Daily Archives: October 13, 2013

Charles Chauncy and Jonathan Edwards

hipandthigh

Does John MacArthur’s criticisms of charismatic and Pentecostal behavior equate to Charles Chauncy’s criticisms of the first Great Awakening?

Back in July of this year, I was interacting with a couple of articles Michael Brown wrote expressing his problems with the Strange Fire conference and John MacArthur’s views of charismatics.  Brown argued that John’s criticism of the bizarre antics found often in the charismatic movement is almost identical to Charles Chauncy’s criticism of similar bizarre behavior happening during the First Great Awakening under Jonathan Edwards.  Brown writes,

One church historian pointed out that during the Great Awakening in 18th-century America, the biggest difference between Jonathan Edwards, the preeminent leader of the awakening, and Charles Chauncey, the foremost critic of the awakening, was that Edwards focused on the wheat while Chauncey focused on the chaff. Has Pastor MacArthur been guilty of doing the same thing when it comes to the charismatic…

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Questions about False Doctrine: What Is the Serpent Seed Doctrine?

The serpent seed doctrine is a belief based on poor biblical interpretation and superstition. It is a primary doctrinal resource for those who want to use Scriptures to justify racial prejudice. The serpent seed doctrine is also closely related to other erroneous beliefs such as the Christian Identity Movement and the Kenite doctrine. Like many false beliefs, it has a built-in defense mechanism; that is, anyone who disagrees with it is accused of being a son of the serpent. One of the most unfortunate problems with the serpent seed doctrine is that is so heavily relies on prejudice and warped biblical interpretation that it can be very difficult to discuss rationally.

Simply stated, the serpent seed doctrine teaches that the sin of Eve was not simple disobedience, but sexual contact with the serpent, and that Cain was the son of Eve and the devil. Cain’s descendants are, according to this idea, the sons of Satan, and this includes most any race or group that the serpent-seed believer chooses to dislike. This idea is rooted in superstitious beliefs and is particularly popular with white supremacists and anti-Semites; the Unification Church also supports this idea. Noted false prophets and false teachers such as Arnold Murray of Shepherd’s Chapel and William Branham espoused the idea. Although an idea should not be criticized when it is wrongly applied, it is appropriate to condemn an idea when it logically leads to sin. A philosophy that teaches that some races or people are universally satanic, like the serpent seed doctrine, is one such philosophy.

Those who support serpent-seed ideas cite many passages in the Bible as proof that their idea is correct. Almost without exception, these “proofs” require an interpretation that is totally inappropriate to the context of the passage. For example, Genesis 3:13 is often cited, with the claim that the word translated “beguiled” in the King James Version really meant “seduced.” Context and scholarship would disagree. Proverbs 30:20 metaphorically compares eating and sexual immorality; this is greatly overstated by the serpent-seed believer as proof that the Fall was sexual. Other passages include Jude 1:14, and the parable of the tares in Matthew chapter 13. Those who believe in the serpent seed doctrine teach that Jesus’ description of the “children of the devil” in this parable is true in a biological sense. Again, only one who is trying to force this belief into the Bible will see it this way; it is not naturally read out of Scripture.

There are literally dozens of places in the Bible where this false idea has been wedged in, yet every single one requires a person to believe in the serpent-seed idea beforehand. Only by reading a passage and saying, “If you assume that the serpent seed doctrine is true, then this means …” can a person support this false philosophy. For this reason, arguing against the serpent seed doctrine can be difficult. Those who believe it interpret Scripture through a sort of “serpent-seed lens,” and are not likely to accept other interpretations, no matter how well supported by context and scholarship.

There are some basic questions and contradictions inherent to the serpent seed doctrine that can be used to demonstrate its lack of truth. For example, Galatians 3:28 clearly states that race and gender have no impact on our standing with God. Second Peter 3:9 says that God wants everyone to be saved, not “everyone but the children of Cain.” Nowhere in Scripture is anyone identified as a “Kenite” or condemned based on being from Cain’s lineage. Never are we warned about such people by the New Testament writers. Also, there is the question of how or why such persons survived the flood. The doctrine supposes that original sin was sexual, but cannot explain why the whole remainder of the Bible lays out a worldview where the original sin was disobedience, not sexuality.

This philosophy is most unfortunate in that it leads directly and logically to two main problems. Racism is by far the worst; believing that certain races are irredeemable has no positive application. The only possible outcome of such a worldview is prejudice and bigotry. There is also a tendency to dismiss critics of the serpent seed doctrine as being the very “Kenites” the philosophy believes in. Arnold Murray is particularly guilty of this abuse. Fortunately for believers, God has given us a resource in Scripture that can show us the truth. We need only read it with unbiased and open eyes to find true wisdom.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Family / Parenting: Why Do Christians Practice the Indoctrination of Children?

The definition of indoctrination is “instruction in a body of doctrine or principles; the instillation of a partisan or ideological point of view.” Indoctrination is seen as the act of imparting facts as truth without imparting the ability to critically consider those facts. In this way, we all indoctrinate children. We present clothes for wearing, beds for sleeping, and toys for playing. Every society is built on a foundation of principles that allows its citizens to easily relate to each other and work together for common goals. Christian parents are no different. They, like any other parent, often enact arbitrary rules to ensure peace or convenience. Christian parents also indoctrinate their children in Christianity for three specific reasons.

They believe Christianity is the truth. Imparting truth should be the goal of any parent. To do otherwise is at best laziness and at worst abuse. Christian parents indoctrinate their children in Christianity because they believe it is true. First Corinthians 2:12–13 says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” By passing on truth, parents show their love and respect for their children.

They believe children will benefit from understanding Christianity. If Christianity is true, then learning about it will be beneficial. Receiving training in God, humanity, sin, and salvation becomes absolutely vital. The Scriptures provide this training. Second Timothy 3:16–17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” There should be a relationship between the child and Christianity—the child learns, accepts and lives out his beliefs. If the relationship breaks down at any part, indoctrination becomes vain speculation.

They believe they are living out their beliefs. Just as the child must be actively engaged in Christianity in order to benefit, the parents must also. This includes ensuring their children understand their faith. Deuteronomy 6:7–9 says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” If the parents believe and follow Christianity, then they believe and follow the Scriptures’ admonition to pass on those beliefs.

Christian parents indoctrinate their children in Christianity because they believe Christianity is true and they believe that understanding Christianity will benefit their children. In a world of turmoil and violence, Christian parents hold fast to the promise Scripture gives them: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Critical thinking has a role in becoming a Christ-follower; every child must make a personal decision to follow Christ. It is the parents’ responsibility to explain the importance of that choice. Indoctrination in the Scriptures is the most effective way to do this.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is Libertarian Free Will?

Libertarian free will is basically the concept that, metaphysically and morally, man is an autonomous being, one who operates independently, not controlled by others or by outside forces. According to the Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (InterVarsity Press, 2002), libertarian free will is defined as “in ethics and metaphysics, the view that human beings sometimes can will more than one possibility. According to this view, a person who freely made a particular choice could have chosen differently, even if nothing about the past prior to the moment of choice had been different.” In the libertarian free will paradigm, the power of contrary choice reigns supreme. Without this ability to choose otherwise, libertarian free will proponents will claim that man cannot be held morally responsible for his actions.

