Wednesday, June 27, 2018
One of the ways that people pay respect to loved ones or faithful fans is through what is affectionately referred to as a “Shout-out.” You will often see these at concerts, sporting events, interviews, or in speeches (acceptance, valedictorian, political, etc.). The person with the spotlight will says something to the effect of “shout-out to my friends in…(such and such a place)” or “shout out to my mom who (did such and such)” or even “shout out to all my fans who voted for (such and such an award).” Typically the shout out is only meaningful to the ones mentioned in the comment itself, leaving others in the audience at an arm’s length until the speaker/recipient/star gets back to more general comments. However, the shout-outs that Paul offers at the end of Romans are a bit different. In Romans 16:1-16, Paul provides shout-outs to several different groups that are not only personally meaningful to the addressees; they are also telling for us today. Therefore, let’s read through three groups of shout-outs in this passage and learn about what kind of character is commendable within the body of Christ.
1. SHOUT-OUT #1: A Personal Reference-16:1-2
The first shout-out that Paul provides to the church in Rome comes in the form of a reference letter of sorts. Reference letters or commendations were commonplace in the first century. This is no different. Many relied on such letters because people could not count on public facilities for food or lodging and were made instead to depend on the generosity of trusted individuals. Paul commits and approves of Phoebe and asks the same of the church in Rome so that she might be taken care of when she arrives. Phoebe is a fellow believer whom Paul had become acquainted with in Corinth. Some believe that she was traveling to Rome on business (Moo, ZIBBC, 90). Others think that she was the one entrusted with the task of carrying the epistle to the church at Rome (Mounce, Romans, 272). Regardless, Paul wants the church to accept her as one of them when she arrives.
As Phoebe is a “sister” in Christ and a proven “servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” Paul implores the church in Rome to “receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints” (16:2a). In part, the glowing reference of Phoebe is provided in an effort to help the church behave upon her arrival.
On certain occasions people often go out of their way to show respect and warm welcome to new people. Successful businesses trying to make a sale often bend over backwards so that a customer’s experience is positive. Families or parents, upon meeting a new boyfriend/girlfriend, are often encouraged to be on their best behavior so that they do not scare the poor lad/lady away. Even churches encourage their membership to go out of their way to make visitors feel welcome and loved (thankfully our church does this naturally 😊). Paul is doing the same thing here. A special guest will be arriving at the church in Rome and Paul is encouraging them ahead of time to treat her with special care.
Not only are they to treat her well, Paul wants the church to help her out in any way necessary—“and that you help her in whatever she may have need of you,…” (16:2b). Churches helping ministry partners has been a mainstay in the body of Christ ever since its inception in Acts 2. This is no different.
Showing Phoebe respect and providing for her needs ought to be easy when the church considers what kind of servant she herself proved to be. As Paul continues his reference he lists some of her credentials—“For she herself has also been a helper of many and of myself as well” (16:2b).
When people are asked for references for a job or, say, adoption, they are encouraged to seek out those people who know them well and can prove to be a good judge of their character as a result of having witnessed them in action (i.e. a former boss, colleague, manager, family friend, etc.). Paul is an appropriate reference for Phoebe’s positive character traits not only because he has witnessed her on many occasions helping others, but also because he has personally experienced her help as well.
The first shout-out that Paul provides is a personal reference for Phoebe—a proven servant of the Lord. This is provided so that she might be welcomed and blessed upon arriving in Rome.
2. SHOUT-OUT #2: An Appeal for Greetings-16:3-15
The next shout-out is really a list of smaller shout-outs provided in the form of multiple greetings (some 17 greetings in verses 3-15)! Though Paul often concludes his correspondences with greetings like this “nowhere else in Paul’s writings do we find such a lengthy list of personal greetings” (Mounce, Romans, 274). Some on this list are given more attention to others and we will follow suit.
Priscilla and Aquila are the first to be greeted—"Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house” (16:3-5a). Why are they mentioned first and given added attention? These two ministered with Paul during his 18-month tenure in Corinth. Later, they left to help establish a church in Ephesus where Paul eventually rejoined them (see Acts 18:18; 1 Cor. 16:19). Paul says that they even, on one occasion, “risked their own necks” for him! This is probably a reference to a riot that occurred in Ephesus recorded in Acts 19. Paul had great affection for these two because of their shared ministry experiences and trials by fire. If Paul were handing out superlatives, these would be the most likely to be there for you. Not only did Paul want to especially greet them, he also desired to greet all who were associated with them—i.e. the church that met in their home.
