Think of the Epistle to the Romans as a long conversation Paul is having with believers in Rome. (Bloggers know the feeling of having conversations with unseen-but-hope-for readers.)
Paul is apparently in Corinth on the last of his three missionary journeys and soon to head to Jerusalem where he will be arrested. He will end up in Rome for trial before Caesar. In this letter, he keeps talking about wanting to come to Rome. If he only knew!
The first 17 verses of chapter one are introductory. Paul has never been to Rome and never met most of the people who will be reading this letter. He’s heard plenty about them, however, all good. Nevertheless, he is well aware of the challenge facing them living in the citadel of corruption and depravity. Some are Jewish and facing issues Paul knew from personal experience, namely, what role the promises of God now plays in their destiny and that of their people.
Whether Gentile or Jew, they all need grounding in the faith and a proper understanding of the gospel. Thus he writes this letter.
Pau speaks of
–the gospel of God (the source of this good news) 1:1. See John 3:16.
–the gospel of His Son (the subject of this good news) 1:9. See I Cor. 15:1ff.
–the gospel of salvation (the object of this good news) 1:16. See I Tim 1:15.
–the gospel this is his own (the message of Christ filtered through Paul’s own experience and testimony) 2:16. This is the ultimate aim, for each of us to pass along the gospel message in the manner the Holy Spirit has taught us. That’s why a dozen preacher/teachers could do expositions of Romans and no two would sound alike. It’s not a problem, it’s the genius of God’s plan.
Then, after the introduction, Paul moves into a fuller presentation of the gospel and various issues surrounding it.
Romans 1:18-32 – MAN HAS NO ONE TO BLAME FOR HIS TROUBLES BUT HIMSELF
Theme: Humanity’s troubles stem from his rejecting God. (That’s the root cause.)
Before presenting the “good news” (the gospel), the bad news has to be dealt with.
1) Mankind has rejected the knowledge of God. 1:18-21
2) Mankind has rejected the worship of God. 1:22-25
3) Mankind has rejected the plan of God. 1:26-32
As a result of rejecting the Lord, man has made some very bad choices, which in turn have brought the wrath of God upon him.
1) He exchanged God for idols. 1:23
2) He exchanged Truth for a lie. 1:25
3) He exchanged the Natural for the unnatural. 1:26
What a shame. Mankind could have had God, Truth, and the natural order of Creation. By rejecting God, he has chosen the absurdity of idols, the illusion of lies, and the illness of the unnatural.
Look around the community where you live and see if this doesn’t describe much of what you see.
Hundreds of years earlier, God said: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters and they have hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)
What an exchange! Whatever were we thinking! Stay with the Jeremiah 2:13 analysis for a moment. Remember that a cistern was an underground tank, dug out and lined with clay in order to store rainwater. At best, the water would be stagnant; at worst, it could become polluted. But God says His people have not swapped Him–the fountain of living, running, fresh water–for stagnant water. It’s worse than that. They have turned their backs on Him and chosen dry holes in the ground!
The choice is never between God and other gods. There are no other gods. The choice is between the living God and a dry hole in the ground.
Romans chapter 2 – DON’T GET SELF-RIGHTEOUS HERE, RELIGIOUS CROWD!
It’s so easy to criticize and condemn those who blatantly reject God and plunge headlong into lifestyles of debauchery. But hold on–we who are “God’s frozen chosen” are not off the hook.
1. It is true that “those other people” have no excuse for rejecting God. (Romans 1:20)
He has left solid evidence to His existence in the universe. Note that Scripture does not say we can learn the gospel of Christ from creation. What it’s saying here is that God has left evidence of His existence, his great wisdom, and His goodness in the created world. Even if we never heard a Christian witness and never saw a Bible, we could use our common sense and make some basic conclusions about the Creator of this world.
2. However, YOU have no excuse for condemning them. (Romans 2:1)
You too have sinned against God and have your own failures to deal with.
a. You too are in line for judgment. 2:3
b. There is no partiality with God; whether you know the Law or not ultimately makes little difference. 2:11
c. It is true that being a Jew brings greater opportunity, but it also demands a higher accountability. 2:17ff.
Modern Christians must not fall into the trap of judging (that is, “condemning”) the depraved of our society or the Jews for whatever they do or do not do. How ironic that many in our churches are quick to condemn the gays and lesbians but do not see that we are falling into the same forbidden behavior as Paul’s self-righteous readers in Rome.
Have you read Matthew 23 lately? It’s the most scathing sermon Jesus ever preached. It’s worth noting that it was directed toward the religious crowd, not against what we might call “obvious sinners”. In fact, Jesus actually associated with the fallen, estranged crowd. (See Luke 15:1-2) Political correctness was never a big issue with Him!
As a young pastor of a church not far from the Mississippi State Penitentiary, I began taking some of the men from our congregation to hold religious services for the inmates two Saturdays a month. In doing so, we had to come to terms with the way our Lord ministered to the obvious sinners. Jesus moved among society’s fallen showing love and compassion, not rejection and condemnation. To preach mean-spirited judgmental messages to prisoners would have been all too easy, and while it might have satisfied something perverse inside the wicked heart of the church-going crowd, it would have been alien to the spirit of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament.
But what about that list in I Corinthians 6? “Do you not know that…neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God?”
Let me tell you a story.
I received a phone call late one Sunday night from the pastor of a large church in our state. To this day, I have no idea why he called. We knew one another slightly but had never been close friends. At one point in the conversation, he said, “Boy, I really got ’em told tonight.”
I said, “What did you preach?”
“That passage from I Corinthians 6, where the Apostle Paul says fornicators and homosexuals and such will not go to Heaven.” He laughed and said, “I really poured it on.”
I said, “Did you preach all of it?”
“What are you talking about?”
“In the next verse, Paul says, ‘And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.'”
I continued, “Did it ever occur to you that if the church in Corinth was reaching homosexuals and others for Christ, they must not have had a sign out front saying ‘fags will burn in hell forever.’ They must have been loving those folks and accepting them as they were and then introducing them to the Savior.”
There was a long pause on the other end. After a moment, he said, “I sure wish I’d talked to you before I preached that sermon.”
Those who are sincerely trying to live for Christ–and I hope that’s all of us–must always guard against the temptation to forget the most basic lessons of the Christian faith: we are sinners saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and Him alone. If we received what we deserved, we would all be in hell. Humility is the order of the day. That, and complete gratitude.
