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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A Good Report Card

Lesson 60: Romans 16:1-16

A Good Report Card

by Bob Burridge ©2012

For 9 years I taught Science and Bible in a Private Christian Middle School. One of my responsibilities was to produce a helpful and accurate report card for each student at the end of every quarter of the School year. The academic part was no problem. I just averaged out the grades. However, when it came to the behavior part of the card, that was the real challenge. Students and parents would be personally influenced by the comments I made. It was important to be helpful as well as honest about shortcomings as well as strengths.

I was taught by our very gifted Principle to take a positive approach. When there were problems, we were told to point out what should be worked on, rather than just pointing out the things that were wrong. He also wanted us to find some positive behavior in each student to commend. With most of our students there were obvious strengths that could be encouraged. With some it was more of a challenge. Contrary to the common belief among students, teachers often have a sense of humor. In the privacy of the sanctum called the “teacher’s lounge” they imagined comments for some students along the lines of, “He makes spit-wads very well,” “Her insults toward others are amazingly creative,” or “Her concentration upon her task is so well developed that my attempts to teach do not seem to distract her from talking with her friends during class.”

Aside from a few attempts at humor, we accepted the policy as a serious challenge, not to be taken lightly. The Principle of our school supplied us with a list of Christian traits, fruits of the Holy Spirit, and commendable attributes to help us. It took thought, but we worked on it, we started to see some things we had been overlooking. We discovered that in some of those stubborn students were deep convictions and determination that needed directing rather than punishing. Some with problems submitting to authority may have had some basic skills that needed to be redirected and put to use in a more productive way. Some had leadership potential, or the ability to take a healthy critical look at things to make needed improvements. In some cases we got very nice responses from parents who perhaps saw the first positive and encouraging behavioral words on a report card they had seen in a very long time.

As an added dimension to the challenge this had to be done for every report card, for every student, 4 times every year. A teacher could not just write the same thing every time. Teachers started to look more carefully for the things God was doing in the lives of their students every day. The result was quite helpful to us as teachers, and encouraging to the students.

In Romans 16 we see examples of God at work in the lives of individual believers. Paul had taken notice of good things in others. He was not just wrapped up in his own work.

First, Paul mentioned a woman named Phoebe.

Romans 16:1, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,”

By commending her, the Apostle was affirming that she had been a valuable and trustworthy person to him. He thought of her as a sister both to himself and to the Christians at Rome. He meant “sister” in the spiritual sense of being part of God’s redeemed family. Our union together in Christ is the single greatest thing we can have in common in this temporary world where we are called to live.

He calls her a servant of the church at Cenchrea (Κεγχρεαι). It was the port city of Corinth on its West side. Since Paul was in Corinth when he wrote this letter to the Romans, it is reasonable to think that Phoebe was the one who carried this letter to Rome for Paul.

In Cenchrea she was known as a servant of the church. The word translated as “servant” here is diakonon (διακονον), a form of the word also used for the office of Deacon. Some have assumed that she was an ordained Deacon or Deaconess. There is no evidence supporting that here. The word simply means one who serves. The word also became the title of the formal office of Deacon. Similarly, the ordinary word for any elderly person [presbuteros (πρεσβυτερος)] came to be used in a special sense for the ordained office of Elder.

The word “diakonos” was the one commonly used at that time for a person who served others. Paul used this word to describe Jesus as a servant to the circumcision in Romans 15:8. Others are often said to be servants in various ways using this same term.

When Jesus ended the Old Testament office of the Levites by his own sacrifice on the cross, God established the formal office of Deacon to carry out the priestly work of overseeing and distributing care to the needy.

In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus he lays out the qualifications for office making it clear that ordained offices imply an element of headship and leadership in the areas where they function in the church, therefore they are specifically to be held by males in the church. In both Testaments, headship in the church was restricted to men. The restriction was not because men were better or more able. It was to represent the principle of Christ’s headship over the church as Paul pointed out concerning the role of male headship in Ephesians 5:22-33. Those who use Phoebe as the reason why women should be ordained to the office of Deacon read more into this passage than is really there. There is no indication that the reference here is to an ordained office in the church.

Women do have a place of special service in the church, but a person does not need to be ordained to do that. Lydia appears to have been the leader of a prayer circle, probably a group of devoted women. Phoebe clearly was recognized by the church as a valuable servant in some special sense. Women were specially set aside to minister to other women’s needs. The Bible never mentions any females being ordained as church officers.

Titus 2:3-5 explains that the more spiritually mature women of the church are expected to carry out specific duties. Paul wrote, “the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

It is a tragic error to limit important Christian service to those holding an ordained office. All believers (women, men, and children) have a duty to serve diligently. It demeans the whole idea of every-member service in God’s Kingdom to imagine that a person who serves must be ordained. Those ordained are there as leaders in service as well as being doers of Christ’s work. The concept of ordination means a granting of church recognized authority in some particular area of Kingdom work. I respectfully disagree with those who defend ordaining women to the office of Deacon. To redefine the office and the process of ordination as something less than officially recognized headship in some area of church work, is to redefine those terms so that they have different meanings than the way they were used in Scripture.

Paul gave instructions about how they should treat Phoebe.

Romans 16:2, “that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”

The church was to welcome Phoebe in a manner worthy of those clothed in the righteousness of Christ. All those redeemed are properly called saints. They were to accept her into the Roman congregation as a believer. They were to extend hospitality to her as a new person in a new community, and they were to aid her in whatever business she has to do there in Rome. To stir them to deep gratitude and respect, he told them how she had helped many including Paul himself.

Next, Paul sent greetings to a long list of individuals.

Romans 16:3-5a, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. …”

Paul introduces us here to a wonderful Christian married couple who had worked with him. Priscilla and Aquila had been through a lot in recent years. They were among the Jews expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2). In fleeing Rome, and by God’s providence, they settled in Corinth. There they met the Apostle Paul when he came there on his second missionary journey. They had something special in common with Paul, they were also tent-makers. They provided the Apostle a place to stay in their home while he was there. When Paul left Corinth to sail to Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila moved there with him. It may have been there during the riots that they risked their lives for Paul.

When the Paul moved on they stayed in Ephesus. There they helped Apollos learn about Jesus, that he was the Messiah he had been expecting. When Paul returned to Ephesus he stayed more than two years with Aquila and Priscilla. At that time a church was meeting at their house (1 Corinthians 16:19).

When Paul wrote this letter to the Romans he was back in Corinth at the end of his 3rd journey. Priscilla and Aquila were back living in Rome and again had a church meeting in their house. So he commended these two to the Roman believers for their faithful and dedicated service.

Then Paul sent special greetings to some in Rome
whom he had met and served with elsewhere.

Notice the qualities that Paul regarded highly in them.

Romans 16:5b-10, “… Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.”

Andronicus and Junia are both male names. Paul calls them his “countrymen” or “kinsmen”. We do not know if they were actual relatives, or just that they were Jews as he was (as he used the term in 9:3) who specially acted as family to him. He calls them fellow-prisoners, but we cannot be sure which time they were in jail with him. Evidently they were looked upon by the Apostles as having an outstanding character. Paul mentions that they had become believers in Christ even before he did.

Curiously Paul mentions those of the house of Aristobulus, but does not greet Aristobulus directly. Some have speculated that he might have died, or was not there in Rome at the time. Some suspect that though his household had become believers, Aristobulus had not. We do not know. It is one of those unimportant but curious comments in the Bible.

Romans 16:11-13, “Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.

Rufus is called, “chosen in the Lord.” Few take the word “chosen” in the sense of God’s decree of election to save him from his lost condition. All those in this list were of the elect of the Lord. Perhaps he means chosen for special work as the word was used in Mark 15:21 in the sense that Simon of Cyrene was chosen for a special duty, to carry the cross of Jesus to Calvary. Simon there was the father of men named Alexander and Rufus. The name “Rufus” was not uncommon. Mark’s Gospel (believed written from Rome shortly after Romans) is the only Gospel that includes this information, so there could be a connection there. The Mother of Rufus had been motherly toward Paul, perhaps showing special care for him.

Romans 16:14-15,”Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”

Finally, Paul brought his greetings to a close with final instructions:

Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.”

Before you get too alarmed about required kisses being exchanged, it is important to recognize a cultural reference as opposed to a cross-cultural mandate. The holy kiss is not a common practice in most American churches today. In our culture a kiss usually shows the more intimate love of a family or of a romantic partner. In some cultures, a kiss is a more general greeting like our handshake or friendly hug. In many early churches the members kissed one another as a regular greeting. It is still common in some other cultures, but would be quite foreign to most of us in North America. The greeting-kiss was given on the cheek or neck, nothing physically intimate about it. Men greeted men, and women greeted women this way when they met or passed friends on the streets.

The principle being recommended is that we should greet one another in the warmest and most appropriate manner our culture understands. We should show a sincere concern and respect for those God brings across our path and particularly into our church fellowship and worship.

Paul then delivered a greeting from the churches with which he had been personally in contact. It is our duty to extend encouragement as broadly as we are able. This is why we work together with sister churches who share our confidence in God’s word and promises. We are a community, a family, united in faith by the love of Christ.

This section of Romans points out the kinds of things
we ought to notice in other believers.

Notice the kinds of things on Paul’s list:

1. The Apostle was able to appreciate things God had done directly in their lives. These are the works of providence and grace. God had worked in their lives to bring them to trust fully in the work of the Savior. Paul appreciated their place in the family of Christ, and how God had brought them into his life.

2. He also appreciated the work the individuals had done for God’s Kingdom and for Christ’s People. These were things that evidenced spiritual maturity, a valuable display of God’s grace at work in them. This was seen in their unselfish help, outstanding service, even in tender motherly care. Some had labored hard hosting a church in their home, becoming prisoners with Paul, or risking their lives for the sake of the Apostle and the work of God’s Kingdom.

What was most memorable and important to him was not their good looks, sharp clothes, good business deals, sharp wit, humor, honorable titles, or whatever at that time was thought of as being just plain cool. Certainly these attributes and skills are not evil. It is in fact commendable to have them. But Paul took time to look beyond the most visible things to notice the special way God had either prepared them by providence, or had worked graciously in their hearts. He saw what most directly demonstrated God’s love and redemption in them.

These are the things that really last. They are what we really need in our friends, and should encourage in them. It is more important that our friends are believers in God’s provisions and promises, than that they have great talents, riches, or hold high offices. It is far more important that they serve the church and its members diligently, than that they dress well, have natural good looks, or hold graduate degrees. It is more important that they take risks for and stand by one another through all the difficulties that come along, than that they have a good sense of humor, or share some hobby or career skill.

Though every little talent, skill, and blessing is useful and important, Paul remembered most the things that promoted Christian fellowship and growth.

This is how we need to behave toward one another as friends in the Lord. We should be encouraging, supporting, faithful brothers and sisters. We need to be available to give comfort and help when it is needed. We should be willing to take risks for the sake of the work of Christ and the advancing of his Kingdom. We should each be ready to stand together for the faith revealed in Scripture.

