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Friday, October 23, 2015

Romans by the Book (lesson 115)



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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
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This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4


Romans by the Book                                                          Lesson 115                                 

If you’ll take the time to study what the Scriptures have revealed to us about our Apostle Paul, not only will you learn what “drove” this man to be the most successful missionary of all time you’ll also discover who gave him the endurance, strength, and wisdom necessary to carry out the mission, reminding us that the power we receive to live the life of a Believer comes from God and not from ourselves.  (Philippians 4:13)

Right out of the gate the first thing you should realize is God can and will save anyone.  A lot of people throughout history have committed despicable acts against other human beings.  Saul’s name could be added to this list without argument, since he was responsible for the deaths of innocent men, women, and children, but that wasn’t the “end” of his story… which makes Paul’s story worth telling over and over again today.

Admittedly, Saul caused great harm to the saints at Jerusalem and elsewhere trying to destroy the church (ecclesia = called out assembly) of God.  If he had been brought to trial to face judgment for his crimes against humanity, many would not consider him worthy of a second chance at life; but God says he is worthy!  How do I know this?

Your Bible says:  And He (Jesus Christ) died for all, (this means every person who’s ever been born for we are all sinners just like Saul and Ted Bundy, who became a Believer on death row) so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.  (Psalms 51:5; Romans 3:23, 5:12; 2 Corinthians 5:15)

Every person matters to God, including the atheist, those who are trying to live a moral life (without God), and the despicably wicked.  Every soul has value and is worth saving but only God can redeem the lost sinner and bring them home (Mark 8:36).

Another thing you’ll learn about Paul is that he was a humble, but powerful, witness for Jesus Christ.  Certainly, no other human figure in the Bible demonstrated more humility while sharing God’s Gospel as Paul:  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, (Acts 20:19-20).

Paul shared the good news of Jesus Christ:  preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness (boldly), unhindered (Acts 28:31).  Paul was not ashamed of the gospel or afraid to tell others what the Lord was doing in his life and the lives of others.  He would spend the rest of his days working tirelessly, against the odds, for the kingdom of God (Romans 1:16).

I think you’ll also learn in short-order that Paul was “sold-out” for God.  This doesn’t mean he was so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly good.  It simply means that Paul kept the Main Thing the Main Thing.  God and His kingdom are the Main Things.  External matters come into play but they are not able to “bump” our relationship with God and others off the #1 position. 

The Pharisees in Jesus’ time are a classic example of focusing on secondary matters and missing the Main Thing.  In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus scolds them:  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.  You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”  The Law commanded tithing, but these men had gotten so carried away with tithing that they even counted out a tenth of their table spices!  All the while, Jesus says, they neglected the heart of the Law, which was justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  They neglected to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing.

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Please open your Bible at Romans 15:17 and let’s read some Scripture together.

Romans 15

17: Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God.

18: For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed,

19: in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.

Too many people in the church, both leaders and worshippers, speak negatively about Paul, if they mention his name at all.  They label him a “fraud.” They say his writings should not be in the Bible, stating he did not meet the criteria for being an apostle of Jesus Christ.  They also say he’s a “loud mouth and a braggart.” 

False accusations like these and others in opposition to Paul and his ministry date back to the 1st century AD and remain prevalent today, unfortunately.  Paul defended his apostleship; and the authority given him by the risen Lord Jesus Christ in quite a few of his letters to the churches (1 Corinthians 9; 2 Corinthians 10-13; Galatians 1:10-2:14).  People who accurately handle the word of truth (rightly dividing the Scriptures) are still defending his apostleship today!  You may count this Bible teacher as one of these. 

When Paul boasts it’s never about himself, his goodness, his abilities, or in his accomplishments.  Instead, as your Bible says here:  (Paul) found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God, Christ Jesus, and what He has accomplished through (him) by making the Gentiles obedient to Jesus Christ.  What does this mean?

The Gentiles obeyed in “word,” by confessing Christ as their Lord and trusting in His substitionary sacrifice for their sins.  They obeyed in “deed” by acknowledging their sin, turning away from it, and by obeying the commands of God (2 Timothy 3:16).  These are outward signs of genuine inward change and of true conversion. 

