Friday, May 18, 2007

Romans 15:5-7

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth 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.

Paul’s prayer that the Body of Christ would experience unity to the glory of God and accept one another to bring praise to God follows v4, in which it is the Scriptures that give us encouragement and endurance. In v5, it is God Himself who gives us these things. It’s just a clear testimony from Paul of the truth of what John wrote to begin his Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). God is the Word; the Word is God communicating Himself to His people.

Paul prays for unity to the glory of God. The word “unity” that he uses might better be translated, “unanimity,” and of course, that’s like our English word “unanimous.” Unanimous is made up of “unun,” which means, “one,” and “animus,” which means, “mind.” Therefore, Paul is praying that the believers in Rome, made up of Jews and Gentiles with very different backgrounds and passions and lifestyles and occupations and political slants, be of one mind, one heart, and one mouth, in order to glorify God. Again – priority # 1 = God’s glory! And we can’t have unity unless God unites us – so Paul prays for unity, that God would be glorified.

We might ask, “How is it possible for believers to be of the same mind? How can we think alike? How can we be unanimous? How can we be in agreement?” The key is found at the end of v5, which would be better rendered, “according to Jesus Christ,” rather than “as you follow Jesus Christ.” Our thinking is to line up with His thinking. He is the standard. Our thinking must line up with His thinking, and His thinking is revealed in God’s Word. If either you or I or both of us disagree with Christ, then we will not be of the same mind. And what value is it that we agree with each other if we disagree with God’s Standard? God’s people must make every effort to line up with Jesus Christ and His Word. We must love what He loves, hate what He hates, and think what He thinks.

Notice that we glorify “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The point in this language is that God is Jesus’ God, but also His Father. It’s essentially another claim to Jesus’ deity. See Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1. Finally to glorify God is why we accept one another in our differences, to bring Him praise. God’s glory is Paul’s main point throughout.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Romans 15:4

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Paul eloquently and elegantly expresses an amazing truth: the Scriptures, the Old Testament, were written to teach and encourage believers in Christ to endure with hope. We’ve seen Paul give examples of this idea earlier in Romans. He told us that Abraham experienced all that he did not for his own benefit but for ours. He told us that Jacob was chosen unconditionally to teach us about God’s sovereignty in salvation. And Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, says that the events and circumstances surrounding the Exodus happened to serve a purpose greater than theirs; what went on over the 40 year wanderings were for us, not merely for them. Considering all of that both humbles me and makes me feel much valued.

The Bible is first and foremost for our instruction – to teach us. 2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” We need the Bible to inform and reshape our minds. There is no godliness apart from right thinking. Now, godliness is more than right thinking, but the way to the heart, the way to the affections, is through the mind. That’s why God gave us a book! Bible means “The Book.” And it’s not just some of the Scriptures. Every word is God’s Word and useful and worthy of our study. God would not have included it if it weren’t useful for the edification of His people.

The Scriptures are the source of our endurance and encouragement. Other translations render these two words, “patience” and “comfort.” The believer whose mind is saturated with the Scriptures will be “encouraged to endure” or “patiently comforted” even under the most difficult of circumstances. Paul uses the Greek word, “paraclete,” for “comforted” or “encouraged.” Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a paraclete, a comforter, an encourager, a defender. It comes from the legal context, and the idea is that in this spiritual war where physical persecution is a reality, we have the Holy Spirit as Someone who knows us and defends us and encourages us and comforts us and preserves us. And the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in us is hope, just as we saw in Romans 5:1-11, where God poured out His love in us by the Holy Spirit. We’ll see how this hope is wrought in us by the God of hope in v13.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Romans 15:1-3

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me" [Psalm 69:9].

Paul continues the theme from chapter 14 regarding the strong and weak brethren. And he continues the theme from chapter 12 as well, that we should love one another in view of God’s mercy toward us. He also wraps up the main purpose of his teaching with v13 of chapter 15. Romans 15:14 on through to the end of Romans is considered part of the conclusion.

Notice in v1-3 that rather than please ourselves, we strong in faith should strive to build up those around us. We’ve already defined the weak-in-faith, so let me simply point out that Paul acknowledges their failings, yet commands the strong-in-faith to bear with them or put up with them or be patient with them or bear their burdens in support and love, even and especially when that means sacrificing self-pleasure. Not surprisingly, Paul counts himself among the strong. And he says that we should please our neighbors for their good. Compare Galatians 1:10. We don’t try to please men in that sense, because that is essentially pleasing self. Rather we please our neighbor for God’s glory, and out of love for him and for his good, to build him up as we mentioned last time. God’s glory and praise is ultimate according to Paul.

Paul then turns to the Old Testament to show that Jesus did the same thing when He was Incarnate on this earth. No better example could be found of a man not pleasing Himself for the sake of the welfare of others. He bore the failings of His disciples in an ultimate way and experienced a greater joy by pleasing others rather than Himself. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). He denied Himself and took up His cross. He lived for others; and He died for others.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Romans 14:17-19

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 approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Paul keeps on this theme, but he shows how the message is broader than merely what we eat or how we observe the Sabbath. The question is: How are we free to serve Christ in all aspects of our lives? How are we free to let the reign of God show before our glorification? Not merely by eating all kinds of foods or no longer having to observe all the important feast days, but by living unto righteousness (1 Peter 2:24), by sharing God’s peace (John 14:27), and by experiencing the fullness of God's joy (John 15:11). Righteousness, peace, and joy once again drive us back to Romans 5:1-11. Having been declared righteous (justified), we are now free to live to righteousness, share God’s peace, and experience His joy in its fullness. And these things are of far greater importance than eating pork and drinking wine. Paul is telling us not to get so excited about the lesser freedoms that we ignore the greater freedoms or that we cease to care about our brothers themselves enjoying the greater freedoms. God is delighted and well-pleased when believers are filled with the Spirit, manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

But there is a way to serve God in such a way as to dishonor Him. If we serve thinking He needs us, then that is dishonoring. We must live righteously, not because He needs us, but because we are being changed and conformed to the image of Christ, not because we are striving for our own glory, but because we genuinely and passionately want to look like Christ. God is pleased by such conduct and even men approve such conduct. What else can they do but approve of such conduct? How can they disapprove of a righteous life? How can they speak against one who is at peace in the midst of trials? How can they object to the fact that a person is joyous with a joy that does not depend upon circumstances?

As I mentioned earlier, God is concerned with the edification, or the sanctification, or the strengthening of individuals within the church and of the church as a whole. Paul stresses that here, as believers have a responsibility to edify one another. “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v19). And so, as part of our routine thinking on ethical decisions, we should ask, “Will this bring harmony, and will it mutually edify?”

Monday, May 14, 2007

Romans 14:16

Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.

Paul commands us never to lose sight of what s essential and really important. And there are two ways to view the massage of this verse. First, if a believer does not eat a pork chop, out of love for a fellow believer, he has not lost or sacrificed anything essential; if a believer loses or sacrifices righteousness, then this is a serious problem. Fruits of the Spirit must be allowed to be displayed. If a brother is offended by your gentleness or patience, then by all means continue being gentle and patient, even at the expense of your Christian brother’s walk. He simply should not be offended by the fruits of the Spirit is he is a true believer. Do you ever get sick of seeing people displaying the fruits of the Spirit in genuine love and joy? I’m sad to say that I do. How can that be? Who will save me? Thanks be to God!

Second, if you use what you consider to be good in the wrong way and it ends up bringing your weaker brother down, then it will be spoken of as evil. So don’t use that which you consider good to bring someone down – even unintentionally. Think before you act. Ask yourself: Will this help the unity of the community? If you’re not certain that it will, don’t do it. I can’t make a decision that doesn’t have an impact on you. You’re my brother, and what I do, even in a closet, impacts you. The apostle Paul wants us to always be thinking about one another because we love one another as members of the same Body.