Proestablishmentarianism (Romans 16v25-27)

We talk about getting established in a home or in a business.  We mean that there is a lot of work especially in the beginning but, afterwards, we can enjoy the benefits.

Paul ends his letter to the Romans telling them God “is able to establish” them.  Notice it is a work God does, not something you do.  It’s like a father turning over his successful business to his son.

What is the work He has done to establish you?  That is what we are going to focus on as we close out Romans.

Romans 16:25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ…

The word “gospel” here is a reference to the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It reminds us of the early chapters of Romans where Paul let us know that believing sinners are justified – declared righteous – based on the finished work of Jesus on the Cross.  Our part is simply to believe – and believing is not a work.

Why does he call it “my gospel?”

One reason could be simply to emphasize how much he loved the good news about Jesus.  The gospel is a universal message given to meet a universal need.  When it is received, its power and effectiveness become yours personally.  Calling it “my gospel” is an endearing way of saying Jesus is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe – and that’s me!.

“My gospel” also reminds us that Paul was often attacked by legalistic Judaizing teachers of preaching an incomplete gospel message.  He preached grace alone while they added works of righteousness as being necessary for salvation.  “My gospel” was a way Paul had of referring to his grace-alone message, which was the correct message, the true gospel, taught by him and the other apostles.

You can never be established until and unless you are saved.  It’s bedrock.

And you won’t be truly established unless the gospel you’ve received is Paul’s gospel, the message of grace alone.  If you start adding works of any kind you will lose your solid footing and begin to trust in your own self- righteousness.

You are established by the gospel, Paul went on, “by the preaching of Jesus Christ,” i.e., by hearing preaching about Him.  He must be the content of the message.

I think a lot of Christians lack depth because the content of the messages they hear, and prefer to hear, are not really centered in Christ.  Think of the recent most popular Christian books.  A lot of them are about what you should or should not be doing.  Or they suggest some program, some system, by which you become more spiritual.
Modern devotionals are geared towards reforming your life, with making improvements to your behavior.  Again, they are not really centered on Jesus Himself but, rather, on you and bettering yourself.

We’ve been quoting Mathew Henry who said, “it’s easier to build the temple than to be the temple.” Jesus wants you to be the temple, His temple. It’s a love affair not life couching.

Christ needs to be preached, and Him crucified and risen from the dead, and you and I sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings until that glorious day we see Him face-to-face.

God establishes you according to the revelation of a mystery.

Romans 16:25   according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began
Romans 16:26  but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations…

The word “mystery” appears twenty eight times in the New Testament, mostly in the writings of Paul.  It is not found in the Old Testament.  The Greek word musterion, translated “mystery” did not mean something that is obscure or incomprehensible; rather it meant a truth given and

The men who wrote the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures did not fully understand all that they wrote.  All the details that lay between the first coming of Jesus Christ and the second coming of Jesus Christ were a mystery to them and to the Old Testament saints.  Paul was chosen by God to reveal these mysteries.  Today, wherever the gospel that proclaims Jesus is preached, these mysteries are being made known to all.
The great mystery Paul revealed to the Romans was the church of Jesus Christ.  He explained how God has set aside Israel but only temporarily.  He will turn His attention to Israel again and fulfill all His promises to them.

Mean time God is calling all men – Jew and Gentile – into the church.  There was no need to convert to Judaism. To do so, for Gentiles, was wrong.  We take it for granted but this was something mysterious – formerly unknown but now revealed.

Notice Paul’s big heart for evangelism.  He said the gospel “was made known to all nations.”  He himself wanted to go further, to places the gospel had not gone, so he didn’t mean that every nation had the gospel.  He did mean that the gospel was for every nation, people, tribe and tongue.  Jesus was and is the Savior of all men everywhere.  He was confident the gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (1:16).

When you think of the church, the gathering of believers, you might tend to think of it as a lot of work!  That’s partially true.  There is work to be done, building to be specific.  The New Testament describes the first century apostles and prophets as laying the foundation for the church.  Then it is “edified,” built-up, by pastors who teach the saints.  Within the church there is a lot of serving to be done as we minister one to another.  In the end believers will be rewarded at the Bema of Jesus Christ based on the building that they have done.  More precisely, they will be rewarded based on whether they built within the church using precious, godly materials or common, worldly materials.

But there is another way of looking at the mystery of the church.  Jesus, when He first introduced the idea of the church to His followers, said plainly that He would build His church on earth.  The apostle Peter picked up on this idea of building and called believers “living stones.”

You’ve probably seen a commemorative or memorial wall of some kind.  Over at the King’s County YMCA they have one as you enter the building.  If memory serves me right, they are individual stones or bricks with the names of donors on them.

In a spiritual but very real sense, when you get saved you are fit into the church of Jesus Christ as one of its unique living stones.  I’m not talking about your work helping to build a local church.  I’m not talking about having your name on a plaque or a brick in a physical church building.  No, I’m talking about the fact you are a living stone in the universal church.  God puts you in, all on His own.

We’ve now said that you are established by God as a Christian in the church.  How does it happen?

Romans 16:26   …according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith;

What commandment?  I’d say it’s the great commission.  Believers are told to “go and make disciples of all the nations.”  The gospel came to you through someone walking in obedience to that great commission.

Lots of someone’s, actually.  Even if one person led you to the Lord, someone led them first.  And it may have been through a tract someone wrote and someone else funded.

Or maybe it was your hearing the gospel in church where perhaps hundreds of people over decades supported the work so you could sit there one day and hear about Jesus.

There are no end to the connections you can make that result in any one person hearing the gospel!

“Obedience to the faith,” then, would be obeying the great commission.  But even this is not a work, per se.  You see, the command to “go” means as you are going.  It means that wherever you are, you are to witness and you do that in power Jesus Christ supplied Christians on the Day of Pentecost when He sent the Holy Spirit in a special way to baptize us for boldness.

God has established you.  You are a Christian, the church, in the chain of connection of the gospel with every believer before you and after you, with the Holy Spirit in you and upon you to be a witness.

God has done all the work.  It’s like walking into an established business and simply reaping the benefits.

What you do with it – that’s up to you.  More than one son has taken over his father’s established business only to run it into the ground.

You could make a modern parable out of the illustration of the established business being wrecked.

In some cases it’s because the son has no work ethic.  For us, although works of righteousness are not necessary for salvation, we ought to yield ourselves to righteousness and do those things that are pleasing to our Lord.  He has saved us so we could make something of our lives, not ruin them.

In some cases the established business fails because the son treats the patrons badly.  We certainly can forget all the “one another” verses and mistreat one another.

In some cases the son who takes over takes all he can get from the business to spend it on his own pursuits.  It’s sad to say but there are believers who are looking to God only for material and physical prosperity.

We know that Paul dictated most of his letters  earlier, in verse twenty-two, he mentioned that Tertius had written down the letter.  He often at the end of the letters said he was signing it in his own hand.

Likely at this point in dictating the letter Paul took the pen and wrote the following as his signature.

Romans 16:27  to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

God is “alone wise” in that He is God of both Jew and Gentile, with a provision for both groups in the gospel of his Son.

Marines say Semper Fi – Always Faithful.  The Coast Guard motto is Semper Paratus – Always Ready.

“Be glory through Jesus Christ forever.”  This would make a great motto for you and I.  No matter what happens, no matter where we are, “Be glory through Jesus Christ forever.”

You May Kiss The Bride Of Christ (Romans 16v1-24)

In many cultures a kiss is the common form of greeting and good-bye.  Given upon the lips, cheek, brow, beard, hand, or clothing, a kiss expresses the affections of family, friendship, and fellowship.

You read of many such kisses in the Bible:

The kiss of family is seen in many Bible families.  When Jacob decided to take his family and flee from Laban, Laban expressed his anger by saying, “… you did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters. Now you have done foolishly in so doing… And early in the morning Laban arose, and kissed his sons and daughters and blessed them. Then Laban departed and returned to his place.”  Brothers and sisters commonly kissed each other in greetings or in good-byes.  When Jacob reunited with his brother Esau you read, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
The kiss of friendship is seen with Jonathan and David.  “…David arose from a place toward the south, fell on his face to the ground, and bowed down three times. And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so.”  The kiss among friends and even casual acquaintances was a social custom, not a sensual one.  Our Lord Jesus practiced the kiss of friendship.  On one occasion when He had been treated inhospitably by a host, Jesus said, “You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in.”

The kiss of fellowship among believers in the New Testament church was common.  You read of its practice as a greeting and in good-byes in Romans 16:16, in 1 Corinthians 16:20, in 2 Corinthians 13:12, in 1 Thessalonians 5:26, and in 1 Peter 5:14.  Such a kiss became a regular part of church services and it came to be called “the kiss of peace.”  An early church father writes “when we have ceased from our prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.”

We are not going to officially reinstitute the kiss of peace anytime soon in our worship service.  If we did, we’d do it the way it was eventually done in the early church – men kissing men, and women kissing women!

Some of you do kiss each other in these ways – in families, in friendship, and in fellowship.  Others hug one another or simply shake hands.  Still others are uncomfortable with all physical contact.  Despite your feelings about particular expressions of affection, you must still greet and bid good-bye to one another.

You might take greetings and good-byes for granted.  The Apostle Paul did not!  As he concluded his letter to the Roman Christians he greeted some twenty-six persons, and he sent greetings from eight believers who were with him in Corinth.

Paul always had a sense of urgency about him.  It came from his trials and from his theology.

His trials created a sense of urgency in his greetings and good-byes because he was never sure when or even if he might see someone again.  Often he was sure that he wouldn’t.
As for his theology, he believed and taught the imminent rapture of the church.

Paul greeted you as if he was never going to see you again on earth!

Romans 16:1  I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,
Romans 16:2  that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.

Phoebe was a sister in the Lord who was on her way to Rome.  She was entrusted by Paul to carry his letter to the Christians at Rome.

She is a model for us of how we are to greet one another.  Paul encourages and exhorts the Christians at Rome to greet her for three reasons:  because of their common salvation, because of her consistent service, and because of her constant sacrifice.

