Category Archives: Bible Study

Conscience, Conviction and Unity – Romans 12 and 14

https://1drv.ms/u/s!Auq7HAi24rrq_DG9asCOMe5vLooQ

The link above goes to the audio file of a sermon I delivered on July 31, 2016 on Romans 12 and 14. The unifying theme is living by our biblical convictions, even when those convictions don’t mesh well with the convictions of others. My notes are below.

 

Intro: A conviction I was raised with:

  • No TV shows involving ninjas, other martial arts – due to false religion and violence – Deut 7:25-26 25 The images of their gods you are to burn in the fire. Do not covet the silver and gold on them, and do not take it for yourselves, or you will be ensnared by it, for it is detestable to the Lord your God. 26 Do not bring a detestable thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly detest it, for it is set apart for destruction.
  • No Halloween

Text:    Romans 12 and 14 (bold for my points of emphasis)

Romans 12 (ESV)

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 14

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

 

Thesis: God did not make a church of clones. He allows us to seek him in our imperfect flesh, guided and guarded by the Holy Spirit. Despite that flesh, the Spirit speaks to us and directs us. We can be confident that God’s word is always true, reliable, and to be obeyed. There are, however, matters of conscience in which one feel’s the Spirit’s conviction, but another does not.

Trans: Who is wrong? How can we be a unified body if people are convicted differently about different actions?

  • Is it ok for a “couple” to hold hands on a missions trip?

Conscience

  1. We should not do things the way the world does them.
    1. 12:1-2 present your bodies as a living sacrifice, Do not be conformed to this world. Theme for the next few chapters. Through 15.1-2. The reason we are a living sacrifice is because Christ was.
    2. 12:9 Abhor (ἀποστυγέω – from deep hatred) what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
    3. [Phl 1:10-11 ESV] 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
  2. Acting in conscience means acting in humility
    1. 12:3 – I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned
      1. What is this “measure of faith”? According to one’s spiritual gifts given by the HS. Paul will also explain in ch 14
    2. 12:12,13,16 – “be constant in prayer…seek to show hospitality…Do not be haughty [high and mighty], but associate with the lowly [near the ground]. Never be wise in your own sight.”
  3. Conscience comes from insight provided to us by the Holy Spirit
    1. These aren’t just opinions. The HS has guided our faith and we are accountable to obey
    2. 14:5-6 Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind… The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Trans: Before delving into this, we should understand the situation Paul is addressing. Observe, then interpret, then apply.

2 situations he addresses:

  • Jew/Gentile combo church – issue over food sacrificed to idols and celebration of Jewish holidays
  • Compare to a modern vegan, acting under firm conviction

Conviction

  1. Recognize that there are many areas that are not grey. God has spoken.
    1. Also recognize that often, disputes of conviction come because 1 thinks that it is a matter of personal conviction, while another regards the issue as a firm, clear teaching of Scripture.
  2. Modern examples? (that are safe to discuss)
    1. Worship song preference
    2. Movie choice, theater attendance
    3. Eating at a restaurant that has a bar
    4. Playing with dice or cards
    5. Dressing for church – either up or down
    6. Time wasters – phones, sports, tv
  3. How do we respond? Paul offers these teachings.
    1. First, as a minor, honor your father and mother
    2. If you find yourself to be the stricter one
      1. You honor the Lord by abstaining in order to worship and honor him
      2. Check your motives, have you created a rule out of your own, or a cultural, sense of honor that is not explicitly biblical?
        1. Are you trying to demonstrate moral superiority, or worse, try to cover up your own failings by finding weakness in someone else?
        2. Be fully convinced, if you are truly convicted in this area, obey the Lord’s convictions fully.
      3. Be mindful that some of your sins are a result of your own unnecessary strictness or even legalism (enforcing the man-made standard on someone else)
        1. 14:23 – “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
    3. If you find yourself to be the less strict one
      1. You honor the Lord by appreciating your freedom trusting that his “yoke is easy”
      2. Do not argue for others to drop their standards
        1. 14:1 – As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.
        2. Check your motives, are you trying to “get away” with something immoral, or are you truly acting in the freedom of Christ with a clear conscience?
        3. Do not partake or participate in something that will offend someone else. This is becoming a “hindrance.” It will be difficult for the other believer to relate to you if you put this issue into the relationship. Honor them by obeying their standard when they are around.
          1. 14:13,15 – For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.
          2. 14:20 – Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats.
      3. Notice, all along, the focus is on being mindful of one’s own actions and how they affect the body

