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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 16:1-2

Personal Greetings

16 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant[a] of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

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At the end of Romans 15, Paul concluded his theological teachings with a benediction — a blessing — to the Christians in Rome.

In Romans 16, he writes about the network of Christian leaders in the churches he planted. Several would go to Rome. Others sent their greetings from a distance. Paul names all of them.

He begins with Phoebe, who is serving the church at Cenchreae (verse 1), the port outside of Corinth.

It is possible that Cenchreae’s church was an offshoot of the one in Corinth.

However, Matthew Henry posits that, as it was dangerous to worship in Corinth, Cenchreae might have been where the Corinthians met for worship at that time (emphases mine below):

Cenchrea was a small sea-port town adjoining to Corinth, about twelve furlongs distant. Some think there was a church there, distinct from that at Corinth, though, being so near, it is very probable that the church of Corinth is called the church of Cenchrea, because their place of meeting might be there, on account of the great opposition to them in the city (Acts 18:12), as at Philippi they met out of the city by the water-side, Acts 16:13. So the reformed church of Paris might be called the church at Charenton, where they formerly met, out of the city.

John MacArthur thinks it was a separate church:

Now Paul is writing from Corinth and about nine miles away, eight or nine miles, on the Saronic Gulf was a port city, really the seaport for Corinth, known as Cenchreae. Any shipping that needed to be done from Corinth would be done at Cenchreae. It’s very likely that the church in Cenchreae was founded as a result of the ministry of the church at Corinth, that church spawning, if you will, a daughter church in that seaport town.

Paul ‘commends’ Phoebe to the congregation in Rome. He recommends her to them, in the way we have letters of recommendation from former employers when we interview for new jobs.

Therefore, he thinks very highly of her.

Paul asks that the Romans welcome Phoebe as they would a fellow believer — ‘worthy of the saints’ (verse 2) — because she is one of them, called by God to follow Christ.

He also asks that they give her all the help she needs while she is in Rome, because she has been a generous patron of her church and a patron to him as well (verse 2).

This is the only time Phoebe is mentioned, but Bible scholars have deduced several things about her.

She was a ‘servant’ to her church, the Greek word being diakonon, a deacon. At that time, around AD 56-58, there was no formal role of deacon, as we have today. At that time it was a more loosely-defined function, implying a leadership role in looking after those in need, as in Acts 6 with Stephen, the first martyr.

The early male deacons would have taken care of those in need and also preached.

Henry doubts if Phoebe would have been allowed to preach:

As a servant to the church at Cenchrea: diakonon, a servant by office, a stated servant, not to preach the word (that was forbidden to women), but in acts of charity and hospitality. Some think she was one of the widows that ministered to the sick and were taken into the church’s number, 1 Timothy 5:9.

Female deacons later became known as deaconesses.

However, deaconesses are very different from female deacons in today’s churches. Don’t ever call a woman deacon a deaconess today or you’ll live to regret it! I made that mistake once. I won’t do it again.

Historically, a deaconess performed acts of charity to the sick and others in need. She had no remit to preach to men, but she could teach women and, no doubt, children.

MacArthur explains:

They are to have been one-man women, that is women who were not unfaithful to their husbands. They were well reported of women for their good works, women who had brought up children, who had lodged strangers, and again we’re back to the fact that hospitality was very important in that world, women who washed the saints’ feet, who relieved the afflicted, who diligently followed every good work. Now that would be sort of the characteristic of deaconess, and surely those widows put on the list would function in that capacity as a deaconess.

As we look in the history of the early church we find that the role of those women in the first few centuries was to care for the sick, to care for the poor, to minister to strangers, to show hospitality, to serve martyrs in prison, taking them supplies and needs and providing for whatever might be desperately needed because of the exigencies of imprisonment. Those deaconesses were used to instruct new women converts in the discipling process, to assist in the immersion of women and to exercise a general supervision over ministries to the needs of women in the churches. Now that was the role of a deaconess and this was such a woman, a sister in Christ and a servant of the church who was no doubt recognized as one worthy of commendation.

By contrast, depending on the denomination, today’s female deacons — not deaconesses — can preach and baptise, but they cannot consecrate the bread and wine for Communion. They can continue with seminary and become priests or ministers.

Henry thinks that Phoebe might have hosted the church at Cenchreae for worship and for lodging:

Probably they used to meet at her house, and she undertook the care of entertaining the ministers, especially strangers.

Phoebe was probably financially independent:

Phebe seems to have been a person of some account; and yet it was no disparagement to her to be a servant to the church.

Note that Paul describes her as a ‘patron of many and of myself as well’. That implies she gave the church a lot of money as well as time:

verse 2 … thirdly it says, “That you are to receive her in the Lord as becomes saints and assist her in whatever business she has need of you for she has been (a succorer, or) a helper of many and of myself also.” We can use the word “succorer,” which is to say she has been a helper of many. The word actually means a benefactor. Now when I say the word “patron” do you know what that means? Do you know what a patron is? If you ever read any of ancient European history you understand the word “patron.” A patron was someone who financially supported someone else. Many artists had a patron. They would paint and they would do their sculpture and they would do whatever they needed to do. There were people who were researchers and students and scholars, and people like that would find a patron who would support them. Apparently this woman had enough means to provide a patronage for not only the apostle Paul but for others in the church. The term is prostatis and it basically in the Jewish community came to refer to a wealthy supporter. So this dear woman was a wealthy supporter, no doubt, of the church at Cenchreae. It may well have met in her home. She may have been to that church what Lydia was to the church at Philippi. And she also offered some support in some way to the apostle himself.

She must have had financial means, otherwise, she would not have made a journey to Rome. There was no tourism at that time. Most women did not travel far from where they lived unless it was for something important. If they did, they needed to be sure of safe accommodation. There were no hotel chains at the time.

Interestingly, Phoebe, living in Greece, had reason to travel hundreds of miles away to the heart of the Roman Empire.

MacArthur tells us more, including the dubious accommodation that inns offered in that era:

I like this, you assist her in whatever business she has need of you. She was on her way to Rome for some business, if indeed she was a wealthy patron it’s obvious she was probably going with some special business in mind. The word, by the way, there is not specifically the word “business,” it is a Greek word pragmateia, from which we get pragmatic. She was there for some pragmatic reason, for some transaction, would be the technical translation. She had come to Rome for a transaction of some sort, perhaps a legal matter related to her business and he tells the church, assist her. Now isn’t that an important thought. When someone comes to us, a stranger, we are in the church to provide not only love and spiritual affection but assistance in the matters of finance or business or whatever other matters that person might have in view that are not necessarily related directly to the kingdom of God. In other words, we’re to provide all of the resources necessary for bidding Godspeed and allowing that person to accomplish whatever objectives are in mind.

And it’s a wonderful thing for the church to do that, to assist each other in these kinds of things. Whatever she did, Paul said, whatever her business might be, whatever transaction she enters in, you know the people in Rome, you know how things are, you know who to see, you know who to talk to, you expedite that situation on her behalf

Letters of commendation were written — that was a well-worn custom in Paul’s day — when a believer, for example, would be traveling to another city and would want to go and fellowship with that church, that believer could carry a commending letter from the church in their own home town which would ensure to that new congregation that this was indeed one of the children of God, a brother or sister to be loved and received with hospitality. The reason for that was the need for a place to stay. In those days inns were nothing short of brothels. They were places where there would be perhaps looting and stealing. They were not safe places. And as Christian people traveled around in the Roman world, the letters of commendation allowed them to be received with love into varying Christian communities and shown hospitality and care for whatever matters of business they needed to carry on.

MacArthur says of the name Phoebe:

her name means “bright and radiant,” and perhaps that was true of her testimony.

Phoebe took Paul’s letter to the Romans with her and personally delivered it to them.

MacArthur says:

may I encourage all of you ladies that are here tonight that God has always used women and still does and uses them mightily in the advance of His kingdom. And though He did not use a woman to write a book of the Bible, He used a woman to transport that book, that most important perhaps of all books in terms of its presentation of the gospel, and therefore demonstrated that within the bounds of biblical definition and function designed by God for women, He uses them in marvelous and glorious tasks that do not violate His holy design for them. And so this woman is emblematic of all those women, who within the framework of God’s design, have borne a place of honor. And we see in the love of Paul the commendation of one woman that no doubt would extend to many other people who served him so well.