Next, Paul says “greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia” (16:5b). Imagine carrying that title! Think of all the weird firsts that are celebrated today in comparison to this truly exciting and meaningful first. Paul celebrated people coming to know Christ and certainly the first Asian convert was something worthy of special mention.
After Epaenetus, Paul greets “Mary, who has worked hard for you” (16:6). So far Paul has celebrated those who were especially loyal and those who marked important firsts. Now, Paul greets a hard worker. In fact, this is the third woman given special attention in this passage (and not the last) in light of special participation in the mission of God (in verse 12, Paul will greet Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis in light of their hard work). In this particular case, tales of Mary’s hard work for the church in Rome must have reached Paul who was a long ways off (remember, Paul had not had the time to visit Rome yet). Like Epaenetus who was known as the first convert in Asia, Mary was known for the acute effort that she leveraged for the ministry in Rome. What a thing to be known for!
Following the comments about Mary, Paul greets “Andronicus and Junias” whom he calls “my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me,…” (16:7). These two share a special relationship with Paul as he calls them “kinsmen” or “relatives” and “fellow prisoners.” Nothing like a little shared prison time for the cause of Christ to bring believers together! Not only had they become prison brothers, Paul says of these that their missionary and evangelistic service was notorious—“who are outstanding among the apostles” (16:7). This use of “apostle” does not mean that Paul is placing them on the same level of Peter, James, John, and himself. Instead, Paul is sticking to the more literal translation of the word—sent messenger—not the nuanced definition this term is given when applied to the twelve plus Paul. Paul reveals that these two were “in Christ before” him, meaning that they had become Christians at a time prior to Paul’s own conversion. Some have suggested that they must have been among the earliest Palestinian believers (Mounce, Romans, 276).
In addition to these special cases, Paul also greets several others in verses 8-15:
“Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.”
Within these ranks are “beloved” “fellow workers” “approved in Christ.” They are called “in the Lord” and some even “a choice man in the Lord.” Paul greets both men and women from different backgrounds and geographic locations who are in some way connected to the center of the world that is Rome. Not only that, but he also is sure to include “all the saints who are with them” in his greetings.
In this compendium of greetings, It is not sex or background that Paul commends as he surveys those around him; it is the selfless and persevering labor of all kinds of people, even in the midst of great struggle, that the apostle acknowledges. Loyalty, conversion, hard work, shared suffering, these are the superlative that Paul applauds. Can the same be said of the church today? Unfortunately,….no! Now, it is the size of a church, the money one brings in, or the impressive facilities that often get the most praise among church leadership. Paul understood what was most commendable—so should we.
3. SHOUT-OUT #3: A Warm Salutation-16:16
The final shout-out that Paul offers is a warm salutation. Really, Paul gives a shout out to the whole church in this last section of the passage when he says “greet one another with a holy kiss. All the church of Christ greet you,” (16:16). “The kiss was a common form of greeting in the ancient world generally and in Judaism in particular. It is referred to often in the New Testament, and by the second century, the Christian liturgy contained a ‘kiss of peace’ as a standard feature. We don’t know that this kiss was a part of worship services in Paul’s day. But if so, Paul probably envisages his letter being read aloud in a worship service, concluded with such a kiss” (Moo, ZIBBC, 93). A contemporary parallel to the type of activity that Paul encourages here is a “holy” handshake or side-hug. In essence, Paul exhorts the church to show brotherly affection to one another in a respectful and encouraging way. Such affection is refreshing and compatible with how many show and accept love.
Paul concludes these shout-outs with “all the churches of Christ greet you” (16:16). This along with the apostle’s comments throughout this passage indicate a real team spirit in the early church.
Churches are greeting church and church leaders are greeting and commending other church workers from various contexts and across geographical, gender, and socio-economic lines. There is a real unity that is demonstrated here that Paul exemplifies and that, as he called for earlier in this epistle, he hoped the church in Rome would endorse. This unity, support, and team-spirit would be necessary if the church was to be effective in the brave new world of the first century.
The same must be said of the church today. Do unity, support, and team spirit characterize the church of God? Are loyalty, life change, longevity, and love the values that we champion within the body of Christ? Or do we major on the minor, divide ourselves across unnecessary and unbiblical lines, and exalt measurable successes over faithfulness. If we sow more of the latter, we will reap disunity, a lack of involvement, and rampant individualism? Friends, the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul what kind of character the church needed in order to accomplish its mission in the brave new world they faced. In so doing he has provided appropriate applications for us to endorse today.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
It is a good thing to set appropriate expectations. It is a great thing to see these expectations met. I expected to get up this morning, expected to stand before you today to preach this message, expect that God will speak through His Word, and I expect (or maybe hope) to get something to eat after we dismiss. We are people hard-wired with expectations for ourselves and others both for this day and years from now. This applies to everything from jobs to vacations, family to finances, heaven and earth, and everything in between. This is even true of biblical works like the Epistle to the Romans. Last week we took a long look at the intentions Paul had for himself and this work. This week we are going to look at what he expected as a result of this letter. What were Paul’s expectations in lieu of his message to the church in Rome? We will answer this question by asking and answering two more questions of Romans 15:22-33 that pertain to what Paul wanted to see after penning this important book. As a result, we will learn about Paul’s example and what we ought to expect of ourselves as we persevere in this brave new word.
