Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 53, Paul's Concluding Remarks, Part One

We are in the final portion of the book of Romans and Paul makes some concluding remarks and personal greetings.

"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of His people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me." (Romans 16:1-2) This Phoebe was evidently bound for Rome and Paul gives her a good recommendation. Over the centuries many of Paul's detractors have accused him of being prejudiced toward women because of remarks he made in 1 Corinthians 14 about how women should behave in church, but in Chapter 16 of Romans we can clearly see that Paul values the work women do for the kingdom of Christ.

"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house." (Romans 16:3-5a) We met this couple in the book of Acts. They were very dear friends of the Apostle Paul.

"Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." (Romans 16:5b-7) It is believed that Junia is a woman's name, and here we find Paul crediting her with the title of "apostle". We don't know when or where Andronicus and Junia were in prison with Paul, but he clearly holds them both in high regard.

"Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys. Greet Apelles, whose fidelity to Christ has stood the test. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord." (Romans 16:8-12) Paul includes several more women in this list of brave soldiers of the Lord.

"Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." (Romans 16:13) It is thought that Rufus may be the same Rufus mentioned in Mark 15:21, "A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross." Mark mentions Alexander and Rufus as if they are well known to the church, and this indicates they became believers in Christ. If so, Rufus could very well have been a friend of the Apostle Paul.

"Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord's people who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings." (Romans 16:14-16)

The personal stories of all these people have been lost to history. We don't know how many souls were saved through their work. We don't know how many of them may have lost their lives for the faith. But their names are preserved on the pages of the Bible, and more importantly their names are written in the Lamb's book of life. They are in His presence, rejoicing in the Savior they so faithfully served.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Something Wrong With Blogger

I hope I will be able to post this. Something has been wrong with the Blogger website and it has not been saving or publishing the posts. I lost most everything I had written for Romans 16 and will need to redo it. I'm so sorry, I thank you for your patience. I don't know what is going wrong.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 52, Paul's Intention To Visit Rome

Paul wrote his letter to the Christians at Rome before he ever went there. We don't know who took the gospel to Rome but there was a thriving Christian community in that area. Today Paul speaks of his intention to see the Roman believers in person. He will see them, but as we learned from the book of Acts, it will be as a prisoner.

He concluded yesterday by saying he had occupied himself with preaching the gospel where it had never before been preached, which is why he now says, "This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you." (Romans 15:22) Paul has not been able to visit these believers yet because he has been busy sharing the gospel in places where no one has ever shared it.

"But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to see you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while." (Romans 15:23-24) He feels his work is about finished in the regions where he has been preaching, so he plans to go to Spain next and to visit those at Rome on his way.

"Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the Lord's people there. For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the Lord's people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessings of Christ." (Romans 15:25-29) In Acts we read about the offering that was collected for the people at Jerusalem. At Jerusalem Paul will be arrested and will eventually be sent to Rome to be held until his case comes up before Emperor Nero.

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord's people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God's will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen." (Romans 15:30-33) Paul knows there is danger at Jerusalem. He asks these believers to pray for his safety. And as we learned in the book of Acts, God did keep him safe from the plots against his life at Jerusalem, and God did deliver him safely to Rome where Paul disembarks a ship as a prisoner and the first thing he sees is a group of believers waiting to welcome him. "The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged." (Acts 28:15)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 51, Minister To The Gentiles

Paul rejoices in his ministry to the Gentiles and he gives glory to Christ for His saving work among the Gentiles.

"I myself am convinced, brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and and competent to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14) He doesn't want his readers to think he is writing to them because he thinks they are not able to tell good from evil. As Christians they are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit who indwells Paul. He doesn't want them to feel he is talking down to them.

But as a man called by God to be a minister of the gospel, Paul wants to share his insight and experience with the believers at Rome. "Yet I have written to you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:15-16)

"Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in My service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done---by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God." (Romans 15:17-19a) Paul can only speak of the things God has done through him; he knows he is not the only minister God has called to lead the Gentiles to Christ. But he can speak of the great things God has done in his ministry without bragging on himself. He gives all the glory to Jesus Christ. The signs and wonders were not performed through the power of Paul. The conversion of souls was not accomplished through the power of Paul. So in rejoicing over what God has done for the Gentiles, Paul is not giving glory and honor to himself. He's pointing all the glory and honor to the Lord.