That is the story of Phoebe.

The Church remembers her in feast days at various times during the year, as Wikipedia explains:

The Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates Phoebe with Lydia of Thyatira and Dorcas on January 27, the day after the commemoration of the early male missionaries Silas, Timothy and Titus and two days after the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The Episcopal Church does likewise. However, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod remembers her on October 25, while the Eastern Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church place her feast day as September 3.

What a wonderful, holy lady she was.

Paul had more to say about his friends in the Church, men and women alike. More on that next week.

Next time — Romans 16:3-6

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 15:30-33

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s magnificent ministry, to which he referred in Romans 15:22-29.

These verses conclude Romans 15 and the theology of the letter. Romans 16 details the teachers among the people he has converted in his wide-ranging trips from Asia Minor to Macedonia and Greece.

Paul was a big believer in the power of prayer. He prayed continually. He prayed fervently. He prayed for himself as well as for new Christians.

Here he asks that the Roman Christians ‘strive together’ in their prayers for him (verse 30).

John MacArthur discusses those words:

Notice verse 30, “I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake” as we saw “and the love of the Spirit,” then this word on prayer, “that you sunagōnizomai.” Agōnizomai would be enough. That means to agonize together in a struggle. To add sun to the front of it intensifies it. “That you intensely struggle together with me in your prayers to God for me.”

Now he realizes that ministry in the will of God is dependent on prayer. That is an essential element. The word agōnizomai or sunagōnizomai is a word taken from gymnastics. It’s taken from athletics. It is a gymnastic term meaning “to agonize.” It could be translated “to fight.” It takes tremen­dous exertion and energy and maximum effort to fulfill the significance of this word, a very strong term. In fact it’s translated in John 18:36 “fight.” Jesus said, “My servants would fight if My kingdom was of this world.” It is a word of great intensity.

Prayer, beloved, is a battle. And I say this from time to time as we come to passages like this but I want to remind you of it. Prayer is a battle. I think sometimes we don’t understand that because the battle isn’t where we can see it. We’ve been talking, haven’t we, in 1 Timothy, about the spiritual battle. And I hope we’ve learned some things. Prayer is a war waged against the forces of evil. In fact, Isaiah 64:7 speaks of, quote: “Arousing oneself to take hold of God in prayer.” That’s the idea of the Hebrew terminology in Isaiah 64:7, arousing one’s self to take hold of God. And you remember, no doubt, reading Genesis 32:24 to 30 where it says that Jacob wrestled with the Lord and he wouldn’t let go of the Lord until he was what? He was blessed. In Colossians 2:1 Paul calls prayer great conflict. He sees it as great conflict. It is not an easy thing, it is a conflict. He says, “I would that you knew what great conflict I have for you.” What is he talking about in writing to the Colossians? I’m engaged in a battle, a prayer battle over your spiritual situation. And in 4:12 of Colossians, as I mentioned earlier, Epaphras, that wonderful man of prayer, is said to be always laboring fervently for you in prayer that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. Prayer is a battle, an agonizing experience.

Now I realize there is a certain paradox between the sover­eignty of God and fervent prayer, but the Bible teaches us to pray fervently. We go back to Luke 11 and remember the story of the man for his much knocking who was heard, because he gave much effort he finally received what he sought, and it’s an illustra­tion of what we call importunity, or intensity in prayer. We remember James who said in 5:16 of his epistle, “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Even our Lord fasted and prayed for 40 days. It wasn’t easy for Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that as Paul prayed for them, he desires their prayers for himself. This was not out of selfishness but as a sign of mutual love (emphases mine below):

He had prayed much for them, and this he desires as the return of his kindness. Interchanging prayers is an excellent token of the interchanging of loves. Paul speaks like one that knew himself, and would hereby teach us how to value the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous.

He asked for the Romans’ prayers for his deliverance from the unbelievers in Judea and for the success of his ministry in Jerusalem, his next destination (verse 31).

MacArthur elaborates on the Greek word for ‘deliverance’:

The word “delivered” is a very interesting word. Rhuomai means to be rescued, to be rescued out of a dangerous life-threatening situation. I want you to pray for my rescue. I want you to pray that I will be delivered from a very dangerous situation.

It was not uncommon for Paul to face danger. In fact, it was a way of life. He was in danger most of the time. He continually asked for prayer because of that

So what he is saying in verse 31 indicates to us that it marks a person in the will of God really moving ahead for the glory of God that they’re going to be persecuted because they’re invading the kingdom of the enemy. Now he had no idea at the time of the writing of Romans what was to come from those who do not believe in Judea, Jews who resented him, he had no idea at this particular time what they would do to him. But it was very predictable that they would be hostile toward his message.

Henry says:

The unbelieving Jews were the most violent enemies Paul had and most enraged against him, and some prospect he had of trouble from them in this journey; and therefore they must pray that God would deliver him. We may, and must, pray against persecution. This prayer was answered in several remarkable deliverances of Paul, recorded Acts 21:1-24:27.

I wrote about Acts at length in 2018 and 2019. The passages from the chapters of Acts that Henry mentions are posted below. This was a highly charged and dramatic time in Paul’s ministry over the course of two years:

Acts 21:1-6 – Paul, Luke, Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, kneeling in prayer

Acts 21:7-14 – Paul, Luke, Caesarea, Philip the Evangelist, Philip the Evangelist’s daughters, Agabus

Acts 21:15-16 -Paul, Luke, Caesarea, disciples of Caesarea, Jerusalem, Mnason of Cyprus

Acts 21:17-18 – Paul, Luke, James, elders, Jerusalem

Acts 21:19-26 – leaders of the church in Jerusalem, Paul, Judaisers, Nazirite vow

Acts 21:27-36 – Paul, completion of Nazirite vow, riot, Ephesian Jews, Asia Minor Jews, Trophimus the Ephesian

Acts 21:37-40 and 22:1 – Paul, Roman tribune, Jerusalem

Acts 22:2-21 – Paul, Jerusalem mob, conversion story

Acts 22:22-30 — Paul, Jerusalem, Roman justice, Roman citizenship, Roman tribune (Claudius Lysias)

Acts 23:1-5 – Paul, Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, Ananias the high priest

Acts 23:6-11 – Paul, Sanhedrin, Pharisees, scribes, Sadducees, Jerusalem, Roman tribune (Claudius Lysias), Jesus Christ, ‘take courage’

Acts 23:12-15 – Paul, Sanhedrin, oath, murder plot, Jerusalem

Acts 23:16-22 – Paul’s nephew, Paul, centurion, Roman tribune, Claudius Lysias, Jerusalem, murder plot

Acts 23:23-30 – Paul, divine intervention, Claudius Lysias, two centurions, 200 troops, Caesarea

Acts 23:31-35 — Paul, military escort, Antipatris, Caesarea, Felix

Acts 24:1-9 — Tertullus, the Sanhedrin, Felix, Paul, Caesarea, Claudius Lysias

Acts 24:10-21 — Paul, Felix, Sadducees, Caesarea

Acts 24:22-27 – Paul, Felix, Drusilla, Caesarea, Porcius Festus

As our commentators have said, Paul had no idea about any of those events, although he certainly would have anticipated danger. At that point, he expressed his longing to finally meet the Romans, if it be God’s will, and be ‘refreshed’ in their company (verse 32).

For good or bad, the Lord and the Holy Spirit guided Paul’s ministry from the beginning, as evidenced by the accounts in Acts. Therefore, Paul was a great believer in the will of God.

MacArthur summarises a few instances from Acts and Galatians for us:

The reason I believe Paul is obedient is multiple. One, he lived in sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. And I believe since he was committed to doing the will of God and obeying the will of the Spirit, he would have not flagrantly denied the Spirit’s will in this case. When in chapter 16 he started to go into one area, Bithynia, the Spirit stopped him, he turned around. When he started to go into another area, the Spirit stopped him; he went the other way and finally went in to the Macedonian region because the Spirit stopped him in all the other areas. I believe he lived in sensitivity to the Spirit. And I believe also in chapter 20 when he says, “I am bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem,” he is saying, “I have a strong leading from the Spirit of God within me.” Furthermore, he had the right reasons for going. His reasons for going were to accomplish the ministry of collecting this offering which he knew was from the Lord. From the very beginning of his commission as recorded in Galatians 2:7 to 10 he was told to remember the poor, he was doing what he was told, he was doing what the Spirit of God had put in his heart to do. And I believe the Spirit actually sent him. I believe he was dispatched by the Spirit of God to carry out this ministry.

