.  “Quartus” is a mystery man mentioned nowhere else in Scripture.

After the family grace prayer-wish and the final “So be it (“Amen”), comes the concluding . . .

DOXOLOGY

“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (16:25-27).

Thus Paul expresses glory to God—“Now to him . . . be glory forever through Jesus Christ!”  Between beginning and end come a catalogue of reasons for giving glory to God  . . .

He “is able”; that is, he has the power . . .

“to establish you”; that is, to fix you so you cannot be moved . . .

“by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ; that is, the good news proclaimed throughout this letter is the means God will powerfully use to fix you immovable . . .

“according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past through the prophetic writings”; that is, this gospel lines up with the “mysterious” words of the prophets and it comes . . .

“by the command of the eternal God”; that is, the gospel has been long hidden by the decree of the God who has no beginning or ending . . .

“so all nations might believe and obey him”; that is, God’s purpose in the gospel proclaimed is that, not only Jews, but from among all Gentile nations, might come a people who will believe and obey him . . .

“to the only wise God”; that is, the only God whose judgments are unsearchable, whose ways can’t be traced out, who needs no counselor. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” (11:36).

To this God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

* * *

I’ve often thought that our Sunday service order is backwards.  Theology (preaching of God’s Word as Paul did in Romans) should lead to doxology (glorifying God for his Word).  I tried the reverse once or twice.  It didn’t seem to “work”.  So back to backwards.   I think we needed more time, repeated reversals, to “flow” with theology to doxology, preaching to worship.

Doxology is where Romans should bring us.  Well and good to dig deeper into the doctrines.  But when we finally reach the end of such theologically rich writing, we should be driven to our knees with hands lifted to heaven and our lips singing glory to God . . .

 

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More Than Names: Stories

Each of us has a story.  We’re not just a name.  Not just a face in the church congregation.  Each of us has a story.  So it is with the people Paul names and greets at his letter’s closing. . .

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.  Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother — a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, 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 greet you” (Romans 16:1-16).

Phoebe serves as deacon at the Cencheae church, about 5 miles southeast of Corinth, from where Paul is writing.  That he commends Phoebe to the Roman church suggests she carried Paul’s letter to them.  Why a woman?  Would she be less suspect by Roman authorities than a man?  And why her?  In what ways has she “been a benefactor of many” and of Paul?

The remainder of the people named are Rome church members.  We know how Paul knew Priscilla and Aquila (see below).  But how did he know all the others well enough to send personal greetings? (Remember, he had not visited Rome.)

Paul met Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila in Corinth.  The couple had come there when Caesar Claudius banned Jews from Rome in 49 A.D.  Paul calls them his fellow-workers.  Like him, they were leather workers.  But more importantly, they spread the gospel.  How had they “risked their necks” for Paul’s life?  Was it during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19) or elsewhere?  What exactly happened?  They hosted a house church.  Did they lead it?  How had it started?  How many people came?

Epaenetus was “beloved” by Paul.  Why?  How was Epaenetus converted to Christ?  Through Paul?  If not, through whom?  What circumstances drew him to hear the gospel?

The Greek (kopiao) means Mary labored hard among the church against many obstacles.  What kind of hard labor did Mary do?  What were the obstacles?

How were Andronicus and Junia (or Junias) related to Paul?  Why and when were the three arrested and imprisoned?  “Junias” (the Greek is unclear) may be feminine, thus suggesting these were husband and wife.  Why were they prominent “among the apostles”?  Was Junias a female apostle?  In any case, they both had been “sent out”.  By whom?  Where did they preach the gospel?

Why was Ampliatus “beloved” in the Lord by Paul? Ampliatus, Urbanas and Stachys were slave names.  Does Paul greet them because they are slaves?  What does this indicate about the Rome congregation?

Paul calls Apelles “ . . . approved (dokimos) in Christ”.  The word implies he faithfully withstood testing of his faith.  How was he tested?  How did he prevail?

