Romans 11

Today we’re reading Romans 11.

Romans 10 discussed the fact that many Israelites rejected the good news about Christ but, today in chapter 11, Paul was quick to address the fact that not all Jews were in unbelief (v. 1). In verses 2-10, he reminded us that historically the Jewish people lived in unbelief and rebellion against God for most of their history. So the idea that only some of God’s chosen people were actually chosen to have faith in him is not something new. It is how God has always worked, saving a “remnant” who trusted him from the heart (vv. 5-6).

But why did this happen when Jesus came? Wasn’t the promise of Messiah that he would rule over all Israel? Yes, that was the promise and it will still happen (v.26). The reason it didn’t happen with Jesus’ first coming, however, was God’s desire to save us Gentiles (vv. 11-25). God will still redeem Israel, just as he promised, but not “until the full number of Gentiles has come in (v. 25b). This is all an expression of God’s mercy (v. 32). He hardened Israel, for a time, so that he would save us. The power of this grace overwhelmed Paul in verses 33-36. It caused him to remark on the greatness of God’s wisdom (v. 33a) and how his wisdom is beyond human comprehension (vv. 34-36).

Is this how you respond to doctrines that are hard to understand? Does the doctrine of election or of the Trinity lift your spirit to worship the immense wisdom of God? Or, does it cause you to question and even deny those doctrines because they are hard for us to understand. If God is all-wise and all-knowing, are we really surprised that he does things that we find hard to understand? If everything about God were simple and made perfect sense to limited, fallible people like us, then we should be concerned. So let the difficult doctrines of scripture, the ones you find hard to understand or to accept as true, cause you to look to God in awe. His judgments are “unsearchable... and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 10

Read Romans 10 today.

In this chapter, Paul continued discussing the unbelief of his people Israel. He spoke directly about his desire and prayer even for the salvation of his countrymen (v. 1). Then he reflected on his own experience and said, yes, we Jews are very enthusiastic about God, but not according to knowledge (v. 2). And what was the knowledge they lacked? That righteousness comes from God (v. 3) to “everyone who believes” (v. 4b). Since they did not know this, they “sought to establish their own” righteousness (v. 3b).

Verses 4-13 contrasts the “righteousness for everyone who believes” (v. 4) with the “righteousness that is by the law” (v. 5). The righteousness that comes by the law is given to those who obey the law; as verse 5b put it, “The person who does these things will live by them.” That’s the promise of righteousness by the law--do what the law says and you will live.

Israel’s history--and yours and mine, too--shows that we can’t keep the law. Because we are sinners, as we saw in Romans 7, we can’t keep God’s law even when we want to--and most of the time, we don’t want to. That’s why Christ came. He is, according to verse 4, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” He kept the law we could not keep in order to give us the righteousness we could not earn. The way to righteousness (that is, “to be right with God”) is by faith in Christ (vv. 9-13). This has always been the case as we see from Paul’s quotations of the Old Testament here in Romans 10:

  • v. 8 quotes from Deuteronomy 30:14
  • v. 11 quotes from Isaiah 28:16
  • v. 13 quotes form Joel 2:32

This is why God sends his servants into the world--to spread the message, the good news, of righteousness before God in Jesus Christ (v. 15). As we share the good news, we must remember that people are saved not through our slick presentation or clever arguments; rather, “faith comes from hearing the message,(Y) and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (v. 17). The message itself carries the ability to create faith in those God has chosen.

So, let’s be faithful about carrying the message!

Romans 9

Today read Romans 9.

For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly. Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter; some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church--a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.

That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 or Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.

In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).

From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he an exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses. In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.

The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.

One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act--the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural--impossible, actually--for sinners. Election exists, in part so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that it would apply to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy. I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.

Romans 8

Today we come to the greatness of Romans 8.