And, after two years of imprisonment in Judea, the authorities sent Paul to Rome:

The Romans themselves sent him there so that he could have a trial before Caesar. After two years of being kept a prisoner for his own sake in Caesarea, they then sent him to Rome and even on the way to Rome I believe the devil tried to drown him. There was a terrible shipwreck. But not only did Paul escape but so did everybody else on board, Acts 27. He made it to Rome. Well that’s the testimony to the power of prayer.

In Rome, Paul was martyred for his faith, but not before he was able to meet the Roman Christians and convert more to the faith over a period of two years:

Acts 28:30-31 – Paul, Rome, ministry

The final verse (33) of Romans 15 is the benediction, the blessing Paul sends to the Romans, asking that ‘the God of peace’ be with them all.

Henry gives us the scriptural history of the benediction and the application for us today:

The Lord of hosts, the God of battle, is the God of peace, the author and lover of peace. He describes God under this title here, because of the divisions among them, to recommend peace to them; if God be the God of peace, let us be men of peace. The Old-Testament blessing was, Peace be with you; now, The god of peace be with you. Those who have the fountain cannot want any of the streams. With you all; both weak and strong. To dispose them to a nearer union, he puts them altogether in this prayer. Those who are united in the blessing of God should be united in affection one to another.

MacArthur has this:

The God of peace, what does that mean? That’s a com­mon term for God, the God of peace. It is to say that God is the source of peace. What do you mean by that? He is the source of peace in two ways. He provides peace with Him. Before you came to Christ you were at war with God. In Christ you are saved, you make peace with God. We call that peace with God. He also provides the peace of God which is the settled heart confidence that all is well that removes anxiety and brings tranquility to the soul. He is the God of peace, that is to say He reconciles men to Himself. He is the God of peace, that is to say He brings tranquil­ity to the reconciled soul, the God of peace.

Our God is identified in this chapter in verse 5 as the God of patience and the God of comfort. In verse 13 He is the God of hope. And here He is the God of peace; the God of patience, the God of comfort, the God of hope, the God of peace.

Those of us who attend churches with established liturgies hear and/or say ‘Peace be with you’ in every service, often more than once. Sometimes I think we hear it so often that we forget or take for granted what it means. I do.

I will be reflecting silently on this in the week ahead.

Next time — Romans 16:1-2

Bible and crossThe 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 (see links below).

Romans 15:22-29

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected,[a] I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing[b] of Christ.

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Last week’s post covered Paul’s last teaching in the Book of Romans: the pleasure in the fulfilment of the obligation he had in bringing Gentiles to the Church.

He says that this is why he has not been able to visit the church in Rome sooner; his obligations were elsewhere in other lands (verse 22). And, as he had told the Romans 15:14, they were good and knowledgeable enough to teach each other and build each other up in faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Christians in Rome felt a similar heartfelt desire for Paul to visit them (emphases mine):

It should seem that Paul’s company was very much desired at Rome. He was a man that had as many friends and as many enemies as most men ever had: he passed through evil report and good report. No doubt they had heard much of him at Rome, and longed to see him. Should the apostle of the Gentiles be a stranger at Rome, the metropolis of the Gentile world? Why as to this he excuses it that he had not come yet, he promises to come shortly, and gives a good reason why he could not come now.

Furthermore, he had no desire to visit the great monuments, structures or great thinkers in the heart of the Roman Empire. He wanted to meet his brothers and sisters in faith, humble as they all were, Paul included. Paul was but a humble tent-maker.

Henry elaborates:

He assures them that he had a great desire to see them; not to see Rome, though it was now in its greatest pomp and splendour, nor to see the emperor’s court, nor to converse with the philosophers and learned men that were then at Rome, though such conversation must needs be very desirable to so great a scholar as Paul was, but to come unto you (Romans 15:3), a company of poor despised saints in Rome, hated of the world, but loving God, and beloved of him. These were the men that Paul was ambitious of an acquaintance with at Rome; they were the excellent ones in whom he delighted, Psalms 16:3. And he had a special desire to see them, because of the great character they had in all the churches for faith and holiness; they were men that excelled in virtue, and therefore Paul was so desirous to come to them.

Paul knew that his desires were dependent upon God’s will:

This desire Paul had had for many years, and yet could never compass it. The providence of God wisely overrules the purposes and desires of men. God’s dearest servants are not always gratified in every thing that they have a mind to. Yet all that delight in God have the desire of their heart fulfilled (Psalms 37:4), though all the desires in their heart be not humoured.

That is a difficult lesson to grasp. We feel it these days in our troubled times, whether it be the heavy weight of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives, the seemingly endless protests or the US presidential election in November. We all want a measure of relief from any or all of those. And, yes, it seems as if the will of Providence has a bearing on any relief of all of those. We must pray for patience and, as Paul and the other Apostles wrote so often, endure.

It is not an easy yoke to bear.

Let us look where Paul had travelled by that time. Whereas Jesus stayed within the nucleus of the Jews, His Father’s people, in order to let them know He was the Messiah, Paul made an incredible three-mission journey all over Asia Minor and what we know as Greece to bring the Gospel to the people, including the Gentiles.

John MacArthur discusses this:

He went all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and that’s in excess of a thousand miles, maybe as much as 1,400 miles if you drew a line. He covered a lot of territory, but you might be interested to know that all three of his missionary tours – he took three missionary journeys – all three of his missionary tours basically covered the same area. He kept going back and strengthening, going back and strengthening. Each time he’d go back, he’d extend it a little further. He’d go back again, extend it a little further; go back again, extend it a little further – strengthening and extending, strengthening and extending. And finally, the reason he got as far as he did was because of his imprisonment, really, which took him all the way to Rome. But he had great precision in terms of his ministry from the very beginning.

If you go back to the ninth chapter of Acts, you’re going to find in verse 6 he says, trembling and with tremendous fear because he’s just been knocked to the dirt on the way to Damascus, and now he’s blind – and trembling and with great fear, he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? Give me direction. Give me some orders.”

And the Lord said to him, “Arise, get up, go to the city and you’ll find out.” And he went into the city, and that’s when he met Ananias, who was God’s instrument. And in verse 15, “The Lord said to him, ‘Go your way. Ananias, you can leave him; he’s a chosen vessel to me, and here’s his calling: to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” So, he had a very specific calling. And he had a great sense of that calling.

… from chapter 22 of Acts … chapter 22, verse 21 – “And He reciting his testimony, ‘Depart! For I will send thee far from here unto the Gentiles.’He had this sense of mission that was very precise. In the chapter in which he gives his testimony later in the book of Acts, that being chapter 26, in verse 15 he says – reciting his testimony, he says on the Damascus Road, “I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’

“He said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand on your feet; I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, of those things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the people, from the Gentiles unto whom now I send you. And here’s your mission, to pen the eyes of the Gentiles, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God” – that is an evangelism ministry – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.’”

So, he had great sense of precision and direction from God in his ministry. He articulates this back in the twentieth chapter of Acts in a discussion with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. And he is very, very committed to the task that God has given him. Particularly I want you to notice verse 22. He says, “I’m going to Jerusalem, even though I’m bound in my spirit” – my spirit is captive to this mission – “I don’t know what’s going to fall on me there; I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says, “except the Holy Spirit keeps telling me in every single city that I’m going to get put in chains and I’m going to be afflicted. So, I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going; I’m moving; I’m on my way.” Why? “Because none of these outward physical circumstances move me for the simple reason that I do not count my life dear unto myself. I’m not concerned with my own self-preservation. The only thing I want to do is finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, which is to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

“And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. But I can testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not failed to declare to you all the counsel of God.” In other words, “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done, and that is to do exactly what God called me to do.”