As mentioned earlier, the word “autonomous” is key in understanding libertarian free will. The word basically means “self-government.” It is derived from two Greek words, autos and nomos, which mean “a law unto oneself.” This is libertarian free will in a nutshell. We, as free moral agents, can make our own decisions and are not subject to the will or determination of another. In any given situation, let’s call it X, we can freely choose to do action A. Furthermore, if situation X presents itself again, we can freely choose not to do A (~A).

The opposite of libertarian free will is called determinism, and determinism essentially denies free will altogether—our choices are determined and that’s that. In situation X, I will always choose to do action A, and in situation Y, I will choose to do ~A, etc. Instead of being autonomous beings, mankind is reduced to being automatons—beings who perform programmed responses to certain situations.

The first thing to take into account regarding the biblical position of libertarian free will is what the Bible says about God. The Bible describes God as sovereign, and sovereignty designates control. But what exactly is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Psalm 24:1 makes it plain: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” What is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Everything. God spoke the universe, and everything in it, into existence. As Creator, He has sovereignty over His creation. This is the image used in Romans 9 when Paul refers to the potter and his clay.

So we need to ask ourselves how does libertarian free will fit in with God’s sovereignty? Can a human being, a creature, be autonomous if God is sovereign? The obvious conclusion is that libertarian free will is incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Consider this passage from the book of Proverbs: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). This does not paint a picture of man as an autonomous being, but rather as man operating within the confines of a sovereign God.

Consider another Old Testament passage: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:9–10). Here again we see a sovereign God declaring to us that He will accomplish all His purposes. The concept of libertarian free will leaves open the possibility that man can freely refuse to do God’s will, yet God says all His purposes will be accomplished.

Man is not a “law unto himself.” Man is a creature in the Creator’s universe, and as such is subject to the will of the Creator. To suggest otherwise is to elevate man beyond his station and to bring God down to the level of the creature. Those who advocate libertarian free will may not come out and say this, but logically speaking, this is the conclusion that must be drawn. Consider a popular evangelistic slogan found in Christian gospel tracts: “God casts his vote for you, Satan casts his vote against you, but you have the deciding vote.” Is this how it works in salvation? Is God just one side of a cosmic struggle with Satan for the souls of men, who must resort to”campaign tactics” to sway voters to heaven? This view of God is an emasculated God who is desperately hoping mankind utilizes his free will to choose Him. Frankly, but this is a somewhat pathetic view of God. If God wills to save someone, that person will be saved because God accomplishes all His purposes.

Now, we must be careful not to swing to the (equally) unbiblical view that God is the divine Puppet Master and we are merely His puppets. This is the view of hard determinism in which man is reduced to an automaton making robotic responses to situations. The Bible presents a third option between hard determinism and libertarian free will, and that is the view called compatibilism, or soft determinism. In this view, man makes real choices and will be held responsible by God for those choices. The choices that man makes emanate from his desires. God grants the creature a certain amount of freedom, but that freedom always operates within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty.

Now by embracing this view, we must avoid two errors. The first is to posit what is called “middle knowledge.” The doctrine of middle knowledge teaches that God created a world out of the infinite number of worlds He had available to Him to create, and God chose that particular world in which free creatures made the very decisions that accomplished His will. The second error to avoid is to think that God is somehow a cosmic manipulator setting up situations so that His creatures freely make the choices that accomplish His will.

There are two keys to understanding human will and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. The first is the fall. Prior to the fall, man could be said to have had a “free” will in that he was free to obey God or disobey God. After the fall, man’s will was corrupted by sin to the point where he fully lost the ability to willingly obey God. This doesn’t mean that man can’t outwardly obey God. Rather, man cannot perform any spiritual good that is acceptable to God or has any salvific merit. The Bible describes man’s will as “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) or as “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). These phrases describe man as both unable and unwilling to submit to God’s sovereign authority; therefore, when man makes choices according to his desires, we must remember that man’s desires are depraved and corrupted and wholly rebellious toward God.

The second key in harmonizing man’s “free” will with God’s sovereignty is how God accomplishes His desires. When God ordains all things that come to pass (Psalm 33:11; Ephesians 1:11), He not only ordains the ends, but the means as well. God ordains that certain things will happen and He also ordains how they will happen. Human choices are one of the means by which God accomplishes His will. For proof of this point, look no further than the exodus. God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God’s glory in the deliverance of Israel would be manifest through him (Exodus 4:21). However, as the narrative continues, we see that Pharaoh hardens his own heart (Exodus 8:15). God’s will and man’s will converge.

In conclusion, we must try to understand the effort to import libertarian free will into the Scriptures. The reasoning is usually to preserve human autonomy because it is seen as the key to moral responsibility. This is also done to preserve God’s justice. God cannot be seen as just if He would condemn those who cannot choose against their depraved wills. Yet in these attempts to preserve God’s justice and human responsibility, damage is done to the Scriptures. The Bible emphatically affirms human responsibility for sin and God’s justice, but it also clearly rejects libertarian free will. Scripture clearly affirms that 1) God is sovereign over all affairs, including the affairs of man; and 2) man is responsible for his rebellion against a holy God. The fact that we cannot completely harmonize these two biblical truths should not cause us to reject either one. Things seem impossible to us often simply because we do not have the mind of God. It is true that we can’t expect to understand the mind of God perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8–9). Nevertheless, our responsibility to God is to believe His Word, to obey Him, to trust Him and to submit to His will, whether we understand it or not.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Bible Commentary: The Whole Gospel for the Whole World (Romans 1:14-15)

Romans 1:14–15

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.

The title of this chapter has two parts: (1) the whole gospel, and (2) the whole world, but I am going to spend most of it on the second part. The reason is that “the whole world,” rather than “the whole gospel,” is the new idea at this point in the exposition. As far as the gospel goes, we have already learned a great deal about it in the opening verses of Paul’s letter, and we will learn more as our study proceeds. Indeed, the letter of Paul to the Romans is the best treatment of “the whole gospel” in all Scripture. The point I want to emphasize in this study is that this full-orbed gospel is for everybody.

Our text expresses it from the perspective of Paul’s personal experience: “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.”

Actually, the gospel has always been for everybody. Thom Hopler in his excellent book on cross-cultural evangelism, A World of Difference: Following Christ Beyond Your Cultural Walls, shows this from the Bible as a whole. As early as Genesis 3, we see that the gospel is for both male and female, the first announcement of the gospel being made both to Adam and to Eve (Gen. 3:15). In Daniel we find that it is for the dreaded Babylonians as well as for the persecuted Jews. In the ministry of Jesus Christ the gospel was taught to “publicans and sinners” as well as to those who had the privileges of education and high birth, like Nicodemus. It was disclosed to the Samaritan woman of John 4. Later, at the time of the expanding apostolic ministry, God reminded Peter that the gospel was for Roman military officers, like Cornelius, as well as for those who, like the Jews, were ceremonially “clean.” On that occasion Peter made the point by declaring, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him” (Acts 10:34–35). Jesus showed the geographical scope of the gospel’s proclamation in Acts’ version of the Great Commission: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

How easily we forget this! Christians forget, or at least willfully ignore, that the gospel is for people other than themselves. Unbelievers argue, as an excuse, that the gospel is for other types of people.

