Ministry Made Personal

Grace For The Journey

How much do you like to hear you name?  I guess that depends on why it is being used.  None of us like to hear our name called if the one using it is mad at us or suspects us of doing something wrong.  But what about when you hear your name called by someone you know loves you?  Or how about when it is being said in order to recognize you in some special way either because of a good relationship you have or because of something good you have done? We like to hear our names then.

The same is true when it comes to seeing our names in print.  We don’t like to see our names written at the top of a policeman’s ticket, but we do like to see them written on a gift check.  We don’t want to see our names or those we love printed on an arrest report.  But we do like to see our names and those we love printed in the paper in any favorable circumstance.

What would it be like to have your name actually recorded in Scripture in a favorable manner?  Admittedly, it can be a struggle to read through all those names in passages such as Numbers 26 or 1 Chronicles 6, 7, and 8, or Ezra 2.  Most people cannot even pronounce them much less recognize any significance to them.  But what if they were names that you did recognize as your own ancestors or the ancestors of people that were close to you?  You would suddenly have a new appreciation for those long lists of names, and they would not be so boring.  They would have more personal significance to you.

Consider the fact that each of the names listed in such passages is a real person.  They may have lived and died a long time ago, but they were people like you and me.  They had dreams just as we do.  They had families, friends and relationships with others just as we do.  Every name listed in the Bible reveals the mind-boggling fact that the omnipotent, Holy Creator of this universe does not just love the world, He cares about each individual human in it by name.  Those who dismiss God’s love for the world as too general should contemplate the multitude of individual names mentioned in Scripture and then reflect that entrance to heaven is dependent upon their name being written in the lambs book of life (Revelation 21).  God’s love for mankind is not just universal in providing the means of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ, it is also individually personal as the Holy Spirit regenerates a person to believe and walk in an
intimate relationship with their Creator.

This morning we are going to be looking the long list of names recorded in Romans 16. Paul’s letter to the Romans was not just some general epistle to explain the Gospel message.  It was also a personal communication to each one that would read the letter. If Paul were alive today and personally knew you, this is a letter he would have written to you.  You can receive it as personal communication from the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul to you that you might understand God and His will better as well as walk closer to Him in holiness.  Paul’s greetings to so many demonstrate how important personal relationships were to him.  No wonder he expected to be refreshed by them when he got to Rome, because he already has so many friends there as well as expecting to make new friends once he arrived.

COMMENDATION.

Paul begins his personal greetings with a commendation of the woman that was coming from Paul to Rome.  It may even be possible that she was the one who was carrying Paul’s letter to the Romans, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.”  Paul often addressed the Christians he is was writing to as “brethren.”  Here, Paul addresses Phoebe as “our sister.”  This is wonderful way in which Christians can address each other because we have been adopted into the family of God.

The name “Phoebe” means “bright” or “radiant.”  It was also the name the Greeks used for the moon.  She was a Greek woman who was from Cenchrea, which was about 5 miles east of Corinth at the eastern terminus of the canal that cut across the isthmus that separated Achaia from the rest of Greece.

Her Character.

Paul’s commendation of her is a letter of reference from him to the saints at Rome.  This is one of the reasons that it is thought that she was carrying the letter to Rome for Paul. At the very least, she was with whoever was carrying the letter.  Because it is mentioned that she is from Cenchrea, it is thought that Paul may have written this letter from that location.

Paul remarks that Phoebe had distinguished herself and so was worthy of his commendation.  The key characteristic is that she was a “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.”  The word servant here is often also translated as “deacon.”  There is some debate about whether this was in some official capacity as a deaconess, but before we get into that debate, take note that whether she held a particular church office or not, she was recognized as someone who was very helpful to others by her service to them.

In verse 2 Paul says that she had been a helper of many, and of himself as well.  The word “helper” here, is defined by as a “female guardian, protectress, patroness, caring for the affairs of others and aiding them with her resources.”  Phoebe was not only a woman who would personally involve herself in helping other people with her own hands, as being a “diakonon” implies, but being characterized as a “prostatis,” she may also have had the wealth to help financially.  She had been a helper of this type to Paul.

If indeed Phoebe did carry Paul’s epistle to Rome, it demonstrates even more so the trust that he placed in her and why he commended her to the Romans.  Paul wanted the Roman believers to welcome Phoebe into their fellowship ‘in a manner worthy of the saints.”  He was placing his personal stamp of approval upon her as a genuine and committed believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.  They could accept and trust her because Paul was vouching for her character.

Even in our own times we can understand the importance of having such a letter of recommendation.  When you go to a new place where people do not know you, they should have a certain amount of caution toward you.  While they may accept you based on your personal testimony and profession of faith, they should be hesitant to trust you until after you have had opportunity to prove your profession and demonstrate your faithfulness.  A letter of recommendation from someone they already know and could trust would allow them to be able to place such trust in that new person too.  While not very many people who have moved from here have asked me for such a letter to give to their new church home, it is always a privilege to do so in order that someone who had
served the Lord so faithfully alongside us can quickly be able to be involved in ministry in their new home.  I appreciate such a letter when new people move into our area.  Paul’s commendation enabled the Roman believers to quickly accept Phoebe into their fellowship and trust her to minister among them.

This trust factor was even more important to Phoebe because Paul also asked the Romans to help her in whatever matter she may have need of them.  Paul’s commendation of her would instill confidence that they could do this and not fear that they were being taken advantage of by a con artist.

This principle is still important.  We get a lot of requests by people who would either like us to support them in some ministry or they would like to come and do some ministry among us.  I have learned over the years that unless I can get some letter of reference it is not wise to have such people come.  When I get a recommendation from someone I can trust about having a particular ministry come here or supporting a particular ministry someplace else, I can have a lot more confidence that what is being requested is legitimate and worthy of our attention and support.

Deaconess?

Phoebe had demonstrated to Paul that she had a godly character and was worthy of his commendation.  As mentioned earlier, one of the ways in which she had demonstrated her character was being a “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.”  There is a question as to whether this is a general reference to her serving others or a specific reference to her holding the office of a deaconess.

In general, those who reject that there is an office of deaconess object to this being a reference to Phoebe holding that office, and those who believe that there is an office of deaconess understand this to be a reference to that office.

Is there an office of deaconess in the church?  It is an historical fact that deaconesses were a recognized office within the early church, but was this because the Scriptures set such an office up or was that just a structural development created by man in order to avoid any impropriety in caring for the women in the church?  Even in our morally loose society we understand that there are a lot of ministries to women that are best done by another woman.  That would be much more true in that ancient oriental society in which women lived lives in which they were often secluded from men.

1 Timothy 3:11is the only other passage that makes reference to what could be deaconesses.  After addressing the qualifications for overseers or elders and getting half-way through the qualifications for deacons, Paul says, “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”  The passage then continues on with the qualifications for deacons.

There are many conservative Christians that insist that this is referring to the wives of deacons since the King James translates this as “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.”  The Greek word used here can be translated as either “women” or as “wives” depending on the context.  I believe this is a reference to the office of the wives of deacons for the following reasons.

1) There is no Greek feminine form of “deacon” (“diakonon”) which Paul could have used to specifically identify these women as female deacons. Paul could have distinguished other women from the wives by using an article or a possessive pronoun – i.e. “The wives” or “their wives” or even “the wives of deacons.”

2) The verb from verse 2 (“must be”) also governs verses 8 and 11 which are parallels of qualification.  These are also the grammatical construction that Paul uses for transitions to new groups (see also 2:9 and Titus 2:3,6).

3) It would be inconsistent for Paul to require the deacons to have wives that meet certain moral qualifications and not have any parallel for the pastor to have wives that meet such qualifications.

4) Historically, this was a recognized office in the early church.

5) Some object because they have made “deacons” an office of authority and do not want a parallel office of women with such authority. That is understandable, but both of these are offices of service, not power.   The authority belongs to the pastor under whom the deacons and wives serve.  We have structured the leadership of First Bible Church accordingly.

Each of the wives serves much as Phoebe did because they have demonstrated a proven godly character and a heart to serve God’s church and His people in various capacities.

GREETINGS.

Starting in verse 3, Paul begins to greet people that he already knows that had moved to Rome.  He greets 24 people by name and five groups of people by their association.

Prisca And Aquila.

Verses 3 through 5 state, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also [greet] the church that is in their house.”  Aquila was a Jew from Pontus, what is now Northeast Turkey.  He and his wife Prisca, also called Priscilla, had lived in Rome until all the Jews were expelled in 52 A.D. by Emperor Claudias.  They moved to Corinth where they met Paul (Acts 18:1-2) while he was on his second missionary journey.  Paul stayed with them and also worked with them since they all had the same trade of tent-making.  Remember that Paul often worked in this trade in order to pay for his own expenses instead of placing a financial burden on the fledgling churches he was starting.  They then traveled with Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18).  Paul continued on, but Aquila and Priscilla stayed. Soon after they met and became the mentors of Apollos (Acts 18:26). They also hosted a church in their home (1 Corinthians 16:19).

When Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthians (c. 55 A.D.) he includes greetings from them to that church.  A year or so later, we find them back in Rome after Emperor Claudius died and the restriction against Jews was lifted.  That is why Paul includes a greeting to them here in his letter to the Romans.  Ten years or so later we find that they have moved back to Ephesus because Paul includes a greeting to them in 2 Timothy 4:19.

We do not know the details of what Paul mentions here in Romans 16:4, but it clearly gives the reason why Paul would greet them first.  They had not only been co-workers with Paul both in trade and for the cause of Christ, but they had “risked their own necks” for Him.  We still use that same expression to describe risking our lives for someone else.  Paul was very grateful for them, for such an act is a supreme demonstration of
love even as Jesus said in John 15:13 that, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  The churches of the Gentiles were also thankful.  They had faithfully ministered to the followers of Christ wherever they went.  We find at the beginning of verse 5 that they were already hosting another church in their home, just as they had done at Ephesus.  That is a wonderful example for any of us to follow.

Epaenetus.

Paul next greets “Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.”  The term for “first convert” means “first fruit” or “first portion.”  Acts 13:14 records that Paul first landed in Asia at Perga and then went to Pisidian Antioch on the Mediterranean coast of central Turkey.  The first record of people being converted to Christ through Paul’s preaching occurs at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13).  This would be a reason for Epaenetus being beloved to Paul.

Mary.

Next, verse 6 says, “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.”  There is nothing known of Mary except what is said here.  Paul knew of her hard work.  The word here for “hard work” carries the idea of “laboring to the point of growing tired, weary, or exhaustion.”  Her work was done on behalf of the Roman believers.  Another good example for any of us to follow.

Andronicus and Junias.

In verse seven Paul writes, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”  Junias could be a feminine name in which case this would be a husband and wife or a brother and sister team.  Whatever their relationship, Paul marks them out as “kinsman.“  Paul used this term to refer to all his fellow Jews in Romans 9:3, but here Paul is distinguishing individuals, so it is more likely that they, along with three others mentioned in this list, were relatives of some sort to Paul.

Paul remarks that they were his “fellow prisoners.”  In 2 Corinthians 6:5 Paul says that he had been in “imprisonments.”  The early church father, Clement of Rome, remarks that Paul had been imprisoned 7 times.  These two had the same experience of being imprisoned for their witness of Jesus Christ.  Possibly they could have been imprisoned with Paul, but we have no proof of this either way.

Paul also remarks that they are “outstanding among the apostles.”  This does not mean that they were apostles, but rather that they were well known and recognized by the apostles as distinguished servants of Christ.  Remember that Jews had only recently been allowed back into Rome, so they may well have labored among the apostles in Jerusalem at a prior time.  This idea is strengthened by the fact that they “were in Christ” before Paul and therefore would have been saved prior to Paul’s conversion which occurred during the persecution that was dispersing the church from Jerusalem throughout Judea and Samaria (see Acts 8).

Ampliatus.

In Verse 8 Paul adds, “Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.”  There is no other Biblical reference to this man, but Paul’s possessive greeting indicates a great emotional attachment to him.  Paul refers to him as “my beloved in the Lord” and not just “beloved in the Lord.”

Ampliatus was a common name among Roman slaves, and possibly this man was still a slave.  Slaves were not allowed to bear the name of a free man, so those slaves that were freed would commonly distinguish themselves from their former position by taking a new name of a free man.

There is a highly ornamented chamber in the Christian catacombs of Domitila that bears the name Ampliatus.  It is a chamber that is dated to the end of the first century or beginning of the second.  It is pure speculation that there is any connection between this man and that chamber, but perhaps there could be.  This man was respected by Paul and therefore may have made a substantial impact on both his own family and on other people so that they would have honored him with elaborate decorations on his tomb.

Urbanus & Stachys.

In verse 9 Paul greets, “Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.” Urbanus was a common Roman name.  We know nothing more of him other than that he was a fellow worker in Christ.  Stachys is a Greek name meaning “wheat ear.”  We know nothing more of him except that he was beloved to Paul.  

It is worth noting here that many of these

People are not leaders in the church.

 Most are just common people

That were important to Paul.  

You don’t have to have great skills

Or be especially distinguished in some way

In order to make an impact

In the lives of others.  

All it really takes is simply to care

About other people and be faithful

In using whatever spiritual gifts

You have in serving Christ.

Apelles.

Next is Paul’s greeting in verse 10 to, “Apelles, the approved in Christ.”  This is another man we know nothing about except what is said here.  He is a man who is “approved in Christ.”  The word here is used to describe the testing of precious metals for purity.  This man had been tried and passed the test.

Those of Aristobulus.

In verse 10, Paul also greets, “Those who are of the household of Aristobulus.”  This greeting is not to Aristobulus himself, which indicates that he was not a believer, but to those that belonged to Aristobulus.  This would include his family members and possibly any servants too.  There is some speculation that this may have been the family of the brother of King Herod Agrippa I, in which case they would have been part of the imperial household, and therefore part of “Caesar’s household” mentioned in Philippians 4:22.

Herodian.

Next, in verse 11, Paul greets, “Herodion, my kinsman.”  Herodian is another relative of Paul.  His name suggests that there may have been some tie to Herod’s family as well, but that is speculation.

Paul next greets, “Those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.”  These would be the family members and possibly servants too that belonged to Narcissus, who was not a believer.  Some speculated that this may have been Emperor Claudius’ secretary.  Paul’s greeting indicates that only a portion of this family was saved.

Tryphaena, Tryphosa And Persis.

In verse 12 Paul greets three women, “Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord.  Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.”  The first two may have been sisters, possibly twins.  Their names mean “delicate” and “dainty” respectively.  They are marked out by Paul for their present work for the Lord.  Persis, whose name is derived from Persia, possibly her native land, is marked out by Paul as both “the beloved,” and someone who has worked hard in the Lord.  By using the past tense, Paul would be indicating that she was probably an older woman who had lived out her most productive years.  Years that had endeared her to all so that she is not “a beloved,” but “the beloved.”

Rufus.

In verse 13 Paul greets. “Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.” There is speculation that Rufus may have been the one of the sons of Simone of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross.  This is because Mark 15;21 specifically mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus.  The Gospel of Mark was written to impact Romans with the Gospel.  Whether this is the same Rufus or not, Paul marks him out as a “choice man in the Lord.”  The sense here is that he was a man of extraordinary character in his following and serving Christ.

Paul also mentions Rufus’ mother with great endearment in calling her his own mother. This is not a suggestion that he and Rufus are brothers, but indication of the great ministry this woman must have had to Paul some place at sometime.   

Asyncritus And Others.

In verse 14 Paul greets five more men plus those with them, “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren with them.”  Paul does not make any distinguishing comments about them as individuals other than personally naming them.  The fact that Paul then refers to other believers that were with them would indicate that these would have been leaders in one of the Christian assemblies that were in Rome.

Philologus And Others.

In a similar manner, Paul greets one couple, and a brother and sister and one other man along with the other Christians with them, “Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”  These would probably be leaders of another local assembly of saints in Rome.

I appreciated Robert Haldane’s comments as he wrapped up his discussion on these various people that Paul greeted: “The Lord’s people are not equally distinguished, but they are all brethren equally related to Him who is the Elder Brother of His people. Some of them are eminent, and others are without peculiar distinction.  They are all, however, worthy of love.  A church is not to consist of the most eminent believers, but of believers, through some be of the lowest attainments.  A church of Christ is a school in which their education is to be perfected.”

Paul’s inclusion in this epistle of Scripture of his personal greetings to individual Christians is reflective of the value that each of us has individually before God, except that God’s valuation of us is infinitely more than Paul’s.  God demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

INSTRUCTIONS.

Paul concludes his personal greetings in verse 16 with instruction to those in Rome to follow in practice what he was striving to do in writing, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.  All the churches of Christ greet you.”  A greeting is simply an expression made or a gesture given when you meet someone.  Paul always uses the term in the sense of giving a courtesy to someone as an expression of respect or affection.  That was the purpose of his greeting so many individuals in Rome in this letter.  It was also why he extended a greeting from “all the churches of Christ” to the church in Rome.  Now he wanted those in Rome to also physically demonstrate such respect and affection among themselves whenever they met.

It was a common custom at that time for people who were relatives or friends to greet each other with a kiss, usually on the cheek or forehead.  That is still common in many cultures today, including some subcultures here in America.  Paul’s instruction here was for them to use this common greeting as a way of expressing what should be their mutual love and respect for each other because of their common bond as the body of
Christ.  They were all adopted into the family of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, therefore they should greet each other as family.  Paul adds the adjective “holy” to distinguish the nature of this kiss of greeting from both sensual kisses and feigned kisses.  Christians are to be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), and this would be a means of showing that love when they met.  People usually know when it is faked, and God always knows.

This did become the practice of the church for several centuries.  It then declined for several reasons and then was mutated into the “liturgical kiss” practiced by some denominations.  In many places societal practices frown on such intimate displays of affection.  We must admit that here in the U.S. most people are more comfortable with a “holy handshake” than a kiss.  Yet, when this is practiced with sensible discretion, a holy kiss and hug that reflect a genuine affection and respect among believers is a wonderful demonstration of the relationship we have with one another in Christ.

I agree with Robert Haldane’s conclusion that, “Every attention that expresses and promotes love ought to be exhibited among Christians, who should employ the forms and courtesies of social life that manifest respect, in order to show their esteem and affection for one another.” 

Your name is a wonderful thing to hear.  I hope this passage will encourage each of us that God is involved in the lives of each of us as individuals.  I also pray that each of us will follow Paul’s example in showing personal respect and affection towards one another because of our mutual love for Jesus Christ.

Ministry at First Baptist Church is not about programs, but people, because that reflects God’s individual involvement with each of us, and if follows the examples of His  servants, such as Paul, that have gone before us.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Paul’s Prayer Requests

Grace For The Journey

This morning we will be concluding our study of Romans chapter 15.  Yesterday we saw Paul’s passion and plans in verses 14-29.  Today we will examine his prayer requests. These requests are not something tacked on to the end of his discussion as a sign of piety.  That may be the way that some people treat prayer, but not Paul.  His prayer requests are an integral part of his passion to reach new places with the Gospel of Christ and of his hope of seeing his plans for fulfilling that passion completed.  Romans 15:30-33 declare, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find [refreshing] rest in your company.  Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

Paul’s urging here is the same as in 12:1.  It is more than just a request to do something.  It is a beseeching or an entreaty calling the brethren in Rome to the action of striving together in prayer with him about his ministry in Jerusalem and eventually coming to Rome.

The basis Paul gives for his entreaty for prayer

Is the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit.  

While a personal relationship with those you are

Praying for is helpful so that you know better what

To pray for, the real basis for our praying for one

Another is our common relationship to the

Lord Jesus Christ and our mutual love for one

Another that arises out of the work

Of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Christians desire to see Jesus glorified and

Know that this is accomplished

As He works through His people.  

We are to pray for one another with that end in view.  We want to see the proper honor and praise given to our God for what He is doing in the lives of others.  In addition,
because Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, we share a mutual familial love for one another.  This is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Paul wants them to “strive together with” him in prayer.  The word “strive” comes from a root word meaning “to struggle or fight.”  We get our English word “agonize” from it.  The idea of striving in prayer with someone is a very active work.  Prayer can too often be done in a half-hearted almost passive manner, but it should be an active spiritual struggle. In Colossians 2:1 Paul refers to his prayers as a “great struggle” on behalf of those at Colosse and at Laodicia.  In Colossians 4:12 Paul commends Epaphras to them because he was “always laboring earnestly for them in his prayers.”

Prayer as a Weapon.

The Importance Of Prayer.

Prayer is part of our spiritual battle.  In Ephesians 6:18-20 Paul brings this idea out even more, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”   Looking at the context you will see that verse 18 is not the start of a new paragraph, but rather the conclusion of what precedes it.  Remember that the punctuation in your English translation as well as the verse divisions have been added in by men.  Koine Greek did not have such punctuation or verse divisions.  The meaning here will be a little more clear to you if will change the period at the end of verse 17 into a semi-colon and then go on with verse 18.  Next pencil in above the word “with” the phrase, “by means of,” for that is the sense in which it is used.  Putting this all together you have Paul’s final comment in this section dealing with spiritual warfare as follows, “And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; with (‘by means of’) all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit….”  The rest of the section transitions to the specifics of also praying for all the other saints.