In Colossians 1, he reiterates the fact that God had made him a minister, and God had set him in motion. In Galatians chapter 2, verse 7 and verse 8, you get the same impression, that he was sent to the Gentiles and the testimony of Scripture is that he was mighty in his ministry to the Gentiles. So, Paul knew precision.

The Church has never had a greater church planter.

Paul readily acknowledged that his work was done in the regions that he had visited (verse 23) — some more than once — therefore, it was time to move on to the furthest reach of the Empire, Spain, via Rome, where he hoped to meet the church members there (verse 24). He hoped that they would give him further resolve to travel on to what he thought would be his final destination in evangelising for Christ. Historians record that he was martyred with Peter in Rome.

Paul had ‘hope’ he would meet the Christians residing in Rome. He knew from past experience not to take anything for granted. The Holy Trinity ordains so much in our lives.

MacArthur reminds us of Acts 16 and the Holy Spirit’s intervention:

… let’s look at chapter 16 for a moment and get a view of how providence may work. In Acts 16, verse 6, “And when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia” – this is Paul and his traveling companions – “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Now, how did he do that? How did the Holy Spirit forbid them? It doesn’t say. It doesn’t say it was miraculous. It doesn’t say they heard a voice out of heaven. Somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t allow them to go to Asia. So, “They came to Mysia and attempted to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit wouldn’t allow that either.” How did that happen? We don’t know. “And so, they passed by Mysia and came to Troas. And there a vision appeared to Paul,” and he knew what the Spirit wanted. The direction was go over across the water to Macedonia, and that was the Macedonian call. But here is God ordering the circumstances to bring about His own will.

There Paul met the purple fabric merchant Lydia — the first convert in Europe — and was later imprisoned for a short while.

Henry points out:

Observe how doubtfully he speaks: I trust to see you: not, “I am resolved I will,” but, “I hope I shall.” We must purpose all our purposes and make all our promises in like manner with a submission to the divine providence; not boasting ourselves of to-morrow, because we know not what a day may bring forth, Proverbs 27:1,Jam+4:13-15.

As has been so often said, ‘Life is what happens when you make other plans’.

If you think that was merely about Paul, MacArthur has a personal anecdote to tell about his ministry and his marriage in 1985, when he gave this sermon. He knew the way to San Jose — just as in the old song — but he could not get there because of bad weather.

The rapidity of airport check-in back then will bring tears to the eyes of those of us old enough to remember:

I was supposed to fly to San Jose a week ago, to speak to a youth rally at Mount Herman on a Friday night – the Friday night after Thanksgiving. And so, my son, Matt, took me by the airport and dropped me off because it was only ten minutes till the flight, and I was just going to go in and get on the plane and leave. And he took off, and I walked in, and there was a sign that said, “San Jose flight cancelled.” That was the only flight, at that time, that was cancelled, though the weather got bad in the north, I guess, and they began to cancel a whole lot of flights.

So, I’m standing there, realizing that there are people coming from all over every place to this rally to hear me speak, and I’m supposed to be flying in. And somebody, at that time, is already on their way to the airport because it’s about a 55-minute flight. There’s nothing I can do, and I don’t even have a ride home. So, there I am.

And in the providence of God, they were having a sale in the shop, and I bought my wife’s birthday present, which was really providential at 50 percent off. If you ask her, she’ll show it to you after the service tonight; she’s wearing it. But that was providential, as God would have it, because it’s something she needed greatly; she lost the last one I got her. But anyway, we won’t go into that. I’m digging a hole for myself; you’ll have to help me out. No.

So, anyway, I’m standing there in the airport, and I called, and we tried everything we could possibly conceive to get me to San Jose. There was a flight leaving later, but it was overbooked, and there was a long standby waiting list, and it would get me there not in time to drive all the way down anyway.

And so, we were trying to get a hold of people and so forth and so on, and there was nothing I could do. So, I went home – and everyone said, “Why are you here?” – which was a little bit of a surprise. We had a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. And the Lord, perhaps, provided that day for my family.

But anyway, I went through the next couple of days and a couple of days later, a young man came up to me and said, “By the way, you didn’t get to San Jose, did you?”

And I said, “No. How did you know?”

He said, “I was there in anticipation of hearing you speak.” But he said, “I want to set your heart at ease.” He said, “Another person was there also who had come to hear you speak, who was speaking there in the area over the weekend, and when he walked in the back door, they informed him that he had been elected to take your place. And so, without any preparation, he got up and spoke. And I want you to know that that was of God because the message he gave was directly to my heart, and the Spirit of God used it to change my life. So,” he said, “I just want you to know that the Lord is in control.”

Well, I was really thankful to hear that. I mean I don’t believe for a minute that I’m necessary to what God wants to do, and it’s just as wonderful not to be somewhere as it is to be there if the Lord’s God something else in mind. But that’s how God works providence.

Yet, MacArthur cautions us about leaving planning aside, the ‘let go and let God’ theory, which was only beginning to become an idea when he preached his sermon. No. We must be prepared:

Trusting in the providence of God is no excuse for a lack of planning, or a lack of purpose, or a lack of direction, or a lack of goals. There are those people who want to sit back and say, “Well, we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit lead.” That’s a poor excuse for laziness. Let me tell you something; I believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but effective ministry just doesn’t happen without very careful planning and strategizing. “Man makes his plans” – Proverbs 16 says – “but God directs his steps.” But man makes his plans. I mean we spend a lot of time around here planning. Things happen because we plan.

So, Paul reveals his plan. Look at it in verse 23. Now he says, “But now, having no more place in these parts” – that is to say, “I have evangelized this far; I’ve evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum and there’s no sense in staying around. The church is growing. There are others who can carry on the ministry. There are elders ordained in the various places; the work will go on. There are no more regions where Christ is not at least named in this area. I have” – as verse 19 says – “fully preached the gospel of Christ all around about Jerusalem to Illyricum.”

“And since this is thoroughly covered” – and I love that idea; he wasn’t going to move on till he’d done the work where he was – great principle, if I can say it to you that are in seminary, learn it and learn it well: thoroughness before breadth, depth before breadth; it is not the breadth of a ministry, it is the depth of a ministry; not how much ground did you cover, but how fully did you cover the ground you covered; not how far did you reach, and not how many, but how complete and how effective.

Paul then draws himself back to his circumstances at the time and tells the Romans that he is taking charitable contributions to the church in Jerusalem (verse 25) from the Gentile Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (verse 26). The people there were much wealthier there than the converts in Jerusalem. 

Note that Paul never collected funds for himself but for the faithful elsewhere. He never forgot the various churches that he either planted (e.g. Asia Minor) or visited (Jerusalem).

Therefore, Paul’s call was to Jerusalem at that point, not Rome, regardless of his heart’s desire.

MacArthur explains that there was a great famine in the region around Jerusalem at the time. Think coronavirus — loss of work and food. Perhaps we are not hungry, but many are suffering because of this political drama. It is milder than Jerusalem’s crisis and worth putting into perspective when one reads the following:

if you read in the book of Acts carefully you will find that there was a great famine. It’s recorded in chapter 11 and into chapter 12. There was a great famine in Jerusalem. And because of the influx into the city of these Christians, because of the presence of those that were saved on the day of Pentecost and never went home, because of the hatred of many Jews toward Jesus and His followers which generated persecution and dispossession of homes and the loss of jobs and even imprisonment — they were throwing them in to prison in Acts chapter 8, they were breathing out threatening and slaughter against them — so the Christians had a very difficult time in earning a living.

Many of them couldn’t get a job. Many of the fathers of the homes were put in prison and so, there was nothing to supply for the wife and children. There was a great need because of the poverty there. And so, in light of that need the apostle Paul had arranged for a collection. He had arranged to take an offering and take it back to the poor saints.

Paul says that the people from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were rightfully happy to donate to the converts in Jerusalem, because they shared mutually not only in spiritual blessings coming from a belief in Christ as Saviour but also in the material blessings that a united church of believers brings (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us that Paul brought with him to Jerusalem the leaders of those churches to demonstrate Christian unity:

when he went back with the money he also took representatives of all those churches so when he came back to Jerusalem finally – finally, he not only had a large amount of money for the poor but he had representatives from all the Gentile churches there with the money. And you have to understand that with Paul it wasn’t just a question of the money, it wasn’t simply making a certain contribution for the poor among the saints or, literally, the poor of the saints who were at Jerusalem.

