J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

The Obedience of Faith – Romans 25ff

There are so many motivators to obedience.  I suppose that there are just as many motivators to disobey, but if you think about why you would or wouldn’t do something, so many ideas come to mind.  For example, if your boss, your wife, your husband, or anyone else whose opinion you care about asks you if you have sent an email that you know you haven’t sent, several options come to mind.  Biblically, you know there is a command not to lie or even if you don’t, you have a sense that lying is wrong, especially if someone lies to you.  What would keep you from lying?  You don’t want to be caught having forgotten to send that email.  At work, it makes you look like a slacker and might highlight other weaknesses you have on the job.  At home, it makes you look like the email your spouse wanted you to send was unimportant.  Basically, your reputation is on the line, and for some, reputations are worshipped more dearly than God Himself.

Is it enough to know that God has said, “Thou shalt not lie,”?  I wish it were, but if that was the case, anyone who has ever read the 10 commandments would always tell the truth.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  Maybe the threat of punishment pops into your mind.  You think, “If I tell a lie, I might get caught and get into big trouble.”  Or maybe you think, “If I lie, God is going to punish me.”

The amazing thing is that you have wired in your head and heart to make the decision to answer the question with a yes or no in a millisecond.  You are either going to tell the truth or lie, and your heart processes the decision quicker than you actually answer the question.  Sadly, our hearts tell us to lie quite often if it means that others are going to think something about us that is different than what we want.  Worshipping other people’s approval is the strongest of motivators.

What if you knew that approval, affection, and love would be heaped upon you whether or not you had actually sent that email?  What if you would not be thought of less but actually loved and delighted in whether or not you hit “send”?   Would you be motivated to tell the truth then?  I think so.  I think security causes people to be honest just as so many other areas of obedience would come about easier if you can rest in secure relationships.

That is why SK preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ:  a secure relationship with God brought about by the loving work of Jesus Christ.  The motivation to obey rises from the security of your relationship with God through His son Jesus.  And that, is exactly what Paul is going to emphasize as we close out the book of Romans.  With that in mind, let’s answer this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  Why are the Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ essential to a life of obedience?

Romans16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ,

So here we are with the final 3 verses of the Book of Romans.  Paul is ending with his benedictory blessing meaning he is praying a blessing from God upon all the readers of this letter.  In that blessing, we see what Paul wants the Romans, and us as well, to finally take away from his teaching.  The benediction is a prayer that God would secure those truths to their and our hearts.

Paul begins, as all benedictions do, by referring and relying on God alone to secure the blessings that he is praying for in the life of the believer.  Look at how Paul describes God in the blessings:  God is described as Him who is able to strengthen you.  Paul understands that if you or any one else is going to be strengthened in any real or lasting way, its going to be a strengthening that comes from God.  Though other strengthenings are important like getting a good nights sleep, eating right, exercising regularly, they are only temporary strengthenings that have temporal effects on the body and mind.  They are important, even commanded by God, but not the type of strengthening that Paul is mentioning here.

Paul is speaking about a supernatural strengthening that God gives His people spiritual in nature that enlivens the entire person.  Now when you hear that, I hope it moves you.  I hope it inclines your heart a bit toward this passage or maybe even causes you to sit on the edge of your seat.  Strengthening from God is what I imagine many of us need in the midst of family, work, and life.  Finding it and experiencing would be worth the price of admission.

Let me give you an example about learning this lesson in my own life the hard way.  I do my best to go running several times a week.  I try to hydrate before, during, and after.  On days I run, I know that I have to put in protein and other replenishments to take care of my body.  I should probably get more sleep, but I do take care to adjust my sleep if I’m feeling overly sluggish.  Two weeks ago, I got in two great runs, was eating right, had decent sleep and was looking forward to a restful weekend.  But then disaster struck.  Amy threw up for 4 days straight and I caught an odd virus whose only symptom was to zap the strength out of my body.  No amount of sleep, exercise, or eating right was going to strengthen me all the while there was a sermon to preach, kids to take care of and Amy puking her guts up.  What I needed was strength other than what I could produce on my own.  If I was going to be strengthened it was going to come only by the work of the Holy Spirit.  After leading the first three songs that Sunday, there was just no energy in me.  During the time of repentance, I was sitting in a chair up front, drinking a juice box, praying that God would strengthen me.  By His grace, He did.  I had enough energy, encouragement, and guidance from His Holy Spirit to lead music, preach and make it through the service.  Oh the fatigue wasn’t gone, but the strengthening was there.  That is one example of what Paul is talking about here.

But maybe that is not your story.  Maybe yours is a fatigue both physical and spiritual that never seems to go away.  You might think, “How do I get this strengthening from God?  Look at how Paul says God strengthens His people:  God strengthens His people according to the Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.  Scripture defines the Gospel in several ways.  Technically, the word means “good news” and in the 1st century culture, “a gospel” would be proclaimed to herald a new ruler or emperor.  In light that, the Gospel of Jesus is both – good news of a new gracious ruler in the lives of God’s children.

So what is “the Gospel”?  We should nail this down as we talk about it a lot here at SK and lots of people need strengthening.  Well “the Gospel” sets people apart as seen in Paul’s life in Romans 1:1

  • It is the power of salvation in Romans 1:16
  • It is salvation by faith alone in Romans 10:16
  • It is full-time occupational ministry in 1 Corinthians 9:14
  • It gives the believer full rights and access to God in I Corinthians 9:18
  • It is the light of Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:4
  • It is something to be confessed in 2 Corinthians 9:13
  • It stands opposed to any misrepresented view of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 11:4
  • It is something to be entrusted with in Galatians 2:7
  • It sets people apart for gospel ministry in Ephesians 3:7
  • It brings peace in Ephesians 6:15
  • It is something that creates partnership among God’s people in Philippians 1:5
  • It comes in the power of the Holy Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 1:5
  • It is to be obeyed in 2 Thessalonians 1:8
  • It is the eternal plan of God to save His people in Revelation 14:6

BTW, this is less than half of the references to the Gospel in scripture.  The Gospel declares that salvation is God’s property.  He secures and gifts it.  He proclaims it, and he promises to complete.  The Gospel is the power of God not only to save but also to change the believer.  The Gospel declares that those who have been changed by the Gospel are His unique creation.  He has gifted you with faith, trust, forgiveness, and the power to change.  Essentially, miss out on understanding the Gospel and miss out on Jesus, salvation, and Christianity.  If you, a pastor or someone else preaches a Jesus without the absolute freedom of the Gospel, then you haven’t preached Jesus.  .

Paul is praying that the Romans would be blessed by the power of the Gospel that comes through preaching Jesus Christ.  More than likely, Matthew, Mark, and Luke had been written by the time Paul wrote Romans.  Paul is saying, in the midst of our study of scriptures, no matter the topic, what we should search for, examine, and preach is Jesus Christ.  Sick?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Discouraged?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Mourning?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.  Confused?  Preach Christ and the power of the Gospel.

Paul is saying that whenever we preach the message we have is Christ.  Did you know that you preach a Gospel every day to your heart?  It is either one of the bondage of effort or it is the Gospel of the freedom of Jesus Christ.  The preaching of the Gospel and Jesus Christ is God’s gracious substituting of your sinful self for Jesus’ righteous self.  It is Jesus’ death on the cross substituting your death.  It is Jesus’ righteous life in substitute of your sinful life.

The great preacher Spurgeon said it this way:  There is one word that every true servant of Christ must be able to speak very distinctly; and that word is substitution. I believe that substitution is the keyword to all true theology; — Christ standing in the place of sinners, and numbered with the transgressors because of their transgressions, not his own — Christ paying our debts, and discharging all our liabilities.  This truth involves, of course, our taking Christ’s place as he took ours, so that all believers are beloved, accepted, made heirs of God, and in due time will be glorified with Christ forever.

That is the Gospel.  I think the church and consequently many believers, are weak today because we either don’t know our scriptures where Jesus is found or we search the scriptures but miss Jesus.  There is always an inherent danger as you deepening your study and pursuing theology.  Instead of finding Jesus, you find self-righteousness.  But the proper study of theology is a deepening of one’s understanding of Jesus within the scriptures.  All theology flows from there.  I know there is some joy in exploring the minutiae of scripture:  the point that very little of which is known and the discovering is joy.  All scripture study is of benefit and encouragement.  But pursuing the smallest bit of doctrine without knowing the depth of mercy of Christ is silly.  If people don’t see you as Christ like, don’t pursue theological respect from them until they feel like they have been with Christ because they have been in your presence.  Having a reputation of being like Christ is far greater than having a reputation of being a theologian.  The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive but they can be.

This message that I am to preach to you, that each Christian must proclaim to the world and preach to their own heart is not a new message.  Listen to its origins.  The preaching of Christ is

according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations,

One of the consistent themes of Romans has been the pursuing of truth.  Just a quick glance gives us these verses.

  • Romans 1:18 – For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
  • Romans 1:25 – because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
  • Romans 2:8 – but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
  • Romans 3:7 – But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner?
  • Romans 9:1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—
  • Romans 15:8 – For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

In these and other verses, we have talked about the continual and absolute need for each and every one of you to pursue knowing God in more depth by studying the scriptures.  In it, you become wise to what is God and innocent as to what is evil.  But this verse also highlight another aspect of your studying the scriptures.  You see, prior to Christ, God’s people knew that God had promised to rescue them.    We spent a good amount of time last week, speaking about that promise of God harkens all the way back to the Garden of Eden where God promised to crush death and our enemy Satan underfoot.  Our Savior Jesus, His arrival and work were coming about

According to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations.

The scriptural promises of Jesus were secure, strengthenings, and encouragements to the people of God.  God made a promise to save and the scriptures spoke of this Jesus throughout all of the OT.  A quick look tells you that Jesus is

  • Anointed One (Messiah)… Psalm 2:2.
  • Branch… Zechariah 3:8
  • Foundation Stone… Isaiah 28:16
  • Fountain… Zechariah 13:1
  • Mighty God… Isaiah 9:6
  • Redeemer… Isaiah 59:20
  • Ruler… Micah 5:2
  • Servant… Isaiah 42:1; 49:5-7
  • Shepherd… Psalm 23
  • Wonderful Counselor… Isaiah 9:6

This is a just a small sampling of verses that show that God’s word is rich to encourage you and grow you up in your understanding of Christ.  And we study because that is where we find Christ:  in the Scriptures.  And you know what I noticed for the very first time in my study of these passages?    Look at what this preaching of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and the scriptures come about.  You see it at the end of verse 26

26b according to the command of the eternal God,

The eternal God’s command brings about your strengthening in Jesus.  This verse had me thinking all week.  Much like many of you have varying interests and things that take up my time of even distract me.  I love sports, books, and movies and because of that I know various minutiae about both.  Some of you love politics.  Others of you enjoy web design or following all things related to your college alma mater, and on and on.  In and of itself, those things are not necessarily evil or even bad…but many of them are not eternal.  In fact, much of what we waste time on is not.  The other night I was exhausted but stayed up to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals.  Fun…but not eternal therefore lacking in some way.  You guys might pour over CNN or FoxNews or the paper or your favorite TV show.  Fun…but not eternal and therefore lacking in some way.  I’m not prudishly telling you that you can’t enjoy those things, but I will say that often the pursuit of those things leaves us empty because they are not eternal.