And there is so much in this chapter that I could write more than a week’s worth of devotionals on it. I’ll stick, however, to the opening paragraph. In the previous chapters we were taught much about the Law and its relationship to humanity. On Friday, in chapter 7, we learned that God’s Law is great and holy; our problems with it are not with IT but with ourselves: “...the Law is spiritual but I am unspiritual” Paul wrote, “sold as a slave to sin” (7:14). As Christians, we are torn by our mental and spiritual desires to obey God’s law (7:21-22, 25b) and our sin nature which rebels against God’s holy commands and makes us subject to death (7:16-20, 25c). What is the remedy for this spiritual dilemma? Romans 8:1: “ Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are “in Christ Jesus” therefore the condemnation of the law has been removed from us. That removal took place through the atonement of Christ for our sins (vv. 2-3). The result of his atonement is that you are not guilty before God because God has credited to you the righteous life Jesus lived (his “active obedience”) and the atoning death Christ died (his “passive obedience”). Verse 3b-4 says that in these words, “And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

Did you notice that phrase, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us....” If you are in Christ, you’ve kept the law fully. The law has no beef with you because Christ has fulfilled it all on your behalf. He’s met every standard spelled out there and paid every penalty for your failures (and mine).

Many Christians live with a feeling of defeat. We beat ourselves up for our sin struggles and our failures. If that’s you, please take heart today. If you’re in Christ, it’s all good. Jesus has done all that you will ever need to cancel the law’s condemnation over your life and to declare you perfect in the sight of God. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” so stop condemning yourself and live in the freedom of complete forgiveness!

Psalms 84-86

Let’s prepare for worship together today by reading Psalms 84-86.

Psalm 84 provides us with a great passage to help us prepare to worship together this morning. In this song, the Psalmist describes the joy he feels when he thinks about coming to the Lord’s Tabernacle to worship. Remember that in the Old Testament. the Tabernacle and then the Temple were the places where God’s presence was promised to be. God is spirit and everywhere present in the fullness of his being, but in order to unite Israel spiritually and keep her worship from being polluted by pagan gods and ideas, God designated a central altar and sanctuary to be the place of worship. He promised to make that tent (the Tabernacle) and later that house (the Temple) his “dwelling place” on earth.

As the Psalmist thought about approaching the Tabernacle to worship, he spoke of “how lovely” that place was (v. 1). Given what we have read about the design and construction of both the Tabernacle and the Temple, they were truly magnificent structures, the best humanity at that time could give to the one and only God. But the Psalmist was not drawn to that place because of its appearance; rather, according to verse 2, it was the opportunity to be with God that sparked his desire to go there: “...my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” The opportunity to give to God, to sing to him in worship, and to hear from his word made this songwriter sing with excitement.

One thing I’ve never noticed in this song before is the words of verse 3: “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.” These words make me wonder; as the Psalmist walked toward the Tabernacle or even within it’s courts, maybe, he looked up in the trees and saw that some birds had made their nests there. “What lucky ducks!” he may have thought, “to make your home in the sanctified place of the Lord!” You would fall asleep at night and rise each morning in his presence. Your days would be filled with the smells of burnt offerings and incense offerings, with the sounds of singing and the public reading of scripture. What could be better than to live in such a place if you love God and desire to worship him. Accordingly verse 4 goes on to say, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” And, later in verse 10, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” For a believer, there is no better place to be than where the Lord is.

These days, we have the promise of God that he is with us always, that he hears our prayers and is exalted in our worship anywhere we offer them to him. Still, though, the Bible says that there is a special presence of the Lord within his church when she gathers. First Timothy 3:15 says, “...God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Note that the church is not the building where we meet, it is the people who have joined together to be the local expression of the body of Christ. The Lord’s presence is with us as we gather to worship, whether in Ypsilanti, Michigan or..., I don’t know... say, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Given this truth, don’t you want to be there when we gather for worship today?

I thank the Lord for the time we’ll have as we come and worship. Be there and join with us to experience the joy of God’s people and be blessed by him. God’s favor falls on us like the light of the son when we worship him and live obediently to his word (vv. 11-12), so come and receive it with the rest of your family in Christ.

Romans 7

Today we’re scheduled to read Romans 7.