A. QUESTION #1: WHAT DOES PAUL EXPECT TO DO?-15:22-29-“…For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ…”
Paul really wants fellowship with the saints in Rome. You can almost hear it when you read “I have often been prevented from coming to you,” and “I hope to see you in passing.” In fact, the apostle looked forward to being with the church and its members—“when I have first enjoyed your company.” This reveals that when it came to his leadership, Paul was hands on. When it came to his relationship with the church, Paul desired intimacy. He not only planted churches and wrote to churches from afar, he was actively involved in their health and progress. Here, Paul plays the part of cheerleader and supporter for this body of believers.
Unfortunately, many leaders in the church today have assumed a different role altogether. Rather than looking forward to fellowship and seeking to support and encourage the saints, people have traded cheerleading for criticism and partnership for passive participation. Don’t confuse Paul’s itinerary for a mere disclosure of his travel plans. Paul is teaching the church how they ought to be involved where they are by example. If he was excited to be with other believers in real partnership, so too should we as believers.
Not only was Paul eager to be with the saints in Rome simply for the joy of their company, Paul also reveals that he is interested in their support of his ministry. He says, “for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you.” Paul understood that sentiments and social courtesies only went so far in accomplishing the ministry to which God had called him. He depended on the support of churches financially and practically and never attempted to hide this fact.
Philippians 4:14-18-“Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.”
Paul hoped, in part, that the church in Rome would support his ministry in the same way.
Paul’s plan moving forward is simple. Though he has been prevented from making a trip to Rome up to this point, Paul perceives a window of opportunity opening. After making a quick trip to Jerusalem in support of the ministry there, he is going to make the long journey to Spain and stop by Rome on his way. This is, at least, his intent moving forward.
All of this helps answer the first question that we asked of this passage: “What does Paul plan to do?” Paul plans on stopping by Rome in the near future to satisfy his desire to fellowship with the saints
and be blessed with their support of his pioneer evangelism ministry.
B. QUESTION #2: WHAT DOES PAUL HOPE TO SEE? -15:30-33
In the meantime, Paul explains exactly what he hoped to see in the church both while they awaited his arrival and when he finally showed up. First, Paul reveals that he hoped the church would spend time in fervent prayer. To make his appeal to pray more emphatic the apostle says, “Now, I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the love of the Spirit…” (15:30). What Paul is asking is given added weight by invoking two members of the Trinity (and hinting at a third). Not only that, but “urge” means “to ask for earnestly and with propriety. In the present tense, urgency is added to the connotations surrounding this verb—lit. “I am urging you.”
If all of this wasn’t enough to stress what is being called for, look at how Paul frames his desire—“to strive together with me in your prayers to God,…” (15:30b). The verb is “sunagwnizomai”—a word that is as difficult to say as it is to accomplish. The word means “to join with someone else in some severe effort.” Nowhere else in the New Testament is this word used. Some believe that the verb may involve the idea of wrestling, as Jacob wrestled with God at Bethel (Gen. 32:24-32) (Schreiner, Romans, 782). Taken together with “urge” earlier, the call of Paul to pray becomes even more acute.
When we consider what it means to really pray, we can appreciate how difficult Paul’s request is.
Prayer is hard work—especially given the many distractions our flesh and the enemy throw our way to keep us from doing it. Add the concerns of the world around us, the responsibilities we have, and the discouragement that comes from waiting for prayers to be answered and the struggle to pray becomes exceedingly relevant. This is why Paul “urges” the church to fight for prayer in their lives. After all, there is no ministry partnership more important that prayer ministry partnership, for in it, the church joins together with God Himself in seeing the Lord's will accomplished. As far as it concerned where Paul was heading and what Paul was doing, the apostle is primarily concerned about solidifying relations between Jews and Gentiles in the areas that he was heading to in his ministry.