But the eternal God’s commands in scriptures are and they are intended to encourage and strengthen you.  Investing in and getting to know other people has eternal value because God tells us to do those things.  Studying his scripture has eternal value.  Perhaps we are often discouraged because we rationalize the hours in which we spend doing some things but we are often discouraged and weak because we spend so little time with that which is eternal:  our God and His word.

But look at the end of verse 26.  Look at the intended purpose of your being strengthened by the Gospel, the preaching of Christ, and your pursuit of His scriptures.  These things happened in order…

26c to bring about the obedience of faith

I love this expression “the obedience of faith” because it is so distinct from what so often passes as obedience.  The obedience of faith is the change that God does in your heart and life where you choose to obey God by trusting in His power and not your own.  This is the difference between wishing to obey and actually obeying.  This is the difference between merely obeying outwardly and obeying both in heart and body.

If you want to truly grow in being like Christ, it is going to take God’s supernatural strengthening of you by the power of the Gospel in the preaching of Jesus Christ by the eternal God’s command.   It takes all of that.  No amount of wishing will cause you to obey or change.  The will is not strong enough to actually cause change.  A humility of spirit is required.

It takes a God-gifted humility in and of yourself to say, “I cannot obey in any real way unless God strengthens me according to the Gospel, Jesus Christ, and His word.”  Unfortunately, the heart doesn’t do that often.  You see, if you profess faith in Christ, God has given you the desire and ability to obey whereas prior to knowing Christ, you didn’t want to obey at all.  So, you have this desire to obey, but if you don’t approach obedience by faith, then you will be immensely frustrated and perhaps even give up trying.

The obedience that comes by faith is real change because it is done by God.  It is humility to admit your needs.  It is faith to ask God to help you.  It is perseverance to push through hard times.  It is joy in the midst of pain.  It is affection for those who hurt you or disappoint you.  This real obedience, this life of glorifying God, only comes by God’s strengthening you by Christ to be like Christ.  This is why so many churches and Christians are ineffective.

Again, we either spend all of our free time pursuing things that have little or no eternal value or we seek to obey God in our own effort.  However, we should be seeking to obey God by the strengthening that comes by the Gospel and the preaching of Christ instead of entertaining our selves to death.

Gang, as we wrap up this incredible study of the book of Romans, let’s ask God to do this.  Let’s ask Him to change us so that our motives are not so we can be puffed up and think we are smarter than everyone else.  Let’s ask God to change us so that our motives are not so we can feel superior over others.  Let’s ask God to change us so that our motives are not to do things by own power but to trust in His power for real change.  Let’s ask God to change us so that we will live out verse 27.

27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Right now, ask yourself, in the course of a typical day, how much do you think about giving glory to God?  Do you consider how your words can be words of grace thus giving glory to God?  Do you consider getting to know people who are grossly different than you are because loving and serving them in humility would bring glory to God?  Do you consider not complaining about something in order to give glory to God or do you spend more time making sure you exercise your freedom to speech that says its okay for you to be annoying in how much you complain?  Do you think at the start of your day how each thing you say and do might give glory to God?

Gang, we will not be strengthened by the Gospel and preaching of Jesus in the scriptures if our goal is to glorify self.  Unfortunately, the only option other than giving glory to God is giving glory to self.  So in order for us to give glory to God, we have to die to self by admitting we need God’s strengthening that comes from the wonderful Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s hard to know exactly how to finish up a 2 year series, especially when the book that we have studied is the Book of Romans.  So, let me exhort you in this way:  As we work here at SK, God has given us a wonderful mission.  The community that God is creating here and the community in which we get to engage and serve is incredible.  God is doing those things among us.  If we are not humbled by what God is doing, we are seeking our own glory.  If we are not seeking the eternal over temporal joys and distractions, we are not giving glory to God.  If we don’t seek to be strengthened by the power of the Gospel and Jesus Christ, then we are doing all of these things in our own power, and doing things in our own power is actually trusting and worshiping our self.

But we are called to so much more.  The life of the believer in Christ is called to a joyous service that reflects the love and grace that has been poured out to us.  In that we seek with all we do to give Jesus glory out affection in our hearts for what He has done.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

The God of Peace – Romans 16:20-23

Even the worst of liars (or is that the best?) among us will get mad if someone doesn’t keep their promises.  Even if we are not very good at always keeping our word, we get angry when others don’t keep theirs.  Or so many people are self-righteous thinking they never fall short in keeping their promises so they just never have patience for others.  Now, you may hear that and say, “Why should I have patience with people who don’t keep their promises?”  I would answer, “That’s the definition of grace; extending patience and forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it; sort of like what God does with you.”

My children have an absolute, dead-on memory of every single thing I’ve ever promised them, and if I forget something, they make sure to remind me.  Even if I don’t promise but just say, “Maybe” my girls take that as an ironclad guarantee.  If the idea of doing something fun comes and goes, they’ll sometimes say, “But you promised.”

The reason the girls respond that way is that they trust me and Amy.  We do our best, albeit imperfectly, in being truthful with the kids.  On the day we left the Great Wolf Lodge that you guys so graciously sent us to, the girls asked if we would ever return.  I said, “Maybe.”  The next thing I knew, my girls were already planning our next trip.  Meredith was writing stories about going.  Landry was planning on being taller so she could ride more rides, and Emma was happily playing along.    My simple “Maybe” was a promise in their mind because they trust me – a fact that causes to ask God to help me be a better parent daily.

The hope of promises kept equals peace of mind for a child as it should for you and me.  Believing in kept promises is an essential element of faith, but it requires someone in whom you can trust.  This week in the book of Romans, Paul is going to highlight one of the key kept promises of scripture and emphasize to us how that should be peaceful sleep and rest for us.  So with that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How is God’s keeping of His promises our hope for peace?

To get the full effect of the passage that we are going to look at this week, let’s do just a brief summary of the past two week’s passages.  Paul warns the Romans us against anyone who teaches against the fundamental truths of the Bible.  Paul says you will know who these people are because they teach certain truths like have faith in God and you’ll never be sick, but he will give you a sick house.  Paul calls this the feeding of their appetites.  In addition, Paul says that these teachers teach with flattering speech thinking that if they make you feel good about yourself, you won’t pay attention to what they are saying.  They are sort of like the magician who says, “Hey look over there, and as you do, they pick your pocket.”

Last week, Paul commended the Romans for their godliness but cautioned them that they should always be wise to what is good while keeping themselves innocent to what is evil. We spent a good bit of time last week talking about what those things meant, and I encourage you to check out the notes that appear online.  So as Paul winds up his very last exhortations, He boldly declares in verse 20.

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

To help us understand this verse, let’s break down in this way:  in this verse look for a who, what, where, when, and why.  Let’s walk through each one of them.  First,  Who does this great work in verse 20?  The answer is of course God, but the answer is more full than that.  The God of Peace will crush Satan under your feet.  Now, this is a unique description of God that is only used 5 times in the Bible.  4 times by Paul and once by whomever wrote the book of Hebrews.  Listen to the awesome promised that come about whenever the descriptor for God is “The God of Peace…

  • Paul uses it in Romans 15:33 to describe his hope of seeing the Romans when he says, “May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
  • The passage we are looking at today Romans 16:20 describes this God of peace as the victorious warrior who will crush Satan under your feet.
  • Philippians 4:9 shows God enabling believers to obey- “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
  • In 1 Thessalonians 5:23, God is the promised one who makes you holy and protects you until Christ returns. – “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • And listen to Hebrews 13:20 – Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

The God of Peace is always accompanied by either a promise of what God has done or a promise of what He will do.  The basis of the peace that God gives His children is that He is faithful to Himself.   He makes and keeps His promises and it is the surety of His promises alone that insures our peace.  Sadly, this is so different than our day to day.  The temptation of the heart is to trust oh so many things instead of God’s faithfulness to insure our peace.  We make the mistake of thinking that something other than God will give us peace.  We do this with even good things.  For example:  If right now, you had great health, the job you wanted, 3 months worth of money in the bank, if you were happy and healthy, if you had Godly kids, a good relationship with your spouse, and a nice home, most folks would think, “I’m as at peace as I have ever been.”

Now God may grant you some or all of those thing…or none of those thing because none of them are the means by which you will have or know peace.  You might not have good health.   You might not have 3 days worth of money much less 3 months.  Kids are not always happy, healthy, or Godly.  Spouses fight.  Home sometimes are too small, get damaged, or even get foreclosed upon.   But the Gospel, the fact that God has unwavering affection for you because of Jesus Christ, gives peace.  The Gospel is big enough if you don’t have money, if you’re not healthy, if you’re kids are a mess or if you’re marriage is a mess, the Gospel is big enough to give you peace.  Here is how we know this God of Peace.  There are a host of verses that speak to God granting peace to His children, but for the sake of time, I’ll focus on two (one of which is my favorite verse in the Bible).

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

What else would we mediate on except our wonderful God of Peace?  As we mediate on Him, He keeps us at perfect peace.  But you say, Gordon, that’s my problem in the first place.  Of course if I could keep my mind on God I would have peace, but I can’t.  So I offer to you.

Philippians 4:5b The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Your peace is guaranteed as God is at hand or as God is with you.  You can make all of your needs and thanks known to Him and as you do, the peace, which is so different than anything our world knows, will guard your heart and mind.  This God of Peace, you know what He did?  He crushed the head of Satan.  This harkens back to a promise from long ago and leads us to our what question?

What Promise?  The promise of Genesis 3:15

In the Garden of our first days, God placed Adam and Eve in His beautiful creation.  Because sin had not yet entered into their lives, they enjoyed an uninterrupted relationship with God.  They truly knew Him as the God of peace as peaceful describes their interaction with Him.  I have no idea what it means to walk with God in the cool of the day, but I long to do it.  In this wonderful existence, God gave them several responsibilities.  They worked, they enjoyed God’s rest, and they were ultimately to fill the earth by having children.  God also gave them one prohibitional responsibility:  they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The punishment for violating this command was death.  Not just a physical death mind you, but a death in every way.  WCF 6.4 describes this death as utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.  Yet, sadly even with this warning, upon being tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent our first Father Adam willingly chose to disobey God.

Yet even upon Adam choosing of death, God made a grace filled promise in Genesis 3:15 saying “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  This is promise of called is called the protoevangelium or the “the first gospel”.  Even upon man’s first and greatest rebellion from God, He graciously promised to overcome the sentence of death by allowing for men and women to procreate.  From that procreation, a Savior would come who would ultimately defeat man’s enemy:  Satan.  Even as man chooses to walk away from his gracious creator, choosing death over life, God promises to defeat the very death they invited in.

It’s interesting, the whole Satan thing.  There are really two extremes here.  Some folks attribute everything to Satan.  If they stub their toe or forget their wallet, they blame the devil.  I think the more dangerous extreme is that many folks don’t even speak of him anymore because it seems illogical, superstitious, or ignorant to conceive of some personal evil who hates God and seeks to destroy His children.  But as Verbal in the movie “The Usual Suspects” says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”  Scripture, however, presents Satan as a very evil personal enemy of you if you are a believer in Christ.

