September 11, 2016
Scripture and Commentary, September 11-15
Jer. 18, Lk. 1:30-80
Jer. 19. Rom. 12
Romans 12 takes us into the application of the doctrines taught in the first 11 chapters. It is written to those, both Jews and Gentiles of the Church in Rome, who are truly members of the family and Kingdom of God through faith in Christ Jesus. It is written to those who have been justified by the atoning death of Christ, and are being sanctified by the continuing work of God in their lives. Paul's intent is to say that, if these things are part of your life with God, there are some very important things you should be doing. He starts by beseeching us by the mercies of God (1). This is a very gentle way of saying something like, "if you have received mercy," or, "if you truly are in God through Christ….” It is similar to a form you may remember from college philosophy class; the if-then argument. It states that if "A" is true, then "B' is also true. If you live in Virginia, then you live in the United States, for example. This passage of Scripture says, if you are a Christian, then these things will be true of you. Actually Romans 12:1 puts this in stronger terms. It is not so much about "if" you are a Christian, but "since" you are a Christian, then these things are true of you, and the passage urges us to ensure that they are true of us. Remember, Romans has just reminded us that God did not spare those in Israel who would not follow His ways, and He will not spare anyone else either (11:21). So, on the basis of His promises to justify and sanctify those who will receive it from Him by faith, and on the basis of His willingness to spare not those who will not receive and continue in His grace, God, through Paul, begs us to do that which is the natural response and habit of Christian people; "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." The true Christian lives for Christ as Christ lived for us. This is taught throughout the New Testament, but the radical and total nature of living for Christ is perfectly captured in the image of a living sacrifice. Our lives are a continuing sacrifice to Him. We are being continuously offered up in His service. We are continuously giving up our lives to serve Him. Being His living sacrifice is the heart of our service and worship of God. Without it our faith is no faith at all, simply a return to empty ritual and ceremonies.
Verse 2 reminds us that those who are justified and sanctified in Christ are not like other people in the world. Our values are entirely different. Our goals, hopes, desires, and purposes are as different from those of the world as light is from darkness. We no longer share those of the world because we have been transformed by the renewing of our minds. This transformation is another way of referring to our sanctification. We have become new people in Christ. We are citizens of His Kingdom and we share His values, goals, and hopes. We get them from Him, not from the fallen views of those who abide in rebellion and rejection of Him. In this way we demonstrate, show, and understand the will of God, which is good, acceptable, and perfect.
The remainder of chapter 12 gives much needed instruction on the way redeemed and sanctified people work together in the Church. This is as much a part of the sanctified life as keeping the moral teachings about theft and adultery. There is no great mystery about the meaning of these verses. They are as clear as the second part of our Lord's summary of the law in Matthew 22:39, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." In a vey real sense, verses 3-21 are simply an explanation and application of our Lord's words there.
Jer. 20, Lk 2:1-29
Jer. 21, Rom. 13
As chapter 12 deals with our relationships with those in the Church, chapter 13 deals with our relationship to those outside of the Church. Verses 1-7 deal with the Christian and the state as an institution. It is noteworthy that verse 1 tells us to be subject unto the higher powers (state). Rome was hardly a model of good government, yet Scripture tells the Christians in Rome to be subject to it, and, by extension, tells the Church in all lands to be subject to the governments of those lands. Several reasons are given for this. First, government is ordained of God. Obviously this does not mean all forms of government or all actions of governments are equally good, but it does mean the function of government is ordained by God. Second, government, when carrying out its legitimate functions, even if it does so poorly, serves as the minister of God. To resist it, then, is to resist God. Third, it is the legitimate function of government to be a terror to evil (3). This is what people in the U.S. mean when they say "that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men." Government exists to secure our God-given rights against those who would infringe upon them. In this function, the government is a "revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (4). Fourth, we should be good citizens for conscious' sake (5). We should desire to see our own countries prosper, and we should work and contribute to that purpose. More importantly, if government is the minister of God, and if submitting to its rightful authority and laws is submitting to God (2), then we should submit to it because we know our submission is pleasing unto God. We should submit to it, take our paces in the community, and promote the peace and prosperity of our nation willingly, happily, and heartily as unto the Lord. Ours must not be a grudging, recalcitrant citizenship. We may genuinely love and serve our respective countries, as long as doing so does not compromise the teaching of Scripture.
Verses 6-7 reiterate that legitimate service to our government is also legitimate service to God. It is our duty to support the government with lawful tribute and custom (taxes), and it is lawful to give government officials due honour and respect.
If we think of the state as an institution, and of verses 1-7 as directing our relationship to that institution, then we can think of verses 8-10 as directing our relationship with the fellow citizens of our country. The principle commended to us in this relationship is summarised in the words, "Owe no man anything." If we were to put this in more contemporary terms we might say, "Pay your debts." It is not an injunction against legitimate debt; it is an injunction against profligate spending and not paying what you owe. This is just another way of saying we are to be people of the utmost integrity and honesty in all our business dealings. Questionable practices are as wicked as outright deceit. Neither should cloud the name of a Christian in business. This does not require us to allow ourselves to be duped and robbed in business. Knowing that others will attempt to do so will keep us alert and intelligent in our dealings. "Wise as serpents and harmless as doves" comes to mind on this subject.
Obviously Paul was familiar with the teachings and words of Jesus. He quotes His famous summary of the law in verse 9, after showing how the commandments dealing with interpersonal dealings are intent of the moral law. To love thy neighbor as thyself, does not merely require us to not harm others. We love ourselves by attempting to do good for ourselves, and the same spirit guides our dealing with our neighbors, whether inside our outside of the Church.
Verses 11-14 encourage us to order all of life in the light of the Lordship of Christ. The Return of Christ, either through a supernatural event, or through the natural course of our own death, will soon take us into the immediate presence of God. That thought, and thoughts about the account we will be called upon to give on that Day, should serve to keep us circumspect in our dealings until then.
Jer. 22, Lk. 2:40-52
Jer. 23, Rom. 14
Chapter 14 continues to teach how being justified and sanctified in Christ applies to everyday life. These chapters assume we are already faithful in what we might call, "religious" things. They assume we are seeking God in Scripture and prayer, are active members of a faithful church, and make diligent use of the means of grace. So these chapters don't deal with these things. They are concerned about the "secular" things, like work and citizenship and business. I place the word, "secular" in quotations because nothing is really secular to the Christian. All of life is lived in the presence and to the glory of God. The way we drive our cars and the things we do for entertainment are just as much a part of serving Christ as going to church and learning the Bible. The teachings and encouragements found in Romans 12-16 show this, and can be understood as an enlargement of and commentary on Romans 12:1, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Chapter 12 shows how we do this in Church. 13 shows how it is done in the nation and community. 14 returns to the Church, but also gives a principle that works in all places and situations. That principle is Christian forbearance. This simply means that, rather than being overly concerned about the failures and weaknesses of others; we bear their weaknesses in love, and build them up in Christ.
It is inevitable that disagreements will arise, even in the Church. Sometimes these are over important issues, but often they are over things "indifferent." It is especially in the matters of things indifferent that we must exercise care and compassion, for it is here that we often speak with uncommon boldness, as though our own views were given straight from the pages of Holy Writ. It is also these very things on which we are often most censorious and intolerant of others. Paul shows us how to encounter such disagreements with grace and edification.
The setting used is the potential clash between those who have come to Christ from the differing backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles. It was often easier for Gentiles to see the need to change their practices than it was for Jews. The Jew's practices had been the way generations of people had worshiped God, and were clearly found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Gentiles' had come from the traditions of paganism and idolatry. So, while the Gentile Christians realised they could no longer participate in the pagan festivals, Jewish Christians often pondered over whether or not they should participate in Jewish festivals. Among the Gentiles there often arose a question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some said the idols were not real and it was good meat and they were going to eat it. Others said it still symbolised the idol, and eating it implicated them in idolatry.
According to Romans 14, the true view is that being sacrificed to idols makes no difference to the meat. So if you want it, buy it. But don't berate other Christians who will not buy it and will not eat it. Also, according to Romans 14, the correct view is for the former Jews to make a full break from the Jewish festivals. But if some Jewish Christians still eat kosher food and observe certain Jewish holy days, those who have made a clean break from them should not belittle the faith or persons of those who haven't. They are to receive the one with weaker faith, not dispute with them (1).
Of course, in every dispute, we always believe it is the other person who has the weaker faith. Well, why not allow them to grow in Christ? Trust God to lead them forward through the means of grace. Maybe they'll allow you to do the same. Meanwhile, why not concern ourselves with our own problems? The others will have to answer for themselves, but we must give an account of ourselves. This is the point made in verses 7-12.
"Let us not therefore judge one another" (13). One of the very first principles of Christian love is that we do no harm. All of the Thou shalt nots in the second table of the moral law, are given to teach us to do no harm. Certainly this principle still applies in God's Church today. Our mannerisms, actions, and words should be carefully guarded and sparingly applied to assure that we do no harm. Love does not end there of course. Love moves from, do no harm to, do positive good. And it is every Christian's calling to make the Church a positive place where souls receive the healing balm of the Gospel, not the withering criticism of our opinions. It is important to note that this verse does not preclude knowing that someone is doing right or wrong, nor does it forbid Biblical efforts to help others grow in Christ and overcome sin. The Bible is talking about matters that are inconsequential. It doesn't matter, for example, if we eat meat or not. It does matter if we make our opinions about it a stumblingblock or offense. Do no harm.
Verse 13 also tells us to turn our most intense judgment on our own selves. We are to judge ourselves to ensure that we are not placing stumblingblocks, or offenses in the way of others who seek to come to Christ. It may be that our actions are innocent in themselves. As verse 14 states it, "there is nothing unclean of itself." Again we must elucidate this statement. It does not mean nothing is sinful. It does not mean all actions and thoughts are morally equivalent and indifferent. It does not mean there is no truth, or that all behaviours and all doctrines are to be treated as righteous and Godly by the Church. This verse refers to things like eating meat or not eating meat, especially if it has been bought from a market that got it from a pagan temple. What those people did with the animal in the pagan temple is very wrong. But the meat is not evil because people did evil things with it. The meat is still good nourishment, and any Christian may eat of it freely, even giving thanks to God for it. But, to return to the earlier thought that our actions may be innocent, if they cause another to stumble we have done wrong. This brings up two important points. First, going back to verse 13, it is not our job to convince those who will not eat the meat that eating it is allowed by God. In other words, it is wrong to start futile arguments leading to strife and division in the Church over inconsequential matters. Second, it is wrong to conduct ourselves in ways that are offensive to others, such as with eating meat (15). It is wrong for us to use our Christian liberty in a way that makes it become an affront to others. Consideration for their feelings and convictions is called for, not abrasive show and aggressive argument, which often has more to do with self-justification than standing up for God's truth. If you offend the weaker brothers on this, you cause them to resist the meat and think evil of what is good (16). You retard, rather than advance, the cause of Christ, which is about much more than meat (17).
Verses 17 & 18 show things that define the Kingdom of God and its people. It is noteworthy that all of them promote peace and unity, rather than discord, among the members of Christ's body. Righteousness means to live according to the principle of Christian love. Peace is to actively live in ways that promote harmony and good will. Joy is the opposite of quarrelsome and argumentative actions which cause sorrow in the fellowship. These things serve Christ and are approved (shown worthy) by people. The world generally thinks of Christians as sour-faced cranks who live only to find fault with others. The Bible gives a much different picture; a people of love, joy, and peace.
Verses 19-23 close the chapter by encouraging us to follow after the things which promote peace and edification. To "follow after" is to pursue or chase. Peace is an active good will and working harmony among people. Edification is to build up one another. It is to do the things which help all of us increase in faith, in peace, in joy, in Godliness, and in unity in Christ. It is the calling of each one of us to promote and actively work to produce these things in the Church. While there are times when we must stand against error and sin, we are not to allow unimportant things to cause division. Let your liberty in Christ abound with all joy, but "have it to thyself" instead of beating up everyone else with it. If you have doubts about something, abstain, for to indulge is the same as sin. Either way, do not let it be a source of division and strife. Do no harm.
Jer. 24, Lk 3
Jer. 25, Rom. 15
The heart of verses 1-16 is stated immediately in verse 1; "bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves." The "infirmities" are weaknesses in discerning the freedom we have in non-essential matters. It is the natural inclination of man to invent scruples where none exist, and to ignore them where they do exist. So long as they are in non-essential things, let them have them. Do not allow them to become a cause of strife, and do not make yours an affront to others. Give others, and yourselves, time to learn and grow. Let your actions and words encourage and lead rather than anger and ostracise. Please others when possible that we might have the opportunity to build them up in Christ (2) following the example of Christ (3).
Our inability and blatant refusal to understand spiritual things must have tried Christ's patience. Yet He endured it with love and taught us with patience. With Him as our example let us not loose patience with the person who is not as strong in the faith as we think we are. Instead, endure them; they may grow up some day, and so may we.
This idea is summarised well in verses 5-7, which is a short prayer inserted into the text of the chapter, asking three main petitions. First, Paul asks likemindedness toward each other. The likemindedness desired is in the things of Christian love. Paul is praying that we may be able to live together as Christians should, and according to Christ Jesus. Second, he desires unity in our purpose and action to glorify God. Actually this prayer is asking that glorifying God would become our common purpose, and that it would direct our common life together. Third, Paul prays that we would receive one another as Christ received us. He received us not on the basis of worth or knowledge, not as having all the answers, but as weak and ignorant and foolish. And He received us completely. There was no probation period, and no waiting for us to get everything right. His love for us is everlasting. He received us for our benefit, not His.