Specifically, Paul asks that the church would pray for two things. First, “for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea” (15:30b-31). Who are these disobedient Jews of which Paul speaks? These refer to non-Christian Jews who had a real problem with the apostle because he, who was once one of them, had turned against their understanding of Judaism to follow Jesus and establish Christian churches. These were a nasty bunch and later from the book of Acts we learn how appropriate this prayer for rescue was. After his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul was assaulted and nearly killed in the temple according to Acts 21:26-36. During his imprisonment a Jewish plot to kill him was unsuccessful (see Acts 23:12-35) and Paul ended up in Rome only by appealing to Caesar (see Acts 25:10-12). It would seem that the prayers of the saints in places like Rome for Paul’s rescue were answered. His life was spared in an unexpected way, leading him to (where else?) Rome!
It is important to acknowledge that Paul’s prayer for rescue was not an appeal for long life, but for an uninhibited ministry. Paul is not asking to be spared for his life’s sake, but for the sake of those who need Jesus—the very people to which Paul was sent by God to share the good news.
The second request that Paul mentions to the church in Rome is “that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints” (15:31b). Once again, the book of Acts confirms the need for this. “Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Paul is informed that many Jewish Christians were leery of him since he was reported to teach against the Mosaic law by those who hated him (Acts 21:20-25). Because of this, James and other Christian leaders encouraged him to participate in a purification ceremony in the temple to stifle such concerns. Paul consented to such a ceremony in Acts 21:26-27 (see Schreiner, Romans, 783).
This indicates that Paul was willing to do anything to preach a compelling message, even if it meant jumping through unnecessary hoops so that his presence may not cause offense (see 1 Cor. 9:20-22). Obviously, like the request for rescue mentioned earlier, God heard the prayers of his people and granted Paul acceptability before many of his contemporaries.
The first thing Paul hoped to see while the church awaited his visit was fervent prayer. The second thing Paul hoped to see/experience would have to wait until he arrived.
Paul hoped to experience refreshing rest upon meeting the saints in Rome. The basis of such rest is identified in the first part of verse 32—“so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God.” In this Paul suggests that there is no rest apart from real joy and no real joy apart from the will of God. Paul believed it was God’s will for him to see the church in Rome, understood that there was great joy to be experienced in accomplishing this, and, as a result, anticipated rest—“and find refreshing rest in your company” (15:32b).
I’m not sure about you, but when I consider what I find restful, I imagine myself relaxing on my own in some beautiful place coming in and out of consciousness with nothing weighing heavy on my mind. That is not the kind of rest that Paul envisions here for himself. The rest Paul prayed for was less a vacation and more participation in the kind of fellowship and joy that exists when members of the church mutually minister to one another. This is implicit within the language used. “finding refreshing rest” is really one word that means “to experience restorative rest together with someone else” (Louw Nida). Rest in this context is, in other words, not the absence of people and activity, but being around the right people involved in encouraging activities. Therefore, if church isn’t restful for you, you are doing it wrong.
After answering what he’s doing and what he hopes to see, Paul, as in verse 13, erupts in a benediction of sorts that helps identify the close of a thought and the introduction of another—“Now the God of peace be with you all, Amen” (15:33). Paul’s prayer here is appropriate given where he is headed and what is expected. There was still a great deal of tension between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman empire (both in Rome and in Jerusalem—i.e. where Paul was headed first). Therefore, Paul prays for peace to reign throughout the whole community.
As Paul discloses what he hoped to do and see, I wonder if the same attitudes and concerns are at the forefront of your mind today. Again, as we have stated many times in our study, the context in which Paul was writing—the Roman Empire—is not unlike our own here in 21st century America. Are you, like Paul eager to fellowship with believers and make plans to that end? Are you fighting for your prayer life and actively participating in the greater ministry partnership available—communication with God? Are you finding rest, yes REST in the joy of performing God’s will with and among others who are like minded? Or, is church just something you feel like you have to do every week? Is prayer neglected or forgotten in the business of life? Is an extended vacation the end goal of your life? Friends, like Paul and the first century church, we have our own share of issues. Let us therefore adopt the same attitudes and practices that Paul does and encouraged the church to do so that we might be successful in what God has commanded of us in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth! There is too much at stake to neglect the meeting together of believers. To have success in the war we must win the battle for fervent prayer time. And we will always be stronger as a fellowship community than we will ever be alone. Is this too much to expect?
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
On this Father’s Day it is an appropriate time to give thanks for all the godly dads in our lives and for dads to reflect on their role as leader, encourager, supporter, and guide in their families. Interestingly, the apostle Paul, though he had no kids of his own, considered himself a spiritual father to people like Timothy. Paul also acted as a father-figure to the many churches he planted. Evidence of this is found in his letters where he provides leadership, encouragement, support, and much-needed guidance to spiritual children. The Epistle to the Romans is no different. As we move to the end of the letter, we really begin to see Paul’s paternal instincts when he reveals his intentions for writing the letter in the first place. The two intentions he betrays in Romans 15:14-21 give us insight into Paul’s heart and ministry—a heart and ministry that stands as an example for us all to follow.
