The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Author: Allan Babcock (page 1 of 66)

On Being the Transformed Community of Christ

Fyodor Dostoevsky (19th century Russian philosopher) said, “If God does not exist everything is permitted.”

He does, and everything is not permitted.  Though you’d think enforcing morality wouldn’t be necessary among people in whom the Spirit is fulfilling the just requirements of God’s law (Romans 8:1-4).  However, the church must learn to think and act together with the inward sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. (It doesn’t happen automatically.)

Therefore, in Romans 12 Paul begins to help the church learn to think and act together with the inward transformation of the Spirit.  He begins with a majestic appeal . . .

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:1,2, NIV).

Just a few brief observations, since I commented on this passage before.  All the thinking and conduct Paul urges on the Rome church is to be done “in view of God’s mercy” in Christ (chapters 1-11).

Worship explodes out of the Sunday sanctuary into everyday use of our bodies.

This world, which is under the evil one’s power (1 John 5:19b), must not be allowed to squeeze us into its mold.  Rather we must allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into thinking “new”.

From those majestic-sounding appeals, Paul gets down into the “nitty-gritty” of church life—how it should be lived.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness” (12:3-8).

Apparently, some Roman church members have a “high and mighty” attitude about their spiritual gifts.  Paul exhorts them to think sensibly about themselves “according to the measure of faith that God has assigned”.  They must believe the church is the Body of Christ.  They must believe each of them belongs to all the others; no one is superior.They must believe their gifts have been given according to grace. They must believe each gift is important for the body’s sake, as each part of the physical body is important for the body’s sake.

LOVE TO ONE ANOTHER

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (12:9-13).

Church members must love one another.  By clinging to what is good and so building up one another.  By trying to be best at honoring and valuing others.  By serving the Lord with passion, because passion is contagious.  By responding to suffering, whether one’s own or others, with patience, with joyful hope and with persistent prayer.  By giving to needy believers.  And by extending that giving even to strangers, so the Body of Christ becomes a welcoming haven to lost outsiders.

Sound idealistic?  A church with that kind of love is possible“[B]ecause God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (5:5a). 

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. (Or [give yourselves to humble tasks] ). Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (12:14-18).

It’s curious to me why Paul wrote, “Bless those who persecute you . . .” among other imperatives that clearly have to do with loving one another.  Perhaps because sometimes persecutors can be found in the church.  In any case, the loving response is to speak well of them, even to call down God’s gracious power on them.  If some members are rejoicing, don’t be jealous—rejoice with them.  If some are weeping, don’t just pat them on the shoulder and promise to pray—weep with them.  Don’t “pay back”; do what is good and beautiful for all to see.  Live in peace with everyone.

LOVE TO ENEMIES

 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:19-21).

Emperor Claudius had exiled all Jews from Rome in 49 A.D.  But Emperor Nero undid the 49 A.D. ban on Jews in Rome.  But, as always, they became easy prey for persecutors, especially if they were Christians.  Paul warns the whole church against taking revenge against their abusers.  The day is coming when God will right all wrongs.  But refraining from revenge is not enough for a Christ-like church.  If their enemies are hungry or thirsty, they must give them food and drink.  This will “heap burning coals on their heads”.  A quote from Proverbs 25:21,22, commentators explaining that burning coals on the head signifies contrition.  So, showing love to enemies may move them to repent.  In any case, the persecuted Christian, by helping his persecutor in need, will actually “overcome evil with good”.

Jesus once referred to property kept safe by a strong man.  “But when one stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he . . . divides his plunder” (Luke 11:22).  By doing good to persecutors, the church can be that strong man who overcomes evil.

* * *

The church must hold to sound doctrine (1:1-11:36).  But the church must live out the ethical ramifications of those doctrines.  Only then can we be more than a classroom; only then can we be the transformed community of Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So the Pope Said to the Interviewer . . .

Sounds like the start of a joke.  I wish.

According to “The New York Times”,  Pope Francis, in a TV interview, said the common translation “lead us not into temptation” was “not a good translation from ancient texts”.  He suggested, “Do not let us fall into temptation might be better, because Satan, not God, leads people into temptation.”

“Do not lead us” comes from the Greek word, icephero.  A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament by Arndt and Gingrich cites its literal usage in the New Testament.  Of the men who broke through the roof, since they could find no way to “bring in” their paralyzed friend (Luke 5:18,19).  Of the fact that we have “brought” nothing into the world (1 Timothy 6:7).  Of the blood that is “brought into” the sanctuary (Hebrews 13:11).  And to forcefully drag in (Luke 12:11–“When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say . . . “

Figuratively, icephero is used of bringing something to someone’s ears (Acts 17:20–“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.”  The only other place where it’s used in the New Testament is the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 5:13; Luke 11:4).