(A footnote about “judge not.” I hear people misquoting that all the time. A congressman is caught red-handedly accepting a bribe, a city council member confesses similar crimes, and a senator is found to have frequented bordellos. All of these have occurred locally in 2007, to our shame and disgust. The community erupts in concern and indignation. Invariably, someone will say, “The Bible says not to judge.” The answer is that it says no such thing. What it’s saying is not to condemn. We’re always being called on to make discernments (call them judgments if you like) about people’s character. Shall we ask the convicted child-abuser to babysit tonight? Should the church hire the paroled embezzler as church bookkeeper? By exercising discernment, we’re not judging the person.)
Romans chapter 3 — KEEP CLEAR ON WHAT COMPRISES THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
A) 3:1-20 “Salvation is not about us; we’re all sinners.”
Man is a fallen sinner. Mankind is unrighteous, liars, slanderers. There are none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks for God. None doing good. (Okay, you get the idea.)
Elsewhere we have quoted the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev who said: “I do not know what the heart of a bad man is like, but I do know what the heart of a good man is like, and it is terrible.”
So–let’s make this real clear here–if you read the first chapter or two of Romans and come away only with a disgust for gays and lesbians, you have missed the point, friend. Hold up a mirror. Paul is talking about you. And me.
If you believe that people are basically good, that they all mean well and that by working hard they can earn their way to Heaven, then you might as well stop right here. You are not going to agree with a thing Paul says for the rest of this epistle. Furthermore, you don’t agree with the Lord Jesus Himself who told one of the most righteous men of his day, “You must be born again.” (See John 3)
If Nicodemus needed to be saved, you and I do a thousand times more.
Get straight on this or nothing about the gospel will make sense.
(It might be good to pause here to say that neither should we go too far in the other direction and call man totally and unredeemably evil. The truth lies somewhere in between. Jesus put it like this, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father….” (Matthew 7:11) See the balance? You are evil, but you are capable of doing good things.)
B) 3:21-31 “Salvation is the Lord’s doing.”
There is a progression in this passage that looks like this….
–Salvation is all about the righteousness of God. (3:22)
–We see God’s righteousness in what Jesus did on the cross. (3:25-26)
–We access what Jesus did on the cross by faith. Salvation is a gift of grace. (3:24)
–As a result, we are justified. (3:28)
Romans chapter 4 — WE ARE SAVED BY FAITH; THIS MAY SOUND RADICAL TO SOME, BUT IT IS NOT A NEW DOCTRINE.
Abraham is a prime example of one who was justified by faith. Genesis 15:6 reads, “Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (The KJV word “reckoned” means “put on his record” or “credited.”)
On that subject, Paul writes, it’s worth noting that:
–this was before he did any works. (4:2)
–this was before he was circumcised. (4:9)
–this was before the Law was given. (4:13)
The Bible notes this about Abraham for our benefit, to establish that this has always been how God deals with mankind and to encourage us to believe in Jesus the same way. (4:23-25)
I don’t know of anyone struggling with matters of circumcision or keeping the Law, but the issue of “adding good works to salvation” is always with us.
A few times in my ministry I have encountered those who believe that baptism is essential to salvation, that faith alone will not get the job done. They base this erroneous belief on such texts as Acts 2:38. However, even a cursory reading of the entire New Testament should disabuse anyone of such a belief. (People sometimes think because we are called Baptists that we believe in baptismal regeneration. Not even close.)
Once, as a young pastor, when I was trying to sort out the scriptures on this subject, a friend put it to me like this. “Joe, do you believe Romans 1:16?” I assured him I did.
He said, “Do you believe that the gospel and only the gospel is ‘the power of God unto salvation’?”
“Then, let me show you something.”
He turned to Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 1. “Notice here that some people are claiming special privilege because they were baptized by this leader or that one. Paul names a few whom he baptized, then he says: ‘Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel.'”
I was (am?) a little dense, so he said, “Do you see? The gospel is the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But baptism is not a part of it.”
That’s I Corinthians 1:17, and it’s worth etching in stone: The gospel alone is God’s power of salvation and baptism is not a part of the gospel. It’s important, make no mistake, but baptism is all about obedience to Christ and going public in our faith. It was intended to follow the act of salvation, not be a part of it.
Neither are good works or prayers or tithing or letters of recommendation from your mama elements of the gospel. (One of the students at our Baptist seminary has been teased unmercifully since it was discovered that he listed his mother as a reference on his resume.)
The gospel is the pure message of Jesus Christ and what He did for our salvation. It is accessed by faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone.
In Warren Wiersbe’s wonderful little commenary on Romans, I ran across his account of the time Pastor Harry Ironside was on vacation and slipped into a men’s Sunday School class at a church he was visiting. Ironside was the longtime pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, where Wiersbe was to follow him many years later. Anyway, the teacher asked the class, “How were people saved in Old Testament times?” A man said, “By keeping the law.” The teacher said, “That’s right.” Dr. Ironside said, “The Bible says by keeping the law, no flesh is justified in His sight.” (That would be Romans 3:20.)
The teacher was taken aback. He said, “Uh, that’s right. Well then, how were people saved in the Old Testament?” Finally, another man said, “By the animal sacrifices.” The teacher said, “Exactly.” Dr. Ironside said, “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.” (Hebrews 10:4)
The teacher was exasperated and said, “All right, then, sir. You tell us how people were saved in the Old Testament.” The distinguished visitor said, “The same way God has always saved people–by faith.”
Romans chapter 5 — SO, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE HE SAVES US?
A complete answer to this question beggars human language as we try to cover all that occurs when the Lord saves us. It’s an interesting challenge, however, to give it a try.
He forgives our sin. He forgets our sin. He writes our name down in the book of life. He adopts us. He makes us His own. He comes into our hearts. He joins us to His body. He fills us with the Holy Spirit. He reserves us a place in Heaven. He gives us spiritual gifts. He leads us, enlightens our eyes, warms our heart, and floods us with joy.
And I’ve not even gotten started. My friend Jack Stanton, now in Heaven, came to the Lord as an 18-year-old when a fellow about the same age gave his testimony, telling how Jesus had saved him two nights before. He looked Jack in the eye and said, “Friend, if I could take my heart out and put it where yours is for 30 seconds, you wouldn’t ever want to give it back.” Jack said, “That’s for me.”
In Romans 5, we find some of the benefits of salvation every child of God may expect.
