Confession on Revelation and Scripture

Here is the first of eight confessions I had to do as a student in the three systematic theology classes I took with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  These were some of the more challenging assignments I had.  I hope they are helpful to some who have not thought in-depth on these various orthodox Christian doctrines.

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I believe God reveals himself through his creation.  All that has been made, from the stars above to chemical processes at the molecular level, and his constant care over his creation clearly shows God’s existence and illustrates his divine attributes, such as his power, wisdom, and love.  He made man and woman in his image with an innate awareness that he exists, and put them in a world and a universe designed to sustain life and bring glory to him.  Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s authority, which prevented them (and all of us ever since) from seeing and acting rightly with God.  (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:19-20; Gen. 3:6; Ps. 104:1-30; Isa. 6:3.)

I believe God continued to take the initiative to reveal himself to us through acts of mercy and grace as well as judgment throughout history. He revealed himself through direct interaction with a limited number of individuals by communicating verbally and appearing in visions, dreams, and physical form or unusual signs.  God made promises to his chosen people, and confirmed his faithfulness through mighty acts of deliverance and other manifestations of his power.  God gave his laws to them, and blessed those who obeyed and provided consequences to those who disobeyed.  (Gen.12:1-3; Ex. 3:2-6, 14:21-31, 20:1-17; Heb. 1:1.)

I believe that at the perfect time and place, God ultimately revealed himself by sending us his only Son, Jesus Christ. He is called “Immanuel, God with us” and the “Word”, who was with God and who was God.  Jesus said that those who saw him had seen God.  He was the image of the invisible God; God in the flesh.  (Mt. 1:23; Jn. 1:1, 14:9; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:2-3.)

I believe God has inspired (breathed) his message to us in a dynamic way, using a combination of divine and human factors.  The Holy Spirit supernaturally directed the writers of Scripture to accurately use only the right words and exact grammar needed to faithfully convey his truth.  By reading Scripture, unbelievers can come to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.  For believers, through the work of regeneration and illumination, the indwelling Holy Spirit will guide their minds so that they can fully understand, remember, be transformed by, and obey God’s truth.  (2 Pet. 1:20-21; Mt. 5:18; Jn. 14:26, 16:8, 13, 17:17.)

I believe God intended that the written record of his words and mighty acts in Scripture be carefully preserved and circulated so that we would know him and make him known. The entire collection of 66 books of the Bible is the Word of God.  The Bible is fully inerrant (essentially correct for the purposes for which they were written), complete (there is nothing missing and nothing else needs to be added), unified (tells a single story), our final authority, and clear enough so that a child can understand the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the basics of Christian faith and practice.   Its message is trustworthy, powerful, life-changing and unchanging.  The Bible will continue to speak to all generations and all cultures for all time.  (Dt. 6:6-9; Ps. 19:7-11, 119:130; Mt. 24:35; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; Rev. 22:18-19.)

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Matthew – The Kingdom of Heaven

This is a paper I wrote about 2 1/2 years ago for a class I took on the Gospel of Matthew.  I learned a lot doing the research for this assignment and I think it turned out well.  Enjoy!

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I.  Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to present a moderately detailed overview of the major theme of “The Kingdom of Heaven” as it is presented throughout the Gospel of Matthew.

N.T. Wright, in a lecture given at the Inter Varsity Press Conference in January 1999, stated that the Kingdom of heaven is “The rule of heaven; that is, the rule of God, being brought to bear in the present world.” Turner (2008: 42) explains that kingdoms in general require “a ruler, those who are ruled, the exercise of that rule, and a realm in which the rule occurs.”  According to Beasley-Murray (1992: 19), it refers to “the fulfillment of the promises of God in the OT of the time when God puts forth his royal power to end injustice and oppression by this world’s evil powers and to establish his rule of righteousness, peace and joy for humanity – in a word, to fulfill his purpose in creating the world.”  Let us see how this rule of God plays out.

II.  Where the Theme Occurs

Turner (2008: 37) asserts that the term kingdom of heaven is clearly at the very heart of Matthew’s Gospel, occurring 32 times.  John the Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2).  Jesus used the same words in 4:17, and instructed His disciples to give this exact same message in 10:7.  Jesus mentions it repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount (5:3, 10, 19 (twice), 20, and 7:21).  In the narrative of the centurion, Jesus spoke of an eschatological feast “with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (8:11).  His parables in Matt. 13 illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like (v. 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, and 52) as well as the parables in 18:23, 20:1, 22:2, and 25:1.  In addition, Jesus taught that little children are role models if you want to be great in the kingdom of heaven (18:1-4, 19:14).