The honor and glory for anything good we accomplish on this earth must go to Christ. If I have ever helped anyone in any way in the faith, Christ alone deserves the praise. Before Christ saved me I was not a very sympathetic or compassionate person. If a particular situation did not directly affect my own life, I didn't concern myself with it. I loved my family members and friends, but I can't honestly say I loved my fellow man in general. Saying, "I love you," even to those close to me was difficult. It just didn't come naturally. So, like Paul, I can't brag about myself, because I know what my carnal nature is like. I know who I was before Christ saved me. I know my human tendencies to be selfish and cold. But also like Paul, I can give honor and glory to Christ for the changes He has made in me. I still make mistakes. Paul did too. We all do. But thanks be to the Lord Jesus, we aren't who we used to be.

"So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation." (Romans 15:19b-20) Paul was not the only person preaching to the Gentiles. He didn't go barging into territories where other men were doing the gospel work, as if he had more authority than they did. Instead he focused on getting the gospel to people who had never heard it. His goal wasn't to "add to" anything other ministers were doing, but to make sure as many people as possible had access to the gospel.

"Rather, is it is written: 'Those who were not told about Him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.'" (Romans 15:21) This quote is from Isaiah 52:15. The prophet spoke these words right before penning his vision of the crucifixion in Isaiah 53. He said of the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus Christ, "See, My Servant will act wisely; He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at Him---His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness---so He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.'" (Isaiah 52:13-15)

Paul is saying, "These Scriptures are being fulfilled before your very eyes. The gospel is going out to all the nations, just as God said it would. It has nothing to do with my talents or abilities, and it has nothing to do with the talents and abilities of other ministers of the gospel. It has to do with the will of God and the power of God. All the glory goes to Christ, the One who is saving souls and changing lives."

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 50, The Same Attitude As Christ

Paul encourages us to have the same attitude toward each other as Christ has toward us.

Chapter 15 picks up on the same theme as Chapter 14. "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves." (Romans 15:1) Not everyone in the church has the same strength of faith. Those who are stronger should encourage those who are weaker. Those who are stronger should not use their liberty in Christ to eat or drink things (as Paul discussed yesterday) in front of those who do not feel that all food and drink is acceptable.

"Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written, 'The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.'" (Romans 15:2-3) This quote from Psalm 69 is used by Paul to prove that Christ did not live His life to please Himself. He lived in His life in obedience to God, which meant going to the cross.

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope." (Romans 15:4) Amen! We still use the Scriptures for encouragement and hope because the word of God is alive and active. (Hebrews 4:12) The word of God is still as true today as it ever was.

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6) Unity in the church glorifies God. As the people of God we should be united together in love, not bickering among ourselves.

"Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy." (Romans 15:7-9a) Jesus Christ the Messiah came to His people just as had been promised. But He also fulfilled promises to the Gentiles. God had always intended to include both Jews and Gentiles in His family.

"As it is written: 'Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of Your name.' Again, it says, 'Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.' And again, 'Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol Him.' And again, Isaiah says, 'The Root of Jesse will spring up, One who will arise to rule over the nations; in Him the Gentiles will hope.'" (Romans 15:9b-12) These quotes are from the books of 2 Samuel, Psalms, and Isaiah. Paul didn't pick a verse from somewhere in the Scriptures and use it out of context to build his case. It was always foretold that God would call the Gentiles. The point here I think is that if God chose two groups as different as Jews and Gentiles to be His family, we should be willing to accept differences of personalities in the church.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13) The only genuine joy, peace, and hope that can be found in this world is through the Lord.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 49, Keeping Peace In The Church

Paul continues on today with his instructions about how to keep peace in the church. Though everyone who belongs to Christ is part of the family of God, we may not always agree on every single matter. These things should not cause division between us. We must love our brothers and sisters in Christ just as we love our biological brothers and sisters, and we must learn that sometimes the best thing to do is agree to disagree. Paul is not speaking about matters of Spiritual doctrine or about the gospel message; the Bible says what it says and the gospel is the gospel. But he's speaking of smaller matters that don't have to do with our salvation.

"You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: 'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before Me; every tongue will acknowledge God.' So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God." (Romans 14:10-12) We don't need to be looking down on our fellow believers as if we ourselves are not going to have to give an account for our lives before God. It's not our place to judge our brother or sister.

