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Bible read me 1The 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.

I have included verse 24 from some — not all versions (including the ESV) — below.

Romans 16:21-23(24)

21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.

22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.

23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.[a]

24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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Last week’s reading concerned Paul’s warning to the obedient Romans about false teachers and their earthly (carnal) appetites.

Previous entries were about Paul’s commendations of his church family who were in Rome at that time. This was the final one; there were more prior to that.

In Paul’s closing, we discover who sends greetings to the church in Rome.

Paul begins by mentioning young Timothy, his ‘fellow worker’. He also mentions Lucius, Jason and Sosipater (verse 21).

In the King James Version, Timothy is called Timotheus:

21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the name Timothy was a diminutive in that era, yet Paul had an immense amount of respect for his protégé (emphases mine below):

Timotheus my work-fellow. Paul sometimes calls Timothy his son, as an inferior; but here he styles him his work-fellow, as one equal with him, such a respect does he put upon him

Paul says that Lucius, Jason and Sopater — Sosipater — were his relatives (verse 20).

We saw Paul mention others earlier in Romans 16, to whom he referred as his ‘kinsmen’.

Henry has more, surmising that if they were not relatives of Paul’s, they were close enough so to be:

Lucius, probably Lucius of Cyrene, a noted man in the church of Antioch (Acts 13:1), as Jason was at Thessalonica, where he suffered for entertaining Paul (Acts 17:5,6): and Sosipater, supposed to be the same with Sopater of Berea, mentioned Acts 20:4. These Paul calls his kinsmen; not only more largely, as they were Jews, but as they were in blood or affinity nearly allied to him.

The Luke of the eponymous Gospel was of Troas, in Asia Minor. Cyrene was in what is now modern day Libya. Therefore, that Lucius — Luke — was unlikely to have been the same as the one mentioned in Acts.

When Luke, the physician from Troas and the author of the Book of Acts, first appeared in Acts 16, and for a few chapters afterwards, he wrote in the first person. In Acts 16, he narrated the divine instruction to Paul to cross the sea from Asia Minor to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10). Note how the narrative changes from third person to first:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul[a] had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

With Luke’s sporadic first person narration, Acts 20:6 says:

but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

John MacArthur surmises that if Lucius were from Cyrene, he would have been a Gentile. MacArthur then posits that Jason and Sosipater — Sopater — were fellow Jews:

if Lucius is a Gentile then these two would be Jews because he says “Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen, greet you.” Now we don’t know who these men are specifically, other than just brief reference. In Acts 17 verses 5 to 9 Jason was Paul’s host on his first visit to Thessalonica. He was a man who gave hospitality to him and he was saved at that time. So no doubt because he was a convert of Paul there was a love bond there, and here was Jason with Paul, companion in his travel and ministry. Sosipater, also called Sopater, just shortening his name a bit, was from the town of Berea and was probably one of those noble Old Testament students who studied the Scripture. He was in Paul’s group at this time as well and is mentioned in Acts chapter 20 verse 4.

These are the verses about Jason in Acts 17:5-9 in Thessalonica. He must have gone through a hard time, protecting Paul and his friends. Jason and the others had to post bail:

5 But the Jews[a] were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

As for Sopater, I wrote about Acts 20:1-6 in 2018. Note that we also see a mention of Timothy:

Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.

The Bereans studied Scripture diligently. Acts 17:10-15 tell us so. Those verses also mention Silas and Timothy:

10 The brothers[b] immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.

MacArthur sums these men up as follows:

Now the ministry of Timothy is clear He served Paul in a wonderful way The ministry of Jason was one of support, providing a home for him The ministry of Sosipater, we don’t know anything about But they were his friends and they were part of his life and they demonstrate again that loving relationship he had with people.

Then we come to Tertius — Latin for ‘third’ — in verse 22. Paul dictated the letter to the Romans to Tertius to transcribe. Tertius was Paul’s secretary, taking dictation. That role was traditionally known as ‘amanuensis’.

Henry posits that Tertius could have been — although we do not know for certain — Silas:

Paul made use of a scribe, not out of state nor idleness, but because he wrote a bad hand, which was not very legible, which he excuses, when he writes to the Galatians with his own hand (Galatians 6:11): pelikois grammasi–with what kind of letters. Perhaps this Tertius was the same with Silas; for Silas (as some think) signifies the third in Hebrew, as Tertius in Latin. Tertius either wrote as Paul dictated, or transcribed it fairly over out of Paul’s foul copy. The least piece of service done to the church, and the ministers of the church, shall not pass without a remembrance and a recompence. It was an honour to Tertius that he had a hand, though but as a scribe, in writing this epistle.

Although he says nothing about Tertius being Silas (Acts 16), MacArthur agrees that we do not know anything more about Tertius, only that he was Paul’s transcriber of this magnificent doctrinal letter to the Christians in Rome.