To Wise People Everywhere

In Romans 1:14 the first persons to whom Paul says he is obligated as an ambassador of the gospel are Greeks, whom he contrasts with “non-Greeks” or, as some of our more literal versions say, “barbarians.”

There is a second contrast in this sentence, “the wise” and the “foolish” (or “unwise”), which indicates how the first category is to be understood. If Paul had contrasted Greeks with Romans—which he could have done, since he was writing to Romans, we would have to understand the distinction between Greeks and non-Greeks in terms of nationality. If he had let the comparison end with “Greeks” and “non-Greeks,” not mentioning “wise” and “unwise,” the distinction would have been primarily an ethnic one. However, Paul adds the words wise and foolish, and by doing this he shows that what he is chiefly thinking of is culture or education. Because of their language, long-established Greeks had access to the great historical, epic, dramatic and, above all, philosophical writings of the past. Even the powerful Romans got the bulk of their education through this channel. Apart from the Greek language, others—people of all kinds—could never be considered learned or wise by Greek standards.

So Paul’s first claim is that the gospel God sent him to proclaim is for the learned of this world. It is for the wise, whether they are Greeks or Romans or Americans or even the elite among university professors.

The gospel is for you if you are among the educated of our world. You need this ancient Christian gospel. Whatever your educational attainments, however wise you may be, you are still a sinful man or woman and are cut off from the God who made you and to whom you must one day give account for your many sins. You are mortal. One day you will die. You will enter eternity with or without the Lord Jesus Christ—just as surely as any other man or woman.

I know the evasions you might make, because I have been to the same schools and have taken the same courses. I have heard the arguments. You can say, “I was taught in my sociology courses that religions are all relative. They are to be understood by the cultural forces that give them birth. You are a Christian only because you have been born in the West and are the product of an historical stream descending from the Reformation. If you had been born elsewhere, you might as well have been a Buddhist or a Muslim.” That is quite true, of course; at least the last part of it is true. But the issue is not where you or I have been privileged (or not privileged) to be born, but whether there is a God and whether or not he is as Christianity presents him. If there is a God, he obviously has some character. He is not everything and nothing all at the same time. Is he the Bible’s God? Did God send his Son Jesus Christ to bring us salvation? You cannot escape those questions by mere sociological comparisons.

The Greeks tried to do that even in Paul’s day. When he traveled to Athens, the intellectual capital of the world, and spoke of Jesus Christ there, the Greek intellectuals were politely amused by this religious novelty. They thought Paul a proclaimer of “foreign gods.” None of this daunted Paul, however. He proclaimed the true God anyway. “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you,” he said (Acts 17:23). He finished his address by speaking of the final judgment and commanding his listeners to repent of their sins.

So also must you.

Perhaps you have another method by which you are trying to evade the gospel’s implications. You consider the details of Christianity to be magical or absurd and therefore easy to reject, just as some of the Athenians did. “Who can believe in miracles today?” you protest. “No intelligent person can believe in divine-human beings, people walking on water, resurrections, and such things. We have to reject those old superstitions.”

But intelligent people do believe these things. They do today, and they always have. What is more, they are convinced that it is those who reject the supernatural who are really the unintelligent.

Let me echo one other “educated” objection. There are people who have taken religion courses in college or graduate school and who now know enough to turn a rather superficial knowledge of biblical studies against the Bible itself. They can speak of “Pauline” verses and “Petrine” theology. They can speak of first and second Isaiah. They think, just because they have a slight acquaintance with such things, that they can sit in judgment on the Bible rather than having it the other way around. “After all, Paul was just a male chauvinist,” they say. Or, “If Moses lived when the Bible says he lived, he couldn’t even have known how to write—least of all have given us the Pentateuch.”

These critical theories have been answered well by conservative, believing scholars, some quite conclusively. Besides, if you honestly want to learn about Christianity, why go to an unbelieving professor to learn about it? Is that not in itself an evasion? Would you not learn more about true piety from that believing pastor who once wanted to help you come to Christ? Or from your believing mother or grandmother who has been praying for you all these many years? Has your skepticism really made your life more comprehensible?

Let me make this first important point again: the gospel is for you—however well educated or intellectually endowed you may be. Your intellect and education are great gifts. But it is God who has given them to you. And if you do not thank him for these gifts and use them in ways that honor him, you are more deserving of judgment than those who are unintelligent. You need a Savior.

The apostle Paul had one of the best educations of his day, having been taught in the wisdom of the Greeks as well as in the religious traditions of Israel. He was a Roman citizen, too! But Paul learned that the gospel of the crucified Son of God alone was true wisdom. It was to people in an important Greek city that he wrote:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

1 Corinthians 1:20–25

To “Ordinary” People Everywhere

The Greeks called “barbarians” all who were not Greek, the next category of people to whom Paul says he was obliged to preach the gospel.

“Barbarian” did not have quite the negative overtones to the Greeks as it has for us. The word actually had to do with speech patterns, for when the Greeks heard “foreigners” speak, what they said sounded like babbling, or stammering: bar, bar bar. (The Greek word barbaros also is linked to the Sanskrit barbera, which referred to inarticulate speech.) So barbarians were people who did not speak Greek. But although the word did not have quite the negative overtones it has for us—some of the “barbarians” were quite cultured people—it nevertheless had some. Greek was the language of the educated. Since the histories, epics, and plays were in Greek, to be a barbarian was to be cut off from this cultural storehouse.

Perhaps you are a person who feels yourself similarly disadvantaged. I suppose there are more people today who feel themselves to be cut off from the mainstream of society than there are people who feel a part of it.

You may feel cut off because of a lack of educational opportunities. So many people have been to college. You have not. You have not read the books they have read and talk about. You are not at ease with the buzz words of the intellectual establishment—terms like, well, “buzz word” itself or “interface” or “existential.” You do not speak as educated people do. Perhaps you have regional patterns to your speech or make mistakes in grammar.

You may feel cut off because of your race. No matter that others of your race have made it; they are exceptions, you think. You have not, and those who belong to other races, or who belong to your race and have made it to the top, never seem to let you forget your place.

You may feel cut off because of your low income, which shows in the clothes you wear, the neighborhood you live in, the car you drive, and many other distinctions.

For those and other reasons you feel left out. So you look at what the world calls “Christian people” and say, “Those are not my people. I don’t belong in their company. Christianity is their religion. It is not mine.”

Here I must ask forgiveness for what has become a terrible sin of the twentieth-century church. Somehow many people feel cut off from the fellowship of believers. As the gospel has succeeded in reaching people and transforming them, bringing them to new levels of opportunity and achievement, it has often taken on these new cultural overtones—just as you have seen. Christians too often forget that Jesus Christ did not go first to the wise, wealthy, or influential citizens of his day, but to the everyday people, whoever and wherever they were. The important people did not like him for it! They called him a friend of drunkards and sinners. Nevertheless, that is where he went. His friends were carpenters, fishermen, tax collectors, and others who worked hard for a living. After his death and resurrection, when the gospel began to spread beyond the geographical borders of Israel, it was among the working people—often among slaves—that it advanced most readily.