  • He tempts Adam and Eve in the Garden Genesis 3.
  • He accuses Job in Job 2.
  • He accuses Joshua the High Priest in the book of Zechariah 3.
  • He tempts Jesus in Matthew 4.
  • He filled the heart of Ananias in Acts 5 to lie to the Holy Spirit.
  • He tempts married couples who don’t have intimate sex lives in I Corinthians 7.
  • He disguises himself as an angel of light in 2 Corinthians 11.
  • He was a thorn in the flesh to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.
  • He hindered Paul from visiting the Thessalonians 1 Thess. 2.

With the reality that scripture presents Satan as a personal enemy of God’s people, the promise that God will ultimately defeat him is reassuring.  To ignore the fact that Satan is your enemy is incredibly unwise and unsafe.  But God promises to defeat this enemy.

So if Satan is going to be crushed, where does that happen?  Now before I answer that let me make a few clarifications here.  God and Satan are not in some epic battle that rages back and forth.   God is His sovereignty permits Satan to live and work as He does only by God’s ordination.  Satan cannot do a single thing without the allowance of God the Father.  Otherwise, God would be subject to Satan.  We see this in the book of Job where the extent of Satan’s reach is only that which God allows, and if you read the text clearly, it is God who picks that fight, not Satan.

But just as God will punish each and ever person on earth who does not confess Jesus Christ as Lord, so He will punish Satan as well.  And that work of crushing Satan happens in the perfect life of overcoming temptation, the perfect death for sin, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It takes each part of Jesus’ life to overcome Satan.  Listen to Hebrews 2.

Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children (speaking of believers in Christ) share in flesh and blood, he (speaking of Jesus) himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Since Jesus took on human flesh even as we have, yet remained sinless as we did not, being God, His death and subsequent resurrection have the power to overcome the penalty of death for all of those who have faith in Him.  In living and dying and being raised to new life righteously, Jesus disarms the power of death held by Satan in the lives of believers.  He does this by offering a sacrifice that appeases the wrath of God so that the power of death is broken, and if the power of death is broken in the believer’s life, then Satan does not have power over you.  Certainly, Satan wants to diminish the work you might do for Christ in the here and now.  He desires to impede any work you might do to advance the Kingdom of God.  He wants to see you walk away from growing in Godliness.   But Satan’s power of death over your life has been broken through Christ.

Now this sounds great.  It is an encouragement, but when does all of this happen for you personally?  Look at Paul’s language.  The God of Peace is going to crush Satan under your feet.  Being united with Christ by faith, His defeat of Satan is your defeat of Satan.  Through Christ, you personally have defeated your enemy.  So you might ask,

When will Satan be crushed under my feet?   Right now, through Christ, you have defeated the work of your enemy, Satan.   The answer is found in Colossians 2:3

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Jesus personally triumphed over Satan.  So, when God gifts you with faith, when He transforms you from dead in your sins to alive to Christ, He makes you personally triumphant over Satan.  Your enemy, Satan, is put to shame.  According to Colossians 2, you were dead in sin thus captive to Satan’s powers.  You were separated from God.  But God made you alive in several ways.  He forgave you of your sins.  He canceled all the debt and punishment that those sins deserved.  He did this by nailing them to the cross with Jesus.  And by doing this, God disarmed Satan and his minions.   In fact God openly puts Satan to shame and triumphs over him.

The word triumph there is the same for a Roman victory parade.  God leads a parade on your behalf as you have defeated your enemy Satan and come under the gracious rule and reign of your heavenly Father.

Why did God do this? The answer is so that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ might be with you.  Everything that God does is to bring Himself glory.  Practically, in the life of the child of God, bringing God glory means that Jesus defeated Satan so that you might walk in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul celebrates this in his wonderful blessing by saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

It is God’s grace that secures every blessing for the believer.

  • It is God’s grace that defeats your enemy Satan.
  • It is God’s grace that forgives your sin.
  • It is God’s grace that cancels the debt you owe.
  • It is God’s grace that allows you to walk in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

So when Paul says “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” Paul is commanding you both to live your life by grace and to extend grace to every other undeserving person around you.  If you want to grow in obedience, then it will only happen by His grace poured out to you.  If you want to grow in knowledge of the scriptures, then it will only happen by His grace pour out to you.  If you want to raise Godly children, then it will only happen by His grace poured out to you.  If you want to grow in believing the promises of God in your life, then it will only happen by His grace poured out to you.

And so on and so forth.  You’ll never impress God enough to give you something or for God to change something.  God works for His glory and if He works in the life of any sinful person, it is only by His grace.   The gauge to which you get the last statements that I made is the degree to which you are presently undone.  The Gospel that all things come through grace should both paralyze you and preserve you.

  • We get so caught up in negotiating with God.
  • We do this when we cannot believe that something has or hasn’t happened.
  • We do this when we think we earned God’s gift to us because we negotiated a week of obedience.

But Gang, you don’t deserve either God’s love or Jesus’ defeating of Satan on your behalf or any single blessing in your life.  The only thing you deserve is for God to keep His promise and meet your sin with your death.  Whatever you have, it is there by God’s grace.  But God does promise to work in your life.  You didn’t earn a thing and no one else does either.  But this is also freeing.  Our obedience, our study of scripture, our work here at SK, they are all to be done as affectionate love to the Father free of manipulation of expectation.  We do obey but we fall into the trap of thinking,  “Oh now God is really going to bless me.”  We often substitute in our minds silly earthly blessings as something greater than God overcoming the sin in our life restoring us to fellowship.

There is no greater blessing than the Gospel that brings you salvation.  So we trust God for both good and bad knowing we can’t be any more blessed than having our sins forgiven, having our debt canceled, having our enemy defeated, and having the goodness of Jesus.  In addition, because we live by this grace, we should not selectively pick and choose those in which we will show grace.  So often, we are hard and exacting choosing only to be gracious to those who we think have earned it which contradicts the definition of grace.  Unfortunately, folks within the church will see someone who we disagree with politically, sexually, theologically, musically, socially, and pretty much any other adverb you can think of, and we’ll think, “Ugh, look at those folks.  I won’t nothing to do with them.”

Living this way completely contradicts the statement, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.”  Instead, we should take great risks for the Gospel even with folks that we would never think might come to know Christ because that is the Gospel.  Look at the folks Paul mentions in verses 21-23

21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

Timothy, Paul’s fellow worker, understood grace and understood that God keeps His promises as that’s exactly what it took to travel the world with Paul to share the gospel to a bunch of people who didn’t really want to hear it.  Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater who bravely by grace left the trappings of Judaism to embrace Jesus Christ.  Tertius who was Paul’s scribe for many letters, was willing to live by grace traveling with Paul in order to enable him to write books like Romans.  Gaius understood grace because he hosted Paul while he traveled and he opened his home to the church in Corinth.  Erastus who by grace risked his high profile job of being a city treasurer to follow Christ.

Each and every one of these folks understood that if they were going to play a part in the work of God with Paul, they were going to do it by grace.  They trusted this grace because our faithful God keeps His promises to be gracious to us.  ang, you know what makes the promises of God true in your life?   It is not the degree to which you believe or don’t believe them.  It is not the degree of your obedience or disobedience in the last week.  What makes the promises of God true in your life is that God keeps His promises…simply and profoundly.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Peace Unlike Any Other – SK Service Preview for 061310

If right now, you had great health, the job you wanted, 3 months worth of money in the bank, happy, healthy, Godly kids, a good relationship with your spouse, and a nice home, would you think, “I’m as at peace as I have ever been”?

I’m just wondering because God may grant you some or all of those thing…or none of them.  None of those things are the means by which you will have or know peace.  You might not have good health.  You might not have 3 days worth of money much less 3 months.  Kids are not always happy, healthy, or Godly.  Spouses fight.  Homes sometimes are too small, get damaged, or even get foreclosed upon.

But the Gospel, the fact that God has unwavering affection for you because of Jesus Christ, gives peace.  The Gospel is big enough if you don’t have money, if you’re not healthy, if you’re kids are a mess or if you’re marriage is a mess.  Peace is still possible for those who hope in Christ.

How do we know these things?   Well, this week, as we get close to wrapping up our study of Romans, we are going to look at these verses that will guarantee those promises:

Romans 16:20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.   The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

If you would like to join us at Sovereign King, we meet each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html

Also, after our service, we will be enjoying a lunch together hosted by the Calhouns in honor of their son, Matt, who graduated from High School this weekend.

If you have any questions about SK, feel free to email Gordon at jgordonduncan@yahoo.com or call at 919-412-8161.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Christ and Culture – Romans 16:17-23 Part Two

We’re definitely at the stage in our home when we tell one of the children not to do something, there is a good chance that one of them is going to respond with “Why?”  My options in return are either to get frustrated that they didn’t obey right away or give an explanation.  Options for my response include:

  • The ever popular, “Because I told you so.”
  • If I’m impatient, I can always say, “Don’t ask why; just do what I said.”
  • I can go with the, “Because God said you have to obey me,” and see how far that gets me.
  • Even if I go with the more caring, “I’m trying to protect you,” often the girls will respond with, “I’ll be fine,” or “I won’t get hurt.”

Now, I really shouldn’t be too frustrated with any of the responses from my girls because my heart, and I imagine yours as well, doesn’t really like to be told no.  In fact, adults often get just as upset, if not more, at being told no than children do.  Even if the thing we desire is not sinful, being told no to do something that we have experienced before can set most adults off.

Paul in the book of Romans calls the contrast between being tempted to do something and having already experienced it as being, “wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”  And for Paul, he knew the best way to avoid falling into particular sin in the future was to never experience that sin in the first place.

Now, how much does that make sense?

  • If you don’t want to struggle with heroin addiction, don’t try heroin.
  • If you don’t want to struggle with pre-marital sex, then remain chaste before marriage.

But even these practical truths is not enough sometimes to keep the heart from wanting and going after sin.  Understanding the heart and character of God within the doctrinal framework of scripture, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit is what we need.  So in light of that let’s ask the exact same question we asked last week as we continue our study of the end of Romans 16

Big Picture Question:  Big Picture Question:  How do doctrine and obedience work hand in hand?

Last week, if you weren’t here let me give you a quick summary.  Paul’s concern as the book closes is to make sure that the church of Rome does not abandon Biblical faithfulness and that they are constantly searching the scriptures for wisdom and truth.  So Paul commands the Romans to look out for people who are trying to cause divisions based on bad theology.  One of the reasons Paul issues this command is because he knows that people are going to come into the church and either subtly or openly challenge the firm foundational doctrines of our faith.  So Paul calls the Romans, and us as well, to know our scriptures so as to both discern wisdom in the scriptures and to defend our hearts from doctrines that are contrary to the Christian faith.  Paul, then goes on to give to characteristics of false teachers:  they seek to feed their own appetites and they do it by flattery and smooth talk.  Paul is saying that though having, gaining, and maintaining wealth is not necessarily antithetical to being a believer, if the emphasis of a particular teacher’s ministry and the representation of their life, is the pursuit of worldly wealth, pleasure, and comfort (thus feeding and overstuffing their appetite), then that person becomes under scrutiny of being guilty of this verse.  And being guilty of this verse is not limited just to preachers, evangelists, or people on TV.  Paul more than likely is not speaking about what we would call ministers today.  He is warning against people within the church who design their entire life for comfort and the feeding of their appetite.  Those things don’t necessarily make a person a non-Christian but seeking to live without sacrifice does make that person suspect.  So if a teacher of the scripture spends all his or her time talking about how faith in God will help you get enough lettuce for your fetish, then you should probably change the channel.

