Reflections From 2 KINGS 1-5: “ELIJAH & ELISHA—MIGHTY PROPHETS”

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In the ministry of these two prophets the word of the LORD performs signs and wonders.  Chapter one for example shows Elijah calling down fire from heaven in the classic account of Yahweh against the prophets of Baal.  As a result of king Ahaziah’s idolatry, Elijah twice prophesied his death (1:1-18).  In this instance, nothing the king attempted even imploring the LORD would stay the swiftness of God’s word through the prophet for he, “died according to the word of the LORD which Elijah had spoken”(1:17).

Chapter two recounts Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to come onto him (2:9) and in response after Elijah is taken up by a whirlwind (2:11) the prophet’s spirit comes upon Elisha where he parts the Jordan’s water (2:14), purifies bad water (2:21), he curses mocking youths and two female nears tear-up forty-two of them (2:24)

Chapter three Elisha is called upon by Jehoshaphat to inquire of the LORD for direction before going into battle against Moab.  The prophet oddly calls for a minstrel and when he played the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha so that he spoke and delivered the battle strategy for Israel and assuring success (3:14-27).

In chapter four there’s the account of the widows oil which Elisha multiplied so she could care for her household and thus pay off her debts (4:1-7); then there’s the barren prominent Shunammite woman who gives birth to a son (4:8-17).  This son eventually dies but Elisha raises him from the dead (4:28-37).  Again, the text reveals Elisha healing the poisonous stew so that the hungry may eat and live during a famine (4:38-44).

In chapter five Elisha heals Naaman’s leprosy and Gehazi’s leprosy is brought upon by his greed.  Especially moving to me is Elisha’s word to his servant Gehazi before the leprosy manifested:

“Did not my heart go with you, when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants?” (5:26)             

These rhetorical questions demonstrate something very moving and grave—be careful not to use God’s gifts as a means to dishonest gain, for freely we have receive and freely we are to give. How different is Elisha’s attitude toward money compared to many American televangelists?  I wonder how many today would receive leprosy for their shameless pedaling of God’s word for gain.  Is not the LORD our portion in this life and did he not always promise to care for us?

Paul said it well that godliness with contentment is great gain!  Gehazi’s can be mine also, that’s why I need the LORD to keep me from such scandalous transgression.

Back to the prophet’s exploits.  Of the many things that stand out to me is the certainty of God’s word that can be trusted.  While this very word was vilified and spurned in the Garden of Eden by our first parents, and continues to be denigrated unto this day, it nevertheless remains God’s faithful word of power which in its due time, always comes to pass.  How weighty God’s eternal word is that brings both life and death to creatures.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 22: “LOVE IT OR HATE IT, GOD’S WORD IS ETERNAL TRUTH”

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As this book of Kings concludes I’m fascinated by how Israel’s King Ahab despises the LORD’S word by hating Micaiah’s word.  This man was a true prophet who unlike those who tickled the kings ear and spoke of peace in the kingdom, Micaiah foretold the truth that defeat and death awaited King Ahab.

King Ahab is encouraged by Jehoshaphat King of Judah to inquire of the LORD before going into battle.  Ahab gathered his four hundred plus prophets but after hearing them Jehoshaphat knew they were not the real deal (Vv.5-7) and asks: “is there not yet a prophet of the LORD here…?” Ahab’s response reveals the hearts tendency to reject God’s word:

The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord, but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.” But Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.”

Note here that Ahab hates God’s prophet not because what is said is false, but because it is a message of doom for the hard hearted king.  When Christians share the gospel message faithfully and believers reject it, they in essence are acting as Ahab did.  We’ve all fallen suit at one time or another in our lives.

Eventually Micaiah’s word came to pass and Ahab died in battle.  Before going to war the king imprisoned the prophet and nothing else is stated.  Micaiah comes in and out of the story in a heartbeat (Vv.13-28).  He assures the king that if what he says does not come to pass, then the LORD did not speak through him.  The man of God was willing to be wrong but not at God’s expense.  The fact that what he said came to pass was proof that he was a true prophet.

