Category Archives: Bible passages

Romans 14 – Holidays and Holy Days

CONTEXT:

If our knowledge of Romans is restricted to ‘The Romans Road” (3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9; 8:1) then we will have a grasp on grace but only a tunnel vision of it. To look wider at the concept of grace, we need the whole book of Romans to chew on and meditate over. Grace doesn’t set us free to do whatever we want. “Whatever we want” is what got us all into trouble to begin with! (see Romans 2-3). Romans 6 and 7 taught us to follow God because of his great love for us and not simply because he sets the rules. Chapter 6 describes our salvation as ‘baptized into his death’. We don’t have a water ritual in mind here but the Spiritual baptism where we are overwhelmed and totally overcome by the gospel. We die with Christ so that we may live a new life.

This new life is one that pursues peace wherever it is possible (12:18). It is a life, not of commands but of love (12:9, 13:8-10).

Grace, therefore, does more than set us free from the penalty of sin, it shows us a better way. We will dress ourselves in the LORD Jesus Christ (13:14). He is our redeemer, He is our Commander and Chief, and He is our example.

OBSERVATIONS:

My first observation needs to be about the heading provided by the NIV (and most other translations): “The Weak and the Strong”. One way to study the bible is to constantly judge whether the titles given are good ones or not. Always assume that you can improve on them – not because they are always wrong but because we should never assume that they are right! Read through the passage a few more times and ask this simple question: is this chapter REALLY about weak and strong Christians? Could you do better than this? When it comes to the “Meaning” section of your study, see if you can improve on this very narrow view of the passage.

Here’s how I’ve divided up the chapter in my mind. What do you think of this structure?

  • 1-4 Accept the one whose faith is weak because God has accepted them.
  • 5-9 Whatever you do, do it for the Lord and give thanks to God.
  • 10-12 Each of us will stand before God’s judgement seat. It is God who will judge.
  • 13-21 Make peace, not war!  We are to pursue peace and building up one another.
  • 22-23 Have an audience of one: God is the only observer you need to be concerned with.

Verse 1: 

“Whose faith is weak.” Notice that the description of the weak and “strong” faith is a bit enigmatic. It seems that those who regard all days as the same and as all food as acceptable are the strong in faith but is it that straight forward? The passage does not persist in the language of ‘strong vs weak’ but in everyone to serve God as his servant or slave. All of us have the challenge before us to mature in our trust of God – not by what we do but by how we relate to the Judge of all. I’m sure that every reader will assume that they are the strong who need to take care of the weak – is that what you assumed?

“Disputable matters.” We sometimes refer to these matters as “grey areas”. They are areas of Christian faith that Christians may fall either side of the argument and still be called a brother or sister. God does not call us to disagree but to peace. Paul doesn’t tell us not to discuss them but not to quarrel over them. Examples of a disputable matter might be: alcohol in moderation, styles of church services, how Christ will return (pre-milleniulism, post-millenialism or a-millenialism), and which way the toilet roll goes. Then again, discussions on WHAT is a disputable matter could turn into quarreling about a disputable matter! Is infant baptism a disputable matter? Paul gives two examples: what one is allowed to eat and whether some days are special days to the Lord or not.

Paul shows in verse 14 where he stands on food matters. What matters to him, however, is not his personal conclusion on the matter but on whether it really matters to everyone! Is our salvation based on a decision or awareness of this? Paul is convinced for himself that what he eats, is not a salvation issue for him. But he is very concerned to make sure that what he eats isn’t something that will cause another Christian to trip over in their faith. See 1 Cor 8:9-12; 9:22.

Verse 3:

“For God has accepted them.” Paul began verse one with the command for us to accept one another who are of the faith – whether their faith is strong or weak. The strength of their faith does not make them righteous. It is God who makes righteous and he makes all righteous by faith.

“To their own master, servants stand or fall.” We all stand on the same side – no matter what minor issues we may be divided by – we are all servants of the one true God. He is our Master and we are his servants (slaves). A slave doesn’t judge over another slave because they are both slaves. The master is boss and decides who stands and falls. And it is the Lord who makes us stand (notice grace in that little phrase at the end of verse 4).

