“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
These are the instructions of the Lord to Ananias concerning Saul of Tarsus. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision instructing him to go and lay his hands on Saul in order that his sight might be restored. Knowing the reputation of the man and how he has persecuted the Church relentlessly, Ananias, understandably, is surprised by God’s directions. Nevertheless, God assures Ananias that He has a plan for Saul of Tarsus that involves “bearing His name” before kings, Gentiles, and those of Israel.
Let us take note of two things in the Lord’s words to Ananias about the man who will one day come to be known as the Apostle Paul: 1.) Paul is chosen by God, that is, God has a calling for Paul to serve Him, to be an instrument or vessel of the Lord and, 2.) Part of that calling involves suffering. Thus, the Apostle Paul will simultaneously be in the will of God and also suffering trials and hardships as he does so.
We as Christians in this day and age often lose sight of the fact that suffering, to one degree or another, is an inevitable part of our walk with the Lord. Moreover, we also tend to think that suffering is a sign that something is wrong and that those who experience it must have drifted away from God. Some preachers and teachers lead us to believe that, if our faith is strong enough and we are standing firm on God’s Word, the trials and tribulations of this life will pass us by as we stand in the safe shelter of God’s loving arms. And in those occasions that hardship does befall us, we are exhorted to seek to discover what it is God is trying to “teach” us in the storm.
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21)
Sin can and does break our fellowship with God and often brings with it earthly consequences. If the “storm” we are in is the result of our own sinful behavior, then we definitely should not only seek to know what God is trying to teach us but also confess that sin to the Lord and turn from it! But there is also the suffering that comes upon us simply for doing what is right, not that which is wrong. The Apostle Peter says that this is the purpose for which we have been called: to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Even so, trials, hardships, and sufferings have a way of catching us off guard. They’re certainly not something we make plans for, even though we know that they will occur from time to time. And rather than patiently enduring and accepting our situation, we grumble, complain, and even doubt and question the Lord. Never would we even consider rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 5:41).
Virtually every person of God mentioned in the Bible bears the wounds and scars of suffering in the account of their life. Countless examples could be cited that demonstrate that those who walk the closest with God often suffer the most for Him. My message here is not that we should seek out suffering and embrace it as a masochistic martyr, but that we should understand that we will face hardships and trials when we seek to live the Christian life. Jesus Himself told us that we would have tribulation in this world but to be of good courage because our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33). The good news is that we serve a God Who has already defeated sin, death, and Satan and that our eternal destiny is to live with Him forever! For all the sufferings that the Apostle Paul would endure, he had these simple words to say of them:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Finally, I wish to close with the autobiographical account of Paul himself, looking back over years of service to Christ. Few of us will ever be called upon to suffer for the Lord the way this man did and yet his assessment in the end was that he regretted nothing (2 Timothy 4:7). Someone once presented to me a theory which states that the Christianity that Paul taught is different from the Christianity which Peter, John, and even Jesus Himself taught. The suggestion was that Paul had created a “false Christianity” born out of his own imagination and which he himself knew to be a lie. I referred the critic to the following passage and said that, if what he said was true, then Paul sure underwent a whole lot of suffering for a lie. People might suffer willingly for something they believe to be true, even if it’s not, but nobody is willing to suffer for something which they know to be false!
“[I have been] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-33)
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
“I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.” (Romans 16:1)
This verse begins the final chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome. Having instructed his readers in the great doctrines of the Faith, the Apostle now turns to a more personal note. He has told the Roman believers about his plans to visit them on a later journey to Spain, after a short relief mission to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:23-25). He has eloquently laid before them everything necessary for both a strong faith and for godly living; at times gently teaching them the basic tenets of Christianity, at other times firmly admonishing them by the great authority which God has given him. He has taught them the things which they need to know and has reminded them of those things which they should know already. Just as the Lord Jesus will later speak to the Seven Churches in Asia Minor through His Revelation to the Apostle John, Paul has both commended the Roman Church in the areas where they please God, and has rebuked them wherein they do not.
Yet now we come to the end of the Epistle and Paul is “preaching” to them no more. Paul tells them that he has fully preached the Gospel all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Rom. 15:19) and now, through this Letter, he has preached the Gospel to them as well. However, he speaks to them now, at the conclusion, not as pupils under a master teacher, but as friends, brothers, and servants of the same Lord he himself serves.
It is not easy to find a great deal of commentary or teaching on Chapter 16 of the Book of Romans; many expositors simply skip over most of it, maybe giving a remark or two about divisive church members mentioned in verses 17 and 18 or commenting briefly on the closing “doxology” found in the final three verses of the chapter. But perhaps there is just as much for us to learn from what is not mentioned as there is from what is written. You see, as far as you and I are concerned, the bulk of Chapter 16 is just a bunch of names of people of whom very little is now known. But behind every name listed on the page there is a story, a life, a real person who came to faith in Jesus Christ and was saved by the very Gospel written in the previous 15 chapters. Bible scholars don’t know really anything about Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus, or Olympas (v. 14-15) except one thing: the Apostle Paul knew them (or at least knew of them) and they belonged to the Body of believers in Rome. They were important people to Paul and they are important people to the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord knows them and we can be certain that they are living today in the place which He prepared for them and us. Someday, we will meet them all and will come to know them just as Paul did (or rather, does!).
We read these names in the Holy Word of God some 2,000 years after they first were written and it reminds us of another Book wherein our own names are recorded — if we are in Christ. And though our own names have not found their way into the Bible itself, we are assured that each one of us is loved by God just as much as these other believers who came before us. For both their names and ours are in the Lamb’s Book of Life, another Book written by the finger of the Spirit of the Lord, another Book filled with names behind which are real people who lived real lives.
Romans 16 reminds us that, at the end of the day, we are all part of a family, the family of God. And after all the teaching, admonition, correction, rebuking, and instructing we see a loving Father, full of grace and mercy, Who loves us, His own children. Some of the instructions given in Romans may seem daunting, maybe even impossible to follow, but we know from Chapter 8 that we are not walking in our own strength, but in the strength of the Holy Spirit. God has not told any of us that we must do the things written in His Word through our own strength, but has promised that He will give us the ability through the Lord Jesus Christ to walk according to His plans, will, and purposes. We must always remember that we are His children and that He wants us to walk with Him in the overcoming victory that He has won for us.
Though we experience trials, though we have setbacks, and though we suffer failures, God reminds us that all things work together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
Back in November of 2010, when I wrote my introductory post for this study in the Book of Romans, I stated:
“I am eager to write about this great portion of Scripture because I know profoundly the capacity that writing about, reading about, and studying this Epistle has to affect wondrous spiritual growth for everyone involved, regardless of how many times they have previously done so. It is, therefore, with joy, excitement, and a keen awareness of my own inability to adequately deal with the Text at hand that I invite you to join me on this journey through the Book of Romans. May we come away from it at study’s end with a new and fresh appreciation for this very wonderful book of the Bible!”
Coming now to the end of this study, I am grateful to the Lord for all of the blessings He has given in opening my own eyes to the great truths of His Word. I have learned so much more about this great book of the Bible throughout the course of this study and I give thanks and praise to God for it. I thank all of you who have joined me on this journey and I look forward to moving soon into another part of the Word.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
[ I will be taking the next several weeks off from writing and plan, Lord willing, to start posting again at the beginning of September. Thank all of you who take the time to read these articles and may the Lord greatly bless you in the study of His Word]
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
What an affront to the innate pride of man! We inherently desire to come to God on our own terms and find Him through our personally preferred methods. We like to believe that each one of us walks our own path leading to our own perception of God and that no path dilligently followed will come up short. How can it be that God would save anyone on no other basis than the fact that they have sincerely called upon His name?
When asked by a group of followers eager to start earning their Salvation, “what works must we do, that we might work the works of God?”, Jesus simply responded,
“…This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” (John 6:29)
Man wants to do works to be saved, God wants man to believe. Man wants to trust in his own power and strength to overcome the obstacles between God and himself, God wants man to trust in His power and strength by calling on His name. The Cross of Jesus Christ is foolishness to the Gentile and a stumblingblock to the Jew (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23) because it leaves no place for the works of man; Christ has done it all. The only part we have in it is just to believe.
God’s Method Of Gospel Transmission
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)
I have received many criticisms and objections to my wrtitings over the past few years, but one of the most unusual was from an individual who seemed to find fault, not only with what I am saying, but with everyone who teaches or preaches the Bible. He wanted to know what business I had writing about the Bible at all. “We have the Bible and we have the Holy Spirit, what need have we of you?“, he demanded. My response was these two verses from Romans 10. All I can say is that, for whatever reasons, God has decided to use frail and imperfect people to communicate the Gospel to others.
The Apostle Paul did not come to Christ by the preaching of others, but by a direct, personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, his entire doctrine was founded on the direct inward teaching of the Spirit of God revealed to him apart from the teachings of men. Writing to the Galatians, Paul explained how he himself learned of the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
“But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ…But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.” (Galatians 1:11, 12, 15-17)
Why does God not move upon everyone to receive the Gospel like this? I do not know. But it is apparent that such a miraculous, inward conversion is an exception rather than a rule. God works in extraordinary ways during extraordinary times. It was necessary that the Lord intervene directly into the life of Paul in order that he receive the doctrines which he would be commissioned to spread throughout the Roman world and ultimately, through his writings, to the entire world.
