February 8, 2015.
Daily Reading: Romans 12-14.
Background: Romans 9-11.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Spiritual worship: In John chapter 4, Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman who, when she perceives that He is a prophet, asks Him a question about worship. The Samaritans were a mixed race (Jewish and Gentile) who the Jews had no dealings with, but they both worshiped the Lord God, Holy one of Israel. Yet, the Samaritans worshiped on the mountain whereas the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. This must have been a point of contention between the two, for this is the first question that she wants to know when she sees that Jesus is more than just a man. Jesus implies that right then there was a specified place of worship, but the hour was coming when true worshipers would worship in spirit and in truth, implying a paradigm shift in worship (see John 4:16-26). Paul is speaking of this paradigm shift, offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, our spiritual worship. Though this may have indeed been a paradigm shift, it shouldn’t have been, for God has always desired this over sacrifice (see Hosea 6:6). This is not to say that worship isn’t important, but rather that our lives be worship, glorying God in our bodies and giving praise to Him daily. When we commit to this, worship and praise as we typically think about them will happen naturally, straight from the heart as opposed to an obligation of law. Worship in spirit and in truth comes from the heart (see Ephesians 5:18-21).
2. Using our own talents: Paul likes to use the analogy of comparing the body of Christ to a physical body, as he does in more detail in I Corinthians 12 where he emphasizes that each member is important, no matter how small a role we think the body part plays. Here, Paul takes the analogy at a slightly different angle, emphasizing the point that each of us should use our individual talents that God has given us to glorify the Lord. There is a concept in Christianity that we should get out of our comfort zones to spread the gospel, and whereas there may be some truth in the origin of this saying, Paul tells us to actually stay in our comfort zones (what we are good at according to our talents) to spread the gospel. Are you a natural leader? Glorify God through leadership. Are you good at seeing other’s needs and serving them? Glorify God through your service. Are you a good teacher? Teach for the glory of God. We are each given specific individual talents, and we are to use them for God’s glory.
3. How we should act towards others: Paul finishes this chapter with a section that is easy to understand, but extremely difficult to put into practice. The concepts he writes to the Romans, however, do not originate with himself, as he echoes a portion of the sermon on the mount where Jesus deals with the reaction we should have to those who do wrong to us (see Matthew 5:38-48). In short, Paul basically says to put on love, mercy and grace, living in peace with everyone if at all possible. Almost everything he says here at the end goes against our natural tendencies. When we are struck, we want to immediately strike back in defense. We don’t naturally want to do good to those who do evil to us. We have a tendency to be drawn to conflict and drama, and hardly any of us are not wise in our own sight. However, if we are to grow in Christ, this is a very important passage for us to meditate on, perhaps daily. Read it thoroughly, multiple times, and think about each short statement that Paul makes, assessing how you can apply it to your life. It is easy to get caught up in reading all of what Paul is saying here and forgetting the details in the process. Take them one at a time and think of a practical application for each. Though prayer and meditation, we can grow in these areas.
1. Submission to governing authorities: When we consider this passage, what we need to remember is that Paul was writing in a time period where the government was in no way Christian (or Jewish for that matter) and would soon, if not presently, turn to persecute Christianity heavily. Did he say to fight back? No. Did he say to ignore the government because they did not follow Christ? No. He said that the governing authorities were God’s servant for our good. Today we might have an easier time seeing this (though many who bear the name of Christ openly disrespect the governing body/officials and would happily live outside the law if certain things were made illegal), but this was likely very difficult to swallow for some first century Christians. Now, to be fair, Paul is not implying that we are to transgress the law of Christ if that’s what the government tells us to do. However, he is saying that the law of the land serves a purpose and we are to obey these laws, as the governing authorities are established by God. They are put there for our good. Do you want to avoid being punished by the authorities? Do what is good. It is interesting to note here that Paul says that the government does not “bear the sword in vain.” This is a good indication that Paul had no problem with capital punishment. Indeed, in one of his defenses when he was arrested, Paul even said that if he had done anything worthy of death, he did not seek to escape death (see Acts 25:6-12). We do not need to take the words that Paul pens in this chapter lightly, especially those at the end: “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (13:7).
2. Love: When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest command in the Law was, Jesus said the greatest command was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind; the second greatest was to love your neighbor as yourself. He went on to say that on these two commands hang all the law and the prophets (see Matthew 22:34-40). Paul echoes this very teaching here, expressing that love does not wrong to a neighbor. We are to fulfill the law through loving God and loving one another. But how often do we adhere to this? It is sometimes hard work to love the people around us, especially those who we feel have done us wrong in some way. However, Paul does not qualify these teaches by saying “love one another, unless you have a very good reason not to.” The teaching of Paul, and the teaching of Christ, was for steadfast love and mercy, not depending on what others did, but only depending on our own actions. It is interesting that Paul makes this statement just before he goes into a discourse of casting off darkness and walking in the light, as we know the time is at hand. Let us love one another as Christ loves us.
1. Passing judgment: This is perhaps one of the most ignored passages in Christianity today, not in the sense that it is not read, but rather in the sense that it is read and then not practiced. To get a fuller understanding of this passage, however, we must first know what Paul is not saying. Paul is not saying “you can’t judge anyone for anything.” This would be a direct contradiction of what he told the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 5 when it came to one in their number who had taken his father’s wife. In that passage, Paul explicitly says that those inside the church are to judge one another in terms of sins that others are committing (see I Corinthians 5:12-13), though it should be noted that this judgement was always for the intent of bringing the wandering brother home. We are to make righteous judgments when it comes to sins that our fellow Christians are living in. However, what Paul is saying here is that we are not to judge one another over matters of opinion. It is important to note that the people he was writing to would likely not have considered what they were judging one another over as opinions, but rather as sin.
The problem was they had no authority to call what they considered sin, sin. Paul says not to quarrel over matters of opinion of which they had no revelation from God one way or another. Actually, in the matter of food, Paul makes it abundantly clear that all food was clean if it was taken with thanksgiving. But the weaker brother who thought that it was a sin to eat certain foods was to accept him who did not hold this belief, and vice versa. Remember that Paul just finished expressing how everything should be done in love. Whatever convictions a man has, let him glorify Christ through these convictions (provided that they do not violate the law of Christ that we have been given explicitly). This teaching seems very obvious to us, but how many times do we completely ignore it? How many churches have been split over things that were not in the least bit doctrinal? How many splits have been over pride and opinions? Let us take lesson here and be sure that we put on love before we divide the body any more than it already has been. Division is not approved of by Christ (see I Corinthians 1-3).
2. Creating stumbling blocks: Following a section of teaching that we are not to pass judgment on one another over opinions, Paul takes it a step further. If you know something you are doing is going to cause your brother to stumble, then you should not do that when you are in the presence of that brother. Paul says that if meat offends his brother, he will no longer eat meat (see I Corinthians 8:13)! Paul knew what the love of Christ was about and he strove to show it to others. It is interesting to note here that Paul expresses the concept here that even if something isn’t actually a sin according to the law of Christ (such as eating certain types of food), if a disciple is convicted that it is a sin, to him it is sin. That being the case, if we partake in this action in front of our brother who thinks it is a sin and cause him to stumble, then we are no longer walking in love. We should not place stumbling blocks in the way of our brethren, no matter how prideful we are on the subject (which ironically leads to sin in and of itself). We are to pursue what makes for peace and mutual encouragement of one another. Remember: “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (14:23).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 20-23.
Let us love one another as Christ has loved us.