Friday, November 18, 2016

Romans Wrap Up, Review, and Rolling of the Credits

Read Romans 16
Paul finally concludes this lengthy epistle in what we define as the 16th chapter.  It is the longest of his letters.  That’s why it traditionally comes first in your Bibles.  His letters to the churches are sequenced not by date but by length with the short pastoral letters after that.

At the end of a stage play, the cast comes out for a last curtain call.  There are bows and curtsies.  Many are acknowledged with applause for their performances.

In a major motion picture, the credits may roll for ten minutes after the story is over.  The credits often have their own musical score.  They are something of a production in themselves.

Paul, in similar fashion, rolled the credits at the end of his longest letter.  He acknowledged those who had helped him in many ways.  We may know some of these people.  Some are from Corinth.  Some likely from Rome.  Some may have carried the letter penned by Paul’s scribe, Tertius, who is also acknowledged in this chapter for being the speech to text app that put Paul’s pontifications to papyrus.

Paul has a final piece of counsel to add to his acknowledgements, closes with a benediction, and in this final chapter has said, “That’s enough for this letter.”  His hope was to visit this congregation in person.  He mentioned that in the beginning and explained more of how that might happen near the end.

As we have approached this letter mostly as a biblical textbook, let’s do our final review.

·     By the evidence of creation itself, everyone should know there is a God.  He is real and you should know that with or without a preacher, a Bible, or instructions from another person.
·     God’s wrath awaits the rebellious person.  We deserve it.
·     OBTW—we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
·     We—just as Abraham who was the greatest example to the Jews—are justified by faith.  It’s not by our bloodline or strict compliance with the law, but by faith.
·     OK, let’s get historical and theological for a moment.  Sin entered the world through one man.  You guessed it.  Adam takes the rap for this one.  Sin’s partner in crime, death, followed closely in trace.  But through one man—Jesus who walked this earth as God in the flesh—we are made right with God again.  We are right with God.
·     We didn’t have to do anything to earn this gift of grace, so what should we do?  Go on sinning so we can get more grace.  No!  That is not who we are anymore.  In that “No” Paul begins his discourse on discipleship.
·     Discipleship is our response to God’s incredible and undeserved love.  It is how we love God back, and sometimes it is a struggle.  Salvation came in an instant.  Discipleship is a process and sometimes that process finds us doing things that we never intended to do.
·     And then we come to what we mark as Paul’s 8th chapter.  Paul talked about struggling and then follows it with affirmation after affirmation, at the heart of it all is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  That affirmation alone should get us through the toughest of days.
·     Our suffering in this present age can’t compare with what is to come.  Suffering, pain, and persecution may seem intense to us now, but won’t even muster an afterthought when we are living in what God has in store for us.
·     In all of these things that we deal with in our discipleship, we need to realize that we are victorious because of Christ Jesus.  In all these things, we are more than conquerors.
·     Sometimes we can’t make sense of much of anything but we are assured that God takes all things and works them for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
·     What can we say here?  If God is for us, who can stand against us.  Remember that this is a rhetorical question.  God is for us.  We should have the boldness of David when he faced the giant named Goliath.  Don’t you wish that Mister T had written this part of the Bible.  “I pity the fool that doesn’t have God and comes up against his servant.  That poor, uncircumcised Philistine.”  God is with us!  God is for us!  Who and what can stand against us?
·     And then we come to some of the most poetic and empowering of Paul’s words.  Here they are in the New Living Translation.  And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
·     Just as it seemed that Paul was on a roll with discipleship and had accompanied it with some of the strongest affirmations in the New Testament, he changes course.  He tells us that we need to understand God’s sovereignty.  God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  That turns out to be a good thing for everyone who was not in the bloodline of Abraham, those people known only as gentiles at the time.
·     God has a chosen people but for a time they were blinded, numb, or in a stupor when the Messiah came, taught, healed, died for the sins of humankind, and took his life up again.  Most of the Hebrew people, especially their religious hierarchy, just missed it.
·     That’s good news for us and as it turns out, good news for these Chosen People as well.  All have been bound over to disobedience so that all my come to know God not by the bloodline of Abraham but by the sacrificial blood of Christ Jesus.
·     By the time that we get to chapter 12, Paul begins his upper level instruction in discipleship.  Some of what he has to say takes us to graduate coursework.
·     It begins with being a living sacrifice.  This could be an oxymoron or a paradox.  Most sacrifices don’t get to live.  The two words usually don’t go together, but when we give ourselves fully to God then we finally come to know the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.  I’m I thinking that I am coining my own Pauline term—paradoxymoron.  I think Living Sacrifice is a paradox of truth contain in this oxymoron.  Plus, I like inventing my own terms.
·     Next we are called to renew our minds.  We can’t just give God a little part of our mind and expect to see transformation.  We need to let him replough our entire field so we can be transformed into the exact person that he wants us to be.
·     OBTW—there is a fantastic benefit to giving our entire lives to God and surrendering to this transformation process.  We get to know God’s will.  We should not shrink back from this for it is a good and pleasing and perfect will.  Of course, we must surrender one of our biggest excuses when we become a living sacrifice and commit to the renewing of our mind; we have to give up saying, I don’t know what God wants me to do.  I don’t know what God wants me to do with my life.
·     Paul continues his discipleship discussion with a short discourse on gifts.  Our salvation was not just a Get out of Hell Free Card.  It also came with Spiritual Gifts.  We are to take our gifts and use them.  If God gifted us to teach, then teach.  If he equipped us to cook, then cook.  If he put music in you, then sing and play and lift your voice to the Lord like no other so as to bring him glory.  If it is to write, then write.  If it is to speak an immediate message from God—we call that prophesying—then speak the truth that God has given you.  Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that so many people die with their music still in them.  What a tragedy.  What terrible discipleship.  God gave us gifts so that we could put them to use and bring glory to his name and produce fruit for the body of Christ.
·     Paul then jumps to graduate level discipleship.  Love must be sincere.  Do you know how hard it is to fake sincerity?  Now that should be an oxymoron.  Our heart is being shaped like God’s.  We must have genuine love for one another—even the knuckleheads.
·     While Paul is working at the graduate level, he adds:  Bless those who persecute you.  To which many of us reply, I am happy with an undergrad degree. 
·     Do not repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good.  You can’t fake this, at least not for long.  It goes back to love must be sincere.  That goes back to our transformation.  We are being shaped in the image and likeness of Christ Jesus.  That goes back to our entire lives being given to God as our reasonable act of service, as our true worship, as the only acceptable response to God’s mercy and grace.
·     The next part doesn’t get any easier, especially for Americans.  We are to submit to authority. Ouch!  We are a nation born in rebellion.  We would rather dump tea into Boston Harbor than submit to what we thought or think is unjust governing.  This goes back to God is sovereign.
·     Those in power are there at the pleasure of God.  There serve as his lieutenants and if we are doing the right things, they shouldn’t bother us much.
·     Paul pushes further.  Pay your taxes.  Did he know what the tax rates would be in the 21st century when he said that?  Probably not, but the counsel stands.
·     Give honor and respect where they are due.  Okay, that makes this authority stuff a little easier to stomach.  We respect our service men and women, police and emergency service workers, and even the guy who climbs the pole in the ice storm to get our power back on.
·     Here comes some more graduate level stuff. Accept fellow believers even if they are weak.
·     We probably won’t agree on everything and we don’t have to.  There are some things that we might label disputable matters.  It’s just another term for stuff that we don’t have to agree on as we respond to God’s grace with our discipleship.
·     In that context we are counseled not to be a stumbling block to those who may be struggling with their faith by how you live out your salvation.  Don’t abuse the freedom that you have in Christ by making obstacles for those who are struggling in their faith.
·     Help those who are struggling in their faith.  Encourage and coach and mentor and help!
·     Do not judge fellow believers.  We are all accepted by Christ and will all make account to God one day.  Our sin won’t come into play during this accounting.  The blood of Jesus took care of that, but we will account for how we lived out our salvation.
·     Go to God’s word for our encouragement.  These words not only challenge us to live a better life, they encourage us along the way.  Dig into God’s holy word and know hope.  The verses that we memorize, the pericopes that we study, and the entire biblical witness that we have received give us hope.
·     And so we come to Paul’s final piece of challenge and counsel.  He told the Roman believers and is telling us, “Watch out for those who try to sell you a bill of goods.”  Be on the lookout for those with teachings contrary to what you have received. 
·     Watch out for what Paul elsewhere described as one who would preach to itching ears.  They serve their own interests and not the Lord.
·     For those who have stayed the course through these 5 letters of Paul, you might have asked yourself, “Why did he start in Galatians?”  The reason is simple and straightforward—to begin with this message:  There is no other gospel!  We wrap up Romans in the way we began this series.  There is no other gospel.
·     We are to stick to what we know to be true.  Don’t compromise the truth by making it fit into what would be easier to contend with by making it comply with your comfort zone.
·     Don’t try to make the gospel friendlier to what others think of you.  Stick to the truth.
·     Remember the words of Jesus as revealed in John’s gospel.  If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed; and you will know the truth and the truth will set your free.
·     Hold fast to the truth.  No compromise.  Jesus is Lord!  Let us live our lives according to that truth that will never change.  Let’s live in response to the mercy and grace of God that we call salvation by being Christ’s disciples.

We have made it through Paul’s letter to these first century Roman believers.  We have remained faithful to the chapter per message model that we began with.  That is a double-edged sword.

It did get us through 5 of Paul’s letters at a good clip, but it also left many areas with only a 10,000 foot AGL fly over instead of digging in at every point of some very rich theology.  So don’t put Paul’s letters on the shelf.  Keep them on your reading list.  Much will sound familiar but you will find much that will speak to you anew.


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