It was a way to conciliate two factions in the church. You had a Jewish church in Jerusalem, you had a Gentile church in the rest of the world and everybody at that time knew Jew and Gentile had very little relationship. And so, in an act that was not only meant to relieve some distress by virtue of the money but also to demonstrate the unity of the church, Paul was committed to taking this money, along with the Gentile representatives who gave it, so that there might be conciliation.

MacArthur also explains the meaning of the word ‘contribution’ in Greek:

The word “contribution,” by the way, a very important word, verse 26, the word is koinōnia. It is the word for fellowship. It is the word for fellowship. And sharing money is so essential a part of fellowship that three times in referring to this collection Paul uses the word koinōnia. Romans 15:26 right here, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:14, he calls the collection fellowship, common sharing. This is to be the priority. Now listen, I believe that Paul in his mind knew that, ultimately, the evangelization of the world would be hard pressed to succeed unless there was unity in the church. And he was committed to the strengthening of the base church, that it might be strong and have its needs met before he went out to reach the world. Very important.

In older translations, e.g. the King James Version, ‘contribution’ is translated as ‘fruit’, which has even more significance. A contribution seems abstract. Fruit seems more tangible.

Henry has more:

He calls the alms fruit, for it is one of the fruits of righteousness; it sprang from a root of grace in the givers, and redounded to the benefit and comfort of the receivers. And his sealing it intimates his great care about it, that what was given might be kept entire, and not embezzled, but disposed of according to the design of the givers. Paul was very solicitous to approve himself faithful in the management of this matter: an excellent pattern for ministers to write after, that the ministry may in nothing be blamed.

In verse 28, Paul is more determined than ever to evangelise Spain, travelling by Rome: ‘I will leave for Spain by way of you’ (verse 28).

Regardless of the outcome of his desires, Paul knew that God would bless him one way or another (verse 29).

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 29, “I’m sure,” – he says – “when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Now what an assurance that is.

He says I’m going to come in spiritual prosperity. When I come to you I’m going to come with blessing. In spite of difficulties, in spite of trials, I’m going to come in blessing. By the way, that last phrase “of the gospel” is not in the better manuscripts and so the verse would read, “I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” I know when I come to you I’m going to be blessed.

You say, “Well how did he know that?” Because that’s the way it always was with him. Some people — mark this — by virtue of an obedient spiritual life always live in the place of blessing. No matter what negative circumstance they may have, they enjoy the blessing of God. He has enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ throughout his ministry so he says, and I love this. “I am” – look at it, verse 29 – “I am sure.” I am sure …

You say, “How does he know that? How has he enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ?” Because of obedience, because of obedience. Now he says, notice again verse 29, “I’m sure that when I come to you,” — Now he didn’t know whether he was going to come and the fact that he said that doesn’t mean it necessarily had to come to pass. The fact that he was coming is not inspired, the fact that he thought he might come is inspired. He was planning to come, whether he came or not. But he said, – “When I do come” – obviously within the will of God – “I know one thing, I’ll be blessed.”

I mean, that’s the way to live, isn’t it? To me, that’s the only way to live. To be able to say, “Well I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow but I know one thing, I’ll be blessed. I don’t know where I’ll be a couple of years from now, but I know one thing, I’ll be in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” How can you promise yourself that? Because the key to that is an obedient life. Now that is true positive thinking, not the cheap substitute we hear about today.

True positive thinking says, “I live in submission to Christ, I live in obedience to His Word so I know wherever I am I’ll enjoy the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” Marvelous way to live. By the way, as it turned out, he did get to Rome. That’s right, only he got there as a prisoner. But this still came true. He got there as a prisoner, and even as a prisoner he wrote the Philippians. And in writing to the Philippians, chapter 1, he talks about the difficulties, chains, and some people are criticizing him and so forth and so on.

Wow. These two commentaries took my breath away. Paul, although not one of the original Twelve, was no less an Apostle than any of them (bar Judas, of course).

I know that many of my readers are aware of Paul’s importance. Yet, in a historical context, his ministry is brought to life for others amongst us.

Those of us who are Gentiles have so much for which to be grateful, thanks to Paul’s ministry, guided by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.

Next time — Romans 15:30-32

Bible croppedThe 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 (see links below).

Romans 15:14-21

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers,[a] that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s entry featured Paul’s conclusion on the general responsibilities stronger brothers have towards weaker ones.

He then cited passages from Scripture supporting God’s plan for Christ to be the hope of Jews and Gentiles alike.

His last theological lesson in Romans is dedicated to the Gentiles.

Recall that Paul had not yet visited Rome. He did not know the members of the church there. Yet, he always had a deep fondness for it and an earnest desire to reach the city to meet those Christians.

His letter to the Romans, whilst full of theology and doctrine, never takes the Christians to task there for any great sin. Contrast that with his letters to the Corinthians.

He states that they are good and knowledgeable people who can teach each other, building themselves up in faith (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this is quite the compliment:

Goodness and knowledge together! A very rare and an excellent conjunction; the head and the heart of the new man. All knowledge, all necessary knowledge, all the knowledge of those things which belong to their everlasting peace.

That said, Paul makes it clear that he wrote ‘boldly’ — strongly — to reinforce certain doctrinal points (verse 15).

Paul did this because, through the grace of God, he became a minister to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel to them to win their souls, that they might be sanctified by the Holy Spirit (verse 16).

Henry explains the depth of those verses (emphases mine below):

Observe here, (1.) Whose minister he was: the minister of Jesus Christ, 1 Corinthians 4:1. He is our Master; his we are, and him we serve. (2.) To whom: to the Gentiles. So God had appointed him, Acts 22:21. So Peter and he had agreed, Galatians 2:7-9. These Romans were Gentiles: “Now,” says he, “I do not thrust myself upon you, nor seek any lordship over you; I am appointed to it: if you think I am rude and bold, my commission is my warrant, and must bear me out.” (3.) What he ministered: the gospel of God; hierourgounta to euangelion–ministering as about holy things (so the word signifies), executing the office of a Christian priest, more spiritual, and therefore more excellent, than the Levitical priesthood. (4.) For what end: that the offering up (or sacrificing) of the Gentiles might be acceptable–that God might have the glory which would redound to his name by the conversion of the Gentiles. Paul laid out himself thus to bring about something that might be acceptable to God.

The use of the word ‘offering’ is also complex:

Observe how the conversion of the Gentiles is expressed: it is the offering up of the Gentiles; it is prosphora ton ethnon–the oblation of the Gentiles, in which the Gentiles are looked upon either, [1.] As the priests, offering the oblation of prayer and praise and other acts of religion. Long had the Jews been the holy nation, the kingdom of priests, but now the Gentiles are made priests unto God (Revelation 5:10), by their conversion to the Christian faith consecrated to the service of God, that the scripture may be fulfilled, In ever place incense shall be offered, and a pure offering, Malachi 1:11. The converted Gentiles are said to be made nigh (Ephesians 2:13)– the periphrasis of priests. Or, [2.] The Gentiles are themselves the sacrifice offered up to God by Paul, in the name of Christ, a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, Romans 12:1. A sanctified soul is offered up to God in the flames of love, upon Christ the altar. Paul gathered in souls by his preaching, not to keep them to himself, but to offer them up to God: Behold, I, and the children that God hath given me. And it is an acceptable offering, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. Paul preached to them, and dealt with them; but that which made them sacrifices to God was their sanctification; and this was not his work, but the work of the Holy Ghost. None are acceptably offered to God but those that are sanctified: unholy things can never be pleasing to the holy God.

John MacArthur looks at the meaning of the Gentiles as priests. It means is that we can approach God directly:

… all believers are priests. In 1 Peter 2:5, “You also as living stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices.” Verse 9, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own that you should show forth the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” All believers are priests. That is what we have said historically in our own faith that we believe in the priesthood of believers. We are all believer priests. That is to say we do not have to go through some other mediary to get to get to God, right? We don’t go through some human person.

Bearing those two verses in mind, Paul says that he is pleased with his work for God, through Jesus Christ (verse 17).