Here is a little project to work on as you pray for one another. As you think about those in your life, or as you pray for needs that come along, think of a qualities God is producing in each person’s life that show these kinds of things Paul noted about those he mentions in Romans 16. Imagine you need to find an encouraging behavior or quality in each one for a church report card. Do you see evidence of God’s grace in their life? Do you see qualities you would like to encourage in them and improve in yourself?

Of course none of us is without human weaknesses. Human perfection is a quality limited to the deluded. Do not be distracted by awareness of your own shortcomings and faults, and do not let those of others blind you to how God may be at work in them and using them for his glory. If we fail to see this larger picture, the fault may not be in the person we are looking at. Perhaps we are not looking carefully to behold God at work in the other person’s life. How sad the lessons we miss when we fail to look. What will the others think when they come to your name and try to see Christ at work in your life? Perhaps this exercise will stir us all to pray more for these qualities to be seen in us, rather than prayers about the weather and often unimportant circumstances. By the power of the risen Christ in us, we ought to be carefully cultivating the qualities of Christ in us, and to notice God’s work in others as they grow in grace.

Perhaps it will also improve our joy in the way we greet one another. Maybe it will help us to be less concerned about what we get from one another in our fellowship, and more concerned about what we give by showing these qualities God has worked in us, and by noticing the valuable work of God in 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

Confident Prayers for an Unknown Future

Lesson 59: Romans 15:30-33

Confident Prayers for an Unknown Future

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When I was in Jr. High I was taught how to play the trumpet by my dad and some other musicians who were happy to help me with my technique. In 7th grade I decided to try out for the school orchestra. When I was awarded my blue sweater with the gold school emblem on it, I was assigned to the second trumpet section.

I reported to my first section practice with excitement and enthusiasm. But it wasn’t a very enjoyable experience. There we were, all of us second-trumpeters in a little practice room playing what seemed to be a meaningless string of notes that had little beauty in them. We spent a good bit of the time just counting and waiting for the next moment to join together with a few seemingly non-melodic sounds.

I was feeling rather discouraged about it. I wanted to play music, not just practice exercises that made no sense. All the practice sessions were the same way. This was what we were going to play in public? Our great first performance, which was sure to be attended by my parents and seen by all the other kids at school, was going to be a horrible embarrassment.

I remember the moment when the whole orchestra first gathered in the orchestra pit in front of the massive stage in the school auditorium. It was our first rehearsal of all the sections together. As I sat there I kept thinking to myself how sad that instead of a real piece of music, we were going to be playing these stupid exercises that didn’t even have a good melody to them. I imagined what it might have been like to have a more musically gifted conductor who would pick better music for us.

Then the moment came. The conductor stepped up onto his platform, made a few friendly remarks to us, then gave us a very serious look, raised his baton, and we all started. The whole orchestra actually started at once. I could hardly believe my ears! This was music! Our little notes filled in around all the parts the other instruments were playing. The blend of individual sounds merged into a wonderful arrangement. All through that session I could hardly wait until I found out how each little passage we had been practicing fit in with the whole sound.

As the rehearsal progressed, we had to stop a few times while certain sections had to go over their part so that it was just right. Then we would play it again as a whole until we ran into another problem that had to be worked out. As the session moved toward the end of the arrangement, and as each individual learned how to do his part just right, it all came together in the most wonderful way.

When the day came for us all to put on our sharp dark blue sweaters, and gather with our freshly polished instruments in front of family and all our school friends, the sweaty palms were not from embarrassment over our own seemingly meaningless notes. They were over the anticipation of doing justice to the great piece of music we were about to present.

There is a similar sense in which we all take part in God’s great plan. We have our individual assignments. They may seem small, unimportant, disconnected, or even rather ugly at times. But together, they are part of an unimaginably wonderful design. There will come a day, when we will see it all blend together in un-anticipated beauty. Until that time, it is our duty to responsibly learn, and carry out our individual parts.

One of those duties is prayer. We often pray concerning things about which we have little knowledge. We never know how God will direct the exact outcome of any situation. Certainly we don’t imagine that we have the responsibility of telling God what’s best for him to do. So how then should we pray? What should we expect as we pray? This next section of Romans is a good example by which we can examine this issue.

Paul asked the Romans for their prayers as he went on to Jerusalem.

Romans 15:30, “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me,”

Paul did not make a mere mild suggestion for them to pray. He urged them, in no uncertain terms, to battle together with him before God. The word translated as “strive together” is sun-ag-o-NIZ-o-mai (συναγωνιζομαι). It literally means to “fight, combat, contend, or struggle along with someone”. In Paul’s day the root word was often used in a military sense of combat, or of the struggle to win a wrestling match (the Olympic type, not the Smack down type).

Obviously Paul did not view prayer as a mere formal exercise, or simply as a scheduled item for a daily check list. He saw their prayers as their joining with him in his spiritual battle for Christ’s glory.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church about the spiritual struggle they were in, he compared the spiritual armor and weapons with implements of war. At the end of the list in Ephesians 6:18, he mentioned the importance of prayer. When we contend with spiritual enemies he said we must do so, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints”

Our Missionaries, Pastors, Elders, and our fellow congregation members, all need prayer support in their daily battle for the Gospel of Christ.

Paul appealed to what bound them together in life and mission.

First: Their prayers were to be made through the Lord Jesus Christ. The wording means that we pray by means of, or on account of our Savior. Unless we pray as people redeemed by grace, we have no right to stand before God, and no authority to speak about our hearts desires with him. There is no promise in all of the Bible that God uses the prayers of unbelievers as a part of his blessings and workings here on earth. Praying “in the name of Jesus” is not just a phrase we plug in that leads up to the “Amen”. It means that we consciously approach God in prayer as a person who knows that he only has access to the holy throne because of the Cross of Jesus.

Second: Their prayers were to be made through the love of the Spirit. Just as we are made acceptable to pray by the work of Christ to redeem us, so also we are stirred to prayer by the love the Holy Spirit implants into our hearts. The Spirit’s love for us emerges in our changed attitude which provokes us to pray out of love for one another. What a marvelous foundation God lays down here as the groundwork for our mutual prayers!

Then Paul asked them to pray very specifically for three matters.

Romans 15:31-32, “that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you.”

First: He asked them to pray for his deliverance on his trip to Judea. There were two different groups of Jews in the land of the Judea. There were the Jews who believed in the promises of God. These were the ones who recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Paul calls them the saints at the end of verse 31. There were also those who did not believe. They were the ones who refused to submit to the message of the ancient prophets. They had twisted the law of Moses into a perverted system of salvation by works. They proudly saw themselves as having exclusively earned God’s favor. When they realized how contrary the message of Christ was to their Rabbinic religion, they became more violent persecutors than the pagan Romans.

Generally, the Gentiles had no problem when the Christian messengers came to town. Individuals sometimes caused trouble when their evil businesses were effected. But in most cases, it was the unbelieving Jews who stirred up the crowds against the Christians.

Several times these Jews plotted to have Paul killed. They saw their own traditions and beliefs threatened by the popularity of the gospel. Just before he wrote this letter, his travel plans had been re-routed through Macedonia when the Jews plotted to kill him (Acts 20:3). So Paul asked them to pray for deliverance from them when he got to Jerusalem.

There are often real dangers in bringing the message of God’s judgment against the kingdom of evil. Those who truly hate the truth of God will also hate those who carry his message. There is much more tolerance for the varieties of false religion, even for moral perversions, than there is for the real truth of God.

Fallen hearts hate the idea of a God who is truly Sovereign, and despise a salvation that is by grace alone.

At the root of our fallen souls, we rebel against the fact that there is a God with standards that condemn us. In that inherited depravity from Adam, we want a god who caters to our own whims, one who is ultimately bound by the permission we give him to do his work. That is how depraved our human nature is at its unredeemed root.

That’s why the true gospel message is so disliked and often meets with violent persecution. As long as you just talk about religion and morality in general, people smile, nod in agreement, and assume you are on the same page with them. But, when you get down to the distinctives of real Christianity their toleration fades.

The matters that divide us are these:

1. There is a truly Sovereign God who made all things, and who rules all things absolutely. God is not there just to give us a good time. He made all things for his glory. Our only true joy is in making that our goal in life and in the life to come. This means we have to submit our luxuries and lusts to his holy will.

2. We are depraved in Adam, and can only do good and find salvation by God’s provision. This means that all our rituals, good deeds, and human efforts are stained with sin. It means we cannot take credit for our accomplishments, aside from first acknowledging God as the source of every good. The message of grace alone being extended to unworthy creatures is distasteful to the fallen soul. It rips off its mask and exposes the ugly side that proves we need Christ as our only hope. It means we need regeneration, not just a nurturing of some natural good that resides in all of us.

The fallenness of the creature is most starkly revealed in his refusing absolute subjection to his Creator.

Paul could have just worked with the unbelieving Jews in their common struggle against the political and social abuses of the pagan Roman government. He could have just talked about Moses and the Prophets in generalities that would not have rocked their theological boat. But God called him to tell the truth in love. That created a great danger to him, as it does to us as well.

Paul’s prayer also shows a godly concern for his own life. He was willing, but not careless, to lose it for the Lord. Preservation of life is an important and God honoring concern. Our lives are not just ours for indulging our fantasies or gratifying our comforts. Our lives are an entrustment from God to be enjoyed in serving him and caring for his creation.

The ancient Christian writer Ignatius once asked people to pray that he would be honored with the crown of martyrdom rather than to be preserved from his enemies. What a different attitude the Apostle Paul and the prophets had than Ignatius. They were certainly willing to give their lives for God’s honor and truth rather than deny him. But they neither sought to die, nor were ever careless about preserving their safety. Here Paul shows us that it is right to ask others to pray for our safety as we face dangers.

Next, Paul asked them to pray that his service for Jerusalem would be accepted. The Jews who believed in Jesus as their Messiah, also presented a challenge. Some of them still had a negative attitude toward the Gentile believers. They still considered them as outsiders.

As we saw in the last study, the Jewish believers in Jerusalem were suffering great hardships. Paul was bringing financial help which had been sacrificially given by the Gentile believers in Macedonia and Achaia. Paul wanted the Romans to pray that the relief he was bringing would have a good result. His desire was that it would demonstrate how the fruit of the Holy Spirit was at work in the hearts of the Gentile believers, that it would help the Jews accept them better. If this gift would produce true gratitude among the Jews for the gospel effect in the Gentiles, it might help heal the racial and cultural tension that troubled the church there.

Finally, he asked them to pray that he would find joy and refreshment when he came to them. The refreshment he had in mind was spiritual though, not physical. Paul looked forward to the fellowship he hoped to have at Rome after his rewarding trip to Jerusalem. It is a wonderful thing to be able to be among other believers reflecting together upon God’s Sovereign love and grace at work.

So, how were the Apostle’s prayer requests answered? They did not come to pass in the way he evidently expected.

First: Did God deliver him from the raging anger of the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem? The Jews there persecuted him. They falsely accused him of violating the temple and had him arrested. Some of them took a vow that they would assassinate him. But he was delivered from their fanatical violence. God even used the laws of the pagan Roman Empire to ensure his safety. Prayer answered. His enemies failed to silence God’s messenger, and he was preserved to be able to continue his ministry.

