February 28 - Romans 16:25-27

Friday, February 28, 2014

Romans 16:25-27 - Doxology

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith — to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

The gospel that Paul calls his own is that which he preaches and teaches. It is a gospel each of us can call our own. It becomes ingrained in us and is part of our very being. The good news of Jesus Christ is our reason for existence. It is the message we each proclaim with every word we speak and every action we take.

The revelation that Paul speaks of is truth that has been revealed by God, not by human wisdom. No man could come up with this plan for salvation. Only the God of creation.

Verse 25 might be better rendered as "the mystery kept silent through times eternal." It is written in the perfect tense, meaning that it is permanent. It isn't something that happened was fully revealed, but a mystery that has been partially revealed to us. God's fullness is not made known to humanity, but the message of salvation through Jesus Christ is now revealed to everyone.

The prophets wrote of it under the direction of God, but no one understood what it meant until its revelation was made known through Jesus Christ. This was only done by God's command, not by anything that humanity had done. His sovereignty is always in place. He decides the world's fate and commands things to happen in his time.

His command had a purpose, to bring all of the Gentiles into obedience through faith.

He is wisdom and in Him we glory through Jesus Christ.


February 27 - Romans 16:17-23

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Romans 16:17-24 – Final Instructions

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. 
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 

Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews. 

I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. 

Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings.

Just after Paul writes to the Romans about the kiss of peace … which promotes unity, he warns them of those things which might cause division. False teachers and incorrect teaching is a threat to any church and Paul warns of this in many of his letters.

In the churches Paul had founded there were many obstacles that reared up, from those who believed that Gentiles had to be circumcised and adhere to Jewish Law to those from outside the church who taught that they could still worship God and live the lifestyles they had before becoming believers. Because Paul urges them to be on the watch for false teachers, rather than command them to ignore these teachers, it was likely the Roman church had yet to see them in their midst and he was simply giving a pre-emptory warning.

The Roman church was well known throughout the region for its obedience and there is a probability that Paul's warning came about because that reputation would be a perfect draw for those bent on corruption.

In verse twenty, we find an interesting conundrum in western culture. The God of peace is pictured with violence underfoot as he crushes Satan. The New Testament idea of peace is very unlike ours, which is the absence of war. For those in biblical times, peace … shalom … was a life that was whole and well-rounded, a life which was positive and whose spirituality was strong and could overcome evil.  Part of the reality of peace is overcoming evil … a complete triumph.

In an earlier passage, Paul listed many of the people in Rome who were to receive his greetings. At this point, he sends greetings to that church from those he knows well. Timothy is well known as a companion to Paul and there is a possibility that Lucius is a Romanized name for Luke, but that is uncertain. We meet Jason in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9) and Sopater in Acts 20:4. Paul rarely identifies his scribe or anuensis, but it might be that Tertius had family and friends in Rome. Gaius mihgt well have been the man whom Paul baptized in 1 Corinthians 1:14 and though Erastus' name is found in Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20, scholars are unsure as to whether or not this is the same man. And we know nothing more of Quartus.

Interestingly enough, most modern versions of the Bible have eliminated Romans 16:24. Go ahead … check it out. It is simply a repetition of verse 20 – "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

February 26 - Romans 16:1-16

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Romans 16:1-16 – Personal Greetings

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon, of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. 

Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. 

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

Phoebe is the person who is carrying this letter to the church in Rome. Paul asks the church there to welcome her as a fellow Christian. She may well have been a deaconess, charged with assisting with the baptism of women and helping the church when it came to caring for women in their home. We find that Paul was in Cenchreae in Acts 18:18.

As we begin the long list of greetings, we find that Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila are the only names we recognize. They are mentioned six other times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19) 2 Timothy 4:19). Aquila was a tentmaker who arrived in Rome after being expelled by Claudius from Pontus. His name means 'eagle.' Because of his trade, he and Paul became friends. The couple traveled to Ephesus with Paul, instructed Apollos in the faith, had a church in their home in several locations, and were very active in spreading the gospel. We find here that they risked their lives for him and though we don't know what it was they did, apparently the entirety of the churches in the region knew and gave thanks for their work.

The next list of greetings are names of people that we don't recognize, but the interesting thing is the number of women who are named. In a patriarchal society, Paul recognized the power of women within his churches. They weren't a minor part of the community, but were active and engaged.

During this period of time, a kiss during a greeting was quite common. While generally the kisses were given by a man to a man and a woman to a woman, in later years, we find Clement of Alexandria writing of people who were shameless in their use of the kiss … it was then restricted and abandoned as a greeting.

February 25 - Romans 15:30-33

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Romans 15:30-33 – Pray For Me

I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Paul isn't looking for one of those prayers that we all know we might get when someone quickly says "Oh, I'll pray for you." He's looking for a wholehearted, laying down before God, throwing everything you have into it … prayer.

He is asking the Christians in Rome to join in his struggle by praying for him. Paul is a man of God and his prayer life is incredible. He spends hours and hours in prayer for the people who have come to know Jesus Christ, whether through his ministry or someone else's. It matters not to him, it only matters that they know Jesus Christ.

Prayer is the one thing that connects all believers. We become part of another's struggle by praying for them. For the young couple who has just left to begin a lifetime of international mission, for the daughter who is dealing with cancer, for the father who has to have surgery, for elderly cat or dog who is facing health issues, for the husband who is searching for a job, for a friend's sister who has lost her way, for a woman who hates her job, for the child who is abused, for those who are completely unknown but are living in harm's way.  We are connected to each of these people through prayer.