Finally, Paul mentions Gaius, Erastus and Quartus, the last meaning ‘the fourth’ (verse 23).

We know nothing about Quartus, but he must have had some meaningful role to play in Paul’s ministry if the Holy Spirit inspired those who compiled the scriptural canon to include his name. He will be forever remembered in the New Testament.

As for Gaius, Luke mentioned a man by that name in Acts 20:4, along with Timothy and Sopater:

Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.

However, Henry was unsure whether that Gaius was the same person, as there were others of the same name:

… Gaius my host. It is uncertain whether this was Gaius of Derbe (Acts 20:4), or Gaius of Macedonia (Acts 19:29), or rather Gaius of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14), and whether any of these was he to whom John wrote his 3 John 1:1. However, Paul commends him for his great hospitality; not only my host, but of the whole church–one that entertained them all as there was occasion, opened his doors to their church-meetings, and eased the rest of the church by his readiness to treat all Christian stranger that came to them.

MacArthur has a different take on Gaius:

Verse 23 wraps up the greeting, “Gaius, my host.” In Acts 7…Acts 18:7 he is called Titus Justus, and was a noble free man, first seen in Corinth. It was said of him then that he worshiped God, he was a true seeker after the true God and, get this, he lived next door to the synagogue. And you remember, of course, that Paul reached him, he responded to Paul’s preaching as a Gentile, he was baptized by the apostle. In 1 Corinthians 1:14, he says I baptized Gaius, and so he was dear to him. He had led him to Christ. This man had provided again for Paul’s ministry and now is with Paul supporting him. He is not only Paul’s host — would you notice this — he’s the host of the whole church. What do you think that means? The church met where? Probably in his house, and he sends his love, too. This is a wonderful group, isn’t it?

Then we come to Erastus, a man who held a high position in Corinth.

MacArthur says:

“Erastus, the treasurer of the city,” now that’s a coup, to have the treasurer of the city. And here was a man of prominence, the treasurer of the city. His name was a common one so we don’t know what Erastus he was, probably not the same one mentioned in Acts 19:22 or 2 Timothy 4:20, but a city treasurer, a somewhat noble person who had come to Christ. There aren’t many noble and there aren’t many mighty, 1 Corinthians says, but here was one of some nobility. And we find some interesting things. By the way, the American School of Classical Studies in Athens discovered in 1929 on the site of Corinth a marble paving block, and this is what it said on the block, “Erastus, commissioner for public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.” Now the commissioner for public works is called Erastus and here the city treasurer or chamberlain is called Erastus. It may not be the same Erastus or it might be that he got a promotion or a demotion. I don’t know which was the higher job. But it is a possibility, though perhaps remote. We really don’t know who he is.

Henry has this:

Erastus, the chamberlain of the city is another; he means the city of Corinth, whence this epistle was dated. It seems he was a person of honour and account, one in public place, steward or treasurer. Not many mighty, not many noble, are called, but some are. His estate, and honour, and employment, did not take him off from attending on Paul and laying out himself for the good of the church, it should seem, in the work of the ministry; for he is joined with Timothy (Acts 19:22), and is mentioned 2 Timothy 4:20. It was no disparagement to the chamberlain of the city to be a preacher of the gospel of Christ.

Afterwards, we reach verse 24, wherein Paul — as he did in Romans 16:20 — wish that the grace of Jesus Christ be with everyone in the church at Rome (verse 24). Paul cannot send that prayerful wish enough, as MacArthur says:

His heart is so filled with love. People, I believe this is just coming out of his emotion. He said it just two verses…four verses back in verse 20, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” He just has a heart of compassion for these people. What a loving, loving man he was.

Recall that those were people he had never met. Yet he had the burning desire to travel to Rome and meet them.

The final verses of Romans 16 are in the Lectionary used in public worship:

Doxology

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

A doxology is a praise of God, often added to the end of a canticle, psalm or hymn. In traditional churches with a liturgy, a doxology follows the sermon. In Protestant churches, this may take the form of Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow, which, in Catholic churches is sung at the end of Mass as appropriate.

In any event, this was Paul’s final message to the Romans, which Henry aptly describes as follows:

Here the apostle solemnly closes his epistle with a magnificent ascription of glory to the blessed God, as one that terminated all in the praise and glory of God, and studied to return all to him, seeing all is of him and from him. He does, as it were, breathe out his soul to these Romans in the praise of God, choosing to make that the end of his epistle which he made the end of his life.

Next week, I will start on 1 Corinthians. Stay tuned.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 2:13-16

Bible read me 2The 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 16:17-20

Final Instructions and Greetings

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites,[a] and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

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Last week’s reading concluded Paul’s warm commendation of members of his church family to the Christians in Rome.

