The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Romans (page 1 of 5)

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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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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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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Liberty or Love?

Perhaps it’s too bad the church no longer has this problem.  (Or maybe it does and I’m just not aware.)  The problem is caused by those “weak in faith”.  In other words, they believe that certain conduct—about which Scripture is silent—condemns them before God.  I say it’s too bad we don’t have this problem, because we’re not so concerned about holiness as believers once were.  Granted, the “weak in faith” are immature in their convictions.  But they have a genuine desire for holiness we seem to have lost.

In any case, the difference between Christian freedom (our Jonathan is free to have a beer occasionally) and abstinence (our Mark considers it a sin) is creating disunity in the Roman church—and potentially harming the abstaining brother.

“Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another” (14:13).

This statement ties the previous paragraph to today’s text.  Neither the veggies-onlys nor the meat-eaters should judge the other.  Judgment is “a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another”.  It’s like putting a barrier in a runner’s way to keep him from reaching the finish line.  It may block one’s brother from following Christ as he believes he should.

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died” (14:14,15).

Paul is emphatic: “nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean”.  Hear that Mark?  Jonathan’s beer-drinking isn’t unclean.  He’s free to drink (moderately).  Hear that Jonathan?  “if your brother is being injured by what you eat (or drink), you are no longer walking in love.”  Your freedom may entice Mark to violate his conscience and drink.  It may cause Mark to doubt what he believes.  It may drive Mark from the church, presuming that all Christians aren’t really devoted to Christ.  Jonathan, Christ died for Mark.  Don’t let your freedom destroy him!  Mark is “weak in faith”.  Jonathan, you’re “strong”.  You’re responsible:   limit your freedom if it injures your brother.

“So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval” (14:16-18).

By “your good” I take Paul to mean your liberty.  If others are speaking of it as “evil”, there’s contention among the church.  They’re arguing.  But over secondary issues.   God’s reign in Christ is about primary things, like “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.  What’s beer by comparison, Jonathan?

“Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble” (14:19-21).

Paul’s conclusion can’t be more plain.  “Strong” men, like Jonathan, who know their standing with God isn’t affected by what they drink or eat, must not pursue their liberty, but run after “what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding”.  Everything’s “clean”; but it’s better not to make your brother stumble.

“The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (14:22,23).

The first two sentences are Paul’s way of saying, “Mind your own business”.  Or, “Don’t parade your liberty before others.  Maybe you should have your occasional beer in the privacy of your own home, Jonathan.”

The “weak in faith” Christian must abstain if he has doubts about eating or drinking.  If he can’t eat or drink believing he is free to do so, he must not.  In his belief system, it’s a sin.

* * *

Yes, Jonathan is free to grab a beer.  But not if it causes Mark to stumble in his faith.  The kingdom of God isn’t beer; it’s righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Those are primary issues.  Beer is secondary.  Love must win out over liberty.

It did with Jesus . . .

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.
Yet not as I will, but as you will.'”
(Matthew 26:39).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Judgement Seat

Jonathan enjoys a beer once in a while.   Has for years.  Pre-Christian and since.  Mark believes  drinking is a dangerous  habit that dishonors the Lord.  They each argue with the other over who’s right.

When I first read today’s text (about Christian liberty and personal convictions) I thought it a non-issue today.  Then I read John Calvin:

“He who proposes to summarize gospel teaching ought by no means to omit an explanation of [Christian liberty].  For it is a thing of prime necessity, and apart from a knowledge of it, consciences dare undertake almost nothing without doubting; they hesitate and recoil from many things; they constantly waver and are afraid.  But freedom is especially an appendage of justification and is no little avail of understanding its power.”

Okay, Brother John.  I’ll take your word for it.  But I just haven’t seen many 21st century Christians “hesitate and recoil” from drinking wine or dancing or working on the Sabbath (Sunday).  But, maybe there’s more here than meets the eye.

Paul does seem to say “Jonathan” and “Mark” go all the way back to the church in Rome.

“Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them” (14:1-3).

The Greek proslambabesthe means “receive hospitably, welcome”.  But it’s not Paul’s emphasis in this sentence.  “ . . . those who are weak in faith” is.  He uses the word (in a different form) of Abraham, who “who did not weaken in faith” as he considered his circumstances (4:19).  Here the “weak eat only vegetablesin contrast to other Christians who “believe in eating anything”.   Meat-eaters “must not despise (look down on, condemn)” veggies-only eaters.  And veggies-onlys “must not pass judgment (sit in personal judgment on, criticize, condemn)” meat-eaters.

Why must meat-eaters welcome veggies-onlys?  Because God has welcomed them.”  He receives them as true believers in Christ.