Admonish, in verse 14, does not mean to rebuke in sternness or wrath. It means to speak a word of help and encouragement when appropriate. It may include a rebuke, but always a gentle rebuke, helpful and kind.
This is what Paul is doing in this letter to the Romans. He is putting us in mind, or, in remembrance, of the things of Christ and of our relationship with one another, that we may be acceptable and holy to God (16). That is our goal in our dealings with one another also.
In verses 17-33, Paul turns from the doctrinal/practical subjects of the earlier chapters, to more personal concerns. Paul writes about his ministry to the Gentiles (17-21) to show that it is not lack of concern that has kept him from Rome thus far. Rather, he has been hindered by his work, the pressing need of seeing churches established and furnished with able and faithful ministers kept him in the fields from Jerusalem to Illyrium. "But now having no more place in these parts" (23) means that the Church in these areas is prospering, and he is able to leave them and fulfill his great desire to visit and teach in Rome, which he plans to accomplish soon as part of a trip to Spain (24). This will be Paul's first trip to Rome, not the one in which he was executed about A.D.69. The events in the last few verses tell of Paul's preparations to go to Jerusalem. It is while in Jerusalem that he is arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner around the year 60 A.D. He is released from Rome in 62 A. D. and many historians believe he made his way to Spain, preaching and establishing churches along the way. By 67 A.D. he is back in Rome, this time in the Mamertine prison, where he is executed in the fall or winter of 68-69 A.D.
Jer. 26, Lk. 4
Jer. 27, Rom. 16
Phoebe (1) probably is the person who brings the book of Romans to the Roman Church. She is described as a sister in the same way others are described as brothers (Philemon 1). It means she is part of the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, she has full fellowship in the Church, and full fellowship with God. She has been a succourer of many (2), including Paul. Succourer, along with her description as a servant of the Church in Cenchrea (1) shows that she has given herself to a ministry of mercy, or helping others in the name of Christ. Many have speculated whether this is an ordained ministry, in which a person may preach, lead a congregation as a pastor, and conduct the sacraments, or is an informal, voluntary service to which she has dedicated herself. Early Christian writers mention women who serve the Church in such manner. They were not pastors or officeholders in the Church, but they did much good in their service to the needs of the Christian people. 1 Timothy 5:9 and 10 may be an example of such faithful women.
Verses 3-15 are important because they show the organisational structure of the Church of Rome. The Apostles always think of the Church as one body. Therefore, in the Apostolic faith, there is no such thing as an independent congregation. In their minds, all congregations are part of the one Church, and are fully under Apostolic authority. The Church, in its local manifestation, consists of several congregations in reasonable proximity. These congregations meet in the homes of their members, and have their own clergy, who were ordained by, and answer to, the Apostles. We see this structure in the book of Romans. Priscilla and Aquila are residents of Rome and owners a house in which one of the Roman congregations meets (5). The Church of Laodicea is also thus organised during the Apostolic times, for, after saluting the “brethren which are in Laodicea, Paul especially greets “Nymphas, and the church which is in his house” (Col 4:15). Paul also sends greetings to the households of Aristobulus (10) and Narcissus (11), which are probably house churches, as are the brethren of verse 14, and the saints of verse 15.
Though these congregations meet separately, they are always considered as one Church by the Apostles. Thus, Paul addresses all the congregations in Corinth as, “the church of God which is at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). This practice is continued in the writings of early Christian ministers, like Clement of Rome, who studied under the Apostle Paul and served as Bishop of Rome under the supervision of Paul and Peter. Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthians, which he identifies as being from “The Church of God which sojourns at Rome, to the Church of God sojourning at Corinth” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1. p. 5).
When the Apostles have a man like Clement, qualified by education and faith to lead the Church of a particular area, they appoint him bishop, or, overseer, of those congregations. Thus, Timothy is sent by Paul to ordain bishops and other clergy in Ephesus, which is why Paul gives such details about the qualifications of clergy in 1 Timothy 3. He charges Timothy to “Lay hands suddenly on no man,” (1Tim. 5:22), referring to the service of ordaining men to the ministry. Titus is sent to Crete for the same purpose (Titus 1:5-9). Thus, those clergy report to the bishop, and the bishop reports to the Apostles, and the Apostles report to the Lord.
Paul begins to close with an exhortation to avoid those who teach things contrary to the doctrine in his epistle, and a commendation of the Romans’ well-known obedience to God (17-19). Greetings to the Romans from other Christians follow a promise of God’s blessings (20-23). One of Scripture’s most glorious benedictions ends the epistle (24-27).