Before he finishes his letter to the Romans, he has words of warning for them. Paul wrote similarly to the other churches in his letters.

Our Lord warned of false teachers infiltrating the faithful.

Paul sends an appeal to the Romans to avoid those who want to divide them through obstacles that go against Christian doctrine (verse 17).

In the King James Version, the verb used is ‘beseech’, to ask earnestly. Matthew Henry calls our attention to the fact that Paul doesn’t dictate, but asks through love for the Romans:

I beseech you, brethren. He does not will and command, as one that lorded it over God’s heritage, but for love’s sake beseeches. How earnest, how endearing, are Paul’s exhortations!

John MacArthur elaborates on Paul’s love for the faithful (emphases mine):

This is a pleading. This is something he feels very deeply. The same heart attitude we saw in chapter 12 as he pleaded for commitment to the will of God, for separation from the world, for total dedication. And here the same pleading comes and his pleading here is to mark them who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you’ve learned and avoid them. To be aware of those who cause division and offenses contrary to the doctrine you have learned.

… false teachers inevitably come with human teaching, doctrines of human invention, sometimes very close to the truth, sometimes taking part of the truth and thus being very subtle. But they bring division and they bring offense, trapping people, causing them to stumble, and fracturing the purity of the church.

Love, as proposed in the contemporary ecumenical movements of today, is a far different kind of love than this kind of love. This kind of love warns against error. The kind of love we hear about today, which is sort of a sickly sentimentalism, wants to set doctrine aside in the name of so-called love. Any love that is destructive of truth, any love so-called that ignores truth, any love that is tolerant of error or propagates error has to be shunned, because that’s not…that’s not the essence of real love. All the talk about love and all the talk about unity among people that want to set truth aside is the work of false teachers, false prophets. They just want to cause division. They want to break up the church, and they’re very successful at that … You can go back to … Matthew 7:15 to 20 and … find there the character and the content and the effect of the false teachers, as our Lord outlined it.

Henry says that, through the ages, some Bible scholars thought the false teachers might have been Judaizers:

Some think he especially warns them to take heed of the judaizing teachers, who, under convert of the Christian name, kept up the Mosaical ceremonies, and preached the necessity of them, who were industrious in all places to draw disciples after them, and whom Paul in most of his epistles cautions the churches to take heed of.

MacArthur elaborates on the Greek word for ‘watch out’, or, in other versions ‘mark it’:

“To mark it,” simply skope, identify it, look through the scope, take a good look at it, observe it, scrutinize it, identify it, pick it out, see what it is. And if you know sound doctrine you’ll be able to do that. Identify it as heresy, identify it as false teaching and then avoid it, or really in this case avoid them because false teaching always has a source, a propagator. That means to come away from it, to shun it.

Paul tells the Romans that false teachers serve only their own carnal appetites as they work to deceive the vulnerable by inveigling themselves into a congregation through honeyed words and flattery (verse 18).

In older versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version, the word ‘belly’ is used rather than ‘appetites’. It means that these false teachers have a gnawing hunger to subvert the Church for ego, power, influence and/or money: carnal desires all.

Henry certainly had a way with words:

Their God is their belly, Philippians 3:19. What a base master do they serve, and how unworthy to come in competition with Christ, that serve their own bellies, that make gain their godliness, and the gratifying of a sensual appetite the very scope and business of their lives, to which all other purposes and designs must truckle and be made subservient. (2.) The method they take to compass their design: By good words and fair speeches they deceive the hearts of the simple. Their words and speeches have a show of holiness and zeal for God (it is an easy thing to be godly from the teeth outward), and show of kindness and love to those into whom they instil their corrupt doctrines, accosting them courteously when they intend them the greatest mischief. Thus by good words and fair speeches the serpent beguiled Eve.

MacArthur describes the false teacher well, too:

He gains the ear and deceives the heart, deceives the heart. And, beloved, that’s why we have to test everything by what? By the book.

Paul praises the Romans for their obedience but says that such a virtue also opens the door to infiltrators; therefore, he warns them to be on their guard, being outwardly innocent but inwardly discerning (verse 19).

Of their obedience, Henry explains:

Therefore, because it was so, these seducing teachers would be the more apt to assault them. The devil and his agents have a particular spite against flourishing churches and flourishing souls. The ship that is known to be richly laden is most exposed to privateers. The adversary and enemy covets such a prey, therefore look to yourselves, 2 John 1:8. “The false teachers hear that you are an obedient people, and therefore they will be likely to come among you, to see if you will be obedient to them.”

Recall our Lord’s instruction when He sent the Apostles out to teach, preach and heal (Matthew 10:16):

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Paul concludes this part of his letter by reassuring them that the God of peace will ‘soon’ crush Satan under their feet and wishes them the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ (verse 20).

This ‘soon’ is used in the same sense as ‘soon’ in Revelation 22:20:

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

It means ‘quickly’ or ‘suddenly’ rather than ‘imminently’. Even so, this is why we need to be prepared for the Second Coming. We know neither the day nor the hour.

Henry explains:

The victory shall be speedy: He shall do it shortly. Yet a little while, and he that shall come will come. He hath said it, Behold, I come quickly. When Satan seems to have prevailed, and we are ready to give up all for lost, then will the God of peace cut the work short in righteousness. It will encourage soldiers when they know the war will be at an end quickly, in such a victoryIt is rather to be applied to the victory which all the saints shall have over Satan when they come to heaven, and shall be for ever out of his reach, together with the present victories which through grace they obtain in earnest of that. Hold out therefore, faith and patience, yet a little while

MacArthur says the same:

He devastates and destroys in final judgment to set up His kingdom and bind Satan. And so in a sense we reign with Him and Satan under His feet is Satan under our feet and that’s really where he belongs and what a happy occasion it will be when that comes to pass, when all things are subdued, as 1 Corinthians 15:25 and 28 says, all things are subdued to Him …

The word “shortly” doesn’t mean in a little bit of time, it means suddenly. When it happens it’ll happen fast. And I believe he has in mind there the final full destruction of satanic work and effort that comes in the setting up of the eternal state.

With regard to ‘the God of peace’, Henry tells us that He will put an end to spiritual conflict with Satan, which happens now to the truly faithful and will be completely fulfilled at the Final Judgement:

The victory shall be complete: He shall bruise Satan under your feet, plainly alluding to the first promise the Messiah made in paradise (Genesis 3:15), that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, which is in the fulfilling every day, while the saints are enabled to resist and overcome the temptations of Satan, and will be perfectly fulfilled when, in spite of all the powers of darkness, all that belong to the election of grace shall be brought triumphantly to glory.

Paul’s desire for the grace of Jesus Christ to be with the Romans is a benediction, a blessing. We need His grace to get by in this world, temporally and spiritually.

Henry explains the spiritual importance of grace:

This will be the best preservative against the snares of heretics, and schismatics, and false teachers. If the grace of Christ be with us, who can be against us so as to prevail? Be strong therefore in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Paul, not only as a friend, but as a minister and an apostle, who had received grace for grace, thus with authority blesses them with this blessing, and repeats it, Romans 16:24.

MacArthur observes that Paul loved to give benedictions because he had so much love for his fellow Christians:

He’s really into benedictions. He gets a few of these in. He got one in at the end of chapter 15. He throws one in here. He’ll give you another one in verse 24, and then a big one in verses 25 to 27, so there are three benedictions in a row here. And this one is a simple one, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.” That’s a prayer, that’s a wish.

I know you need empowering grace. I know you need empowering grace to recognize false teaching. I know you need empowering grace to stay away from it. I know you need empowering grace to hold on in the battle until Christ defeats the enemy. And may that grace be with you.

What a marvellous thought on which to end.

We are nearly at the end of the Book of Romans. My next post will be the final one from this letter.

Next time — Romans 16:21-23

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.

Romans 16:14-16

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers[a] who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

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Last week’s post discussed the identities of those in Paul’s church family, including one of his relatives, Herodion.

While a good deal of information was available through the centuries, JB Lightfoot, an Anglican priest from the Victorian era and  William Barclay, a 20th century Church of Scotland minister did a lot of research in finding out more about who these early Christians were.

This is the end of the list. Unfortunately, there isn’t much about most of the people in today’s verses. Matthew Henry has nothing, but John MacArthur has a bit of information.

The five men mentioned in verse 14 had a home church, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

… what this says is here were five men who had a church in a home. And he says say hi to those guys out there, those five who are leaders of an assembly within the whole Roman church. He’s probably pointing out some leaders, some elders who are pastoring or shepherding one group of the Christians in Rome. As I said, they met in many places.

The list ends in verse 15. MacArthur tells us those people led smaller groups:

They were little branch fellowships. And he says greet all the rest of these folks, men and women, greet them all.

However, there is information about Nereus, likely to have been a slave:

Who is Nereus? William Barclay … says, “In A.D. 95 there happened an event which shocked Rome. Two of the most distinguished people in Rome were condemned for being Christians. They were husband and wife. The husband was Flavius Clemens, he was the consul of Rome, the wife was Dom[i]tia and she was of royal blood. She was the granddaughter of Vespasian, a former emperor and the niece of Domitian, the reigning emperor in 95 A.D. In fact, the two sons of Flavius Clemens and Dom[i]tia had been designated Domitian’s successors in the imperial power. Flavius was executed and Domitia…Dom[i]tia was banished to the island of Pontia … where she drew out a long martyrdom for the Christian name.”

And now the point. “The name of the treasurer of Flavius and Dom[i]tia was Nereus. Is it possible,” says Barclay, “that Nereus the slave had something to do with the making into Christians of Flavius Clemens, the ex-consul, and Dom[i]tia, the princess of the royal blood? Perhaps, perhaps. “Greet Nereus and his sister and Olympus and all the saints who are with them.”

So we see from not only Nereus but others in Paul’s list that a number of slaves were Christians. Some converted their heads of households and/or their children. What a powerful message, especially today, when so many people wilfully fall away from the church or refuse to hear the Good News.

And, on the other end of the social scale, what about those of noble blood, such as Domitia, a widow martyred in exile?

These are amazing stories of real people who lived and died in the first decades of the early Church. Whether bondservant or nobility, they were all one in Christian faith, as Paul wrote (Galatians 3:28):

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul concludes his list of Christians in Rome by encouraging them to greet each other with a holy kiss (verse 16), signifying agape, a unified brotherly love in faith.

Paul also included the greetings from the churches he planted, a moving final sentence reinforcing Christian unity.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

“The churches of Christ salute you; that is, the churches which I am with, and which I am accustomed to visit personally, as knit together in the bonds of the common Christianity, desire me to testify their affection to you and good wishes for you.” This is one way of maintaining the communion of saints.

MacArthur makes this observation:

… may I suggest to you that you’re probably feeling in your heart what I felt that all of a sudden that early church has come to life and it lives and breathes just like our church does. And we’re not so far away, are we? We could as well describe ourselves here. Some of us who are laboring in the Lord, others labored much in the Lord, those who have endured hardship, those who are willing to give their lives, those who are beloved and well beloved, those who have been used by God to reach others for Christ, these are just people and Paul knows them and he loves them and if he could he would kiss them. I mean, we’ve all gotten letters from mom through the years with X’s and O’s on the bottom. We’ve gotten letters that say kiss everybody in your family for me. This is Paul, this is family. This is intimacy. This man knew what it was to stand for the truth but he also knew what it was to love his people. And that’s the mark of the uniqueness of his wonderful character.

Paul then gives the Romans a sombre caution about imposters causing division. That will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Romans 16:17-20

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 16:11-13

11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.

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Last week’s reading delved into the identities of Andronicus, Junia (Junias), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles and those who belonged to the household of Aristobulus.

Paul commended them to the Christians in Rome.

His list continues this week.

One of the interesting things is the way Paul uses certain phrases in his commendations: ‘in the Lord’, ‘worker in Christ’ and, the highest compliment, ‘approved in Christ’.

While a good deal of information was available through the centuries, JB Lightfoot, an Anglican priest from the Victorian era and  William Barclay, a 20th century Church of Scotland minister did a lot of research in finding out more about who these early Christians were.

Andronicus and Junia were kinsmen of Paul’s, most probably his cousins. So was Herodion (verse 11).

John MacArthur says that the unusual name implies some relationship with Herod’s family (emphases mine):

Here is a Jewish relative of Paul who definitely has some relationship to the family of Herod … And so we can perhaps speculate, we can’t be certain, that there was within the very imperial household a growing congregation of those who loved the Savior. What a wonderful thought, what a wonderful thought.

Paul asked that the Romans greet those ‘in the Lord’ from the household of Narcissus (verse 11), implying that not everyone in that household was a believer.

Biblical research indicates that Narcissus was probably dead by then and that he was an unbeliever.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

some think this Narcissus was the same with one of that name who is frequently mentioned in the life of Claudius, as a very rich man that had a great family, but was very wicked and mischievous. It seems, then, there were some good servants, or other retainers, even in the family of a wicked man, a common case … The poor servant is called, and chosen, and faithful, while the rich master is passed by, and left to perish in unbelief. Even so, Father, because it seemed good unto thee.

MacArthur tells us more about Narcissus:

Now who is Narcissus? Well William Barclay has done a little bit of looking into this and he suggests and agrees with Lightfoot, who holds the same view, that the household of Narcissus can be defined in this way. Narcissus is a common name but the most famous Narcissus was a free man who was secretary to the Emperor Claudius. And he exercised a tremendous influence over the emperor. In fact he is said to have amassed a private fortune of inestimable wealth, in Barclay’s terminology, four million pounds. But he had a tremendous amount of wealth. His power had lain in the fact that all correspondence addressed to the emperor had to pass through his hands and never reached the emperor until he allowed it to do so. So he made his fortune from the fact that people paid him large bribes to make sure their petitions and requests reached the emperor. Not a bad business.

When Claudius was murdered and Nero came to the throne, Narcissus survived for a little while. In the end he was compelled to commit suicide and all of his fortune and all of his household of slaves passed into the possession of Nero. It may well be his one-time slaves which are here referred to. It may have been those who once belonged to Narcissus who now have been redeemed. And Barclay says, if Aristobulus really is the Aristobulus who is the grandson of Herod, and if Narcissus really is the Narcissus who is Claudius’ secretary, then this means that many of the slaves at the imperial court were already Christians and the leaven of Christianity had reached the highest circles of the empire. Wonderful to think aboutin Paul’s letter to the Philippians at the end he says the believers in Caesar’s household greet you.

That is amazing.

The names in verse 12 are all female. Note how Paul worded his sentence. Tryphaena and Tryphosa were ‘workers in the Lord’, but Persis ‘worked hard in the Lord’. We saw that in verse 6, where Paul mentioned a lady named Mary.

MacArthur explained the Greek verb associated with Mary as well as Persis:

The word is a strong word, it means to labor to the point of weariness, it’s that very familiar verb kopia. It means to work to sweat and exhaustion. And he says greet her who bestowed much labor on you.

He says the same verb is also used to describe Tryphaena and Tryphosa, whose names mean ‘delicate’ and ‘dainty’, respectively. Yet, we get the impression that Persis worked harder:

… what he is using there is a strong word for labor, again it’s that kopia word. And what he is saying is maybe a little play on word, you may be dainty and delicate but you sure work hard for the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. We don’t know anything about them except that they labored in the Lord and that’s enough, I suppose.

And then he mentions Persis, another female name. In fact, it literally means a Persian woman. In the church at Rome there was a Persian woman who loved Christ. We don’t know how he met her but she labored much in the Lord. Now you say, “Was she better than Tryphaena and Tryphosa?” I don’t know. God keeps the records and I’m sure there are some saints who will commended for laboring and some who will be commended for laboring much. Would you agree to that? It may well be that she was older. It is interesting that Tryphaena and Tryphosa, present tense, who are laboring in the Lord, and the beloved Persis who labored in the Lord, again an indication that Tryphaena and Tryphosa may have been young and Persis much older, so that it is the volume of labor on the basis of years rather than the quality of it. She labored much, perhaps because she was older.

Now we come to the big reveal of the day: Rufus, ‘chosen in the Lord’ (verse 13). Those who know their Scripture will already be aware that there were only two degrees of separation between Rufus and our Lord Jesus. His father was Simon of Cyrene, who carried the Cross because Jesus was too weak and wounded by then.

In his Gospel, Mark describes Simon of Cyrene as being the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Matthew Henry did not have that detail, but MacArthur does:

You want to know about Rufus? Look at Mark 15:21 and I…you’ll never believe who Rufus is. Mark 15:21, Jesus is on the way to the cross and his cross is becoming very heavy. And in Mark 15:21 the soldiers compelled a man by the name of what? Simon of Cyrene, North Africa, who was…who happened to be passing by. Here’s a guy who comes out of North Africa, comes to visit the city of Jerusalem for the Passover, he happens to be walking along the street and the next thing he knows he’s immortalized as the one who carried the cross of Christ. And just… It says here in Mark, he is the father of Alexander and who? And Rufus. You know who Rufus was now? He’s the son of the man who carried the cross. It may well have been that his brother wasn’t a Christian and that’s why Rufus is called “chosen in the Lord,” to set him apart from Alexander who was not. We don’t know that.

Alternatively, perhaps, for some reason, Paul never met Alexander or perhaps he was working away from the family home. There could have been other reasons why Paul did not mention Alexander.

MacArthur goes on to explain how Simon’s sons names appear in Mark:

But how fascinating it is that Mark wrote his gospel very likely from Rome. Alright? And Mark wrote his gospel with the Romans in mind. Now if Mark was writing from Rome and had in view a Roman audience to read that gospel, then how wonderful for him to make a connection between the Roman church and the man who carried the cross. And so to make that connection, as he writes about Simon of Cyrene, he simply says, “By the way, he’s the father of Rufus in your own fellowship, in your own fellowship.” And we remember, don’t we, that the book of Mark, the gospel of Mark, was written after the epistle to the Romans, and so Mark, no doubt, identifies this Rufus who is the same Rufus here greeted by Paul who is famous. And can you imagine how he was asked to repeat the story of how it was when his father carried Jesus’ cross? These are real people, real people.

Paul also mentions Simon of Cyrene’s wife, who must have been a holy woman and generous with her time, because Paul says that she acted as a mother towards him:

And his dear mother, who obviously came to faith in Christ through this passing incident and a whole family, perhaps even Alexander, we don’t know, all have come to know Christ through God’s grace in asking their father to carry the cross.

I like what Henry’s says about Rufus’s mother:

This good woman, upon some occasion or other, had been as a mother to Paul, in caring for him, and comforting him; and Paul here gratefully owns it, and calls her mother.

What a lovely sentiment on which to end.

