Father, Forgive Them

Father, Forgive Them

Luke 23:34a
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2014

While Jesus was being crucified on the cross he spoke several times. What he said is often referred to as the “Seven Words of the Cross”.

These sayings need to be studied with care. Each saying seems to be independent of the others. There is no immediate context or comments to help us determine the flow of thought. Yet they should not be studied as isolated sayings. This would invite dangerous speculation and open the way to heresy and harmful principles by which we should live.

Though they stand alone, they still have a rich context in the broader record of the inspired Scriptures. By comparing them with other clear statements in God’s word we can properly understand what Jesus meant in each of these last sayings

The first of these seven sayings is found in Luke 23:34a “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (my own translation)

Jesus Said, “Father forgive them,
for they do not know what they are doing.”

Several questions obviously come to mind. Who are those for whom he is asking forgiveness? Why should they be forgiven? Was their ignorance an excuse for what they were doing?

A few ancient manuscripts omit this verse.
Two early Alexandrian manuscripts, about five scattered later texts, and about five later minor translations leave this saying out of the text. Some speculate that the verse was left out because some thought it meant that all present were being forgiven simply because of their ignorance. That understanding would contradict other clear statements in the Bible.

The rest of the ancient manuscripts include this saying. It is found in very old and widely distributed manuscripts. It is included in the main translations (including the Vulgate, early Italian, etc.), the early Bible guides written at that time, and the ancient commentators with just one exception.

When more carefully examined the conflict with other passages of Scripture disappears. There is no need to remove this saying from the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus asked the Father to administer forgiveness.
The Son is our intercessor to the Father. This is made very clear in the New Testament. In John 17 Jesus prays his high priestly prayer which is a clear example of his office as mediator between God and his people. In 1 Titus 2:5 Paul wrote, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”

From the cross Jesus asked the Father to administer “forgiveness”. The Greek word translated as “forgive” here is aphi-aemi (ἀφίημι). The same word was used by Jesus on other occasions.

Luke 11:4, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

Luke 17:3-4, “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”

Jesus was asking the Father to dismiss the guilt of sin for those to whom he directed his concern.

But for whom does he ask forgiveness?
Several suggestions have been made:
– Forgive the Roman soldiers who were only obeying orders.
– Forgive the Sanhedrin who thought Jesus was a dangerous blasphemer.
– Forgive the crowd that called for his death being intimidated by the Sanhedrin.
– Forgive apostate Israel which had no concept of the spiritual meaning of Scripture.
– Forgive the elect in the crowd not yet regenerated by saving grace.
– Forgive all of humanity since the lost among them had not understood the gospel.

To answer that we will need more information.

For the moment, overlooking the things we don’t know clearly, these words of Jesus teach us that he has full divine authority to call for forgiveness. It reminds us that the Father is the one who administers this forgiveness. The Son takes the position of intercessor for his people.

Those for whom he prayed were morally ignorant.

“for they do not know what they are doing”

A primary question needs to be considered before we can understand what Jesus meant. What connection does ignorance have with forgiveness?

It is clear that there was ignorance.
The perfectly innocent Lord of Glory, the Creator, was being tortured to death by his creatures. Paul’s later comment in 1 Corinthians 2:8 puts it clearly, “which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Those who called for his death, and who carried out the act, were ignorantly fulfilling what the prophets indicated would take place.

Acts 3:14-17, “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all. Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.”

Acts 13:27, “For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.”

They were ignorantly killing the Righteous One, the Prince of Life. They clearly missed the depth of what was happening that day.

Clearly, ignorance is not a reason for forgiveness.
The larger context of the teachings of Jesus shows that forgiveness is always based upon true and humble repentance. Repentance is always based upon God’s promise which is revealed by grace alone to undeserving and ignorant hearts. The basis for forgiveness is always the completed work of Christ in his death on the cross.

If even one person could ever be forgiven on the basis of his ignorance, then there would be a way of salvation other than faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. That is ruled out definitively. The Bible teaches only one way a person is forgiven for the guilt of his sins. It is by trusting in the work of Christ.

Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;”

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me. ” He also said in John 8:24 “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”

The Apostle Peter said in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

In John 3:36 John the baptizer said, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

So then what does “for they do not know what they are doing” mean?

It shows the necessity of forgiveness and intercession.
All mankind is lost in sin and morally blinded by its effects. Jesus must ask the Father’s forgiveness on their behalf because they could not even know the depth of what they were doing. They were crucifying the Lord of glory, fulfilling the prophets, and killing the Righteous One, the Prince of Life. Yet at the time they believed they were doing a good thing.

Romans 3:11, “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.”

1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Putting all this together it helps us identify
those for whom Jesus prayed the Father to forgive.

All are lost in sin, and doomed to remain there if it was not for the intercession of the Messiah who satisfied God’s justice in their place.

Those present had condemned him, jeered him, and called for his death. They were crucifying him, and did not recognize the Son of Man. But, among them were the elect of the Father. It was for the elect that he prayed. Nothing else would be consistent with what the rest of Scripture teaches us.

The elect are the only ones for whom Jesus could have offered this prayer.
1. The intercession of Jesus has boundaries.
His prayer in John 17 was limited to those given to him by the Father.

John 17:8-9, “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours.”

2. The atonement made by Jesus has boundaries.
The atonement must be limited or else all humans are saved and none will be cast into the fires of eternal punishment. The Bible denies that. One of the two ways of limiting the atonement must be accepted.

Some imagine that the atonement is limited in its effectiveness. For them it failed to accomplish what God wanted it to accomplish. The man-centered view says that God lets us humans decide about our own salvation. It imagines that it’s our choice that determines what God can do. That makes us created people to be Sovereign King over God. But if the choice was ours no one would be saved. No one understands or seeks the God of Scripture (Romans 3:11).

The other view is that Christ’s atonement is limited in its design. Since God cannot fail in what he determines to do (Psalm 115:3), he must not have determined to save all humans, but only some. This is clearly taught all through the Bible. It’s in the teachings of Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. Jesus came to save his people from their sin.

Matthew 1:21, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus came to save his sheep, and he succeeded.

John 10:14-15 says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.”

These ideas are brought together in Isaiah 53:12, “… He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.” The death of Jesus between two convicts, and his representing all the elect as sinners, is clearly in mind here.

But who were these transgressors in Isaiah 53:12? The context shows it was those whose sins he bore. Jesus saw his death that way. In Matthew 26:28 he said, “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” He didn’t pray for or die for nameless masses of possible or potential benefactors. He represented those specifically for whom he succeeds in saving, the elect of all the ages.

Jesus didn’t ask that they be forgiven because they were ignorant. It was on the basis of his atonement for those the Father gave to him that the Father would bring these same ones out of their ignorance to God’s truth, and bring them to repentance and therefore receive forgiveness.

In what way was this prayer of Jesus on the Cross answered?
It was answered by the salvation of the elect among those who stood there around the cross. It was immediately fulfilled for the repentance of the thief on one of the other crosses (Luke 23:43), and probably for the Centurion who said in Matthew 27:54, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

His prayer to the Father continued to be fulfilled in the weeks and months after his death. There were 3,000 who came to trust in him at Pentecost. Many thousands more came to repentance and saving faith throughout the book of Acts, even many of the priests (Acts 6:7). Throughout the ages the ignorant and lost are brought in. It continues today, and on to the end of this age when all the elect will have been saved.

Those who are ignorant of the wickedness and offense of their inheritance and of their own deeds, even those who were there crucifying him, have hope in the prayer of the Savior that they will be forgiven not upon the basis of their knowledge, certainly not because of their ignorance, but on the basis of his death for them.

The unbelievers and the hypocritical church at that time also benefited because God withheld Jerusalem’s destruction about 40 years as the gospel spread throughout the Jewish community. He held back that judgment while his elect were brought into the church.

When we sin, we should be confident
in the efficacy of Christ’s work.

It’s not by our knowledge, understanding, or intentions that we are forgiven. It is by the intercession and atonement of our Savior.

When we wonder how our sins can be ever forgiven, when we worry that God will not answer our prayers of repentance, we must remember the work of Jesus as our intercessor. He knows full well that all his sheep have had their sins paid for. He is the one who paid the price, and who who pleads for them.

Note: Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.

Worship Music Beyond Only the Psalms

Worship Music Beyond Only the Psalms

by Bob Burridge ©2013

A question asked recently in our Thursday discussion time was about the exclusive use of Psalms in worship.

Should we only sing the inspired Psalms in worship?

Some background might help. In reaction against worship music that promoted Roman Catholic doctrine, many early Reformers sang only the Psalms. At Geneva Calvin’s followers produced the Anglo-Genevan Psalter for use by the English speaking churches.

In time, other hymns were written, translated, and edited to satisfy the concerns of the Reformed churches for biblical accuracy in the lyrics beyond only the Psalms. Some continued to sing the Psalms exclusively. They believed that only those inspired songs should be used in worship. That difference of opinion continues today.

In 1946-1947 an Orthodox Presbyterian Church study committee defended the inclusion of songs beyond only the Psalms. A minority report (by Dr. John Murray) defended exclusive Psalm singing. Exclusive Psalmody is permitted in that denomination, in the Presbyterian Church in America, and in a few other Reformed groups, but it’s not required.

I suggest 7 principles that question the exclusive Psalmody view.

First it should be made clear that the singing of the Psalms is very important and is often neglected in churches today. Those who don’t sing them exclusively should strive to use them more than many do. The following points should be taken in the limited sense of showing that good Biblical hymns are proper and helpful for convocational worship (the times when the Elders call the church together for worship as a congregation).