So the Greek is not ambiguous.  To change the meaning to suit one’s theology is bad translating.

Why is this important?  Words are the objective revelation of God.  Think about this for a moment.  God has supremely revealed himself to us in his Son.  But we know of the Son, and what he did and taught, through words.  God has also revealed himself in creation.  But we need God’s Word to interpret creation’s revelation and to know the gospel by which we’re saved.  So words are crucial.  And getting the correct translation of the Hebrew (Old Testament) and the Greek (New Testament) is also crucial.   If we pass over the clear meaning of words, we corrupt the objective revelation of God.

So, what does, Do not lead us into temptation” mean?  Denny Burk (professor of Biblical Studies, Boyce College) makes these three points:

One, “A negative request does not necessarily imply that the positive is otherwise to be expected.”  If a man says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me”, it doesn’t mean she’s planning to go.

Two, God may lead us into temptation to test and fortify our faith.  Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am”” (Genesis 22;1).   “Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Testing almost always involves temptation to disbelieve or disobey.  Hence, the Lord’s Prayer is a request that God not put us in such a situation.

Three, we’re right to pray for deliverance from temptation and testings.  Jesus did–“And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want'” (Matthew 26:39).

Paul did–“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me” (2 Corinthians 12:7,8).

It’s uncomfortable to think God may lead us into trials, even temptation.  Some reject the idea entirely making Satan the agent.  But, if Job’s narrative is true, Satan is the culprit only by God’s permission.

“Lead us not into temptation” is a good prayer.  It humbles us before God.  It expresses our dependency on him in the face of trials.  It reminds us of the possibility of God leading us into painful circumstances we don’t want.  It brings us face-to-face with a humbling, but gracious, truth . . .

God’s loving, providential care reaches to every part of our lives–even trials which often contain temptations to our fallen desires.

 

 

 

 

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Steadfast Heart

Praying is hard these days.  Because of my illness.  Like water streaming down to a mud puddle, so goes my mind.  Almost uncontrollably, I find myself praying for healing, asking for grace, and arguing my sad case with the Lord. All good things.  But this prayer focused on my illness so dominates my praying that it often leaves me feeling worse than when I started.

In this struggling prayer life, I’ve been reading the Psalms.   They are, of course, a magnificent collection of prayers in which a man (often David) opens his heart to the Lord.  So I read passionate praises, heart-felt thanksgivings, heart-breaking laments.  Many I identify with.  Like Psalm 57 I read the other day . . .

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.  I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.  I lie down among lions that greedily devour  human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords” (57:1-4).

According to the superscription, this psalm comes from David “when he fled from Saul, in the cave”.  If so, “those who trample on me” and “lions that greedily devour me” are Saul and his men pursuing David to kill him.  I make them my illness and its symptoms.  Then I sit in my wheelchair feeling safe in my Refuge, waiting–“until the destroying storms pass by”.  (I pray they will and the “calm” of good health will return.)

“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth. They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my path, but they have fallen into it themselves” (57:5,6).

I worship God.  I pray his glory will fill the earth.  And I pray that the symptoms of my illness (or Satan who may have sent it) will somehow destroy themselves instead of me.

So, you see, the psalm helps me not to wallow in my illness.  Instead, to bring it to God.  But it’s these closing lines that especially reach my heart . . .

“My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn.  I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.  For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth”  (57:7-11).

I want to fight back against my illness.  Not give up.  Not even just ask God for healing and grace (which is good, but seems sort of passive).  I want to take positive steps in this battle.  To advance. 

This is one of those “forward march” kind of steps:  to steadfastly, day after day awaken my soul with thanksgiving and praises to the Lord.  I would say, “I will sing and make melody”, but PLS has weakened my voice, so I can’t speak normal volume, to say nothing of singing.  (One of my greatest regrets is being unable to sing in worship to the Lord.)

From a resolutely firm and unwavering heart, I will declare, ” . . . your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.” 

Is that just using the power of positive thinking to negate wallowing in my symptoms?  No!  It’s declaring truth!  I have PLS.  And now melanoma.  But God’s love remains steadfast, “as high as the heavens”.  And God is still cloud-high faithful.

My prayer, then, becomes for God’s exaltation “above the heavens.”  And for his glory to be a white-bright cloud “over all the earth.”

Being steadfast to awaken my soul to praise the Lord isn’t a pill that takes away symptoms.  It’s a weapon in this fight of faith.  But not one always easily taken up.  Many mornings, before I speak steadfastly, I have to pray for a steadfast heart.  Because many mornings, I don’t feel resolute.  And the weapon of praise too heavy to pick up.

So, I ask the Lord to give me a heart from which I can speak steadfastly.  And, then, I speak in faith (whether I feel it or not):  “Awake, my soul!  I give you thanks, O Lord.  I speak praises to you . . . ”

Given the scope of the battle, all this doesn’t seem like much.  I’m still captive in my wheelchair.  Still marked with an almost 3 by 3 inch patch of melanoma on my head.