I apologize on behalf of any Christian who has given the impression that Christianity is only for the educated, influential, or wealthy. At the same time I urge you not to miss believing on Jesus Christ because of that sadly wrong impression.

In Paul’s day there were not many who had the advantages of what we would call a university education, but Paul wrote to the others to say that God had chosen them to expose the foolishness of merely human wisdom:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.… Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”.

1 Corinthians 1:26–29, 31

To Religious People Everywhere

In our text, Romans 1:14–15, Paul limits his “categories” of those who need the gospel to Greeks and non-Greeks, the wise and the foolish. I do not know why he stopped at that point. But it is significant that in the very next verse Paul adds another important category, when he distinguishes between the Jew and the Gentile (v. 16). In the first instance he was probably thinking of the Romans, who were largely Gentiles. But when he gives the full statement of his thesis in verse 16, he adds this additional category to indicate that the gospel is indeed for the entire world.

Isn’t it surprising that Paul feels a need to mention Jews specifically? The gospel is about a Jew, Jesus of Nazareth. It was taught, at least in the early days, exclusively from the Jewish Scriptures. The Old Testament is a Jewish book. The apostles and the early preachers of the gospel were all Jews. Why, then, should Jews specifically be mentioned?

The answer is that Jews as a whole, even more than Gentiles, resisted the gospel. Why? Because it did not fit their strong religious traditions. It is true that the gospel had been promised to Jews in the very Scriptures they defended. But they had imposed their own expectations on those Scriptures and handled them so as to build their own feelings of self-righteousness rather than as a way to recognize sin and their need for the Savior whom God had promised to send. As a result, when God sent Jesus they resented his “independent” spirit and fought him when his moral perfection exposed their own deep sin.

It is the same today, in the sense that the gospel of salvation by Jesus Christ is resisted most by those who are “religious.” Of all persons, religious people often have the least sense of personal need. Above all others, they especially think themselves to have achieved God’s standards and deserve commendation by him. They resent being taught that they, too, are sinners, that they, too, need a Savior, that they, too, must come to God through simple faith—just as others. Yet they desperately need Jesus.

Are you one of those people? Do you feel secure in your religion—apart from Jesus? If so, you need to learn that no religion, even Christianity, can save you. Only God can save you. He has made provision for that through the work of Jesus Christ, his own Son, who died for you. That is the gospel. That is what you need. It is needed by everybody.

To Everybody Everywhere

At the close of his statement of obligation to the Greeks and non-Greeks, the wise and unwise, Paul explains his views by declaring, “That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” When he mentions “you who are at Rome” Paul is not adding a new category, for the Romans fit within the earlier Greek or non-Greek, wise or foolish groupings. The church at Rome included every conceivable type of man or woman and was therefore itself all-embracing. So I think that when Paul says that the gospel is for those at Rome “also” he is actually saying, “The gospel is for you, whoever you may be and wherever you may find yourself.”

I present it to you in that way.

You may be a very young person with your whole life stretching before you. You have great plans, and you may have very little place for God in those plans. If so, I tell you that the gospel is for you and that you need it, just as others do. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said in a talk to children, “You may be young; but you are old enough to sin, and you are old enough to die.” As long as that is true, you need a Savior.

You may be an older person, perhaps very along in years. You are thinking that life is almost over for you and that decisions of this scope are for young people. You may be thinking that it is too late to make changes. But you especially need the gospel. Soon you will stand before God, your Maker, and you will have to give an account for your many long years of sinning. You have heard the gospel. Will you have to tell God that you rejected it, that you spurned the offer of grace through his crucified Son, the Lord Jesus? It is not too late. Today can be the day of your salvation. If you turn to him now, you will find that the last years of your life will be the most important and precious of all.

Perhaps you are from a non-Western, non-English-speaking country. You may be reading these words in part because you are a guest in the United States or because you want to learn about America. You may think that what you are reading is something uniquely American, that it is not for you, not for one from your country or from your background. I tell you that it is for you. It is the gospel of the one God and of the one Savior. It is a gospel that has already permeated the entire world. It has come to you now. It is time for you to trust Jesus.

Perhaps you are an American, and you think that you already are a Christian—just because you have been born in a so-called Christian country. Being an American will not save you. Having a Christian tradition or even Christian parents will not save you. Belonging to a church will not save you. You need the gospel. You need to believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior.

The gospel is for those who live in Philadelphia. It is for those in New York. It is for those in Paris or Bombay or Beijing or Mombassa or Bogotá. Whoever you are, you need the gospel. The whole world needs the gospel, and the gospel it needs is the whole gospel of God’s grace to sinners through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.

If you are not a Christian, you need to hear this and come to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior.

If you are a Christian, you need to make this great good news known to other people, as Paul did.[1]

 


[1] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 93–100). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Bible Commentary: Unanswered Prayer (Romans 1:13)

Romans 1:13

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

There are very few churchgoers who have not heard the story of the little boy who was praying for a bicycle for Christmas. His was a poor family, so when Christmas morning came there was no bicycle. A friend of the family, who was not too sensitive about such things, said to the lad, “Well, I see God didn’t answer your prayer for a bicycle.”

The boy replied, “Yes, he did; he said No.”

Most of us are aware that No is an answer every bit as much as Yes. But I have always felt that the story of the little boy’s prayer does not quite get to the heart of the prayer problem. To receive a bicycle might be nice, but it is clearly not essential. Nor is it spiritual. Most of us understand that when we pray for things like bicycles—a better job, more money, success in a business deal, or the resolution of certain personal problems—there is no real reason why we should expect a Yes answer. God may give what we ask for, but again he may not. We accept that. But what about prayers that really are spiritual? What about prayers that are (or at least seem to be) unselfish? What happens when these prayers are not answered? This is where the real problem with prayer lies and why the people who have trouble with it are not the novices in prayer, as we might suspect—novices do not expect much from prayer anyway—but rather the church’s mature believers. It is the saints who feel the burden of unanswered prayer. It is the godly who wrestle with it strenuously.

So what happens? Unfortunately, some persons become somewhat fatalistic about prayer. J. Oswald Sanders pointed to this problem when he wrote, “It is easy to become a fatalist in reference to prayer. It is easier to regard unanswered prayer as the will of God than to … reason out the causes of the defeat.”

Prayer of an Apostle

In the case of Paul’s prayer, recounted in Romans 1, we have a superb example of precisely this problem. Why is it such a good example?

First, it is a prayer by an apostle. The fact that Paul was an apostle does not mean that he was without sin, of course. Nor does it mean that all Paul’s prayers were spiritual. Paul did not pray by inspiration, the way he wrote his epistles. In fact, I believe that there is an example of his praying out of the will of God in his prayers to visit Jerusalem with the gifts of the Gentile churches, which Luke tells us about in Acts. God warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, and even after he went the Lord appeared to him to say, “Leave Jerusalem immediately …” (Acts 22:18). Yet Paul did not leave and was eventually imprisoned.

Paul was not without sin as an apostle. Yet he was an apostle, and that says something. It is significant that such a one did not have his prayers answered positively, or at least at once.

Second, Paul’s prayer was a proper prayer. I wrote in the previous study that Romans 1:8–12 is not a treatise on prayer in the sense of providing a theological explanation of prayer. It is a prayer model, an example. Still, it is a proper prayer. It is to the Father on the basis of the atoning work of Jesus Christ and, although Paul does not say so explicitly, it was undoubtedly also in the Holy Spirit. Paul puts all three persons of the Godhead together in reference to prayer in one sentence in Ephesians 2:18: “For through him [that is, Jesus Christ] we both [that is, Jews and Gentiles] have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

There is one more important thing to see about this prayer, the third item: It was a prayer for right things. Paul might have prayed for something that would only have enhanced his prestige or personal comfort; that is, he might have prayed selfishly. But that was not the case here at all. Paul was praying to come to Rome in order that (1) he might “impart some spiritual gift” to the end that (2) the believers in Rome might be made “strong” (v. 11). In other words, he wanted to assist in the spiritual growth and fruitfulness of the Roman believers.

This was an entirely worthy and quite spiritual motive. Yet, as I have said, Paul was prevented from coming. His prayer was not answered positively.

Paul does not give an explanation of why his proposed visit to Rome was hindered, at least not here. He only says, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.” I do not doubt that Paul could have suggested a reason why his prayers were unanswered, perhaps a number of reasons. But he does not, and the fact that he does not opens the door for us to reflect on why prayers like his—including the best of our own prayers—go unanswered.

Not as Necessary as We Think

I want to suggest a number of reasons why perfectly proper prayers may go unanswered and what we may learn from this. The first is: Unanswered prayer may be God’s way of teaching that we are not as necessary to the work we are praying for as we think we are. That is so important it is worth saying again. Unanswered prayer may be God’s way of teaching that we are not as necessary to the work we are praying for as we think we are.

This is clear in Paul’s case, is it not? Paul had been praying that he might be permitted to travel to Rome to serve and strengthen the Roman Christians. But noble as this desire may have been, it is also clear that the believers in Rome were doing quite well without him. Indeed, they were doing well without any apostle or noteworthy teacher. Paul testifies to this when he records that their strong faith was being reported on all over the world (v. 8). I do not want to be misunderstood at this point, of course. I have no doubt that if Paul had been allowed to go to Rome, he would have been a blessing to the Christians. Moreover, they apparently did need his teaching, since God directed him to write them the letter we are studying. We, too, need pastors, teachers, and other church leaders. The point is not that Paul could not have been then or eventually a blessing to these Christians, but only that he was not essential to it. God was perfectly able to bless and prosper this church without Paul’s personal ministrations.

I do not say that this is something Paul himself necessarily learned by God’s refusal to send him to Rome, though it may have been. But it is certainly something we frequently need to learn. I say this because, as I suspect, most of our good prayers—not our selfish or ignorant or carnal prayers, but our good prayers—have ourselves at the center and assume that, if God is to answer them, he must do so through us as his agents.

One thing unanswered prayer may do for us is teach us to pray for blessing on God’s work through other people. Years ago, at a management training session for the Servicemaster company, I was taught that good management is “getting the right things done through other people.” That is not a bad definition for some prayers. It is at least something we need to practice more frequently.

The great pioneer missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, learned this function of prayer early in his ministry. He had taken literally the verse “owe no man any thing” (Rom. 13:8 kjv) and believed that Christians should never incur debt, even in Christian work. So, when a financial need occurred, he prayed for God to meet it, a lesson he had learned from George Mueller, the founder of the faith orphanages in England. Not long after Taylor had been in China he was moved to pray for two missionaries for each of China’s eleven provinces plus Mongolia, twenty-four in all. He had no means of supporting them, so he had to pray for sufficient funds as well. There was not even a society to send them out. But Taylor prayed for this, and God answered—first with the original twenty-four missionaries, then with the thousands who later went to China under the auspices of the China Inland Mission. The growth of the China Inland Mission in those days is a great story.

Was Taylor necessary for this work? Yes, in a way. His prayers were necessary. But he was not the means of conveying the blessing of God to these many provinces of China personally.

Other Things to Do

The second reason why perfectly proper prayers of ours may be unanswered is that God may have other work for us to do. This seems to have been the chief (perhaps the only) reason why God did not send the great apostle to Rome earlier. In the fifteenth chapter of Romans, Paul speaks of his ministry among the remote cities of the Gentiles as a fulfillment of Isaiah 52:15—“Those who were not told about him [that is, Jesus] will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” Then he adds, somewhat unexpectedly, “This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you” (v. 22). It was his ministry among the people of Asia and Greece that had kept him from the Roman Christians, and that is why he did not chafe under the hindrances God sent. He recognized that delay in reaching Rome was for the sake of the Christian mission elsewhere. We need to learn this, too, and be content through learning it. Let me give some examples.

Here is a man who is in an unrewarding job and who would very much prefer another line of work. He tells the Lord that he is not being fulfilled in his present employment, that he is not using the gifts he believes God has given him, that he is not getting ahead, that he is accomplishing little. Each of those points may be true. The work may be unusually frustrating. But God does not give him a new job. Why? We cannot say why for certain, but it may be that God still has work for this man in the job he has, even though he cannot see it or believe it is happening. There may be another worker to help. There may be a moral issue to be faced. There may be a person who needs to hear the gospel and be led to Jesus Christ.

Here is a woman who is not married but who wants to be. She tells God that she would be much happier married, that she is not really interested in pursuing a career (though many other women are), that she does not want to grow old alone. Those are perfectly valid desires. Still, God does not answer her prayers positively. Why? It may be that God simply has work for her to do as a single person. He may need her as a single Christian executive, nurse, teacher, businesswoman, secretary, or whatever.

If you are praying for something and God is not answering your request with a Yes, ask what you can accomplish in the meantime and give yourself to that. It does not mean that God may not give you what you are asking for eventually, but in the meantime you will be doing good work.

Spiritual Warfare

The third reason why our prayers may go unanswered for a time is the hardest to understand: There may be spiritual warfare of which you and I are unaware. There are examples of this in Scripture. Paul spoke of “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Cor. 12:7), saying that he prayed three times for it to be removed but that God had replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9). A second example is Daniel, who prayed for something but did not receive an answer to his prayer for three weeks. When at last he did receive an answer, the angel who brought it explained that when Daniel had begun to pray he had started out with God’s answer but that he had been resisted by a spiritual being called “the prince of the Persian kingdom.” He was able to come through eventually only because the archangel Michael helped him (Dan. 10:1–14).

Spiritual battles are mysteries to us, because we cannot see the warfare. But there are spiritual battles, and we need to know about them. They are an important reason why some of our prayers go unanswered.

Does Prayer Change People?