Why did Paul greet the family of Aristobulus?  Had he died and his family fall into Nero’s possession, as some historians claim? If so, there were Christians in the emperor’s household? how?  Who made up that surviving family?  Was Aristobulus the grandson of Herod the Great, as some believe?

How were Paul and Herodian related?

Where was Narcissus?  Why greet his family and not him?  Had he died, and did his family fall into Nero’s possession as some historians claim?  Does that mean Emperor Nero had Christians in his household?

Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis, like Mary, labored hard in the Lord’s work. What exactly did they do?

According to Mark 15:21, Rufus, was the son of Simon of Syrene, who was grabbed by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross when he fell under its weight.  Did Simon become a believer?  Did he tell his story to his sons Rufus and Alexander?  Is that how they became believers?  Why did Paul call him “chosen/elected in the Lord”?  Who was Rufus’ mother?  Why did Paul call her his mother too?

Who were Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas?  Who were “the brothers and sisters who are with them”?  Why did Paul say nothing about them?

 Same with Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Did they, and the five previous, lead house churches, hence the references to those who are with them?   Who were these people?  How did they come to faith in Christ?  What were their lives like before?

Paul ends his greetings urging the Roman church to greet one another, including greetings to them from all the churches of Christ.

* * *

Why write a blog of questions?  Because they hopefully help us realize so much more was happening with the spread of the gospel than the Bible records.  And because, in this case of Paul’s greetings, these questions hopefully help us wonder about their stories.

As I said at the start, each of us has a story.  Each story is unique.  What’s yours?  Pretty ordinary, you say?  Not worth remembering and telling, you think?

Listen!  Every story is outstanding.  Yours.  Mine.

Because each of us who believe are part of His story.  And the story of Christ Jesus is the story that eclipses all others.

 

 

 

 

 

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Satan Has Asked to Sift You As Wheat

“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’  But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22:31-34).

Arrest night, crucifixion eve.
Disciples shape oil lamp shadows on the walls
of the secret upper room.
The betrayer’s been uncovered.
Messiah has foretold his death.
The air hangs dark, ominous, foreboding.

Peter the Rock’s mind races
and rage in his gut roils.
Fist-clenched ready to defend his Lord he stands.
Jesus knows.  Knows Peter’s heart.
And knows this “rock” will soon meet
an enemy darker than Judas,
a foe more evil-bent than Pharisees.

Jesus’ words warn, but kindly:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

To a man, they would be Satan-sifted that night.
They would run, hide, afraid, confused.
Peter would deny Him, despite Jesus’ prayer;
but he would, after tears of shame, turn back.

Faith is vaporous, is it not?
Not solid,
to hold like rock,
to store like gold.
Keeping faith, thus, is tenuous.
It can slip like sand through fingers,
be blown like chaff from wheat.

It is faith Satan seeks to destroy.
When Peter stands fearful,
Satan doesn’t want him arrested and killed.
Satan wants his faith to fail.
Satan craves Peter’s Christ-denial.
Let faith, then, fly like wheat’s chaff!

This is Satan’s game:
To sift us as wheat
That our faith be chaff
blown by the wind.

So Satan sifts me.
His weapons are illnesses,
with accusations:
“How can you trust a silent Savior?
Loving?  No!  He cannot be!
Sovereign?  No!  Else his power would prevail!
Left to your fate, then! To suffer, to die!”

But an enemy darker than disease,
a foe deadlier than cancer,
is Satan in his lies.
He aims not to end my life,
but to end my faith.

I have a Savior, though,
a Mediator who intercedes :
“But I have prayed for you
that your faith fail not.”
It is Christ Jesus, who died,
Yes, who was raised,
who is at he right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

“And when you have turned back,
strengthen your brothers.”
Jesus knows the sifting will come.
Even now in the room’s foreboding darkness,
he can hear Peter’s cursing, denying words,
see Peter’s shame-filled eyes,
feel Peter’s grieving, broken heart.
But Peter’s faith, though sifted thin,
will not fail.
He will turn back
and then must strengthen his brothers,
who, too, have run and doubted and feared.

