Merely Human? - by Richard Neufeld
Chapter three repeat Paul’s warnings about divisions in the Church. These things weave from the second chapter where Paul outlines the wisdom given and expected from those who have truly laid down their lives for Christ. He goes on in the third chapter to contrast those expectations with what he found in Corinth – that is, spiritual infants. He upbraids them for boasting in their following of Paul or Apollos, pointing out that they are no more than the works of Christ who is the only one about whom we ought to boast “For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building,” (3:9). He exhorts the people of the Corinthians Church to only build upon one foundation, Christ, and to take care how they build upon it. They and their works will be revealed on the Last Day, for some will build with precious stones, gold, and silver whereas others will build with wood, hay, and straw. The pinnacle of this chapter comes in verse sixteen “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
The fourth chapter details how followers of Christ and stewards of the Gospel ought be regarded by others. First, they are to be faithful and blameless, ready to put the love of God above every other human diversion and division. They are to imitate Christ in all ways, content with much and content with little, poured out for others like their Lord, poorly dressed, reviled, and persecuted yet enduring, blessing, and entreating all the while. They are to put their money where their mouth is and lay themselves down for the sake of others instead of paying lip-service to those of the faith and to God, “for the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”
As we say most days, there is so much for us to unpack in just these two chapters, but we’ve got to remain focused on the bigger picture and not get distracted. In fact, that’s exactly how Paul approaches the issue of division in the church! The church in Corinth had become so obsessed with one leader or another, be it Paul or Apollos or Cephas, and it pulled the focus of each of them off the only Leader worth following, Christ Jesus. They constantly bickered and whined and competed, and for what? “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
I picture that at some point, while penning (or dictating) this chapter, Paul put everything down for a moment and gave a huge, weary sigh. The Gospel of Jesus Christ had been preached and proclaimed, the power of sin broken, the captives set free, outsiders welcome in to the feast of the Great King, a way made to God through Jesus in an incredible act of grace and here are the people of Corinth running amok after mere humans! Paul in turn calls the people of Corinth such, and the frustration virtually drips from the page as he declares, while one goes after Paul and another after Apollos, that they are being merely human themselves!
This is what Christ came to change and they missed the point all together. What is one mans teaching or another mans words compared to knowing Christ? What division could possibly be worth compromising this most incredible message? At such a crucial time too! The new Christian is supposed to lay aside their humanness as they are sanctified and take up godliness, to care about the things that Christ cares about and do the things God wants them to do – instead, the church in Corinth was constantly diverted by utterly worthless controversies and petty arguments to the detriment of the body of the church as a whole.
With words soaked in exasperation, Paul asks if they totally forgot the fact that they are God’s holy temple and that God’s Spirit dwells within them. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and when it comes to either us or God being out of line or in the wrong, it is never God. Clearly those of Corinth had tried to cover up their stupidity with clever words and flowery oratory, yet Paul, wielding the sword of the Spirit, cuts through all their selfishness. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise … so let no one boast in men.” In this chapter as in so many others, Paul draws the line where if someone is at odds with the teaching of Christ and the whole consensus of Scripture which is breathed by God, it is not the Divine that needs to be recalibrated. For Christ is above any human difference, and to miss that is not license to act however we want.
Application and Question:
There is so much around us that can divide us. I am referring not only to the chasm that lies between the life of the Christian and that of the world, but also that which exists within each of us in the form of pride and selfishness. What would Paul write about you or me? How would he write about St. Aidan’s, or perhaps the church in Canada as a whole? Would you accept his words if they singled your behaviour out? Would you get defensive and argue back, perhaps taking a group of like-minded people and setting off where such challenges didn’t exist?
It is an incredible act of grace and mercy that draws someone to their knees in search of Christ and saving faith, but grace doesn’t stop there and neither does our rebellion. We begin as spiritual infants in Christ and are supposed to grow into mature believers, transitioning off spiritual milk, which is easy to take, to harder, more complex spiritual food. We are obviously going to start off quite rough around the edges, but the Holy Spirit is patient as we are sanctified, trained, and become not only more obedient but more loveable.
The puppy (yes, I did just get one thanks for asking) taken in off the street is not merely given food and shelter but is also cleaned and trained not to destroy its new home or bite others so that the owner may enjoy it fully. This provides space for real companionship and strengthens the bond between the two. So it is with us – we are taken in a scruffy mess when we come to Christ no matter our testimony, but He cares for us and delights in our growth, calling us to work alongside Him as His sons and daughters, enabling us to live a life that really pleases God. What a gift!
When we come to Christ, we move from our merely human way of doing things and become a living temple for God’s Holy Spirit! Christ has adopted us and brought us into His body! So we are not only to bend our knee to Him once or twice but to live on our knees and accept reproof when it may come. We must not become proud in our humility or arrogant in our meekness or too clever for our own good but fully surrender ourselves to Christ and His body. We must make no room for divisions among us for the world is divisive enough. What could be worth putting a splinter in this Body? We cannot afford to make room for pride, now or ever. Paul waded straight into the issues that were causing division and drew the eyes of others not to himself but to Christ - this is His church, and we best not let our own hearts get in the way!!
I’ll be honest, when I began thinking about how to write this blog the subject of vaccines kept on popping into my head and how we ought to respond as Christians. This thought comes of and from myself only and is unprompted in any way other than the Holy Spirit walking me through this writing of Divisions in the Church. Just as Paul constantly appeals to the consensus of Scripture when making his case for Christ towards non-believers and just as he refers to the bigger picture while correcting those who already believe, we must be minded so. We must not be content with division along these lines of vaccines, for in my mind we have been blessed with the gift of scientific advancement that keeps ourselves and others safe at a time when medical resources are critically low.
We must appeal not to the loud minority that claims dissent, but to the worldwide scientific and biomedical majority that repeatedly comes forth with rock-solid proof that the vaccines we have especially in Canada are safe and effective. If such people in the church were to give equal weight to the scholarly minority (and I do mean minority) that claims Jesus never lived, died, or rose from the grave, as they do to the people amplifying fake vaccine studies and other such misinformation, then we would have a much smaller population in the pews. I say this not as a condemnation but as an appeal from my voice alone to put Christ above this division, to lay ourselves down for the good of others, and to accept the good and faithful majority of experts that, by the grace of God, have developed effective and harmless vaccines. I understand there is disagreement and passion but let us not be merely human here – let us care for the Body as a whole and put Christ above everything else.
Father God, we’re sorry we have been so narrow-minded as to let earthly things steal our focus from you and what you would have us do. We are sorry for our pride, for stopping our ears from hearing and listening to what others have to say. Please teach us to value you above everything else, especially our own wisdom. Make us foolish for your sake that we might not be deceived, but rely entirely on your wisdom and goodness, that all we do might be of you, from you, and give glory to you. Amen!
Song: O Praise the Name - Hillsong Worship
We Have the Mind of Christ (By Lory Mitton)
Text: 1 Corinthians 1-2 (Acts 18)
Paul greets the Corinthian church and expresses his gratitude that they know Jesus and have his enriching grace and gifts. He then appeals to them to live united with the same mind and judgment.
Paul relays how he has heard of divisions among them because some of them are boasting about their preferred preacher: “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos” or “I follow Cephas” or “I follow Christ”. Paul asks them: Is Christ divided?
If Paul had preached to them with eloquent words of wisdom, the cross of Christ would be emptied of its power. He says Jews look for signs and Greeks look for worldly wisdom but it is the cross where God’s supreme wisdom is demonstrated. To those perishing, the cross is foolishness but those who are being saved recognize the power of the cross. God’s foolishness is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God chooses the foolish and weak in the world to shame those who are wise and strong. This is so no human can boast. It’s all God’s doing – he demonstrated His true wisdom in Jesus, who became righteousness, sanctification and redemption for all who believe. So if anyone wants to boast, they should boast in the Lord.
Paul himself, when he first brought the gospel to the Corinthians spoke of Christ’s crucifixion with his human weakness and fear but through him, God demonstrated the power of the Spirit so that they would come to know God.
Through the Spirit, God has revealed his secret and hidden supreme wisdom – what no one in their human wisdom could have imagined. The Spirit of God knows the depths of God and imparts and reveals God’s wisdom to those who are spiritually discerning.
We can look back at the origins of the Corinthian church in the book of Acts, chapter 18. When Paul first came to Corinth, he met Pricilla and Acquila and worked with them and began ministry with them, starting a church community. After he moved on to other cities to preach the gospel, Pricilla and Acquila met Apollos, who was a very eloquent man, competent in the scriptures. He came to Corinth after he had been ministering to people in Ephesus about Jesus but he only knew the baptism of John. So Pricilla and Acquila explained to him more accurately the gospel. When Paul arrived in Ephesus, he came across some of those believers who had received Apollos’ message of Jesus but only the baptism of John. When they were baptized again in the name of Jesus, and Paul laid hands on them, they received the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Some of the believers in Corinth were probably Jewish and these had heard Peter’s testimony of Jesus.
So, we can see there were some differences how the Corinthian believers first heard about Jesus. Perhaps Apollos was a more gifted speaker than Paul was. But Paul is trying to show them how trivial it is to boast about another human’s appearance of eloquence or wisdom because these mere servants of God were all empowered by the Holy Spirit, by God’s wisdom. The Corinthians believed the message that was preached to them because it was laced with God’s power…and this had nothing to do with Paul, Apollos or Peter.
Jews valued supernatural signs—appealing visuals, and Greeks valued wise philosophers who could skillfully lay out logic, but the true wisdom of God was demonstrated through foolish means: Jesus, a state criminal died a gruesome and humiliating death on a cross and so defeated death, the Devil and sin. This act of salvation and redemption defied human wisdom and this is precisely how God’s supreme mind works.
Paul is appealing to these new believers to put down their worldly human ways of thinking and reasoning because these only foster division. Instead, they should embrace the miracle of their new reality: as those who have become spiritually alive, through the message of Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection, they all have unified access to the profound and supreme wisdom of God; as Paul says, “We have the mind of Christ.”
It is so like us humans to look for and align ourselves with appealing and logical reasons and beautiful ideas. This is how the wise of the world live—but as believers, we have something better! We have the mind of Christ. Because our belief in Jesus grants us the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have access to the supreme wisdom of God!! How amazing is this!?
But there is a caution: this supreme wisdom of God can seem like foolishness when contrasted to the world’s logical reasons or appealing ideas. If/when we follow the mind of Christ, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves on a path counter-cultural to the world.
In Proverbs we read of the world’s wisdom and we are told to seek God’s wisdom instead:
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (14:12)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” (3:5-7)
Is there a situation in your life where you have been searching for wisdom and guidance? Is there a path that seems appealing or logical? How can you trust the Lord’s leading in this situation?
Father God, thank you for allowing me the amazing access to the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Help me recognize when the wisdom of men is really foolishness and lead me with your supreme wisdom, even though at times it may seem to go against logic and what appeals to others. Thank you for the Holy Spirit, who guides and protects. Help me to be submitted to the Spirit’s leading and authority.
Gospel Unity and Mission by Pastor Dave
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 15: 5-6
Romans 15-16 (Psalm 140)
(I will focus on chapter 15 as chapter 16 was covered in our service this last Sunday, 24th October -available on the Church website)
In this letter Paul has focused on certain key themes, two are present here; unity in the Church; and God’s mission of reconciliation. Both themes find their home in the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Both these themes are found in the opening verses of this chapter. Unity is to be demonstrated by bearing with our brothers and sisters and not pleasing ourselves (1); the mission is to be extended to our neighbours in love(those outside the Church as well as within), (2). This life has been demonstrated and commanded by Christ (3; Matthew 22: 37-40; & Luke 10:25-37). Scripture guides and enables so that in unity the Church can glorify God (5-6).
These principles are to govern the Church’s behavior, relationships, lives, finances, mission, prayer and leadership (whole chapter). The Gospel is open to all and its aim is to bring others into a relationship with God (9-12, 16).
The desire for Christ and His glory overrides personal agendas. This focus on Christ brings joy and peace to the individual and shares the Good News with others. The power comes from the Holy Spirit (14, 17-21). Being in each other’s company in unity provides refreshment and allows God’s peace to reign; it is a cycle of blessing (30-33).
Chapter 16 details examples of people who were committed to these truths and in Christ, endeavor to live them out.
In our current situation where the issue of vaccination is proving divisive this passage has much to offer. We are called to a motivation of unity which glorifies God. To relationships based on love where we put others first. And we are given Scripture to guide us. The latter needs to be used correctly and not made to say what we want. Scripture points us towards Christ and towards honouring God. Right choices will always be based on sound doctrine and the Gospel (1 Timothy: 1 8, 11).
I spoke on the 17th October urging us to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4: 1-6). I offered a biblical framework to live within where we base our lives on God’s truth with honest answers to honest questions and where we have true Spirituality in the Lord and beautiful relationships with one another. This Scripture guides us further into that framework and life. How does it speak to you today, what challenges to you hear?
The Question of Application
What motivates us with regards our view on vaccination? Is our view based on Scripture, honouring towards God, loving towards others and does it promote unity?
Almighty God, at this time, grant us endurance and encouragement and the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had. May we be of one mind and one voice so that we glorify you, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. May you, the God of hope, fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in you, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
From Romans 15
We are one in the Spirit we are one in the Lord – Ienora Fleming
Simple Rules (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Romans 13-14
Observe: In Chapter 13, Paul gives the believers in Rome a few guidelines for staying out of trouble with the authorities. He tells them to obey the law because all authority has come from God and He has placed the government in place. People should not rebel against the government because it brings unwanted and unfavorable attention to themselves. They are to pay their taxes, respect their officials, and honour those to whom it is owed. All of this should be done out of love for their neighbours, because love fulfills the law, that is the Commandments given to them. Some of these Commandments can be summed up as “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Paul urges believers in Christ to act decently because salvation is nearer now than when they first believed. They shouldn’t be carousing and acting in debauchery, or in dissention and jealousy, but rather they should clothe themselves in Christ.
