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Personal Greetings May 28, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 16:1-27.

Summary: Paul begins this passage by introducing Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea, to the Roman Christians. He asks the Roman believers to receive her as a Christian – as saints ought to be received – and to render her any assistance that she required, as she had been a benefactor to others. He also asks them to greet Priscilla and Aquila, who have partnered with him in spreading the Gospel. At one point Priscilla and Aquila had exposed themselves to danger in order to save him, and all of the Gentile churches were grateful to them for this selfless act. In addition, he asks them to greet Priscilla and Aquila’s “house church,” and he asks them to greet Epenetus – who was the first Christian in Asia. He also asks them to greet Mary, who had worked very hard to help Paul and his companions. In addition, he asks them to greet Andronicus and Junia, who had been imprisoned with him; they were highly regarded by the apostles and had accepted Christ before he did. He also asks them to greet the following people:

  • Ampliatus, who he loved as a brother in Christ
  • Urbanus, who labored as a servant of Christ, and Stachys
  • Apelles, who was an approved Christian, and the household of Aristobulus
  • Herodion and the believers in the household of Narcissus
  • Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis, who labored intensely for the Lord
  • Rufus, who was a distinguished believer, and his mother
  • Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the other believers who spent time with them
  • Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympas, and the other believers who spent time with them.

He then encourages them to greet one another in a way that would express mutual affection and equality in God’s sight. Now Paul instructs them to 1) pay close attention to false teachers – i.e. by opposing their actions – who would cause dissensions in their church and 2) avoid these false teachers. Indeed, the false teachers did not want to please the Lord; instead, they used plausible arguments and flattering words to influence the unwary. The obedience of the Roman church to their religious teachers was widely known – which pleased Paul – yet he wanted them to be 1) wise, yielding good and 2) innocent, preventing the occurrence of evil. To encourage the Roman believers in their struggle against the false teachers, Paul declares that God, who is the author of peace, will cause Satan to be trodden underfoot; he then prays that Jesus Christ will show His favor to them and help them. Now the following people sent their greetings to the Roman church:

  • Timothy, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater
  • Tertius, to whom Paul actually dictated this epistle
  • Gaius, who hosted Paul and other Christians at his home
  • Erastus and Quartus.

Paul concludes the epistle with a long doxology that actually contains a brief description of the Gospel and a burst of praise of its awesomeness; in particular, God keeps the Roman believers firm and constant through the Gospel, which was originally preached by Jesus Christ – divinely revealing the mystery that has been hidden for ages. While the Gospel has been hinted at in several instances in the Old Testament, it is now fully revealed by God’s command in order that all nations might know it. In fact, the Gospel displays the wisdom of God, compelling Paul to praise Him as the only One who is wise and – through Jesus Christ – gives Him the glory that He deserves.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see a plethora of personal greetings from Paul to several members of the Roman church – along with some greetings from Paul’s companions. Some of these personal greetings include a brief description of the church member in question, which provides the reader some insight into how they lived their lives. This then raised the following questions in my mind:

  • How did Epenetus come to his saving faith in Christ? Was he a willing convert to Christianity, or was he a hardened skeptic? How did his family and friends respond to his conversion?
  • How was Apelles tested and confirmed in his faith? What sorts of difficulties and trials did he experience? Did others come to faith as a result of hearing his testimony?
  • How did Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis labor for the Lord? What sorts of ministries were they involved in? Did they face opposition over the course of their ministry work?

Indeed, this chapter serves as a reminder of the refreshing fact that every Christian has a unique testimony. I, for one, am very interested in meeting other Christians in the next life and hearing their stories.

Verses 25-27 contain a concluding burst of praise to God for His Gospel message, which has brought salvation to the Gentiles. These three verses are an apt conclusion to this beautiful epistle, which can be essentially summarized as follows:

  • Paul describes the Gospel message that has spurred him to labor so diligently and faithfully for God in the wide region between Jerusalem and Illyricum (chapters 1-11)
  • In light of the Gospel that Paul has just presented, his readers should honor God in their relations with Him and with each other (chapters 12-16).

It really is quite neat how the Gospel is the driving force behind the entire letter. From reading this epistle, it is evident that Paul’s passionate arguments – and well-reasoned rebuttals to the objections of his opponents – stem from his all-consuming desire to glorify God by advancing the Gospel. As a believer, I must confess that I don’t have the same passion for glorifying God in my life that Paul displayed – yet I am confident that God will continue His good work within me until the day of Christ Jesus. Along the way I hope to make the same impact on others that Paul produced during his difficult – yet ultimately fulfilling – Christian walk.