III.  Why Matthew Uses the Term

A quick check with an online search tool or a concordance will confirm that the phrase kingdom of heaven is found only in Matthew, while the term kingdom of God is used frequently in Mark and Luke.  According to Turner (2008: 38-39), some (but not all) dispensationalists have argued that there are several eschatological distinctions to be made between the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of heaven, but that appears to be doubtful and unnecessary.  To refute this idea, he states that in Matt. 19:23-24 the kingdom of heaven (v. 23) and kingdom of God (v. 24) are presented synonymously.  Both phrases are also used in parallel passages (cf. Matt. 13:31 & Mark 4:30; Matt. 19:14 & Luke 18:16).  Turner rightly concludes, “despite various arguments to the contrary, there is ample evidence that the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God are identical.”  Ladd (1986: 24) concurs: “the simple fact is that they are quite interchangeable.”

So, why does Matthew say it this way? Turner (2008: 39) states the reason Matthew consistently chose the phrase kingdom of heaven was that he was using a literary device called a metonymy.  Kaiser and Silva (2007: 335) define it as “a figure of speech whereby a word is changed from its literal meaning to a sense other than its referent, but one that is associated with it.”  Blomberg (1992b: 73) states the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is a circumlocution, or indirect manner of speaking.  He adds that it may also refer to the idea that “all power and authority in heaven are given to Jesus.”  Turner (2008: 41-42) goes on to say that it “avoids mentioning the name of God by containing a word that is readily associated with God.  This would fit with Matthew’s Christian Jewish audience, since it would reflect special piety for the divine name. . . So the expression ‘kingdom of heaven’ is part of a general pattern centering on Matthew’s conception of the earth as humanity’s abode and heavens as the abode of God and God’s angels.”

Gundry (1981: 137) provides a few alternate views. He states, “On the other hand, Matthew does not hesitate to use God’s name elsewhere, so perhaps ‘kingdom of heaven’ reflects Daniel 2:44 and accentuates the majesty of God’s kingdom, as in that passage.  Jesus may have used both phrases, His choice depending on the audience and on the emphasis He wished to give.”  This seems more than plausible.  However, Gundry submits another possibility, that Jesus actually used the phrase, “kingdom of heaven”, but Mark and Luke translated it into the “kingdom of God” because their Gentile audience may not have understood that heaven’s kingdom implied God’s.  He later points out that it is more likely it was the other way around, and that Matthew changed the word in his Gospel for emphasis as described previously.

IV.  Key Words Used in the Theme

Matthew does use the more popular phrase kingdom of God several times (12:28, 19:24, 21:31, 43).  It is not entirely apparent why.  Turner (2008: 39, 42) suggests that they are most likely mere variations of literary style.  In one of these texts in particular, he concludes: “Perhaps ‘kingdom of God’ is used in 12:28 because of the previous mention of the Spirit of God earlier in the verse.”  In 19:24, it is quite interesting because Jesus uses kingdom of heaven in verse 23, illustrating that the terms are indeed synonymous.

On fifteen occasions, Matthew uses the word kingdom all by itself, as a shortened form of the same concept.  It generally has a similar meaning; of “heaven” or “of God” clearly seem to be implied in most cases.  Examples include: Jesus preaching the “good news of the kingdom” (4:23 and 9:35), the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come” (6:10), Jesus’ admonition to “seek first his kingdom” (6:33), His mention of non-believers, “subjects of the kingdom,” who will be thrown outside (8:12), Jesus’ explanation of the meaning of the parables of the sower (13:19) and the weeds (13:38, 43), and Jesus’ charge to the disciples regarding preaching “the gospel of the kingdom” to the whole world (24:14).  Ladd (2001: 657) indicates: “The kingdom of God is also the kingdom of Christ.  Jesus speaks of the kingdom of the ‘Son of Man’ (13:41, 16:28).”  There are a few exceptions where the divine kingdom is not referred to at all: (4:8, kingdoms of the world; 12:25, kingdoms divided; 12:26, Satan’s kingdom; 24:7, kingdom against kingdom).

Another word of a similar nature that Matthew used quite frequently is king, which, as Turner (2008: 38) points out, occurs over 20 times.  Six instances refer to God the Father (5:35, 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11, 13); eight refer to Jesus (2:2; 21:5; 25:34, 40; 27:11, 29, 37, 42).  King Herod is mentioned in 2:1; in 2:2, the magi see Jesus as a much more significant ruler, as king of the Jews.  Turner (2008: 79) points out the obvious contrast between Herod’s kingship, which is “merely a political office” and that of Jesus, who is like David (1:6), having been given by God a “genuine and legitimate” kingship.  Radmacher (1999: 1136) states that although the Jewish leaders did not accept Jesus’ identity as king, Gentiles like the magi did at His birth, and the Romans did in a sign above the cross at His death, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews” (27:37).