Jesus spoke in Mathew 5 about receiving a prophet’s reward because of being persecuted for His sake: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.  A real prophet like a real Christian will speak the truth, even if it brings persecution because God’s kingdom is of far greater worth than the temporary comforts this fleeting life brings.

This microcosm of events in space time history is much the same like everyone else’s: the word of the LORD comes and how we respond to it determines our destiny.  There’s a price to pay for being God’s mouth piece.  May Christ embolden us to be truth tellers not just truth bearers.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 20-21: “THE LORD’S WORD COMES, BUT THAT DOESN’T NEGATE THE VALUE OF OUR ACTIONS”

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            When it comes to the issue of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, historically Christians of all stripes have differed and often very passionately.  The issue of how these two biblical truths interact can be very puzzling.  Generally one aspect of the issue is emphasized over the other (i.e., divine sovereignty vs. human free choice) and when this occurs, biblical passages usually end up contradicting the position(s) held.

This issue is particularly vexing for the thinking person who wants to faithfully make sense out of scriptural texts and get to know God more intimately.  Consider the life of Israel’s King Ahab which says:

“Surely there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the sight of the LORD…acted abominably in following idols according to all the Amonites had done…” (vv.25-26)

Nevertheless, he experienced a measure of Gods’ grace because he decided to humble himself before the LORD (vv.27-29).  God promised to eradicate Ahab’s name from the earth because he made Israel sin (21:19-22) and provoked the LORD through his idolatry.  The point is that Ahab put on sackcloth and ashes (a mark of repentance and humility) before the LORD.  God’s response to this:

“Do you see how Ahab has humbled himself before Me?  Because he has…I will not bring the evil in his days, but I will bring the evil upon his house in his son’s days.” (21:29)  

Even this wicked king received mercy from the LORD because of his choice to humble himself.  His decision was significant indeed and God responded to this image bearer with kindness.

While our choices matter, God is nonetheless absolutely sovereign and in the wise council of the Trinity there’s always much more happening than we can immediately recognize.  Much like a play where the focus is on the main character, it’s usually the less obvious character(s) which gives the lead role a nuanced landscape of color, depth, breadth, length and height in order to make the story come alive.  So it is with the story of Ahab and even in our own.  The choices we make effect and affect not just the main character but a string of individuals in the grand scheme of things.  Of this I am often not aware.

(SDG)

Reflections From 1 KINGS 19: “FEAR CAN CRIPPLE EVEN MIGHTY ELIJAH”

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            The prophet Elijah is one of the most significant memorable Biblical characters especially because of the signs and wonders he through God’s power.  He predicts the drought that ravaged Israel for three years (17:1).  By Gods command he’s fed by the ravens (17:6); he’s also fed by the widow at God’s direction (17:9-16); he’s the man of God who raised the dead widows’ son (17:21-24) and he’s the prophet who on Mount Carmel demonstrated God’s power vengeance (18:1-40).  He showed God’s power as the sacrifice was consumed from heaven and the LORD’s vengeance as he slew the false prophets of Baal, all of which was in keeping with God’s law.

Moreover, after the land was cleansed from idolatry, the drought ends (18:41-46) and the prophet outruns the chariot of Ahab to Jezreel.  Something perturbing however occurs when Jezebel hears of the events at Mount Carmel: she threatens to take Elijah’s life and the prophet flees in fear (19:1-4).  Why?  The queen is a mere mortal but Elijah is God’s man as previously noted, so why is he afraid of her threats?

God in the wilderness entreats the prophet, “…what are you doing here Elijah?” (19:9), as if God had changed His power and favor toward the prophet.  God asks the Elijah the same question and he gives the same answer essentially, “I’m sold out for You and Your ways, but Your enemies want to kill me” (19:14).  Puzzled by the prophet’s behavior, I consulted a commentary [Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol.4, pg.148] and several explanations were offered.