But I’m resolute.  A little old warrior standing (sitting) his ground proclaiming the glory of God’s steadfast love.  Not celebrating victory.  But steadfastly fighting the battle that transcends my illness and extends to my faith in my God . . .

 

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Christmas: Crushed Serpent

Serpent and Satan.  Hardly the stuff of Christmas.  But the birth of Christ fulfilled a prophecy that leads us into the dark side of Christmas.

A long time ago the Lord God created the first man and first woman.  He put them in a paradise–Eden.  Filled with every kind of fruit tree imaginable.  All for them to enjoy.  Except one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  God forbade them to eat from that. (Some have guessed that this test of Adam’s and Eve’s faith and obedience was necessary for them to progress from innocence to moral maturity.)

Edenic bliss was darkened by a sly serpent’s entrance.  “No, you won’t die if you eat from the God-forbidden tree.  Why, you’ll become like God!”  Eve listened and looked at the tree.  How desirable!  “She took of its fruit and ate (so the Genesis 3 story goes); and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he also ate.”

Their sin spread.  It’s infected us. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned . . . “ (Romans 5:12).  Sin came.  Death came.  Man must return to the dust.

And, “ . . .  the LORD God said to the serpent: ‘Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust all the days of your life.   And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel'” (Genesis 3:14,15). 

The fantasy-like story takes on deeper reality.  It’s not explaining why snakes crawl.  But warning that evil power personified exists.  To lead us astray.  From God.

“ . . .that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray“ (Revelation 12:9).

  • Temptation comes like a serpent; like the most subtle beast of the field; like that one creature which is said to exert a fascinating influence on its victims, fastening them with its glittering eye, stealing upon them by its noiseless, low, and unseen approach, perplexing them by its wide circling folds, seeming to come upon them from all sides at once, and armed not like the other beasts with one weapon of offence-horn, or hoof, or teeth–but capable of crushing its victim with every part of its sinuous length.
  • Temptation succeeds at first by exciting our curiosity. It is a wise saying that “our great security against sin lies in being shocked at it. Eve gazed and reflected when she should have fled.” The serpent created an interest, excited her curiosity about this forbidden fruit.  And as this excited curiosity lies near the beginning of sin in the race, so does it in the individual.
  • Through this craving for an enlarged experience unbelief in God’s goodness finds entrance. In the presence of forbidden pleasure we are tempted to feel as if God were grudging us enjoyment. The very arguments of the serpent occur to our mind. No harm will come of our indulging; the prohibition is needless, unreasonable, and unkind; it is not based on any genuine desire for our welfare.
  • If we know our own history we cannot be surprised to read that one taste of evil ruined our first parents. It is so always. The one taste alters our attitude towards God and conscience and life. The actual experience of sin is like the one taste of alcohol to a reclaimed drunkard, like the first taste of blood to a young tiger, it calls out the latent devil and creates a new nature within us. (Above four points from The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.)

We are “drawn away by [our] own desires” (James 1:14,15).  Yet, “[Our] enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

I am Eve.  But with a sin-nature.  And, vulnerable to the devil’s guile.  He slithers toward me.  Intent on enticing me to what God forbids.  His power is dark.  And pervasive.

Not only toward me.  The world.  Read the news.  Terrorism.  City gun violence.  Wars.  Corruption.  Sexual perversion.  Domestic abuse.

“ . . . the whole world lies under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).

 But from that long-ago story, light shines in the darkness.  The Lord God cursed the serpent/Satan . . .

 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head.  And you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

A woman’s Seed to crush the Serpent’s head.  In that battle, the heel of the woman’s Seed would be struck.  A fatal blow to the Serpent.  A wound from which the Seed would recover.

Through centuries of evil the promise lay dormant.  Until He was born.

 “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14,15).

 “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

 “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:13-15).

The Serpent still seduces.  But his doom is sure.  God is stronger.  And His Son,  the Seed of the woman, has come.  And conquered.

And, he ” . . . will soon crush Satan under your feet” ( Rom 16:20).

 

 

 

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Body and Mind

True story or not.  It goes like this.  A new preacher shows up in Appalachia, and his congregation welcomes him warmly.  They love his first sermon on the Ten Commandments and his second about fire and brimstone on those unfaithful to their marriage.  The third Sunday he preaches again the sins of drinking.  The congregation falls silent.  Finally, one man in the back stands.

“Son, you’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling.”

After the good news of righteousness by faith in Christ, the steadfastness of God’s love, and the mysterious sovereignty of God for which he is glorified, Paul is about to go to meddling.

He beings with two radical exhortations.  In view of God’s mercy  (Romans 1-11– (http://theoldpreacher.com/in-view-of-gods-mercies/), it’s urgent that the church obey them.