Prayer is in a sub-ordinate phrase to verse 17, but that does not mean it is sub-ordinate in its importance in spiritual warfare.  Verse 18 actually takes us back and connects with verse 14 and the various aspects of spiritual armor Paul details in the verses following. It is “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth . . . etc. by means of all prayer and petition.  It is through prayer that we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  It is with prayer that by faith we put on the whole armor of God –
the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

Paul states in verse 18 “all prayer and petition.”  “Prayer” is a general term while “petition” refers to specific entreaties brought before God.  We pray with both general and specific requests.  We ask God in reference to both general and specific needs.  In general we would ask God to help us serve and live for Him today.  Specifics prayers would include asking Him for His help as we witness to another person or in dealing with some moral or spiritual weakness in ourselves.

Praying In The Spirit.

Paul also says here that we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit.”  All prayer is to be made in accordance with the Holy Spirit.  How else can we pray and know what it is within the will of God unless we pray in the Holy Spirit?  But what does that mean?  We live in a day when there is a lot of confusion about this caused by the Charismatic Movement.  I would prefer not to digress, but I need to make sure you understand what the Bible itself says about praying in the Spirit.

Contrary to what those in the Charismatic Movement advocate, praying in the spirit is not speaking in tongues nor is it some private prayer language.  Let me quickly dispel these myths.  First, Speaking in tongues is not “ecstatic utterances of glossolalia” – or in laymen’s terms – “gibberish.”  Acts 2:8-11 could not be more clear on this.  The other tongues that were spoken when these people were filled with the Holy Spirit were other languages known to those who heard the languages that are listed in the text.  They spoke in a tongue unknown them, but which was known to the hearer.

Second, speaking in tongues was not for the benefit of believers but for Jewish unbelievers.  In 1 Corinthians 14:21-22 Paul states, “In the Law it is written, ‘By men of strange tongues and by the lips of strangers I will speak to this people, and even so they will not listen to Me,’ says the Lord.  So then tongues are for a sign not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.”  Paul is quoting from Isaiah 28:11 in which the Lord pronounces a curse against Israel and gives them a sign of His condemnation of them.  When they would hear people from other nations speaking in other languages coming to them with God’s message they would know they had been judged.  The speaking in tongues was a sign of God’s condemnation of the nation of Israel.

Third, the context of the immediate passage as well as that of the whole book of 1 Corinthians is a correction of their selfishness.  Every spiritual gift is for the purpose of the edification of the whole body and not for yourself (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16).  Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:4 that “One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church,” is one of condemnation, not commendation.  They are wrong in their practice.  His statement in verse 2 that only God would know what they were saying is again, not one of commendation, but one of sarcastic condemnation that they have not given any consideration to the other believers around them.  Verses 3 and 16 make the same point.  What they are doing is not good, for without having their mind present, then they could easily fall into blasphemy instead of prayer.  That was what was happening in Corinth (12:2,3) even while they were claiming to be doing it by the Holy Spirit.

Others have tried to use Romans 8:26 as the basis for claiming that praying in the spirit is to pray in an unknown tongue.  Such argument shows a lack of basic Bible study skills.  We examined this verse some weeks ago. The verse says, “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”  This is the Holy Spirit interceding on our behalf, not us praying.  And if the groanings are too deep for words, how can that then be claimed to be the prayer language of the man?  Something that is too deep for words is something that is left unspoken.

What is praying in the Spirit?

It is praying under the control of the Holy Spirit for God’s will to be done.  A person who prays in the Spirit is seeking out God’s will and glory above all else.  What they may suffer is secondary to God being glorified by their life.

  • It is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethesemane – “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:42).
  • It is Paul praying and striving to go to Bythinia and being sensitive to the leading of the Spirit to see that the Lord wanted Him to go to Macedonia instead (Acts 16:7-10).  
  • It is Paul praying three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed, but being satisfied with the answer from God that the Lord’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

As I have already pointed out from 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 to pray in the spirit is not to leave out the mind.  Certainly there are times, as noted in Romans 8:26, when we just do not know what to pray and there is a deep groaning within us, but that does not mean that our mind has been cast aside.

I think of Paul’s dilemma in Philippians 1 where he recounts his longing to depart and be with Christ but at the same time desiring to remain and be with them that he might still be used of God in their lives.  Don’t you ever feel that way.  I am tired, I am weary, and this old sinful world gets to me.  I long so much to cast aside all the cares of this life and be in heaven with my savior.  But at the same time, I have a great yearning to remain with precious my wife and work with her in encouraging and equipping our daughter and grandchildren in godliness.   I long to continue laboring for the Lord as long as the Lord will find me useful.  There is a conflict with in and I don’t know what to pray.  So I leave it with the Lord.  He knows my heart and He knows what is best for His kingdom.  How do you pray in such a situation?  Sometimes it is very difficult, but there is comfort to know that the Spirit intercedes Himself on our behalf right then.

Praying for Others.

As I pray and petition the Lord for my own life to serve Him faithfully and walk in holiness with all my armor on, I also pray for fellow saints, their service and their walk.  I am not the only one involved in a spiritual battle.  So are all my brothers and sisters in Christ, so as Paul says in the conclusion of verse 18, “with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”  The essence of this type of
intercessory prayer is that I take part in the spiritual battles that other people are involved in through my prayers and petitions to the Lord on their behalf.  We need to be praying for each other on a regular basis for both the common and the special things of life.  How?  Let me give a few quick suggestions based on each piece of spiritual armor listed in Ephesians 6:14-17:

“Girded with the belt of truth:”  Pray for one another to be controlled and directed by truth, that Satan’s lies would be exposed and his slander against God would be revealed.

“Having put on the breastplate of righteousness:” Pray for one another that we would not be carried away by our emotions but would instead by seeking after holiness in all things regardless of how we might feel.  That we would deal with other people with grace and mercy instead of anger and revenge.  That marriage relationships would be kept pure and that parents would be modeling godliness to their children.  That honesty would control us in all our business dealings and that each of us would set and keep the priorities God has set for us rather than what our flesh and pride might seek after.

“Feet shod with the gospel of peace:” Pray that God’s peace would control us regardless of circumstances.  That we would seek out and rejoice in our relationship with God and not neglect it in anyway.  That each person would grow in the knowledge of God and His love for us.

“Taking up the shield of faith:” Pray for one another that each would become stronger in faith having it tested and proven to be true.  That we would counter each fiery dart of the devil with a trust in God that exposes Satan’s lies and grips the hand of the Lord even tighter.

“Taking up the helmet of salvation:” Pray for one another that each would live according to the new nature given to us at salvation and would live with salvation’s hope moving us forward.  That we would view life from eternity’s view and no longer live for the pleasures of the moment.  That our minds would be renewed and every thought would be taken captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

“The sword of the Spirit:” Pray that each one would handle it with accuracy and not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, but become mature and firm in understanding and convictions based solidly on the Scriptures.  That in our usage of the Scriptures we would be adept at using them to defend ourselves from Satan’s attack as well as using them to help others to come to Christ.

These are brief examples, but I trust you get the idea of how we can pray for one other and at the same time remind ourselves to keep our own armor on.  These are all general examples, but Paul makes specific request both here in Ephesians and in Romans 15.

Paul’s Specific Requests.

Verses 19-20 says, “And pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.  Think about that for a moment.  The apostle Paul is asking people to pray that he would be bold.  Paul who began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues of Damascus only a few days after he was saved (Acts 9:20), who then a few weeks or months later is boldly doing the same thing in Jerusalem (Acts 9:28), who some three years later goes on a missionary journey through Asia Minor to places where the gospel had not been preached before, then not long after getting back from that adventure he does it again, but this time going to Macedonia and Greece as well, who stood up in the midst of the Areopagus in Athens to proclaim Jesus to the philosophers (Acts 17:22), who proclaims Christ without hesitation to the mobs that try to kill him (Acts 21).  This Paul asks people to pray that he would be bold?  Yes, he does, and so how much more should pray for one another.

Back in Romans 15:31, Paul asks them to pray concerning two specific areas.  First, that he “be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea,” and second, that his “service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.”  Paul is writing this letter to the Romans as he was nearing the completion of his third missionary journey.  On that journey Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, then went to Macedonia, and then spent 3 months in Greece before returning to Macedonia.  This would be when he collected the contribution from them for the poor in Jerusalem.  Paul sailed from Philippi to Troas and then down the coast to Miletus.  We know from Acts 20:22-23 that by this time the Holy Spirit had revealed to Paul that bonds and affliction awaited him in Jerusalem.  Paul did not know what would happen to him there, but it is apparent from his prayer request here in Romans 15 that Paul was already aware of this at the time he wrote this letter.

It is a normal prayer request to be delivered from trouble you may be facing.  However, Paul does not request that.  He asks instead to, “Be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea.”  Again, Paul already knew by the Holy Spirit that bonds and affliction awaited him in Jerusalem.  The prophet Agabus told Paul in Acts 21:11 that he would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles.  Many of his companions begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem because of this. Paul’s own attitude is recorded in Acts 21:13, “For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Paul was resolute toward what would happen to him when he got to Jerusalem.  He would not shirk his obligations in order to protect himself. He would leave himself and his safety in the Lord’s hands.  This was neither foolhardy, fatalistic, or irresponsible in any way.  On the contrary, Paul was being responsible in trusting God to work His will in whatever lay ahead.  While we are not to seek out danger as a means of proving our trust of God, for we are not to put God to the test (Matthew 4:7; Deuteronomy 6:16), neither are we to cower in fear from the dangers we will face in serving the Lord. Whenever it is clear that some action is according to the Lord’s will, then we should do it regardless of the negative consequences we might suffer because of it.

Too often Christians will shy away from their responsibilities in declaring the truth of God in word and deed because they are afraid of the negative reactions they will get. Too many Christians want to avoid suffering so much that they will compromise their professed faith.  That ought not to be.  The strength and reality of our faith is only proved by what we are willing to suffer for it.

Paul is not trying to avoid the afflictions he knows will come, but rather to be delivered from those Jews that were disobedient to God and seeking to hinder the Gospel.  Paul knew these people well because he once had been one of them.  They had zeal without knowledge, and so in their blindness they thought themselves to be serving God when in fact they were opposing Him.

Why did Paul want to be delivered from these people?  Because, as verse 32 tells us, Paul’s desire was still to go to Rome and fulfill the plans and desires that were still on his heart.  He already stated back in chapter 1 his desire to impart some spiritual gift to them, help establish them, be a source of mutual encouragement and obtain some fruit from among them (1:11-14).  Yesterday we also saw from 15:24 that he wanted to see them, enjoy their company for awhile and be helped by them on his way to Spain.

Paul’s second prayer request was that his, “Service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints.”  Essentially, Paul wanted them to pray that he would be able to complete his current ministry task regardless of any opposition.  He wanted to be a blessing to the saints there.  He did not want any opposition to cause the gift from the Gentiles to be offensive to the saints in Jerusalem.  He wanted them to receive it with the same attitude of love with which it was given.  This desire was not mixed with any thought of personal glory.  Paul had long before humbled himself before God to be a simple bond-servant.  All glory belongs to the Lord.  It would be against Paul’s character to seek to take away from that for himself.

If the Lord was gracious in answering these requests, then Paul knew that he would be able to go to Rome “in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company.” There would be joy in Paul’s heart over being able to both complete his present ministry task of delivering the offering from the gentiles and having it accepted by the Jewish saints in Jerusalem and in being able to fulfill his desire to go to the saints in Rome. None of this could happen except that it would occur by the will of God.  That is why their prayers on his behalf were so important to Paul.  He did not want to be outside of the will of God in the least little bit.

Paul then ends this section before going on in chapter 16 to bring personal greetings and some final instructions, “Now may the God of peace be with you all.  Amen”

God is the only source of true peace, for only in submission to His will in our lives can there be harmony with our creator.  Only in Christ can we find the meaning and purpose of our existence.  Until a person is reconciled to God through faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, they remain under God’s condemnation and wrath.  Paul could express this desire for their benefit only because he already knew it himself in the midst of all the troubles and afflictions that he faced in serving Christ.  He knew that they could experience that same peace because of their personal relationship with Jesus Christ as their Savior.

How is your prayer life?  Are you active and diligent in praying for others?  How do you want people to pray for you?  How are you praying for them?  Are you praying in the Spirit of God to see His will accomplished in yourself and others?  Are you praying for good things to happen as well as for evil things to be avoided?  Pray for one another just as Paul requested prayer for himself.  Pray for one another to be bold in living for Christ. Pray for deliverance from those that would seek to stop us from completing our ministry responsibilities or carrying out our ministry plans.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Paul’s Passion and Plans

Grace For The Journey

Passion.  A word that can bring many different ideas to mind.  In our society the word “passion” often has either a negative or a sensual connotation, and so one writer quipped that “the end of passion is the beginning of repentance.”  But Webster’s dictionary tells us that “passion” can refer to an intense emotion or enthusiasm without regard to the type of emotion or the specific cause of the enthusiasm generating it.

The intensity of the emotions that generate passion can often be very controlling.  A Latin proverb warns about this saying, “govern your passions, or they will govern you.” However, whether someone should be concerned about whether their passion governs them depends on the reason for their passion.  What is the reason they are either so emotional or enthusiastic?  Jesus was always completely in control of Himself, yet the intensity of emotion He experienced as He suffered and died on behalf of our sins has resulted in them being referred to as the “Passion.”  A “Passion play” recounts Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

As we continue in our study of Romans 15 this morning, we will see the passion that drove Paul in his commitment to serve our Lord.  We will also see how that passion affected his plans for the future.  It is my hope that as we study this example we will be challenged to consider our own passions.  What makes you passionate?  What in your life are you so enthusiastic about that it becomes a controlling factor in how you plan your life?  What impacts you so much emotionally that it becomes central in all your thoughts?  Paul’s passion for serving Jesus Christ controlled him.  Our passion for Jesus Christ should control us too.

We will first look at Romans 15:14-21 to see Paul’s passion, and then vs 22-29 to see how it affected his planning for the future.

Character Of The Romans – Verse 14.

Paul begins in verse 14 by revealing some of the things he was already aware of about their character.  Paul was not speculating about them or relying on second-hand information.  As we will see when we study Romans 16:1-15, Paul already knew many people that were now living in Rome.  Some of these he had very close relationships with due to laboring in ministry alongside them, and in the case of Andronicus and Junias, he had spent time in prison with them for the sake of Christ.  Paul specifically states they were, “Full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able also to admonish one another.”

Filled with goodness is a general commendation of their character and manner of life. Goodness is that which is reflective of the character of God.  Goodness is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and this fruit can only exist in believers that are walking in submission to the Holy Spirit.  Those who walk in the flesh will bear the fruit of the deeds of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).  You cannot walk in the Spirit of God and in the flesh at the same time because they are the opposite of each other (Galatians 5:16-17).  The Christians at Rome were characterized by being led by the Spirit resulting in their goodness.  This trait is demonstrated in the fact that while Paul commonly makes corrections of other churches and / or individuals in other churches in his other Epistles, Paul does not make any corrections or even reference any problems in the church at Rome or among the people there.  They were to be commended for their goodness.

Paul also commended them for being “filled with knowledge” in reference to their understanding of the things of God.  In Paul’s introduction to this letter to them in Chapter 1, he stated that he desired to come to them in order to impart some spiritual gift in order to help establish them (verse 11) and to obtain some fruit from among them (verse 13) in preaching the Gospel (verse 15).  However, Paul did not see this as a one-way street.  He also expected to encourage them in their faith and to be encouraged by them in his own faith (verse 12). 

Paul recognized that they already were “filled with knowledge.”  Much like Peter said in 2 Peter 1:12-14, Paul also was ready to stir them up by way of reminder of things they already knew.  They already had a good doctrinal foundation upon which they could build still further.

That doctrinal foundation and moral character also enabled them to help others grow in Christ.  They were “able to admonish one another.”  To admonish includes the ideas of instructing, teaching, warning, admonishing, and exhorting.  It is a word describing the confrontation, both positive and negative, that is to be a normal part of the lives of believers as they interact with one another.  It is a comprehensive term for counseling. We, like the Romans, are to be involved in one another’s lives as part of God’s process in helping each of us to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Paul’s comments in Ephesians 4:12-16 describe this interaction.

Every believer is gifted by God so that the whole body of Christ is built up.  We are used in the lives of each other to become mature in Christ resulting in doctrinal and spiritual stability that can withstand the temptations and deceitful schemes of our adversaries. Speaking the truth in love to one another we grow in all aspects into Christ.  We need each other, for God uses us in each other’s lives. We spent a lot of time going over these principles in our study of Romans 12:3-21.

We live in a time in which many Christians have fallen into a trap the secular world fell into many years ago of believing that only some specially trained individual with some sort of certification or degree is competent to counsel.  That is not true.  It is God Himself that equips His people through His Word to counsel one another in how to live. Remember that 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God’s, “Divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him who has called us by His own glory and excellence.”  While training can help us be more effective in counseling, we must be careful that such training is helping us develop greater “wisdom from above” (James 3:15,17) and not the “wisdom of the world” (1 Corinthians 3:19) which generally gives people excuses for their sins instead of helping them overcome sin by godliness.  Psalm 1 is clear that the blessed man is the one that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly.  You will receive better counsel from a godly Christian farmer from the backwoods than from a PhD psychologist that does not direct you to the Word of God.  Who do you seek out for counsel?

Paul’s Purpose In Writing – Verse 15a.

In verse 15 Paul explains why he has written to them as he has, “But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again.”  Again, Paul does not give any corrections to the Roman believers, but he does make several bold statements and warnings and reminders to them of things they already knew.  It is often on the very things that we know that we do need to be boldly warned.  Not because we are failing in doing these things, but so that we would remain steadfast in doctrine and in living in holiness.

Paul wrote boldly on the unrighteousness of all people in chapters 1-3.  The immoral unrighteous, the moral unrighteous, and the religious unrighteous.  None are righteous, not even one (3:10).  He was also bold in his declaration of justification by a gift of God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus to all who believe (3:21-30).  Paul boldly warned them to consider themselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God
in Christ Jesus (6:11) and that having a mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God and that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him (8:7,9).   Though God had judged Israel and grafted the Gentiles into the “olive tree,” He could also just as easily break them off too (11:17-21).  He boldly urged them to present their bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God along with all the ramifications of
being such a living sacrifice in chapters 12-14.  Christians are to live with each other in humility while rejoicing over God’s mercy to them in Jesus Christ.

It is the responsibility of every Christian to follow this example as we help one another walk with Christ and mature in Him.

God’s Grace To Paul – Verses 15b-16.

Paul explains the reason for his boldness in verses 15b to 16, “Because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, that my offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”  Paul had stated this same truth in his introduction in 1:5. Paul had received from God an apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.  Paul did not earn this.  It was given to him by God’s grace.  Paul knew from what he had been saved and God’s mercy in doing so.  Paul was humbled by God’s love toward him and considered himself “not fit to be called an apostle,” yet, he also knew that he was what he was by God’s grace which did not prove vain (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).  This was how God enabled Paul to serve Him, including being bold in his writing.  

The particular word here that Paul uses to describe himself as a “minister” was a general term used of public officials.  Paul used it earlier in 13:6 to describe rulers as “servants of God.”  But the word is often used in the New Testament to describe those who serve God in public worship.  Some examples of this include Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist who was involved in priestly service (Luke 1:23); angels who are described as “ministering” spirits (Hebrews 1:7,14); and of Jesus in His role as the eternal High Priest (Hebrews 8:1-2, 6)

Paul was “a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles” who was “ministering as a priest the gospel of God.”  A priest was someone that stood as mediator between God and man.  He declared God to the people and helped men deal with their sin and come to God.  Jesus is the perfect priest, but He has given to every believer a priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).  Every Christian is to declare God to people and bring people to God. Neither we nor Paul receive this priestly office by inheritance from our parents, but rather by the inheritance of faith in Christ as we are adopted into His family.

Paul declared the Gospel to the Gentiles and their response in faith was an offering of worship back to God.  That was Paul’s goal.  He desired to see the Gentiles become acceptable to God.  His declaration of the good news of salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ was used by the Holy Spirit to save Gentiles who were then the “offering” of worship to God, for they were now acceptable to Him being sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit.  The greatest worship Paul could give to God was the offering of these Gentile believers.  But in all this, Paul was focused on Christ working
through Him.  

Paul’s Passion – Verses 17-21.

Boast In Things Pertaining To God – Verse 17.

Paul says in verse 17, “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.”  From a human standpoint, there was much Paul could have boasted about himself, but Paul clearly understood that anything that he accomplished was simply Christ working through him.  In Galatians 2:20 Paul declared his own view of himself as having been crucified with Christ and no longer living, but rather that it was now Christ living in Him.  Paul did not take pride in himself.  He took pride in His Savior and sought to exalt and glorify Him.  Paul expands on this in verses 18,19.

Speak Of What Christ Has Accomplished – Verses 18-19.

These verse state, “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”  The Book of Acts records some of the things that God did through Paul.  They include . . .

  • His bold preaching which brought the Gospel to throughout Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Macedonia, and Greece;
  • All the signs of an apostle in the signs and wonders that were also done through his ministry.
  • He healed those who were lame (Acts 14:8-10).
  • He was stoned and left for dead, but he got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:19-20).
  • He cast out demons (Acts 16:18) and even raised the dead (Acts 210:9-12).

Yet, Paul did not count any of these things as of consequence.  As he said in 1 Corinthians 12:9, he would rather boast in his own weaknesses that the power of Christ might dwell within him than to speak of what he had done.

Paul’s passion was Christ’s glory,

And so his boasting would be in

What Christ had accomplished through him.

Consistently Paul would report what

God had “done through him” with

The emphasis on God working

And not on himself.  

That was true in his first missions report given at the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15:12) and would continue throughout the rest of his life (Acts 21:19).  Even in those times he had to defend his apostleship and recount what had occurred in his life, he considered it foolishness (2 Corinthians 11, 12).

It is not what we accomplish that is of any importance, but rather what God accomplishes through us that is important.  

That change in focus makes all the

Difference in the world from doing things

In the strength of your flesh and doing them

In the strength of the Spirit of God working through you.

Because Paul’s ministry was done in the Spirit, God enabled him to have a far reaching ministry that stretched from Jerusalem to Illyricum, which is the area of Albania and Serbia. Paul “fully preached the Gospel” in the sense that he declared it throughout the full geographic area God had sent him.  But Paul still had other places he desired to go to preach the Gospel.

Aspire To Preach In New Places – Verses 20-21.

These verses  say, “And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation; but as it is written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’”  Paul’s desire was to reach new territory.  The manner in which God had gifted Paul gave him a pioneer spirit.  That would be the mindset of the office of an “evangelist” spoken of in Ephesians 4.  There must be those that will begin the work or proclaiming the Gospel and getting things started.  But there must also be the work of all the others in the body of Christ including those that do build on the foundations laid by others.

As we have already seen by our study of Romans 12 that it is important that everyone in the body of Christ use their gift in whatever ministry God gives them.  God puts all the individual parts together to cause the growth.  Paul pointed this out in 1 Corinthians 6:3,4 saying, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” 

Paul’s passion was to take the Gospel to those who had never heard.  What is your passion? What has God placed upon your heart?  What are your dreams and desires? Are you fulfilling your part in what God wants to do through you?  Too often such desires and dreams are left unfulfilled simply because we either get too caught up in the tyranny of the urgent, or we become complacent.  We trade what is best for what is only good.  If you are going to fulfill a dream, then there must be a plan, and you must work to reach each goal along the way that marks the steps of the plan.  Paul did this and he shared his plans for the future in verses 22-29.

Paul’s Plans – Verses 22-29.

To Go To Rome – Verses 22-23.

Paul had desired to go to Rome for many years, but he had been hindered in doing that because he was so busy fulfilling his purpose of reaching new places ranging from Jerusalem to Illyricum.  Rome was a place where the gospel already was proclaimed through the Christians that had moved there.  His desire to minister to them had to be kept in the proper priority of what God had placed on Paul’s heart.  Paul had now seen that he had fulfilled his purpose in these regions, and so he was now free to go to Rome with the exception of fulfilling his obligation explained in verses 25-28.  But Paul’s plan to go to Rome was only a stepping-stone for being able to go to a place in keeping with his priority of going to places where the Gospel had not yet been proclaimed.

To Go to SpainVerse 24.

Paul wanted to go to Spain. T his country was referred to as Tarshish in the Old Testament.  That was the country Jonah was seeking to flee to when God brought a change in his destination via a big fish. It had become an important center of commerce and culture in the Roman empire, yet it was so far removed from the events of Christ’s life in Judea, that they had not yet received a gospel witness.  Paul desired for the Roman Christians to help him along in fulfilling his goal of preaching in Spain, but only after he was able to first enjoy their company for a while.

Travel is so quick and easy in our nation that it may be hard for us to grasp how important this help was both to Paul and the church.  But imagine going back to a time before there were planes, cars or trains.  Traveling took a long time and was not only physically demanding, but also dangerous.  Communication was only as fast as someone could travel.  Paul would have received needed rest as well as supplies needed to continue the journey, and they would have received from Paul not only the opportunity to sit under his teaching, but also to learn what God was doing in distant lands.  The result was that both Paul and the church would rejoice and praise God.

But before Paul could go to Rome and then on to Spain, he had to travel the opposite direction to complete his current ministry obligation to serve the saints in Jerusalem (verse 25).

To Finish Current Ministry – verses 25-28.

In verses 25-27 Paul tells them, “For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.  Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.  Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.”  We examined the principles of giving a couple of months ago when we looked at the gift of giving in Romans 12:8, so we will not be doing that again here, but this contribution by those from Macedonia and Achaia for the poor in
Jerusalem are the example of this practical means by which Christians show their love to each other.  Paul talks about them more in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9.

There had been animosity between the Jews and Gentiles, but these Gentiles recognized the debt they owed to the Jewish Christians.  They were pleased to respond to the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem.  It was through Jewish believers that the gospel had come to them and they received a spiritual blessing.  They were now seeking to share in fellowship with them from their material blessings.  This was a response of love, not compulsion.  2 Corinthians 8:1-4 tell us that the Macedonians begged Paul to participate in this relief effort though they themselves were in poverty.

Paul was now on his way to Jerusalem with this collection.  It is important to note that though Paul desired to go to Rome and then on to Spain, he would complete his present obligation first, only after Paul had “finished this task” and “put a seal on this fruit of theirs” would he be able to move on to his next goal.

There are two important character traits shown here by Paul’s example.  First, you keep your priorities in order and fulfill present obligations before moving on to something else. A workman that leaves a job undone is worthless and the same is true in ministry.  I could tell you lots of stories of people that start out with great vigor and promises only to see them either lack the endurance needed to finish or become side tracked onto
something else and leave the task undone.  They prove themselves to be untrustworthy and therefore ineligible for greater responsibility including leadership roles.  Paul was trustworthy.  He would finish what he started even as he had in mind what he would do next.  Prove yourself trustworthy by keeping your word and finish what you start.

The second great character trait Paul demonstrates here is this planning for the future. Paul was always looking farther into the future and planning even as he was completing current ministry.  He did not do this in a manner that distracted him from the ministry at hand, but kept him anticipating what God would do with him next.  Paul lived in the reality of Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Many of Paul’s plans did not work out the way he had anticipated, but he left that in God’s hands.  We can too.

We are to anticipate the future and make plans for what we would like to see accomplished with our lives, but we must leave the actual working out of those plans in God’s hands.  There is a comfort and peace that we experience when we daily live in trust of the providence of God to direct us.  Depending on the sovereignty of God is not an excuse for failing to plan. Christians are not to be fatalistic.  But it is a wonderful comfort to know that He is directing even when things are confusing to us.

To Be A Blessing – Verse 29.

Finally, Paul planned for all of this to be a blessing, “And I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”  Contrary to current popular theology, the fullness of the blessing of Christ is not materialistic comfort or life without conflict.  Paul gives details in 2 Corinthians 11 of many of the things he suffered in serving Christ.  Jesus told us to expect to suffer at the hands of the ungodly when we are actively living for Him (Matthew 5:10-12; John 16:33).  The blessing here is spiritual in nature and is the fulness of serving God to the maximum of your potential.  It is serving God to the best of your ability and knowing that He is using you for His eternal glory.  The fruit of this is the ability to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11f). Along with this is a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) which the world cannot have or give (John 14:27).  This was the manner in which Paul lived, and it was the manner in which he wanted to encourage the Romans to live.    

How are you doing in these areas?  Are you following Paul’s example even as he followed Christ?  Paul had received God’s grace and as a result was living his life in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has gifted each of us differently and given us different ministries, but every Christian is to live in the service of Christ.  How well are you doing at that?

Paul was passionate about serving Christ and had very clear desires for fulfilling that passion.  What are you passionate about?  What are your desires for fulfilling that passion?

Paul also planned for the future even while fulfilling current ministry obligations.  How well are you doing at being faithful to fulfill your current ministry obligations?  Are you planning for the future and how the Lord might use you in even greater ways than at present?  How are you preparing yourself for such future ministry?

And finally, Paul rested in God’s providence to direct him each step even as he planned his way.  Are you learning to live in such contentment regardless of circumstances and rest in God’s care for you?  If your answer was “no” to any of these questions or you could not answer them, then make plans to find a Christ-loving, Bible-living Christian and let us help show you how you can grow in these areas so that you too will know the fulness of the blessings of Jesus Christ in your life.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Getting Along with One Another, Part 3

Grace For The Journey

We have been looking at the topic of how Christians who come from very diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds are supposed to get along with each other within the church.  Some groups have concluded that it is either not possible for this to happen or just not wise to try to do it because there are too many conflicts over differences in personal preferences and practices.  Instead they advocate churches that are made up of people that are culturally and ethnically the same.  While there may be some merit to this idea and historically this has been the common practice by churches, there is a major problem.  

The Bible presents the church as

An ethnically and culturally diverse

Body from the very beginning of its existence.

In Acts 2, when the church begins on the Day of Pentecost, the people present were mostly ethnic Jews, along with a few proselytes, Cretans and Arabs, but culturally they came from all over the known world.  Acts 2:8-11 states that they were Parthians Medes and Elamites, those from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, and Rome.  In Acts 8 Samaritans are included as part of the church and by Acts 15 is it settled that the Gentiles are also to be welcomed into the church.  As we have seen in our study of the book for Romans, the church in Rome was made up of a mixture of Jews and Gentiles.  While the prevailing practice among most churches may be monocultural, the Biblical model is that the local church reflects the community it is in.  It is ethnically and culturally diverse.  The question then remains, how is such a diverse group of people supposed to be able to get along with each other when their personal preferences and practices will vary so much?  How do they love each other and achieve unity when some of those practices may even be offensive to others in the body?

In our study of Romans 14 we saw . . .

The foundational principles by which

Christians of diverse cultural and ethnic

Backgrounds can be unified with each other.

This morning we will continue in this topic by studying Romans 15 and what Paul says about Jesus’ example.

Review.

Christians can get along with each other if both the “stronger” and the “weaker” believer will stop judging and condemning each other and instead learn to accept each other regardless of personal preferences and practices.  Remember that the “weak” here refers those who are weak in their understanding of the full freedom that is granted in the Gospel message.  They are immature in their understanding and faith.  Their tendency to judge the “strong” as participating in “worldly” things.  They considered the “strong” as being less holy and less concerned about holiness than themselves and therefore less useful to God.  

The “strong” are those who have a greater understanding of the freedom we have in Jesus Christ.  They are the more mature in their understanding and faith which allows them to do things that the “weak” believe they cannot do.  The strong tend to judge the weak as being legalistic and lacking in mercy and grace and therefore being less useful to the Lord.

Neither the “weak” nor the “strong” are to judge one another in such condemning ways.  In Romans 14 Paul gives us five reasons why Christians are to accept each other and not condemn other believers over personal preferences and practices.  First, God accepts both – verse 3.  Second, each is God’s servant and He sustains both – verse 4. Third, each is to live for the Lord – verses 5-9.  Fourth, God is judge of both – verses 10-12.  And fifth, there are in fact differing standards of righteous or sinful practice for different people – verses 13-23.  In other words, the standards of good and evil do vary among different people.  This is not a reflection of any changing standard in God’s character or His instructions to us, but rather a recognition of the varied backgrounds, understanding, and maturity among believes.

The ramifications of these truths places more responsibility on the strong.  They are the more mature ones so they must be more careful to watch out for and care for the less mature.  Out of love for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they take note of their weakness and voluntarily limit the practice of their own freedoms in order that what is good for them would not become an obstacle or stumbling block to the weaker Christian.  Remember from our study yesterday that the cultural background and experiences of the weaker brother could cause them to identify a practice as being evil or associated with evil even though a more mature believer may correctly understand that there is nothing evil at all in the practice.  Because the weaker brother has an immature faith in this area, for him to do that thing would be evil for him, for as 14:23 states, “whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Here in Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 Paul uses the practice of eating meat that had been offered to idols as an example.  The stronger brother would correctly understand that idols are nothing therefore there is nothing wrong eating such meat. However, the weaker brother would view the eating of such meat as part of the worship of that idol and the demon associated with that idol.  With a correct motive of not wanting to participate in such idolatry, they would refuse to eat such meat.  Doing so would be sin for them.  The responsibility then rests on the stronger brother to be careful of his practice and neither offer such meat to a weaker brother, nor by his own example entice a weaker brother to eat such meat against his conscience.  The stronger brother voluntarily restrains his freedom and refrains from eating such meat out of love for his weaker brother.  Only after the weaker brother is more mature in his
understanding and faith would he have the freedom to also eat such meat.

The example explains a principle that is to be applied to all sorts of cultural practices including issues of diet, entertainment, dress, style, music, social practices, manner of celebrations, observation of days, hobbies, etc.  If you are a stronger Christian, you may have freedom in these areas, but you must also be careful not to cause a weaker brother to stumble into sin through the manner in which you practice your freedom.  A weaker brother must learn not to judge a stronger brother while at the same time making sure he does not follow his example until  he has faith to do so, or it is sin to him.

The Next Level.

In Chapter 15, Paul continues his discussion of this topic and takes it to the next level.  

It is not enough to just strive to

Avoid offending another brother.

Our love for one another is

To push us beyond that to also

Bearing our brother’s weaknesses

And seeking to please them

Because that is the example

That Jesus Christ gave us.

Verses 1 and 2 declare, “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.  Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”  The strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of their less mature Christian brothers and sisters.  The idea of “bear” is from is used in a literal sense for “picking up something and carrying it, such as a pitcher of water (Luke 22:10), a man (Luke 7:14) or even a child in the womb (Luke 11:27).”  In a figurative sense it is used of enduring hardship (Matthew 20:12) or trying to fulfill an obligation (Acts 15:10).  In this passage it shows that the mature are not just to tolerate the immature, but being the stronger in faith they are to help carry the burden the weak have by showing respect for their sincere views and practices even though they disagree with them.

This does not mean that we cannot talk with them about their beliefs and seek to help them mature in their faith, but such a conversation must be done with all respect for them.  Too often those who are practicing their liberty become more concerned about their freedom than their weaker brother.  They become defensive and then attack the weaker brother by becoming critical or condescending of them.  That is not loving.  That is self-serving, which is exactly the opposite of what Paul says here that the strong are to be.  We are not to be seeking to please ourselves, instead, we are to see how we can please our neighbor for their good, to their edification.

The correct manner of dealing with a weaker brother is to have a regard for them and a disregard for your own rights.  This is the same principle Paul brings out in Philippians 2:1-4 in which he discusses the basis of unity within the Body of Christ, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” 

  • It is with love that the stronger are to be sensitive to take in consideration the weakness of those around them and strive to not put an obstacle before them or be a stumbling block to them. 
  • It is with humility that the mature strive to help the weak become more mature in their faith.
  • With gentleness they go to the Scriptures themselves to explain and show the greatness of our God and the extent of His mercy and grace to us sinners.

We magnify the holiness of our Lord while pointing out the manner in which Jesus actually lived.  All the while we voluntarily limit the practice of our own freedom out of deference to our weaker brother.  We are not to seek to persuade the weak to our viewpoint so that we can continue practicing our freedoms and doing what we want. That is self-serving.  We do it because we sincerely desire the weaker brother to become more like Jesus Christ because that glorifies our Lord.

As Paul pointed out in Romans 14:17, the issue in these matters is not the particular practice itself, for the kingdom of God is not about eating, and drinking.  The issues are what lie behind the actions.  The right motive will result in the right action.  The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

The Example of Christ.

Interesting enough, when Paul talks about the necessity of humility among Christians in Philippians 2, he points out Jesus Christ as the great example we are to follow in becoming humble.  Our attitude is to be the same that Jesus exhibited.  Though Jesus existed in the form of God and did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, he emptied Himself and took on the form of a bond-servant and was made into the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Here in Romans 15, Paul also uses Christ as the example of how we are to deal with one another.  Verse 3 states, “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell upon Me.’”  Jesus did not seek to please Himself.  He sought to please His Father.  

  • In John 4:34 Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”  
  • In John 5:30 Jesus said, “I can do nothing on My own initiative.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” 
  • In John 8:29 Jesus said, “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
  • In John 12:27-28 we find that even when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying and pouring out the anguish of His soul as He considered the cross He would face the next day, the cry of His soul was, “Father, glorify Your name.”

What was true of Jesus is also to be true of us.  Our lives are not about fulfilling our wills and building our kingdoms.  God created us and saved us from our sins so that we might fulfill His will and build Christ’s kingdom.  The Christian life on this earth is lived in the state of transitioning from the former to the latter.  As we grow in Christ, we are being changed from selfish self-centered people seeking to please ourselves into being godly other-centered people seeking to please God.  That is what Paul means in Romans 8:29 that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ.  None of us are there yet, but there will be a day that we will stand holy and blameless before God in both our position in Christ and in our practice.

At the end of verse 3 Paul quotes from Psalm 69:9 and applies it to Jesus.  Jesus sought to please the Father even though it meant that all the hatred of those that opposed God would fall upon Him.  This is also true for us and it is why that Jesus warned in John 15:19, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but  chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”  Or as Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:12, “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  We must always keep the purpose of our lives in view if we are to fulfill that purpose and resist the pressure and persecution of the world as well as its enticements to remain sinful and self-centered.

Old Testament Examples.

There are times when we get discouraged in the Christian walk.  There can be times when we might feel alone or even like our friends have abandoned us or persecution has isolated us from them.  As Paul points out in verse 4, even in such hard times, we still have in the Scriptures the examples of so many that have preceded us, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  God’s purpose in having their stories recorded and preserved was for our benefit.  In the Bible we find instruction for life that we might have hope, confident assurance for the future. The examples of those who have gone before us encourage us and help us persevere in the present.

The tragedy is that so many professing Christians do not take the time to learn the Old Testament and its many truths and examples.  The writer of Hebrews understood the importance of this and so mentions several of those in the “great cloud of witnesses” that make up the hall of faith.  People such as . . .

  • Abel, who offered a better sacrifice;
  • Enoch who walked with God;
  • Noah, who heeded God’s warning about things not yet seen;
  • Abraham, Sarah, and their son Isaac, and grandson Jacob, who
    believed God’s promises concerning a future inheritance;
  • Joseph, who also believed God’s promises, so he gave orders concerning the burial of his bones to take place hundreds of years in the future;
  • Moses, who believed God and lead the nation of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.
  • The list goes on to include Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and the prophets.

We all would do well to take encouragement from their stories and heed the examples of their lives.

Paul’s Prayer.

In Verses 5 and 6 Paul expresses his prayer for his readers based on these truths, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

What God the Father did in the life of

Jesus and the Old Testament saints

He can also do for us.  

He can encourage us and

Cause us to persevere in the

Midst of whatever our enemies

Can bring against us.  

We must learn to be

Dependent upon Him.

But notice that Paul’s desire here is not for God to do this in some general sense, but for the specific purpose that we would be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, and that out of this unity would come a harmonious voice of praise to
God.

Unity in the church does not come about

From finding the lowest common denominator

Upon which everyone can agree.

That is the fallacy that the ecumenical movement

And its related step-children continue to follow.  

Unity in church comes about because of

Common doctrinal belief and subsequent practice.  

We can only be in harmony when we all believe

What the Bible says and agree to keep

God’s commandments and live by its principles.

This is also true when it comes to the “gray” areas that the Bible does not directly address, but for which the Bible does give us clear command about how to deal with each other.  Harmony in the church will only exist when both the strong and the weak humbly submit themselves to doing what Paul has explained here in Romans 14 & 15. Both must stop being selfish and condemning and instead seek how they might build each other up in Christ.  Our common goal is to become more like Jesus Christ.  Any other goal is both inadequate and unworthy for bringing about the unity that will cause us to join together and with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ.

Paul gives further example of how this unity among believers is to be developed in verse 7-13 by again pointing to the example of Christ.

Jesus’ Example of Acceptance.

Verses 7-12 say, “Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.  For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises [given] to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Thy 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, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.”  Jesus is our example.  We are to accept or receive to ourselves other believers in the same way that Jesus has accepted us to Himself and thereby bring glory to God.  Paul then points out how Jesus has received both the Jew and Gentile to Himself.  Remember that Paul was writing to both the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome for both made up the church there. Jesus did what was needed to receive both groups to Himself though they are very diverse from each other culturally and ethnically.

To the Jew, Jesus satisfied all the requirements of the Old Testament law and in doing so fulfilled the promises God had made to the Jewish patriarchs.  The scribes and Pharisees often accused Jesus of breaking the law, but the charge was false.  The truth was that the Scribes and Pharisees had replaced the doctrines and commandments of God with the precepts and traditions of men (Mark 7:7,8).  Jesus did not keep those and therefore He was a threat to their power and they hated Him for it.  Jesus satisfied all the requirements of the Mosaic law.  Jesus said to the Jews in Matthew 5:17, “”o not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”  After His resurrection Jesus explained to the apostles how He did just that (Luke 24:44-48).

Jesus was also a servant to the Gentiles. Paul quotes from several Old Testament passages (Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 117:1; Isaiah 11) demonstrating that it had always been in God’s plan for the Messiah to be a blessing to the Gentiles too.  The Gentiles were to rejoice, praise Him and sing to His name along with the Jews, and the Messiah would rule over the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

It is on this basis of a common Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, that both and Jew and Gentile are joined together in unity in one entity, the church, the body of Christ.  Their mutual love for the Savior is to result in a mutual love for one another, and therefore a willingness to work through cultural differences in creating a harmonious body in which God is glorified.

Paul ends this section with a benediction for all the people of God, regardless of their ethnic background, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  It is the God of hope who is the source of joy and peace for all believers.  Our trust in Him gives us confident assurance for the future because we know that His promises to us are true. We abound in that hope for the future because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  It is Paul’s desire for all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, to live daily in this joy and peace that can only come from the God of hope.

Conclusions.

As we conclude our study of Romans 14:1-15:13, let me summarize some of the key concepts along with some practical application of them so that each of us might make sure our practices are building up the body of Christ instead of tearing it down.

1) The “strong” must love the weaker.  Those more mature in faith must love the “weaker” enough to self-limit the practice of their freedom so as not to cause them to do something against their conscience, and thus stumble into sin.  The “stronger” are in sin if they flaunt their freedom or practice it without concern for others.  Learn to be sensitive.  Ask questions such as, “Do you mind if I . . . ?”   “I am thinking about doing” . . . “would that bother you?”

2) The stronger must encourage the weaker.  Those more mature in faith must not look down on the weaker as being less spiritual or as if they are missing all the joy of freedom in Christ.  Rejoice in the faith that you have, but remember you have room to grow too.  Seek to be used by the Lord according to your gifts to build one another up in Him.  Keep people focused on the Word and let the Holy Spirit change the conscience of people.

3) The weak in faith are not to judge or condemn the stronger.  That is sin.  The weak may need to express their thoughts and feelings about an issue, but it is to be done as a request or even a plea, but not a demand.  It must be left to that person to respond in love.

4) The “weak” are those who could stumble.  Romans 14,15 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 define the weak as those who might be encouraged into a practice for which they do not have freedom of faith to participate.  If the practice of someone with freedom of faith would not entice them to the same practice, then they are not weak in faith. They are already convinced for themselves in what they should and should not do.

5) Beware of Pharisees.  Jesus’ greatest conflicts were with the Pharisees.  They originally wanted to simply give themselves additional protections against breaking God word by imposing on themselves their own standards of conduct.  Tragically, those standards replaced God’s Word.  There are modern counterparts.  Remember the “Rules and Discipline” I read a few weeks ago?  Christians are not to allow their consciences to be enslaved by such men.  The faith you have, you are to have as your own conviction before God.  To refrain from a practice for fear that someone will condemn you for it shows the degree to which you have allowed yourself to be
enslaved, and to the degree that you are enslaved, you are no longer operating on faith, but on law – and whatever is not of faith, is sin.

Jesus had complete freedom, yet He limited that freedom according to the context of the situation.  He fulfilled the Mosaic Law, but not that of the Pharisees.  He was therefore accused by these religious leaders of being a glutton and drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners (Matthew11:19).  You may be accused of the same for not bending to the rules of such people.  Do not be fearful of such, but rather follow in the
example of the Lord.

We are called to follow the Lord and love our brothers in Christ.  Be ready and willing to restrict your freedom for the sake of helping them to keep from stumbling into sin.  But do not let your conscience before God be enslaved to men.  We are to be God-pleasers, not men-pleasers (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians2:4).  It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 6:1) that we might walk by the Spirit, and on that basis we therefore do not carry out the deeds of the flesh (Galatians 6:16-17).  The yoke of man-made rules cannot quench the desires of the flesh.  At most, they only repress their free expression, but they will express themselves in some other manner either hidden or in a way accepted by society.

6) Finally, no one has reached full maturity.  Everyone has areas of strong faith and have the freedom that comes with it.  Each of us also have areas of weaker faith with corresponding restrictions.  Be warned.  Don’t do anything contrary to your conscience, for whatever is not of faith is sin.  And don’t be a Pharisee.  Each of us have areas in which we tend to judge those who do not meet our personal standards, and we do so
without ever talking with them to know their rational for practicing something we would refrain from.

When it comes to the cultural conflict, each of us need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and deal with one another in love.  Let us seek to find solutions to conflicting standards and practices and build each other up in Christ instead of tearing each other down.

 I met a man from another nation,

I led him to Jesus for salvation,

The angels sang and we also rejoiced,

Until I found he made a diff”rent choice.

On a matter so extremely important to me,

He said, I don”t understand, I thought I was free.

Soon after he was bringing the same question to me,

How could I offend him so much with my liberty?

We sat there quite perplexed and wondering what we could do,

Until we were reminded, Jesus loves both me and you.

Humbly, we now work for the best interest of the other,

Setting aside our pref’rences for the love of a brother.

We now search the Scriptures to find God’s better way,

No longer condemning based on what other’s say.

The solutions to conflict are found in God’s Book,

So set aside your foolish pride, go there and look.

Scott L. Harris

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Getting Along in the Body, Part 2

Grace For The Journey

How are Christians to get along with one another when they come from such diverse backgrounds?  This is not just an issue for the manner in which churches from different nations or regions relate to each other.  For a church such as First Baptist in which there are diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds among its members, this can be a very personal issue.  There are many matters that are not directly addressed in the Bible, and conflict can arise over differences in personal standards.  How are those conflicts to be resolved when there is not a clear Scriptural solution as to which standard is right and which one is wrong?  I think it should be easy for us to consider that both personal standards could be wrong, but could both standards be right?  How Christians get along with each other in the midst of these kinds of conflicts will be a reflection of their spiritual maturity and love for Jesus Christ and one another.

We began our study of this topic yesterday.  In that study we saw that . . .

The church is not an institution of man

And therefore it is not free to make up

Standards of conduct as it desires.  

The church is a spiritual organism

Created by God for His glory

As the Body of Christ,

And therefore it must be defined,

Structured, and allowed to live,

Grow, and function only

According to His instructions.  

The Bible alone sets out for

The church what we must believe

And how we must behave.

To go beyond that is to sink into the same error of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. They believed they were doing God’s will, but in fact, they had exchanged the doctrines of God for the precepts of men.  Jesus condemned them for it (Matthew 15:9).

In our study yesterday of the first 12 verses of Romans 14 we saw four reasons why the Christian is not to judge and condemn other believers over personal practices, and instead, both the “strong” and the “weak” are to accept each other.  First, God accepts both – verse 3.  Second, each is God’s servant and He sustains both – verse 4.  Third, each is to live for the Lord – verses 5-9.  Fourth, God is judge of both – verses 10-12. Today we will continue our study of Romans 14.  Here again we see Paul’s instruction to not judge and condemn, but rather to accept one another even when there are differences in personal practices.  

The basis of his argument in verses 13-23

Is that there is in fact differing standards

Of righteous or sinful practice for different people.

In other words, the standards of good and evil

Do vary among different people.

This is not a reflection of any changing

Standard in God’s character or His instructions to us,

But rather a recognition of the variances in

Background, understanding and maturity among believes.

The Command Stated.

Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”  The “therefore” at the beginning of the verse takes you back to Paul’s arguments in the first 12 verses, which we have already reviewed.  In view of the fact that God accepts both the “weak” and the “strong;” that both are God’s servants and He sustains both; that each is to live for the Lord and that God is judge of both the “weak” and the “strong,” then we are not to judge each other.

The “weak” refers to those who are weak in their understanding of the full freedom that is granted in the gospel message.  The “strong” are those who have a greater understanding of the freedom we have in Christ.  They have a faith that will allow them to do things that the “weak” believe they cannot do.

The word “judge” here is a word which is used in the sense of condemning one another. The “weak” tend to judge the “strong” as participating in “worldly” things.  They considered the “strong” as being less holy and less concerned about holiness than themselves and therefore less useful to God.  The strong tend to judge the weak as being legalistic and lacking in mercy and grace and therefore being less useful to the Lord.  Neither the “weak” nor the “strong” are to judge one another in such condemning ways.

Instead of judging one another in such a negative manner, Paul brings out the word play on “judge” here, “but judge this rather.”  Instead of judging one another in the sense of condemnation, your judgement, in the sense of the resolution and determination of your mind, should be – “do not put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” This is in the command voice.

An “obstacle,” is something that would cause you to trip.  A “stumbling block” is the snare of a trap.  We are not to put something in our brother’s way that would cause him to trip or to be entrapped.  The idea of an obstacle or a snare is used to express the idea of something that would cause a stumbling into or being caught in sin.  Jesus warned that such stumbling blocks would come, but woe to the man by which they came (Matthew 18:7; 1 John 2:10).  1 John 2:10 tells us that there is no cause for stumbling by one abiding in the Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul speaks to this same issue making a statement in verse 9 that clarifies what he is talking about here, “But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”  Those strong in faith must be careful in the practice of their freedoms lest they cause their brother to stumble into doing something that would be sin for him.

Some might object that this unfairly places more responsibility upon the “strong” than the “weak.”  It is true that the strong have more responsibility in this than the weak, but that is not unfair.  If we use the synonyms “mature” and “immature” for “strong” and “weak” we quickly see that this is only reasonable.  The mature in faith do have more responsibility than the immature in faith.

Others might object that this sounds like the “strong” have to give up their freedoms in order to appease the “weak.”  This is not done to appease the “weak,” but out of love for them and a desire not to be a cause of their sinning.  As we shall see here in the next verse, the “weak” do not have the freedom to practice what the strong do without sinning.  A “strong” believer can do something without sin, but a “weak” brother doing the same thing would sin.

The Principle Stated.

Verse 14 states. “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”  Paul states two important principles here.  First, by divine revelation Paul, who had previously been a Pharisee, knew that nothing is unclean in itself.  This is what had been revealed to Peter in Acts 10 when the Lord told him three times in a vision that included animals declared unclean by the Mosaic Law to “kill and eat.”  What God had cleansed, was no longer to be considered unholy.  This opened the door to the Gentiles for salvation.  Paul states the same principle in 1 Timothy 4 stating that it was a doctrine of demons to “forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.  For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”  Jesus was also plain on the point that it was not what a man ate that would defile him, but what proceeded from his evil heart that defiles (Mark 7:18-23).

There is freedom in Christ.  As Paul said in Galatians 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”  This does not mean that we are free to do anything we want, for we are still bound by the commands of Christ and the principles and precepts that flow out of them. There is still the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) and we are to teach each other to observe all of our Lord’s commands (Matthew 28:20).  However, we are no longer bound by all the Old Testament ceremonial laws.  We already saw in our study of Romans 14:6-7 that we are free to regard or not regard one day as more important in worshiping the Lord than another.  We are free of the many different dietary restrictions.  We can either eat and give thanks to the Lord or not to eat and give thanks to the Lord.

The second important principle here is that what one person is free to do, another person would sin in doing the same thing.  There are differing standards of sinful conduct for different people.  Even though an object may actually be clean, if a person considers it to be unclean, then for them, it is unclean and would therefore be sin for them to partake of it until such point their conscience is changed.  Again, that change of mind and conscience can only properly be done through the Word of God (Romans 12:2).  If you do not feel comfortable doing something, then do not do it or you will violate your own conscience.  But you must also remember that if your conscience is restricted from participating in a practice not specifically prohibited by a New Testament command or principle, then you do have the right to condemn those who do not share your personal convictions.  You might still challenge other people about why they do what they do, but in doing so, you must also be open to learning from them the freedom that Jesus has given them.

Living by the Principle.

In verse 15 Paul specifically addresses the “stronger” brother and the manner in which they are to put into practice this principle of not putting an obstacle or stumbling block in a brother’s way, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.”  The “stronger” brother is to love the weaker brother and visa versa.  It is out of this love that the “stronger” brother does not want to hurt the “weaker” brother.  The word “hurt” here is means to “grieve,” or “make sorrowful.”  It would not be loving to purposely cause such emotional turmoil.  Even more so, a loving Christian does not want to use his liberty to destroy another believer.  “Destroy” here carries the idea of “ruin,” and “loss of well-being.”  Destroying someone is a very unloving action.

What is this hurt, this destruction Paul is speaking of?  Again 1 Corinthians 8:8-12 clarifies, “But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat.  But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?  For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.  And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”  In the pagan practices of worship, an animal would be brought to be sacrificed, and then a portion of that meat would be eaten as part of the worship of that pagan god.  The pagan priests could not themselves always eat all the meat that was left over from these sacrifices, so they would sell it.  Sometimes such meat would be sold inexpensively.  The mature Christian knows, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 8:4,19-20, that the idol is nothing and neither is the thing offered to the idol.  But, he adds in verse 7, “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.”

Some of those coming out of paganism would view such meat as participating in the worship of those pagan gods.  Their conscience would be defiled because they would believe they were sharing in the worship of the demons those pagan gods represented.

The hurt and destruction here would come from encouraging the “weak” to do something that they believe is unclean.  Because of that belief, their participation in it would be sin.  Christians do not want to be the cause of another Christian sinning because they love each other.  The specific example here is of eating meat offered to idols, but the principle extends to all of what we often refer to as “gray” areas.  It could be a food issue, but it could also be something else.  Paul goes on in verse 16 and 17 to further explain to the “stronger” brother the necessity for them to love their “weaker” brother and at times voluntarily limit their freedom.

Keeping the Priorities.

Verses 16-17 declare, “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Notice that Paul does not condemn the practice of the “strong” here or anywhere else.  He specifically calls their practice something that is a “good thing” for them.  Our freedom in Christ is a wonderful blessing, but it should not be used in any manner that would cause harm to other believers or be a cause of others to accuse us of evil.

The admonition here is the same as in 1 Corinthians 8:13.  I am to love my brother more than any particular practice because the kingdom of God is not about dietary laws and such.  Just because I am free in Christ to do something does not mean that it is the best thing to do or even a good thing to do.  It could be a bad thing to do in the context of particular circumstances.  The kingdom of God is about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, not about whether you are “strong” or “weak” in the use of your freedoms in Christ.

Living for and worshiping God does not consist

Of your personal rules of conduct which

May or may not match God’s commands.  

It consists of living daily in righteousness

Reflective of God Himself.

It is living in Godly wisdom

Under the control of the Holy Spirit

Who produces the fruit of

Righteousness in your life.

This in turn produces the peace and joy that only the Holy Spirit can bring, for they are part of His fruit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Because I love other believers, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of a “weaker” brother.  I will not entice or encourage a “weaker” brother to practice something against their conscience and so have what is a good thing for me become an evil thing for him.

Because I love God, I am to gladly limit my freedoms for the sake of His Kingdom.  I refrain from practicing what the community in general would consider bad, and by doing so I prevent them from speaking of what is good as something evil.  This is part of what Paul was speaking about in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.  He would become all things to all men that he might by all means save some.  If he disregarded their cultural standards, he would never get a hearing for the gospel.  He sought to avoid unnecessarily offending the non-believer by his practices (1 Corinthians 10:32).  

He would adapt to their customs and practices

As much as possible without ever

Compromising his own convictions.  

The only offense should be the Gospel itself.

The Reward.

What is the reward for those who are “strong” in faith but limit their freedom?  Verse 18 states, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”  First, understand that in living this way it is serving Christ.  I have consistently found that those who insist on living according to their own standards of freedom usually have little concern for their weaker brother, and they will sacrifice very little in their supposed service for Christ.  They generally only will do what is convenient and of personal interest to them.  They are rarely willing to make any real sacrifice for Christ or others.  When a “stronger” brother voluntarily limits his freedoms for the sake of others, they build up those in the Body who are weaker, and this strengthens the witness of the church.  Such a believer has been tested and found acceptable to God and approved by men.

The Responsibilities.

The “stronger” brother then is to do what Paul says in verse 19., “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”  These two motives should determine our actions toward other believers.  Peace is much more than an absence of conflict.  It is rather the presence of harmony.  That harmony comes about as believers are united in spirit and share the same mind, love, and purpose (Philippians 2:2), but none of this can occur without the resolution of the conflicts that occur because of differing ideas and purposes.  The resolutions of those conflicts are based on mutual love for the truth and one another.  Speech is restrained to say only what is good for edification according to the need of the moment in giving grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).  

Our freedoms in Christ, like our spiritual gifts,

Are given to us for the purpose of using them

To help one another become more like Jesus.

Paul admonishes again in verse 20, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”  Your freedoms become evil to the extent that your unrestrained exercise of them tears down the work of God in others.  Again, Paul specifically points out that all things are indeed clean, so he is not talking about those things that are contrary to Christ’s commands.  But even those things that are not sinful themselves and which Christians do have liberty to practice can be a cause of evil when they cause a “weaker” believer to do something contrary to his conscience and therefore sin.

In verse 21 Paul explains that, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or [to do anything] by which your brother stumbles.”  Voluntary restraint in those areas in which your “weaker” Christian brother might stumble is a good thing.  In 1 Corinthians 8:13 Paul even went so far as to say, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.”  The self-restraint the “stronger” believer shows is not to be a demonstration of how much power the “weak” has over him, but rather a demonstration of how much love he has for the weaker believer.

Let me quickly add here that a “weaker” brother who demands that you restrict your freedoms when he is not tempted to participate with you is not actually weaker, he is pharisaical.  For example, a pastor friend had deacons in his church that demanded that everyone who became a part of their church take an oath that they would never partake of an alcoholic beverage even though there was no way in which you could have enticed, bribed, or forced them to ever drink themselves.  They claimed to be “weaker” brothers on the issue, but they were pharisaical, not weaker.  It is good when Christians love each other enough to consider the actual weaknesses of the other believers around them and then to restrain their own freedom in the effort to keep from causing one of them to stumble into sin.

The particular example used throughout this passage is eating meat offered to idols.  In this particular case, the mature Christian would refrain from serving such meat to a “weaker” brother, for that would that would be a direct temptation for him to do something against his conscience.  A more mature Christian might also refrain from eating such meat in the presence of a “weaker” believer, depending on the individual, because he would not want to encourage him by his example to do something he does not have freedom to do.

While eating meat offered to idols is not an issue in our society, there are many other “gray” areas in which this same principle does apply directly including many “hot” topics of contention among Christians.  

  • Can a Christian drink wine or beer?  
  • What kind of music is acceptable for entertainment?  
  • What kind of music is acceptable for worship?  
  • What about movies, TV, and the theatre?  
  • What standards should determine what you see?  
  • How should Christians dress in public?  
  • How should Christians dress in Church?
  • What hair styles are acceptable?  
  • How much of your income should you spend on what?  
  • How much should you give to support the church?
  • Is dating right?  
  • If so, how old do your kids have to be before they can date?  
  • How many children should you have?  
  • How should you discipline your children and for what?
  • What is the proper way to educate them?
  • May Christians dance, and if so when, where, and what kind?
  • What about Christians who smoke or chew tobacco?
  • How much candy and other “junk” food is a Christian allowed to have?
  • What day should you worship the Lord?
  • What activities are allowed on the Lord’s day?

This list of “gray” areas could get very long. There are Biblical principles that can apply to each to help us figure out the parameters of what is proper before God and develop convictions, but there can be a lot of variation in the convictions that different Christians will have.  In addition, it is not always easy to deal with one another when our personal convictions do vary.  Yet, we must strive to build each other up in Christ instead of tearing each other down by the practice of our freedoms.

We must keep in mind that the foundational principle for all that Paul has been saying in chapters 12,13, and 14 is that we are to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.

The Christian life is not about having

Your wants and desires satisfied,

But rather about fulfilling God’s will.

There are times when even the legitimate satisfaction of your wants and desires must be sacrificed to fulfill something more important in the will of God.  Showing self-restraint so as not to be the cause of a brother stumbling is one of those times.

Enjoying Freedom.

In verse 22 Paul points out the joy that the Christian with a strong faith can have because of their freedom in Christ, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”  Notice first that the faith that you have, to either do or not do some activity, is based in your own convictions before God.  You are not to base your practices on the convictions of others, nor are you to restrict the practices of others based on your convictions.  Each believer is to behave based on their own convictions before God.

Notice as well that our freedom in Christ is not based in our desires, but in our faith as we develop our convictions before God.  Some people think they are free to do anything they want until someone shows them a specific Bible verse that their practice is sinful. That is not true.  There is the general truth that as a new Christian reads the Bible and increases in their understanding of God and His will that they will find that many of their practices are sinful and so they will stop them.  However, their practice was still sinful even when they were ignorant.  In addition, as mentioned earlier, the principles of God’s commands must be applied as well as the specifics.  For example, the Bible does not talk specifically about copyright law, but it does prohibit stealing.  That principle applies to copyright violations which are in fact theft of someone else’s property.

Paul’s emphasis here though is the opposite.  As a person grows in Christ and in their understanding of God’s character and will, they will develop new convictions that allow them greater freedom in their personal practices.  They will exchange their personal convictions, often culturally based, for Biblical convictions.  Increasing freedom is actually based in developing Biblical convictions to replace cultural ones.  As a believer does this, they still must be sensitive to those who are still bound by personal and cultural mores.  You do not want to be a cause of a “weaker” Christian doing something they do not yet have freedom to do.