He describes his ministry as one where he added no extra teaching, only that which Christ revealed to him, in order to bring the Gentiles to Him in obedience through word and deed (verse 18).

Paul alluded to the great journeys he made, his preaching ministry fortified by the additional gifts of the Spirit of signs (e.g. the angel unlocking the prison in Acts) and wonders (healing people). He had fulfilled his ministry from the starting point in Jerusalem to faraway places, such as Illyricum, which was to the north west of Macedonia.

He went on to say that he did not concentrate on places where there were established churches, as he did not wish to build on someone else’s work (verse 20).

Instead, he went to places that had not yet received the Gospel, recalling Isaiah 52:15 (verse 21):

so shall he sprinkle[a] many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.

Henry says that Paul was the great church planter:

He broke up the fallow ground, laid the first stone in many places, and introduced Christianity where nothing had reigned for many ages but idolatry and witchcraft, and all sorts of diabolism. Paul broke the ice, and therefore must needs meet with the more difficulties and discouragements in his work. Those who preached in Judea had upon this account a much easier task than Paul, who was the apostle of the Gentiles; for they entered into the labours of others, John 4:38. Paul, being a hardy man, was called out to the hardest work; there were many instructors, but Paul was the great father–many that watered, but Paul was the great planter. Well, he was a bold man that made the first attack upon the palace of the strong man armed in the Gentile world, that first assaulted Satan’s interest there, and Paul was that man who ventured the first onset in many places, and suffered greatly for it. He mentions this as a proof of his apostleship; for the office of the apostles was especially to bring in those that were without, and to lay the foundations of the new Jerusalem; see Revelation 21:14. Not but that Paul preached in many places where others had been at work before him; but he principally and mainly laid himself out for the good of those that sat in darkness. He was in care not to build upon another man’s foundation, lest he should thereby disprove his apostleship, and give occasion to those who sought occasion to reflect upon him. He quotes a scripture for this out of Isaiah 52:15, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see. That which had not been told them, shall they see; so the prophet has it, much to the same purport. This made the success of Paul’s preaching the more remarkable. The transition from darkness to light is more sensible than the after-growth and increase of that light. And commonly the greatest success of the gospel is at its first coming to a place; afterwards people become sermon-proof.

MacArthur has more on Paul’s apostleship:

Look at verse 20. “Yes,” he says, “so as priest and preacher I have strived” a very strong word, strong effort “to preach the gospel not where Christ was named.” And you can underline that in your Bible. That is a key to understanding the role of an apostle. That is the key to understanding the role of an evangelist. Always the message is the same, preach the gospel. And always I have done it with strong effort, but also always I have endeavored to preach where Christ was not named. Virgin territory is my calling. Virgin territory is my calling.

Paul was fearless for the Lord.

He always had a new place he wanted to go. Find out more next week.

Next time — Romans 15:22-29

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.”

————————————————————————————————

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 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 (as cited below).

Romans 13:1-7

Submission to the Authorities

13 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

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Last week’s post largely concluded Romans 11, in which Paul wrote that God will one day lift his judgement against Israel for unbelief in His Son and bring His people into the Church in great numbers. As such, Gentiles are not to become boastful about their position in the Church. Nor are they to hate the Jews, God’s rightful heirs of His covenants, Old and New.

That is a hard truth for some to accept. However, it is what Paul tells us will happen.

In the first half of Romans 13, Paul tells us what our relationship as Christians is to society at large.

These are among the most important verses in the New Testament, but, for whatever reason, the Lectionary compilers omitted them from readings used in public worship.

These days, one must offer an apology for a long post. My advice here is to grab a cuppa and a snack.

John MacArthur explains why Paul moved from the spiritual to the temporal (emphases mine):

If all Paul wanted to focus on was the matter of justification, he could have ended the epistle in chapter 11, but he doesn’t. He goes on to deal with the implications of the doctrines, which have been laid down in the first 11 chapters, which implications we are now looking at. And so it is essential that a Christian understand that his relationship to authority, his relationship to government, and those who are over him is dramatically impacted by his salvation. We are called to live as model citizens, that we may reach the world around us with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ

In other words, how you behave under the authorities in your country, your nation, your city, whatever it is, will demonstrate your faith, the legitimacy of your faith, to that society. And so we are to submit then to the king, to the governor, to anyone who is over us in authority.

We’ve had more than two months of ‘protests’ and, dare one say it, outright insurrection in Seattle and Portland.

Some might empathise with the destruction of public property and general anarchy.

However, Christians are not called on to participate in or to support lawlessness that results in chaos, loss of life and destruction of property, including businesses.

We know that insurrections have taken place throughout history. The United States was created on the back of insurrection. MacArthur thinks that was unbiblical; elsewhere, he said that some of his ancestors were Canadian. Through that filter, one can see his point. He says:

The truth of the matter is, and you need to think about this – the truth of the matter is that our own nation was borne out of a violation of this biblical text. Now that may throw you for a loss, but that’s the fact. Our nation was borne out of a violation of this text, in the name of Christian freedom.

That does not mean that God doesn’t overrule such violations and bring about good, which He did in this case, but that doesn’t justify the means.

Yet, for just over 200 years, America was the beacon of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For millions of people around the world, it still is.

For that reason, one can say, rightly, that the Revolutionary War gave birth to the Great Republic.

The French also had a revolution, within two decades of America’s. The principal French players in this and a few American Founding Fathers travelled back and forth to exchange ideas. General Lafayette helped America’s Revolutionary troops greatly.

The difference between America’s and France’s respective revolutions lies in the content of their constitutions, which largely say the same thing with a few exceptions. The French constitution separates church and state. America’s guarantees freedom of worship. The American Declaration of Independence clearly states that powers to the citizen come from ‘Nature’s God’, ‘their Creator’. America had deist leaders. For the most part, France had atheists at the top at that time.

But I digress.

Some of the Western world has been riven by urban uprisings this year, 2020, protesting against the brutal death of a man who had a police record and, for one conviction, served five years in prison.

The colour of this man’s skin has revived the awareness of blots on Western history: slavery, colonialism and police brutality.

MacArthur wrote the sermons I’m citing here in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was president.

Yet, much of what he says still holds true today.

This is what he says about injustice and what should be the Christian response, according to Paul’s words:

We are to be – and listen carefully, this is an important thought – we are to be the conscience of the nation by godly living and faithful preaching. We confront the nation, not through political pressure, but through the word of God. That’s how we confront the nation. We preach against sin. We preach against the evils of our time. But it is preaching and godly living that is our calling.

For some, that will be insufficient.

MacArthur goes on to define the society in which Jesus and St Paul lived:

Look at Christ for just a moment as we build a foundation for this passage. Look at Christ. He came into a very interesting world. He came into a Roman Empire where slavery flourished. Slavery. You understand that. Slavery. There were three slaves – approximately three slaves — to every free man. He also came into a world that was dominated by absolutism in terms of rulership. Men were absolutely monarchs, absolute rulers. After the end of the Roman republic, when the Caesars came in and took power, they ruled with absolute authority. And although Julius Caesar was murdered in the Roman Senate in 44 BC, this only accelerated the centralization of power. The Roman Senate declared Augustus proconsul and tribune of Rome for life, and he had absolute and total power. He was commander-in-chief of all soldiers, he stood above the senate, and he controlled all civil affairs.

So Jesus came into a world dominated by slavery and by one man rule, the absolute antithesis of democracy, which we believe to be so dear. All the power of the state was in one man’s hands.

You had the same thing in Palestine, where the ruler of Palestine, who was placed there as sort of a puppet king under Rome was a man by the name of Herod. Herod was an Edomite. Herod was not a Jew. That Edomite ruler of Palestine, the king with great power, had the single authority to demand that every single baby in a certain region be massacred, and nobody could stay his hand. He had absolute authority over life and death. He murdered his whole family, his mother, his wife, his sons, and no one held him accountable.

In the time that Jesus came into the world taxes were exorbitant, and those who worked in the taxing process who sold themselves to Rome for money, exacted exorbitant taxes out of the people, overcharged them. In fact, you remember don’t you, that Zacchaeus when he was converted, immediately said I’ll do what? I’ll pay back everything I’ve extorted how many times? Fourfold. Which was rather typical of the kind of thing that went on, tax collectors were extortioners. So there were unjust taxes. There was unjust rule that heard nothing from the people. In fact, Caesar August[us] decreed that all the world should be taxed, and tried to collect … from everyone.