Paul then moves to the reason he is asking for prayer. He is concerned about his journey to Jerusalem. He wasn't readily accepted by the church there because of his beliefs about Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem believed that all new Christians must adhere to the Law. If they accepted the offering he brought from the Gentile believers, they might be seen as accepting a bribe or as accepting the work he was doing in the world. Because of their beliefs, it is possible they might see this offering as dirty money, coming from unclean people.

The outcome Paul was praying for was that he might be accepted by the church in Jerusalem and then be allowed to come soon to Rome. If you read Acts 21, you will find that Paul was accepted by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, but was soon arrested because of an uproar by the Jews in the city.

February 24 - Romans 15:23-29

Monday, February 24, 2014

Romans 15:23-29 – Paul's Plan to Visit

But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord’s people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

One of my favorite things in the New Testament is the little details that are exposed – especially when it comes to Paul's travels and the people he encounters. Because he is writing letters, rather than sermons, he writes of the places he has been and the places he wants to go. He writes of people he knows and people who are important to him. He writes of his passions and his fears. He writes of his failings and the things that he is thrilled about. These are details which make him real and alive to us, even though we are reading his letters years and years after he wrote them.

Because we have also read the Acts of the Apostles, we know that Paul didn't make it to Rome until he arrived in chains, as a prisoner. He never got the opportunity to come to them and live in comfort … to enjoy their company. But, oh the desire he had to spend time among these amazing Christian people.

Paul probably was looking for a base of operations as he ministered to the west … between Rome and Spain. Up until this point, he operated out of Antioch, but he needed to close the distance as he reached beyond the areas which were now quite populated with Christian churches. If the church in Rome would become his home church, he would be able to  move forward in ministry.

Though those are his plans, he first has to go to Jerusalem to deliver funds that he had been collecting while on his travels. The Jerusalem church was apparently quite poor and we now that the wealthy believers in that church had sold all of their belongings to give to the poor (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-5:5). Not only the Christians in Jerusalem, but the Jews who were living there were not wealthy. Jerusalem was a poor city. From Acts 11, we know that Judea faced a famine and funds were rushed in to care for the people.

Paul recognized that these funds, collected from the Gentile churches throughout the region for the Jews in Jerusalem brought unity to the Church as a whole. This offering was important for many reasons and so Paul diverted from Rome for Jerusalem in order to present it to the church there.

In verse 27 we read that "if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings." The gospel came first to the Jews and it was Jews who delivered it to the Gentiles. Joyously giving back to the church in Jerusalem was a privilege for those Gentile churches, because of the great gift that had been given to them.

February 23 - Romans 15:17-22

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Romans 15:17-22 - Glory in Christ Jesus

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. Rather, as it is written:  “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”  

This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.

The first verse of this passage is very interesting. Note the placement of the clauses. Paul doesn't say that he won't speak of that which 'he accomplished through Christ,' but what 'Christ accomplished through him.' Paul is only a vessel for Jesus Christ's work on earth.

The signs and wonders, the things Paul has said and done … all of these things occurred because of the power of the Spirit of God. Paul did none of these things and doesn't want to be celebrated for them. All glory goes to God.

We often hear these words from charismatic preachers today and find it hard to believe the words when their actions speak of a need to receive adulation and praise for themselves. Paul had none of that. He pointed to Jesus Christ with every action he took and every word he spoke.

Paul did not preach to Gentiles in Jerusalem, but it was there that he received the call to preach (Acts 22:19-21) and it was there that "when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:9).

Illyricum is where Yugoslavia and Albania are today. While there is no mention of this city in the book of Acts, he did get to Berea, which isn't far from that point and this may mean that the churches he preached to there extended the gospel that far. Or … we might not have all of the data regarding his missionary journeys. From Jerusalem, his ministry reached Gentiles in the eastern Mediterranean surroundings and into the western reaches of the Roman empire. He was moving as quickly as possible to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  He didn't want to follow someone else – to build on someone else's foundation because that was wasted time. The work they had done did not need to be duplicated. The time was ripe for bringing the world to Jesus Christ and Paul hurried to do as much as possible in the short time he was allotted.

February 22 - Romans 15:14-16

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Romans 15:14-16 – A Minister to the Gentiles

I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

Paul reminds the Romans that even though he has spoken to them about some very difficult things, he doesn't think any less of them. In fact, in Romans 1:8 he said "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world." This church was full of faith and Paul's only purpose in writing to them was to encourage them to continue in that faith.

The things he wrote to them in this letter weren't for Christians who had no depth. These were weighty matters and he knew that they would take it to heart and think about it quite deeply. This church was a very strong group of people who were well known throughout the region for their faith. These are leaders that he was writing to. They were filled with knowledge and had the expertise in matters of faith so that they could teach each other.

When Paul tells the Roman church that it is "full of goodness," this doesn't mean that they do some good things, the word 'full' here means 'plentiful supply.' They lived out the faith every day. This was the reason they were so well known.

If they were so good, why would Paul think it necessary to write to them? He answers that in verse fifteen. More than likely, he was reminding them of things they already knew, but also speaking to them about things they hadn't yet put together regarding how to live as a Christian. He was broadening their walk with God … expanding their horizons … giving them more to consider and asking them to become stronger Christians.