V.  Related Themes or Ideas

There are several related themes throughout the Gospel. Matthew often points out the authority of Jesus.  It set Him apart from the Jewish teachers of the Law (7:28-29; 21:23-27) and gave Him the ability to forgive sins (9:6, 8).  Matthew tells of the Roman centurion, how he was both under authority and in it, as was Jesus (8:3-13).  Matthew mentions that Jesus had divine authority over storms (8:26-27).  He also gave authority to His disciples to heal and drive out demons (10:1), which He Himself obviously had (8:28-34).  He declared Himself to be Lord of the Sabbath (12:8).  After he was raised, he said He had authority over all things (28:19).

Matthew recorded several instances where Jesus stated that He will be responsible for making decisions at the judgment day (7:21-23, 11:22, 24, 13:41, 42, 16:27, 25:31-34), implying that He is and will be equal with God in heaven.  In a similar fashion, Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom was also reflected in many references to other eschatological events to take place in the future kingdom, such as feasts (8:11 and 26:29), His second coming (10:23, 16:28, 25:30), and His eternal reign (19:28, 20:21).

Matthew contrasts the polar opposite of God’s kingdom as the kingdom of Satan, referring to his current (then and now) authority or rule over the world in Jesus’ temptation in 4:8-9 and in His discussion with the Pharisees in 12:26.  Ladd (1986: 26) indicates that the Gospels commonly refer to “two ages: this age and the age to come. . . This age is the time of sinfulness, evil, and rebellion against God; the age to come will see the perfect establishment of God’s rule in the world and the purging of all sin, evil, and rebellion. . . . Satan is the ‘god of this age’ (2 Cor. 4:4)”  Ladd concludes, “From one point of view, the theology of the entire NT can be understood in terms of a titanic conflict between God and Satan, between the powers of light and the hosts of darkness. . . This divine victory will be achieved only in the age to come.”

VI.  Different Ways Matthew Uses the Theme

John preached a message of repentance because the kingdom of heaven “had come near” (NIV); was “at hand” (KJV, RSV, and ESV).  It was used again when Jesus began to preach and then when He sent His disciples out to preach.  The fact that God’s rule in heaven was now going to be manifested on earth through the Lord Jesus Christ required a response of submission to the King.  Saucy (1994: 177) agrees, stating that “the message of John, Jesus, and the disciples associated the kingdom with a demand.  Given the coming lordship of God in judgment, there is only one task for humanity: repent.”  Saucy (1994: 179, 182) also indicates that early in Jesus’ ministry, it becomes apparent that the preaching of the good news of the kingdom was tied to “the promised hope of the Old Testament. . . The kingdom message of John, Jesus, and the disciples in Matthew 1-10 was the same kingship of Yahweh called for in the Old Testament.”

When Jesus mentioned the kingdom several times in His Sermon on the Mount (5:3, 10, 19, 20; 7:21), He was again highlighting changing ones values and priorities. Youngblood (1995: 730) emphasizes: “His ethical teachings, for example, cannot be understood apart from the announcement of the kingdom.  They are ethics of the kingdom; the perfection to which they point makes no sense apart from the present experience of the kingdom.”  Later, Jesus would emphasize a shift from external to internal righteousness (e.g., 5:21-22, 27-28).  Ladd (2001: 659) agrees: “The righteousness of the kingdom is an inner, absolute righteousness (5:20, 48).”

Gundry (1981: 138) observes that Jesus put most of His teaching about the kingdom of heaven in parables. Through these parables, especially in Matthew 13, Jesus showed how very different this new divine kingdom on earth would be, in both the present and the future, in contrast to what the Jewish leaders had been expecting and teaching.  Not all could enter this kingdom; they had to possess a righteousness greater than the Pharisees (5:20), do God’s will (7:21), and have the humility of a child (18:4).  It would start out small but grow immensely (13:31-32).  There were secrets of the kingdom (13:11) that only Jesus’ followers would see.  Saucy (1994: 182) comments, “The kingdom of God appears in new terms as a ‘mystery.’”  Gundry (1981: 138) explains, “Jesus designed the parables of the kingdom to obscure the truth in figurative language from non-disciples who had refused to heed His plain talk, as well as to illustrate the truth for disciples, to whom He explained at least the more elaborate parables.”