Woven throughout this letter to the Romans have been some significant teaching passages about the law. In the past couple of days, we’ve read that the law increases sin (5:20) but that, in Christ, we’re no longer under the law (6:14, 15). Today’s reading in chapter 7 was written to clarify our new relationship to the Law in Christ.

The chapter opened by explaining why we are no longer under the law (vv. 1-6). A widow is no longer under her marriage covenant because her husband died. In a similar way, Christ’s death freed us from the covenant of the Old Testament law (vv. 4-6). Because of the things that were said about the law in previous chapters, someone might wonder whether the law was a bad thing--sinful, even (v. 7a). Verses 7b answers that with, “Certainly not!” Verses 7c-14 explain that the law teaches us what sin is (v. 7b) but that our sinful natures within are aroused by the law and use it’s commands to lead us into sin (vv. 8-11). The problem isn’t that the law is sin; the problem is that I am a sinner (vv. 12-14) so my sin nature reacts sinfully to the holy commands of the law.

In verses 14-25, we have a well-known passage where Paul described the struggle that he had with the law. Bible interpreters disagree about whether this section was describing Paul’s experience BEFORE he became a believer or AFTER his salvation. Although this devotional is not the place to explain why, I interpret this passage as describing Paul’s ongoing experience AFTER becoming a Christian. One reason is the phrase, “... in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” Unbelievers do not delight in God’s law; they hate his righteous standards. So it seems that Paul was describing what life as a believer was like, the tug-of-war between his new nature in Christ and his sinful nature which remained.

This section was autobiographical for Paul, but it wasn’t just about him. Every believer knows the struggle between desiring to live and please God in obedience to his word and the cravings of the sin nature within each of us. As we saw yesterday, sin is destructive; its “wage” is death (6:23). In verse 24 here in chapter 7, Paul cried out, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Verse 25 has the answer, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is discouraging to fight sin because we feel the pull of temptation so deeply and too frequently give in to its destructive lies. Our hope, however, is not in learning better self-discipline. It is in Jesus who will deliver us in eternity from those sin struggles. Be encouraged, then, even if you’ve sinned already today. Keep striving against sin--Romans 8 will help us with that when we read it on Monday--but look to Christ, not to yourself for deliverance from sin.

Romans 6

Today’s reading is Romans 6.

In Romans 5, which we read yesterday, the Scriptures taught that the law produced sin and sin produced death (5:12-14). Sin was, in fact, multiplied by the law (v. 20) but the grace of Jesus also became more abundant where sin increased (vv. 20b-21). Today in chapter 6, Paul raised the question, “Should we sin more so that there will be more grace?” (v. 1). Verse 2 quickly answered that question with a strong, NO!, then the rest of the chapter went on to explain why. Spiritually, we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with him (vv. 2-4). Our new life in Christ has freed us from the power of sin (vv. 5-7). On that basis, we should consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (vv. 8-11) and, therefore, not allow sin to reign in our bodies (vv. 12-15).

Verse 15 asked a similar question to verse 1. Both the question in verse 1 and the question in verse 15 raised the possibility of us sinning. Verse 1 wondered if we should sin since sin makes grace more abundant. Verse 15 asks if we should sin because we’re not under the law but under grace. The implication of verse 15’s question seems to be, “If grace covers us, shouldn’t we just sin as freely as we want to?” Paul’s answer again is, “No” because sin enslaves us while righteousness, which God saved us for, frees us (vv. 15-18). In verses 19-23, we were reminded that sin is deeply destructive. We quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death...” when we give the gospel but this verse comes in the context of teaching us Christians about sin and death, new life and freedom. There’s no problem with quoting Romans 6:23 in evangelism, but we should also quote it to ourselves when we are tempted. Though we still desire sin, the scripture reminds us that there is no “benefit” to us when we sin (v. 21). We are now ashamed of the sins we’ve committed in the past and the consequences of them brought death (vv. 21b, 23). On the other hand, when we choose to do what is righteous as slaves to God, then the “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22b).