–he has peace with God through Jesus. 5:1
–he has a wonderful hope for the future. 5:2
–he has a sense of purpose and victory even in his difficulties. 5:3-4
–he is flooded with the love of God through the Holy Spirit. 5:5
–he has the best news anyone ever heard. “God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 5:8
–he will not be facing the wrath of God. 5:9 For the believer, that was dealt with on Calvary.
In the early days of America, wagon trains heading west were tormented by prairie fires from which there seemed no escape. Then someone had a bright idea: when a fire was spotted coming toward them, they set a backfire. After a few acres were burned over, they pulled the wagons onto that section and the onrushing inferno circled around and roared past them.
For believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is only one place in all the universe where the fires of God’s wrath have already fallen: at Calvary. The cross is the safest place in the universe.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s Romans 8:1 and it’s worth its weight in gold.
–he will never die. Death is irrelevant to him from now on. 5:12-17
–he has grace sufficient to undo every bad thing which the fall of Adam–with all its consequences–brought about in his life. 5:15
Romans chapter 6 — DOES IT MATTER HOW WE LIVE FROM NOW ON?
Twice in chapter 6 Paul’s imaginary conversationalist raises the question, “Is it all right to go on sinning?”
–In verse 1, the question is: “Since it takes more grace to forgive those who sin more, is it acceptable to sin more in order to get more grace?” By this reasoning, sin would actually be a means to more grace.
Many Christians who were brought up in the church have looked with envy at a newcomer to the faith who had sinned big and then burst with delight and enthusiasm into the light of Christ’s love and forgiveness. As Jesus pointed out, they love much because they have been forgiven much. The believer raised in the church feels to some degree that he has been cheated, that had he experienced the full force of the world’s evil firsthand, his Christian faith would have been more joyful. He knows this is foolish thinking, but the thought lingers. Paul is saying this is ridiculous. The fact is God has forgiven even the best of us so much that we should be daily overwhelmed by His goodness—without having to do drugs and be immoral to get to that point.
–In verse 15, the question is: “Since we’re not under law but under grace, then is it acceptable to go on sinning?” By this reasoning, sin would be irrelevant.
You may think these lines of reasoning are absurd, but this is precisely the way some have figured things out over the centuries, and accounts for the shoddy lives of many who called themselves Christians. We’re still trying to live down the results of their wicked behavior which they did while calling themselves Christians.
Paul answers the first question with an interesting aspect of our salvation: “You shouldn’t talk that way. After all, you’re dead!”
–with Jesus. 6:3
–by baptism. 6:3,4 (My own interpretation of this is that he is referring to spirit baptism, not water.)
–also raised with Jesus. 6:4-5
–dead people cannot serve sin. 6:6-7
–we’re alive to God. 6:8-11
–old lusts no longer control us. 6:12
–sin no longer rules. 6:14
–we’re under grace, not law. 6:14
Then, he answers the second question about continuing in sin. 6:15
–if so, you’re servants of sin and the result of that is death. 6:16
–you’re not like that any more. 6:17
–you are servants of righteousness. 6:18
–your fruit is holiness and the result is everlasting life. 6:22
–it’s all a matter of God’s gift, not your wages. 6:23
Romans chapter 7 — SO, IT’S ALL EASY FROM NOW ON, RIGHT? NO MORE STRUGGLES.
We wish. The struggle goes on, unfortunately, so long as we are living in fleshly bodies in a fallen world.
–Here’s the nature of our present situation 7:1-13
Okay, we’re dead. Got that? (See the previous chapter.) We died to the old life, to the old lusts, and to the old Law. 7:1-3
Ever since we were saved and died to the old life, we’ve been joined to Christ. 7:4
From now on, we serve Him in the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the letter of the Law. 7:6 We wish everyone got that, but many Christians miss the point. “For the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” II Corinthians 3:6. (In courts of law, judges are always torn between the spirit and the letter of the laws they are called to enforce. Christians sometimes observe the letter of the law in tithing, then omit the “weightier” matters such as justice and mercy. See Matthew 23:23.)
We end up having sort of a love/hate relationship with the Law. 7:6-13
a. We’re grateful for the Law. 7:7 (Why? Well, take your Ten Commandments. They taught us what God’s standard was. Without them, we would not have known. Now we do, and we’re grateful.)
b. But sin feeds off laws and ends up producing the opposite of the intended effect. 7:8 (Go on a diet that will not let you eat ice cream and that’s all you want. Drive on a street with a 25 mph speed limit and it’s all you can do to stay under that. Tell someone not to think of green elephants for 5 minutes and that’s all they can think of.)
c. So, in a sense, the commandment produced sin and sin in turn produced death. 7:8-11 Say what? (In the Seattle neighborhood where some of our relatives lived, intersections of residential streets had no stop signs. Drivers were not required to stop, but merely to make sure that crossing was safe before proceeding. No one was ever ticketed for running a stop sign since there weren’t any! But put a stop sign up and suddenly, you’re breaking the law if you run it.)
d. Having said that, Paul says, let’s stop here and re-emphasize that the Law is holy and the commandment is good. The problem is sin. 7:12
e. So, don’t let me hear you saying God’s law produces sin. It doesn’t. 7:13
–And here’s the nature of our present struggle. 7:14-25
What we have here is a spiritual law sent to govern people who are fleshly and not very spiritual. 7:14
And that’s why we end up with a strong inner desire to do right, but we’re being pulled downward by our fleshly urges to do otherwise. Some of the very things we do are the things we hate. Talk about being bi-polar! More like schizophrenic!
The late Adrian Rogers said to my congregation once, “A lost person leaps into sin and loves it. A believer lapses into sin and loathes it.” Good distinction.
So, the believer sees two laws, two forces, at work in him: the law of God and the law of sin and death. 7:23 (He’ll return to that theme in a moment as he enters chapter 8 in a blaze of glory.)
That’s the conflict and the struggle which believers deal with every day of their lives. No wonder Paul called out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” 7:24
In the last verse of this chapter, he answers his own question: “I thank my God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He is the answer. He will deliver you.
But not yet, unfortunately. He will eventually. Right now, there’s still work to be done in this earthly existence and we shouldn’t be in too big a hurry to evacuate.
Pause here for a second and consider Paul’s struggle. What do you think–was it real or was he play-acting, sort of telling us how it was before he came to Christ or how it is with carnal Christians? You’d be surprised how fiercely some Christians reject the idea that Paul might have had an actual struggle with his old nature. But the way I read the Bible, that’s precisely what was happening.
