Romans: A Summation

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith—  to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Romans 16:25-27

As Paul moves on from 15:19b-16:24, he makes personal comments about his upcoming plans very similar to what he said in chapter 1, and then gives a series of personal greetings to individuals, finally coming to these verses with which he closes the letter. These verses, considered by most scholars to be a doxology express Paul’s praise to God for his ministry and for the message of the Gospel that he has brought to the Gentiles. I’ve been wondering for a couple of weeks now how best to treat this last section in Romans; how to conclude this study, and until yesterday morning I had no clue what I would do at this point.

Yesterday morning, I was teaching a class from Hebrews 8, and near the end, a woman asked me a question. It was a really hard question, not so much because of its complexity, but because she phrased it in a way that I wasn’t sure what she was asking. It struck me at the time that she was thinking out loud; that perhaps she wasn’t completely sure what she was asking, or of how to put it into words. There was something in it about a rather difficult neighbor and weeding flower beds near his property…

That’s when I had the answer to the question that I wasn’t sure she had actually asked, and that answer really sums up Paul’s message about Jesus Christ here in Romans…

Grace has a twofold effect: It is available to anyone who will accept it and follow Jesus, and when we accept it, our sins are forgiven and taken away entirely, which is the first effect of having received grace. The second effect is that it begs a response, but that response is not simply a legal requirement of some sort, it is a response of love. Our loving response to grace is that we let the ways of this world go and follow Jesus Christ in selfless service to Him and through Him to those around us. This means that we let Him be first in us.

That difficult neighbor was the key in my mind yesterday, so I told the woman that since Jesus is within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we are His Ambassadors, the closest thing to meeting Jesus face to face that the neighbor is ever likely to experience in this life is meeting you: When he meets you, in effect, he is meeting Jesus. If this is our attitude, we need not worry about an encounter with a difficult neighbor, or anyone else for that matter, for it will be Him in us who does the talking, we will know exactly what to do; get out of His way.

I think that more than anything else, this is Paul’s message in Romans, for this is love in action, and it is that mystery that was hidden in ages past, but that has now become known; to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Now, dear reader, all we need to do is to let Him reign in our lives.

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Paul’s View of his Ministry

Romans 15:14-22

At this point, Paul shifts entirely the focus of his message; what has been persuasive in nature now becomes more of a personal reflection. I hope you have read these verses, because we can glean a great insight about Paul’s attitude and frame of mind in general and then compare his attitude to our own.

Verses 14-16 begin this reflection in an interesting way: Paul acknowledges that his recipients are fully able to not only understand, but to instruct one another in matters concerning faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, he tells them that he has boldly repeated certain things to them in this letter, so that they might appreciate them fully, so that they might remember the amazing grace of our Lord.  He has done this by the grace God has given him as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and why was he sent as Apostle to the Gentiles? He did it so that they might be an acceptable offering to God. Notice that in all of this discussion, Paul is motivated to endless work for the sake of God’s purpose, and the well being of others; not for himself.

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.

Romans 15:17-19a

What does Paul do when he is serving God; where does his strength come from? He glories in Christ in his service; he is not taking glory from his own “greatness”. What is Paul willing to speak of? He is willing to speak only of what God has done through him, not what great things he himself has done. Whatever Paul may have accomplished for Christ has been done through the power of the Holy Spirit.

I should imagine that each one of us, and that certainly includes me, could benefit greatly by having a similar attitude.

Once again, he mentions that he has always wanted to work where no one else has already preached the Word, among Gentiles who have not yet heard about Jesus. Interesting isn’t it? God’s purpose is that the Gospel should be proclaimed to all people, and here is the great Apostle to the Gentiles, not only teaching this as a fact, but also putting it into action and going into mission fields where he had to start completely from scratch so that God might be glorified among the Gentiles. Here, dear reader is an example to follow: We should seek out ways to serve God’s purpose in a manner that would bring Him maximum glory, even though this may require greater effort from us; such is the lot of a servant of God, and a glorious lot it is!