1. INTENTION #1: TO PROVIDE A REMINDER-15:14-16
In verse 14 of chapter 15, Paul begins providing his concluding remarks to the church in Rome. The second half of chapter 15 and the whole of chapter 16 work to summarize Paul’s comments and call for a response. Particular people are pointed out and Paul reserves some room to explain his intentions in sending the letter in the first place. This last element of Paul’s conclusion is what the reader receives first in Romans 15:14-21. The fist intention Paul gives for writing the letter involves an important reminder. The recipients of the reminder are identified first—“and concerning you, my brethren.” These “brethren” to which Paul wrote are fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ—Jew and Gentile alike. Though some could have assumed that brethren meant “fellow Jews,” this letter has corrected this assumption. ANYONE with faith in Jesus Christ is a brother or sister to Paul.
Concerning these “brethren” (particularly those in Rome) Paul says, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness” (15:14b). What could Paul mean by this? Is it flattery? Encouragement? Hyperbole? Perhaps courtesy is the best interpretation of the glowing report Paul gives of the church’s character in Rome (Cranfield, 1979, 752). By extending this courtesy, Paul assumes the spiritual maturity of these believers given there is no good reason to think otherwise (Schreiner, Romans, 765). Generally, the church at Rome was full of goodness (what a compliment!).
Not only does Paul call the church in Rome “full of goodness” he continues by saying “filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish on another” (15:14c). With both these compliments Paul is not suggesting that the Romans are perfectly good and know everything exhaustively! He is saying that generally the church is filled with goodness and displays a comprehensive knowledge of the truth—so much so that its members are able to provide instruction and correct behaviors within its ranks.
If goodness, knowledge, and subsequently, maturity were staples of the church in Rome, consider for just a moment what people associate churches with today? I’ve had friends talk to me about visiting churches in the area and in reporting on their experience they’ve said things like “that church is all about money. The pastor preaches on tithing all the time!” “That church is shallow. Exciting, but shallow.” “This church is mission oriented; they are always out in the community doing great work.” What do you think people’s perception of our church is? If Paul was writing a letter to Crystal Spring Baptist, how would he characterize this place?
Perhaps Paul’s compliments and courtesies are given in part to soften the tone of the letter. After all, parts of the letter were fairly sharp and several of the corrections he calls for relatively pointed. Paul does not want the church to leave after reading his letter discouraged nor does he want to church to misinterpret what he has said. This is one potential reason why he provides this “attaboy” at the end, confirming that they are, in fact, getting an awful lot right.
That said, Paul does state his reason for writing this letter in no uncertain terms—“But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again” (15:15a). Paul wrote for the purpose of reminding the church of truths they already knew. This is a common practice of both Paul, Peter, and Jude.
1 Corinthians 4:17-“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church.”
2 Peter 1:12-“Therefore, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you.”
Jude 5-“Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after
saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.”
The act of remembering things has been a mainstay for millennia. Not only does Paul encourage the church to remember what they already know in the first century, Paul’s ancestors were encouraging their people to do the same many years prior.
Deuteronomy 11:19-“You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.”
Being reminded of and remembering important truths is a discipline that is slowly being erased in our world today. Rather than remembering things ourselves, we have employed devices to do our remembering for us. As for history, we pick and choose what epochs of time we will study rather than appreciate the whole story (for political, personal, and/or religious reasons). If Paul valued the discipline of remembering truth in the brave new world that was the Roman empire, this practice ought to be even more necessary in the brave new world of the twenty-first century. This realization is made all the more important when one considers just how important truth being remembered in Romans is –the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Paul offers this reminder to the church in Rome “because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God…” (15:5b-16). Paul had received special grace from God to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. As such, he was uniquely equipped to be a minister of Jesus to the Gentiles. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was mostly preoccupied with what he refers to as “ministering the gospel”—proclaiming the message of salvation of Jesus Christ to the Jew first and then to the Gentile. In so doing, Paul fulfills the call of Israel to be a royal priesthood by whom the knowledge of God is conveyed to Gentiles (or a nation that God had chosen to bless the world).
Ultimately, Paul reveals that his intention for ministering to the Gentiles is “so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:16b). As a “priest” (at least as this context determines) Paul understood his role as bringing saved Gentiles as an offering to God. He probably believed that he played a small part in what was prophesied in Isaiah 66:18-20.
Isaiah 66:20-“’Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the Lord, ‘just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord.’”