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome May 25, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 15:23-33.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that since

  • he had fully preached the Gospel in the region from Jerusalem to Illyricum
  • he had a great – and long-standing – desire to visit the church in Rome

he plans to visit the Roman Christians on his way to Spain. Paul hopes that they will accompany him on his trip to Spain for some distance and that they will provide for his journey there. Before he travels to Rome, he plans to visit Jerusalem and use the contributions of other churches to supply the needs of the believers there. Indeed, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia wanted their brethren in Jerusalem to share in their abundance. The fact that the believers in Macedonia and Achaia acted voluntarily in this regard shows that they were pleased to help their brethren in Jerusalem, yet Paul notes that it was reasonable that they should help them; the Gentile believers have received the “greater good” from the Jews, and so they share the “lesser good” with them. After Paul has safely delivered these contributions to the believers in Jerusalem, he will visit the Roman church on his way to Spain. Paul is fully convinced that his visit to the Roman church will be the occasion of an outpouring of the blessings that are inherent to the Gospel. Now Paul exhorts the Roman believers, out of their regard for the Lord Jesus Christ, and for the sake of the love that the Holy Spirit produces in them, to help him in his difficulties by joining him in prayer. Paul desires that they would pray that he would be kept from harm at the hands of the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, and that the contributions that he was bringing to Jerusalem would be favorably received by the believers there. In that way, by God’s permission and blessing Paul would be able to come to Rome and be strengthened there before his trip to Spain. He concludes by praying that God would grant peace, mercy and blessings to the church in Rome.

Thoughts: In this passage we learn that Paul, after preaching the Gospel in the region from Jerusalem to Illyricum, planned to travel to Spain to preach the Gospel. In his commentary on verse 24, Hodge notes:

Whether Paul ever accomplished his purpose of visiting Spain is a matter of uncertainty. There is no historical record of his having done so, either in the New Testament or in the early ecclesiastical writers, though most of these writers seem to have taken it for granted. His whole plan was probably upset by the occurrences at Jerusalem which led to his long imprisonment at Caesarea and his being sent in chains to Rome.

I was inspired to learn who had actually “picked up the torch” for Paul and helped establish Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula. A quick Google search seems to indicate that the origins of Christianity in this region, though, are uncertain; see this page for a helpful summary of what I discovered. What is certain is that the Visigoths brought Arianism to the Iberian Peninsula in the 5th century AD. Spain eventually became a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, so we can say that Paul’s desires were eventually fulfilled.

From the preceding discussion it is probable that while Paul had planned a trip to Spain, God had other plans for him. This is an apt illustration of Proverbs 16:9; even though men have plans, God’s will is paramount. In fact, we see that even the strongest Christians can make plans that God will alter or even thwart, depending on the situation. When these situations arise, it is important to think about how 1) as humans, we have limited knowledge and 2) God can be glorified in these instances. Reflecting on the circumstances that overtook Paul shows that although he probably never made it to Spain, his arrest and imprisonment had the following benefits:

  • in Acts 28:30-31, we see that Paul was able to preach the Gospel in Rome for two years; evidently there were unbelievers in Rome who needed to hear this life-giving message, even though the Gospel had already been preached there
  • during Paul’s final – and difficult – imprisonment in Rome, he was able to write the moving book of 2 Timothy, and his instructions and exhortations for Timothy in that epistle cannot be overstated
  • Paul’s arrest enabled him to deliver the Gospel message to several prominent political figures, including King Agrippa, Festus and Felix; God allowed Paul to proclaim His name to those who, although they were great in the eyes of the world, needed to understand the wisdom of the Gospel.

