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Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 15:1-3

The Example of Christ

15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

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Last week’s reading concluded Paul’s teaching about stronger and weaker brothers with regard to food and drink. Stronger brothers must refrain from discouraging weaker brothers in their faith. They must not cause their weaker church members to suffer pangs of conscience by forcing them to consume things that go against their personal beliefs. Instead, stronger brothers must find food that meets with the weaker brothers’ approval and avoid drink for this reason, if necessary.

Romans 15 builds on the care that stronger brothers must give to the weaker ones in more general terms. These are difficult to read and to hear because they require patience and understanding in practice. Yet, as the heading says, we must follow ‘the example of Christ’.

We must focus on the bigger picture of Christian unity by understanding our weaker brothers and helping them.

John MacArthur puts Paul’s concerns into perspective (emphases mine):

Paul realizes that one of the great dangers to unity in the church is the potential discord between strong and weak Christians. It is of grave concern to him because unity is of such grave concern to him. And we understand why now, don’t we? It is the passionate desire of the heart of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And since this unity is so essential to God, Paul also finds it essential to teach the matter of unity as well. He knows that one of the great potential problems in the church is conflict between weak and strong Christians who can disrupt the unity of the church. So beginning in chapter 14, verse 1 and running all the way through chapter 15, verse 13, that entire section is all devoted to a discussion of the relationship between strong and weak Christians

A strong believer… It’s not talking so much about just spiritual growth, although that’s part of it. A strong believer is a believer who understands his liberty. He understands what he is free to do. For example, in that culture he understands he’s free to eat pork, even though the Mosaic law forbid it because in Christ that law is set aside. He’s free to do whatever he wants to do any day of the week. He isn’t bound by Sabbath law. He no longer has to be controlled and all of his life charted by the course of the tradition of the Jews, or by the Old Testament ritual and ceremonies. He no longer has to observe feasts and new moons and Sabbaths and dietary laws and clothing laws and all those external things. They’re all gone.

If he’s a Gentile, he knows that it doesn’t matter if he eats meat that was once offered to an idol because an idol is nothing anyway. He’s completely free to do that. Anything that is a thing, he is free to use, he is free to be blessed by. Things are not a problem. There’s nothing forbidden anymore in that sense.

So the strong believer, he can have a ham sandwich, he can eat a pork chop, he can eat meat offered to idols, he can take a long hike with his family on the Sabbath and it doesn’t bother his conscience at all. But a weak believer is one who, having come out of those kinds of backgrounds, doesn’t yet feel the liberty to do that. He may be a Jew who doesn’t feel the liberty to violate the Sabbath, he doesn’t feel the liberty to eat certain meats, he doesn’t feel the liberty to break some festival or feast day. Or maybe he’s a Gentile who doesn’t feel the liberty to eat meat that was once offered to an idol and is now sold in the marketplace. He can’t handle that because it conjures up all the past. And so he doesn’t understand that liberty and the problem in the church comes when the strong believers who understand their freedom flaunt that freedom to the abuse of a weak believer who does not yet understand that freedom. And consequently we devastate them, we grieve them, we make them stumble, we forfeit our witness, we pull down the work of God because they go backwards not forward in their spiritual growth when we flaunt our liberty.

So the injunction comes to the strong believer to set aside his liberty and bear with the weakness of the weak. And do so with love as a privilege. Now we know there are no religious taboos, we know that, we don’t have to fear that. We don’t have to pay any attention to old religious ceremonies. But some people are still bound by that. And we need to be patient until they can grow away from those taboos. And this is the attitude of consideration of others. And this is the first attitude that we must have if we are going to please someone else. We consider them before ourselves.

Therefore, Paul says we are obliged to ‘bear with’ the ‘failings of the weak’ rather than please ourselves (verse 1).

‘Bear with’ means more than ‘put up with’ or ‘tolerate’, as Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

We must consider these; not trample upon them, but encourage them, and bear with their infirmities. If through weakness they judge and censure us, and speak evil of us, we must bear with them, pity them, and not have our affections alienated from them. Alas! it is their weakness, they cannot help it. Thus Christ bore with his weak disciples, and apologised for them. But there is more in it; we must also bear their infirmities by sympathizing with them, concerning ourselves for them, ministering strength to them, as there is occasion. This is bearing one another’s burdens.

It is hard to do. It also requires seemingly endless patience. I have failed on many occasions and will likely fail on many more.

Paul exhorts us to build our neighbour up for his good (verse 2). That means to encourage him in good purposes, not sinful ones. This also means putting aside our own desires, which would be a much easier path to follow.

Henry says:

Christians should study to be pleasing. As we must not please ourselves in the use of our Christian liberty (which was allowed us, not for our own pleasure, but for the glory of God and the profit and edification of others), so we must please our neighbour … Please his neighbour, not in every thing, it is not an unlimited rule; but for his good, especially for the good of his soul: not please him by serving his wicked wills, and humouring him in a sinful way, or consenting to his enticements, or suffering sin upon him; this is a base way of pleasing our neighbour to the ruin of his soul: if we thus please men, we are not the servants of Christ; but please him for his good; not for our own secular good, or to make a prey of him, but for his spiritual good.–To edification, that is, not only for his profit, but for the profit of others, to edify the body of Christ, by studying to oblige one another. The closer the stones lie, and the better they are squared to fit one another, the stronger is the building.

That allegorical last sentence puts it all together nicely: the strength of the Church as a body of people is based on unity, its members being like closely fitting stones.

Paul goes on to say that Christ did not please Himself but suffered reproaches, which He bore willingly (verse 3).

That verse paraphrases Psalm 69:9:

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

There David is speaking about reproaches against God which have fallen on him. David is seen as a type of Christ. John 2:17 paraphrases the same verse in reference to Christ.

However, that verse also prophesies Christ, as MacArthur explains:

this is a Messianic Psalm. Much of it touches on the Messiah and His agony. Back in verse 4, “They that hate Me without a cause,” no doubt speaks of the hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ. “A stranger to My brethren,” verse 8 and “an alien to My mother’s children.” “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,” and so forth. It speaks about even the betrayal of Christ in this particular passage. It talks about His agony. It talks about, I believe, His trial in the garden, verse 16 down through maybe verse 20 or so. It talks in verse 21, they gave Me vinegar for My food and in My thirst…gall for My food and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink. Now there were… There are many aspects of the Messiah here.

But one of them in verse 9 is that the reproaches that were given to God are also fallen on Him. In other words, in pleasing the Father, Christ receives reproach. That is slander, that is false accusation. That is to suffer insults. And He suffered the same insults God suffered because He represented God. Because men hate God, they hated the one who revealed God. Because they hated the holiness of God, they hated the holiness of Jesus Christ.

Now this willingness to please God even though it meant reproach and suffering and insult and slander and death is the key to the Christian’s attitude. Christ was willing to endure all of this, even the reproaches that fell on God Himself. He bore those reproaches for the sake of doing the Father’s will. He was really indifferent to His own deprivation. He was indifferent to His own pain. He was indifferent to His own agony. And He who bears all of this pain for the sake of pleasing the Father is our example. Rather than running out to please ourselves, we should follow the pattern of Christ and be willing to suffer anything in pleasing another. He set aside all of His divine rights to be subject to the Father and to suffer for the sake of sinners to bring us to God. Can we do less for a fellow Christian? Back to 1 John 2:6, “If we say we abide in Him, we ought to walk as He walked.” If you say you’re a Christian, you ought to have the attitude Christ had.

So, the right motives then are consideration for others, disregard of self and conformity to Christ

There is a lot of theology in these three verses.

Furthermore, there is a difficult instruction to obey in setting aside our own desires, always thinking of the next person. It’s a tall order.

Matthew Henry says that Scripture study and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit can help us, however:

What David had said in his own person Paul had just now applied to Christ. Now lest this should look like a straining of the scripture, he gives us this excellent rule in general, that all the scriptures of the Old Testament (much more those of the New) were written for our learning, and are not to be looked upon as of private interpretation. What happened to the Old-Testament saint happened to them for ensample; and the scriptures of the Old Testament have many fulfillings. The scriptures are left for a standing rule to us: they are written, that they might remain for our use and benefit. First, For our learning. There are many things to be learned out of the scriptures; and that is the best learning which is drawn from these fountains. Those are the most learned that are most mighty in the scriptures. We must therefore labour, not only to understand the literal meaning of the scripture, but to learn out of it that which will do us good; and we have need of help therefore not only to roll away the stone, but to draw out the water, for in many places the well is deep. Practical observations are more necessary than critical expositions. Secondly, That we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. That hope which hath eternal life for its object is here proposed as the end of scripture-learning. The scripture was written that we might know what to hope for from God, and upon what grounds, and in what way. This should recommend the scripture to us that it is a special friend to Christian hope. Now the way of attaining this hope is through patience and comfort of the scripture. Patience and comfort suppose trouble and sorrow; such is the lot of the saints in this world; and, were it not so, we should have no occasion for patience and comfort. But both these befriend that hope which is the life of our souls. Patience works experience, and experience hope, which maketh not ashamed, Romans 5:3-5. The more patience we exercise under troubles the more hopefully we may look through our troubles; nothing more destructive to hope than impatience. And the comfort of the scriptures, that comfort which springs from the word of God (that is the surest and sweetest comfort) is likewise a great stay to hope, as it is an earnest in hand of the good hoped for. The Spirit, as a comforter, is the earnest of our inheritance.

