I found this map of the geography of Romans online. If you would like to look at it online you can view it here.
I am not in the habit of reading other people’s mail. I suspect you aren’t either but you may be surprised to know that if you do, you stand to be fined! Stealing and reading other people’s mail could actually land you in gaol!
Well, I felt like I was reading Paul’s personal mail when I started work on Romans 15:14-33. As we draw to the end of this great letter Paul has some personal reflections, personal news and personal greetings to pass on. But they are not without theological intent and the potential to teach us.
With this in mind, you may want to start your growth group asking the question: if you could obtain and read someone else’s mail of any secret file, what would you want to read and why?
(I’d be glad to know if aliens were real! Or to read the Queen’s mail for a day!)
While it feels personal, this passage has a lot to teach us. The passage itself can be broken into two parts
Paul’s task 15:14-22
Paul’s future 15:23:33
Some questions you may want to ponder…
1. Do you think Paul is being sarcastic in verse 14-15 or is he making a point about Christian growth (that despite fullness there is more room for growth)?
I suspect the latter is correct and it reminds us not to be lazy in our faith or to think you don’t need to keep growing!
2. How do verse 15-16 help us understand the Christian’s relationship to the OT laws and sacrifices?
I think this is a really helpful way of Paul expressing the reality that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the OT and we are acceptable to god because we trust I his sacrifice of Jesus for us. There are depths to be plunged here in terms of assurance. God in Christ has done all that is necessary for us to be accepted by him. The job is done as we trust in Christ! Paul overflows with joy becasue of this in verse 17. It has not been about Paul but about Paul preaching Jesus to those who don’t know him.
3. No doubt people will want to ask about v.19 – put simply it is a description of what happened with Paul not what will happen with our preaching of the gospel. The Spirit of God is still at work to be sure – opening blind eyes so they may see the glory of Christ and equipping the Church with gifts and fruit of service – transforming lives to be like Christ. This work is often amazing and miraculous!
In a second post I will provide a map that will help you here and perhaps through the whole passage. It is quite a visual learners nightmare without a map!
You can work your way through v.23-29 and then focus on the urgency to prayer.
4. Why does Paul call for urgency in prayer in these matters? What matters matter to you that you might call for urgent prayers? Do you pray for things that matter? What shapes your prayer life? What should shape your prayer life? What do the prayers of all of chapter 15 indicate should be the focus of our prayers and concerns?
Remember that this is not a call to not pray for the little things, it is a call to expand our prayers beyond our own concerns or navels to the big things that matter more than our own desires. You may want to explore with your group the content of your group’s prayers and how might you add other matters to your prayer life together in a disciplined and constant way – not just in response to what we heard this week?
I hope these thoughts are helpful and I look forward to hearing how your groups go this week!
Romans 1:17 told us that ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ Paul took us through the content of that faith in chapters 1-11 to say that we must devote our trust in God fully for our righteousness. Chapter 12:1-2 began the new phase of Paul’s teaching on how to take this faith into the rest of your life. We are to offer God our bodies and our minds. The way that we use both of these parts of us: what we DO and what we THINK are to be given to God and moulded by the truth of faith. God is God and we are his creatures that needed rescuing.
This next section of Romans continues the theme of how to live out our faith around other people. Although God is in the business of saving and forming his church (the body of Christ, verses 3-8) we also need to live in a world which still hates God.
The NIV breaks these verses up into 3 paragraphs plus an indented quote. The ESV divides the passage into 2 paragraphs only (9-13 + 14-21). It’s interesting to work out where the paragraph breaks should go, if anywhere! Do you see any clear reasons for breaks?
Verse 9 opens with the charge to love and not to take part in evil. Verse 21 wraps up the whole section with a similar sentiment: don’t be swallowed by evil but kill it with the energy of good. So, the whole section seems to lean toward embracing the light side and staying away from the dark! There is a vibe of combating evil with good instead of with evil. As if two wrongs don’t make a right. If evil comes barging up behind you, huffing and puffing and blowing out smoke from its ears, keep to the left and let evil pass!
The section seems to offer a list of examples and areas of life where love is put into practice and evil is left for God to take care of. The message is: don’t take part in it.
So, let’s go through the verses and see what we see.
Verse 9. Remember the binary use of the words love and hate back in Rom 9:13. Love doesn’t refer only to those things that you are passionate about and hate only those things that you are passionate against. You are either for something or against it. Often when reading the scriptures we need to look into the way that the bible writers use words and not rely on our contemporary use of them.
Having said that, we are told that love needs to be more than just ‘an act of your will.’ Verse 9 tells us that love must be sincere. The ESV uses the word, ‘genuine.’ Not faked or pretend but something that you earnestly want to portray and practice. We can’t pretend to be Christians and we can’t pretend to love others. If this is a struggle with you and somebody else, then pray about that. Ask for God’s help as you put your trust in Him to sanctify your relationships.