BODY

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (12:1).

Paul made similar appeals earlier . . .

“No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and no longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness” (6:13).

 “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (6:16).

 “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (6:19).

Paul uses the same Greek word in 12:1 as in the three verses above, where he  warns believers  not to put their body parts at the disposal of sin.  Instead he appeals to them  to put their “members” at the disposal of righteousness.  This they should do because they “died to sin” with Christ (6:2).  In 6:13, their “members” are “instruments” or “weapons” either of wickedness or righteousness.  In 6:16,19 their offering results in slavery either of sin/wickedness or obedience/righteousness.

In 12:1, however, their “offering” is an act of worship.  To live lives set apart (“holy”) and acceptable (“pleasing”) to God.  They must joyfully, willingly offer their bodies as a sacrifice to God.  Not to merit right standing with him, but because he’s mercifully given it.

This, Paul says, is worship.  Not the acts performed in the temple (9:4), but set-apart and pleasing to God acts lived out in daily life.  Paul calls such worship “logikos”, meaning either logical in view of God’s mercy or spiritual over against what’s merely external–or perhaps both.

John Stott (major leader of evangelical Christianity in the 2nd half of the 20th century) commented on what such living worship is like . . .

” . . .our feet will walk in his paths, our lips will speak the truth and spread the gospel, our tongues will bring healing, our hands will lift up those who have fallen, and perform many mundane tasks as well like cooking and cleaning, typing and mending; our arms will embrace the lonely and the unloved, our ears will listen to the cries of the distressed, and our eyes will look humbly and patiently towards God.”

MIND

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2).

J. B. Phillips’ paraphrase memorably captures Paul’s meaning: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

The Greek, suschimatizo, literally has the idea of making a form from wood, then pouring cement into it.  Figuratively, it means here not to allow one’s thinking (and thus conduct) to be shaped by the aiown (“this present age”).

Example:  This present age promotes sexual intimacy before marriage.  So it’s common for couples to “live together” before marriage.  Professing Christian couples too.   Despite the creation mandate that sexual intercourse consummates marriage.

Example:  This present age (vainly) avoids suffering at all costs.  So we stuff ourselves with drugs and undergo surgery (that brings its own suffering) to be “well.”  Despite the fact that God has ordained suffering for his good purposes.

Instead of “conforming to the pattern of this world”, Paul urges the church to “be transformed (metamorpho-o—referring to a change of form in one’s inner nature) by the renewing (anakainosie—referring to spiritual renewal) of your mind”.

“Test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  The Greek, dozimazein, means to test in order to prove.  James Dunn (British New Testament scholar) explains, “What is in view is something more charismatically immediate than formal — ‘the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment’ . . . [and] that we learn of the perfection and purity of God’s will by experience, in consequence of which we approve it for what it is:  good, acceptable, perfect.”

Such thinking/living is becoming rather rare these day.  Harry Blamires (20th century Anglican theologian, literary critic and novelist) wrote . . .

The Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church. One cannot characterize it without having recourse to language which will sound hysterical and melodramatic. There is no longer a Christian mind. There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality. . . . But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization” (Harry Blamires).

* * *

What, then, can we take away from Paul’s introduction to going from preaching to meddling?  Indeed, this is “meddling”, because Paul is telling us how we should use our own body and how we should think with our own mind!  In view of God’s mercy in Christ, my body is not my own to do with as I will, nor is my mind to think as I will.

Blamires’ diagnosis concerns me:  How much does this world squeeze me into its mold–and I’m asleep to it?  I’m way past world-acceptable sin of sex before marriage!  But, what about suffering?  Instead of praying for healing from it, should I pray, “Your will be done”?

And what about thinking?  It’s certainly not a sin to learn and try to understand as much as possible.  But can I really (especially when it comes to my life) accept the facts that God’s wisdom and knowledge are unfathomable and his ways beyond my understanding?

I think I like Paul better when he was preaching (Romans 1-11).  But now he’s gone to meddlin’ about how I use my own body and mind.

But God’s mercy in Christ grips me.  And I want to worship him.  Not just with my voice in a Sunday service, but with my body and mind in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas: In the Beginning the Word

Can you believe it?  Christmas less than five weeks away!  And me without a breath of Christmas spirit.  Maybe writing will help.  So . . . here starts an occasional “Advent” blog.

The best-told Christmas narrative is Luke’s.  But, actually the story starts with John’s “non-Christmas” gospel prologue.  No angels or shepherds or inns or mangers.  Not “folksy” or warm and wonderful.   Mysterious.  Mind-stretching.  He begins with . . .

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1,2).

“In the beginning”.  Directly connected to Genesis 1:1–“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.  This One, whom John calls “ . . . the Word”, was there.  And he “was God”.  God.  Yet separate from God.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  “The Word” spoke.  And all things came into being.