Most importantly, Matthew presents this crucial theme as both a present and a future reality.  The concept is commonly expressed as, “already, but not yet”.  Carson (1994: 4) reminds us that this messianic kingdom (which had already begun) was the fulfillment of OT prophetic hopes.  Blomberg (1992b: 73) teaches that the verb used in Matt. 3:2 that is translated “is near” is better put as “has drawn near”, implying that the kingdom had arrived decisively.  Beasley-Murray (1992: 20) indicates that when Jesus said His kingdom was “near” (4:17) He was referring to “the beginning of the sovereign action of God that brings salvation, the end of which will be a transformed universe.”  He suggests the word “inauguration” is appropriate when speaking of the kingdom.  Jesus’ acts of compassion such as healing the sick, raising the dead, as well as other miracles, testified to the fact that He had kingdom authority and that His kingdom was here and now (cf. Matt 11:5, 12:28).  Gundry (1981: 137) added that with respect to Jesus’ casting out demons (Matt 12:28), “Jesus began to say the kingdom had already come . . . God’s rule was invading the world in the person and activity of Jesus.”  Beasley-Murray (1992: 22) concurs: “God is fulfilling these works of the kingdom in and through Jesus.”

In contrast to the present reality of the kingdom, Ladd (1986: 24) reminds us that “The coming of God’s kingdom is an eschatological event when the kingly reign of God, which is His de jure, will be manifested on earth de facto, so that His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  In addition, he states that many of Jesus’ messages point to the kingdom “as the eschatological order to be established when God manifests His kingly rule.  In such sayings, the kingdom is interchangeable with the age to come.”  (See Matt 8:11.)  Ladd (2001: 658) describes: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will sit on the throne of judgment.  The wicked will suffer the condemnation of fire; the righteous will ‘inherit the kingdom’”  (See 25:31-46; 13:36-43; 19:28.)

Beasley-Murray (1992: 24) is quick to point out that the beatitudes in Matthew 5, “primarily have in view the future kingdom . . . The beatitudes thus are revelations of the riches of the grace that, experienced in the present, will be known to the full in the unveiling of the glory of the consummated kingdom of God.” However, Blomberg (1992a: 34) disagrees, seeing the beatitudes as “balanced between present and future aspects.”  Gundry (1981: 138) adds plainly, “Jesus taught both present and future forms of the kingdom.”  Turner (2008: 42) wisely summarizes by stating that the present aspect of the kingdom of heaven seems to emphasize the dynamic exercise of God’s rule here and now, whereas the future aspect focuses on the physical realm of the kingdom of heaven at the consummation.

Closely related is the debate over whether the kingdom is rule or realm.  Blomberg (1992a: 31) observes that “Beasley-Murray rightly defines the kingdom more as a reign than a realm, more as a power than a place.”  Blomberg (1992b: 74) declares, “The kingdom is not currently a geographical entity, but it manifests itself in space and time in the community of those who accept the message John and Jesus proclaimed.”  Turner (2008: 43) strongly agrees: “Insistence that the kingdom is essentially a concrete realm leads inevitably to viewing it as strictly future as well, and this will not do in Matthew.”  (See 3:2, 4:17, and 10:7).  Turner later adds, “the kingdom exists as a microcosm today and as a macrocosm when Jesus returns.”

Ladd (1986: 24) explains that biblical scholars have had different opinions on whether the basic meaning of the kingdom of God refers to “an ‘abstract’ idea of God’s rule or reign, or a ‘concrete’ idea of the realm over which He will reign – in this case, the age to come.” Ladd complicates matters – “A future rule, a present rule; a future realm, a present realm; eschatology and history: this is the rather confusing picture presented in the Gospels.”  He states that those who were liberal in theology minimized the eschatological considerations and focused on Jesus’ ethical message; others did the opposite.  However, Ladd concludes that most scholars have accepted both present and future viewpoints and combine them in some fashion, recognizing positive components from both.  Turner (2008: 107) counsels us: “Instead of thinking of the kingdom as a concrete entity that is either present or future, on should view it as gradually and dynamically exerting its power through the words and works of God’s messengers.”

VII.  Summary of Matthew’s Use of the Theme

The announcement of the arrival of the kingdom of heaven by John the Baptist and Jesus indicated a new thing had come; it is both discontinuous and continuous with the Old Covenant.  We see a similar message in the short parable found in Matt. 13:51.  Jesus, with the authority given to Him by His heavenly Father also said numerous times in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . .”  Jesus’ arrival clearly inaugurated a brand new way in which God would forever deal with His people; the birth of His Son, Immanuel, who is God with us (1:23) changed all the rules.  The ruler of this kingdom was right here among us, the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  However, Jesus was also the fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants, and embodied the Messianic hope of the Jewish nation.