Do you recall a few months ago (that would be the Fall of 2007) people who began reading the journals of Mother Teresa were stunned to learn of the struggles she had with her faith? Those who had been ready to canonize her as Saint Teresa began to rethink the whole business of sainthood. Why, whoever heard of a godly person struggling in his faith, fighting temptation, working against the devil? The answer, of course, is found in two sources: by reading our Bible and living the Christian life. There are no perfect saints this side of Heaven. Instead of disillusioning us, that ought to encourage us just knowing our experience is not all that different from anyone else’s.
Romans chapter 8 — GOD IS FOR YOU!!
I’m not sure that anyone can ever mine all the riches in this incredible chapter. British pastor/scholar Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote three volumes on it alone.
Dwight L. Moody used to say he’d rather live in the 8th chapter of Romans than in the Garden of Eden. The serpent got in the garden, he would point out, but Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” in verse 1 and ends with “no separation” in verse 39.
Here are the two main ways of looking at this chapter, as I see it.
A. It divides into halves at verse 31. The first 30 verses illustrate how “God is for us.” Consider how that works out….
–God the Father is for us. (8:3, 11, 15, 28, and 29-30)
–God the Son is for us. (8:3, 10, 17, and 29)
–God the Holy Spirit is for us. (8:4, 5, 6, 9, 13, 14, 16, 23, 26, and 27)
Of course, Paul interwines all these references, making no effort to delineate the distinctions in the work of the members of the Godhead.
Then, verse 31 declares that “since God is for us….” (We maintain that the word translated “if” is better translated “since.”) And that being the case–which he has just established–then he asks five questions:
–who can be against us? 8:31 (No one of any consequence)
–won’t God give us everything else we need? 8:32 (Absolutely!)
–who will bring a charge against us? 8:33 (It doesn’t matter.)
–who is the one who condemns? 8:34 (There is no condemnation!)
–who shall separate us from His love? 8:35 (Nobody. Nothing. Ever.)
B. Or try this outline, borrowed from two friends of mine and tampered with (as we preachers are wont to do!) by yours truly.
–Freedom from Condemnation 8:1-8
(The law cannot claim you, condemn you, or control you.)
–Freedom from Alienation 8:9-17
–Freedom from Disintegration 8:18-25
–Freedom from Isolation 8:26-27
–Freedom from Miscalculation 8:28-30
–Freedom from Accusation 8:31-34
–Freedom from Separation 8:35-39
Warren Wiersbe’s wonderful little commentary on Romans was entitled “Be Free.” There’s a lot to be said for freedom!
8:29-30 introduces the subject of predestination and God’s foreknowledge. This thrills some readers and perplexes the rest. Since entire denominations have divided over this subject, we’ll not resolve the matter here to everyone’s satisfaction. But since I pay for this website, I get to state my own position on this matter.
Predestination in the Scripture always refers to believers. God does not predestine people to hell. If He does, He contradicts His own teachings. Anyone who goes to hell will do so in spite of all the work of Jesus and the plans God made for their salvation. The message of the gospel is “Whosoever will may come.” Romans 10:13 clearly states, “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
God has “predestined” that the saved shall become like Christ and go to Heaven. That is to say, He has pre-planned what the future of believers shall be.
If I go out to the airport and board a plane, it is already predestined to some city. The sign at the gate clearly indicated whether it was headed to Atlanta or Dallas or Chicago. Everyone on that plane is predestined to the same place.
By God’s foreknowledge, He made plans for the church. He predestined that the saved would be called, justified, and glorified. Even if we go so far as to say that in His infinite wisdom, He knew in advance who would be saved and who would not, He has not excluded anyone. God pays us the supreme compliment by allowing each of us to decide our eternal destiny.
The most amazing verse in the Bible may be Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with me.”
Granted, this is addressed to the lukewarm church of Laodicea where the Lord no doubt feels shut out, but it has a wonderful evangelistic application.
Notice what is happening here. The Lord brings salvation right up to the door of our lives, then asks for permission to come in. That may be the most surprising thing in Scripture, that He does not barge in and take over and force salvation on us “for our own good.” Instead, He pays us the supreme compliment by letting us choose.
God is indeed “for” us. Never doubt it again, friend.
Romans chapter 9 — SO WHAT ABOUT THE JEWS?
God is faithful. He keeps His word. He has not failed Israel.
1) Bear in mind that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.” 9:6
Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. But only Isaac was the son of promise and the father of the faithful. Then, Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. And only Jacob was the father of the faithful. So, claiming to be a “son of Abraham” is meaningless.
2) God is sovereign. God is God and we’re not. 9:13ff. Deal with it.
He chose Jacob and rejected Esau. Why? For His own purposes. Dr. Clyde Francisco, the long-time reigning Old Testament authority in our denomination, used to say that God’s expression “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” simply means “I really liked Jacob but couldn’t stand Esau.”
Paul doesn’t quote Psalm 115:3, but he would have if he’d thought of it! (Sorry. Got carried away there.) “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” That is the point Paul is making in this passage.
The clay doesn’t criticize the potter and we should be real careful about putting “God in the dock,” as C. S. Lewis phrased it. He is not on trial. He will not give account of Himself to us. We shall to Him. (Romans 14:10-11)
3) God always saved a remnant of Israel. 9:27
All through the Old Testament you can see a remnant being saved, but not the entire nation. There were 12 tribes of Israel, but when the Northern Kingdom (the one composed of 10 tribes and called “Israel”) was defeated by Assyria in 722 B.C., its people were scattered to the ends of the earth and never returned. The Southern Kingdom, made up of only 2 tribes and called “Judah,” lived on. Then, in 586 B.C., Judah was defeated by Babylon and taken into captivity, but a faithful remnant returned. In Jesus’ day, this tiny nation was called Judea.
A remnant of Israel was saved in Paul’s day (he was part of it!) and in ours.
4) From Romans 9:22 to 33 Paul answers “the Jewish question” in terms of the righteousness of God.
Actually, the righteousness of God is a major element in the theme of Romans. After giving us Romans 1:16 (“I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God….”), Paul adds, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed.”
The patience of God in holding back on judging rebellious mankind demonstrates God’s righteous character. 9:22-23
The salvation and forgiveness of God in the Gospel given to those very people who deserve condemnation further demonstrates God’s righteousness. 9:23-26.
I find fascinating Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Isaiah’s prophecy, recorded here in 9:27-29. “If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered and the sum labeled ‘chosen of God,’ they’d be numbers still, not names; salvation comes by personal selection. God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name. Arithmetic is not his focus.” And then, “If our powerful God had not provided us a legacy of living children, we would have ended up like ghost towns, like Sodom and Gomorrah.” (from The Message)
So how did the Gentiles get saved and the Jews miss out on it? Answer: the Gentiles came in by faith and the Jews were so busy in their “God projects” and works, they overlooked God in their midst. They stumbled over “the stumbling stone,” which God then turned into the chief cornerstone.