Sin appeals to us because it lies to us. If offers pleasure without showing us the price tag and the pain that follows it. It is true that Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover any and all of our sins, but that salvation does not remove the consequences of those sins. The consequences of sin are death and pain and shame while the consequences of a righteous life are all positive--holiness and eternal life. When we understand the truth about sin and the power of Christ’s salvation, we see why making righteous choices in our lives is better in every way than trying to get the pleasures offered to us by sin.

Today you may face moments of temptation to sin. Keep this passage in mind. Christ liberated us from sin not to spoil our fun but to keep us from the death and pain and destruction that sin costs. So trust God’s word and choose to live righteously. You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.

Romans 5

Today, read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation. It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15--2x, 16--2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15--2x, 17, 20, 21) of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21). The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ--and that his grace which saved us is available to save others. Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ--not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 4

Today, read Romans chapter 4.

In yesterday’s reading from Romans 3 we considered the central idea of Christianity which is that reconciliation with God comes as a gift from God. It is not earned by those who work for it or deserved by living a righteous life. It is a gift received by faith when a person believes in the good news.

I mentioned in my devotional yesterday that if you’ve received the gift of salvation in Christ, God is just as much your God as he was the God of Abraham, David and others. Here in Romans 4, Paul goes into more detail about that truth. Paul demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that Abraham was given righteousness by faith (vv. 1-3) and so was David (vv. 6-8). But--wait a minute--both David and Abraham were circumcised. That was a physical, permanent mark that they were under a special covenant with God. We Gentiles don’t have that mark--OK, some Gentile men are circumcised, but not as a religious act. So chapter 4 here anticipates the objection of Jewish people that they have a special relationship with God because they have a special covenant with God symbolized and applied to them by circumcision.

Paul points out in this chapter that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12; see Gen 15:6, 17:9-27). Our connection to Abraham spiritually, then, was by faith not by the covenant of circumcision (vv. 16-17). Just as Abraham believed God’s promises at multiple points in his life (vv. 18-22) we must believe God’s promises are applied to us through faith in Jesus (vv. 24-25). When God declared that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” that was said for our benefit as well as his (vv. 22-23), to show us that it was not obedience to some religious or moral code but faith that gave Abraham a righteous standing before God.

What about you? Are you reading these chapters in scripture and this devotional to try to get some greater recognition from God? If so, you’re missing the point. There is nothing you can do to earn any favor it all with God. That’s true before you become a Christian and after. The death and resurrection of Jesus did everything that was necessary (vv. 24-25). Learning and obeying God’s word are how we grow in the grace God has given us, not how we get more grace or deserve his favor. Whatever you are doing as a Christian--learning God’s word, praying, serving God, giving--keep it up, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to earn God’s favor; that’s actually displeasing to him. Do it because you love him and want to grow to be more like him.

Romans 3

Today’s reading is Romans 3.

On Friday we read in Romans 2 that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, he acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). This puts Gentiles like us on the same level with the Jewish people; God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name. Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand--there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Romans 2

Today let’s read Romans 2.

At the end of chapter 1 we read, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). That verse concluded a lengthy description in chapter 1 about why God’s wrath and judgment is being revealed against human wickedness. Humanity rejected God, therefore God has allowed wickedness to flourish within the human race. Rather than being fearful of God’s judgment, however, people keep on sinning and approve of others who sin.

Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God. No, said Paul, “because you who pass judgment do the same things.” There are no points for righteousness awarded to sinners who condemn other sinners. We may comparatively evaluate ourselves to be better than other sinners, but we still deserve God’s judgment because of our own sins (v. 3) and lack of repentance (v. 4). Instead of earning favor with God for judging other sinners, the self-righteous sinner is “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath” (v. 5). All humanity--Jew or Gentile, self-righteous or self-declared sinner--are headed for judgment before Jesus Christ (v. 16). In verses 17-29, Paul narrowed his focus to his fellow Jewish people. He pointed out that even the most upstanding Jewish person has broken God’s laws (vv. 21-24) and that God wants people who inwardly, genuinely belong to God, not people who have the religious symbols of godliness (vv. 25-29).

As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies, then, not only to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives; it applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others but who still sins. Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.

Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them? When we remember that we are all in the same moral boat as everyone else, speeding relentlessly toward God’s wrath, it gives us a greater humility about ourselves and a greater compassion for those who are bound in their sin and in need of salvation. So check yourself when you find yourself disgusted with others; they are not any different than you and I are, except that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

Romans 1

Today we begin reading the book of Romans, so read Romans 1 today.

As we’ve read the book of Acts, we have stopped here and there to read Paul’s letters around the points chronologically where scholars think they were written. In other words, Acts 19 described Paul’s two year stay in Ephesus. After reading Acts 19, we stopped to read 1 & 2 Corinthians because there are good reasons to believe that Paul wrote 1 & 2 Corinthians during his time in Ephesus. In Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to go to Jerusalem but to stop in the regions of Greece (Macedonia & Achaia) on his way. 2 Corinthians described his coming visit. Also in Acts 19:21, Paul described his desire to visit Rome. At the end of Romans (Rom 15:28-29), Paul described his coming trip to Jerusalem and his intention to visit Rome after he went to Jerusalem.

Here in Romans 1:10b-11a we read, “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong....” So the book of Romans was a letter designed to prepare the believers in for Paul’s intended visit after he went to Jerusalem. That’s why we’re reading Romans now.

Paul had not yet been to Rome as an apostle, so the church that existed there was not one that he founded. In this letter to the Romans, Paul laid out his doctrine of the gospel so that the Roman church would understand their faith better and would receive him and support him as he intended to go further out to Spain (see Rom 15:23-24). He began by summarizing his doctrine of Christianity (vv. 1-4) and his commission to preach the gospel (v. 5). Then he described his prayers for the believers in Rome (vv. 8-10) and his desire to visit them (vv. 11-15).

Starting in verse 16, Paul transitioned to the gospel. He wrote first about the greatness of the gospel in verses 16-17, then about the universal human need for it (vv. 18-32). Humanity’s rejection of God (vv. 18-23) and the deep-rooted sinfulness that results from rejecting God (vv. 24-32) are the source of all human problems. Some human problems--like sickness and death--are not cured by the gospel in this life. Instead, the gospel holds a promise for deliverance from those in the life to come. But every other human problem, the things that take up the first page of every day’s newspaper, are caused by people rejecting God and cured by the gospel. Very often we try to make things more complicated than they really are. We think that typical human issues like materialism, homosexuality, murder, gossip, arrogance, disobedient children, and other problems are caused by insecurity, lack of love, poor parenting, fear, poverty, hopelessness, and other psychological issues. While all of those things may be factors in why people act as they do, they are not the cause. All these things and others are human responses to rejecting God. The cure is Christ--who died for our sins in order to save us from these problems and an eternity apart from God. Paul stated in verse 16 that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it was God’s power to save all who believe its message of deliverance. What the disobedient child (v. 30) needs is salvation in Jesus. The same is true for those eaten alive by envy (v. 29b), those who kill (v. 29b), those who exploit others for financial gain (aka, the greedy, v. 29a), homosexuals (vv. 26-27), and every other sinner. People need forgiveness, rescue, and reconciliation with God more than they need better coping strategies, more powerful drugs, or a happier childhood. That is what the gospel offers.

As you and I live in this world, we meet people who are stuck in these and other problems. We may offer sympathy to those who are suffering, advice to those who are confused, and even prayer but do we offer the gospel? That’s where the power of God to save resides. Don’t be ashamed of the simple message that Christ died for our sins; use it to rescue sinners for the glory of God.

Acts 20

Back to Acts for 1 chapter, then we go to Romans tomorrow, according to our schedule. Read Acts 20.

As we read 2 Corinthians, we noted that Paul was coming to Corinth both to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering (2 Cor 8) and to deal with those who were living in sin in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 13). Here in Acts 20, Luke noted that Paul did in fact go to Corinth as he said he would (vv. 1-3). Paul continued on to Jerusalem stopping in Philippi (vv. 3-6) and Troas (vv. 7-12). He decided to travel by ship to Jerusalem and that ship stopped in several places (vv. 13-15). Paul decided not to go back to Ephesus, where he had spent so much time back in Acts 19, but he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (vv. 16-38). His meeting with them was emotional because God had told him that he would suffer in Jerusalem (vv. 22-23) so he expected that he would not see the Ephesians again (vv. 35, 38).

If you had spent several years of fruitful ministry in a city but believed that you would never go back there, what would you say to the people you had discipled and mentored and taught? Paul’s message which Luke recorded in this chapter is summed up in verse 31: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul knew that the church would face some difficult problems in the days ahead (v. 29), so he urged the elders to do the work of shepherding to protect themselves and the flock (v. 28). But what was he getting at when he said, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”? That statement is, in essence, “Don’t forget my teaching and my example. When false doctrine comes in, remember what I taught you. Stick to it because it is God’s word; don’t stray from it.” This is something worth remembering. There is a lot of teaching out there, some that claims to be biblical and Christian and some that makes no claim to be Christian but does claim to be true. People sometimes get enamored with new ideas or attracted to big promises to change their lives in some way. If what you are learning is biblical, it will align with what you already know to be true from scripture. If it takes you away from the doctrines you learned when you were saved and discipled, however, it is a trap that will hurt your spiritual life, not help it. So, evaluate everything and don’t ever forget the gospel and the word of God that was taught to you when you first became a believer.

Although Paul was deeply concerned about what the church at Ephesus would face, he did not stay there to try to protect the church himself. Instead, he expressed faith in God’s own oversight of the church and his word: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32). When people we led to Christ move away or our children grow up and go out on their own, we can become concerned about the many threats to their spiritual lives that they will encounter and rightly so. It is good to be concerned, to express your concern, and to urge believers you love to watch themselves just as Paul did in this chapter. However, it is impossible to control another person so you can only do so much to try to protect their faith and their doctrine. Instead of being fearful, at some point we must release them and trust God to do what we can’t. Paul ended his time with the Ephesian elders with prayer (v. 36) and we know from his letters how earnestly he prayed for the spiritual life of all the believers and churches. This is the best way to care spiritually for those we cannot be with directly--pray for God’s continued work in their lives, for their protection from sin and from false doctrine, and for God to watch over their spiritual lives.

Are you sending a kid off to college soon? Have a young adult child who is moving to a different area to start a new life? Do you know anyone who is leaving our church or another good church but there is uncertainty about where they will worship? Pray. Warn them and express your love for them, but trust God to watch over them and pray daily for them to walk with him. There’s really nothing better you can do for another person spiritually.

2 Corinthians 13

2 Corinthians 13 Today we finish the Corinthian correspondence by reading 2 Corinthians 13.

Paul wrapped up this letter by warning the Corinthians again about his coming visit. He was hopeful, as we saw in earlier chapters, that his visit would be warm and affirming. Yet, he was concerned about how he would be received and whether or not he would have to deal with those who were in sin through church discipline (v. 2b). Rather than waiting for Paul to arrive and sort the situation out, it would be better if the church examined and corrected itself. So, Paul urged them in verses 5-6 to examine themselves “to see whether you are in the faith.” If someone is a genuine believer in Christ, certain things will be true. One of those things is dealing properly with sin in his or her life. Genuine Christians sin and may resist dealing with sin for a time, but no genuine Christian will be complacent when there is serious, ongoing sin in their lives over an extended period of time. Anyone who calls himself a Christian but lives in sin for an ongoing length of time is either headed toward God’s discipline in his or her life or not one of God’s children at all. Since the Corinthians were once again tolerating unrepentant sin in their church (v. 2), Paul called them to examine themselves.

There are some Christians who struggle with doubts about their salvation, some for many years. These believers live in a state of continual self-evaluation. Since none of us is perfect, there is always evidence of our sinfulness in our lives. Many Christians overlook all the positive growth and godly character qualities they have developed and focus only on their in struggles. This passage really isn’t for them.

Instead, this passage is for those who are highly confident of their salvation, but display little to know fruit in their lives--no souls saved, no growth in holiness, nothing really but an empty profession of faith. That person is in a dangerous place because their lives show more evidence of unbelief than of genuine faith.

Could that be you? Does your life give evidence that you are a Christian or do you comfort yourself that you are a Christian based only only your profession of faith?

2 Corinthians 12

Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 12.

Paul continued defending his ministry in today’s reading. Remember that this started back in chapter 10 and continued through chapter 11. His defense was necessary because people within the church attempted to discredit him and his ministry. Paul referred to the things he said about himself as “boasting” because he is talking about himself, explaining why the Corinthians should appreciate him and be champions of his ministry instead criticizing and doubting him. Paul hated doing this (v. 11). But he felt it was necessary so that he could strengthen them in their faith (v. 19) and prune the sin from the body (vv. 20-21).

This chapter recounts the revelations he had seen (v. 1) and the supernatural powers that had God had used him to work (v. 12). But rather than truly “boasting” about these things, Paul mentions them as evidence of his apostleship, but also included how God had humbled him by giving him his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” People have speculated what the “thorn in the flesh” might be but Paul never specified. Maybe he didn’t specify what it was because he did not want people to know; maybe he didn’t specify because the Corinthians already knew what it was. Regardless, Paul used the “divine passive” to describe how he received this “thorn.” The “divine passive” is when someone uses the passive voice to describe something God did. Paul used it in verse 7b when he says, “I was given a thorn in my flesh....” We know that God gave it to him because Paul said he received it “to keep me from becoming conceited.” We also know that it came from God because he “pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (v. 8). Despite the fact that God gave it to him, he called it “a messenger of Satan” which probably means that it limited his ability to do the Lord’s work.

Paul “pleaded” with God to rescue him from this thorn in the flesh three times according to verse 8. Instead of answering his prayer with deliverance, God answered it by promising his grace to Paul to deal with this “thorn,” whatever it was. Although this problem created weakness for Paul physically, it strengthened him spiritually just as God promised when he said, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9c).

Do you have any nagging problems in your life? They may not be physical or even visible to others but they discourage you, limit you in some way, and cause you distress. God’s promise to Paul in verse 9 is an opportunity for all of us who know Christ. The hardship(s) you and I face in life may be the thing that keeps us walking with God, keeps us depending on his power, and calls us to look to him in faith daily. Next time you find yourself pleading with God to take the problem away, ask instead for his grace to endure it and for his power to work in your spiritual life in a greater way.

Proverbs 16:1-15

Congratulations! You’ve made it half way thorough our daily Bible reading journey through the New Testament, Proverbs, and Psalms. Keep going by reading Proverbs 16:1-15.

Wealth is one of the deepest desires of many people. For some it is the experiences wealth can buy. Others value the possessions wealth can help you collect. Still others are fearful of financial ruin so accumulating wealth gives them a greater feeling of security. Regardless of why someone wants financial gain, the temptation to be dishonest or to take advantage of someone is too strong for many to overcome. Proverbs 16:8 calls us to consider a different path. Instead of pursing and acquiring money at all costs, verse 8a invites us to consider the value of personal integrity. Would you rather do the right thing even if it meant less money for you or would you rather compromise your principles just a little bit to put some more money into your pocket? You are wiser, the Holy Spirit wrote through Solomon, if you get by on less to do the right thing than if you turn a bigger profit in an unjust way.

But why is it better? Doing the right thing keeps your conscience from bothering you; in fact, you may feel a sense of holy satisfaction if you do what is honest and right. Additionally, the Lord is watching when you choose righteousness over unjust gain. By choosing to do what God commands, you are banking on his promise to provide for you and your needs.

Will you face a situation like this in the next week? Maybe a cashier will give you too much change? Maybe you’ll see an opportunity to buy something for yourself with the company credit card? Maybe you’ll be tempted to embezzle funds or join a dishonest get rich quick scheme. Remember that God is watching what we do and, if you belong to him, pleasing him with your choices will be better than stocking away more cash for yourself. If your trust is in the Lord, then count on him to provide for you by doing what is right, even if it leaves you with less money in the bank.