The kingdom of heaven, experienced here and now, is defined by a portion of Jesus’ model prayer is this: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (6:10). It also points to a time and a place in the future when Jesus returns in glory, and believers will see the beautiful picture that John paints in Rev. 11:15, and is sung so well in Handel’s Messiah: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”  Ladd (1986: 27) provides this observation: “In the mission of Jesus, God has entered into history in His kingly power to defeat to defeat the powers of evil and to bring to people a foretaste of the blessings of the eschatological kingdom while they still live in the old age.”

VIII.  Impact on our Lives and Ministries

The theme of the kingdom of heaven has greatly impacted the way I think about Christianity and live out my faith daily. It contains foundational truths, such as: that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are here working among us, are in charge; I am to be completely subject to their authority; ultimately their kingdom is not of this world.  To be given the knowledge of the secrets of this kingdom is a gift I do not take for granted.  It is only by God’s grace that I am a member of this kingdom now and look forward to an eternity worshipping at His throne.

Being a son of the kingdom of heaven presents me and my fellow believers with huge individual responsibilities: to be humble, to be pure in heart, and to sincerely obey my King. I need to be ready for His return.  I need to remember that when He returns, there will be a great eschatological reversal, where the first shall be last and the last shall be first and evil will die.

This kingdom of which I am a part consists of my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world – the church. Blomberg (1992a: 35) challenges most conservative evangelicals with a comment on the kingdom as a community: “If it is important to stress the present, powerful activity of the kingdom, first in Jesus and then individually in the lives of his followers, surely it is even more important in an age and culture of radical individualism to stress the corporate aspects of the kingdom.”  There is a lot for the church to do in terms of preaching and being the good news to a lost and dying world that will come to an end.  Ladd (2001:660) reminds us of our ultimate purpose: “When the church has proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom in all the world as witness to all nations, Christ will return (Matt. 24:14) and bring the kingdom in glory.”

Employer-Employee Relationships

untitledHere are some thoughts on this topic I presented to a lunchtime Bible Study at work, some college students, and my adult Sunday School class last year.

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I don’t know about you, but this is where I think I struggle the most.

Here are a number of observations from God’s Word, regarding employer-employee relationships. It occurs to me that all of us who work are by definition, employees; some of us are employers, and many of us are both.

  • A lazy employee is an irritation to his boss; a trustworthy employee brings refreshment to his boss (Prov. 10:26; 25:13)
  • Obey your boss just as you would obey Christ, with sincerity of heart, even when they are not looking (Eph. 6:5-7)
  • Bosses are to treat their employees with respect, knowing that Christ is the master of both of them (Eph. 6:9; Col. 4:1)
  • Pray for those in authority, including your boss (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • Honor your boss, do not be disrespectful, and serve well; this holds true especially if our bosses are believers (1 Tim. 6:1-2)
  • Submit to your boss so that it will be a joy to work with you as an employee, not a burden (Heb. 13:17)

My professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, Dr. Mike Wittmer, in his book, Worldly Saints, has helped unpack the meaning of the passage in Eph. 6:5-7 (and Col. 3:22-24), where Paul tells slaves that they were serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Based on a strong Christology indicated by such passages as John 1:1-3, Col 1:16, and Heb. 1:2, we believe that Jesus is one in essence with God the Father and that all thing were made through Him and for Him. So, we can truthfully say that Jesus is our Creator. Gen. 1:26 shows us that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together made man in their image. So, when we do our part to fulfill the creation mandate by using the gifts we have been given, we are obeying Christ. We are actually and literally serving Jesus Christ when we work.

Wittmer ties this together well.  He observes that the cultural contributions of these 1st-century workers “enabled them and others to develop creation, and so they were obeying the first command that Jesus, who is the Creator of all, gave to the human race. They were not merely serving their masters, but the Lord himself” (89).

Final observation.  When we truly trust God in this area, even with a boss who is less than stellar, we can learn to trust our employers.  This will enable us to submit to and serve them, which allows us be a joy to them and not a burden.  In the end, we bring Shalom to our workplace, bringing glory to God!

Summaries of Paul’s Argument in Romans (9-16)

Here is the second half of my original summaries of Paul’s argument in his epistle to the Romans that I wrote for my seminary class on the book.  I am hoping many will find it helpful.