That decidedly contradicts the most prominent “scientific” view–“the universe as we  know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today”.  (These sites discuss that theory further–but have nothing to do with Christmas!)

http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-origin-of-the-universe.html

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/universe/origins-of-the-universe/

And Christmas is what I’m writing about, though it doesn’t sound like it  until John 1:14a . . .

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.  That’s John’s Christmas narrative.  Four words. “The Word became flesh . . . “The Word”, who was God (therefore, spirit–John 4:24), came to be a flesh-and-blood human.

“The Second Person in God, God the Son, became human Himself:  was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many stone.  The Eternal Being, who knows everything, and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby and before that a fetus inside a Woman’s body . . . He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity . . . down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature he had created . . . But he goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined [believing] world with Him” (C.S. Lewis, The Joyful Christian, p. 51,52).

He came In order to be seen and known . . .

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

John and others saw “glory”—the outshining of God the Father’s being.  “ . . . full of grace (God’s unmerited love) and truth (God’s covenant-keeping, faithful reliability)”.  In “the Word”, they saw God who loves the unlovable.  They saw God who can be trusted.

“The Word became flesh” in order to shine light in the darkness . . .

In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:4,5). 

“ . . . darkness”.  The realm of death and evil.  Death claims us all.  And evil is rampant, it’s commonplace.  But, thirty years later, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

He came also to make us to be what we can’t make of ourselves  . . .

“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:10-13).

The world “the Word” created didn’t know him, didn’t want him.  But some welcomed him.  Believed in him.  To those (to us) “the Word” gave the right to become God’s children.  Children not naturally born.  “ . . . born of God.”  By the Spirit.  From above (John 3:3,5).  From where the Word was in the beginning.  He came to make us like himself.

“flesh . . . “  John could have said “became man”.  But, instead “flesh”.  Sarx. Implying weakness.  Vulnerability.  Perishableness.  What we are to make us like he was before.

“God . . .  entered the world as a baby . . . His face is prunish and red.  His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby . . . Majesty in the midst of the mundane.  Holiness in the filth of [the manger’s] sheep manure and sweat.  Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager in the presence of a carpenter . . . This baby had overlooked the universe” (Max Lucado, When God Came Near).

It’s his birth we celebrate.  May we do it with awe.

 

 

 

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In View of God’s Mercies

How Should We Then Live?–the title of a bestseller by 20th century theologian and pastor Francis Schaeffer.   His answer was counter-culture.  So is Paul’s to a similar question  as he comes to the application of the gospel he’s written in chapters 1-11.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God– this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1,2).

 These verses contain . . .

  • a two-part appeal (“offer your bodies as living sacrifices” and “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this word, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”)
  • the consequence of obeying the appeal (“Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is . . . “)
  • and the reason for the appeal (“Therefore . . . in view of God’s mercy”)

“ . . . in view of” or “on account of” “God’s mercy”, Paul wants the Roman church (and the Holy Spirit wants us) to obey his two appeals.  But not as a rule or regulation.  Nor merely intellectually.  Rather emotionally.  Once we’re immersed in God’s mercy, that mercy should  move us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices and no longer conform to this world’s pattern but be transformed by mind-renewing.

This is critical.  If we’re not motivated by “God’s mercy”, then obeying Paul’s appeals are little more than doing what Scripture says because it says it.  It’s just following rules.  Not much more than legalism.

So:  it’s critical we understand to what Paul refers when he writes “in view of God’s mercy”.

The Greek word is oiktirmown—“mercies” (plural), “tender compassions”.  Paul rarely uses the word, but he writes extensively of “God’s mercies”.  I refer to them below so we might immerse ourselves in them.

  • After condemning all humanity to God’s wrath because all have sinned  (1:18-3:20), Paul announced the gospel of God’s mercy—“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, (or as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin) through faith in his blood . . . “ (3:21-25a).
  • After announcing that Gentiles as well as Jews can be made right with God through faith, Paul drew these merciful conclusions—”Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (5:1-5).
  • Then Paul contrasted what we have from Adam and what we mercifully enjoy from Christ—“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man (Adam), how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:15-21).
  • Next, Paul began to unveil what the Spirit is mercifully doing in those made right by faith—”If we have been united with [Christ] like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (6:5-11).
  • In 8:1-39 Paul continued to enumerate our standing in the mercies of Christ Jesus by the Spirit—a rich chapter containing everything from no condemnation, to incomparable glory, to inseparable love. (The chapter is too long to quote here.  It would be good for us to read on our own.)
  • Finally, in 9:1-11:36 Paul explained even now God is showing mercy to a remnant of Israel and will show mercy to more of Israel at age’s end.