He can do this because of the grace God gave him to take the message of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, so that they might become an offering … a sacrifice to God.

February 21 - Romans 15:5-13

Friday, February 21, 2014

Romans 15:5–13 – Christ is the Hope for All

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews  on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:  “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”  

Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”  

And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”  

And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; in him the Gentiles will hope.”  

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I was a senior in high school, our church's sixth grade Sunday School class desperately needed a teacher and Mom asked if I would consider taking it. Of course I said yes and I had a wonderful time with the kids, but I'll never forget one of her best pieces of advice. She told me that if the kids got too far out of control, to just stop the class and ask them to bow in prayer for a moment with me. The first couple of weeks, we prayed a lot.

Paul often does this when he is presenting an argument. He interjects a short prayer in order to refocus his readers, just as he does in Romans 15:5-7. He has given the Romans quite a bit of information regarding Jews and Gentiles and how to live with each other in peace. Now it is time to place all of that before God and plead for His intervention in their lives so that they might live in unity. Notice the recurring theme throughout these verses … living in harmony, in accord with Christ Jesus, with one voice … Paul believes that the church should be able to exist as a singular unit, encouraging and loving each other even while individuals are different.

In verse 8, he gives the reason for all of this – that Christ became a servant of the Jews (notice Paul does not call him a leader or a king, but a servant) and that the Gentiles might learn of God's mercy. These two groups make up the entirety of the Church. Christ did not come for one or the other, but for both … for all. Everyone is important to the kingdom of God.

Then, true to Pauline tradition, he quotes Old Testament scripture to prove his point. In this section, he moves from the Law to the Prophets and then to the Psalms. He uses the whole of scripture as a witness to the truth that he preaches. Christ came to earth, died and rose again for all of humanity.

February 20 - Romans 15:1-4

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Romans 15:1-4 – Christ's Example

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

Paul continues to write of the relationship between the strong and the weak within Christianity, but now he brings another emphasis forward … that of unity.

There are those who are strong in the faith and Paul reminds them of their responsibility to help others. In Galatians 6:2, he writes "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

It is something that occurs in every culture and even when we don't realize that we are doing it, we become part of a historical pattern whereby the strong use that strength to make their lives easier, and oftentimes, in so doing, make the weak bear the brunt of the culture's burdens and then, they also belittle those who are weaker because they don't have the same amount of power and buckle under it much easier.

Within Christianity, Paul reminds us that it is the responsibility of those who have power and who are strong to bear the greatest burden of society and not try to make those who have less power and aptitude become equal, but to relieve their burden. We are to be the servants that Jesus commanded us to be.

If there are those who are weak, we are to bear with their failings and not be more interested in taking care of and protecting our own. We are to take care of our neighbors … no matter who they are, what they may look like, or what they contribute to society in order to build them up.

Paul uses a very strong reminder when he speaks of how Christ lived while on earth. He did not do things to make his own life easier, but took on the responsibility of caring for the very least and the very lost, no matter what they had done to get to the point at which they were living.

He uses words from Psalm 69:9 and then reminds his readers that all Scripture is to be used for our instruction (1 Corinthians 9:9-10) so that we might have hope.

February 19 - Romans 14:19-23

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Romans 14:19-23

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. 

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

As a result of all that he has taught, Paul asks his readers to make every effort to do what leads to peace. This isn't just hoping for peace or praying for peace, but it is an active participation in bringing about peace … and he doesn't stop there. He tells his readers to do what it takes to bring about mutual edification.

The word edification comes from the same root as edifice – a building. This word means – erecting a building, but in this sense, Paul uses it to mean building people up. This is very important to Paul. Of the 18 times it is used in the New Testament, Paul uses 15 of those. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, he says "let all things be done for edification."

The aim of all Christians is to help each other rather than to criticize each other … a trait which is difficult for most of us in today's culture. Criticism is seen as a right and of great necessity in teaching others how to act and live. Paul says that it is unimportant when compared to building each other up.

In other words, Paul reminds us that our beliefs on things such as eating and drinking and so many other unimportant beliefs that we carry are to be kept between us and God. We should be very wary of condemning ourselves by what we choose to approve and disapprove.

Our faith … that thing that binds us together with God in a relationship is what should guide our actions … anything that does not come from that is sin.

February 18 - Romans 14:12-18

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Romans 14:12-18 – Do Not Cause Others to Stumble

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. 

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Paul either ends the previous passage or begins the next passage by saying, "So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God" (Romans 14:12).

Each word in that sentence is important. So then … Paul is about to deliver the logical conclusion or introduction.  Each … no one is exempt from this. Of us … Paul makes it personal. This isn't about anyone other than us – you and me. Will give an account … This is similar to a financial record. There are marks in columns regarding our actions and no leeway given for despising or judging anyone else.

We must cease to cast judgment on anyone else for their actions. We will be called to give an account of ourselves – not them, not what they have or haven't done – to God. That's it. Nothing else.

Paul reiterates that we aren't to put up a stumbling block for someone else to come to Jesus. Nothing is unclean, he says … unless it is an issue for that person. The moment we become a stumbling block, we set ourselves up to be judged by God.  If a person is an alcoholic and you drink with them and this upsets them … you are not acting in love.