Romans chapter 10 — GOD HAS ONE PLAN OF SALVATION FOR EVERYONE
Quoting from Eugene Peterson (The Message) again. “I readily admit that the Jews are impressively energetic regarding God–but they are doing everything exactly backwards. They don’t seem to realize that this comprehensive setting-things-right that is salvation is God’s business, and a most flourishing business it is. Right across the street they set up their own salvation shops and noisily hawk their wares. After all these years of refusing to really deal with God on his terms, insisting instead on making their own deals, they have nothing to show for it.” (10:2-4, I suppose. Hard to tell.)
(Not everyone likes The Message because it is a modern paraphrase. But where it really comes in handy is when we encounter a scripture that we have difficulty getting our mind around. Much of chapters 9-10-11 falls in that category for me.)
1. We have a choice: works righteousness or faith righteousness. (10:5-6)
2. Faith righteousness is the result of confessing Jesus as Lord and believing in His victory over death. That results in a kind of righteousness that honors God. 10:9-11)
3. It’s the same gospel for everyone: no distinction. Jew or Greek. 10:12-13
4. Our job is to get the gospel out there. 10:14-21
Romans chapter 11 — SO DOES THIS MEAN GOD IS FINISHED WITH ISRAEL?
Don’t be so quick to say what God has or has not done. After all…
1) In the days of Elijah, when the prophet thought he was alone, God had more than 7,000 faithful ones.
2) A remnant has been saved, and we’ll let God establish who or how many that includes.
3) When Israel rejected the gospel, we evangelists turned to the Gentiles and that has worked out well for them. (Which explains why the Jews are jealous.)
4) But if their rejection worked out for the salvation of many (Gentiles), how much more will their acceptance result in life for many more (Jews).
Then Paul brings up a familiar analogy of Israel as an olive tree. The Gentiles, one might say, are a wild branch that was grafted on. However, neither the originals or the newcomers should be arrogant toward the other. One couldn’t have done it without the other.
Let this be a lesson to you Gentiles, Paul says. If God broke off (Jewish) branches because of unbelief, then He’ll do the same to you.
This is not a warning about losing one’s salvation. It’s talking about churches losing their right to exist. We’ve seen entire denominations become irrelevant due to their liberalism and unbelief. They still go on meeting, but the Lord has written them off long before.
“Behold then (both) the kindness and severity of God,” Paul says in 11:22. Some of us want to stress one and not the other, but a balanced view of the Almighty must take both into consideration.
Now, the “fun” of chapter 11 begins in verse 25. “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.”
And if that didn’t raise enough questions, Paul adds, “And so all Israel will be saved.”
“The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” 11:29 What specifically–considering the subject at hand–is Paul saying?
In verse 25, is Paul saying that eventually this Gentile wave will crest and the Jews will wake up and turn to the Lord? Or is he making a connection with Old Testament prophecy about “the times of the Gentiles”?
Is he predicting that every single Israelite will be saved? Or is he simply saying that those who are “true Israel” are the ones who will turn to Christ and be saved?
Good people differ on these issues, and I certainly am not an authority on any of it.
(I’ve always wanted to see a commentary where the writer came to a difficult passage and said, “I don’t have a clue what this mean.” Usually they beat around the bush page after page until you finally come to that conclusion yourself! So, I thought I’d save you the trouble, and say it for you.)
(I’m by this as I am about the interpretation of some of the most difficult passages of Revelation. While I don’t know what all of them mean, I have said to some Bible teachers that it would be acceptable for them to teach their interpretation of the book in my church so long as they were willing to do one thing: at the end of each lesson, they are to add, “I could be wrong. But this is how it seems to me.” To no one’s surprise, not one has been willing to say that. They’re all dead sure they’re correct, even when they disagree with one another. Like the fellow said of his pastor, “He’s not always right, but he’s never in doubt!”)
Chapter 11 ends with a great doxology of praise which is not tacked on to this passage but was inspired by it. You get the feeling that Paul felt he was treading on ground that was beyond even him, dealing with a subject for which he did not have all the answers. And so, choosing to finish the discussion and move on to other matters, he says, in essence, “How rich is God’s wisdom! How unsearchable are His ways. Who can know His mind? Who is His advisor?”
Here’s how The Message puts that: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this…deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor tht God has to ask his advice?”
Romans chapter 12 — AND NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE CHURCH!
The rest of Romans, chapters 12 through 16, focuses on the life and work of the Lord’s church.
Think of chapter 12 as a photo of the healthy congregation. This is the standard, the ideal. This is the church we’d all love to pastor.
–12:1-8 The inner life of believers (the unseen person) is solid.
a. complete commitment to Jesus Christ. vs. 1-2
b. healthy attitude about oneself. vs. 3
c. accepting our spiritual gifts and practicing them. vs. 4-8
d. committed to the unity of the Body. vs. 4-5
–12:9-21 The external life of believers (what we do in relation to each other) is faithful.
a. faithful in our love. vs 9-10
b. faithful in our work. vs. 11
c. faithful in hardships. vs. 12-13
d. faithful in opposition. vs 14 and 17-21
e. faithful in joy or sorrow. vs. 15
f. faithful regarding the “lowly” among us. vs. 16
Two or three things in this list stand out as absolute essentials in the inner life of a congregation. Get these right and you end up with the church everyone wants to be a part of.
First. KEEP THE FOCUS ON THE LORD.
Give yourself completely and repeatedly to the Lord. By “living sacrifice,” Paul emphasizes that it’s not a one-time thing, but a commitment we go on making every day of our lives. Someone has said, “The trouble with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” The answer is to keep putting it back. “I die daily,” Paul said in I Corinthians 15:31. That’s the idea.
I recall hearing about a man praying in church, “Fill me, Lord. Fill me with thy Spirit.” Some nag in the congregation called out, “Don’t do it, Lord–he leaks.” I cannot vouch for this story’s authenticity and suspect it was told as a bit of levity, but I can tell you on good authority that we all leak. Ephesians 5:18 commands us to “go on being filled with the Spirit.” (The verb tense means to do it and continue doing it.)
Why is this crucial? There is a tendency among Christian people to take our focus off the Lord Jesus Christ and put it on the people around us. I see preachers do this. They become critical because others are not doing the things God has laid on their hearts. I saw a pastor harangue the other shepherds because they were not going door to door in personal evangelism the way he was. Another pastor with a great burden for the poor and homeless attacked the ministers for their hard-heartedness because they were not joining him in his work.
I call this the Charlie-syndrome. As a young pastor, I saw my friend Charlie turn to the Lord and plunge headlong into the Christian faith. He immediately gave up cigarettes and soon began to hassle every smoker he found, urging them to “give up that dirty habit.” Within a month, Charlie had slipped and reverted to his tobacco. He was so humiliated over his failure and loss of “face” that he quit coming to church. Charlie’s problem was that he had lost his focus.
“Lord,” Simon Peter asked Jesus, “what about John? What is he to do?” Jesus said, “What is that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:21-22)
Keep the focus on the Lord.
Second. DON’T FOCUS ON YOURSELF.
12:3 “I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought.”
12:10 “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”
12:16 “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.”
Nothing builds unity in the Body of Christ, the church, like gifted leaders who are completely focused on the Lord and who treat everyone with love and respect. As you get to know them, you are pleasantly surprised to find it’s not an act, that they really do believe you are something special.
My favorite insight on this point comes from an obscure teaching of Jesus buried inside the Gospel of Luke. “Which one of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat?’ But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and propertly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink and afterward you may eat and drink?’ He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he?”
Then, after this unexpected and rather strange little illustration and with the disciples wondering where in the world He was going with this, Jesus drove the point home. “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'” (Luke 17:7-10)
It’s worth noting that Jesus did not say that He Himself would look upon us as unworthy slaves. He did not say we should look upon each other as unworthy slaves. He said we should think of ourselves as unworthy slaves, just doing our job. needing no compliments, expecting no accolades. Surely, this is part of what it means to die daily and to continually give ourselves as a living sacrifice.
Such an attitude would stop 90 percent of church conflicts dead in their tracks.
Third. HELP PEOPLE FIND THEIR SPIRITUAL GIFTS.
Nothing builds the body like church members knowing what God has called and equipped them to do and getting into it. No one grows like the believer who is daily at his God-given task. Nothing secures the unity of the congregation like having a large core of the church faithfully doing their service unto the Lord.
Romans 12:4-8 is only one of at least three Scriptures that talk about spiritual gifts, the others being I Corinthians chapters 12 and 14 and Ephesians 4:11ff.
Anyone wanting to teach this subject to the congregation will want to study all the related texts and not just this single passage in Romans.
It may well be that the best thing we can do for people after we have led them to Christ and baptized them is to help them find their spiritual gifts and their place of service. In our series on “Leadership Lessons,” (www.joemckeever.com) we have placed “Delegation” as the number one principle, but this is more than simply giving someone a job. It’s assisting him and her to find where they are suited. It’s matching the man with the job.
Think of Barnabas leaving the spiritual revival in Antioch and traveling to Tarsus in Asia Minor, in search of the young apostle who would be called Paul. He remembered that God had called this man for just such a ministry among Gentiles. We are forever in Barnabas’ debt. (Acts 11)
I sat in a room filled with ministers one day and heard a lady who works in multi-housing ministries in Houston tell of the turmoil her church had recently experienced. She said, “Many people left our church as a result. But there’s one thing I noticed. No one involved in our ministry in the housing projects left the church. Each one had his own ministry and we were not going to let the trouble in the church put an end to it.” That was a profound insight.
Romans chapter 13 — WHAT THE CHURCH OWES TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD
If Romans 13 were all we had in Scripture concerning the duties of Christians to their governments, we would say we’re to obey the authorities and that would be that. However, that’s not all the Bible has to say on the subject.
1. This chapter, Romans 13, is important. More on it below.
2. Then, there is Acts 5:29. “We must obey God and not man.” Over the years, God’s people have concluded that where the laws of God and man conflict, depending on the nature of the issue, Christians must draw the line and refuse to obey their government.
3. And then there is Jeremiah 29:7, a verse one rarely hears mentioned on this subject. Spoken to the Jews in Babylonian exile, this message surely applies to God’s people no matter where they find themselves: “Work for the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray on its behalf. For as it prospers (literally, in its shalom), you will prosper (you will have shalom).”
When I preach Jeremiah 29:7, I like to point out that if here is a biblical text–if you need one–telling you not only to pray for your city, but to join the chamber of commerce beautification committee, to run for the school board, or even to run for political office. It is calling for responsible Christian citizenship, which would require us to stay informed, to vote, and to do anything else which would further the shalom (Hebrew for “peace” or “fullness of life”) of the city.
Romans 13 calls for God’s people to be subject to the government since all such authority comes from God and governments are God’s ministers for good to us. The next time you are called to speak to the elected leadership in your community, pastor, this is a great text and contains a powerful reminder to them of their responsibility.
Why are we to obey our civil government? For four reasons. (I first heard the inimitable Warren Wiersbe preach this a generation ago, and the points are listed in his commentary.)
1. For wrath’s sake. 13:1-4
God has planned for us to so live, that if we suffer in this world, we do so righteously. That way, He is able to use our suffering for His purposes. He is not pleased and not honored when we become lawbreakers.
Even so, Christians obey the government in order to avoid paying the fines, going to jail, etc. That ought to be sufficient motivation for most of us.
2. For conscience’s sake. 13:5-7
This is a higher motivation for obeying the laws: to keep a clean conscience. The word “conscience” is interesting, and comes from “con” meaning “with” and “science” which means “to know.” Ideally, the conscience is an inner means of knowing right and wrong, or at least it was until sin tampered with it. Even so, when we knowingly violate a law, we sin against our conscience.
I’ve written on my blog about a ticket I received in a little Alabama town three months ago for running a red light. In truth, all I did was stop my car across the white line at the intersection. Then, when the light over the left-turn-lane went to green, I turned left, only to find a policeman behind me with his blue light going. He gave me a ticket for running a red light, even though he admitted that I had done no such thing. As he interpreted the law, crossing the white line was the same thing. Since then, I’ve run this by several police officers in other cities and the chief of police in one, and they are all incredulous that any policeman would do such. I struggled with the unfairness of this for several weeks, and finally decided that rather than drive from New Orleans to Gardendale, Alabama, for the court date, I would pay the fine. Only when I wrote the check and dropped it in the mail did I have peace.
A clear conscience–or at least a peaceful one–is a precious gift. I’ve known Christians who backslid into grievous sin and were tormented by their guilty conscience over what they had done. I expect most of us know the feeling.