When Paul said, “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me,” he is merely saying that he is the conduit through which Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit both work.  His ministry wasn’t a self-started, self-designed, self-sustained mission.  It is the very work of Christ, continued through Paul in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit.  Only God can work such miraculous signs and wonders and it was the Holy Spirit who gave Paul the power to preach.

Paul took the gospel of Jesus Christ where it had not been heard before.  The signs and wonders which Paul performed were to prove to the pagans that God was in their midst and they served to authenticate Paul’s message; a message that should be taken seriously.  These signs and wonders also confirmed Paul’s apostleship (2 Corinthians 12:11-13). 

FYI:  Illyricum is on the west side of Greece.  So Paul had spread his gospel from Jerusalem to Galatia and then crossed the Aegean Sea to Greece and then all the way to western Greece.  He hasn’t entered Rome yet, but he will end up there in a roundabout way.  He gets arrested in Jerusalem and sent to Rome to stand trial (Acts 21:27-36).

Romans 15 

20: And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another’s man’s foundation;

21: but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”  (Isaiah 52:15)

In verse 20 Paul remarks that he does not wish to preach the gospel where Christ was already named or build on another man’s foundation.  Don’t get the idea that there were a lot of people traveling the countryside preaching Jesus Christ crucified at this time in history because there weren’t.  So it’s doubtful that Paul would encroach upon another man’s territory.  What our Apostle Paul is actually telling us in verse 20 is that it’s God’s will that Paul preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, primarily to the Gentiles, where it had not been preached before.  Paul understood his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ fully.  It wasn’t his role to build on another man’s foundation or their preaching.  His responsibility was to lay the foundation! 

Permit me to show you what I mean from Scripture.  Please turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15:  According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise (skillful) master builder (architect) I laid a foundation, and another (teacher) is building on it.  But each man must be careful how he builds on it.  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is (already) laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Those of you with some building experience already know this but the purpose of a firm foundation is to hold up and hold together the structure above it.  A properly built foundation increases the amount of abuse or stress the structure above it can take and yet remain safe protecting the inhabitants inside it.  And so goes the gospel and teachings of Paul.

By the grace given to him by God Paul proceeded to lay a firm foundation in Corinth on which the church (the Body of Christ) could mature.  He communicated to these Believers the first elements of God’s mystery of grace.  But let every man that comes after him, who professes to be a teacher/preacher, be careful what instructions he gives to the church that has been founded by Paul and established on the only true foundation – Jesus Christ.  This is God’s plan designed to guard against false instructions and false teachers.  False teachers should take heed because the church belongs to God and He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5; Galatians 1:6-10).

Romans 15

22: For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you;

23: but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you (Acts 19:21).

24: whenever I go (on my course) to Spain – for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while (Acts 15:3).

In verse 22 Paul remarks that he had often been prevented from coming to you (in Rome).  After many years of hoping, praying, and trying to visit the saints in Rome, Paul offers up an excuse for his delay in coming and his extended absence from Rome. 

The thing that struck me is why did Paul offer an excuse for not coming to Rome and why is it recorded forever in the annals of history? 

Taking into account that this letter was penned in Corinth, some 600 miles southeast of Rome, Paul admits to having preached the gospel in and as far as Illyricum, just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, which was little more than 400 miles from Rome.  However, Paul didn’t travel to Rome, as close as he was at that time.  Now when he leaves Corinth he intends to travel in the opposite direction (southeast) more than 800 miles to Jerusalem.

The reason Paul offers an excuse for not visiting Rome and the reason it’s recorded here for us to learn from is his commitments (travels) and priorities (ministering to the saints), which took most of his time, prevented him from coming to Rome.  The success of Paul’s ministry or the positive impact the gospel of Jesus Christ was having on the pagans kept him away lo these many years.  In other words, Paul was busy serving God, His saints, and doing His will (Romans 12:1-2).  As much as Paul desired to be with these folks in Rome, Paul understood the work of God took top priority.  There’s a lesson here for all of us.  Either the things of God matter or they don’t.  There’s no middle ground here and Paul knew this. 

Yet, according to verse 23, he considered his “mission” complete, in terms of taking God’s Gospel to these regions.  Paul was referring to evangelizing the Greek speaking eastern half of the Mediterranean world.  If you think about it this is an incredible statement.  What a wonderful thing it would be if anyone of us could say we had talked to all the people on our block or in our neighborhood about what Jesus Christ means to us or is accomplishing in our lives…  Paul had evangelized a large portion of the Greek speaking world and he had his eyes on Spain.

Does this mean every soul in this area had been converted?  All the saints firmly established and perfected in Christ Jesus?  No, it doesn’t.  What he meant is he had fulfilled his role as an apostle; he had laid the foundation.  His mission was to go and preach Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead and to establish church groups so that the gospel of Jesus Christ could go out from these small groups. 

Paul felt the “urge” to go where Jesus Christ’s name had not been heard before – a Divine calling without a doubt.  In verse 24 the Greek word for go is Poreuomai (pronounced: por-yoo’-om-ahee) which means:  to pursue.  It’s the same word used of Christ’s pursuing His path:  When the days were approaching for His ascension, He was determined to go to Jerusalem; (Luke 9:51).

From Paul’s comment in verse 24 we know that Paul “planned” to go to Spain.  Whether he actually made it there is an unanswered question.  Since the Scriptures give zero details about this missionary journey, we’re going to leave this item right where we found it and move on.  I’m not one to speculate or offer an opinion on the unknown.

Paul hopes not only to spend some time with these folks in Rome, but to be helped on (his) way there by them.  This is how the gospel was spread back in Paul’s day and to some degree is today.  It is by the offerings and the prayers of the saints that men are sent to preach God’s good news where it hasn’t been heard before.

You’d think with the arrival of the “electronic age” that every person on the planet would have had an opportunity to hear the gospel by now, but you’d be mistaken.  Despite our technological advances less than 7% of those living today are Believers.  About 50% of the world’s population still does not know who Jesus Christ is and they have not heard the gospel.  China with 1.2 billion people has only a limited gospel witness.  In addition, approximately 75% of the world’s population does not have a clear understanding of the gospel.  People view Christianity with the same vagueness as they view Buddhism, Hinduism, or Confucianism, which means just because he or she has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean they have a clear understanding of it – which means they have not appropriated God’s message and are not saved. 

Romans 15

25: but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints (Acts 19:21).

26: For Macedonia (the northern part of Greece) and Achaia (the southern part of Greece – Corinth was in this region) have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

27:  Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them.  For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things (1Corinthians 9:11).

In verse 25 Paul announces his plan and his purpose for going to Jerusalem.  It was to serve the (very) poor saints living there by hand-delivering the contributions collected from the saints in Macedonia and Achaia.  This was a love offering pure and simple.  In fact, it is termed a “special grace” from God six times by Paul, when he speaks of it in his second letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 8-9). 

What we aren’t seeing here in these verses is the area where this love offering came from was extremely poor.  These folks didn’t give freely from their wealth; they gave freely and gladly from their poverty.  The poverty of the Macedonians is confirmed by secular history, as the Romans confiscated the majority of their wealth when they conquered this former homeland of Alexander the Great.  

Although it’s true they suffered from “extreme poverty,” it is also true they had “an abundance of joy” (2 Corinthians 8:2) and according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord (meaning Paul didn’t ask for this contribution).  These people pleaded with Paul for the favor of participation, actually considering it a privilege to share in this service to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.

Since the areas of Macedonia and Achaia were poor themselves, don’t get the idea that a huge sum of money was collected from these Believers.  If a word had to be chosen to describe their gift that word would probably be “meager.”  Given that, why did these folks go through all the trouble, especially when they had so little? 

Paul says …but they gave themselves (first) to the Lord and to us by the will of God (2 Corinthians 8:5).  Their sacrifice was to Him first and foremost.  It was a work of grace, i.e. God the Spirit working in them and through them, and they were pleased to do it.  They knew the spiritual gifts they had received by faith in Christ Jesus ultimately came by way of the Jews (John 4:22).  They also knew the very least they could do in response to God’s free gift of Grace was to lend a helping hand, by way of financial support, to those in need and no one needed to ask them for the gift (Romans 5:15-17). 

Romans 15

28: Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit (contribution) of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain.

29: I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

(To be continued)

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GJ Heitzman’s Ministry
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