Paul calls Phoebe “our sister,” referring to their common salvation.  There should be, in their greeting, a remembrance of Jesus Christ’s wonderful grace.  Every time you greet a brother or a sister there should be a remembrance of Jesus Christ’s grace – in their life and in yours.
Paul calls Phoebe “a servant of the church in Cenchrea,” referring to her as a servant of Jesus Christ.  In their greeting there should be a recognition of Jesus’ gifts in her life.  Every time you greet a brother or a sister there should be a recognition of Jesus Christ’s gifts – in their life and in yours.
Paul says Phoebe “has been a helper of many and of myself also.”  By this he indicates she is constant in her sacrifice.  In their greeting there was to be a regard for the growth of her relationship with Jesus.  Everytime you greet a brother or a sister there should be a regard for the growth of their relationship with Jesus – and for your own growth.

When you greet a brother or a sister, you are greeting a saint who is or who should be serving the Lord in ever increasing sacrifice.  Every greeting is an opportunity to either encourage or exhort them in these things.

Romans 16:3  Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus,
Romans 16:4  who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.

Priscilla and Aquilla, who were in Rome, fit the same pattern as Phoebe, who was with Paul in Corinth.  They were being greeted as saints who served with ever increasing sacrifice.
As Paul greets several others he mentions one or more of these three things – either their salvation, their service, or their sacrifice.

Romans 16:5  Likewise greet the church that is in their house.  Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.
Romans 16:6  Greet Mary, who labored much for us.
Romans 16:7  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Romans 16:8  Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord.
Romans 16:9  Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved.
Romans 16:10  Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.
Romans 16:11  Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
Romans 16:12  Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord.
Romans 16:13  Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Romans 16:14  Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them.
Romans 16:15  Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Paul greets some as “saints,” some as “beloved,” some as “in Christ,” some as “approved in Christ,” and some as “chosen in the Lord.”  By this he reminds them of God’s grace in saving them.
Paul greets some as “laborers” and as “fellow workers.”  By this he recognizes their service.
Paul greets some as “fellow prisoners” and as “laboring much in the Lord.”  By this he regards their sacrifice.

Ask yourself, “Do I greet my brothers and sisters in these ways?”  Do you use words that encourage them in one of these areas?

Romans 16:16  Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.

The physical greeting should be appropriate to your culture, giving respect for those who are somewhat offended by certain customs.  The custom is not as important as the content.

Romans 16:17  Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.

Just when things were going good there were some at Rome who should not be greeted by their brothers and sisters!  Paul says to “avoid” those who “cause divisions and offenses.”

There are in every church, from time to time, those who cause division and offenses.  Divisions are “contrary to the doctrine which you learned.”  This can mean one of two things:

In context, these individuals taught false and heretical doctrines which then cause divisions and offenses.  Judaizers and gnostics plagued the early church.
In a more limited, but currently more likely, sense, there are those who cause division over nonessential doctrines by elevating them to essential doctrines.  Though not setting out to cause division, it results in division as they insist you adopt their theology on nonessentials.

Paul says to “note” them.  You note them by following Titus 2:10-11, which says,

Titus 3:10  Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition,
Titus 3:11  knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

First, admonish; warn them they are causing division.  If that fails there seems to be a public notation by the leadership of those who are causing division with instruction to avoid them.

Romans 16:18  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.

Those who cause division are self-willed and are serving carnal appetites.  It doesn’t mean they are just trying to rip off the believers.  The meaning is probably, “self-servers of any description, people who are slaves of their own ego.”  They love to hear themselves talk!  They are filled with an exalted opinion of themselves.

Romans 16:19  For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.

The Roman Christians were making a difference in their world.  Paul was grateful for their testimony but he realized that they were therefore becoming more and more the target of the devil.  He exhorted them to watch out for the devil’s schemes.  God could grant them the wisdom to maintain good works and the simple conviction to avoid all manner of evil schemes devised against them.

Romans 16:20  And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

This is a really wonderful image and insight.  In the Garden of Eden God promised us He would crush Satan.  The Savior, Jesus, would crush Him as He was bruised on the Cross.  Here Paul adds Satan will be crushed “under your feet.”  That puts us in Christ, identifies us with Him, as crushing the serpent!  We are a part of gaining ground against the devil until that glorious day when Jesus returns to finish His victory over Satan.

Romans 16:21  Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.
Romans 16:22  I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.
Romans 16:23  Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.
Romans 16:24  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

In these verses Paul’s companions at Corinth send their greetings to the Christians at Rome.  The mention of Gaius is interesting in that he apparently hosted the church in his home.  In verse five, Priscilla and Aquilla also had a church meeting in their home.  Paul mentions at least fifty Roman believers in this letter so we know the church had at least that many members plus their families.  The church met, then, in private homes; at least, the church in Rome.

In Ephesus Paul rented a lecture hall to hold meetings as well as meeting in homes.  The church, then, met wherever they could!  It’s currently popular to dis church buildings or any meetings of believers that aren’t in homes.  It’s just stupid!

We asked ourselves, “Do I greet others the way Paul suggests?”  Now, as these eight men seek to bring greetings to the saints at Rome whom they have not met,  you ask a different question.  You ask, “Can my brothers and sisters encourage me in this way?”  Don’t ask if they do; ask if they can.

Is God’s saving grace evident in your life?  Are you serving?  Are you sacrificing for the Lord?

Bottom line: What could someone honestly say in introducing you to another Christian?

Hopefully that you, too, are saved, serving & sacrificing in the Lord – kissable as the bride of Jesus.

No Pain, No Spain (Romans 15v22-33)

I’ll admit it.  Three Dog Night was one of my favorite rock bands in my adolescent years.  I still listen to One, Celebrate, & Eli’s Comin’.

One of their lesser songs was Never Been to Spain.  That is essentially what Paul says to the Romans in this section.  He was planning to visit them on his way to Spain to pioneer a work for the Lord.

Romans 15:22  For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you.

Paul was “hindered” from visiting Rome because, wherever he went, nonbelieving Jews opposed his ministry toward Gentiles.  They simply would not admit God was extending grace to “whosoever will” believe in Him without first or subsequently adopting the Law of Moses.

Whenever you attempt to serve the Lord you can expect to be hindered.  Writing to the Thessalonians Paul said, “we would have come to you… but Satan hindered us” (First Thessalonians 2:18).

I think sometimes we have a romantic notion that if the Lord is leading us it will be smooth sailing.  Quite the opposite is often the case.  That’s why you need to be careful making decisions based strictly on circumstances.

Jonah had smooth sailing at first; but he was headed in the opposite direction from where the Lord had sent him.
The disciples were afraid in the storm while Jesus was sleeping in the boat – but they were directly in the center of God’s will for them.

Romans 15:23  But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you,

“No longer having a place in these parts” meant there was no new ground to win for the Lord.  There was no place to pioneer a work so he was moving on.

I mentioned this last week but it bears emphasizing.  Too much church planting today is not pioneering work where churches really need to be established.  It is instead men building upon other men’s work.

Romans 15:24  whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while.

He hoped to stop in Rome, to see the saints he was writing in this letter.  It would help him on his way to see them.

In what ways would it help him?  First, he would “enjoy [their] company for a while.”  The church ought to be a place where saints enjoy the company of one another.

I enjoy being a Christian.  I’m not pining away for the things I used to do before I was saved.  If anything I wish I had gotten saved sooner.

I’m not saying I have no struggle with the flesh; only that I recognize it is the flesh and it will lead to ruin to yield to it.  What I’m trying to say is that the Christian life is better in every way; it is real, purposeful, meaningful.

Not everybody is a goof-off like me.  Regardless your personality, learn to enjoy the Christian life.  As we saw Sunday in our study of Jeremiah and his sash, we are to adorn the Lord in beautiful ways.  If nonbelievers think of Christianity as a sacrifice, as a bummer, as a drudgery, it comes from Christians or those professing to be Christians making a mockery of the abundant life Jesus promises.

The secret is to enjoy the Lord Himself; to realize in fresh ways every day that He is your sufficiency.
There was another important way Paul could be helped on his way by the Roman church.

Romans 15:25  But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints.
Romans 15:26  For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.
Romans 15:27  It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.

Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a financial gift to the poor saints there.  The believers in Jerusalem felt the brunt of Jewish hostility and hatred towards the Gospel.  Their lands, goods, and moneys had been confiscated.

The Gentiles in Macedonia and Achaia were cheerful and anxious to give.  In fact, they thought of it as paying a debt of gratitude.  The Gentiles, after all, were being grafted in to the promises that were once to the Jew first.  With all God had done for them by grace, how could they not be generous?

Generosity is characteristic of a Christian.  How can I be stingy with anything seeing all God has given me?  “All I have needed, Thou hast provided.”

Romans 15:28  Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain.

Paul spoke of your support as a reward!  He said it was “fruit” to the account of those who support, and that it would be “sealed,” meaning secured.  The only place you can be sure something is absolutely secure is in Heaven.

As you give, God gives you a share in the ministry you support and you are rewarded in Heaven for it as if you were doing the work yourself.

Scholars are divided as to whether or not Paul made it to Spain.  There is not enough evidence to decide, with certainty, either way.  It’s enough for us to see that his heart was to carry the Gospel to places it had not yet reached, establishing or visiting established churches along his way
Romans 15:29  But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

Paul was hindered and hated wherever he went.  He had no place to call his home.  He had spent time in prison; he was in constant danger in his travels.  There are many, many other hardships we could mention.  Yet he described his missionary efforts as “the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ.”  These hindrances and hardships convinced him that he was truly a minister of the Gospel because he was being treated just the same way that his Lord, Jesus, had been treated.

Romans 15:30  Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me,
Romans 15:31  that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints,
Romans 15:32  that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.

Paul asked for prayer in three areas.  For his safety, he asked to “be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe.”  Paul’s strategy to overcome opposition was to ask others to pray.  Notice that his prayer was to be “delivered.”  I may be reading too much into it, but usually you only need to be delivered if you are in some danger.  Paul was therefore acknowledging that trouble was his lot.  Indeed, when he was first saved the Lord mentioned he would need to suffer a great many things.

Paul was committed to the Gospel regardless the hardships and his primary concern was not for his safety but for deliverance so he could keep on preaching.

For his service, he asked that it be “acceptable to the saints.”  In the context, he was asking that the believers in Jerusalem accept the gift he was bringing them in the love and grace with which he had collected it.

You’d think a financial gift would be “acceptable” without the need to pray about it.  But Paul knew folks could be strange.  There might be pride that refused to accept charity – especially from Gentiles.

On a larger scale, ministry can be from the Lord but not received well by the Lord’s people.  I’ve been involved in plenty of situations over the years where a certain way of ministering, of approaching ministry, was a cause for division in the body of Christ.