3. For love’s sake. 13:8-10
In matters of the law and every other issue in life, a great question to ask is “what would love do?” What is the loving choice in this matter?
Let’s point out that when Paul said in this passage, “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” and “love is the fulfillment of the law,” he most definitely did not mean to imply that this was the only thing God requires of man. We hear this shallow philosophy spouted from time to time as though it were carved in stone somewhere: “Just love each other and that’s enough.”
Love does take care of the commands against adultery, murder, theft, and lying. None of these are loving acts.
An astronomer and a preacher met at a dinner party and were making inquiries about one another’s area. The scientist said, “Well, I’ve always felt that ‘love one another’ pretty well sums up religion. Wouldn’t you say so, Reverend?” The pastor said, “Yes. In the same way that all astronomy is summed up in ‘twinkle twinkle little star.'”
4. For Jesus’ sake. 13:11-14
You may recognize this passage calling for righteous living as the one God used to reach Augustine for Christ. (See my “10 Things to Know about Romans” at www.joemckeever.com)
This is the highest motivation of all for obeying one’s government: to honor the Lord Jesus and bring no dishonor to His name.
Dr. Wiersbe gives a little outline for these few verses you might like:
Romans chapter 14 — BUT WHAT ARE GOD’S PEOPLE TO DO WHEN WE DISAGREE?
Put it down in big letters: you will have disagreements. It’s not par for the course; it is the course. It’s as natural as breathing for two people to see issues differently. And that’s not always bad, either. The line from Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one” and then gives lots of reasons. People who marry and make it work find out just why.
In premarital counseling I always make a point of explaining to the couple that the differences that attracted them can also be the means of their destruction unless they learn to treasure those differences. In the lumberyard, a 4 x 4 may be the same size as two 2 x 4s nailed together, but the latter is stronger than the former. The differing grains in the wood make the two smaller ones combine for greater strength.
Okay, we will stipulate that we’re going to have disagreements and conflict in church. The question is what to do about it.
1. Accept the ones who are weak in faith and cut them some slack.
2. Do not sit in judgment on others. They are servants of God and dealing with their faults is His responsibility, not yours.
3. Recognize that we will all stand before the Lord and give account. If that doesn’t knock some humility into you, you’re not paying attention.
4. Do not let your freedom hurt someone else who is weak in the faith.
5. Work for peace and unity in the Lord’s family.
6. Do not insist on your own rights and getting what is due you.
7. Remember that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
Those seven “rules,” if you want to call them that, are pretty much summed up in a single word often found in the Scriptures as the guide for such matters. “Submit.”
“Submit to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)
Scripture tells wives to submit to husbands, children to parents, slaves to masters, all of us to the government, and everyone to God. And if that is not enough, here in Ephesians 5:21 we’re told to submit to each other. The Message makes that “be courteously reverent to one another.”
I have a different take on the word altogether.
To submit means to give in to the other. You and I have a disagreement. We both believe our way is best. I’ve done this job before and seen your way fail. You’ve done it your way time and again and never had any problems. Both are convinced we’re right. What to do? I am to submit to you.
The stronger is to submit to the weaker. Does that sound backwards to you? It isn’t, because when you stop to think about it, submitting is something only a s trong person can do. A weak believer would never have the courage and inner strength to restrain his own convictions and give in to the other. The weak person sees his convictions as sacred. To give in is a weakness, and being weak but not knowing it, he takes a stand and won’t budge.
Meanwhile, you agree to do it his way.
The only time when this does not hold is when something essential to the Christian faith is at stake. When Martin Luther was addressing the religious leaders of his day and they were ordering him to recant, he dug his heels in and said, “Here I stand! I can do no other.” And he was right to do so.
Elsewhere in the website I have told the story of the custodian who came to me with a complaint about his supervisor, one of the ministers. “He’s asking me to build a partition in Room 2 upstairs.” And so? “It’s in the wrong place. I’ll have to move it.”
Did you tell him this? And explain your reasons to him? “I did. And he still said to build the partition.”
So what’s the problem? Build the partition. “But it’s wrong. I’ll have to tear it down.”
I said to him, “My friend, look at it like this. If I intervene and overrule his decision, he has lost face and the relationship between the two of you is strained. But suppose you build the partition and a few days later he admits you were right and asks you to tear it down. Then, you build it where it should have been in the first place. As a result, he respects your judgement more the next time, the relationship between you is still strong, and all it has cost was a few dollars.”
Somewhere I heard of an old couple hosting the new preacher for dinner. As they filled him in on the history of their little church, they told of the split their congregation had gone through some 20 years earlier. And the cause? Which side of the pulpit to place the piano. The old gentleman said, “And we were right there in the middle of it, defending our convictions.”
The pastor said, “Which side did you want the piano on?” The old man looked at his wife and said, “I don’t remember. Honey, what side did we want that piano on?”
By giving in to the other–even when you think you’re in the right–ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU THINK YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT!!–you will preserve the unity of the congregation, maintain the church’s good witness in the community, protect the weak ones of the church, and honor Christ.
When I served the First Baptist Church of Kenner, I enjoyed pointing out to the congregation that the Lord had so strategically situated our church, that of the three or four blocks of property which we owned, Compromise Street ran right down the middle. Check your map; it’s true. That surely is a reminder that the members of our church are to specialize in giving in to each other.
Anyone disagreeing with this would do well to return to chapter 12 of Romans and reading again verses 3, 10, and 16.
“But what if I’m in the right?” Pardon me for smiling. That’s the lame response we always get. So, let me ask you a question….
When does the Lord want you to give in to the other person, when you’re in the wrong? That’s not submission; that’s admitting you were mistaken. Submission and subjection means to honor the Lord above all else and for His sake, to obey what He has commanded whether or not you like it.
At the First Baptist Church of Belle Chasse, just below New Orleans and next door to the Naval Air Station, I asked the congregation, “How many of you are active in the military?” Lots of hands. “How many of you are retired military?” More hands.
I said, “I was never in the military, so you need to tell me something. When you saluted an officer, was it because he or she is smarter than you?” Heads were shaking to indicate no. “Do you salute because the person is bigger and stronger than you?” No. “A better soldier or sailor?” No. “Better looking?” “Richer?” “Meaner?”
“So, why do you salute?” Someone answered, “It’s the system. You respect your superior officers for the greater good.” Exactly. If everyone in the military was allowed to choose whom he would obey and whom she would honor, the entire system would break down and the results would be disastrous when a crisis arose where we needed a ready military.