We ended the discussion of these verses last week by reminding ourselves of these truths.

  • Jesus is the end goal of your faith –not the ability to pummel someone with the scriptures.
  • Jesus is the end goal of your study – not the flexing of your theological muscles.
  • Jesus is the end goal of your obedience – not the acquiring of the elements of self-righteousness
  • Jesus is the end goal of your theology – not the ability to bad mouth the folks in the other camp.
  • And you know what?  Jesus is the end goal of defending your heart against bad theology.

From there, Paul gives this encouragement and this command:

19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

Right after Paul warns the Romans to against false doctrines and false teachers, he speaks about their obedience in these things across the world.  Can you imagine that for a moment?  Any time I bump into a verse like this, I have to point it out.  In a society with no email, no phone, no twitter, no facebook, hardly anything that we would call communication, the church of Rome had distinguished themselves morally and doctrinally to such an extent, that the world heard of their obedience.

  • You have held fast to the scriptural truths about Jesus trusting Him alone for your forgiveness.
  • You have held fast to trusting the work of the Holy Spirit and because of that you are living a Godly life.
  • You have protected yourself against teachers that you know teach against what is in the scriptures.
  • You haven’t been swayed by the sumptuous lifestyles and showy words of teachers who make bold claims about God.  You have weighed each and every word against the scriptures.
  • And because of these things, the whole world knows about your obedience.

After reading Paul’s exhortation, I thought it would be a good idea to follow the pattern of Paul, so let me do for SK what Paul did for the church in Rome.

  • You have held fast to the scriptural truths about Jesus trusting Him alone for your forgiveness.  In a society like ours that teaches that each individual must make his own way by his own strength, you have trusted the truth of the Gospel – that is that your only hope is Jesus Christ and His salvation secured for you.
  • You have held fast to trusting the work of the Holy Spirit and because of that you are living a Godly life.  In a society that tells you to measure yourself by the size of your home the type of car you drive, the type of clothes you wear, how little you weigh and how much money you make, you are holding fast to a Godly lifestyle with the help of the Holy Spirit.
  • You have protected yourself against teachers that you know teach against what is in the scriptures.  I have seen so many of you become more mature and ardent students of God’s word.  You have reconsidered teaching that you inherited and weighed the words that I say each week.  For that, I commend you and beg of you to never stop caring about biblical teaching.  No amount of Christian showiness need influence you – only the power of God accompanying His word.
  • You haven’t been swayed by the sumptuous lifestyles and showy words of teachers who make bold claims about God.  You have weighed each and every word against the scriptures.

And because of these things, Garner Raleigh, Cary, Clayton, and beyond have heard about your obedience.  SK has the reputation of selflessly loving and caring for the EMS by feeding them and stocking their shelves.  SK has the reputation of serving the GPD without any expectation of return or payment.  SK has the reputation of loving the Hayes Place when the world refuses to love them.  Recently, the denomination called and asked me to fly to Chicago to tell future church planters about the work that you guys are doing.  Jesus is alive and at work among us.  Just like in Rome, God is doing great things here.  But if we want those things to continue, we need keep a couple of things in mind.  Listen to the second half of verse 19.

But I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

How can be wise to what is good, and how can we be innocent as to what is evil?  There is no good as God defines that we know in this world other than what comes from Scripture.  So often, people wonder, wish, or wait upon for God to speak to them and tell them things.  I can’t tell you how many folks talk to me about wishing about God saying this or God saying that.  While all the while, God has already spoken to them to make them wise in the scriptures.  Unfortunately, the hard work of studying is often left aside while all energy is put into wanting God to jus tell them what to do.

So here it:  this is what God is telling you go do.  When God constituted His people in Deuteronomy 10:12-13 – “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?

In the practical wisdom of the day to day, God commands in Joshua 1:8 – 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

If you are agonizing over a decision and want to know how to make good choices, God tells you in Psalm 119:105 – 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.  106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules.  107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!

The scriptures are sufficient to tell you what to believe about God and to guide you away from sinful actions and decision.  2 Tim. 3:16–17. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Right now, I know several people who are agonizing about what God would have them to do, and there desire is a good one:  they want to do God’s will.  They want to know how to live by faith and obey God even in the smallest of decisions.  I had one of these folks tell me that God had told them what to do, and I asked them how do they know if what they were told was from God or not.  They said, “Well if it turns out good, then God told me.  If it turns out poorly, then I probably sinned and got it wrong.”  Folks this is a terribly dangerous way to live your lives.

First of all, God ordains both smooth sailing and rough waters.  He does this not only in the world but in the life of the believer.  I Samuel 2: 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts.  8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.  Secondly, God ordains tribulation for the perfection of His children.  2 Corinthians 12:10 – 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  So God may very well ordain something in your life to fail for the expressed purpose of advancing the cause of Christ.

So how are you going to know how to live and make a decision?  How will you know what is good so you can be wise to it and live.  Psalms 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.  10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.  Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

So, read your Bible, ask God to transform your will into His, make sure not to choose anything that scripture has specifically called sin, then make your decision by faith, and walk in faith.  Whether as to you made the right decision or not is not based upon whether it makes you healthy, wealthy, or wise.  The right decision is the one that mirrors a life of scripture made by faith with the goal of glorifying Christ and not self.  That is being wise as to what is good.  As to the day to day actions and our obeying God in both what He has commanded us to do and not to do?  It’s simple.  Renew your mind by bathing it in scripture so that you will know how to live.

So what does it mean then to be innocent to what is evil?  I think there are multiples ways in which we live these verses out practically, but I would like to focus on 3 specific areas.

  • Being innocent to what is evil personally.
  • Being innocent to what is evil relationally.
  • Being innocent to what is evil culturally.

Let’s tackle being innocent to what is evil personally.  Let me give you an example:  Have you any of you ever tried to diet?  Most assuredly, the thing you love the most will be forbidden, and as soon as it is forbidden, it will be the thing you want the most.  Have you ever had plans to go out with some friends or get a night out away from the house?  How was your heart when something happened and you didn’t get to go?  But as a parent, I want my child to not only avoid painful, sinful things, I won’t them to not even have experience with them.   Once you experience something painful or sinful, your interaction with it is completely different than it was prior.  Temptations are greater.  Wants are stronger.  Sensations are deeper.

You know where we see this most clearly?  Adam and Eve.  They were given the prohibition from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Before eating, the idea of sin was just that:  an idea.  They had no real experience with sin and its effects.  But once they ate, rebellion from God was very real thing.  They knew what it felt like.  They knew what it was like to enjoy it.  Every temptation to disobey going forward was tainted with the awful truth of experience.

This is one of the reasons why parents want to protect their kids from experiencing certain sins.  This is why parents want their children to avoid pre-marital sex, and drugs, and a host of other sinful activities.  Once you’ve experienced sinful things, the desire to do them is greater than before.  You know what the sin is like and how it feels and the heart wants what it experiences.

Take for example, pornography.  It used to be that you had to work pretty hard to find porn. You either had to find a magazine, a video, or actually visit s skuzzy adult video store.  Now I’m afraid, you can find it on your computer or even on your phone and all it takes is about 2 clicks and being in a room by yourself.  And once you’ve experienced pornography, the images stay in your head for a lifetime and the temptation is greater because you already know what it feels like.

What is our hope if we have lost our innocence to evil?  Our hope is always the Gospel.  1 Peter 3.21 tells us that we can appeal to God and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, He will cleanse your conscience.  So trust that God can cleanse your conscience but also remember the command of Proverbs 3:7 that says “keep yourself from evil.”

Being innocent to what is evil relationally.  Well let me tell you what it doesn’t mean first.  It doesn’t mean sequestering yourself from anything and any one who is evil.  If that is case, you can’t even spend time with yourself much less your neighbor who so desperately needs Jesus Christ.  The mistake there is often mistaking being around evil for experiencing evil.  If you are going to faithfully live out the command of God to proclaim Jesus, the Gospel, and advance the Kingdom of God, then you will have to in the presence of evil.  If not, then you have no one to tell, proclaim, and no thing to advance.

So how you do live the life of faith being wise to what is good while being innocent to evil yet spend time with people definitively not wise, virtuous, good, or otherwise?  Two ways:

  • Love others as Jesus loved them.
  • Draw lines where God draws lines

First, loving others as Jesus and other Godly men and women have loved others.  What was Jesus’ reputation?  Friend of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.  There are at least 3 occurrences of Jesus spending time with tax collectors, multiple accounts of interaction with prostitutes.  And in case we think only Jesus did this.  John the Baptist did the same.  Matthew 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

So how in the world could Jesus and John spend time with such outwardly sinful people and not sin themselves?  The answer is that they kept themselves innocent to evil personally.  They didn’t participate in the sin, but they were willing instead, not to shun sinners, but to proclaim the hope of Jesus to them.

To do this, we have to draw lines where God draws lines.  What I mean is that we shouldn’t add to scripture.  If scripture something is sinful, don’t then try to improve upon the scriptures by saying, “Oh I can’t even be around someone who had committed that sin.”  That stinks of self-righteousness and makes the Gospel go unproclaimed the heart of people who need oh so badly.  The book of Colossians condemns such attitudes as that church took the words of God to far and started saying “Do not taste.  Do not touch.” Thus creating a legalistic structure that separated believers from non-believers.  You know what God calls these things?  Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Instead, we protect ourselves from experiencing sin so as to be innocent with a purified conscience and then we go and take the Gospel in places it is never heard otherwise.

And finally, and I’ll use this as our conclusion, we are to make ourselves innocent as to what is evil by protecting our selves culturally.  There is a great book entitled, “Christ and Culture” by Richard Niebuhr and in it, he offers 5 views of how the church should interact with culture.

Christ against culture:  This is the Jesus against culture views which to its extreme produces monasteries and Christians who refuse to leave their home unless the event either is for church or for earning an income.  While there are inherent elements of our culture that are sinful, this was not the view, preaching, or practice of Jesus or His apostles.  So this view is found wanting.

The Christ of culture:  This view swing completely in the opposite direction.  It says that there are no apparent contradictions between Jesus and culture, so it produces a social Gospel that makes Jesus the friend of everyone and never speaks of sin or the need for forgiveness.   This is typical of most mainline liberal churches that no longer speak of sin, the need for forgiveness or the dangers of hell. So this view is found wanting as well.

Christ above culture:  This is a bit more of a biblical view but it does have some weaknesses.  This view sees that there are things that God has done within culture (like for example technology and the advancement of medicine).  This is true.  But Christian culture is ultimately above these things.  The weakness of this view is that people spend too much time trying to preserve Christian cultural ghettos instead of advancing the Gospel for the sake of Jesus’ name.