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles May 21, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 15:14-22.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that he, in and of himself, knows that the Roman Christians are full of kind and conciliatory feelings, and they are so well-taught in this regard that they can teach and correct each other. He then humbly notes that he has been a bit too bold in his previous exhortations and instructions – yet he was qualified to remind them of these truths as he had been divinely appointed as an apostle. In fact, he is a priest – figuratively speaking – with respect to the Gospel, since his mission is to present the Gentiles as an acceptable sacrifice to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Given this fact, all of Paul’s preaching and success in spreading the Gospel was meant to bring glory to Christ Jesus. Paul would not glory in himself based on his leading the Gentiles to obey God with their thoughts and actions through 1) his preaching of the Gospel and 2) his performing any miracles to support the truth of his preaching; he would only glory in Christ and His working through him to produce those victories. Indeed, over the course of his ministry Paul performed countless miracles to 1) display God’s power and 2) prove the truth of the Gospel, and when combined with his preaching they produced a saving belief in the minds of those who witnessed them – by the power of the Holy Spirit; his ministry work was performed over a large area that was centered on Jerusalem, and he thoroughly accomplished God’s mission for him to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In fact, Paul earnestly pursued the goal of serving God as an apostle, and not as a pastor. He acted in accordance with the prediction in Isaiah that those who had never heard the Gospel would have their eyes opened and their minds enlightened. In many instances this had actually prevented him from coming to Rome, since he knew that the Gospel had already been preached there; he needed to preach the Gospel if he was among those who had never heard it.

Thoughts: In verse 19, Paul notes that he has preached the Gospel message “from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.” Hodge comments on this as follows:

Jerusalem was the center around which Paul carried out his labors. He had successfully preached the Gospel throughout a most extensive region…The apostle had preached in this wide circuit, founding churches and advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom with such evidence of the divine cooperation that there was no doubt that he was a divinely appointed minister of Christ.

I searched for, and found, a map of Illyricum to get a sense of the extent of Paul’s ministry work. Now the region “from Jerusalem…to Illyricum” includes locations such as Corinth, Thessalonica and Ephesus; if Paul’s ministry had spanned a smaller area, how many epistles would he have written? Honestly, it is quite amazing how many people Paul impacted in a positive way over the course of his Christian walk. He contended with false teachers, unbelieving Jews and Greeks, and all sorts of other hardships – yet he never lost sight of his mission as an apostle. Today all Christians can be thankful that God worked through Paul in such an awesome way to build up the early church.

In verses 20-21, it is clear that Paul was intent on fulfilling a prediction in Isaiah that the Gospel would be preached to those who had never heard it – and that at least some of those who heard it would accept it. When reading this I thought about the blessings and challenges of being an apostle (or missionary) as opposed to being a pastor, particularly in terms of saving the unsaved. In general, an apostle (or missionary) experiences the thrill and excitement of spreading the Gospel to an “unreached people group.” This thrill and excitement is inevitably accompanied by the element of the unknown; how will these unreached people respond to the Gospel? Will they respond with violence, hatred, indifference, curiosity, or even enthusiasm? As for a pastor, the unsaved people who they interact with in their communities will probably 1) have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the Gospel message and 2) have developed a tried-and-true rationale for denying its truth in their lives. If they hear the Gospel message from this pastor, they are unlikely to respond with violence or even outright hatred. Now it should be noted that in general, pastors will not experience the thrill and excitement of “pushing the boundaries of the Gospel;” as noted above.

The Weak and the Strong May 19, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 14:1-15:13.

Summary: Paul begins by instructing the Gentile believers in Rome to take their Jewish brothers to themselves – although they had weak convictions about the truth – without judging their opinions. These Jewish believers refused to eat meat that may have been sacrificed to idols, as they regarded it as unclean, while their Gentile brothers had no such reservations. Paul instructs all of them to focus on preserving their communion as brothers in Christ, since God has recognized all of them as Christians and has allowed them to enter His kingdom. They should not condemn each other in this case, as only their master – God – can either acquit them or condemn them, and He has both the power and the desire to acquit them. At that time, these Jewish believers also observed certain days as religious holidays, while the Gentiles did not; Paul instructs all of them to act according to their internal convictions, and not based on the actions of others. Indeed, both groups are acting in accordance with what they perceive to be God’s will; note that they are responsible to Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to save them and to be their Lord. Now, in both life and death, true believers act according to God’s will and for His glory; thus, they cannot be condemned for their actions – which are not as constrained as one might think. Paul then asks the Jewish believers why they judge their Gentile brothers, and he asks the Gentile believers why they look down on their Jewish brothers; they need to remember that God will judge all of them in the end, and so they should not usurp His role in that regard. To support his assertion of God’s role in this regard, he quotes from Isaiah, where God swears by Himself that all people will recognize His authority over them. Now he commands all of them to stop judging each other and resolve to not place obstacles in their brother’s way. It should be noted that based on divine revelation, Paul knows that no food is inherently impure – but it should not be eaten by those who regard it as impure. Moreover, if the Gentile believers wound the consciences of their Jewish brothers by their eating habits, then they have broken the second greatest commandment; thus, they should avoid leading them on the path to destruction – especially since Christ loved them enough to die for them. In fact, both groups should not use their liberty in Christ to cause the Gospel to be besmirched. The kingdom of the Messiah does not consist in external things; instead, it consists of the righteousness of faith, peace between God and man – and between believers – and the joy of salvation. Those who feel and act according to these virtues, under the authority of Christ, will be regarded by God as true believers and will receive the favor of men. Given the preceding discussion, Paul commands his readers to act in a way that promotes peace and allows believers to edify each other. Although the Gentile believers were firmly convinced that no meat was inherently impure, Paul commands them to keep their convictions private and to exercise them in a way that pleases God, as this would lead to His blessings. This is essential, since those who were unsure if God had allowed them to eat certain items – and ate them anyway – would be sinning, as they would be disregarding what they perceived to be God’s authority in this regard.