* * *

We’re already  not conforming to “the pattern of this world” by meditating on God’s mercies.  Christian Smith’s research (Soul Searching and Souls in Transition) revealed that a majority of teenagers and young adults see God as merely “watching over life on earth”–like a kindly grandfather or faithful shepherd.  But they have no awareness of our being separated from God and under his wrath because of our sin.  No sense that we’re doomed apart from God’s mercies in Christ.  So, when we contemplate God’s mercies, we’re already out of step with “the pattern of this world.”

I’ve not written this for a “quick blog read”.  I’ve written it for repeated, prayerful meditation. So I pray . . .

“Lord God, my default approach is to read of your mercies as an old pastor, trying carefully to correctly interpret Paul’s words.  I also approach rationally, doing my best to trace Paul’s logic.  Somehow my reading must be more.  It must reach my heart, so I will be moved by emotion from your mercies to offer my body as a living sacrifice and keep my mind from this world’s ways.  In view of your mercies, God, move my heart to move my ways.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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What’s God Doing with Israel–and Should We Care?

Caesar Claudius, not wanting censure for a devastating Rome fire in 49 A.D, blamed the Jews.  Punishment:  expulsion from the city.  So, the church became entirely Gentile.  The edict was eventually relaxed and Jews began filtering back into city and church.  By then however,  Gentiles were boasting of their status as God’s people, especially since so many Jews rejected Messiah Jesus.

In 9:6 Paul argued that God’s word to Israel hadn’t failed.  In today’s text, 11:16-36, he explains that God isn’t finished with Israel.

HOLY DOUGH AND HOLY TREE

“If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you (Gentiles), a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:16-24).

When the Lord commanded Israel to offer the first “part of the dough” as holy, he considered that holiness to extend to the whole batch (Numbers 15:17-21).  So, Paul implies, the holiness of the believing remnant of Israel will eventually spread to “all Israel” (11:26).

Changing metaphors, Israel’s holy believing remnant is like “the root” of an olive tree.  The holiness of the root/remnant will extend to “all Israel” (11:26 below).  God can “graft in” Israel, “if they do not persist in unbelief”.  Hint:  Meanwhile, Gentiles must not become proud, because God can “break them off” if they don’t “continue in his kindness”.

MYSTERY

“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. ‘And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins’” (11:25-27).

Paul wants the Gentile members “to understand this mystery” to “save [them] from congratulating [themselves] on [their] own good sense” (New Jerusalem Bible).

The Greek mustayreeown (“mystery”) refers to revelation mediated from God (Friberg Greek Lexicon).  What’s going on with Israel’s unbelief in Messiah Jesus?  Only God knows; but he has revealed it to Paul, who now tells the Roman church.  “ . . . a hardening has come upon part of Israel . . .“.   Implication:  God has done this (as he had hardened Pharaoh’s heart—Exodus 10:1; 11:10).  “ . . . until the full number of the Gentiles has come in”—The sovereign God has an undisclosed “full number”  of Gentiles who will be saved.

“And in this way,  all Israel will be saved . . .”.   Rather than digging into the “theological weeds” of various commentators’ comments, let’s cut to the bottom line.  The majority of New Testament scholars  seem to agree that, once the full number of Gentiles are saved, God will (at the end of the age) lift the partial hardening on Israel and save the full number of his chosen ones from among Israel. Paul cites Isaiah 59:20,21 and a clause from Isaiah 27:9—“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.”  Some commentators argue Paul is referring to the second coming of Christ, others conclude Paul is referring to Christ’s first coming which “set in motion” the salvation of God’s chosen ones.

“As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience,  so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:28-32).

Paul (still to the Gentile church members):  The majority of Jews has come under God’s curse for rejecting the gospel, so God has mercifully brought the gospel to you.  But, because of God’s covenant with Abraham (“the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”), God will show mercy to (his chosen) among Israel.

Big question:  What does Paul mean by “all Israel”?  Possibly Paul uses “Israel” here the way he does in Galatians 6:16—that is, of all the saved, Jew and Gentile–(“Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” More likely, he uses “Israel” to refer to the nation, or the chosen among the nation, as he has throughout Romans 9-11.)

Many commentators agree that “all Israel” doesn’t mean every individual Jew, but a significant number will be gathered in at the end of the age, just before Jesus returns.  That it will still be just a remnant of Israel seems plain from 9:27 where Paul quotes Isaiah–“Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.”

Paul began this section of his letter (Romans 9-11) grieving over Israel’s unbelief.  He concludes it with a  . . .

HYMN OF PRAISE

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?’  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.  Amen” (11:33-36).

“ . . . riches” —Paul likely refers to the wealth of God’s grace to undeserving sinners.  “ . . . wisdom” of God’s salvation plan for both Gentiles and Jews together.  “ . . . [God’s] knowledge” of us, perhaps even a reference to his foreknowledge of us (8:29; 11:2).