Christ and culture in paradox:  This view says that each person is a member of both the culture of Christ and the culture of this world which is true.  We have allegiances to civil government and to God.  The problem with this view is that it leads to a typical Christian culture war mentality.  I’m in the culture of the Kingdom, therefore I will attack the culture of the world.

Finally and what I think is the most biblical and consistent view of being wise to what is good and innocent to what is evil is the…Christ the transformer of culture.  This approach appeals to the powerful work of God to transform that which is sinful.  If there is something or someone in your cultural interaction that is sinful (and there should be plenty), we don’t avoid them, we don’t think their sin is okay, we don’t create cultural ghetto to run back to, we don’t wage war against them, we offer the hope of the Gospel to transform them.

This is advancing the Kingdom.  It says that you and I are to know what God calls good and avoid experiencing and committing sin.  We should then be wise personally, relationally, and socially, in proclaiming Jesus who takes the dead and cold heart and transforms into an vibrant, alive, hear for God.

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Wise and Innocent – SK Preview for 060610

We continue to be in celebration mode at SK with special events in 3 of the last 4 services.  We have had baptisms, new members taking their vows, and the unveiling of our new building plans.  Well, thing aren’t changing this Sunday either.  This week, my sweet and beautiful Landry will take her membership vows and enjoy her first Lord’s Supper with SK.  I’m overwhelmed, excited, and thankful to see God work within my family.

In addition, we will continue the slow crawl towards the end of Romans.  This week, we will have the privilege of looking at Paul’s incredible command of “being wise to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.”  The application should give each of you plenty to think and pray about.  The task of laying that out is overwhelming, but I trust, as always, that God will meet us as we ask Him to bless our worship.

If all goes as planned, we only have 4 services left in our present space, so let’s gather and celebrate what God has done with an eye to what is yet to come.  One thing I do know for sure:  I’m thankful that SK is the loving crowd that they are.  When folks are in need of encouragement, food, or even just someone to listen, SK continues to prove itself to be the Church.  And for that, I’m thankful to be your pastor.

If you would like to worship with us and get to know this great group of folks, you can find directions to our space at http://www.sovereignkingpca.net/1.2.html.  We meet each Sunday for worship at 10:30am.  Come as you are, and we hope to see you then.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

In the Know – Romans 16:17-23 Part One

Every single person is a theologian.  No, not everyone has a written statement of faith and not everyone can articulate their thoughts on God coherently, but make no mistake:  everyone has a functional view of God that directs and influences their life.  Ask a person if they think God is loving, and how they react will indicate a measure of their own affection for God.  Ask a person if they think God answers prayer, and how they react will indicate a measure of their trust in self verses their trust in God.  Ask a person if they think God forgives sin, and how they react will indicate their sense of guilt and personal responsibility.

Despite the fact that people in the Raleigh/Durham/Garner area are highly churched either having grown up attending or presently attending to some degree, theology gets a bad rap in our area.  It is not uncommon when someone learns that my denomination has a theological standard that folks tell me, “I’m no theologian; I just follow Jesus.”  Ironically, that statement is as much a theological standard as our confession of faith.  No creed but Christ is just a potent influencer in one’s life as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Nicene Creed.  If a person tells me, “I don’t believe in any of that theology stuff; I think there are multiple paths to get to God,” that too is a theological statement of the highest order.

Scripture, however, commands the believer to be an ardent student of the Bible.  In fact, God commands His children that if they do not study and know theology at its deepest level.  In doing so, the scriptures promise protection, both from evil and doctrinal error if a person will just study the scriptures.  For Paul in the book of Romans, there was real connection to holding to solid, biblical doctrine.  He felt that good theology didn’t divide; it united.  He felt good theology led to a joyful obedience that protected the believer from evil.

In general, theology isn’t a bad thing if it is pursued studiously and demonstrated in humility.  However, when it is held vigorously but studied lightly, it leads to all manner of conflicts and arguments.  We going to see that in detail and command for us this week in the closing verses of the book of Romans, so let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Romans 16:17-23 – Part One

Big Picture Question:  How do doctrine and obedience work hand in hand?

17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

Casting our mind back to last week, in these last few verses of Romans, Paul has been sending greetings to people who have partnered with him.  We’re going to see him take a break from his closing credits to give just a few more commands and warnings.  Though it may seem obtuse that Paul would transition from sending greetings to giving warning against false teachers, it actually makes sense contextually.   In verse 16, Paul encouraged the Romans to greet each other with a Holy Kiss which was a sign of unity.  Nothing destroys unity like disruptive false teachings.  So, Paul wants us to see that there is a true unity that comes from doctrinal unity.

His concern as the book closes is to make sure that the church of Rome does not abandon Biblical faithfulness and that they are constantly searching the scriptures for wisdom and truth.  So Paul commands the Romans to look out for people who are trying to cause divisions based on bad theology.  One of the reasons Paul issues this command is because he knows that people are going to come into the church and either subtly or openly challenge the firm foundational doctrines of our faith.  Now, there has been a ton of debate as to what doctrines were being challenged in the book of Romans.  We know that Colossians was fighting the early heretical elements of Gnosticism and the Humanity of Christ.  We know Galatians was written to fight the heretical doctrine of a hierarchy among the people of God pitting Jew against Gentile.  But we really don’t know if there was a specific doctrine that Paul is speaking of here.

I think we can say that Paul is not talking about issues of freedom where there are differing theological convictions like back in chapter 14.  There the emphasis was on maintaining fellowship.  Here Paul is saying to teachers of false doctrine.  In light of the overall emphasis of Romans, I don’t Paul has one or two doctrines in mind.  I think Paul is talking about protecting the clear doctrinal issues in scripture.  The question you might ask is, “Is there really a body of doctrine that defines Biblical unity?  Is there anything we should all agree on?”

It would almost appear like there is not.  But Paul makes it clear that there is.

  • In Romans 6:17, Paul calls it the standard of teaching: “  [You] have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”
  • In 2 Timothy 1:13-14, he calls it the pattern of sound words and the good deposit. “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”
  • In Acts 20:27, he calls it the whole counsel of God. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”  (references gathered by John Piper)

Though there are perhaps a million areas in which students of the Bible disagree, issues that Paul has made clear and to which He is referring could safely be described as:

  • The humanity and deity of Jesus Christ – Jesus is both fully human and fully divine.
  • The total depravity and sinfulness of all mankind – Each and every human being is without hope because of their sin.
  • The substituionary death of Jesus Christ – Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are sufficient to pay the penalty for sinful men and women.
  • Salvation by faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ – Forgiveness and restoration in relationship with God comes only by faith in the work of Jesus and not by any work or effort of mankind.

These are a few of the inner circle doctrines that distinguish Christianity from other faiths, and they are doctrines that have been assailed and voraciously defended throughout church history.   So what does Paul tell us to do with people who attack the core doctrines of the Christian faith?  His command is pretty simple:  avoid them.

It is not contradictory to say that avoiding false teachers creates and enable unity.  Avoiding false teachers, whether they be in print, on TV, on the radio, or in the church is the biblical, unifying, and Godly response.  John Piper calls this “Truth Based Division for the sake of Truth Based Unity”  No Christian should submissively sit under the teaching of another person who is going to teach you that you can earn your way to God or Jesus was not fully human and divine, and on and on.  But this is much is clear: despite whatever amount of study you or I have done in our lifetimes, we never get to graduate in the sense that we do not need to continually pour ourselves over Biblical truth.  Study of the scriptures both protects the church from doctrinal heresy and insures loving unity.  Oh, we’ll disagree on some issues for sure, and we do here at SK, but the core doctrines of the Christian faith must be maintained by a vigilance for the scriptures that can never be neglected or forsaken.  Those doctrines are the basis of all Christian unity and love.

I don’t know if you have ever found yourself in a situation where you felt that you were being taught or led in such a way that you felt the things you were hearing were actually detrimental to your heart and soul.  I have.  I remember visiting a church in another part of the state one time for a service.  They were proclaiming that Jesus would forgive you of your sins if you asked him to but if you lived a really bad life afterwards, God would practically hate when you arrived in heaven almost as if you had to get to Heaven and then pay for your sins all over again. I had no desire to return that teaching ever again as what it really taught was that the work of Christ was insufficient to atone for sin.  It seemed as if the pastor was afraid that Jesus’ gift was so free that people might actually still sin after believing so he wanted to guilt people into obeying.  The problem, the gift of Jesus is just that free.  We are called to obedience, but the work of Jesus is powerful enough to love and forgive even if you are willfully sin.  But that pastor was teaching that there was some penalty left for your sin.  In this case, it was teaching that you would not receive and enjoy the full fellowship of the Father because of your sins.  Though subtle, that teaching stinks of Hell because it makes the work of Jesus’ ineffective and insufficient in the lives of believers.  According to Paul’s command, that was not a church whose teaching I should sit under.  I needed to avoid it at all costs.

Taking in the whole counsel of the scriptures, Paul would have you bless these enemies of Christ not by being enemies in return but by wisely avoiding submission to their teaching and offering them the counter truths of the Gospel.  Look at how Paul describes them in verse 18.

18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

In addition to teaching false doctrines, Paul offers two key characteristics to false teachers.  One key characteristic that a person is teaching false doctrine is that their life is defined by the pursuit of feeding their own appetites.  This is essentially the motivation for a person who teaches false doctrine:  by teaching truths contrary to scripture, they hope to ensure that their lives are easy and in some cases, cushy.  Listen if a teacher tells you that there is no hell and there is no punishment for sin (which would be Biblically incorrect), they are saying there are no consequences for wrong actions.  If a teacher promotes that, they can live any way they want, lying, stealing, cheating, and be completely consistent with their theology.  False doctrines make for cushy living.  The problem is that cushy living comes on the back of those who hold to correct biblical truth.

Let me make one statement here as it is necessary in our American context of ministry.   Having, gaining, and maintaining wealth is not necessarily antithetical to being a believer or necessarily means that if you have money you cannot be a faithful teacher of scripture.  However, if the emphasis of a particular teacher’s ministry and the representation of their life, is the pursuit of worldly wealth, pleasure, and comfort (thus feeding and overstuffing their appetite), then that person becomes under scrutiny of being guilty of this verse.  And being guilty of this verse is not limited just to preachers, evangelists, or people on TV.  Paul more than likely is not speaking about what we would call ministers today.  He is warning against people within the church who design their entire life for comfort and the feeding of their appetite.  Those things don’t necessarily make a person a non-Christian but seeking to live without sacrifice does make that person suspect.  So if a teacher of the scripture spends all his or her time talking about how faith in God will help you get enough lettuce for your fetish, then you should probably change the channel.

The second characteristic of a person teaching false doctrines is that they do it with smooth talk and flattery with the purpose of deceiving naïve people.  Now this makes sense.  If I’m going to undermine your faith in Jesus Christ and convince you to believe a heretical doctrine, telling you that is what I’m trying to do is probably a bad idea.  You are smart folks.  You’ll say, “Hey no thanks.  I like my Jesus, and I like believing what the Bible says.”  But if I flatter you and blow sunshine while doing it in a winsome way, you’re more than likely to give me a chance and hear what I have to say.