What Paul sees (potentially) in Isaiah 66 and does in his ministry emphasizes his divine commission to bring people of all nations to the Lord –people who have been “sanctified by the Holy Spirit,” or set apart as a result of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. INTENTION #2: TO COMPLETE HIS MISSION-15:17-21
The second reason that Paul writes to the church in Rome is to complete his mission. Paul understood the writing of this letter as part of his mission to the Gentile world. Paul holds little back when he describes his excitement and alacrity over the mission saying, “Therefore, in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God” (15:17). Notice where and about what Paul finds his boasting. His boasting is contained in Christ and directed toward the things of God. In other words, Paul does not boast in his own human abilities. After all, it is God and His grace that saved him, commissioned him as the apostle to the Gentiles, and ordained that his offering of the Gentiles would be pleasing in His sight (Schreiner, Romans¸ 767).
Paul reveals that his role in this whole equation has been secondary at best—“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me,…” (15:18a). Paul boasts only of those things that Christ has accomplished in him and through him. In making this clear, Paul directs any and all attention the growing church might garner to the God who is making it all happen, not the servants in His employ. Oh that the church and its leaders would follow this example!
The outcome of the work that God accomplished through Paul’s ministry is identified in the rest of verse 18 and in verse 19. First, the great work among the Gentiles resulted “in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit” (15:18c-19a). That the Gentiles were really being changed by God in Paul’s ministry is evidenced in the obedience witnessed (as people do not obey what they don’t really believe in) and in the signs and wonders the Spirit was performing.
Not only were lives being changed and Gentiles being converted, but the gospel message was spreading far and wide—“so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyrium I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (15:19b). In Micah 4:1-4, a prophecy is given which indicates that the “word of the Lord” has its inception in Jerusalem. However, Paul is not known to have had a large Gentile ministry in Jerusalem. That said, a specific preaching ministry to Gentiles in Jerusalem is not demanded, for Paul is probably thinking generally of the area extending from Jerusalem to Illyrium (roughly the area of modern day Albania and former Yugoslavia) (Schreiner, Romans, 769). Though the language “fully preached” might suggest that Paul had thoroughly evangelized this entire geographic area, the apostle had done little more than preach in a number of the larger cities int his area. Therefore, he is probably saying that he has accomplished what he, the apostle of the Gentiles, was called to do. He had preached in carefully chosen populous areas and established churches therein. (Morris, Romans, 514).
In all of this, Paul “aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named” (15:20a). Paul was, in other words, a pioneer evangelist sent to those places where Christ had not yet been named (confessed, acknowledged).
By going to such places, Paul had the unique opportunity to plant churches where churches didn’t exist—“so that I would not build on another man’s foundation,…” (15:20b).
Paul’s insistence on building on virgin land is in keeping with what is revealed in Isaiah 52:15—“they who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand” (Rom. 15:20:21). Part of the impetus of writing this letter to Rome involves Paul’s hope that the gospel mission would be extended even further to new people who haven’t heard in new places where churches didn’t exist.
The heart of Paul is on full display here in this passage, providing us with a brilliant example to follow in our own lives today. Paul was a man who understood the power of reminding people of and being reminded himself of the truth of God—the same truth that provides much needed knowledge for living and eternal salvation. Paul was also a man who boasted of nothing in himself, only the opportunity to be used of God to spread the gospel message to those who haven’t yet heard. Is the truth of God something that you are fascinated by, take time to remember, and remind others of? Do you relish the opportunity God has given you to spread the gospel message to those around you who haven’t heard? This Father’s day, let us take a cue from a spiritual forefather’s example and endorse these qualities so that as a church we might be known as full of goodness and knowledge, able to admonish one another.
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Can’t we all just get along? Over the last three weeks we’ve look to Romans 14-15 for an answer to this question and so far Paul has prescribed three practices that, if endorsed, will accomplish this often elusive goal: have respect, don’t condemn, and seek to serve. Today we are going to wrap up our mini-series by looking at the fourth and final means by which unity in the church is achieved—acceptance. Paul builds a compelling case for acceptance within the Christian community in Romans 15:7-13 that might be organized into four distinct elements. Ultimately, we will learn from this passage that one’s acceptance for others in the body of Christ ought to be informed by Christ’s acceptance of us—redeemed sinners.
a. The Call for Acceptance-15:7
In addition to exercising respect, withholding condemnation, and striving to serve others, the people of God must also accept one another in order to get along well in the context of the church. The kind of acceptance that Paul envisions here must not be confused with what many people associate “acceptance” with today. Paul is not talking about blind tolerance of any and all behaviors conducted by any and all people. He is talking about acceptance of biblically permissible behaviors performed by brothers and sisters in Christ. When it comes to fellow believers and what they do within biblical parameters, acceptance is to be employed. The present tense of the command given suggest that acceptance ought to always be applied with no end in sight. Also, the verb used “proslambanw” denotes a heartfelt kind of acceptance among friends that goes beyond merely putting up with someone’s presence. In other words, fellow church members are to be less like coworkers/associates that only stand each other long enough to get through a work day and more like treasured friends that love each other in spite of allowable differences.