Furthermore, Jesus came to His people, the Jews, in a very unique situation for them. They were chattel for the Romans. They were an underprivileged and oppressed minority. They had no voice in Roman government, they had to pay heavy taxes to their Roman taskmasters. Now that’s the world Jesus came into. They didn’t even know anything about democracy, about voting, about certain quote-unquote “freedoms” that we enjoy.

And what did Jesus say? He said this. “Render to Caesar” what? “The things that are Caesar’s.” You give the government its due. And to God, what? The things that are God’s.

He did not come with power and force to overthrow the Roman tyranny. He did not seek social change. He did not attempt to eliminate slavery. He did not come with political or economic issues at stake. They were not the concern of his life and ministry. He did not come to bring new government, to bring democracy, to wave the flag of Judaism, even. His appeal was ever and always to the hearts of individual men and women, not their political freedoms, not their rights under government.

He did not participate in civil rights. He did not crusade to abolish injustice. He preached a saving gospel, so that once a man’s soul or a woman’s soul is right with God, it matters very little what the externals are. He was not interested in a new social order, but in a new spiritual order, the church. And he mandated the church to carry on the same kind of ministry.

And listen, their problems in those days were far more severe than ours, far more severe. Even people living on relief today have cars, TVs and modern conveniences.

Uprisings were not allowed in that era. The Romans relied strongly on maintaining order. Any Roman governor who allowed uprisings was called back to Rome from his post. He might have gone on trial. He risked imprisonment. In some cases, he could be put to death. In any event, he spent the rest of his days as a social and political outcast.

Moving on to today’s passage, Paul makes it clear that we must be subject to our governing authorities, because God has given them to us to maintain order (verse 1).

Naturally, the first question most of us have upon reading that is about totalitarian dictatorships. MacArthur has an answer:

You say, “What about the cruel governments? How can you say that about communist governments? How can you say that about Adolf Hitler? How can you say that about abusive kinds of government? How can you say that those are ordained of God?” Well let me answer it by saying this. I didn’t say it. I just read it. The Bible said it. So I’m off the hook, folks. This is not my problem. There is no power but of God.

And then the other side of it is, the power that is, is ordained by God. “You mean in our nation that’s what it says?” If it is a power, it’s ordained by God. Well you say, “What about the cruel abuses?” Listen, the cruel abuses and the injustices and the wrongs of governments are no reflection of God’s holy nature, and no reflection of God’s holy will, any more than divorce in a marriage is a reflection of God’s holy will. But marriage is no less an institution of God. And though there is apostasy in the church, the church is still an institution ordained of God. But the apostasy is no reflection of the nature of God.

No, abuses do not deny the sacredness nor the divine trust and authority in any of God’s institutions, be it the home, the church, or the government. Frankly, men abuse all God’s gifts, don’t they? And wicked rulers are part of God’s plan to punish wicked nations, and to allow evil to run its course toward destruction. If the truth were known, and perhaps someday in heaven, God has designed by His sovereign purpose and will a reason for every government that exists on the face of the earth. Some are for the benefit of those who have done well. Some are for the punishment of those peoples who have done evil. We cannot second-guess why God institutes a certain kind of government in a certain place.

God has ordained government to protect and preserve men, to protect their life and their property. To do that, there must be the role of government to repress evil, to repress crime, and to hold up and honor those who are virtuous and good. So Paul says, “The powers that be are ordained by God.” The powers that be are not — I hope you know this — the will of the majority. The majority only reflects the sovereign purpose of God. The powers that be are God’s design. And that means any governmental power in any form.

So here, beloved, is reason number one why we submit to the government, because the government is in place by the decree of God. It is the time for God to do in a nation what He chooses to do. It is expressive of the divine will. Sometimes He wants to punish a nation. Sometimes He wants to prosper a nation. Sometimes He wants to bless a people. Sometimes He chooses to judge a people. But government in all its form is by divine decree.

Therefore, those who resist authority — be it good or bad — are going against God’s will. As such, those people will fall under His judgement (verse 2).

MacArthur referred to a Russian emigré, Georgy Vinz, who had spoken at his church. This was the faithful Christian response during the repressive days of the former Soviet Union:

Way back in 1839, Robert Haldane, writing in his wonderful commentary on Romans wrote, “The people of God, then, ought to consider resistance to the government under which they live as a very awful crime, even as resistance to God, Himself,” end quote. It’s quite a remarkable statement, and one which I mentioned to you last week, is whole-heartedly ascribed to by Georgy Vinz and those who have come out of Russia to tell us that the dear Christian brothers and sisters in Russia will make no resistance against their government. And if they are imprisoned, it will be simply and only because of their love and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wow. That is quite something.

MacArthur had this to say on judgement in verse 2:

So government is divinely decreed, and to resist it is to resist God. Now I want to take you to a third thought as we wrap up. Those who resist will be punished. Look at verse 2, again. “They that resist shall receive to themselves judgment.” If you resist the government, you’re going to be punished. That’s the way it is. The word is krima. It’s a word that means judgment.

It’s used in 1 Corinthians 11:29, of the judgment of God. But here it’s used, I think, primarily in reference to the punishment that comes from God through civil authorities, through civil authorities. God has ordained government to punish evildoers. And if you resist the government, you’re going to get punished. Now, if like Daniel, you have to because you have a higher command, then you accept the punishment. But if it’s not in that situation, if it’s just a choice you make to resist, of course, you’re going to receive the punishment. Now that was true in the Old Testament economy.

There is a fine line here between obeying and disobeying those in authority.

MacArthur spoke of Daniel. This is what happened when Daniel disobeyed the king’s orders to eat the finest food and enjoy the finest wine:

Look for a moment in your Bible to Daniel’s prophe[c]y. And here you have a very clear, precise illustration of a man who refused to do what the king said, because it would be in violation of what God had said. And you remember in Daniel chapter 1 that Daniel was taken into Babylon captive with other of the young princes of Israel, and several of them are named in verse 7. Their real Hebrew names are in verse 6, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And it says in verse 8 that Daniel purposed in his heart he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s food, nor the wine which he drank. Now here you have the occasion where Daniel is instructed by the Babylonian monarch to take the food of Babylon and eat it. To do that would have been to violate that which he knew to be laws revealed by God, for the Jews had very circumspect dietary laws, and he would not defile himself with food that was not prescribed by God. And yet, in all of Daniel’s attitude there’s a spirit of submission.

“He requested,” verse 8 says, “of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.” He asks permission. He goes to the one who is over him, under the king, and over him, and he seeks permission. And he gets into a little dialogue. He says, “Let’s try a test. I’ll commit myself to eating what I would prefer to eat, and after a period of certain days, you come back. We’ll look at everybody, those who’ve eaten the king’s meat, and myself having eaten just these vegetables. Ten days will go by and we’ll see who looks the best.”

And this was a wonderful and conciliating way for Daniel to seek to obey God without becoming abusive of this man who was carrying out orders from his king. And so in verse 14, the man consented and ten days passed. And, of course, you know the story. When the ten days were ended and the man came into to check everybody out, Daniel and his friends far and away surpassed all the others and rose to place of prominence.

Now Daniel could have protested. He could have revolted. He could have been disrespectful to the one over him. He could have badmouthed the king. He could have done all kinds of things. But he sought a conciliating means to obey God in the midst of a difficult situation. But he would not compromise. Later on, as you follow through for a moment in the book of Daniel, you’ll remember that three of his friends, of course, in chapter 3, refused to bow down to the idol image. And as a result of that, they had disobeyed the king. They were told to bow down. They would not, because they couldn’t bow down to the king when God had told them to bow only to Him. And so they were caught in the same crux of the same dilemma. And they were true to God and they said, “If you want to throw us in the fire, throw us in the fire. If God wants to deliver us, He’ll deliver us. And if He doesn’t want to deliver us, we still won’t bow down.”