Let me give you an example from church history.  Socinus was a heretical teacher from the 1600’s.  He denied that Jesus was God.  He denied that Jesus was eternal.  He denied that God knew everything.  He even denied that Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for saving sinful men and women.  But here is the thing:  people loved the guy.  One another writer describes Socinus in this way.  He was a gentleman. His morals were above reproach and he distinguished himself by his unfailing courtesy. Unfailing courtesy was remarkable in an age when even the great Protestant leaders, would use street language when arguing with their opponents.

Folks, don’t expect false teachers of the scriptures to let you know that they are teaching heresy.  Expect them to be winsome, attractive, wear nice clothing, speak clearly, be funny, and be kind.  Expect them to pet furry animals and cry at hallmark commercials.  Expect them to attract large crowds and be embraced by the media.  But be sure to analyze every single word they say.   Now here is where we are going to have to begin to wrap things up in preparation for continuing this sermon next week.  But before we do, let’s take a peak and what God promises to us if we vigilantly search the scriptures and seek for doctrinal purity.

19 For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

God uses your growing, knowing, learning, and living the scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey where you once thought it was impossible.  God helps you obey.  When you think it is impossible for you to overcome a certain sin or  have a change of attitude and heart, through the scriptures and the power of the Holy Spirit, God helps you obey.  And that is a cause for rejoicing.  And to give you some idea about next week’s sermon, look at the command that Paul gives you in your efforts of discernment and obedience.

Be wise to what is good – meaning search the scriptures to know what God calls good.  And be innocent to what is evil.  Know good and therefore know how to avoid that which is evil.  To demonstrate how we are all going to do this, let me give you a brief analogy.  I know a bunch of guys who earned the privilege of playing High School football.  In their teenage years, they trained hard, put in the work of being a student athlete and I even know a few that excelled and received some attention from colleges.  Ultimately however, they moved on from their dream of playing football to go to college, start a career, and build a family.  Over the years though, despite efforts to even stay in shape a bit, these former high schoolers are not in football conditioning.  Preparing to play football required of them intense discipline and effort so that they could not only perform at a high level, they could also avoid getting hurt.  10 or 20 years later, they just aren’t in that shape any more.  They still live the dream though.  Each and every Sunday when the NFL is on, they keep up with their favorite team.  They speak intelligently about the action on the screen criticizing play calling or poor conditioning.  Perhaps even in the back of their mind, they wish they could still be out there.  Truth be told, if they suited up these days and ran on the field, they would be flat run over.  Hamstrings would be pulled, arms would be broken, and dreams would be dashed.

This story is not far from the average Christian.  You see, many Christians can point to a time earlier in their life when they were actively involved in their faith.  They shared the Gospel with friends.  They trained each and ever day in prayer and in bible study.  They wanted to grow in their faith and be useful and helpful for the Kingdom of God.  But just as many high school athletes give up their dream and move on to careers, so do many believers.  Oh, they still mix the occasional prayer and study like the old high school athlete mixes in a run here and there, but the days of conditioning for work in the kingdom are long gone.  And just like our former football player, if many Christians actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom right now, they would get their butt kicked because they haven’t trained in scripture and the word in so long.  So many Christians today are weak in their efforts of sharing the Gospel and susceptible to all manners of bad teaching because they just aren’t training.  The problem is that just like, jock who lives vicariously through the NFL each Sunday, so do many Christians.  They observe worship each Sunday, talk about it, and maybe even critique, but are they in the game?  Many are not.

This just should not be.  Each and every Christian is called to a vigorous and rigorous training each and ever day in the scriptures and prayer.  But here is where the analogy ends.  The goal of our training is not so we can be superstar Christians playing in the starting lineup or getting our face on a Sportscenter highlight.  We pursue the scriptures and pursue prayer because that is where we find Jesus.  And in the finding of Jesus each and every day, He prepares us for the life of the Kingdom: both its proclamation and its defense.

Jesus is the end goal of your faith –not the ability to pummel someone with the scriptures.

Jesus is the end goal of your study – not the flexing of your theological muscles.

Jesus is the end goal of your obedience – not the acquiring of the elements of self-righteousness

Jesus is the end goal of your theology – not the ability to bad mouth the folks in the other camp.

And you know what?  Jesus is the end goal of defending your heart against bad theology.  The folks that Paul warns against are not just promoting doctrinal differences.  Leading people away from the heart of Christian theology ultimately leads people away from Jesus.  Bad theology always tries to pull people away from the person and work of Christ.  If you want to protect yourself while enjoying your Savior all the more, find Him in the scriptures where His life is clearly portrayed and explained.  Now next week, we are going to pick up these thoughts focusing on the ideas of being wise in what is good and innocent and what is evil, but for now, walk away with thought.  The scriptures principally teach what you are to believe about God and what God requires of you in response.  The Bible teaches you of Jesus and what the life of following Him looks like.  Neglecting such a great treasure is neglecting the open face meeting of Jesus Christ in your heart and mind.  Let’s not be those people.  Let’s not be former High School athletes reliving the dream each Sunday.  Let’s be people who are passionate about Jesus and lovers of His word.

June 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Defense…SK Service Preview for 053110

This week at Sovereign King, we are going to continue our efforts to wrap up the book of Romans.  In the closing chapters, Paul is going to warn against people who teach the Bible falsely while encouraging each and ever believer to pursue the truths of scripture vigorously.  There, we hope to orient all our hearts to this truth:

“The goal of theological training is not so we can be superstar Christians playing in the starting lineup or getting our face on a Sportscenter highlight.  We pursue the scriptures and pursue prayer because that is where we find Jesus.  And in the finding of Jesus each and every day, He prepares us for the life of the Kingdom: both its proclamation and its defense.”

We will also be giving an update on our new space, so we would love for you to worship with us at Sovereign King Church.  We gather each Sunday at 10:30am, and you can find directions to our space here.

May 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Paul’s BFF – Romans 16:5b-16

Find more of Gordon’s writing on religion at the Raleigh Examiner

You would think in town like Garner or Clayton or Cary that churches would be more connected.  Since these regions are smaller, connectivity would allow for better coverage when city-wide needs arise and would offer individual pastors great support encouragement.  Though relationships in the area are cordial and collegial, I can’t really say they are close, and nobody would describe them as partnerships.  That truth highlights one of the practical benefits of being in a denomination.  Being part of a bound together by vow and accountability helps a church to find wisdom, seek counsel, and be held responsible for their actions and convictions.  Being completely independent leaves no room for accountability.

In my opinion, the lack of connectivity between churches is really a result of the fact that Christians really don’t love each other.  Oh, you might love the ones within your local church or the one’s from an old youth group or something, but sadly, there is a real lack of affection for other believers.  You can see why then the church is often incredibly poor and sharing Jesus with non-believers.  If we aren’t going to love each other in the church, why in the world would we ever care enough to love those outside of it?  Sadly, the folks outside the church know we don’t love them and they know we don’t love each other very well either.  Scripture, however, loving one another in the church is a direction reflection of your love for Jesus.  Jesus said as much in John 13:34

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

And you know what God promises to do if you love one another.  He promises to make it a testimony to the whole world so that those who do not know Christ might know and love Him as well.  Jesus says as much in verse 35.

35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

With those things in mind, this week in the book of Romans, we are going to see a list of people that Paul loved.  He is going to mention a bunch of people that we don’t know much about and whose names are hard to pronounce.  But what we will see is Paul’s affection for other believers and in turn, we will also see how that love reflects the love of Jesus.  With that in mind, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How does mutual affection within the church speak to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

5b Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia.

The first person that Paul greets is a guy named Epaenetus.  Epaenetus means “praiseworthy” which is providentially appropriate as he was the first person to profess faith in Christ in Asia.  Asia’s leading city as it was known then was Ephesus which Priscilla and Aquila helped establish.  If you remember, just prior to this verse, Paul commanded the Roman church to care for Priscilla and Aquila because of their faithful service to God, so it would make sense that they are connected to Epaenetus.  You can imagine why Paul is so thankful and mindful of Epaenetus.  He was the guy that started it all in Asia.  You see, some translate “first convert” as “firstfruits” as Epaenetus was the first of many converts to Christianity in the area.  Paul probably sits around the table with Priscilla and Aquila and talk about the good old days.  “You remember when we first rolled in Ephesus?  Man, we didn’t know anybody.  Then we asked Epaenetus where the synagogue, and the next thing you know, he was asking questions about Jesus.  Now thousands of people believe in Asia, and it all started with one conversation.”

I hope we can relate to that here at SK.  I can remember the first person I struck a conversation with at Bushiban coffee shop.  I remember the “random” phone calls people gave me about the start of the church.  I remember worshiping in the Dance Studio with no air conditioning.  I remember the first time most of you walked through our door.  I hope you have many memories of your firsts here at SK.  As we and Paul celebrate the work that God does through people, then we celebrate the work that God is doing through us.  That’s why being connected here and beyond these doors is important.  The world will know that you are Jesus’ disciples if you love one another.  Next, we meet Mary.

6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.

Now, Mary is also translated “Miriam” in some texts, and the name is inherently Jewish.  If you haven’t noticed, there are tons of Mary’s in the Bible including Jesus’ mother, the mother of James, as well as Mary Magdalene.  How do we know which Mary labored in the Roman church?  Well, we don’t.  We can assume that this Mary is neither of the ones mentioned above because there is no record of them traveling to or living in Rome in the latter parts of their lives.  What we do know is that she worked hard for the church in Rome.  Every church has one of these folks, and hopefully more than one.  This is the person who tirelessly and thanklessly cleans the worship space in joy each week.  This is the person who works sound and only hears from folks when there is a complaint.  This is the person who does the bulletins, the powerpoints, prepares the Lord’s Supper, and on and on.

The church only sustains her efforts by God gifting her with talented, willing folks like Mary.  Thankfully, he has gifted SK with many Mary’s.  Next week meet Andronicus and Junia.

7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

So, who are Andronicus and Junia?  Some have wondered if they were married since there names are joined in this way?  But there seems to be some confusion about the gender of their names.  Junia can be either male or female.  Well, when it says “They were known to the apostles,” that can be translated “Men of note among the apostles,” so more than likely Junia was a man.  Some think “my kinsmen” means relatives but he uses the same word later in verse 21 so most think he means “fellow Jews.”  Their devotion, faith and willingness to be imprisoned for the sake of Jesus gave them a Godly reputation that extended as far as to the ears of the Apostles.  The takeaway despite all the Greek wrestling involved is that these Godly dudes were willing to proclaim Jesus even if it meant that fellow Jewish brothers handed them over to the authorities to be arrested.  Their commitment to proclaiming Christ was so great, news of their faithfulness spread across the world.  You know despite so much harrumphing about loss of liberties and hand wringing about our government, I don’t the church today has that much to fear about going to jail over our faith.  When Christians aren’t willing to love the neighbor across the street or over the fence, why should worry about jail.  Christians will stand up and say, “If they make Christianity illegal I would gladly go to prison.”  Well, my question is, “Is that what it is going to take to get folks to proclaim the Gospel?”  I hope not but at least there were Godly people like Andronicus and Junia who went before us is such things.

Let’s take these next couple of names pretty quickly, and then let’s see what we can find:

8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.

