Posts Tagged ‘Responsibility’

Introduction to Colossians

Introduction to Colossians

© C. O. Bishop 5/25/2018 Cornell Estates 5/27/2018

Colossians 1:1-8

Introduction:

The epistle to the church at Colosse is written by the Apostle Paul, as were more than half the books of the New Testament. It was written about the same time as the epistles to Philemon and to the church at Ephesus, evidently, as it was carried by the same messenger(s). We must bear in mind, though, that, while the human writer is Paul, the true Author is the Living Word, the Lord Jesus. So, this is the Written Word of God, and we will approach it with that in mind. All scripture must agree with the rest of scripture. Whenever we think we may have found a contradiction, we can rest assured that, with more careful study, we will confirm that the discrepancy was just due to our own misunderstanding.

Are there different styles of writing from one human writer to another? Certainly, there are, just as the marks left on wood by my hand-plane are different than those left by a drawknife or a scraper…or a saw, for example. But my hand was the one guiding each tool, and I can accurately claim to have “handcrafted” the resulting project, regardless of what it is. I’m the maker!

God’s Word bears the stylistic and vocabulary-related marks of his various chosen tools, the writers of the Bible. But it is truly all “One Book, by One Author.” And it has one central theme, the Person and Work of Christ. In fact, the entire Bible is structured around God’s redemptive plan for the fallen human race: and Jesus is that plan.

This epistle is not nearly so personal as the one written to the church at Philippi, as Paul did not know the people in this church as intimately as he did those at Philippi. He knew them mainly by reputation, evidently, through Epaphras, who, it seems, may have planted that church. The result then, can be seen even in the opening greeting: it is not nearly so tenderly, and passionately worded as is the letter to the believers at Philippi. The people at Philippi were his intimate friends and fellow-laborers. That church was his only regularly supporting church, even though, ironically, it was not his “home-church” He was initially sent out from Antioch, but his relationship with Philippi seems to be the closest he had with any individual church.

So, while the greeting to the church at Colosse is not “cold,” or impersonal: it is simply to a group with whom he had less close ties, so it is a little more reserved. Paul begins by introducing himself and Timothy to the believers at Colosse:

Sent From God –To You!

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timotheus our brother,
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul introduced himself simply as “an Apostle of Jesus Christ (a “sent one”) by the will of God (not self-appointed), and Timothy, our brother. No special accolades, no boasting about his great education, or his other credentials, nor even a list of all the churches he had personally planted (and there were many): He was “sent by God”…and that was it. The same was true for Timothy: He was just a faithful brother. Do you see the simplicity of service, here? It is a privilege to serve: just do it!

I think it is noteworthy that the letter is not addressed to the “Pastor”, nor to the “Deacons and Elders”, nor yet to the “Church Board of Trustees”, or any such thing. It is to the “saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse.” It is to the Church, proper. All the church epistles are addressed to the churches, not to the leaders, nor any sort of authority figures. By the way, the Bible knows nothing of friars, abbots, sextons, monks, cardinals and popes, etc. They are entirely invented by humans.

Position and Condition

The letter was to the “saints” (the word “saints” means “holy ones”…they were made holy by their position in Christ) and the faithful (believing) brethren “in Christ.” That is a key phrase: our position in Christ along with His indwelling Holy Spirit in us, is all that sets us apart from the World around us; just as Noah’s position inside the Ark was all that set him apart from his neighbors who were outside. Consider the end result of our position, and that of Noah. All in the Ark lived because of their position inside the Ark. All in Christ live (eternally) because of our position in Christ.

What does it mean, to say that the believers, the saints, the “holy ones”, are “holy” before God? It literally means that we are “set apart” for God’s service. It means that we are His private, personal property, and that we are for His service and His pleasure. We often forget this truth, and think that we are here to please ourselves. We forget that we are called to “be holy as He is Holy.” It does not mean we wander around with a halo over us, and our palms pressed together, or any such silliness: it means that we belong to Jesus Christ; and it makes perfect sense that we should actively seek to serve Him, as His chosen vessels for the Gospel; His ambassadors to the lost World around us.

Paul focused on that one positional attribute that all believers share: We are in Christ. And, as we can observe in Colossians 4:16, this epistle was intended to be a “circular letter:” It was to be read in other churches as well. It is to us, as believers in Christ. We are in Christ, by the new Birth, through Faith, so this letter is addressed to us, personally. As we study, try to keep in mind that this is literally God’s letter to you! Take it personally!