God has determined, however, that His chosen method would be for people to hear the Gospel preached by an individual and then, by the inward conviction of the Holy Spirit, respond to that preaching and accept Christ as their Savior. God has given us His Word and that is definitely the medium through which the Lord communicates His will and Message to mankind. But even so, He did not intend for people to be left to just stumble their way through the Bible and attempt to work through it alone. Yes, the Holy Spirit does reveal wondrous things from His Word to the hearts which diligently seek to know the Lord; He makes His Word come alive as we study it. Yet God has determined that we should all learn from others and from the preaching and teaching of people commissioned by God to communicate the Gospel. It has always fascinated me that the giants of the Faith and the greatest of Bible teachers throughout history have always been heavily influenced by the teachings of those who preceded them. Except for the Apostle Paul, it seems that God hasn’t taken anyone out to the desert alone to learn the mysteries of His Word without the guidance of those already familiar with it. He uses the words of men coupled with the inward revelation of His Spirit to convey His Message to us.
Faith Comes By Hearing
“But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:16-17)
The Gospel is a free gift offered by the Grace of God to sinful man. Yet that free gift must be received, its precepts must be obeyed. Faith is man’s response to the Message of the Gospel and that faith comes by “hearing” (or reading or any other means of communication) the Message preached by those whom God has sent. And the source of that Gospel Message is the Word of God itself. The Bible is the source of faith for both the saved and unsaved. How does a non-believer find faith to believe God? By hearing and heeding the preaching of His Word. How does a Christian grow in faith? By spending time in His Word. Faith finds its source in the Word of God.
Until next time. To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
“I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart. For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:” (Romans 9:1-3)
We come now in our study of the Book of Romans to a completely new section: Chapters 9-11. The focus now shifts from the mountain peaks of the Christian experience to the lowlands of the rejection of Jesus Christ by the nation of Israel. Here, nestled between the everlasting security of the believer in Christ which concluded Chapter 8 and the practical instructions for the child of God in daily life beginning with Chapter 12, we have three chapters which deal with a people who have utterly rejected the will of God and have denied the grace of the Lord Jesus. Admittedly, this is a rather difficult portion of Romans to expound upon as it is at times seemingly wholly irrelevant to the day-to-day life of the Christian and tends to fit as snugly as a round peg in a square opening of the latticework of the Epistle.
It has been astutely observed that one could easily lift out the Ninth through Eleventh Chapters of Romans and seamlessly tie verse 8:39 to 12:1. If anything, this would probably make the book flow more fluently seeing that the Apostle’s admonition to present ourselves whole-heartedly for the use of God is a most natural and appropriate response to the sheer magnitude of what we have in Christ Jesus as expressed in Chapter 8. For those who teach that God has turned His back on Israel (since Israel has turned his back on Him), replacing Israel with the Church and transferring ownership of all covenants, promises, and inheritances from the Hebrews to the Body of Christ, such an omission of these three troublesome chapters would likely be a most welcome deletion.
Nevertheless, Chapters 9-11 do appear in the Bible and, while parenthetical to the theme of the Epistle to the Romans, belong within the canon of Scripture just as much as the Third Chapter of John or the Eighth Chapter of Romans which precedes them. And perhaps it is fitting, after all, that Paul, in his dictation of this letter for the believers in Rome to his secretary, Tertius, with cracking voice and a throat choked with tears of sorrow, should be unable to continue his expository of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for those which have accepted it until he has turned his attention towards his brethren who have not. For the Hebrews are Paul’s people; he himself is a Jew.
“Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37)
Neither Paul nor the Lord Jesus Christ rejected Israel. Israel rejected the coming of the Savior and the Gospel which Paul preached. Yet God has never ceased to love His son, Israel (Ex. 4:22), and the Apostle Paul never lost his love for his brethren. The heart of the Lord was broken as He looked out across the beloved city of Jerusalem, knowing that they would not accept the Salvation which He was offering. The Apostle Paul felt the same as they rejected the Good News he preached to them. Although he would turn to the Gentiles, bringing to them the Message that his own people would not accept, Paul would never lose his affection and concern for the people of Israel.
“And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written” (Exodus 32:31-32)
The words of Moses are echoed here in Romans 9 as Paul suggests a similar proposal. Yet the Apostle knows that such a sacrificial exchange is not possible. Paul cannot be separated from Christ for the sake of his brethren. They rejected the sacrifice of Christ on their behalf, would they accept the sacrifice of Paul, even if it were possible? Even so, Paul’s heart is in anguish for his people, his nation, his brothers.
