Saturday, December 10, 2016
Today's readings are Acts 20-23. Tomorrow's are Acts 24-26.
Here's Paul's Third Missionary Journey, the last half of which is detailed in Acts 20-21:
Acts 21:4 can be challenging. Luke seems to infer that the disciples at Tyre were, through the Spirit, telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. What we've seen, from the beginning of Paul's journey back to Jerusalem is that Paul is highly motivated, by the Spirit, to return in spite of warnings all along the way that he would suffer once he got there. Paul has been prophesied over and has, himself, admitted his time in Jerusalem would be most difficult. Either hearing from others that Paul was in danger, or by receiving a divine prophecy through the Spirit, some supporters in Tyre try to dissuade Paul from going. This is not the Spirit now telling Paul not to go. It is people who love Paul, once learning what would happen, imploring him not to go. Paul is resolute and continues on (Acts 21;5-6). The closer he gets to Jerusalem, the more clear the warnings become, thoroughly preparing Paul for what is to come.
When Paul arrives, everything plays out just as he had been told and ahs anticipated. The net result is Paul standing before the provincial governor, Felix. Paul, quite clearly in trouble, does what he always does, he shares the gospel. This is what he came to Jerusalem to do. Through divine providence, he does it with the highest authorities in the land.
Paul was not bind-sided by his ordeal in Jerusalem. God prepared him for it every step of the way. Likewise, we should not be blind-sided by trials and ordeals. God not only prepares us for them, but has meaning and purpose for them. Like Paul, the way we handle them, if we face them with faith, will give us an opportunity to share the gospel or put it on display for all to see!
Friday, December 9, 2016
Today's readings are Rom 14-16. Tomorrow's are Acts 20-23.
Rom 14 shows us some of the doctrinal latitude we have in living with each other as believers. We are not to judge each other on non-essential points of doctrine. One wants to eat meat, the other to avoid it. Both are OK and should not be points of division. This should promote harmony within the body, a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. That harmony is not the ultimate goal. But it is the evidence of Christ in us. Being divisive over things like mode of baptism, church polity, type of music, roles in the church and a host of other issues that are not essential to salvation only dilutes our witness. If we can't get along with each other without becoming judgmental, how will we ever minister to the lost? Is our primary goal in ministry is to convert people to our way of thinking, our mode of worship, our style of preaching, our translation of the Bible, our method of baptism, our interpretation of the end times, our understanding of the gifts--the list goes on and on. If any or all of those elements of our particular church are primary, it becomes far too easy to lose sight of the reason the church is here on earth--the gospel. Our distinctives are important. But, they should never divide us.
Rom 15 builds on ch 14, showing that a mature believer seeks to please others more than he pleases himself. This also means that a mature believer does not view himself as better or wiser than others. Christ, setting the example, welcomed and received Gentiles and Jews. We should be willing to do the same for each other rather than judging each other and elevating ourselves above those around us.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 9:39 AM
Thursday, December 8, 2016
Today's readings are Rom 11-13. Tomorrow's are Rom 14-16.
In Rom 9, we saw the sovereignty of God in His election. In Rom 10, we see Israel's failure to respond in righteousness, calling her "disobedient and obstinate". Therein is the uneasy tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. So, what becomes of Israel? Are they doomed by their disobedience or saved as His chosen people?
Paul prepares us for Rom 11 by mentioning Isaiah's remnant in Rom 9:27-29. Keeping in mind that "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel," it becomes clear that most of disobedient Israel will be punished while some will be saved. Paul, himself is evidence of this. The remnant Paul speaks of is chosen by the grace of God. No one is saved solely because they are Jewish nor does being Jewish guarantee salvation. Only the ones God has chosen are saved. Some of Israel, the ones who reject Jesus Christ, will suffer the consequences for their sins. The one’s who are the recipients of God’s grace can be identified by their acknowledgment of Christ as Lord and Savior. Or, as in Old Testament times, the ones who trusted God for a coming redeemer (Heb 11). But salvation is not limited to the remnant of Israel. The measure of salvation is neither nationality nor ethnicity, but Jesus Christ. Of course, we’ve seen hints of this all along. Rahab, Ruth, Caleb and others were Gentiles that were grafted (adopted) into God’s family. The saved Gentiles will be grafted into the original "tree" of God's people. The wayward remnant of Israel will be re-grafted back into the same "tree".
There is much debate over what this means and how it will look as we approach the end of time. Some believe Israel, as a nation, is lost. Some believe all of Israel will be saved. Some think the modern church has taken the place of Israel. There are too many references to the church and Israel in the apocalyptic (end times) books of the Bible to think Israel has been replaced by the church. Furthermore, this would make God's original decrees over Israel null and void, something that would make God's promises unreliable. Paul's teaching on a remnant of Israel, chosen by God, eventually united with the church and taken into glory resolves much of the difficulty with this very complicated passage.
With the criteria for salvation established in Christ alone, Rom 12 begins detailing what it means to live in a way that demonstrates that salvation and puts God on display in the life of a Christian. The evidence of our transformation is in the exercising of our spiritual gifts. Christians are to live together, using their gifts in love as the body of Christ (the church). That love is to be worked out in all relationships under all circumstances. Our love for each other, and for the lost, will be the outward evidence of our inner transformation.
We see that Christians are to honor and obey civil government, which is ordained by God, in Rom 13. While God is the supreme authority, we are to conform to civil laws and ordinances insofar as they do not contradict the Scriptures, pray for and respect our leaders, pay our taxes and be models of good citizens. The unregenerate world rebels against authority. We are called to be set apart from the world and exemplars of humble, quiet, godly living.
Posted by John Kuvakas at 11:30 AM
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Today's readings are Rom 8-10. Tomorrow's are Romans 11-13.
Paul details his seemingly hopeless struggle between the desires of his flesh and the desire of his spirit in Rom 7. In reality, what we see in Paul applies to each of us as well. Left to our own devices, we are in a losing battle against sin, Rom 8 opens with hope for us and a guarantee that accompanies the grace of God, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Our union with Christ, being "in Christ Jesus," is our assurance that we will not suffer the consequences of sin, death. This is the work of Christ! If He is in us, we have life. We may struggle with sin, but God has given us eternal life. If we are truly saved, if we have surrendered our lives to Christ, we have received eternal life. No matter how great our struggles may be, we are guaranteed eternal life.
Rom 8 goes on to say this all occurs by the hand of God. Believers are foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified. What an incredible chain of events, already put in place by our Father, assuring our eternal destiny in spite of our weaknesses and failings.
We see God's sovereign choice in salvation in Rom 9, a chapter many struggle with. People are saved not because of ethnicity or birth (Rom 9:1-12), but by "God's purpose of election" (Rom 9:11). Does this make God unjust? "By no means!", Says Paul (Rom 9:14). God chooses who will receive His mercy. Indeed, salvation is not by will or work (Rom 9:16), but by God, who has mercy. Rom 9:19-24 is a strong indictment against those who would call this unfair or claim that it doesn't make sense.
Rom 10 demonstrates this principle quite well. All in Israel were not saved just because they were Jewish. Only a remnant truly believed (Rom 9:27-29). Many had great zeal but were misguided (Rom 10:1-4). The only way to be reconciled to God is through Jesus Christ (Rom 10:9-10). Those who were truly saved in Israel had faith in the promise of a redeemer. That faith was counted to them as righteousness. They did not know of Christ, but they knew of God's promise to send a Redeemer to His people. In this manner, Christ's work reaches back in time to save those who were faithful. He works in the present to save those who are faithful. And He reaches forward to save those that will be faithful. This faith comes by believing in the heart and confessing with the mouth that "Jesus is Lord." Eph 2:8 tells us this faith is a gift from God.
We see human responsibility in Rom 10 as well as divine sovereignty. People do not believe unless they hear and will not hear unless the gospel is preached. The gospel demands a response. All who hear it will either accept it or reject it. Even so, simply listening is not enough to save. Salvation comes through faith. Only those who have been given faith can accept salvation. What a remarkable grace those who believe have received! God has done all that needs to be done for us to be saved. For this, we should be eternally grateful. To show our gratitude, we should strive to be obedient. Our obedience will be the evidence of that faith (Rom 10:18-21).
Posted by John Kuvakas at 6:18 PM
Today's readings are Rom 4-7. Tomorrow's are Rom 8-10.
We see that faith was always God's method of making His children righteous. God declared Abraham righteous (justified) by faith, not by works or the law.
Rom 5 tells us this justification by faith reconciles us to God. This is made possible by Jesus taking on flesh and undoing the work done by Adam. Adam was an imperfect representative of mankind. Through him, death came. Jesus is a second Adam. He is the perfect representative for mankind. Through him, life comes. God gave us the law to expose our sin. Those who recognize this and repent can be thankful for the law, seeing it as an act of grace. Without the law, we would die in our sin.
Believers have a new life in Christ. Rom 6 tells us we are still slaves but are now slaves to righteousness instead of sin. Because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, we are able to die to sin. We should understand, though, that this occurs because we are now united with Christ, joined with Him. While our union with Him is a guarantee of eternal life, as we will soon see, our earthly life can still be a struggle. Our death to sin calls for us to be resolute in avoiding it. "Some participation is required."
This becomes clear in Rom 7 where we see that avoiding sin is a battle. Our hearts long to be sin-free but our flesh continually draws us into it. Paul describes his own struggle with sin, repeatedly confessing that he does what he doesn't want to do. Rom 7 is a remarkable parallel to Rom 6. Ch 6 tells us we are dead to sin while ch 7 details the ongoing struggle with sin. In Rom 7:17-20, "Paul is not trying to escape responsibility for his sin, but rather putting his finger on the real culprit - indwelling sin" as The Expositor's Bible Commentary says. Paul claims Full responsibility for his sin subsequent to his salvation in Rom 7:24-25, confessing his inability to maintain his righteousness on his own. He needs help, as we will see in the next chapter.
Rom 6-7, taken together as the must be, become a picture of our ongoing sanctification. God sees us as righteous and just (sanctified), even as we are being made righteous and just (being sanctified), day by day. He sees the completed work of Christ in us because we are united to Him even though we are not yet perfected in our flesh. This union is the assurance of our eternal destiny that God would "count us as saved" even as He is saving and perfecting us. This guarantee of salvation even as salvation is being worked out in us is a beautiful and comforting example of the “already and not yet.”
Posted by John Kuvakas at 5:28 PM