Also, consider this: Paul’s position in Christ was more important than his specific task, as an Apostle. And, an Apostle was not more “in Christ” than any other believer. The first concern is our position. But once that position is secured (and it is a permanent change), our condition before the Lord becomes our first concern. Am I walking with Him? And, finally, am I exercising my gifts? Am I doing what He has called me to do? Part of being “faithful” is being committed, and reliable. Yes, the word “faithful” means “the believers”, but the kind of faith God calls us to exercise is also intended to produce “faithfulness”, in the sense of reliability. Can God count on you to obey Him on a daily basis? Can others count on you to be the man or woman of God you are called to be? Can they trust you to live a Godly example for them, both in words and actions?

Grace and Peace

In verse two, as in virtually every Pauline epistle, is Paul’s opening blessing, praying for God’s sustaining Grace in the lives of the believers, resulting in His abiding Peace. These two ideas always come in that order: Grace, then Peace. In Salvation, we received saving Grace, through faith, and it resulted in Peace with God. On a daily, living basis, we receive God’s sustaining Grace, again through daily renewed faith, and it results in the Peace of God. Both flow from the Father and the Son, to us. “Grace be to you, and Peace.” Always in that order!

Thanksgiving and Prayer—Faith and Love

Paul may not actually have known these people, personally: but he said that he and Timothy had been praying for them, and giving thanks for their walk with God ever since they had heard of their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, and their love for the believers around them.

We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints,

This is how we are supposed to respond to other believers, based on our faith in Christ, and our position in Him. Jesus gave us the commandment that we are to love one another as He loved us. These believers were doing exactly what Jesus said to do, and Paul and Timothy were overjoyed to hear of it. Keep in mind, too, that Salvation is a gift, not a reward. Faith in the Gospel brings Salvation, which gives us Hope. Obedience brings reward.

Our Hope and our Coming Reward

Paul and Timothy gave thanks especially because of the Hope that was secured for these believers, including the reward that was in store for them in Heaven. Paul reminds them that they (the believers) already knew about this, too.

For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel;

What is the “Hope that is laid up for us in Heaven?” Our hope is eternal life with Christ; being finally separated from our sins, and the trials of this life. We hope for a new body, free from the ravages of age and disease, and for the literal, physical presence of the Lord Himself, the fulfillment of all the promises of God. We look for a new heaven and a new earth, where the damage done by man is all in the forgotten past, and Joy surrounds us like the air and the sunlight.

All this and more is “laid up for us”…it is on deposit, credited to our account, since the moment we each trusted Jesus’s blood at the Cross as full payment for our sins. Eternal Life is already ours. Reward is accumulated as we allow God the freedom to use our lives.

I remember, when I had first trusted Jesus as my Savior, but still knew almost nothing about the rest of the Bible, a friend, who knew I was just recently saved, asked “Are you looking forward to going to heaven?” I replied honestly that I wasn’t even sure whether I believed in a heaven or hell; I only knew that I needed Jesus now! But as I began to read His Word, I soon came to see The Bible as “first and final authority,” in all things, so that I eventually saw that, “if God says it; that settles it,” whether I personally believe it or not. And, as it happened, it turns out that the Bible does have a fair amount to say about both heaven and hell, so that I gradually came to understand a few things about eternity. And, yes, I eventually understood that my “hope” had been “laid up for me in heaven,” immediately, when I first believed, though I knew nothing about it. Later, I learned that there was a reward involved, too, though I still don’t really feel I know much about that part.

The Gospel and the World

Paul also says that that Gospel had been going out to the whole world just as it had come to Colosse. The Gospel is for everyone, but not everyone has heard it.

Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:

What is the “Gospel”? We hear the word used in a lot of ways, including the idea that “gospel” must mean “truth,” because people say, “No, really, that is the gospel truth!” when talking about things that have nothing to do with the Bible, but which they believe to be absolutely true. The Greek word translated “Gospel” is “euaggelion”, which means “Glad tidings”—good news. The Gospel of Christ, as it is presented in the Bible, has to include at least the following things:

  • The fact that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in fulfillment of scripture (fulfillment of God’s eternal promise.)
  • The fact that he was buriedreally dead, pierced through by the Roman spear, after dying on the Cross. Dead and buried, wrapped up like a mummy, and interred in a rock tomb with a heavy stone for a seal. This also fulfilled prophecy.
  • The fact that He rose from the dead after three days and three nights in the tomb, also in direct fulfillment of scriptural prophecy, and the fact that he was seen alive by many witnesses, over a period of forty days after his resurrection.