Chapter 12 will resume the Apostle’s teachings to those within the Church. For the next three chapters, he will turn his focus again to his own people. But before he proceeds to address the condition and predicament of the Hebrews, he wants to be certain that it is understood how great of love he has toward them. Happily he would trade them places if his own condemnation could purchase them life eternal. The depth of sorrow which Paul felt toward his people can surely only be truly understood by the One Whose own heart is filled with sorrow over their rejection of Himself.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” (Romans 7:18)
No section of the book of Romans is perhaps more mysterious, more enigmatic than the Seventh Chapter. Continuing in the same manner begun in Chapter 6, the Apostle Paul continues to interweave the theological with the practical, moving skillfully between timeless truths and temporal considerations.
As we looked at before, the initial 5 chapters of Romans concerned themselves nearly exclusively with the believer’s Justification in Christ, his Salvation provided solely and freely by the grace of God and acquired by faith alone. We find not instructions to do and act, but to believe and trust. Chapters 6 through 8, however, move from the regeneration of the lost sinner to the sanctification of the saved child of God. In addition to trusting and believing, we found calls to action, words like reckon, yield, and obey in Chapter 6 – words that compel the Christian to a newness of attitude and behavior.
But if Chapter 6 was all about what we can do in the process of Sanctification (that process whereby the believer moves from simply being declared righteous by the blood of Jesus Christ to actually living a holy life, pleasing to God), then Chapter 7 is all about what we cannot. In Chapter 6, we were counseled concerning our new relationship to sin and how it is, in reality, without the power and authority over those in Jesus Christ that it once held before we knew Him. Sin is no longer the master by default of the born-again soul; our bondage to sin has been broken.
Even so, the testimony which we encounter in Romans 7 chimes with a resounding resonance that pierces the conscience of all who are trusting in Christ. The analogies comparing man’s subjection to the Law of Moses with the marriage contract and the relationship of Sin itself (at times personified and endowed with a will and power all its own) to that Law seen in the first 14 verses give way to a moving and all too universal “autobiography” of the Apostle Paul concerning his own struggle with sin since coming to Christ. What sincere believer fails to relate the dilemmas described herein to their own experiences with God?
As much as we are ashamed to admit it, we have all failed and fallen into certain temptations, no matter how strongly we desired not to. Every Christian has endured the agony, the sting of guilt that tortures our inner man as we have looked back with regret and disgust, ripped apart by sorrow at the realization that we, too, have done that which we “would not” and failed to do that which we “would.” The desire to do good is ever with the child of God, yet oftentimes how to perform that good evades us.
When comparing Romans 7:7-7:25 with most of Paul’s writings, one thing stands out very clearly. The characteristically humble Apostle writes more in the first person here than usual. The pronouns “I” and “me” occur more in this passage than we find elsewhere as the tone becomes personal and reflective. This is at once touching and moving as we are given a rare insight into the Apostle Paul’s own evaluation of his personal walk with the Lord, yet the presence of so many self-references also clues us in to the reason for this struggle as well as the remedy for it.
“O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
Conspicuously absent from the testimony given in Romans 7:7-7:23 is any mention of God Himself in the equation. We see merely a portrait of the redeemed and regenerated Apostle Paul, alone, struggling against the power of sin that still claims a foothold in his flesh. The Holy Spirit, Who will take center stage in the Eighth Chapter, is not mentioned at all.
Many commentaries on the Book of Romans identify Paul’s “autobiography” here in Chapter 7 with a certain period of his life, usually shortly after he encountered the Lord Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Having received the new nature which desires to please God, it is suggested that Paul set out to serve and obey God in his own strength, only to fall flat on his face. His heartfelt cry, “O wretched man that I am!” and his subsequent realization that the Christian life can only be lived out by the Spirit of Jesus Christ living His life through the believer is seen as a turning point in his life and ministry. While this is very likely accurate, I believe that the Apostle recognized that, far from being merely a bygone episode in his life, any occasion where any Christian fails to rely on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to overcome the power of sin in his life will inevitably result in this very same condition.
I think that, more than just sharing the experiences of his own early Christian walk, Paul is teaching us all that, apart from the Spirit of God, we cannot overcome sin’s power in our life. Yes, the admonitions of Romans 6 to reckon ourselves dead to sin, to yield ourselves for God’s use, and to obey that form of doctrine that was delivered to us need to be heeded; but, in the end, it is God indwelling the believer Who will provide the power necessary to overcome the struggle with sin.
God did not save us only to leave us to attempt to overcome the temptations of sin in our own power. It cannot be done. God alone can deliver us from this body of death and sin, not us. We previously saw that Salvation is the work of God alone and now we see that Sanctification really is, too. We can desire, resolve, commit, and dedicate ourselves to holy living all we want, but until we recognize that only the Spirit of God can empower us to overcome sin in our lives, we will never make it past the dilemma of Romans 7:15-23.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,