First, Elijah could have fled because Jezebel was no mere woman, but a cold hearted fierce, unrepentant queen and because this movement of revolution she knew could not succeed without a leader, Elijah knew he was the target.  But the prophet had come to see himself as too important as a result of his God-given success and now pride arose in him [pg.148].  Why did he go from such glorious heights to the depths of despair?  Perhaps because Elijah was basking in the glory of the spectacular…but God does not always move in the realm of the extraordinary.  To live seeking one spiritual high after another is to have a misdirected zeal for most of life is lived in the valley, in the quiet humble routines of obedience to God’s will [Ibid., pg.148].  Jezebel’s unrepentant heart after said events seemed to have disheartened Elijah.

Another view rests on the use of a vowel in the MT.  According to Allen, “and he was afraid” is not a correct translation but rather, “and he saw” is the proper rendering of the term in line with the MT vowel system.  The point is that Elijah fled not for fear but because of a broken heart over the queens unrepentant soul (Ibid., Pg.149) and paganism’s continuing power over the nation.

Third, perhaps Elijah knew that he was no better than his fathers (19:4) and so he desired to die.  This extreme request sees the prophet going into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to Horeb.  This experience is similar to Moses’; both waited for 40 days without food on Horeb, both experienced Gods presence in a new way—Moses with the tablets of stone and glory that shone on him, Elijah found God in a sound that gently blew (19:12).  This is not an animistic reference to God where he is the gentle blowing wind, but shows that God acts through the most insignificant ways of which often we are unaware.

Thus far, a faithful man of God emerges who is burdened with a nation (Israel) that truly does not love nor worship the one true “God”.  The LORD is despised by Israel seen through their idolatry where the worship of the creature trumps worshipping the creator.  God however is gentle with his prophet and patient with wayward Israel.

Reflections From 1 KINGS 13-15 “CAN BEING A MAN AFTER GOD’S OWN HEART EQUAL SINLESSNESS?”

crown-8-persian-persepFor years I’ve considered the refrain, “David, a man after God’s own heart”, as somewhat troubling.  He indeed showed tremendous courage in battle, unflinching loyalty in friendship and great skill in leading a nation.  However, Scripture also records a David who used deception to save his own skin at another’s expense.  He’s infamously known for his adultery, murder and betrayal against Uriah, his loyal soldier, for having blurred judgment because of past sins, and tragedy that seemed to transpire often in his family.

So while David’s life was far from exemplary, he nevertheless is known as the man after God’s own heart.  What could that mean?  Far from being a sinless man, David nonetheless treasured God’s word and mercy understanding that ultimately all sin was against God.  We see this when he repented after being confronted by the prophet Nathan even though God assured him that trouble would not leave his home…and his family life was horrible after this betrayal of Uriah.

King Asa is said to have been wholly devoted to the LORD all his days (15:14) even though he did not remove the high places (i.e. where sexual acts were performed as part of pagan worship of other gods) form Israel.  That is, where idolatry and despicable acts of false worship occurred, Asa did nothing to eradicate it, or so it would seem.

Its grievous reading about the kings’ of Israel, for most of them did not emulate David or Asa.  Instead, they worshipped and served the gods of the Nations Israel once conquered.  Thus, when it comes to being one who pleases the LORD, sinless perfection (i.e., the present eradication of all sin now) is not in view.  Instead, it’s the life whose trajectory is Godward and God-centered even when some of our actions are evil, are sinful.

LORD Jesus, have mercy on me, on us and help us this day honor your great name in word, deed and thought.

(SDG)

Available Now: Reflections From Romans!

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Working through the book of  Romans for me in the manner in which I’m encouraging you friend to do, has been an amazing plunge into the simplicity and complexity of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Now available in its entirety is what for me is Paul’s “Gospel Himalayas” in (click) Reflections from Romans 

Take up and read, pass it along to others, let it become part of your daily walk Christian and treasure this Gospel like no other possession.  For nothing else compares to its splendor, beauty, majesty and power.  As the apostle Paul stated in Romans 1:16-17:

16 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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

May you and I dear friend also not be ashamed of this good news which alone can save through the risen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead, may we make it our life’s goal to know it, love it, and live before a broken world that desperately needs true and real hope.