Verse 5:

“Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” On the one hand, this little phrase teaches us that we are free to decide what we are able to do and/or not do. This is often referred to as Christian freedom: being freed by God’s grace to live without the burden of the Law. On the other hand, we are being warned here not to just wander around doing whatever we feel like doing, but to be fully convinced that we are able to do or not do it. It’s the “fully convinced” bit that I suspect we need to pay more attention to. Christians ought to think things through properly. It doesn’t make any sense, actually, for a Christian not to be a thinker. After all, we are being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (12:2). Christians, more than anybody else, ought to be making decisions according to their trust in God the Father rather than on what everybody else is doing. Divorce and remarriage, sexual morality, and the way we speak are just three areas that I see Christians being led by the way of this world rather than the wisdom of God. Christian freedom, I say again, is not about being free to serve yoursef – we are, after all, slaves to God. This is where the following verses take us…

Verse 6:

“…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…does so to the Lord…” Whatever conclusion you make in your own mind about the way to live, it must be in service to the Lord. The alternative is to do so in service to yourself (or somebody else!).

“…give thanks to God…and gives thanks to God.” Someone who eats whatever they want is doing so to the Lord when they are giving thanks to God. Someone who abstains from eating certain things is doing it to the Lord when they give thanks to God. Otherwise, they are either living for themselves to indulge the sinful nature or they are being chained to the Law. Eating freely or obstaining both find their joy and pleasure in doing so to the Lord. Both are sinful if they are without regard for the grace of God.

Verse 8:

“whether we live or die”. Paul is using a metaphore here and not talking about whether to stay alive or not (that is taken up in Philippians 1:18-26). We have been buried with Christ. This is an image of death and describes the type of life we are to live – following Christ. Living might be describing the freedom of treating every day the same and of all food as good. Dying might be referring to the sacrifice of giving certain days to God and abstaining from certain foods (like bacon!). Whether we eat bacon or not, whatever life choices we make, be sure that it is for the LORD because we belong to Him.

Verses 10-12:

“For we will all stand before God’s judgement seat.” Receiving the grace of God that makes us righteous and justified in Christ does not mean that God is no longer our judge. Grace makes us clean from sin, not free from judgement. In Christ, we will be judged “not guilty” – but we will be judged.  God is our Master, and we belong to him. God is our Judge and we will all, whether we have turned to him or not, be judged by him. Sober living is needed (Romans 12: 3). See Matthew 12:36,  1 Peter 4:5; Hebrews 9:27.

Verse 13:

“Stop passing judgment on one another.” This is such a misused piece of scripture. “Don’t judge me!” is a modern comedic cry to let me be me. The truth of the verse is that God is judge and he is the only being we are to fearful of – judgement from others can’t be stopped, we can only train ourselves to treat others as fellow slaves. This isn’t telling us to cease discerning altogether. We make decisions all the time and often it is about how to act around other people. I won’t go on about this point except to say that we must always use scripture in it’s context.

Verse 15:

“You are no longer acting in love.” This is a key phrase here. The end game is for us to act in love as the previous section of Romans instructed.

“Do not … destroy someone for whom Christ died.” The pointy end of this passage is that we can, in the strength of our faith, destroy a brother or sister in Christ. It may be a strong faith, but it is not a mature one. See also verse 20-21.

Verse 17:

“…the kingdom of God is…of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” There are four elements here that describe the what the kindgom of God must be – this is not all of it, but these are four qualities of the kingdom. RIGHTEOUSNESS – what Romans 1-8 consists mostly of. How do we get right with God and stay there! Without righteousness, we can’t be a part of the kingdom. PEACE – God has called us to this. Peace with God and peace with our fellow man. The kingdom of God is not described as hostility, quarreling or harm. See verse 19. JOY – John Piper has taken this element of the kingdom of God and shown quite convincingly that JOY is what the kingdom of God is all about. Joy is about knowing God who is king of the kingdom. HOLY SPIRIT – the Spirit is the means by which we are able to enjoy and be part of the kingdom of God. Romans 8 is a beautiful chapter on the Trinity – without the Spirit, Christ would not have raised from the dead, we could never be raised from the dead, and Christ could not dwell within us.