Second: Did he see the Jews accept the Gentile’s kindness? It does not directly tell us. We do see that as time went on the distinctions of Jew and Gentile disappeared in the church. Probably his mission produced some of that healing in the attitude of the believing Jews who were slow in accepting the changes God was making as his promises were fulfilled. There is no reason to doubt that it did.

Third: Did Paul come to Rome with joy and find refreshing rest among the believers there? His arrival there was not under the kind of circumstances in which the world would find reason for rejoicing. At Jerusalem he was falsely accused, arrested, jailed, beaten, his life threatened, bound over to Caesar, shipwrecked on the way to Rome, bitten by a poisonous snake — hardly the way Paul would have foreseen the prayers being answered.

However, God did bring him there with joy. Paul’s expectation and prayer request was that his mission would honor God in the greatest way and bring him to them rejoicing. It did.

Though he arrived as a prisoner, he came with excitement about what God was doing. He was able to bring the Gospel message to Rome personally. He had access to people who otherwise would never have listened to what he had to say. From prison he wrote in Philippians 1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

He came rejoicing in the Roman’s fellowship and in all that God had done. In many of his prison letters Paul sends greetings from those in Rome, those with whom he found joyful fellowship and encouragement. As he said in his prison letter to Philippi, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)

Those who received this letter in Rome, and who prayed as Paul requested could be pleased to know that God moved them to be part of the advancement of his Kingdom. The Apostle had been kept alive, a step toward unifying the church had taken place, the gospel was taken to some who had not heard it before, and the believers involved found great spiritual refreshment together as they rejoiced with the Apostle.

So, how do we pray concerning the unknown plan of God? We know that since God is unchanging and all powerful, whatever he has decreed cannot, and thankfully should not, be changed. That’s not what godly prayers are designed to accomplish.

Why then should we bother to pray? If nothing changes that God has known for all eternity, then what can our prayers really do? Are they just empty exercises done for our psychological benefit? Or if our prayers could actually change what the Creator originally decreed as best, then do our prayers become the final god over the universe? Absolutely neither of these views is consistent with what the Bible teaches.

God decrees not only the final outcome, but also all the means by which it comes to pass. One of the wonderful tools he uses in carrying out his plan is prayer offered by his redeemed people. Not just the prayers of the great Apostles and Prophets. Not just the prayers of Ministers, Elders and Deacons. God uses the prayers of somewhat immature new converts like those Paul was writing to in Rome. He uses the prayers of the parents, teachers, barbers, sales representatives, plumbers, drivers, cooks, engineers — people at every level of society and skill.

We are all a part of a wonderful plan that never will change since it all first began.
Yes, God could just do it and let us observe; but instead he includes us, and calls us to serve.
When we wrestle in prayer, and ask him to bless;
when we cling to the truth which by grace we confess,
when we hope in the promise, and call in his name;
when we rest in the One who has shouldered our shame,
we are there in the process he decreed at the start;
we are used as loved children, each doing his part.

God commands us to pray, and he tells us that it matters. Rather than philosophizing about things far beyond our knowledge, we should simply rejoice to be a part of the rise and fall of nations, the victories of the gospel as it makes dramatic changes in otherwise hopeless lives, and the wonders performed by surgeons, teachers, pastors, and moms.

Then Paul ends this wonderful section of his letter with a prayer of benediction.

Romans 15:33, “Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

The Apostle’s own prayer is directed toward all who in faith read these words. For him and for his readers in Rome, unsettling times were ahead. They were about to face intense persecutions, wars, divisions, heresies, confusion, and many tragic deaths. Yet through it all, what ever the circumstances, by the prayers of sinners saved by grace the peace of the God who upholds all things was with them. Jesus promised saying, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Paul he seals his benedictory prayer with an “Amen”. It is a confident affirmation that it is truth. What a wonderful way to end our prayers!

Just as their prayers were but a little part of the whole of God’s plan, so also was Paul’s trip to Jerusalem, his arrest, the false charges, the jail time, the plots against his life, and his dangerous trip on the sea. The same is true of our lunch hour, our trip to the store, the good night kiss on the cheeks of our children, the hug after school, the homework paper, the business deal, all we do every day for God’s glory. Much of it might seem mundane, disconnected, even ugly at times when the pieces stand alone. But together, they make up the whole which is the arrangement by God, the orchestrator of the wonderful symphony of everything.

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

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Lesson 58: Romans 15:22-29


by Bob Burridge ©2012

There are somethings in life that can’t be neglected for long. They demand our attention. When you try to hold your breath you discover that at best you can only do it for a few minutes. Our lungs normally take in air about 12 times every minute — that’s 720 breaths per hour. They slow down some when we are sleeping, and speed up for a while when we are active.

Imagine that a truck pulls up in front of your house tomorrow afternoon, and the driver delivers 90 gallon jugs of water. Think of how much space you would have to find to store them. Then the driver tells you that every hour another truck would arrive with 90 more gallon jugs. By the same time tomorrow you would have received 2,160 containers to store.

That’s how much air your lungs move. It comes to an average of 90 gallons per hour, 2,160 gallons every day!

Our lungs work that hard all our lives because every cell in our bodies has a constant need for a supply of Oxygen. Most of what you breath in is Nitrogen. But what your lungs are after is the 21% of the air that is Oxygen. That’s the important part that your cells need to stay alive. Your blood goes to your lungs to pick up oxygen on its way to all the parts of your body. When cells don’t get oxygen they can’t function. Then they die. Some of them die very quickly. That’s why breathing is such a high priority in our lives.

You can go without a drink for a little longer, because the body stores water longer. You can go without food even longer than that, because the body stores food very well. But without a supply of these things you would not last long. You would die in just minutes if your air supply was cut off. So our bodies won’t let us deprive them of air for long. After you hold your breath for a few minutes you instinctively struggle to start up again. We have the sensations of thirst and hunger to make sure we get water and food when it’s needed. We get tired so that we won’t starve our body of needed sleep. These are hard drives to resist.

It is an important part of life to learn how to get enough of all these things we need. Some needs must come before others. Our bodies need to average a certain basic amount of air, water, food, sleep, hygiene, and exercise. We also need to spend part of our lives either working to provide for our needs, or in school preparing to eventually go to work. We need time to show care for the emotional needs of our family members and friends. We need time to repair some things when they break.

We need to spend time every day in prayer, in thinking about God and his word, and in shining as lights to the world. We need to gather weekly for worship and instruction in holy living as a church. We even need some time to relax and just enjoy being part of God’s wonderful creation, and to benefit from the fruit of our own labors.

With so many things in our lives it gets very complicated to keep our priorities as they should be. Balance is hard. But we must make sure that none of the important things are neglected. With limited resources, time, and energy, careful budgeting needs to be done.

When the time spent on each gets mismanaged, serious problems occur. Often obsession with less important things such as hobbies, video games, watching TV, and playing on the internet can lead to neglect of family, health, church, or work.

Sometimes even necessary things can be over done. There are limits to how much a person should eat, sleep, work, exercise, or rest. And you would be neglecting other responsibilities if you spent all your time in worship, prayer, or telling people about Christ.

Even within the service of Jesus we need a balance. We need to make sure we spend some time in each of the means of Grace, and that we serve in a variety of ways, not just the one part of service that appeals to us.

Even the Apostle Paul had some things he wanted to do, good things, that he did not get to do. He often had to put his plans on hold while God busied him with other matters. We see here, in Romans 15:22-29, how Paul explained this balance he had to maintain.

Paul explained his travel plans to the Roman believers:

Romans 15:22-24, “For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain– for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while –“

The Apostle Paul had gained a reputation among the early believers for his sound teaching. The Roman believers would have wanted a visit from God’s Apostle to the Gentiles. Paul wanted them to understand why he had not been able to go there yet. This long and detailed letter to the Romans would be helpful, but it was no substitute for direct fellowship. So Paul told them about the deep longing he had to see them in person too.

While it is true that some people let their feelings overcome their better judgment, we should not be afraid to sense how deeply God leads us to feel about people and things in God’s world. We were created to have desires. It is our drive for air that will not let us forget to breathe. It is our tiredness, hunger, and thirst that make sure we do not neglect sleep, food, and water. It is our deep longing toward our family in Christ that often drives us to minister to them. God directs our desires as one of the most common means by which he advances his great plan for his people to be a spiritual family.

Even in overseeing his work of missions, God tells us only a few times that he directed the Apostles by direct revelation. Most of their plans appear to have been based upon what they judged were the best places to go. Sometimes God intervened and would not let them follow their plans. But those were the exceptions. God moves us to move his way by moving our heart’s desires.

God stirs us by grace through the work of Christ, to want to obey him. That obedience makes us learn more about what his word says is good. Knowing the word helps us desire right things. His Spirit then makes us grow in grace to love those good things all the more. Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

Though we may only be aware of our part in the planning process, we must never forget that it is the power of God behind it directing every thought and step we take. This is not some obscure theological idea weakly supported from a few verses taken out of context. It is repeated all through Scripture. For example:

Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”

Proverbs 19:21, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, Nevertheless the LORD’s counsel — that will stand.”

Jeremiah 10:23, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.”

Paul’s mission to unevangelized territories in Macedonia was just about completed. That work had prevented him from being able to satisfy his strong desire to visit them in Rome. He had kept the priority work first. It was that which God had assigned. He presumed he would soon be free to take the trip to Spain and to Rome on the way. Things did not go exactly as Paul seemed to think they would.

Did Paul ever make it to Spain? We don’t know for sure. Tradition says that he did get there. But tradition is not evidence. The Book of Acts ends with Paul in Jail in Rome. Up to then, a trip to Spain could not have taken place. After his release from that first Roman imprisonment Paul traveled again. We can reconstruct some of his travels by comments he makes in his epistles to Titus and to Timothy. It is certainly possible that Spain might have been visited, but it is not mentioned.

It is not important to prove that he did or did not get there. This passage is about Paul’s desires, not what God revealed to him about what would happen. There were other times when Paul was not able to accomplish what he had planned. For example, there was his change of direction on the 2nd Missionary Journey in Asia, the one that turned him to Troas and the direct call of God for him to go to Macedonia.

Paul did eventually make it to Rome. However, he came under very different circumstances than what he shows he was expecting here. He did not come by choice as a missionary on his way to Spain. He came twice as a prisoner under Roman guard.

The classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life shows how George Baily’s plans seemed never to work out. But when it all came together in the end, things worked out better than he could have dreamed. Our plans are also sometimes turned aside by God’s providence, often through the duties he gives us to keep us involved in one way rather than in another.

We need to remember that behind our personal disappointments are the perfect plans of God. Earlier in this epistle Paul wrote, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

There is a principle in Scripture that should encourage us when things do not go as we plan. We may not get the job we expected, or the loan we thought would be necessary. Sometimes there are emergencies that keep us from what we expected to be doing. We may not get to go to all the places we want to visit, or to do the things we dream of doing. God’s providence may create schedule conflicts which demand that we make hard choices.

It’s all a matter of priority. It is important not to neglect any of the clear duties God puts before us. We need to keep them all balanced in the best way we can. We need sometimes to set aside mere pleasures if they keep us from honoring our God and Savior, or those he loves.

