August 26, 2012

Scripture and Commentary for Twelfth Week after Trinity

Monday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Morning - Ps. 107:1-16, 2 Sam.6:12-19, Lk. 23:13-25
Evening - Ps. 111, 114, Zeph 1:1-18, Rom 12

Commentary , Romans 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 (12:1). 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 a 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, Romans 12:3-21 are simply an explanation and application of our Lord's words there.

Tuesday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 115, 2 Sam. 7:1-17, Lk. 23:26-38
Evening - Ps. 116, Zeph. 3:1-8, Rom. 13

Commentary, Romans 13

Having dealt with the Christian's relationship to other Christians in chapter 12, chapter 13 deals with the Christians 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 (12:3). 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" (13:4). Fourth, we should be good citizens for conscious' sake (13:5). 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 (13:2), 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 reitterate 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 the intent of the moral law. To love thy neighbor as thyself, does not simply require us to merely 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.

Wednesday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 125, 127, 130, 2 Sam. 7:18, Lk. 23:39-49
Evening - Ps. 121, 123, 124, Zeph. 3:9, Rom. 14:1-12

Commentary, Romans 14:1-12

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. The word, "secular" is 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 searching the Scriptures. 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 among Christians. 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 (12:1).

Of course, in every disputation, 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 beams and problems. The others will have to answer for themselves, but we must give an account of ourselves. This is the point made in 12:7-12.

Thursday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.137, 138, 2 Sam. 9:1-13, Lk. 23:50-24:12
Evening - Ps. 144, Rom. 14:13

Commentary, Romans 14:13-23

"Let us not therefore judge one another" (Rom. 14:13). 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 it is O.K. 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 (14:15). 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 (14:16). You retard, rather than advance, the cause of Christ, which is about much more than meat (14:17).

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.

Friday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.142, 143, 2 Sam. 11:1-13, Lk.24:13-35
Evening - Ps. 145, Rom. 15:1-16

Commentary, Romans 15:1-16

The heart of tonight's reading 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 (15:2) following the example of Christ (15:3).

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.

Saturday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps.147, 2 Sam. 11:14, Lk. 24:36
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Rom. 15:17-33

Commentary, Romans 15:17-33

In this passage we come to the closing thoughts of the Epistle to the Romans. Consequently we see it turn from the doctrinal/practical subjects of the earlier chapters, to more personal concerns. Paul writes about his ministry to the Gentiles (15:17-21) 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 the 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" (15:23) 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 will accomplish soon as part of a trip to Spain (15:24). This will be Paul's first trip to Rome, not the one in which he was executed in A.D.69. The events in the last few verses tell of Paul's preparations to go to Jerusalem. It was while in Jerusalem that he was arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner around the year 60 A.D. He was 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 was back in Rome, this time in the Mamertine prison, where he was executed in the fall or winter of 68-69 A.D.

Sermon, Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

God Knows You
Psalm 139, 2 Corinthians 3:1-9, Mark 7:31-37
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
August 26, 2012

When you hear words like omniscient or omnipresent, you may think they are only for academic theologians in seminary classrooms. In reality they are inseparably connected to everyday Christian living, for they express the deep essence of the nature and being of God.

Omnicience means God knows all things, but Psalm 139 shows that it especially means God knows you. The very first verse says God has searched you out. This does not mean God went looking for you, for you are never out of His sight. It means He sees you with a searching, knowing look. He searches you as the Bereans searched the Scriptures when the Apostle Paul preached to them. He is examining you in minute detail, and there is nothing about you that is hidden from His sight. He knows you. He knows the tiniest details of your life; your "down-sitting" and your up-rising." What time did you go to bed on this date two years ago? You don't know, but God knows. What did you have for dinner on this date three years ago? God knows. He knows all of your life. He knows what you will eat on this date next year. He knows what you will be doing a hundred years from now, a million years from now, and an eternity of eternities from now. He knows your words before you speak them. He knows what you will do before you do it. He knows your thoughts before you think them. He knows every structure in every cell of your body. Your bones are not hidden from Him. They were written in His book "when as yet there were none of them." He fashioned you as a builder builds a house. That is why verse 13 says you are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

If God knows you that well, He knows your sins. He knows the secret thoughts and desires of your heart, the secret sins you commit only in thought, the unjustified rage, the selfishness, the antipathy toward Him, the contempt of His commandments. To Him all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Him no secrets are hid.