Warning to the Weak.

In verse 23 Paul gives further warning to the “weaker” brother, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because [his eating is] not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.“  This is really the same point Paul made earlier in verse 14.  The principle is succinctly stated in the last phrase.  Whatever is not from faith is sin.  Though the truth may be that a particular practice is acceptable to God, if the individual has doubts about it, it would be sin for him to do that practice even if others are doing it.  Never do something just because other people are doing it.  If you do not have faith before God that something is the proper thing to do, then you must not do it.  Develop your convictions by the Word of God first, for only then can you truly discern what is right and wrong before God, and only after that can you truly exercise your freedom in Christ.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Getting Along in the Body, Part 1

I heard about a family of Vietnamese refugees who had moved in next door to a Christian family.  It was an eye-opening experience as they tried to understand one another.  As a welcome to their neighborhood, the mom of the Christian family gave them a plate of cookies.  That began a series of gift exchanges of various food items.  Neither family were not sure what some of the meals were.  The most elaborate was a roast duck the Vietnamese family brought over one time, but the Christian family did not get to try it.  The mom didn’t want to eat a duck that still had its head attached.  They gave it to the neighbors on the other side of us, who said it was quite good.  The dad and son of the Christian family went next door once for a meal celebrating the grandfathers’ birthday.  They learned that day that the Vietnamese family did not use much sugar, if any at all, even in their deserts.  That made them wonder what they had thought of all the cakes, cookies, and other sweets we had given to them.  Perhaps about the same as their mom thought of a duck with its head on.

Cultural differences such as these might cause some polite gagging as you attempt to eat what another culture considers a delicacy, but other cultural difference can cause great conflicts.  There are not only differences in foods, language, and dress, but there are also personal practices and customs we do not understand and may think odd or even offensive.  Societies often deal with these conflicts by isolating from each other, but that is not a Biblical option in the church, though there are many churches that do, segregating themselves along cultural or ethnic lines.

The Gospel is to be taken into all the world, and as different people respond, they are added to the church.  Paul is clear in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither Jew nor Greek in the church.  In Ephesians 3 Paul tells us that these ethnic barriers have been broken down.  All people are one people in Jesus Christ.  But this increases the opportunity for conflict.  There are many matters that are not directly addressed in the Scriptures.  How are Christians to deal with one another when they find their personal, often cultural, standards are in conflict with one another, and there is not a Bible passage that directly addresses the reason for the conflict.  

This is an issue that strikes at the heart

Of the very nature of the church.

It can be very personal and very subtle in its effect on us.

Paul deals with this issue in Romans 14, for the church in Rome was made up of a mixture of Jewish and Gentile believers.  Paul needed to give them specific instruction on how they were to apply the principle of being living and holy sacrifices to God into their relationships with one another when there arose cultural differences in acceptable standards of conduct.

Cultural conflict was not a new issue to Paul.  In Acts 15 we find that some men from Judea went to the churches in the Antioch area teaching, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Paul and Barnabas stood against this teaching, so eventually the church there determined to send them “to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning the issue.”  When they arrived in Jerusalem they found a certain group of Pharisees who had believed in Jesus but who were saying that, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and direct them to observe the Law of Moses.”

At issue was both the nature of salvation and the manner in which the Gentiles were to live.  Were the Gentiles required to become Jewish in custom in order to be saved or to live the Christian life?  The answer from the council was “no.”  As Peter related in verses 7-11 and James demonstrated from the Old Testament in verse 15-18, the Gentiles, like the Jews, were saved by God’s grace and not through keeping the Mosaic law.  What about what might be called “table fellowship” or the social contact between Jewish and Gentile Christians?  The Gentiles did not need to follow the Mosaic standards of conduct except in four specific areas to preclude offense arising from them.  Those holding onto Jewish social customs were not to trouble the Gentile believers (verse 19).  The word “trouble”  means “to crowd in on, annoy.””  Those who wanted to hear the Mosaic code could do so, for it had been proclaimed in the synagogues from ancient generations in every city (verse 21).  The Judaizers and Pharisees had lost their case, but the Gentiles were called to be considerate of those holding to the customs of the Mosaic law by burdening themselves to constrain their freedom in four essential practices. The word “essential,”  means, “necessary, on
compulsion.”

There have been those that have tried to use Acts 15 as a basis for saying that the church is free to set up any standard of conduct it wants.  There are three major problems with trying to make this an application of this passage.

1) The historical setting of this chapter does not allow such a broad application.  The historical setting is between Gentile believers and Jewish believers that had been brought up for generations that certain practices contained in the Mosaic Law were abhorrent to God.  These Jews would have an extremely difficult time trying to overcome that and believe they now had freedom in these areas of social contact.  From their view, eating meat polluted by idols would have brought them into the worship of such idols and therefore in conflict with the Exodus 20:3-6 prohibition against idolatry as well as the injunctions against touching dead things, which they considered such meat, and becoming unclean because of it.  They would not eat blood because it was against the injunction of Leviticus 17:10-11 that God would set His face against the person who eats blood and would cut him off from His people.  They would not eat something strangled because of the blood.  Leviticus 17:13; Genesis 9:4; Deuteronomy 12, etc. all required the animal to be slaughtered and the blood drained from the animal. “Fornication” – whether taken in the narrow sense of sexual sins or the broader sense of conduct in relationships, was clearly forbidden in the Mosaic law as well (Leviticus 18, etc.).

      Acts 15 occurs in an historical setting.  The constraints placed on the Gentile believers were straight from the Mosaic code and given as a means to promote social harmony between them and the Jews.  We will find here in Romans 14 that this was so they would not be a stumbling block to the Jews in enticing them to partake of something against their conscience.  The principle here cannot be broadened to mean that churches can set any code of conduct.

2) Acts is an historical book of transition.  The working out of the doctrine on how Christians with differing personal standards are to relate to one another is found in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10.  We do not develop doctrine for the church based on things that happened in Acts.  We go to the Epistles for that.

3) The Church is not an institution of man.  Man-made institutions can set any standard of conduct they want.  They can require uniforms or that you wear some funny little hat.  They are free to restrict what you do and how you behave.  They can require you to pay dues and attend so many meetings a year.  Man-made institutions are free to set up any code of rules they desire, but the church is not a man-made institution and therefore cannot be defined, structured, or operated according to man’s thoughts and desires.  The church is an spiritual organism created by God for His glory as the body of Christ and therefore must be defined, structured, and allowed to live, grow, and function only according to His instructions.  The Bible alone sets out for the church what we must believe and how we must behave.

When a church moves past the Bible to set out its own standards, it is no longer a church in the true sense, but rather a religious club.  Let me read for you an excerpt from such a group that supposes itself to be church.  Under “Rules & Discipline” is says: “Members shall not indulge in the world’s methods of pleasure seeking, amusements and entertainment, patronizing or taking in part in fairs, parades, circuses, moving picture shows, theaters, drama, public bathing resorts, organized contesting ball teams, dancing, card parties, races, various forms of gambling, scavenger hunts, mystery suppers, hayrides and such like.  Inasmuch as our automobiles, as well as all our
possessions, are gifts from God, they should be in keeping with Biblical modesty and separation, and the use of them should always glorify God.  The more expensive cars, cars with contrasting colors, sports cars as well as sports features on regular cars, and all striped tires, shall be avoided.  The appearance and use of all our vehicles shall be consistent with these principles and regulations.  Because of the effectiveness of the radio to propagate evil and increase end-time deception, thereby destroying true spirituality in the home and church, its use is not permitted.  Because of the evils of television, those who are responsible for the sale or use of the same forfeit their membership.  Video cassette recorder (VCR) entertainment systems shall not be used. We likewise sense the dangers of the news media such as daily papers and magazines in the home.  Psalm 101:3; Psalm 1:2.”

This same church also states the following: “We believe that acappella singing is the form that most accurately represents New Testament principles.  Because of the highly emotional appeal of stringed instruments, and their prominent place in modern sensual music, they are not permitted for actual use or in our recorded selections.  Electronic keyboard instruments which can automatically simulate the rhythm and tempo of secular music are also objectionable, and are not permitted.  We also sense the possible conditioning effect of the traditional keyboard instruments.  Acappela singing and recorded selections that reflect the emphasis of modern ‘gospel song’ performers with their entertaining appeal should be eliminated.”

Extreme?  Yes, but once the line is crossed and man’s standards replace God’s, the error is already present and all you are left with is measuring the degree of error.  Jesus gave a very serious warning in Matthew 17:9 and Mark 7:7 saying, “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”  What then does God’s Word say about how Christians are to treat one another when there are differing standards of conduct.  How do we keep cultures from colliding in the church?  

The Bible helps us answer that question in Romans 14.  How are Christians who have such varied backgrounds and therefore varied standards of personal conduct supposed to behave toward one another in those areas Scripture does not expressly forbid or commend?  Use of such things such as television, radio, computers, musical instruments, buying insurance, taking out a home loan, dancing, women wearing a pants suit to church, men having their hair over their ears, men having facial hair, women having short hair, cooking with wine, drinking wine in moderation, fishing on Sunday, mowing the lawn on Sunday, smoking, playing cards, putting your children in public school, playing sports, mixed swimming, etc.  The list can go on and on.  Some of those might seem humorous to you, but I can guarantee you to that there are some people who will hold these differing issues as serious matters.

How do we deal with one another?  The short answer is with “love.”  Let’s see how that love is to be expressed in Romans 14:1-3, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.  One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.  Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him.”  The word “accept,” means to “receive.”  The connotation is of personal and willing reception of the other person.  Paul begins his discussion of what it means to accept one another by using the example of dietary restrictions, a common area of life that could cause conflict between Jewish & Gentiles Christians.

“Weak in the faith” does not mean weak in spiritual trust of salvation, but weak in understanding the full truth of the gospel message and the freedom it allows.  It is “the faith.”  A Jewish believer at this time would have grown up under the Mosaic Law with its many dietary restrictions.  Some of these were already pointed out in the discussion of Acts 15.  It would be difficult for Jews to quickly abandon those restrictions and feel comfortable eating things previously banned.  Remember that even Peter struggled with this.  Acts 10:9-16 records that Peter had a vision of an object like a great sheet being lowered from its four corners coming down out of the sky.  It was filled with all sorts of different animals and a voice called for him to “arise, Peter, kill and eat!”  Peter’s response was, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”  The voice then called out again saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”  This vision occurred three times in preparation for Peter to understand that the gospel message was also for the Gentiles.  God was teaching him that he was to no longer consider the Gentiles unholy or unclean.  Immediately after this, God used Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  My point here is that Peter’s initial negative reaction to the idea of eating food pronounced unclean in the Mosaic Law would have been common among all the Jewish believers of that time. Paul’s comments in Galatians 2:11 tell us that Peter still struggled with the issue of diet many years later.

Those who were “strong” in faith, in the sense they had come to the understanding that “everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected, if it received with gratitude” (1 Timothy 4:4) were not to pass judgement on those who had not matured to that point yet.  “Not for passing judgement” means “to not regard with contempt.”  The sense here is receiving someone “weak” in faith, and then ridiculing him for his thoughts on the subject.  If he is weak, then he needs to be taught, and such teaching is to be done with love and sensitivity to build him up in Christ (Ephesians 4).  Passing judgement and ridiculing him does not help.  The “strong” are not to look at the”weak” as someone to be either despised or pitied.  The “strong” are not to be self-righteous and consider themselves to be superior to the “weak.”  The “weak” may not have freedom of conscience in an area yet, but they are not second class believers.

At same time, the “weak” are not to “judge,” the strong for practicing their freedom. “Judge” “condemn,” as in “guilty of a crime.”  The tendency, as we saw in Acts 15, would be for the “weak” to demand that the “strong” restrict their freedoms and live by their standards, which they considered to be more holy.  Those who ate only vegetables thought themselves to be better than those who ate all things (verse 2).  Refraining from certain foods may be a healthy diet, but it is not a more “holy” diet.   Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 that those who demanded abstention from foods were paying attention to the doctrine of demons.  If God does not forbid something, then neither can we based on our own preferences.  If God allows something, then so must we.  The “weak” are not judge the “strong” as being less holy or even less concerned about holiness than themselves.

Paul gives four reasons in verses 3-12 why this judging and condemning should not be done, and that both the “strong” and the “weak” are to accept each other.  God accepts both.  Each is God’s servant and God sustains both.  Each is to live for the Lord. God judges both.

REASON 1 For Acceptance: God Has Accepted Both.

Paul says in the end of verse 3 that God accepts both those that eat, and those that do not eat.  He accepts those who practice their freedom and those who do not.  If God accepts the person, then there is no godly basis on which we can reject or judge the person.  The only basis left then is our own selfishness and self-righteousness which elevate our personal preferences into a demanded standard of holiness.

REASON 2 For Acceptance: Both Are Servants Of The Lord, And God Sustains Both

Verse 4 says, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Each is the Lord’s servant and the Lord sustains both. We are not the ones to make a condemning judgement about whether a person’s personal practice in these gray areas is right or failing before the Lord.  That is between them and the Lord, and the Lord will sustain them as they individually seek after Him.

Those who restrict themselves have a tendency to think that those who do not follow such restrictions are too selfish and practicing what they consider to be worldly things. They believe that such “worldy” practices would hinder, if not preclude, them from serving the Lord.  At the same time, those who practice their liberty tend to think that those who do not share in that freedom are legalistic and self-righteous.  They believe
such legalistic people lose out on the joy of being a Christian and also restrict themselves from usefulness to Christ because their legalism keeps them from being gracious and merciful.  

The truth is that God uses all kinds of people with all kinds of different failings.  He uses the libertarian as well as the legalist.  That does not mean that God approves of their current state or that He will leave them in that condition.  As the master of all His people, God will use His servants as He sees fit even as He continues to change and conform them to the image of Christ.

None of this precludes you from asking with love why a person does or does not do a certain thing, nor should it stop you from lovingly sharing your own thoughts on a subject and why you do or  do not do certain things.  However, if God does not condemn a practice, then neither can you.  That fellow Christian is also a servant of the Lord, even though you do not share the same strengths and weaknesses, and the Lord is using him in a different way than He is you.

REASON 3 For Acceptance: Each Is To Live For God.

Verses 5-9 state, “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.  For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”  Jesus is sovereign over each believer, and each believer is to
live for Him.  The inner motivation of the believer is not easily seen, yet that is what is important in his practice before the Lord.  Men judge the outward appearance according to their own personal standards and thus sin themselves in their condemnation of others.  Such was the condemnation against Jesus by the Pharisees.  Jesus did not do the outward things they required as evidence of true godliness, yet they themselves did those things from the wrong heart and were thus ungodly people.

In matters not specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture, each person must follow the dictates of their own conscience.  For them to do otherwise would be to go against their belief of what is right before God.  The conscience is to be trained through the word of God (Romans 12:2), not through the imposition of cultural or personal standards.

Paul uses several examples to illustrate this principle that it is the motivation of the heart that is important.  Those coming out of a Jewish heritage would have been taught to honor the Sabbath in certain ways.  They considered the time from Friday evening at Sunset until Sunset on Saturday evening to be a special day that was to be set apart for the worship of the Lord.  Other Christians, who came from different backgrounds, believed that every day was the same and all of them were for the worship of the Lord. Early in Church history, another practice began in which Christians would gather together to worship on Sundays, the first day of the week, in honor of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).  There is no New Testament command that any one particular day is to be observed for the Lord.  The seventh day Adventists are wrong on this in demanding that Saturday is the Sabbath and must be kept by Christians, but so are Christians who demand that Sunday is the only proper day.  There is nothing wrong with those who worship the Lord on Friday nights, as do Messianic Christians, nor is there anything wrong with those who worship the Lord on Saturday nights, which is occurring in many churches that have space problems.  It really is a matter of the conscience of the individual being fully convinced in his own mind of whether he will observe a particular day for the Lord or every day.

Paul makes the same case in verse 6 regarding a person’s diet.  Whether the person chooses to eat something or not, the real issue is their thankfulness to God (1 Timothy 4:1-5).  As Paul later said in Colossians 2:16-17, “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”  We are to be concerned about the reality, not the shadow. As Paul points out in verse 7, we neither live nor die for ourselves.  We are to live and die for the Lord for we belong to Him.  He is our master who redeemed us from our sin by His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).  Jesus’ death and resurrection has made Him our lord whether we are alive and serving Him on this earth, or we have died to this life and are now alive to serve Him in heaven.  Our proper response for our salvation is to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  We are to accept one another because every true Christian belongs to the Lord.

REASON 4 For Acceptance: God Alone Is Judge.

Verses 10-12 say, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?  For we shall 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 one of us shall give account of himself to God.”  Every Christian should accept every other Christian because the Lord alone will judge.  We are not to play God in determining what is right and wrong for other people in these so called “gray” areas that the Bible does not specifically address.  Each one of us will give an account of ourselves before God, and frankly, that is enough for any of us to be concerned about.

The real issue here is not our outward behavior.  It is the inward motivation that drives that behavior.  Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is as sinful before God as not doing the right thing at all.  Why do you do what you do?  Why do you refrain from the things you do not do?  As those who are to be living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God, the Christian is to be motivated in everything by their love for God and desire to serve Him.  What motivates you?  We would all be less judgmental of each other if each of us became less concerned with what others thought of us and more concerned with what God thinks of us, because only His judgement counts in the end.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

Grace For The Journey

Today we are in Romans 13:8 as we continue our study of this book.  Remember that all that Paul says in this chapter is based upon what he has said in chapter 12:1 and 2.  

Our relationship with God, other Christians,

And all other people is based on having

The right response to what God

Has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The only reasonable response to

Our salvation through faith in Christ is

To present ourselves as living

And holy sacrifices acceptable to God.  

We are transformed into living sacrifices

Through a mind that is changed by

The truth of God’s Word which is then

Put into action by our will

In doing what God desires

Instead of continuing in selfishness.

We saw throughout chapter 12 the consequences of these changes in our relationships . . .

  • As God’s servant, we will find our proper place and function within the Church, the body of Christ.
  • As we step forward to serve the Lord, we discover both how He has gifted us and the ministries He desires for us to involved in.
  • We are to be developing a love that is reflective of God Himself. A love that is without hypocrisy which abhors evil and clings to what is good.
  • We develop a brotherly love toward other believers. This is a love that puts a priority on the needs of others even at the cost of self-sacrifice.
  • New qualities develop in our lives resulting in our being diligent, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).
  • Even toward those who are against us there are changes.  Instead of cursing them and seeking our own revenge upon them, we seek to bless them as we learn to overcome evil with good.  It is not easy to love our enemies as Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 5:43-48), yet in doing so we demonstrate Christian maturity and the working of God within our lives.
  • Our relationship with government changes too.  Non-Christians obey the laws of the land because of the fear of the consequences if they do not.  Christians learn to submit themselves to the governing authorities and obey the laws because they recognize that in doing so they are actually submitting to God who establishes every such authority.  The only exception to this submission is when there is a conflict between obeying government and obeying God.  We must say the same thing the Apostles said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.” If suffering results from this, we submit ourselves to it just as the Apostles did and continue to obey God’s commands (Acts 5:40-42).

As we saw in our study yesterday of Romans 12:1-7, God’s purpose for governments is for them to promote what is good and punish those who do evil.  When a government fails in these tasks, it risks God replacing it with another government.  This could be through God’s direct actions, such as with Nebuchadnezzar in ancient Babylon; or through a deliverer He appoints to the task, such as the many judges of ancient Israel; or through the actions of another nation, as is recorded many times in the Bible and is currently occurring in Iraq by Allied forces.

This submission to government includes paying our taxes.  Remember that Paul said this when Nero was Caesar and taxes were not only high and often unjust, but made even worse by the tax collectors who became rich themselves by overcharging people on their taxes.  We also render to all those in authority not only whatever financial tax or custom is due, but also the proper respect and honor due their office.  In our own nation we have the freedom and the responsibility to be involved in government, but sometimes disrespect of government officials and authorities seems to be the normal behavior.  

The Christian should stand out by

Their respectful behavior toward all,

Even if they do not like

The actions of those officials.

We might work hard to see such a person replaced by someone more acceptable to us, but we still show respect because of their office, even if they personally are scoundrels. Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the apostles all had encounters with government officials who were less than honorable, yet they always paid the proper respect due the office that the man held (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Acts 23, etc.).

Loving Our Neighbor.

Paul continues in verses 8-14 in explaining the consequences of becoming living sacrifices for God in our relationships with others.  Verses 1-7 speak to the issue of our relationship with government.  Here in verses 8-10 he explains our relationship to our neighbor, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law.  For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law.”

Our obligation to government includes taxes and honor.  Our obligation to our neighbor is summed up in the word “love.”” This is the verb form of “agape” which we studied earlier . . .  

It is the love of commitment and sacrifice

For the other person’s best interest.  

It is the love God has for us,

And the love we are

To have for other people.

Paul emphasizes this obligation to love by contrasting it with the statement that we should not owe anyone anything except that love.  This does not mean that we are to refuse to have obligations to other people as much as it means that we will discharge all our debts.  We are obligated to render tax, custom, fear, and honor to governmental authorities, and we discharge that debt by giving such authorities those very things.