For his steps,  Paul asked that he might “come to [them] by the will of God.”    He had his own desires that he thought were godly but always wanted to be subordinate to God’s will for his life.

Paul was asking for prayer.  He understood the power, the necessity, of prayer.

What I am about to say isn’t meant to put a burden on anyone in particular.  If it exhorts you, then it’s for you; but I’m not trying to guilt anyone or shame anyone.  It’s simply an accurate observation.  We – as a fellowship – don’t pray enough.

You may personally pray like crazy.  You may pray constantly, without ceasing, in secret as we all should.  But we as a fellowship do not get together enough for prayer.  And, when we do get together, very few come together to pray.

You know the story about Charles Spurgeon and prayer, right?  The version I heard goes like this.

Five young college students were spending a Sunday in London, so they went to hear the famed C.H. Spurgeon preach.  While waiting for the doors to open, the students were greeted by a man who asked, “Gentlemen, let me show you around.  Would you like to see the heating plant of this church?”  They were not particularly interested, for it was a hot day in July.  But they didn’t want to offend the stranger, so they consented.  The young men were taken down a stairway, a door was quietly opened, and their guide whispered, “This is our heating plant.”  Surprised, the students saw 700 people bowed in prayer, seeking a blessing on the service that was soon to begin in the auditorium above.  Softly closing the door, the gentleman then introduced himself.  It was none other than Charles Spurgeon.

An anonymous source said, “Prayer is the real work, evangelism is just the mopping up.”  S.D. Gordon said, “Prayer strikes the winning blow; service is simply picking up the pieces.”
It’s not just that we need to pray more.  We need to want to pray more.

Paul ended this section with his own prayer.

Romans 15:33  Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

In chapter fifteen the Lord has been named the God of patience and consolation (v5), the God of hope (v13), and now the God of peace.

How many names and titles are there for God and for Jesus Christ?  There are a lot!  He is too wonderful to be captured fully in even all of them put together.

So why choose “the God of peace” here?  A major object of the letter is to establish peace between the believing Jews and Gentiles, and to show them their mutual obligations, and the infinite mercy of God to both; and now he concludes with praying that the God of peace – He from whom it comes, and by whom it is preserved – may be for ever with them.

I want to return briefly to Paul’s desire, expressed twice, to go to Spain.

You might ask yourself, Do I have a ‘Spain’ in my spiritual planning?  There are two ways you might:

One way is to have a definite spiritual goal, something that is from the Lord but that you are working to accomplish in cooperation with Him.  I know for us, after we got saved, God began to grow a desire to be in full-time pastoral ministry.  We knew we would have to wait for God to direct but we also knew we would need to be ready and, so, we began to adjust our lifestyle so we would be.
Another way to have a ‘Spain’ in your planning is to begin to approach everything you do in terms of its potential as an opportunity for ministry.  How can you interject the Gospel right where you are in a new, fresh way?

Either way, let’s be on our way to ‘Spain’ on our way, ultimately, to Heaven.

I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major Missionary (Romans 15v8-21)

Certain quotes somehow make it into our common experience.  Even if you’ve never heard of the Blues Brothers, you probably know that they claimed to be “on a mission from God.”

Missions for God were on Paul’s mind and heart as he got close to the end of the Book of Romans.  Romans 15:8-12 discuss Jesus as missionary to the Jews and verses 9-21 discuss Paul as missionary to the Gentiles.

Romans 15:8  Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers,

The “circumcision” refers to the Jews.  Jesus was sent first of all to minister to the Jews that through Israel all the world might hear the “truth of God,” the Gospel as promised the “fathers,” the Jewish patriarchs.

When Jesus sent out His disciples on their first evangelistic mission, He ordered them,

Matthew 10:5  “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans.
Matthew 10:6  “But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Jesus didn’t ignore Gentiles; He did minister to a few of them.  He spoke to the Samaritan woman.  His major mission, however, was to Israel.

Jesus came to His own people but they rejected Him.  This did not in any way thwart God’s plan of offering salvation to the Jews first, and then, through the Jews, to the Gentiles.
After His resurrection Jesus commanded His disciples to remain in Jerusalem and begin their ministry there.  The period covered by Acts chapters one through seven is characterized by a ministry only to Jews or those who converted to Judaism.  It was not until chapter eight that the Gospel went beyond the Jews to the Samaritans.  In chapter ten it went out to the Gentiles.  The rest of Acts largely involves the ministry of Paul taking the Gospel to whosoever will – Jew or Gentile.

The Old Testament often spoke of the blessing of the Gospel going out to the Gentiles.  Paul quotes four such passages.

Romans 15:9  and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: “For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.”
Romans 15:10  And again he says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
Romans 15:11  And again: “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”
Romans 15:12  And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Commentators notice a beautiful progression in these verses:

Romans 15:9 quotes Psalm 18:49 and speaks of the Jews glorifying God among the Gentiles.  This describes the ministry of Paul as he witnessed among the Gentiles.
Romans 15:10 quotes Deuteronomy 32:43 and speaks of the Gentiles rejoicing with the Jews.  This speaks of the decision of the early church to give the Gentiles equal standing with Jews.
Romans 15:11 quotes Psalm 117:1 and speaks of Jews and Gentiles together praising God.  This describes the age in which we live, in which Jew and Gentile distinctions are broken down so all who believe come to God by grace through faith in Jesus.
Romans 15:12 quotes Isaiah 11:10 and speaks of Jesus reigning over Jews and Gentiles.  This looks forward, beyond our own time, to the future one thousand year reign of Jesus on earth after His Second Coming.

God had, and has, a solid plan for missions.

The believing Jews at Rome were still having a hard time reconciling the salvation of multitudes of Gentiles with God’s eternal promises to Israel.  Paul assured them that everything was unfolding exactly according to God’s plan for Jews and Gentiles alike.  And he wanted to encourage them to get fully on board with God in reaching everyone, everywhere with the Gospel.

Romans 15:13  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.

The mention of “hope” in the quote from Isaiah brought a prayer to Paul’s heart.  The God of the Bible is “the God of hope.”  What is hope?  It is the absolute expectation of all the good that God has promised.  It can only come to the Christian; no one else can really have any hope in this certain sense.

Having hope, you can be filled “with all joy and peace in believing” in Jesus Christ.  I said you ‘can’ because it’s a matter of faith.  But if you walk in faith, having hope, knowing the God of hope, your hope will “abound” all the more “by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:14  Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.

Since no one is good but God, “goodness” refers to the grace of God given to the Jewish brethren in Rome.  Having themselves received God’s amazing grace they could certainly extend it towards others – even Gentiles.  If grace is God’s unmerited favor then it must be available for everyone regardless ethnicity, otherwise it would be deserved.

“Filled with all knowledge” refers to spiritual knowledge, to the things of God.  It can’t mean they knew everything about God, or that they had every doctrine down just right.  No, it means they had a knowledge of the Gospel, of it’s power to save, and therefore should understand its whosoever will capacity.

Stop there for a moment.  Regardless how hard it might be for an orthodox Jew to think that a pagan Gentile idolater could get saved without first or subsequently converting to Judaism, if they considered that salvation was all of grace and that the message was universal in scope, that by itself should be enough to set aside any prejudices.

Paul trusted they would hear him, hear his teaching in this letter, and then “admonish one another.”  They would adopt the things he was saying about the Gentiles and hold each other accountable.

Romans 15:15  Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God,
Romans 15:16  that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Paul had been “more bold” in writing to them on “some points.”  For example he had spent three entire chapters (nine, ten & eleven) talking about the past, present, and prophetic history of Israel.

“The offering of the Gentiles” is a curious phrase.  The Jew would hear “offering” and think of the sacrificial system of the Law of Moses.  The Gentiles were not making any such offerings.  Instead, Paul indicated they themselves were the offerings, perhaps in the sense he had described earlier in Romans as living sacrifices wholly acceptable to God.

They were “sanctified” by the “Holy Spirit” in that He both indwelt them and was daily leading them toward maturity.

Romans 15:17  Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God.
Romans 15:18  For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient;

Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was a definite calling from Jesus, giving him cause to give glory before God.  Whatever he did among the Gentiles, in message or in ministering, Christ had done it through him.

It was Jesus Christ’s will that Gentiles become “obedient.” Saying that the Gentiles were made “obedient” means that although they were pagan idolaters, God did not leave them that way.  No, they turned to God and from idols.  They weren’t lawless; but they need not keep outwardly the Law of Moses.  They were obedient to the law of love.

Romans 15:19  in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Signs and wonders followed the preaching of the word of God.  It often pleased God, and it often pleases Him today, to verify and validate His word by signs and wonders.  With or without them, the Gospel “is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the [Gentile].”

Paul said he had “fully preached” from Jerusalem to Illyricum.  Illyricum corresponds to the former eastern European country of Yugoslavia.

Here is a clue to missions.  What Paul had done was preached the Gospel, established churches, then moved on.  His idea of “fully preaching” the Gospel was to establish churches whose members would multiply his work by continuing to reach their communities with the gospel after his departure.

The local church is God’s means of world evangelism!  Thus it follows that church planting ought to be a high priority.

Romans 15:20  And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation,
Romans 15:21  but as it is written: “To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand.”

Paul’s personal philosophy of ministry was to pioneer new work.  He saw himself and others as builders laying a foundation of Jesus Christ upon which churches were being built up.  To modernize what he was saying we might say that Jesus is the general contractor and that He appoints others as subs to do the building.  Now if you’re having a house built you don’t need two electrical contractors or two cabinet makers.  You only need the one the general contractor assigned.

I think it is an excellent and extremely biblical philosophy of ministry to noy “build on another man’s foundation.”  Notice Paul is not shy of calling it a “man’s foundation.”  The foundation is the Lord but He has assigned men to build it.

There is plenty of work to be pioneered.  Instead we sometimes want to establish some work where a work is already going on:

We sometimes do this in communities where good churches are already ministering the Word.
We sometimes do this within good churches by starting our own ministries.

There is a huge emphasis being put upon church planting in contemporary Christianity.  That’s great – as long as you are really ‘planting’ and not splitting or transplanting.

In cities and towns that already have Bible teaching churches, you need to have a compelling reason to start another one.  If you’re going to be very similar to another church, then just join with that other church.  Make it stronger rather than taking away from it.  Too much church planting is about personalities.  It’s about a person or group wanting their own identity rather than being content to serve.