And for Paul, everything is unimportant … except for love. The kingdom of God isn't about unimportant matter – how someone votes, how someone pays their bills (or doesn't), how someone is educated (or not), what type of job they work (or don't), what music they listen to or books they read, what they wear or how they pierce their body or tattoo their skin. These things are so much less important than love. When we stop to consider that God expects us to consistently show love, no matter what … that changes everything.

The kingdom of God is not about unimportant things. The kingdom of God is about righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

February 17 - Romans 14:5-11

Monday, February 17, 2014

Romans 14:5-11 – Live for the Lord

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  It is written:  “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’” 

Not only were there disagreements about the foods people were eating, but feast days as well. Paul used these two examples to remind his readers about the importance of doing things for the Lord and not for anyone else.

A weak Christian might go along with the crowd, ignoring the importance of special days of their own. This isn't what God wants from us. He wants each person to be fully convinced of the importance of things, without being overly influenced by others. If God calls us to celebrate one day and not another, that is what we are to do. If God calls us to eat certain things and not eat others, it is not another Christian's place to stop us.

Our lives are to be lived for the Lord. We belong to him. Since he is Lord of both the dead and the living (Romans 14:9), surely eating or not eating, celebrating a feast day or not celebrating a feast day, also belong to him. Our lives are to be lived for God … down to the minutest of details.

So then why do we judge each other? The person who judges those who eat meat without being concerned whether it came from a sacrifice to an idol is out of line. The person who judges those who celebrate every feast day they can is out of line. And so it is on the other side of each issue. Why do we treat each other with contempt?

We all stand before God's judgment seat. Our sins are equal before him. Our thoughts and desires are equal in his sight. We are to live our lives fully for the Lord, not according to someone else's set of rules and regulations.

In the end. We bow before God and acknowledge Him as worthy of our worship. In the end, none of this will matter, except to God.

Live your lives for the Lord.

February 16 - Romans 14:1-4

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Romans 14:1-4 – No Judgment

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

It is sometimes difficult to remember as we're reading Paul's letters, that these aren't moral treatises, but personal letters written to churches with real problems. Paul often knows these churches and their members quite intimately, having lived among them while he started the church. He receives letters from their membership and knows their failures and their successes. When you write a letter, do you often imagine the recipient reading it? Paul not only does that, but he prays for them at the same time. There is nothing that he would like more than to see these people healthy in body, mind and spirit, and to fully accept their role in the kingdom of God.

The person whose faith is weak is not necessarily one who only has a little faith, though that person should also be protected and loved within the Church; but this is a person who may not know all of the rules of the congregation.

It is very easy for Christians to pass moral judgment on others without understanding the background that person brings with them. In the case of the Roman church, they were faced with many different gods, whose offerings were often re-sold as meat to the populace. Those whom they considered 'weak' only ate vegetables, so as to avoid eating unclean meat … meat that might have been killed incorrectly, or sacrificed to an idol. The church was having an argument about this and though it seems insane today, it should be easy enough for us to look at it from the standpoint of some of the arguments that occur within the boundaries of our own church.

Consider the arguments in the 1990s or early 2000s about music in the church. Was it proper to have a drum set in the church … or electric guitars? Could the members sing songs that weren't printed in the hymnal? These questions sparked intense debates and no one cared about the drummer or the guitar player who might have just ventured into the church for the first time in years, only to be reviled and cast away.

Who are you to pass judgment on God's servants? It is before God that a person stands or falls. The Lord is able to make that person stand and for those of us who tear them down, we will find ourselves standing before God in judgment.

February 15 - Romans 13:8-14

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Romans 13:8-14 – Love Your Neighbor

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. 

To begin with, Paul is not saying that borrowing money is disallowed. Even Jesus says in Matthew 5:42, "Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you." What Paul is trying to make clear is that debt should not be left unpaid. If you borrow, repay promptly.

This is a duty for Christians and he follows it with a short list of the commandments, but then summarizes it just as Jesus did by quoting Leviticus 19:18 "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love never harms another person and love fulfills all of the basic tenets that are the Law.

We should live in love with others with a sense of urgency. While Paul's readers probably knew someone through several degrees of separation, who had known personally of Jesus' ministry, his death and resurrection, they looked forward to the time when Jesus would return and make all things new.

But for any person who has said yes to salvation through Jesus Christ, the hour has come to wake from slumber … full salvation is nearer now than the day we first believed. While we can see this simply as aging toward death, we don't know when Christ will return. Paul commands Christians to live wholeheartedly for God. Every moment of the day is to be lived in preparation for his return. He lists several things that Christians continue to deal with and often demand to be made acceptable … but Paul calls them deeds of darkness: carousing and drunkenness, sexual immorality and debauchery, dissension and jealousy. It is interesting that though some of us want to point the finger at others for their sins, Paul manages to incorporate poor behavior that each person faces. None is greater or lesser than the other.

Clothe yourself with Christ Jesus, set the desire to gratify the flesh aside.

February 14 - Romans 13:1-7

Friday, February 14, 2014

Romans 13:1-7 – Submission to Authority

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. 

This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Do you believe that God is in control and is completely sovereign over the earth and all that lives within it? This passage forces us to deal with this question honestly. If we do not believe this to be true, then anarchy is advised. However, Paul asserts that God is in control, even over the authorities that exist. Even when we don't agree with their methods or their politics.

We can't believe for a second that he was talking to a group of people who were being ruled by a fair government and yet, he insisted that Christians submit to that authority. This submission is the same response a Christian must have toward his or her Christian brother or sister. Recognition that the authority exists and is in place according to God's plan and respect for that authority.

