Differences That Ought Not Divide

Lesson 53: Romans 14

Differences That Ought Not Divide

by Bob Burridge ©2012

There is a device in many of our churches that was once considered a tool of Satan. It was thought to belong to the world of evil and ungodliness. Many considered it a compromise to be around such a thing, much less bring it into worship. There were churches divided over it. Some left churches because of it. I am speaking of this device we call a “piano.”

There was a time when it was identified with the dance halls, the saloons, and gambling rooms. When it was played, minds were thought to be corrupted and turned away from Christ.

There was nothing evil about the piano in itself. Clearly, it was being abused by many in ungodly ways. Until that association could be changed, many wise Christian leaders thought it wise to keep from using the piano because of its reputation. While it makes a nice instrument to accompany the singing of praise to God in worship, and there was nothing forbidden about it in God’s word, yet it was nothing over which we should divide a church. Worship went along well without it. When the piano’s tainted image faded, and it emerged into the mainstream of our culture, it became the central instrument for worship in many conservative congregations.

Now that this perception has changed, other musical debates go on as we try to worship and live God-honoring, responsible lives in changing cultures. There are other issues that effect churches in the same way.

On the one hand, there are those who with great caution avoid many trends because of the connections they have in the minds of some with ungodly practices, and with people who live openly rebellious and flagrantly sinful lives. This caution often goes beyond their own choices. People begin questioning the salvation of those who do not make the same distinctions.

On the other hand, there are those who see nothing wrong with new cultural practices. They freely embrace them, and flaunt their liberty deeply offending other dear Christians.

Obviously either direction can be taken to a sinful extreme which can tear apart the family of God here on earth. That is exactly what the great Enemy of our Faith would love to see happen.

There were similar problems in the early church. There was confusion about certain practices that were common in their culture. It was not that God’s word was unclear. The problem was in the imperfect way we humans use God’s word, and apply it to situations that effect us personally. Often our upbringing or culture produce convictions and traditions which are neither consistent with, nor derived from God’s word. Therefore, some are bound to set the moral boundaries at different places than others.

The members of Christ’s church will not always agree on everything in this life. So it is very important that we know not only the boundaries God sets in his word, and the liberty we have to move within those boundaries. We also need to know how to get along with other imperfect Christians as we mature together in Christ.

In Romans 14, Paul deals with two classes of disputes that were causing tension at that time. He did not bring them up only to show us which side was right. His primary purpose was to show us how to deal with other believers who differ with us over such things.

First, some of the Roman Christians considered it wrong to eat meat or to drink wine. Paul refers to them as vegetarians in verse 2. As Gentiles came into the church some had been brought up with pagan customs. Some, influenced by the popular Neo-Pythagorean movement abstained from many things. For others in the Roman culture it was common to eat meat and to drink wine that had been consecrated to idols. This was a special problem that Corinth struggled with too.

Some of the believers who were Jews came from a strict Pharisaical upbringing. They abstained from eating certain types of meats as God commanded to Moses. Vegetarianism, or abstaining from all wine, was contrary to the law of God. Nevertheless, there were some vegetarian Jews among the sect of the Essenes. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived at that time, said there were vegetarian Jews in Rome at that time.

The second issue was that some Roman believers celebrated special religious days other than the weekly Lord’s Day. Some Gentiles continued many cultural holidays that were part of their pagan upbringing. Some Jews continued the ritual Jewish holidays that prefigured Christ’s coming. They understood that the meaning of the days had been fulfilled in Jesus, but they believed they were still to be required.

Paul did not tell us here exactly which of these views were the problem in Rome. His main concern in this letter was to show how we ought to treat those with whom we differ. It was causing open disagreements and tensions in the body of Christ. In spite of their differences, the people involved were all true believers. Both sides of the issues understood that the work of Christ had fulfilled what the law foreshadowed.

So who was right about these issues? In the first two verses Paul calls these vegetarians and abstainers weak in faith.

The dietary laws of God’s word had ended with the coming of Christ. Under the law given to Moses, God restricted the diet of the Jews to only certain foods. This was done only for a limited time to illustrate the purity we must have in holiness. That limitation was done away when Jesus came and completed what the ritual laws illustrated. Jesus pronounced all foods to be acceptable. After recording this lesson by Jesus, Mark 7:19 summarized that Jesus had declared all foods clean.

Peter learned by direct revelation from God, that the old dietary laws of Moses no longer applied. Luke tells us in Acts 10 that God offered to Peter foods formerly forbidden. God said, “Arise, Peter, kill and eat!” When Peter refused, the Lord said, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

Paul made this same point when writing to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, and others. Later in his ministry he wrote to two Pastors of churches about this issue. To Timothy he said, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Then to Titus he wrote, “To the pure all things are pure.”

God also put an end to the holy days established under Moses. The weekly Creation Sabbath of ceasing work after six days of labor continued always. It did not start with Moses, but in the time of Adam in Eden. Such ordinances are about God’s Sovereignty and Creatorship, not about redemption, so they continue in the Christian church. But the many other sabbaths of 7 weeks, 7 months, 7 years, 7 sabbath years, and the special feast and rest days given under the Levitical laws, were only temporary. They were redemptive and represented the rest Christ would bring to our souls in delivering us by his atonement. So when Jesus completed his work, those days ceased to serve a purpose.

Paul explained this many times because it was an important change in God’s requirements. In Galatians 4:9-10 he warns them not to become enslaved all over again to “… observe days and months and seasons and years.” In Colossians 2:16-17 he wrote, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”

God’s law never did forbid the eating of meat or the drinking of wine in moderation. So if God’s law never required these strict limits, man made regulations certainly should not. The customs of pagans and of the Jewish cults were wrong from the start. This does not rule out personal choices to abstain, but we should not imply that it is a moral issue that others should comply with as well.

There were admittedly hard transitions to be made for both formerly pagan Gentiles and faithful Jews. They had been brought up believing that certain things were required or forbidden. Now in Christ, the Jewish believers were learning that the former ways they had known all their lives were fulfilled and no longer binding. Both Pagans and Jews had to give up some things in their cultures, traditions, and customs. It is seldom easy to reject past practices and convictions, nor should it be easy, until we are sure of what God has said.

Those who insisted upon limiting diet, and keeping the holy days, were wrong. They were immature in understanding the full scope of what God had revealed and accomplished. They did not yet fully understand Messiah’s finished work. Paul called them weak.

How should we deal with believers who differ about such things?

Romans 14:1-3, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.

The weak must be accepted, received by us in a loving manner. When there are issues that are not clearly understood by everyone in the same way, it should be a time to study the issue together rather than to pass judgments about one another and draw hasty conclusions.

The person who eats something others abstain from should not despise (or look down upon) the abstainer. In this case, the abstainer must not judge (or condemn) the eater. Both groups were weak to the extent that they were judging one another, rather than attempting to show respect and work through the differences.

The burden falls upon the stronger ones in the faith, those allegedly better instructed in the word, and more spiritually mature. They must be patient and loving toward those who are weak in the faith, who need instruction and encouragement.

Paul’s reasoning begins with mutual submission to God as our master. God has accepted both groups as his children in Christ. They are all called our “brothers” in verses 10, 13, 15 and 21. They are those for whom Christ died (verse 15).

If we are all servants of the Lord, who are we to judge one another?

Romans 14:4Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

Both groups are redeemed to stand before God as those made holy in Christ. In their own understanding and conscience they follow rules they believe honor the Lord. We ought to judge the truthfulness and rightness of all things by comparing them with God’s word, but we do not have the right to be judges of one another in their standing before our Lord. Help them with their Theology, but do not unwisely presume that since they do not see things clearly yet, they therefore must not be a true child of God.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Each must be convinced in his own heart comparing what he believes and does with God’s word. Day-Observers, Meat-eaters, Abstainers, Vegetarians, each was giving thanks to God to the degree that he knew what God had actually said. Until they understand otherwise, they should be respected for the godly intent placed in their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

No one should be asked to violate his own conscience. No one should be constrained by another to indulge in what he feels is wrong. Nor should he be constrained to abstain from what God has not condemned.

I often think of Jiminy Cricket, that little character in the Disney version of the movie Pinocchio. He often advised, “Let you conscience be your guide.” Of course Jiminy was not a Theologian, and I doubt that he was familiar with Romans 14. But there is a lot of wisdom in that simple statement. Earlier in Romans 2:15 we read about the reality of the conscience which leaves everyone without excuse before his Creator.

Notice that Jiminy did not say that our conscience must be our standard. Conscience makes our standard of truth and morality press down upon our souls. It is an unrelenting guide.

The Bible alone tells us what is allowable, and what pleases God. The conscience is a powerful attribute which makes humans special in God’s creation. It is irrational, and Martin Luther said dangerous, to go against one’s conscience.

So the conscience does not stand by itself. It rests upon what God said in the Bible. A poorly informed conscience can make us feel guilty when we are not, or make us feel comfortable when we ought to be alarmed about our behavior. The heart must be redeemed for the conscience to again rest upon the right foundation. So a well informed conscience comes from learning what the Bible says is right.

This is why we need to be patient with other believers when they are informed differently. Until the Bible is rightly understood, we need to act with love and consideration as we help others learn.

When Paul calls for patience, acceptance and tolerance, it is not a tolerance that excuses sin because of immaturity. The matters he is taking up here are not things directly forbidden or required by God. We need to make allowances for one another’s spiritual growth.

Both our living and dying is to be done for the Lord.

Romans 14:7-12, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

It is God’s job to judge the heart, not ours. Our duty is to help other believers to grow in Christ. The dangerously immature confuse God’s prerogatives with their own.

But there is a judgment we ought to make,
that is the one we make about ourselves .

Romans 14:13-16, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil;”

We are not set free to cause a brother to stumble over such matters. It would be sad to hurt one redeemed by Christ, a dear brother, just for the sake of feeling free to eat some food or drink some drink. If you destroy a brother because of material things, you are not walking in love. Things that perish are not worth such harm. Never turn a good thing into an occasion for evil. We have a wonderful liberation in Christ. This good liberty should not be abused.

Though the problem in Corinth was different, the principle was the same. In 1 Corinthians 8:4 Paul showed that there was nothing inherently wrong with food sacrificed to idols. There he wrote, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.”

If, however, we ignore the impression given by us as we exercise our liberty, we are being most immature. It is a serious sin to fail in considering the weakness of other believers. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:7-13, “… there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

Our work as a redeemed family is to build up, not to tear down.

In this next section, Paul reminds us what God’s kingdom is all about.

Romans 14:17-20, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense.”

Material pleasures are never worth the damage their satisfaction can bring about in tearing down God’s work. The “work” spoken of here is the individual believer. Our redemption makes us a “work of God’s grace.” Each is a building of God (Ephesians 2:10, 1 Corinthians 3:9-17). So even things God declares as clean, are used for evil when abused in a way that offends a believer.

We live among those who still stumble at some practices .

Romans 14:21-22, “It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”

Abstinence from good things is not the way taught in Scripture for overcoming sin or for gaining spiritual maturity. Johannes G. Vos cautioned us saying, “a matter must be regard as indifferent until proven to be sinful, not vice verse. A man is regarded as innocent until proved guilty. Nothing could be more false and dangerous than the contention of some religious teachers that a matter must be regarded as sinful until proved to be indifferent. When there is any doubt that a matter is sinful in itself, it must be left to the individual conscience. If the teaching of Scripture about a particular matter appears to be doubtful or obscure, or even seems to be contradictory, this is all the more reason for church assemblies not to make authoritative pronouncements or laws about such a matter. What God has not clearly revealed, let the church not presume to determine.”

Similarly Paul wrote in Colossians 2:20-23, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using — according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

God recommends voluntarily abstaining from uncommanded matters for the sake of the weaker brother. If meat troubles other believers, then when they are around you — don’t eat meat (1 Corinthians 8:13). However, you should not imply that you support the idea that meat eating is sinful. That would be hypocrisy and deceit. It would violate your conscience and misrepresent God’s truth.

There are some regions and cultures where it is considered worldly and sinful to wear jewelry, even a wedding ring. Others see wedding rings as an important declaration of marital fidelity. But there are no wedding rings mentioned in the Bible. Each culture may have a different way of communicating faithfulness to what God has said and commanded. Without compromising clear moral principles and mandates stated in the Bible, we need to try to understand why certain unspecified things become important to some people.

Issues like these are mere customs and traditions. God’s word does not make them moral issues, nor should we as we mature in our understanding of what the Bible says.

When a person believes God forbids something
he must not be constrained to violate his conscience,
until he better understands Scripture.

Romans 14:23, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.”

Faith is not just a blind or irrational leap in the dark to accept something as true without evidence. That is the world’s definition. Biblically, faith is that confidence God puts into our hearts to trust in what he has actually revealed. When we act contrary to what God has revealed, we show a lack of trust (lack of faith) in his assurances.

Our duty is prayerfully to improve our understanding of what God has or has not said in his written word. As we all study hard together to clear things up we must be patient and encouraging. There will always be some imperfection in our understanding and behavior. The fruit of the Spirit is not accuracy, precision, correctness and consistency. We certainly want to be all those things to the degree God enables us, but the fruit of the Spirit in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Right after listing the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, Paul said in verses 5:26-6:6, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

It takes time to grow and to mature. We want others to be patient with us when we struggle with our understanding and compliance. It takes a godly patience while we live with and work with those around us while they grow, too.

Few of us remember the earliest years of our lives when we were just beginning to grow up physically. Of those pre-language years our brains are not able to remember much more than some vague images. We rarely would remember how hard a struggle it must have been to get a spoon into our open mouths while still balancing food on it. We don’t remember trying to learn the meanings of the words explained to us by smiling adults bent over us repeating them again and again pointing this way and that. I cannot recall learning how to walk, and being convinced that it really has advantages over crawling which seemed to get the job done quite well up to that point. We likely will remember for the rest of our lives the challenge of learning to ride a bike or drive a car. How patient our teachers and parents had to be.

I will never forget the first moment I drove a car. It was in Driver’s Ed. class at Largo High School in 1964. The class was out on its first driving trip and we had pulled off the road on East Bay Drive. We were a few blocks from the school, just east of Missouri Avenue. I was called to the driver’s seat where I nervously belted myself in. I did all the things I read about: checked the mirror, the seat belt, adjusted the seat, and checked for traffic. Then the moment of truth came. This would be the first time I would push my foot down on the gas and get a car moving. I held the break pedal down as I slipped the car into gear. Then I took my foot off the break and wanting to look confident I stepped on the gas pedal. The car lurched forward throwing us all against the back of the seats. Then just as fast we were all thrown forward as the teacher stepped on the break on his side of the car keeping us from smashing into what ever was dead ahead. He looked at me with fire in his eyes (perhaps a little terror too) and said, “What are you trying to do? Kill us all?!”