Trans: Elder Paisios – “If you want to help the Church, it is better to try to correct yourself, rather than be looking to correct others. If you manage to correct yourself, one small part of the Church is immediately corrected. Naturally, if everyone did the same, the body of the Church would be in good health. But, today, people concern themselves with anything but themselves. You see, judging others is easy, whereas working on yourself takes effort.”

Unity

  1. The purpose of this section was to bring unity in a divided church without minimizing the importance of the guidance of the HS in individual lives.
  2. If a person is legitimately seeking to honor God, He receives that honor as honor.
  3. Ultimately what honors him and brings him satisfaction is our mutual submission and respect
    1. 12:16 – “Live in harmony with one another.”
    2. 14:19 – “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
    3. 14:18 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
  4. Fruit of the spirit v works of the flesh Gal 5 – walk in the spirit
  5. Where is the balance? Gal 5:16,18 “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

Trans: What must we do? Repent. Forgive. Repeat.

Conclusion: Pursue humility. Pursue sincerity. Pursue Christlike holiness.

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What is Romans all about?

I have found it frustrating to get the “big picture” of the book of Romans despite many attempts at studying it. To help myself in this project, I decided to outline it by giving a basic topic to each chapter of the book.

Romans 1. Gentiles have no excuse for their sinfulness.

2. Jews have no excuse for their sinfulness

3. We’ve all sinned, but Jews have an advantage over Gentiles.

4. Faith is a greater advantage, however.

5. Jesus justifies all who have faith.

6. We all used to sin, but it’s not to be expected any more.

7. Just because it’s not to be expected, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Reject the sinful nature.

8. Live in the Spirit.

9. God is testing the Jews by reaching Gentiles.

10. God can save Gentiles, and Jews need to be okay with that.

11. God still wants to save Jews.

12. Jews and Gentile Christ-followers are one. Serve God as one.

13. Serve outsiders and love each other.

14. Don’t enforce your own made-up rules on others that don’t need them.

15. Get along and meet others’ needs.

16. Greet each other and be hospitable.


Woman Washing – An attempt at a harmony

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the world is presented with 4 perspectives on the life and ministry of Christ. Many of the stories of his life are told in multiple gospels, and just a few are told in all 4.

One such apparent event is the washing of Jesus’ feet by a woman. I took interest in this story and its chronology and took to doing an independent breakdown of it’s key events.

I found this story unique in that the gospels that seem to be in the most agreement are Matthew, Mark, and John, whereas usually Luke is the one in agreement with Matthew and Mark (see here some nerdy stuff on the Synoptic Problem). That’s not to say Luke disagrees here, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

What all 4 stories have in common is that Jesus goes to someone’s house as a guest, reclines at a table, and a woman comes in with very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus. The response of those in the house is a general complaint about the waste of this costly perfume to which Jesus responds by defending the woman’s actions.

While those things are in common, Luke’s story has some significant differences including the events the story is sandwiched between. Luke places his story in the earlier half of Jesus’ ministry. In Luke’s account, the woman is an unnamed sinful woman who is thankful for the forgiveness she has received. In this gospel, it serves as an example of how the proud have the wrong priorities while the humble recognize the worth of Jesus.