Now those believers who possessed faith in the Christian doctrines of

  • the inherent cleanness of all kinds of food
  • the abolishment of the Mosaic law

should tolerate the errors and faults of their brothers who lacked this faith – instead of pleasing themselves. A stronger believer should aim to help their weaker brother in their spiritual walk. Paul then quotes from the Psalms to show that even Christ did not please himself; He was so zealous for the glory of the Father that He regarded insults directed at the Father to be aimed at Himself. Indeed, the entire Old Testament, in some sense, shows us the character of Christ in this regard; moreover, it is a source of endurance and consolation for believers to sustain them in the midst of trials. Now Paul prays that God, who is the author of the Old Testament, will grant them Christian feelings of harmony. In this way they would be able to effectively and properly glorify God the Father. Therefore, believers should take each other to themselves, just as Christ took them to Himself, so that God may be glorified. To show that Christ had accepted believers to Himself, Paul notes that Christ:

  • had been sent to minister to the Jews in order to fulfill God’s promises to the Jewish fathers
  • had caused the Gentiles to praise God for His mercy in accepting them into His kingdom.

To further support the latter claim, Paul quotes from the Psalms, where David states that he will acknowledge God among many Gentiles who will be giving thanks to Him. Also, Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, where the Gentiles are exhorted to join the Jews in praising God. In addition, Paul quotes from Isaiah, where it is stated that the Messiah would rule over both Jews and Gentiles – and they would all trust in Him. Paul concludes by praying that God, who is the source of this saving trust, would fill his Jewish and Gentile readers with joy and peace with God – and peace among themselves – and that the Holy Spirit would cause them to become stronger and more joyful as they abide in this saving trust.

Thoughts: I have always been intrigued by the circumstances surrounding Paul’s instructions in this passage. Were disputes over the eating of meat a pervasive issue in the early church, or were they confined to the body of believers in Rome? Hodge offers some insights in this regard:

The most probable explanation is that they were a scrupulous group of Jewish Christians, perhaps from among the Essenes, who were more strict and abstemious than the Mosaic ceremonial required. Asceticism, as a form of self-righteousness, was one of the earliest, most extensive, and persistent heresies in the church. But there is nothing inconsistent with the assumption that the weak brothers referred to here were scrupulous Jewish Christians. Josephus says that some of the Jews at Rome lived exclusively on fruit, out of fear of eating something unclean.

From this note, and drawing on our understanding of the various Jewish-Gentile conflicts that persisted in the early church, it is safe to say that issues such as the purity (or lack thereof) of certain foods and the necessity of celebrating various religious holidays caused conflicts in locations other than the church in Rome. It is likely that any of the early congregations that included Jewish believers who still harbored strong feelings for the Mosaic law would find these issues bubbling to the surface at some point. Paul’s target audience, then, extended beyond the Roman city limits.

One of the main points of this passage is that for disputable matters, a believer should act according to their conscience. Moreover, if a believer goes against their conscience in this regard, they have sinned. This caused me to wonder, “doesn’t this blur the boundary between sin and righteousness? Couldn’t I declare an action such as gambling or online gaming to be a ‘disputable matter,’ and then act according to my ‘freed’ conscience? I wouldn’t be sinful in that case, right?” While Hodge does not directly address this point, his commentary on verses 18 and 19 is telling:

These spiritual graces constitute the essential part of religion. The person who experiences and exercises these virtues is regarded by God as a true Christian and must commend himself as such to the consciences of his fellow-men…’Since Christian love, the example of Christ, the comparative insignificance of the matters in dispute, the honor of the truth, the nature of real religion all conspire to urge us to mutual forbearance, let us endeavor to promote peace and mutual edification.’