In Chapter 14, Paul tells them to accept one another, regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey. They are to welcome each other without judgement, because who are we to judge anyone, when God has already accepted them. Those who are stricter in their beliefs and those who are less strict in their beliefs both give thanks, prise and honour to God. They both live and die for the Lord, and we will all be judged by Him. But Paul puts more responsibility on the strong, and calls on them to not put any stumbling blocks in the way of brothers and sisters in their faith, and do that which would make them feel welcome out of love for them. They must not force anyone to do anything that is against their conscience.
Interpret: In Paul’s writing in Romans 13, he was offering divinely-inspired advice to Christians living in Rome under that government. It’s probable that some of them believed that their freedom in Christ meant they didn’t have to follow the requirements of local authorities. They may have felt that if Jesus was Lord, then they didn’t need to pay taxes to Caesar. Furthermore, the Roman Christians had a history of getting into trouble with the government. This would have made it difficult for followers of Jesus to live out their faith in Rome with effectiveness and impact. Paul is trying to help these Christians to not get into unnecessary trouble with the government, because to do so would be dishonoring to God.
In Chapter 14, we see that both “stronger” believers and “weaker” believers feel that their views are the morally important ones, and they are not wrong. The strong believe that forcing Gentiles to keep kosher is a denial of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The weak believe that not keeping kosher is offensive to God and a violation of the Jewish law. The argument is a difficult one because freedom in Christ and obedience to God’s covenants are important moral issues. But, Paul says that relationships within the community of believers are even more important. Living in Christ is not about being right or wrong on any particular issue. It is about being in right relationship with God and with one another, about “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Application: Today, Paul’s simple advice continues to guide us in our discipleship. Although there might be occasions when we need to oppose unjust governments or laws, generally speaking, submitting to civil authority allows us to focus on being God’s servants in the world and spreading the good news of salvation. All too often, we have seen news reports of what happens when prominent Christians break the law or behave in immorally contemptable ways. It has an impact on all Christians, as the reputation of all believers plummets and our mission to spreads the gospel is made that much more difficult. The world sees the hypocrisy, is quick to point it out and passes judgement on all Christians. But worse yet, it brings dishonour to God.
None of us is perfect, but when we profess the truth of Jesus Christ, we must strive to live in a manner that pleases God. We must be in a right relationship with both God and with each other. When we accept one another, and let truth, peace, righteousness, and love prevail, we bring honour to God.
Questions: Are you still able to love a true brother or sister in Christ who might not think exactly like you?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask that you would help us to keep your commandments as a way to honour you. Help us to not fall into legalism, but to share with all whom we come into contact the mercy and grace that you have shown us. Your Word is holy, and worthy to be taught to any who would listen. Give us the wisdom, understanding, and compassion to share it faithfully with those whom you have called to yourself. In the merciful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Song: Live the Life – Michael W. Smith
A Living Sacrifice (By Chris Barnes)
Text: Romans (Chapters 11-12)
OBSERVE: Within these two chapters we read about the following:
INTERPRET: By the end of chapter 11 we understand that all people, both Jew and Gentile, are unified in a common need for salvation. We also come to understand that the answer to this need is the same for us all; Jesus Christ. Paul also explains in chapter 11 how God has been faithful to his promises to Israel.
In the next chapter (12); Paul begins his practical instructions for holy living. Here Paul is saying; if you believe this glorious gospel, then this is how believers should live in thankfulness. In the first few verses, we read that real worship is much deeper than merely a church gathering. Paul gets to the fuller dimension of worship when he calls the readers to be living sacrifices, which is their “spiritual worship.” To be a living sacrifice is to live in a way of openness and availability to God’s Will that will clearly show how much we are trusting in the loving sacrifice of Jesus.
Paul then touches on some of the ways in which the Holy Spirit gifts us for ministry to each other in the building up of the church. Paul’s primary points in this passage are that what God establishes in life he will equip for growth; and that as his church we have the spiritual tools we need to live in Christ-centered harmony and power.
APPLICATION: The Holy Spirit is not simply sitting on a pew in a church building waiting for us to visit. Rather, the Spirit has occupied our bodies; which means we can worship God at all times. In addition, everyone plays a part in the life and ministry of the church. We are all in service to God and only Jesus plays a starring role. We have all been graced with different gifts and we all are essential to the life of the church.
Together we are to be one family and are to be unified through humility and love for one another. While doing so, we are to use our diverse gifts to serve one another in building up God’s church. We are to be living sacrifices – this is true and proper worship.
