Friday, May 25, 2007

Romans 15:30-33

I urge you, brothers, 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 rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Paul commands (urges) the Roman believers to “join him in his struggle” by praying to God for him by Jesus and the love of the Spirit. Notice first the clear mention of the Trinity. Then notice how prayer warriors are just as important in the work of evangelism throughout the world as the missionaries themselves. We join with the missionaries in their struggles, in their challenges, in their dangers, by wrestling, by laboring, by fighting with God in prayer for them in the work of evangelism. His urging or begging is essentially a command. He’s just mentioned that he was convicted of their standing and now he’s saying, “If you have any regard for Jesus, then pray for me. If the Holy Spirit has worked in your heart the love of God, then pray for me.” And we know what Paul was about to experience, but he didn’t know when writing this letter. He was forewarned by the Spirit (Acts 20:22-24) that danger was ahead, but compelled to go; he didn’t know how it would play out. See 2 Corinthians 1:8-11.

Notice next Paul’s threefold prayer request. First, he asks that the Roman believers pray for him to be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, which happened in a strange way. He was locked up for 2 years in Roman prisons to be saved from the Jews. We could say that it was remarkable that Paul escaped Judea with his life. See Acts 22:22. This is not s selfish request by Paul. He wants to be saved to serve in some form of ministry. And we should as well. Second, he asks that they pray for his service in Jerusalem to be acceptable to the believers there. Remember the Jerusalem believers weren’t extremely fond of Paul and his ministry to the Gentiles, because they weren’t real excited about the non-Jews being included. They may have accepted it, but it took some time for them to cherish the Gentiles as equal brothers in Christ. Nevertheless, Acts 21:17-20a tells us that the believers in Jerusalem received Paul warmly and heard his testimony and praised God. He was humble, and they accepted him. Third, and somewhat indirectly, Paul asks the Roman believers to pray that he would arrive in Rome by the will of God with joy for a time of mutual refreshment or peaceful spiritual rest and renewal. Of course, we know that Paul did arrive in Rome by the will of God, though again, in quite an unexpected manner, as a prisoner enduring a lengthy and tumultuous journey. See Philippians 1:12-14. Was he filled with joy and refreshed? See Acts 28:14-16, 30-31. Indeed he was! He was encouraged and strengthened for more preaching.

Finally, see Paul’s benediction. “May the God of peace be with you all.” Regardless of our circumstances, the God of peace gives peace when He gives Himself into our presence. What a great thing to say to someone: May God be with you.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Romans 15:20-29

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" [Isaiah 52:15]. This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you. 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 see you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit 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 saints there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints 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 fruit, 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.

Though Paul preached the Gospel passionately to all, there was a special place in his heart for unbelievers who have not heard of Christ. Why? He gets to set the foundation. If anyone other than Christ should be the foundation setter, it was Paul. Why? Paul and Jesus’ foundations were one-in-the-same! Consider the importance of the Old Testament as foundational to the Gospel. Notice Paul’s application of Isaiah 52:15 in v21. Isaiah says that God said, “Those who weren’t told will see, and those who haven’t heard will understand,” and Paul aspires to be right in the middle of that. He wants to be involved in God’s prophesied work.

Paul expedited his travel plans. Paul acknowledged that in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy that those who have not heard will understand, He has been kept from visiting Rome. But now that he has fulfilled that work in this particular region, “all roads lead to Rome” – on the way to Spain. The Old Testament prophecy still stands, and thus Paul will continue to reach the un-reached. Paul has really wanted to visit Rome "for many years," as he mentioned in Romans 1:10-13, but was kept from there by the Holy Spirit until his work was done. We talked about Paul’s continued attempts to get there while at the same time submitting to the sovereign decretive will of God regarding the timing and the method by which he would finally get there. So now that a foundation has been established in all the regions where he has traveled, he’s expediting his plans to stop by Rome on his way to Spain. He has set his sights on the horizon, which of course, never ends. And this is the passion for the Gospel that we all need to have.

Rome, having been evangelized and established, now becomes no longer Paul’s ends, but the means to his ends (Spain). He wants the believers in Rome to contribute to his travels in every way, financially and prayerfully and for mutual refreshment. Did Paul ever arrive in Spain? The Bible does not give us an answer. There are some writings outside of the Bible which might indicate that he did arrive in Spain. Clement of Rome writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 5): “Paul…after preaching both in the east and west, gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience” ( The “extreme limit of the west” suggests Spain according to most scholars, or even Britain according to some.