When Paul says that he hopes to see them as he passes by toward Spain, he was not speaking with the same confidence he had in the hope of God’s promises. This was hope in a personal desire. Our hope in Christ and in God’s covenant is not just a personal longing. It is a promise from the Creator himself. That in which we hope is only as certain as the thing in which we hope.

What is certified by the word of God ought to be a firm expectation. If, as it was in this case with the Apostle Paul, it is just our own heart’s desire, we cannot be sure it is the unchangeable plan of God.

All our plans and dreams must be first of all agreeable with the moral principles God has revealed to us in his word. But we must also be willing to submit to the secret councils of God which only become known as they take place. We are warned in Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.” and in James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ ”

Paul had confidence in the Roman believers. He knew he could count on them to help him on his way to Spain. The word used for his being “helped” on his way is propempo (προπεμπω). Literally it is a compound word meaning “to send forth”. It was often used of escorting someone along the way as they left for a journey. It might also mean that Paul expected material help in making it financially possible for him to make his planned trip.

He expected his visit with them to be fulfilling to him. Probably the exact wording means that he knew that his visit with them would be short, never the less he knew it would be very encouraging for him as well as for them.

Next, Paul explained that he had one more duty to perform.

Romans 15: 25-27, “But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.”

He was on his way to Jerusalem with help from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia. The need in Jerusalem was great. Early history shows that the Jerusalem saints faced very hard times materially. First, it was a city held in the grip of apostate Judaism. The ones who accepted the Messiah were cut off from the synagogues. The city resources were not available to them for relief of the sick and widows. They were not included in political or business decisions. They found it hard to compete economically in the hateful Jewish population. Second, a famine had hit the empire in the days of Claudius Caesar. Jerusalem was often more vulnerable to droughts which made it even harder for the Christians.

God was using this need to help heal the rift that was hurting the church. Tension existed between believers who were Jewish, and those who were Gentile.

So this was more than a mere relief mission. Paul was not getting his priorities confused. He was not doing diaconal work, or neglecting his mission to Rome and Spain. This gift from the Gentile believers in Macedonia and Achaia, probably the cities of Philippi and Corinth, showed the change God had worked in their hearts, and the gratitude they had to the Jews not only for the Savior who was born to them, but also for the missionaries they had sent out with the good news. Paul expected this gift would be a remedy to cure tragic prejudices and jealousies. The Gentile saints had given sacrificially, out of love and a sense of Christian duty.

Perhaps this was God’s purpose in letting Jerusalem suffer so much need. God who rules all circumstances not only creates in us a love to give and to help the truly needy, he also provides needs to showcase his mercy and care. As much as he calls the able to help, he calls the unable to receive. All is to be done with respect for the other, and with humility of self. All is to be done to the glory of God.

Paul explained his plan: After he left Jerusalem
he would be free to go to Rome.

Romans 15:28-29, “Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.”

Paul’s personal commitment and intention was important. He calls it setting his seal upon this fruit of theirs. It does not mean that he was the only one who could safely guard the gift, or that he was worried the givers might not get proper credit for it. Those simple matters could have been done by anyone and are not worthy of Apostolic time.

He was the one chosen to deliver the gift to attest that it was a genuine fruit of love done for Christ’s glory. God must receive the honor for good works, or else we glorify the giver as if he is good on his own. When we forget to glorify Christ in our good, we steal the praise from God.

There was that other dimension too. He wanted the Jews to realize how God had changed these Gentile hearts, and made them true brothers in the family of Christ, brothers who truly cared. The gift was a fruit of their being redeemed by the Messiah.

We should not be among those who are afraid to commend other believers for good works they do. Every good motive is a testimony to the power of God to mercifully conquer our fallen hearts. We need to appreciate the evidence of God at work in redeemed hearts.

Here again, Paul expressed his plan to come to Rome on the way to Spain. It is true that he did not end up doing what he said he would do. This was neither a broken promise nor a lie. We commonly speak in terms of what we expect will be. If we are sincere it is not a lie. We always presume that human plans are subject to divine intervention. We only see the secret will of God when it unfolds. Paul explained that there were many times before this that he had intended to come to Rome, but God had hindered him. He undoubtedly realized as he wrote this that his plans could likely be changed again. Yet he made plans based upon what he expected at the time.

We should do the same. We make our plans with first things first, and all important things considered. However, we always plan in submission to what God would reveal as his secret plan. We keep in mind, “But thy will be done”.

The inspiration of the Bible is not at question here either. It is not a mistake. It accurately recorded what Paul in his heart intended. That is how biblical history is always written. Scripture records even the fallible notions of men, yet always showing the overpowering directing of God who unfolds his eternal plan in the course of time.

Paul fully expected that when his mission to Jerusalem was over, he would come to Rome overflowing with joy at what God would accomplish. Though his coming to Rome was not victorious in the way he expected, we see from his letters written from Roman imprisonment that he did come to Rome abounding in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.

From that Roman imprisonment he wrote these words to the Philippian believers:

1:12, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,”

1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.”

4:11, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:”

He had come to know that God is always victorious, even when we cannot discern the real battle. He did come “… in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ”, just not in the way he thought it would happen.

When I was little there were a number of “but first’s”.

When I was still a child up and wanted to do something, I’d hear things like, “but first you need to clean your room” or “but first you have to finish your home work” or “but first you have to come in and get washed up for dinner.” There are always priorities. We need to learn how to keep things in balance. No important things should be neglected. Our first responsibilities must get our proper attention.

We should be careful to respect how hard it is for others to keep that balance. Sometimes our friends may not give us the time we expect from them, but if they are doing what God calls them to do we should not be hurt. If we think they have the wrong priorities we should pray for and encourage them to correct the problem for their own good. Often we cannot fully appreciate the burden God puts upon their hearts. We do not want our own selfish desires to grieve friends who cannot do what we want because they are trying to be responsible. Sometimes visits cannot take place as often as we prefer, as with Paul and Rome.

As we order our own lives, we need to consider how to prioritize in ways that God approves. We should put the necessities and duties to others over our own luxury time. We should make sure we do not just focus on our personal preferences and leave the less enjoyable tasks undone or done poorly.

On the positive side, when we order our lives to promote the glory of God in all we do, and to encourage other believers in the best way we know how, God promises to satisfy our hearts with a fullness of joy and blessing.

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

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The Promise of Success

Lesson 57: Romans 15:17-21

The Promise of Success

by Bob Burridge ©2012

I remember the excitement I experienced when I successfully typed my first command lines into a computer. Before the 1970’s, computers were only found in universities, government facilities, and large businesses. The idea of a home computer was unheard of. Then there was the development of the first microprocessors. I was a science teacher then, so it was normal for me to stop in the Radio Shack at one of the local shopping malls. There I saw the newly announced TRS-80 home computer on display.

I had always been intrigued by computers from the time I first saw the Hollywood versions in the movies and on TV. There were the mysterious knobs, buttons, and banks of blinking lights on the Superman TV show, and the more sophisticated blinking lights and gauges on Star Trek. I thought of devices like the real ones those represented as existing only in the mystical domain of the mathemagically gifted.

I stood there at the counter of the Radio Shack looking with amazement at this legendary device, now compacted into what looked like a small black and white TV set with a bulky keyboard hooked up to it. There on the almost blank screen one word was displayed; it said “READY”.

I had no idea what that meant, but I wanted to know. I asked the clerk, but he had no more idea than I did. He told me that it could be programmed to do things using a computer language called BASIC.

I walked down to the book store in the mall where in a rather obscure section I found a few books about computers. Then, almost as if I’d seen a golden key from heaven, my eyes fixed upon a little yellow paperback book called “Basic BASIC”. I glanced at the first chapter where it said that when the screen says READY you can type in programs or commands. That was encouraging. I read a little more and discovered how to write a simple little program to print words on the screen, or the results of simple mathematical calculations.

I hurried back to Radio Shack, typed in a few simple lines, and it worked! I was hooked! I thought to myself “I can do this!”

I wrote a proposal to our school board. Within a few weeks we had one of those new computers. I also bought that book and a few others to learn how it worked, and how to write well designed programs for it. By the start of the following school year I had written a curriculum making our school the first in our county to offer a class in this new technology. It was such a curiosity that we received coverage by the local newspapers and television news programs. In time, my Middle School students found out they could do computer programming too.

It all seems so old fashioned now with what our personal computers can do. But it was a beginning. What seemed hopelessly beyond me was not as hard as it seemed, once I found out how these new machines worked.

There are a lot of challenges in life that seem overwhelming to us. We often avoid things we believe we cannot do. We tend to leave them in the hands of a few experts. Sometimes we even abandon growth in Christ because we are not confident that our spiritual weaknesses can be overcome. We are led to believe we are not able to help others spiritually. We leave these kinds of things to the formally ordained and professionally trained as if only they can tap the resources needed for us to mature into what God calls us to be.

Our Redeemer has given us all we need to be a part of the advance of his kingdom in the world around us, and in the lives of those who live in it. We not only have the book that tells us how the Creator made things to operate here, we also have the Holy Spirit who works in us and in others to do what we are unable to do on our own.

The Apostle Paul was encouraged to see Christ at work in his life, and that he was able to tell the Roman believers that they could also be successful servants of the Savior.

Paul had shown in Romans 15:1-16 that believers in Christ are the most able, the only ones able, to really help and encourage one another to be maturing in Christ. In verse 13 he showed how God empowers us to patiently help, and to strengthen the weak among us to lovingly admonish one another as brothers in Christ. In this next text (Romans 15:17-21) Paul draws from his own success to encourage us who are also redeemed to serve our Savior.

Paul was pleased with the success of his
ministry by the power of Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:17, “Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God.”

His success had to do with the things pertaining to God. Of course all things have to do with God. However, here Paul evidently meant the special sense in which God had blessed his ministry of spreading God’s word, and of encouraging believers to live obediently for God’s glory. So, though everything we do ought to be centered upon God’s glory and done in God’s ways, there are times when his glory is more directly and immediately promoted, times when we talk directly about him and help others to walk more closely with Christ.

Paul rejoiced in one thing only regarding his success. It was because of his being in Christ that he had been a part of the conversion of so many Gentiles. The word translated “glory” or “boast” in some translations puts the focus upon what has been done. The bringing in of Pagans, who knew nothing of the ancient Covenant of God, was astounding! But Paul was careful not to imply that his success was due to anything in himself.

Self-glory is a motive promoted by the fallen world, but one that is a deceptive narcotic to our fallen souls. A proud spirit is wrong because all glory belongs to God. He is the purpose for which all things were created and exist. He made the universe, and all of us who are a part of it, to display his nature and character. We are here to promote his glory.

This is exactly why it is so wicked for humans to take self-glory in their accomplishments. They steal from God what is not theirs to take.

It is refreshing when successful people turn the glory back to God. We think of athletes like Tim Tebow and Kurt Warner of the Rams. I remember when Kurt corrected a TV interviewer who spoke of his winning Super Bowl touch-down pass of 73-yards as “putting first things first”. Warner said in response, “First things first, I’ve got to give the praise and glory to my Lord and Savior up above. Thank you, Jesus!” Comments like that are so rare among celebrities today, that when they occur they get our attention.