Paul marvels that God’s judgments regarding condemnation to sinners and forgiveness to sinners are impossible for the human mind to understand.  His ways of providentially bringing salvation to his people are unfathomable.

God, writes Paul, is exalted high above us.  Who has ever figured out God’s mind?  Who has ever counseled God in what was best to do?  Who has ever given God a gift that made God his debtor?

For “all things” have their source in God.  “ . . . all things” come though God.  And “all things” are to God’s glory.  This is Paul’s benediction:  that, in view of God’s merciful, mysterious way of salvation, he receive the glory (Greek doxa—“honor, praise, power”) forever!

 

* * *

So, we have a general idea of what God is doing with Israel.  Should we care?  Yes.  Not about prophecy specifics, but about God specifically.  This we can clear care about.  God’s “running the show.”  He’s directing history.  He’s choosing particular Gentiles to be saved—and how many.  He’s hardened Israel in unbelief, yet his chosen ones among them will be saved at the end of the age.

With that general “mystery” revealed, we still can’t figure out God’s mind.  God doesn’t need our input to run the universe or complete his plan to save his people for a new creation.  God isn’t in debt to us to do anything for us.  Yet God has revealed his saving mercy in Christ to me–and you!

Of all things . . . God is the source.  God is the means.  And God is the end.

So our place is to understand what we can of what God has revealed.  To trust him to do what he promised even though our understanding is at kindergarten level.  And to make the climax of Paul’s hymn of praise our song of praise too  . . .

“To him be the glory forever!  Amen!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In Everything Give Thanks In Christ Jesus

Lois asked if I was writing a Thanksgiving blog.

“Yeah.  But I don’t know what to write.”

“How about ‘in everything give thanks'”?

Right.  Fitting.   Also a sermon for me.  No, for Lois too.  My PLS and cancer are diseases we both have to endure–and give thanks in.

Here are Paul’s words, part of a closing exhortation to the Thessalonica church . . .

“Rejoice always,
pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

It’s  a triplet of closely-related appeals.  “[G]ive thanks” presupposes we have blessings to rejoice over.  (I do!)  Prayer(spoken or singing) is how we verbalize joyful thanks.

” . . . this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” adds punch to the appeal.  It’s what God wants.  And here, part of the puzzle of knowing God’s will for us is solved:    “give thanks in all circumstances.”

That includes adverse circumstances.  Not only good times, but bad.  All the time, no matter what.

My nature doesn’t work that way.  When I’m hurting, I pray without ceasing, “Father, heal my hurt”–and maybe complain about it.  My default response isn’t “thank you, Lord.” When the dermatologist said, “You have malignant melanoma”, I didn’t hang up the phone and break into thanksgiving.  Paul isn’t telling us to give thanks for all circumstances.  He’s urging us to give thanks in them.  Still, it’s hard.

I have a confession. ( I hope no one’s keeping track of how many I’ve made!)  I’m one of those guys who thinks it borders on fanaticism to give thanks in all circumstances.  I mean, some circumstances are horrid.  Not just a tummy ache.  Deathly.

Then I remember what God is doing.  It’s the old Job-thing.    If I give thanks, even in suffering circumstances, it shows I’m serving him for him, not just for what he gives–and he is glorified.  That means his reputation is somewhat at stake if I limit my thanksgiving to good times and mope in the bad.

But , giving thanks in all things is for me, too..  It lifts my head from the pit up above to the greater One–“my glory and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).  Giving him thanks sets my eyes on him.

But for what to give thanks?  It’s hard to thankfully rejoice over mere food when I’m in pain.  Here’s where “for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you” comes in.  I’m in Christ Jesus!  I’m connected to him by faith and the Spirit!  I share in his life!  Here’s what that means . . .

. . .
In  Christ Jesus I was given grace before the world was created,  “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages began . . . ” (2 Timothy 1:9b).

. . . In Christ Jesus I was chosen by God before creation.  ” . . .he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Ephesians 1:9).

. . .In Christ Jesus God loves me with a love from which nothing can ever separate me. “For I am convinced  that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am redeemed, forgiven for all my sins“In [Christ Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace . . . ” (Ephesians 1:7).

. . . In Christ I am made right with God, Christ’s righteousness imputed to me“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am a new creation. “So if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am God’s child.  ” . . . in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

. . .In Christ Jesus I am, here on earth, already seated with Christ in heavenly places“[God] raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . ” (Ephesians 2:6).

. . .  In Christ Jesus all God’s promises are YES for me“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

. . . In Christ Jesus I am being sanctified and made holy like him. ” . . .  you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

. . . In Christ Jesus all my needs will be provided for.  “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

. . . In Christ Jesus God’s peace will guard my heart and mind.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

. . . In Christ Jesus I have eternal life.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23).