So I am called,
to think not of myself alone,
but of others Satan-sifted, too.
Christ has prayed for me.
So I have words of faith to write,
prayers of faith to pray,
deeds of faith to do.
I have purpose, mission, calling
despite–no, because of–my weakness.

Pray, Jesus, that my faith fail not.
You are my hope, my plea, my saving grace.
You, arisen, ascended, appear before the Father
on my behalf.
You defanged the devil at the cross
and now stand and pray for my faith,
that it may withstand evil assaults
and triumph in the fight,
until the day of healing when You make me well
or until the day of eternal peace when all battles cease,
when the evil one is hell-bound,
and we are  triumphantly home with You.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Knowing Paul

Fascinating, wouldn’t it be, to sit down with the apostle Paul and get to know him?  I think that’s why we’re drawn to those parts of his letters that reveal the man.  We have many.  The conclusion of Romans is one.  I’ll divide it into two blogs . . .

“I myself feel confident about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.  Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:14-16).

Here’s Paul–secure in grace and worshipful in service.  He believes wholeheartedly that God has given him grace to be Christ’s servant to the Gentiles.  So he’s bold to preach the gospel, even to those who know it and can teach it.  Furthermore,  he sees “his” saved and Spirit-sanctified Gentiles as his offering of worship to God.  In other words, Paul says, “God’s grace is the source of my ministry to Gentiles and God’s praise is the end result of my ministry to Gentiles.”

A teachable moment for today’s church leaders.  Do we see God’s grace as the source of our ministry?  Or our ministerial training as that source?  And do we see the people under our care as a Spirit-sanctified offering we present to God?  Or as a sign of our ministerial success?

“In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God.  For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ.  Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand’” (15:17-21).

Paul clearly claims his achievements.  He’s spread the gospel from southern Palestine, north through Syria, across today’s Turkey, southwest through Greece, and then up to today’s Albania.   His driving desire has been, and still is, where Christ hasn’t been heard.  But if we stop there, we think, “Prideful preacher”.  But Paul’s boasting of Christ.  Christ, he contends, has worked through him by the power of God’s Spirit, both in word proclaimed and deeds of signs and wonders done.

We need leaders who build strong churches and missionaries who plant the gospel solidly.  But too often we brand them “successful”.  Or they write “how-to” books about their methods.  We need leaders who can speak openly about their accomplishments–but make it crystal-clear that the worker is Christ by his Spirit.

“This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.  At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints;  for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.  They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things” (15:22-27).

That desire to preach where Christ is unknown  has kept him from Rome.  But, remarkably, there is “no further place for me in these regions” , he wants to fulfill a long-held desire to visit the Roman church on his way to Spain.  (Did he ever make it?  Clement of Rome, writing in the early years of the 2nd century A.D., said, “Paul, having taught righteousness to the whole world, having gone to the limits of the west, and having given testimony before the rulers, thus was removed from the world and taken up into the Holy Place, having become the outstanding model of endurance”.)

In any case, he’s first going to take a 2000-mile detour to Jerusalem (assuming, as most scholars do, that he’s writing from Corinth).  He wants very much to deliver a Gentile collection for the poor Jewish Christian church there.

Paul the delivery man.  Anybody could have done it.  Granted, the apostle to the Gentiles delivering an offering for poor Jews had impact.  But Paul still could have sent someone else.  But “delivery man” wasn’t beneath him.  He was Christ’s servant.  No work was beneath him.

Pastors can’t be custodians too.  But they should be able to bend down to clean up a spill or kneel down to talk to a child.

“So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you.  Amen” (15:28-33).

Paul appeals for prayer “that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy”.  Here’s a tenacious pioneer humble enough to ask the church to pray for him.  But even more his request recognizes that his ministry is subject to God’s will.  ” . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you”.

Maybe his submission to God’s sovereignty is why, when Paul’s prayer wasn’t answered, we never get a hint that Paul felt hopeless.  Even though he was imprisoned, spent months languishing in jail awaiting trial after trial, was shipwrecked and taken to Rome to stand before Caesar, Paul believed the Lord in sovereign control and working for good.