Romans 9

Chapter 9 begins another major section in his epistle, where he will address God’s plan to redeem the Jews. Paul abruptly changes his tone from his passionate expression of confidence in the power of God’s love which nothing can separate us from at the end of chapter 8 to one of deep sorrow and grief over Israel’s general lack of faith in Christ.  Even though he knows that nothing can separate him from God’s love in Christ (8:39), he says that he would be willing, if it would help, to be separated from Christ for the sake of fellow Israelites, his “kinsmen according to the flesh.”  He points out that God gave Israel every advantage: adoption as sons, covenants, Law, temple, promises, patriarchs, and even Jesus as their Messiah.  However, he wants to make clear that Israel’s failure to fully come to faith in Jesus Christ does not indicate that God’s promises have failed. To the contrary, God’s purpose in choosing them has always been through electing a remnant. He reminds them that not all of Abraham’s descendants were children of the promise, but only through Isaac (not Ishmael).  God chose Sarah over Hagar.  In like manner, God chose Jacob over Esau.  Starting in verse 14, Paul uses a rhetorical diatribe style to address objections to his line of reasoning.  The first objection is of a perception of injustice in God choosing one over another.  He brings up another familiar Old Testament story that clearly showed God’s redemptive purposes, that of Moses and Pharaoh.  God chose to have mercy on the Israelites and to harden Pharaoh.  Paul deals with a second apparent objection to God finding fault with those who do what he had already destined them to do.  Paul replies with a commonly known reference to the potter and the clay: God has the right to make some for wrath and others for mercy. God has chosen and called his own people from among both Jews and Gentiles. Paul then quotes the prophets to point out that it was God’s plan all along. He addresses one final objection, regarding the fairness of providing God’s righteousness to the Gentiles by faith and not to the Jews who pursued God’s righteousness by works of obedience to the Law.  He concludes by referring to Jesus Christ as the cornerstone that the Israelites stumbled over.

Romans 10

In this short chapter, Paul continues expressing his concern over Israel that he began in chapter 9 using a style similar to a lament psalm. In only 21 verses he quotes Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets twelve times to get the attention of the Jews and to show that the gospel message of Christ that he preaches is consistent with what the Scriptures have always said.  Paul begins this section with a personal appeal, referring to his readers as brothers. His concern is for their salvation; for the most part, Israel has not embraced their Messiah.  In their zeal for God, they have pursued the law.  However, due to their own pride, they have missed out on his important message of righteousness by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, who fulfills the purpose of the law and brings God’s righteousness to all who believe.  Paul then contrasts the righteous life lived under the burden of the law with the righteousness that is based on faith. He brings a Christological viewpoint to the Old Testament Scripture that spoke of God’s word being near – not way up or way down.  This word is the gospel, and this is the perfect place and time for Paul to expound the gospel that he highlighted in chapter 1 as being “the power of God for salvation to all who believes.”  The message is simple: confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead.  Paul deliberately uses the same terms “mouth” and “heart” that he had just quoted from Deuteronomy 30 in verse 8; both of them are involved in the process of believing which is expressed in confession. This result is God’s righteousness being granted and salvation being realized at the future judgment, which takes away all disappointment and shame.  Here, as he has on several occasions, Paul reminds his readers that this gospel message applies to all who calls on Jesus in faith, both Jew and Gentile.  Next, he uses a rhetorical stair-step argument to trace the logical progression that is involved in everyone who believes, from the gospel message being delivered up to the moment of salvation.  He starts at the end and works backwards: from calling on the name of the Lord, to believing, to hearing, to preaching, to being sent out. The implication is that unless Paul and the other apostles were sent out to preach the good news, there would be no one who believed and were saved.  This good news, however, has been rejected by Israel, despite the fact that they did hear and they did understand God’s message, as evidenced by further testimony by the writers of the Old Covenant.  Because of this pattern of rejection, which was true in Isaiah’s day, and is just as true now, Paul states that God has brought in the Gentiles to make Israel jealous.  He closes with another lamenting statement picturing God’s long-suffering arm, reaching out to his people, who refuse to submit and believe.

Romans 11

At the end of Romans chapter 10, we were left with a prophetic image of God patiently stretching out His hands to a “disobedient and obstinate people,” the Jews. Paul continues his lament psalm regarding Israel’s disobedience.  Lest his readers think that God may have abandoned his covenant with Israel, Paul again uses his rhetorical diatribe style of teaching to address this concern.  “God has not rejected His people, has He?” The obvious answer is No! “May it never be!” As evidence of the fact that God still has a plan for Israel, he presents two individuals.  The first being himself, as Paul is an Israelite that God has brought to faith. The second is Elijah, who thought incorrectly that the entire nation had abandoned God, not knowing that He had called a remnant of 7,000 believers.  So now, God has set aside a remnant of believers out of Israel by his grace. Paul emphasizes here that God’s choice was through grace, not works.  Paul then addresses the concept that some were chosen by God out of Israel, and others were hardened, either by God, or by their own disobedience, or a combination of the two. Paul uses three quotes from the OT to describe unbelieving eyes that did not see and ears that did not hear the truth.  He addresses a concern about Israel’s stumbling, as to whether it caused them to fall away completely from God’s plan.  Again, his response is, “May it never be!”  However, he is quick to point out that Israel’s general unbelief caused an opportunity for the Gentiles to come to faith, for the purpose of making Israel jealous. In addition, if Israel’s “transgression” and “failure” resulted in “riches” for Gentiles and ultimately for the entire creation, certainly there will be so much more when Israel finally does come around to receive God’s covenant blessings through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul takes time to focus on his Gentile readers at this point, exhorting them to not be arrogant regarding their own status in comparison with that of Israel. God still has a plan for Israel, and the Gentiles should be grateful to have been allowed to become part of it. Paul then uses a metaphor comparing Israel to an olive tree and the Gentiles as branches who have been grafted on to this tree.  The unbelieving Israelites are compared to branches that have been broken off (which may remind some readers of Jesus parable of the vine and the branches from John chapter 15.)  Paul’s point is to remind them that they have been attached to Israel as God’s chosen ones, and that the “rich” root of the olive tree nourishes them as grafted in branches, not the other way around.  He indicates that God has shown both his “kindness” and “severity” to all concerned.  Paul states that there is hope for unbelieving Israel; if they repent, they will be grafted back into the olive tree where they belong.  In conclusion, Paul informs his Jewish and Gentile readers of the mystery of God’s plan for Israel – there has been a “partial hardening” of Israel and an increase of Gentiles entering the kingdom, but this is only a temporary situation. Eventually, God will bring back “all Israel” to himself, through faith in Jesus Christ, as the Prophets have said. Despite the fact that they may be enemies of the gospel now, God has made an everlasting covenant with his chosen people through the patriarchs.  He loves them, and his calling is “irrevocable.”  Paul reminds the Gentiles that God has shown them mercy in spite of their disobedience and that he will show mercy to Israel as well in spite of their disobedience.  As he completes this major section, he proclaims the depths of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, and His incomprehensible judgments and ways.  Paul leaves them with a joyous benediction highlighting that all good things have come from God and through God; He alone deserves all the glory and our praise.

Romans 12

In light of God’s mercy shown to both Gentiles and Jews, which Paul mentioned at the end of chapter 11, he urges the church to respond accordingly. He exhorts them to present their bodies to God as an act of humble submission and worship. He qualifies this continual presentation as a “living and holy sacrifice”.  This is both similar (in holiness, acceptability, and cost) and dissimilar (someone is alive, as opposed to dying) in comparison with the ritual animal sacrifices done under the old covenant.  In addition to their bodies, they are to submit their minds as well. This process of not being conformed but transformed is to be done by continual remembrance of which realm they are in – either in Adam or in Christ, and by allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and empower them in the path of God’s will, as he had already taught them in chapters 5-8.  As a result of this submission as individuals (and corporately) of body and mind unto the triune God, Paul says that their transformation should affect their relationships with one another in the corporate body.  He sets forth a series of specific ethical guidelines, covering such areas as humility, exercising one’s spiritual gifts, and sincere love and devotion for their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Paul also mentions several other aspects of normal Christian behavior, such as prayer, giving, hospitality, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, and being at peace with all.  Paul closes chapter 12 with the exhortation to not be overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.

Romans 13

As chapter 13 begins, Paul continues this thought of how believers’ submission to God (vertical) should impact their relationships with others (horizontal). He skillfully moves from consideration of how to treat those inside the body of Christ to how one should treat those outside the community of faith.  The first command given here addresses one’s relationship with government. Keeping in line with the theme of submission to God (12:1) and submission to fellow believers (12:10), Paul tells them to submit to “governing authorities.” He assures them that despite appearances to the contrary, they have all been established by God for good purposes, to maximize good and to minimize evil in the world.  Paul mentions that submission to authority directly applies to the paying of one’s taxes.  To continue this concept of paying what is due, he provides a principle of not owing anything to any, but owing love to all.  He who loves, Paul reminds them, fulfills the Law.  Bringing in a couple of well-known Old Testament references, he establishes what Jesus had also brought to light, that loving one’s neighbor is the ultimate goal of the law.  In closing, he focuses their attention on a solid motivation for living right – eschatology.  The day of Christ keeps getting closer; it is time to take seriously our obligation to put off the deeds of the flesh and put on Christ-like goodness, as he had already made clear in Romans 6.

Romans 14

Paul continues to teach the Roman church how the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2) should manifest itself in their horizontal relationships. He is concerned about divisions between various house churches in Rome, or disunity within them. He focuses on how to relate to those who are considered either “weaker” or “stronger” than how they perceive themselves. The basic message is that unity is greater than liberty. He addresses the stronger first, giving them a command to “accept the one who is weak in faith,” and to not judge or look down on them. The weak are also exhorted not to judge those who seem to take a freer attitude toward what they perceive to be lifestyle priorities and requirements. The reason both groups are to accept one another is that God has accepted each of them; he has warmly welcomed all who put their faith in Jesus Christ into his covenant family.  Paul points out that all are servants of the Lord. He will take care of His own; they are not to take His place as master and judge. Whether or not one eats or does not eat, or observes special days or not is up to the individual; it is a matter of faith, gratitude, and submission to the Lord in their own respective renewed minds. Paul resorts to his forceful rhetorical diatribe style once again, and pinpoints the matter of judging one another, “Why do you judge your brother?” He reemphasizes this familial relationship and reminds the church of a Day when God will judge all justly. Why do we judge one another when we have one Judge who is over all?  As a result of our equal standing before God, the church should be sensitive to the needs of fellow believers, especially the strong (which Paul identifies with) towards the weak; they should modify their behavior so as not to be a “stumbling block” to them or hurt them. To the weak, he subtly instructs that really “nothing is unclean in itself,” which is something Jesus himself taught (Mark 7:19). The rule for all is to live “according to love.” Paul reminds them that the kingdom of God is not about externals, anyway; it is about God’s righteousness as a free gift through faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21), peace through reconciliation with God which should lead to peace with those who have also been so reconciled (Rom. 5:1), and the joy the Holy Spirit provides to all who truly believe and are following his lead (Rom. 8:2-17). Since God has fully welcomed those whom he has saved, Paul states, all need to make it a priority to pursue peace with fellow believers and build each other up, not tear each other down. At the end of chapter 14, Paul reminds them what he had said earlier about all things being clean, that everyone needs to work out their own convictions based on faith and not to have any doubts.

Romans 15

As chapter 15 begins, we find Paul continuing to address the strong, encouraging them to bear with and be patient towards those they consider weak, not just please themselves. As an example, he points out that Christ selflessly bore our weaknesses as he gave himself for us, taking our punishment. As he has just quoted from Psalm 69 and is about to bring in more OT quotes into his argument, he instructs that the Scriptures bring us encouragement which yields hope. He shares with the church a prayer-benediction-blessing, asking God to give them unity (the same mind, with one accord, with one voice), so that they can glorify God together. He reminds them of what he had said in 14:1, regarding accepting each other as Christ has accepted them. Why was this important for his readers? Unity, specifically now between Jew and Gentile, was always the ultimate plan of God, through Israel, to the world. To support this, he provides several OT quotes about the Gentiles. Paul then closes with another benediction regarding hope, joy, and peace. The apostle continues his final exhortations to the church, reminding them that in Christ they are “full of goodness” (due to the sanctification of the Spirit), “filled with all knowledge” (by the renewing of their minds), and are thus “able to also to admonish one another.”  Paul brings them back to his purpose in writing this very pastoral letter, which is to give the message of the gospel to both Gentiles and Jews. He does not want to call attention to his own efforts, as his ministry was only by God’s grace and calling.  He does, however, want to boast in what the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished through him as he preached the gospel far and wide in the power of the Holy Spirit, resulting in the Gentiles coming to faith and obedience. His main goal was to preach where others had not, which explains his delay over many years in reaching Rome, and which he finally plans to do, on his way to Spain. Paul mentions that he hopes to see the church to enjoy some time with them, and trusts that they will support him in his outreach efforts. Before he arrives, though, he states his intention to go to Jerusalem to bring a monetary love gift that he has been collecting for a while from other Gentile churches, as they recognized their obligation to help. He asks the church to pray together for his protection along his journey in order to arrive in joy and refreshment. He leaves them with another wish of God’s peace.

Romans 16

As chapter 16 begins, Paul mentions a long list of people, starting with his sister in the Lord, Phoebe, who is helping him deliver the epistle to Rome. He sends a series of warm greetings to many brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom he has known for some time, and others he has only heard of. He exhorts all to greet one another with a holy kiss, and urges them to watch out for people who might cause division and deception within the church. He desires them to be wise and holy, and reminds them that God is more powerful than their adversary the devil. After he states one more grace wish, he sends a few more last-minute greetings. Paul closes with an excellent benediction, highlighting God’s ability to build up his church, and includes many of the themes he used throughout his epistle: the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s revelation, Scriptures, obedience, and faith.  His last words boast in God’s wisdom through Jesus Christ and to his eternal glory.