If our primary goal is to gain earthly things, self-pride seems as if it is a good motive. But it is also morally destructive and robs us of the true pleasure available to us in the things we actually accomplish. Awe in being able to take part in the wonderful work of God is a far better motivator, and brings a satisfaction with it that the one who boasts in himself will never know.

This does not mean we should never be motivated to do wonderful things here on earth. But our intent in all things should be that we do them for God’s pleasure. One of the memorable lines in the movie Chariots of Fire was when Eric Liddell explained that when he ran, it was for God’s pleasure. He said, “to win is to honor him.”

We must remember that not only our ability, but even our motive to accomplish good things, only come when God, out of his mercy, brings them to pass in us. In Psalm 115:1 the writer says, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.”

In 1 Corinthians 1:29-31 Paul wrote, “that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’ ”

Once we realize the source of and reason for our success, we can take great pleasure in the wonderful things we accomplish in Christ. Paul understood what a great privilege it was to be a human instrument in the hand of God. When used by him we are not like a gear, microprocessor, or cable. We are living, thinking, feeling, fallible humans, enabled by grace to do the work of the King of kings.

God certainly could do his work by supernatural means without us. But He chose to use mere humans, redeemed by grace alone. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us, “… it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”

No one should hesitate to be pleased with his work in Christ. Nor should we fail to encourage God’s laborers as if it is wrong for them to have a sense of accomplishment.

There was a philosophy of child rearing for a while that warned parents never to praise a child so that they will not become proud and self-centered. That is just plain cruel and unbiblical. Self-pride is not the necessary result of praise and success. Paul commended many for what God did in them. His epistles are filled with encouragement about how God had used individuals and churches. Here he glories in what God had done in his ministry.

Paul knew that he owed his whole effort to the work of his Savior.

Romans 15:18-19, “For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient — (19) in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”

Paul would only speak of Christ’s accomplishments in his ministry. There was no need to multiply stories or reports of what Christ had done which the Apostle did not know personally and with assurance. He would not brag about his own abilities and talents as if they were done aside from or in addition to the work of Christ. This is consistent with what had always been true in the lives of God’s true laborers.

Isaiah 26:12, “LORD, You will establish peace for us, For You have also done all our works in us.”

Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

Paul’s success in Christ was seen in the obedience of the Gentiles to the Gospel promises. Pagans who grew up outside the influence of the Covenant had been radically transformed. Their testimony and their deeds proved that such a change can be accomplished by the hand of God at work in his human servants.

Paul’s success was also confirmed in the power of signs and wonders. God sent miraculous evidences as the gospel first spread to the Gentiles. These did not only occur as deeds of the messenger, they were also produced miraculously among the early converts. Some spoke in un-known tongues, or were healed of diseases. These supernatural events demonstrated that God was the one who was expanding the covenant blessings to include all races of mankind. It was these evidences that silenced the objections of the Jews in Jerusalem. Supernatural miracles like those were not intended to continue in the church. They accomplished their purpose by attesting to the apostolic message in the first century. They clearly affirmed that the new era of God’s kingdom had begun.

Paul’s success was confirmed in the power of the Holy Spirit. It was not just the outward miracles that showed that changes were taking place. It was the inner change in the heart of lost souls that produced faith, repentance, and a desire to live by God’s revealed truth and moral principles. It is that regenerating change that is the root of all gospel success.

It was this simple teaching of the word in the power of the Spirit that was “turning the world upside down” (as Luke recorded it in Acts 17:6).

Paul knew very well, that his success did not depend upon his own skill. It was the proclaimed word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit that did it. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:4, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,”

Paul had taken the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum. Jerusalem was the South East extent of his work. From there, up to the time of the writing of this epistle to the Romans, he went as far as Illyricum (just north-west of the boarder of Macedonia). There he had preached the gospel in full, the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). He had done what God had called him to do.

Paul was driven by a strong desire, a passion, to go into new territory.

Romans 15:20-21, “And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, (21) but as it is written: ‘To whom He was not announced, they shall see; And those who have not heard shall understand.’ “

Paul was engaged in pioneer missionary work. He had introduced Christ in places where our Lord’s name was unknown. He understood his particular calling as that of preaching Christ where no one had spoken of him before. It makes me think of the old Star Trek lead in, with its annoying split infinitive that sticks in the mind. The starship Enterprise and its crew set out on a mission, “to boldly go where no man had gone before.”

In this way, Paul entered new cities, new regions, entering into hostile pagan cultures. He was a planter of new seed. It was for others like Apollos to water the seed of the gospel that others like Paul had planted. But every step of the work was a work of God. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

Of course this does not mean that Paul never engaged in other aspects of the work. He often helped out in places where others had laid the foundation. However, his passion, his main calling, was to venture into new territory with the good news.

The work he did was done with pure joy. The expression that begins verse 20 is translated in various ways in an attempt to bring the impact of the Greek word philotimeomai (φιλοτιμεομαι) into English. The New American Standard translates it as “aspire”. The King James Version has “strive”. Literally the word means “to love honor”. It was a great honor to be able to tell God’s promises to other people. That honor toward God highly moved Paul. This is why the word that means “to love honor” came to be used commonly of striving or aspiring toward a goal. As the New King James translates it, it was Paul’s “aim to preach the gospel”. This was the deep passion Paul had for the work God had given him. It was a joy to serve Christ, even though he was repeatedly persecuted by beatings and times in jail.

This honorable passion lives still in the hearts of many modern missionaries. God still raises up laborers to go where his Spirit is about to move. Lost souls are still saved by means of God’s proclaimed word and life giving Spirit. Those who love Christ should never become indifferent or lazy in their attitude toward mission work. Those not sent to the mission field are called upon to pray diligently for the work, to support the material needs of keeping missionaries on the field and of equipping them to do the work effectively. All of us can be a personal encouragement to missionaries by keeping in contact as brothers and sisters united in the work of the Christ’s Kingdom.

It is an unbiblical idea that we need no sense of passion and urgency for the work since it is God who is behind it all. Quite the opposite is true. God’s work is done by the very passion and urgency he puts into common people like you and me. How amazing that God, who could do it all on his own, determined that the best way to reveal his power, grace, and glory is to use us! Paul, this former persecutor and blasphemer, was privileged to bear this good news. He became the one to first take the gospel to many towns and into many homes.

Paul understood that this was the fulfillment of an ancient promise God had made. The spread of the gospel beyond the Jews to the whole world was not an innovation. It had been what God said he would do long before the time of the Apostles. The earliest chapters of the Bible hint at this truth. Moses spoke of it to Israel in the wilderness. The later prophets hundreds of years before Christ repeated it.

Here Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:15. It promises that the gospel would come to the Gentiles. The Prophet wrote, “So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.”

This verse introduces Isaiah 53 which tells of the coming work of the suffering Messiah. The Gentile Kings will be speechless, because what was not told to them they will have seen, what they did not hear they will have considered. Today we know that the suffering Messiah described in that chapter was Jesus. Paul was bringing the message of that fulfilled promise. He was seeing the gentile nations transformed just as God said they would be.

>> No mission can fail when it is the mission of God. << Gospel missionary work was not why Paul brought this up here. The context, remember, was about brothers in Christ being loving and patient toward one another, even toward the spiritually weak, toward those who quite plainly were wrong about things, toward people who were easily offended. Paul says all this about his own success in the ministry of the gospel because it shows the hope we have in doing the work Christ calls us to do. It was a fitting illustration because many of the Romans were themselves Gentiles who were part of the evidence he was citing. Paul wanted the Roman believers to be encouraged by this in their own labors. Since God was fulfilling his promises so clearly in the gospel and by Paul, why should any doubt that he will fulfill his promises to us as we patiently labor to encourage one another and to admonish one another in love, to walk in Christ clinging without doubt to the principles God gives us in his word? There is reason to glory in the great things God enables us to do for him. He does not leave us on our own to succeed in our callings. Even our motive and great concern comes from him. The Romans were not left to their own skills and devices to mature in Christ, nor are we left to struggle hoping someone stronger will take the lead. We are the laborers who raise God's children, who help our neighbors, who pray for and comfort the needy, who pioneer the gospel into new territories. I do not mean foreign nations necessarily, though who knows where we all may one day be? All the unevangelized regions of your own family and neighborhood are included in this great commission. Your mission field is where you are at the moment. It may be your department at work, your class at school, the team you compete with, those you chat with digitally. You live on the frontier of the gospel. Take up that pioneering spirit and driving passion. What hope can we have as we take the gospel to others in such simple ways? What hope can we have in showing patience and encouragement to our weaker brothers? How can we heal a morally decaying land and a fragmented and confused community of churches? It is all contained in this one collection of infallible and inspired books we call the Bible. It is all accomplished by the power of God, not by your own innate abilities. It is something you can do. It is not a complex duty which rests upon your own skills and power aside from the intentions of your Creator. You can do these things through Christ which strengthens you! (The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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Good Counselors

Lesson 56: Romans 15:14-16

Good Counselors

by Bob Burridge ©2012

It’s good to have those we can count on to give us loving advice when they believe we need it. Children may not always appreciate it when parents tell them to slow down when they chew, to go back to wash their hands again (this time to include both sides), to change clothes into something more appropriate for an occasion, or to get to bed when they aren’t feeling all that sleepy. Parents generally do not say those things to annoy their children. Believe it or not, those kinds of advice are for the most part acts of love. They are trying to help their children to be healthy, and to grow up to be responsible and happy adults.

As we get older we learn that some people give us advice in misleading and unloving ways. We discover that help is not always aimed at our own best interests. Some tell us that if we know what’s best for us we will always buy their brand of cereal, or vote for their candidate, or wear their style of shoes. They tell us to read certain books so that we will see things as they do. We are told to watch TV shows on their network, but it is so their ratings go up. They call us on the phone to get us to switch long distance services, or to contribute to so many charities and services that we would go into debt if we supported even just most of them.

When there is so much self serving guidance out there, it is necessary and good to be cautious. We often develop a defensive response to advice. The problem is that we often carry this over to where we see all advice as meddlesome and interfering. Extreme resistance to counsel can interfere with obeying God’s word.

This is not just advice for parents training up their children with loving counsel. We as believers, ought to know how both to give and to take admonitions so that we can responsibly help one another, and benefit from seeing things from a more biblical point of view.

Rather than allowing someone we love to continue in dangerously wrong behavior, we need to offer good and helpful counsel. We also need to be ready to receive it from others.

In Romans 15:14-16 Paul explains who is able to admonish those in the community of believers. Previously in this section of the letter he expressed his tender concern toward his readers. He told believers to learn to walk in a humble, considerate, patient manner. He urged them to encourage one another toward Christian maturity, specially toward the spiritually weak among them. He pointed them to the God of hope who fills his children with that joy and peace they need as counselors, so that they show in their own lives what they are encouraging others to be and to do. Our lives ought to be godly examples to others of patience, compassion, and restraint.