A world-traveling apostle spreading the gospel where it hadn’t gone, yet content with not “running the show”!  Surrendering his will to God’s.  Accepting when his plans fall through and years of suffering drag on instead.  Confident God is sovereign and good.

* * *

We’re not all pastors or missionaries.  But most of us lead in some way–small group leader, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, parent.  The list goes on.  Paul was a leader who not only taught the gospel–he “in-fleshed” it.  Knowing Paul helps us to also.

And doesn’t incarnation lie at the gospel’s heart?

 

 

 

 

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Your Prayers

 

Through the endless desert,
from oasis to oasis,
Moses led the Israelites.
Freed slaves seeking their Promised Land.
They dragged into Rephidim parched for water.
But Rephidim was desert-dry.
They raged at Moses;
He bore the brunt of their blame.

Amidst the furor fury came from outside.
Warring Amalekites attacked to destroy weaker Israelites.
Moses called Joshua to lead the fight
While he, Aaron and Hur retreated to a nearby hill.
With him, Moses carried the staff of the Lord,
The same staff with which he’d commanded the Sea to part.
He raised it now, over the battle below;
It was the Lord’s war
So long as the staff was held high.

But Moses grew weak
Arms, shoulders, wrists strained
Until the Lord’s staff was barely above ground
And then the Amalekites prevailed.

On either side of Moses, Aaron and Hur stood
Unsure what to do, afraid of the old man’s reaction.
Israel’s fate, though, now laid in their arms.
Quietly, simultaneously,  they grasped the old man’s weakened arms
And hoisted them high, the staff ruling over the fight.
Below the battle changed, almost imperceptibly at first
But now, now it was clear
The outmatched former slaves were putting warrior Amalek to flight.

 

I’ve thought often of that battle in Exodus 17.  It reminds me that the Lord rules, even over those battles we seem to be losing. Like Moses, I grow weary. My faith weakens as my symptoms grow worse.  I can’t fight alone.

You are Aaron and Hur to me.  Your prayers hold up my faith.  I’ve read your comments on my blog and on Facebook and email:  “We’re praying for you.”   Thank you.  Thank you for standing alongside.  Thank you for sharing your strength in my weakness.  Thank you for believing with me that the Lord is sovereign.  And he wins even the battles we seem to be losing.

 

Fingers dug into clay, searching for edges to grasp.
Slowly the stubborn roof yielded, the hole widened.
A rooftop for cool summer sleeping
Was becoming a doorway to healing.

The four friends had carted the paralytic on his mat
Across town to Jesus.
The house bulged with listeners, friend and foe alike.
They stood five deep outside
But the four would not be denied.
Their friend had been prisoner to his mat.
Day after day, night after night
He gazed at the clouds–and wondered why the Lord was silent.
His friends, too, lost hope
Until they heard Jesus was near,
Jesus who cleansed a leper
Could surely make a cripple walk!

Sweating and grunting they had dragged their friend up,
Determined, believing they dug the roof open
Until debris fell inside and arms-shielded eyes looked up.
Then  hands reached up to lower a mat and its prisoner.
And the paralytic lay before the Healer.
But Jesus saw more than a cripple, more than a broken roof.
He saw four friends’ faith:
“Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Pharisees present fumed, only God can forgive sins.
“So you know that I can”, he said to the paralytic,
“Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Silence fell, for a full moment,
Spectators waiting, wondering,
The paralytic unsure he could,
Then he rose, his legs restored.
He grabbed the mat he no longer needed
And with a glance of gratitude up at his friends
He went home.

 

Thank you for being my friends.  Thank you for carrying me to Jesus with prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Welcome the Different One

Even a small local church contains all kinds of people.  Different people.  That makes unity—real, Christ-like welcoming love—difficult.  In Romans 14:1 through 15:13, Paul addresses the differences in the church over Christian liberty versus personal abstinence.  Paul points out in 14:1-23 that . . .