Therefore, a good litmus test for determining if we are overstepping the boundary between sin and righteousness when defining a “disputable matter” is to honestly consider whether the action in question 1) does not hinder the progress of righteousness, peace and joy or 2) actually facilitates an indulgence in the vices in Galatians 5:19-21. If the former is true, the action in question is a legitimate “disputable matter;” otherwise, the believer must cease this activity as it would damage their relations with fellow believers – and their relationship with God.

Another of Paul’s main points in this passage is that it is permissible for believers to be stronger – that is, they have a better understanding of their true freedom in Christ – than other believers with respect to “disputable matters.” In his commentary on verse 22, Hodge weighs in as follows:

…and the second is that this faith or firm conviction is not to be renounced but retained, for it is founded on the truth…Being right in itself, it is to be piously and not ostentatiously paraded and employed…Therefore the faith about which the apostle has spoken is a great blessing. It is a source of great happiness to be sure that what we do is right, and therefore the firm conviction which some Christians had attained was not to be undervalued or renounced.

After reading this, I thought, “how can stronger believers help weaker believers overcome their incorrect perceptions and prejudices? Stronger believers should not allow weaker believers to persist in their errors, right?” Based on this passage, we see the second question can be answered in the affirmative – yet stronger believers need to counsel their weaker brothers in a way that glorifies God. Some weaker believers may be easily persuaded of their faults; others may be more obstinate in their views, requiring much prayer, counsel, and forbearance on the part of the stronger believers.

Love, for the Day is Near May 15, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 13:8-14.

Summary: Paul begins by encouraging his readers to let none of their debts go unpaid – except for the debt of love, which cannot be paid off; our continual duty is to love our neighbor as ourselves, which actually fulfills God’s law. Indeed, all of our social responsibilities are encapsulated by the command to love each other as ourselves. Note that 1) love desires the happiness of its object and 2) God’s law is designed to promote the welfare of our neighbors; therefore, loving our neighbor as ourselves is equivalent to fulfilling the law’s obligations. Paul encourages his readers in this regard, as they should be mindful of the significance of the present age; they must shun lethargy and be diligent in their love for each other, as their salvation – along with its blessings – is near. The sins and sorrows that are inherent to this life are almost over, while the joy and gladness that is inherent to our salvation is near; thus, believers must curtail those actions that would put them to shame, and they must act in ways that allow them to battle against sin and evil. In this way they would be able to avoid intemperance, impurity and discord. Paul concludes by exhorting his readers to be Christ-like in their actions and to avoid indulging their sinful nature.

Thoughts: In verse 11, the phrase “because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” has been interpreted in at least three distinct ways. One interpretation states that the time when the Gentile believers would be blessed – while their Jewish oppressors would be punished – was at hand. A second interpretation states that the second coming of Christ was near – and would occur before the generation corresponding to Paul’s readers passed away. Hodge states the third interpretation as follows:

…Paul simply meant to remind his hearers that the time of deliverance was near, that the difficulties and sins with which they had to contend would soon be dispersed as the shades and mists of night before the rising day. Therefore the salvation intended here is the consummation of the work of Christ in their deliverance from this present evil world, and their introduction into the purity and blessedness of heaven. Eternity is almost here.

I must admit that lately I have been thinking more about the end times, especially as various theories in that regard are debated in the mass media. While only the Father knows the exact “time of deliverance,” it is encouraging to know that a time of blessedness and freedom from sin and sorrow definitely lies in the future. Unfortunately I have a difficult time comprehending the concept of “eternity,” so I hope for God’s grace to help me overcome this stumbling block in my mind.