Who are “those who are weak in faith”?  The veggies-only believers (like Mark, who believes drinking is wrong) are “weak in faith”.  They’re “weak in faith” in that they brand certain secondary issues, issues on which the Bible is silent, as immoral.

Douglas Moo (New Testament professor Wheaton graduate school) explains:  “Paul is not . . . simply criticizing these people for having a ‘weak’ or inadequate trust in Christ as their Savior and Lord. Rather, he is criticizing them for lack of insight into some of the implications of their faith in Christ. These are Christians who are not able to accept for themselves the truth that their faith in Christ implies liberation from certain OT/Jewish ritual requirements. The ‘faith’ with respect to which these people are ‘weak’, therefore, is related to their basic faith in Christ but one step removed from it. It involves their individual outworking of Christian faith, their convictions about what that faith allows and prohibits”.

The “strong”, then, understand that their faith in Christ implies freedom from certain ritual requirements.  Jonathan believes his beer-drinking neither commends him to or condemns him by God who has justified him by faith in Christ.

It’s likely that this belief regarding certain foods are a carry-over by Christians Jews from the Old Covenant.  In this case, the thinking is, “Meat will bring God’s disapproval, so I’ll eat veggies only”.  This, obviously, is creating disunity, opposite to the “one Body” and “genuine love” Paul is calling for.  So he confronts the judgment-passers . . .

 “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.  We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (14:4-9).

Did Paul fling his question at the meat-eaters, who were passing judgment on the scrupulous veggies-only crowd?  More likely, he’s aiming at both.  The ones they are judging are not their servants, but the Lord’s.  Before him they will either stand (in their devotion to Christ) or fall (in their devotion to Christ).

We’re now shown another secondary issue over which the Roman Christians have difference—the observance of certain days.  Paul makes this (obviously implying the same for food practices) a matter of conscience.  Observe or not.  Eat or not.  Both “the weak” and “the strong” are doing it to thank God and honor him.

In other words, both are (or should be) practicing their liberty or abstinence to the Lord.  They are living out their submission to his lordship.  And disagreeing brothers just respect that.  Jonathan is not Mark’s lord, nor Mark Jonathan’s.

So, Paul explained to the Corinthians, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15). 

“Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then, each of us will be accountable to God” (14:10-12).

Why do we dare to judge our brother, when we will all stand before God’s judgment seat (Greek baymati—“judicial bench”, used of Pilate’s “judgment seat” when he judged Jesus—Matthew 27:19)?  “ . . . each of us will be accountable to God.”

This is why judging our brother is wrong:  God alone is judge.  We must all give a personal account  in his court.

* * *

Having walked this far through Romans 14, I see abstinence as a misunderstanding of justification by faith, as Calvin warned.  But Paul doesn’t correct that misunderstanding.  Instead, in the remainder of the chapter he’ll call the “strong” to relinquish his freedom for the good of the weak.  And in today’s text he reminds us we’re all the Lord’s servants and accountable to him.  So, Brother John, I get your point; but I don’t think it’s Paul’s.

Which brings me (with trepidation) to the judgment seat of Christ (bayma).  Paul has referred to it earlier–

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9,10).

” . . . what is due him” refers to recompense or rewards.  Judgment at Christ’s seat, therefore, doesn’t concern justification (which is by grace through faith), but how we’ve lived our lives as Christians.  In Romans, the issue is personal moral choices as the Lord’s servant.  In 2 Corinthians, the issue is more general–making it our aim to please him in all things.

Honestly?  Accountability at the bayma hides in the back of my head.  Not often do I think, “I’m accountable for what I do today.  How I live will affect my eternal reward”.  Eternal reward, however, doesn’t motivate me so much.

The thought of standing before Christ does.  It’s like final exam day.  It doesn’t determine heaven or hell.  But standing before Jesus as he judges my life frightens me. And makes me fear judging my brother.

 

 

 

 

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Last Day Lovers Like the Lord

What’s the church to “look like” in the last days?  Bodies holy and acceptable as a living sacrifice to the Lord.  Minds free from the world’s ways and renewed by the Spirit to learn to walk in the Lord’s way.  In today’s text (Romans 13:8-14), loving with an urgency.

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:8-10).

You’d think Paul is condemning our overwhelming credit card debt!  Actually he’s telling the Roman church and us that we’re obligated to “love one another”.  Commentators are fond of explaining that we’re indebted to the Lord for his grace, but that we should “pay” it by loving one another.  First of all, the idea of repaying the Lord for his grace contradicts the concept of grace.  Grace isn’t grace if we “pay back” for it. Second, Paul explicitly explains that we’re obligated to love one another “for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”.

It’s important for us justified-by-grace-through-faith Christians to understand God’s law still stands.  It’s still wrong to commit adultery, murder, steal or covet.  God hasn’t changed his laws; he’s changed us.

“God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do:  by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:3,4).

Paul claims by loving others we fulfill those commandments.  Love doesn’t transgress a marriage; it upholds it.  Love doesn’t take a life; it gives life.  Love doesn’t steal what belongs to another; it respects it.  And love doesn’t lust over what it doesn’t possess; it rejoices in the good the other has.

Why, though, are we obligated to love others?  Precisely because God’s love still stands.  Though we are not made right with God by trying to keep the Ten Commandments, God hasn’t abrogated them.  Here Paul explains how we can keep them, however imperfectly.

But, like justification, this too is grace.  Only by the Spirit given us through Christ can we self-centered sinners seek someone else’s highest good.

“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (13:11-14).

Clearly, in the mid-50’s A.D., about 25 years after Christ’s ascension, Paul expected Jesus could return any time, even soon.  (This is what he means by “salvation”—the consummation of Christ’s saving work at his coming.)

Jesus took Peter, James and John with him deep into Gethsemane that night, telling them to watch with him while he went deeper in to agonize in prayer over the looming cross.  When he returned, he found them asleep (Matthew 26:36-40).  So Paul reminds the church that it’s time to be alert and watchful.  “For salvation is nearer now than when we became believers.” 

This is “night”, and it’s “far gone, the day is near”.  Night symbolizes the reign of sin and rule of the evil one.  But it’s almost over.

Why must we be awake?  Might we literally sleep through the Second Coming?  No.  But we might become ensnared by “works of darkness” and not be ready.  Christ may come and find us caught up in “revelry . . . drunkenness . . . debauchery . . . licentiousness . . . quarreling . . . jealousy”.  In other words, we might fall prey to the moral darkness.

In his last letter, Paul will write of Demas, who deserted him, “because he loved this present age” (2 Timothy 4:10).  This danger haunts us all.  That we would desire this world—its physical pleasures, everything we see in it, all that we posses–more than Jesus.

I grew up in church hearing, “Jesus may come tonight!”  Let’s say since I was ten.  64 years.  Six decades.  No Jesus.  I’m not criticizing my pastors.  They preached Bible.  Jesus (“salvation”) is coming.  But no one knows when.

The problem with hearing the message often is that it becomes “crying wolf”.  Pretty soon we hear it without effect.  Who goes to sleep at night thinking, “Jesus may come tonight”?

Paul is concerned, however, not so much with the time of Jesus’ coming, as with the “dark” condition of the times preceding it.  They are “dark”—and growing darker. According to Pew Research Center, despite Scripture’s male-female marriage institution, “white evangelical Protestants . . . support [of] same-sex marriage has grown from 27% in 2016 to 35% today”.  Might this increase be because Americans’ support in general has increased to 62%, while 57% opposed it in 2001?

When I was a teenager, sex before marriage was a sin.  Today some professing Christian couples openly “live together” before marriage.  Might this moral “darkness,” pictured in movies as a natural thing, be creeping into the church?

Paul urges, “Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  “ . . . put on the Lord Jesus Christ” always reminds me of “dress-up”.  Dress up like the Lord Jesus Christ.  But this is no childhood game.  Earlier Paul told the church to “put on the armor of light”.  So, dress up like the Lord Jesus Christ for war!  By faith, act like Jesus.  Say “no” to the darkness and “yes” to the light.  Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.  Be radically righteous like Jesus, especially as the darkness deepens.

* * *

The last days began with Jesus’ first coming.  So all of us have lived our whole lives in the last days.  But they get “last-er”.  Jesus implies that the “last-er” the days, the more self-gratifying sin and the less love.  “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold . . . ” (Matthew 24:12).

So we—the church—must fight against the growing darkness.  Not just by holding to true doctrine.  But by loving one another (even enemies) as Jesus did.

“’Father, forgive them–‘”

“The three words impale [the Roman soldiers) as the three spikes they used to impale him.  They all look up, transfixed, as Jesus finishes his prayer.

’—for they do not know what they are doing.’

“Not only does Jesus ask his Father to forgive them, he offers a kind word in their behalf, explaining their behavior.

“The calloused ears of those soldiers have heard all kinds of words on that hill.  All kinds.  And in every language.  But they have never heard words like these.  Never like these.  Not once.

“Until now” (Ken Gire, Intense Moments with the Savior).

That’s the last days lover.  May that be us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Authorities Are God’s Servants

Christmas came between Romans 12 and 13.  So, to best understand 13:1-7, a brief review is in order. In chapters 1-11, Paul proclaimed God’s mercy in Christ:  all have sinned against God and fall short of his glory, but are made right with God through faith in the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Now Paul turns a corner.  “ . . . in view of God”s mercy”, here is how the church should live . . .

“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).

How is the church to live that body-sacrifice and that moral transformation?  By humbly exercising spiritual gifts as members of one body (12:3-8).  By genuinely loving one another in the church and living in peace with outsiders (12:9-21).