In the previous study I asked the question, “Does prayer change things or change people?” I answered, “Both.” Prayer changes things (or circumstances) because it is a God-ordained way of changing them. I based my view on James 4:2, which says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” If prayer does not change things, then many of the promises that concern it are at best misrepresentations. Jacques Ellul is quite right, though very bold, when he says, “It is prayer, and prayer alone, which can make history.… To pray is to carry oneself toward the future. It is both to expect it as possible, and to will it as history.”

But prayer also (perhaps chiefly) changes people, as I pointed out.

I want to return to that point now, because, in addition to all I have said so far, one important reason for God not answering prayer is deficiency in us. And so, prayer needs to change us before it changes circumstances. What are our deficiencies? What needs changing in us?

1. Unconfessed sin. There are more verses in the Bible saying that God will not answer prayers than there are verses that say he will, and one of the chief categories of verses that deal with unanswered prayer concerns sin. Isaiah wrote, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1–2). If God is not answering your prayers—particularly if he is not answering any of them—one thing you should do is ask whether you are cherishing some sin. If so, you need to confess it for full forgiveness and cleansing.

2. Wrong motives. James spoke of this when he said, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3). Can a person pray for even spiritual things wrongly? Yes, of course. A woman may pray for the conversion of her husband, but with wrong motives—not for his good, that he may be saved from hell and enjoy fellowship with God in this life—but because it would be much more pleasant for her to have a Christian husband or because other Christians would think better of her.

A pastor may pray with wrong motives—for revival, for instance. How? By praying not chiefly so that people may be saved, but that his church might begin to grow and other pastors might look up to him as an effective teacher and evangelist. In The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power, R. A. Torrey tells of one minister who was praying for revival so he would not lose his church, and of another who was praying to be baptized with the Holy Spirit because he thought he would be paid more if he was.

If we are praying with wrong motives, we need to be changed by God through prayer so we might pray properly.

3. Laziness. It is said of Elijah that he prayed “earnestly” that it would not rain and that it did not rain for three and a half years (James 5:17). Prayer was a serious business with him. One reason our prayers are not answered is that we are not really serious about them.

4. We are too busy. Sometimes we are too busy to pray “earnestly.” But, as someone has said, “If we are too busy to pray, we are too busy.” Each of us has exactly the same amount of time in a day as every other person. If we say we are too busy to pray, what we are really saying is that we consider the things we are doing to be more important than praying. This is a theological misunderstanding.

5. Idols in the heart. Some of the elders of Israel once came to Ezekiel to pray with him. But the Lord said to Ezekiel, “These men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?” (Ezek. 14:3). Is an idol keeping you from having your prayers answered? Is that idol a person? A boyfriend? A girlfriend? A wife? A husband? Your children? Is it your job? Is it your lifestyle? Your social position? Your worldly reputation? Is it your image of yourself? Are you determined above all else to be “successful”? To place anything ahead of God is idolatry. It is a categorical prayer hindrance.

6. Stinginess in our giving. Proverbs 21:13 says, “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” In other words, if you do not give to the needy, God will not give to you when you ask him for something. Or again, Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). This is quite clear. Torrey writes, “Here God distinctly tells us that he measures out his benefactions to us in exactly the same measure that we measure out our benefactions to others. And some of us use such [tiny] pint cup measures in our giving that God can only give us a pint cup blessing.”

The spiritual life of many Christians can be written in just this one word: stinginess. They began with generous hearts, recognizing that God had been generous to them in salvation. But then they became critical of what God was doing in their lives, or critical of other believers or of the way things were being done in their church—and their generosity dried up. They kept their money for themselves. And God stopped giving! Their abundance leveled off. They plateaued because they could not be trusted with more assets.

7. Unbelief. The greatest cause of failure in our prayer, and the area in which we most need to be changed, is unbelief. James told those of his day to “believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord …” (James 1:6–7). If we do not believe God’s Word unquestioningly, why should we get what we pray for? Is it a surprise that our prayers are unanswered?

Pray and Do Not Give Up

I close with a hypothetical situation. Here you are, someone who has been praying earnestly for something for a long time and has not had an answer. As we have seen, there are numerous reasons why a positive answer may have been delayed, all the way from spiritual warfare in the heavenlies to our sin or unbelief. What are you to do? Should you keep on battering the brass doors of heaven with ineffectual petitions? Or should you accept God’s rejection? Should you quit praying?

The answer is in Jesus’ parable of the importunate widow, which, Luke tells us, teaches that we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Prayer may change us. It may change history. But whatever the case, we must keep praying.

Paul kept praying, and he got to Rome eventually.

George Mueller kept praying, too. When Mueller was a young man he had three friends who were not Christians. He began to pray for them. He prayed every day for more than sixty years. It seemed as if his prayers would never be answered. But they were. Two of those men were converted shortly before Mueller’s death, one at what was probably the last service Mueller held. The other was converted within a year of Mueller’s funeral. Unanswered prayer? How do we ever know it will remain unanswered? Since we do not, we ought always to pray and not give up.[1]

 


[1] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: Justification by Faith (Vol. 1, pp. 85–92). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

Bible Commentary: Paul and the Church at Rome (Romans 1:8–15)

Overview

Still following the general format of the Greek letter, Paul proceeds to a proper introduction that includes thanksgiving and intercession in behalf of the readers, as well as indicating his hope of visiting them in the near future.

Commentary

8 The salutation has been unusually long, and now, instead of moving to his theme at once, the apostle lingers over introductory matters. Doubtless he felt the need of getting acquainted, so to speak, by unburdening his own heart about what his readers meant to him. It is a shining example of his pastoral concern mingled with gracious sensitivity in dealing with the saints.

First of all, Paul must express his thanks to God for his readers. This was customary, and in all of his letters, with the exception of Galatians, he includes an expression of thanks. He thanks God above all for the faith of the Roman believers (cf. Eph 1:15–16; Col 1:3–4; 1 Th 1:3). He offers his thanks “through Jesus Christ,” the One on whom the gospel itself depends (cf. “the gospel of his Son” [v. 9]). He furthermore thanks God for “all of you” because every Christian is important to Paul.

Not without reason Paul has become known in Christendom as “the apostle of faith.” To him, faith was the basic Christian virtue, and he was eager to commend it. Here the commendation is exceedingly generous, even hyperbolic: the whole world has heard of their faith (cf. 1 Th 1:8). It was Paul’s habit to praise believers when this was in order. If rebuke had to be given, it would find a more ready reception if the way was prepared by heartfelt appreciation.

9–10 Paul’s statement about his thanksgiving is followed by a statement concerning his prayer—both intercession for them and a special plea that his hope of coming to be with them, providing it is God’s will, will be realized. The whole of Paul’s life was conditioned by the reality of God’s sovereignty. He refers to his preaching of the gospel as a matter of serving (latreuō, GK 3302) God “with my whole heart,” i.e., with his whole being. The word “serve” has the connotation of worship (the same root being used in the expression “spiritual act of worship” in 12:1) or being “a minister … with the priestly duty” (15:16).