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 16: “THE GOSPEL OF GOD BEARS THE FRUIT OF OBEDIENCE FOR HIS NAMES SAKE”

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            Paul in this chapter rounds off his Gospel opus by first acknowledging the Gentile and Jewish fruit borne by the power of the holy resurrected Lord (vv.1-16, 21-24), secondly by warning converts to turn away from those preaching a contrary Gospel to his (vv.17-20), and lastly by offering an amazing benediction (vv.25-27).

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.  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. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, the approvedin Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 GreetRufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.”

21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]

Paul begins by acknowledging the fruit the Gospel bore through mentioning the names of both Jewish and Gentile men and women, some prominent others common, but all participants in one way or another with their gifts and talents in the Gospel work (i.e., the obedience of faith).  These were committed to Paul through being committed to Christ.

What is apparent to me is that real, named people in space time history demonstrated in differing capacities the genuineness of their profession by how they lived.  This life was fueled by a love for God which sometimes led to peril and other times brought about pleasure.  But regardless, this was a faith demonstrated through words and deeds and was worthy to be praised and mentioned.

This Gospel touches real people who Paul called, “fellow workers”, “fellow prisoners”, “who risked their own necks”, “in the Lord”, “my first convert in Asia”, “a choice man in the Lord”, etc.  What an honor to be named in this list, to be mentioned in this letter.  Often in Scripture when people’s names are mentioned we see accentuated their dark side, their shameful acts.  But here what’s being accentuated is Gospel fruit…please don’t miss this friend.  In a day with twisted, anemic, impotent views of what it means to be a Christian, this text accentuates that to be a real believer Gospel fruit must be evident or one is not real, period!

Moreover, this Gospel which produces fruit in space time history issues from the God who is there, the God of the Gospel who while justly wrathful is nevertheless benevolently merciful to those who through the preached Gospel are called, chosen and elect (Rom.9-11).

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

Secondly, Paul urges believers to guard the truth of the Gospel and the church through guarding the Gospel they received.  This requires knowing it, loving it, being convinced of its veracity, being vigilant for false gospels which would try to subvert the real Gospel delivered to them through the prophets and the apostles.  They are to do this command by turning away from false teachings.

In other places Paul is seen arguing forcefully against those who teach a contrary Gospel (e.g., Acts, Galatians) but here he commands the Roman church to turn away, not even engage them in debate.  Is he contradicting himself?  In order for a contradiction to be in order, there would have to be a text that commands to always turn away and never debate concerning the message but there isn’t.  Instead, there’s a time and place for everything as evidenced in the life of Christ, Peter, Paul, etc.  There’s a time to engage false teaching (Acts 17, 1 Pet.3:15, Jude 3) and there’s a time to refrain (Mt.10:14; Mk.6:11; Lk.9:5).  Paul is not just confident that the Roman church will obey him, but he wants to assure them that “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.  That is, this present struggle has a definite end which God in his wise timing will bring about.

25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, 26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.

             Lastly, Paul offers a benediction which in my estimation is up there with texts like (Num.6; Heb.13; 1 Tim.1, etc,) and offers a prayer on behalf of the Roman believers that God establish them evidenced by their being led to live an obedient faith.  Paul’s Gospel delivered through preaching Christ Jesus which is the revelation of the mystery previously hidden but now revealed through the prophetic Scriptures which are sourced in the eternal self-existent God, has now been made known to all the nations (not just to Israel) for the purpose of bringing eternal glory to the only wise God, revealed to us through the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son, the 2nd person of the Triune God.

What Paul is accentuating is that God has spoken through this gospel whose authenticity is sourced in God, reveals God, and thus produces the life of God in those who claim to know God.  To Him, Be the glory forever.  Amen!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 15: “THE WEAK AND STRONG OUGHT TO LIVE FOR THE EDIFICATION OF THE OTHER”

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             Paul continues his thought from the previous chapter regarding the strong and the weak who are both accepted by God and therefore are to accept one another on issues not central to the Gospel (e.g., eating meat vs. vegetables) specifically addressed to the Jewish and Gentile believer.  We obey this command in obedience to (Rom.12:1-2) where our living holy is made possible by God’s mercies toward us.  Thus Paul commands:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”

So then, Paul exhorts the strong to live for the good of their weaker brother and not just live for themselves which he grounds on the example of what Christ previously accomplished.  Here, the apostle quotes Psalm 69:7-9 which reads:

Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons.  For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

The context of this psalm depicts in large measure Christ, the Son of God, the Most High, bearing the insults of friends and neighbors, relatives and siblings because of who he was and what he said.  This suffering he endured for God’s sake, so in the same way we are to emulate Jesus if we truly are the strong.  We ought to live in an understanding way with our weaker brothers who unjustly judge us and simultaneously think they are more acceptable before God than we.  We are to do this for God’s sake so that we may build up the body of Christ.