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Living in Unity and Hope

The third and final supporting point in this section is found in 15:1-13 and shows us that we are intended to live in unity and hope. Paul has broken this passage into three sections:

First, he shows us that selfless service brings about a unified testimony:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:1-6

In these verses, Paul seems to be raising the bar to the highest level, the level of Christ Himself. How are we to get through this life of serving others? By having a whole new attitude, that of Jesus, who, in everything that He said and did, put others first so that God’s purpose might be accomplished. Is this too much to ask of us?

No, not at all, for remember what we’ve learned about grace− it provides not only forgiveness of sins, but everything we need to live our lives as followers of Jesus, through the working of the Holy Spirit.

Second, through Christ’s selfless service, Jew and Gentile glorify God together:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name.”

Again, it says,

“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles;
let all the peoples extol him.”

And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
in him the Gentiles will hope.

Romans 15:7-12

Through Jesus, God has been glorified through both Jew and Gentile. Through Jesus Christ, God can be glorified through both you and me. When we set aside our disagreements, our differences, our selves, we can be one in Christ, just as we were intended to be. This is a very simple idea; it is easy to say and easy to write, but it is not always easy to practice.

Yet it isn’t as hard as we might think. We have the Holy Spirit within us, to lead, comfort, instruct and strengthen us, just as soon as we are willing to hear what He has to say to us. Do you believe this? Abraham did, and it was credited to him as righteousness. To follow Jesus Christ, we must believe the promises of God, and to live as though they had all already been accomplished; this is faith in action, and faith in action must of necessity be exercised by putting love into action. This is Paul’s teaching in Romans, and it is the challenge before us today.

Finally, Paul offers a prayer that we might all live in hope:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

Amen.

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Christian Liberty

After his discussion of judging others in verses 1-12, Paul moves onto Christian Liberty and the responsibilities that come with it. He divides this discussion into four points:

First, we should be willing to sacrifice some of our liberty for the sake of others:

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:13-15

It’s interesting to notice that this begins with Paul saying we should stop judging others, isn’t it? Once again, he uses the example of dietary practices, but this applies to many other things. If a brother or sister thinks rock and roll is the Devil’s music, then for his sake, I’ll play something else when he’s around. (My Grandmother used to think jazz was the Devil’s music!) The point is that we should have respect for the conscience of others, even though we may (rightly) believe them to be mistaken, for to get in their face may well cause them a crisis of faith and being “right” isn’t the point of love.

Second, don’t allow what your conscience knows to be good to be spoken of as evil:

Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Romans 14:16-18

There can be some natural tension between this point and the last point, but if we are careful in our discernment, we will notice the difference. In the first point, we are speaking entirely of opinions; what we eat or drink. The second point goes to matters of truth. Thus, there are two sides to Christian liberty: on the one hand, we may need to sacrifice minor matters of opinion for the sake of someone else. On the other hand, we must defend the truth of God and His Word. Here’s a different example: Suppose a brother announces that smoking cigarettes is a sin. He is exercising his right to his opinion, but in the process, he is falsely teaching the Word, for smoking is never mentioned in Scripture, and there is no principle to apply to it that does not involve taking something out of its context. As a teacher of the Word, I will feel obligated to correct the Scriptural error (in love) while acknowledging that he has every right not to like smoking, and I would sacrifice my liberty by not smoking around him. For the record, I am not now, nor have I ever been a smoker; I think it’s really stupid… but not a sin: See the difference?

Third, we should only do things that build others up in Christ:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.  It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

Romans 14:19-21

Being “right” isn’t the standard we are called to; the standard we are called to is love; putting the interests of others ahead of our own. Thus, in all that we do, we should do it for the benefit of others, and if that means that we skip something we like, so what?

Fourth, we should be true to our own convictions:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:22-23

These two verses tie the first three points together, but in an awkward way, at least for the modern reader. Paul carried through his example of dietary practices, which are not nearly the big deal now that they were in his time. Yet the principle is clear enough; we should, in all things, act and live according to our faith. What does the Christian faith hold as a priority above everything else? Simply stated, it’s love God, love your neighbor. Thus, in all that we do, we must put God first and foremost, and then put our neighbor ahead of ourselves. I’m quite certain that if we remember to live that way, we’ll have nothing at all to worry about.

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About Judging Others

Romans 14:1-12

Paul’s discussion of our response to grace now takes a different path, for Paul is discussing different opinions among believers. He begins in 14:1-3. Verse 1 sets the tone for this discussion: Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. It could be that for many Christians, the concept of “disputable matters” is a little bit of a shock; yes, there are matters over which we can each have our own opinions!

Paul uses eating habits as an example; specifically over whether or not a person should eat meat, something that many discuss in our times. Who cares if someone else has a different opinion on eating meat? If you eat meat, good for you; if you don’t, good for you; there is nothing to fight about. Neither party is superior to the other, no matter what anybody says.

In verses 4-9, he raises the discussion up a notch: Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand (14:4). There is neither a brother nor sister in Christ anywhere on earth who is my servant; they are all servants of Jesus Christ just like I am, so how can I expect to be their judge? Our Lord will do the judging, and I must accept all of His servants, for if He has accepted them, I also must accept them in love.

Verses 10-12 bring this point all the way home:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think that I have enough to worry about without compounding matters by trying to place myself above anyone else.

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Lesson 6: Walk in the Light

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Romans 13:11-14

 These verses are the summation for this entire section (12:1-13:14) and serve to bring the message into sharp focus. Remember that Paul has been teaching about our response to God’s grace, giving us a clear picture of what our daily lives should look like. Here he sums it all up with a metaphor: Light.

And do this, understanding the present time (13:11) is the transition, referring back to the prior section discussing love in action. It is time to wake up, for the day is coming when the Lord Jesus will return. Notice the urgency in what Paul is talking about here; time’s a wasting! It may seem funny to us all these centuries later to read this urgency, but it is important for us to always bear in mind the fact that Jesus is coming. His literal return could be at any time, or it could be in 10,000 years, and no one knows for sure either way. Yet He came for every single recipient of this letter a long time ago. He came for all of those who have ever read this letter in the centuries that have followed, and He will come for us soon enough, thus Paul’s urgency applies to each of us: Wake up!

Paul’s metaphor of living in the light of day is clear enough; we are to behave in a respectable manner, not as people do in the wee hours when nobody is looking. In verse 13, he mentions several behaviors, and I think they are obvious, so I will only comment on two of them; dissention and jealousy.

I try not to miss opportunities to make a plea for Christian unity, and this is certainly such an opportunity. Must we continue fighting among ourselves, arguing over every little doctrinal difference of opinion? Must we be jealous about the name on the sign in front of the building? Is all of that really so essential?

I don’t believe that it is, do you?

Maybe I’m just a fool, but I think that the times we are living in today are much too serious to indulge ourselves in this sort of thing. Our calling is to build the Body of Christ, so let’s get to building instead of tearing it apart. Let’s clothe ourselves in Christ, and answer our calling instead of glorifying ourselves in endless arguments.

Incidentally, this is a transitional thought that leads us into the next section, verses 14:1-15:13 which discuss our liberty to hold different opinions.

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Blessed Are You

In verse 10, Jesus said that those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed; here He gets personal, for now He isn’t referring to someone else, or some group of individuals, now it is about “you”. People may speak all sorts of evil against us as followers of Jesus; what should our reaction be − should we pop ‘em right in the mouth?

It wouldn’t seem so; Jesus says we should “rejoice and be glad”, of all things.

Really? We should rejoice and be glad when people are speaking against us because of our faith in Christ?

Yes we should, for great is our reward in heaven.

Jesus didn’t exactly say so here, but our reward here on earth won’t be so bad, since it is a relationship with Him. In the old days, people spoke against the prophets in the same way that they spoke of Jesus’ followers; both were persecuted, sometimes killed in the process, but they seemed to be OK with all that, for they knew that they had a great reward awaiting them, and because they, like Abraham, believed God’s promises.

So now we conclude the Beatitudes, with an implied question dangling: The prophets believed God’s promises and endured. The early Christians believed God’s promises and endured. Do we believe God’s promises?

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