Ampliatus is Latin for amplified or enlarged and was a common name for a slave.  Showing that the work of Christ crosses every social barrier, Paul thinks highly of Ampliatus as Paul describes him as “my beloved in the Lord”   This is an intensely affectionate description similar to what David said about Jonathan in the OT.  Paul loved and appreciated Ampliatus not just for what the work he did for Jesus but for who he was as a person.  Next, we meet Urbanus.

9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.

Urbanus was a name of social rank and status in that day and time.  It was given by wealthy families to their children as an outward way of displaying that their family was above others who didn’t have a lot of money.  Yet, this guy also has come to know Christ and now works for the Kingdom.  Now, look what we have here so far.

  • Priscilla and Aquila – a Jewish married couple who were kicked out of Rome.
  • Epaenetus – a Gentile from Ephesus
  • Mary, Andronicus and Junia – Jewish men and women
  • Ampiatus – a common slave with no social status
  • Urbanus – a rich kid born with every privilege and advantage in the world.

All manner of class, racial, and gender equal before God and co-workers in the Kingdom with Paul.  Rich and poor.  Jew and Gentile.  Men and women.  Somehow, in a culture that was probably more socially diverse divisive than our own, the Holy Spirit brought them together in the church of Rome to work for the sake of Christ.  They were bound together by their mutual affection for Jesus.  I would offer them to for encouragement but before we do that, we would have to look at their example and walk in repentance as this type of wonderfully Kingdom diverse community is rare these days.

Note also that Paul calls Urbanus a fellow worker as he does Priscilla and Aquila except he calls them “my fellow-workers” and here he calls Urbanus “Our fellow workers” which implies a bit less personal relationship.  Stachys is also called beloved as Ampliatus.  The name is specifically Greek so more than likely he would have been from the area of Greece.  Beyond that, we don’t know anything about Stachys.

Notice how Paul describes the next person in his list.

10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ.

Now, Apelles was a name commonly used by Greek Jews, so that means that Apelles was raised as a Jew but not in Israel.  He is wonderfully described as someone approved in Christ.  This is an expression used in that day to show that someone remained faithful to Jesus in the midst of very difficult circumstances.  We really only see this kind of language in one other place in scripture:  2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  The command here is the same as the descriptor used for Apelles.  Paul was commanding Timothy to be faithful in obedience to the scriptures in the midst of difficult times.   Apparently, that is exactly who Apelles was – a faithful person to both Jesus and the scriptures.

Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.

There are few guesses here about who Paul is talking:  Aristobulus was the grandson of the infamous Herod but there is no historical evidence of him professing faith in Christ.  If it is Herod’s grandson, then more than likely, Paul is addressing the slaves of Aristobulus that professed faith in Jesus.  It is just as possible that there was a different Aristobulus who had either passed away or didn’t believe in Jesus and Paul was addressing his household of faith.  No matter who it was, Paul is thanking an entire household who faithfully served the kingdom.

11 Greet my kinsman Herodion.

Herodion was a fellow Jewish believer but we don’t anything else about him.

Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.

Church history as equated this Narcissus to a freedman who became rich and powerful during the reign of Claudius.  History has it that when Nero took over, Narcissus killed himself.  Church history generally equates this family as the slaves that lived within this ungodly household who professed faith in Christ and persevered through what would have been immense persecution.  What happened to them once Narcissus died and the Christian hating Nero took power is not known.  What we do know is that their Godliness is such a difficult household has been preserved for thousands of years because of their inclusion in this letter.  Other faithful workers were Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis in verse 12.

12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa.   Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.

The first two ladies are typically considered to be sisters who are mentioned for their outstanding labor for Jesus.  Persis is translated Persian lady, so she is definitely a female as well.  Persis is also described as beloved by Paul but notice this time he does not say “my beloved” as he did with Stachys.  Instead, Persis is the beloved of the Roman Church whichh implies that she had a tremendous reputation among the Christians in Rome.  Whereas Tryphaena and Tryphosa were still working for the sake of the Gospel, Persis’ labor for the Lord is seen in the past tense and Paul doesn’t want people to forget the hard work that they contributed to the Kingdom.  Next is Rufus and his mother in verse 13.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.

Now, cast your mind back to the only other mention of a Rufus in scripture.  We meet a Rufus in Mark 15:21 who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross for him when Jesus stumbled.  Interestingly, the Gospel of Mark was written in Rome so church historians have generally equated Rufus with the same man in Mark, though it is not possible to be 100% sure.  Describing him as “chosen in the Lord” speaks to Paul’s assurance of Rufus’ character and salvation.  Describing him as “chosen in the Lord” is a way of saying his Godly character was so sure that he most definitively has to be one of the elect.  Rufus’ mother is also mentioned.  Notice that Paul has great affection for her as she mothered and cared for Paul as well.  We have no way of knowing how Paul might have interacted with her but we do know that she had the gifts of hospitality and charity that we studied just a few weeks ago.  You have to go a long way to say that another person was another mother for someone so obviously Rufus’ mom served Paul well.  As we come to a close, we don’t know much about the next group of folks.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.

We don’t know anything about these dudes except that perhaps they made up a house church in Rome.  The same goes for the folks in verse 15.

15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.

Most think that Philologus and Julia were married and Nereus and Olympas were their children.  The saints with them imply that these guys constituted another house church in Rome.  It would make sense as the Roman church was addressed as one in Paul’s letter but more than likely they constituted a gathering of churches.  Paul’s letter is almost like sending a letter to a Presbytery that is made up of lots of smaller congregations.  Finally, we have Paul’s summary statement to the church in Rome.

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

A holy kiss was a common way that church members in the 1st century greeted each other.  It was a non-sexual sign of genuine affection among believers.  Hendricksen in his commentary makes a great point about holy kisses: they always involved three parties:  God and the two who were kissing each other.  I Peter 5:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:26 also reference this habit as a kiss of love   Early church father Justin Martyr mentions that the exchange of the holy kiss was actually part of church worship services making it akin to the right hand of fellowship that some churches do today.  We have today as well.  If you are a guy, you give another guy the right hand shake with the left hand double tap on the back.  If you are a guy greeting a female you’ll either go with the wave, the handshake or maybe the Christian side hug so as not to make too personal.  No matter the cultural preference, Paul is sending a warm greeting to these folks from himself and all the other churches that he has been a part of.  The grand takeaway here is a genuine evidence of affection through Christ that Paul had for the churches in Rome and the churches in the area.  In an era when communication was immensely more difficult than what we have today, the 1st century church did a better job of sharing what God was doing in individual’s lives than what we do today.  This sharing of Christ’s work engendered a real affection among Christians.  It works this way – a real affection for Christ will be demonstrated in a real affection for those within the church and those outside the church.

Anything less is counterfeit Christianity.  Let me tell you a little story to illustrate my point.  In 1945, the Nazi’s spared Jew Adolf Burger from the concentration camps, but they didn’t do it because they were being merciful.  Adolf Burger was such an incredible artist that they enslaved him to make exact reproductions of the English currency.  The Nazi plan was to flood the British economy with millions upon millions of counterfeit English money thus rendering all British currency worthless and toppling the government.   The money was created but only small amounts of it entered the marketplace.  The majority of it was placed in trunks and dropped at the bottom of lake 350 feet below the surface at the end of the war.  Had the plan been fully enacted, the British government would have ultimately crumbled because the influx of counterfeit money would have rendered the authentic money useless.  You see, the general principle stands true in almost any arena be it money or faith:  the influx of the genuine weakens the real thing.  Genuine Christianity reflects the love we have for Christ by loving the household of faith as a testimony in loving the rest of the world.  Anything else is counterfeit.

If the church does not genuinely express the love of Christ to each other first and then to our neighbors, then our expression of love to Jesus is counterfeit.  And there are so many things that mask as the genuine article.

  • Republican or democratHome school,
  • Christian School, or Public School
  • Church building or house church
  • Tongues or cessation
  • Sprinkle or immerse
  • If I haven’t hit your or my issue yet, I could keep going.  These things are important in some areas and they play some part in Kingdom work.  But they are counterfeit compared to the genuine love of God expressed to one another.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

May 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Priscilla and Aquila – Romans 16:3-5a

I sometimes wonder what it was like for the Children of Israel to hear Moses’ first speech at Mount Sinai.  Do you remember the setting?  The Children of Israel were slaves in Egypt suffering under a merciless Pharaoh who over the past few weeks only made their lives and their work more difficult.  This guy named Moses shows up, and says he is from God Himself.  This God that Moses speaks of was the God their parents and grandparents talked about, but slaves don’t have a lot of time to gather for worship, so there was very little depth if any relationship with God.  Moses displays that He is from God as all manner of plagues shower down on Egypt when the Pharaoh won’t let the people go, and everything culminates with this horrific event where the first born child of every family dies except those who proclaim faith in this God.  Moses gathers all these slaves together, they run out of town, squeeze between the parted water of the Red Sea, witness all of Pharaoh’s army crushed beneath the waves, and when they get to Mount Sinai, Moses heads up to the top of the mountain to meet with this powerful, deadly God of theirs.  40 days and 40 nights later, Moses has still not returned from the mountain.

What to do while waiting for Moses?  Hmm.  They think, “Surely this God of ours wants some sacrifice.”  So the former slaves gather together all of their gold, melt it down, and make a golden calf to worship because that was the type of sacrifices offered to the gods of Egypt.  They would soon find out that their God was not like the so-called gods of Egypt.  Moses comes down from the mountain, and finds them in their sin.  In judgment, the golden calf in ground up into water and the people are forced to drink it.  3,000 people die that day, and then, God sent a plague among them.  Finally, in mercy, God relented in His judgment.  He once again gives them the 10 Commandments and the Law, and there, God makes this amazing promise to them:

Exodus 34:10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

The amazing thing in this short narrative is that God gathers a people to Himself, in the shortest amount of time, they turn to their own wisdom and their own sense of what worship is.  They commit the most heinous acts of idolatry and yet God is faithful to forgive them and even use them for future ministry.  God covenants with them and promises to do marvels among them.

I really want everyone to take that in.  I want to make sure everyone hears that.  After worshipping a golden calf, God still promises not to leave them and even still to do great things among them.  He describes the work that He is going to do among them as any 13 year old boy would – awesome.  Folks, when we fall short, when we willfully sin, we need to be reminded that God can still work through us, can still work through you.  When you fall short.  When you willfully sin.  You need to be reminded that God is faithful to you because He has made a covenant with you through Jesus Christ.

God can and will still work through you.  So, when we as a church sleep walk through the motions of worship, God is still faithful.  When you arrive to worship merely out of obligation, pat yourself on the back for doing so, but never muster an iota of worship within your soul, God is still faithful.

  • If I preach a faithless sermon
  • If the music team plays the songs but their heart doesn’t cry out to God
  • If you spend the whole service worrying about what folks think about your kids instead of worshiping God
  • If you can’t set aside petty grievances with someone in the crowd

God can and still work through you.  Those things are sin no doubt.  Yet God forgives people who worship golden calves.  He forgives His obstinate children because of our beautiful Savior in Jesus Christ.  Recognizing that Christ became nothing, did not consider equality with God something to hold onto and took your payment of sin so that you might be forgiven should motivate your soul to worship and serve.