Paul has more names of people to commend to the Roman Christians. I’ll finish the list in next week’s post.

Next time — Romans 16:14-16

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 16:3-6

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert[a] to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.

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Last week’s post was about Phoebe, the first person Paul commended to the Romans in the final part of his letter to them.

John MacArthur explains the significance of naming so many people he had met during his ministry who were now in Rome (emphases mine):

… the first insight into his love and into his relationships with people, his accountability, his dependency is related to this commendation. Now let’s look at the second one and that’s his cordiality. And that takes us from verse 3 all the way to verse 23 with a little break in verses 17 to 20 … But starting in verse 3 we begin a list of names that runs down to verse 16 and then stops where there’s a greeting. And then we pick up more names in verse 21 to 23. Now all of these names really extend to us insight into Paul’s love, because it’s a whole lot of cordiality, a whole lot of loving greeting to everybody. It is a real display of open love. He greets the saints. I love the fact that he knows who they are. I mean, they’re not a lot of nameless folks. This is not a man who is so isolated from reality, who is so into his own thing, who has reached such a level of esteem in the minds of everybody and in himself that he just loses touch with everybody. Not at all.

We see here, Paul knew who was his helper. Paul knew who stood by him. And he loved them and they were an essential part of his life. The breadth of his ministry, the sweep of it can be seen in the fact that though he has never been to Rome he names here 24 individuals, 17 men and seven women, and he names two households along with some unnamed brothers and unnamed sisters in the Savior who are at Rome. Though he had never been there he had been instrumental in winning so many to Christ who had gone to Rome and were now there as a part of that church in that great city. Undoubtedly what we have in these 24 individuals and two households and unnamed sisters and brothers is a catalogue of very choice Christians.

The next people he mentions were Prisca — Priscilla — and her husband Aquila (verse 3), formerly of Rome but exiled when the emperor Claudius decreed that all Jews had to leave the city. They went to live in Corinth, in Greece.

Those who know the Book of Acts or who read my series on it, will remember this couple from Acts 18:1-4. My post has a description not only of Corinth but also of this couple, who, like Paul, were tent makers. They welcomed Paul into their home and the three became close friends. He stayed with them for quite a while, then the three moved on to Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila founded the church there (Acts 18:18-19).

While they were in Ephesus, they instructed Apollos more precisely in scriptural doctrine enabling him to prove in his preaching that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 18:24-28).

Many Bible scholars believe that Priscilla is named before her husband because she had a more dominant personality. Others say that her command of Scripture was better than her husband’s. In any event, she was the first female preacher.

Priscilla and Aquila were still in the city when young Timothy was preaching (2 Timothy 4:19).

They had risked their lives for Paul (verse 4). Corinth was a dangerous place for Christians. Phoebe hosted worship services for Corinthians in her house in Cenchreae, the port outside of Corinth.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They exposed themselves to secure Paul, hazarded their own lives for the preservation of his, considering how much better they might be spared than he. Paul was in a great deal of danger at Corinth, while he sojourned with them; but they sheltered him, though they thereby made themselves obnoxious to the enraged multitudes, Acts 18:12,17. It was a good while ago that they had done Paul this kindness; and yet he speaks as feelingly of it as if it had been but yesterday.

Paul says that all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

MacArthur says that is because they protected Paul:

Why are they thankful? Because they’re all a product of Paul’s ministry, right? And a dead Paul means the end of everything.

So it’s not only that I’m thankful for them, everybody else is thankful for them. I mean, we don’t know that story. We say, “Oh the apostle Paul, the apostle Paul, isn’t it marvelous, what a man.” But do we need to be reminded that it may have been that there would have been nothing but a dead body had it not been for these two rather obscure dear people who were willing to lay their head on a chopping block to spare the life of that man they knew God had anointed? That’s great devotion, great devotion.

MacArthur points out that Paul refers to Prisca rather than Priscilla:

Priscilla is a diminutive form which is used by Luke. Luke favors the diminutive forms on many names whereas Paul favors the more classical formal forms. This is true not only of Prisca and Priscilla, but of Silas and Silvanus. That tends to be a difference between Luke and Paul.

Once Claudius died, Prisca and Aquila moved back to Rome:

… they had returned to Rome because of the death of Claudius, so the banishing of the Jews was a past matter.

They held worship in their house in Rome (verse 5). As it was a large city, Christians worshipped in various people’s houses. Prisca and Aquila’s home was but one of those locations.

MacArthur says:

Now here they are in Rome and their house is open to house the church. Oh this is a magnanimous couple. On the one hand they have laid down their life for the great apostle Paul. On the other hand they have opened their home to the church. Now you’ll get a flow as we go through here and you’ll find out that the church in Rome met in several places. The church in Rome was not always meeting in one place, they had no building. So they were meeting in varying homes. They were really a whole lot of Flocks, a whole lot of home Bible studies and since the church could only come together in a public place, perhaps outdoors for maybe the Lord’s Table or a love feast or a communion or a great celebration of some kind, its weekly meetings would have to be held in the homes of those who were gracious enough to open them for the use of the church.