Why do I list these three things? Because, in 1st Corinthians 15:3, 4, Paul listed them in that order, as being the core truths of the Gospel of Christ: the “Good News” which, being believed in, has the power to save those who believe. (Romans 1:16) When I review, in my own mind, any recent conversation in which I attempted to share the Gospel with an acquaintance, I’m questioning whether I really offered that person “the Gospel:” Did I really include the death, and burial and resurrection of Christ, or did I just tell them “how wonderful the Christian life is?” (Sorry, that is not the Gospel…and not really even true, in many respects: Paul says, over in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on his name, but also to suffer for His sake.” That doesn’t sound very “wonderful” to most people.)

The Gospel is the Good News of Eternal life in Christ, and how it was purchased for us by the death, and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. And, being believed in, it is the Power of God to save sinners…and it is the only thing so described in the scriptures. If I leave out the necessary ingredients, is it still the “Gospel?” Can I still expect it to work to change lives, if I leave out those key points? The answer to both questions, is “NO!”

Faith and Responsibility

So, why did I mention that “not everyone has heard the gospel? Because Paul pointed that out, too, over in 1st Corinthians 15:34, saying “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” Our faith brings responsibility.

Paul is only reminding these believers, at Colosse, of things they had already been taught: He says that Epaphras taught them these doctrines, earlier. And that he (Epaphras) was also the one who told Paul and Timothy about their vibrant faith:

As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.

So, evidently Epaphras is the one who led them to Christ, and who planted that church, and who had continued to serve them, teaching and encouraging and helping them mature in their faith…and the church was doing well. Notice that Paul uses Epaphras as an example: he calls him a “dear fellow servant” and reminds them that Epaphras has been a “faithful minister of Christ” to them. He was a faithful servant of Christ, bringing them the message of salvation, and training them up as men and women of God. The word “minister” means “servant.” It is not a special “religious” term. It was and still is used in many walks of life to mean a servant. Epaphras served Christ by serving them with the Word of God.

Now, he had the opportunity to report to Paul and Timothy what GOD had been doing in Colosse. He was not claiming personal credit for the changes in their lives. Only the Holy Spirit could make those changes happen. And Paul and Timothy were rejoicing with Him for God’s victory at Colosse.

Paul was very encouraged to hear of the inroad of the Gospel in that town. He wrote this letter to encourage them and to help them to become more established in their faith. He goes on to say that, ever since he heard of their new-found faith, he had been praying for them: Next time, we will see what sorts of things Paul prayed for, in the lives of these believers.

Lord Jesus, open our hearts to your word. Fill us with your Spirit, and let us grow in faith, as these believers were growing in faith. Teach us the meaning of practical holiness, and remake us all into your image. Allow us to serve as your ministers, bringing your Grace to those around us.

 


The Priesthood of the Believers

The Priesthood of the Believers

© C. O. Bishop 2/24/18; THCF 2/25/18

Hebrews 13:10-16; 1st Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6, 5:10

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Hebrews, for several months, and we are finally in the last chapter, where the writer addresses a number of issues, and gives instructions to believers. You may recall that the book had seven comparisons to Old Testament figures, or “pictures,” each showing that “Jesus is Better.” In fact, that seems to be the central theme of the entire epistle.

There were also seven stern warnings, evidently to those dabblers in the faith, who were not fully committed to the truth of the Gospel, nor to Christ as their only hope for salvation. These warnings were dispersed throughout the first twelve chapters. However, most of chapter twelve and all of chapter thirteen has moved on from that theme, and is addressing only instructions and encouragement to genuine believers.

Verse nine of chapter 13 was an admonition to not be “carried about by strange doctrines,” and it briefly addressed the problem of the Jewish (or other) dietary laws, as an example, where legalism is the broader concept. But, moving on from that idea, the writer ties together the specific dietary laws and privileges of the Levitical priesthood, with its limits and the total privilege of the Christian believer.

The Old Testament priesthood offered sacrifices for Israel, some of which also, subsequently, became the food of the priests and their families. But the sin-offerings brought by the high priest were not to be eaten: not by anyone; they were taken away and burned outside the camp, or outside the city walls, in the times of the temple. But many of the sacrifices were definitely eaten by the priests.