There are times when we need to deal with another person’s persisting sins. Paul expressed a confidence toward his Roman readers. In Christ they were not only full of goodness and knowledge. They were also able to be admonishers when it was needed.

Romans 15:14, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”

Who is qualified to admonish?

We are living in an age of expertism. Secular views of the world reduce everything to physical laws and experiences. Humans are seen as merely highly evolved animals. We are told that since all reduces to the physical, only those trained in medicine and the objective social sciences are able to help what we view as emotional or behavioral problems. Secular Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and Sociologists are considered to be the only ones competent to help emotionally troubled people and their societal relationships. Some offer the appealing and anesthetizing idea that when we are lazy, mean, impatient, violent, rebellious, immoral, drunken, destructive, or even criminal, it is really not our fault. We are really just suffering from a physical illness, some type of syndrome, bad influences, or a simple misunderstanding.

These secularly trained professionals tend to make it clear that ministers and other counselors should not be trusted. Many blame the illness of their clients on the restrictions of biblical morality, or on their belief in a god who makes them feel guilty unnecessarily.

Certainly there are real organic physical problems that need to be treated. Medical professionals are valuable assets if they carry out their work responsibly. Some behavioral issues can be caused or aggravated by clearly identifiable physical brain damage from injury, chemical toxins, or birth problems. There can be genetic, and glandular irregularities that effect how the brain works. These are treated best by physicians who specialize in these matters. However, when it comes to most behavioral and attitude issues, God does not send us to Physicians. The God who made us sends us in a very different direction.

Here in Romans 15:14 we are told to help one another as a family in Christ, as brothers and sisters. This verse gives the biblical qualifications for those who are able to admonish one another.

The admonisher ought to be a born-again Christian. Paul calls them brothers. They are people redeemed by the grace of God in Christ. An unbeliever may know case histories, psycho-biology, and neurology, but he does not know the whole scope of human nature. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Bible says, “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.”

The non-Christian sees sin as nothing more than a violation of subjective moral standards. He sees what some consider to be bad behavior as the result of imposing personal opinions upon others. Counselors of this sort often recommend therapies that just compound or hide the real problem. They may tell the counselee to go out and have sex with some one outside of marriage, or to beat up on a pillow to relieve pent up hostilities, or to use various techniques to shift the blame to their parents, teachers, or Pastors. They may give them drugs to dull or to control their feelings of guilt or depression.

Only a regenerate believer is able to see the true spiritual dimension of sin problems. Since they love God’s word and desire to submit to it, they have a sound foundation from which to reason. They understand we are not victims. We are fallen sinners who ought to admit our failings. They see one another not as either victims or experts, but as members of a spiritual family who are here to help one another grow up in Christ. They know that for a person to deal successfully with sin issues, he must first be born-again through faith in the Living Lord Jesus Christ. They respect the fact that sin must be confessed and overcome, not explained away or blamed on someone else.

Paul names two qualities the Christian counselor ought to possess:
1. The godly admonisher ought to be full of goodness. This is a general term that includes the qualities that are pleasing to God. It includes the inner motive of directing whatever we do toward the glory of God, not for the benefit of ourselves for personal comfort or gain. This is the central desire of true biblical love. It seeks the spiritual benefit of its object. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, love “… does not seek its own.”

The self-serving counselor maybe more concerned with how his treatments make him feel successful, or with how satisfied customers improve his career security. The concerned brother in Christ is able to rise above these self-serving motives. He works for a greater good, the glory of God being realized and enjoyed in the heart of each of his redeemed children. This does not mean that we always have pure hearts when we advise one another, but it does mean that only the redeemed have the potential to put God’s glory first.

Of course there is nothing good in any of us in our fallen condition. Without Christ no one does good, not anyone (Paul said this directly in Romans 3:12). However, in Christ we are enabled to perform the works of God. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Therefore, only redeemed believers, all of them, have this important quality necessary for effective counseling.

As we progress in growing in these Christ-like qualities, we have the confidence that in the eyes of God as our Eternal Judge we are clothed in the righteousness of the Savior who credits us with his own perfect goodness by his grace alone. This enables us to stand in the presence of the Holy Creator to receive his enablement to live more and more as we ought to live, and to be maturing spiritually.

If you want to be a greater help to others, make your own salvation sure, then pray for goodness. 2 Thessalonians 1:11 says, “Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power.”

2. The godly admonisher ought to be full of all knowledge. This does not mean he has all knowledge about everything. No one has that. It does not even mean that in order to give godly counsel you have to know all there is to know about God’s word.

Certainly the more we know about what God has said, the more helpful we will be. The brother who cares for others will look into God’s word for advice. That is our invaluable tool for helping another person both see his sins and know the assurances he has for overcoming them by the promises of God. Psalm 119:99 reminds us, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.”

Admonition partly involves reminding others or teaching them about what God says in His word. Teachers have a fundamental obligation to properly present what is revealed in the Bible. This is why counselors who are not submissive to God’s word are dangerous. This is true both of secular counselors, and of so called Christian counselors if they follow the worlds theories and try merely to sanctify them by quoting a few Bible verses. In 1 Timothy 1:7 Paul warned Timothy that there are those who want “… to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.”

We should never admonish others to adopt our ways, but rather to take on God’s ways. This is why first of all we must know the ways of God. No one is competent to counsel if he is not trusting in the principles of the gospel, and in the ways of God’s word. These lay the foundation for the help being offered.

Believers are able to admonish one another. Here Paul expresses his confidence that these qualities exist in the believers at Rome too. They are fully competent to do this. No better counselors could be recommended.

They did not need professional experts in the secular sciences. They needed biblical counsel from brothers in Christ. Jesus taught this during his earthly ministry. As part of his advice in Matthew 18:15 he said, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”

How we admonish others is very important.

The word “admonish” is commonly used today with negative overtones. It often implies a harsh scolding, or a lording it over someone as their moral superior. Too often human pride gets in the way of trying to help others struggling in sin.

In the Bible, the word has a much richer and more positive meaning. The Greek word “nouthetein” (νουθετειν) is the one translated as “admonish” here in verse 14. This word is used in the New Testament 11 times. By looking at those uses we see that the Bible uses this word for loving brotherly admonition.

Biblical admonition treats others with respect, not with a critical attitude of fault finding or belittling. It treats others as if we really care for them as members of our own family who are in danger. We take the danger seriously and want them to look at the cause of their problems, not merely at the symptoms.

1 Corinthians 4:14, “I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:15, “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

Ephesians 6:4, “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”

This admonition is the tender guiding of someone we value as if they were our own child or brother. It is not the way we would treat someone who was our enemy. It is done lovingly, humbly, not with arrogant scolding or judgmentalism.

We often call this approach to counseling “Nouthetic”, using the Greek word for admonishing in this loving way as we deal directly with sin and help believers to be encouraged in to grow in Christ-likeness.

Biblical admonition is done patiently with those who are weak in their Christian understanding and commitment. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” The Greek word translated as “warn” is this same word nouthetein.

The goal of biblical admonition is to make others complete in the Lord Jesus. Colossians 1:28 says, “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

God’s revealed word is the sure foundation for helping one another. After commenting on the Old Testament story of Moses and Israel, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

Biblical admonition is persistent, and is often done with tears. When Paul addressed the Elders of Ephesus he said in Acts 20:31. “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

Here in Romans 15:14 the meaning is clear. We are to help the spiritually weak to become stronger in the Lord. We have Christ’s enablement to do so. We do it by loving, tender, patient, humble brotherly advice drawn from God’s word.

Biblical admonition can even be done with music. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Of course it’s not the music that admonishes our soul. God never recorded even one note of music in his word for his people to use. Music may help create the setting or a mood, but it is God’s truth in the lyrics of music that admonishes us.

We must be careful that the words of the songs we teach our children, or sing to ourselves or with friends are soundly and accurately based upon God’s word.

This is why the lyrics of music used for admonition and in worship should be subjected to the same careful crafting that a pastor puts into the content of his worship messages. No one should choose admonition music just for its sound or feeling. It should not be selected for its popularity. It must rest upon the solid principles and promises of the Holy Scriptures.

Paul was a good example of lovingly admonishing others.

Romans 15:15-16, “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”

Paul was called by God to be a minister to the Gentiles, that is “to the nations”. He had a message for all the redeemed, not just for those of Israel. He did not write to Rome because of personal concerns or disagreements, but because of a divine commission. He was driven by a sincere love and sense of duty. Paul refers to his calling as a grace of God. In Ephesians 3:8 he said, “To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”

His Apostleship gave him a high authority from God the Creator. However, he did not arrogantly scold as someone superior to his readers. He used his Apostleship with great humility and desire for their spiritual growth. His letters are fine examples of biblical admonition. There is no better course to take to prepare for counseling than a good study of the Bible as God’s word.

His admonitions were to help others become sanctified by the Spirit. Paul was not acting as a priest in the Levitical sense. Jesus was the great High Priest who made the final sacrifice of his own body and blood. True Christianity has ministers teaching and leading the people. As good shepherds they are there to lead and to train us all to be competent in admonishing one another by the word of God.

Verse 16 speaks of making an “offering” in the sense of Romans 12:1. We are to present our whole persons as a living sacrifice, a giving up of ourselves in gratitude since we are the Lord’s, not our own. Paul’s offering of the Gentiles was not that somehow they should be literally offered. It is that by the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit, they might be offered up as the living redeemed who had become one with Christ, and brought into a body of caring believers living for God’s glory.

Biblical counsel is not like that offered by the world.

Those who build their view of counseling upon an unbiblical understanding of how God made us, are not able to directly address the causes of our needs. Just calling our approach “religious” or “Christian” does not make it biblical.

In contrast with popular trends in counseling, the Bible does not call sin a sickness as if we are unwilling victims of some evil that floats around looking for someone to infect. God’s word does not teach us to psycho-analyze our souls as if to excuse wrong behavior because of what others have done. It does not tell us to vent our frustrations on some surrogate object of hate. It does not tell us to elevate our emotions into some mystical state of consciousness by emotional music, compelling altar calls, or alarming predictions of future horrors.

Biblical nouthetic counseling is when believers help one another by humbly admonishing them in love. It is firmly based upon the truths of God’s word, and is directed toward helping even the weakest among us to grow in spiritual maturity.

Sadly, some who need to see their own sins and foolish behaviors, will not accept loving admonitions. Paul warned Titus of this in Titus 3:10, “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” If they show no evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives we need to change our course of help. Instead of treating them as a brother in the Lord, we need to assume they are outside the family of God. We need to begin with bringing the life-changing Gospel of God’s Grace to them before we can proceed.

Samuel is a sad example of loving admonition being rejected. Samuel’s sons rebelled and turned away from the things of the Lord. God said these words about this neglectful father, “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.” (1Samuel 3:13)

The word translated as “restrain” in this verse is the Hebrew word kihah (כהה). Its root meaning is “to make someone feeble, timid, or weak”. It came to be commonly use meaning “to rebuke”. The idea is to admonish someone so they would have a humble, holy, worshipful attitude before God. That is where the original concept of to make weak came to mean being humbled by admonition. The ancient Greek Septuagint’s translation of this word is the same one used for these loving admonitions in the New Testament, “nouthetein” (νουθετειν).