With that, what I hope to do this week in the book of Romans, is look at one couple, perhaps the most famous couple in scripture, and see how God did just that:  forgave them and used them.  Then we can be convicted of sin, encouraged by grace, and commissioned to serve.  Having said that, let’s ask this Big Picture Question:

Big Picture Question:  How do the scriptures encourage you when you think that you can’t be used by God?

Romans 16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.   5 Greet also the church in their house.

Now Priscilla and Aquila are perhaps the most famous couple in the Bible aside from perhaps Mary and Joseph.  They get mentioned seven different times and understanding their background is helpful before we get into Paul’s commands to the church of Romans

We first meet Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:2-3: There he (Paul) met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.

Whether or not, Priscilla and Aquila knew Jesus before meeting Paul is unclear.  What we do know is that they were raised Jewish and at some point and time declared Jesus to be their Savior.  How they came together was this.  When the third Caesar Augustus took over Rome, he was open to almost any religion except for Druidism, but he eventually cast the Jews out of Rome because Christianity and Judaism were at conflict and he would have no religious wars in his state.  Because of this Priscilla and Aquila traveled to Corinth and met Paul there.

Now look at what happens here.  These two new converts risk everything for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.  They leave Pontus.  They leave Italy.  They leave Rome and wind up in Corinth.  There they meet Paul because Paul finds out that they make tents and that is how Paul makes a living on the road.  These guys were obviously skilled craftsman, and Paul wanted to know to improve his skills.  They either became converts because of this interaction or God used them to equip Paul and give him a place to rest after they became converts.  Paul stays with them for a while, works, and apprentices with them.  Now Paul planted the church in Corinth, and according to the Corinthian books, did not depend on any outside resources while there, but lived as a maker of tents

We see these guys again a few verses later.

Acts 18:18: Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.

So Paul takes his newly, honed and refined skills in making tents to a brand new mission field, Syria.  But this time, he takes his new friends Priscilla and Aquila with him.  Now, notice what is happening here, and it one of the wonderful, unique things about the Kingdom of God.  Paul stays in Corinth to plant the church there, and along the way, he learns a great deal more about making tents so he can support himself out on the road.

Priscilla and Aquila were in Corinth, and they either just came to know Christ or got to know Him better through Paul. They told Paul what they knew about making tents, and then they decide to take off and be missionaries themselves.  There is this wonderful pairing of God given gifts and talents that God does providentially when he brings people together.

You might be sitting here in this congregation giving very little thought to what gift you have that God might use.  You may think that any thing that you might contribute would be inconsequential for the folks you know, SK, or the Kingdom.  But look at the trade that Paul undertook.  Making tents was one of the most common trades of the day.  Most speculate that the type of tent that Paul makes were the same kinds that were specific to his hometown of Tarsus.  The type they made there were not the expensive leather tents but the cheaper goat hair tents.  So Priscilla and Aquila are skilled in this very common trade that probably offered no social status whatsoever.  However, couple that skill with the passion that Paul had for the Kingdom of God and what you get is 3 missionaries instead of 1.

That’s what God does among His people.  Catalytic, energetic leaders who are passionate for Jesus bump into folks who have specific skills and a wonderful transference is made.  Each person grows both in passion for the kingdom and skills for the kingdom.  That is what I so desperately want here at SK. I want each person to see they can be used by God in some unique way.  I want folks to see that God has equipped them to a specific ministry no matter the place in life or the specific talent.  I want each of you to feel an obligation to spur others onto good deeds and inspire great acts of faith for the Kingdom.  If the analogy of  Paul and Priscilla and Aquila is applied here at SK, I don’t want any of you to think I’m Paul and you are Priscilla and Aquila.  Each of you may be just as used as Paul was to inspire others to take great risks for the kingdom, and each of you have some unique gift and talent that God might use.

Look at the gifts that God have given us already.

  • Talented musicians.
  • Patient folks to help with kids.
  • People who can do powerpoint and layout bulletins.
  • Coordinators who can put together a meal to feed 50 people.
  • People who can layout floor plans for a new worship space.
  • People who can cook.  People who can greet, and on and on.

God has given us plenty of talent.  Now we need to step out in faith in discipling each other and investing in each.  Then we pray and wait and see what God will do.  Look what happens with these guys as the make their way to Syria.

Acts 18:19: They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.

Now this is amazing.  On the way to Syria, Paul, Priscilla and Aquila stopped off at Ephesus.  Paul had plans to keep on going so he left Priscilla and Aquila behind to begin the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus and planting a church.  Paul trusted these two so much that he felt he could leave them behind while he went on ahead to Antioch, Galatia, and a few other areas. Paul’s efforts are multiplied because he has trusted people to do the same work that he is doing.   This is when we really see Priscilla and Aquila shine.  Listen to Acts 18:26.

Acts 18:24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

So who is this Apollos and what exactly was his error?   As we can see, Apollos was a Jew and a native of Alexandria in Egypt.  Alexandria was a great city in Africa that actually helped produce the Greek translations of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint.  This is part of the reason for his conformability with the scriptures.  We also know that he had the ability to speak eloquently.  Somewhere along the line, he had been instructed about Jesus and was fervent in spirit about the proclamation of Jesus.  There was just one problem.  Apollos only knew the Baptism of John.  Something was missing in his preaching and lifestyle.

An ocean of ink has been spilled about what it means to only know the Baptism of John, but the best guess is that Apollos knew of Christ’s work but since John’s baptism only spoke of some future work God was going to do through the Messiah, the best bet is something like Apollos knowing Jesus had come but not knowing that Jesus’ work of the cross had been completed.  He lack a full understanding of Jesus’ work for the forgiveness of sins.

Well, Apollos was preaching in the Synagogue in Ephesus, and Priscilla and Aquila heard him and decided they needed to have a little chat.  They apparently had secured a place to stay already, so this Godly couple invited Apollos into their home so they could explain to Him what Jesus had done more accurately.  Notice this though, they didn’t ridicule Apollos.  They didn’t publicly humiliate him or call him a heretic.  They didn’t say, “I don’t mind if his theology is off as long as the Spirit shows up.”  They valued correct and informed teaching of God’s word.

What Priscilla and Aquila are doing with Apollos is the exact same thing that Paul did with them.  They are taking someone who is younger in the faith and encouraging and instructing them in deeper truths about Jesus.  They said, “Coupled with good, correct theology and an understanding of Jesus, God is going to use this man, and it is our responsibility to help him just as Paul helped us.  Priscilla and Aquila laid such a solid foundation of the Gospel in Ephesus that Paul eventually returned to help plant and solidify the church there.  We see these guys three more times in scripture.

1 Corinthians 16:19: The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.

The Corinthian church of course knew of this couple as they accompanied Paul on his missionary journey to Corinth back in the book of Acts.  But it looks like Priscilla and Aquila are no longer traveling. They have a local church meeting in their home.  Interestingly enough, in 1st Corinthians, Paul mentions Apollos as well, so some assume that Apollos became the next person that joined Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila on the road.  It would make sense because Paul trained the couple, they trained, Apollos, and Apollos continued on in ministry.  Apollos went on to become so influential that some folks would brag about being his disciple.  Paul would have none of that saying that whose disciple you are doesn’t matter.  What matters is being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We later hear about Apollos taking on this ministry of equipping and teaching when Paul encourages the church in Crete in the letter of Titus to make sure that they give Apollos everything he needs before he heads out on his next missionary journey.

So, a great multiplication is happening with converts, discipling, and mission.  The next place we hear of Priscilla and Aquila is in our passage today in Romans.

Romans 16:3-4: Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Paul speaks about this couple “risking their necks” for him.  The Greek actually speaks of placing yourself under something or someone that is puts your life at great risk.  Whatever happened out on the road, Priscilla and Aquila put themselves in real physical danger, even at the risk of their own lives to help Paul.  Their testimony was so great that the Gentile churches spoke about their Godliness and commitment.  You can hear the affection that Paul has for this couple.

  • They helped him be a better maker of tents.
  • They traveled with him on the road.
  • They helped started the Ephesian church.
  • And they had his back.  When the guy was in danger, they came through.

Finally, our last mention of this Godly couple is in 2 Timothy 4:19.

2 Timothy 4:19: Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus.

Paul wrote 2 Timothy during his 2nd imprisonment after his 4th missionary journey.  This is near the end of Paul’s life.  Timothy was in Ephesus so apparently Priscilla and Aquila had gone back to Ephesus to strengthen the church there.  What we see here is that their whole life was about proclaiming Jesus either through the of strengthening believers, bringing in new believers, planting churches, and enabling others to do the same.  The very common tentmaking couple helped start churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome.  They enabled Paul to plant churches in Antioch and Galatia.  And they enabled Apollos to work in Corinth and with Titus in the church in Crete.  All this from one, inconsequential, blue-collar, tentmaking couple.

So what do we do with all of this data?  A few things.

Repent and draw near to Christ as Priscilla and Aquila did – None of what we see that God did with Priscilla and Aquila would have happened had they not left their Jewish heritage and clung to Jesus Christ.  They heard the sweet offer of complete and final forgiveness of sin offered through Jesus, and their lives were never the same.  The catalyst, the beginning point for anything that God is going to do through you and through us is calling out to Jesus in faith and repenting of our sins.  Never forget that.  We have grand plans here at SK to love and care for our city, to launch a new worship space so impact more people, but if we are not calling out to Jesus by faith, we are wasting our time.

The next thing we should do in light of the lives of Priscilla and Aquila is see our individual skills as gifts of the kingdom of God – Folks, there was nothing glamorous about making tents out of goat hair.  It was a menial job that paid the bills.  However, God used it to help Priscilla, Aquila, and Paul plant churches all across the world.  Ask yourself and pray, “How might God use the skills that He has given me?”  Ask God to give you a willing heart to use your skills and talents to invest in the kingdom and to train others.  No talent or skill is too small as God uses them all.

Allow people to speak truth into your life and be committed to training younger, believers as well – Priscilla and Aquila thought they were going to school Paul in the art of making tents and they did.  But it was Paul who trained and discipled them.  So much so, these two got a passion for the Kingdom of God, packed up and headed out on the road as missionaries.  You will not full understand or discover what God might have for you in solitude.  God has uniquely designed the Kingdom of God to have His children speaking into the lives of each other.  Each of us must be willing to be humble allow older, wiser believers teach us about what God has taught them.

Be passionate about proclaiming Jesus so that new people will come to Christ, missionaries and pastors are equipped, and the church might be strengthened – Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  The example of Priscilla and Aquila is calling us to see that God wants to use each and every person in the church to bring others to know Christ.  God may use you to proclaim him to others.  God may use you to train others to proclaim him.  God may use you to disciple someone who might disciple someone else.  The point is that our gracious God takes the ordinary (that’s you and me btw), transforms us into passionate people with faith in Christ, and uses us to build up others, so that the fame of Jesus might be proclaimed in all the earth.

Let’s pray that today, God would humble us in faith and repentance to Jesus, show us who we should be listening to, show us who we should be investing in, and enable us by the power of the Holy Spirit to passionately and fervently proclaim Jesus to those who so desperately need to hear about Him.

May 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment