Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Romans (Page 1 of 6)

The Farewell

“From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him” (Acts 20:17).

Paul's Third Missionary Journey Map

Paul has been long “on the road.”  Five years almost for this missionary trip.  He wants to be back in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  His coastal-trader ship sailing down the west coast of Asia seems to lay over at every port.  In his hurry, he doesn’t stop at Ephesus.  Thirty miles south the ship harbors briefly at Miletus.  Paul can’t help himself.  Almost three years of teaching at Ephesus  allowed deep bonds to form with the elders.  Paul sends one of his associates to bring the elders to him.  It will be, he expects, their last meeting.

They assemble outside in an open area often used for trade.  About a dozen men.  Young and old.  Paul greets each with a hug and broad smile.  Late winter winds are blustery, swirling leaves and debris over trampled grass pockmarked with holes of dirt.  The Aegean, less than a hundred yards away, has turned choppy.  Some elders squat, others stand, eager to hear what Paul has to say on this late winter day.


“When they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus'” (Acts 20:18-21).

He remembers with them.  Knowing Jews will malign him to them, he reminds them how he conducted himself.  Humbly in all things.  Tears spilled over the unrepentant.  Trials endured from the Jews’ plots against him.  Through it all, in public and in house, he never surrendered to attacks.  Incessantly he proclaimed “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”  Heads nodded in agreement.  Smiles appeared at mention of Paul’s perseverance.

But the future would likely not be as bright . .


“’And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.  But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.  And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God’” (Acts 20:22-27).

Though he loves Jerusalem, the city won’t be a friendly place.  He goes to it because the Spirit compels him.  And, though he doesn’t know what will happen to him, the same Spirit tells him prison and persecution await in every city.  Darker storm clouds are gathering.

Elders’ faces have turned solemn.  Several warn Paul not to go.  He’ll hear none of it.   “I don’t consider my life worth anything to me.  I’m determined to finish this race and complete the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus.  I will testify to the good news of God’s grace!”

Paul’s stern determination softens.  His hands, raised defiantly against enemies, fall to his side.  “I know none of you, among whom I’ve proclaimed God’s kingdom in Christ, will ever see me again.”  This is what the elders feared:  a final farewell from the man they loved, a man God used to bring them into the kingdom.  Especially now, Paul takes his responsibility with utmost seriousness.  He has proclaimed God’s whole purpose to them:  he’s not responsible for their blood.

 But he does have a warning,  Because just as his future sounds ominous, so, in fact, does theirs . . .


“’Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.  I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:28-35). 

They listen, Paul’s words worrying them, then birthing determination.  They must live like vigilant shepherds, keeping watch over the flock.  They are Holy Spirit-made overseers; he will be their resource.  Their calling isn’t casual.  The flock of believers in the city isn’t theirs.  It’s a flock “bought with the blood of [God’s] own Son.”  The elders hear the gravity in Paul’s charge–a charge made most solemn, because the price paid for the people is most precious to God.

And they have a model to emulate.  Paul reminds them how unceasingly, with tears streaming down his face, he had warned everyone of God’s wrath and the need to repent.  They must do the same.  For this great work, Paul commends them to God and the word of his grace that can build them up.  Nor must they think their leadership, however weighty, is a means to financial gain.  Paul, holding out a workman’s hands to them, had striven to support himself and help the needy.  They must follow his example.

With urgency.  Because after he leaves, Paul warns, men like savage wolves will come (some from within the church!) making perverse claims and trying to entice the believers to follow them in their lies.  They must stay on alert; the matter for the church is one of life or death.

“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.  There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).

Paul falls silent.  The wind blusters.  The only sounds anyone hears now are of the sea.  Then, without a word, Paul kneels, stiffly on weary legs and hard ground.  Paul’s prayer for them bring tears, which flow freely, unashamedly, as Paul’s “Amen” brings them all to their feet hugging and kissing Paul.  Their sorrow weighs heavy as they escort him–for the last time–to his ship.

* * *

No apostles among my readers.  But, leaders, nevertheless.  Worship leaders, small group leaders, parents who lead families, the primary Christian witness among co-workers.  Think of it:  most of us exercise some form of leadership among others.

I used to as a pastor.  My congregation has shrunk.  Now it’s my family (and that in limited way due to my illness)–and you, to some extent, who regularly read my blog.  I say all that just to include myself in the “most of us exercise some form of leadership among others” group.

Let’s suppose we’re meeting with our small group or family or co-workers for the final time.  Will we be able to remember with them how we tried to humbly serve the Lord and speak his Word among them?  Will we be able to say our life is worth little, except to finish our course of ministry for the Lord, no matter the cost?  Will we be able to urge them to keep watch over one another, so they’re not led astray into lies?  Will we naturally pray with them and for them?

If we want to be able to have that kind of farewell, today’s a good day to start getting ready.  Because someday that goodbye will come.


{Note:  Personal, “colorful” touches my addition.)



Demetrius Was Right

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

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

What happens when that Kingdom invades an alien culture.


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Bronze statuette of Artemis, Bronze, Greek

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

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

No exaggeration.

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

* * *

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

Do we?

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

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

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

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





Not Quite Christians

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

 Paul has begun his 3rd missionary journey . . .

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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








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 .  . .


“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.


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 . . .


“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 . . .


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.






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?





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 ( 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.














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).







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.





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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