Christians And Debt.

Some have taken this to mean that Christians should never go into financial debt.  That idea would probably help a lot of people stay out of financial trouble, but while the Scriptures gives many warnings about financial debt, they do not prohibit such debt elsewhere, so that cannot be Paul’s meaning here.  Deuteronomy 15:8 specifically commands the Israelites to generously lend to the poor for their needs, but they were also commanded not to charge usury (interest) on such a loan (Leviticus 25:36), though they could charge interest to foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20).  In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus speaks favorably of placing your savings in a bank where it could be loaned out with interest.

The Bible does not forbid making loans or borrowing money under certain restrictions. The issue here is that all debts are to be paid back.  It is the wicked that borrow and do not pay back (Psalm 37:12).  Such should not be true of the Christian regardless of what has become common practice in abusing our nation’s bankruptcy laws.  It is this obligation to pay back that is the basis for the many scriptural cautions about borrowing. Provers 22:7 states, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.”

There are many examples of unsecured loans resulting in the borrowers  impoverishment and enslavement to the lender.  (An unsecured loan is when you borrow money without sufficient collateral to pay off the loan if you default).  In Bible times that enslavement could be literal (2 Kings 4:1; Nehemiah 5:4-5).  While a creditor cannot enslave you in this nation, they can make your life miserable, (especially if who you owe is the Federal government).

All people need to be cautious about borrowing money, but the Christian especially so because God requires us to fulfill all our obligations including paying back what we owe. As a Christian matures, they will normally have better financial stability simply from the fact that their focus of life changes to godliness, and the temptation to join in the materialism around us diminishes.  

When you spend according to

God’s principles and priorities,

You will not be spending

Beyond your means.

In addition, Jesus promised that

God would meet our needs for life

If we would seek first His

Kingdom and righteousness

(Matthew 6:33).

One other factor that will help keep a Christian out of debt comes from the love we are to have for each other.  When a fellow believer is in true need, the rest of us are to express our love in tangible ways.  1 John 3:17 asks the rhetorical question, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”  John continues in verse 18 commanding, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Believers are to help one another with their real needs.  A caution here is that we meet real needs, not perceived wants.  Helping those with financial problems may also include examining how they spend their money and teaching them God’s commands concerning finances, and then hold them accountable so that thy learn to live by godly principles instead of selfish or foolish desires.  All of this is the practical demonstration of fulfilling what Paul says here in the second phrase of Romans 13:8 is our obligation. We are obligated to love one another, for he who loves others has fulfilled the law.

Christians And Love.

This idea of love fulfilling the law is not a new concept, but one which Jesus has previously stated.  In Matthew 22;36-40, Jesus was asked by a Pharisee which was the great commandment.  Jesus answered, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”  Paul is saying the same thing here in Romans 13:9-10.

All of God’s commands about how you are to treat other people will be fulfilled if you “love your neighbors as yourself.”  Most of God’s commands are prohibitions.  There are things that cause harm to others, so we are not to do them.  Paul gives specific examples of this from the10 Commandments in verse 9, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet.”  You cannot both love a person and also do any of these or any other thing God prohibits.  They are opposite of each other.

At the same time, God also gives commandments which are the positive things he wants us to do in our relationship with one another to cause good.  What Paul said back in chapter 12:13 that we are to be “contributing to the needs of the saints and practicing hospitality” are examples of this.  If we are loving our neighbors, then we will also be striving to accomplish these positive commandments too.  So it is that in loving our neighbors, we fulfill the law of God.

Some might become concerned that Paul is talking about law here and even mentions several of the 10 commandments specifically.  We should note first in relation to this that Paul is writing to a mixture of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, and that explaining the Christians’ relationship to the Mosaic Law would be very important for those who were Jewish.  What Paul says here in Romans 13 gives them a clear understanding that their focus no longer has to be about trying to know and keep track of all the details of the Mosaic Law so that they could keep them and in that way please God.  

The Christians’ focus is on actively loving God,

One another, and all people including their enemies.  

Through this active love, they fulfill God’s will.

There are those that look back to Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14 that we are “not under the law, but under grace,” and conclude that the Christian has no relationship to the law of God.  That is not true.  I dealt with this issue when we went through Romans 6, so I will not do so again in detail here, but in short, we have a different relationship to law as Christians. We have no obligation to earn God’s favor by keeping the Mosaic law, for Jesus has fulfilled that law and we are justified by our faith in Him.  However, even the Mosaic law is still important to the Christian for we learn much about God’s character, will. and moral principles through it.  But more importantly, the Christian is under the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21) which includes all the commands that the New Testament gives to us and which we are to teach others (Matthew 28:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).

A final question we might ask in this section is, “Who is our neighbor?”  Jesus was asked that question in Luke 10, and He responded with the story of the Good Samaritan.  Our “neighbor” is anyone we meet.  The Christian in becoming a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God also learns to love his neighbor as himself.

Living in Holiness.

Paul concludes this chapter in verses 11-14 with a call of urgency to put into practice the admonitions he has made in these two chapters.  As living sacrifices, we are to increasingly become like our Lord Jesus Christ (Roman 8:29), and we do not know how long we will have to do that before our opportunities to serve the Lord end and judgement comes.  Now is the time to obey God in all these matters.  What does this involve?

Wake Up!

Paul’s admonition here is as relevant, if not more relevant, today than it was when he first penned these words.  Why?  First, because many Christians today are as or more complacent now than then.  And second, we are even closer to our Lord’s return.

A great problem for Christians is how quickly we can become complacent in our lives. We get caught up in the day to day stuff of living and are soon sidetracked off the purpose of our existence.  Our focus gets skewed onto other things such as work, hobbies, improving our homes, having fun, and the things of this world.  None of these are wrong or bad in themselves, but they do compete for our attention as well as our time, resources, and energy.

Paul refers to the complacency caused by all these distractions as “being asleep.”  Sleep is a period when our “consciousness is practically suspended.”  We are inactive and unaware of what is going around us and so we do not respond to it.  

When we are spiritually asleep,

We lose consciousness of

God’s priorities and claims

Upon our lives.

We lose our awareness of

What God is doing around us

And what He desires to do

In and through us.

We become less and less

Active in His service

As we fail to respond

To His calls to do so.

Paul calls on the Romans, and upon us to wake up!  Don’t remain in such spiritual stupor.  Get out of bed and get moving.  The writer of Hebrews likened his call to action to a race in which we are to lay aside every encumbrance as well as the sin that so easily entangles us so that we can run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Spiritually waking up is not just refraining from sin,

But also actively serving the Lord and fulfilling

His will for your life even if that means

Setting aside things that may even

Be good, but are not the best for us.

Why should we wake up?  Paul gives two related reasons –  Knowing the time, and knowing the nearness of the Lord’s return.

There are two Greek words for “time.”  The first is “chronos” from which we get words such as “chronology, chronometer, and clock.”  This is the measure of the passing of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years.  That is not the word found here.  It is the second Greek word for “time” is “kairos,” which is used here.  It speaks of “time in the sense of epoch, era, or age.”  This is the word Jesus used when rebuking the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 16:3 that they could discern the coming weather from the appearance of the sky, but they could not discern “the signs of the times.”  They were so spiritually blind that they could not tell that they were living in the times of the Messiah, who was actually standing before them.

There are many particular ages which the Bible refers to, such as the “days of Noah” (Matthew 24:37), the “ancient times” of the patriarchs (Joshua 24:2), the “times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30), and the “present age” (Titus 2:12).  The “time” that Paul is speaking of here is the present time which precedes the return of Christ.

The urgency of Paul’s admonition is found in him telling them that it was “already the hour” for them to “awaken from sleep.”  They could not risk remaining complacent or ignoring his admonition.  Neither can we, for what he said to them is still true today. “For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.”  Paul is talking to Christians who had already been converted, so he is not referring to them coming to salvation, but rather to the culmination of their salvation.  Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification had already taken place (Romans 8:29-30).  They were now awaiting the final aspect of salvation, glorification.  Years have gone by since they were saved, just as is true for many of us, so obviously we are closer to the culmination of our salvation now than when we first believed.  The time of our Lord’s return is closer today than it was yesterday.  In fact, James 5:9 tells us that he “right at the door.”  The night of man’s spiritual darkness is almost gone and the day of Christ’s revelation is at hand.  The imminent return of Jesus is to be a cause for Christians’ to rouse themselves out of their slumber and live right.

Live Right!

The fact that Jesus could return at any time is a cause of both comfort and urgency in the Christian.  It was a personal comfort for Paul, and he, James, and John used it to motivate believers to holiness.

Paul did not know when Jesus would return, for no man knows the day or hour when that will be (Matthew 24:36), but Paul’s writings demonstrate that he expected it to be within his own life time.  Paul consistently includes himself among those that could be present at Jesus’ return.  For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, Paul speaks of the Lord’s return and the rapture, or catching away, which will occur at that moment.  The dead in Christ shall rise first, “then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.”  Paul places himself among those who might be alive at that time.  That was a comfort to him with which he wanted the Thessalonians to encourage each other. Earlier in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Paul commented how the Thessalonians had “turned from idols to the living and true God, to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  Here Paul includes himself with those who expected to be delivered from God’s coming wrath upon the earth.

In Philippians 4:20-21, Paul tells of his own motivation in walking in holiness by including himself among those whose, “citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory. . . .”

The Apostle John was also motivated to holiness by the promised return of Jesus. In 1 John 3:2-3 he says that everyone who has hope in being changed to become like Christ when He appears purifies himself, just as He is pure.  A few verses earlier John had encouraged his, “Little children, abide in Him so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.”  Interestingly, though John is old when he writes this, he includes himself as those who might be present at Jesus coming.

The apostle James both encouraged and warned based on the imminent coming of the Lord.  In James 5:7-8 he encouraged them to , “be patient” and “strengthen your hearts” as they strived to live godly lives in the midst of suffering because, “The Lord is at hand.”  James then warned in verse 9, “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”

The Lord’s coming is anticipated joyfully by those walking in holiness, but those who should be, but are not living godly lives wait for it with some trepidation because they know they will be put to shame.  Here in Romans 13:12-13, Paul does not want believers to be found in a shameful position when the Lord returns, so he admonishes, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.  Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light.  Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.”  Paul includes himself because he recognizes his own danger of stumbling. Every Christian needs to walk humbly with God, for pride precedes a fall (Proverbs 11:2; 16:8; 29:23), and as Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 10:12 in talking about the nation of Israel’s failures, “Therefore let him who things he stands take heed lest he fall.”

We are to “cast off” which is to “throw or take off” the “deeds of darkness,” which is a general reference to all sin.  We are to do the opposite and “put on the armor of light.” The armor of light is the protection that comes from walking in holiness.  Check out Ephesians 6:10-18 to see Paul’s full explanation of spiritual armor.  Paul contrasts here what is taken off with what is put on.  Sin is exchanged for holiness.  Throw off the darkness of sin and put on the protection of God’s holiness.  Stop doing the kinds of things that you want hidden from view, the kinds of things that are done in the night. Instead, do the things that are proper that you are unashamed to have the full light of day shine upon.

Paul gives several specific examples of the kinds of behaviors that are improper deeds of darkness . . .

1) “Carousing” from “komos,” which can also be translated as “revelry, rioting, and orgies.”  This would be the type of parties in which the participants lose control of themselves.

2) “Drunkenness,” from “meth,” which is, “intoxication by alcohol or other drugs to the point of losing control.  Drunkenness and carousing are usually associated with each other.

3) “Sexual promiscuity,” refers to “marital relations with those you are not married to.”  A common sin then and now.

4) “Sensuality,” can also be translated as, “indecency, licentiousness, lasciviousness, and shamelessness.  Another sin common to ancient Rome and our own times.  In its extreme form this is lewdness, but its milder forms are often excused as being “stylish.” This can be a problem for men or women, but it is more common for women to dress themselves in a way so as to flaunt their physical features so that they will catch the attention of men.  That is a deed of darkness.  We are to take to heart the God’s instruction to dress with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly”(1 Timothy 2:9).  Too many women who profess to be Christians are taking their cues on how to dress from the fashion pages instead of the Bible’s pages.  They dress in a way so as to call attention to the sexual nature of their bodies, as does a harlot, instead of dressing with modesty so as to call attention to their character qualities of having a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:4).  Ladies, if you don’t know what it means to dress modestly, then talk with one your older lady friends and let them teach you.  And men, the principles also apply to you.  Learn to present yourselves in a respectful manner instead of trying to imitate immoral people who society says are “cool,” “sexy,” or “macho.”

5) “Strife” and “jealousy” are often found together because the selfish ambition and envy of jealousy usually causes the quarrels, rivalry, contention, and fighting of strife.  It was these two sins that caused the problems in Corinth in which the church became divided (1 Corinthians 3:3).  They still cause the same problem in many churches today.

What is the solution to these evils?  How can a person accomplish what Paul says to do here?  It is summed up in the last verse . . .

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provisions for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  This does not mean that it is wrong to have a house, clothes in the closet, or food in the pantry, but it does mean that the fleshly desires of your body are not to control you.  Too many Christians try to straddle the fence and have one foot in God’s kingdom and one foot in the devil’s.  They want to be holy, but not so holy that they cannot also enjoy the pleasures of this world has to offer.  But the two are incompatible. They struggle and fail in the Christian life because of this.  As Paul says in Galatians 5 that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit of God are in opposition to each other. If you walk by the Spirit, you cannot carry out the desires of the flesh, but if your mind is set on the flesh, you will be hostile to God (Romans 8:7).

The problem arises when you

Are more concerned about satisfying

Your fleshly desires than in living for the Lord.

It is this wrong focus that leads to spiritual lethargy in the first place. As already mentioned from Matthew 6:33, God wants our attention to be given first to His kingdom and righteousness, and so He promises to meet those needs if we will put Him first. When our focus is on ourselves first, we soon not only find ourselves giving into temptation, but actually planning, often with self-justification, to sin.  Gluttony is aggravated by having your favorite foods in the house and preparing more than you actually need to eat, at the same time, you can’t get drunk if you never let alcohol come near you.  Sexual lusts are increased by exposure to provocative material, so called “adult entertainment,” and situations that lend themselves to them.  On the other hand, sensuality is eliminated when you are more concerned about what people think of your character than what they think of your body.

Going back to Paul’s arguments in Romans 6 . . .

If you are a Christian, then you

Have had a change of masters.  

It is time to stop obeying

Your old master of sin

And start obeying your

New master of righteousness.

Or to use Paul’s analogy here, it is time to take off the old clothes of sin and put on the new clothes of righteousness given to you by Jesus Christ.  Like Paul in Galatians 2:20, you are to be crucified with Christ and it is now Christ living in you.  When people see, you they should also see Christ.  If you are striving to be a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, then you will put on the Lord Jesus Christ and stop making provision to fulfill the lusts of your flesh.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The Christian And Government

Grace For The Journey

National Day of Prayer  The timing of our study of Romans 13:1-7 could hardly be better. Our passage this morning instructs us on the origin and purpose of government.  Given the debating that has been going on for quite some time about the role and authority of government in our everyday life, we need to understand what God says about it.  It is also always very relevant for us to understand the relationship of the Christian to government, but perhaps even more so when we look at our calendars and see there are only about three weeks left to file your Federal & State income taxes.

Remember that what Paul says here is predicated upon what he has already said in chapter 12.  The Christian’s relationship and response to government is based on the fact that we are to be living and holy sacrifices which are acceptable to God and whose lives are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We will not have a correct relationship with government if we do not first have correct relationships with one another.  We are to love without hypocrisy, abhorring evil while clinging to what is good. That foundation directs our relationships with other Christians and non-Christians alike. We are to even love our enemies and overcome evil with good.  As those qualities increase in our life we become more like our Lord Jesus Christ, and the more we are conformed into the image of Christ, the better citizens we will be regardless of what kind of government is over us. Keep in mind that Paul wrote this to a group of Christians that were under the tyrannical rule of Caesar Nero who only a few years later would carry out an horrible persecution of them.

The Authority of Government – Verses1-2.

Command to Submit.

This chapter begins with the statement, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities.”  Governing authorities are those who hold ruling power and their
representatives.  The king is the one who holds the ruling power, and his army represents him in enforcing that rule.  In our land . . .

The ruling power is actually supposed to be our laws.  

Those laws are then enforced

Through the law’s Representatives

Which include our elected officials,

Military personnel, and law enforcement officers.  

Each of these representatives of the law are sworn

To uphold the U.S. Constitution, and depending on

The particular officer, also the Constitution and laws

Of their particular State and local government.  

This allegiance to law instead of a person is one of the things

That makes our nation very different from many other types of governments.

This opening statement is given in the command voice, so it is not an option.  The word “subjection” is from a military term, meaning “to be under in rank.”  Here it is in the passive voice, meaning “to subject oneself to.”  This is obedience that is done willingly instead of being forced.  In other words, the Christian is commanded to obey government authority willingly instead of being forced to do so by the authority of the government.

This command to submit ourselves to the governing authorities makes the Christian different from the non-Christian in their relationship to government.  Both must obey the government, but they do so from very different motivations.  It is Paul’s explanation of the origin of authority that gives us our motivation to submit to it.

Origin of Authority – Verse 1.

Verse 1 says, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”  Take note here that Paul does not make any exceptions in his statement.  Remember too that he said this when Nero was emperor in Rome.  Those facts can make this a difficult idea to accept for it means that not only Nero, but other despots that have existed throughout the ages, including those in modern times such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Saddam have had their authority established by God.  Even Satan’s authority as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and “prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) ultimately comes from God.

Does that mean that God is the author of evil or responsible in some way for what evil beings do?  Of course not!  God is good and there is no evil in Him or that can come from Him (Psalm 5:4; Habakkuk 1:13; James 1:17).  

It does mean that God is so powerful

That even the evil that presently exists

Cannot thwart His will.  

God can even use that which is evil

To accomplish His holy purposes.

We have already seen this concept in our study of Romans 9:22 that God has, “endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” in order to, “demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known.”  Proverbs 16:4 is succinct in this point stating, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”  The Bible is full of examples that demonstrate that it is God who decides who will be in authority and who will not.  One of the more dramatic examples of this is Nebuchadnezzar.  In Jeremiah 25:9, the Lord calls Nebuchadnezzar, “My servant,” who would bring destruction on Judea and Jerusalem because of their sin.  2 Kings 24,25 and 2 Chronicles 36 records him doing exactly what Jeremiah had foretold.  In Daniel 4 Nebuchadnezzar is warned by Daniel that God would punish him for his pride and wickedness by making him like a beast of the field.  A year after that warning, Nebuchadnezzar was boasting about his accomplishments, power, and glory; and while the words were still in his mouth, a voice from heaven pronounced, “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you, and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place [will be] with the beasts of the field.  You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you, until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes” (Daniel 4:31,32).  Nebuchadnezzar spent the next seven years grazing with the cattle until his reason returned to him and he “blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation.  And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’”

The Christian recognizes this important truth.  There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.  Because of that truth we willingly submit ourselves to that governmental authority because they recognize in so doing they are actually submitting to the authority God has established.  That is why Christians should be the best citizens of whatever nation they are in regardless of the form of government in that nation or the personal qualities of the governmental leaders. We will see the exceptions to that submission in a few moments, but understand clearly the principle that is set forward here . . .

Christians willingly submit themselves to governmental authority

Because in doing so they are obeying God.  

That does not mean the Christian must agree with

The governmental system, nor does it mean that they cannot work

To change the system or its leaders, but it does mean that

Any efforts toward such changes will be done in

A godly manner as good citizens of their nation.

Consequences of Rebellion – Verse 2.

In verse 2 Paul warns of the consequences of rebellion against governmental authority, “Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.”  The word for “resists” here, is the exact opposite of “submit” in the previous verse.  This is “to be against or oppose authority.”  This resistance does not have to be active rebellion, but can also be
the more passive rebellion of refusing to submit.  Active and passive resistance to authority are the same in God’s eyes because He looks at the heart which is manifesting itself in the opposition to authority, and that opposition is ultimately against Him.  Such rebellion will result in God’s condemnation, and whether the consequences of that occur now or in eternity, you want to avoid it.

The Purpose of Government – Verses 3-4.

What then is the purpose of government?  Can governmental authorities freely do whatever they want under the idea that God has given them that right?  Western European kings claimed such “divine rights” until modern times.  What divine restrictions are placed on governmental authority and is there any manner in which despots can legitimately be removed?  Paul does not answer all those questions here, but he does give us a foundation upon which we can find answers to those questions.

Promotion of Good – Verse 3.