MacArthur says the same thing:

In this brief justification for using the Old Testament Psalm, Paul gives the value of the Scripture, the value of the Scripture. Whatever things were written in earlier times is a reference to the Old Testament. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” and so forth. You know it in 2 Peter 1:21, the Old Testament. Whatever was written in the Old Testament was written for our learning. Now listen carefully. Old Testament scripture was written for New Testament people. It is not a dead book. It is a book that is written for our learning. First Corinthians 10 verses 6 and 11 say it is to provide examples for us, examples for us, patterns for us. Paul said to Timothy, “All Scripture,” and he referred to the Old Testament, “is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” And he listed some of the things it profits for, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.”

Listen, the Old Testament is profitable, it is for our learning. And what does it teach us? That we through endurance, hupomon, endurance and encouragement from the Scriptures might have what? Hope. Hope. I believe that man needs hope more than he needs anything else. The goal of the Scripture is to give hope, hope for the future, hope for life eternal, hope for forgiveness from sin, meaning to life. God is called in Jeremiah 14:8 “The hope of Israel.” God is the giver of hope. Psalm 119 says at least three times, “I have hope in Thy Word.” Psalm 130, verse 5, the same thing, “I have hope in Thy Word.” The reason we have hope is because of what the Bible reveals. Is that not so? Would you have hope in life to come if you’d never read the Scripture? Would you have hope? No, no hope at all. That’s why in Ephesians 4 it says the Gentiles who have not the Scripture are without hope in the world. They are without hope in the world. Hope comes from the Word of God. Without it we have no hope. We don’t know about heaven. We don’t know about Christ and His Kingdom. We don’t know about the glorious reward that lies ahead. We don’t know that without the Scripture. There’s no revelation of that apart from Scripture.

But Scripture gives us hope. And this comes to us through two great spiritual realities, endurance and encouragement. Scripture tells us that we can endure any trial, that we can make it through any difficulty, any vicissitude, any struggle, any anxiety. And James, you remember chapter 5 there, verses 7 to 11, “Be patient therefore, brethren,” or be enduring, brethren, “to the coming of the Lord.” And he goes on to talk about the farmer waiting for the precious fruit of the earth has long patience for it until he received the early, latter rain, be also enduring, establish your hearts, the coming of the Lord is near. Now that comes from the confidence of the Scripture. Scripture tells us that we have a hope and that we have the power to endure. The teaching of the Word of God allows us to patiently endure in this life, waiting for the hope that is set before us. We could not patiently endure the trials of life if we didn’t know…if we had no word from God about how to endure, about how to be secure. If we didn’t know that we were secure, every time a trouble came along we might think we were thrown out of God’s kingdom. But Scripture tells us we’re secure and Scripture tells us we have the power to endure and Scripture tells us why we are to endure, to be strengthened, to develop patience so that patience, James 1 says, can have a perfecting work so that we can be more useful to God and more effective in winning others. So Scripture gives us endurance to the hope.

He mentions the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete:

And then along the way also encouragement, he says, paraklsis which is paraclete, one who comes alongside to encourage. It is the Word of God that not only tells us how to endure, but encourages us in the process.

So, the Scripture teaches endurance and the Scripture teaches patience. And those two things lead us to hold fast the hope that is in God and in Christ. We have that hope and that hope is anchored in the Word of God.

And Paul’s point here is simply that we need to learn from the Scriptures. We need to learn from the Scriptures. I think this is one thing that we can draw right into our little outline here and say that a biblical mindset is the key to right behavior to the weaker brother. We need to know that everything written in the Scripture is written for our learning. It’s all part of teaching us endurance and encouragement. Let me tell you something. One part of learning patience and encouragement is learning to tolerate weaker brothers. Those words are chosen carefully. We learn through that to be patient. We learn through that the encouragement of one who has to wait. And that’s what the Word of God provides.

Paul packed a lot of theology into three verses of instruction. He gives us much upon which to reflect during the week ahead.

Next time — Romans 15:14-21

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 14:20-23

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.[a] 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.[b]

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Last week’s reading concerned Paul’s advice to stronger Christians about serving certain foods to weaker converts in case the latter had a pang of conscience and perhaps lost their faith as a result.

John MacArthur explains it in the context of that era (emphases mine):

In 1 Corinthians … chapter 8 and verse 10, we have a very similar passage. Paul writing to the Corinthians, verse 8 says, “Food commends us not to God, neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse.” The whole issue here is meat offered to idols. As I mentioned earlier, a person would come to worship a pagan idol, put the meat on the altar. The priest would eat some of the meat, take the meat he didn’t need to eat, go back out the door of the temple and sell it on the marketplace. Some person comes along, buys it because it’s cheaper than anywhere else, serves it for dinner to a new Gentile convert who’s just come out of that pagan religion. He sits down, he says, “Hey, this is great meat, where did you buy it?” “Well, I bought it at the butcher shop of the temple of Diana.” And he is plunged into devastation, almost gags on the meat because all that does is remind him of all the vile orgiastic worship that went on in that pagan system, and he sees that meat as having been offered to an idol, tainted with the demonic reality that once was a portion of his life. He is greatly offended.

Now the real issue of meat is no issue at all. Meat is not the issue. It doesn’t matter to God if we eat it. It doesn’t matter to God if we don’t eat it. We’re no better if we do; we’re no better if we don’t. It’s a non-issue; but not to that person. So he says in verse 9, “Take heed, lest by any means this liberty of yours” you’re free to eat it “will become a stumbling block to them that are weak, for if any man see thee who hast knowledge “you’re a strong believer, you understand your freedom “sitting at the table in the idol’s temple,” and there may have been even a freedom to…, they may have had a snack bar in the back of the idol’s temple for all I know, “shall not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?”

So, he says, “Hey, he can do that, so I’ll go over to the idol temple and have a snack.” And through that act, the weaker brother is devastated for whom Christ died. And he adds that line there, the same line in Romans chapter 14. It’s simply to point up that Christ went to great lengths to save this individual, how can you treat one whom Christ died to save with indifference? The implication here is if Christ loved that person enough to die for them, you ought to love them enough to be cautious about how you exercise your liberty in front of them. So, it’s the same issue there

Don’t devastate your brother. Don’t plunge them into deep spiritual loss. “Stumbling” seems to mean a sort of momentary stumble, a momentary fall. “Grieving” is the grief over a guilty conscience. But this one is a devastating thing, where the person very likely could be plunged right back into the whole milieu of pagan worship.

Therefore, Paul says that we are not to destroy God’s work (verse 20). God brought that person to believe that Christ is Lord, so we are not to destroy that person’s faith by serving something that goes against his beliefs, right or wrong. Present day examples include Seventh-Day Adventists — vegetarians — and Christians who do not eat pork because they view pigs as unclean. Those are strong personal beliefs and it would be inhospitable for us to offend our guests.

As such, Paul says that we should not eat meat or drink things that would offend our weaker brothers and sisters (verse 21). This is because we are united in the love we have for Christ and for each other. We need to continue building up our mutual faith, without food or drink standing in the way.

MacArthur tells us:

So, Paul says then, build up your brother, build him up in love. How? By not causing him to stumble, not causing him to grieve, and not causing him to be devastated by falling into sin because you’ve exercised your liberty in front of him and he cannot experience that without sin and a guilty conscience.

Paul advises stronger Christians to keep their beliefs about freedom to choose what to eat and drink to themselves in case they offend a weaker Christian (verse 22). We should be above reproach in that regard and not cause weaker guests of ours to feel forced to consume something they find offensive or dangerous (e.g. alcohol).

Paul concludes by saying that if we force our guests to eat or drink something that offends them, then we have sinned against them and God (verse 23).

Matthew Henry offers this commentary:

Paul had faith in these things: I am persuaded that there is nothing unclean of itself; but he had it to himself, so as not to use his liberty to the offence of others. How happy were it for the church if those that have a clearness in disputable things would be satisfied to have it to themselves before God, and not impose those things upon others, and make them terms of communions, than which nothing is more opposite to Christian liberty, nor more destructive both to the peace of churches and the peace of consciences. That healing method is not the less excellent for being common: in things necessary let there be unity, things unnecessary let there be liberty, and in both let there be charity, then all will be well quickly.–Have it to thyself before God. The end of such knowledge is that, being satisfied in our liberty, we may have a conscience void of offence towards God, and let that content us. That is the true comfort which we have before God. Those are right indeed that are so in God’s sight.

MacArthur says this is about setting our minds on higher — heavenly — things:

We want to fight about so many silly things and people who want to maintain their freedom don’t care what anyone else says and as a result of that, we miss the whole point of the kingdom. The kingdom is not meat and drink, the kingdom is not the things that you can do or not do, the discretionary things. The kingdom is — watch this one — righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Frankly, in those three elements you have a comprehensive summary of the Christian life. You want to know what the Christian life is all about? You want to know what it’s like to be in the kingdom? First of all, it’s righteousness. The issue is righteous living, righteous living, holy living, a holy, obedient, God-honoring life conformed to God’s wonderful will. You see, my concern is not liberty, my concern is holiness. My concern is not my right to eat, my right to drink, my right to do this and do that and do the other thing, my concern is righteousness, holiness, integrity. And that’s what the watching world is looking for, that I might be filled with the fruits of righteousness, that I might have on the breastplate of righteousness, practical godliness.

Secondly, peace; the kingdom is all about demonstrating the tranquil relationships between people and God and people and people. It is our loving caring. It is our oneness. It is the tranquility of our relationships that have such a profound testimony. It is when the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, is manifest that the watching world sees something that they would like to possess. The essence of the kingdom is not our freedom to do this and do that and offend if we wish. The essence is holy living and tranquil relations with fellow believers. And righteousness means I seek to honor God, and peace means I seek to have harmony with my brother.

And then joy, joy comes to one who is right with God and at peace with his brother. Wouldn’t you say? Joy is the personal joy of knowing God, experiencing forgiveness, grace and mercy and love. It is the blessed, happy life of salvation, which rejoices in everything.

What we want the watching world to see is people who are righteous, people who are at peace and people whose lives are filled with joy. And that kind of environment is created by self-sacrificing love that does not necessarily exercise its liberty no matter how it offends somebody else. And what I’m saying to you is a message to the strong believers because most of you would fit into that category, to say this, we must move down to the weak brother and sister and honor and respect that weakness until we can by love nurture it to strength. And so there are things we are perfectly free to do that we choose not to do in order that we might demonstrate to a watching world that the kingdom is not a celebration of our rights, but it is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. And when the world sees our lives marked by righteousness, when they see a person with real integrity, a person with real honesty, a person who speaks the truth, who is good and fair and just and virtuous, that is a loud testimony to the reality of Christianity because even in the fallenness of man there is enough of the imago Dei, the image of God residual in that mind to long for that which is unattainable to them. And when the world sees relationships of peace, it is so utterly foreign to them. Can you understand that? Because they live in a world of chaos. And when the world sees deep profound joy in the Holy Spirit, a settled happiness, they see the real heart of kingdom living. And that is the attractiveness that can bring them to Christ.

The theme of building each other up in our shared love of Christ continues next time.

Next time — Romans 15:1-3

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as cited below).

Romans 14:13-19

Do Not Cause Another to Stumble

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

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Last week’s reading from Romans 13 was about the responsibility we bear as Christians to our God-given authorities in government, good or bad.

That message can be hard to swallow, depending on who is governing us.

Today’s message from Paul is an equally difficult one. Paul advocates our cutting back on some things — e.g. food or drink — when in the company of others who do not share our preferences. This is to preserve the unity of the Church.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Paul talks about Christian liberty here, not in the sense of how it affects me, but in the sense of how it affects my brother and sister. And this is a very important dimension of understanding Christian liberty because it affects the church. So, Paul’s concern from verse 13 to 23 is for other Christians, how we are to build up other Christians without offending. And that calls for limiting our exercise of liberty. Don’t let anybody take your liberty. Don’t let anybody threaten your liberty. Don’t let anybody bind your conscience to things that are not in themselves evil. But at the same time, you don’t have to flaunt that liberty to prove you’re strong, right? You don’t want to do that because it may turn out to be bondage for your own sake and it may turn out to be unloving and divisive for the fellowship of believers

What you want to do is be sure that your conduct in the exercise of your liberty is not unloving, is not insensitive to other believers. If we can just make a positive out of that statement, we would say that the objective of Christian living in the church, the goal of a strong believer is to conduct himself in love toward a weaker brother. That’s the essence so that there’s no offense.

I find it odd that some Christians do not eat pork. For whatever reason, they consider pork to be unclean.

Yet, as Christians, we have the liberty to eat anything and everything that God created. Jesus came to fulfil the law and, as such, we enter into a New Covenant with God. Acts 10:9-16 tells us of Peter’s vision, where he was told that no food in and of itself is unclean. Understandably, he found that concept difficult initially.

Moving on to today’s reading, with the Romans, there was still a lot of meat sold that had been consecrated to pagan gods. There were also Jewish converts who found it difficult to begin eating foods that had been, for them, unclean according to Mosaic law.

Therefore, Paul wanted to make it clear that we should not allow our food preferences as ‘stronger brothers’ to upset the ‘weaker brothers’ who could not bring themselves to consume certain things. It is more important for the ‘stronger brothers’ to accommodate the ‘weaker’ ones by offering them foods they can enjoy eating without a pang of conscience.

As such, we should refrain from passing judgement on those who refuse to eat certain things (verse 13).

Paul was of the belief by faith in Jesus that all food was ‘clean’, yet, he recognised that other people were not of that persuasion (verse 14).

Paul said it would be an offence against our Lord to cause our guests to be upset with our food choices; we must build each other up in the love of Christ rather than divide them (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Here he strongly emphasizes again that what he’s talking about are non-moral things that of themselves are not unclean and of themselves are not evil. And he says that in verse 14, “I know and I am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” I love that statement, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” It’s like saying I didn’t get this by hearsay, I got this directly from the source. “In my own personal intimate communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, He revealed this to me.” That is a unique privilege for a Scripture writer. “So I know and I’m persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself.” And you can stop there.

So, he says I’m not asking you to give up your liberty. I want you to enjoy your liberty and understand your liberty. I want you to know that this is not my opinion; I know this because I’ve been convinced by the Lord Jesus Himself. Even as he said in Galatians that his gospel did not come to him through human instrumentation but rather the Lord Himself had given it to him. He says, in effect, this is right from the Lord. You strong are right. Did you get that? The strong are right. That’s right, they’re right, they’re right. Sin does not reside in things like food, I don’t care what kind of food it is. It does not reside in what’s in a glass. It does not reside in film, or electronics or games or recreation or activities. It doesn’t reside in plants. It doesn’t reside in anything.

First Timothy 4:4 says that all things are to be received with thanksgiving, right? And don’t let anyone bring any of those devilish doctrines that tell you that we are to abstain from foods. Titus 1:15 says to the pure all things are what? Are pure. To the people who are defiled, everything is defiled because their conscience is defiled. Jesus Himself, back in Mark 7, I believe it’s verse 15, “There is nothing from outside of a man that enters into him that can defile him.” Isn’t that interesting? There is nothing outside of a man that entering into him can defile him. It’s the things that come out of him that defile him.

Coincidentally, the Gospel reading from Matthew 15 about what defiles a man is for today, August 16, 2020. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

Paul goes on to advise that weaker Christians should not disparage our stronger habits when they are perfectly lawful in Scripture (verse 16). Our weaker friends have not yet come around to that realisation, so it is better to avoid offending them in order to promote our mutual harmony guided by the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Paul means that we might be dissuading our weaker friends from pursuing Christianity more deeply because of our own actions in this regard.

MacArthur explains:

When a stronger brother comes along and somehow tempts by his liberty a weaker brother to violate his conscience, when that weaker brother violates that conscience, that weaker brother will have a painful, bitter sorrow in his own heart. He’ll feel guilty and instead of helping him grow in his spiritual life, it will push him back, because then he’ll be even more afraid of liberty, right? More afraid of it. It will be a greater threat to him.

Now a weak Christian is grieved in verse 15. He says if your brother is grieved with your food, you’re not walking in love. Now how would a weak brother be grieved? Well, a weak brother would be grieved by just simply seeing a strong Christian do what he felt was wrong. Is that so? Sure. If you are strongly convinced that something is wrong, and I’m not talking about something sinful, but something that they do and you see these people do it, it’s going to grieve you. You’re going to be grieved over their liberty which you see as an offense.

But I think it’s even stronger than that in this context. I think what he’s saying again is back to the idea that this brother is not just grieved because you do it, he’s grieved because you’ve led him to do it, too, and it’s violated his conscience. By following your instruction or your example, he does what he believes is wrong and then has to live with the remorse and the guilt of his conscience. And he forfeits the peace and joy of his Christian walk. What is the point of that? What is the point of that?

So, you set your life in a path so as not to grieve people and cause them sorrow because they have followed you into something their conscience didn’t allow them to do. Now you know what this is telling us, folks. This says we’ve got to get close enough to each other to know where we are, right? We’ve got to know the hearts of the people around us so that we can be sure that we walk in love toward those people, in selfless self-denying agape. We never want to lead a believer to fall into sin. We never want to grieve a believer by having him violate his own conscience.

And the third of the six — … in verse 15, “Destroy not him with thy food for whom Christ died.” Don’t make him stumble, don’t grieve him, and certainly don’t destroy him. Now all I can tell you about the word “destroy,” apollumi, means to ruin, is that it’s a very strong word, very serious word. When you cause a believer to stumble or to be grieved, to violate his conscience, it can bring about a certain effect that is here discussed with a very strong word. Let me tell you a little about this word, this word apollumi. It is translated very frequently in the Scripture with the word “perish.” It can mean eternal damnation, unquestionably it can mean that.