This depicts what it means for us to pick-up the cross, deny ourselves and follow Christ.  This is real suffering (Mt.5:10-12) and part of kingdom living.   To spur us on in the command he says:

“ For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

             Paul is reminding the reader here to consider the word of God and its content and to understand that its purpose is to edify us through hardship so that hope may arise.  Hope is a Scriptural word denoting a confident expectation of what God has spoken will come to pass.  He is the God who is present to meet our every need which includes the turmoil experienced by the soul when we are unjustly treated.  Christ knows this well by personal experience and will shepherd us safely through the storm.  Paul continues:

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers,

Instead of discord, Paul exhorts the reader to “grow-up” already and be of the same mind (i.e., I take to mean on things that are not essential to the gospel, don’t divide but rather build up one another, accept each other because God has accepted both weak and strong).  The purpose here is God’s glory.  Paul continues his point in verse 9-13:

and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 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.” 13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

             Paul now will switch his focus from giving commands to appealing to his apostolic authority as the means of grace through which God enabled him to preach this gospel which demands the abovementioned directives for the edification of the church:

14 And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”      

             Paul now backs his apostolic authority by appealing to the Gentile fruit produced through the word preached evidenced in their obedience of faith (i.e., in word and deed, they talked and the talk and walked the walk) because of the power of the Holy Spirit in the gospel proclamation.  This proclamation left no stone unturned:

17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation; 21 but as it is written, “They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand.”

             Paul rounds off this section of biography with a plea for intercessory prayer that struggles on his behalf so that the enemies of the gospel may not subvert his service in Jerusalem and so that he may arrive in Rome in order to be refreshed and filled with joy by the saints there:

22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;23 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 24 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—25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 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. 28 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. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.  30 Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; 32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”

             Paul cared for not only the spiritual needs of the saints but also for their daily sustenance evidenced in his ministerial fruit from Macedonia and Achaia.  These Gentile believers emulated their example who was Paul, the former enemy of the gospel and now its’ greatest proponent.  Amazing!

(SDG)

Reflections From ROMANS 14: “HOW CAN BELIEVERS LIVE IN COMMUNITY WHEN OUR DIFFERENCES ARE SO DEAR TO US?”

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For Paul, God’s mercies in the Gospel, is the source of transformation that propels how we live personally and corporately.  Be it before believers, the non-believing world or ruling authorities, the one thread holding righteous action together is our submission to the God of creation, the impetus of which is love for Him and our neighbor.

After addressing the delicate matter of submitting to rulers and what that entails contextually because God is ultimate and they are not, Paul ends chapter 13 with:  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  Immediately Paul follows this command that referred back to what was previously said to what now follows in chapter 14:

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Paul seems to be addressing Jewish and Gentile relations and how to live within that milieu when disagreements arise as to what is or is not an essential to the Gospel, and how we are to live.  It seems clear that Paul leaves room for some kind of relativism for issues known as adiaphora from the Greek ἀδιάφορα “indifferent things”[1], things of which believers have disputed historically and have tended to make them “deal-breakers” concerning the faith.  This means that believers have broken fellowship over issues not central to the faith.

Now what does Paul mean in verse 1 by: “Now accept… but not for the purpose of passing judgment”?

The NIV reads, “Accept the one… without quarreling over disputable matters”, whereas

The ESV says, “As for the one… welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”  Still another rendering[2] says: “Receive the one…not (entering into) the judging of reasoned views”, while still another[3] source reads, “Welcome, but not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions”.