After all, isn’t this kind of relationship that believers enjoy with Christ? Paul continues by providing the following example—“just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (15:7b). The same Greek verb is used –that same friendly heartfelt acceptance mentioned already—to describe Jesus’ relationship with His followers. Consider how much harder it must be for Jesus—God made flesh—to accept sinners than it proves for the redeemed to accept each other! Regardless of how much more difficult it must be for Jesus to call saved humans friends, HE DOES! In so doing, He glorifies God the Father who is shown to be gracious, merciful, and loving to those who do not deserve it. In lieu of so great an example, believers are compelled to take on the same attitude in their interactions within their spiritual family—regardless of allowable differences and, as will be revealed soon, in spite of spiritual heritage.
As Paul nears the end of his letter, it becomes clear that he is doing his best to get a diverse group of believers to work together. Although eating certain foods and peripheral issues were symptoms of the diversity within the church of Rome, ultimately, these conditions were mere side effects of a more underlining issue—a heterogeneous amalgamation of Jews and Gentiles. This was no small thing. Prior to the ministry of Jesus and Pentecost thereafter, Jews and Gentiles lived and worshipped in very different contexts. Now they were being joined together in a radical way by the Holy Spirit. As awesome and glorious as this was, it also presented challenges, challenges that demanded (and continue to demand) respect, service, and acceptance to overcome.
b. The Precedent of Acceptance-15:8
Next, Paul makes a case for acceptance of the Gentiles into the family of God that largely depends on Christ’s ministry. He begins by connecting the ministry of Jesus to the original people of God—“For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God” (15:8). The “circumcision” mentioned here is a direct reference to the Jewish people—identifying them by their distinct covenant mark. To be sure, Jesus came first and foremost as a Jew to the Jews in fulfillment of the many promises made to the Jewish patriarchs.
However, not only has Jesus’ ministry involved “confirming the promises given to the fathers” (i.e. the Jewish fathers), it also has implications “for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy” (15:8b-9a). Now, because of what Jesus did in a largely Jewish program, the Gentiles can glorify God for the mercy He has shown them. After all, “of the many promises made by God to the children of Israel, none are more apropos in this context than Gen. 22:18, ‘Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed’” (Mounce, Romans, 261). Through the Jews and for the Jews initially, Jesus came to provide mercy and blessing to the whole world—Jew and Gentile alike.
This idea is consistent with what Paul has shown throughout the letter to the Romans. In chapter 4 he demonstrated that the Abrahamic promises include Gentiles without canceling Israel’s own privileges and blessings (privileges and blessings that are reiterated in chapters 9-11 in spite of the increasingly Gentile church). Even in the thesis statement of the book (in chapter 1), the inclusion of the Gentiles into the family of God is celebrated, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
If Christ’s example of accepting Gentiles and the precedent of Christ’s ministry involving the Gentiles wasn’t enough to inspire acceptance within the church, perhaps the Old Testament itself would make a compelling case.
c. The Biblical Evidences of Acceptance-15:9b-12
Paul offers four Old Testament passages as evidences for Christ’s program of acceptance in the context of the church that together make a great case for what he is encouraging. Interestingly (and quite brilliantly on Paul’s part), all four references contain the key word “Gentiles,” betraying Paul’s purpose in confirming from Scripture that Gentiles were included all along in God’s gracious promise to create and bless a people for His own name (Moo, ZIBBC III, 86). The first text offered by Paul to make this case is from Psalm 18:49 (or 2 Sam. 22:50)—“Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles, and I will sing Your name” (15:9b). In the original context (Psalm 18), David is praising God for the victory that the Lord has given him over the Gentile nations. In Romans 15, Paul places David’s comments on the lips of Jesus and applies them Christologically. In so doing, he reveals that Christ is the one who has ultimately subdued the nations and brought them under the benefits of His kingdom reign (Moo, ZIBBC III, 86). As all kinds of people are brought under Christ’s reign and are included in His kingdom, Paul argues by means of this text that citizens ought to accept this new reality and the people implicated therein.
