Posts Tagged ‘servant’

Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Faith and the Promise of the Bride

Genesis 24—A Wife for the Promised Son.

Introduction

We have been working our way through Genesis, looking for pictures of Jesus, or for personal appearances of the Messiah. This chapter has a delightful account that bears some serious attention: The “players” are the Father (Abraham), the Son (Isaac), the Servant (unidentified), the Bride (Rebekah), and the Bride’s extended family (named in the text, but, significantly, related to the Son.) The Mother is out of the picture, dead and buried.

There is an oath taken (a strange way of taking oath, but evidently culturally significant.) There is a journey made to seek a Bride for the Son. The whole purpose of the Servant and his journey is to call out a Bride for the only begotten Son of the Father. Is this starting to sound familiar?

If one sees this as a simple narrative of a servant sent to purchase a bride for a rich man’s son, it is not terribly interesting, beyond the fact that Isaac wound up marrying his “first cousin once removed”—the daughter of Bethuel, who was his first cousin. But, if we bear in mind the fact that Isaac is highly “typical” of Christ—a prefiguring of the Messiah—then the story becomes a lot more interesting, because that makes this whole story a picture of Christ and the Church:

The Father

Abraham, the Father, sends an unnamed (in this passage) Servant, to call out a Bride for his Son. That is what is happening today—the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, but who always “takes a back seat,” so to speak, and virtually never speaks of himself, but only of the things of the Son—is calling out a people, who, collectively, are called the “Bride of Christ.”

The Servant went with Great riches to offer to the Bride, as well as precious gifts for the relatives of the Bride. There was a “Bride-Price” to be paid, as there still is in many cultures today. We may find that repugnant in this day of “social correctness”, but the fact remains that there are in excess of six thousand languages in the world—closer to seven thousand, actually—and each language has one or more cultures associated with it. We are not in a position to dictate what is proper for another culture: The fact is, there was a bride-price to be paid, and the servant went there prepared to pay it. He gave precious gifts to the family of the Bride, and assured them that her Bridegroom was wealthy beyond measure, and that he was the heir of the Father.

The Holy Spirit gives precious gifts to the called-out ones, (That is what the Greek word “ecclesia” means…translated “assembly”, or “church.”) and He blesses the people from whom they are called out, as well, though it is not always appreciated.

The Oath

Abraham extracted an oath from his servant: the bride was not to be taken from among the Canaanites, but from among his kindred, back in the city of Nahor, in the land of Ur. (Abraham’s brother Nahor had not left Ur with their father Terah in Genesis chapter 11.)

There are two ways to look at this: Jesus had to be related to the Bride: He became human for the express purpose of being related to us, so that He could be our “Kinsman-Redeemer”—the Hebrew word is “goel”. Boaz was a picture of Christ as the kinsman-redeemer. He fulfilled that office toward Ruth and Naomi, as a picture of how Jesus would fulfill it for us. The Kinsman Redeemer had four requirements:

 

  1. He had to be a near relative.
  2. He had to be free himself.
  3. He had to have the price of redemption.
  4. He had to be willing.

 

Boaz qualified on all four counts. The other potential “goel” (or kinsman-redeemer) in the story, who remained unnamed, was qualified on the first three counts, but he was not willing.

So, the Bride has to be entirely of the human race—no angels were invited. The Gospel is only extended to human sinners. The fallen angels, or demons, were never offered salvation.

The other side of this oath, is that the Canaanites were extremely idolatrous, as well as practicing unclean lifestyles. The people of Abraham’s family had a background of idolatry as well, as we see later on, but they were still of a closer cultural and religious background than anyone in Canaan. So, the second way to see it is that the Bride had to be of the “same faith” as the Groom. No unbelievers can become part of the Bride of Christ—the Universal Church. It is impossible to “infiltrate” the true church. God sees the heart, and no one can fool him.

It is, however, ridiculously easy to infiltrate the local church, and unbelievers fool us constantly, even becoming teachers and pastors. A fellow recently told me of a pastor he had once had, asking him, “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water, do you?” That is a shocking question, coming from one who has been entrusted with the task of feeding he flock of God—the Bride of Christ. (“Yea, hath God surely said?” This is the voice of the Serpent!)

We need to be very watchful regarding the people we allow to feed the flock. Remember that the trade-marked “D-Con™” Mouse poison is 99.99% clean mouse food, and .01% poison…but it is still quite lethal. The false doctrine and disbelief taught by false teachers is fatal to faith. God is calling out true believers, and no unbelievers can enter the door of the real sheepfold. But we need to recognize that the World and Satan are very interested in weakening the effect of the local assemblies as examples of that Bride, and ambassadors of Christ. If he can either water down the truth of God’s Word, or convince us to swallow false doctrine, then he succeeds in corrupting the Church, and weakening our effectiveness as God’s representatives on Earth.

The Servant and the Bride

The Servant immediately set out to accomplish the will of the Father. He took ten camels and an unknown number of other, lesser servants along with him, and set out for Ur of the Chaldees, and the city of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, as directed. When he arrived, he did not “rest up, and re-group” but immediately was “on task.” He knew he was in the right town, but wanted no false starts. He prayed, not for himself, but for the sake of the Father and of the Son, that he would be given sure guidance. He asked for a very specific answer, and immediately stepped out to see the result. God answered that prayer, to the letter, and the Servant was thrilled with the result.

Do you see the parallels here? They are kind of hard to miss, are they not? Let’s look at the specifics, which do not seem to apply to the typology. The Servant asked that the one he approached for a drink of water would be the “right one” and that the proof would be that when he asked for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water the camels as well. That is a tall order! Camels drink large quantities of water; especially when they have just completed a trip across a desert (600-1000 miles depending on the route and the actual locations of both ends of the journey.) But, immediately after he prayed—in fact, while he was still speaking—he looked and saw Rebekah coming to draw water. He evidently thought she was “just what the doctor ordered”, because he ran to meet her and asked for water. She immediately responded with “Drink, my lord, and I will draw water for your camels as well, until they have done drinking.” The servant kept quiet, and just watched, as she made trip after trip to the well, and kept filling the watering trough until the camels had their fill. I am told that a camel can drink 20 gallons… so she may have had to haul in the neighborhood of 200 gallons up out of that well. The servant asked of her family, as he gave her the gifts he had prepared. She answered that she was the daughter of Bethuel, who is the son of Nahor. So, she was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed.

The Servant blessed God for answering his prayer so directly. (Compare Isaiah 65:24) He uses a peculiar phrase: “I being in the way.” The servant was on the way to do his master’s bidding. He, being in the way, (that is, doing what he was commanded to do), asked for specific direction, and immediately received an answer. I wonder how often we ask for specific direction, but do not receive such an answer, because we were not “in the way”—not on course—not on task. We are not headed in the direction we were commanded to go, so we don’t get more direction. That is something to think about, isn’t it? And, if we are disobedient in the things we know, why should He give us further information? Or answer prayers at all, for that matter?

Rebekah’s Family made no objection, and the Bride was thrilled with the offer. She gladly consented to go with the Servant, and eventually meet the Son. Once the decision was made, the Servant demanded that the journey begin immediately. The family did object to that, and wanted to keep her around for a while. The Servant would have none of it, and requested that they not hinder him. So, they put the question to the Bride, and she chose to go. The Servant gave precious gifts to the family, but the full inheritance, and the Son himself awaited the Bride. She received relatively small gifts initially, compared to what was waiting in the Father’s House.

Incidentally, I believe that Rebekah’s response, “I will go!” is the normal, correct, healthy response of the believer to the leading of God. When we balk, and whine and procrastinate, we are not behaving like the Bride. Yes, this was referring to her initial response, and we are not told how she felt on the long journey to meet the Groom. But we are given to believe that her response did not change. I really like that, because it is how we are supposed to respond as well.

In fact, whether we are thinking of our initial response to the Gospel, or our daily response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the question is always the same: “Will you go with this Man?

Initially, we are told of Christ, and what he has done for us, what he offers…and the claim he makes upon us; but we are still invited to decide. Then, having made our decision, we are daily called upon to re-commit ourselves, in daily acts of faith—being willing to trust God, and not to whine. Being willing to speak, to pray, or to wait…being willing to obey. Being willing to accept loss and hardship. The question is constantly, “Will you trust and obey God, or not?”

The answer to that first question, regarding our salvation, permanently decides our position with Christ. The answer to the reiteration of that question decides, moment by moment, the character of our relationship with God. If we are constantly balking, withdrawing, and running off on our own errands, then we have a poor relationship with the Bridegroom. If we are constantly obedient, and rejoicing in His presence, then we have a good relationship with Him. But the choice, day by day, moment by moment, is ours.

Consider the plight of Rebekah: She had chosen to take off on a long trip across a bleak and dangerous desert with a man she didn’t know and his colleagues whom she also did not know. She was allowed to take along her entourage of female servants (We are not told how many), but they would not be much help if this was a bad decision. She is taking a journey from which she will never return. And she has not even seen a picture of the man she is to marry. Once they are out of sight of her home town, she is utterly committed, for better or for worse.

If she tries to go back, she cannot hope to survive. If she runs off into the desert, she will be lost and will perish. Her only hope is to trust that her initial decision is the right one. She must allow her guide to carry her through the wilderness to her Groom-to-be. As a matter of fact, the Servant has a trust to keep. The Bride is precious beyond description to Him, as he not only knows it is the fulfillment of the Father’s will, and the Bride for the only begotten Son, but He has seen that God brought this woman to him in a miraculous way, and there is no question in his mind that she is “the right one!” So, nothing will separate her from him! He will see her through to the end, until she sees the Son, face-to-face! His only task is to bring her safely through the wilderness to the Father’s House, to the glory of the Father and of the Son! (I really hope you are seeing the precious parallels here, in this story!)

God the Father sent God the Son to pay the Bride-Price. He paid it in full, at the Cross. He had to buy the entire World to get the Bride. He paid for the sins of the whole world, to win the few who will become the Bride. The question is put to each culture and language, by the Holy Spirit, using Human ambassadors: prophets, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, etc. They describe the Father, the Son, and the Price that has been paid. They tell of the riches of His coming Kingdom, sometimes in vague terms, simply because they themselves have also never seen it. But the Holy Spirit has seen it, and He lends credibility to their testimony. Some hear the news, and are stirred to faith. Other hear and simply shrug, or perhaps are repulsed. They all hear the question, “Will you go with this Man? Will you trust yourself to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, knowing you will not see him face-to-face in this life?” But those few who believe the Gospel say “Yes! I will go!

They then begin a long (or sometimes short) journey across the wilderness of this life, trusting in His written Word, and in the Holy Spirit who guides them. They know they cannot go back, and that there is destruction all around them, but they trust the guide (to one degree or another) and He always brings them through safely. That is His only goal: to glorify the Father and the Son, and in doing so, to bring home the Bride. That is why the scriptures say that we are “sealed in Christ” by the Holy Spirit “until the redemption of the purchased possession!” The Holy Spirit is not about to allow anyone to turn Him aside from his assignment! He will bring us home even if we change our minds, and “throw a fit” along the way, just as the Servant was to bring Rebekah home, once the transaction was complete. The Price has been paid, and we have placed our faith in His shed blood. The Holy Spirit Himself has been given to us, as an “engagement ring”—the Earnest of our Inheritance. We are sealed, and we will be delivered!

Conclusion

The only question left, really, is “how will you go with this Man?” Will you walk in obedience to Christ? Will you accept each day of travel in this wilderness as being a day that brings you closer to Jesus? Or will you struggle, and fight, and doubt, and try to run off into the desert?

The decision is yours. You can see the beautiful, clear portrait that has been painted for you in God’s Word: you can take your place in that picture, and daily choose to walk with Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, or you can struggle and doubt him.

I frequently am guilty of the struggling and doubts. I expect that there are others who experience this as well. Go back to 1st John 1:9 and confess your unbelief, and then continue the journey, by faith. Every step draws you closer to Christ.

Remember how the story ends: When Rebekah saw Isaac in the distance, she asked the Servant, “What man is this?” He said, “It is my Master!” She got down off the camel, and she covered herself with a veil, recognizing him as her Groom. Our day is coming, too, when we will also see the Bridegroom face-to-face, and we will find that we are already clothed in His righteousness!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of the journey, and our responsibilities along the way, as ambassadors of Christ. Teach us to walk in faith and Joy, not doubting Your Grace.


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.

 


Final Instructions and Benediction

Final Instructions and Benediction

© 11/30/16 C. O. Bishop; 12/4/16 THCF

Romans 16:1-27

Introduction:

We have been walking (working…studying) through the book of Romans for quite some time now: Today we will complete the journey. That doesn’t mean there will be no more sermons from the book of Romans; it simply means that we have travelled through the book once, at least, in order, and any further sermons will revisit passages we have already studied, either gleaning things we missed, or simply studying things we need to review. Paul is winding up his letter, now: he gives words of commendation regarding quite a number of believers:

Commendations for Servants

16 1I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

Phebe is listed first—he says that she is a servant (a deacon) of the church at Cenchrea, and a hard worker. It is interesting to see that the Greek word “diakonon” as used here, is identical in its usage to the passage applied to the Lord Jesus in Romans 15:8, where Paul referred to Jesus as a “minister”…a servant of the Jews, for the truth of God. It was not a “feminine form” of the word: there is not a special office of “Deaconess” in scripture. The office is “Deacon”, whether male or female, though they may serve in different ways. It simply means a servant, though it carries the idea of vigorous activity. One commentator suggested that it carries the idea of “kicking up dust by vigorous activity.” I don’t know if that is accurate, but there are a number of words that are translated “servant.” Some have different connotations. The Greek word “doulos”, for example, which Paul applied to himself, was specifically a bondman…a slave…possibly by choice, but still a slave. But diakonon is a different word, having to do with the character of service: the ministry, not so much the person.

He also says she has been a “succourer,” or helper, of many, including himself. This word (from the Greek word, “prostasis”) means more than the word diakonon, in that it carries the idea of standing between an afflicted person and the source of their torment. It is not just the busy character of the deacon, it is one who comes to the aid or rescue of another. It can be translated “helper”, but it means closer to a rescuer, or a deliverer. This is the only place in the scripture where this particular word is used. Phebe was evidently a passionate advocate and helper of those who needed it most, and Paul included himself as one to whom she had applied her gift.

Phebe was evidently there in Rome on church business, and there was a real possibility she would need help in completing her work. Paul asked the church there to respond in a Godly way, as the saints of God, to give her whatever assistance she might need. Remember that the word “saint” means “holy”—“separated unto God”; set aside for God’s service, and His agenda. That is what we are all called to be: we are “set aside” by God, for His service and His agenda.

Greetings and Blessings, to Fellow-laborers and Friends

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

Priscilla and Aquila, he considered to be his helpers (the Greek word here is sunergous: “fellow-workers”) in Christ, who had risked their lives for him, and for whom he and all the Gentile churches gave thanks. Paul had physically worked with them, making tents. But they had worked with him, as well; in the work of soul-winning, and edifying the saints for the work of the ministry: they later gave Apollos his training, which he then used powerfully for God.

The Church in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is listed separately. We have no idea how many people were there, but it was definitely a church, meeting in a home…the home of tentmakers who had no seminary degrees, but who were used by God to help with the training up of Apollos. Priscilla and Aquila were seen as valuable laborers with Paul, and had risked their lives for the sake of the Gospel. There was a church meeting in their home: this is further evidence of their activity. And that Church was greeted separately as being also of great value to Paul.

Epaenetus was the first one who was led to Christ in Achaia. We don’t know much about him, but he held a special place in Paul’s heart, as being the “first fruit” in Asia Minor.

Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.

Mary is not an uncommon name. All we know about her is the fact that her faith had moved her to work. She was someone who worked hard to meet the needs of the apostles. It was a gift from her heart, and it was received as an offering to God. It says she bestowed much labor upon them. This was an act of worship to God. We are not told anything more about this person. No one could say that her Christianity was just a Sunday-morning phenomenon. She acted on her beliefs, for the benefit of others.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Andronicus and Junia, Pauls’ kinsmen were “noteworthy among the apostles,” and were saved before Paul was. I am not sure whether he is saying that they were “noteworthy apostles”, or that the apostles took note of them. The Twelve were certainly not the only apostles: Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14). Possibly these two were also apostles. That is the way it seems to read.

Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10 Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household.

Amplias, Urdane, Stachys, Apelles, and all those of Aristobulus’ household… All we know about them is that they were a blessing to Paul and he never forgot it.

Are you starting to see a pattern, here? Paul did not see people only as a “flock:” the individuals were important to him. From what we see in scripture, I have to conclude that The Lord sees his flock that way, too—as a group of individuals, each of whom is individually important to Him, and each of whom he knows completely. There is a video on the internet of a small boy in Afghanistan. The video is actually about his use of a sling, such as David used, but in the course of the conversation, the interviewer asked how many sheep he had. The child shrugged cheerfully that he did not know the number. So the interviewer asked (through a translator) how he would know if any were missing, since he did not know how many he had. The child looked a little incredulous at such a silly question, but answered that he would know immediately because he knew them all.

Jesus says that even the hairs of our heads are “numbered.” And in John 10:27, 28 he states that he knows his sheep. If he knows them so well and cares about the details of their lives to the extent that he knows each hair by location and number, how could he not also care about us as individuals? In this chapter, a whole bunch of individuals are called out, individually, by name for special attention…which was included in God’s eternal Word. This is not just a casual newsletter.

11 Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.

Herodian (a relative of Paul’s, evidently) and them who were saved of the household of Narcissus. He mentioned a few groups here without naming them individually, but recognizing that they as a group were important to him.

12 Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.

Tryphena, and Tryphosa, and Persis…all servants of God who served faithfully. Persis evidently even more than the others. It is interesting to see that God recognizes degrees of service, as well as the fact of faithful service. This should encourage our hearts, to know that if we serve more, God is not blind to it.

13 Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.

Rufus, and his mother (also Paul’s? If that is the case, this is all the information we have to that effect.) Perhaps he considered her his adopted mother. Jesus, from the cross, turned his mother over to John for care, and instructed her to see John as her son, and John to see her as his mother. I really don’t know what this means, in this passage.

14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.

Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes and the believers with them. Philologus, Julia, and Olympas and the believers with them (more house-churches?)

16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

“Salute all these, and one another; the Churches of Christ greet you.” I am not certain what is meant by the “holy kiss”, but I do know that some churches practice this and other things mentioned in scripture, simply because it is mentioned, whether they understand it or not. There are churches that make an ordinance of physically washing one another’s feet. There are others that will not have musical instruments in their services, because “…there is no Biblical record of musical instruments in the New Testament Church.” (There isn’t any Biblical record of them having special church-buildings either, nor a host of other things that we count normal in our cultures…)

I think it is our responsibility to understand the scripture as best we can, and obey what we understand. It is not acceptable in American culture for men to kiss one another. The Old Russian Believers practice such a thing specifically because of this verse. That does not offend me. On the other hand, I think I am free to warmly greet believers as brothers and sisters in Christ in the manner dictated by our culture. I hope that does not offend them.

Final Warnings and Admonitions

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

Paul says we are to take note of those who cause division (Greek dichostasias), and avoid them: they are not serving Christ, but self. They will deceive the hearts of the unlearned…that is who they target, and they do so successfully.

19 For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil

Paul said that the obedience of this church (their faith and wise behavior) had been widely spoken of, which was good. But then he told them to “be wise in that which is good”, and “simple” in that which is evil. We tend to want to be “worldly-wise” as well as wise in Christ. We call it “sophistication.”  The problem with that is that the word “sophistication” comes from the same root as “sophistry.”  Sophistry is “reasoning that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound; or reasoning that is used to deceive,” according to Webster’s dictionary. People use this sort of reasoning and argument at virtually every level, from politics and religion down to sales literature and folk-medicine.

We are mocked by the world as “ignorant” if we don’t have extensive experience with evil behavior, and they shame us for it. People say “Don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!” They could be referring to any sort of bad decision-making. And yet Paul says that it would be better if we become experts in the Goodness of God, and in obedience to Him, but go right ahead and wear the label of “Ignoramus,” when it comes to sin. It is just fine to have no idea what people are talking about when they are bragging about the evil they have taken part in. God says “…it is a shame even to speak of the things they do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12)

It is patently ridiculous to suggest that we should have to “try everything” before we can make decisions in life. To begin with, God has given us some directions regarding life. There is nothing dull or “uncreative” about following His directions, since he is the author and designer of life. His instructions are right,  and good, and dependable!

When we see a badly-fitted, and crooked shelf or table, which we easily recognize as being bought from one of those stores where you “take your furniture home in a box, and assemble it yourself”, we may think, “That fool doesn’t know how to follow directions!” Or we may be more kindly in our thoughts; pitying one who has such minimal skills. But, we never think, “Oh, look! How creative! He ignored the directions and just went his own way!” As a rule, we don’t applaud bad decisions in the secular, material, natural world; so why should we applaud bad decisions in the spiritual realm? And yet we do! (Think about what sorts of things give movies better ratings.)

When you see a person suffering the consequences of their choices, please don’t judge or condemn them; but do thank God that they have effectively “done your homework for you!” You don’t have to try that particular type of foolishness. They have demonstrated for you that it is a bad idea. But we can read God’s directions and avoid a great deal of trouble to begin with.

20 And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

I don’t know in what way the God of Peace would crush Satan under the feet of the believers. Perhaps there is a clue in the phrase “God of Peace.” Perhaps walking with God and experiencing His ongoing peace is the key to seeing Satan defeated in our lives. If that is not it, then I simply don’t know.

Greetings From the “Scribe” and Others.

Paul usually had someone else do his writing for him. From what little scriptural evidence is given us, it is probable that he had some serious eye-trouble. The one epistle he penned on his own was written in large script, as he remarked in that epistle. (Galatians 6:11) Further, he commended the same church for their fervent love for him, saying that, had it been possible, they would have given him their eyes. Putting the two ideas together, along with the fact that, later, he could not see that the man who commanded someone else to strike him was the high priest, (Acts 23:1-5) we conclude that his eyes were probably pretty bad. Thus, someone else nearly always did his writing for him.

21 Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
22 I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.

So, we see greetings from all the believers there, including Tertius, who did the writing for Paul of this letter, and who evidently obtained permission to add his greetings. Timothy, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, along with Gaius (with whom Paul was staying,) Erasmus the city chamberlain, and Quartus, who is simply identified as “a brother,” also extended their greetings. (Note: “Tertius” and “Quartus” are possibly “slave names”: they just mean “#3 and #4.” On the other hand, there are some cultures today where people sometimes name their children that way, so perhaps not. But Rome had many thousands of slaves, so it is entirely possible. Some commentator pointed it out, but I don’t suppose it really matters.)

24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Notice that his first and last concern for all believers is that they continue to experience the daily Grace of God in their lives. He begins nearly all his epistles with this comment.

25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

He clearly states that it is God’s power to establish (strengthen and stabilize) us, by means of the gospel; the preaching of Jesus Christ, along with the rest of teh scriptures, and the revelation of the mystery of the Church.

He gives his final Benediction, “Glory to God through Jesus Christ. Amen!

Lord Jesus, establish and strengthen us through the preaching of your Word: implant it in our hearts. Make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be.

Amen.