First, however, Paul has to go to Jerusalem to deliver an offering from the believers in Macedonia and Achaia to support the poor within the Jerusalem congregation. Paul says that their contribution was both a cheerful one and an obligated one. See 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and Acts 11:27-30. Since the Gentiles get to share in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, the Gentiles should share their material blessings with the Jews. It is the privilege of God’s church to support God’s individuals in and for God’s work here on earth.

Finally, Paul announces that, when he comes to Rome, he will come will the full measure of the blessing of Christ. Paul not only preached the Gospel but he lived the Gospel; he was immersed in the Gospel, he was “set apart for the Gospel” (Rom. 1:1). One could not find Paul without finding the blessing of the Gospel. One could not meet Paul without having a full encounter with God’s good news. And when these believers met Paul, they met the closest thing to Jesus that they’d see on earth. That’s the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Romans 15:14-19

I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with 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. 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 miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Paul is convinced that he has done his duty. Paul estimated the Roman believers, explained why he wrote so boldly, exalted God for his ministry, and evangelized throughout his given territory.

First, Paul is convinced that the Roman believers are full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and competent to teach each other. He gives 3 signs of healthy Christianity. (1) “Full of goodness” means indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, and Jesus said that “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Thus believers are “full of goodness,” because they have God’s goodness, God’s Holy Spirit in them. While this is great and wonderful and gracious of God, the next one is even more impressive to me. (2) “Complete in knowledge” is quite an impressive phrase. But the same explanation applies here. Believers are filled with Christ. He is in us. And He certainly is complete in knowledge, so there is a sense in which we are as well. However, we use some 10% of our brain, so, though we are “complete in knowledge,” we never (or rarely) exhibit that faculty. Here though, Paul is referring to an understanding of doctrine. And it makes sense that Paul can say that to this group, because this letter that he is about to complete to them is itself full of knowledge. Having heard and taken to heart what Paul has to say, they are indeed “complete in knowledge.” (3) Finally, Paul is convinced that the Roman believers are “competent to teach each other.” The verb might better be translated “admonish” or “warn.” Warning one another is a manifestation of genuine love. The person who clearly sees a danger and fails to warn is not exhibiting love, but hatred. Therefore a failure to warn God’s people is due to one of two things: a lack of love or a failure to discern dangers. Yet there is a fine line here: Warning people without edifying and encouraging them would be to their destruction. Paul is confident that the Roman believers could bring about Biblically positive change in each other through gentle and peaceful confrontation with each other out of genuine concern for each other. So to summarize, a healthy Christian is full of goodness, complete in knowledge, and able to teach or admonish his brothers.

Second, Paul acknowledges that his letter contained bold words, and the reason is to bring sanctification. The source of Paul’s boldness is found in the grace of God, which produced his unquenchable desire to see the sanctification of his converts. Neither Paul nor God Himself are satisfied with a profession of faith; they want to see lives turned inside out by the work of the Holy Spirit, and both of them work to bring that to pass. God works through Paul in Romans to make it happen. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Third, Paul praises God for his ministry. John MacArthur said, “No brush takes credit for a masterpiece it was used to paint. No violin takes credit for the beautiful music the musician makes with it.” Here Paul once again acknowledges that grace has made him what he is – a minister of the Gospel to the Gentiles to bring them to the obedience of faith. And he glories in God that he has served in this capacity and credits Christ for accomplishing through him the proclaiming of the Gospel to the Gentiles and bringing about the obedience of faith. Notice that Paul ministered as a priest. He offered an acceptable offering unto God, the believing Gentiles. In Numbers 8:9-15, Aaron offered the Levites before the Lord “that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord;” so also believer-priests (Paul and you and me) are to offer Gentiles converts before the Lord that they may serve Him. God is well pleased when Gentile converts are offered up to Him, because it is His plan to take “from the Gentiles a people for Himself” (Acts 15:14). See Isaiah 66:18-20. Also notice that Paul has brought about the obedience that comes from faith, or the obedience of faith. We talked about this as Paul’s primary purpose as explained in Romans 1:5. Obedience to God is faith. See 1 John 3:23. And sanctification is the obedience that results from faith. God has both brought the Roman believers to faith and to the process of sanctification through the Holy Spirit and through the ministry of Paul, and Paul knows it and is excited about it. See 1 Corinthians 15:10. In all Paul’s work—and in all our work—it is God who works. Remember Romans 11:36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Notice also that Paul’s ministry was validated by the miracles that the Holy Spirit worked through him. See 2 Corinthians 12:12. Paul’s miracles included: Acts 13:6-12 Elymas the sorcerer struck with blindness; Acts 14:1-3 Signs and wonders in Iconium; Acts 14:8-10 A crippled man healed in Lystra; Acts 16:16-18 A demon cast out of the for-profit prophesying slave girl; Acts 16:25 ff. Miraculous deliverance from prison; Acts 19:11-20 Many were healed and demons cast out. The results of these miracles included: belief, astonishment, fear, growth and prevalence of the Word of God, and magnification of the name of the Lord Jesus. And this confirms additionally that God does the work; salvation is all of God and all of grace. But God uses means – and we are privileged to participate.

Fourth, notice that Paul’s mission to evangelize the Gentiles in this region has been completed. His “sales” territory was from Jerusalem, the southeast boundary to Illyricum, the northwest boundary (north and west of Macedonia and Achaia). The distance between these two boundaries was nealry 1500 miles (and Paul did not just minister in a straight line, but all throughout this area). While the Book of Acts does not specifically mention Paul’s trip to Illyricum, we can infer that it took place at the time of Acts 20:1-2 or perhaps during his stay in Corinth, from whence he wrote Romans. Paul was a church planter. And he had saturated the region with start-ups. Others, like Apollos and Timothy and Titus, were waterers, and they could stay in this region and work with the churches that Paul planted. But Paul fulfilled his mission. And God gave the growth (1 Corinthians 3). What a special thing to be able to say about yourself. See 2 Timothy 4:6-8. This was said of John the Baptist who “completed his work” (Acts 13:25). As Paul testified to the gospel of the grace of God, he was determined to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:24,27). This is contrary to our day where only the bare minimum is proclaimed in order to avoid doctrines that potentially divide or offend. The teaching of the more difficult doctrines within Christian theology must not be ignored, as Paul proclaimed them boldly. See 1 Corinthians 1:1-11.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Romans 15:8-13

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews [or circumcision] on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to Your name" [2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49]. Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people" [Deuteronomy 32:43]. And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to Him, all you peoples" [Psalm 117:1]. And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in Him" [Isaiah 11:10]. 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.

Paul offers a quick summary of Romans 9-11 in v8-12, and he wraps up his teaching with a prayer in v13.

Christ became a servant of the Jews to confirm God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in order that the Gentiles glorify God for His mercy. Have the promises of God to His people failed? Of course not! Jesus Christ came! He came as a Jew. He came to the Jews. He came to confirm and fulfill the promises of God to them. The promises of God to the Jews were confirmed by Christ’s perfect life of service and His death, burial, and resurrection. The Jews could always appeal to God to keep His promises to them, and now they can glorify God, because He so faithfully kept His promises and honored His covenant commitments. Furthermore, note that the Gentiles could not appeal to God on the basis of His promises. They were not part of God’s covenant with Abraham. They could only cry out for mercy. And Christ’s Incarnation worked all that out to perfection as well. The Gentiles could glorify God because of His mercy in Christ. And this is additional support that Jesus is the only way.

As usual, when Paul offers a difficult truth, he returns to the Old Testament for proof that his teaching is not new. Here he quotes 4 passages to show that the Gentiles were prophesied to be included. These 4 passages come from all of the major sections of the Old Testament – the law, the prophets, and the psalms. He’s proving that this is the central theme - God's eternal plan of redemption! And this teaching is inline with Romans 3:29-30: “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only One God, Who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” The point is that to the Jews, God is true to His Word and faithful to His promises, and to the Gentiles God is gracious in abounding and overflowing mercy!

Now Paul has just come to the end of his argumentation in the most important presentation of the Gospel and its effects ever written in the history of man, and he concludes it with prayer – another prayer – that the God of hope would fill His people with all joy and peace in order that His people would overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. God always delights in what He is doing, and we get to experience His delight and His joy as we trust in Jesus and are filled with His Holy Spirit and adopted as sons as co-heirs with Christ. God is never troubled about anything, and we get to share His peace even though we live in a troubled world (John 16:33). It is amazing that we can be abounding and overflowing in hope, even we who were once described as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Hope is the work of God which He performs in us through our faith in the promise that we, the Gentiles, are included in the great salvation of God. “May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”