In Matthew, Mark, and John the event occurs in the week leading up to Jesus’ death. All mention that he is in Bethany; Matthew and Mark say they’re at Simon’s house while John says that Martha served with the (recently-raised) Lazarus there. While Matthew and Mark leave her unnamed, John points out that it is Mary, Lazarus’ sister who is performing this action. This fits the apparent purposes of these Gospels. While Matthew and Mark aren’t too detailed about who gets angry, John specifies that it was Judas who was angry because he wanted the money for himself. In all three, Jesus concludes with the statement that “you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

What is strange to me are the times that the Matthew-Mark-John versus Luke connection doesn’t hold up. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that the host is Simon, though in the former 2 he is a (former) leper, while in Luke he is a Pharisee. John doesn’t name the host, just that Martha serves. It is Matthew, Mark, and Luke that mention an alabaster flask, while Matthew, Mark, and John mention Nard as the type of perfume. Matthew and Mark put the perfume on the head; Luke and John have it on his feet. Only Mark and John mention the potential sale price of 300 denarii, or 1 year’s wages.

I don’t ultimately see any issues with saying that we have 2 separate stories here: one in Luke and one in the others. Simon the Pharisee hosts Luke’s story while Simon the Leper hosts the other (with the Martha family helping out). In both stories an alabaster flask of nard is poured out on Jesus head and feet, and it was “unnecessarily” expensive.

In each Gospel, the author’s intent is apparent. John is pointing out the personal nature of Jesus’ ministry to this family while demonstrating Judas’ evil motives. Matthew and Mark quote Jesus saying that “she has prepared my body for burial,” showing their emphasis on his soon-coming death. Luke wants to point out the hypocrisy and pride of the group of Pharisees in the house.


Israel is a People

In our previous study, we saw the background of the person named Israel. Israel was the younger brother by a few minutes. He went from being a deceiver to one who wrestles with God. Apart from any good deeds of his own, God decides to bless him and his descendants with some of the best territory known to mankind of his day.

Israel’s family had some issues though. As any good rendition of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat will remind you, there were not good feelings between his sons. It starts when Israel plays favorites with his wives (a good start to any dysfunctional marriage). After having 10 sons with his second-favorite wife and two maidservants, he finally has a child with his favorite wife. This child, Joseph, is later sold by his brothers to their distant cousins. Joseph ends up in Egypt and rises in the ranks. Ultimately he saves Egypt and its neighbors (including his relatives in the land of Canaan) from famine. Pharaoh honors Joseph by inviting Jacob/Israel and his descendents to take some of the best land in Egypt.
A generation later, the Egyptians weren’t so happy about Israelites living in their best territory, so they enslaved them. Four hundred thirty years later, God delivered those Israelites out of Egypt into the land he originally promised Abraham: Canaan. This nomadic nation that had never possessed a permanent homeland was on its way to its final(?) destination.
Why make them wait over 400 years? There seems to be one practical reason and one theological reason. First, there were 70 people in Israel’s family when they went into Egypt–hardly enough to occupy a country. When the Exodus occurred, there were 600,000 men, or probably 2-3 million people. (By my math, that’s 5 kids per couple for about 12, 30-year generations.) That would fill a small country nicely in those days. The theological reason comes in when God is making his covenant with Abram. God tells him that his descendants will be enslaved but that it won’t be permanent. Then Abram is told the reason: “the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.” The Amorites were one of the nations in the “Promised Land” of Canaan. My understanding of this statement has been: The Canaanites aren’t bad enough to deserve losing their homeland yet… but give it 400 years.
These descendants of Israel come out of Egypt, spend 40 years having their faith tested in the wilderness, then they spend several generations trying to wrest control of Canaan from the Canaanites, only to cave in to their ways of living in worshipping. The rest of the story of the Old Testament is a struggle between a few God-fearing people who hate idol worship and a majority who would rather be just like the Canaanites. The books of Joshua thru Malachi trace the story of those few who stand against the majority and sometimes cave in themselves.
The trough of Old Testament story comes with the fall of most of Israel’s descendants to the Assyrians. This was followed within a few generations by the fall of the dominant tribe of Judah to Babylon. The next 70 years that Israel spends in exile in Babylon became the defining moment in its identity. For the first time in 1000 years, the nation didn’t have a land of its own. From that point until this day, there have always been Jews (hear the name in Ju-dah?) outside of the “land” of Israel. God had a lesson in humility to teach to this nation. Several, like Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and Ezra passed the test. God restored Judah to their ancestral land in former Canaan, and they began to rebuild.
This people group re-established its nation in the Levant slowly with the permission of the Persians (who had supplanted the Babylonians). However, it never had complete sovereignty for more than a few years here-and-there. These remaining Israelite descendants who held to their “promised” land lived under the rule of Persians, various forms of Greeks, and finally Romans. Rome had enough of their monotheistic ways and obliterated this Jewish land once more, exiling its inhabitants in 70 A.D. Jews would not live in this land again in any significant numbers for another 19 centuries.
Describing the history of a people that covers this much time will always do injustice to the nuances, but I hope you can see the trajectory of Israel as a people through its ancient history. Next, I hope to uncover what it means to say Israel is a land.