I had a lot to learn, but I didn’t give up. Eventually, after a few exciting moments under my dad’s attempts to teach me, and a few more tense adventures with my Driver’s Ed. teacher, I learned to drive a car.

It takes time to get all the ideas together, to coordinate muscles, and to get the feel and control needed for the more precise skills. It takes patience for the teachers to help those who are trying to learn and to grow.

Our spiritual growth does not come all at once either. Not only do we need to get the basic facts worked out, we also need to get the Holy Spirit’s fruit to be flourishing in our lives to where they help us all work together as a spiritual family. That is how our discipleship to Christ is evidenced to the world. It is not recognized by our theological accuracy and traditions. It is not proven by the cultural things we don’t do, or what we allow. Jesus said it is by how we love our brothers in the faith (John 13:35).

Do you show the same persistence and patience toward others that your Lord shows with you? Do you set aside your own unimportant comforts, pastimes and traditions, so you can help with the needs of those struggling to grow in Christ around you? That is the point of this chapter. We should be patient examples of loving encouragement in the church.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Changing Clothes

Lesson 52: Romans 13:11-14

Changing Clothes

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Long ago, in 386 AD, in Milan, Northern Italy, a 32 year old man sat in tears in a garden. He had been well educated, but much of it was forced upon him by beatings. When he left home to study Rhetoric in Carthage, he lived the way many do once they are out of the house and on their own. He lived for his own good pleasures for the moment. His mother Monica, was a Christian and deeply grieved over her son’s disregard for God’s ways.

In trying to find satisfaction he dug into the philosophers to satisfy his mind. He lived with a woman and had a son with her, though they were not married. His sinful ways, far from satisfying him, came to deeply convict him of his lostness though still mixed with a bit of insincerity. He remembered praying, “Give me chastity and self-restraint — only not yet.”

In time his way of life tore at his heart. He found it hard to go on any longer that way. But he was filled with questions — how could he really change? How long would this go on? “How long? How long?”, he repeated.

Broken and devastated by his life he wept in that garden, knowing his life was an offense to God. With bitter tears overtaking him he threw himself to the ground under a fig tree.

He became aware of a sound coming from a neighboring house. It was a child’s voice repeating the Latin words, “Tolle, lege, tolle, lege,” which means “take up, read, take up, read.” He didn’t know if it was some child’s poem or a game they were playing, but it turned his mind to a book he had been reading. He put it down back in the garden where earlier he had been talking with a friend. His tears let up for the moment. With anticipation he ran back to that bench and opened the book. He had been reading the Book of Romans.

It opened to Romans 13 and his eyes focused first on verses 13 and 14 where he read, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

When he later wrote about this moment he said, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”

He ran to find his friend and told him of this calm God had put into his heart. He found a new trust in God who Sovereignly had redeemed him by Christ alone.

He then ran to tell his mother Monica who had been praying earnestly for him every day. In his record of this he said that she “leaped for joy” at the conversion of her son. Then he told his girlfriend he could no longer live with her unmarried. He determined to live as becomes one redeemed by so great a love. His mother did not live long after his conversion, but she died at peace.

His life was only beginning. He became the Bishop of Hippo, the greatest of the Church Fathers. We know him today as St. Augustine.

He struggled hard to build his life and faith upon the teachings of Scripture alone. He prayerfully interpreted and applied the texts of the Bible by comparing Scripture with Scripture, not by combining it with the questionable logic and observations of man, church, or philosophy. He laid the foundation for the Reformation that took place over a thousand years after his death.

Augustine understood that all humans fell into sin by representation in the fall of Adam, that they all are therefore totally depraved, that salvation was an act of grace alone extended to the undeserving elect of God, and that the grace of God was irresistible.

He understood that the only reliable foundation for truth and belief was the Bible applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, and that man’s reason alone could only lead to probabilities, not to reliable truth.

Augustine was the first to articulate what today we call Calvinism, Reformed Theology, and Presuppositional Apologetics. It was his writings which alerted Martin Luther to the errors of Rome, and led John Calvin to see an clarify what God had revealed to us in his word. His life turned upon these words from our text today, powerful words of God.

Paul had just made the point in the last section that love is the fulfilling of God’s law. The next few verses continue that thought.

Romans 13:11-14, “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

Paul uses the imagery of night and day.

He tells us that the night is over, and the daytime has started, so it’s time to wake up from our sleep. To understand Paul’s point we need to know what the night is in this context. We need to know what day is at hand? We need to understand how our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.

Night is often used in the Bible to describe the darkness of sin that encloses us. Day is often used for the relief from that night, our victory over sin and its darkness.

The word “salvation” means deliverance from some kind of danger. It may be either salvation from physical harm, or of the soul from condemnation. The Bible uses the same word to refer to many types of deliverance. The outward delivering of people or nations from physical harm takes place by God’s providence and sovereign care. The deliverance of the soul comes in several stages.

First, we see the beginning of our salvation in the ancient and eternal decree of God who knew his own before creation itself. Then in the unfolding of history, the salvation of God’s people from sin’s guilt was secured by Jesus in his earthly work which was completed on the cross. Individuals are delivered applicationally by the work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of their regeneration.

However, though they are delivered at that moment from the dominion of sin, from it’s guilt and penalty, they are not yet fully delivered from sin’s influence in their lives. There is a daily deliverance as individuals overcome sin and grow in holiness to become more and more like Christ. This continuing salvation from the presence of sin will one day be completed in the presence of Jesus when this life is over.

So which salvation is Paul talking about here? Which is “nearer than when we first believed,” and corresponds to the night becoming day?

It cannot be the dawn of the era of salvation coming to the Gentiles as some suggest. That idea does not fit Paul’s theme here as he talks about putting off the works of darkness in our lives. It is also strained to fit that in with this deliverance being nearer than when an individual was regenerated and first believed.

It cannot be a reference to the individual salvation of Christians when they become born again. Paul and his readers had experienced that already. The salvation of regeneration was not just closer than when they first believed. It was completed when they first believed.

The promise of our continuing victory over sin is the deliverance that seems to fit best here. We should be growing spiritually and becoming more and more conformed to the ways that honor our Creator and Savior. The fulness of our deliverance when this life is over is secured by his promise. The darkness of our past sinful ways must be set aside. We need to dress in our work clothes and get busy with the spiritual work given to us by our Redeemer. An analogy is being drawn with our common experience of getting up to get ready for the work we must do each day to provide and maintain the things we need to stay alive.

Paul wrote of being saved more and more from sin’s effects in Ephesians 5:8-10, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”

He calls his readers to wake up out of their moral laziness. It’s time for work. Others are up and about all around us, and we have a job to do for Christ. It is not right for us to keep sleeping on, and living in our dream world of false pleasures.

When we neglect our duty of growing in Christ we are ineffective in our work of advancing God’s Kingdom. If we have no interest in loving the principles he calls upon us to respect and obey, it shows that we have no real love for Christ as he really is. This was Paul’s point in the previous section of this chapter.

Peter warned about this duty in 2 Peter 3. In verse 11 he wrote, “… what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” Then in verse 14 he said, “… be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”

He tells us to take off the clothing of our former ways.

Romans 13:12-13, “… Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.”

But wait! Is there something wrong with the text here? Put off revelry? drunkenness? lewdness? lust? strife? envy? Isn’t he writing to Christian believers in the church at Rome? Yes — he certainly is.

Make no mistake. The church is not made up of people perfected in holiness. Though they are redeemed by grace, and declared holy in Christ, there is still a lot of growing to do to conform personally to his perfect holiness.

The Christian life is a process, not just a one-time event. Salvation from hell happens all at once when we come to Christ, but salvation from the effects of sin is a daily battle here in this life. As we put on the right clothing, we are told to take off the inappropriate outfit.

Paul gives a list summarizing some of the clothes appropriate for the night, the darkness of sin, clothes that ought to be removed as we wake up to get busy with the day work of the believer.

1. Do not be engaged in revelry.
In our lost condition, the soul enjoys careless and wild living. The believer should put off those things which cater to impure and unbridled passions.

Our parties, get-togethers and evening outings should honor Christ, and remain within the bounds of moral behavior and honorable conduct. We must never put ourselves into places where we will confuse our love for God’s law, or become tempted to indulge in conversation, humor, or immoralities that grieve our Lord.

2. Do not be involved in drunkenness.
Abuse of alcohol and drugs darkens the mind. It dulls the wits and judgment. Its results have destroyed individuals and families. To become intoxicated or “high” is inappropriate for those claiming to live for Christ’s glory.

Proverbs 23:30 warns us not to be among “… those who linger long at the wine.” When that which we take in begins to cloud our thinking, its final effects can be deadly. In verses 32-33 it says, “At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.”

3. Don’t be taken in by lewdness and lust.
Sexual sins strike at the heart of what God establishes as the family. The 7th commandment does not only warn spouses against sexual infidelity. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that God’s word forbids even sexual fantasies and impure thoughts. All sexual pleasures outside of marriage are dishonorable to Christ and defy God’s law.

Today, sexual activity is no longer seen by many as a moral issue. The believer should not let this cultural attitude effect his life. The temptations of pornography in its many forms, sensual humor, open sex, and homosexuality, are destroying lives and weakening communities.

The person who engages in sex in any way outside of a biblical marriage is a danger to the church. Proverbs 23:27-28 warns, “For a harlot is a deep pit, And a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, And increases the unfaithful among men.”

Like a deep pit, such sexual addictions are hard escape. The believer must do the hard thing and change out of those garments. Otherwise the person will suffer deep pain in the soul, and undermine the foundation of society. Such things offend the eyes of God, the One whom we say we love.

4. Do not be identified with strife and envy.
We live in a world of tension. Law suits, arguments, hatred, jealousy, coveting, and envy are found everywhere. The Christian has no justification for giving in to such things.

Proverbs 23:29 continues the discussion about the dangers of sexual immorality and overindulgence in wine. It points out the tragedy it brings into the lives of all those effected by moral rebellion, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?”

These are not the ways of the child of the living God. However, Scripture shows that believers are not immune to these kinds of activities.

Today, society calls these victimless crimes. They say it is no one else’s business how we party, drink , use drugs, or have sex. We are taught that jealousy and envy are the secrets of getting ahead, that man was made to party and indulge his urges. They tell us that these are personal and private matters. They condemn us as unworthy of respect, if we question what they call alternate life styles. Real moral conviction has become like leprosy to many in today’s society. However, God in his Bible does not call them alternate ways of life. God calls them sin. They are the deeds of darkness.

They may be the trendy and seasonal fashions of the world, but they are not to be clothing for the children of God to be wearing around. Real joy and satisfaction are not found in sinful behaviors.

Paul tells us to replace those old outfits
with ones that please God.

Romans 13:12, “… let us put on the armor of light.”

The Lord does not just tell us what we should not wear. We are not to be just nothing, to do nothing, and to desire nothing. Once we put off the evil, we are to put on the wardrobe that pleases God. We should be clothed in Christ which should show in our attitudes and attributes. We put on our work clothes and get busy living for our Redeemer’s glory.

Of course he is not talking about fashion and fabrics here. He means we are to conduct ourselves in a modest, decent, and becoming manner. As we go out to do the work of the day, we ought to be clothed in the good moral attire that humbly demonstrates Christ at work in us to do what we freely admit we cannot do, and would not do on our own.

The Bible often represents the attributes of godliness in terms of clothing we put on.
Isaiah 61:10, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8, “But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Ephesians 6:14-18 describes the armor of God we wear in battle with evil. It says, “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”

The items of clothing are sometimes different in each account. Each biblical writer uses them to illustrate different things. What we are to put on are these: salvation, the righteousness of Christ, faith, hope, love, God’s word, the truth, the Gospel, and prayer. This is the uniform of those who live in the daytime when we go out to work for the Lord. This is the armor of light. We need to put on the whole wardrobe, the things of Christ. We have no need to dig out the old costumes of foolish and hurtful living.

Since Jesus was perfect God as well as perfect man, and since he is our perfect example, we are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must read about Him, learn about Him. We must set our goal to be like Him, but not by imagining that the ability and power to do so comes from ourselves. We draw upon his promises that when we truly long to be like Jesus, he shows his love at work in our hearts, and moves us to strongly desire to overcome our sinful ways.

Paul says about the same thing in Ephesians 4:22-24, “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”

These characteristics are the only proper clothing for God’s children. All other outfits are but filthy rags, mere fig leaves needing to be replaced by God’s provision.

We should not make any provision for the flesh regarding its lusts. Do not keep the old outfit hanging in the back of the closet. Don’t set up occasions where you are likely to lapse into problems you have struggled with before. Don’t go to the parties and places where there will be immoral themes that will entice you. Don’t put yourself in sexually tempting situations or indulge them in your mind as if just imagining them was exempted. Jesus made it clear that the sins of the heart are contrary to the moral principles God built into his universe.

When you get out of those old patterns of life and thought, don’t be like Lot’s wife. Don’t look back. Make sure you are not leaving that foot in the door to keep it from closing all the way. Don’t leave open any provision for breaking God’s law.

Don’t involve yourself in the envy and contentious ways of the world. If success requires you to be rude, covetous, and ruthless, then what good it is? The world has its own rewards, but they are like cancer in the soul.

Instead, make provisions for righteous living. Make a plan in advance for when you are lonely, depressed, or driven by impure urges. Know what you will try to do and where you will go to avoid being taken in by temptations. Go to those you know are redeemed by God’s grace and who can pray with you and encourage you to honor what is good and right.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul wrote, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” This is the positive remedy God gives us in his word. When we put on the clothes of christian virtue, and become engaged in them, there is no nakedness of the soul needing the other filthy garments that insult God.

If Christ is loved and his ways known and practiced, as Archbishop Leighton once said, “What need you go a-begging elsewhere?”

This text in Romans is the one that changed the licentious Augustine. One of his most famous prayers to God is, “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”

This is one of those duties for the believer. God says “take off” the evil, and “put on” Christ. It is not to be a passive change where we excuse our sins and lazy attitudes because we are unable to do that which is good on our own. We are told in these places to get busy and do what God tells us to do. These are among those “ought statements” in the Bible.

This is an area which often confuses believers. How can we strive to be obedient to God when we are told that we can do nothing good. Are we to wait to see Christ force us to do good things? That would be contrary to the facts of Scripture. We are told to do things for God’s glory. The Bible speaks of good actions of the Apostles and disciples, that they are really the doers of what they do. When we dismiss our lack of effort on the grounds that we are unable, we neglect the command and promise of God that by the power of the Risen Redeemer his rescued children are brought back into fellowship with God and made able to glorify him.

Yes, Jesus is the cause within us for our good desires, words and deeds. But we are not like an avatar in a computer game, or a robot programmed and controlled to do things it has no real desire to do. We are real persons who are made to love God and to desire his glory. Though it is always imperfect, it is that life put into us by grace that makes us able to live again spiritually. These are liberating “oughts”. God gets all the glory but we rejoice that we are made to be willing tools in his loving hands.

Christ-likeness cannot be put on until Christ is in the heart. “Clothes don’t make the man” as they say. But for the person to say Christ is inside, and for it not to show, is inconsistent with the promises God makes to us who are redeemed by his grace.

Do as did that future great Christian, while he fell wailing with tears in the garden. Stop the deeds that destroy. Put on Christ. Make no provisions for lusts. God’s promises have changed many before. He can change you and your loved ones too.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Always In Debt

Lesson 51: Romans 13:8-10

Always In Debt

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was too young to understand what was going on when the relatives on my mother’s side of the family all gathered at my grandparent’s house for a Mortgage Burning. It seemed a little strange when everyone gathered in the kitchen and gave little speeches. Then they set fire to a piece of paper and dropped it into the sink. Everyone cheered when the flames appeared. Then there were congratulations and lots of smiles.

I didn’t notice anything particularly different about how that paper burned, no sparks or colored flames. Why did it mean so much to everybody? That thing they called “mortgage” burned just about like all the other paper I ever saw set on fire.

After it was over my parents tried to explain what it was all about. They have retold the story a few times or I would not remember what they said. They explained that when someone buys a house it costs so much that you have to borrow money to pay for it. The mortgage was the paper that said the house wasn’t completely yours until you paid back the money you borrowed. After many years my grandparents owned their house in full so the mortgage paper could be burned. The debt was gone and everyone was happy.

As I got older I learned that there are many things we are not able to pay for right away. We borrow to be able to afford things like college tuitions, houses, and cars. Sometimes our debts can become quite a burden. It is a nice feeling when a debt is retired and the payments end.

There is a debt which is neither a troublesome burden, nor can it ever be retired. It is the debt of love. It is a joy to make the payments on this debt. Unlike that mortgage, the debt of love can never be paid off so that we are free of its obligations. It is a debt that we love to have. Unlike our financial debts the debt of love relieves our burdens and brings joy.

Paul had just spoken of our duty concerning material debts in verse 7, “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” These kinds of obligations can be a burden. Owing money or service to someone can be a nagging misery. Then Paul brings up that un-retireable debt in verse 8.

Our only unpaid debt to others,
ought to be our love toward them.

Romans 13:8a, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, …”

Some misunderstand this verse believing that it forbids all borrowing. Paul is not addressing the economic issue of borrowing here. Loans were regulated in God’s law, but they were not forbidden (see Exodus 22:25). Jesus said in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:42, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” If God approved of borrowing in those instances, it must not be a moral problem in itself.

There will always be debts. Our goal and duty is to satisfy them by paying them off responsibly to eliminate the obligation. There is that one exception to our desire to retire our debts. We ought to be conspicuously unable to stop loving.

But what is this thing called love? If we are going to understand the principle taught here we need to know what we are dealing with. We have dealt with the “love” issue many times before because it is one of those central themes we see evidenced all through the Bible.

Moses summed up the law not only in 10 Commandments. He also summarized the first four commandments in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and in Leviticus 19:18 he summarized the last 6 Commandments saying, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus quoted those words of Moses in his summary of what the law is in Matthew 22:37-40, ” ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Paul quotes these same words of Moses in verse 9 of Romans 13.

Law and love stand in such a close and intimate relationship, that it is hard to find places in the Bible that talk about one of the two without the other. Jesus made these two indivisible when he said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

I defined love by its biblical boundaries a few lessons ago in our study of Romans 12, “Love is a disposition implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled joyfully to obey the revealed desires of our Creator; both toward the Lord himself, and toward others.”

Therefore there are those three distinct aspects of love as God created it.

First, there is love’s foundation. The human ability to love as God defines it was lost by the fall in Eden. To be made able to love as we should, we need to be regenerated by the application of the work of Jesus Christ as our Redeemer. Only then are we made able to honor God out of gratitude, and to be devoted in our actions and attitudes to promote godliness in others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” His redeeming love is our enablement.

Next we experience the work of love. This is the obedience of a grateful heart changed by grace. Once restored by the work of our Redeemer we become a tool in the hand of a loving God. We are moved by the compassion he implants in our hearts to do those things which put our concerns for others into action. When people do helpful things for their own benefit or advancement, it is not love. The biblical concept of love shows itself when others are treated as God says they should be treated, and when it is done with the driving desire to glorify God and to give him all the credit for the good that we do.

Finally, when we engage in doing that which is love, we receive its blessing. There is a feeling that overtakes our hearts when we love. Therefore the legitimate feeling of love is a result of God’s blessing upon our being loving. Love is not just a feeling as the world often sees it.

God gave us his written word so that we could look there to know what things we should do to be really acting with love. Jesus said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. …”

Unregenerated people, cannot know love as humans were created to know it. Their inner disposition remains unsubmissive to the glory of the True God. However, since love is such an important part of what it is to be human, a substitute for love had to be switched for the real thing. The feeling was turned into the reality of love, completely reversing the way God made our hearts to work. They believe the feeling of love is what stirs us to act lovingly toward someone. Love then becomes something mysterious into which we fall. It is reasonable then to suppose that if we just fall into love, we can fall out of it just as easily. Some marriage vows promise to remain married “as long as we both shall love,” rather than the biblical form God gives us to remain loving “as long as we both shall live.”

This does not mean that unbelievers never do kind things which they may call “love”. God restrains sin in all people every day. If he did not do that, total chaos would break out. However, their obedience does not come from a redeemed disposition. God’s glory is not their main object. When people are motivated to be kind by what makes them feel good, the whole idea of love is turned inside out and upside down. Self interest becomes the driving force, rather than thankfulness for the grace of God and a true concern for others God has created.

This is why the things the world calls love are often fleeting and unsatisfying. When the Beatles sang, “All You Need is Love,” there was some truth to the words, but they had a completely wrong view of love. It was divorced from the Savior who alone makes love possible, and from God’s word which alone shows us what love does.

The debt to love, is never satisfied or set aside. It is the one debt we cannot pay off. Dr. Robert Haldane says of those who treasure the debt to love, “The more they pay of this debt, the richer will they be in the thing that is paid.”

The debt of love here in Romans 13:8 is actually a blessing because of the fact that it can never be retired. We can no more be released from the command to love, than from the moral principles God summarized as expressions of love in the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40).

The debt of love is owed to all our neighbors, not just to believers. No one is excluded, and the obligation is never concluded.

Love and law are closely connected in God’s word

Romans 13:8, “… for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

Dr. Charles Hodge wrote on this verse, “Acquit yourselves of all obligations, tribute, custom, fear, honor or whatever else you may owe, but remember that the debt of love is still unpaid, and always must remain so; for love includes all duty since he that loves another fulfills the law.”

Since the Gospel enables us to love by grace, and since the moral law defines what loving behavior is, therefore if God puts the desire of love into our hearts, and we learn from the law what is right to do, then by loving our neighbor, we will be fulfilling the law of God most perfectly. Perfect love would be perfect obedience to the law of God. Love is the thing the law demands and reveals. Love is the very thing the law shows the unredeemed he cannot do. The whole law is grounded in our love to God and to man. So Jesus said in Mt 22:40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

To illustrate what law he meant, Paul quotes a few Commandments.

Romans 13:9, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

It wasn’t necessary for Paul to list all ten of the Commandments. It was sufficient to quote Commandments: 7, 6, 8 and 10. Then he quoted from Leviticus 19:18 showing that it is all summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Love was never given as a replacement for the law. That is never said in the Bible. The Antinomians who say that, cut the meaning out of both love and law. God never gave love to be instead of law. He gave the law to show what it means to love. The inability to do so condemns the lost and proves the depravity of us all aside from God’s grace. Jesus satisfied the law for his people judicially by dying in their place. He satisfied its demands practically by granting them his righteousness. Yet he also works in the redeemed person’s life so that they will be being conformed more and more to the moral perfections God reveals to us in his law.

The first 4 commandments show that God is not loved in just what ever way we imagine. He is loved when we worship only him and no other god, when we refuse to make physical images to represent him, when his name is used only with due honor and respect, and when his whole Sabbath Day is kept as he tells us to keep it.

The last 6 commandments show what it is to have true love toward our neighbor. Loving our neighbors is not just whatever makes people happy and comfortable in some nebulous sort of way. It is to honor parents and those God puts in authority, to respect life and oppose murder. It is to work for what we have and not try to get things by wrong or immoral ways. It is to tell the truth because it is right to do so, not only because it might feel good or further our own interests. And love is to enjoy and manage responsibly what God gives us, not coveting what God has given to others.

As Moses, Jesus and Paul all put it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It does not say because you love yourself. The modern idea that self love must come first is a tragic lie that ruins lives in a very cruel way. Self-centeredness is condemned throughout Scripture. Rather, it says we should love our neighbor “as” we love ourselves. God made us to instinctively protect and look after our safety and well being. We duck when things come at our heads fast. We blink when our eyes are threatened. We jump out of the way if something is about to hit us.

We are glad to protect ourselves from murder, theft, lies and oppression. We try to make sure that God’s law is not violated by others trying to hurt us. This is how we ought to deal with our neighbors. We ought to do all we can to promote God’s blessing in their lives.

Only when a person learns to make God to be his first love can he begin to appreciate the worth of all humans as creatures of God, created in his image and valuable, even the tiniest unborn baby. Only then can he appreciate the awesome debt Jesus paid to redeem a sinner, transforming a rebel against God, into child of God who is loved forever.

Love is the fulfillment of the law.

Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

The Apostle draws the simple and obvious conclusion. If we do what God says is right and good toward our neighbor, we do him no wrong. Love looks for ways to help others to be blessed. It does this because it is right and because it honors God to do so.

Real love is not just a gushy feeling we fall into and someday may fall out of. It is not a deep need to be with someone who makes us feel good to be around. It is not the occasional charitable things we do for the poor and needy.

Love is a behavior that flows from a heart redeemed by Christ. Love is a source that creates a river that keeps flowing, a debt that is constantly being paid, a debt that makes us glad to owe it.

Those who do not love in this way are not redeemed by grace. They do not want to love in this way. It goes against the core of their nature which is centered in self.

1 John 3:17, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

1 John 4:8, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

The love we show in this life on earth is imperfect in all of us. Such love is perfect only in Jesus Christ. However, though imperfect it grows in us if we belong to the Savior through the new birth.

Our humble and sincerely repentant effort to love God and our neighbor shows Christ to others. Our Christian witness is not just the occasional opportunity to explain the Gospel. That is a wonderful act of love and should be done whenever possible. Our witness is also that life we lead hour by hour every day. It is how we shop, drive, work, invest, play, party, relax, lead, or follow. It is the continual showing of the evidence of our Savior’s work in our hearts. John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The original Greek text of this verse (Romans 13:10) begins and ends with the word love. That is the emphasis God gives to it.

So Paul again states his theme: “love … is the fulfillment of the law.” If we do not have love for God’s glory, or for our neighbor’s benefit, what does it profit? What good is it to love with a false compassion that is only a disguise for satisfying self? There is no blessing in that. Evil dressed in the mask of godliness insults the divine law, which love is indebted to promote.

So, First, make sure of your salvation in Christ. Then, become so exercised in the ethics and morals of the Bible that those good principles seem natural to you. And pray for God’s sanctifying Spirit to mold you to be Christ-like toward God and others.

Love as if it is a wonderful debt to owe. Joyfully make the payments, all day, every day.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Who Is In Charge Here?

Lesson 50: Romans 13:1-7

Who Is In Charge Here?

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Some people are just plain bossy. I remember kids like that in our neighborhood when I was growing up. On the playground, along the streets going to and from school, and when we got together after school the same kids always seemed to take control. When somebody had enough of the self-appointed bosses they’d ask, “Who put you in charge, anyway?” The answer was obvious — no body did. They were self-appointed.

There were exceptions though. Some had real authority given to them. The most trusted kids were picked by the teachers to be on the Safety Patrol. They were helpers to the crossing guard. They would stand at the street crossings, hold out their arms, and keep kids from crossing until the adult guard blew the whistle and waved for us to cross. The Safety Patrol got to wear a fancy white belt with a shoulder strap that bore a genuine shiny silver badge.

But there was more to it than that. They were enforcers of the law. If someone stepped off the curb too soon or pushed someone toward the street the Safety Patrol kid was expected to report them. So you learned to honor the Safety Patrol. They may have been just kids like all the rest of us, but unlike the self-made bosses of the neighborhood, these kids had authority behind them. They represented the school’s Principal, the highest power we knew in our lives back then. If you gave the badged students a hard time you would be called into the Principal’s office, and probably have your parents called in too. Nobody wanted that. So the Safety Patrol was obeyed and respected. To disobey the one delegated by the Principal, was like disobeying the Principal.

This is a principle that God built into his universe. All real human authority is delegated by God himself. To disobey those he puts in charge, is to disobey God himself.

The last part of Chapter 12 teaches that we should never take our own revenge. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. Now in Chapter 13 we see one way in which the Lord’s vengeance was to be carried out.

God delegates the exercise of his temporal vengeance
upon law breakers through rightful authorities.

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

Paul begins with a general principle. God has ordained that there would be some who govern, and others who are governed. The existence of authority structures at every level reflects the relationship of God as King over all of his creation.

Here Paul uses a very general term, exousiais huperechousais (εξουσίαις ὑπερεχουσαις), which means “Governing authorities” or “higher powers”. This principle applies to all types of governments. At various times God has granted the power of rule to monarchies, empires, republics, social democracies, tribal systems, and dictatorships. Their hold on power was not an endorsement of their methods or standards. God uses all that comes to pass to advance his plan. God has empowered imperfect civil governments to limit dangerous social behaviors, and to ensure a common peace and safety for his people.

All authority is from God alone, and is established by him. This means that God alone defines the powers and limitations at each level of authority. Charles Hodge put it this way, “All human power is delegated and ministerial.”

Human authority does not come from the consent of the people, from social contracts, from traditions, or from the power of the military. It comes from God who sovereignly appoints every human to his place of power. Even the wicked King Jeroboam is said to have been appointed by God over the Ten Tribes.

The Bible speaks of four primary areas of human authority. Each is there to administer order in a specific way, and over specific people. Those who are under that authority are to respect the office of those in headship over them in that limited sense. It is their God-given responsibility.

In the home God holds husbands responsible for providing for their families, for protecting them, and for helping them grow spiritually. Both parents are to care for their children and oversee all that promotes their well-being. The wives are to help their husbands carry out their responsibilities and honor the covenant God established between them in marriage. Children are to honor their parents as those God has put over them for their good. It is a horrible perversion of authority for husbands to degrade their wives, make them serve their personal mandates, or to do harm to their wives in any way. Likewise Parents do not have authority to harm their children or to abuse them.

In the work place employers, business owners, and managers are to oversee the work of those they employ to make sure they both do the work they are paid to do, and to ensure that every worker is properly compensated for his time and talents. The workers are to honor what their masters at work expect of them. They should honestly do the work with such diligence that it will be pleasing to God.

In the church, God has called and ordained Elders to oversee their congregations spiritually. They are to guard the purity of worship and the administration of the Sacraments. The Elders are responsible for teaching and shepherding all those under their care. Discipline is to be carried out justly within the boundaries of authority God grants to the church. Those in the church are to honor the offices of leadership, and show respect for the Elders as long as what they do and teach is not in conflict with the instructions God has given us in his word.

Likewise in civil societies, leaders are held responsible for keeping peace and order within the boundaries of the territory God places under their authority. Our respect is to be directed to their office, not to their personal merit, or power to subjugate others.

When Paul wrote this epistle, pagan Rome ruled the civilized world. Some Emperors came to power by violence, some by the vote of the senate, some by the power of an army, and others were illegal successors to the throne. No Roman Caesar in that era honored Christ or viewed the Scriptures as God’s law. Yet Paul said that all existing governing authorities are established by God.

God establishes different governments to accomplish different purposes. The civil leaders may be a blessing or a curse. They may bring honor or dishonor, but always by God’s wise providence. Wicked governors are appointed by God as a just reward and to execute judgments. He raised up Babylon to judge Israel when that nation wandered from him. He raised up the Pharaoh of Egypt to reveal his power to deliver, and to show his justice toward those who defy him. God said about the Pharaoh in Exodus 9:16 “… indeed for this purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.”

Dr. Robert Haldane wisely said, “No tyrant ever seized power till God gave it him.” The Bible is filled with absolutely clear statements of that fact. For example, Psalm 75:7 says, “But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.”

Even the sufferings of societies justly show us God’s rule. Daniel wrote from captivity in Daniel 4:17, “This decision is by the decree of the watchers, And the sentence by the word of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men.”

The prophet Jeremiah records God’s words in Jeremiah 27:5, “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are on the ground, by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and have given it to whom it seemed proper to Me.”

We should keep this in mind even while we pray for some who undergo persecutions. Sometimes even the church has defied rightful government and brought God’s wrath upon them. Haldane warns, “When the ignorance of God’s people is punished for any offense against the government of their country, their chastisement should be looked on as a chastisement from God”

There is only one biblical limit — we ought to obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29). If governing authorities force us to defy God we are duty bound to disobey, but respectfully and humbly.

There is a grave danger that comes
from insubordination to governing authorities.

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

Since God appoints every power, good or evil, to resist them is to resist God. It deserves to be condemned. It is very serious when we break a civil law. The danger is not just that we may get caught by police, fined, or put in jail. It is not that our reputation might be damaged, or our social status might be brought down. It is that breaking civil law is disobedience of this ordinance of God.

We easily get discouraged about government corruption when we lose sight of this. No matter who wins an election, or what disgraces are done by our leaders, or what turmoil and damage their rule might bring about, we need to remember the words of Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We also should remember Psalm 9:20 “Put them in fear, O LORD, That the nations may know themselves to be but men.” Pagan King Nebuchadnezzar learned, “the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, Gives it to whomever He will, And sets over it the lowest of men” (Daniel 4:17). This passage puts an awesome price upon this disobedience. It brings God’s condemnation.

As startling as it may seem, even evil governments serve God’s purpose. No human government is ever perfect. They all enforce some wrong laws. There is no greater abuse of authority imaginable, than the crucifying of Jesus Christ. The Roman authorities and the Jewish Elder/Priests put to death the one who appointed them. Hellenistic paganism was a state religion. The Roman Empire was oppressive to God’s people. The Jews, even the faithful ones, were restricted. The early church became its target, and after Nero many were tortured and put to death. Yet it was to this oppressive Empire of lustful, egocentric pagan rulers, that Paul called his readers to civil obedience. Even though they would jail him, and later execute him. This totalitarian state of Rome was to be honored and obeyed in the civil realm as God’s appointed servants.

This in no way implies that God sanctioned their evil. God uses such imperfect states to restrict evil to the degree that it serves his purposes. This protects us against the outbreak of total chaos, mass murders, lootings, and against large scale brutality of the church to take its property, or to kill and defile its people. Even poor courts limit the flow of oppression, though they may be motivated in their judgments by power and greed.

Sometimes corrupt governors were used to show God’s people their own failures, and to provoke them to repentance and renewed obedience. In times of martyrdom the church often grew in strength even though its numbers were diminished. God used the pagan Roman Empire, Egypt, Babylon, Syria, Canaan, Philistia, and many more. God’s people under oppression were not directed to overthrow the governments, or to provoke dissent. They were to live responsible godly lives under that which was instituted by the authority of God.

Even in captivity under Babylon, the captured Jews were told to pray for the cities. Jeremiah 29:7, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”

The duty of civil governments is stated in God’s word.

Romans 13:3-4, “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.”

Since civil leaders are ministers of God for good, there should be no fear in the hearts of those who obey rightful laws. However, for those who do evil, who defy the laws God gave governments the authority to enforce, they have reason for fear. Their fear should not be only the threat of jail or fines, but also and more so the wrath of God.

The word translated here as “minister” is diakonos (διακονος). This is the same word meaning “servant” which was used for the office of Deacon in the church. Government’s job is to administer good in our communities, to keep the civil order for all who obey the civil laws. Good governments are called upon to preserve and protect our creation rights of life, work (which implies earnings and ownership), marriage and family, and liberty of conscience to obey God. Civil leaders are not to control our lives, work, families, and conscience. They are to ensure that these rights are secured for their citizens.

These ministers of the civil order do not bear the sword in vain. That is, they do not bear the instruments of force for no purpose. Governments have a right to use physical force against criminals. “Bearing the sword” is most often connected with the execution of capital punishment. It is not murder when the state executes a properly convicted murderer. God’s word makes this a capital crime because of the absolute dignity of human life.

This is how God ordains to carry out his wrath in this world. Government, through its courts and under the limits of due process and the laws of evidence, are the only rightful avengers in society. No one may take the law into his own hands.

Even the Apostle Paul when under arrest agreed with that principle in his own case. He said in Acts 25:11, “For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar.”

As Christian citizens we have an absolute moral duty.

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

Our subjection to civil rulers is mandated by God. Peter had learned a lot since that impetuous moment in Gethsemane when he drew his sword. Later in 1 Peter 2:13-17 he wrote, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men — as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

Later Paul wrote to Titus in Titus 3:1, “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work,”

Government has specific areas of proper God-given authority. For example, to ensure public safety and to protect life and property our governments enact laws such as those against robbery, theft, assault, murder, rape, incest, and perjury. For our safety against irresponsible citizens they regulate traffic with speed laws, issue licenses to qualified drivers, and register motor vehicles. If we think some laws are unwise, we can work to change them. But like it or not, we must obey them as long as they do not require us to disobey God’s own laws.

To provide for the national defense governments may prosecute people for treason, aggression, terrorism, and espionage. They can use military force to protect us against evil aggression from other nations. Just as personal self-defense is justified, so is international self-defense.

However, government may not intrude upon the rightful authority God gives to others. It cannot do the work of Elders by controlling church membership, worship, or doctrine. It cannot do the work of parents by taking over the education and discipline of children. They cannot do the work of our masters in the workplace by assuming control over industry or businesses.

When government officials show disregard for other authority structures, they too will answer to God for their disregard of his order. The tendency of the fallen arrogant heart is to presume that others are not smart enough to carry out the duties God has given them. Corrupt governments believe they can do better than parents in raising and teaching children, better than medical professionals in determining what medical procedures are to be employed, and better than the owners of businesses to determine how budgets, materials, properties, and employees are to be managed.

Many in government are intent upon taking control of these areas of life. Civil leaders may sincerely see businesses not making good choices, or parents not raising their children in ways that seems most wise. However, just as Paul was respectful to Rome in areas of the Empire’s legitimate authority, so also governments should respect the authority God assigns to the home, the church, and the work place.

There are times when an invasive or oppressive government is perhaps God’s judgment upon citizens who have neglected their own responsibilities. If civil leaders are immoral or corrupt it may bring God’s judgment. On the other hand, these abuses of government may already be God’s chastisement upon a lazy or immoral society.

Paul next adds that we are to be in subjection for important reasons. Our respect for authority is not only to avoid judicial wrath when we do wrong, it is also to ensure a clear conscience before God, that we have not defied the authority structures he instituted.

Government must be provided for
so that it can do its work effectively.

Romans 13:6-7, “For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

Government has a right to collect reasonable taxes. Funds are needed so that governments can carry out their duties of law enforcement and defense. Given our fallen nature, it is not surprising that taxation is often abused.

Under the economic system God set up for Ancient Israel during the Levitical Period, there was a single amount each household had to pay. The only percentage fee was the Tithe (one tenth of all income). However that was designated for the Priests and for the costs of worship, not for the costs of funding armies and keeping neighborhoods safe from criminals.

Often taxes are used for things which are in themselves evil, just as they were in ancient Rome. It is interesting that even with those abuses, Paul says we are to pay the taxes and fees anyway. Jesus said in Mark 12:17, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”

God charges the abuse of taxes against the corrupt governments. God does not hold the citizens guilty for what their leaders do with the tax money. We must not withhold taxes simply because we believe they are wrongly collected or improperly spent. We should work within the law to see that irresponsible tax laws are changed, but we do not have the authority to refuse to pay.

At times governments impose other fees to curtail unfair trade practices. When there are customs, the charges must also be paid. These are fees placed upon imports and exports, or taxes on items or services purchased or sold.

We are to render these payments with humble respect. They must be paid in fear of the awesome power God has entrusted to our leaders, and with the honor due to the office God has given them.

As we work to bring Christ’s lordship into every area of life committed and talented believers ought to get into government work. We need statesmen of integrity and principle rather than those who simply want fame, fortune, and power. This brings us to yet another duty which should be obeyed every day.

We are to pray for the civil authorities
God has placed over us.

Paul wrote to Timothy reminding him in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.”

Just as the Safety Patrol kids represented the school’s Principal, so also the police, the sheriff’s deputies, the mayors, governors, congressmen, president, and all those in civil authority represent the kingship of God on earth. To disobey or to dishonor them is to defy God, and call down his judgment.

Our duty is to be responsible and godly citizens. We should elect leaders who will honor the boundaries and responsibilities God has placed upon civil authorities. We should pray for and encourage those who hold rightful offices, and we should honor their laws and leadership within the area of authority God has given to them.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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The Poison of Revenge

Lesson 49: Romans 12:17-21

The Poison of Revenge

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Violence has been a part of our world since its earliest recorded moments. It uses whatever technologies are available to do damage and harm. There was a time when swords and well crafted clubs were the best and only weapons of terror. In time arrows, cross-bows, and the powerful long-bows extended the arm of terror and made it possible to penetrate the best protection and defenses available at the time. Not long after that gunpowder made it possible to hurl projectiles like canon balls and bullets hitting targets at greater distances and with more penetrating power. Riffling made the bullets even more accurate. Firearms became more portable, higher powered, and more sophisticated in their ability to hit targets quickly. Explosives have evolved into sophisticated nuclear devices able to be lobbed at enemies by missiles crossing oceans and continents with ease.

It is wrong to blame our present dangers on advances in technology. History records that some of the most devastating and savage acts of terrorism were not caused by bombs or automatic weapons. Entire populations were left maimed and dying in the wake of sweeping attacks by enemy nations in the time when the most sophisticated weapon was the sword.

The poison that gets out of control in terrorists and in unstable people is present in every fallen heart. We see it when aggressive drivers on the highway try to run others off the road, or take shots at them. We see riots where neighbors using rocks and clubs take out vengeance upon one another. We even see fights break out on playgrounds between children at play.

Vengeful attacks are not limited to physical violence. They may be launched in a barrage of hateful words spoken in hatred and revenge. People use cutting remarks or a sarcastic gestures to hurt others by belittling them or insulting them. They lash out to hurt back when they have been hurt. Vengeful attacks cannot be excused on the grounds of self defense. They are moved by a self-deified heart.

Paul explained the root of it all in Romans 5:12 where he said, “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.” The result is what Jeremiah described in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

Justice is imperfect in our world. Often the wicked appear to be getting away with evil. When victims see justice not carried out as quickly or as severely as they see fit, they may take the law into their own hands, or lash out to get even.

Revenge can be a sophisticated poison, one that is in some ways socially accepted and encouraged. They call it standing up for yourself, getting even, or sweet revenge. But it is not sweet at all. It’s a bitter poison to the human heart. It eats up the soul of those who steal God’s sole prerogative and right. Getting even often gets us a sour spirit. It usurps what is God’s, and shoulders a divine duty which no one can bear.

In Romans 12:17-21 Paul reviews God’s prescription for his children

Christians ought to resist the
temptation of personal vengeance.

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

Evil done toward us should not be paid back with evil of our own. It is the natural tendency of the lost human soul to seek revenge, retaliation, or retribution. That attitude must be replaced by a more proper view of justice and its deserts. Only our faith in the power of the risen Christ can enable us to overcome that urge to get even on our own. Testings of our character when we are wronged often expose the false hearted “Christian”.

We should be careful that our behavior is honorable in the sight of everyone. We should never let vengeance move us to lay aside right principles when we are wronged. There is no good moral law of God that can be set aside just because someone else is wicked. Personal vengeance is an unhealthy attitude, and it brings reproach upon the gospel, upon the name of Christ which we bear.

Believers are bound to do all they can to promote
peace rather than to return evil for evil.

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

Jesus said that the peacemakers are the ones God blesses. When we promote peace we also fight against the misery that comes from revenge. The best thing for our own souls is to live as the God who made us prescribes. No one knows better than our Creator about what is good for us.

However, in this sinful world our attempts at peace are not always accepted. We cannot control all situations or how others respond to what we do or say. Our duty is to persevere toward promoting peace.

We also need to remember that peace at any cost is too great a price to pay. We cannot compromise with evil or abandon the demands of justice simply to make things seem to be peaceful. That which is purchased at the expense of duty or godly obedience cannot truly be called “peace.”

Revenge is not ours to take. It belongs to God.

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

People read the expression “give place to wrath” in different ways. Some have taken this to mean we should give room for the wrath of those who are against us, that we should step aside and give it room to rush on by. Though that is certainly correct in one sense, it is not what the words mean here.

The grammar indicates that this is making reference to the wrath of God. To clarify this the NASB translates it as, ” leave room for the wrath of God.” We ought to let wrath occur, as God has instructed us. It should not come by our personal attacks on others, but by just and proper authority. Let those God has put in charge deal with justice, though it may be imperfect for now. Give it time, give it room, and in the end, justice will be done without our violating God’s order.

Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35 which confirms that interpretation. There it says, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them.”

The Lord is the only one who has a right to vengeance. He will deliver it justly in his good time.

Here on earth God assigns justice to be carried out only by certain people. Parents are to raise their children in love. When they disobey, their parents must discipline them kindly in ways that will encourage them in godliness. Elders are to shepherd the members of the church. When members are unrepentant, the Elders admonish them, bar them from the sacraments, or in extreme cases remove them from the church. Masters are to provide fairly for their employees. When they are unfaithful workers their employers may withhold pay, or dismiss them from work. Civil judges and governors are to keep the peace in society for their citizens. When crimes are committed they may impose fines, or even execute capitol offenders.

However, even those who hold these offices are not to take vengeance personally. They are to impose the corrections they are authorized to administer as agents of God. To interfere with these authorities is to defy God’s designation of his ministers (Romans 13). When we respect these authorities, and refrain from taking our own vengeance, we promote happiness for ourselves, and for all whose lives we touch.

Instead of personal vengeance,
we are to overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21,”Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


While there are some confusing things about this passage, its meaning is clear. When people do evil against us and behave as enemies, we are to overcome the evil by doing good to them.

To illustrate this Paul uses the most common needs we can provide for them: food and drink. The principle is that we are not to return evil for evil, but should do good when ever we can. This was the law of God from the beginning. Human philosophy and culture perverts this idea as the Pharisees did in the time of Jesus. They said in Matthew 5:43, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” That is found no where in Scripture. It was a horrible corruption of God’s word.

Jesus corrected them and said in the next verse, “But I say to you, love your enemies” Then he expanded on that with references to the law they should have known: he said, “… bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

This fits perfectly with the elements of love we derived from Scripture in our last study. The foundation of love is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can self-centered concerns be replaced by God-centered motives. The actions which are called “love” are the obediences to what God commands us to be and to do. Without God’s revelation, love would have no definition. When we do what God commands toward our neighbors and toward our enemies we are loving them. Jesus is said in John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” When we love as we should, God blesses us with a feeling of peace and satisfaction because we are being what he created and redeemed us to be. The “feeling of love” is a fruit of love, not its cause.

The confusing part of this passage is when Paul adds that in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Paul was quoting from Proverbs 25:21-22 following the wording of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly used by the Jews at that time). This passage reads, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the LORD will reward you.”

Paul quotes this to explain why we should do good to those who do evil to us. this is our proper motive. But how is heaping coals of fire on an enemy’s head like doing good toward him? This is obvious figurative. It should not be taken as literal. Giving food and drink is not the same act as putting burning coals on a person’s head.

So what did this figure mean to those Hebrews who first read Proverbs 25? It seems to have been a common figure of speech or idiom understood by God’s people representing some judgment of God being poured out upon the wicked. For example we see in Psalm 140:10, “Let burning coals fall upon them; Let them be cast into the fire, Into deep pits, that they rise not up again.”

The idea of Dr. Ridderbos that this meant a neighborly gesture of given them a bucket of coals for their fire which they could carry home on their heads is creative. But he shows no support that this expression ever had that meaning.

So why should we hope that our doing good would bring down God’s judgment upon them? Certainly making them suffer should not be our motive in doing good. We do not leave them to God because he can hurt them more than we could. That goes against the whole context here. However, if our doing good is an evidence of God’s work in our own hearts, then it serves as a testimony to the truth and power of the gospel. Just before Jesus said that we should love our enemies, he also said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

This judgment of conscience (as God describes it in Romans 1 and 2) will show them their own corruption which they do not want to admit. It hurts them and works against what they want to believe, but God will use it to bring his chosen ones to repentance and conviction of sin. In this way some of those who are enemies are transformed into brothers in Christ.

Those not brought to repentance will become all the more angry when we respond kindly to their attacks. It reveals their lost rebellious hearts. It shows them as vessels of God’s wrath designed to reveal his power, justice and holiness (Romans 9:22). To them whose debt to God is not paid for by Christ, one day judgment will come eternally. The weight of their conscience serves as a warning to them of the wrath to come. Dr. Haldane points out that when a person is not overcome by good done to him unworthily, he must be in “the most awful state of hardened wickedness, and their punishment will be dreadful.”

God may at times use the pain to their conscience to cause them to back off. Regardless of how God uses the good we do to those who oppose us, it is the right thing for us to do because God commands it. Our motive in doing good is not to punish our enemies. It is an obedience to our Redeemer. To yield to anger is to be conquered by the enemy.

Vengeance shows weakness and frailty, not strength. The idea of personal vengeance is totally un-Christian. If we are vengeful, desire to get even, and if we inflict pain on those who hurt us (either physically or by our words), we reject this biblical teaching. We should have the attitude of Christ in us.

One of the sad chapters in my own childhood was the time I hurt a friend. As a child I was not a fighter. It was not something I would have been very good at anyway since I was one of the smaller kids in school. But my size made me a good victim when some of the bigger ones wanted to impress somebody. They would come up behind me as I walked home from school and start pushing or saying provoking things to make themselves look tough. Of course I was not so foolish as to give in and start a fight. That’s what they wanted me to do. I tried to turn the issue aside by the way I responded to their prodding. Most times it worked. Now and then I would end up taking a few hits, no serious harm. It was done more for show. They would walk off with their easily impressed friends.

One day I had a disagreement with a friend of mine, a boy whose family had moved to Buffalo from England. His name was John. He and I had the same birthday which we found to be a good start for a friendship. Now I don’t remember what the issue was, but John and I got into an after-school argument one day.

There were others who had gathered around watching us argue. Those more violently minded kids sensed a good opportunity to provoke a fight. That was a favorite after school pastime for some who lacked other things in which to excel. They started pushing us together and adding to our argument. We started to rather tamely poke at one another. Somehow, in the heat of the situation, the confrontation escalated into an all out punching match. Then I noticed that the bullies who had used me as their victim before, were actually urging me on and cheering for me against this new guy who wasn’t quite as well accepted yet. My selfish desire to take advantage of the moment, and to show John who was really right in our disagreement got the best of me. With one well thought out swing I gave it all I had. My little fist flew through the air and hit poor John right in the face below his eye. He bent over and grabbed the bruised spot and started to cry. The gang crowded around me with congratulations. For that moment I felt like a real hero.

The next day in class my already troubled conscience was stirred by my 4th grade teacher, Miss. Turner. I highly respected her and the patience she had with the class. I remember her noticing John’s bruise and asking what happened. There was no way I was going to help her out on this one. But the witnesses who had urged the whole thing on proudly shouted out that I did it. There it was — my moment in glory. The bullies actually attaching my name to victory and justice. But Miss Turner didn’t seem to see it that way. She looked at me with her kind but obviously troubled smile and said, “So I guess that means you won.”

It didn’t sound like she was really asking. Her tone of voice cut deeply. I didn’t feel like a winner at that point. And I knew I hadn’t proven that I was right about anything we had been arguing about either. I had done something I had no right to do. I felt very cowardly and defeated as that moment. I realized that the teacher I had so respected was disappointed in me. She had put her finger directly upon the real issue. There was no victory or justice there at all. Later that day I apologized to John. We continued as good friends until his family moved away again. Since then we have lost touch with one another as so often happens with our childhood friends.

That incident drove home an important lesson for me. When in God’s providence we are treated with cruelty, belittled, or taunted, we should realize that such matters cannot always be avoided. In God’s hidden purposes our suffering always has a very important purpose. Our responsibility is to respond to it in a proper way.

We should try to promote peace. We should do it prayerfully, depending upon God alone, and only in ways prescribed to us in Scripture. Peace with others is never found by abandoning the demands of justice when civil order is violated. Judicial penalties are the exclusive duties of the offices God has designated. Parents should deal with their children when they disobey. Elders oversee the spiritual lives of the members of their congregations. Business managers may terminate or redirect the responsibilities of workers who do not fulfill their responsibilities on the job.

When victims try to take justice into their own hands and execute wrath aside from God-given authority, society descends into chaos rather than peace.

The world glorifies the “tough guy” who stands up for himself and makes those suffer who get in his way. In reality, that person is neither strong nor tough. He is weak and to be pitied for his inability to overcome evil with good, and to leave vengeance to the Lord. His is the way of a child, not of one with maturity and strength.

If in moments of sinful weakness we resort to personal vengeance, we need to confess it to God. We should apologize humbly to those we hurt, and work hard to grow in Christ so that others will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

By God’s grace, through Christ, may we find the strength to love as God tells us to love.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Genuine Christianity

Lesson 48: Romans 12:9-16

Genuine Christianity

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When the Christmas season approaches each year, people make up wish-lists and start dropping hints to loved ones and friends. Stores put up displays designed to entice us to want the products they invested in and put up on their shelves. Commercials on television and ads that pop up on websites try to show us how delighted we will be if we buy their product. Children are made to think that this year’s number one toy will bring them endless hours of delight and fun. Teens become convinced that certain products will instantly make them attractive and popular.

Armed with scribbled or downloaded lists, and minds full of well dropped hints, we shop. To fulfill the dreams of those we love, we brave the traffic either on the streets, or on the internet. Urged on by the joy we hope to bring to those we deeply care about, we fill secret hiding places with gifts, and empty our bank accounts of our extra earnings.

The lists help us select what our loved ones have said they want. However, we need to be careful that we don’t make the mistake of thinking that these outward things will really make anyone truly happy, or that they are the best way to show our love and friendship. We need to keep our balance. Our shopping traditions, while probably expressing a genuine love in many cases, may also betray that we put our trust in the wrong things.

In our world of self-interests, people often look to find their joy and satisfaction in clothes, cars, toys, gadgets, entertainment, leisure, sports, and countless other things. They look for security to their investments, possessions, and savings. They measure their worth by earned titles, degrees, and how many people know them by name. Things like these become obsessions. None of them really provides a lasting sense of inner satisfaction. People who get them soon need more, better and newer of whatever they hoped will provide what they believe is missing.

Not that any of these things are wicked to have, but when we think they will bring us inner peace, security, joy and satisfaction, we have elevated created things over the promises and person of the One who made them. To be a healthy part of the body of Christ serving in this present world, we need to know the kinds of things God tells us are best to be the objects of our highest affections. In this next section of Romans Paul shows us that upon which the genuine Christian life should be centered.

As Christians, we ought to love with a genuine sincerity.

Romans 12:9a, “Let love be without hypocrisy.”

The word “hypocrisy” comes from ancient Greek. It came to be used in those times to describe actors playing a part in a play. Today, we say a person is a hypocrite when he pretends to have attitudes and convictions other than what is really in his heart. Dr. Haldane points out that our fallen society is filled with “false pretensions of love”.

The Bible is our Creator’s word to direct us in how those redeemed by Grace can live to show proper honor toward God. In a sense, it should be our operator’s manual for life. There God teaches us that love is not what the world imagines it to be. Our love should come from a heart made alive by Christ. It should reflect the undeserved love of God toward sinners whom he makes into his children.

To the world love is a confused mixture of unexplainable things. Some see it in outward acts of kindness and care for others. The word is often used for the satisfying physical and emotional needs in a romantic situation. Often it is seen as a feeling that mystically overtakes us so that we fall into and out of love passively. These things can all come from very selfish motives. People may to these things only to make themselves feel good or to get others to treat them favorably. They are not the essence of love as God explains it in his word.

Confused fallen people even say that it is love that moves them to abort certain babies, set murderers free, encourage sexual activities outside the bonds of marriage as God instituted it. These are not acts of love at all. They are tragic counterfeits. Biblically, love begins in the redeemed heart, evidences itself in godly actions and attitudes, and results in a good and satisfying feeling because of our engagement in what pleases God.

Those are the 3 elements of love in the Bible.
1. Its foundation is a heart regenerated by the work of Jesus Christ. In our fallen estate, we cannot love as God defines it. Only when new life is given to the lost by grace, can their center of concern change from self to God. The Holy Spirit applies the work of Jesus as Savior, enabling the person to purpose and to do what formerly he could not and would not.

2. The evidence of love is obedience to what God commands us to be and do. Being born-again sets the person free form the bondage of sin and death. This makes the person want to do what is good and right, both toward God himself, and toward others.

Jesus is said in John 14:21 “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves Me.” Love is always defined by the principles God has revealed to us in the Bible. There is no other way to know what is really right and good. The loving person’s attitude and behavior toward his neighbor should be what God says it ought to be. Also, his attitude and behavior toward God is what Scripture reveals is truly pleasing to the Lord. In this way love is something we can do as enabled by redeeming grace. It is not just something we feel. God commands us to love one another as an action, not as a feeling. 1 John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Therefore, Biblical love is concerned about the true needs of others as seen by God.

3. There is also a feeling of love. This is the blessing that God gives to those who humbly show evidence of his grace at work in their hearts. The feeling is a fruit of love, so it should not be mistaken for love itself. As feelings come and go people often believe they fall into and out of love, almost as if they were victims of forces of nature. Biblically we are commanded to love. It is something we do in obedience to our loving Redeemer. The feeling is sure to follow as the blessing God covenants to give when his ways are honored.

I define the general biblical use of the word “love” this way, “Love is an attitude implanted into needful human hearts by the prevailing grace of God whereby we are enabled to obey joyfully the revealed desires of our Creator both toward the Lord Himself and toward one another.”

The love believers should have as members of the body of Christ should not be just an outward show, or a mystical feeling. It comes from redeemed hearts doing all things for the glory of God, and for the advancement of the spiritual growth of their neighbors.

We should not treat evil and good in the same way.

Romans 12:9b, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”

The lost soul has no standard by which he can identify what is good. He tends to think something is good if it makes him feel comfortable. He clings to those things, and avoids as evil whatever disrupts his security and personal peace. He may even see things God forbids as good things if they feed his selfish lusts. He will probably also see the good things God encourages as being time wasting annoyances.

Genuine Christianity should agree with God about what is evil and good. We need to cling to the good tenaciously, while we avoid evil. Bad things cannot simply be pushed out because you suspect they will keep you from happiness. That is just more self-centeredness. You must see how they offend God and therefore you become appalled by them.

To remove the evil it must be displaced by what God says is good. There is no moral neutrality or vacuum. If you wanted to get the darkness out of a room you don’t look for ways to chase it away. You get rid of it by filling the room with light. To successfully overcome hurtful attitudes and behaviors, you need to replace them with that which is good. Paul says you should cling to, become united with, what God says is good. Literally the words mean “be glued together with what is good.”

Our attitude toward others should be honorable.

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

Instead of being devoted to self-needs, the Christian needs to look to the needs of his brothers and sisters in the Lord. The word for “brotherly love” is philadelphia (φιλαδελφία). It is the kind of affection family members have for one another.

We should be good examples by showing honor toward others in Christ’s family. Unlike the world, our goals in career and with friends should never be simply to out-do others. As Paul said it in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Serving the Lord should be the prime concern in our lives.

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

The 1611 King James Version has “not slothful in business …” Today we think of the word “business” as having to do with commerce, buying and selling things, and managing a profit making company. That is not the meaning of the words here. The word translated “business” is more broad. It means any activity, whatever we set out to do. Believers in all their zeal need to be motivated in every area of life to be serving the honor of God.

In all we do, career included, we must do our best as those who represent Christ. In Colossians 3:22-23 Paul wrote, “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.”

There ought to be great joy in the believer’s outlook.

Romans 12:12a, “rejoicing in hope.”

The world around us follows the natural way of our fallen souls. It rests in temporal securities such as stable jobs, sound investments, savings, and good health. These are all very uncertain things which bring no assurance of happiness in themselves. Often, concerns about security become destructive worries and obsessions. The more people get, the more they worry about losing it.

When we are redeemed in Christ, we have a more sure confidence. God’s promises are at the foundation. By counting on his word we find hope in whatever circumstances we face, both gains and losses. That sure confidence becomes the foundation for real joy.

The Bible records those promises in undeniable clarity:

Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.”

Hebrews 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast,”

Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Difficult times can be endured and overcome.

Romans 12:12b, “patient in tribulation,”

Even in times of suffering we know that our God rules in heaven and earth. Life brings tragedies into every life at one time or another. We all experience losses and pain. But through it all we have that confidence that we are not alone. Psalm 23 reminds us that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. In those times we do well to remember Job, David, Habakkuk and so many others who faced losses and hard to understand circumstances. Trust in God, not that he will keep you from adversity, but that he will preserve you through those challenging times.

The true believer relies upon his Heavenly Father.

Romans 12:12c, “continuing steadfastly in prayer;”

Those who trust in God’s promise through Christ must learn to see the importance of prayer. Talking to our Heavenly Father who alone holds all things in his hands, is a great comfort. The greatest cure for human anxiety is to learn the power of personal and regular prayer. Paul, in advising the Christians in Philippi wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

A tragic loneliness comes to those who cut themselves off from communion with God in prayer.

We ought to show concern for the struggles
of others in the family of God.

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

The world around us would rather leave mercy and care to charitable agencies or government. However, God does not call institutions or governments to care for the needy. He calls his children to do it in love and in the name of Christ to bring glory to God. The greatest benefit in the work of mercy is not the relief of hunger, disease, or poverty. It is the promotion of God’s glory by showing the humble compassion he puts into his children.

The hospitality it speaks of here is not social entertaining in our homes. It is providing for those away from home and family when they have needs. Believers ought to budget their resources and time so that they are able to do all they can to be quick to take care of others in times of special need.

As Christians we should have
a godly response to persecutions.

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

Here Paul summarizes a larger issue. The world is quick to curse those who trouble them. In contrast, we as children of God ought to actually bless those who treat us badly. Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, “… love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

How easily we respond with an angry glance, a sharp word, or a cold rejection when people take advantage of us, hurt us unjustly, or belittle what we hold dear. Some even respond with violence or try to cause harm and suffering in return.

But it’s to our shame when we act in a way so unlike Jesus Christ. His warnings to the haters of God and to his persecutors was never from personal hurt. He even prayed regarding the forgiveness of the civil crime of his own crucifixion. There were some yet to be redeemed who foolishly called for his death. The first Christian martyr Stephen prayed similarly.

We should learn to be more empathetic toward others.

Romans 12:15-16, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.”

The world of fallen souls, of which we too would be a part if it was not for the grace of God, has little real concern for the feelings of others.

In the grip of sin, our society is moved by self-mindedness. When things go well for others, people often jealously wish that the blessing was theirs. When others suffer, they often distance themselves from the situation so their peace of mind will not be troubled. When the lowly in society face problems, the proud bask in their own success as if they were better than those who suffer.

Christians need to join with those who rejoice, to be happy for them and with them. We need to enter into the sorrows of others when they weep, and understand their suffering.

This verse is not so much calling for feelings of sympathy, which often looks down in pride upon troubled people in a condescending and haughty way. Rather it is calling for empathy.

The American College Dictionary defines “empathy” as, “entering into the feeling or spirit of a person”. Being of the same mind is to become united with their feelings about things. When God blesses them, we ought to thank God with them. When they endure adversities, we ought to struggle with them.

We dare not be concerned only for our own feelings and needs. We should learn to see through the other person’s eyes. Understand their struggles and needs. Remember that we are all sinners saved by and blessed by God’s grace alone. Calvin said “… a Christian ought not to aspire, in an ambitious manner, after those things by which he may surpass others, nor indulge in haughty feelings, but meditate rather upon modesty and meekness….” Ambition and personal drive is often the mask of selfish greed.

We ought not to dwell upon our own successes, and conceitedly take pride in our own wisdom. Rather we ought to rejoice in every success as God given. We should also learn to sorrow in every pain since it is the consequence of the fall of man.

A “God-first” attitude changes everything. What a wonderful blessing it would be if we could be such a person for our friends and loved ones. Be a friend, a brother or sister in the body of Christ, a bright spot in a shadowy world of self-interest. God in his word calls us each to develop these characteristics through the power of the one who gave himself that we unworthy rebels might become emissaries of the Creator of all that is.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Glory Forever

Glory Forever

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 107
(watch the video)

Sometimes people are not able to deliver what they promise. They might have the best of intentions, but things come up that keep them from following through. We all have to handle the unexpected and deal with things that break down. Sadly, there are also times when people never intend to fulfill their promises.

It hurts when that happens with family and friends. No one likes to be forgotten when someone says they will come by and pick you up to give you a ride. It’s discouraging if someone was going to get something for you at the store, but came home without it.

It can become a more serious problem when national or world leaders fail to deliver on their promises. Voters are commonly skeptical of political campaign promises and commercials. When trust is violated or little is done to accomplish important things, people suffer. Even international treaties, agreements, and sanctions have little impact if they are not enforced responsibly. It makes terrorists and rogue nations more bold in their oppression and attacks. Broken promises or protections that never come cause doubt and mistrust.

It’s one thing to say what you want to do, what ought to be done, or even what you plan to do. However, it is another thing completely to make those things actually happen. We need to be careful not to assume that God’s promises are unreliable that way. God can do all he promises, and he never fails to do so. This is why we pray with great confidence.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 107 is, “The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen, teacheth us to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him; and, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen.”

Some modern translations do not
include this last part of verse 13.

There isn’t a museum or vault where the actual original copies of the Bible books are kept. In God’s wise providence, we no longer have them. There were no printing presses or copy machines at the time of their writing so each copy was done by hand. Very quickly the books of the New Testament spread to Asia Minor, Europe, Asia, and Africa. We have over 5,000 ancient manuscripts that preserve the New Testament text. Some papyrus fragments date back to the first century, about the time of the original writing.

By comparing the copies from different ages and from different parts of the world, the copying errors can be confidently identified and eliminated. Dr. B. B. Warfield counted that about 95% of the variations in the copies are just isolated errors. Most are just misspellings, or a word left out or sometimes duplicated.

Once in a while a marginal note by a commentator was copied into the text of one or two manuscripts. Sometimes in regions like Alexandria exiled heretics tampered with the text in a few places. However, it is not difficult to recognize these changes by comparing with the other copies.

This last part of Matthew 6:13 is found in almost all the Greek texts known. It is found in manuscripts from all regions, including the carefully preserved Byzantine copies. These words are quoted by some of the early church writers so we know they cannot be a late addition.

These words are missing from one old copy from Alexandria, and another from Europe. It is also missing from 6 later copies probably made from the earlier one in Alexandria. A few early translations into Latin and Syriac change the text around some or add words. However, of the thousands of copies available, there is unanimity that these words belong there.

Some modern commentators and translators, based upon this rather thin evidence, leave the words out. Many scholars, myself included, find no reason to doubt their authenticity.

Can we be sure that these are the faithful and true words of God? There is a way to authenticate the truth of these words without having to base our decision upon the study of ancient manuscripts. This is not the only prayer in the Bible where these words occur. They are also found in the prayer of King David in 1 Chronicles 29. Most of the Lord’s prayer seems to be based upon this prayer of David. In verses 10-13 we see all the support we need to pray with confidence, “thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”. David’s prayer goes this way, “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.”

These ideas and words are also found in other portions of Scripture. Paul wrote them in 2 Timothy 4:18, “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!”

The same things are said about God in Psalm 145:11-13, “They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom, And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, And the glorious majesty of His kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.”

These things are obviously true about God, so it is no surprise they appear in these inspired prayers. It makes sense that Jesus would include them in this model prayer he gave us too. It is a proper thing to include in our prayers as well.

This closing doxology is a fitting
end to this model for prayer.

The Lord had just given seven petitions, things we should pray for regularly.

  1. that God’s name will be hallowed, treated with holy awe and respect.
  2. that his Kingdom will advance displaying his Sovereign rule and power.
  3. that God’s revealed will should be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  4. that your daily needs will be provided by God who controls all things.
  5. that you will be forgiven for your sins through the work of Jesus Christ.
  6. that you will not be taken in by temptation to satisfy your needs immorally.
  7. that you will be delivered from the evil one, who wants to see you fail.

The model prayer concludes with confidence that God can deliver on the things we ask him to do. His is the Kingdom where he rules all things. His is the power and the glory. These eternal qualities can never fail, they have no end.

These qualities speak to God’s abilities. If God truly rules as King with infinite power, then there is the wonderful and glorious hope that cannot possibly fail to accomplish all the Creator’s holy will. Our petitions are not in vain. They come to a God who redeems and loves his children. He directly made and sovereignly rules over all things, even over those who defiantly dare to be evil.

We call this type of expression used in these concluding words of the prayer a “doxology”. Literally, it means they are words of glory. They remind us of the wonders of our Lord. David’s prayer honors God in his greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty. It says that he is the source of all riches and honor that any other creature might enjoy. He reigns as King with all power and might.

There are no accidents, no changes in his plans. He is our Sovereign God. He is the one who can actually do what you need him to do, and what he says, he will do. He is not just a theological idea. He is the one and only Living, Sovereign Lord.

God’s Majesty and Glory continue forever.

As it says in the Shorter Catechism, God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. His kingship, power and glory are as eternal as he is. It is his Nature. It is what he is.

God has no beginning, and will have no end. Through all eternity he remains the same. Psalm 90:2 tells us, “Before the mountains were brought forth, Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”

God’s people have often responded
to his glory by saying, “Amen.”

This is an ancient custom that continues today. When David had the recaptured Ark of the Covenant brought back to the Tabernacle in Jerusalem, he wrote a dedication Psalm which is recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36. It ends this way, ” ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel From everlasting to everlasting!’ And all the people said, ‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord. ” When true and good things were said about God, his people showed their agreement by saying “Amen”.

“Amen” is a Hebrew word, amaen (אמן). It means “to confirm, to support, to be firm, to be sure, to be true.” The Greek New Testament writings used this same word, amaen (αμην) but wrote it in their own alphabet. We have brought this Hebrew word into English language unchanged except for the pronunciation.

Since God is truth, amen is often used as a name for God. Deuteronomy 7:9 uses a form of this word when it says the “Faithful God” hael hane-eman (האל הנאמן). Isaiah 65:16 twice speaks of the “God of Truth”, “the God of Amen,” Elohae-amaen (אלהי אמן). In Revelation 3:14 Jesus Christ is called “the Amen,” ho amaen (ὁ αμην).

When you put “Amen” at the end of your prayers, it keeps this same basic meaning. Not all prayers in the Bible end with an “Amen,” but when it is there, it wraps up the prayer by saying the word “truth.”

When you close your prayer that way, you are saying that everything in your prayer is offered sincerely and is true. It is all the honest hope and desire of your heart. It means you are confident that the promises your prayer rests upon are true. They must be because God’s word is a solid and certain foundation, and God cannot lie.

When you consider all the things you should ask for in prayer, all 7 petitions in this model Jesus gave us, and agree that the God you pray to is the all powerful and eternal King, and affirm that in Christ he loves you and redeemed you with an infinitely great price, you speak an amazing truth! God can deliver on all the things you are told to pray for. Prayer should be a thankful time of confidently resting your concerns upon God himself.

Use this prayer as a daily guide.

With confidence bring every need and praise to the Creator all through the day. Make sure you, your children and friends know this model prayer by heart. Make this model prayer a pattern to follow whenever you speak with your Redeemer. It should be a part of everything you do throughout every day. Prayer should be more regular than eating. Three meals a day is enough for basic nourishment, but it is not enough for prayer.

Start the day talking to the one who brought you through the night and who has planned the day ahead. Pray in humble thanksgiving every time you receive his provisions of food, your paycheck, or meet a new friend. Bring your needs to him and those of any others God brings to your mind. Your intercession makes you part of the means by which God powerfully fulfills his promises in the lives of others.

Have family times of worship which include prayer for one another. Teach your children to pray. End the day thanking God for every opportunity, for being your loving Shepherd through the rough times, and for every skill and ability you were called upon to use that day.

Since God ordained prayer as a means by which he unfolds his providential care and plan, it is tragic that some neglect this important duty. They leave it to others.

Are you sometimes too busy to engage in what really makes a difference? Do you not believe that God can and will deliver on the promises he made? Has Satan and your fallen heart pulled the wool over your eyes once again? Never let the evil one have little victories in your life.

Make it a point to pray for your prayer life. Use this awesome model our Lord gave you, expand upon it, fill it out with specifics. Engage the enemy with a power he cannot resist or overcome. Be an active advancer of the Kingdom of Grace right now here on earth.

When you finish your prayer, rest back and consider the certainty behind it all because God is All Mighty! Then, really meaning it, think or say a good hearty, “Amen!”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

What Part Do You Play?

Lesson 47: Romans 12:6-8

What Part Do You Play?

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I was always the little agile guy who could wiggle and squeeze into small tight places where my bigger friends could not go. This was in the days when there were no computer game consoles. It was even before to old original Atari. When we played soldiers we had to put together the battle plans, and do all the running and crawling on our own. There were no computer generated characters to do it for us. We had to fall down and grimace when we were shot. Thankfully, by our own rules, the medics could heal anything and we would immediately be back in action.

Living in the steel plant community of South Buffalo, we were not rich. We had to improvise and use our imaginations when we waged pretend war. We did not have all the plastic weapons, walkie talkies, and toy helmets that were on the market for kids back then. However, that did not bother us much. So what if our combat sidearms were silver and had the name “Roy Rodgers” stamped on the side, or that our combat helmets strongly resembled the hats we wore playing baseball, or even that our grenades looked suspiciously like clumps of hardened mud (a fact not so much appreciated by our parents after a battle in the basement or attic).

When our guns fired, the most skilled of us could do a reasonable sound effect with our mouths. We even got grenade sounds down fairly well. This was done way before the time of George Lucas and his Industrial Light and Magic Company.

Being the size I was, I was always the one who had to crawl through the small basement window into enemy territory, then stumble my way through the coal bin to make a surprise attack while the rest of my larger buddies made a much easier assault down the basement steps.

In such times my smallness and bendability was appreciated, and I became a daring hero. We all had our talents and we were glad to use and develop them in our back yards, alley ways, basements, attics, and along the streets to help our side win the war. We were a team, and everyone had an important role.

God also uses even the least of us as important parts in the work of his Kingdom. When talking about all the different kinds of people in the church, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:22 “… those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

In our previous study of verses 3-5 we saw that every Christian needs to maintain a healthy view of how he fits into the whole family of God. Paul used the example of the human body. Every part has a purpose so that together they make one whole functioning person.

Christians organized in to a spiritual family called the Church are like the members of a body. When a believer becomes centered upon himself instead of upon the Lord he develops a destructive attitude. If he esteems his own abilities too highly he forgets how all that he accomplishes is a gift of grace, and he tends to be less considerate of the work of others in God’s plan. If he tends to always pity himself, or put himself down, he fails to respect the promises of the God who calls him to his particular place. These wrong attitudes produce depression, discouragement, and crippling self-injury.

Instead, the Christian should learn to love his own calling in life. He must pursue that calling with the diligence of thankful obedience and humble gratitude toward his Savior. He needs to appreciate his own duties, and the uniqueness of every member in the church.

Paul then listed some of the gifts God was giving the church at that time:

Romans 12:6-8, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”

This list is just a sampling to illustrate the principles he had just explained. It is not meant to be an exhaustive list. The Apostle gave us other lists when he wrote to other churches too. When he listed some of the gifts for the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12 he even made the same comparison between the human body and the church as here in Romans 12. In Ephesians 4:11 he listed still other special duties from God for specially called individuals in the church at that time.

Keep a few ideas in mind as we look at this list of seven abilities God puts into his church.

  1. Since these gifts, abilities, and opportunities are given by God’s grace, there is no cause for self-glory.
  2. They are to be used together for the benefit of the whole family of God.
  3. They are for the church as a whole body, and apply to every area of life, not just in the areas of worship and acts of mercy. Our gifts are to be used in our homes, at school, at work, in the community, and with friends.
  4. It is the gifts that are spoken of in this list, not just specially gifted individuals. Sometimes the same gift appears in the same person, or many gifts are needed in one situation.

We each have gifts that differ. Each must be used responsibly for the good of the whole body

1. God had given to some the gift of prophesy.

When Paul wrote this book to the Romans the Bible was not yet complete. God was still speaking by special revelation directly to his Apostles and prophets. This special gift to the church was necessary until God completed his written word.

In Ephesians 4 he listed more of these special gifts. In verse eleven he said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,”

We do not have apostles and prophets in the church today. Their unique job of receiving new revelation from God for the church is now ended.

The work of evangelism, pastoring and teaching continues primarily in the office of Elder. This is the office of overseeing the application of what God had already revealed. In every age of the church, the Elder embodies these last three duties. Though some Elders may be more gifted than others in one of these skills or another, they do not represent three different offices of the church.

These are special callings, not things in which every believer engages. Even the special gifts were for the benefit of the whole family of God.

In Ephesians 4:12-13 he explained the purpose of these special callings, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

Today God’s revelation is complete, and is available to us all in our Bibles. We do not have Apostles and Prophets to add to it. We do have specially called Elders to promote the gospel, shepherd and teach God’s people. These spiritual leaders are enabled to more competently understand and report God’s truth to the church.

There is a sense in which all believers carry out the work of the prophet. We each ought to be ready and able to give an answer for the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15). We need to be ready to tell what God has said to others when the opportunity comes. We tell about the prophetic word in the Bible.

So the warning and admonition for the prophetic work applies to us all too. The prophetic work is to be done according to the proportion of faith God has given us. The biblical faith must be presented in confidence for what it is, the very word of God. If God puts you in a situation where you can help a person find out what God says, do not imagine you are incompetent. God gifts us for the jobs he brings our way.

Do your humble best to help the person find out what God has said in his word. You do not have to be an expert. The Samaritan woman at the well was no trained expert. She just invited the people of the city to where they could hear the word of Christ. If you do nothing more than invite the person to church, to hear the word taught you have done a wonderful service for the kingdom.

You need to be careful not to say things if you are not sure what God has said. Do not guess or go by your feelings about what is right and true. Stay with what you know the Bible says. Beyond that, help the person find answers as you learn along with them. Ask your Pastor or Elder for some direction as to where to get good help. This is what it means today to limit the prophetic work according to the proportion of faith. Stay within what God has made you sure of by his written word. The teller of God’s word must love the truth, and trust its promises.

2. God sometimes gifts us for the work of ministry.

This is the work of a servant, humbly helping others, particularly the needy. When there is a need among those in the church, God calls his people to meet that need.

Our lost world sees no value of the work of being a servant. Their goal is to be served. Humble service is a most “Christ-like” and honorable duty. In Luke 22:25-27 Jesus said to his disciples, “… The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.”

The word used here for “ministry” is the same as the root word for Deacon. These specially called officers lead the church in being humble servants of Christ. They do the kinds of daily jobs that are often not highly rewarded or appreciated. However, without such things the church of Christ would be crippled and hampered.

Under that leadership, all believers are called to this work of service. When you have an opportunity to serve others for the glory of Christ, do it. Follow the lead of those specially gifted in this way. Learn from them as they follow the lead of Jesus Christ. Do not wish your job was something else, something more honorable, with more authority. Humble service is a wonderful, Christ like behavior, and gift of God to his church.

3. God sometimes gifts his people to be teachers.

The prophets were those who received the word of God. Teachers apply what God has said and help others to learn and obey.

Again, all believers must tell God’s truth and present his gospel at every opportunity. God has called some to set aside other things in their lives and become teachers. God is not just concerned with teaching about Bible stories and salvation. His word also has guidelines for how we view history, science, politics, and every other area of life. There are principles that effect us every day. Parents are specially called to teach their children. It is a special and holy calling. Elders are specially called to be the teachers in the church and to oversee all its educational work.

In using these talents, we must communicate God’s truth clearly. Our goal is to make it understood to the best of our ability to all of God’s children. If you have the opportunity, be doing it. Teach, and teach well.

4. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of exhortation.

This is the job of exciting believers to their duties, and dissuading them from sin. Pastors, parents, publishers, writers, artists, Sunday School teachers, and youth workers all need to be diligent to use every opportunity, every ability, to encourage believers zealously to apply God’s revealed truth in their daily living. When you can be an encouragement to godly living, do it.

5. God sometimes gifts us for the work of giving.

God gives us many things. What we have is entrusted to us to use for God’s glory. The first 10% of what we earn is the Lord’s for his church. That is what the word tithe means. That giving ought to be done obediently before we look at our own expenses and desires. The work of the church requires physical means to operate and to care for its people. That would not be done if we keep for ourselves, or give to charities, what belongs to God.

What remains ours is to be managed to provide for our needs and those of others. Sometimes we give thank offerings to the church to show God our gratitude. Sometimes we use our means to help family, friends or neighbors in times of need.

In all of our management, we ought to try to be able to give as it says here, “with liberality”. That means freely, not grudgingly or holding back. The word here literally means “with simplicity”. We give without qualifications, excuses, or grumbling. Giving must be done with devotion and joy for the work of Christ. There must be no “ulterior motives” or “giving for personal honor or reward”.

This is a work to which some are better suited than others. By the gifting of God, some are able to do much more than others. Being a godly and successful businessman or investor is a gift of God. Without such the body of Christ would be lame.

Our goal should be to have enough to help out with our giving as God enables us. Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”

6. God sometimes gifts his people for the work of leadership.

There is a broad principle of headship in Scripture. Some are called to rule. Husbands are called specially to manage the homes, and parents to manage their children. Bosses are to responsibly oversee their businesses and workers. Governors of various sorts are to rule in society for God’s glory. Elders are to rule in the church representing God’s principles of operation.

Where God has given the authority to rule it must be done with diligence. Leaders must be faithful to their duty and submissive to God’s moral law. They my use the talents of others, but they are not to pass off their responsibility. It is their duty to see that the work they oversee is not done poorly. Those in charge must put forth a good effort, relying on God’s enablement. Godly leadership, conducted in love, is a wonderful gift to develop at every level.

7. God sometimes gifts us to do the work of mercy.

This is the compassionate and personal care of those in need. In some ways this is a job for all of us. Every believer should want to care for the sick and the sad. The office of a deacon is specially a calling to the work of mercy. They lead the rest of the congregation in this service too.

All who are called to show mercy, must do it with cheerfulness, not as a chore. Attitude is very important in our obedience to Christ. John Calvin, showing his pastor’s heart, wrote, “nothing gives more solace to the sick or to anyone otherwise distressed, than to see those cheerful and prompt in assisting them …” And he warned of what happens to the needy when cheerfulness is lacking, “… so to observe sadness in the countenance of those by whom assistance is given makes them feel themselves despised”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones”

What part do you play?

Do you serve faithfully and gladly, however God calls you to serve in his family? Do you serve according to the faith God gives you? according to your confidence in what he says in his word? with obedience to your calling at the moment? with singleness of mind? with diligence? with cheerfulness?

Love for God and his mercy, sincere gratitude, is what drives us as we function as a body. There are no unimportant jobs in the church, no dispensable members. The simple acts of praying for needs, inviting people to worship, and encouraging the discouraged are each a part of how God works in us to promote the health of the whole body of his church.

As a good, faithful and humble member of the body of Christ never despair your own inadequacy as if God might have made a mistake in putting you there at that time. On the other hand, never become puffed up as if God should be thankful to you for your own skills.

Use every skill and opportunity as a wonderful opportunity to show your love to God. He will be glorified in your life.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Deliver Us From Evil

Deliver Us From Evil

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 106b
(watch the video)

In our information age it would be hard to ignore the fact that there is real evil in our world. It surrounds us in the news that comes to us by television, radio, newspapers, conversations, magazines, internet, cell phones, and tablets. Evil did not just arrive. It is not isolated in terror camps, inner-cities, or Hollywood film studios. It has been here from the beginning of human history, and it is everywhere.

People lie, covet, and neglect their responsibilities. They show disrespect, use God’s name in vain, break the Sabbath, and worship gods who are products of the imagination. Some commit crimes and try to get their way by using violence.

There are those who want to justify all these things as if there is nothing really wrong with them. They excuse those who do them as if they are just exercising their individuality, or are the products of a cruel society. Those who believe that these things are absolutely sinful are dismissed as bigots or intolerant.

That does not change the fact that what violates God’s ways is simply evil. Many live in open rebellion against God. Others violate his ways by suppressing the moral truth embedded in their hearts. It is not just Satan and his army of fallen spirit beings who do these things. The whole human race fell into the grip of evil in Eden.

In the Lord’s Prayer, there are three levels of dealing with our continuing struggle with sin. We are to ask to be forgiven of our debts against God, not to be led into temptation, and to be delivered from evil.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 106 is, “In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.”

The word “evil” is used various ways in our Bibles. That English word was sometimes used to translate the Hebrew word ra (רע). In the Old Testament that word was used when God brought disasters or calamities into the lives of nations and individuals. The word does not mean moral wickedness. It was used for such things as natural disasters, deserved judgments, sicknesses, or even personal injuries. These things are unpleasant, but they are not morally wicked acts. The newer translations usually use English words like “calamity” or “disaster”.

Certainly none of us enjoy calamities. It is obviously right to pray for safety from them. However, we pray in subjection to God’s will. He knows that sometimes we must go through them. This is not the kind of “evil” we are to be delivered from when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. The word “evil” is used here for something wicked and morally wrong.

Moral evil can’t exist on its own.

Moral evil is not a disembodied force or entity that just floats around looking for someone to infect. It always has to do with an evil person.

The Old King James translates it, “Deliver us from evil.” Many more recent translations say, “Deliver us from the evil one” or something to that effect. The New King James Version translates Matthew 6:13, “And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Technically, both are grammatically possible. In the original Greek text there is a definite article like our word “the”. That means that it is not speaking of evil in a general qualitative sense. It is not the quality of evilness. The article makes it a specific place where evil resides. It can only exist in a person. So we are most accurate say “the evil.” Ursinus, author of the Heidelberg Catechism, says that here it, “comprehending all evils … yea, and the devil himself.”

The influence of evil in our own fallen natures, or in other humans around us, or in Satan can work to damage our walk with Christ. Twice Matthew uses this exact same word to describe Satan in Matthew 13. Here “the evil one” is in the singular, so it probably is a reference to Satan in particular. We need to pray that God will deliver us from evil, from those who shelter it in their hearts.

Our struggle is hard enough, then Satan does his best to complicate it for us. He is the ultimate evil one. He orchestrates evil to damage the display of God’s glory in the world. Since showing God’s work is our job, Satan does all he can to hinder Christians. Peter tells us that the Devil prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. He is a real spirit being who hates God and anybody who promotes his glory. Satan is not passive. He is out to get you.

If you belong to Christ, he wants to make you ineffective. It is amazing that he keeps on promoting evil even though he has been defeated and is doomed. Maybe he just does not believe it. Or maybe he just does not care.

Way back in Eden, God said he would lose his battle to destroy God’s plan. He was soundly defeated by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. He was bound by the work of Christ so that he can no longer deceive the Gentiles in this era. Yet he keeps on fighting and deceiving whoever falls for his lies.

Don’t let his lies steal your victory! Reject his lies in favor of the promise of God.

God tells what to do along with
your prayer to be delivered from evil.

God generally answers our prayers by means of things he prescribes for us to be doing. 1 Peter 5:8-9 gives this advice for your battle against the evil one, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”

First, he says you should be sober. The word translated as “sober” is naepho (νηφω). It is not the usual word used in ancient Greek for being literally sober. For someone not under the influence of alcohol a different word was used.

The word Peter uses here means having a sober attitude, being “well balanced”, “self-controlled”, and “free from excesses.” In classical Greek it was often used of athletes to describe their disciplined life-style to stay fit. It is used 6 times in the New Testament and 3 times here in 1 Peter.

In your fight against evil you need to maintain a disciplined daily walk with Christ. There should be a balance in your life so you can keep up with what God recommends.

There should be a daily and consistent use of the means of Grace in your life. There should be some time every day to read God’s word. It keeps you informed about what is right and true. God works by it to comfort and strengthen you.

You should talk to God in prayer every day and throughout every day. This is your source of power in your battle with evil. Keep in touch with him to thank and honor him for his good promises and comfort. Bring you needs to him, and ask him for strength and ability to do things well. Pray often for others whenever God brings them into your mind.

You need to be regularly involved in the work of Christ’s Church. The evil one does not like it when you respect the spiritual leaders in your church, when you are faithful in attending worship, and in partaking of the sacraments. Your family members in your local church are here to encourage and help one another. When you stand together like that, you resist the attacks of evil. Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”

Satan will try to cut you off from these means of spiritual victory. He tries to get you to neglect God’s word, prayer, and the work of Christ’s church. As you pray to be delivered from the evil one, keep these good things in balance, be sober.

Peter also tells you to be alert. The Greek word here is graegoreo (γρηγορεω) , which means be watchful, vigilant, alert. It is used 23 times in the New Testament. In resisting the evil one you need to watch out! Keep your eyes open for his attacks and stay on the alert.

I injured my right leg awhile ago. Every night before bed I go out to our garage to empty a bucket that catches water that drips from the overflow pan in our air conditioner’s air handler. I had the bucket in one hand while I pushed the door open with the other. I step out onto the little cement slab to secure the door before I dump the bucket. But this time my foot came down on something else — there was an armadillo sitting there, taking a break from tearing up my back lawn. My bare foot came down right on that little creatures back. I’m sure we were both pretty shocked. He took off into the darkness and I twisted and turned trying not to fall or dump the bucket all over me. I guess my leg tensed in such a way that I tore some of the muscles in my right thigh. It healed well, but now I never step out that door without looking at what’s there first.

We have to be on the alert for the unexpected in the spiritual battle too. The evil one looks for moments when you are off guard or vulnerable. Then he strikes. It is important that you know the Bible well so that you do not underestimate your enemy. Satan is not a comic book demon with a red suit, horns, and a pointy tail. He does not prod you with a pitchfork. He is a spiritual being that God says is wise, calculating, and crafty. His goal is to damage God’s glory, and to get his people to disobey God’s ways.

Stay alert. Don’t step on those armadillos that lay in wait where you least expect them. Most importantly, keep your eyes on God’s promises and his work of grace and love. Remind yourself all through the day that you are here for a very specific reason. You are here to glorify God and to obediently enjoy all that he gives you. In James 4:7-8 resisting the devil is closely connected with drawing near to God.

When King David was fleeing for his life from the armies of Absalom, he wrote Psalm 3, “Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God.’ Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head.”

Satan would like you to look enviously at the enticements of sin, and the fake satisfaction it promises. In those weak moments, he hopes to catch you with your protection down. He wants you to give in.

Refuse to get your attention fixed on things like that. Identify them, pray, repent from any sin regarding them, then — turn away. When the enemy attacks, minds filled with God’s promises will be delivered from evil. Psalm 5:11, “But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.”

The Bible says we are more than conquerors in Christ. It also tells us to be sober and alert. The enemy attacks when we are least prepared, and often in ways we least suspect.

When you pray to be delivered from evil,
you call upon God for spiritual victories.

The victories are those he has promised in Christ, and secured by the his work on the Cross.

We pray that God will not let evil overcome us, that evil will not take us captive, but that we will be delivered from its deception. We pray that the Creator will restrain every effort of evil against us.

Look to Jesus. Keep your eyes off the discouragements and enticements of sin. Fix your heart upon the things of God which set you free by the power of the Cross. Pray that God will turn your encounters with evil into times of growth and victory.

Pray that God will one day fully and perfectly deliver you totally from evil in the life to come. That is the assurance you have in Christ, a final and complete deliverance from evil forever. All that opposes God will be cast away eternally into the lake of fire.

Until then, watch and pray, trust and obey. As the hymn says, “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism

Parts of the Whole

Lesson 46: Romans 12:3-5

Parts of the Whole

by Bob Burridge ©2012

My grandfather on my mom’s side of the family was a railroad Engineer on the Lackawanna Railroad. He was also quite a handyman and a hobbyist in mid 20th century electronics. In his basement he had drawers full of old vacuum tubes, resistors, capacitors, coils and every imaginable part of that era’s technology. I would follow him into his workshop and sit on a stool watching him work with his testing probes and soldering iron — bringing old radios back to life or making inventive circuits.

He showed me how to make a crystal radio out of just a stone, a needle, and scrap parts. I slowly learned how each of the strange looking components worked. I’d ask, “What does that little thing do? Why’s it important?” In his quiet, patient way he would explain as he went about his work.

Of course the parts were all important. No decent circuit designer would include components that didn’t serve a purpose. Some parts took a weak signal and made it much more powerful. Some stored up a charge, then fed it back through the circuit at regular intervals. Some would choke out certain frequencies and enhance others. Some held back the flow of electricity in one wire, making it flow more easily in another. Every little part, no matter how small or strange looking, was there for a reason.

Together they did what the circuit designer wanted to accomplish. By itself, each piece was just a puzzling little component in a drawer.

When our Lord gathers his people to form a church family, each part has a purpose. When individuals fail to see that they fit into the larger picture they easily can get discouraged. Paul warned the Roman Christians to appreciate how each person has a purpose in making the body function well.

Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.”

Paul was well aware that his message was not his own. It was given him by God’s grace. He was saved by the same grace that he had in common with all believers. His Apostolic office and duties were a special grace by which God used Paul to minister to the church.

He warned that we should have a healthy view of ourselves. We live in an age where self-gratification is considered the purpose of everything. Self-centeredness can make the quest for self-esteem become a disastrous obsession. That attitude never satisfies and usually leads to self-defeating abuses. We are warned here that we should not exalt ourselves unduly. We need to remember that we are each an important part of something much larger than ourselves.

The sin of self-exaltation, self-centeredness,
can show itself in two different ways.

The first is self-importance. Remember that you are just one small part of a whole work far greater than what you see. Our sinful hearts can so easily forget God’s grace which alone has enabled us whenever we succeed. It becomes easy to think of our abilities as works of our own raw efforts bettered by opportunities that come along randomly.

Every Christian needs to keep his successes in perspective. Maybe you have earned enough money that you are able to contribute to the church beyond just your tithes. Perhaps you have helped by counseling someone in Christ, taught a really good lesson, spent time to work on the church grounds, or have come to understand some profound biblical truth. If so, guard against becoming puffed up in your attitude. These are wonderful things to accomplish for the Lord, but never imagine that you accomplished them on your own, or that there is no one as valuable in the church as yourself. Guard against thinking you deserve special recognition or honor.

Pride can also show itself in self-pity. This is a more subtle symptom of self-centered thinking. At first glance, putting yourself down may seem the opposite of a high view of self. In reality, it maybe the more common way self-absorption shows itself. Even great prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah and Jonah had times when they struggled with this sin. To think that there is none so miserable, or ill treated and deserving of pity as yourself is a slight against God who has made you for what you are called to be and to do.

This self-centeredness sees God’s work only as it effects you. It diminishes the value of your gifts and contributions as if God has failed to give you enough. Professor John Murray said, “by underestimating, we are refusing to acknowledge God’s grace and we fail to exercise that which God has dispensed for our own sanctification and that of others.”

Self-pity can make you neglect what God has given you to be doing for his glory. A paralyzing self-deprecation ignores God’s enablement and diminishes the importance of his assignments for your life. You tend to not see how you are an important component in God’s plan.

In either case — self-importance or self-pity — we focus too much upon ourselves. We each need to take our place in the church, what ever it is, and to do it faithfully and diligently for Christ’s glory.

Paul then tells us that we should use sound judgment in serving Christ. That expression in this verse is translated in different ways. They each help us understand the flavor of Paul’s words. The King James and the New King James translate it, “think soberly.” The New American Standard has, “have sound judgment.” The New International combines the two ideas saying, “with sober judgment.”

The sound and sober judgment about our place in God’s Kingdom work is allotted to each with a measure of faith. It is God who not only gives us the gifts, but also our confidence to exercise them. We need to rest upon God’s revealed word to show us how to use our gifts, and to direct us to trust in his promise to enable us. We are to see our work as an important part of the whole.

When my grandfather taught me to fix old radio circuits, the first thing was to find the broken part. Sometimes it was a burned out vacuum tube. I remember taking a whole bag of glass tubes down to O’Malley’s Drug Store to test them on the tube testing machine. My parents came to trust me to do that job when electronic things broke down at our house. I learned to put each one into the machine, test the filament, test the vacuum of the glass tube, and then set the dials to check the performance of the component. Sometimes it was a bad capacitor, or resistor, or a shorted out coil. Just one of those little things would stop the whole TV, Radio, or Phonograph from working.

When we look at our lives we need to find out what elements need repair too. To serve Christ in the best way we need to have God diagnose the problem for us so we can turn to him to fix it. We pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;” (Psalm 139:23). Then we need to trust his power to mature us spiritually so that our part in the work of his Kingdom will be done well. When we are functioning as we should, we bring greater health to the whole church.

When we fail to trust God in our work, when we get too focused on how our little part is making us feel, we may be crippling the best functioning of the church of which God has made us an integral part. We must be at our best for the sake of the larger job that is to be done.

By faith we must follow God’s instructions, and boldly do what we are given to do. We should avoid worrying about how others may judge us, or how we measure up to others. Our concern should be how faithfully we carry out our own little job to advance God’s glory and to encourage other believers.

Awhile ago I got one of those e-mail stories that presented a very good little parable. A man who lived off in a remote cabin was told by the Lord that he had a job for him to do. He was shown a large rock in front of his cabin and told to push against the rock with all his might. The man obeyed day after day for many years. He would put in time every day pressing his shoulder against the rock and pushing with ever ounce of strength he could put into it. After a time the man became discouraged. The rock remained unmoved. He started to wonder what the point was. Why should he keep up the efforts when obviously it was doing no good. The man was troubled about his doubts and prayed to the Lord saying, “I have labored hard in your service, putting all my strength to do what you told me to do. But after all this time I have not budged the rock at all. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” The Lord’s compassionate response was this, “I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength. This you have done. I never said I expected you to move it. You have not failed. By obeying me, your arms, back, and legs have become strong, your heart and lungs are healthy. You have not moved the rock, but I had not expected that. When the rock is to be moved, I will move it.”

Our job is to do the specific duty God calls each of us to do, no matter how small or large it may seem. We should not let our own self-importance get in the way of obeying the Lord. We should neither become discouraged that we are not recognized by others for what we do, nor descend into self-pity that we do not have a more important place in God’s Kingdom. We cannot see how all things fit together just yet. When we make judgments like that we dare to be judging God.

When you wonder why you keep working so hard for little recognition, or when others seem to do better, or when you cannot see immediate success, remember; just push against the rock. The healthiest outlook is to keep in mind what God calls and enables you to do. Then do it diligently and humbly for his glory out of gratitude, and by the power of the Risen Savior.

Self-obsession only produces depression and discouragement. It is often self-destructive, even suicidal, when we dare to stand as judges over God’s success in what he does with us.

I recently read a number of suicide notes published in a psychology journal. They were written by young people, teenagers. I found one theme in them all that seemed to be the factor that drove these particular ones beyond reason. They became obsessed with introspection, with trying to understand themselves and life itself. They wanted to know how it all fit together and how they fit in. Being driven to madness by expecting to know what was beyond their finite abilities they tragically took their lives.

Paul learned to rest in the revealed promises of God as he went through hard times. He was ridiculed, forced to live under hardships, beaten, arrested, and hated. But he kept on because, as he said in Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Our duty is to keep pushing on the rock God has set before us.

Paul goes on to remind us that
we are not alone in our work

Romans 12:4-5, “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function,so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”

Paul compares the working of the Church with our physical bodies. One organism is made up of many members, many parts. They all differ in function, but each one is important.

The parts are mutually exclusive. That means that each has a unique job to do. In the human body we have eyes, ears, hands, feet, liver, lungs, heart, brain, and so on. No two are exactly alike. Each is suited to a particular task.

It is the same way in the body of Christ. God has given each of you your own unique background, resources, opportunities, and talents. Some are good at providing well cooked meals as nourishment for God’s people, with others we are glad they don’t cook. Some are good at repairing things, treating wounds, teaching classes, providing transportation, tutoring children, mowing lawns, pouring concrete, creating internet web sites, counseling, selling and buying, protecting, governing, showing tenderness, etc..

Regardless if your job is stirring souls, or stirring soup, each has his special place. Some get more attention and honor than others. Some get more reward and blessings. Each person should do his job to glorify God. Each has his rock to push against.

Together the parts are jointly exhaustive. This means that together they accomplish the larger goal. The digesting of food includes the work of each tooth, the enzymes in your mouth, stomach and intestines. Speaking is the work of lips, larynx, teeth, and tongue, as well as that of the brain which figures out what to say. The body would be rather immobile without each toe and the ankle tendons. All the organs, all the members work together to make up a fully functioning organism.

So also is the body of Christ. God blends together all the little components, each humble servant, to bring him glory. You might ask, “How does my little part help?” All are called to pray and attend worship. Some spend most of their days going to work or to school. Some mow the lawn, wash the windows, or drive a disabled person to the store or to a church service.

Do not look so closely at self that you miss how what you are called to do fits together with all the others. God’s kingdom is made up of many jobs, many parts. Together, we display the wonders of our Creator, the grace of the Redeemer, the kingship of the King, the tender care of the Good Shepherd.

Each of our churches is but one congregation adding its own work to that of all the other true churches here on earth in the 21st Century. We are each part of the larger work spanning the ages of history. This includes the congregations in Jerusalem under King David, in Antioch in the 1st century, or in Geneva in the 16th century under Calvin. Each is to do its part obediently pushing against the rock assigned by God.

What God enables you to do or to give must be done with joy, devotion, and competence. It must be done for God’s glory, for the good of the whole church. As servants of Christ’s kingdom, you must push on the rock with all your might, what ever rock God has set for you to push against. In God’s time he will move it. Our duty is to be faithful servants, using our gifts diligently for the honor of the King.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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