The second text that Paul calls attention to is Deuteronomy 32:43. There Moses praises the Lord for giving him victory over Pharaoh and his army saying “Rejoice, O Gentiles, his people” (15:10). In the original context, Hebrew victory over the tyrannical Pharaoh was a cause of celebration for all. Applied Christologically, Paul argues that Jesus’ victory over the tyranny of sin was a cause of celebration for Jew and Gentile alike. As all kinds of people within the church are able to celebrate the victory that Christ has provided, they ought to be able to accept each other and celebrate.
The third text quoted is originally found in Psalm 117—“Praise the Lord All you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him’” (15:11). In verse 2 of Psalm 117, God’s “mercy” and “truth” are provided as reasons for the psalmist’s praise given in verse 1. Applied in Romans 15, “God’s ‘truth,” or ‘faithfulness,’ demonstrated to Israel and his ‘mercy’ revealed to the Gentiles are the lead ideas that govern these quotations” (Moo, ZIBBC III, 87). That God’s mercy motivated the praise of the Gentiles, even in the Psalms, indicates that Paul believed their salvation was in God’s mind from the beginning. If God’s intention from the beginning was to save all kinds of people—the very same diversity witnessed in the church—then shouldn’t the church’s members learn to accept each other?
If David, Moses, and the psalmist were enough, Paul provides a quote from Isaiah for good measure—“Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope’” (15:12). Taken from Isaiah 11, Paul reflects on the prophet’s prediction that the Messiah would come as a shoot springing up from the stump of David’s family line. He predicts that this shoot would rule the nations and on him the Gentiles will “rest their hopes.” The first century church that grew in a primarily Gentile world served as the fulfillment of this prophecy as more and more non-Jews were discovering the hope of Christ.
Paul’s use of David, Moses, the psalmist, and Isaiah is powerful evidence in favor for acceptance within the body of Christ. As all kinds of people are brought under Christ’s reign and are included in His kingdom, as all kinds of people within the church are able to celebrate the victory that Christ has provided, as it was God’s intention from the beginning was to save all kinds of people, and as all kinds of people can and do find their hope in the same Christ, believers everywhere ought to accept one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. In so doing, they will get along well and be used of God to bring more and different people into the every-growing family of God. Though Paul in Romans is trying to get Jews and Gentiles to play nice with each other, surely these principles apply today as the Holy Spirit draws all kinds of people to Christ in the church.
d. The Benediction After Acceptance-15:13
To mark the conclusion of this series of admonitions (14:1-15:12) towards unity and “getting along” Paul offers a benediction in verse 13. Letters like this one to the church in Rome, “often included a prayer or well-wishing for someone’s health, especially in the opening; Paul’s letters, which focus on spiritual issues, naturally include more prayers than most ancient letters (15:5-6, 33, etc.). Jewish people customarily used wish-prayers or blessings like this one in the same way that they used direct intercession, and Paul no doubt means for God as well as his Roman audience to hear this prayer” (Keener, IVPBBCNT, 453).
Paul’s benediction here begins with the following prayerful blessing: "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” In his comment on this prayer, Martin Luther states “the Apostle places joy first and then peace, because it is joy that gives peace to men, engendering it in their hearts” (Romans, 198-99). If joy yields peace, then, as Paul has argued for the better part of two chapters, respect, service and unity make up the nutrient-rich soil in which this joy grows in the life of the church.
The desired outcome/result of this prayer is identified at the end of verse 13—“so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” If respect, service, and unity are the nutrient rich soil and joy is the plant that flowers peace, then hope is the feeling one gets upon looking at the beautiful spectacle. Ultimately, as Paul has intimated time and time again in these chapters, all of these initiatives toward unity are accomplished by, because of, for, and as a result of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the lives of believers. Without the Spirit, believers would not be drawn to Christ, made a part of his family, or be able to get along. It is His power that ultimately brings hope—hope that is a byproduct of a church that get’s along in a world that is tearing itself apart.
Are you genuinely accepting of your brothers and sisters in Christ—even with their allowable idiosyncrasies and differing views? Or is your attitude toward them verging on mere tolerance? Brothers and sisters in Christ ought to be friends, not merely associates and the quickest way to correct this is remembering how Christ has accepted us and brought us all together by His Spirit. After all, if the church in Rome could overcome the differences between Jews and Gentiles in order to build each other up and reach their context, should we be able accept biblically allowable differences to do the same?
Can’t we all just get along? I truly hope so, because a church that Isn’t united is not going to be able to withstand what is coming in the future. If for no other reason, allow the warnings, pressure, and imminent persecution to correct your misgivings about the very people that God’s Spirit has drawn into His body and put on respect, service, and acceptance. The edification of the saints depends on it and our effectiveness in evangelism requires it.