Jesus made one sacrifice, forever: He was executed outside the city, and buried outside the city. He fulfilled the prophetic pre-figure of the sin-offering for the people by the high Priest. And he is now our high Priest.

He has stepped beyond the picture, so to speak, into a reality that transcends what all the animal sacrifices could do. They could only cover sins, as the believers looked to God in Faith. The blood of Jesus takes away the sins of those who look to him in faith. We look, and live!

But something that many people miss is the fact that in bringing us to the Father through his own blood, and opening the way to the Father, (through the veil, which, it turned out, was a picture of his flesh, torn at the Cross); in doing so, He has ordained us as Priests, as well. We bring sacrifices to God, and we make intercessions for one another, and for the lost.

We now serve that altar, as well. But the Old Testament priests, who served the tabernacle or the temple, could not transition from the old, physical altar, to the real altar, unless they also received their Messiah by faith. So they have no privileges at all, in this, the true temple.

A New Altar

10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.

Remember that the priests were fed from the sacrifices (not all of them, but many.) And no one else could eat that food. They alone had that privilege. But this situation is reversed: those priests cannot feed at our altar. He goes on to explain why:

11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp.

The priests did not eat the carcasses of the animals brought by the High Priest, as sin offerings—those were burned outside the camp. The priests had no right to eat those sacrifices.

12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.
13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Jesus died as our sin offering. The altar we serve does not include animal sacrifice. It included one Solitary offering for sin, forever. Our worship and service is continually brought to him, but He remains “outside the camp” so far as the unbelieving world is concerned. So that is where we serve Him. We recognize that the genuine service of Christ will never be popular with the enemies of God. Bear in mind, when I use this phrase, the fact that all humans start off as “enemies of God”. Romans 5:10 states that “…while we were enemies, Christ died for us…”

So, to the unsaved, unbelieving World, the service of Christ, at any level, is a repugnant thing. They want it to be “outside the gate”…rejected from “polite society.” We need to embrace that as being simply appropriate. They see us as worthy of rejection: we need to see ourselves in Christ, and recognize that if we are living like him, and not offending by our human follies and sin, but are definitely being rejected because of the Cross, then we must joyfully accept our position in Christ, and understand that our proper place is “outside of polite society,” though those who consider themselves the “polite” ones are actually those who despise Christ.

A New City—our true home.

14 For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

We know that our citizenship is elsewhere…that our home is elsewhere. We sing “This World is not my home…” and it is literally true. We are just passing through. We are “…pilgrims, in search of a city.” It isn’t comfortable, but it is reality. Embrace reality! This is where we live! We are in Christ, by God’s Grace, and if we want to walk with Him, then we must go where He goes. For the time being, it means we are to be excluded by our co-workers, our neighbors, etc., as “Bible-thumpers, Religious fanatics,” etc. But, for all time, it means we are in Christ. We go where He goes. If he is rejected (and He is), then we should expect to be rejected, too.

In the future, we will no longer be “outside the city.” We will be those inside…with Jesus, in the New City…our new home.

A New Priesthood.

15 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
16 But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

Who is it that offers sacrifices, as a part of his job? A Priest does! We are called to be a “holy priesthood” to God. (1st Peter 2:5) Notice that our sacrifices are not only those of praise and thanksgiving: He calls us to do Good, and to share. He counts those things as sacrifices, too, and specifically warns us not to forget the practical side of Christianity. James says similar things, questioning how a genuine spirituality can even exist without a practical outworking of it in one’s life. The answer is…it can’t. The genuine activity of God in a believer’s life always changes the life of the believer, and it always positively affects others!

1st Peter 2:5 says “Ye also, as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”

What kind of spiritual sacrifices? “…the sacrifice of praise to God, continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”

Over in Romans 12:1, 2, Paul exhorts us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice…and he says that it is a reasonable service. We are priests, and all we have to offer is our selves. Jesus already made the only offering for sin. We bring ourselves as a worship offering.

Kings, or “a kingdom?”

In Revelation 1:6, the apostle John states that Jesus “has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father….” (KJV) I am not sure why they do it, but many newer translations render this “a kingdom of priests”. The Greek word “basileis”, used here, is also used over in Revelation 17:12, where it talks about “…ten kings which have received no kingdom as yet…” The word there for “kings” (Greek, basileis”) is identical to that in Revelation 1:6, while the word for kingdom is different: it is the Greek word, “basileian”.