From these renditions of the text, Paul seems to be admonishing believers to accept one another even as God has accepted them (v.3) by not trying to “fix” the others views (i.e., their doctrine) about issues that are dear to them but still not central to the Gospel.  Rather than (i.e., a Gentile) having as a goal, the correction of his brother (i.e., a Jew’s) dietary views, Paul admonishes fellowship.  Instead of having a superiority complex toward those that don’t understand certain freedoms Christ purchased for them, Paul commands tender understanding rooted in love.   Consider the text:

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”   

According to Paul the weak are those who can only eat vegetables because of their conscience, not because God in the Gospel demands it.  What the Gospel does demand however is walking in love with our neighbor, especially other believers.  This issue has to do with foods that are clean or unclean which Jesus declared to be clean (See Mk.7:1-13), for food never makes one clean or polluted before God, sin does, thus the need for the Gospel (Rom.1:18-32).  Note that both the weak and the strong are challenged by love’s demand for acceptance for God has accepted them.

This text among other things does not say that we are never to judge the actions of another to see whether or not they are sinful and thus contra to the Gospel (See: Mt.7; Rom.12), but rather it is pointing out that God accepts His people because of His Son while they still have issues they get wrongly.  Nevertheless, because they are not essential to the Gospel, a sort of relativism is permitted by the all-wise God and believers need to learn to walk wisely in such circumstances.  Paul develops the same argument:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 

The following is clear; first, because we are the Lord’s (weak and strong), our motives in how we live are to be God-centered—we are to live in light of His Lordship (vv.5-9); second, the issues at hand are foods and days (non-essentials to the Gospel) not blatant sin which is contradictory living under Christ’s Lordship (e.g., Rom.1:20-30: homosexual activity, greed, evil, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slander, haters of God, etc.); third, believers are never to separate because of non-essential issues (v.10); fourth, we are reminded that salvation is only found in Christ the Lord (vv.11-12; Phil.2:9-11) who not only rescued believers but will also be their judge.  Thus, because Christ has rescued and accepted every believer (servant), every believer is to do likewise for judgement awaits us all (God will judge His children’s works).  Lastly, an attitude of protection is to depict our interaction within the Christian community.  That is, we should be deeply concerned that our lives and freedoms (we can rightly enjoy in Christ) are not an occasion for hurting another believers’ walk with God. In light of the aforesaid, Paul says:

14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

To remove a stumbling block entails not partaking in what the weaker brother rejects (i.e., eating meat or worshiping on a specific day) and doing so is acceptable before God (v.18).  So God accepts both weak and strong in that which is not essential to the Gospel, believers are likewise to be accepting of one another (both weak and strong), and if the strong are not considerate of their weaker brother, that is unacceptable to God.

Paul’s concern here is the edification of the church rather than its destruction and warns against a cavalier attitude in these matters.  Walking in love with one another means that non-essential issues like diet and Days observed, are never to be the reason why we break fellowship.  Rather, we are called to live for the good of another through the Gospel realities so that Christ may be honored and the nations may be reached with such glorious news.

Are movies, drinking alcohol, dancing, music, home-schooling, political preference (Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc.) or a host of other things non-essential to the Gospel?  Yes, and yet our views concerning such matters often leads to unrighteousness that does not edify the church.  Are there gray areas in life?  Absolutely; so may we as lovers of God and neighbor ask for divine wisdom in these matters in order to live a life that’s honoring to God, the Church and the watching World, for our lives are not our own, Christ has purchased us through His blood which is why exhorts believers in Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”            

 (SDG

[1] https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=adiaphora%20definition (Accessed 6/23/2016)

[2] D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, pg. 684

[3] Reinecker, pg.379

On The Authority of Scripture: Primer Chart

 

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AUTHORITIES OR VOICES are constantly vying for our allegiance.  Everyone listens to “some” authority, (i.e., someone who commands our allegiance to act a certain way for some reason or another).  The Bible is calling for our allegiance as well.

MOST CHRISTIANS agree that the Bible is our authority in some sense.  But in what way does the Bible claim to be our authority?  How do we become convinced that the words in the Bible are true and thus binding?   It is these types of questions that The Authority of Scripture: Primer Chart deals with and is now available for your edification.  Enjoy and consider.