The next person Paul mentions is Epaenetus, the first convert in Asia (verse 5), which in those days meant Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

The King James Version states ‘Achaia’ rather than ‘Asia’. If that is true, then Epaenetus came from Greece, as that is where Achaia is located.

Henry says:

Of Epenetus it is further said that he was the first-fruit of Achaia unto Christ; not only one of the most eminent believers in that country, but one of the first that was converted to the faith of Christ: one that was offered up to God by Paul, as the first-fruits of his ministry there; an earnest of a great harvest; for in Corinth, the chief city of Achaia, God had much people, Acts 18:10. Special respect is to be paid to those that set out early, and come to work in the vineyard at the first hour, at the first call. The household of Stephanas is likewise said to be the first-fruits of Achaia, 1 Corinthians 16:15. Perhaps Epenetus was one of that household; or, at least, he was one of the first three; not the first alone, but one of the first fleece of Christians, that the region of Achaia afforded.

MacArthur leans towards Asia Minor and says that Epaenetus had reason to move to Rome:

Now who is Epaenetus? He is the first fruits of Asia unto Christ, the first convert in Asia Minor, which is now modern Turkey. Asia Minor had the city Ephesus and all the other cities mentioned in Revelation 2 and 3, the cities of Laodicea, Philadelphia, Smyrna, Sardis, and Thyatira, Pergamos and Ephesus, they were all there in Asia Minor. The first convert in Asia was Epaenetus and now he is in Rome, a part of the church at Rome, moved there for whatever reason. He calls him, and here you get to see the love of Paul, “My well beloved.” There’s little doubt in my mind that there was something significant about the first convert in Asia, don’t you think? The first one that came to Christ, Epaenetus, had a special place of affection in the heart of Paul. And he is the first fruits. Now the fact that he was the first fruits means that many others followed, right? He doesn’t say he’s the only fruit, he says he’s the what? The first fruit, the first fruit not unto me, but “the first fruit unto Christ.”

And you know, don’t you, that he is the one to whom all the first fruits are offered. Go back to chapter 15 verse 16, how Paul says that he offers up the Gentiles to God as a sacrifice, an offering, and the first…the first fruits of his ministry in Asia that he offered to Christ is none other than Epaenetus, who has a special place in his heart. We know nothing more about this man at all. But Paul loved him greatly and Paul knew where he was, I like that, he knew he was in Rome. He followed these people. He understood where they were because they were so deeply ingrained in his life.

The next person Paul mentions is a lady named Mary, who has ‘worked hard’ for the church in Rome (verse 6).

MacArthur says that the Greek word used means that she worked tirelessly, to the point of exhaustion:

The word is a strong word, it means to labor to the point of weariness, it’s that very familiar verb kopia. It means to work to sweat and exhaustion. And he says greet her who bestowed much labor on you.

He surmises that Prisca and Aquila must have told Paul about Mary:

the best idea is that Aquila and Priscilla who had come from Rome would have informed Paul about her and this dear lady that had given so much labor to the church was known to him through the testimony of Aquila and Priscilla. And the idea of much labor expresses the fact that she probably had been an early part of the church at Rome. The fact that it’s in the past tense indicates that by now she may have been very old and her labor was much behind her. And he commends with a loving greeting this woman who in the past rendered much labor to the establishing and the developing of the church of the believers in Rome.

Henry’s commentary says that Paul might have met Mary elsewhere during his ministry:

Some think this Mary had been at some of those places where Paul was, though now removed to Rome, and had personally ministered to him; others think Paul speaks of her labour as bestowed upon him because it was bestowed upon his friends and fellow-labourers, and he took what was done to them as done to himself.

It is fascinating that the names of these people have been recorded and will be forever remembered in the New Testament.

We can be grateful to Bible scholars who made the effort to research their lives through the ages. MacArthur mentions JB Lightfoot, an Anglican priest from the Victorian era and  William Barclay, a 20th century Church of Scotland minister:

we could just read names and say, well, we don’t know who they are, and go on. But there are some in history who couldn’t do that and we’re grateful to them. A great exegetical commentator by the name of J.B. Lightfoot seemed to be preoccupied with finding out who all these people were. And he has some fascinating data. William Barclay, also personally preoccupied with trying to find out who all these people were, adds some very important and interesting data and I want to intersect with a little bit of that, anyway, as we go through because I want you to see that these are flesh and blood real people. And some of them, even the New Testament gives us a little information about.

There are plenty more names and insights to follow in the weeks ahead.

Next time — Romans 16:7-10

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

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