The wording in the first chapter (also in Revelation 5:10) makes it clear that our placement as kings and priests (not a “kingdom of priests) is past-tense. It is a done deal. Jesus has already made us kings and priests in Him, and we shall reign (future tense) on the earth. The “reigning” part is evidently future, or at least partly future, but the priesthood portion is current. It is now! We have already been given the dual-duty of serving as an ambassador, reaching out to the World, in the name of the King of Kings, while also serving as priests, offering sacrifices and prayers to the Holy God to whom we belong.

In case you haven’t thought this through, we are the only body of believers in history who have been so described. The Jews in the Millennial Kingdom, living in Israel, are to be called “holy unto the LORD”, and are said to be “a kingdom of priests”. That fits! Israel has always been a nation; and a kingdom is what they have been waiting for. But the Church has never been a nation, and is not looking for a kingdom, but the Bridegroom. The Church is the Bride of Christ. And Jesus, though He is certainly “King of Kings”, is not said to be the “King” of the Church, but the “Head” of the Church. The Church is also the “Body of Christ.” We are not a kingdom of priests, but kings and priests. Romans 5:17 says that we shall “reign in life”. We need to think about that one! Will you choose to “reign” in life, or still be a slave to your old nature?

A New Assignment

We have been given the spelled-out task of being ambassadors of Christ, reconciling the World to God through the person of Christ. Paul says that the job is to be accomplished by the preaching of the Cross…evangelism and discipleship. This is not a slick “sales-job,”, but an honest task of clearly, simply presenting the King, both by our words, and our living example.

Paul pointed out the folly of trying the “Madison Avenue” approach: “…not with wisdom of words, lest the preaching of the Cross be made of none effect” (1st Corinthians 1:17)

This is not about “clever” approaches, and persuasive presentations. It is about living the truth of Christ in your life, constantly, and speaking the truth of Christ when an opportunity is given. It is about looking for those opportunities, and praying in advance for the opportunities to come. It is about anxiously watching for the chance to share, and yet offering no offense by sharing in a wrong context, or a wrong time.

It is also about being courageous enough to go ahead and take the risk of rejection: we know that the majority will reject the Lord, and likely reject us with Him, but that does not mean we are not to share with them. Jesus died for the sins of the whole World. He said that was what he came to do, and that is what He did. If we have any doubt about that, we need to turn to 1st John 2:2 where it says, “…and He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole World.”

This is why the Apostle Paul stated that he was “…debtor, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise…” He knew that his job was to present Jesus to a world of lost sinners for whom Jesus had already died! Jesus, whose blood had already paid for their sins. Jesus, who, being believed in, is God’s only offer of redemption.

Don’t we have that same debt? Since you know that the price of redemption has already been paid, but that, for lack of faith in that blood-sacrifice, people are doomed to a Christless Eternity; don’t you have an obligation to be looking for opportunities to turn people away from destruction?

In the news lately, we heard of a mass-shooting, at a school in Florida. An unarmed security guard confronted the shooter, and put himself between the shooter and the children at whom he was shooting. He died in his task. Meanwhile, it turns out that there were one or more deputies, outside the school, armed, and sworn to protect, who refused to enter the school, but stood outside, listening to people being killed inside.

Which of those fellows would you rather emulate? When they stand before their judge, in whose shoes would you rather be?

We know people are dying for lack of a voice from God. We have to choose whether to be that voice. That is our only job. Will we do it?

A New Future

Our future has already changed. We are secure in Christ. We will be with Him for eternity, regardless of our current failures. But: our eternal reward (not our salvation: not eternal life)– our eternal reward depends on how we respond to Him as our Master.

We will be where He is. We will live through the Millennial Kingdom in our new bodies, and will be given tasks with which to honor the King. However, the kind of tasks we are given (as nearly as I can understand it) will depend on how we respond to our assignments in this life.

We have many tasks, in this life: some big, some small, some seemingly insignificant. But the assigned job, of every believer, great or small, is “Ambassador for Christ”. You may feel that you have been assigned the ambassadorship to the worst hole-in-the-wall, insignificant dump on the planet. But if you are faithful to serve there, then you are honoring God with your life. He doesn’t miss anything. He knows our hearts.

Remember the poor widow, regarding whom Jesus said “She has given more than all the others, for out of her deep poverty, she has given all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4) Jesus knew exactly what was going on in the hearts of each of the worshippers. He knows our hearts today, as well.

Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he that winneth souls is wise.” Daniel 12:3 states that “…they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.”

We knew an elderly woman at Cornell Estates, some time ago, who was confined to a wheelchair, due to a stroke and extreme age (100+ years), but she was still actively seeking to lead people to Christ. As we got to know her, we discovered that, when she was younger, she had hosted “good news clubs” in her home…and that today, all the deacons in her home church had been led to Christ in her home as young children, and today are the leaders of her church. Do you suppose she qualifies for these passages? How about someone who has never aggressively preached the Gospel, but who has faithfully lived it, and demonstrated the practical righteousness, that ultimately turned many to righteousness?  I think the same passages apply.

I really do not want to be like those deputies in Florida who stood outside and listened to children being murdered, without attempting to confront the gunman. I want to go ahead and take the risk, and do the job I was called to do.

 

Lord Jesus, give us clear minds to think through our life circumstances, and the courage to face our environments with the mind of Christ. We are not our own masters, and you have given us a job. Give us the Grace, day by day, to be faithful to that job.


The Burden of the Gospel

The Burden of the Gospel

© C. O. Bishop 7/10/2015 THCF 7/12/15

Romans 1:1-15

Introduction:

The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is one of the most eminently practical books in the New Testament. It is also among the most foundational books in the New Testament, meaning that the truths it teaches are foundational to understanding the rest of the New Testament, as well as to living the Christian life. The Book of Romans, as it is commonly called, has sometimes been referred to as “the Gospel of God’s Grace” because that is the theme of the book, and that theme is woven throughout the entire epistle.

In this Book:

  • The Gospel is clearly defined and explored.
  • The effect of the Gospel is examined and expounded upon.
  • The built-in responsibilities of the recipients thereof are outlined, as well.

Even in the beginning lines, we can see these interwoven ideas begin to unfold. Paul identifies himself in terms of the Gospel, and, in the same breath, defines the source and key subject of the Gospel; the person of Christ. He goes on to state the effect of the Gospel in his own life and that of the recipient believers. Finally, he begins to state his own responsibilities, in regard to the Gospel.

This is the “burden of the Gospel”. I use the word “burden” in the same sense as Paul did over in Galatians 6:5for every man shall bear his own burden.” The Greek word there is “phortion”, meaning an assigned task. This is in contrast to the word in Galatians 6:2 where we are admonished to “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” There, the Greek word is “baré”, meaning a crushing, unbearable load. The Gospel is not a crushing burden, but it is an assigned task, and should become a governing passion in each of our lives.

The Person of the Gospel

 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

Paul introduces himself as a servant of Jesus Christ; an Apostle (“sent one”), but immediately shifts the focus to the Gospel itself, which is what his apostleship is all about. I am reminded of a sheriff’s deputy, who, after briefly identifying himself as a minion of the court, immediately goes about the business upon which he has been sent: he is there neither to boast of his prowess as a lawman, nor to simply pass the time of day. He is there on business, and he immediately gets to the point. The “point” of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the Gospel of God’s Grace.

Paul immediately says that he is “separated unto the Gospel of God”— set apart for the work of the Gospel; the Good News of God.

Having thereby stated his business, in verse one, Paul begins to expand upon that theme in the verses that follow: explaining the character of the Gospel, and what it concerns, and so forth. He says first that it was promised from time past, through God’s prophets. (A prophet is a speaker for God—a mouthpiece; a spokesman for God. God promised the Gospel through the prophets.)

Further, it concerns Jesus Christ—it’s about Jesus—who is God’s Son, and who is our Lord (Greek kurios—“master”), and who, in terms of human origin, is of the seed of David. This was in accordance with the prophets who unanimously said he would be of the lineage of David.

He points out that God placed His own authoritative “stamp of approval” on Jesus, declaring him to be the Son of God with power, by the Holy Spirit raising Him from the dead. (Yes, that ought to show his authority: only one person has the authority and power to raise the dead, immortal.)

In verse 5, Paul continues talking about the person of the Gospel, Jesus himself. He states that it is from Jesus Christ that he (and others) had received “Grace and Apostleship.” Now, Grace has two aspects…he was given Grace as the gift of eternal life (as we also have been), but he further received the grace (Greek “charis” also translated “gift”) of being an apostle.

