February 15, 2015.
Daily Reading: Romans 15-16.
Background: Romans 12-14.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Former instruction and how we should treat others: Continuing on the theme from the last chapter, Paul makes some clear statements that are very hard to put into practice for they seem to go against human nature. We are often selfish creatures that look out for ourselves first before we look to the needs of others. We have many ways to justify our actions that have been developed through the years to make ourselves feel better, but Paul cuts right to the heart. He says that we have the obligation to bear with the failings of the weak. Take a minute to let that set it, considering the deep implications that come from this instruction. He goes on to say that we are to not please ourselves, but please our neighbor. Notice that Paul doesn’t say “bear with those who are doing doing the right things but are annoying us,” but rather that we are to bear with “the failings of the weak.” We are not to drive a wedge, but rather lift them up, attending to their needs as opposed to satisfying our pride.
Why? This is exactly what Christ did for us. He bore our reproach, taking our sin and shame, our pride and failings, to the cross that we might have the hope of salvation. Once we understand this on a deeper level, then we have the obligation to bear with those who are weaker. The verse that Paul cites here is from Psalm 69:9, which is a Messianic prophecy about Jesus taking on our reproach. Then we are told that the things written before (such as the Hebrew Scriptures) are written for our learning. We are to take the word of God and apply it to our lives. Specifically, this instance teaches us to be like Christ, who put sinful man above Himself, caring for our needs instead of His own. What a sacrifice He made for us. We should do the same for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It is time to let go of our own pride and look after the needs of others.
2. Salvation to the Gentiles in prophecy: After teaching that the writings of old were written for our learning, he goes on to quote many passages out of the Old Testament that show that it was always the plan of God to offer salvation to the Gentiles through His Son (see II Samuel 22:50, Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:1, 10). Though Jesus was first sent to the lost house of Israel (see Matthew 15:24), it was the plan of God that the Gentiles would hear the message after the Jews rejected Christ (see Romans 9-11). He was sent first to the house of Israel because to them belonged the promise of the Messiah. They were God’s chosen people, and Paul even mentions later in this chapter that the Gentiles are debtors to the Jews because they are whom the Christ would come through. They were chosen from the beginning. However, all the nations would come to know God through the Christ once He was revealed. Paul adequately points this out through prophecy of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is inserting that there is so much of this prophecy that can be found in the Old Testament, and yet the Jews would have no relations with the Gentiles if at all possible. One would think that they would have understood the message and saw that they were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. But then again, how often do we miss the very same message?
3. Different styles of mission work: When we think about the term ‘mission work,’ we often think of going off to a foreign land and working there with a church or group that has been established in the area and spreading the gospel. However, when we think about the mission that we have been given (see Matthew 28:18-20), we can see that ‘the whole world’ includes many different places and styles of mission work. We have a mission field in our own back yard, so to speak, as there are many in our own cities and towns that have not heard/accepted the good news of Christ. There are also mission fields in the world where there has been little to no foundation laid, where the people have not even had the chance to hear the gospel. This was the mission that Paul was called to, for he went places where no foundation had already been laid. We each can be called to different styles of mission work, and we know that Paul’s calling is not the only one, for he makes it clear that he left certain people in places to do long term work (compared to what he did at least) with a certain church in a certain area, such as Timothy and Titus (see I Timothy 1 and Titus 1:5). Paul made it his priority to preach to the lost of foreign nations, and this is why he was hindered from coming to Rome so often, for there had already been an established Christian population in Rome. When we evaluate our talents and what the Lord has given us, let us do so in a way, though prayer, to ascertain which style of mission work that the Lord has called us to do in order to glorify His kingdom.
1. Special greetings: Like genealogies, sections like the one presented here at the end of this letter with multiple greetings often gets skipped over when we read though the book. This is unfortunate, as this section adds a lot of character to Paul’s writing, displaying his love for his fellow brethren and how many people he had come in contact with, even though he had yet to go to Rome. Greeting sections like these give very small insights to many of the first century Christians, sometimes only giving their name and at most a small detail about them, which leaves the reader open to questions as to what their life portrayed. It is also interesting to see the interaction between people, some of which we will find in other letters or in the book of Acts, and how wide the early Christians were able to spread the message of Christ. Notice here that Paul takes the time to make special mention of people that he deeply cared about and who had helped him along the way. This fits well with the context of putting others above yourself, as he has taught in the past two chapters, and shows that Paul practices what he preaches. The family of God in the first century was just that- a family. At the end, Paul says that all the churches of Christ greet the church at Rome. Christianity was a brotherhood of faith, one that was strong and crossed cultural bounds. They were united under Christ, and that’s the way it was supposed to be. Though there is much division among Christians today, hopefully one day we can return to the original plan of unity, looking towards the scriptures to be our guide.
2. Causing divisions: Unity is a motif that runs heavily amongst the New Testament scriptures, starting with the words of Christ Himself in His prayer recorded in John 17. Paul talks a lot about unity in I Corinthians, specifically chapters 1-3. It can be easily seen that those who bear the name of Christ were expected to be unified though His blood, united in His authority. Unfortunately, even in the first century there were those who wanted to create division in the body, as can be explicitly seen in I Corinthians 1. Here, some of the last words that Paul writes to the church at Rome is to mark those who cause divisions by use of smooth words to lead people from the truth. Paul was not in the business of creating factions amongst believers, for he knew that Jesus had prayed that they all be one. Division is not efficient in bringing the lost to Christ, and yet we allow division to plague the church today. It would be interesting to see what Paul (or Jesus for that matter) would have to say to any of our churches today. Most of our division is over pride. Mark those who cause division, and do not feed into their schemes. We must take the high road and avoid conflict with those who would create division.
3. The mystery of old: Many times in the New Testament is the revelation of Jesus Christ referred to as the mystery of old. It is very interesting to see how God decided to reveal His plan to us, waiting till the ‘fullness of time’ to send His Son and reveal the mystery to the sons of men (see Galatians 4:3-5 and Ephesians 1:7-10). We are extremely blessed to live in an age where the mystery has been revealed, blessed to have the retrospect of the bible and the revelation of the word of God, written in our own language and easily accessible. We take for granted being able to know things that prophets of old longed to see (see Matthew 13:17). Let us not take this blessing for granted, but use what we have been given to the best of our ability, every searching the scriptures and learning about our Father and the love that He has shown towards us. Then let us use the knowledge and understanding gained from study and prayer to show others the good news, offering them the salvation that God has offered to all nations through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Genesis 24-27.