. . . In Christ Jesus I will be bodily raised from the dead when he comes again.  ” . . . for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.  But each in his own order:  Christ the first fruits, then at his coming, those who belong to Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:22,23).

I have more to give thanks for than my mind can contain–even when my “light and momentary afflictions” seem heavy and endless.  But giving thanks in all circumstances doesn’t sound so fanatical now–not when I ponder what I have “in Christ Jesus”.  It makes my heart sing in prayerful, joyful thanksgiving!  Lois and I wish you a rejoicing Thanksgiving! In Christ Jesus.

 

 

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Remnant . . . Plus

How could we trust God’s promises to his church (8:18-39), if God’s word to Israel had failed?  It had, right?  Look!  The majority of Israel is cut off from her promised Messiah.

But in Romans 9-11 Paul is arguing that God’s word hadn’t failed.

He  pictures God as a longing, rejected lover . . .

“All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21; from Deuteronomy 32:21).

He rephrases the has-God’s-word-failed question . . .

“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  ‘Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.’ But what is the divine reply to him? ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’  So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (11:1-6).

“By no means” has God rejected obstinate Israel!  No matter how it seems! For starters,  Paul himself is an Israelite!  Furthermore, as in the days of Elijah, “ . . . at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”  Within national, Messiah-rejecting Israel lives a “chosen-by-grace” Israel whom God has kept for himself.

“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.”   God knew from eternity those he would choose and to whom he would give saving faith.  Those Israelites God has not rejected.

But God didn’t choose them “on the basis of works” .  He chose them “by grace”.  Ethnic identity.  Circumcision.  Possessing and living by the law.  None qualifies a Jew to belong to the chosen remnant.  Only God’s grace.  Only God’s unmerited kindness.

”What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, ‘God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and keep their backs forever bent’” (11:7-10).

“Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” . . . “Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works” (9:32a). 

“ . . . the rest (other than the elect among Israel) were hardened”.  The Greek, poro-o, refers to a judicial act of God by which he gives unbelievers a closed mind because they have refused to listen.

“ . . .sluggish spirit . . . “  denotes a senseless, “deep sleep”  mental condition. Thus, Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 29:10) and David’s pronouncement (Psalm 69:22,23) are fulfilled in them.  All this has come upon national Israel.

Is this the end?

“So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (11:11-15).

Much of the rest of the chapter Paul directs to the Gentiles at Rome.  Apparently, in that church Gentiles were bragging about their status as God’s people versus so many Jews who had “stumbled”.

True, admits Paul, Israel failed to do God’s will when Messiah came.  But by no means “to fall”!  No, they’re not utterly ruined before God, like someone who falls to a violent death.

God has brought good out of bad.   Israel stumbled and disbelieved Messiah.  Consequently,  the apostles (Paul in particular) turned to Gentiles with the gospel.  How that makes Israel “jealous” is unclear.  But Israel’s “stumbling”/”defeat” means the riches of the gospel is being taken to the Gentile world.

Since that’s so, “how much more will [Israel’s] full inclusion mean!”  The Greek is playroma—used of what is brought to its desired end, here “fulfillment”.  Paul uses the word again in 11:25—“until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”

Paul makes much of his ministry, so many Gentiles will come to faith, and Jews will be jealous and so some will be saved.  But the apostle to the Gentiles can’t forget his own kindred; he longs for them to believe (9:1-5; 10:1).

Paul seems to see his longing fulfilled.   Israel’s “rejection (of Messiah) is the reconciliation of the world (that is, people from among every language and nation)”; but “what will their acceptance (by God by their faith in Messiah Jesus) be but life from the dead?”

Douglas Moo (Professor of New Testament, Wheaton Graduate School) comments–

“The implication in this case, would be that to the present remnant there will be added a much greater number of Jewish believers so as to ‘fill up’ the number of Jews destined for salvation.”

I take “life from the dead” to mean that a great number of Jewish believers will pass from spiritual death to life.  Others reason this way:  once the full number of Gentiles come in, the full number of Israel will, and then the end-time resurrection will come.

So, does Paul see a greater harvest of believers among Israel?  Apparently so.  How that will occur and when and how many isn’t explained.  Paul, however, certainly implies that God’s people in Christ will include many more from Israel than now.

God’s word hasn’t failed (9:6a)! Not only because he made his promises to true IsraelNot only because in Paul’s day, until now, a remnant of Israel believes.  But also because God’s promises will reach greater fulfillment among Israel by God’s choice and Israel’s faith.  Ultimately, he will save a remnant–plus.

* * *

If you’ve read to this point, you may be asking, “So what?”  One “what” is this.

You may be like me–caught in the middle of a mystery.  What is God doing?  How can this possibly be a good thing that conforms me more to the likeness of Christ?   Why does God seem silent?  Has God forgotten his promises?

God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform . . .

 

 

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