Look beyond what is already established to those who have not heard  the Gospel!

Jesus was sent as a missionary to the Jews.  Paul was sent as a missionary to the Gentiles.  Missionaries are still sent today.  Sometimes they are sent from one culture to another as a church sponsors one of its own members to go out.  More often today missionaries are sent in a different and more effective sense as churches sponsor native missionaries to do full time work among their own nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.

We are not opposed to supporting missionaries in the traditional sense who travel from their advanced and advantaged culture into less advanced and disadvantaged cultures.  But it is far more effective, both financially and spiritually, to support native missionaries who God raises up within their own culture.

The average American or European missionary sent out to Asia requires anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 dollars or more per person just to travel to and be maintained in a foreign culture.  Once in the foreign country they often must live at a much higher standard of living than the people they are seeking to minister to.  It is not unusual for them to require several thousand dollars a month in support while the people they preach to live on less than one hundred dollars a month.

K.P. Yohannan is founder and president of Gospel for Asia.  He writes,

The task of the local church is not to serve as a missionary sending agency but as a cell in the… body of Christ.  It is that… whole body of Christ which must accomplish the Great Commission in unified cooperation… As we work together… we will no longer feel the compulsion to send a member from our own congregation or denomination to the “uttermost parts [of the earth”].  In fact, we will drop the notion that a true missionary has to be sent from “here” to “there.”  We are free to join with others and send missionaries from “there” to “there” if that is the more efficient way to use our resources.  And… we will no longer insist that the missionary meet the peculiar qualifications and artificial standards of our local culture, favorite doctrines and denominational traditions.  Instead, we should be able to accept and support any needy missionary from anywhere in the body of Christ… It allows us to help available native missionaries accomplish the task in an effective, efficient manner.

Each situation must be carefully evaluated.  We do, however, prefer to support native missionaries and we do believe that this is the method that God the Holy Spirit is blessing in these Last Days.

If you’re not called to go, you are called to send and support.  If you send and support you share equally in the work of the person on the ground sharing the Gospel.

Mean time, you are the missionary to your own community of people – at work and at school and at home.

Giving The Benefit Of The Doubter (Romans 14v1-15v7)

Diets and days were causing disputes in the church at Rome.
• There were Gentile Christians at Rome who had been saved out of pagan idolatry. They were shocked to learn that the diet of the Jewish Christians included meat from the marketplace. They knew from their former lives that some of the meat offered for sale in the public marketplace had once been part of a sacrifice to an idol. They felt that those who partook of meat were thereby contributing to idol worship (at the very least) and worshipping idols (at the very most).
• There were Jewish Christians at Rome. They continued to observe certain feast days and fast days according to the Jewish calendar. They were offended to learn that the Gentile Christians had no regard for their observances.
Such things still cause disputes in the church today:
• There are professing Christians who believe you must conform to certain dietary rules and regulations, especially those that are set forth for the Jews in the Old Testament.
• Disputes rage over Christians keeping or not keeping the Sabbath in the New Testament Church.
There are any number of other disputes as well, e.g.,
• Dress is an issue that causes disputes in the church. Many churches publish strict dress codes, and many others have unwritten but strictly enforced standards for their members.
1 Romans 14:1-15:7 “Giving the Benefit of the Doubter”
• Diversions are a cause of dispute among Christians. The entertainments and recreations and hobbies you choose as a diversion from your daily life cause no end of debate among believers.
“Canʼt we all just get along?” Yes; we can.
Romans 14:1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.
Most of these disputes are triggered by those who are “weak in the faith.” This is a person who has unfounded scruples over matters of secondary importance – like the Gentile worried about meat sacrificed to idols or the Jew thinking every Gentile should observe the Sabbath.
A mature Christian can be “weak in the faith” about a certain practice. Itʼs not a matter of being immature in “the faith” of the Gospel, but in your personal “faith” regarding some practice.
“Receive… but not to disputes” means to not make it a goal to change that personʼs mind about “doubtful things.” In other words, respect and tolerate one anotherʼs preferences.
That, in itself, is difficult for us. We want everyone to agree with us.
We would say that a “doubtful thing” is any belief or practice that is neither commanded nor condemned in the Word of God. It is something we have freedom to partake of, or participate in, or not to.
Examples of those whose “faith is weak” are given in verses two and five.
Romans 14:2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
The vegetarian in Rome was the Gentile Christian who did not want to risk eating meat that might have been previously sacrificed to an idol. It was perfectly alright to eat it – but not for him.
Romans 14:5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.
The Jewish Christians were those in Rome who continued to observe certain feast days and fast days, according to the Jewish calendar. He was convinced everyone must observe those days.
Weʼve already had the exhortation, in verse one, to “receive” the weaker brother. It is up to us as a fellowship to get along with each other. What follows is how we do it.
Romans 14:3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.
God has received us all into the fellowship of His Son. How can I refuse to receive someone whom God has received?
You know what this really means? If something is not an essential doctrine or practice, I must not make it one and then dispute with others over it.
You know what our problem is? We make everything into an essential. Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge anther’s servant? To his own master he stands or
falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
The believer who you dispute with over some diet or day, some dress or diversion, is God’s servant. Itʼs a matter for him to decide with the Lord.
Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
One of the hardest things for us to acknowledge is the diversity and variety in the church. We can each be becoming more like Jesus Christ and yet be significantly different from one another.
Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
Is everything you do – everything – being done as unto the Lord? Of course not! Each of us has areas in which we are, at best, “unprofitable servants.” Rather than dispute with others, we should receive them the way God has received us, thinking more about our own walk with Jesus.
Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
The Gospel is that Jesus died, rose, and is alive forevermore to save all those who trusts Him for salvation. It may be a subtle way for Paul to say, “Hey, itʼs the Gospel thatʼs important – not your liberty or your lack of liberty.”
“To this end” seems to be a segue to what Paul will say next – that each of us will end by standing before the Lord to give an account of our life and not for anyone elseʼs.
Romans 14:10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Romans 14:11 For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.”
“Every knee” is a quote from Isaiah where it applies to Godʼs own people – to believers. The use of it here seems to argue that all the believers in the church at Rome – the Gentile ones and the Jewish ones – are one people who will bow before the Lord. Therefore get along as one body now.
Romans 14:12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
You will stand before Jesus – and you will stand alone! The stewardship of others will be of no concern to Jesus as He examines your life with a view towards rewarding you.
Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
Judging others in this context seems to mean youʼve determined they are wrong for holding their position and you want to change their mind. Better be careful. You might cause them to stumble or fall in their walk with
4 Romans 14:1-15:7 “Giving the Benefit of the Doubter”
Jesus. The Lord once said it would be better for you to have a hundred pound weight tied around your neck and be cast into the deep ocean rather than stumble another believer.
What is the “stumbling block” that could cause a brother to “fall?”
Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Romans 14:15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
There are, in fact, lots of “things” in the world that are “unclean,” that are sin. Paul was talking here about doubtful things – not every thing.
The “stumbling block” that could cause a brother to “fall” is you demanding and promoting your liberty to participate in or partake of a doubtful thing when you know it is a problem for another believer.
If you have liberty in some doubtful thing, make sure you don’t promote it in such a way that you “grieve” and “destroy” the brother whose conscience won’t permit him to participate or partake.
• You “grieve” your brother whenever you try to force his conscience to agree with yours. Every believer must do what he truly believes and is convinced that God wants him to do.
• You “destroy” your brother when he follows you in your liberty against what his conscience tells him. The word translated “destroy” means to cause the ruin or to cause the loss of something.
If you force your conscience upon your brother, so that he partakes of or participates in some doubtful thing just because you do so – even though his conscience tells him not to – then he will suffer the loss of his reward when he stands before Jesus Christ.
Romans 14:16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;
“Your good” is whatever your own conscience tells you is good in some doubtful thing that is neither commanded nor condemned in the Bible. But
what is “good” to you will be spoken of as “evil” if you allow it to grieve and destroy God’s work in your brother.
Romans 14:17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
“Eating and drinking” is a shorthand for doubtful things. All of them are part of a temporary physical existence. Why fight about them, or over them, when we should be promoting the kingdom of God?
Instead of being characterized by disputes over doubtful things we ought to be characterized by “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Romans 14:18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
By definition every Christian is accepted in Jesus Christ the moment he is saved. We are “acceptable” refers to our daily walk, to our sanctification, as we live to please the One who has accepted us into His family.
You will be “approved by men” means that if you have this spiritual mindset you wonʼt be stumbling to others; you will be approved by them to be able to minister to them and affect their lives for good.
This sometimes means that the believer who has liberty in some doubtful thing has the responsibility to abstain from it.
Romans 14:19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Romans 14:20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
Some doubtful thing might be alright for you but that isnʼt the overruling concern. The overruling concern is how you affect others for Christ.
Romans 14:22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
Romans 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
If you can participate or partake with a pure conscience, you may do so as long as you don’t stumble your brother. If you cannot participate or partake with a pure conscience, then you must not. To do so is sin for you.
If you want to participate in or partake of something that is doubtful, and might stumble someone, “have it to yourself before God.” In other words, do it privately – not on Facebook.
Romans 15:1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.
You think you are “strong,” mature, enough to partake or participate? True spiritual strength looks out for the weak.
Romans 15:2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. Romans 15:3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Just as Jesus lived on earth in such a way as to only to please His Father in Heaven, you should live on earth in such a way as to only please your Lord Who is soon to return from Heaven. Your ability to partake of or participate in doubtful things doesnʼt impress Jesus as much as your love for the weakest of His followers.
Romans 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, Romans 15:6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 15:7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.
God is “patient” with you. He “comforts” you when you see the vast areas of your life that are still under construction. You should likewise see your fellow believers as still under construction. Receive them the way God
receives you – as those in whom God has begun a good work and in whom God will one day complete His work.
Bible commentators all quote Augustine, who summarizes all that we have said in this phrase: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
There are certain essentials that all believers must agree upon. These are any and all those things that are clearly commanded or condemned by the Bible. In these things we must be united.
There are a great many nonessentials that believers might disagree upon – diets, days, dress, and diversions are just a few.
In all these matters, “charity,” which is the old English word for God’s love, must be supreme in your attitudes and actions. Charity will be shown in your tolerance of your brother’s convictions, especially when in good conscience you disagree with him in some doubtful thing.

Debt Belief (Romans 13v8-14)

Christian financial classes are extremely popular.  We not too long ago took some people through Financial Peace University.  Whether it’s FPU or Crown Ministries, one bedrock principle is to stay out of debt.

There is, however, an ongoing debt you and I owe.  It’s one we must pay and that we will never be out from under.  It’s in verse eight.

Romans 13:8  Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We, as Christians, owe a debt to society and it is to “love one another.”

Can we talk about “love” for a moment?  Love is a key attribute of our heavenly Father.  Even multitudes of nonbelievers have heard that “God so loved the world…”  “God is love” (First John 4:8).  It is not simply that God “loves,” but that He is love itself.  Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.

I think it important, therefore, to judge things you read and hear according to the love of God.  Is the author or the speaker suggesting something that would contradict the fact that God is love?  Then the argument and the conclusion of that author or speaker is wrong!

Here’s an example.  Often Christians struggle with the issue of God’s sovereignty versus man’s free will.  Well, if that is how you approach the problem passages, God’s sovereignty always trumps man’s free will.

But that is the wrong way to approach the problem passages; wrong entirely.  You see, sovereignty is not an attribute of God’s.  Make no mistake: He is sovereign.  But sovereignty is an activity of God that flows from His nature.  His sovereignty is always subordinate to His love; never vice-versa.

For me this means that since God is love, He limits His sovereignty by giving me free will, seeing to it that all things work together for my good.

The alternative is to say that because He is sovereign He limits His love; and that cannot be true no matter how you argue the point unless you redefine “love” as something that resembles hate or indifference.

Since God is love, and since He so loved the world, and since we represent Him in the world in the absence of Jesus, then we are to love others with the love of God, the way He loved and loves us.

How do we do it – love others with the love of God?  What are the steps?

We keep the commandments of God.  But not externally; internally.  It’s not by effort; it’s by enablement.

Romans 13:9  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Romans 13:10  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

The idea is almost too simple.

If I love another, I will not commit “adultery.”  Adultery defiles others and shows disregard for all those involved.
If I love another, I will not commit “murder” or “steal”; love does not rob others of their life or their property.
If I love another, I won’t “lie” against them, or “covet” anything of theirs.

If I “love [my] neighbor as myself” I will automatically fulfill every beneficial law.  My “neighbor” is anyone with whom I have contact.

You see why “love is the fulfillment of the law.”  If I am walking in love, my attitudes and actions will be consistent with all God’s commandments – whether I am specifically aware of them or not.

Here is another way of saying this.  I don’t look at another person and say, “I am going to try really hard not to lie to you.”  Instead I look upon them and think, “I want you to see Jesus, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to save you.”  If that’s my attitude, I don’t have to try to not lie; I just don’t because I’m too busy loving the person.

In fact, Paul moves in that direction in the remaining verses.

Romans 13:11  And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

“Do this.”  Do what?  Pay your debt to society, love one another.

While we ought to do this without the need for any additional encouragement, knowing our struggle with the flesh, Paul mentioned an incentive.  The Lord is coming for us at any moment and all opportunities to love another on earth will end.

“Knowing the time…”  The rock group Chicago asked, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”  The answer is, “Yes!”  Christians know what time it is; it’s Jesus time, meaning His return is imminent.  That’s the meaning of, “for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.”

Nineteen hundred years ago the Holy Spirit told Christians that the night was far spent.  If that was true then, how much more is it true today!

The “night” is a reference to the absence of Jesus from the earth.  In John nine Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  When Jesus ascended into Heaven the world was plunged into night, and His light is only reflected by those who know Him.  But now, even more than before, “the night is far spent.”  This can only mean that the return of Jesus is imminent.  His return is the “day” referred to here.  You are to “know the time.”

Don’t let the word “salvation” throw you.  We normally use it to describe a time in the past when a person got saved.  But salvation involves daily sanctification and ultimate glorification; all that is considered “salvation.”

The Chicago song asks a second question about time – “Does anybody really care?”  Paul anticipated that, for one reason or another, you as a Christian might become careless loving one another.  He illustrated it by comparing it to sleeping, saying, “now it is high time to awake out of sleep,” meaning spiritual sleep.

He expanded the illustration in the next three verses.

Romans 13:12  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.
Romans 13:13  Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.
Romans 13:14  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to suggest that these verses describe a Roman soldier who has duty but has been out all night partying.  He’s been out all night, in revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, lust, strife, and envy.  He needs to awake from his sleep, put on his armor, and take his post on duty.

And not just for that day; no, he needs to “cast off the works of darkness” once-for-all and to be able to “walk properly in the day.”

You can be on duty but be far from ready for duty.  The soldier who is not serving an assigned shift needs to be getting himself ready for the next shift – not participating in “the works of darkness.”

Six works of darkness are listed, in pairs:

“Revelry” and “drunkenness” go together in that revelry originally meant a festival in honor of the god of wine.  The obvious companion to such a festival would be drunkenness.  You are not to become drunk, nor are you to involve yourselves in the revelry of this world.
“Licentiousness” and “lewdness” go together in that licentiousness is sexual excesses and lewdness is the mental state that lusts for them.  God commands us to abstain from all physical sexual excesses and from the thoughts that lead to them.
“Strife” and “envy” go together in that strife means quarreling and debate, which is incited by our envy towards others.  We are to abandon all such envy that leads to strife.  While this is true in the Church, it is especially true of our envy of this present evil world that leads us to striving for material satisfaction.

The “flesh” is that principle left over in our unredeemed bodies that demands we satisfy ourselves in sinful ways.

How do you “make… provision for the flesh”?  By yielding to any one of these six works of darkness.

“Make no provision for the flesh” means you need to starve it and cut it off.  Don’t give it anything.  If something is sin for you, you can’t have it in moderation.  You can’t feed it just a little.  Starve it.

By the way – You can starve your flesh all you want but it won’t die!  Until we are out of these bodies and with the Lord we will struggle against the flesh.

“Let us put on the armor of light… put on the Lord Jesus Christ…”

Body armor is a good thing if you’re going into battle.  We have a lot of it at our disposal as believers:

To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”
To the Corinthians he wrote, “But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God… by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…”
The best known and most detailed passage on your armor in Ephesians Six.
Here in Romans you learn that when you “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” you are putting on the whole of His heavenly armor.

You “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” when you yield to the power of His indwelling Spirit rather than to the lusts of your flesh.  The armor is the “armor of light” because by it you are empowered to holiness in your walk.

Think of “light” this way.  What if someone could shine a light on all of your activities?  Things you do at home… or online… Or things you think about.

Well, God is that someone!  He sees all those things and more.  You and I ought to behave in ways that could be revealed and not make us ashamed or embarrassed.  Privacy rights and laws aside for a moment, we should be able to be exposed by the light and not have any concern.

Some of you have had extensive background checks for a job.  That’s the idea only more intense.

Walking in the light as to my own activities, and in love towards others – that’s a great summary of what we are to be about knowing the time.

Conscientious Subjectors (Romans 13v1-7)

The last time I taught this subject, the relation of the Christian to government, it almost resulted in a fistfight!

I might be exaggerating… But not by much.  Christians, especially conservative Christians (like most of us), are very interested in the subject of civil government.  Eavesdrop on conversations after church and a lot of them are about politics.

I want to tell you I have what I consider to be a control belief through which I approach the text.  It is this:  Christians all over the world, in every nation, hold a dual citizenship, but one citizenship takes priority over the other.  We are citizens of Heaven first, then citizens of our nation, in our case the United States.

As citizens of Heaven we are also called upon to be ambassadors on the earth in every nation.

One more thing before we dig in and start unpacking the text.  The key word for our understanding this is going to be “subject”; the key concept will be subjection.  It’s not my idea!  We see it in verse one, then again in verse five.  When we might have a doubt about what to say, or about what Paul meant, we will fall back on our being in subjection as an overriding spiritual principle.

Romans 13:1  Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.

“Let every soul” means every human being anywhere on the planet, at any time in history, including both believers and nonbelievers.

They are – we are – required by God to “be subject to the governing authorities.”  “Subject” means exactly what you think it means – submissive, obedient.  Paul wasn’t alone in telling us to be “subject” to rulers and authority.  Peter said it, too, in First Peter 2:13.

Subjection certainly includes external compliance but it implies even more.  Subjection focuses on the spirit or attitude of the individual which leads to compliance.

The words “that exist” mean all human authority is delegated by God.  Whether democratic or not, whether heathen or God-fearing, every government which has the power to rule over its people has been granted that power and authority by God.

One author put it this way: “A government’s existence is proof that it is ordained of God and that it possesses divinely delegated authority.”

How can that be???  Can Iran really be a government granted power and authority by God?

Yes, it can, because God is sovereign, meaning at the very least that He has oversight of all things, including human governments.

We’re going to see the standards that God has for nations in just a minute.  A nation like Iran certainly does not live up to God’s standards.  He will ultimately hold them accountable.  In the mean time, their authority has been delegated by Him, and its citizens are required to be in subjection.

It’s at this point we normally appeal to civil disobedience that is demanded when government calls upon us to disobey God.  True; we must obey God rather than man, rather than the civil authorities.
Let me say a couple of things about civil disobedience.  First, when the Bible tells us to obey God rather than civil government, it’s talking about a direct conflict with the commandments of God or the preaching of the Gospel.  It isn’t talking about the myriad of political issues we may disagree with.

Second, if you disobey civil authorities you are to do so in subjection.  We have significant instances of civil disobedience in the Bible to show us what it means to disobey in subjection.

In Daniel chapter three, Daniel’s three friends were commanded to bow down before an image of gold.  They refused, and rightly so, for they could not serve God and bow down to an idol.  But they disobeyed in subjection.  They did not refuse to obey all of the king’s commands, only this one.  They knew that disobedience might cost them their lives, and they were willing to pay this price.  They did not advocate the overthrow of this government, and they were willing to submit to the death penalty if necessary.
In Acts chapter 5 the Sanhedrin demanded that the apostles (Peter and John) stop preaching in the name of Jesus.  This they could not do, lest they disobey God.  Though they could not and would not stop preaching about their resurrected Lord, they did not challenge the authority of this body.  Their answer was evidence of their subjection: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).

Often I hear Christians in America refer to what the Founding Fathers intended as per the Constitution of the United States.  Their point is that our country is not really being governed the way they intended.

I might agree!  But let’s apply what we’ve learned from God’s Word to our great nation.  Paul didn’t say, “let every soul be subject to the government that the Founding Fathers intended.”  He didn’t say, “let every soul be subject to the government when it is living-up to God’s standards for it.”  No, he said, “the authorities that exist [right now] are appointed by God.”  It doesn’t mean they are right or good or godly.  But it does mean we are to obey or be in subjection in our civil disobedience.

It might be helpful to remember that when Paul wrote these words the government that existed was that of Caesar Nero.  The emperor was not known for being a godly person and he engaged in a variety of illicit acts, homosexual marriage being among them.  In 64AD the great Roman fire occurred with Nero himself being suspected of the act of arson.  In his writings the Roman senator and historian Tacitus recorded: “To get rid of the report [that he had started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.”

I am quick to add that, in a country like ours, the Bible doesn’t forbid us from being active in politics, from speaking out against things, from advocating change, etc.  I’m definitely not saying that whatever the government decides is right, or that we can’t protest or pass initiatives.  That’s all well and good.

I’m only saying what the Bible says – that ultimately we are required to be subject to the governing authorities and, if we must disobey, to do so with the right spirit.

There is a prevailing attitude in Christianity is that any acts of government that are not rooted and grounded in God’s Word are acts of tyranny and may or must be resisted.  Francis Schaeffer articulated that position when he said, “the basic principle of civil government and therefore, law, must be based on God’s law as given in the Bible… Since the ruler is granted power conditionally, it follows that the people have the power to withdraw their sanction if the proper conditions are not fulfilled.”

In other words, a government must follow these strict conditions and guidelines in order to be entitled to any obedience at all from people.  A government that fails to meet these qualifications, according to Schaeffer, can be disobeyed.

The problem with that perspective is that Paul’s teaching to be subject to government was at a time when the government was certainly not based upon God’s law as given in the Bible.  Yet he exhorted believers to be in subjection to it.

Romans 13:2  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.

I take this to mean that, short of the government telling me to sin or to deny Christ or to quit sharing the Gospel, if I “resist” civil authorities, I am resisting God Himself.

William MacDonald said, “Believers can live victoriously in a democracy, a constitutional monarchy, or even a totalitarian regime.”

The “judgment” I would bring on myself is both from the government and discipline from God.

Romans 13:3  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

The role that government is called to play is linked to a realistic assessment of man’s sinfulness.  Society will be spoiled where sinful man is allowed to engage in all manner of evil, and society will never flourish for the common good where man is allowed to squander his life on himself and pursue relentlessly his own self-centered course.

The authorities are required by God to punish the evildoer and reward the one who does right.

I know what you are thinking.  This is an ideal description.  Plenty of governments are corrupt and do just the opposite – they punish those who are good and reward those who are evil.

Even if Paul was describing the ideal that government should aspire to, it does not open the door to my resistance to a more corrupt government.  And if I do resist, I must do so in subjection.  God will hold the nation accountable.

Romans 13:4  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
As servants of God, rulers are expected to promote the good of the people – their security, tranquility, and general welfare.  If any man insists on breaking the law, he can expect to pay for it, because the government has the authority to bring him to trial and punish him.

The word “sword” was carefully chosen.  It most definitely indicates capital punishment.  If Paul had intended only to say that the authorities can punish, he could have chosen the word “scepter.”  He didn’t.

Romans 13:5  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.

It isn’t only for fear of punishment that you must “be subject.”  The external standard of punishment is the minimum standard for all citizens, believers and nonbelievers.  As a believer, you have a higher standard – you want to maintain a pure “conscience” before God and men.

Conscience is our internal guide of what is right and what is wrong.  But, as one author said, “while we must never do what our conscience condemns, we dare not assume that everything our conscience permits is good, since our conscience can become hardened and insensitive.”

Conscience is not infallible.  It must be trained by our reading of the Bible.

What does conscience have to do with subjection to the government?  Well, let me illustrate.  It means I, as a Christian, should not have a radar detector in my car or truck so that I can speed and break the law!  If I do, I’m planning on breaking the law and cannot think I am really in “subjection.”

It’s just an illustration, but it’s really true.  If I truly have this internal attitude of subjection to the government because it shows I am in subjection to God, then if and when I break the law – any law – my conscience should be pricked.

Romans 13:6  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.

This isn’t a comment about economics or Reaganomics.  It doesn’t prefer a philosophy of big government or smaller government.  It doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of tax loopholes or tax breaks.

Paul was simply stating that government is supported by taxation and it is your responsibility to pay taxes.

Romans 13:7  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.

“Taxes” and “customs” speak to your fiscal responsibilities.  “Fear” and “honor” speak to your spiritual responsibilities.

“Fear” and “honor” are due to the offices of the civil authorities.  Even if we can’t respect the personal lives of those holding the offices, we can and should still show “fear” and “honor.”  Quoting Exodus 22:28, Paul said in Acts 23:5, “YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.”

I challenge you to get through the presidential election showing “fear” and “honor” to those who currently hold office!  It’s a command, but one we sometimes disregard.

I titled this message, “Conscientious Subjectors.”  That’s a pretty good summary thought of what my reaction to civil authorities, to earthly government, ought to be.  I should conscientiously subject myself to the authorities – by obedience, an obedience that does not prick a pure conscience.

Should I be forced to disobey  when government wants me to sin or quit sharing the Gospel, I must do so in subjection.

Avengers Don’t Resemble The Lord (Romans 12v14-21)

Some have likened the church to a hospital for those needing help and healing.  A new, popular name for churches utilizes the word “refuge,”
which promotes the idea that the church is a spiritual shelter from pursuit, danger, or trouble.

The church is those things, and more.  But you can’t simply hole-up in the church.  You have to leave it and go back out into the world, into the wilderness.  Out there you encounter nonbelievers.

How are we to relate to nonbelievers?  In other words, how does all the doctrine we’ve learned thus far in Romans make a difference?

Romans 12:14  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

This presupposes your lot in life is to be persecuted.  It will happen in one manner or another.  It must happen if you are walking with the Lord.  Jesus promised you would be treated by the world the way He was.

That’s why, when you are persecuted, you can rejoice.  Someone has noticed you are a Christian!

It should, in fact, seem strange to you if you are not, in some way great or small, being persecuted for your faith.

“Bless” can mean one of two things:

It can mean that you give, or return, good words for their bad ones.
It can mean you are to pray for them.

One commentator illustrated it by saying,

The child of Adam by nature is a rock which, when struck, brings forth bitter water.  But the child of God is a new rock, which, when struck, brings forth sweet water.  Thus we will stand in our wilderness surroundings as fountains for Him.

It’s a reference to the Old Testament story of the Rock that followed the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings.  When they were thirsty, God commanded Moses to strike the Rock.  From it flowed a river of water – enough to satisfy the thirst of a million people and their livestock.

That Rock was Christ.  Striking Him brings forth a fountain of compassion, forgiveness, grace and mercy.

Would to God that when struck out of us would flow rivers of living water to those who are desperate for it.

Romans 12:15  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

This is certainly not restricted to nonbelievers, but I do think this section is more about life in the world than it is life in the church.

We can often be or become jealous of nonbelievers.  They seem to prosper, undeservedly, while we struggle and suffer.  It’s hard to rejoice if we are jealous.

If they suffer, we think they deserve it.  It’s hard to weep for them.  We need to overcome that kind of thinking.

Our rejoicing and our weeping with nonbelievers, of course, is to be tempered by what we know to be true.  For example, if someone prospers, that’s great; but what good does it do to gain the whole world and lose your soul?

Likewise, if someone is suffering, through my tears I can offer them the hope of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  I have Good News for them.

Romans 12:16  Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

“Be of the same mind” doesn’t mean we must agree with nonbelievers.  We must tolerate them but not agree.

Tolerance isn’t accepting everyone’s beliefs and lifestyle.  It recognizing and, to an extent if possible, respecting them without accepting them.

There has been a change in the practical definition of tolerance.  What some call the ‘new’ tolerance is to say that all beliefs, such as religious ones, and lifestyles must be accepted.  The ‘new’ tolerance not only expects us to accept all behaviors, values, and beliefs, but also expects us to approve of them, and in some cases to celebrate them.

The only people who are not tolerated by the ‘new’ tolerance are those who won’t accept anything and everything.  Thus Christians especially are expected to tolerate everyone’s beliefs and behaviors but no one need tolerate ours.

We can’t practice the ‘new’ tolerance as believers in the authority of God’s Word.  So how are we to “be of the same mind toward one another?”

We do it by seeing the sinner in need of salvation; by going to the root of their problem rather than focusing on its bad fruit.  They need to be saved!  They need the power that only the Holy Spirit, indwelling them, can provide.

People need to be saved, not merely to change their minds or lifestyles.

“Do not set your mind on high things” means that you should not distinguish between nonbelievers based upon their status or wealth.  You shouldn’t prefer the wealthy and powerful.  Without ignoring anyone, “associate with the humble,” with the lowly, the overlooked.
Jesus “associated with the humble,” and so should we.

“Wise in your own opinion” seems to mean in your own wisdom.  As we grow in the Lord, it is typical to think we’ve figured out some things; that we know how to handle certain issues and situations.  Notwithstanding that we do grow, it’s important to continue to depend upon God, to always walk in the Spirit.  It’s too easy to become mechanical as we approach life.  Too easy to leave our first love.

Romans 12:17  Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.

Tit for tat is our natural reaction.  BTW: Tit for tat was originally ‘tip for tap,’ meaning ‘blow for blow.’  People began to misquote it and it stuck!

When people treat you badly, don’t return what they deserve.  Instead “have regard for good things.”  The words mean you should consider in advance how you will react and how it will affect others who are watching you.  Expect to be treated badly and be you will be ready to yield to the Spirit in your responses.

Romans 12:18  If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.

You are to do your part to live peaceably.  It is not always possible to be at peace with others, but it is always possible for you to do your part.

I’m glad it’s qualified by “as much as depends on you.”  It’s not peace at any price.  Still, I must work hard at maintaining the peace with nonbelievers.  If a person is offended, let it be by the Gospel rather than by my poor representation of it to them.

Romans 12:19  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

The Avengers is in the theaters right now.  I’m sure they must save the world from a threat to our survival.

That’s not the kind of vengeance Paul was talking about.  In chapter thirteen he will point out that governments have the power to wield the sword.  We can defend ourselves; we can go to war.

This verse is about our personal relationships.  It is about the desire to get even or more with someone who has wronged us.  It’s about your co-worker or classmate – not a nuclear Iran!

“’Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”  God is perfectly able to deal with your oppressors – and He will, in His own time.

Lenski writes,

God has long ago settled the whole matter about exacting justice from wrongdoers.  Not one of them will escape.  Perfect justice will be done in every case and will be done perfectly.  If any of us interfered, it would be the height of presumption.

David’s dealings with King Saul are a good example of this.  On more than one occasion David could have killed or ordered the killing of Saul.  He knew, however, that the fate of Israel’s first king was not in his hands.  That judgment belonged to God.  David continued to flee, continued to love as a fugitive, until God stepped in and dealt with Saul.

“Give place to wrath” also means “yield to wrath.”  In other words, stand by and let man’s wrath work!  Endure with patience the wrath of those who do you wrong.  God can make the wrath of man to praise Him!

Man’s wrath gives God the opportunity to do great deeds.  For example, the pharaoh of Egypt refused to free the Hebrew slaves and thus allowed God to work mighty miracles for his people.

Romans 12:20  Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

While this can be literally true usually those who persecute you are not destitute of food and water.  Donald Grey Barnhouse suggests a figurative meaning to this that makes more sense.  He compares the feeding of your enemy to the feeding of a sick child.  A sick child, one whose stomach aches, needs a special diet of food and drink to stop the outflow.  Just so, your enemy is all tied up in knots in his or her stomach, and is feeling upset in their bowels.  Their attack upon you is an evil outflow from a corrupt system.  They, too, need a special diet – love.  Only love can clean out their system!

What’s with heaping coals of fire on his head?  Here are two possible interpretations of the what the “coals of fire” signify:

In ancient times, it was hard to start a fire.  Hot embers could be carried from place to place in containers.  In some instances, an insulated container may have been carried on the individual’s head.  (Then he would not be in danger of burns from the rising heat).  According to this view, the emphasis would be on the good we are to do, especially when the other person is in need.
This statement could also be using the coals to represent pangs of conscience that trouble the evil doer when we do them good rather than harm..

Either way, the context shows us that our goal is to do good to the evildoer – in the hope that he will repent.  We want him to become our friend, rather than our enemy.

Romans 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

George Washington Carver, once said, “I will never let another man ruin my life by making me hate him.”  As a believer he would not allow evil to conquer him.

The greatest example I can think of regarding overcoming evil with good would have to be the Lord on the Cross.  His words and actions there were such that the Roman Centurion declared, “Surely this was the son of God.”

In his commentary on these verses, Dr. J. Vernon McGee wrote,

The non-Christian is not concerned about the doctrine you hold – whether you are a premillennialist or whether you believe in election or free will. However, he does want to know if you are truthful or not  [if] you [are] a person that a man can depend upon.  Let me illustrate this.  Some years ago in Memphis, Tennessee, a Christian handed a man a tract.  “What is this?” asked the man.  The Christian replied, “It is a tract and I want you to read it.”  “I don’t read,” the man replied, “but I will tell you what I will do – I will watch your tracks!”  Oh, how accurate that is!  The world is watching the tracks that you make, not the tracts you give out.

Dr. McGee wasn’t against giving out tracts.  It’s simply a different way of saying we must walk the walk and not just talk the talk.

I titled this, “Avengers Don’t Resemble the Lord.”  If we wish to represent Jesus, we must resemble Him.

Don’t Diss Members (Romans 12v3-13)

“Forget the Church: Follow Jesus” was the April 9 (2012) cover story of Newsweek.  The cover shows a young Jesus dressed in 21st century hip clothes standing on a busy city street.

There is a recent trend, dubbed ‘hipster Christianity,’ which doesn’t advocate abandoning church per se but, rather, doing church in radical new ways.  A September 2010 article in Christianity Today, titled “Hipster Faith,” said,

In order to remain relevant… many evangelical pastors and church leaders are following the lead of the hipster trendsetters, making sure their churches can check off all the important items on the hipster checklist:

Get the church involved in social justice and creation care.
Show clips from R-rated Coen Brothers films (e.g., No Country for Old Men,  Fargo) during services.
Sponsor church outings to microbreweries.
Put a worship pastor onstage decked in clothes from American Apparel.
Be okay with cussing.
Print bulletins only on recycled cardstock.
Use Helvetica fonts as much as possible.

Only a couple of those are tongue-in-cheek.  The article also says,

Welcome to the world of hipster Christianity.  It’s a world where things like the Left Behind series, Jesus fish bumper stickers, and door-to-door evangelism are relevant only as a source of irony or nostalgia.

Whether our church is ‘hip’ or not is for you to decide.  I do use Helvetica font!

What about urging people to “forget the church?”  How does that square with the Scripture?

Not very well!  For one thing, Jesus said He was going to build the church.  I don’t want to find myself abandoning the very thing Jesus said He was building!

Then there is the direct exhortation in Hebrews to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.

The Christian life is a corporate life; it is life in a congregation of God’s people.  Yes, there is what is called the universal church, meaning that ultimately we are all part of the sum total of Christians from Pentecost to the rapture.  But even a quick survey of the New Testament shows that there are always local churches – actual congregations, not just mystical connections.

The believer who is truly presenting his or her physical body to the Lord must find himself or herself involved with the members of Jesus Christ’s spiritual body of believers on earth.  Your ‘living sacrifice’ is lived-out among God’s people.

That corporate living is the subject of our verses in Romans.

Romans 12:3  For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
Romans 12:4  For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,
Romans 12:5  so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Paul introduced a powerful analogy.  The church is like a human body.  The human body with its various members is a marvel of harmony, unity, balance, and cooperation.  Each has its uniquely designed functions, and each carries out only its own functions.  The lungs never try to digest food; the stomach doesn’t decide to pump the blood; the heart refuses to breathe.  All are dependent and interdependent upon each other for there to be health, growth, and maturity in the whole body.

Individual believers are to regard one another as they do the individual members of their own physical body.

It isn’t always like that among the members of Jesus Christ’s spiritual body!   Paul exhorts every Christian not to “think of [yourself] more highly than [you] ought to think.”  We hear a lot today about the problem of self-esteem.  It seems from what Paul is saying that self-esteem is, indeed, a problem.  The problem, though,  is high self-esteem!  We esteem ourselves too highly and we create problems with the harmony, unity, balance, and cooperation of the Lord’s body.

Rather than esteem ourselves too highly we should “think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”  God Himself sovereignly measures out your placement and empowering in His body.  The boundaries of your service and ministry are proscribed by God; you, in “faith,” are called upon to believe that your placement and empowering are perfectly suited both for you and for the other members of the Lord’s body.

Paul now begins to discuss how you actually live-out your sacrifice among the members of the Lord’s body.  He discusses your differing gifts, and he discusses your common graces.

Romans 12:6  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…

Gifts are God’s supernatural empowerings given to you to use as tools to build-up other believers with.  Warren Wiersbe likes to say that the gifts are tools to build with, not toys to play with.

You find lists of gifts in Romans twelve, in First Corinthians twelve, and in Ephesians four.  While those lists are helpful, be careful not to limit God.  God endows His beloved children with many combinations and degrees of giftedness.  I’ve seen lists with as many as twenty-one spiritual gifts.  The exact number is not as important as the faithful exercise to build others up in their walk with the Lord.

Overall we simply want everything we do to be led by and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Here Paul lists gifts that express the Word of God, and gifts that expand the work of God.

The gifts that express the Word of God are prophecy, ministry, teaching, and exhortation.

Romans 12:6 …if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;
Romans 12:7  or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching;
Romans 12:8  he who exhorts, in exhortation…

“Prophecy” is a gift that causes no small measure of controversy when you discuss it!  It seems to me that there were, in the early church, both those who held the office of prophet, and those who exercised the gift of prophecy.  Prophets, along with the apostles, laid the once for all foundation of the Church by speaking forth the inspired Word of God.  Their office has ceased now that we have the completed Scriptures.

But Paul himself discussed and described at length the gift of prophecy, indicating in First Corinthians fourteen that it would be a continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the church age in which we live.  Its purpose is not to lay a foundation, but to “build-up” believers upon the foundation already laid down in the Bible.  That’s why he tells us to carefully judge the words of those who prophesy.  We are to hold their edifying words up to the eternal Word of God, to receive it or reject it according to what we find written there.

The gift of prophecy is exercised today in many forms.  Perhaps this is what Paul means when he says “let us prophesy according to our faith.”  Waking visions as well as certain dreams can be an exercise of the gift of prophecy.  Some people receive a definite impression of words from the Lord as an exercise of the gift of prophecy.  Often the gift of prophesy involves God directing you at a particular time to a particular passage of His already written Word.

Paul next lists “ministry” as a gift.  Ministry is service to the body of all kinds.  This gift is manifested in all sorts of practical help that you give to other members of the Lord’s body.

While I don’t want to limit it’s application, ministry in this context seems to be service to the body that allows prophecy, teaching, and exhortation to occur.  Anything and everything that helps the Word of God to be expounded in these ways is seen as the supernatural gift of ministry.

For example we tend to put a high value on the teaching of the Word in our gatherings.  Everything else that goes on is super-important, but it is subordinate to the Word being taught and heard.

“Teaching” the Bible requires a supernatural gift.  It involves the God-given ability to give systematic and regular instruction in God’s Word.  Many believers are able to teach; but the gift of teaching involves more than imparting information.

“Exhortation” is another broad gift.  Exhortation involves advising, pleading, encouraging, warning, strengthening, and comforting.  If teaching systematizes and explains God’s truth, exhortation calls believers to obey and follow God’s truth.

The gifts that expand the work of God are giving, leadership, and showing mercy.

Romans 12:8  …he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

“Giving” expands the work of God as the funds received are used in various ways for the forward outreach of the Gospel, both locally and abroad.

“Leadership” is needed to guide the local church into the will of God so that the work of God can be expanded.  Leadership is a supernatural calling, not a natural ability.  We should always look for those whom God is raising-up rather than look through our own prerequisites.

How, exactly, is the leadership structured?  If you study church history and systematic theology you’ll find three major ideas regarding church leadership, or what is sometimes called church government:

Congregational church government involves the entire local congregation in at least the major decisions of the church.
Presbyterian church government comes from the Greek word for elder and involves a group of leaders, the elders, as making the decisions for the church.
Episcopal church government comes from the Greek work for overseer.  It’s a shepherd/sheep sort of arrangement, recognizing that Jesus is the Great Shepherd but has appointed under shepherds – we call them pastors – to lead the local church.

Calvary Chapel is a hybrid of all three, at least we are, but more heavily weighted towards episcopal.  In reality, in any strict or hybrid form, a local church is governed by godly men the Lord raises up who meet together and seek His leading.

“Showing mercy” is, in this context, going to others in the body who are in some distress to show them God’s love and concern.  You see this especially in those who are called upon to do visitation among the sick and afflicted members of the Lord’s body.

“Cheerfulness” can be translated hilarity.  It is hilarity in the sense of Proverbs 17:22, which says, “A merry heart does good, like medicine…”

Paul looks next at our common graces in verses nine through thirteen.

Romans 12:9  Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.

In New Testament times the “hypocrite” was an actor, someone who played a part on the stage.  We are not play acting in our relationships to one another.  We must love enough to honestly minister one to another, hating and rebuking what is definitely evil, while clinging to and encouraging the good we see.

Romans 12:10  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

In all of our contacts with one another we are to exhibit grace.  We are to love and, even beyond that, to prefer one another.

Romans 12:11  not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;

This verse describes our on-fire desire to serve the Lord’s body.

Romans 12:12  rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer;

Praise, patience, and prayer will mark your trials when you are presenting your body to the Lord as a living sacrifice and living-out that sacrifice in the church.

Romans 12:13  distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

The attitude here is one of being so concerned for the welfare of others in the Lord’s body that you actively pursue avenues of benevolence and showing hospitality.

It is through you that the Lord is present ministering among the members of His body!

Make Up Your Mindset (Romans 12v2)

Donald Grey Barnhouse, in his commentary on the Book of Romans, made the following summary observation about verse two of chapter twelve:

In order to understand all that is meant here, it is necessary for us to take two words from our text and place them beside a third word which is to be found in the eighth chapter of Romans.  The three words have this in common in English; they are all based on our word form, although in the original Greek they are quite different from each other.

In Romans 8:29 we were told that God’s purpose in saving us was that we might “be conformed to the image of His Son.”  Here we are told that we are not to be conformed to this age, but that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind… To put the words in their spiritual order we must recognize that we are to turn away from our past (not being conformed to this present age); that we are transformed (as God makes us like the Lord Jesus Christ, conforming us to the image of His dear Son); and that all of this will come to maturity when He returns for us.

With that in mind, let’s take this amazing verse a phrase at a time.

Romans 12:2  And do not be conformed to this world…

We need first to know what is meant by “world.”  A better translation choice would be “age.”

But what is an “age?”  The Germans have a word which best captures what is meant by “age”; it’s the word zeitgeist.  It means the spirit of the times or the spirit of the age.

Here is something important.  If I think zeitgeist applies only to the age in which I live – the particular fads and fashions popular in my lifetime – then I’m not thinking biblically enough.
The “age” that the Bible is talking about is at least the entire time we call the Church Age.  It is called in Galatians 1:4, “this present evil age.”  In Second Corinthians 4:4 Satan is referred to as “the god of this age.”  In Ephesians 6:12 his demonic helpers are referred to as “rulers of this age.”

This “age,” then, means a way of living that does not include Jesus Christ but does embrace values more typical of the devil and his demons.  To put it in strictly biblical language, the “age” ruled by the devil values the lust of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life.

As to the word “conformed,” we turn to Kenneth Wuest, who was an outstanding Greek scholar.  He said of this word that is meant “the act of an individual assuming an outward expression that does not come from within him, nor is it representative of the inner heart life.”

It assumes you’ve been regenerated – saved – and should therefore express your new inner heart life in all the attitudes and activities of your everyday life rather than expressing the former values you embraced that belong to this present evil age.

When it says, “do not be conformed,” it means “stop being conformed.”  It is a definite possibility that after you’ve been regenerated and have a new inner heart life you can still choose the values of this present evil age and go on being conformed by them.

It’s easy to see you’ve chosen this present evil age when and if your actions are definitely evil.  If I am in direct disobedience to the revealed Word of God; if I am involved in ongoing behavior that is clearly identified as sin in the Bible; then it’s plain I am being conformed.

It’s not so easy to see you’ve chosen this present evil age when there is no obvious disobedience or sin.

We live in a capitalist society.  We want to; its great!  There’s no reason in the Bible why you shouldn’t possess a fortune – provided you gained it honestly.
There are, however, many warnings to the wealthy.  It’s not good to pursue fortune for its own sake, as something to be desired, rather than as a by-product of your living for the Lord and serving Him.

A wealthy Christian, therefore, may be so because God has chosen to bless him; or he may be so because he has put wealth as his goal.  In other words, God may be transforming him and, in the process, he just happens to be wealthy.  Or the individual may be conforming to this present evil age, accruing wealth for its own sake, feeling secure, and thereby be “assuming an outward expression that does not come from within him, nor is it representative of the inner heart life.”

Similar arguments could be made regarding fame and power and pleasure.  There is a zeitgeist, a spirit of this evil age, that promotes fortune and fame and power and pleasure as worthy in and of themselves.  And then there is the example of Jesus Christ who showed us what real fortune and fame and power and pleasure really are.

No suggestions are made here as to exactly how you might determine these subtle but serious differences.  That’s because the words themselves  are powerful.  James said encountering the Word was like looking into a mirror.  You can and do see what is reflected there.  But then it’s up to you whether you walk away with your hair uncombed and food between your teeth… Or if you walk away looking more like Jesus.

Romans 12:2  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…

“Keep on being transformed” is the idea; it’s a continual process by which God is changing you from glory-to-glory into the image of His Son.

Following so close on the heels of saying “stop being conformed” tells us that it’s one or the other.  The minute I get saved and have a new inner heart life, God starts transforming me.  If I keep allowing myself to be conformed to this age, the transformation process grinds to a halt.  I might put on a good Christian front, but it’s all flesh and no Spirit.

“Transformed” is where we get our word metamorphosis.  The Christian life is as much more beautiful and graceful from the life of a nonChristian as is a butterfly from a caterpillar.

Your and my Christian life might not seem that dramatically different from nonChristians.  Remember, though, God is transforming us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.  His life most definitely stands apart, and we are headed for His likeness.

Again I’d have to appeal to Jesus Christ.  His life as a man – the sum total of it – was and is the most beautiful life ever lived.  He was in perfect submission to God and He completed the greatest mission ever – dying to be raised from the dead so that a lost race of men and women might live forever with their Creator.

If I can even in some small way reveal that life to others I am indeed blessed!

We are to go on being transformed “by the renewing of our minds.”  Before we talk about exactly what this means, note that the inward change produces the outward change.  I live inside-out as a believer; or at least I should.  God is not interested in outward form, and certainly not with hypocrisy.  Jesus must reign in my heart and then my life will express His rule in my conduct and habits.

Here is another way of looking at it.  Nonconformity to certain things in the world is not equal to transformation.  A person can avoid all kinds of worldly behaviors but not be being transformed.

The big question, then, is, “How is my mind being renewed?”  We have some help answering that question.  This isn’t the first time in Romans Paul has mentioned our minds in a significant way.

Romans 8:5  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

Flesh versus Spirit certainly is part of conformed versus transformed.

If I am being conformed to this present evil age I am living according to the flesh.
If I am being transformed I live according to the Spirit.

The present evil age, run by the devil and his demons, is actively trying to get me to be conformed.  One translation says, “Stop being pressed into the world’s mold.”  That’s what the devil wants to do – press me into a mold.

God has His own mold – to make me more like Jesus until the day I awake in His likeness.

In the midst of all this molding you and I must decide where we are going to “set” our minds.

Previously it was set on this present evil age; it was set by the values of sin and selfishness.  If we aren’t careful, it will default back to that worldly mindset.
Or we can set our minds on “the things of the Spirit.”

There is a cooperation in the renewing of our minds.  The Holy Spirit is the only agent who can renew our minds.  But we must set them on the things of the Spirit in order for His work to be fruitful.

Your mind has what we call a mindset.  Our mind can be set, first, by what it is we choose to think about.

Philippians 4:8  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -meditate on these things.

What we think about is an important way we set our mind.  But so is how we think about things.  For example.  I find myself in a trial.  There are at least two ways I can think about it.

1 Peter 4:12  Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
1 Peter 4:13  but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
I can “think it strange” that I am in a trial, that I am suffering, that I am being persecuted.  Or I can “rejoice.”  James said, “Count it all joy” when you are in various trial.

It’s up to you; it’s up to me; how we are going to think about the trial.  How I choose to think, coupled with what I think about, are two powerful ways I set my mind.

The Bible tells me how I ought to think about everything – and it’s different from what I used to think before I was a Christian.  It’s different from the way a nonbeliever thinks.

It is here that so many lives are made shipwreck because we don’t think we can think about things differently!

Romans 12:2  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The word “prove” is the action word in this last phrase.  One of it’s possible meanings is to approve.  It’s opposite (obviously) is to disapprove.

You find yourself in some situation, some circumstance.  In fact, think of yourself – right now – in the various circumstances you are in.  Do you approve of the circumstances you are in?

Or do you disapprove of them and are trying to get out of them?  Are you trying to change them?

Here is what I think Paul was saying.  Most likely your circumstances – unless you are in sin – are God’s “perfect will” for you.  They may be adverse and involve suffering, but that doesn’t mean they are not God’s “perfect will” for you.

In fact, your circumstances are “good and acceptable,” meaning they are for your ultimate good for God to go on transforming you and they should therefore be acceptable, meaning well pleasing, since they are a means to mold you into the image of Jesus.
If you set your mind properly, then you will approve of God’s “perfect will” and He can be about the important business of transforming you.

If you disapprove, then you’ve set your mind on lesser values and will become ‘set’ on abandoning your circumstances – even to the point of disobeying a clear directive in God’s Word.

I’ll close with a homespun analogy.  If you use devices that utilize Bluetooth technology, you know that they usually come with a preset passkey.  Afterwards you should change the passkey for security purposes.

As a human being, you are preset to be conformed to this world.  Then God saves you and He resets you to be transformed in order to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

Don’t allow yourself to be reset to the default settings!