In the church, the “greater good” is the glory of the Lord, the unity of the church, the witness for Christ in the community, and the protection of the little ones.
We who are strong must bear the heavier burdens. It’s simple logic.
Romans chapter 15 — SO, WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO PLEASE?
“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself!” That’s Ricky Nelson’s philosophy, from an old soft-rock song a few of our readers will remember.
I can’t tell you how to succeed, the saying goes, but I can tell you a sure-fire method for failing: try to please everyone.
As children in the 40s, we played a little parlor game called “Pleased or displeased?” We sat in circles and the person in the middle asked if you were pleased or displeased. If you said, “Pleased,” he passed to the next person. If you said, “Displeased,” he said, “What would it take to please you?” That’s when it got interesting. Usually, what it took was for two of your friends to do something foolish, which they had to do or at least attempt.
Want to look at what seems on the surface to be some contradictions in Scripture? Then consider this. We who are strong should not just please ourselves, but each of us is to please his neighbor. Romans 15:2
Then, in Ephesians 6:6, servants are told how to serve their masters: “not by way of eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as servants of Christ.”
And this: “Just as I also please all men in all things….” I Corinthians 10:33.
One more? “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” Galatians 1:10
It just goes to show….something, I’m not sure what. Mostly, it shows how important the context is when we read a statement. There is no contradiction in these passages once we read the larger issue of what is being dealt with.
Okay, we’ve already given the sure-fire recipe for failure. Here’s a can’t-miss recipe for misery in your personal life: work at pleasing yourself. We all know people who daily demonstrate the accuracy of that assessment and the futility of that endeavor. “A person wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.” As well as a sad one.
Speaking of recipes, here’s one for unity in the congregation. Once again, it’s a sure-fire can’t-miss plan….
1) Focus on Christ but work to make other people successful. 15:1-3
2) Learn the lessons of people’s failures found in Scripture so you don’t have to repeat them. 15:4
3) Look for ways to agree with other people. 15:5-6 What a revolutionary idea that would be for some of us!
4) Accept other people. 15:7 Quirks and all, warts and imperfections, take them as they are. After all, that’s the way the Lord accepts you, although with this difference: “God loves you as you are, but enough not to leave you that way.”
Evidently, the issue which threatened to divide the church at Rome was the respective roles of Jews and Gentiles and whether a person had to keep the Jewish law in order to be saved, please God, and go to Heaven. Now, Paul returns to the issue somewhat.
15:8-13 Jesus had the Gentiles on His heart.
15:14-24 Paul has been called as a missionary to the Gentiles.
15:25-33 Now, look at what is happening–the Gentiles are ministering to the Jews (in the benevolence offering they’re sending to the poor in Jerusalem). After all, they owe the saints at Jerusalem so much.
Paul ends this chapter–and the basic message of this epistle–with a request that his readers will pray for him. He needs them to pray for three things: 1) that I may be rescued from the disobedient in Judea, 2) that my service for the saints in Jerusalem will be accepted by them, and 3) that I may eventually get to you and minister there in Rome.
Did God answer Paul’s prayers? Yes, He answered them all right. The answer to the second and third was “yes,” but “no” to the first. The Lord had plans for Paul which involved his getting arrested and appearing before governors and kings. (See Matthew 10:18. These people aren’t coming to your revival meeting, so you’ll have to appear before them as a defendant in their courts if they are to hear the gospel.)
Getting arrested in Jerusalem and being held in prison for years was no fun for Paul. Yet he was not in it for the fun. He was not following Jesus as a career or a vocation. He had no retirement fund invested with the Annuity Board. He lived for one thing only and that was to please the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Philippians 1, Paul deals with this same matter. He would like to die and go on to Heaven and be free from the struggles of this earthly existence. Yet, he feels the need to stay with God’s people who need what he has to offer. He is “hard-pressed from both directions,” he says in 1:23. And yet the over-riding desire of his heart in this and everything else is “that Christ, even now as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or death.” (1:20)
That’s the plan, Christian, to please Him.
The best prayer we can ever pray is perhaps the only one we will need to pray: “What wilt thou have me to do, Lord?”
Romans chapter 16 — DON’T CALL IT A LIST!
I’m fairly certain it was pastor/professor Fred Craddock who preached the classic sermon on Romans 16 which he titled, “Don’t Call It a List!” He pointed out that each person Paul mentions here is precious to him and he’s not just compiling an impersonal list of names. There’s a story behind each one. Some of them we know, and others are known only to the Lord.
Here’s my opinion. By this point in his life and minstry, Paul knew that his written words were being treated as righteous by the congregations across the empire. Writing epistles like Romans–think of composing and dictating 16 chapters as he did! what a labor that must have been–was no idle hobby. He was dealing with precious matters of life and eternity and penning words which would live long after he passed from the scene. Therefore, he made a decision to include the names of certain worthy individuals and thus give them a degree of honor and appreciation if not actual fame.
I know professional gospel singers who in publicizing an upcoming appearance will include in the advertisement that they have appeared in the Bill Gaither homecoming videos. Whether they actually sang or not is not the point; the fact that they were approved by this patriarch of southern gospel music is a stamp of approval which commends them to all who love that art form.
Imagine the impact in the early church when a traveling evangelist was headed to your city and you discovered that he was mentioned by the great Apostle Paul in Romans 16. Your congregation would rush to welcome him royally and hear all his stories about the famous apostle.
In some respect, Romans 16 is an updated version of Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. Every generation of believers can produce its own version of this “list.”
Notice some of the verb forms Paul uses to honor these saints. “has been a helper of many, and of myself as well…risked their own necks….worked hard for you….”
And what shall the Romans do for these? “Receive her in the Lord….help her…greet her…. greet him….greet one another with a holy kiss.”
What about the holy kiss business? Perhaps it was an Eastern custom, I don’t know. The way I heard it was that the custom began to be abused in the early church, so a rule was passed that women would kiss only women and men only men. The practice died a natural death.
The closing benediction is the longest one we have from Paul. He does not mention the Gentiles but refers to the ministry God had given him to preach the mystery which was hidden for ages. What mystery is that? See Colossians 1:27, where he says to this Gentile church, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” That was it.
Warren Wiersbe says, “The mystery has to do with God’s united Jews and Gentiles in the One Body, the Church.”
He is able to establish you, Paul tells the Romans. We tell that to one another, too. Studying this powerful epistle and learning to love its truths is surely one of the best ways He has chosen for this to happen.
To Him be the glory forever. Amen.