Paul says that, as followers of Christ, we are brothers and sisters in faith, ‘acceptable to God and approved by men’ (verse 18). We mustn’t do anything to upset those who do not view liberty in food or drink the way we do. If we cause them offence or force them to violate their conscience, we could well be destroying their faith.

MacArthur says that, in acquiescing to our weaker friends, we hope by our good example to build them up to become stronger Christians:

What we want the watching world to see is people who are righteous, people who are at peace and people whose lives are filled with joy. And that kind of environment is created by self-sacrificing love that does not necessarily exercise its liberty no matter how it offends somebody else. And what I’m saying to you is a message to the strong believers because most of you would fit into that category, to say this, we must move down to the weak brother and sister and honor and respect that weakness until we can by love nurture it to strength.

Therefore, let us affirm each other’s faith, increasing our mutual peace, harmony and love (verse 19). Forget the small stuff — food and drink — and concentrate on the bigger picture: Christian love and the Church.

MacArthur says this requires humility on the part of stronger believers:

I’ll tell you what makes for peace. Humility, you know why humility produces peace? Because humility says I don’t care about my rights. Humility says I’m more concerned about yours than mine. Humility says the issue with me is you not me. Meekness, unselfishness and love, those are the things that make for peace. And those are the things that we should give attention to. We pursue those things

And secondly, not only are we to pursue the things that make for peace like humility and meekness and unselfishness and love, but also the things with which we can build each other up. The things that are going to bring about a spiritual strengthening, that are going to build edification into people. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:12 he says, “You’re all zealous of spiritual gifts, then seek the ones that excel to the edifying of the church.” Seek the things that are going to build them up, not cause them to stumble and grieve and be devastated and lose their testimony

When you cause a brother to be offended, you’re pulling down the work of God. Look at verse 20, “For food, don’t destroy the work of God.” And food is symbolic of any discretionary thing that you might have a right to do. Here he has the idea of the offending the Jew with food that wasn’t kosher or offending a Gentile with food that had been offered to idols. But it’s only symbolic of anything. Don’t with your food destroy the work of God.

Now do you realize that’s a marvelous statement? You know what that says about every believer, even a weak believer? That a weak believer is a what? A work of God. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His (What?) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” I mean, God is at work in every Christian, even the weaker brother is a work of God, a work of God. Don’t pull down what God’s building up. And there’s some people who are so proud about their liberation, they find a weaker person who’s coming out of legalism for whatever reason, if it was pagan or if it was sort of cultural Christianity, and instead of building them up, they tear them down. And it is the work of God you’re tearing down. Present imperative here indicates to stop what you’re doing. So there must have been within that Roman assembly at least some information about the fact that these liberated brethren were tearing down what God was trying to build up. Discontinue that, he says. You’re not merely dealing with a man, you’re dealing with a man, verse 15, for whom Christ died. You’re dealing with a man who is part of the kingdom and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, verse 17. And now he says you’re dealing with one who is a work of God.

That makes me feel better about having to make separate vegetarian dishes for my occasional non-meat eating dinner guests, believers or not. I understand this passage much better after having read MacArthur’s sermons and Matthew Henry’s commentary.

Henry gives us this solemn advice:

Thou pleadest that it is thy own meat, and thou mayest do what thou wilt with it; but remember that, though the meat is thine, the brother offended by it is Christ’s, and a part of his purchase. While thou destroyest thy brother thou art helping forward the devil’s design, for he is the great destroyer; and, as much as in thee lies, thou art crossing the design of Christ, for he is the great Saviour, and dost not only offend thy brother, but offend Christ; for the work of salvation is that which his heart is upon. But are any destroyed for whom Christ died? If we understand it of the sufficiency and general intendment of Christ’s death, which was to save all upon gospel terms, no doubt but multitudes are. If of the particular determination of the efficacy of his death to the elect, then, though none that were given to Christ shall perish (John 6:39), yet thou mayest, as much as is in thy power, destroy such. No thanks to thee if they be not destroyed; by doing that which has a tendency to it, thou dost manifest a great opposition to Christ.

This theme continues next week.

Next time — Romans 14:20-23

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:25-28

The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[a] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning to the Gentiles not to be proud about having been grafted on to the branches of the Church, which he described as an olive tree. The Church — the cultivated olive tree, onto which the Gentiles, the wild olive branch, are grafted — is still intended to be for the Jewish people.

Paul tells the Gentiles not to feel superior over the Jews because the day will come when God will lift His judgement on Israel (verse 25). That will happen once the Gospel has reached all the Gentiles.

Paul calls this a ‘mystery’.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

In other words, God is not finished with that people. It’s only until a certain event takes place. And we are not to be ignorant of that. It’s an essential purpose in the mind of God

And so, Paul with great joy has now arrived at the moment where he will present the single, most hopeful truth that he carried in his heart. It has been a mystery. Notice it in verse 25, he calls it that. “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery.” That is to say it has been hidden in the past. It has been hidden. We know that’s what a mystery is, something hidden in the past and now revealed. Don’t be ignorant of it. Certainly don’t be foolishly wise in your own conceit. In other words, thinking too highly of yourselves, making an undue estimate of your knowledge and importance, not based on fact but based on your own self-conceit, based on being a quote/unquote “know-it-all.” This mystery God will reveal; don’t be a fool and be ignorant of it …

A mystery is something that’s been hidden in the past and is now revealed in the Scripture. And what was hidden in the past was that Israel would be set aside, cut off from blessing, Gentiles grafted in, ultimately Gentiles cut off, and Israel grafted back in to the place of blessing. That mystery we are not to be ignorant of. That mystery has now been revealed through the apostle Paul. And what is the mystery specifically? It’s given right in the verse, the two-part mystery, that blindness in part is happened to Israel. The mystery is that the Jews would not believe. And the word “blindness,” by the way, is really the word “hardened.” It’s the word hardened, resistant. Blindness in part; notice he puts that “in part” in there? Why? Because their blindness was what? Partial. We’ve been saying it all along. That doesn’t mean that the individuals were partly blind; it’s not talking about the degree of blindness. What it means is that the nation was partly blind, that is, there were some who were not blind. There was always a what? A believing remnant, a believing remnant.

So, he says blindness in part is happened to Israel. And that was the point of the first ten verses of chapter 11, to show that their blindness was only partial and God had a remnant. Secondly, it was not only partial it was what? Passing. And that’s how the second feature is given, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. “Until” indicates time. “Fullness” indicates number of completion. And so, only until a certain time and a certain completion; therefore it’s only temporary. So the mystery was that Israel was set aside partially and temporarily. The Jew in the Old Testament never saw that. He saw the nation Israel going along as the blessed people of God and someday the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom. He didn’t see their total rejection and their being cut off the place of blessing and a new country or a new nation or a new people, a new ethnos being grafted in, the church, and then becoming the source of witness in the world. And then they being cut off by apostasy and the Jew being grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles had come in. And that’s the mystery that Paul is unfolding.

Ultimately:

It is a warning against Gentile pride and anti-Semitism.

Paul states that all of Israel will be saved (verse 26). He paraphrases Isaiah 59:20-21

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

… and Psalm 14:7 (verse 27) …

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

… as well as Psalm 53:6 (verse 27):

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Matthew Henry elaborates on Paul’s choice of those verses:

… we may observe, [1.] The coming of Christ promised: There shall come out of Zion the deliverer. Jesus Christ is the great deliverer, which supposes mankind in a state of misery and danger. In Isaiah it is, the Redeemer shall come to Zion. There he is called the Redeemer; here the deliverer; he delivers in a way of redemption, by a price. There he is said to come to Zion, because when the prophet prophesied he was yet to come into the world, and Zion was his first head-quarters. Thither he came, there he took up his residence: but, when the apostle wrote this, he had come, he had been in Zion; and he is speaking of the fruits of his appearing, which shall come out of Zion; thence, as from the spring, issued forth those streams of living water which in the everlasting gospel watered the nations. Out of Zion went forth the law, Isaiah 2:3. Compare Luke 24:47. [2.] The end and purpose of this coming: He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Christ’s errand into the world was to turn away ungodliness, to turn away the guilt by the purchase of pardoning mercy, and to turn away the power by the pouring out of renewing grace, to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), to separate between us and our sins, that iniquity might not be our ruin, and that it might not be our ruler. Especially to turn it away from Jacob, which is that for the sake of which he quotes the text, as a proof of the great kindness God intended for the seed of Jacob. What greater kindness could he do them than to turn away ungodliness from them, to take away that which comes between them and all happiness, take away sin, and then make way for all good? This is the blessing that Christ was sent to bestow upon the world, and to tender it to the Jews in the first place (Acts 3:26), to turn people from their iniquities. In Isaiah it is, The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto those that turn from transgression in Jacob, which shown who in Zion were to have a share in and to reap benefit by the deliverance promised, those and those only that leave their sins and turn to God; to them Christ comes as a Redeemer, but as an avenger to those that persist in impenitence. See Deuteronomy 30:2,3. Those that turn from sin will be owned as the true citizens of Zion (Ephesians 2:19), the right Jacob, Psalms 24:4,6. Putting both these readings together, we learn that none have an interest in Christ but those that turn from their sins, nor can any turn from their sins but by the strength of the grace of Christ.–For this is my covenant with them–this, that the deliverer shall come to them–this, that my Spirit shall not depart from them, as it follows, Isaiah 59:21. God’s gracious intentions concerning Israel were made the matter of a covenant, which the God that cannot lie could not but be true and faithful to. They were the children of the covenant, Acts 3:25. The apostle adds, When I shall take away their sins, which some think refers to Isaiah 27:9, or only to the foregoing words, to turn away ungodliness. Pardon of sin is laid as the foundation of all the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:12): For I will be merciful. Now from all this he infers that certainly God had great mercy in store for that people, something answerable to the extent of these rich promises: and he proves his inference (Romans 11:29) by this truth: For the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Repentance is sometimes taken for a change of mind, and so God never repents, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Sometimes for a change of way, and that is here understood, intimating the constancy and unchangeableness of that love of God which is founded in election. Those gifts and callings are immutable; whom he so loves, he loves to the end. We find God repenting that he had given man a being (Genesis 6:6, It repented the Lord that he had made man), and repenting that he had given a man honour and power (1 Samuel 15:11, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king); but we never find God repenting that he had given a man grace, or effectually called him; those gifts and callings are without repentance.

Paul tells the Gentiles that while the unbelieving Jews are their spiritual ‘enemies’, the Jews as a whole are still the elect, because of the covenant that God made with their forefathers (verse 28).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, when He elected the people Israel and gave promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He bound Himself to keep that promise. Elect is simply to choose. He chose them, made the promise to their fathers and now will fulfill that. So in terms of election they are still His beloved, even though at the present they are enemies. Israel is in a very peculiar position. And don’t you sense in your heart the same feeling? I don’t know how you are but when I look at Israel, when I look at the Jewish people, I have that same sense of dichotomy, that they are the beloved enemy of God. Enemies concerning the gospel but beloved concerning the election of God, promised to the fathers to be fulfilled in the future. And so while for the moment there is a hopelessness as we see their enemy profile dominating, we look to the future when their beloved profile will totally dominate in the moment and time of their salvation.

MacArthur surmises that not every Jew will believe when the time comes, but more will believe than not:

Now may I hasten, having said that, to say this, that when we say “all” we mean the nation Israel, but that does not mean every single individual Jew alive at that time will be saved. There will be some rejecters. But the great mass of them will believe and the small group will be those who refuse to believe. And we know that because of the twentieth chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And in verse 33 of that twentieth chapter, “As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out will I rule over you, I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out. I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face; as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness in the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, says the Lord God. I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” He’ll examine every individual, bring them into the covenant. “And I will purge out from among you the rebels and them that transgress against Me.”

So, in that day when God reaches out to redeem His re-gathered people, everyone will pass under the rod and the vast majority will believe and embrace the Messiah and be saved, but the rebels there will be and they will be purged out. So it is a thrilling thing to realize that the time of the salvation of the nation Israel in general is indeed coming to pass. It has to be so. It has to be so.

Paul concludes by saying that God will lift His judgement on the Jews, redeeming them, because He has mercy:

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now[e] receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

God keeps His promises.

Next time — Romans 13:1-7

Last Thursday, I wrote about Bevelyn Beatty, who painted over provocative street signage in front of Trump Tower around two weeks ago.

A few days later, Eric Metaxas, a Christian conservative, interviewed her at length. I would like to thank one of my readers, michaelh, for this link:

This is an excellent video, just over half an hour long:

She discusses her personal Christian journey, helped along by her good friend Edmee, who was also part of the group of ladies smearing black paint over the B in BLM in front of Trump Tower.

She explains why no Christian should be associating with or supporting BLM: they don’t believe in family, they don’t believe in saving black lives and they do not like black men.

She discusses the horrific crime rates in New York, particularly under Mayor Bill de Blasio and says that she is seriously considering leaving.

And, yes, Bevelyn talks about her and her friends’ experience in front of Trump Tower, their arrest and their excellent treatment by the police.

Bevelyn is feisty. She’s got spark. She’s a committed Christian.

Eric Metaxas says that the US needs a thousand more like her.

I couldn’t agree more.

When she and her friends finish helping to ‘take back’ America, maybe they can come to cities in England. I am sure many would like to hear her speak and learn more about her journey in faith.

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:16-24

16 If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root[a] of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s explanation of why the Gentiles were brought into the Church and his delight in ministering to them.

Now Paul tackles a very important topic: our attitude towards the Church and other people, especially the Jewish community and those with no faith.

Paul begins by speaking of the ancient offering of the firstfruits, referencing Numbers 15. John MacArthur explains this ceremonial part of Mosaic law (emphases mine):

Follow verse 16 to begin with, and Paul’s logic here is unarguable. “For if the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy and if the root be holy, so are the branches.” Now let’s just take the first little analogy he gives. If the first fruit be holy, the lump is also holy. Now this comes from Numbers chapter 15, back in the Pentateuch, verses 17 to 21. And I’ll just read you a portion of that. “Of the first fruits of your dough.” D-o-u-g-h, referring to that which they would use to make bread. “Of the first fruits of your dough you shall give to the Lord an heave offering in your generation.” In other words, the objective was that each time dough was prepared for baking bread among the Jewish people, a little piece of that dough was pulled off the larger portion and that little piece of dough was to be given to the Lord, which is to say it was taken to the temple or it was given to the priest. And it became sustenance for the priest. But it was an offering given to the Lord. It was a first fruits. You pulled off a little and you gave it to the Lord. God was always teaching them how that everything really belonged to Him. Everything really was consecrated to Him. Everything was set apart to Him. And when they took off a little piece of that larger lump and gave it to the priest, it was a symbolic way of saying, “Yes, I offer all of this to the Lord. I want this all to be set apart unto Him. I want it all to be consecrated to Him and this symbolizes that desire.” All the dough then was dedicated in the act of giving a small portion. It was a way of saying, “Thank You, I realize this is Your provision, all of it. I offer it back to You in the sense that as it nourishes my body, I offer myself to You. I want it to nourish me to do Your will and Your purpose and the things that would honor Your holy name.” And each little piece was a symbol of the dedication of the whole. And that’s what he’s saying. If the first fruit is set apart, and “holy” here means set apart, consecrated, devoted to God, separated, if you will, the idea of consecrated from profane use to the use of God, he says if the first fruits is set apart then the whole lump is consecrated. See that? If the first fruits is set apart, it is saying, the whole lump is consecrated. That is the sense.

Now the second analogy in verse 16 is this. If the root is set apart, so are what? The branches. It’s the same idea. If one part of a thing is consecrated to the Lord, so are the branches. If you go out in your field and you say, “I’m planting this tree and I’m putting this little seedling in, as its roots go down I dedicate it to the Lord,” then all that comes out of that is going to be dedicated to Him as well. “I put it there for Your glory, for Your honor, I want everything that comes from it to nourish me that I may serve You more fully.” And so in the dedication of the root, there is the implication that the branches belong to God as well. So when any small part is devoted to the Lord, it is emblematic that the whole is devoted to the Lord. That’s essentially a principle that was very much a part of Jewish thinking.

For example, when they came and gave the first fruits of their grain to the Lord, they were saying, in effect, “This is but a representative token of the fact that I dedicate all my grain to You.” When they gave the Lord the first fruits, as it were, of their week and they came in on the Sabbath day and they say, “We want to give our…this day to You, we want to acknowledge that time belongs to You and worship belongs to You,” it was like consecrating all of their time. When they gave an offering of money to the Lord it was like saying, “This is but emblematic that all of that which I possess would be for Your glory,” see. And I trust that you think that way when you give as well.

That idea also appears when some Christians bring food to be blessed by a priest on Holy Saturday for their dinner on Easter Sunday. In the Polish culture, it is a long-standing, traditional practice.

Paul goes on to say that, when some of the branches of an olive tree — his analogy for the Church, the community of all believers — go bad, they are replaced with grafted on branches which are healthy (verse 17). Paul is referring to the Gentiles as being the grafted-on branches.

Matthew Henry explains the profundity of that verse:

Those that are grafted into the good olive-tree partake of the root and fatness of the olive. It is applicable to a saving union with Christ; all that are by a lively faith grafted into Christ partake of him as the branches of the root–receive from his fulness. But it is here spoken of a visible church-membership, from which the Jews were as branches broken off; and so the Gentiles were grafted in, autois–among those that continued, or in the room of those that were broken off. The Gentiles, being grafted into the church, partake of the same privileges that the Jews did, the root and fatness. The olive-tree is the visible church (called so Jeremiah 11:16); the root of this tree was Abraham, not the root of communication, so Christ only is the root, but the root of administration, he being the first with whom the covenant was so solemnly made. Now the believing Gentiles partake of this root: he also is a son of Abraham (Luke 19:9), the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles (Galatians 3:14), the same fatness of the olive-tree, the same for substance, special protection, lively oracles, means of salvation, a standing ministry, instituted ordinances; and, among the rest, the visible church-membership of their infant seed, which was part of the fatness of the olive-tree that the Jews had, and cannot be imagined to be denied to the Gentiles.