Samuel failed to admonish his rebellious and foolish sons. He failed to admonish them. When warned he did not correct and counsel his children. The Bible faults him for his failure as a parent.

God’s children ought not treat loving admonitions negatively. Loving counsel should neither be neglected by the giver nor by the receiver. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves.” Again, the word used there for “admonish” is the word nouthetein.

Paul admits that his writing has been somewhat bold at times. He was very direct in his correction. But it was always done humbly and in love. Though it was persistent, it was not without tears, and was always based upon the advice and warnings of God’s word, not upon Paul’s own customs and preferences.

Paul was also confident that these Romans who were so troubled by issues about which he was writing to them, were still the best hope of good counsel for one another.

Biblical counsel is always nouthetic, redeemed people admonishing one another as a family in Christ. Enabled by the Holy Spirit to goodness, and armed with the knowledge of God’s word, they persist, sometimes even in tears, to help all, even the weakest, toward mature spiritually.

Our love for one another is too dear, and our love for God is too overwhelming, to substitute superficial remedies for the real joy and peace promised to us in our Savior. Biblical counsel is good biblical advice given in a way that is truly reflective of the love of God toward his children.

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

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Enabled toward Spiritual Maturity

Lesson 55: Romans 15:13

Enabled toward Spiritual Maturity

by Bob Burridge ©2012

When I was growing up, in our house the last of October was never celebrated with gross horrors, monsters, and demonic characters. Thoughts of pagan celebrations and witchcraft were far from our minds.

It was the time of year when we got to dress up as our favorite characters or heroes. What costume we chose was more important than the candy we expected to collect. My mom loved to help us put the outfits together. She spent loving hours sewing them into shapes never intended for the garments we started with.

I remember when long underwear was dyed blue and accessorized with red shorts, red snow boots, a cape, and a large emblem bearing the letter “S” sewn on the chest. That night I became a grown up: Superman. Sometimes it was Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, George Washington, a spaceman (this was before they were astronauts), a soldier, a New York Yankee, a Canadian Mountie, the great King Arthur, and a few others I can’t remember any more. The nice thing was that after the night of gathering treats, the costume was available for play until we either wore it out or outgrew it.

Children generally love to dress up. It is fun to have a hero to admire, to want to be like that image, to learn to copy his heroic ways. This is why it is so important that parents supply good role models for children. Those offered in the media are not usually examples of admirable qualities.

It was most of all fun to imagine you are a grown up. To be able and free to do more things, things that seemed more important. Of course pretending does not make a child really mature. This superman still scraped his knees and elbows. This soldier still ran home for lunch when his mother called him. Until they actually aged and experienced certain things they were just pretending.

We all start out our spiritual lives as children in Christ who need to grow up. In our study of Romans 15, we have seen so far that we need to bear up the weaknesses of brothers in Christ who are not yet strong spiritually. Like Christ we need to humble ourselves for the spiritual benefit of others.

However, to be able to help others we need to be mature ourselves. We have a wonderful role model in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Just knowing about him, and imagining ourselves able, does not make us like him.

There is more to spiritual maturity than good intentions, words, and outward actions. Like children playing at being grown ups, pretending does not make it so. There must be a true growth inwardly, not just a costume of religious words or behaviors.

Our needy brothers who are weak in faith need mature believers to guide them, not pretenders dressed up to make it look as if they are able to help.

Paul was able to invite believers to follow his example to the degree that he also modeled Christ. That example began with a heart made secure in the confidence of the gospel promises.

The characteristics we need to help others do not spring up in us in full maturity right away. Christian growth begins in spiritual childhood. It matures all through this earthly part of our lives. Paul ends this section by turning our attention to the source of our own spiritual growth:

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

The qualities Paul prays for in his readers are joy and peace.

What wonderful things! Most of lost humanity tries desperately to get them. There are many fake substitutes and deceptive paths that only lead to frustrations. As God’s children, we know he promises that we can grow in these good things. However, they do not come from outward circumstances as so many think. They are inner attitudes that must begin in the heart if they are to bring true joy and peace.

As we appreciate the promises made to us in Christ, and the fellowship God has with his people, we can make these rare treasures our own possessions. The joy we have is a sincere delight. As Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:8, “… yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

The peace God gives is an inner contentment. Paul wrote in Phil 4:7 about “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.”

These are the things David rejoiced over in Psalm 4. He thanked God saying in verses 7-8, “You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Paul prayed that believers might be filled with this joy and peace. God’s covenant promise is not just that we enjoy these a little bit. He wants his children to be filled up with them, to have them dominate their lives.

This is the process of maturity we ought to be experiencing as believers. When we have but a little joy and peace, we ought to confidently ask for more. We should seek God to so fill us that they crowd out the despair, the dreariness of hopeless living.

The world tries to fill its people with empty and unsatisfying things. It imagines that peace and joy come only when all is going smoothly, when there are no challenges, when they have all the material things they can imagine. However, those ways of finding joy are the junk food of the soul. Instead of nourishing us with healthy contentment, it does us harm.

When we put our hope in the outward offerings of this fallen world we are bound to have a joy and peace that fleetingly comes and goes. It does not really satisfy when it’s there. It is more a distraction from the distorted reality that holds us in its grip, than a confident blessing.

When Christ makes us holy by his grace, and satisfies our heart with his promises, we have a foundation for joy and peace that carries us through the hardest of times. As Psalm 16:11 says to God, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Here Paul joins these blessings with believing.
Faith is the means God works in us so that we can grasp the promises we have in Christ. It is that assurance, that we are accepted as holy in our Savior, that brings this joy and peace. Our guilt is covered by the atonement of the Savior. By his work we are made right with the Sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all that is. The opposites of joy and peace offered by the world are irrational and unsatisfying. How can the redeemed not rejoice and rest in this promised peace of God?

Peter said, “… you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

These qualities, along with the righteousness we have in Christ, are the essence of God’s Kingdom. Romans 14:17 says, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

By pursuit of these blessings we are rendered able to help the weak. The helper must abound in these qualities. Without them we are no example to the immature. We will lack the genuine tender spirit of patience that is most effective as a tool of God.

This maturing joy and peace in believing abounds in hope.

The false hope of the world is all wrapped up in mere probabilities and possibilities. All hope that is not of God is based upon deception and is illusory. That kind of hope is just an empty wish for things that might be. Hope becomes more of an empty dream than a real confident hope.

We in Christ have a certainty based upon an implanted confidence in a divine promise. It arises by grace from the implanted joy and peace of the redeemed soul. It is not based upon good circumstances or any moral innocence we have to achieve on our own. Rather, this hope may come to the most despondent or the most wicked. It may be expected in the midst of the greatest calamity. Hebrews 6:19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast …”

If you were to have been there to witness the plea of the pagan thief about to be crucified for his crimes, what hope could you have given him? How could anyone imagine that in his situation he might find joy and peace that day? But when God transformed his heart and he turned in faith to Jesus on the cross beside him, he heard those words, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

If this convicted criminal could be given such abounding hope in his situation, how foolish and immature it is for us to doubt that this too can be our portion in the common things that trouble us every day?

1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

If we are to abound in this hope, we must go to the source.

God is the author of all true hope. He alone brings hope out of despair. He shifts the circumstances from the outward to the inward, and blesses us by grace in our knowledge of his sovereign mercy and omnipotent love. Nothing can fail if God himself has pledged these graces to his children.

It shows the whole Trinity at work. The Father gives it by his certain and unfailing eternal decree. In fact, there is no true blessing that is not the sovereign gift of God. James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

He gives this to his children by the power of the Holy Spirit. The hope that abounds from true joy and peace are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). This is not a natural attribute of fallen persons. This is a supernatural assurance. This hope abounds to those who are redeemed by the finished work of God the Son.

The one who made us and who redeems us is properly called the God of Hope.

As Paul prays here for his readers, it shows that this is a proper thing for us to pray in faith. David, when he had sinned and lacked the abounding of inner peace and joy, prayed in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

David then asked to be a help to the weak, once he was made strong again. In verses 13 of that same Psalm he wrote, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.”

Paul does not leave us with vague theological ideas or goals that frustrate. He promises rewarding success by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we be able to help the weak as explained in the previous section of this letter.

It is wrong to separate all the elements in this verse. They work together. Joy and peace come from God by the faith he implants when we are redeemed by Christ. This joy and peace abound toward hope, because the God of hope has saved us and revealed his promises to us. He indwells us by his Holy Spirit to keep these promises growing in our souls.

This is a Covenanted Blessing God has
Promised to those who are in Christ.

Our part is to strive with all effort and the means of grace praying earnestly to abound in this way, studying the promises and examples of spiritual life in his word, giving thanks in regular worship of the God who saved us, and encouraging those who struggle to help them to grow to be Christ-like too.

God’s promise is that he will grant joy, peace, and hope to those he redeems by grace through Christ.

When God grants to us even the least taste of joy and peace, we are obligated to remember to humbly thank him for his unmeasurable gift. If we give the glory to our circumstances we rob God of his honor, and put created things on our altar of worship, instead of the one true God.

Our maturity in Christ is not a game of dress up. We are not to pretend and be satisfied with the trappings of religion. Instead we must put on Christ’s righteousness and copy his example by the real power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are to trust confidently in his promises to us. Then we must put our own maturity to work in encouraging other believers.

This is real maturity: that which grows in abundance of joy and peace, and abounds in hope for the glory of God.

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

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Redirected Concerns

Lesson 54: Romans 15:1-12

Redirected Concerns

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In the previous chapter, Paul was urging Christians to be considerate of the things that confuse or distract the less mature believers in the Church. Now in Chapter 15 he takes us to our motives and the things that might hinder us from dealing with the weaker ones among us.

In our fallen world we are surrounded with self-centered attitudes toward those who have different customs and tastes than we have. People get annoyed with others they label as immature, ignorant, or just plain stupid. They wish the bothersome ones would just go somewhere else and leave them alone. They take that “let them fend for themselves” attitude. The easy way out is to expect someone else to handle problems that disturb their comfort zone, or that would take away their own pleasures if they had to deal with them. In society in general some expect the government to develop an agency or program for those people. In the church they would rather leave those they look down upon to the Pastors, Elders, or Deacons.

There is a general lack of neighborly concern. People look to their own interests, to what makes them comfortable. They neglect the interests of those who have some maturing to do. Those classed that way tend to be shunned, degraded, or even mocked.

This whole section of Romans clarifies Biblical love, and how we should show it to all types of people.

Chapters 12 and 13 tell us to love God, our fellow Christians, even our enemies. It is God’s job to punish evil, not ours. In the state God has ordained our leaders to be the ones to execute his wrath upon breakers of the civil laws. The job of the individual is to overcome evil by doing good. Real love fulfills God’s holy law.

Chapter 14 explained how we are to love other believers who are not as mature in Christ. Some may not yet rightly understand what God has said about some matters. They may hold to principles not founded upon his word and promises. Areas of liberty within the bounds of God’s law should not be a cause for contempt or judgment of other believers. Those offended by things not specified in God’s word are called “weak”. Those who understand this liberty, and who exercise it for God’s glory, are the strong. However, they must not use their liberty in ways that offend the weaker believers.