"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval." (Romans 14:13-18) The growing church was made up of both Jewish and Gentile converts. Having been brought up with the dietary laws, many of the Jewish believers still could not bring themselves to eat anything formerly considered unclean. Paul instructs his readers not to eat these foods in the presence of anyone who will be offended by them. Though Paul believes it is acceptable in the age of grace to eat any food, it is not acceptable to offend a fellow believer by eating food in front of him that will cause him distress.

Would we invite someone to our house who is severely diabetic and serve nothing but foods full of sugar? Would we invite a former alcoholic for dinner and then serve drinks? Would we serve nothing but unhealthy food to a friend who is trying to lose weight because of heart or blood pressure problems? We can clearly see that these things would be wrong. It would be equally wrong to eat a ham sandwich at the dinner table with a person whose conscience is troubled by it and who will feel offended at the sight of it.

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall." (Romans 14:19-21) It could cause a person to fall away from the church and drift away from Christ if he saw Christians participating in things he feels are wrong.

"So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." (Romans 14:22-23) If a certain thing bothers our conscience, although there may be no commandment against it, we should abstain from it. Sometimes we just don't feel right about a particular thing. It may not actually be sinful, and it might be alright for others to do it, but it might not be right for us. Paul says we should obey our consciences in such matters.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Letter Of The Apostle Paul To The Romans. Day 48, Avoiding Disputes/Harmony In The Church

In today's passage Paul is dealing with differences of opinion in the Christian church. These are not differences in opinion regarding the gospel, but regarding matters of personal preference. He urges everyone to get along together peacefully, with no one looking down on another. In his day some were abstaining from eating meat altogether for fear it had been offered to an idol. Living in idolatrous Rome, that was certainly possible. After a Roman offered part of a sacrifice to a god, he could then sell the meat in the marketplace. In Paul's opinion the person whose faith is strong will understand that any food that is blessed is now clean, but that person should not look down on the person who is afraid to eat foods without knowing their origin.

"Accept those whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters." (Romans 14:1) Many things in the church come down to personal opinions, not specific commandments. For instance, there are those who don't feel right using anything but the King James Bible, while others feel free to utilize other versions. I myself use the New International Version for this blog because I find it more user-friendly. I've had people tell me that the old English used in the KJV is hard for them to read and that it actually prevents them from reading it more. So my personal opinion on this matter is: use the version you will enjoy reading. I've tested out all the most popular versions and can't find a problem with any of them and can't find any place where the gospel message has been altered in any way, so if you like the KJV, NIV, Message Bible, or whatever---read the one you enjoy reading. It's no use to have a Bible you won't read. Another example of disputes in the church involves music. My church uses contemporary music, which is my favorite. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with anyone who prefers traditional music. If contemporary music feeds your soul and helps you worship the Lord, listen to it. If traditional music is what puts you in a reverent and worshipful frame of mind, listen to it.

Paul goes on to say, "One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand." (Romans 14:2-4) In our world today we have vegetarians and vegans who, for either moral or health reasons, do not eat animal products. That's their business and not mine. I don't have the right to make fun of them for not eating meat, and they don't have the right to make fun of me for eating a piece of fried chicken. Disputes over minor matters are how Satan causes division in the church. He will try to cause us to disagree on small things in order to take our minds off the things that really matter. Our focus is to be on Christ and on getting the gospel message to the world, not on arguing about matters that have nothing to do with our salvation.

"One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:5-6) Paul understood that Jewish converts might still prefer to observe the traditional Sabbath and the Jewish holy days, and he feels it's fine if they want to set aside these days to give particular attention and worship to the Lord. The Gentile converts didn't have these traditions, and there is nothing to be gained by forcing these traditions on the Gentile believers. So he's saying something like, "If you want to give special thanks to the Lord on particular days, do it. If you want to thank God equally for each day, do it."

Our lives are to revolve around the Lord, not around disputes regarding matters of food or holy days or music or what version of the Bible to read or anything similar. We are to observe what Jesus said are the two greatest commandments: to love the Lord and to love others. In keeping our minds on what really matters in the church, we are both loving God and loving others. "For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living." (Romans 14:7-9)

We might not agree in every way with the person sitting beside us on the church pew, but Christ died for that person just as much as He died for us. He loves that person like He loves us. Keeping this in mind, we should all be gentle with each other. The body of Christ is made up of people from all walks of life and with very different backgrounds, but what matters is that we are all saved in the same way, by the same faith, by the same grace, by the same Savior.