Paul then counsels the Gentiles to avoid pride in being grafted in (verse 18). Instead, they should be thankful for the immense privilege they have received in becoming members of the Church. That holds true today. He says that, as members of the Church, we do not support the root; rather, the root supports us!

Therefore, we should realise that faithless branches were removed so that we could be grafted on (verse 19).

Henry extends this all the way back to Abraham, who along with his descendants, incidentally, features largely in the readings from Genesis in the season after Pentecost this year (2020, Year A). He is our father in faith. Henry says:

Abraham, the root of the Jewish church, is not beholden to thee; but thou art greatly obliged to him, as the trustee of the covenant and the father of many nations. Therefore, if thou boast, know (this word must be supplied to clear the sense) thou bearest not the root but the root thee.”

MacArthur agrees with that and has more on Abraham and his descendants:

who were the first fruits? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the fathers, the patriarchs. And I believe he has, of course, here mainly in mind Abraham. And if God set apart the first fruits, then He was setting apart the whole lump. And if God set apart the root, who was Abraham, then He’s setting apart the branches. In other words, this is Paul’s way of saying, “You Jews know very well that a part of a thing consecrated intends to say that the whole is consecrated. And if God sets apart the root and God sets apart the first fruit in the case of Abraham and the fathers, it is to say that He has consecrated to Himself the whole.” It’s a beautiful thought.

This is why Israel will come to be grafted into the Church, which Paul explains later in Romans 11. Jews have been coming to Christ throughout history, of course, but, as I wrote last week, mentioning MacArthur’s citation of Revelation 7, the day will come when 144,000 of them, drawn from all twelve tribes of Israel, will believe in Christ then evangelise en masse throughout the world.

Paul goes on to say that, although faithless branches were removed so Gentiles could be grafted on, the Gentiles should consider this in fear — awe (verse 20). We should never take our standing in the Church for granted.

If we become faithless, God can cut us off, too (verse 21).

Henry sounds this warning, which seems apposite, considering the state of today’s churches which worship political movements instead of the Lord:

The patent which churches have of their privileges is not for a certain term, nor entailed upon them and their heirs; but it runs as long as they carry themselves well, and no longer. Consider, (1.) “How they were broken off. It was not undeservedly, by an act of absolute sovereignty and prerogative, but because of unbelief.” It seems, then, it is possible for churches that have long stood by faith to fall into such a state of infidelity as may be their ruin. Their unbelief did not only provoke God to cut them off, but they did by this cut themselves off; it was not only the meritorious, but the formal cause of their separation.

Paul counsels us to remember God’s kindness in grafting us onto the Church. His kindness extends to us as long as we are faithful (verse 22).

If we lose our faith, Paul says, God can remove us from the Church and graft on those who were previously mired in unbelief but who later came to believe (verse 23).

Matthew Henry offers this summary:

The sum of our duty, the condition of our happiness, is to keep ourselves in the love of God. Fear the Lord and his goodness. Hosea 3:5.

Paul says that Israel will be grafted on to the Church. They are the natural branches of the tree God created for Himself, whereas Gentiles are wild branches (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

The final restoration then, listen, of Israel is guaranteed by the consecrating love of God for Abraham. It is implied in God’s love of Abraham and His setting Abraham apart as a covenant progenitor …

And if there’s to be no future for the nation Israel, then what Paul is saying here is just not true. But it is true and there is a place for Israel.

MacArthur concludes his sermon by putting the emphasis on faith:

What is the issue here? The issue is one simple thing. Faith, isn’t it? Jew or Gentile, if you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re grafted into the place of blessing, where the life of God flows through and produces fruit. … Those Jew and Gentile, along with all the others of all the ages who have come to faith in God, who have embraced the Savior, are grafted in, be they natural branches or unnatural, they’re in the place of blessing. The issue for you is faith. Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? … I hope you do. Let’s bow in prayer.

Father, we… We even said more than we intended tonight but oh how wonderful it is. Your Word, we love it, thank You for it. Thank You for the great confidence in our hearts that faith is the issue. O we know You’re a sovereign God and we know that You make choices out of that sovereignty, but, Lord, You repeat so often that faith is the issue and “Him that comes unto Me,” said Jesus, “I will in no wise cast out.” And so anyone coming with faith to embrace Christ will be received. We thank You for that. We pray there might be hearts even now opened in faith to Christ. Now, Father, do send us from this place with happy hearts, fulfilled because we have been participants of the kingdom, we have been branches of blessing, to bear much fruit for the glory of the Father. May we be all that You want us to be. Fill our hearts with love for You and for those that need to know You, and we’ll thank You for what You’ll do in each life, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

I haven’t read this passage from Romans privately for a long time. Henry’s and MacArthur’s exegeses have helped me to realise how profound Paul’s words truly are.

Let us pray for those who have not yet converted that they may see the Light that is Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever.

Next time — Romans 11:25-28

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:11-15

Gentiles Grafted In

11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion[a] mean!

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s citations of Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23 to illustrate the spiritual blindness of many of the Jews from the time of the Old Covenant.

Paul says that, while the Jews stumbled, they did not fall; through their sin of refusing to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, God opened the Church to Gentiles with the objective of making the Jewish people spiritually jealous, wanting them to imitate the Gentiles in belief (verse 11).

John MacArthur compares the Jews’ rejection of Jesus to the guests originally invited to the wedding feast of which Jesus spoke in Matthew’s Gospel. Those who were invited all said they had other things to do that day; some even set their servants upon the host’s servants. The host then instructed his servants to invite anyone they saw in passing to come to his feast. This parable is an excellent analogy for the growth of the Church (emphases mine below):

in Matthew 21:43 Jesus says this, “Therefore I say unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it.” Or literally, to a people, many nations, bringing forth the fruits of it. Because you refuse it, it will open up to the Gentiles. Chapter 22 gives us another parable. You’ll remember there’s a king who made a feast for his son; it is God calling people to His Son’s celebration. He calls them to the fact that Messiah has come; it’s a feast in honor of Messiah. He sends out His servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding, verse 3, that’s Jews, who were already the called ones to come and greet the Son, the Savior, the Messiah and enter the kingdom. But they would not come. He sent forth other servants to tell them everything is ready, come. They made light of it. They went their ways, one to his farm and another to his business. Some of them just mocked and laughed. Some of them just were indifferent, I’ve got to take care of my farm, I’ve got to take care of my business. And verse 6, “Others literally killed the servants.” Some were extremely hostile when the gospel came and when the Messiah offered Himself to Israel.

And then there’s a judgment given. And then it says in verse 8, “The wedding is ready. The ones who were already bidden (that is Israel), weren’t worthy, so go into the highways and as many as you find, bid those to the marriage. So they went into the highways and gathered together all as many as they found, good and bad, and the wedding was furnished with guests.” The salvation of Gentiles came about on a wide scale because of the fall of Israel and the reaching out of the gospel to the Gentiles. Now it wasn’t that saving Gentiles was an afterthought. God desired to reach them through Israel, but when Israel rejected that calling, God moved right out to reach the Gentiles.

Therefore, if the Jews’ sin of unbelief meant that the Good News could be preached unto Gentiles, Paul says, how much greater would the glory of the Church be if Jews also came to believe (verse 12). Putting that into the context of the wedding feast, and the host would have been even happier if his original guests had come to share in that happy occasion.

Matthew Henry says that the Church has room for everyone:

the church has room enough, and the new covenant grace and comfort enough, for us all. The blessings are not lessened by the multitudes of the sharers.

Paul’s mindset was the same as that of the host of the wedding feast. He wanted everyone to come to faith in Christ Jesus: Jew and Gentile alike, for we are all one in Him. Note today’s Epistle, taken from Romans 8: we are sons and daughters of God, heirs along with Christ of His everlasting Kingdom.

Think of that in the context of the wedding feast. What a promise, what a joyous eternity we have ahead of us!

Paul then turns his attention to the Gentiles, a large proportion of the Christians in Rome, as MacArthur tells us:

Predominantly the Roman church was Gentile, of course, so he particularly addresses them. They make up the majority of the congregation.

Paul says that his ministry is ‘magnified’ by including the Gentiles (verse 13). MacArthur explains that Paul is saying:

I honor my office, I esteem my office. It is a high, holy, glorious privilege to bring the gospel to the Gentiles …

That is because Paul hoped to encourage Jewish conversion through a spiritual jealousy — a positive force, in this case — and save Jewish souls, too (verse 14):

I love this, verse 14, “If by any means I may provoke to jealousy them who are my flesh and might save some of them.” That’s a tremendous insight. He says, “You know why I’m happy to be the apostle to the Gentiles? Because as long as I’m the Apostle to the Gentiles, I might be able to provoke some Jews to getting saved.”

You see, that’s the bottom line with him. That’s the bottom line with him. He has a heart for his people. Can you blame him? They’re his flesh. And he says, “I really want to save some of them. I don’t mind you getting saved in the process, but I really would like to save some of them.” I understand that. He says, “I’m following the plan of God. I magnify my office. But, oh, oh, my desire is that I should see some Gentiles come to the Savior, that in them coming to the Savior they might provoke some Jews to jealousy.” That’s his personal commitment.