By living in subjection to ruling authorities (13:1-7) . . .

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities . . . ” (13:1a).

This grows out of Paul’s appeal for the church to do good to enemies (12:20,21).  For, even though the Roman Empire largely treated the church with indifference, tension ran beneath the surface between the two.

For example, just six years earlier Emperor Claudius had banned Jews (Christian and non-Christian) from Rome.  Although a new emperor, Nero, allowed them to return, they became his scapegoats.  Then when fire ravaged the city, Nero blamed Christians.l/.

Paul’s reasoning is radical—and takes submission to government far beyond 1st century Rome all the way to us in the 21st century.

“ . . . for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (13:1b).

All authority comes from God.  Not from the emperor, as in Rome.  Not from a written Constitution, as in the U.S.  From God.  And those who have authority to rule, whether an empire or a democracy, have been appointed by God.  He is the sovereign authority of his creation.

In Israel, only a Jewish king could be recognized.  Now Christian Jews were urged to subject themselves to a pagan king.  Because “those authorities that exist have been instituted by God”.

God institutes authorities.  If a government exists, it is ordained by God.  The government—dictatorship or democracy—derives its power from God and is limited to what he intends for it.

This has a serious implication for resistors—and the church under Roman rule might resist . . .

“Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment” (13:2).

The “therefore” is obvious—and frightening.  Resisting a king appointed by Rome was risky enough.  He wielded the full weight of Roman authority—and judgment.  But, worse, God had appointed that authority, so to resist him was to resist God’s authority—and to incur God’s judgment.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer” (13:3,4). 

Years ago, in a Sunday Worship Gathering, we honored out local police.  Many came.  I preached from this passage and found it strange to speak of them as God’s servants, especially since I knew many were far from believers.  But Paul doesn’t mean Emperor Nero is personally God’s servant, but positionally.  Nero is God’s servant without knowing it!

What does Paul mean “[the authority] is God’s servant for your good”?  He may mean for the church’s moral good.  That is, living under a pagan emperor tests Christians’ faith and so develops character.  Or he may mean for the church’s benefit—though its rather hard to see how a pagan emperor’s edicts could benefit the Christian church.  Unless Paul means the authority benefits the church, because it keeps society from anarchy.  In any case . . .

“Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience” (13:5).

In other words, writes Paul, the church must obey the laws of the land, not only because of possible punishment if they don’t, but out of moral obligation to God (“conscience”).

So, another occasion, again years ago, Lois and I are driving north on an empty Sunday morning stretch of U.S. 19.  Headed for church.  Speed limit’s 50.  I’m pushing 60.  Suddenly, a Tarpon Springs cop in my rearview mirror.  Sick fear stabs my stomach.  Ticket for sure.  But, know what?  Even on my way to worship, no stab of conscience because I’ve broken my moral obligation to God.

This is what God deserves.  Not our submission to civil laws fearful of punishment, but out of a deep and full submission to him.

“For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. Pay to all what is due them — taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (13:6,7).

The State holds the right to levy taxes (even if the system is corrupt, as was often the case with Rome’s tax collectors”) and citizens have a moral obligation to God to pay them.  But payment isn’t enough.  “ . . . the authorities are God’s servants”; therefore, Christians owe them respect.  The church must not merely tolerate government authorities, but honor them as God-appointed.

* * *

Paul isn’t writing a theology of church and state.  (For instance, he doesn’t discuss how Christians are to respond when the state demands something God forbids.) His concern is pastoral.  He wants the church at Rome to be submissive and “to do what is good”. And, because all authority is God’s and the authorities that exist are God-appointed, he’s exhorting us.

To see government as a God-appointed agent instead of the church’s opponent.  I never think of our government as God-appointed for our good.  Holy Spirit, renew my mind so my thinking is transformed, and I see our government as appointed by you.

I have to confess:  it’s hard to “wrap my brain” around governments being God-appointed.  Does that include Hitler’s?  Russia’s?  Syria’s?  North Korea’s?

To respect governing authorities.  I think the key here is God-appointed.  How can I respect congressmen who are so partisan they refuse to work with the party “on the other side of the aisle” for the country’s good?  Who are involved in sophomoric sexual-escapades and worse?  Who with straight face lie “under oath”?  Who “play” to their (voter) base rather than do what’s right for the country?  Who do their job to keep their job rather than to promote national well-being?

Holy Spirit, renew my mind so my thinking is transformed, and I respect our leaders’ position, if not their practice.

Bob Deffinbaugh (Texas pastor) wrote, “There may be reason for disobedience to certain laws, but there is no excuse for our spirit of insubordination and for an obedience which is more compliant than it is cooperative and supportive.”

To that, how can I not say “Amen”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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).

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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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