The strong Christian believes all things are clean (on matters where Scripture is silent).  So, our friend Jonathan is free to drink an occasional beer.  The “weak in faith” Christian believes certain things are unclean.  (Our Mark feels that way about beer-drinking.)  The strong Christian must not cause the weak to stumble in his walk with the Lord. If necessary, he must limit his freedom.  Paul continues that thought in 15:1,2 . . .

“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor” (15:1,2).

John Piper (desiringgod.org) comments: “[Paul means . . .] that we should let this joy [of edifying others] free us from bondage to private pleasures that make us indifferent to the good of others.  Love does not seek its own private, limited joy but instead seeks its own joy in the good—the salvation and edification—of others.”

“ . . . building up the neighbor” means not only limiting one’s freedom to keep a brother from stumbling, but gently, patiently helping him understand his abstinence doesn’t commend him to God.  He’s justified by faith in Christ, not faith plus no beer-drinking.  Nevertheless, writes Paul, we “must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building [him] up.”

“For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’ For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope” (14:3,4).

The reason we strong should not please ourselves indifferent to the good of others is Christ.  He is our example.  Paul’s quotes Psalm 69:9 to tell the church that all the insults and abuse and hatred that men hurled at God fell on Christ. 

Christ is our primary example.  But we also have all the Scriptures that instruct us to love our brother and sister.  But Paul is thinking bigger.  He’s thinking of the sanctification process that ends in glorification.  And how we treat our weaker brother is part of that process.  So, writes Paul, let the Scriptures make you steadfast in doing what Christ would do.  Then you may hold onto the hope of one day being conformed to his likeness.

“May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:5,6).

Paul prays, then, not that the Roman Christians agree on everything, but that they “live in harmony with one another”.  Then “with one voice” they will “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Harmony—like the song of a many-voice choir, some singing soprano, others alto and tenor and bass, all blend together to glorify God in song—is what the church should aim at.

“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope’” (15:7-12).

Paul shifts from the weak versus the strong to Jew versus Gentile, probably because it was the Christian Jews who had the scruples about not eating certain foods and the Christian Gentiles who understood their freedom in Christ.

Since Christ has welcomed us, Paul reasons, we should welcome one another, differences included.

Paul cites these Old Testament passages to prove that God is saving Gentiles (with all their non-scruples) as well as Jews . . .

“Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”  Paul cites four Old Testament texts that support his contention that Christ included Gentiles in his saving work . . .

  • “Therefore, I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name” (from 2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49).
  • “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” (from Deuteronomy 32:43).
  • Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him” (from Isaiah 11:10).
  • “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope” (from Isaiah 11:10,1).

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).

Picking up on “hope” in his last citation Paul calls God “the God of hope” and prays that the Romans “may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.  His prayer focuses on four realities—that the God of hope . . .

  1. Might fill them with joy and peace
  2. As they continue to trust in Christ, so that, as they do, the God of hope
  3. Might cause them to overflow with hope
  4. As they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

They already live in Spirit-empowered joy and peace.  But they can have absolute confidence (hope) that the fullness of the “not yet” is coming, as they “welcome one another”.

* * *

Several years ago “church  (numerical) growth” proponents held that a church will grow larger if leaders aim to attract the same kind of people.  A certain discomfort arises when the church contains the kind of people one doesn’t like.  And, the fewer differences the fewer divisions.

But, of course, unity based on sameness isn’t Christian unity.  A church composed of Jonathans and Marks might explode.  So might a church of African-Americans and white Anglo-Saxens.  Or a church of non-charismatics and charismatics.

But a church with differences like that also has the potential of Christ-like unity–unity that goes deeper than sameness and reaches to the heart.

This is why Paul ends 36 verses of instruction with a prayer.  Only the Holy Spirit can fill us with such joy and peace that we abound in hope.  Hope, not only of being one-day glorified, but of becoming a church where Christ’s welcoming love spreads so deeply in us that it embraces all our differences over secondary issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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