While this does not mean that we categorically obey an authority's every command, it does mean that a Christian must not refuse obedience to that authority simply because he doesn't believe it is a legal form of government.

What Paul is trying to tell his readers is that individuals cannot make him or herself greater than the established authority. Much as he has written that Christians are to be humble and to set others above themselves, he writes the same regarding the government in place.

The strongest point that Paul is trying to make is that though Christians see themselves as under the authority of God, they are not to separate themselves from the authority of government, doing as they please.

The one in authority is God's servant and it is to God that this person will offer their final explanation of actions taken. We tend to be very short-sighted when we look at governments on earth. A four or eight year term by an American President is seen to be an eternity and a dictator in power of a country is believed to live through several lifetimes, but in truth, our focus is not to be on the momentary balance of political power in a government, but in the lifelong pursuit of a relationship with God.

February 13 - Romans 12:9-21

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Romans 12:9-21 – Mark of a Christian

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

After writing about the gifts that come specifically to each person, Paul now speaks of attributes that each Christian should embody. In essence, these words describe love and for the Church, love is the foundation of its life as a whole and of each individual's life within the body of Christ.

He begins by writing that love must be sincere. This is different than schmoozy sentimentality. It is deep and abiding, it despises evil (note that Paul never says we are to despise whom we choose to be evil people … please note that). When he writes that we are to cling to what is good, this verb means something akin to glue … to cling to something means that we are stuck to it and cannot be separated from it.

Brotherly love is an affection for each other that was not seen in any other society except for among the Christians. As Christians we are part of a family. We have been adopted by God and as his children we are brothers and sisters with other Christians and we love as family loves. In honoring each other, Paul uses a verb that implies an eagerness to show respect for each other. We should be eager to treat each other better than we treat ourselves, to set our own needs aside and honor another. Paul instructs Christians to point out the good qualities in other Christians, rather than highlighting their weaknesses. When it comes to serving the Lord, we must not be lazy, but do so with continued diligence.

Even when it seems there is no hope, the hope of glory that comes from Jesus is enough to bring us joy; we endure things without question and remain faithful in prayer. We care for those who are in need and practice hospitality.

The rest of these verses continue to list those things which promote love within a community, always setting others above the self, whether they love us or not. Bless those who persecute, live in harmony, do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay evil for evil. Do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge … that is God's task. Overcome evil with good.

These are not suggestions. These are expectations for all who call themselves Christian.

February 12 - Romans 12:1-8

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Romans 12:1-8 – A Living Sacrifice

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

In response to the gift of salvation, Paul tells Christians that they (we) must respond with everything they have. A Christian should hold nothing back, the entirety of life is to be lived in service to Him. We must respond to God's gift of salvation and the only proper way to do so is with everything that we are.

Since we no longer practice sacrificial offerings, Paul's words have less impact on us now than they did on first century Christians. They knew the scents that surrounded the sacrifice of an animal. They watched as its blood poured out on the altar and as it was burned in offering. Paul wasn't making a light comment here, he was striking to the very visceral part of their being. No one would want to go through what had been required to worship whatever deity they believed in, but he told them they were to be a living sacrifice.

For Jews, sacrifices offered a covering of sin, an opportunity for righteousness.  Paul tells them that their entire beings are to be that living sacrifice, righteous before God, in all that they do.

He then contrasts the beauty of the sacrifice we are to offer to God with the negative aspect of what the world demands of us. Rather than living according to the world, we are to understand the will of God and become transformed so that we can live in accordance with that will.

Following our response to God as Christians, Paul then turns the discussion to a Christian's response toward other Christians. We are never to become arrogant in our belief. Humility is the first mark of a Christian. Each person within the Church has a gift and each of these gifts is different. But each of these gifts comes as a measure of faith that God has given. They are not possible without faith.  As long as we see that God is the only provider of the gifts we are given to exercise and that we are completely dependent on him for these gifts, we will act in true humility.

If we remember that all gifts come from God, that faith comes from God and that grace comes from God and that there is nothing we can do to earn more or less of any of these things, Romans 12:6 will make sense.  God gives different gifts according to the grace given to us. There is no lesser or greater gift when it comes from God. He gives according to His will. Our only task is to receive and respond.

February 11 - Romans 11:28-36

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Romans 11:28-36 – The Mercy of God

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?  For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Again, it is sometimes difficult to understand exactly what Paul is saying when he argues using rhetoric. The gospel did not make the Jews enemies of God, because many of them – including Paul – had responded to its message. But Paul uses this contradiction of 'enemies' versus 'loved' to explain that they didn't receive the good news of Jesus Christ (the gospel) and thus have angered God. This was still part of the plan and happened so that for your sake … for the Gentiles and all non-Jewish Christians even today … we could be exposed to the love of God and respond to it.  Their rejection of the gospel had a purpose – it gave the world salvation.

But, the comparison happens with the idea of election. God loves his chosen people because of the patriarchs. The covenant remains in place.

Just as we were once disobedient, but were offered mercy; the nation of Israel is right now disobedient and will receive that same mercy. Disobedience is part of the human equation and mercy is part of God's.

In verse 33, Paul moves to a doxology … a hymn of praise to the wisdom and knowledge of God. We can't understand his mind. Paul didn't break into a doxology because we have figured out the entirety of God's plan for the Jews and the Gentiles, but if you read these words, you find that he lifts up praise because God has the answers and has a plan.