REFLECTION: Are you living in a way that reflects thankfulness for the loving sacrifice of Jesus. Are you open and available to God’s Will? Are you using your diverse gifts to serve others and build up the church?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus; you are the Savior of every tongue, tribe and nation. Help me to live a life of thankfulness in which I can truly present my body as a living sacrifice; holy and pleasing to you. I ask that you reveal my spiritual gifts and help me to use these diverse gifts to serve one another to build up your church. This is the true and proper worship that I desire. AMEN.
Romans 5 begins with “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (5:1). Paul goes on to reason that since we have peace here, it will yield hope in the midst of suffering and all other types of good character traits in us since we have the Holy Spirit living within us. He goes on to say that Christ died for us when we were ungodly; how much more, then, shall we live now that we are at peace with Him? He ties this line of thought in with the sin and death wrought through one man, Adam, and compares it with the infinite life we gain through one man, the New Adam, Jesus Christ.
The next chapter argues that those who are saved are under grace instead of the Law, and says that though we experience grace even as sinners, we are not to continue living in sin. We have been “united with Him in a death like His, [and] we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Paul continues to argue that we who were once slaves to sin must consider ourselves dead to sin and slaves to righteousness. As we once presented ourselves to be shackled to sin and death, we must now present ourselves to righteousness and be thoroughly captive there.
Over the years I’ve come across a few studied (though there are many more) of the book of Romans that feature one episode per verse of the book. These episodes are around 45 minutes long and are packed with all the implications of the handful of words written there, and even then, there’s so much more to be said. So how do we interpret these two pivotal and incredible chapters of Romans? Let’s focus on the big picture.
We need to begin Romans 5 by looking at the last verses of Romans 4 which say That is why [Abraham’s] faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification,” (4:22-25). It is these few verses that draw together chapter 4 and lead us to 5:1 which tells us the wonderful news that we have peace with God through faith in Jesus! That is the entire thesis of this chapter and Paul dives right in with all the implications this statement carries. He explains that we now stand in grace, free to rejoice and live in hope of the glory of God! “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance …” What an amazing thing to read! What an amazing truth in which to live. We are not to let this Good News, this Gospel, to sit unattended on the pages of our Bibles but to extract them carefully and tenderly, then carry them around in our hearts each day.
The absolutely awe-some love of God is on full display, “for while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly … but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If verses such as these do not stir us to adoration of our Saviour, I might suggest that we might not see our own sin and brokenness in its true and honest light. Remember and rejoice that it was the love of God and God alone that brought you to Him, nothing you did or didn’t do – nothing you were or said or accomplished. There is a God, holy and divine, perfect and powerful, and thanks to Him you now are united with Him, reconciled to Him and living in His joy! What matters more than that? What could possibly match the love of God stirring in your heart?
Application and Question:
So now what? How do we respond to this? Well the title of my ESV Bible titles chapter 6 as Dead to Sin, Alive to God – and therein lies our answer. Jesus did not reconcile us for no reason or for us to be cleaned up only to dive back into rebellion, no way! He suffered on your behalf that you might die to your own sin, your own evil nature and take up life on His terms. This is so that you might grow into the person you were meant to be according to His good will; you might put to death the sin that pollutes and corrupts, pushing out joy and grieving the Holy Spirit; you might regard sin in the same hateful way that God sees it and actually live accordingly: “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace,” (6:12-14).
Righteousness, death to life, grace; what do these things mean to you? So often our nature is to cover up the bad about ourselves, to downplay and sanitize our wickedness. Our shame can threaten to crush us otherwise and our pride feels threatened. Let me suggest that to realize the weight of our own sin and to be boldly opposed to our pride is the best way to sense the wonder and life of the Gospel. Whether or not we realize it, our sin is a burden that will carry us down to the depths, and the only relief from it is Jesus Christ. If we find that our sin is weighing on us and we hear the accuser pointing the finger at us and screaming our guilt or pointing out our flaws, do not be afraid to acknowledge that yes, we are all guilty. You are and so am I. But don’t you dare forget that even while you were at your most wicked, Christ died for you. Don’t you forget that because of Jesus you have peace through Him with God and are nestled safely in Him; that you walk about with the Holy Spirit inside you, God’s precious child.
So yes, we must not become so proud as to forget our sinfulness, but if you find it bearing down on you lately as I so often do, let it be a time to come to Jesus knowing that He began a work in you and will bring it to completion. The sin confessed from the heart and repented of is forgiven, so let us present ourselves to God for righteousness and live in the joy of having peace with God through faith.
Father God, we cannot overstate our gratitude at your wonderful work of salvation! Please soften the hearts of us that have grown hard and warm the spirits of those who have gone cold. Remind us, in our selfish and foolish pride, of our utter need of you and the sanctifying work of your Holy Spirit. Keep us from sin and make your Son the first priority and pleasure in our hearts so that we might be a vibrant example of a people living as slaves to Christ and not to sin. Amen.
Song: Because He Lives - David Crowder Band
Law, but Grace… (By Lynne McCarthy)
Text: Romans 3-4 (Ps 134)
Observe Romans 3 begins with a Q & A, Paul asking and responding.
Q: What advantage is there to being a Jew, if the law can't keep them from God's judgment for their sin?
A: They have the Word of God. God remains faithful to Israel despite her faithlessness, proving His righteousness. But people must not sin more and more, thinking that His grace will increase (1–8).
Q: Are Jews better off than Gentiles?
A: No. Everyone sins; the law doesn't change that. (9–20).
Paul stresses keeping the law can never justify us before God, but faith in Christ by His grace can and does. Jesus died on the cross to atone (pay for) sin; God’s just anger at sin was satisfied in Christ's death[LM1] . God justifies – bestows His righteousness – on those who turn in faith to Jesus (21–28). Everyone can have this gift through faith in Him. (29–31).
Romans 4 explores the example of Abraham and God's remarkable gift of declaring him righteous only by his faith, long before Abraham’s circumcision. Because of this, he is father of all who believe God by faith, a model for us in learning that faith is truly a gift, growing utter trust in Him.
Interpret Romans establishes that everyone is guilty of sin; no one deserves God's forgiveness. Even knowing God's law, we still fail to obey. The only rescue from the penalty we deserve for sin (our death) is the death of Christ, carried by Him on the cross, God’s offer of salvation is for all people who turn to Him -- pretty inclusive!
That big word, ‘propitiation’ means that God’s anger against all sin has been completely put away as far as the east is from the west (Ps.103:12), as Jesus paid the price for our sin by His death. Our Father sees Jesus standing in for us, shielding us. We are forgiven, and truly His.
Q As 21st century believers, how do we remain right with God?
A As 1st century Paul insisted, by repentance and faith in Christ. This is true for all time.
We put Him first, giving up imaginary control of our lives, yielding our selves to Him daily. We pray to align ourselves with God and His purposes, the Bible, His Word, our manual for living His life. His grace changes us from the inside out, but that massive renovation is not easy. We have to learn deeply and remember that only Jesus’ death and resurrection secure our right standing before God. There’s no other way.
We’ll be mocked as religious nuts or fanatics, no doubt, but so was Jesus. Our world is hostile to faith, but it is where the cross of Christ is necessary, and effective. Father God longs that everyone would be made righteous in Jesus – so that’s our task, sharing our faith as part of His remaking.
We can’t make ourselves right. God works His righteousness/justice in and through us. Then we can bring His Kingdom to others, knowing the wonder of His freeing, sharing with conviction with those who don’t know Him.
Ask Are judgments I make about others the root of broken relationships and injustice? Can I stand the X-ray of the Word to expose my unrighteous behaviour? Do I rely on God’s grace to change me? Are good works and being a ‘good person’ my idea of ‘faith’?
Pray Lord, Romans is hard going, even reading Paul’s words with much care. I confess I have it so wrong, so often. I like to think deep down that I’m ok, but You know differently. By Your grace in Jesus’ immense, love-driven sacrificial death, help me die to my ways of doing and thinking and living, thankful for His death that bought my salvation. Jesus, take Your rightful place – at the centre of my life.
Sing Ps 134: Chris Juby - A Call to Night Worshippers https://youtu.be/vGtXxFJiEZs
Grace Soon - Behold, Bless the Lord https://youtu.be/LQCiPdKBFhk
Sons of Korah - Lift Your Hands https://youtu.be/sQXeHV49SQU
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
Romans 1: 16-17
Romans 1-2 (Psalm 133)
We now move into a focus upon the ‘People of the Kingdom,’ beginning with the book of Romans. I encourage you to first watch the video (click here) to gain an overview of the letter.
Paul begins the letter with the powerful, Good News, of the Gospel which is open to all. The letter’s recipients are living under the menace of Ceaser in a multi-cultural, idol worshipping, promiscuous society. The letter encourages the young Church with the truth of God’s love, power, Spirit and community; a personal visit is desired for mutual encouragement.
The Gospel that Paul outlines (1: 2-6, 16-17, 2: 9-11, 29), is the only answer to the condition of the human heart. Humanity has the knowledge of God within because His truth is plain to see, so there is no excuse. Instead wickedness and godliness abound because humans have chosen to suppress this truth and believe a lie, worshiping created things rather than the creator. This is the root of sin; it is pride, believing we know better than God (1: 18-25).
God then gives us over to our desires which also results in a depraved mind; thinking in a way that is hostile to God as opposed to having the mind of Christ (1: 24, 26, 28). Humanity chooses to live a lie rather than within the truth of God. The results of this choice relate to harmful attitudes and behaviours that war against our souls and fall outside of God’s loving plan for His creation (1: 26-32). All fall under God’s judgement as all will have to give an account before Him (2: 5-16). A judgmental attitude may exist but ultimately all are guilty (2: 1-3). Instead, the letter encourages the readers to understand God’s tolerance, patience and kindness in the Gospel; repentance is called for to receive God’s righteousness and the gift of eternal life (2: 4, 7)
It is easy when reading these chapters to focus in on the matters of sexual immorality and same sex acts, missing the long list of other behaviours. The truth is that Paul teaches, as Jesus does,* that all sexual behaviour outside of marriage is against His will and plan. A further, deeper point is missed with this focus on the symptoms rather than the cause. Choosing to believe that we know better than our creator, ignoring His truth and reality results in God giving us over to our desires and self-rule with all the consequences. Perhaps the worst punishment God can give us is our own way.
Instead, our focus needs to be upon God’s grace in Jesus and His kindness towards us, patiently waiting for us to come to repentance. The power of God awaits a penitent heart in this Gospel, where righteousness and a relationship with God is available by grace through faith.
The Question of Application
What do we believe in life, the truth of God or the lie of self-sufficiency (a belief that we know best)?
Father, there is much to mislead us in life and in our own hearts. By your Spirit help us to see and understand your truth. Reveal the grace of Jesus Christ and enable us to turn to you in repentance and faith and so receive the blessing or your forgiveness and gift of life. In the praise of your Holy Name, Amen.
How Deep the Father’s love for us – Selah
*Jesus taught that all sexual behaviour outside of marriage was against God’s will and plan (the Greek word ‘porneia’ is a catch-all term for sexual behaviour outside of marriage), Mark 7: 20-23. He taught the gift of marriage from God and the gift of celibacy (Matthew 19: 3-12).
This is not a simple subject. Judgement and offence can easily result with careless words and ignorance. Please consider this subject prayerfully and carefully, please speak in grace, truth and love.
Paul’s Journey to Rome (By Les Kovacs)
Text: Acts 27 - 28
Observe: In the previous chapters, Paul has been tried several times by the Jews in order to stop him from preaching the gospel of Christ, even as he continually proves by scripture how Jesus has fulfilled all the prophecies foretold by the prophets. The Jews still consider him to be a troublemaker and want to condemn him to death, but because he is Roman citizen, the local governor decides to send him to Rome to make his final appeal.
Paul is put the charge of a Centurion named Julius, who takes him, along with some other disciples and various prisoners, aboard a ship in Caesarea on a long voyage to Rome. They make numerous ports of call along the way, but being autumn, the winds seemed always to be against them, and they made very slow progress. In Fair Havens on the Island of Crete, Paul warns the Centurion how dangerous the voyage is becoming. But, because the harbour is not suitable for over-wintering, and on the advice of the ship’s pilot and owner, they continue on, planning to stay in a place called Phoenix. As they continue sailing west, they are battered by hurricane strength winds, and despite taking extraordinary safety measures, they must throw cargo and some of the ship’s tackle overboard to lighten the ship. The storm rages for more than two weeks, and throughout it, Paul encourages the ship’s company to take heart because the Lord had told him that not one member would be lost, although the ship eventually would run aground. Paul even encouraged them eat in order to keep up their strength, and after they had eaten, they even threw the remaining food overboard.
Just as Paul had predicted, ship ran aground on the island of Malta, but everyone survived. The locals showed the survivors usual kindness and built fires to warm them after their shipwreck. While this was going on, a snake bit Paul and the superstitious people thought he must be murderer, but when he was miraculously unharmed, they thought perhaps he was a god instead. While they stayed in Malta, Paul heals a local official’s sick father through prayer, and once word spread of the healing, other people came forward to be healed. After a three month stay, they were resupplied and set sail on a new ship bound for Italy, with a couple more stops along the way.
Their voyage ended in the port of Puteoll, south of Rome, where he was met by some local believers before being moved to Rome. There, he was allowed to live by himself with only one guard assigned to watch him. Once there, he spoke with the Jewish leaders and explained why he was arrested and sent to Rome. They hadn’t heard any of the accusations against him and were interested in hearing what he had to say. Once again, Paul preached the Gospel of Christ and taught from the scriptures as he always did, and once again some people believed and others did not. In his final statement, Paul quoted from Isaiah saying that God’s chosen people would refuse to listen or understand, and so he would go and preach salvation to the Gentiles, who would listen. For the next two years, Paul would welcome anyone who came to him and he preached about Jesus with courage and clarity.
Interpret: God had work for Paul to do in Rome. So all the shenanigans of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to convict him of some specious wrongdoing played right into God’s will, and sent Paul on his way to Rome. It was a long and dangerous voyage, fraught with hardship, but Paul never once doubted the Lord’s goodness, and continued to preach the Gospel of Christ, and in the name of the Lord, to perform whatever healing miracles were needed wherever he happened to be. He made the most of each and every opportunity afforded him on this arduous trip. He was a prisoner. He was abused. He endured cold, wind, hunger, high seas, a hurricane, and a shipwreck. And he was bitten by a snake. Now, some people might be somewhat discouraged by these events if they had occurred to them, but not Paul. None of these circumstances presented an obstacle to Paul in sharing the Gospel and talking about the Kingdom of God. He only saw them as new opportunities. The only obstacle that he encountered in all his journeys was the hardness of the people’s hearts. Those whose hearts were willing to listen, became followers of Christ. Those whose hearts were hardened against him, only wanted to be rid of him, and by extension, be rid of the gospel he preached.
Application: One of the reasons we love St. Aidan’s church is because we hear the Gospel of Christ preached every Sunday. No one can come here and say they didn’t hear what Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, has done for us. It is a gospel of compassion, love and hope. But it has a difficult side to it as well, one that is opposed to the wisdom of this world, and that too, you will hear preached on a Sunday morning because we preach the whole of the Gospel, not just the nice, comfortable parts.
The wisdom of this world measures success in material ways, by the accumulation of wealth, power and fame. The wisdom of this world puts the “I” (self) into idol. The wisdom of this world puts us at the center of our own little universe. We set ourselves up to be sovereign over all we survey, but in the secret places of our hearts we despair that we will ever be able to deal with all the challenges we face. The bills that keeping coming; our health issues that keep us from enjoying just being alive; our family struggles which consume our energies; the challenges at work that keep piling on the stresses; and a thousand other things that get in the way of the life that we dream about.
But, Jesus knows all about the difficulties we struggle with, and about the world we live in. He has walked the proverbial mile in our shoes, and more. He says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” He has overcome the trials of this world and He wants to help us deal with our own daily struggles by inviting us into a personal relationship with Him. Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” We don’t have to do it alone.
Once you know that and believe it in your core, you will want to share that good news with whoever is willing to hear it. But, by believing, preaching, and living the gospel, we will always be opposed by the powers of the world because it threatens the current world view. Yet, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, as disciples of Jesus Christ, God will provide opportunities to for us to share the life-giving good news of the gospel and the means to do it effectively, if we are obedient to Him. And every day, He gives us another opportunity to show the world what it is to be a disciple of Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. Luke 9:23.
Questions: Are you in a personal storm right now? Do you believe that Jesus will help you weather it? Can you see yourself sharing your story with someone else who might be floundering in their own storm?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that by the leading of your Holy Spirit, we might have the wisdom and courage to share the gospel with someone who doesn’t know you. We thank you that through all the trials of our life, you have been a refuge and the source of our strength and hope. Help us always to keep our sights set firmly on Jesus, in whose holy name we pray. Amen.
Song: Until the Whole World Hears: Casting Crowns
The Acts of Paul (By Chris Barnes)
OBSERVE: Within these two chapters we read about the following:
At this point in Paul’s life, he had been promised by God through his sense of vocation (Acts 19:21) and has been promised by Jesus though a vision (Acts 23: 11) that he would get to Rome. In these two chapters we read about Paul taking responsibility and acting on the opportunity at hand.
APPLICATION: Paul knew the promises that God had made on his life; which included his eventual arrival in Rome. Recognizing that God had provided the opportunity for him, Paul responded by appealing to Caesar knowing full well the customs of the Romans and his rights as a citizen. Paul took the proper human responsibility to respond to the opportunity that God provided.
There are times in our life that we are to keep still and wait for the Lord to provide. There are other times in our life in which God acts but he will do so through us taking proper human responsibility in the manner. Discerning and discovering which applies in which case is an important aspect in the walk of every Christian. This discernment is an area that we will grow in as we grow in our relationship with Christ. This understanding will continue to develop as we spend more time with Jesus and get to know him better.
REFLECTION: In your own walk with the Lord; have you been able to discern when to “keep still” and allow the Lord to act, and when to take the initiative and take action? Are there any recent examples in your life that you would change how you responded?
PRAYER: Lord God; I appeal to you and you alone. You are my one and only judge. Help me to discern when to wait on you and when to take action. Give me patience to wait on you and wisdom to know when to step out in faith based steps. Thank you for the example of Paul in the scriptures. AMEN.
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.