Verse 18:

Living at peace not only serves Christ appropriately, but gets along with other people more likely. It’s a win-win.

Verse 21:

Don’t put things ahead of the kingdom of God. See Matthew 6:19-34.

Verse 22:

“everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Remember Romans 1:17 : ‘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.” Someone has said, Christianity is about a faith that leads to faithfulness. We are saved by grace through faith (eph 2:8) – this faith is much more than turning to Christ in repentance, it is turning to God to rule in your life. If someone is persuaded by another slave to go their way and it appears to them to be against God – then they have not trusted in God but in their fellow slave. Let’s be clear who our master is and serve him only! What following him looks like is between you and God.

MEANING:

  • My Master is God and God alone. It is not me. It is not you. And my Master commands me to be your servant.
  • Martin Luther said: “For although I am free as all men, I have made myself a slave to all.”

APPLICATION:

  • Judge all areas of you life – your work, your home, your recreation, your worship – be certain of all the things that you do, that you are doing them for the Lord and giving thanks to God. Is there any areas of your life that you have not yet examined?
  • Be certain of who has the following titles in your life: Judge, Master, slave. Who are you serving?
  • Being “strong” in the faith can lead you to pride. Reflecting on the grace that God has shown to you in the Lord Jesus Christ will lead you to joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.
  • Practice being thankful for all the things that God gives us. Share them in your group…list as many things to be thankful for as possible.
  • Let’s learn how to live in peace with one another. What are practical ways to live at peace when others do or talk in ways you don’t approve of?

Romans 13:8-14 – Live like there’s no tomorrow…

We’re back into Romans after two weeks looking at how Jesus addresses our greatest need (Mark 2): forgiveness of sin and the call to follow him! What does it mean to follow Jesus? How would you explain to a child what following Jesus means? Perhaps Romans 13:8-14 can help…

CONTEXT

Romans 1:16-17 tells us that the power of God is in the gospel – the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ and of God’s great love toward us sinners. From chapter one till chapter twelve, Paul explored the ins and outs of the gospel. He desperately wants us to know it, to believe it and to be knocked over by it!

Romans 12:1-2 transitions to Paul telling us how we should now live. Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The way we think, directs the way we live. The gospel alters our perspective on… everything! Life changes for all who confess Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Romans 13:1-7 spoke about our involvement in the affairs of this life. We are to respect and honour our governments and give to them whatever we owe. Their laws are to be obeyed in order to live at peace. The subject of law and debt leads poetically to the next passage.

OBSERVATION

The passage can easily be seen to break into two major sections: 8-10 and 11-14; Love fulfills the law and Don’t live like people of darkness but of the day. These sections could be broken down smaller like this…

  • Verse 8: the command is to love one another
  • Verses 9-10: This is not a new commandment but the fulfilment of the whole.
  • Verses 11-12a: There’s no time left for sleeping.
  • Verses 12b-13: Take off the characteristic of this age – don’t be like those who live in darkness.
  • Verse 14: But put on Jesus Christ.

Verse 8. Debt and law casually link this verse to the previous section. It’s a nice play on words. Going from submitting to the authorities and whatever laws they place over us – and from the command to give to everyone what you owe them – he carries those into the theme of the whole scriptures and that is to love one another. The laws tell us to love and the only debt outstanding for us is love. This is the only debt that we will never pay off.

The image compares the many debts that we can tick off our list and be done with – compared to the virtue which we owe to everybody and which can never reach a credit balance. The love tank is never full. There is no clock-off time for love. Love is eternal – the language of God.

Verses 9-10. Each of the commandments listed in these verses tell us what we are not to do in relation to other people and their possessions. These commandments warn us against two things, 1) by breaking these commandments we demonstrate absence of love – that is our brokenness, 2) by breaking these commandments we are hurting others – that is our broken relationship with others. Each of them shows the absence of care for other people.

Love does no harm to a neighbour. This is a true statement but the love that we show to our neighbour will not always be seen as loving. Preaching the gospel – even in the most sensitive and compassionate way – can and is likely to result in brokenness. Jesus said that the world will hate us because it hated him first. Jesus said that when we do good, it will not result in us being praised, but that our Father in heaven will be praised (Matthew 5).

Love is the future. Whether our neighbour wants to follow us into this future is between them and God.
But, the logic of Paul, without bringing in other bible context, is that we know what the law says because the law, no matter what laws you can think of, all point to love as the answer.

Verses 11-12a. The imagery is nice: the day is coming and the night is nearly over, it’s time to stop sleeping. It’s like the alarm has gone off and Paul tells us not to press the snooze button. The work is too important to sleep longer. The image is of the sun barely breaking the horizon. While the rest of the world sleeps, we arise to live.

Jesus’ words resonate here: “Repent and believe the good news for the kingdom of God is at hand.” There is no time to waste. When a great band is coming to town that you desperately want to see, you sit by the phone or computer when the tickets are about to go on sale. There’s an urgency and a desperation to get what you desire. You snooze, you lose. Well, salvation has come and we know that the gospel points forward to our hope which is eternal life with God in peace. This is where our destination lies and it’s time to live like it is started.

The OT speaks of the day of the Lord and the NT reveals that this day comes in two stages: the first and second coming of Jesus. They are both referred to as the day of the LORD. We live in the age after the first coming and waiting for the second. Paul tells us not to wait for the second to get cracking.

When you’re travelling on the train and your destination is Central. You may have slept from Macarthur or Campbelltown stations all the way to Redfern. But when you know that your destination is nearing, you wake up and stand and head toward the door. You begin to walk as though you have reached the destination even though the train is still moving. There are weaknesses in this illustration but I think there is some usefulness in it.

Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. Firstly, the gospel saves and those who turn to Christ in faith are already part of his kingdom. Praise God that it’s the work of God that brings salvation. We can be assured of our salvation because God has got it covered in the Lord Jesus. He is a sure bet – to put it crassly. But we live in this darkened age where the number of true believers is few and we go into battle every day against the enemy who loves us to fail in love. Our salvation will be complete when Christ calls us home. Home with him. Home with our Father. Home where there will be no darkness. That day gets closer every day.

That day will come in one of two ways: either Christ will return and this time it will be to judge the earth. Or you will die. We are all closer to the grave today than we were yesterday. We don’t know when either of these events will happen but the progress of time demands that it is always getting closer.
But the image we get in verse 12 is of a sunrise. It’s not midnight according to this metaphor. This verse doesn’t give us any clues about how to determine exactly when Christ will return but it does give us a sense of how we should feel about his return. We need to be ready.
Salvation from wrath is the first step for a Christian. The work of following Christ is the rest of the steps.

Verses 12b-13. Notice how the list of evil things mentioned in these verses echo the list of commandments that Paul listed in verse 9. Notice how the commandments can be listed as law but also be described as characteristics of this sinful age.

“So let us put aside the deeds of darkness”. This is a conscious decision. Justification and the gift of the Holy Spirit set us free from slavery to sin but they do not make us immune to them. Our freedom means that we are free now to choose to live in the light.

“Put on the armour of light”. The passage context tells us that this is about love. Love that is defined and demonstrated by Christ. Ephesians 6 famously refers to the armour of God and Paul describes all of the weaponry in terms of knowledge of God. To know God is to admire him and to be dressed like him – according to his word.

“Let us behave decently”. Christians may be caricatured as nicely dressed, well spoken and people who never curse or swear. This verse is one reason for the stereotype. Behaving decently doesn’t make us Christian but a Christian will take off the things of this world and put on the things of the next.

“Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is another description of faith. To know God and his message of judgement and therefore jump entirely into the only way of salvation. It’s an interesting description of following Jesus – to wear him like clothing. This is why we cannot be satisfied with a faith that talks about church but a faith that talks about Jesus. I love this image of being fashioned by Jesus.

“Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”. Don’t make plans to sin. Instead, make plans to be like Jesus.