God's riches - mercy and grace; his wisdom – pointing to the best end; and knowledge – knowing what the end is, are unfathomable and of those things there is no limit.  We will never understand what God is doing; we do not have the capacity to begin to comprehend his plans.

For from him (God) through him (Jesus Christ) and to him (the Holy Spirit) are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

February 10 - Romans 11:25-27

Monday, February 10, 2014

Romans 11:25-32 – The Mystery of Israel's Salvation

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”  

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

If you skimmed through this passage, read it again, because there is a rather large truth in here that many Christians ignore.

Paul writes to Christians – Gentiles and Jews alike, so that they will not be ignorant of the mystery – and so that they (we) will not be conceited. God's plan is to bring the entirety of Israel to salvation. It may not happen in our lifetime, just as the full coming of God's kingdom on earth may not come in our lifetime, but be assured, it will come.

The term 'mystery' was one early Christians often used in describing something that a person could not know by themselves, but which was revealed to them by God. This isn't something that we are unable to comprehend … it is something that we cannot discover on our own. When God reveals it to us, we can then understand it. Paul uses this term often in describing different parts of the Christian message.

He describes the gospel as a mystery, but it is one that has been revealed to us through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:19). This mystery is one that has also been revealed through scripture – that Israel will be saved.

It appears that there were Christians who believed that there was no future for Israel. This is a common belief among Christians today – that because Israel had rejected Jesus Christ, the covenant had been passed to the Gentiles and Jews had been set aside. Paul ensures that we can't live in that prideful belief.

From Isaiah 59:20-21, Paul states categorically that the deliverer will come from Zion and will turn godlessness away from Jacob. He will take away their sins.  Their hardening was partial, but only until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. This hardening is temporary and when God's work is complete throughout the world, they will then be saved.

These are beautiful, beautiful words in this passage. God's call is irrevocable on our lives. His call on the children of Israel is irrevocable. He does not break a covenant, no matter what people do on their side.

February 9 - Romans 11:13-24

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Romans 11:13-24 – Gentiles Grafted In

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. 

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!

There may have been Christians in the Roman church who were wondering why in the world Paul spent so much time talking about Israel. Now, he speaks to them. Paul wants nothing more than to see a great number of Jews come into reconciliation with God while he is still alive. He wants his ministry to grow so that they might see what the potential for life with Christ could be and be drawn into it as well. It was never for Paul's sake, but for the sake of every person alive that he wished this.  And … if they were to come to reconciliation, it would bring a blessing to them and to the Gentiles as well.

His references to the dough and the root as being holy, so then shall the whole lump and the branches goes back to Abraham. Abraham and the patriarchs were holy. This sends holiness down through their line to their descendants. God will not discard the entirety of Israel, because of the firstfruits … the root of their people.

He then directs Christians to avoid arrogance. We have been grafted onto that root and share in the nourishment that it offers. It matters not to us that some were broken off. We don't support the root … it supports us.  It wasn't for us that these branches were broken off, it was because of their unbelief.  Then Paul sends a stern warning. If he did not spare the nation of Israel in their arrogance regarding their relationship with him, he will certainly not spare the grafted branches.  In his kindness, God will return Israel to the root in time. They have always been part of it and when they return to it, that will happen with ease. God will redeem his people.

February 8 - Romans 11:11-12

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Romans 11:11-12 – Stumbling to Salvation

Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

Paul is not finished with his discussion regarding the Jews and this is something that we, as Gentiles must never lose sight of. He has just finished quoting scripture to describe the fate of the Israelites. Their spirit of stupor, blind eyes, and deaf ears led to them stumbling, but that is not the end of the story.

Paul tells us that because of this stumbling, God was able to bring salvation to the Gentiles. We have a tendency to believe that the salvation of the Gentiles automatically assumes that the Jews are lost to God's kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth.

As much as humanity likes to see a clear loser when there is a winner, that is not the way of God's kingdom. He sent Jesus Christ to redeem the world, not just the Jews and not just the Gentiles.

Paul's use of the word stumble from Isaiah also means that there is recovery. When a person stumbles, they don't always fall so that they can no longer stand again. A stumble is not the final process in a person's journey. The Jews stumbled so that the Gentiles could find salvation. Paul points out here and in other letters that their act of stumbling does not mean they have permanently fallen.

Their stumbling brings riches to the Gentiles (not worldly riches, but access to the heavenly kingdom). However, in the end, when they are fully included in the final days, how much greater riches will that bring to them.

There is a lesson that Paul wants his readers to clearly understand. God is not finished with his chosen people. Not by a long shot.

February 7 - Romans 11:1-10

Friday, February 7, 2014

Romans 11:1-10 – The Remnant of Israel

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. 

What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened, as it is written:  “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear, to this very day.”  

And David says:  “May their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.” 

God's plan is in progress. Even the actions of a disobedient and contrary people can't stop that plan. Has he rejected his people? Absolutely not. Paul is one of the Israelites and he is part of those who are part of the kingdom of God because of their faith.

Paul reminds his readers of Elijah's words from 1 Kings 19. He thought he was the only Jew who had not bowed down to Baal, but God told him that there seven thousand men … a remnant who had not bowed down. In the time of Paul, there was a remnant, those who were chosen by grace. Today, there is a remnant, Jews who come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There will always be that remnant. And those people would come into the kingdom through grace, not by anything they did themselves.

Even as Paul insists upon the reality of God's grace, he is aware of the immensity of unbelief found among Jews. There are consequences. In Romans 11:7, Paul asks "What then?" Israel has continued to search for righteousness, but they can't get there. The elect … those who were Jews and Gentiles obtained it.

Their continued refusal to acknowledge the salvation offered by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ becomes a snare … a stumbling block and retribution for their actions. In quoting from Psalm 69, Paul extends the words to explain that they will be in spiritual bondage forever because of their rejection of salvation.

February 6 - Romans 10:14-21

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Romans 10:14-21 – Telling the World

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  

But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?”  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”  

Again I ask: Did Israel not understand? First, Moses says, “I will make you envious by those who are not a nation; I will make you angry by a nation that has no understanding.”  

And Isaiah boldly says, “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.”  

But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” 

Paul now discusses the fact that Israel can't be held responsible for their rejection of Jesus Christ because they never really heard the message. He has spent a great deal of time in the last chapters pointing out the God's way is grace, not legalism. What if it were true that this wasn't made clear to the Jews. What if it wasn't fair to expect them to know something that wasn't made black and white?

His response is taken straight from Scripture. Grace has been part of God's message to the Jews from the very beginning. If they didn't know it, it was because they weren't paying attention. It was there all the time. The point he makes is that Jesus is present in the preachers. To hear a preacher is to hear him. Jesus himself made this clear in Luke 10:16 when he says, "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me" to the 70 who were sent out as missionaries.

A preacher in Paul's world is not the same as a preacher in today's culture. This word means 'herald,' one who relays information that has been given to him. A preacher can not preach unless they are sent. A herald can not relay news unless it has been given to him. With this confidence, Paul knows that those who have been sent are telling of Jesus Christ and anyone who has missed the message wasn't paying attention.

The rest of Paul's scripture quotations point out that the word of God has gone out to the ends of the earth – creation knows who he is. If Israel heard the message, but didn't understand it, Paul says that isn't a good argument because the Gentiles had no religious training and they responded to the message of faith. Those who are not a nation have come into the kingdom of God.

By the last quotation in this section, Paul reminds his readers that though the Gentiles didn't look for God, they found him because he revealed himself to people who had faith. It is the work of God in his sovereignty and those of faith responded, while those who were a disobedient and contrary people rejected him.

February 5 - Romans 10:1-13

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Romans 10:1-10 – Salvation for All

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. 

Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.”  But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

Even with all that Paul has just declared regarding the Israelites, there is no doubt that he loves them deeply. It is his heart's desire and prayer that they may be saved. He sees their zeal for God, but their methods are misguided because they sought to gain righteousness on their own, rather than submitting to God.

There is a lesson, even in these words for each of us. Paul never stopped praying for those he knew were lost. Rather than writing them off, he expressed a desire for their salvation. We already know that he would have sacrificed his own place in heaven if the nation of Israel could have been brought into its glory. Oh, that we would be as willing to love those we don't understand or agree with.

In verse 5, Paul lays out the argument that justification is scriptural. He wants to make sure that it is understood that God has always accepted people in this manner and begins by quoting Leviticus 18:5 – the one who does these things (obey the rules of the law) will live by them. In other words, if a person abides by all of the words of the law, they will achieve life. Now, it is obvious to most that no one can live up to the requirements of the law. It was meant to reflect God's character, not to achieve God's favor. Judaism transformed the law into a way to gain God's favor – based on personal achievement.

Paul goes on to say that righteousness based on faith doesn't require us to bring Christ down from heaven or up from the dead (from Deuteronomy 30:12-13, Psalm 107:26 – Paul is liberal with his use and adjustments of scripture). We do not have to do these incredible feats to know the will of God. Jesus is here. He is alive and has risen from the dead. Faith is available right now for those who will believe and confess that Jesus is Lord.  Faith is as close as in our mouth and in our heart.

In Romans 10:11, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:16. "Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame" to cement the argument that Jews and Gentiles both have access to salvation through Jesus Christ. All it takes is faith. He quotes Joel 2:32 in Romans 10:13 – "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." This is comprehensive. There is no limitation based on race or creed. The Lord's salvation is available to everyone.

February 4 - Romans 9:30-33

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Romans 9:30-33 – Israel's Unbelief

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written: 

         “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 

The Lord looks at the heart and not the actions. Paul clearly states that the Gentiles received righteousness because they put their faith in Jesus Christ. They didn't look at it as a goal to pursue, but accepted it as a gift from God.

On the other hand, the people of Israel, who spent generation after generation, pursing righteousness through the Law became lost because it was never a matter of faith and trusting in God, but a matter of their own performance. They brought the most perfect sacrifice and offered the loudest prayers, they built the temple by their own hands and they spent every day trying to follow just enough rules to appease the tyrant God they served.

Paul reminds us that righteousness does not come from the works of our own hands, but comes by faith. In believing that we can do something to attain righteousness, we lose sight of the immensity of our sin. We don't have the power to bridge the gap between us and God. There is nothing we can do that brings us any closer to him. Only God has the power to create the bridge and he doesn't need our help. The only thing we can do is step onto the bridge, whether it is visible or not.  That is faith.