Israel is a Person

Israel is a frequent focus of attention in American Christian circles, but I suspect that a lot of people don’t have a good “big picture” idea of the role of Israel in the world according to the Bible. I would like to take you on a quick flyover of Israel’s history so that we can better understand what the Bible says about Israel’s role today.

(I pray you would consider this series for its own merits without assuming I’m going to fit in a certain niche. I’m going to try to avoid making conclusions that Scripture itself doesn’t make.)

First, we need to know who, (not what,) the “original” Israel was. Israel is a person, and for him, we need to go to Genesis. The Old Testament (i.e. Old Covenant) is a series of covenants that God made with man, and Genesis tells us about the first two. Noah gets the first one, sealed by a rainbow, including the promise that God will never again flood the whole earth (with water, that is).

Abram

The second covenant is given to Abram (Noah’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson). Here, God promises that Abram (a 75-year-old man whose 65-year-old wife, Sarai, is infertile) that he’ll be a “great nation”. Abram, whose name means “father,” is told to leave his homeland, move across the known world, and settle among strangers. Once he arrives, he’s told that his (non-existent) descendants will inherit the land of the Canaanites. (I’ll talk about them, and their land, in a later installment.)

This is a real problem for “Father” Abram. If he died childless, the whole “nation” thing wasn’t going to happen. After 10 years of waiting for this promised child, Abram and his wife thought it would be a good idea to for him to have a child with their servant Hagar. It works, and God does indeed bless that child, Ishmael, with several children himself later on, but it wasn’t exactly what God was indicating in his promise to Abram.

Fast-forward to a 99-yr-old Abram, 89-yr-old Sarai, and 13-yr-old Ishmael. God appears to Abram, changes his name to “Father of many nations”–Abraham, and promises that Sarai (now, Sarah) herself will have a child. God specifically promises that this child, Isaac, will be the recipient of Abraham’s covenant. Isaac is born within a year.

Isaac

Isaac doesn’t get as much “air time” in Genesis compared to his dad and sons. For our purposes, we need to focus on the birth of his twin boys, Jacob and Esau. Isaac and his wife, Rebekah, struggled to conceive for 20 years, but God answered their prayers and gave them twins. In a day before sonograms, Rebekah was wondering why the baby was kicking so much, so God told her:

“Two nations are in your womb;
And two peoples will be separated from your body;
And one people shall be stronger than the other;
And the older shall serve the younger.

Esau gets his red head out first, Jacob literally pulling his leg. In later years, Esau, like Ishmael, is blessed with wealth and a large family, but not with the unique covenant given to Abraham and Isaac.

Jacob

So, where does Israel come into the story? One day, preparing to meet his estranged brother, Esau, Jacob wrestles a guy. This guy may in fact be God. This guy tell Jacob (which basically means “deceiver”, a fitting description for Jacob so far) that his name is now “Wrestles-with-God”–Israel.

Earlier in his life, Jacob/Israel was taking a nap in northeast Canaan when God told him, “the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.” Later, God also says, “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you.” As a result, God later calls this his covenant with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham.

Israel

So, before we proceed with the series, we need to know first who Israel, the person, was. His story covers a lot of family conflicts, but results in a strong, powerful group of people. We’ll talk next time about how Israel is a people.