Paul knew he could not save every Jew he encountered or addressed, but he hoped to save ‘some of them’. He worked earnestly and tirelessly to that end through his missionary travels and through his many Epistles.

Paul yearned for a complete Church, uniting both Jew and Gentile (verse 15). Again, think of the wedding feast and how much more complete it would have been had the original guests turned up along with those from the highways and byways who attended.

MacArthur explains, including the aforementioned Romans 8:

again it’s that “much more” kind of argument, isn’t it? If the casting away of them, that’s the negative, can have such great results, what will the reception of them, that’s the positive, be? And then he tells you what it will be. Life from the dead. And he’s not talking about personal resurrection. He’s not talking about the resurrection from the dead which would be the Pauline term. Life from the dead refers to the rebirth, if you will, of the nation and the rebirth of the world in the glory of the kingdom. I think that’s the proper way to interpret it. When Israel is received, he’s not speaking about individual resurrection from the dead, but life from the dead, a unique phrase used here, which I believe refers to national resurrection of the nation Israel to the place of blessing and world resurrection, as it were, in the recreated new heaven and earth of the millennial kingdom, right? That’s the life from the dead. The nation and the world, when the kingdom comes, will be delivered from its spiritually dead state and there will be new life. It is not, as I said, the phrase, “resurrection from the dead,” which is Paul’s concept that he refers to when he refers to individual resurrection, but the resurrection of the nation into kingdom glory. It’s that which Romans 8 describes as the glorious liberation of the children of God, the manifestation of the sons of God, when we enter into the glorious kingdom and are made manifest to the world as the true children of the living God.

According to Revelation, this will happen through the 144,000 Jews selected from all the tribes of Israel:

And all of that, by the way, begins in Revelation 7. The first thing that begins to happen is the Lord sets apart 144 thousand Jews, twelve thousand out of each tribe, and that happens during the tribulation. And they go out to evangelize the world.

What a happy event that will be.

Yet, Jews have come to Christ throughout history. MacArthur says in his sermon that a number of them attend his church.

MacArthur gave his sermon in 1984, at a time when American televangelists began to appear on Christian cable channels en masse. Some were good, but others were over the top both in their services and in their private lives. MacArthur shared a conversation he had with a Jew in Israel:

you go over to the nation Israel and you take a tour or a trip and everybody who gets on the bus every day, you have a Jewish guide, and you have Jewish people all around you all the time, these Israeli people, marvelous people, gracious people, lovely people, bright and just very capable people, we just enjoyed them thoroughly. But the thing that’s in the back of your mind is, you’re so anxious to win them to Christ and the ones who are the guides and who get all the Christian groups, they’ve heard it over and over and over and over. They can sing all the songs. In fact they lead you in all the songs that we sing about Christ. I mean, they’ll start singing it on the bus and everybody sings with them. They know all the doctrine, all the theology, the whole thing. But as one of them, when I spoke with him one evening, said to me, “Look, I know what all of you believe. What I can’t handle is the way most of you live.” And he went on to tell me horror stories about the so-called Christian leaders who come up there and don’t sleep with their own wife, you understand? Or come over there and want under the table favors, or want free jewelry, or want this or want that or want the other thing and are nothing more than charlatans. And, you see, they file this because these people call themselves Christians, too, whether they are or not. And it is that tremendous disparity between the true and the false that confuses them as to the validity of Christianity. As one of them said to me, “I came in this…” we were having a marvelous Sunday morning meeting in the upper room and we were singing songs and speaking out of the Word of God and the presence of the Spirit was there in great power and we just were overwhelmed, and some people were just teary- eyed. There we were in the city of Jerusalem, it was marvelous, and we went out of there so refreshed in our spirit. And one of the guides took me aside and he says, “You know, I was in that room with a certain so-called American healer and people were smashing over and smacking their heads on the concrete floor and going into all kinds of hysteria.” And he said, “Are you like that? Is that what your group does?” And I said, “That’s not what you saw.” He said, “Well, I didn’t know whether you do that somewhere else.” I said, “No, we don’t knock people down and crack their heads on the concrete, we’re not in to that kind of theology.”

And then he went on to describe… It sort of opened the flood gate and to tell me about some of the experiences he’s had with quote/unquote Christian leaders. The impact of undermining all that we believe in the hearts of Jewish people is they cancel it out, see. And we have been redeemed with a great burden on our backs and that is to give clear-cut testimony to Israel that they may be provoked to jealousy. Well in many cases, that’s the last thing they’re provoked to since they wouldn’t want what they see some Christians have. But we should so live to be attractive.

Too right!

There is a lot of kooky ‘Christian’ stuff, for lack of a better word, out there: magazines, comic books, television programmes that are so erroneous in what they present that they turn people away from the Good News. Those things do not present the Gospel story or the Christian life. They present carnal satisfaction in sensationalism and/or bitterness.

Therefore, let us be circumspect in our reading and viewing matter as well as our religious practice.

That is the way we win souls — Jewish or not — to Christ.

Next time — Romans 11:16-24

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 11:2b-6

2b Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s mention of Isaiah’s disappointment in the disobedient and stubborn Jews of his time.

In Romans 11, he changes tack, introducing his audience of Jewish converts to the fact that there is a remnant who will become faithful to Jesus Christ.

In order to do so, he takes them back to Elijah’s time, when the vast majority of God’s people were worshipping Baal under the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. It was so bad that Elijah felt he was the only faithful Jew left. In fear of his life, he fled to the desert. There he prayed (verse 2).

Paul cites the relevant Scripture passage describing that episode (verse 3), 1 Kings 19:10:

10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Paul reminds the Jews that, even in the worst times of their wickedness, there was always a faithful remnant (verse 4). God told Elijah that He had a remnant of 7,000 Jews who had not succumbed to idolatry, 1 Kings 19:18:

18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elijah did not know that because the idolatry was so rampant.

Matthew Henry says:

Now the description of this remnant is that they had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, which was then the reigning sin of Israel. In court, city, and country, Baal had the ascendant; and the generality of people, more or less, paid their respect to Baal.

Paul tells his audience that there was a similar remnant of faithful in his and the Romans’ own era, ‘chosen by grace’ (verse 5). That means God knew from the beginning of time who would be among the elect and His remnant in every generation.

Henry explains (emphases mine):

This is called a remnant according to the election of grace; they are such as were chosen from eternity in the counsels of divine love to be vessels of grace and glory. Whom he did predestinate those he called. If the difference between them and others be made purely by the grace of God, as certainly it is (I have reserved them, saith he, to myself), then it must needs be according to the election; for we are sure that whatever God does he does it according to the counsel of his own will.

Paul then tells the Romans that because the remnant’s election is by grace — a free gift from God — it is not an election by works, i.e. according to Mosaic law. If it were election by works, then grace could not be a part of that election (verse 6).

Henry has more:

Now concerning this remnant we may observe, First, Whence it takes its rise, from the free grace of God (Romans 11:6), that grace which excludes works. The eternal election, in which the difference between some and others is first founded, is purely of grace, free grace; not for the sake of works done or foreseen; if so, it would not be graceElection is purely according to the good pleasure of his will, Ephesians 1:5. Paul’s heart was so full of the freeness of God’s grace that in the midst of his discourse he turns aside, as it were, to make this remark, If of grace, then not of works. And some observe that faith itself, which in the matter of justification if opposed to works, is here included in them; for faith has a peculiar fitness to receive the free grace of God for our justification, but not to receive that grace for our election. Secondly, What it obtains: that which Israel, that is, the body of that people, in van sought for (Romans 11:7): Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, that is, justification, and acceptance with God (see Romans 9:31), but the election have obtained it. In them the promise of God has its accomplishment, and God’s ancient kindness for that people is remembered. He calls the remnant of believers, not the elect, but the election, to show that the sole foundation of all their hopes and happiness is laid in election. They were the persons whom God had in his eye in the counsels of his love; they are the election; they are God’s choice. Such was the favour of God to the chosen remnant.

John MacArthur summarises the remnants throughout the Bible:

In Elijah’s time there were seven thousand in the remnant. In Isaiah’s time there was a very small remnant. Do you remember chapter 6? God says to Isaiah, “You go out and preach the message and know this, that their ears will be fat, their eyes will be blind, their minds will not understand but you preach anyway till all the cities are laid waste, until there’s no inhabitants in the land. Because when it’s all said and done you’ll find a tenth and they’ll be a godly seed.” There’s always a godly seed. In Elijah’s time it was a remnant. In Isaiah’s time it was remnant. In the captivity, when they were in Babylon, there was a small remnant. The remnant was people like Daniel, like Ezekiel, like Shadrach, like Meshach, like Abednego, like Mordecai, like Esther, they were part of the remnant in captivity, while the rest of the people were rejecting the truth of God. And when they returned to the land, a remnant returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Malachi’s time, there was a remnant and that remnant sought to have their names written in God’s book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16 says, “And the Lord had their names written there and He said, I will punish this whole nation for their apostasy but I have your names written in my book of remembrance.” And He said, “They shall be Mine in the day that I make up My jewels.” God had His remnant in Malachi’s time.

And when Jesus came, the whole nation of Israel was apostate, but He had His remnant. And His remnant was John the Baptist and his followers. And His remnant was Anna. And His remnant was Simeon, and those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. There was always a remnant. And in Paul’s time, look at verse 5, “Even so then at this present time there is a remnant, according to the election of grace.” Even in the time of Paul the whole of Israel hadn’t rejected. There was a remnant. I mean, there were the apostles. And there was the church at Jerusalem. Three thousand people converted at the day of Pentecost, thousands and thousands more in [Acts] chapters 4 and 5, you’re up to twenty thousand, by the time you get to chapter 8 they fill Jerusalem with their teaching.

There are more and more Jews being converted, there was a remnant of tens of thousands of them, no doubt, by the time the apostle Paul penned the epistle to the Romans. There was even then a remnant of believing Jews, according to the election of grace. The church at Jerusalem was growing under the leadership of James. They even founded a church in Antioch. And then that church sent out apostles, Paul and Barnabas to found churches all around the world. And in any city they went to, where did they go first? To the what? To the Jewish synagogue. And Jews were being saved all around. So there was a remnant according to the election of God’s grace.

There will always be a remnant, today and in future:

If you’re a Christian, beloved, it’s because God chose you before the foundation of the world and it was made manifest in your lifetime. The remnant is elected by grace, it is all of God’s sovereign love, all of God’s sovereign will, has nothing to do with human performance and that’s what Paul is saying. God has elected His remnant. God has chosen His remnant in every time period.

Chapter 9 verse 11, it says there, “According to the purpose of God, according to election.” It’s the same concept back in chapter 9 verse 11. So, there is a remnant. The salvation of the remnant, like the salvation of everyone else, is wholly based on God’s free gift of sovereign grace. Now listen, God chose a nation graciously, sovereignly. He determined by His own will to love that nation. Therefore in every period of time out of that nation He determines to love a remnant of people. Now may I add, so that you’re not confused, that that choosing is not without the response of faith, but it is initiated by the sovereign choice of God? All men deserve death, none of us has a right to be saved, no Jew has a right to claim salvation, but God graciously grants it.

So the first six verses add up to the reality then that God is not finished with the Jews. He [ha]s not cast off the nation of Israel, as Paul’s conversion proves, verse 1; and as the remnant proves, verse 2 through 6. There always will be a faithful group. There always will be a believing remnant to fulfill the Word of God. So very, very important.

As I write, many churches are succumbing to politics rather than pursuing holiness. Many of us feel as if we are alone in wanting to hear more about the Bible from our clergy in these troubled times.

Matthew Henry has these wise words of advice:

Note, First, Things are often much better with the church of God than wise and good men think they are. They are ready to conclude hardly, and to give up all for gone, when it is not so. Secondly, In times of general apostasy, there is usually a remnant that keep their integrity–some, though but a few; all do not go one way. Thirdly, That when there is a remnant who keep their integrity in times of general apostasy it is God that reserves to himself that remnantThe best evidence of integrity is a freedom from the present prevailing corruptions of the times and places that we live in, to swim against the stream when it is strong. Those God will own for his faithful witnesses that are bold in bearing their testimony to the present truth, 2 Peter 1:12. This is thank-worthy, not to bow to Baal when every body bows. Sober singularity is commonly the badge of true sincerity.

Churches are reopening this weekend in England. If our established church is any bellwether, many sermons will probably be about identity politics and social justice rather than this Sunday’s readings. If so, more’s the pity, as the Gospel reading is particularly pertinent during our health and social crises.

In closing, if you feel alone spiritually during this time, be assured that there are many others who feel the same way. Together, I pray that we are the remnant.

Next time — Romans 11:7-10

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 10:1-4

10 Brothers,[a] my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.[b]

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Last week’s post discussed Romans 9, wherein Paul explained why the Church opened to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This was difficult for Paul’s audience of Jewish converts in Rome to understand.

Romans 10 picks up where Romans 9 leaves off. Here are the concluding verses from that chapter (emphases mine):

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Powerful words.

Paul wanted desperately for his audience to understand that the way to salvation and belief in God is through Jesus Christ alone (verse 1).

Matthew Henry says that verse is a prayer of Paul’s:

It was not only his heart’s desire, but it was his prayer. There may be desires in the heart, and yet no prayer, unless those desires be presented to God. Wishing and woulding, if that be all, are not praying.

Paul says that the Jews have a ‘zeal’ for God, but not one that is based in ‘knowledge’, true understanding (verse 2).

There are many instances where Paul discussed his prior life as a Pharisee and how he was missing out on the truth of Jesus Christ. John MacArthur discusses several instances of these. Here is one from Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God and wasted it and profited in the Jews’ religion above many, my equals and my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the tradition of my fathers.” He says I bear witness. I bear witness that they have a zeal for God. How do you know that? I had it. I was so zealous for God, I was so zealous for what I thought was the truth of God and the tradition, I was so zealous for that that I relentlessly persecuted the church of Jesus Christ. I did all I could to slaughter the Christians. I was zealous for God.

Henry explains the knowledge that the Jews missed out on:

Their zeal was not according to knowledge. It is true God gave them that law for which they were so zealous; but they might have known that, by the appearance of the promised Messiah, an end was put to it. He introduced a new religion and way of worship, to which the former must give place. He proved himself the Son of God, gave the most convincing evidence that could be of his being the Messiah; and yet they did not know and would not own him, but shut their eyes against the clear light, so that their zeal for the law was blind.

Because of this, they closed their hearts and minds to God’s righteousness and refused to submit to Him (verse 3), even though they thought they were through the law.

MacArthur characterises Romans 10 as follows:

In chapter 9, as I said, the reason they’re unsaved is the sovereignty of God. Concurrent with that in chapter 10 is their own unbelief. And the theme here is the ignorance of Israel, a willing, unbelieving ignorance.

Paul goes on to say that the coming of the Messiah, Christ Jesus, put an end to the law of the Old Covenant (verse 4). The law was there only to prepare God’s chosen people in the way of holiness for Christ, the Redeemer. Note that Christ preached to the Jews first. He instructed His apostles to preach to the Jews. See last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew 10:

10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,

10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Jesus wanted His Father’s people to be the first to know that He came to redeem them.

Henry explains this in a way that we can also apply to ourselves:

Christdid what the law could not do (Romans 8:3), and secured the great end of it. The end of the law was to bring men to perfect obedience, and so to obtain justification. This is now become impossible, by reason of the power of sin and the corruption of nature; but Christ is the end of the law. The law is not destroyed, nor the intention of the lawgiver frustrated, but, full satisfaction being made by the death of Christ for our breach of the law, the end is attained, and we are put in another way of justification. Christ is thus the end of the law for righteousness, that is, for justification; but it is only to every one that believeth. Upon our believing, that is, our humble consent to the terms of the gospel, we become interested in Christ’s satisfaction, and so are justified through the redemption that is in Jesus.

Even so, the following was the disappointing result that Paul desperately wanted to remedy. MacArthur says:

Number one, Israel was ignorant of the person of God. Can you imagine how devastating that is to them to hear that? They were ignorant of the person of God. Two, they were ignorant of the provision of Christ. Three, they were ignorant of the place of faith, the role that faith played. Four, they were ignorant of the parameters of salvation, the extent of it, the wideness of it, the inclusiveness of it. Fifth, they were ignorant of the predictions of Scripture. They were ignorant of the person of God, the provision of Christ, the place of faith, the parameters of salvation, the predictions of Scripture. The whole chapter then comes together to say Israel is lost because Israel is in the ignorance of unbelief.

And I say to you again that no man is ever lost because God makes some decree somewhere utterly unconnected to how that man chooses. They come together. And how God does that is His problem. The present rejection of Israel is not simply and only because of sovereign election, as if God withheld His grace. In fact, He preached and preached and preached and called and called and called and they refused to believe. And so they are found in chapter 10 in unbelieving ignorance.

This theme continues next week, when Paul cites Isaiah preaching to his own people who rejected his prophecy.

Next time — Romans 10:16-21

The following three posts date from 2009, when I read verses that were not in the Lectionary and wrote about them rather than going through one book of the Bible at a time, as I do now.

These are about Romans 9, most of which is not in the three-year Lectionary:

Romans 9:6-13 – election, New Covenant

Paul introduces the New Covenant to the Jews. Our salvation depends not on our lineage (i.e. Abrahamic descent) and not all will be saved.  Our election to salvation depends not on our own works but on God’s choosing.

11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)  (Rom. 9:11)

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Romans 9:14-24 – election, New Covenant

This passage explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles through the New Covenant: ‘not only Jews but also Gentiles’.

Key verses:

24Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?   (Romans 9:24)

——————————————————

Romans 9:25-33faith, not works; New Covenant

This passage further explains how and why God, through Jesus’s death and resurrection, opened the promise of salvation to the Gentiles.

Key verses:

30 What should we say then? Those who aren’t Jews did not look for a way to be right with God. But they found it by having faith. 31 Israel did look for a law that could make them right with God. But they didn’t find it.

32 Why not? Because they didn’t look for it by faith. They tried to get it by working for it. They tripped over the stone that causes people to trip and fall.  (Romans 9:30-32)

Next time — Romans 10:1-4

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