Paul evidently had a multitude of spiritual gifts, which apparently went along with being an Apostle. I personally believe that Paul is the twelfth of the twelve Apostles, and that Matthias, through no fault of his own, was mistakenly chosen by lot (drawing straws, or whatever), and appointed to be the replacement for Judas Iscariot, in Acts chapter one. All the apostles (including Paul) were chosen by Jesus, personally, except Matthias. If I am mistaken, so be it, but it seems to me as though Jesus chose his own replacement apostle in the person of Paul, and that Peter may simply have spoken out of turn. However, all the eleven were involved, and God did not correct or rebuke them, so I will not state that they were wrong. It just seems that way to me. I may be mistaken. Matthias may have been God’s choice as well. In that case, I do not know for whom will be the “twelve thrones for the twelve apostles.” But it doesn’t matter: God knows. (By the way, there are other people spoken of as apostles, too, in scripture, so this is not at all a “cut and dried” issue.)

There is no question, however, as to the apostleship of Paul. He was chosen personally, by Jesus, and given a specific task— he was made the “apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13). The word “apostle” means “sent one”. Paul was sent to take the Gospel to all nations, which was to result in the obedience of faith…or obedience to the faith…among all nations. Paul literally became the founder of the Gentile church. The Jewish church had begun under the ministry of Peter. But the Jews and Gentiles were to become one in Christ; and that was revealed first to Paul, though Jesus himself had hinted to that effect, saying “Other sheep I have who are not of this fold. Them also I must bring and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) (The Mormons attempt to use this passage to justify some of their doctrines, but the Bible makes it absolutely clear that what Jesus was predicting was the joining of Jew and Gentile in one Body of Christ. There is no other Biblical interpretation.)

Paul states (verse 6) that the believers in Rome were also among the “called” of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you believe the Gospel, you are one of the “called” of Jesus Christ as well. You are definitely called to serve God with your life. You can do some thinking about what that might entail, but this is a Biblical imperative: If you belong to Jesus, you are to serve Him.

The Effect of the Gospel

Next, in verse seven, Paul addresses the recipients of the letter:

To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice that the words “to be” are in italics, meaning that they were not in the original manuscripts… it means that the believers are called saints: “holy ones” (that’s what “saint” means.) It implies that being one of the holy ones of God is predicated upon being a believer in Jesus Christ, not having the approval of the Pope, or some other human. We are not made saints by people, but by God. And we are not called “to be” saints, as if it is to be at some time in the future, but now: from the moment we receive Him as our savior. Perhaps the translators only meant to imply that we are called to “be saints…and had no intent of putting it into a future view at all. We are called to be saints. That is what is supposed to be happening…we are to behave as the holy ones of God, because we are the holy ones of God. We are set aside for His purposes, and His alone. We will discuss that more at a later date.

We can further see that the gift of God is in the following order: “Grace, then Peace.” This is consistent in all the epistles to the church, throughout the New Testament. If one feels they are not dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, then they cannot have Peace with God, let alone experience the peace of God, after conversion. There are those who reject God’s Grace, hoping to “earn” their own salvation. I have had people actually tell me this. They don’t understand that such earning is utterly impossible. Just as it was impossible for Cain to please God with the fruit of the cursed ground, in Genesis 4:3, it is impossible for any human to please God with the fruit of a life already cursed through original Sin. We have nothing to offer—it is ALL tainted by sin.

A person who claims that he is dependent upon God’s Grace for salvation, but who subsequently supposes that he must work to “stay saved”, is still not understanding the point of “Grace”. What does the word “grace” mean, but “un-earned favor”? If you are trying to earn it, it is not Grace, but wages. We will address this idea later on, but for the moment, please see that if you want peace with God, you receive it by Grace. If you want the peace of God, you also receive it by Grace. There are things we are called to do in response to God’s Grace, to allow his Peace to flow unhindered (see Philippians 4:6-9), but those still have nothing to do with earning Grace.

In verses 8-12, Paul expresses his own longing, to go and see the Roman believers face to face.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

He evidently knew at least some of them, as he calls them by name, in the final chapter. But many he apparently had never met. He knew of their faith, and was thrilled to know of the fruit it was having in their lives. As a result of the testimony of the Roman believers, which he had heard everywhere he went, Paul prayed for them continually, especially longing to go visit them, and add to their joy by imparting “some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established”, or strengthened in their walk with God.

I don’t know what it was he hoped to do, beyond further teaching. Perhaps he actually intended to impart a “gift of the Spirit” as listed in 1st Corinthians 12, or Romans 12, but I really doubt it. From what we can see in the scripture, the gifts are given specifically by the Holy Spirit, at His discretion, and apparently at the moment of salvation, though such gifts may not come to light for some time, in many cases.

There is one passage that refers to a gift being in someone “by the laying on of hands of the presbytery”, but I wonder whether that may simply be the recognition of the gift (as that is universally what the “laying on of hands” refers to. When the elders laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas, in Acts 13, for example, they were simply acknowledging that God had called Paul and Barnabas to the work they were going to do. The Holy Spirit had spoken (evidently audibly) to the group, telling them that He was going to send Paul and Barnabas out for a special job. All they did was to agree with God. I suspect that was also the case with Timothy (1st Timothy 4:14), and the gift of Evangelism that apparently was assigned to him by God.

Paul further expanded on the idea of a spiritual gift by saying, “that is, that I may be comforted together with you, by the mutual faith both of you and me.” What he evidently hoped to do is to enjoy fellowship with them. The word fellowship is an old English idea which only means the “status of being a fellow (something)”. The word “fellowship” has nothing to do with “two fellows in a ship” as so many modern preachers are fond of saying. Fellows can be in a ship and despise one another. (Anyone ever hear of a ship called the “HMS Bounty”? Captain Bligh, and all those jolly good fellows?) In England they have what is called the “Royal Society.” It is considered a great honor to be called an “FRS”—a “Fellow of the Royal Society”… a fellow-member of that elite group. We have fellowship because we are fellow-Christians… we share in the fellowship of Christ’s suffering. It implies “partnership”—having in common—sharing something…participating together in something. Paul commended the Philippian believers for their “fellowship in the Gospel”…they were participating with him as partners in the work of evangelism. Paul knew that these believers were his brothers and sisters, and he longed to go spend some time with them. I can only wish that Christians felt this way about one another today, but they seldom do. We are exhorted to grow in grace and brotherly Love, increasing more and more. But it seems the Church today has gone the other direction. God help us to love one another with the Agapé love, as well as learning the brotherly love that God commands.

The Burden of the Gospel

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

Notice that in verse 13, Paul begins to explain his motivation in his travels: he says, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren…” (I want you to know…) that I often intended to come visit you, but was restrained, until now. I wanted to come there, in order to have fruit there, as I have everywhere else. He wanted to lead others to Christ in Rome, and to impart wisdom and maturity to the believers there. He wanted to build up the Church, there.

What had originally been an assignment from Jesus had become a personal passion to Paul. This was not a simple statement of duty, but a personal burden for the souls of those for whom Jesus died. He was determined to preach the Gospel to those in Rome just as he had everywhere else. (He hadn’t been there, yet.) He considered himself to have a debt to pay in Rome and elsewhere. Notice too, that he did not limit his ministry to “the elect”: in verse 14 and 15, he states categorically that he considered himself a debtor to all: Greeks, Barbarians, wise and foolish. He clearly understood that Jesus had died for the sins of the whole world, as did the Apostle John. John states that Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1st John 2:2) Paul echoes that conviction, stating that he himself was a debtor to the people around him, wherever he went: He owed them the Gospel.

Whenever God opened the door for him to go to Rome, he was ready to go. We know he eventually got there, but as far as we know he only went there in chains, as a prisoner. He was in prison there for at least a few years, and we know that he led many to Christ from that prison cell. The location had changed, but the burden was still the same.

Conclusion:

As we read through the rest of the Book of Romans, We will see that the Lord Jesus is the central figure in all of the Bible, and that he has called us to be set aside for His service. We will also see the lostness of the human race. We can see here in Romans 1:14 that Paul considered himself to owe the Gospel to everyone around him.

Do we take that assignment seriously? Has it become a guiding passion, for you, to pray for opportunities to share the Gospel, and then use them as they arise? To pray for wisdom as to when to not offer the Gospel, and when to speak boldly?

Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish his work.” The job had never been just a task to Jesus: it was his burning passion from the beginning. Apparently it had quickly become the same for Paul. Where is your passion? There are multiple assignments that we all have as believers: we are to pull our own weight in every area—taking care of our needs and those of our families, making good use of our time, loving the brethren, etc. But where does the Gospel fit into the equation? Is that the passion of your life or just something you think about once in a while? Give that some thought: What is the primary “burden” in your life?

Lord Jesus, help us to share your compassion for the Lost, and to willingly take up and bear the Burden of the Gospel, for the sake of your Glory.

Amen.