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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The Duty of the Gospel

The Duty of the Gospel

Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Lesson 5: Romans 1:13-17

Some people love to give advice. Someone in a group mentions that he has a head ache or a stomach ache, then the suggestions and remedies begin. Each person has a strongly recommended cure. You might casually mention that you need to pick a vacation spot. Before long everyone is a travel agent. They all want you to go to some special place. Or when you say you are thinking about buying a car it’s not uncommon to hear story after story of car buying horrors or personal testimonials of favorite cars to own. This is the way we often learn and get information. The things our trusted friends have found helpful are much appreciated.

When a person brings up things relating to God’s law and justice, of things relating to his soul, he speaks of far greater matters than relief of a headache, where to go on vacation, or buying a car. Most headaches go away, bad vacation choices often give us great stories to tell. Even buying a lemon of a car is something we can survive. But the needs of the soul are eternal, far more important than these other matters.

It’s strange that believers often feel conflicted to help others with important spiritual advice. Few hesitate to advise about taking aspirin, buying a Saturn, or taking a trip to Bush Gardens, but to tell someone at work they need Christ’s forgiveness, to tell a family member they will not find peace outside of living by God’s ways, or suggesting to a neighbor to honor the Sabbath day as God commandment, these issues are seen as bing much harder to bring up.

There should be something in the soul of a true believer in Christ that presses on his conscience to let others know about the gospel that has meant so much to him, a gospel that not only gives eternal life, but also satisfies his deepest needs, and enables him to live in a way pleasing to God.

Sadly, believers often hesitate to speak out for the gospel of Christ. We are all well aware of how such messages are often received. Strange cults have given religious advice a bad reputation. The current morality condemns and scoffs at anyone who believes in absolutes and truth. The real message of the gospel humbles a person and points out his need. Today, people have come to religiously believe that man’s soul has no real problem, that he’s fully able to help himself without God. Many who say they trust in the finished work of Christ are not confident that God can make his plan work without our help.

Modern prejudice has put an anxiety in people’s hearts. They may really want to help,but they don’t want to alienate friends, build barriers, or drive them somewhere else. This presents a great temptation not to say anything, or to modify the message making it more acceptable to the fallen heart.

Paul faced attacks and rejection when he presented the gospel of God. He was shouted at, ridiculed, exiled from cities, beaten, stoned almost to death, accused of imagined crimes, arrested on false charges, jailed, and eventually executed. But until death itself silenced him, he kept on presenting that life changing message. Here in Romans 1:13-17 we see a glimpse of what helped him overcome his anxieties. Paul offers some principles as remedies to help us faithfully represent Christ to a lost world.

A person growing in Christ is compelled to testify about the gospel.

Paul had a great desire that could not just let the issue drop. In Romans 1:13 he said, “Now I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I often planned to come to you (but was hindered until now), that I might have some fruit among you also, just as among the other Gentiles.”

In verse 15 of the same chapter he wrote, “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.”

In our study of verses 8-12 we saw Paul’s strong desire to fellowship with the believers in Rome. He wanted to care for them, and to enjoy their fellowship and encouragement for himself. But there was work to be done in many other places in the world also. So God, in his providence, had not yet provided for Paul to go to Rome.

Yet, in spite of all the threats, dangers and personal sacrifices involved, something inside him kept pressing on his heart to teach those at Rome about God’s message of grace in the Messiah. He did the only thing he could do considering the circumstances. He took time to write this very well planned and organized letter to Rome summarizing the message of the Gospel.

Where did Paul find that power that overcame the threats of his enemies? that so willingly accepted challenging inconveniences? What was it that made him willing to risk even his friendships which he had in his career as a respected Rabbi?

It came from a life transforming work on his soul, the very fruit of the Gospel itself. No one can be a witness for Christ by the mere words they speak. They must be personal recipients of God’s saving Grace themselves. He puts life into us which can be seen by others. He produces a change in us.

Paul wrote to the believers in Ephesus in Ephesians 2:5 where he said, “even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”

Our new life in Christ shows through us as a testimony to the power of God, not to our own power. Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

If we are redeemed, the inner change ought to compel us to tell others about God’s nature and promises. In 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 Paul wrote, “so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.”

Paul also put it clearly in his letter to the believers in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians 9:16 he wrote, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!”

Peter and John were often persecuted for their message. They were threatened, jailed, and beaten. When told by men to silence the message, they explained the same inner conviction in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ ”

There is no reason for shame in the gospel. In Romans 1:16 Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

There is nothing about which to be shy. Its message really helps people. Your personal remedy for a headache may not work for everyone. Your dream car may turn out to be a nightmare to someone else. But God’s remedy for the soul in Christ has no defects when it is presented honestly and received with a God-given faith.

Of course you know that the un-redeemed soul will not see it that way. Is that why you hesitate to tell others? In Paul’s time the promoters of the many Roman gods saw Christianity’s belief in just one God as atheism. The Jews saw Paul as one who was bringing in gentile culture and subverting their traditions. Together they ridiculed, and persecuted the Apostle.

Considering all that, when warned of his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul said, “… For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)

He boldly entered Athens where he faced the philosophers alone. He went to Jerusalem where he was arrested, just as had been foretold to him. Later he came to Rome as a prisoner to face trial in the courts of the Empire. In each case he stood as a clear spokesman for Christ. He could not hold back out of fear from all the intimidation and threats.

Paul understood why those who needed the message of Christ would be opposed to him. God explained it in many places in Scripture and Paul summarized the problem in his First Letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:23 he said, “but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” Then in 1 Corinthians 2:14 he explained, “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.”

We should not let the unbeliever’s wrong assessment of his own need silence us. Paul encouraged young Timothy saying, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:80). In verse 12 of the same chapter he explained his own confidence which overcame his intimidation, “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12).

No religion is as offensive to the pride of man and stirs his anger as much as the true gospel. Instead of telling men they are basically OK, it tells them they are in eternal danger and have offended the eternal God beyond any hope of repair. It calls them to admit their own inability and rest in God’s Savior alone. Fallen man hates to admit to things like that.

Don’t let that keep you from telling God’s truth. There is a strong temptation to hide parts of God’s truth, or to make up messages more appealing to lost hearts than the true one.

Transformed people will love the plain, unvarnished truth of God. To those who are made alive in Christ, the gospel is a wonderful message. However, it begins with a sobering truth that must not be hidden. We dare not sugar coat it with a deceptive lie to tell the unbeliever.

We twist God’s word if we say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Eternity in the fires of hell? Is that the wonderful plan? Yet it God’s plan for many fallen humans. It is where we all deserve to spend eternity according to God’s word. That’s where the masses of humanity will end up. Only those who are washed in the blood of Christ are rescued from that.

Now that’s a hard doctrine! It may cause you to not speak out, or to change it. God forbid that we should be ashamed of the real good news, the truth of God.

Dr. Haldane observed, “The more the Gospel is corrupted, the more its peculiar features are obscured by error, the less do we observe of the shame it is calculated to produce. It is in fact the fear of opposition and contempt that often leads to the corruption of the Gospel.”

God’s truth will always be despised by the unregenerate. It challenges that most loved myth of man’s independence and his imagined ability to determine his own path. It shakes up his security and brings him face to face with the Almighty and Holy God he has offended.

Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Therefore to overcome your shame in the gospel it must first have its powerful work in you. It is the Gospel alone that transforms and produces that compelling desire that is greater than our own self-comforts and defenses. Once you are his, the most important way to become a better representative for Christ is to better know Christ yourself. When the gospel grows in you, it will compel you to testify eagerly about the gospel.

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

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