And so there was a no-compromise attitude. But there was a sense of respect in what they said in verse 17. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning, fiery furnace. And He will deliver us out of thine hand, oh king. But if not, be it known unto thee, oh king, that we will not serve thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” They did not speak any evil words against him. They were not disrespectful. They called him by his proper title. And they simply said, “We will not do this. But we are more than happy to suffer whatever consequences you feel are just for our seeming [m]isbehavior.” And, again, their attitude is remarkably conciliating and gracious in the light of what they might have said. As a result of it, chapter 3, verse 30 says, “The king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.” They got a promotion because the king surely appreciated men with great conviction. He also wouldn’t mind having people on his team who could walk through fiery furnaces.

And then in chapter 6, we find, of course, that very familiar account of Daniel in the lion’s den. And now it’s moved out of the Babylonian setting, and we’re in the Medeo-Persian kingdom. And by the way, I want to say as a footnote here, there is absolutely nothing wrong for anyone serving in a government position. There’s nothing wrong with serving in a civil government role or a state government, or any other kind of leadership. That is an honored position. And Daniel is the single best example of that in the Scripture. And every time he was uncompromising, he got a greater reputation.

And because of his uncompromising spirit, he was constantly promoted till he finally became the prime minister of the whole nation, the whole kingdom. It is an honorable thing to serve in government. It is not a dishonorable thing. Daniel is an illustration of that. But it was Daniel’s wonderfully conciliating, and yet non-compromising attitude that caused him to prosper. You remember that Daniel prayed. And so those princes that wanted to get rid of Daniel got the king to sign an edict that no one was to pray to anybody, no one was to give obeisance to any other god.

And, of course, Daniel went on with his prayers. He went on with doing what he knew was right before God. And so he was thrown into the den of lions. But he was not at all disrespectful, as you know. And God…verse 21, rather, just before God protected him, “Then said Daniel to the king,” verse 21, “‘Oh, king,'” what? “‘Live forever.’” Long live the king. This seems a strange thing for a man about to be thrown in a den of … lions by this king. But he understands that the powers that be are ordained of God. And he is submissive in a unique sense, and very trustful that no matter what that king does to him, he’s in the hands of God.

God delivered him. At the end of chapter 6, verse 28 says, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Daniel’s no-compromise approach, along with his friends, meant disobeying the government. But his attitude is a model for all those who come to that…that crossroads of having to face the reality that you can’t do what the government says, or you can’t not do what they say to stop doing. He never wavered from honoring the king, and neither did his friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. They were never disrespectful.

In fact, just let me give you a little bit of a pattern that I see flowing out of the experience of Daniel. First of all, normally we obey, respect, and do everything in response to and to please those in authority. We are to be model citizens, obedient not only outwardly, but obedient in spirit. Secondly, we resist and disobey only when we are commanded to do something the Word of God forbids, or are forbidden to do something the Word of God commands. And those two things are illustrated in Daniel’s prophecy. He would not do what the Word of God forbid, that is, eat a certain [type] of food. And he would not stop doing what God commanded him to do, and that was pray.

The third princip[le] that flows out of it: Even when government and the Word of God conflict, we should not disobey overtly until we have done all we can to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. Did you get that? To try to resolve the conflict peacefully.

Returning to Paul, he writes to the Romans that rulers are not a threat to good judgement but to bad (verse 3). Do what is good and you will meet well with God’s earthly authority, because He will act only against the wrongdoer through earthly authority (verse 4).

These days, in 2020, it seems local authorities can not even accomplish a prosecution of the wrongdoer, whether in Seattle, Portland or London.

Yet, according to Scripture and to history — excepting some of our most recent events — judges, among them magistrates, are tasked with upholding the law. Admittedly, magistrates by name are much more a feature in English law than elsewhere. However, they are in place in other nations, e.g. those such as Judge Judy who hear cases or night court judges. That is not to demean the magistrates’ significance at all. Those are the lawgivers you fear the most — much more so than a high court or superior court judge.

Matthew Henry explains:

Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil, &c. Magistracy was designed to be,

[1.] A terror to evil works and evil workers. They bear the sword; not only the sword of war, but the sword of justice. They are heirs of restraint, to put offenders to shame; Laish wanted such, Judges 18:7. Such is the power of sin and corruption that many will not be restrained from the greatest enormities, and such as are most pernicious to human society, by any regard to the law of God and nature or the wrath to come; but only by the fear of temporal punishments, which the wilfulness and perverseness of degenerate mankind have made necessary. Hence it appears that laws with penalties for the lawless and disobedient (1 Timothy 1:9) must be constituted in Christian nations, and are agreeable with, and not contradictory to, the gospel. When men are become such beasts, such ravenous beasts, one to another, they must be dealt with accordingly, taken and destroyed in terrorem–to deter others. The horse and the mule must thus be held in with bit and bridle. In this work the magistrate is the minister of God, Romans 13:4. He acts as God’s agent, to whom vengeance belongs; and therefore must take heed of infusing into his judgments any private personal resentments of his own.–To execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. In this the judicial processes of the most vigilant faithful magistrates, though some faint resemblance and prelude of the judgments of the great day, yet come far short of the judgment of God: they reach only to the evil act, can execute wrath only on him that doeth evil: but God’s judgment extends to the evil thought, and is a discerner of the intents of the heart.–He beareth not the sword in vain. It is not for nothing that God hath put such a power into the magistrate’s hand; but it is intended for the restraining and suppressing of disorders. And therefore, “If thou do that which is evil, which falls under the cognizance and censure of the civil magistrate, be afraid; for civil powers have quick eyes and long arms.” It is a good thing when the punishment of malefactors is managed as an ordinance of God, instituted and appointed by him. First, As a holy God, that hates sin, against which, as it appears and puts up its head, a public testimony is thus borne. Secondly, As King of nations, and the God of peace and order, which are hereby preserved. Thirdly, As the protector of the good, whose persons, families, estates, and names, are by this means hedged about. Fourthly, As one that desires not the eternal ruin of sinners, but by the punishment of some would terrify others, and so prevent the like wickedness, that others may hear and fear, and do no more presumptuously. Nay, it is intended for a kindness to those that are punished, that by the destruction of the flesh the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

[2.] A praise to those that do well. Those that keep in the way of their duty shall have the commendation and protection of the civil powers, to their credit and comfort. “Do that which is good (Romans 13:3), and thou needest not be afraid of the power, which, though terrible, reaches none but those that by their own sin make themselves obnoxious to it; the fire burns only that which is combustible: nay, thou shalt have praise of it.” This is the intention of magistracy, and therefore we must, for conscience’ sake, be subject to it, as a constitution designed for the public good, to which all private interests must give way.

That explanation ties in well with Paul’s next verse about avoiding God’s wrath for the sake of conscience (verse 5).

Then we enter into Paul’s dictum on taxes, none of which we like and all of which keep increasing year after year. Paul says we must continue paying them, because the authorities in charge are ordained by God (verse 6).

These are hard verses to swallow, especially the one on taxes, particularly these days when it seems we are paying for everyone but ourselves. Aargh!

Henry’s explanation appears quaint today, even if there was no welfare/dole in his time:

He does not say, “You give it as an alms,” but, “You pay it as a just debt, or lend it to be repaid in all the blessings and advantages of public government, of which you reap the benefit.” This is the lesson the apostle teaches, and it becomes all Christians to learn and practise it, that the godly in the land may be found (whatever others are) the quiet and the peaceable in the land.

I suppose we reap it universally in the UK in some way, but, from what many of us can see tangibly, we do not do so broadly these days.

I would elaborate, but will refrain from doing so under our extraordinary circumstances in 2020.

Paul continues about taxes and other payments due (verse 7), however, we see in our time that little has changed — and not for the better, in terms of tax.

Tax aside, Paul sends an important message: pay as you owe without undue delay, showing honour and respect to those with whom you have dealt in business.

Paul was not the only one in the New Testament besides Jesus to advocate obeying the law. James and Peter also did the same in their letters to their converts.

Peaceful assembly can take place, but violence and destruction are unbiblical. Paying taxes is essential as is giving our neighbour and our businessmen their due.

Do unto others as you would be done by is the rule.

Next time — Romans 14:13-19

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.

————————————————————————————————————-

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

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?

———————————————————————————————–

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

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