Chapter 15 goes on to show that we must bear the weaknesses of others for their good.

The first two verses set out the basic theme.

Romans 15:1-2, “We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.”

The believer who better knows and appreciates God’s word has an awesome duty. The word “ought” points out the responsibility God places upon us. Galatians 6:2 says we are morally bound to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”

The duty commanded of us is to bear the weaknesses of believers who are not as strong as God by grace has made us. To “bear” [bastazo, (βασταζω)] is not just “to tolerate”, but to lift up and carry their load. We are to help them grow into spiritual maturity. The imagery of these words is that of a traveler who helps a weaker companion with his heavy load along on their journey together. So this is not about tolerating ignorance or minimizing error. It pictures us patiently avoiding offense while we help the brother along the way. We concern ourselves for them out of brotherly love in Christ.

Our motive is important too. Our actions should not be just to please ourselves. We are not to use our liberty irresponsibly, or in self-pride presuming that we are more mature. We should not help so that we appear stronger. It is never to be for praise or for pride. We are not to force others to conform to principles which are against their own consciences. Wrong motives in pleasing our weaker neighbor can be evil. Paul very humbly wrote in Galatians 1:10 that if he was trying to please men, he would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

We should bear others along to encourage them for their good and edification, for their spiritual well being and growth. We are to help them to be growing in understanding and in their walk with Christ.

Absolom was the son of King David. He coveted the power of his father’s throne. 2 Samuel 15:2-7 shows us how his motives were evil when he tried to “win the hearts of people”. He appeared to sympathize with those who came with problems. He complained with them about poor government. He made political promises. He convinced them that what they needed was someone like him in charge. He appeared to be helping the weak in the Kingdom, but he was really using them to gain power for himself. He “stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” Politics has not changed much since that time.

Then Absolom staged a revolution, declared himself king, and condemned David as an enemy of the state. He tried to please his neighbor deceitfully, for self gain. God did not honor that kind of help. It condemned Absolom to certain and horrible judgment.

We are to bear the infirmities of others by serious consideration of their spiritual needs, not for the advancement of our own desires. Hebrews 10:24 says, “let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to encourage them in faith and fellowship, build them up, and help them grow stronger.

Paul followed this example himself when he was in Corinth, and later wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 10:33, “just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

This is why we should voluntarily set aside our own liberties for the sake of not offending others. We may have to swallow our pride, take some abuse, let others think what they will about us personally, so that God’s ways, not our own, become apparent.

Our great example is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:3-6, “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.’ For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We need to learn to bear the other’s burden by the example of our Savior. If ever one deserved glory and praise it was him. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says of Jesus, “Though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

Jesus showed what humble service and care for others looked like. He knelt down and washed the feet of his disciples. He endured the ridicule of those unaware that they were degrading the one who made them, and who held their life and eternal destination in his hand. He laid aside the display of his eternal glory to come into this world to redeem sinners, to make children out of those who had most rebelliously offended his holy ways.

Following his usual method of appealing to Scripture to support his ideas, Paul quoted from Psalm 69:9, “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” David spoke those words as a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. This verse is applied to Jesus directly in John 2:17. Jesus came to bare the infirmities of his people, for their benefit.

In 1 Peter 3:18 Peter said, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” Jesus bore the reproach of those who had offended the Father. He took up the moral burden for those he loved eternally.

Of course we are not able to bear another’s weakness as Jesus did. He took up their guilt! He redeemed the lost! We can’t do that. The lesson for us is that the strong should lay aside their privileges and honor for the moment, and should patiently put up with abuse and dishonor, so that they might help those who are in real spiritual need. If we neglect the example of Christ, if we are impatient or unkind to those who have yet to mature in Christ, we disrupt the peace of the church with our foolishly presumed maturity.

Here in Romans 15:4 we are reminded that God has preserved in Scripture important lessons from the past. As we learn God’s principles and cling to his promises in Christ, we are encouraged and made to persevere having a certain hope in God’s faithfulness to us. God, the almighty Creator, has redeemed a people for himself. All along he has been actively carrying out his covenant promises. He will indeed reward his people according to his riches in glory.

In verses 5 and 6 Paul forms his words as a prayer. He calls upon God to patiently and with comfort “give us the same mind among one another according to (the example of) Christ Jesus” (my own translation). He adds that this should be done not for our own advancement, but that together we would bring glory to God the Father in our thoughts and words.

God alone is the author of true unity and the graces of patience and encouragement. Being of the same mind does not mean always being of the same opinion. Our harmony is in our love for God’s glory and a diligent submission to his word. So our patience is not meant to include ignoring someone’s weaknesses, or tolerating error. It is to find kind ways to encourage the weaker brothers to grow in strength.

It is right and needful to look to God in prayer as you try to bear your brother’s burdens. We need to keep in mind that in ourselves we would fail being taken in by the sin of pride. As we dare to counsel we need to follow Paul’s advice to the Galatians in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

All this is to be done in accord with Christ. That means agreeably with His will and example. To properly help our weaker neighbor we must know and submit prayerfully to the lessons taught about and by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus is also our example in how we can
accept one another in our weaknesses.

Romans 15:7-12, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: ‘For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name.’ And again he says: ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!’ And again: ‘Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!’ And again, Isaiah says: ‘There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.’ “

For the sake of God’s glory, we must accept one another just as Jesus accepted us. Christ became a servant to all kinds of people. The original Greek word for “servant” here is diakonos (διακονος), the word later used for the office of Deacon. As our example, our Lord set aside the radiance of his glory and majesty while on earth to care for the weak among the Jews and the Gentiles alike. There was a lot of discrimination and bigotry in some places between those groups of believers. Paul used this prime example of our Savior to guide us in all matters of pride and prejudice.

Christ became a servant to the Circumcision (that is, to the Jew). They knew and hoped in the promises through meaning behind the priestly rituals and sacrifices. Jesus came to confirm that the promises of God to the Ancient Fathers had been fulfilled. Sadly, some of them still looked down upon Gentile believers as if the rituals still applied, and the promises were not yet completely fulfilled.

Christ also came for the Gentiles. They had not grown up with the words of the Prophets, and did not know the rituals which taught the promises of God’s Gracious Covenant. So to them he declared God’s mercy, his undeserved kindness in calling the unworthy, the unprepared.

This was a troublesome issue between these groups. Paul again used Scripture to show that his message was nothing new, nothing other than God’s eternal plan. The Jew, who still insisted on rejecting the Gentiles, was stopped cold in his weakness, and gently reminded about what God said in his holy word.

First he quoted from Psalm 18:49, “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the Gentiles, And sing praises to Your name.” Here David spoke in the midst of Gentiles, giving thanks to God. Paul showed that being among Gentiles is no hindrance to the worship of Jehovah.

Then he quoted Moses in Deuteronomy 32:43, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; For He will avenge the blood of His servants, And render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”

Next Paul quoted Psalm 117:1, “Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”

Following this he quoted Isaiah 11:10 which said, “… in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; For the Gentiles shall seek Him, And His resting place shall be glorious.” Then in verse 12 Isaiah said that Jehovah, “… will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel…”

Charles Hodge says that Paul’s quote from Isaiah is an “explicit prediction of the dominion of the Messiah over other nations besides the Jews. … From the decayed and fallen house of David one should arise whose dominion should embrace all nations.”

This was the example of Jesus Christ. The weak Jews and Gentiles in the early church were offended with one another because of a poor understanding of how Christ set them free from the priestly rituals. Yet, in spite of these immature weaknesses, Jesus came as a servant to redeem both of them, and to adopt them together into one family of God, to be one church on earth for their Creator’s glory.

By this example we ought to accept one another for God’s glory. Some may look down upon those who are slow in adopting certain outward customs. Those who come together in the church family may have grown up with different backgrounds. Some may seem to us to speak a bit more crudely. They may dress either less or more stylishly, or even more strangely than the current customs of a group of believers. They may not have learned to see how God’s law applies to particular areas of their lives. They may differ in political views about how best to promote what honors God in society. Some may eat foods that others will not eat, or drink drinks some abstain from, or celebrate holidays differently. But we need to learn that our union in Christ is a union in which we are to grow together. We are to be like a family where the members love each other and work together. We need to be patient and tolerant as we help one another to mature and to conform to a more biblical view of life here on earth.

This does not mean there are no right or wrong answers. The Gentiles were right in being able to eat some things the Jews still would not eat. They were not bound to the holy days of the priestly rituals. The Jews were wrong if they insisted upon these forms of the Covenant as if they were unfulfilled. The Jews were right in warning against the customs that had pagan origins which the Gentiles brought with them when they became Christians. In that way many of the Gentiles were wrong.

We should never compromise or hide God’s revealed truth, nor should we ignore direct violations of God’s moral principles. However, there are areas of less immediate clarity where we need to learn together with patience. The strong are called upon to become meek and kind for the promoting of peace in the church. They are to become servants, persevering in patient kindness for the sake of our brothers in Christ

We are one Covenant People, one family, gathered by grace out of diverse cultures and backgrounds. We have been given one clear word of truth by which together we submissively test all we believe and do.

For the sake of one another, we must be willing to set aside any comforts, schedules, material possessions, goals, or pastimes that stand in the way of helping other believes grow in the Christian Faith. We do it out of love with real concern for the weaker among us who need to mature in Christ.

One of the strongest things we can do is to admit we are also weak as we try to help others, and we should remember to give all the credit to our Savior for whatever strength we have.

That is a radical idea for this self-indulgent world in which we live today. What changes would such an attitude make in your home? in your friendships? If we grew in this attitude of being here to encourage and to serve those around us in the church, as if they were truly brothers in our family, how many more would be with us in regular worship, in Sunday School, in our gatherings for prayer, and for Bible studies?

What a change that would make in our whole society if all who really trusted in the Savior learned to love patiently as faithful representatives of Christ!

We are duty bound to help the weaker among us to become stronger. We are to persevere with them even if in their immaturity they are annoying. Yet, we are not to condescend to them, not to despise them, not to offend them, as we attempt to be a help to them.

The “it takes a village” attitude of humanistic socialism produces classes of experts and inferiors. It strives to preserve the weaknesses of each group, and resists conforming to God’s standards. Biblical Christianity should make classes disappear. Though some will have less than others, it should not make them feel like they are lesser people who can simply depend upon others who present themselves as better people. Just as some of the Jews were wrong in looking down upon the Gentile converts, we should be careful not to become prideful or arrogant. Appreciating the differences in the way God provides for us and gifts us, we should remain equal members together in the family of God. As servants we are called upon by our Creator to help all those he redeemed to grow in Christ and in the knowledge of his word. We are all lost sinners, undeserving of blessings but by God’s grace.

Rather than leaving those who annoy us to “fend for themselves,” or sending them off to find help elsewhere, we need to show compassion and patience to help them grow in Christ. This is family behavior. This is what honors the God who saved us.

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

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Differences That Ought Not Divide

Lesson 53: Romans 14

Differences That Ought Not Divide

by Bob Burridge ©2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We live among those who still stumble at some practices .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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