But why should Paul find it necessary to summon God as his witness that he had been faithful in praying for the Roman believers? There are two reasons. For one thing, he had been praying “constantly” (cf. “at all times” in v. 10). Paul prayed regularly for the readers, and they were never far from his mind. This seems almost too much to expect of a man who did not know most of them. Furthermore, as he will tell his readers later (15:25), he is about to leave for Jerusalem, and this could give the appearance of his not putting the visit to Rome high among his priorities. Here, as elsewhere, when Paul calls God as his witness, it is because the thing he is claiming may seem difficult to believe.

11–12 The apostle confesses to a great desire to see his readers, not simply that he might come to know them personally, but that he might minister to them. By “spiritual gift” (charisma, GK 5922) we are probably not to understand the more special charismatic gifts (the purpose “to make you strong” is not favorable to such a view), since Paul does not specify any particular gift and avoids the plural (cf. 1 Co 12:1). Moreover, his own prominence in the contemplated bestowal hardly makes room for the specialized gifts of the Spirit (cf. 1 Co 1:7). But no sooner has this sentiment been expressed than it is halfway recalled, being revised because it seems to suggest that blessing will flow only one way—from Paul to the church. So he alters his language to make room for mutual encouragement and upbuilding. Paul wants to underline that he shares a common faith with the readers and that he therefore can be on the receiving end as well as on the giving end. Verse 12 emphasizes this mutuality (dia tēs en allēlois pisteōs hymōn te kai emou, lit., “through the in-one-another faith, both yours and mine”).

13 As Paul had prayed constantly for the Romans, so he had planned many times to visit them, but again and again the plan had to be set aside. Rhetorically, the introductory words “I do not want you to be unaware” function to emphasize the following point (cf. 11:25; 1 Co 10:1; 12:1; 2 Co 1:8; 1 Th 4:13). There is no intimation of satanic opposition, as in the case of the attempt to visit the Thessalonian church (1 Th 2:18), so we are left with the supposition that his work in the East had involved him so completely that he did not see his way clear to break away for the projected trip to Rome.

His hope to have “a harvest” among his readers should not be interpreted narrowly, as though he is hinting that some in their ranks need to be evangelized. Probably we are to think in terms of the mutual upbuilding referred to in v. 12. “The other Gentiles” indicates that Paul thinks of the Roman church mainly in terms of its Gentile membership.

14 Paul looks forward to his visit, but he also considers it an obligation. On what is this based? He has already laid the groundwork for such a statement by acknowledging that he is Christ’s servant (v. 1) and that he has been given a charge to take the gospel to all peoples (v. 5). In mentioning “to Greeks and non-Greeks [barbaroi, GK 975],” he seems to have in mind all humanity, Jewish and non-Jewish members of the human race. He is carrying forward the term he has just used at the end of the previous verse—Gentiles.

The Hellenistic writers Philo and Josephus tended to think of the Jews as a third group. Philo in particular had the concept that the Jews, with their special religious advantages, were destined to be the people who, by means of their universal faith, could unify these diverse groups. In classical and even in early Hellenistic times, the Greeks were prone to include the Latins among the barbaroi. But by the time of Paul this was no longer the case. The Romans had become the caretakers of Hellenic civilization. This being so, it is probable that in using barbaroi Paul had in mind the territory beyond Rome to the East, where he had worked, and to the West, where he soon hoped to go. At the same time, when v. 15 is taken into account, it should be granted that he would not have to look beyond Rome itself with its diverse population to find representatives of both groups.

The “wise” are not being equated with the Greeks, for this would mean that non-Greeks are being dubbed “foolish,” which would be unwarranted. The wise are perishing in the midst of their worldly wisdom (1 Co 1:18–21) and the foolish in their abject simplicity. Both need the gospel.

15 How heartwarming is the apostle’s attitude toward his obligation! Instead of considering it a burden he must bear, a duty he must carry out, he is “eager” to fulfill it. If one has the finest intellectual and formal preparation for preaching but is lacking in zeal, one cannot hope for much success. The call to preach and the need for the message together constitute the preacher’s compelling incentive to proclaim the message of salvation. On the words “also to you who are in Rome,” see Introduction, p. 23.

Notes

14 In the word βάρβαροι, barbaroi, the first two syllables are the same, which points to the original force of this word as indicating a stammerer. Later it came to mean “non-Greeks,” i.e., those who did not use the Greek language. A further development was its application to uncivilized people, where it takes on the meaning of “savage,” which is the usual connotation of the word “barbarian” today.[1]

 


[1] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. (T. Longman III &. Garland, David E., Ed.)The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Theology: GOD IS ACTIVE

Active indicates an ability to do, as well as the act of doing. God is most certainly able to act, and He is very active. Indeed, the reverse is true also; the act of doing shows the ability to act.

1. God is active in redemption: John 3:17

He was not only active in providing salvation, but He is actively drawing souls unto Himself.

It always thrills my heart to hear of a person that sits down to read the Bible as one lost and on the way to hell, and stands up a new creature in Christ due to his acceptance of the gospel that he has just read. The Holy Spirit draws each one to Himself personally.

I recently read an article concerning how the big parachurch groups teach their people to witness. One of the groups clearly made this very point. They encourage their people to begin and end with prayer — asking for the Holy Spirit to work in the life, because it is God that saves and not the witnessing.

2. God is active in guiding nations: Romans 13:1

The recent breakup of the Soviet Union should move people to realize that God is in the business of rising up and putting down nations. Any study of history will reveal that many nations have risen and fallen just as quickly. A nation that honors God often thrives, while a nation that dishonors God seldom prospers or survives.

3. God is active in protecting us: 1 Kings 19:5, Psalm 91:11, 12, Daniel

6:22, Matthew 4:11, Matthew 18:4-10, Hebrews 1:14

Many are the accounts of how God has protected His people in modern days as well. One Christmas when we were in Denver for college, we had made plans to go to Nebraska for Christmas. We had all the plans laid and when I piled into the car to go home to pick up the family, the car would start but not continue to run. I discovered the fact that if I pumped the foot feet that it would continue to run so off I went 20 miles across Denver pumping the foot feet to keep the thing moving.

When I arrived home I pulled the top off the carburetor to see if I could find anything that was blocking the fuel passage. I found a piece of a rag about an inch square that had settled over the jets. We had owned the car for a year or so and the thing had never given any problems. It had died unexpectedly now and then a few months earlier but no great problem.

We set off on the interstate for the trip. As we neared the junction of two major freeways, called the mouse trap, where we had to turn north I could see a blaze of flame in the sky. I had the distinct feeling at that moment that the rag in the carburetor had been planned by God to delay us. We turned the radio on as we neared the accident to hear that it had taken place just about the time we would have been going through if we hadn’t had car trouble. A tank truck had turned over and several cars were involved in the blaze. I don’t know for fact that the Lord protected us that evening, but I have to think that it was so.

4. God is active in guiding us: Psalm 32:8

He will guide you in planning your life’s work. He will guide you in planning your life’s mate. He will guide you in planning your studies. He will guide you in planning your week’s schedule. He will guide you in purchasing a car. He will guide you in anything that you want his guidance in.

He is, as we have seen many times, interested in all that we do. He is desirous of being a part of our life; even our everyday life.

I have to admit that as I was going through this study, I was looking back through the dusty memory banks to see some ways that He has been active in my life, and I had to stop to dry my eyes. He has been so active in my life and in so many ways, and in so many instances. I hope as you walk with Him you will allow Him to be very active in your life.

5. God is active in teaching us: 1 John 2:27

We saw in Bibliology that He is involved in illuminating our foggy minds to the truth of the scriptures. He wants us to know more about Himself, as well as to know Him more. He is not the great mystery of the universe; rather He is the great teacher.

6. God is active in providing our needs: Matthew 6:33

A missionary from Alaska I met in the 70’s shared that he and his wife were in need of a car and that it was going to cost about $2000. They sat down one day and told the Lord of the need and when they went to the mail that day there was an envelope with no return address on it. Inside was $2000. They never found out where it came from.

At other times God provides our needs through a good job, or maybe at times a mediocre job, but He always will provide our needs. When we left teaching in Wyoming He provided a janitors job for me. I could not find any other more productive work. The plus side of this job was that it only took about fifteen hours a week and it paid very well. It was during this time that I was able to put together this book.

7. God is active in His time table: Acts 1:7

I enjoyed hearing the testimony of a man when he read the words of Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;” He mentioned that he really knew what it was to wait on the Lord, but that the waiting was GOOD. (He had been waiting upon the Lord for a ministry for several years.)

The rest of the verse is of interest as well. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

My wife received a card once that mentioned that it was hard to soar as an eagle when you have to work with turkeys like you. God is the one that made the promise in Isaiah, and it is He that will fulfill it even if you have to work with turkeys.

8. God is active in the Church through the Holy Spirit and His gifts: Ephesians 4; Romans 12

Might I suggest that if you don’t see the Lord working in His church, that it is not God that is at fault. It is His people that are not exercising their gifts. More and more I think that most churches are dead because the people are not using what God has given them.

Our God is powerful. Our God is active. Our God is desirous of people being saved. Our God is able to do anything. If His church is the pits then the cause can be found in His people.

If you see a dead church it is because the people want it that way. I have seen churches with pastors that have no business being in their position, and the church continues to allow it to go on. That is a conscious decision on the part of the church to fail.

9. God is active in controlling the physical world: Acts 14:17, Colossians 1:16, 17

In 1990 the out of focus Hubble Telescope took a look into the Orion Nebula and took a picture of a star that was just forming. Actually the occurrence that Hubble photographed occurred about A.D. 500, because Orion is about fifteen hundred light years away from earth.

If He can control the intricacies of the universe and keep all that together, surely He can assist us in keeping our lives together, if we ask Him.

10. God is active in answering prayer: Acts 12:5ff

While interim pastor of a small church in Wyoming, we had been told of a young man that someone had been talking to about the Bible. The man was in the church service and seemed to be very convicted by parts of the message. As the service closed, I ask the Lord to allow me to talk to him before he left. As I left the platform I saw the man leaving the sanctuary. I thought that the answer had been no. Before leaving the church, one of the couples asked us to lunch and mentioned that this young man was going home for a moment but that he was going to join us for lunch.

God is in the business of answering prayer. I kept track of the prayer requests in that same church for about six months and marked each item as the Lord answered. There were twenty-two specific requests answered, and I’m confident, many other general requests were answered just because people took time to pray.

APPLICATION

1. This doctrine refutes two major false teachings:

a. God is dead. Nope, Not On My Block He Isn’t. As the bumper sticker says, “My God isn’t dead — Sorry About Yours.”

b. Deism: The teaching that God created and went on vacation or went away and isn’t around anymore.

Theissen tells us, “For deism God is present in creation only by His power, not in His very being and nature. He has endowed creation with invariable laws over which He exercises a mere general oversight; He has imparted to His creatures certain properties, placed them under His invariable laws, and left them to work out their destiny by their own powers. Deism denies a special revelation, miracles, and providence. It claims that all truths about God are discoverable by reason, and that the Bible is merely a book on the principles of natural religion, which are ascertainable by the light of nature.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, pp. 74-75)

This was the religion of some of our forefathers. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson for two.

Another quotation that might help you to know more about Deism is from a book on Western Civilizations. (Burns, Edward McNall; “Western Civilizations”; 7th edition, New York City: W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., 1941, p 575) Any encyclopedia would also give you some information.

In light of what we have read, consider Benjamin Franklin (From Guideposts Nov. 1974. From an article entitled, “They Speak Today.”) He said that he believed in one God and that God created the universe. He believed in worshiping that God and that the best you could do was to serve God’s children. He also respected all religions that felt as he did about God.

He spoke of these beliefs in relation to a conversation concerning his trying to help Roman Catholics. Benjamin Franklin was said, to have played both ends against the middle.

2. If He is active then it is logical that He would expect his children to be active also. How is your activity doing for the Lord? Are you as active as you should be?

3. His activity on our behalf should be of a help to encourage us when we are in hard times and trials. He is actively moving in our lives for our betterment. This one is hard to really make practical especially when we are having problems.

4. One final point. I find that oft times God wants to be active through his people. I trust that you will be sensitive to those around you that God can use you to help. Yes, you are terribly busy, yet your five minutes listening to someone’s problems may well be the encouragement that will carry them through. Be open to minister to those around you, because they will appreciate it.[1]


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

John Stott: Preach the Cross

Samuel at Gilgal

John Stott

John Stott:

To ‘preach the cross’ . . . is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone. Such a message is a stumbling-block (1 Cor. 1:23) because it is grievously offensive to human pride; it therefore exposes us to persecution.

There are, of course, no Judaizers in the world today, preaching the necessity of circumcision. But there are plenty of false teachers, inside as well as outside the church, who preach the false gospel (which is not a gospel, [Galatians] 1:7) of salvation by good works. To preach salvation by good works is to flatter people and so avoid opposition. This may seem to some to pose the alternative too starkly. But I do not think so. All Christian preachers have to face this issue. Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that…

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Paul Washer “A Living and Holy Sacrifice”: Romans 12:1-2

The Domain for Truth

Paul Washer

What can I say about Paul Washer? For those of you who are not familiar with him, he is married to his wife Charo and they both have three children: Ian, Evan, and Rowan.  Paul Washer is also a graduate of Southwestern Theological Seminary, a missionary at Peru for 10 years, a current laborer at HeartCry Missionary Society, and a itinerant preacher.  It seems that people’s awareness of him can be traced to his well-known “Shocking Youth Message” that now has over 1 million views on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cncEhCvrVgQ).  It was that message that catapulted him to the spotlight.

To those who have listened to him, it appears that he is either a stench of death to some or a sweet smelling aroma.  As for me, he is a sweet smelling aroma.  His gospel-centered messages have impacted me during my young life as a Christian and continues to do so.  We…

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Therefore Make your Calling and Election Sure

Possessing the Treasure

by Mike Ratliff

[22] Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, [23] since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; [24] for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, [25] but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25 ESV)

The Puritans had a term they used in their theological writings and discussions describing professing believers who fell away or were in some way not consistent in their walk. They called them “temporary believers.” This may be a little offensive to many these days, but there are untold numbers of Pastors, Deacons, Elders, Evangelists, or whatever in our churches in our time who would…

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