He also knows every hurt, every sorrow, and every need you have, and He cares about you. I do not base my theology on hymns and songs, and when I like one it is because it expresses some part of Biblical truth in a succinct, easy to remember way. Such is the hymn by John Zundel, "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy;"

There is no place where earth's sorrows Are more felt than up in heav'n;
There is no place where earth's failings have such kindly judgments giv'n

God knows your sorrows, and He knows how to give good things to you. He alone knows how to comfort you, fill your emptiness and heal your brokenness. He can fill that hole in your being that you try to fill with toys and activities and amusements. And He can fill it better than those things because He is only piece of your puzzle that fits in that place. Quoting from John Zundel's hymn again;

There is welcome for the sinner, And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour; There is healing in his blood.

Omnipresent means God is everywhere, but Psalm 139 makes the point that God is with you. No matter where you are, how bad things may appear to you, God has not and never will forsake you. Even in the shadow of death, "Thou art with me." "Thou art about my path, and about my bed, and art acquainted with all my ways" (vs. 2) . If you could fly to Heaven, or plunge yourself into the pit of hell, you would still be in the presence of God. If you fly through the sky with the wings of the morning, or go to the deepest part of the sea, even if you hide yourself absolute darkness, you are as much in His presence as if you stood before His throne in Heaven, and He sees you as clearly as you see yourself in the noonday sun. "Whither shall I go then from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I go then from Thy presence?"

Jonah God tried to go from God's Spirit and from God's presence. He ran from God for the same reason everyone runs from God, because he didn't want to do what God wanted him to do. God wanted him to preach repentance to the Ninevites, but that is just the letter of God's commandment. The spirit of God's commandment to Jonah was that God wanted Jonah to love the Ninevites, to care about them, and to have compassion on them. They were without God in this world, and would go to eternity without God, unless they repented, and God wanted Jonah to care about that. On an even deeper level, God wanted Jonah to care about God. He wanted Jonah to love God with all his being. He wanted Jonah to love what God loves. He wanted love to move Jonah to gladly do God's bidding. But Jonah refused. Instead of loving God, Jonah ran from Him. He probably thought God was limited to the geographical area of Israel, as though God had a territory, like a salesman or a franchise, and getting out of Israel would get him to a place where God could not reach him, could not bother him. But God created the heavens and the earth. He owns the seas and all that in them is. He can sink a boat or take it safely to harbour. He can even make a man live inside a fish for three days. If you are running away from God, like Jonah, you can't get away. He is there wherever you go, wherever you hide. He will always bother you, until you love Him back.

Jacob thought God had deserted him. Jacob tricked his father and stole from his brother until his brother rose in anger against him, and Jacob had to run for his life. In a matter of minutes Jacob went from having everything he wanted to having nothing at all. Alone in the desert, without friends or family, without home or money or food, feeling sorry for himself, but never admitting that he was reaping what he had sown, he found that God was with him. God was there in the desert. And God was working to bring Jacob to Himself, so that he would no longer be a liar and a thief and a con-man. God wanted more for Jacob than just to be the head of a clan, or to have power and money. That's what Jacob wanted, and he planned and plotted against his father and against his brother and against God to get what he wanted. But God wanted more for him than mere pleasures and trinkets of the world. God wanted Jacob to love God. God wanted Jacob to value what was really valuable, things like faith, and love, and hope and joy and peace and holiness. God wanted to give him God. And God is with you even in the most desolate wilderness of the soul. In fact, God often drives us into the desert to get our attention, and to begin the process of bringing us back to Him. It is as though He makes us realise we have nothing and are nothing without Him, and then we become ready to receive Him.

Seeing that God knows him, and seeing that God is with him, King David closes his Psalm as he does so many others, with words of faith in God. "How dear are thy counsels unto me, O God." "Lead me in the way everlasting." David has learned to love what God loves, desire what God gives, and hate what God hates. There is a wonderful message in all of this. Our entire existence is in God, and apart from God life has no meaning. That's why only God can fill the emptiness of the soul that all of us feel when we try to fill it with other things. But knowing God knows you, and that you are always in His presence, is a fearful thing to those who live in rebellion and sin. To such people God's knowledge and presence is condemnation forever. The knowledge and presence of God are comforting only to those who have come to Him in faith through Christ. And even their comfort is not found in their own goodness, but in the forgiveness of their sins through the cross of Christ.

"Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve; Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but for the mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen."