Christians in America are reading the Bible at an all time low rate.
For many who do read the bible, they take it like medicine “supposed to be good for you, but not very tasty”
If your mind went to guilt, please bring it back…guilt is not a good motivator (but it is a distraction)…I would prefer we ask questions as to why these things are true.
There are probably many reasons why…like its hard to understand, or we are busy.
But these reasons would not be powerful enough to keep us away from the Bible if we were convinced it is God’s word to humanity about what life, death, eternity is all about.
Hard and busy would not be barriers at all if we believed the Bible was really real…what is proposes to be.
I think the largest reason is that we don’t tend to read the Bible in terms of our own experiences.
Its a two story approach to the Bible…the Bible is upstairs in the sort of real world “bible world”…I live downstairs in the really real Wichita world.
After all its 2017 not 33AD and I’m not Jesus or even Paul
As we get near the end of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome…his letter becomes more personal.
Paul was not writing the “book of Romans”
It was a letter he wrote to help some people he was concerned about.
It was and is God inspired but for Paul (a real guy, who was not just making stuff up) it was a letter to some real people about real things.
And Paul was much like we are…ate, slept, went the restroom, struggled, prayed.
Think that way as we finish this week and next in our journey through this great letter.
Think about it as a letter about real things by a real person to real people…rather than “The Book of Romans”
1-11 was the “facts of the gospel” (vertical transformation)
12-15:13 was the “acts of the gospel” (horizontal transformation)
From 15:14 to the end of the letter are his concluding remarks, personal items that help us understand Paul’s passion and purposes.
Rom. 15:14 I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
Paul is not flattering them…he is encouraging them and casting vision for them.
Flattery is telling others things you think they might want to hear in order to personally benefit from them…it is self-centered speech…it is “selling”
Encouragement is telling others what you see in them that’s good in order that they might move that direction even more…its other’s centered speech…it is “telling”
1) Paul is convinced that they are full of goodness (Their lives are not perfection…but they are pointed in a Christ-centered direction.
2) They are complete in knowledge (Not that they know everything…but they understand the gospel at its core…what they have is not exhaustive but it is accurate and adequate)
3) They are competent, able to instruct one another
This is essentially him saying…”thank you for letting me speak to you, I know God has given what you need locally to understand and live the faith.
He is combatting the idea that the “expert is always from out of town”
He did not want to undermine their confidence in their local leadership…by making them believe they were dependent on out of town “experts” like him.
The strange phenomenon of the search for a “guru”…a spiritual leader, writer, speaker who can tell me all I need to know has been around a long time.
This is driven by the desire (understandably) to make life simpler.
There are so many confusing things out there…If I can just find a person I trust and respect.
I can read what he(she) thinks about “a doctrine, a social issue, a movie, family life” pretty much everything and I can just “believe that and do that”…so much easier…than having to figure it all out myself, or in my local community.
Except…easier is not always better.
The place to look to live out your faith is in the local body God has placed you in…your friends, your group leaders, your spouse, your roommate.
“But they don’t know anything…they are not published…they don’t even blog!”
Yeah, but they know God and they know you.
The out of town experts are from other places…so you can’t see that they are just like you…they get tired, mad, and discouraged…and more importantly they don’t know you.
The “out of towners” will let you get away with “merely knowing without doing and being”…your buddies won’t.
Jesus puts people in community in order to live their lives in ways that align with his.
Learn from the experts…you can get information from them…but you will understand how to live life in local community.
Paul will have none of him becoming the “world pastor”…he was famous…and an expert…but he affirms…”You have ‘in house’ the content and the competency that you need.”
This may all sound a bit insincere after all the strong challenges he had delivered but look at the next verse
15 I have written you quite boldly on some points as if to remind you of them again,
He admits he has been “quite bold” in his letter.
But this doesn’t mean he believes he is giving them something brand new or something they were not practicing at all…he is reminding them of what they already know…and encouraging them to move towards these things even more.
Things like what he said in that great summary of the gospel in action we looked at last week:
Rom. 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
So if God had given them all they needed in their local body, why did he feel the need to write this letter?
…because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Remember the setting of the church at Rome?
It was made up of Jewish and Gentile background believers…they came together to be the church in the heart of the Roman Empire.
Then the Roman emperor expelled all the Jews from the city for a few years.
During that time the leadership of the church switched hands and the Gentile background believers had to step up.
Then when the emperor allowed the Jews back into the city, the church had to reintegrate…this was difficult.
The Gentile leadership may have thought…”We did just fine without you, so don’t come back in here trying to institute all of your Jewish/Christian stuff…we have figured out we are free from all that.”
We discussed this tension when we looked at chapter 14.
So Paul is writing to this unique church because of his unique role…he was called by God as a Jewish Christian to take the gospel to the gentiles…the non-Jews.
He doesn’t believe he is special, better than any of them…he is just trying to be found faithful with his own stewardship.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done 19 by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.
His point here is that he is not boasting in his calling or his fruit…but again, his only desire is to be found faithful.
Faithfulness is our lane, fruit is God’s…stay in your lane…concern yourself with faithfulness, God will give fruit.
It is ironic that we tend to be impressed with people who are effective in using the gifts they have been given.
Even more so than the one who gave them gifts.
1 Cor. 4:7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
All we have is a gift…the impressive one is the giver of the gift, not the receiver of it.
I visited a church in Toronto 20 years ago that people would travel from around the world to be a part of the “signs and wonders” that were said to be happening there a certain church.
I was not in town to visit the church but thought I would check it out since I was there.
There were so many people coming to Toronto to visit the church that there were signs outside the airport directing visitors to it.
I won’t go into much detail but for me it was a sad experience to watch people desperate for the miraculous…traveling great distances to experience God there…to see signs and wonders…was God not at work where they lived?
Paul experienced signs and wonders…but as we discussed earlier this year a sign does not point to itself…it points to something greater than itself.
The sign is just a sign…the greater thing is what it points to…you follow the sign to the thing signified.
Signs and wonders point away from themselves to God…certainly not the human agent involved.
And Paul had a single desire…to point people to Jesus.
Not to himself, or his own ministry
This desire drove his lifestyle…for many years he had been traveling and telling the gospel.
He had not yet been to Rome, but had for years wanted to go there…but over and over had been diverted by God’s will and call elsewhere.
But now he is making plans to see them.
So in verses 23-29 he gives the church at Rome his travel itinerary and prayer list.
Why give them his itinerary?
Because he has expressed concern for them, he has said he has long wanted to visit them…so they had to be thinking at this point…”Okay, so when are you coming?”
He tells them he is going to make three trips:
- From Corinth to Jerusalem
- From Jerusalem to Rome
- From Rome he plans to go to Spain.
If you add these trips up it’s a minimum of 3000 miles by sea, and a lot more if some of that was going to be by land.
When you think about what travel was like at that time…this amazing stuff…dangerous stuff.
So he invites them to join him in his efforts by praying for him.
We have the advantage of knowing what he prayed and how God answered those prayers.
30 I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. 33 The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
At the beginning of the letter he told them he was constantly praying for them, now he asks them to pray for him…in fact to “join him in his struggle” by praying for him.
He sees “pray for me” as much more than a mere expression of concern.
He sees it as a real contribution to his efforts by their prayers; they are joining him in his struggle.
He asked that they join him in praying that:
- He would be rescued from unbelievers in Judea
- His service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the church
- He would be able to come to see them
Let’s see what the outcomes of those requests were:
- He would be rescued from unbelievers in Judea:
He is aware that there are people who want him dead, its not that he was afraid of dying but he wanted to complete his mission.
We know from the book of Acts that there were 40 men who swore they would not eat until they had killed Paul.
But Paul’s nephew heard of the plot and told Paul.
Paul then told the military commander who was in charge of taking him to Rome.
The commander then appointed 470 soldiers to protect Paul and deliver him safely.
I’ve wondered if those 40 men died of starvation or not…I suspect when they saw 470 soldiers and realized they could not get to Paul…they probably gave up on their vows…went and had lunch.
So in terms of how God answered this prayer we will give it a “Yes”…but a qualified yes.
His life was saved…from three attempts at lynching, once from flogging (which often killed people), and from the plot to kill him I mentioned.
So “yes”, his prayers were answered he was rescued from the Gentiles.
But “no” in the sense that he was arrested, tried and imprisoned…tortured along the way.
The way he was rescued from the plot to take his life was via the soldiers who held him captive.
If you were praying for rescue…would you count what happened as a “yes” or a “no” answer?
What do you think Paul counted it as?
- His service in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the church
Here’s the context for this prayer…
Rom. 15:23 …I have been longing for many years to see you, 24 I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.
Paul had for many years longed to visit the church in Rome, and now he plans to do so but after he has made a detour to Jerusalem to deliver some funds that the Gentile churches had collected for the Jewish background believers in Jerusalem.
Couple of things that make this important:
- This was a 2000 mile detour…Jerusalem is 1000 miles in the wrong direction if he wants to go to Rome…isn’t going to be driving an SUV or taking an air flight.
-Rough journey to go 2000 miles to deliver an offering?
- There had been a famine in Judea and there was a dire need among the Jewish background Christians in Jerusalem…the Gentile believers in other regions had taken this collection for their brothers and sisters.
Remember the ongoing tension and the emerging understanding of the place Jews and Gentiles had in the church.
Look at 15:27 They (Gentile background Christians) were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
This would be political incorrect today…but it terms of unity across ethnic lines it is beautiful.
The Gentiles owed their spiritual heritage to the Jews…God choose the Jews to be the light to the world.
The Gentiles could not say “all religions are the same…how can those Jews think they are special to God?”
Because they were, God choose them…but he choose them to make himself known to all people.
Then on the other hand it would be offensive to some that Paul singled out the “Jewishness” of the poor in Jerusalem…but these “Jewish background believers” were poor…they needed help…from the Gentiles.
But what makes this beautiful is that it demonstrates how the gospel is what unifies…
Gal. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
This is not saying race and gender are not real or important…it is saying that unity is found in the gospel.
Being right with God through Jesus…is the best path to being in right relationships with each other.
They had their distinctive backgrounds but Christ had made them one family.
Paul saw this offering as an important opportunity to further unity in the church…if they would accept it.
So why did he ask that they pray his service (the offering) would be acceptable?
Not just because of the normal pride struggle we all feel when accepting help from others…but because to accept the gift would also mean they were acknowledging that God had accepted the Gentiles.
They too were part of the family of God…there is no room for anyone to have pride or shame…the giving and the receiving of this offering was very important.
Important practically…they needed food
And relationally…so they would see that God had made them one in Christ.
So again, this is the facts of faith…the gospel changing individuals
Then the acts of faith…the gospel lived out in community.
That’s why this was worth a 2000 mile detour…because it was no detour at all…it was in line with his life message and purpose.
*So was this prayer answered in the affirmative? Yes. It appears it appears they received the offering and it had some effect.
- That by God’s will he would be able to come to see them and they would experience mutual refreshment
By the time he gets to Rome…he knows he is going to need refreshment from them…but he doesn’t know how much this would be true…it was going to be much more difficult than he initially imagined…but he does get there.
So God does answer this prayer in the affirmative?
Yes, but its not the kind of “yes” I would prefer.
The night before the 40 men formed the plot to take Paul’s life, Jesus appeared to Paul who was he was being held prisoner.
Jesus said to him “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
Good, Jesus has said “yes” to this prayer…he’s going to Rome.
Since God is all for it…it ought to go very smoothly…right.
After, if I’m in God’s will there will be smooth sailing…or maybe not.
Jesus said “yes” about going to Rome…but nothing about how the “yes” would happen…it was not going to be smooth.
Here’s how it actually went:
-He got to Jerusalem, but almost three years later
-As a prisoner
-After an almost fatal shipwreck and attempts on his life.
Again…its a “yes” but maybe a yes with an “asterisk”
So Paul has gone in his letter from exposition of the gospel (1-11)
To exhortation to live the gospel (12-15)
To explanation of his personal goals and plans
He wanted to connect with them on a personal level.
In chapter 16 we will see this even more clearly…next week we will finish our almost a year in Romans.
- The Importance of reminders
Paul told them he believed they had the content and competency they needed…so why did he write them at all?
He said it was to remind him of the things that are important.
Paul thought it was important to remind them of what was important…he said it here in Rom. 15…and five other times in his letters.
Peter was very clear about the power of reminders
2Pet. 1:12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them
Jesus himself knew the importance of reminders…he told his followers…
John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
We have to be intentional about staying reminded…and reminding each other.
Often the Holy Spirit’s reminder of what Jesus has said comes through the words of other believers
What do you do to remind yourself to remember important things?…cell phone, notes?
We need to make staying reminded of what is most valuable a priority.
Heb. 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
The word “encourage” here is the same root word used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit.
He is the “encourager” we are to “encourage” one another.
Not by always trying to think of creative new stuff to say…but by reminding each other of what matters the most.
“I have don’t anything new to say.”
*Good say something old, we need that over and over.
In the OT whenever God did something he wanted them to remember he would often have them pile up some stones or even set aside a day on a yearly basis to keep the memory in front of them.
We leak perspective.
Its why Paul said we are to “keep on being filled with the Spirit” Eph. 5:18.
The Holy Spirit entering a believer’s life is a one-time event, but his filling us and reminding us…is ongoing.
Again, he often…uses one another to help us remember to value what is valuable.
It doesn’t mean we don’t talk about anything else…that would be tiresome.
But it does mean we must be intentional about reminding one another of what is real and true.
- Prayer and the will of God
I have heard people say that if you add “If it be God’s will” to a prayer…then it is not a prayer of faith.
I disagree…so evidently, does Jesus.
Luke 22:42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
15:32 “So that by God’s will I may come to you.”
Prayer is not about bending God’s will to our, but ours to his.
All of our prayers should be a variation on the theme “your will be done”
You can pray with confidence regarding the general will of God (what is written in the Bible): If he has said it, you know his will on it.
-Should I become like Christ, control ourselves, love my spouse, be a part of a local body…the answer is yes, pray with confidence and move towards it.
-In regards to the particular will of God: praying for guidance about specifics that are not in scripture…it is always right to add, “if its your will”
-Physical healings, jobs, major decisions…”If it is your will” should be the heart of all of those prayers.
You don’t have to say it, the words are not magic…it is important to believe it, want it.
Its not unbelief, it is humility
So in regards to Paul’s prayer about being rescued from the Gentiles…
Where he was and he wasn’t rescued…would he call it a “yes or no” answer?
I suspect he would call it an answer…and that is what he was after.
All prayer is answered…just not always in the affirmative.
I think Paul wanted to know and follow God’s will for his life…he didn’t want to bend God to his will…he wanted to bend his will to God.
He assumed God was smarter than him and knew all the facts…why wouldn’t he want what God wants?
His praying life was a relationship…asking, listening, trusting…in the end he didn’t want God to say “yes” to all he that asked…he wanted to God to direct his life.
So in “asking” prayer…he was actually “asking” not telling God what to do.
Remember where we started…Paul is a real guy. The Bible is about real things, things that touch your real life.
It is important that you see Paul’s lifestyle as attainable by you.
In practice your life will be very different than his…in principle…it should not be.
Listen to his description of his trust relationship with God.
He was going through some very difficult circumstances (probably physical suffering of some kind)
2 Cor. 12:8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul asked, God said “no” Paul said, “Okay…I’ll trust you.”
Does this prove Paul is superman and his lifestyle is unattainable?
Or does it challenge us as to what kinds of lives we can live as followers of Christ?
Two things that can moves us towards this kind of life in Christ is:
- Actively pursue being reminded to value what is valuable…and do this for others.
- Actively seek to bend your will to God’s…want to want what he wants.
-Ask him to help you want what he wants.