Submission to the Authorities May 10, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 13:1-7.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding all people to be subject to those who have authority over them – especially civil authorities – because their authority is derived from God. Therefore, anybody who resists those who have lawful authority over them is disobeying God, and they will be condemned and punished by God. In particular, governing authorities have been appointed to hinder the progress of evil while facilitating the progress of good; thus, those who do good will not be punished by the powers that be. Rulers have been appointed to both benefit society and punish the wicked – in fact, they have the right to inflict capital punishment. Also, Paul commands his readers to submit to the governing authorities because it is inherent to obeying God. Now that Paul’s readers have a clear picture of the nature and purposes of civil government, it is clear that they should pay their taxes, since public servants are actually God’s ministers, and God has ordained taxes as the proper means of supporting them in their work. Paul concludes by telling His readers that since it is God’s will for them to pay taxes to support benevolent civil servants, they should give them whatever they owe them – including land and per-capita taxes, duties on merchandise, respect to their superiors, and honor to their peers.

Thoughts: Perhaps the first question that arises when reading this passage is, “what if the governing authorities are oppressing me and treating me unjustly? Doesn’t God allow me to rebel against them?” In his commentary on verse 1, Hodge addresses this issue as follows:

We are to obey authorities because they derive their authority from God…All civil authorities of whatever grade are to be regarded as acting by divine appointment; not that God appoints the individuals, but as it is his will that there should be authorities, every person who is in point of fact clothed with authority is to be regarded as having a claim to obedience, a claim founded on the will of God.

He later adds:

The actual reigning emperor was to be obeyed by the Roman Christians, whatever they might think about his title to the scepter. But if he transcended his authority and required them to worship idols, they were to obey God rather than man. This is the limitation on all human authority. Whenever obedience to man is inconsistent with obedience to God, then disobedience becomes a duty.

Hodge is essentially taking the position that Christians can rebel against their governments, but only when obeying them causes one to disobey God. Some well-known situations where it can be said that Christian rebellion was justified include those of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Beijing Shouwang Church. If we consider the unique circumstances that gave rise to those rebellions, though, it is clear that Christian rebellion is not something to be performed at the drop of a hat. Indeed, Christians should carefully choose their words and deeds when responding to hotly-debated acts of their governing authorities, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

Love May 7, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 12:9-21.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding his readers to love both believers and non-believers without hypocrisy; they should strive to avoid words and actions that hurt others, and they should hew to words and actions that benefit others. Moreover, believers should love each other as close relatives, and they should set an example to each other in terms of showing respect and kindness. When serving God, they should not become lazy – but remain diligent. When facing difficult circumstances, they should be joyful, patient and devoted to prayer in expectation of God’s present and future blessings. They should also share the burdens of their fellow believers and empathize with them; one way for them to fulfill this responsibility was to entertain strangers. Now believers should pray for the good of their enemies instead of wishing evil upon them. Also, believers should be united in their feelings, interests and purposes; instead of being high-minded, they should be humble and shun arrogance. When wronged by others, believers should not desire to retaliate – they should be careful in their actions in order to win the trust and good favor of men. Indeed, believers should aim to promote a state of peace that is consistent with God’s calling for their lives and His desires. Again, believers should not retaliate against those who have wronged them, since it is actually God’s prerogative to punish them. Instead, believers should seek to meet the material and spiritual needs of their enemies, which is an effective means of subduing them. Paul concludes by asserting that kindness – instead of violence – is the best method for subduing believers’ enemies.

Thoughts: The latter half of verse 10 actually consists of an exhortation for Christians to set an example to each other in terms of showing respect and kindness. Hodge weighs in as follows:

The word translated above…strictly means “to go before,” “to lead,” and then figuratively “to set an example”…It is not only an injunction for politeness but urges that in all acts of respect and kindness we should take the lead. Instead of waiting for others to honor us, we should be the first to show them respect.

This is a command that I struggle to obey. When I am reminded of this command, I think, “all Christians should be aware of what Paul is saying here; therefore, why do I need to set an example for them? If I take the lead in showing them respect and kindness, doesn’t that imply that they’re disobeying this command?” While that may be the case, I am not released from my obligation to fulfill God’s desires in this regard. Painful as it may be, I should set an example for other Christians and pray that by denying myself in this way, God will be glorified and I will be blessed.

Verse 20 includes an interesting quotation from Proverbs 25, where we learn that by looking out for our enemy’s best interests, we “will heap burning coals on his head.” Hodge explains this phrase as follows:

To heap burning coals on anyone is a punishment which no one can bear; he must yield to it. Kindness is no less effective; the most malignant enemy cannot always withstand it. Therefore the true and Christian way to subdue an enemy is to overcome evil with good.

Most, if not all Christians would assert that it is rather difficult to show genuine kindness to our enemies and truly care for their well-being. Somehow believers must continually remember that this attitude and its associated actions can be quite effective in terms of evangelism. Believers should be mindful that the eternal destiny of their enemies is at stake, which lends a certain level of urgency to our interactions with them. It is encouraging to remember that even the hardest rock can be eventually worn down by a constant drip of water.

Living Sacrifices May 3, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 12:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, Paul uses his entire argument up to this point in Romans to motivate his readers to devote their entire selves – body and soul – to God’s service in a perpetual and immaculate manner that pleases God; this devotion must flow from their minds. His readers should not emulate unbelievers in terms of their character and actions; instead, their mindset should be transformed so that they can both know what pleases God and approve of and practice the actions that fall under this category. Now since the Holy Spirit has given Paul all of the gifts that are inherent to being an apostle, Paul is qualified to tell his readers that they should not overestimate their stature in God’s kingdom; instead, they must properly assess this stature and the nature of their gifts based on the amount of faith that they currently possess. To help his readers understand the underlying purpose of their gifts, Paul appeals to the example of the human body, noting that it has many members that perform distinct functions – yet they are all made alive by the same principle of life. Similarly, the body of Christ has many members that perform distinct functions, yet they are all made alive – and united – by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Note that each member of the body of Christ has received a particular gift from the Spirit, and Paul provides the following instructions to various subsets of his readers regarding the proper use of their gifts:

  • those who had the ability to hear from God and communicate His words to others, including interpreting doctrinal truths and predicting future events, should use this gift in a way that conforms to previously established Christian truths
  • those who had the ability to manage the external affairs of the church and care for the sick and poor within it should focus on using this gift
  • those who had the ability to teach others what they had learned from the Scriptures and/or from apostles and prophets should focus on using this gift
  • those who had the ability to exhort and comfort others should focus on using this gift
  • those who had the ability to provide for the material needs of others should exercise this gift “with no strings attached”
  • those who had the ability to exercise authority in the church should be meticulous and driven when exercising this gift
  • those who had the ability to care for the sick and suffering should be kind and cheerful when exercising this gift.

Thoughts: This passage marks the beginning of the “practical” section of Romans. Of course, the reader should not view this section as being completely disconnected from the preceding “doctrinal” section. Hodge weighs in as follows:

This is a summary of all that Paul has said about the justification, sanctification, and salvation of men. It is all attributed not to human merit nor to human efforts, but to the mercy of God. Paul brings the whole discussion to bear as a motive for devotion to God. Whatever gratitude the soul feels for pardon, purity, and the certain prospect of eternal life is called on to ensure its consecration to that God who is the author of all these mercies.

Unfortunately, it is relatively easy for Christians to fall into one of two traps: 1) consider all that God has done for us in His salvation plan, marvel at His works, and express thankfulness to Him – yet fail to serve and honor Him in response, or 2) serve God fervently and perform many actions that are designed to please Him – without taking the time to consider why we are serving Him and pleasing Him in the first place. Here Paul is calling us to strike a proper balance in our spiritual lives between these two extremes.

Based on my ministry experiences and conversations with fellow Christians, I know that I have the gift of teaching. When I was reading through this passage, I thought, “wouldn’t it have been better if I had one of the ‘less prominent’ gifts, such as the gifts of encouragement or showing mercy? Doesn’t the fact that I have a ‘more prominent’ gift make it easy for me to become puffed up and arrogant?” After giving this some thought, I remembered that God has given each person a particular gift – or set of gifts – according to His divine purposes, so it is not our place to question His choices in this regard. Moreover, each of God’s gifts, whether it is “more prominent” or “less prominent,” has its own set of opportunities and challenges. One of the key points of this passage is that no matter what gift – or gifts – we possess, we must use it wisely so that the body of Christ can truly benefit from it.

Doxology April 26, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 11:33-36.

Summary: In this passage, Paul expresses his wonder at the following sublime realities:

  • God’s knowledge is displayed in His knowing everything there is to know regarding every member of His creation – in particular, He knows all of the candidate paths for their existence and how each of these paths would contribute to advancing His glory
  • God’s wisdom is displayed in His selecting a particular path of existence for every member of His creation so that He is most fully glorified.

This shows that we cannot 1) determine the reasons behind His judgments, and 2) understand His ways. We cannot instruct God and advise him regarding the execution of His divine plans. Moreover, we cannot place God in our debt – since He is the source of all things, He guides them through His power and wisdom, and He directs them for His ultimate glory.