‘Hate what is evil.’ This shouldn’t be misunderstood as ‘hate those who are evil’ since later (v14) we are instructed to ‘bless those who persecute you.’ But verse 9 must be talking about the practice of evil. Hate and abhor it. The positive reaction to evil is to ‘cling to what is good.’ Paul says elsewhere to focus on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). Don’t gaze at the negative and try to hate it, but set your eyes on the good things in life – the things that God blesses. Distract evil with good.
Verse 10. I like the way the ESV puts this verse: ‘Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour.’ It’s great to see family members getting along peacefully and enjoying one another. This may happen too rarley (!) but when it happens, it’s beautiful. We’re not being told to just love your brother though, we’re told to love one another. The way you do that is to put the other person first. Compete to see who can elevate the other higher! Encouraging one another like verse 7 said is a great way to promote honour and respect. How can we put that challenge into action?
Verse 11. Being fervent is to show passionate intensity – hot, burning or glowing! What a description of how to be spiritual! The question is, have you ever been this? We all display emotions and passions differently, so this really is a question for you to ask of yourself: am I passionate about the gospel? Am I 100% for King Jesus. Verse 11 defines zeal and spiritual fervour as ‘serving the Lord.’ Is this a priority to you? At home and at work and on the beach and in the city – do you do all things out of a clear understanding and dedication of your faith. Jesus said to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matt 6:33). Do you remember the zeal you had when you first became a Christian? Do you remember the passion you had for God when/if you were a teenage or young adult Christian? Has life and responsibility squashed that? The warning of the parable of the four soils will tell us that zeal for the gospel is important, or else the business of life will push it out of our minds and lower on our priority list.
How can you fan the flame of your passion and zeal for God? I listened to a good sermon today online and it reminded me of something I had not thought of for a while – it put a smile back into my faith.
Verse 12. ‘Be joyful in hope.’ I could write pages on these four words! It is hope that ought to give us joy! To think that we would not be joyful in hope is odd but then Paul thinks that this needs to be spelled out. There is no reason why we should think of all the promises of God that we look forward to in the resurrection and not produce joy in us. But, it’s one thing to know the content of the gospel and quite another to know that the gospel is for you! It’s one thing to know that Jesus died on the cross for sins – quite another to know that Jesus died on the cross for YOUR sins. It’s one thing to know that heaven will be a great place (I suppose) quite another to know that Jesus has gone away to prepare a place for YOU and he prayed for YOU while he thought about going to the cross (John 17). Like a child who can’t stop smiling on Christmas eve, our faith, when we meditate on it, when we talk about it, when we hear encouragement from one another about it, our faith is a prepaid eternity of rest and play. There might be a long time to wait for it, but the thought of it should warm our hearts and make us smile.
When afflicted: be patient like a person who knows there is relief coming.
Your prayers: constant, unshaken, trusting in the one who is listening.
Verse 13. Two more aspects of love is to share and to welcome. Both of these things we are simply told to do.
Verses 14-16. I’d like to make a broad statement about these 3 verses. They seem to tell us to embrace everyone. If someone is attacking you: embrace them. If someone is celebrating: cheer on their team. If someone is crying out: give them your shoulder. If someone seems different to you: be a chameleon and become like them. Don’t distinguish yourself from everybody else but sing with them.
Verses 17-20. The sentences on their own here are fairly straight forward and clear – it’s the principle that might be hard to understand. The principle comes down to who the Judge of this earth is – and it is God. Deuteronomy 32:35 is quoted in verse 19 as well as Proverbs 25:21,22. Our job is to be God’s holy people who were called out of darkness to live in the light and be a light to the world. It is God’s business to avenge and he will do it very well. When we show compassion and love and kindness and care in the face of hostility and anger and hate, then, if that person doesn’t repent and turn to Christ, it will be like adding heat to the fire on judgement day. When Jesus told the crowd to love their enemy, he didn’t intend for the enemy to get away with everything. He just meant to leave the justice to God.
Verse 21. It will harm us when we get into battle to fight against evil to try and overpower it. We will be swept up in the same evils. The best tool against evil is to embrace righteousness. Replace evil with good.
- Love, in all it’s forms, is the best weapon we have.
- Love and hate; light and dark; good and evil; our choice is not to convert the latter but to be the former.
- Don’t focus on what HATE and EVIL isn’t – focus on what LOVE IS!
- There are many applications here. The trick is to move beyond the general principle and to put some real examples into place.
- Cling to what is good. Keep passionate about serving the Lord. Show love to those around you. Practice being good.
- How do you practice being good in the church and in Growth Group?
- How do you practice being good in the workplace?
- How do you practice being good while commuting?
- How do you practice being good in the shopping centre?
- How do you practice being good in your own home?
Prayer for the week
Dear Father God, we praise you for the example of the Lord Jesus Christ who succeeded in all the challenges that Paul lists for us this week. We ask for your Spirit to guide us, to teach us and to provoke us toward love and good deeds. Because of the mercy that we have received and learned from you, help us to show love and mercy to everybody we meet. Thank you for the hope you have placed in our hearts. Help us to cling to that hope with all the joy that it brings. Amen.