In verse 3, Paul shows that one of the purposes of government is the promotion of good, “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.  Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.”  Remember that Paul is writing this while Nero is Caesar.  Roman rule could be oppressive and cruel, yet for the most part, Roman rule brought stability and security for those that did what was good.  The same is actually true for most governments including some ruled by despotic dictators.  The laws that are established by most governments are for the purpose of deterring evil practices while promoting good behavior.  To the degree that a government is doing that, it is fulfilling God’s purposes for it.  To the degree that a government is not doing that, is the degree that it risks God overthrowing it for one that will carry out His decrees.  As Isaiah 5:20 warns, “”Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Most governments will have a mixed record in deterring evil and promoting and protecting what is good because humans are skewed by their sin in understanding what is good and evil.  Even our own government is mixed in its record.  While for the most part we must conclude that it seeks to promote good and deter evil, there are many areas in which it has become confused about what is good and what is evil because the philosophies of men instead of the revelation of God are being used to determine what is good and evil.  Killing unborn children is evil.  Advocating adoption is good.  Protecting freedom of conscience is good.  Requiring homosexuality and other sexual perversions to be accepted as legitimate “alternative lifestyles” is evil.  Deterring such unrighteous behaviors as greed, stealing, slander, malice, insolence, murder, lying, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, debauchery, etc., is good.  Giving awards to those
who do these things or who promote them through entertainment is evil.

A government that causes those who do good to fear are in direct violation of one of the reasons God has allowed that government to exist.  They are in danger of God’s judgement against them.  God judged ancient Israel, in part, for this very problem (see Isaiah 5).  If He will judge His own people for this failure, then all other nations also need to fear His judgment upon them.

Punishment of Evil – Verse 4.

The other major purpose of governmental authority is in verse 4, “For it is a minister of God to you for good.  But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.”  It is not enough to just promote good, but a government has a responsibility to carry out just punishment on those who do evil.  Rulers are to be a cause of fear to those who have evil behavior because they will punish such people.

Notice that in bearing the sword and being an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil, the ruler is “a minister of God.”  We don’t often think of government officials in that light, but it is true never-the-less.  Our President, U.S. Senators, Congressmen, Governor, State Senators, Assemblymen, Town Supervisor, and Town Councilmen all have a responsibility in making laws that will promote good while deterring evil and punishing those who do evil.  Every judge and police officer of every jurisdiction has the responsibility of enforcing those laws.  All of them are ministers of God in this respect, regardless of their own personal beliefs about God.  Even an atheistic government authority is a minister of God.

Why is that an important point?  

Because every government authority

Will have to give an account

Of their stewardship

Of office to God.

What King Jehoshaphat said in 2 Chronicles 19:6-7 to the judges he appointed still applies today, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.  Now then let the fear of the Lord be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”  

This is a truth we should remind our

Elected officials of constantly.  

Too often they think their loyalty

Must be to their constituency

For fear of not being re-elected.  

The truth is their loyalty

Needs to be to God,

For He will judge each

Of them by their faithfulness

In being His servants.

No matter who you are, it is a sobering thought to consider having to stand before God and give an account of your actions.

Evil doers should be afraid of rulers because they do not bear the sword in vain. The “sword” here represents the authority of the ruler to punish evil doers even to the extreme of the death penalty.  What is true for the most severe penalty is also true for lesser penalties.  

Many people are against the death penalty for a variety of reasons.  Regardless of those reasons, government authorities must remember that God is the one that established capital punishment for certain crimes, and He has entrusted the exercise of it to the civil authorities.  While appropriate procedures must be carefully followed so that the innocent are not unjustly executed, fear of such a tragedy must not result in the failure to carry out God’s commands and execute the guilty.  Such injustice brings
tragedy on a nation.  The Lord commanded in Genesis 9:6 that, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.”  Whenever there is a failure to bring a murderer to justice and executing him, the blood of the victim pollutes the land and calls out for God’s wrath upon that nation.  This was another one of the reasons for God bringing about the destruction of Ancient Israel and Judea (Numbers 35:33; Psalm 106:38).

America is not innocent in this area, for there are many States that will still not carry out capital punishment for even the most heinous of crimes.  And worse than that, we are a nation in which a majority of our elected officials are still protecting the practice of murdering the unborn under the evil delusion that a fictitious right of privacy is superior to the unborn baby’s right to life.  The so called “pro-choice” crowd is not concerned about choice or the woman, if they were, they would support informed consent and waiting period laws so that the pregnant woman could make an intelligent decision. They would also support parental notification and medical hygiene laws which apply to every other kind of medical procedure except abortion.  The truth is that these people want the power to murder their unborn at will for any reason.  They are among those that call evil good, and good evil.

God gives authority to governments so that they will promote good and bring punishment upon evildoers.  Those governments that will not fulfill His purposes risk His judgement.  We need to thank the Lord for His continuing longsuffering and mercy toward us, for we are deserving of His wrath.  The blood of the innocents pollute our land and cry out to Him for justice.  

Before I go on to look at what Paul says about the Christians’ duty to government, let me make a couple of brief comments about how God deals with governments that will not fulfill His purposes.  We have many Biblical examples of how God has done this in the past.

In some cases, God will raise up a deliverer who will throw off the yoke of a government that is oppressing people over which they have no legitimate claim of authority.  Such was the case in the Exodus when God raised up Moses to lead Israel out of its bondage to Pharaoh.  In this case, God directly intervened and destroyed Egypt until they sent the Israelites away.  In the period of the Judges, God would raise up individuals that would lead a rebellion against a foreign power that was oppressing them.  The Israelites belong to God and their proper government authority was the system set up within that Theocracy.  Other nations that came in and conquered various areas were usurpers to the legitimate government.  The “rebellion” was the legitimate authority re-establishing a proper government.

In other cases, God used one nation to destroy another for various reasons.  I have already pointed out that God punished His own people in this manner.  Assyria destroyed Israel and Babylon destroyed Judah.  Later, the Persian empire, successor to the Babylonians, restored the nation of Judah.  God also used Israel to destroy the wicked nations.  They destroyed the Canaanite kingdoms first, and then as other nations would attack, they would fight back and destroy them.  That includes Moab, Edom, and Ammon.

These same sort of actions still occurs.  When one nation oversteps its bounds and threatens or attacks another nation, that other nation has a duty to protect its people, promote good, and punish evil by wielding its own sword.  Such was the case with defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and is the case in the current war against Iraq.

We must remember that nations are not the same as individuals.  Nations are in themselves governing authorities.  There is no God-given command for them to submit to each other.  And just to be clear on this in case anyone wonders, the United Nations is not a governmental authority.  It is a forum for nations to work together in relationships with one another in solving international problems, and to develop coalitions in dealing with the threats and attacks of belligerent powers against allies. The U.N. holds no “governmental authority” over the United States or any other nation.

Our Duty to Government – Verses 5-7.

In verse 5-7, Paul gives instructions on the Christian’s duty to governmental authority.

Be in Subjection – Verse 5.

He repeats the principle that we are to be in subjection to governing authorities, but he also gives the reason why, “Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.” 

Fear of its wrath is the first reason. This is a very practical reason, for the “sword” should be feared.  This is the reason people slow down when they see a State Trooper by the side of the road or in their rear-view mirror. This is the reason that just the presence of police at a function keeps a crowd quieted down, and why a visible security guard – or even a camera – reduces shoplifting.  People fear the consequences.  They don’t want a ticket and they don’t want to go to jail.  But this is not the reason that should motivate the mature Christian.  We are not to live in fear, for God’s love casts
that away.

Conscience sake should be the motivation of the Christian.  In Acts 24:16 Paul said that his hope in Christ and the resurrection had caused him to always strive to have a blameless conscience toward God and man.  The Apostle Peter was also motivated by his relationship with the Lord and he wanted other Christians to be motivated by the same.  In 1 Peter 2:13-17 he commanded that for “the Lord’s sake,” Christians were to “submit themselves to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but [use it] as bondslaves of God.  Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”  That is very similar to what Paul has said here in Romans.  Peter added in 1 Peter 3:15-16 that the Christian is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Laws, warning signs, and such are there

To motivate the non-Christian to refrain

From evil by making him fear the consequences.  

Christians are to be motivated out of their love

For Christ to do good and flee from evil.

As we mature as Christians, we should be increasingly motivated to submit to the governing authorities out of a conscience transformed by our love for Christ, instead of fear of punishment.  

Pay Taxes – Verse 6.

This motivation also causes us to do something else. Verse 6 tells us, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.”  No one has ever liked taxes, except those who make their living off them, and even they don’t like paying them.  Yet, because the Christian recognizes the origin and purpose of government, out of conscience sake they will pay their taxes so that the government can carry out its God given duties of promoting good and deterring evil because of their punishment of it.  Remember once again that Paul is writing this at a time when taxes were not only unjust and oppressive, but often even harsher because of the corruption of the tax collectors who would demand more than the required amount.  Remember that even Jesus, who as Son of God owed no taxes, still paid them (Matthew 17:25-27).  Jesus’ response in Matthew 22:17-21 to the Pharisees question about paying the hated poll-tax is still the final word on paying taxes, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”

Taxes belong to the governing authorities.  We pay what we owe out of conscience sake because they are servants of God.  In this nation we can and should work toward making sure taxes are fair and used properly.  But even when they are corrupt and used wrongly, we still do not cheat on our taxes, because that would not only affect ourselves, but also bring shame on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Render Proper Respect – Verse 7.

In verse 7, Paul wraps up the application of this principle of subjecting ourselves to the governing authorities saying, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” To “render” is to “pay” or “give” what belongs to them.

Tax has already been covered, but the fact that Paul mentions it again in this verse and first in this list stresses the importance of it.  This is the general income or property tax.

Custom is actually a particular kind of tax on merchandise.  We know this as sales tax.

Fear is a word describing emotion, and as used here, it refers to the proper emotions that should be due to someone in authority.  It could range from the simple awe that is often present when you meet someone in an important position of power, to the dread you might feel when being questioned by the police or standing before a judge awaiting his verdict.

Honor is proper respect due to a person that is exhibited in following proper decorum and protocol.  It includes the proper courtesies such as using formal speech, wearing appropriate clothing and making respectful gestures.

We live in a society that is not only increasingly informal, but also one in which rudeness is replacing courtesy, and authority is not respected.  Though a believer in Christ may come from such a society, as they mature, they are to change in this area as well, for that is the example our Lord Jesus and His apostles gave to us whenever they interacted with governmental authorities.

Out of love for God and understanding that He is in control of all things, including government, Christians should be the best citizens of any nation.  When people look at your life, would they think that of you?

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 5

Grace For The Journey

We have been studying Romans for the past two months.  I trust that you now understand that when a person places their faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, there are radical changes that take place. When a person is justified through faith in Christ, they have a change of masters .  They are freed from bondage to sin and the devil and made slaves of God and righteousness. They are then progressively changed to be conformed into the image of Christ as they present themselves as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God and are transformed by the renewing of their minds.

We have been concentrating on this last mentioned aspect of the radical changes that are made in the life of a Christian as we have been studying Romans 12 for the past several days.  I have gone slowly over the first 13 verses in order to emphasize that Christians take on a completely different worldview from what they had as non-Christians.  

Life is now centered in God instead of self.  

You are now part of Christ’s Body

With a purpose in building up His kingdom

Instead of building up your own.

When a person becomes a Christian,

Their relationship with God,

Themselves and others all change.

Several days ago we looked at the key principle given in Romans 12:9 that is to govern all our relationships.  

We are to love others without hypocrisy

In abhorring what is evil

And clinging to what is good .

This “love” is “agape,” the love of choice and commitment that sacrifices itself for the best interest of the one loved, and which reflects the holy character of God.

We have also seen over the last few days the outworking of this kind of love within the fellowship of other Christians.  Paul says in Romans 12:10-13, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.”

In today’s blog we will be examining verses 14-21 and the relationships we are to have with other people including those that would be considered our enemies.  While the nature of the brotherly love that is to exist between Christians is so radical that Jesus said that others would know we are His followers by that love (John 13:35), the love we are to have for people who even persecute us is even more radical.  Before we examine what Paul says here in Romans 12, lets first see the foundation for it in what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?  Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same?  And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Paul’s description of the kind of brotherly love believers are to have for one another because of their common love for Jesus Christ is beyond what non-Christians would normally have, but in essence, it is not that radical to love people that are like yourselves.  It is easy to love someone that loves you.  What is very radical is to love people that are very unlike yourself, and even more so to love people that not only do not like you, but consider you to be their enemy.  That is the foundation for what Paul says in Romans 12:14-21.

It is important to keep in mind as we study these verses that they form one passage. Too often these verses, as well as the ones preceding them, are viewed as independent statements and as such are taken out of context.  The flow of Paul’s thought must be maintained in order to correctly understand them.  

Verse 14 forms the foundation of how we are to deal with other people.  Verses 15-18 are a series of prepositional and infinitive phrases expanding on this foundation, and verses 19-21 tie this principle back to the Old Testament.

Being a Blessing – Verse 14.

The foundational principle in our dealing with other people is that we are to be a blessing, even to those who are against us. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not.”  I have already pointed out from Matthew 5:44ff what Jesus said about our need to love our enemies instead of hating them.  This is opposite the natural reaction people have to those that treat them in a way other than how they want to be treated. Whether it is something as simple as being discourteous on the road, or something serious as a violent crime, the normal reaction is to curse the offensive person.  On what basis can someone actually put this into practice?

Recall what Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 5:10-12 at the end of the section we usually refer to as the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”

The basis of being a blessing is living

For the correct purpose in life.  

It really is not about you

And the here and now.  

It is about God and eternity.

If your goal in life is to be like Jesus and please God, then when people persecute you because of righteousness, you can rejoice because you are reflecting God.  When people lie about you and seek your harm on account of Jesus, then your goal of having Christ live in and through you is being fulfilled.  Evil people do not like holiness because it exposes their sinfulness.  When people are evil towards you, then you are suffering for the same reason that the prophets of old suffered.  If your goal in life is holiness and usefulness to God, then being equated with His prophets is a great honor.  If that is not your goal, then persecution will cause you to curse.

The word “blessing” here comes from a compound Greek word literally meaning “good word” and hence “to speak well of” or “invoke blessings.”  We get our word  “eulogy” from it.  The word “curse” here is the opposite.  It comes from another compound Greed word, which means to “pray against.”

Jesus’ life was an example of this.  Jesus gave extremely strong warnings to his enemies (Matthew 23).  He even declared to them that the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit could not be forgiven, but we do not find Jesus cursing them.  In fact, we find the opposite even towards those who had placed Him on the cross of Calvary.  Luke 23:34 records Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Stephen said a similar thing in Acts 7:60 in behalf of those that were stoning him to death.

So it must be with us.  This does not preclude strong warnings of God’s judgement to come, nor does it preclude taking action against those who are doing evil.  Jesus did both (Matthew 23; John 2:15).  It does preclude us from praying that God would damn them.

Our greatest desire should be that they would repent and turn to the Savior and become a brother or sister in Christ.  Again, this does not preclude us from giving strong warnings or taking action against evil.  This is the attitude that enables the Christian to stand strongly against the evil that people would do without hating the evil doer.

Be a blessing to others, and when you pray for them, seek God’s grace and mercy for them instead of their judgement.  They may be deserving of God’s condemnation, but at one time, so were you.

Being Other Centered – Verse 15.

The Christian can bless instead of curse

Because there has been a heart change.  

As the believer becomes more focused

On living for God, there is a corresponding

Change from self-centeredness to

A genuine concern for other people.

It is for that reason that the Christian can “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”  Verse15 is a practical way in which being a blessing can be expressed. 

The natural response to our enemies is to be upset when things are going well for them and to be happy when bad things happen to them.  All of us understand this.  We cheer the part of the story when the hero finally gets his revenge on the bad guy.  We are glad when the irritating co-worker gets fired.  We are happy to see the guy who just went rocketing by us get pulled over by the State Trooper.  Certainly, there is a proper sense of rejoicing in justice, but there is also that part of being glad that the guy is suffering. This verse tells us that the Christian is not to do that.  Instead, we are to rejoice with them when good things happen and cry with them when bad things happen.

In the film “Gods and Generals” there was one scene from that film that very well expressed the meaning of this verse.  A young woman had barely managed to escape Fredericksburg as the town was shelled and then the Union troops came in.  She could see the destruction her hometown was suffering, and she was currently helping with the soldiers that were wounded in the defense of her city and state.  Yet, when she looked out on the fields that were now covered with Union dead after the battle, her heart was full of compassion and saddness, not glee.

We are not to rejoice at the woes that come upon our enemies.  Proverbs 24:17-18 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and He turn away His anger from him.” Proverbs 17:5 adds, “He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.”

This principle should be lived in all areas of our lives, and if it is to be applied in the more difficult situations of being this way toward an enemy, then it must start in the simple things.  We need to teach our children to be good losers who congratulate the winner of a game; we need to teach them to be good winners who will not gloat but instead will encourage those who lost; we need to congratulate our rival at work who got the promotion instead of us, and if you got the promotion instead of your rival, don’t rub it in his face.  When your enemy suffers, even if it is from justice, weep for them that their evil should bring such pain on themselves and others.

The Christian is to seek to be a blessing from God, and in doing so they become less selfish and more compassionate for others, including their enemies.  That is why they can rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep.  It is part of our being living sacrifices.  Take note as well that it is this compassion that can impact an enemy with the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it reflects His love for us.

Being Humble – Verse 16.

In verse 16 we find another exhortation for Christians to be humble people. “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”  Humility breeds unity while pride causes division.  The Corinthian church was marked by divisions caused by the pride of the various factions within it.  Paul called on them to overcome this by being, “Made complete in the same mind and same judgement” (1 Corinthians 1:10).  Paul closed his second letter to them calling on them to, “Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11.  Philippians 2:1-4 shows the connection of unity and humility saying, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Paul then went on to point out Jesus as the great example of such humility.

We are a blessing to other people when we strive to find common ground upon which we can be unified.  This is not to say in any way that we are to ignore truth in order to have unity.  The ecumenical movement seeks unity at the expense of truth.  Paul is clear on this subject in 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 saying, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,  ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.”

The problem Paul addresses here is the common practice in which minor issues related to personal views become the point of division.  The heart of that problem is pride. Arrogance demands that “it must be my way or no way” and that “only fools would hold to a view other than the one I have.” Too often Christians lose their ability to either win over those who are lost or even gain an audience for the truth they want to speak because of their haughty attitudes.  Instead of exhibiting righteousness in Christ, they exhibit self-righteousness that looks down on other people.  That self-righteous attitude among professing Christians turns many people away from Christ.

Some of this attitude can be held over from the social group that the Christian came from.  Most societies pay close attention to social standing, for it is the basis upon people of various classes are divided.  It sets the unwritten rules about whom is supposed to be able to associate with whom and on what basis.  Those societal rules are not to apply to the Christian.  We are not to consider ourselves to be wise in our own eyes.  We are not to be people who seek out the societal elite while shunning the lowly. We are to treat all people with the same dignity and respect.  As Paul points out in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek , there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Being Respectful – Verse 17.

As a living sacrifice the Christian strives to do what is right which includes being respectful.  Verse 17 says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.”  The two phrases in this verse are contrasts with each other.  Evil and good are opposites of each other.  What is good is “right, proper, fitting; better; honorable, honest; fine, beautiful, precious.”  What is evil is “bad, wrong; injury, harmful, foul, troublesome.”

Paul says almost the exact same thing in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all men”  You cannot be a blessing if you are returning evil for evil.  That would be trying to put into action a curse you wanted to come upon them.  

God’s will is not accomplished by His people

Doing what is contrary to His holy nature.

God is so powerful that He can

Bring good out of evil, but God is not evil

Himself nor the cause of it (James 1).

The blessing comes when the Christian does

That which reflects God’s character.

The apostle Peter also speaks to this issue.  In 1 Peter 3:8-12 he says, “To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit;  not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.  For, let him who means to love life and see good days refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile. And let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

We seek to be a blessing instead of a curse and so we do what is good for men instead of returning the evil they have evil done to us.

Being Peaceful – Verse 18.

In verse 18 Paul addresses a very practical aspect of trying to be a blessing and sets a balance for us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  The reality is that there are people that will not let peace to be established no matter how much you want it and no matter what you do, and peace is a two way street.  The point in this verse is that we are to take seriously our responsibility in striving to establish peace with others.  As long as we do not compromise any of the principles of God’s Word, we should do whatever we can to bring about peace.  We honestly seek reconciliation, but we do not compromise the truth, nor do we sacrifice the rights or safety of others.  Peace is not purchased with appeasement.  However, we do forsake our own pride which is the foundation of grudges.  We do freely offer forgiveness which removes the basis of any bitterness.

Being Patient – Verse 19.

In verse 19 Paul reveals the reason a Christian is to strive for peace and be a blessing instead of cursing or repaying evil with evil. Our desire for revenge is tempered by our submission to God, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.“  There are two essential truths in this verse that cause the Christian to be patient instead of seeking revenge on those who are evil towards him.

First, vengeance is something that belongs to God and not to us.

We do not have the right to carry out acts of revenge.

Second, by refraining from taking our own revenge, we leave room for God’s wrath to come upon evildoers.

We must remember that God is judge, not us.  We must also remember that things need to be done in His timing and not ours.  We must not take God’s patience and forbearance as any sign of injustice on God’s part. Romans 2:4 tells us that those aspects of God’s kindness should lead to repentance.  Psalm 73 records Asaph’s struggle with this as he noticed that the wicked were at ease and had increased in wealth while he suffered.  It was not until he went into the sanctuary of God and regained his eternal perspective that he remembered how God’s justice works.  The same is often true for us.  We must keep the eternal perspective.  God will bring about complete justice in His time even if that does not occur until this life is over.  No matter how the wicked faired in this life, they will stand before God at the Great White Throne and all those whose names are not written in the Book of Life will be judged according to their deeds and then be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

Judgement and vengeance belong to the Lord because only He can bring about true justice.  Only the Lord Himself can make the correct application of His mercy and grace as well as full measure of His wrath.  No man can do that.  In Exodus 34:6-7, the Lord proclaimed Himself to Moses saying, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave [the guilty] unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”  We are to be patient and leave judgement and vengeance in the Lord’s hands.

Overcoming Evil – Verses 20-21.

What Paul says in verses 20,21 often confuse people because it is taken out of the context of the passage, “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Verse 20 is often taken by people to mean that in doing good to my enemy I will in some way increase his punishment. Some say that punishment will occur in this life, and others say it just increases their punishment in hell. That is an interpretation that appeals to us because it clothes our desire for revenge with good works.  We rationalize, “I can be good and still get revenge,” but such an interpretation is contrary to the context.

The theme of this chapter is the manner in which the Christian should live as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God.  The flow of the passage puts this verse in the section of living in relationships with others by loving without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good.  This section of the chapter is based on the theme of blessing our enemies instead of cursing them, and the verses immediately before and after stress not taking our own revenge but overcoming evil with good including feeding our enemy when they are hungry and giving them a drink when they are thirsty.

In addition, verse 20 is taken directly from Proverbs 25:21-22 which also adds the phrase, “And the Lord will reward you” at the end.  Clearly then, the context here demands that the phrase “in doing so you will heap burning coals upon his head” must mean something other than some form of revenge upon the enemy.

The most common interpretation of this phrase is that it was a reference to the burning shame that we place upon our enemies by doing good to them.  John MacArthur traces this to an Egyptian custom in which a person who wanted to show his contrition would place burning coals in a pan on top of his head to represent the burning pain of his shame and guilt.  This argument has some merit both from the fact that it was a common interpretation even in the early church and from a parallel thought Peter gives in 1 Peter 3:16-17.  He says there, “And keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

However, in my own mind I still find this idea somewhat contrary to the passage since in essence it means that I am to do good to my enemy so that I may shame him.  That may be the consequence, but it does not seem to be a motive that matches blessing those who persecute me.  My own view of this may be somewhat speculative and rare in commentaries, but I think the context here is still stressing being a blessing.  Fire in the ancient world, even as it is today, could be a blessing or a curse.  It could hurt you or destroy your property, but it could also warm you, cook your food, and provide light. They did not have gas lighters or matches as we do now, so if the fire in your house went out, you had to do some work to try and get another one started, or you could get it from your neighbors house.  An easy way to transfer it would be in the form of hot coals carried in a pot. How did they carry pots then?  On their heads, even as is still commonly done in many places around the world.  Now again, this is a speculative idea and perhaps I am wrong, but I don’t think I am wrong in stressing that this passage is about our blessing our enemies instead of responding in the natural sinful manner of cursing them.

I think what Paul says in verse 21 as he ends this thought also stresses this idea, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  I am to resist the temptation to respond in the same manner that is common to sinners.  I am not to let the evil done by others against me prod me into responding with more evil.  Instead, I am to overcome such evil by doing good.

An example of this is in 2 Kings 6 when the prophet Elisha captured the army that was sent by the king of Aram to capture him. It would have been easy for Elisha to have had them all killed.  Instead he had a great feast prepared for them and then sent them back to their king.  The result was that the Arameans stopped coming into the land of Israel. We are not told why, just that they stopped.  Perhaps it was shame, or perhaps it was fear of the God of Elisha who was so powerful that He could even afford to free His enemies after capturing them.  A lessor power would have had to kill the army in order to increase his relative strength against his enemy.

The point of this passage is simply this.  

Christians are to be living and holy

Sacrifices that are acceptable to God.  

Our purpose in life has radically changed

And so our lives change accordingly as we are

Transformed by the renewing of our minds.  

Our lives as believers are now to be

Increasingly marked with agape love

Which is without hypocrisy, abhors

Evil and clings to what is good.

That love is practically applied in all our relationships including our enemies.  Instead of returning evil for evil and curse them for what they do, we now seek to bless them with our godliness.  We can do this because we can trust God to not only take care of us, but to also bring about justice to evil doers which is tempered with His mercy and grace to those that repent.

Have you received God’s forgiveness for your evil deeds?  If not, you can today through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who paid the penalty of your sin on your behalf.  If you have, then live accordingly as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to Him.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Practical Christian Living, Part 4

Grace For The Journey

  We have been studying Romans 12 and what Paul has to say about the practical ramifications of being a Christian.  When a person becomes a Christian there are changes that will occur in that person’s life as a result of their new beliefs.  Paul states very directly in Romans 12:1 that the only reasonable response of worship that we could have to God’s mercies to us in Jesus Christ which have resulted in our salvation is that we should present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices that are acceptable to God. We have spent the bulk of our time in closely examining what Paul says about how being a living sacrifice acceptable to God should work out in our everyday lives.

Being Transformed.

In verse 2 we found that we should resist the pressures of the world to believe and act like it does.  Instead we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  As we learn what God has revealed to us in the Bible about Himself and how we are to live, we become convicted about what is right and wrong to believe and do.  As we set our minds on the things above, the things of this earth become less important to us. This results in changes in our attitudes and behaviors.  We become more and more like our Savior and less like the sinner we once were. God is conforming us into the image of Christ.

Being Humble in the Body.

In verses 3-5 we found that as living sacrifices we develop a proper judgement of ourselves because we learn where we really fit in the important things of life.  As members of the body of Christ, we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  Each of us needs each other for the body to function properly, so we become humble men and women who strive to work together in harmony.

Using Your Gifts.

Part of that mutual cooperation is explained further in verses 6-8 when Paul briefly addresses the subject of spiritual gifts and lists out a few of those that exist within the church.  God equips each of those who belong to Him with abilities and ministries in which they are to serve Him and in doing so build up the rest of the body.  As a living sacrifice, you are God’s servant who is to stand ready to serve our Lord however He desires.  

Living in Relationships.

In verses 9-21 Paul explains how being a living sacrifice unto God is to practically work out in our relationships with others.  The general principle is given in verse 9.  We are to love without hypocrisy, abhorring what is evil and clinging to what is good.  This love is “agape,” the love of choice and commitment that sacrifices itself for the best interest of the one loved.  It is a love that is never feigned and so it is without hypocrisy.  Because it is a love that reflects God’s character and nature it abhors what is evil and clings to what is good.  It is repulsed by that which is ungodly while it is attracted to that which is godly.

Living in Relationships with One Another.

Brotherly Love.

In verses 10-13 Paul expands on this general principle in our relationships with other believers.  We have already seen that the Christian as a living sacrifice is to be devoted to one another in brotherly love that is demonstrated in giving preference in honor to one another.  We consider the other more important than ourselves and step out to lead the way in showing such respect and honor.  We seek to initiate instead of just respond.

This principle of showing such brotherly love is further expand in verses 11-13 with a sequence of specific duties we have toward one another.  Diligence is the primary duty listed here under which Paul marks out seven more specific areas in which our being living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God are to be practically demonstrated.

Diligence without slothfulness.

* Fervent in spirit.

* Serving in the Lord.

* Rejoicing in hope.

* Enduring in tribulation.

* Devoted in prayer.

* Contributing to the needs of the saints.

* Practicing hospitality.

Remember that diligence without slothfulness is the idea that we are to be ready to quickly respond in earnestness to accomplish, promote or strive after whatever is needful in our relationships with others.  A person who is slothful is the opposite.  They hesitate and delay in their response.  Because the Spirit of God has touched our lives, we are zealous in our own spirit to respond to God’s Spirit in our relationships with others.  We seek to serve one another in the Lord because as living sacrifices it is now Christ living through us.  

Rejoicing in Hope, Persevering in Tribulation.

In Friday’s blog, we saw that our attitude is one in which we are “rejoicing in hope” and “persevering in tribulation.”  As living sacrifices our lives are centered around God and His glory instead of the things of this life.  We help one another in the difficult times of life by encouraging each other with our hope in God’s promises.  We looked at some of those promises in detail last week.  They range from His promises related to our salvation from sin through faith in Christ, to His promises that we will be with Him in heaven for eternity, to the practical matters of everyday life in the here and now that He will provide for our needs as we seek first His kingdom and righteousness.  We encourage each other in the tribulations of life because we know that God is still at work, He has not forsaken us, and He will do something in our lives even in the midst of the trials.

Today, we are going to look at the last three duties in this list, “continuing in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and practicing hospitality.”  Tomorrow we will examine verses 14-21 and how being a living sacrifice is to affect our relationships with non-believers including enemies.

Devoted in Prayer.

The word for “prayer” here, is a common, general word for people verbally
communicating to God.  What is this communication we call prayer?  It is not repetition of the same thing over and over again.  Jesus specifically condemned such practice in Matthew 6Z:7-8, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.  Therefore do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him.”

It is not to be done as a means to impress others with your piety.  Jesus condemned that practice in Matthew 6:5, And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.”

Prayer is not religious rituals or ceremonies,

Though that is the practice in many religions.

Neither burning candles, smoking incense, spinning wheels, nor flying flags are communication to God for the same reason they are not communication to any of us.  If someone came up to you and instead of speaking started doing one of these things, such as lighting candles and putting them in front of you, what would you think?  If someone came up and told you something and then lit the candles and said the candle was now their constant reminder to you of what they said, what would you think?  Are you supposed to forget them when the candle goes out?

God does not need an inanimate object from us to constantly remind Him of us and our needs.  The God who reveals Himself in the Bible is omniscient.  He knows our needs before we even ask.  God does not dwell in a building or in any one location.  He is omnipresent and has chosen to have His Spirit dwell within His people.  God is ever present with us and intimately involved in our lives.  God cares for us and has even numbered the hairs on our heads (Matthew 10).  Religious rituals and ceremonies are not substitutes for true prayer.

What is true prayer?  One of the best definitions I have seen is that given by John Bunyan. “Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God has promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission in faith to the will of God.”

True prayer is real, personal communication with the God who created you, and its purpose is found in the dynamics of that relationship.  He is God and you are His creature. He is Lord, and you are His servant.  It is not you telling Him what to do, but rather expressing your heart and then seeking His will.  D.L. Moody described this well saying, “After we have made our requests known to Him, our language should be, ‘Thy will be done.’  I would a thousand times rather that God’s will should be done than my own, I cannot see into the future as God can; therefore, it is a good deal better to let Him choose for me than to choose for myself.”

As living sacrifices, we are to be devoted to such prayer.  Our desire is to seek God’s will above all else including in our communication to God.  The word translated as “devoted,” here, means to be “steadfast or strong toward” and hence the idea of continuing or devoted. This is more than the idea of just “praying without ceasing” as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  The idea there is to be in a mindset of prayer at all
times.  Here, there is a more active element.

Paul says the same thing in Colossians 4:2 to which he adds, “keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving, praying at the same time for us as well, that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; in order that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.”  It takes an active mind to be steadfast in prayer in the midst of all the situations that come up in life.  It also takes an active mind to remember the things that your Christian brothers and sisters are going through including what they are doing in serving the Lord.

Notice that this phrase comes directly after “persevering in tribulation.”  There are many things that could distract us and move our attention away from the Lord including tribulations.  Yet, those very things should cause the Christian to seek the Lord and His will all the more.  In the midst of affliction and problems, we should not only desire to let the Lord know how we are doing, but actively seeking the Lord’s help in enduring the affliction and working through the problems in a way that glorifies Him.  Paul was enduring the affliction of prison at the time . . .

Yet the focus of his prayer was not on

Being relieved from that affliction,

But rather that a door of ministry

Would be opened to him

For declaring God’s Word,

And that in doing so he would

Speak God’s message clearly.

I will add here that it also takes steadfastness to pray when things are going well.  Too often we can get so wrapped up in the blessings we are enjoying that we forget to be mindful of the One that gave them to us in the first place.

As a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God, we should be steadfast and continuing in our communication with our Lord.  Are you devoted in prayer?  Are you diligent in talking with God not only about your own life, but also the lives of those around you
and their various ministries?  A very practical side benefit of praying for others is that removes jealousy and increases our own joy.  When we are praying for others and then see the Lord use them, we are also partakers in that blessing.  We become excited and thankful for what the Lord has done through someone else.  That does not leave any room for jealousy.

Contributing To The Needs Of The Saints.

In verse 13 we find the next specific duty we have toward one another which is, “Contributing to the needs of the saints.”  The word for “saints” here are, of course, other believers.  Catholicism may want to reserve sainthood for some special class of Christians, but the Bible does not.  Every person saved by God’s grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a saint, a “holy one,” for they have been chosen and set apart for Him.  Anyone doubting this can simply look up the word “saints” in your Bible and you will see this is true.

When we talk about “contributing to the needs” of others, some people become uncomfortable because they think someone is about to try to pick their pocket.  We don’t like our government doing that even though we have become used to the socialism in our government by which they tax us in order to give to people they define as needy.  We certainly would not like our church doing that.  Let me set your mind at ease. This church does not do that because it would be against the clear principles of the New Testament for us to do so.  Even the early church in which they “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44) did not do that, as we shall see later on in this blog.

There are three key words in Paul’s instruction here in verse 13 – “contributing,” “needs” and “saints.”   As we have already seen, “saints” refers to all true Christians.  While we strive to do good to all men, we have a special responsibility towards our own family and then to other Christians.  In 1 Timothy 3:8, Paul is very direct in our family responsibility saying, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an unbeliever.”  Paul then goes on to explain the church’s responsibility in taking care of widows who do not have family to meet their needs and meet certain criteria of godliness.  In Galatians 6:9-10 Paul says, “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

It is not wrong for Christians to take care of one another first and then give consideration to others.  In fact, it is a Biblical command.  What kind of strange love would it be for a man to neglect the needs of his own family, yet meet the needs of others?  We need to remember that Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ, for each of us are part of God’s family.

The next key word for us here is “needs.”  Too often what are described as “needs” are nothing more than selfish desires.  It is a proper and godly love in which a man meets the true needs of his family and then they share what they have beyond that to meet the needs of others.  What then constitutes real needs?

We can be sure from the beginning that real needs do not include luxury items and conveniences.  Perhaps one of the things that irritate most of us about government welfare programs is that they often take money out of our pockets and give it to people who then have more luxury items and comforts than we have.  Every winter there are stories about people who are given utility subsidies that heat their place to 800 or more so they can walk around in a T-shirt.  Responsible people put on a sweater and keep the heat down.  A need would be to help keep a person from freezing to death.  Beyond that it is a luxury.  What about food?  A need is to help people to have a diet that would keep them from starving and have decent nutrition.  Anything beyond that is a luxury.  I don’t mind helping people with food, and I have done so a lot over the years, but I do find it irritating to be paying for people to have porterhouse steak, shrimp, and bakery pies when my own budget is one of vegetables and tuna casserole. As odd as it sounds, I have had people turn down my offer to share with them the food Kay was serving to my own family. They were not as hungry as they made themselves out to be.

Another thing to keep in mind in this is to discern the real need instead of the presented want.  When I lived in Atlanta years ago, it was common to be approached while you were at a gas station by people who said they needed a couple of dollars for gas for their own car or so they could get something to eat.  A similar thing would occur at grocery markets.  As you came out, people would ask you for some money so they could be groceries.  The very design of these approaches were to catch you when you would be in a hurry.  I never gave any of them money.  Instead, I would offer to buy them what they said they needed.  No one ever took me up on buying gas or groceries for them. Only one person let me take them to lunch.  That took more time, but it also gave me the opportunity to share the Gospel with them.  Seeking to meet the actual need instead of the request not only exposes those who are fraudulent, but it allows you to meet real needs both physical and spiritual.  Meeting a physical need should be the door to open the opportunity to meet a spiritual need.  Don’t do the first without doing the second.

What do we actually need?  Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:8 that, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.”  Paul also said in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.”  We have a responsibility to meet the needs of people when they are legitimate, but that does not include the sluggard.  There is a big difference between not being able to work and refusing to work.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:25, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to
work.”
 Sluggards need to work first.

The third key word in this phrase is “contributing.”  I have saved this for last because I wanted to emphasize it.  This is from the word which is from the same root word which we usually translate as “communion” or “fellowship.”  It means to “participate or share in.”  Paul uses the same word in 1 Timothy 6:17,18 where he says, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”  Paul is not picking on the rich here, but simply reminding them why God has entrusted to them their riches. That goes for you and me as well.  In fact, part of the purpose of working is to be able to do this.  Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.

An important aspect to understand about “contributing” in this manner is that it is voluntary.  It is done as you decide.  Paul sets down the principles for this in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 when he was instructing them on the collection he was going to make among them in order to bring relief for the poor Christians in Jerusalem, “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully.  Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.” (verses 6-7).  Paul then goes on to remind them that God would meet their needs and that their contribution for the poor would result in their glorification of God and praying for them.  The principle here is that we give based on our own relationship with and trust in God.  There is no “church tax.”

The motivation to participate in meeting the needs of others arises out of being a living sacrifice and the resulting brotherly love that is to exist between Christians.  This was true even in the early church. In Acts 42-43 the Bible tells us, “And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” This was not a commune, for this mutual sharing was not required, but was done out of love for one another.  In Acts 5 when Peter confronted Annanias about only bringing a portion of the money from the land he had sold, the issue was not that Annanias had not given all the money, but that Annanias had lied about it.  Peter said to him in verse 4, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own?  And after it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men, but to God.”

As living and holy sacrifices unto God we freely give because doing good and sharing in such a manner are sacrifices that are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16).  We also help one another because of our love for God and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As 1 John 3:17-18 states it, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” 

Let me add one more point here about practicing this principle.  While some of this does take place from what you give to this church, for the most part, this is something that is done on an individual basis.  Even when we bring a need before the church, you respond to it individually.  You have relationships with one another, and when you see or learn of the need of a fellow Christian, you assess what you have and then seek ways in which you can help.  That is loving in “deed and truth.”  How are you doing at “contributing to the needs of the saints?”

Practicing Hospitality

The last phrase in this section, “Practicing hospitality,” flows directly from “contributing to the needs of the saints” for it expands the principle beyond the realm of those you personally know to also include those you do not personally know.  The word “hospitality” here, is a compound word combining “filos,” meaning love in the sense of affection, with the word xenos,” meaning foreigner or stranger.  Hospitality means to love strangers.

Practicing hospitality is a characteristic required of pastors (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8) and those who would be considered “widows indeed” and eligible for church support (1 Timothy 5:10).  But is also something that Peter commanded all Christians to do.  1 Peter 4:9 states, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint.”  It would not be very loving to be hospitable to someone and then later complain about the inconvenience or expense it caused you.  Besides, according to Hebrews 13:2, we should “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  Your guest may turn out to be a lot more than you thought.

What exactly is hospitality?  There was a time in which there were not motels and such along the roads as we have them today.  Those few inns that did exist could be expensive and/or dangerous.  A stranger passing through a town might often just go to the town square or common and spend the night there.  Hospitality was inviting that stranger to join you for a meal or even staying in your home.  There are many Biblical examples of this.  Abraham and Lot both did this with the result that they were actually being hospitable to angels (Genesis 18 and 19).  Such hospitality was a necessity for the prophets and the apostles.  You might recall the widow that provided for Elijah (1 Kings 17) or Lazarus, Martha and Mary that provided for Jesus (Luke 10).  John commended Gaius for his hospitality (3 John 5-8), and Paul commended Onesiphorus for his hospitality (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

There are plenty of restaurants and motels now, but hospitality is still something that Christians need to be diligent about putting into practice because it is the practical display of brotherly love.  This is an area that I believe our church can greatly improve.

Hospitality begins with a heart of compassion that will notice strangers and assess their needs.  It begins with being friendly enough to talk with people you don’t know and offer your help.  That would include inviting those who are visiting our church to lunch.  If we were practicing hospitality as we should, no guest should be able to leave here without at least being asked to lunch.  It would be even better if they were asked by several people from our church.  This is a ministry that any of us can do by simply sharing what we have.  You don’t have to serve a fancy meal or take someone to an expensive restaurant to be hospitable.  Your goal is to impress them with your love for Christ, not your financial condition.

There are also opportunities to have someone stay with you.  Kay and I have often hosted missionaries or visiting preachers that come to our church, but it is a blessing that our church members are also share in.  

How are you doing at practicing hospitality?  If all of us were doing so, we would need a coordinator of hospitality just so everyone gets the opportunity.  But you don’t need to wait for a formal ministry to be started.  You simply need to love God and thank Him for what He has already provided for you and then love other Christians, including strangers, enough to extend yourself to be a blessing to them.

How are you doing at presenting yourself as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God?  Are you progressing in being transformed by the renewing of your mind?  Are you growing in humility as you better understand your gifts and place within the body of Christ?  Are you increasing in your love without hypocrisy in abhorring evil and clinging to what is good?  How are you doing in showing brotherly love in all the practical ways discussed over the last three blogs?  I pray that each of us are a little more mature in these areas today than we were a month ago.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”