Thoughts: This passage concludes the “theoretical” section of Romans, and it is appropriate to reflect on Paul’s exposition up to this point in the epistle. In his commentary on verse 36, Hodge notes the following:

Such is the appropriate conclusion of the doctrinal part of this wonderful letter, in which more fully and clearly than in any other part of the Word of God the plan of salvation is presented and defended. Here are the doctrines of grace, doctrines on which the godly in all ages and nations have rested their hopes of heaven, though they may have had comparatively obscure intimations of their nature. The leading principle is that God is the source of all good, that in fallen man there is neither merit nor ability, and that consequently salvation is all of grace, as are sanctification, pardon, election, and eternal glory.

To ensure that the connection between this passage and the preceding discussion in chapters 9-11 is not obscured, it should be reiterated that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Though the Gentiles were strangers and aliens to God, and the Jews rejected God’s method for obtaining righteousness via faith in Jesus Christ, God – in His divine wisdom – has chosen to show mercy to at least some of the members of each of these two groups. Since all men are utterly undeserving of God’s favor, it is amazing that He would choose to save even one person – and that His offer of salvation does not hinge on anything that is inherent to sinful man.

All Israel Will Be Saved April 23, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 11:25-32.

Summary: In this passage, Paul wants his Gentile Christian readers to be particularly mindful of the following important divine revelation: Israel will be insensible to the Gospel message until God’s chosen subset of the Gentiles has been saved; then the Jews, as a people, will be restored to God’s favor. Paul supports this assertion by quoting from Isaiah and Jeremiah, where it is stated that God will save the Jews and remove their sins from them. Currently the Jews are enemies of God as they have rejected the Gospel message – which allowed it to be effectively preached to the Gentiles – yet they retain a special relationship with Him due to the covenant that He had made with their forefathers. Since God had selected the Jews as His special people back in Genesis, He would never forsake them even though they rejected His method for them to obtain righteousness. To drive home this point, Paul draws an interesting link between the situations of the Gentiles and the Jews: before the coming of Christ, the Gentiles refused to believe in God, yet they received His Gospel message as a result of the Jews’ sinful actions. Now the Jews refuse to believe in God, yet they too will receive His Gospel message as a result of God’s righteous actions towards the Gentiles. Paul concludes by noting that in fact, God has allowed both the Gentiles and the Jews to reveal their inherent sinfulness, which more fully illustrates the mercy that He shows to the Gentiles – and the mercy that He will show to the Jews.

Thoughts: I have always been intrigued by this passage, especially with verses 25-27. Indeed, what does it mean that “all Israel will be saved?” Hodge offers some insights on this issue:

2. The second general view supposes that, on the contrary, the apostle predicted a great and general conversion of the Jewish people, which would take place when the full number of the Gentiles had been brought in, and that then, and not until then, those prophecies would be completely fulfilled which speak about the salvation of Israel.

Hodge then presents several well-reasoned arguments in support of this viewpoint, which stands alongside the viewpoint that “all Israel” merely refers to the true church that includes both Gentiles and Jews. Now this brings to mind the following questions: when will “the full number of the Gentiles” be saved? How many Gentiles will be saved, and who are the individuals who comprise this group? Will we witness mass conversions to Christianity in the modern-day state of Israel, and if so, will these conversions signify that the return of the Messiah is imminent? Should missions organizations be directing more of their time/resources to spreading the Gospel to those of the Jewish faith?

Gentile Christian readers of this passage are reminded that they should not entertain arrogant feelings towards the Jews who are temporarily rejected by God. In his commentary on verse 32, Hodge notes:

The apostle also intends to show that God had dealt with Gentile and Jew in the same way. They stood on the same ground. Both were dependent on sovereign mercy. Both had sunk into a state from which the grace of God alone could save them. As all were equally miserable and helpless, God determined to have mercy on everyone and to bring everyone, Jews as well as Gentiles, into Christ’s fold.

In this sense, Paul returns to the argument that he has presented in the bulk of chapters 1-3, which states that all men have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. This also highlights God’s sovereignty in election; neither Gentiles nor Jews inherently possess any qualities which make them worthy of salvation, and so He elects people based solely on His purposes. Moreover, there is nothing inherent to Israel that prevents Him from ensuring that the Jews, as a people, will be saved by the time of the return of the Messiah.