1. There is no direct prescription in the Bible that tells us to use only the Psalms as worship song lyrics.

2. The expression of God’s truth and praise in worship is not limited to the inspired words of Scripture. Pastors are not limited to only using inspired words in their sermons. Historic creeds do not just quote inspired verses. The same scholarship should go into hymn writing. All worship music should be based upon the inspired Scriptures just as a sermon, creed, or confession of faith should be. Worship songs can be like biblical sermons or confessions set to music.

Sadly, many human-composed songs for worship are designed primarily for emotional stimulation aside from the response of the redeemed to God’s truths and promises. These base their appeal upon sentimentality rather than upon the revealed glories of God and his amazing grace. Some of these poorly written hymn lyrics could be consistently sung by heretical churches or non-christian religions since they do not focus upon the God made known in the Bible.

3. The Psalms only present Christ in figures, not in fulfillment. They do not include the full revelation of the Gospel. Post-Apostolic Era hymns include worship in the fulfillment of the promises in Christ.

4. New Testament Scriptures are also infallibly inspired as are the other portions of the Old Testament. These other texts often underlie the lyrics of good hymns. To limit worship lyrics to only the Psalms neglects the beautiful expressions of truth and promise God has placed in other books of his inspired word.

5. Translations of the Psalms into English are not infallibly inspired. They are often very non-literal, not unlike many hymns which are based upon God’s word while not directly using the same wording or sentence structures. To be fully “infallibly inspired” the Psalms should be sung in the original Hebrew text. To fit the meter of music and English grammar the Psalms must be modified. The translations and metrical arrangements are as much the work of uninspired humans as are many good songs for worship which are based upon other portions of the Bible.

6. Not all Psalms were written for the occasion of convocational worship. Some were written in other very specific historic situations, yet they appear in Psalter publications. While it is good to use any portion of God’s word in worship providing it is placed in the proper context of redemptive history, it raises questions about the implied principle that the Psalms were all directly prescribed by God to be used in convocational worship. That was not the original use of every Psalm. By example, Bible passages from other books of Scripture could likewise be used by congregations gathered to worship God.

7. Worship songs in Scripture are not limited to the Psalms. There are several New Testament examples of non-Psalm songs used in the context of acceptable worship.

Mary responded to God’s promised blessing with the Magnificat which is recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Zechariah responded with his Benedictus in Luke 1:68-79. The Angels presented the Gloria in Excelsis in Luke 2:14. Simeon responded to God’s revealed blessing in the Nunc Dimittis of Luke 2:29-32. The “new song” sung in worship in heaven as recorded in Revelation 5:8-14 (:9), 14:1-5 (:3) was not directly quoted from the Psalms. [The names of the New Testament songs cited are taken from the first words in the Latin translations.]

We don’t know if there was a musical element in these New Testament examples of outpourings of worship, and they are not presented in congregational settings. The same is true of several of the Psalms of the Old Testament. Yet the New Testament lyrics are offered as worship and recorded as examples for us in our worship of God.

The Scriptures clearly teach that song
is a proper element of convocational worship.

A “song” is primarily lyrics. The words are set to a melody. The arrangement of syllables and accents produce a meter or rhythm. To present them musically requires some type of musical arrangement which may be a blend of voices or the use of musical instruments. In our era harmonies are often added to supplement the melody.

The Hebrew words for “song” in Scripture were words already in use before the “inspired” songs were written. It was evidently an already accepted literary form. The instruments were also ones that existed at that time. Today we can only make educated guesses about the sounds and tuning of those instruments.

God instituted song in worship in the time of King David. The occasion was the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. (1 Chronicles 15 and 16). To correct Israel’s past disobedience in the treatment of the Ark, they brought it back to Jerusalem in a manner prescribed by God and therefore pleasing to him.

1 Chronicles 15:16, And the children of the Levites bore the ark of God on their shoulders, by its poles, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD. Then David spoke to the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers accompanied by instruments of music, stringed instruments, harps, and cymbals, by raising the voice with resounding joy.

Those presenting the music before the people were all in the Priestly family of Levi. They were not there to entertain the people, or to merely heighten their sense of emotional enrichment. On this occasion they were to express Israel’s joy toward God in the blessing of the returned ark.

The musicians acted within the authority given them to represent the people before God, and God before the people. The Levites lead the music, David and the people were involved too.

1 Chronicles 15:27-28, David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod. Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps.

Upon the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem, sacrifices were made, David pronounced a blessing upon the people, food was distributed, and some of the Levites were appointed to lead the people in thankful praise to God. One of the elements was the use of song. The lyrics of the song in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36 are the same as those in Psalms 96, 105, and 106.

1 Chronicles 16:5-6, Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals; Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God.

The use of song in worship continued as a regular practice in Israel after that occasion.

1 Chronicles 16:37, So he left Asaph and his brothers there before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister before the ark regularly, as every day’s work required;

The use of songs as a part of worship continued in the New Testament. Jesus and his disciples sang a song before they departed from the Passover at his Last Supper. It’s mentioned on special occasions where individuals responded to God’s work as he revealed it to them as the program of covenantal redemption unfolded. Nothing is said about changing the use of song in worship after the Jewish era. We can infer that worship services in the early church continued to include congregational singing about God’s revealed truth and promises.

Songs in worship have a specific purpose. The object toward which all worship is directed is God. His glory is the prime objective.

No parts of worship should be directed just toward the people for mood setting, or to make it appealing to unbelievers. To advertise performances to attract people to attend for personal pleasure or entertainment violates the basic purpose of biblical worship.

The various themes of worship in Scripture set the boundaries limiting what all songs in worship should include. Our songs declare the nature of God, his attributes, his mercies, his judgments, and his works. Songs may also express our response to God’s revealed glory by our humble thankfulness, joy, praise, faith, and repentance.

The musical elements of worship songs aren’t preserved in Scripture. We don’t have inspired examples of melody, chord structure, or tempo. The meter of some Psalms and other biblical songs show us little of how the musical elements would have sounded. Some instruments were used and various groups of voices appear to have combined in some ways. How these compare with the use of instruments and arrangements in our modern cultures remains an uncertain issue.

Who does the singing? Few argue against the joining of the congregation in singing. There is some controversy today about who should lead songs in worship. This relates to the whole matter of leadership in the regular worship services of the church. It appears that this is the duty of Ordained Elders as representative mediators between the people and God, and as overseers of understanding the content of what God has revealed and what he has prescribed for his worship.

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

No Hidden Secret

Lesson 63: Romans 16:21-27

No Hidden Secret

by Bob Burridge ©2012

It can be entertaining to watch a skilled illusionist amaze an audience. They can seem to make things and people float in mid-air, or appear to disappear. When I was very young my Uncle Dick taught me how to do a few simple parlor type tricks to entertain family and friends. Though it appeared that I was able to restore cut ropes and torn up pages to their original state, that’s not what was really happening.

The entertaining part for me in watching an illusionist is to try to figure out what he is really doing. There is always a secret that makes something appear to defy the laws of physics.

Several years ago a professional magician put on a series of television specials showing how the most amazing illusions were done. He showed how illusionists make airplanes seem to disappear, how they seem to pass through walls, how they put swords through assistants or cut them into pieces without harming them at all.

The impossible was not really being done. It just seemed that way to those who were not in on the secret that produced each illusion. It is impressive to see the secrets behind what appears to be impossible.

What God calls us to do in his word is neither impossible, nor are the means to do it a hidden secret.

We are called to progress toward Christ-likeness, and to show love toward others, even to those who fail to show it toward us. We are to find joy and peace in the midst of persecution and tragedy.

Without understanding the power of the unseen hand of God acting in us, we would not be able to do the things Paul tells us to do in the book of Romans.

The impossible struggle to honor and obey God by our own powers and devices has led some to spend their time and money blindly following cult leaders, skilled manipulators, and con-artists who claim to have some secret to inner-peace, guiltless living, financial prosperity, or supernatural powers.

The real secret is — there is no secret. God has fully revealed all we need to know. His written word is to be read, studied, and proclaimed openly for all to hear, and for God’s people to understand. It’s not magic. It’s not some guarded secret preserved by a mystical cult or author who wants you to buy his books.

There is an unseen mechanism behind our obedience and the peace we enjoy. It is the work of God in our hearts and lives through Jesus Christ just as he openly promised in his Covenant of Grace.

Paul identifies the mechanism unseen by those not redeemed, and often overlooked by the redeemed in their yet imperfect state this side of the glorious final resurrection. In Christ we can accomplish what otherwise would in fact be impossible.

Paul ends his magnificent letter by turning our thoughts to this important and central theme:

Behind every obedience and blessing is the grace of an infinite and sovereign God.

Like the Apostle Paul, we need not only to show the grace of God at work in us, we need to de-mystify the Christian life by telling others how it is done.

At the beginning of this chapter Paul sent his greetings to a list of particular believers in Rome. He had been encouraged by them, and wanted them to know how the Lord had blessed him and others through their faithfulness.

Now, after warnings about dissenters who come in to mislead believers, and after encouraging them who stand firm in the battle against the evil doers, Paul sends greetings to the Roman Christians from others who were with him.

Greetings are common in the Epistles. Not only were they encouraging to the original recipients of the letters, they also testify that God does change lives, that spiritual success is possible. They remind us of a greater fellowship in Christ, than what we see outwardly.

There are more in the Family of God than those in any particular church on Sundays. We have a union with believers all through the ages, and we have union with those in far off places who are of like faith. So this is not off topic to bring these greeting in at this point. It shows that God is working in a much wider scope than we often realize. We should be greatly encouraged.

Before the final wrap-up of his letter
several individuals are mentioned.

Romans 16:21, “Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.”

Timothy is mentioned in 12 of the New Testament books. We know of his grandmother, his mother, and of his learning that Jesus was the Messiah. _He had been a faithful fellow laborer in the gospel with Paul on the 2nd missionary journey. Now we see that he was there in Corinth with Paul on the 3rd journey as he wrote this letter to Rome.

The next three are called Paul’s “countrymen”, or “kinsmen” as some translate it. Some believe Paul just means that these were of Jewish descent as he was. Others believe that they were actual relatives of Paul. Lucius is possibly the Cyrene mentioned before in Acts 13:1. He had been called to be a teacher at Antioch along with Barnabas. Jason is possibly the Jason of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9). If so, he was the one who let Paul stay with him in his home and who was persecuted by the rioting Jews when they came looking for Paul. Sosipater is possibly the Berean mentioned in Acts 20:4. If so he was one of those who came with Paul to Jerusalem with relief for the Christians there.

Romans 16:22, “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.”

Tertius was Paul’s amanuensis, a secretary who actually did the hand writing of the letter. Of course the letter to Rome was composed by the Apostle Paul under God’s direction and inerrant inspiration. But this letter shows evidence of careful planning and editing to get it just right. It’s possible that some type of an outline was laid out and developed into the letter preserved for us in Scripture. There were no word processors, or copy machines to do that kind of work then, so a good copyist would have been very helpful. It was a common practice then. By God’s superintendence of the content of this letter, Tertius added his own greetings to the brothers in the Lord at Rome.

Romans 16:23, “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.”

Gaius was possibly the one who was baptized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14. There are three other mentions of a “Gaius”, but they are probably others with same name. This Gaius had been a host to Paul and to the whole church. His home was open for hospitality. That was his distinguishing mark. Perhaps he did this in the absence of Aquila and Priscilla who had hosted Paul on his first visit. They also had a church meeting in their house. Gaius may have taken up this duty too.

Erastus was a city treasurer. The Greek term used here for this office is oikonomos (οικονομος). It’s the root of our word economist. We are not sure of the exact nature of his office, but clearly it is proper for believers to hold political positions even in heathen governments. The “Erastus” mentioned in other passages is probably not this one. [Acts 19:22, 2 Timothy 4:20].

Quartus is simply known as “the brother”. He was probably exceptional in his behavior as a brother in Christ.

At the end of this list Paul adds a brief benediction.

Romans 16:24, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

The textual authority of this verse is questioned by some. However, it has sound support in some very ancient manuscripts. The truth of it is without question since Paul said the same thing in verse 20 which has strong manuscript support.

When we are reminded of our duties, or of our working together in Christ, it is helpful to remember that believers find their rest and ability to serve, worship, and obey in the promise of grace from our Lord Jesus. We are not left to live the Christian life on our own by some set of rules or instructions. We are enabled all along the way by a Living and Sovereign God.

To tie his message together, Paul shows
the power and wonder of God at work.

Romans 16:25-27, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”

This book does not end as any of the others Paul wrote. Romans is unique in many ways. It is a full and powerful exposition of Christianity. It is what an Apostle would have taught if he had the opportunity to be with his readers in person. It fittingly ends with a grand doxology of God’s majesty and grace. In this ending, Paul brings together the ideas in the introduction to the book, Romans 1:1-11.

Two things about God are the focus of the glory Paul ascribes to him here. He mentions God’s ability to establish us, and his unique wisdom.

First: God has the power and ability to establish us who are his children. (verses 25-26)

The word “establish” here translates the Greek word staerixai (στηριξαι) which is a form from the root word staerizo (στηριζω). It means “to set up, fix firmly, establish, support, confirm, or strengthen”. Jude said a similar thing in Jude 24: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling …” God is powerful and enables believers to endure. We persevere because he preserves us by his grace and power.

One reason Paul wanted to visit Rome was to help “establish” them in their Christian faith. He said in Romans 1:11-12, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Since he was unable to go to Rome in person, he encouraged them by this letter.

Paul began this epistle saying that he had been “separated to the gospel of God” (1:1). The gospel (good news) he delivered was that though we are not able to be established by our own efforts or by treasured traditions, yet our Covenant God is able to deliver us, and he has promised that he would do so by grace alone. Our Sovereign God enables us to live as we ought, but by his work in us, not by our own abilities separate from him who is our Creator and Redeemer. Because of the salvation Jesus accomplished, this promise cannot possible fail.

Paul tells us in this closing section that, “the mystery kept secret since the world began” has been revealed. The word “mystery” as used in Scripture, is not a reference to a problem to be solved as in a mystery novel or movie. It is something not humanly discoverable, but known only by God’s revelation. No one can know the eternal counsel of God until he makes it known. God tells us in his good time, when it is most helpful for his purposes to do so.

In past ages, there were things God had not explained or made known. Then, in the era after the victory of Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension, these wonders of the Divine Mind were laid open in full for us to behold!

What is the mystery he is referring to here? What was hidden for long ages past and is now manifest?

It cannot be the fact that salvation is by grace through faith. That “mystery” had been revealed long before. Paul’s arguments for “salvation by grace through faith alone” were taken from the Old Testament. He showed that this was known to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets who came after them. His key theme that “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:17 came from Habakkuk 2:4.

It cannot be the idea that salvation would be accomplished by a Redeemer dying in the place of the lawbreaker. That was clearly represented in the whole sacrificial system and in the words of the Prophets.

It cannot be the fact that salvation is for all the nations rather than for the Jews only. As far back as Genesis 12:3 Abraham was told that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This fact is revealed in many Old Testament books.

The new part that had just been revealed is that God fulfilled his redemptive promises in the person of Jesus, a virgin born Jew who was God incarnate. He would be the suffering Messiah. He had come to redeem God’s people from among all the nations of the earth. It was that final fitting together of all the pieces in the person of Jesus Christ that had become known so recently to those alive in the days of Paul.

Paul was not departing from what God had been saying all along, as some charged. His message was clearly prefigured in the Scriptures which were written by the ancient Prophets. God had commanded that these treasured Scriptures should be taught to even the Gentiles. As Paul wrote this letter, many from outside the Jewish nation were hearing and obediently believing the eternal promises. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in the hearts of Gentiles and Jews alike.

The Second thing ascribed to God here is his unique wisdom. (verse 27)
All truth and wisdom reside originally in the eternal mind of God. When we learn truth or gain wisdom, we are (as Dr. VanTil used to say), “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The grammar here in verse 27 is a little complex, but it is not obscure. Literally it reads: “to the only wise God through Jesus Christ to whom is glory unto the ages.” Some say Paul lost his train of thought and switched to doxologizing Jesus, instead of the whole Triune God. That is not really the correct understanding of the Greek grammar. This may not be simple first year Greek, but it is a well known structure beyond the elementary basics.

The “to whom” refers back to the previous subject which here becomes the object, the Triune God. It is what we call a “resumptive use” of the particle with a “suspended subject”. Dr. A. T. Robertson in his extensive grammar manual (pg. 436-437) gives examples of this form.

Glory is pronounced upon the God who is able to establish us (:25) and who is only wise (:27). The idea of glory has its root in an ancient word that means heavy, and immense. God’s greatness and power make him worthy of our worship and praise. When we glorify him, we are being what we were created to be, beacons showing his nature. It is our duty to seek to be holy even as the Lord our God is holy, and that we should exercise dominion here on earth to represent the majesty of the King over all things.

This glory we give to God is offered up only as we come through the righteousness and work of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is no other way by which any man can come face to face with God.

Paul closes with an “Amen”, an affirmation of truth. The whole epistle leads to these great closing facts about God himself, and what it means for us. God is what he tells us he is.

Romans is truly a magnificent summary of the whole Apostolic teaching. It exposes our lostness and offensiveness to the God who made us. It unveils the gracious work of Jesus our Savior, who satisfied God’s justice in the place of his people. It challenges us to continue to live by faith in his word, repentantly and obediently. It shows us what is required of us privately, in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities. It even gives us counsel about the discouragements that so often threaten us inwardly.

The great promise, the amazing mystery held out for viewing by the Apostle Paul, is the Redemptive Grace and Sovereign Glory of God our Creator. He is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

We are called to do what we are told we cannot do by our own abilities and powers. As a fallen race we will not want to do what is right once it is fully understood for what it is. Yet, we are not asked to do the impossible, and we do not need some secret code or ritual that unlocks hidden powers and abilities.

By grace alone, our undeserving souls are given life because our Messiah took upon himself the death we deserve. With the offense paid for, justice satisfied, and the perfect righteousness of our Savior laid to our account, we are brought back into eternal fellowship with our Maker. He works in us what we cannot do. Yet he moves us to do it willingly and with great joy. While what we do here is never perfect and always bears the stains of our imperfect nature, yet we are moved to do the work of the King as part of his advancing victory over evil.

It is no secret. God has fully and graciously revealed his eternal plan and gospel promise. We need no magical powers or rituals to find full and fulfilling restoration with our God. The Savior sent to represent his people accomplished it all in their place. Once restored, the infinite, eternal and unchangeable God upholds every one of his redeemed children eternally and without fail. God is supremely wise, nothing will take him by surprise.

We are called to trust in his promises and provisions. We rest in the arms of the Creator we have all offended, knowing that his love for us has restored that which was lost long ago among the trees of Eden. We face the daily challenges knowing that the all-wise God has greater purposes than we can understand. Our response to adversity is to meet it with assurance that our God will see us through and eventually bring us to our eternal home beyond all the effects of this world’s corruption.

In whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of our God, and out of gratitude for the immeasurable gift of eternal life purchased by Jesus Christ our Savior at a price beyond our comprehension.

We should make diligent use of all the means God gives us for our spiritual growth. We shall be used of God as his earthly Kingdom Army to trample upon the head of the serpent. We shall enjoy victory for ourselves and for those we love.

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

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Crushing the Serpent’s Head

Lesson 62: Romans 16:19-20

Crushing the Serpent’s Head

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Several years ago, my son was out doing some gardening when his hand brushed up against something that moved under one of the bushes. It was a fair size rattlesnake.

Here was a situation I did not think we should ignore. The snake had found a nice cool spot in front of our house not far from windows we often keep open, and just a few feet from our front door. I was concerned that he might decide that he’d find better shade inside our house than under the plant.

As we stood a respectable distance away weighing our options a sheriff’s patrol car drove by making his usual rounds. I hurried out to the street, flagged him down and explained the situation. The deputy got out of his cruiser and walked over to evaluate the situation. He looked grim and agreed that we had a dangerous situation there.

He mentioned what we already knew. If the rattler was left where it was he would pose a serious danger to our neighbors little children and pets. He also commented about the likelihood of his slithering into our house. Having had snakes get into another house before, this was very much on my mind. So I asked him what needed to be done? All he said was that he wasn’t authorized to do anything about it.

So I asked the next logical question, “Who is authorized?” He said that I could call a wildlife control help line. I was on the phone fast. When I finally got a human to talk to me they said they would have someone there within 48 hours. What was I supposed to do? Keep the snake comfortable and entertained until then?

I asked if there was someplace I could take him if I captured him. The deputy told me that he wasn’t sure but it would be illegal to let him loose anywhere. I was not about to keep him as a pet.

Then he told me that there was another option. I had the authority to kill it. Me?!!!

Reluctantly, I selected the shovel with the longest handle. I stood as close to the snake as I dared. It was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still. There he was, that dangerous but quite marvelous animal. He did not mean to hurt anybody at the moment, but had gotten into a place where he should not have been. I debated the moral issues, but came to the conclusion real fast. I knew of no other options.

I held the shovel at a carefully planned angle. In my mind I went through the motion a few times. I did not want to miss and get him angry with me. I looked at the deputy who was standing a safe distance away looking as if he was about to run. I asked him if he was authorized to use his gun if I missed and the snake went after me? He said that he was authorized to do that if my life was in immediate danger. I was not real comforted relying upon someone I did not know well shooting at a striking snake while I was standing close to his target. This was not something I wanted to count on as a good option.

There was no putting it off any longer. With one fast but carefully planned move the head of the snake was crushed. A cheer went up from the crowd of neighbors that had been watching at a very safe distance.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, God used a similar illustration to explain his promise to deliver his people from the power of Satan. In Genesis 3:15 God spoke to the serpent, the embodiment of Satan, and said, “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

A deadly blow will be administered to Satan by the seed of a woman. We live in a time when we can look back with greater understanding of that promise. Satan’s defeat was assured by the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Paul had just urged the Roman believers to learn to recognize false teachers among them. They were causing dissent and offenses by teaching things contrary to God’s word. They were to be avoided. Their enticing and flattering lessons were appealing, but were also dangerously deceptive. In contrast, Paul now turns to commend the faithful believers for their obedience to God.

The Roman testimony for Christ was reason for joy.

Romans 16:19a, “For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; …”

Evidently the obedience of the Romans had become well known. Unlike those who caused dissensions and offenses in the church, these faithful ones were intent upon obeying the revealed word of God. They humbly submitted to what God said, rather than to follow the theories and words of those who thought they could reason better than their Creator. They did not let the opposition deter them from taking an obedient stand.

Paul rejoiced over what he had heard about them. It is wonderful to see people stand strong against adversity. It is encouraging to see obedience as an evidence of God at work.

Then he warned them to keep on with their good testimony.

Romans 16:19b, “… but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.”

This is a sincere warning. Even true believers can be drawn in by enticing but deceptive ideas. Though the Romans had a reputation for standing firm, there was the danger of being led astray.

Regarding what is good, they must be wise. We should all know the truth of God’s word well enough that we will not be taken in by deceptions. Paul in warning the Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 said, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

The best way to recognize the counterfeit is to know the genuine article well. By knowing the true doctrines and moral principles taught in Scripture, and by wisely seeking God’s grace to conform to them, a person is strengthened to resist attractive appeals to follow after heresies and moral compromise.

Regarding what is evil, they must be “simple,” or as some translate it “innocent.” The Greek word being translated is akeraios (ακεραιος). Literally it means “not-horned”. The root word keras (κερας) refers to a horn like on an ram, bull, or similar animal. One common use of it was used to refer to the little hooks on some letters in the alphabet. These horns or adornments were added to basic orthographic forms. When the “a” (α) is added to a Greek word, it negates it. The idea of being “not-horned” came to refer to something that is pure or not-mixed with additions, or harmless as in an animal without horns. Evil needs to be kept simple in our minds without adornments, exceptions, and carefully crafted excuses. A believer must be without man-made exceptions or additions to what God spoke. They should recognize and avoid the burrs that change the shape of the main issue. Believers should also not use evil an a harmful way. The concepts of being “simple” and “harmless” meld together in this interesting Greek word.

The word is found in only 2 other places in the New Testament. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warned, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The same word is used there of being “harmless” as doves. It is also used by Paul in Philippians 2:15, “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Then in the next verse, Philippians 2:16, he gives the same advice regarding the remedy, “holding fast the word of life, …”

Each time the word show a contrast. It describes standing firmly against the deceivers around us. Each time the same answer is given, follow after what God says in his word. As Dr. Haldane puts it, we must be “without cunning, dexterity, or skill” in the doing of evil.

God’s truth must be taken in its simple meaning, without spin or exceptions. God’s word and ways must be kept in simplicity, not colored with claimed innovative insights which turn what is good into a harmful tool of evil. We must learn to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

Calvin interpreted Paul as saying, “I would have you to be harmless and simple as to the doing of evil; but in doing good, to be most prudent, whenever it may be necessary, so that you may preserve your integrity.”

The Roman’s good testimony up to that point was being looked upon by many. Therefore they must stand strong as an example of what is right and true. They had learned well concerning Christ and the gospel of grace. They must not become good learners of bad things. False teachers love to target simple believers and snare them.

Paul then offers this firm promise.

Romans 16:20a, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly…”

He calls God, “The God of Peace”. The Lord is the author of all true peace. Regardless if it is freedom from calamity, or an inward calm in the midst of it, God is the source. His overruling power is all that restrains evil and provides whatever inward rest our bodies or souls enjoy.

God will crush Satan, that unseen enemy behind his evil empire. Satan is our “adversary”. As the “devil” he is the accuser. In the imagery of the serpent he is the tempter, a liar, the prince of this world, the destroyer.

So why did God create Satan? There is a central eternal plan underlying all that God made and does. Creation is for the purpose of disclosing the divine nature and glory. That nature includes the qualities of Justice, Mercy, and Sovereign Holiness.

God would not only redeem a family of undeserving humans from a lost race. He would also crush a spirit being which was made to become the ultimate enemy. That was the purpose behind the words of Genesis 3:15, that by the seed born of a woman God would crush the head of the serpent. Not just the snake Satan used in the temptation in Eden, but the Devil himself!

That part of the promise was to be fulfilled in stages: It was a plan that had no beginning. It always existed in the unchanging mind of God. It was set in motion by the creation and fall of Satan, then developed in the spiritual and moral battles through history which all lead to the final victory.

A quick preview of that plan was shown in Genesis 3:15 right after mankind fell into sin. Throughout the ages the prophets spoke of the ultimate victory over sin and death by a Redeemer.

Then Jesus came, God in human flesh, born as the seed of a woman. As he said of himself in Matthew 12:28-29, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

Jesus had just cast out demons (Matthew 12:26). The “strong man” he spoke of was Satan, the Lord of the demons. Jesus was about to plunder his house in the victory of the cross. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus “spoiled” the principalities and powers of Satan. John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

Hebrews 2:14-15 speaks about the death of Jesus, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Revelation 20:2-3 tells how God’s angel, “laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”

Today, Satan no longer holds the nations, the Gentiles, in deception. That is the only bondage mentioned here in Revelation 20. The era of Jewish dominance ended at Calvary, and the church became a non-national family of God. All through this age the strong man is bound by the power of Christ and kept from the freedom he once had to deceive the Gentiles.

Jesus has taken the spoils from his kingdom. The Gentile believers in Christ’s true church testify that Satan is defeated already. Though in ways other than the deception of the nations spoken of in these verses we find Satan still quite active. The battle goes on. Though the Devil no longer keeps the vast world of non-Jews from believing, there is a daily struggle in which we all engage against the orchestrated evil around us.

The amazing message Paul refers to here in Romans 16:20 is that God is using us in that process. We are the army of the King of kings. Satan is being crushed under our feet!

As the seeds of women, as literal descendants of Eve, as spiritual descendants of the covenant people, as adopted children of God redeemed by the ultimate Seed of the Woman, Jesus Christ, we are instruments in the hand of God to continue to trample upon the seed of the serpent.

Though we are the army, it is God who does the conquering. We are the means he has ordained to use. So Paul says to the Roman believers that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. We are the Creator’s tools. A saw without a craftsman cuts no wood. Yet we are more than an inanimate saw. God uses us as persons in his plan. Satan uses the disruptors of the church (Romans 16:17-18) as his instruments, but still they act only by the allowance of God.

So, how do we crush Satan under our feet? The method had just been explained in the previous verse: our obedience to God’s principles and promises as revealed in his word. Satan’s kingdom is diminished as Christians show the transforming power of their Holy King.

The obedience of the Roman believers and of all of God’s people is not done in secret. It is seen and observed like a shining light. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The greatest weapon that undermines the false kingship of Satan and proves his defeat is the evidence of the plundering of our lost souls by the conquering Savior. To advance God’s kingdom, to humble the great Devil, we do this by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by the use of all the means of Grace God tells us to use. We should each develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives for others to see. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. …”

No greater attack can be made upon the kingdom of Satan. No greater display can be made of the power of the gospel than to show its results. We proclaim that once we were blind, but now in Christ we see.

Of course, in this age the victory advances imperfectly and incompletely. The “soon” crushing of the serpent’s head under our feet has to do with the little victories we believers enjoy in this age. It was happening even as Paul wrote these words. Then, very soon, the gospel would spread through the Roman world like wildfire.

There is a greater dimension to this promise too. The victory will become complete in the return of Jesus Christ in glory and judgment. Revelation 20:7-10, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

This last victory is not much of a battle. Satan assembles his attack but it doesn’t tell us that his armies ever get to start the battle. Fire falls from heaven, then the battle is over. Satan and his remaining forces are devoured and cast into eternal damnation.

So we fight valiantly against Satan with the full confidence that in Christ we are more than conquerors!

Paul closes with a benediction.

Romans 16:20b, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

This is no mere wish, or formulary closing. It is a bold pronouncement. As we battle on we are not alone. As we battle evil we are not alone. The grace of our Lord is with us as our strength. His undeserved promise will inevitably be victorious through us. Central to God’s covenant is that Jesus is Immanuel — “God with us”.

As Satan, that old serpent, lays coiled up threatening to strike at us and our loved ones, we stand with the shovel in our hands confident in the promises of God and the inner power of the Holy Spirit.

We must make sure our aim at the evil one is taken carefully. He is a dangerous enemy. If our attack on him is presumptuous, careless, in any power but obedience to God’s ways, we will miss the mark and feel the fangs of the evil one as he strikes out at us. But when we obey and strike the target as a part of God’s plan, all of heaven will cheer as Christ’s church advances and the Devil’s head is being crushed by us.

What again is that weapon that is able to devastate the greatest enemy ever created? It is the shining light of the gospel announced in God’s word, secured on the Cross, applied to our hearts by grace, then seen in our changed hearts and lives.

If we live like the world, or are taken in by the enticing smooth words promised by our culture, if we live for wealth, hobbies, pastimes, leisure, reputation or lust we enter battle without the prescribed weapon. All alternative weapons will fail and leave us vulnerable. However, as we live for Jesus putting his glory, our duties to him and to our loved ones above all else, Satan’s head is crushed under our feet.

How simple really. In our homes, at school, at work, in the market places, and with our neighbors we must show that we are brought back into fellowship with our Creator by grace through the Savior. We openly admit to that saving grace. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we show love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Against this there is no defense for the evil one. No failure is possible for us. Victory is ours people of God! We cannot be defeated.

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

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Do Not Be Deceived

Lesson 61: Romans 16:17-18

Do Not Be Deceived

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In this last section of the Book of Romans, Paul had been explaining how God’s revealed word teaches us to love one another. Our love for God should make us desire to live obediently and kindly toward those around us. We are very specially to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, both those who are weak and those who are spiritually strong.

There should be caution in accepting others into a close trusting fellowship.

Romans 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”

Notice that this is not just a mild suggestion. It is an apostolic injunction, a mandated warning. There are dangerous people around!

Paul told the Roman Christians to take notice of them. The NASB says “keep your eye on those”, the KJV says “mark them”. In the original Greek text the word is skopein (σκοπειν) from which we get our word “scope”. It means to mark them out with your eyes, scope them out, learn to spot them. We need to learn their markings, their characteristics.

I am not a snake handler. They are fascinating animals to learn about, watch on TV nature shows, or to observe from a distance. Everything God made is awesome each in its own unique way. However, when a snake gets near me or into my house (and in one place we lived that happened a few times) is ceases to be considered a good snake.

One of the snakes we have here in Florida is the Scarlet snake. I’m told it is harmless to humans, and that it actually does some good. Its markings are red, black, and yellow bands. Each yellow band has black bands on each side of it. The black part keeps the yellow from directly touching the red bands. And if you notice its belly side, the bands do not go all around the body.

There is another common Florida snake, the Coral Snake. It is extremely poisonous. Its venom is related to the Cobra. Its markings are also red, black, and yellow bands. But on the Coral Snake, the bands encircle the whole body.

When you’re trying to tell which of the two kinds of snake it is, you might not be able to get it to roll over on its back to show its belly. So it’s good to know another distinctive of the coral snake, the yellow bands separate the red from the black bands. In short, if the yellow touches the red it is the kind of snake that can kill you. If you see a snake like this, but you are not able to remember which is which, avoid it just to be safe.

Similarly, we need to be able to recognize dangerous teachers. So Paul tells us how to recognize the markings of these dangerous people. They have are two main characteristics.

First: They cause divisions, dissensions in the church disrupting its unity. They introduce new ideas, but not new things found in Scripture. They promote dogmas devised by men. They confuse God’s revealed truth by blending it with untruth. This creates conflicts in the church.

They also confuse the principles God gave for settling our differences. Without an agreed upon standard for judging what is true and right, we end up with angry divisiveness. Those who have a greater influence tend to dominate over those who have the greater truth.

When true brothers in Christ disagree they take time to listen to one another, to understand what the other is saying. Then they humbly dig into their Bibles ready to test everything and let God’s truth have the final say.

Second: These dangerous people also cause offenses. The Greek word is skandala (σκανδαλα) from which we get our word scandal. False teachings hinder our spiritual maturity and fellowship. They create scandals among us by promoting beliefs that offend God, and that cause the weaker among us to stumble. They entrap us in wrong teachings that confuse and discourage.

Paul uses a present participle so literally the structure is, “the ones doing … divisions and offenses.” It is their characteristic way of living. They are always stirring up things that disrupt or confuse. Rather than encouraging one another by God’s promises as Paul had just recommended (12-15), they discourage, and turn certain promises into confused uncertainties.

They do this by teaching things contrary to the doctrine the believers had learned. Today there are those who say, “Doctrine Divides”. Meanwhile they are proclaiming their own dogmas and doctrines without admitting it. It is false doctrine that divides the church, not the true teachings of God’s word. The doctrines God has taught in Scripture unite and strengthen us.

The teachings drawn from God’s word are not only important, they are vital. They are important because God said so. God making himself known is the greatest activity in all the universe. Truth is the only way to make sense out of an otherwise confusing and discouraging world. It is the only way to find true happiness and satisfaction in this life and the next. What we believe controls our outlook on everything and everyone around us.

Wrong ideas about God, man, sin, redemption, responsibility, duty, justice, and holiness obscure God’s revealing of himself and are the root causes for our frustrations, discouragements, and immoral behavior. They ruin our marriages, our homes, our jobs, and our churches. They cause disruptive conduct, produce guilt, and the depressions so common today.

When we are enticed away from the truth we lose sight of the majesty and power of God, we forget the promises which God will not fail to fulfill, we forget our own unworthiness and the grace that adopted us as a family in Christ. It offers foolish excuses for living in ways contrary to God’s revealed principles

Bad theologies give us a false foundation, a false outlook, a false hope, and a false set of values. They burden us by requiring us to do what only God can do. They blame others for the wrongs they do. Since their view of God is confused they either blame him for not doing a better job in making the world a happy place, or they dream up a different kind of god than the one revealed to us in the Bible.

In the temptation of Eve in Eden, Satan began with false doctrine. He convinced Eve to doubt the truth of what God had said. He implied that her self-interests would be better served by violating what God said.

Paul was writing here to other believers in Christ, those having received the truth of God. Some had come along teaching things contrary to what they had received by God’s provision through the Apostles, the written word in Scripture, and the work of the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to understand that truth. Therefore, Paul’s readers need to recognize the error of what these dissenters taught.

Paul gives a second recommendation. Not only should we mark them, we must avoid them. Literally he writes, “and you, be turning away from them.”

We need to avoided their teachings like the plague. If we know someone has a highly contagious disease, we are very careful to stay away. We keep our children and loved ones away from them at all costs. Infected people are often isolated. The things they touch are sterilized. People wear masks around them in the hospitals. Exposure to one contagion can infect you and cause a lot of suffering, even death.

The disease of false doctrine is even more damaging. It plants seeds of error which seem small and insignificant by themselves, but subtly twist a person’s view of God and grace. They corrupt in stages like a progressing disease. Yet many are careless, exposing themselves to all sorts of questionable teachings. They listen to the cultish ideas that proliferate on religious television and radio. They attend so called “Bible studies” that entice with novel ideas, touching stories, and imagined insights. In reality they blend the doctrines of men with bits taken out of context from God’s word.

Believers should not expose themselves to novelties that bait them into such confusion. They should avoid them as they would a poisonous snake. The doctrines of men are many times more dangerous than the venom of the Coral Snake. Snakes can kill the body, but false teachings and novel twists of truth offend God and hurt his people.

These teachers may sound like they know the Bible, and claim all sorts of deep insights. But if it seems like a new idea, be very careful. With all the scholarly biblical research done in every generation for thousands of years, most really new ideas are probably wrong ideas.

There were times as a seminary student when my studies in Greek, Hebrew or Theology would turn up an idea that seemed original, fresh, and new. However, in the library I would discover that hundreds of years ago scores of articles or books had been written on the exact same idea. Sometimes those historic writings helped to confirm that my understanding was sound. At other times those scholars led me to a careful look at God’s word which exposed my beginner’s errors.

There are identifying marks that distinguish the dangerous teachers from the helpful ones. We need to recognize these markings just as clearly as we learn to spot poisonous snakes.

Paul then explained why men like this are so dangerous:

Romans 16:18, “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

We are to avoid them because of the influence the false teachers can have upon others in the church.

They are not servants of Christ, but are servants of their own appetites. Paul later described the “enemies of the cross” saying in Philippians 3:19, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.”

He does not mean that their problem is over eating. The concern is that they are motivated by their desire to satisfy themselves. They want to do and believe what satisfies their fallen natures, rather than what pleases God as explained in his word.

This is seen today in the corrupted teachings of many churches, and in the way worship has become more a time of entertainment and personal gratification. Church leaders do all kinds of research to find out what will make the worshipers feel good, but many have little interest in studying the Bible to find out what God’s word says about it. Their master is not Christ. Their appetites are their Lord.

They use smooth words and flattering speech. As Paul later warned in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;”

Satan spoke pleasing words to Eve, superficially positive words that appealed to her self-interest. So also, these troubling religious leaders appeal to the weaknesses of our imperfect nature. They make souls ignore their spiritual sickness when they need spiritual healing. They turn worship into a time for making worshipers feel good, instead of a time for humbly honoring God who then blesses with true inner reward.

They love the parts of the Bible with which they agree, but avoid the parts that correct their errors and condemn their beloved sins. They may even wave Bibles in the air and use its words, but their God is a beggar of souls, rather than a Sovereign regenerator of dead hearts. They stir emotions with atmosphere, theatrics, special music, and touching stories instead of using God’s promises to stir us from within by the power of the Holy Spirit. They speak of God’s law as if it was a divine mistake that God “fixed” in Jesus, instead of speaking of it as revealing God’s holiness, exposing our sin, and driving us to our Savior.

Their seductive and entertaining delivery becomes a deceptive costume. They “tickle our ears” that itch to hear what we want to believe. They confidently proclaim what appears to be insight, but they introduce false ideas which offend those who truly love God’s word. They make good doctrine seem foolish, and false doctrine seem noble, appealing, and reasonable.

As Calvin said, these “… impostors allure men by flattery, and spare and indulge their vices, that they may keep them attached to themselves.”

They deceive the simple, those who have not learned God’s word well enough on their own. They are the sheep who need good shepherds to lead them. They should be cautious and not gullible. God gives his word to us all to read, to study, and to use as our standard. Paul was not just warning church leaders in Rome. He addressed this to the brothers, the congregation members. To a certain degree, we must all be able to recognize these deceivers, to know their markings. Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believes every word, But the prudent considers well his steps.”

There will always be those who artfully appeal to the strongest desires of our fallen hearts. They speak of peace and unity, but at the expense of morality and justice. They comfort us in our sin, but fail to show us God’s way of finding victory to overcome it. We ought to turn away from people like that.

Though Paul had just urged us to love the brothers and to strengthen our unity, now he warns us that there are some from whom we must come apart. If we unite with them, we cause disunity from those who truly love the holy truths of God.

Calvin warned, “To separate such as agree in the truth of Christ is an impious and sacrilegious divorce; but to defend a conspiracy for promoting lies and impious doctrines, under the pretext of peace and unity, is a shameless slander.”

Union with unbelief is therefore contrary to God’s word. We must separate from error to keep unity within God’s true family. It is not biblical to seek unity at all costs. Paul tells us to avoid those who want to remain among us to sew seeds of error, immorality, and lies. They are the most insidious enemies of all.

Today, the forces of ecumenical compromise continue to create a unity that welcomes only those who are happy to surrender what God says and to embrace all that makes them feel good. Pleasing humans becomes more important than pleasing God. The result is a bland church that abhors all that God says the church should be.

To preserve the purity of the true church, and to promote the truth of God’s word, Paul shows us that it is God’s command that we should avoid uniting together with unbelief.

2 Corinthians 6:14-17, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.’ ”

So watch out! Avoid them! Their markings are similar outwardly to what is right and good. Like Satan who clothes himself to appear as if he was an angel of light, false teachers may appear to be very reliable and well informed. Like the Coral Snake who may resemble the docile Scarlet Snake, these deceivers are not harmless. They invite us all to join with them in their less rigid religion. We would be well received by them as long as we abandon some of the things God has revealed in his word. The comfort they offer is itself a lie and deception. There can be no peace in the hearts of those who abandon the Prince of Peace and join with his enemy.

When I was working on this study I consulted a book about reptiles so I could be accurate about the markings on the snakes I mentioned. We must consult God’s word to know the markings that announce danger. With snakes in your garden, if you can’t remember which colors distinguish the coral snake avoid the one that you suspect. When it comes to Bible teachers, Ministers, or authors of Christian books, if you are not sure which ones are dangerous, be like the Berean church where the people would not accept anything as right and true that is not confirmed by God’s own word. Measured against God’s truth, the markings of the false teachers become a bold warning sign.

By holding fast to the truth which God has made known in the Bible and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we preserve the beauty and unity of the true churches of Jesus Christ our Lord.

(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.)

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

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

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

From the way advertisers promote things you would think that temptation is not such a bad thing. You would wonder why Jesus told us to pray not to be led into it.

They put the word “Temptation” in the name of colognes, popular perfumes, singing groups, and songs. The Temptation restaurant at the Atlantis Casino on St. Maarten in the Caribbean advertises itself as “sophisticated, elegant, romantic: awaken your senses.” Temptation was also a popular game show in Australia where contestants are tempted by trips to Hawaii, Jewelry, cars and other expensive luxuries. Temptation Island was a reality TV show where couples tempt one another on purpose to see how strong or weak the already immoral relationships are.

We live on the battle field of an often ignored spiritual cosmic war. We should expect the coordinator of the war against God’s ways to do exactly what we see happening. An open attack would be too obvious. It would be seen for what it is. So he trivializes or even glorifies things that openly offend and dishonor God. He makes them seem unimportant, sometimes even appealing. The tragic thing is that even Christians become desensitized to sin and excuse it as normal and accepted behavior.

Jesus explained that this is not the way God’s creation ought to be. In Matthew 6:13 he taught us to pray,

“And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one.”

We will deal with the second part of this sixth petition in the next lesson.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 106 is, “In the sixth petition (of the Lord’s Prayer), 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.”

Jesus had just told us to pray that God would forgive us of our sins. So this next request follows very logically. If you are sincere about wanting to be forgiven for your sins, then you should also want to be delivered from actually sinning again. If it was possible, you would be happy and willing to have your opportunities for sinning taken away.

First we need to rule out
what we are not asking God to do.

The original word for “temptation” in this verse is peirasmon (πειρασμον). The root idea is simply “to test”, or “to prove something by testing”. We give tests to see how well something has been learned or done. We give math tests to see how well students have learned some particular concept, and how effectively they can put it to use in practical situations. It is not given with any wicked desire to make a student fail. It is simply a test. We test stress points on buildings and bridges to see if they can hold up safely. Sometimes it exposes a weak point that needs to be fixed.

Often the testing is about something moral. In our fallen estate the occasion offering the opportunity to sin becomes an inward desire which pulls us to do something God forbids, or to neglect something he commands.

Testing itself does not have an evil element. This same word was used in Luke 4 to describe how Jesus was “tempted” by the Devil in the wilderness. While he was asked to do something evil, he was certainly not enticed inwardly to do evil. It was a “test” to demonstrate the authority of our Savior, and to be an example to us of how we should deal with moral tests as they come along.

Jesus is not telling you to pray that you would never be tested. Testing is a good and necessary thing in this earthly part of your life. It can prove how much you trust God. It can improve your patience and faithfulness. It can also expose areas of weakness that humble you and make you work harder to improve by the power of the risen Christ. James 1:3 says, “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.”

In Genesis 22 the Lord tested Abraham asking him to sacrifice Isaac. The test was to designed prove his faith, not to make him sin. These tests are good for you. They can show you how strong the Lord is in your life, or where your weaknesses are. They make you call upon him for strength. They can also humble you and drive you to come to him for forgiveness and deliverance.

The word translated “lead” in most of our translations is a form of the Greek word eisphero (εἰσφέρω). It is a compound word where the prefix for “in/into” is attached to the ordinary word “to carry”. The word is used in the New Testament for bearing someone disabled on a stretcher (Luke 5:18,19), of bringing things into a situation (1 Timothy 6:7, Acts 17:20, Hebrews 13:11), and of being led into a location (Luke 12:11).

You should not ask to be exempted from all situations that test you. However, you do not want to be enticed to the point where you actually fall into sin. We should pray that we will not be taken in by the moral tests. We ask for God’s power that we will not be carried by situations into where we fail to honor God by our thoughts, words, or deeds.

God might put you in situations that test you, but the desire to respond in a sinful way comes from your own heart. James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.”

James uses the same Greek root word as in Matthew 6:13. God certainly tests you at times, but he never causes you to be enticed to sin. He might send calamities, or permit Satan to test you (he did that with Job, Jesus and others), but God never causes you to sin.

He may bring tests to show an unbeliever his need for Christ. He might test a believer to show where he needs to depend more upon Christ, or to help him see where God has already strengthened him by grace. When a person gives in and sins, it is always his own fault, not God’s. Our evil desires do not come from Satan. He might urge you on, but if you do wrong, you cannot say “the devil made me do it.” It is your own fallen desires that entice you to sin.

Every moral choice is a test. It is an opportunity either to sin, or to do what is right. When God brings them, the tests are no more motivated to make you sin than a math test is motivated to make you fail. When those tests come along, you can only give one of two answers: either, “No, I will not give in to evil,” or, “Ok, I’ll give in and do the thing God forbids.” In every choice that comes along you either prevail or fail.

God tests his children for many reasons, but it is always to strengthen them. David was given opportunity to sin with Bathsheba and to kill her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). He failed horribly, and he grieved deeply for his choices. He bore pain that tormented him the rest of his life. There were, however, good results as we read in Psalm 52. David repented. He better understood his own unworthiness and the awesome grace of God. He learned to walk more closely with God.

Peter was tested three times about his readiness to stand for Jesus. He tragically denied the Savior each time that night his Lord was betrayed and arrested (Luke 22). Though he failed, there were good results. He was humbled to repentance and taught to depend more upon Christ as we see in his life after the resurrection of Jesus.

Our prayer then is this, “Lord, though you may test me, do not let me fall into the grip of temptation so that I sin. If I fall, forgive me by your grace, and deliver me from doing it again.”

All the natural human desires which God created in us
can be satisfied in morally good ways.

When you get hungry or thirsty, you have the sense of taste to enjoy satisfying those needs in moderate ways. If you eat foolishly or drink irresponsibly you give in to dangerous temptations. The consequences bring tragic results to your health.

You need friends to satisfy your need for companionship. It is not wise to surround yourself with people who have values that tempt you to do wrong things. Of course you need to be with unbelievers to influence them for Christ. To them, and to poorly taught believers, you need to be light and salt as Jesus taught us. However, that should not be where you look for your encouragement and regular fellowship. God calls you to take advantage of your times together with like-minded believers. Friends can either build you up or bring you down. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” You need to be a friend for other believers, and make positive friendships for yourself.

The world has become very open about wrong ways to satisfy sexual desires. God made men and women to be attractive to one another so they would enjoyably build families and have children. When sexual desires are sought to be satisfied outside of marriage, the imagery God intended by it is confused and distorted. The family was designed by our Creator to teach us about his relationship with his church. It is no wonder that as marriage is trivialized we also see a decline in churches. There can be no real satisfaction to the whole person in the confusion of immoral sexual relationships. God provides for what we really need in that area of our lives. It is found only in marriage as he defines it in his word.

Natural desires themselves are not wicked. It is the wrong ways of trying to satisfy them that are evil. Wrong remedies for our desires are no real remedies at all. They only make people less content, and alienate them from God’s ways which alone give true pleasure. What is even worse is that these things offend God. They are truly evil because God forbids them.

When we ask not to be led into temptation, we should not be expecting that God would take away our normal and good desires, but that he will strengthen us to resist trying to satisfy them in wrong ways.

As we would expect, God’s enemies urge
deceptive ways of dealing with temptation.

One strategy of evil is to tangle us up in ways bound to fail. Our fallen nature is very willing to be taken in by remedies that appear to remove the problem. In reality they do nothing to help us avoid being carried off into sin.

Some try to resist temptation by turning against their natural desires. These ascetics make the mistake of thinking that by avoiding all pleasure they can avoid sin. The writings of the monks in the monasteries show that though they denied themselves pleasures, temptation followed them into their cubicles, into their retreats, and into the deepest thoughts of their hearts.

It is not necessary to retreat into a monastery to be an ascetic. Some make lists of common pleasures from which they choose to abstain in their quest of a more pure life. They might even consider the things on their list to be sin. They retreat from the culture in which God calls them to minister. They create isolated sub-cultures hiding their light under a basket when it ought to be on a lampstand shining God’s truth out to the lost world. Such people live with a crippling fear that they might enjoy something.

Wrongly satisfying our normal urges come from our fallen souls. It does not come from our natural needs themselves, or from the good things God made. Avoiding enjoyment will not keep you from lusting or coveting. Denying basic human desires denies what God made humans to be.

Avoiding the pleasures of God’s creation is no answer. There is no victory when the armies run from the battle. That is only giving in to another kind of temptation, the kind that is quick to condemn everyone else, and lay blame upon innocent things God has made. It excuses the person for neglecting his duties as God’s representative on earth.

We are to bring the Gospel of Redemption in Christ to those around us while we enjoy and work to subdue the earth and its inhabitants for God’s glory. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.”

The other extreme, quite the opposite of the ascetic, finds ways to embrace things God calls sin. Evil can brilliantly use of the minds God created in us to come up with irrational alternatives to the obvious.

Some openly reject God’s moral commandments respectfully dismissing them imagining that they no longer apply. Placing an expiration date on eternal moral principles is the strange logic used in many churches today. It appeals to the immature Christian if you tell him he doesn’t need to worry about obedience since he is “saved,” and that he can safely ignore what God revealed about himself before the time of Jesus Christ.

Some try to down-play the seriousness of sin. Like the serpent in Eden, they offer lies like, “God is all loving. He understands how hard it is for us, so he is not very upset about our sins.” Or they say, “God will not judge us just for trying to satisfy our natural desires, even if we do not always satisfy them in exactly the right way.” They reason that, “Everybody sins, certainly our common sins cannot make us as evil as real criminals.”

That is exactly the opposite of what God tells us in his word. Any sin demands an infinitely horrible price. It was so serious that Jesus had to die and to suffer that infinite disgrace to redeem us. Jesus wept when he saw the unfaithful hearts of those who said they were God’s people.

Then there are the open Hedonists who meet temptation with open arms. They indulge themselves with things God forbids and neglect what he commands. Usually these do not join with Bible believing churches so their threat is more to society than to believers.

This is the subtlety and deception of sin. It draws people either to despise the way God gave us to satisfy our needs the right way, or to despise God’s revealed ways so that sin can be freely embraced. Neither those who abstain from good things, nor those who indulge in forbidden things are ever truly satisfied.

There is a far better way.

Bible is filled with God’s help about
how you should deal with temptation.

Ephesians 6:14-18 tells about our spiritual armor in the battle against the enemies of God. 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.”

Before you can expect to overcome temptation, you need to be enabled by regeneration. The unredeemed only frustrate themselves because they cannot be victorious on their own.

To protect against the attacks of evil you need to have on that breastplate of righteousness. That is the righteousness Jesus earned for you by dying in your place. His work provides the helmet of salvation that protects your head, that vital part of your body, against attacks. If your sins are forgiven in Christ, there is no barrier between you and God’s care. The power to battle temptation rises to a new level in you.

Your weaponry in the battle against temptation is God’s word. The soldier’s belt holds his tunic in place, and holds the sheath for his sword. In our battle against temptation, that belt, the anchoring point, is God’s revealed truth. Truth is given to us in the Bible, the sword of the Spirit.

Jesus constantly quoted the Bible in his temptation in the wilderness. In Matthew 4:4 he did not allow Satan’s lie to stand. He corrected him from the Scriptures. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ”

Jesus was quoting from Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3. The manna God sent for Israel in the wilderness was not what really sustained them. It was God’s faithfulness to provide what they truly needed. He gave them his word of promise, his Covenant. His power is what made the manna fall. God promised and provided all they needed.

The Bible is a powerful weapon against evil and temptation. It teaches the right ways to satisfy our natural needs, the ways God designed, the ways that really work. Living outside the boundaries of what God approves will only stir up less satisfaction. We need to draw that sword of the Spirit and battle off temptation with the weapon of real truth. Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”

God’s word does more than just inform us about sin. It is a living word that actually keeps us from falling into sin. It is there to protect us from the enemy’s weapons that tempt us. We need to deploy the shield of faith, trust in the revealed words of God. Temptation can only be battled successfully by the power of the Holy Spirit. By trusting in that power we have a power that no worldly counselor can offer as help in guiding us to overcome what tempts us. In Matthew 26:41 Jesus said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Call upon the Creator Himself for strength and guidance. This is why the last spiritual weapon in Ephesians 6 is prayer. Psalm 139 is a good model prayer to offer sincerely as each day begins. It says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.”

When temptation comes along, we need to draw alongside the cross. Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. When he ministers to us by his Spirit, his living word takes on all enemies and defeats them.

When Ephesians 6 tells the spiritual soldier to sandal his feet with the gospel of peace, it means to be ready to go to others to represent God’s ways to them too. Together we can battle against temptation by practicing and promoting God’s ways.

Therefore, when you pray, “lead us not into temptation”, remember what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

(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

Forgive Us Our Debts

Forgive Us Our Debts

by Bob Burridge ©2012
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105
(watch the video)

One of the hard lessons we have to learn as children is to know when it is right and good to forgive people who do hurtful things. It does not get much easier when we get older. We have a sense that bad things should not be ignored. There should be consequences. On the other hand we know that there are times when we have to end our grudges and anger. It is often not easy for us to do it.

God created us and this world in which we live to show a balance between Justice and Mercy. When we forgive someone, that act of mercy should never violate the principle of justice.

God is the perfect balance of justice and mercy. He both punishes and forgives. Since we were created in God’s image, we need to balance these things too. But God’s image in us is distorted and confused because of our fallen nature. We inherited corrupted souls from Adam. To complicate that, we grow up in a sea of fallen humanity that has distorted views and values. Fear or personal guilt can make it hard to hold others responsible for the harm they cause. Selfish cruelty can make people want others to suffer beyond what they deserve.

Distorted ideas about Justice can make people unmerciful. Justice can become a word used to justify a vengeful love for cruelty. It can make you refuse to forgive in situations where you should forgive.

Mercy can be distorted too. It can be twisted to where it promotes injustice. A twisted view of mercy might let criminals go free to hurt others. It can enable the wicked to continue doing evil without consequences. It can make you forgive where you have no right to do so.

Because of these imperfections we are sometimes conflicted inwardly about what to do. When people hurt us we want justice to be done, but we also know we need to show mercy. We pray for God’s mercy even though we know we are not innocent. Justice demands that our sins and guilt should be punished forever, yet God promises to forgive some, and to make them his dearly loved children.

Both Justice and Mercy are good things. Since God is both just and merciful, they can’t truly be in conflict with one another.

We need to get rid of the distortions and bring these two qualities together. We need to understand about God’s forgiveness to us, and about when we ought to forgive others.

Jesus taught us to pray about forgiveness
in the model we call the Lord’s Prayer.

In Matthew 6:12 Jesus said, “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” In Luke 11:4 Jesus put it this way, “And forgive us our sins, For we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. …”

After the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 Jesus immediately expanded on that point. He said in verses 14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” the NASB has “transgressions” instead of “trespasses.”

Together, these verses help us understand what we should mean when we pray for forgiveness.

The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 105 is, “In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.”

First, we need to understand what
things are being forgiven.

There are three different words used in translating these verses in our English versions of the Bible: “debt”, “sins”, and “trespasses”. They all clearly refer to the same basic thing, but each brings unique meanings to the situation. They are offenses that become barriers to our fellowship with God or with others.

The word “debt” in Matthew 6:12 is a translation of the Greek word opheilaema (ὀφείλημα). This is the usual word used for a debt, owing something to somebody. You are a debtor to God because you have disobeyed your moral obligations to him. Your sin obligates you to its penalty, an infinite debt you can never pay off on your own. People become debtors to others when they mistreat them, or owe them something. They are obligated to make things right if they borrow, hurt, inconvenience, or harm someone.

The word “sin” in Luke 11:4 is the Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία). It comes from an ancient Greek root meaning “to miss what you aim at.” It came to be the usual word for sin. It was used pretty much the way we use the word sin today. We sin against God when we miss the target of what he tells us is right and good. Sin is when we do things we should not do, or when we neglect doing what we should do.

The word “trespasses” in Matthew 6:14-15 is the Greek word paraptoma (παράπτωμα). It means taking a wrong step, going where you should not go. A transgression of God’s law is when you do what he forbids or neglect what he commands. People trespass against us when they do bad things against us. They violate our safety, take what belongs to us, lie about us, cheat us, break agreements, show disrespect, or violate our trust.

These three words have a common theme and share the same basic meaning. They are violations of an obligation to someone. They create a barrier of offense. These are the kinds of things Jesus says should be forgiven by us toward others.

But what does it mean to forgive these things?

The true forgiveness Jesus was talking about is a mercy that respects the demands of justice. When we pray “forgive us our debts …” we are asking for God’s mercy to settle what we owe.

First we need to understand what needs to be forgiven. There is a deep offense that separates us from God. It is the infinite and impenetrable barrier of guilt from sin. Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.”

This moral debt we owe is far greater than most people realize. Sin has real consequences. As sinners we all fall short of what God expects of us. We inherit Adam’s fallen nature and guilt, and we add to that by our own sins. This guilt condemns us to spiritual death. That means total separation from God’s fellowship for all eternity. It is a debt we all owe as members of the fallen human race.

God’s mercy had to deal with the demands of Justice. Jesus was the promised Messiah. He came to redeem his people from their debt. In his perfect life, and in his death and resurrection, he represented all those given to him by the Father. He paid their debt by dying in their place satisfying all the demands of God’s justice. He removed the offense that separated them from their holy Creator.

To simply forgive us by overlooking our sins would contradict part of God’s own nature. Divine justice demands that our moral debt against God must be paid, not just set aside. So Jesus paid the debt.

Those who put their hope in Christ, and renounce any other imagined way to innocence, show evidence that their debt is paid in full. The barrier of offense is removed, and their fellowship with God is restored. The life produced by that work in them changes their attitudes and moral values. It convicts them of sin, stirs them to sincerely repent, enables them to trust in the gospel promise, and starts them growing in their desire to obey God’s moral principles.

Forgiveness is not just forgetting about sins, it is about dealing with them. We are forgiven when the sin and guilt is washed away in Christ. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

So, God does not forgive us just as an act of kindness by overlooking our debt of sin. He pays for our sins with the awesome price of his own suffering in our place. Only the perfectly holy and Sovereign God could make that kind of substitution. It was not just a kind thing to do as an example to us. It was necessary if we were to be redeemed without violating divine justice.

Jesus said in Matthew 26:28, “for this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

God’s mercy never ignores or violates the demands of justice. It satisfies those demands.

In a similar way, we should forgive one another.

First we need to clear up a common error. Some misread what Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. He did not say, “… forgive us our debts because we forgive others.” He said, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive others.” That is, “in the same way”

God is not waiting for us to forgive others before he forgives us. We are not the cause of God’s mercy. His love that sent our Savior to the cross is why we are forgiven. It is not because of what we do.

Those forgiven ought to be forgiving people. There is a way in which we forgive that is a model of what God does for us. That is exactly what Paul taught when he wrote to the churches. in Colossians 3:13 he said, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” In Ephesians 4:32 to 5:1 Paul wrote, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.”

There should be forgiveness that emerges in those who are forgiven. They are changed people. But how can we satisfy justice for someone else so that we can be merciful? Obviously we cannot do what only the Savior could do. We are not able to be substitutes paying the judicial debt of others.

However, there is another sense in which the word forgiveness is used in Scripture. What Jesus did for us provided for a “judicial forgiveness”. Beyond that, and upon the basis of that, God treats us as his own children. This is “personal forgiveness”.

The Judicial kind of forgiveness is about our legal standing before the law. A person is forgiven legally for a crime when the penalty is paid or when he is pardoned. That removes the legal penalty the person deserved.

The Personal kind of forgiveness has to do with our attitude toward another person. It removes the grudge we might hold against an offender. We do not have the right personally to declare the person innocent before the law, but we can treat the person with kindness and forgive the offense we feel against us.

Forgiving someone cannot mean that you declare them innocent of what they did. If someone murders, God’s justice demands they pay the penalty required by civil law. We have no right to forgive them and set them free. That would not be mercy, it would be a horrible injustice. If someone steals, God requires that they make full restitution to the victim. We have no right to forgive them from meeting the demands of God’s law. Again, that would not be mercy, it would be injustice.

But, there is another part of forgiveness in Scripture. Once we are reconciled to God by the death of Christ, he treats us as his family. We cannot remove an offender’s guilt, but we can treat him with kindness and compassion.

As redeemed people we are told to show the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 lists these characteristics, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The first of these qualities is love. It does not only apply to those who treat us well. Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, 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.”

We are not to ignore what God demands. The State ought to execute convicted murderers, force criminals to pay their debts, and use deadly force when necessary to defend our safety, liberty, and land. The church is told to bar the unrepentant and contentious from the sacraments. It is not mercy to neglect these things, it is injustice. We are not to punish the guilty with a sense of personal vengeance or anger. We should treat all life with respect, though with contempt that a life created to declare God’s glory has been used immorally.

Only those properly authorized by God’s word can carry out his justice here on earth. As individuals, we have a different attitude than the world’s. When it is not criminal, but a personal offense, we should show the fruit of the Holy Spirit toward the offender.

We forgive others because we are forgiven. The renewed heart should want to forgive others. If we are sons of God, we should be becoming more like our Father. If we are regenerated this is one of the changes that should be growing in us.

When you personally forgive it means you do not hold a grudge against others. You treat them with understanding and mercy. They, like you, are merely sinners. If a person is redeemed, it is by God’s grace alone. When the work of grace is applied to us, our hearts are changed. One thing implanted in that renewed heart is that sense of forgiveness. Changed hearts should be learning to forgive others as Christ forgives them.

The true state of the heart is
betrayed by its ability to forgive or not.

Just as forgiveness emerges from a redeemed heart, persisting unforgiveness warns of an unregenerated one. To be able to fulfill your duty in forgiving others, you need to be sure that God has forgiven you for your sin and guilt. God’s law shows us that when there are tensions between people, even if someone has done something directly against you, you are obligated as a Christian to demonstrate the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Let the civil authorities deal with crimes. On the personal side, show compassion for fellow sinners in need of Christ.

Exodus 23:4-5 gives an application to a particular case, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden, and you would refrain from helping it, you shall surely help him with it.”

What God tells us to do teaches us about what God is and does. God forgives, and we should forgive others too. We have a responsibility to treat everyone kindly, patiently, humbly, gently, and meekly.

I saw a moving example on television several years ago. A mother was testifying in court in a sentencing hearing. A man who showed no remorse had been convicted of brutally murdering her child. She said that as a Christian she must, and did, forgive him. But then she pleaded for the court to hand out the maximum sentence for the sake of justice, and to protect others from the unremorseful criminal. Though not a theologian, she had an amazingly good grasp of this biblical principle.

This is not something that can be found or conjured up in an unredeemed heart. God redeemed you to be different. You’re to be a light in the world, not just someone who talks about light. But shining is not easy. This is why you should pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

When you pray this part of the Lord’s Prayer you are calling upon God in Christ to wash away your sins and keep your heart pure in its renewed estate. You are begging for the innocence Christ provided by grace alone. You are confessing that you have no other claim to innocence, but that he paid your debt. And you are asking for help in forgiving those who are debtors to you. You cannot do it on your own, but in Christ you can. As Paul said for our benefit in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Never let hatred and unforgiveness eat away at your heart and add pain to others. Attack the poisonous grudges that go beyond what justice demands, and stir up more hatred. Make the places where you live good places for others to be. Forgive others as Christ has forgiven you.

(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