This is the stumbling block for the people of Israel. They had centuries of belief wrapped up in their rituals and rules. Jesus Christ was that stone that caused them to stumble and the rock that made them fall. He was set down in Zion … in the midst of all that the Jews considered to be holy and they stumbled and fell because they didn't understand what he was calling them to do.

Give up on yourselves and trust in me, Jesus said. Trust only in me.

February 3 - Romans 9:19-29

Monday, February 3, 2014

Romans 9:19-29 – Who Are You?

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? 

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? 

As he says in Hosea: 
         “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”  

         “In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’ ”  

Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: 
         “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved. For the Lord will carry out his sentence on earth with speed and finality.”  

It is just as Isaiah said previously: 
          “Unless the Lord Almighty had left us descendants, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.” 

So, Paul supposes people might ask, if God's will is all-encompassing, why am I still responsible for my own actions? His first response is actually a little humorous and reminds us of the response we might get from our parent when we question them. "Who are you to talk back to God?"

From Isaiah 29:16 and Isaiah 45:9, Paul describes the potter's relationship to a lump of clay. But that isn't the only thing he wants his readers to know. In Romans 9:22, Paul reminds his readers that God isn't an arbitrary ruler, doing what he wills without concern for those whose lives he impacts. No, God shows great patience with those who are the most deserving of his wrath. In God's sovereignty, he allows for freedom of individual and corporate free will. He does not reduce his creation to mere puppets, on strings that he pulls. He offers patience in order to bring the objects of his mercy … believers in Jesus Christ … into a full understanding of the riches of his glory (Romans 9:23).

In the last four verses of this chapter, Paul points to four Old Testament passages in order to show that the Gentiles were also part of God's plan for redemption and that there would only be a remnant of Jews that would be preserved.

First, from Hosea 2:23, he looks at the prophecy made regarding those who are not his people. They will be 'my people,' God says and from Hosea 1:10, Paul shows that in the place where they were disowned (Gentiles), they would be called 'sons of the living God.'

Finally he looks at two passages from Isaiah to show that it is not the entirety of the Jewish nation which will be saved. From Isaiah 10:22, we read that only a remnant will be saved and from Isaiah 1:9, that if a few were not saved, the Israelites would be as Sodom and Gomorrah, where all were destroyed.

It is faith, not a person's religion or background, that brings a person into the kingdom of God.

February 2 - Romans 9:10-18

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Romans 9:10-18 – God's Mercy

Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”  What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, 

         “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”  

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

This is an interesting look at the Old Testament story of Esau and Jacob. Many of us look at this and see how unjust it was that Esau lost his birthright through deception. If tradition tells us that the first born should receive that, than any other thing is wrong.

But, Paul reminds us that God is not bound by anything that humans decide. God chose Jacob to become a patriarch of the Jewish nation and it did not matter what Esau or Isaac believed should happen. God has mercy on whom he will have mercy; it matters not what we think.

While Paul is using this story to explain why God expanded the adoption of others into his kingdom, it is something that many of us in Western culture should be reminded of continually. We do not have a lock on God's compassion and mercy. Because we interpret scripture one way does not mean that others who interpret it differently might not be correct. It is impossible for us to see beyond what we have always been taught, but one of the most interesting courses I took in seminary exposed me to how people in other cultures, who do not have hundreds of years of interpretation beginning in Europe and coming through into America, interpret the words found in Scripture.

We must be careful that our hearts are not hardened by our own strict adherence to rules of interpretation we develop. God's creativity never ceases and his name will be proclaimed in all the earth, no matter the language or the culture. We should not presume to get in his way.

February 1 - Romans 9:1-9

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Romans 9:1-9 - Child of Abraham

I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised!  Amen.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”

If we look back to Chapter 3, Paul deals with the question about the advantage there might be to being a Jew. He made it quite clear that simply belonging to the Jewish nation was not enough. A real Jew came from the inside. Real circumcision was inward and a work of the Holy Spirit, not simple obedience to the Law.  He spent the next five chapters talking about all people and their need for righteousness because they are under the condemnation of sin.

He returns to the discussion of the Jewish nation because it is so important to him. As much as he is called to bring the Gospel to all nations, it is just as important for Paul to remain true to his roots. He can't simply toss one off for the other. His integrity as a man of God is at stake and he will always be honorable to the training and upbringing he had.

However, Paul feels great sorrow for the Jews. If he could be cut off from Christ and save his people, he would sacrifice his own relationship with God for them.  His heart is crushed by them. In this passage, Paul lists seven privileges that belonged to the Jews: they were the original sons of God, the glory of God was made known to them in the desert. They received the covenants of God and the Law and they had been given the regulations for worshiping God as well as the entirety of the Old Testament which was filled with God's promises. They descended from the patriarchs and it is from the Jewish nation that the human ancestry of Jesus Christ comes.

Now begins Paul's teaching on exactly who the chosen people are. He sets out to explain that God did not abandon his covenant or his choice of Israel. God had promised to bless Israel, but that doesn't mean that everyone who descended from Jacob (Israel) belongs to the Israel who are the people of God.  Paul tells us that those who fulfill the promise are Abraham's true descendants.

Just as God chose Isaac, rather than Ishmael, to be the child of promise, now God chooses those who place their faith in Christ as the true children of Abraham. The relationship with God is not based on blood, but on faith. It is not about a person's ethnicity, but about their choice to be spiritually aligned with Jesus Christ.  God didn't turn his back on Israel, he clarified what it means to be a son of Abraham.