MEANING

Dress yourself for salvation.
The age that God has saved us for begins now – don’t wait for the sun (Son) to rise.
Live like there’s no tomorrow – love like eternity is here.

APPLICATION

  • We are told to love one another and to put on Jesus Christ – this appears to be the same end. How do we “Follow Jesus?” – we put on love – we do more than know JEsus, more than learn about him, more than sing praises to him – we become like him in the way that he demonstrated love to us. Wake up and put on love – never ceasing.
  • Love is the answer but we also need the bible to define and teach us what that love looks like. We are not instructed to love the lovely, or to love when we are in the mood for it, we are instructed by command to love others – full stop. This is a love that you don’t see on television. It is a love that is best seen at the cross. Where the enemies of God hurled insults at the one who came to show them love. The one who never stopped loving even when it hurt.
  • Are we sleeping Christians? Is our church asleep? Being awake means that we are putting on love like it’s safety vest. The mark of our salvation is that we love others. We need to be alert and actively seeing ways to love one another. Make plans to love and make no plans to gratify the desires of our sinful heart.
  • Examine your heart and ask yourself whether the plans you are making represent a person of this age or of a child of the light.
  • We will live on this world for a century only but we will live with God forever. The age to come is not the end but the beginning. It is described as the day and this age as the night. Which age are you preparing yourself for. Some say that there is only one life and so you better make the most of it. I say that there is only one life to prepare for eternity and so we better wake up and be ready.
  • There are definitely some sins which you can catch yourself secretly or blatantly making plans to fulfil. Drunkenness and pornography are two classic deeds of darkness that people can find themselves making plans to happen. Another great sin which is described in the NT as idolatry is one that our whole culture talks about and makes plans for and it is greed.This is one of the great areas of our lives that our culture breathes into us and unless we wake up and start clothing ourselves in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will find ourselves surprised that our hearts have been training in wickedness disguised as good planning and investment. How would Jesus have you plan for the future?

**A note on the word “fulfillment” – it is best not to understand this word as a completion of a task but the process of filling something. Like when you pour liquid into a glass – it doesn’t matter whether you fill the glass but the process of pouring is the process of fulfilling it. The glass might take a lifetime or eternity to by full! Pouring the liquid onto the table does not fulfill the glass at all. It is not moving toward the glasses potential.

**A note on commandments and salvation. Paul has told us that we cannot keep the law to attain righteousness. But on the other side of grace we consider what it means to be saved. The lesson is for us to live as children of the light. The laws of the OT did more than tell us how bad we all are, they also told us how loving God is. They described or revealed the character of God to us. We don’t need to follow a list of laws now but we have the law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31) which tells us to love.

Mark 2:13-17 Jesus calls us to follow

We are in the middle of mission week. We heard last week how Jesus tells us what our greatest need is – forgiveness of sin. This week, in mark 2:13-17 we see how Jesus demonstrates the need for forgiveness to reach for beyond our comfort zone.
This is a shortened blog and I challenge you to grapple with this short passage and decide where it challenges your own life. Consider, by yourself and with your group, these few questions.

1) At the beginning if this passage, and in last weeks section, what is it that Jesus is busy doing? How does your answer challenge your week?

2) Jesus told Levi to follow him, and he did. How did Jesus call you to follow him? What about the stories of people in your group – have they got a story to share?

3) Jesus ate with Levi and a large number of people – some were known as sinners and tax collectors. It’s not that the whole crowd were – but it’s significant that some, perhaps many were. What type of people do you think that describes? How does this challenge us as a church and yourself in your engagement with people?

4) Jesus said that he came to call… He wasn’t simply dining out – in fact, the Son of God was slumming in his mission to call the sick. We heard last week that our greatest need is forgiveness. How does Jesus’ demonstrate an urgency for uncomfortable mission?

I hope this is enough to get conversation going. Be aware, as I’m sure you are, that we are amongst the sinners and tax collectors who Jesus came to heal. Your group is filled with them and many are slow to respond when Jesus calls. Pray for the people in your growth group.
Your brother in Christ,
Simon