Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reading Romans with Stott #2

IRomans am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. The sixth volume of the series, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, is also authored by Stott. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from the commentary on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from Stott are in blue font.

The second half of the Book of Romans continues the discussion of the revelation of God’s righteousness in Christ and through the work of the Trinity in human beings. Chapters 9-11 explain why this is valid despite the seeming failure (at least within the majority) of the gospel to convert the Jews and then shows how it happens in a practical way in the church. Again, the amazing thing is that God is able to accomplish his plan to reveal himself through sinful people without violating what He created us to be.

As God’s image-bearers, we are rational, responsible, moral and spiritual beings, able to converse with God, and encouraged to explore his revelation, to ask questions and to think his thoughts after him. In consequence, there are occasions in which biblical characters who have fallen on their faces before God are told to stand up on their feet again, especially to receive God’s commission. In other words, there is a right kind of prostration before God, which is a humble acknowledgment of his infinite greatness, and a wrong kind which is a grovelling denial of our human dignity and responsibility before him. Romans 9, 271.

So in Romans 9:1-11:36, Paul argues that God’s Righteousness is vindicated despite Israel’s rejection of the gospel. First he shows in chapter 9 that Israel’s rejection of the gospel is not inconsistent with God’s promise, God’s plan or God’s justice. 9:1-29

So everybody has to decide how to relate to this rock which God has laid down. There are only two possibilities. One is to put our trust in him, to take him as the foundation of our lives and build on him. The other is to bark our shins against him, and so to stumble and fall. Romans 9, 277.

Secondly, Israel is responsible for their own rejection of the gospel. It is not God’s fault.  9:30-10:21

But between those who have been justified by faith and are now in Christ, all distinctions, not only of race, but also of sex and culture, are not so much abolished (since Jews are still Jews, Gentiles Gentiles, men men and women women) as rendered irrelevant. Just as there is no distinction between us because in Adam we are all sinners (3:22f.), so now there is no distinction between us because in Christ, who is Lord of all, all who call on him are richly blessed. Romans 10.5-13, 285.

So Paul concludes his second exploration into the unbelief of Israel. In chapter 9 he attributed it to God’s purpose of election, on account of which many were passed by, and only a remnant was left, an Israel within Israel. In chapter 10, however, he attributes it to Israel’s own disobedience. Their fall was their fault. The antinomy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility remains.  Romans 10.16-21, 289–290.

Finally, Israel’s rejection of the gospel is not complete or final because God always has a faithful remnant. That is there was a part of the Jewish community that had believed in Paul’s day and there would be a much greater acceptance of the gospel by the Jewish community in the final days. 11:1-36

The end of God’s ways will be ‘mercy, mercy uncompromised’, mercy on the fulness of both Jews and Gentiles, mercy on ‘them all’, that is, ‘on all without distinction, rather than on all without exception’. Romans 11.25-32, 308.

The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God. Romans 11.33-36, 311–312.

In the final section Paul argues that the righteousness of God is shown as believers respond to what God has done in their lives by living sacrificial lives that reflect their renewed minds and spirits, using their spiritual gifts to serve and love one another with the same spirit of acceptance by which God has accepted them. 12.1-15.13

The duty of the justified believer to the church is to commit his life to God, and humbly and lovingly use his spiritual gifts to serve God’s people. The Spirit enables the believer to live as Christ lived. 12:1-21

Our renewed mind, which is capable of discerning and approving God’s will, must also be active in evaluating ourselves, our identity and our gifts. For we need to know who we are, and to have an accurate, balanced and above all sober self-image. A renewed mind is a humble mind like Christ’s. Romans 12.1-8, 325.

It is good never to retaliate, because if we repay evil for evil, we double it, adding a second evil to the first, and so increasing the tally of evil in the world. It is even better to be positive, to bless, to do good, to seek peace, and to serve and convert our enemy, because if we thus repay good for evil, we reduce the tally of evil in the world, while at the same time increasing the tally of good. To repay evil for evil is to be overcome by it; to repay good for evil is to overcome evil with good. This is the way of the cross. Romans 12.17-21, 337.

The believer’s submission to God shows God’s righteousness practically by Christ-like relationships within the community as they act as good citizen in whatever state they live in and by loving their neighbors. 13:1-14

In this distinction between the role of the state and that of the individual, we may perhaps say that individuals are to live according to love rather than justice, whereas the state operates according to justice rather than love. This is by no means a wholly satisfactory formula, however, since it sets love and justice over against each other as if they are opposites and alternatives, whereas they do not exclude each other. Even in loving and serving our enemies, we should still be concerned for justice, and also remember that love seeks justice for the oppressed. And even in pronouncing sentence, judges should allow justice to be tempered by love, that is, mercy. For evil is not only to be punished; it is to be overcome (12:21). Romans 13.4-7, 345.

Romans 13 began with important teaching about how we can be good citizens (1–7) and good neighbours (8–10); it ends with why we should be. There is no greater incentive to the doing of these duties than a lively expectation of the Lord’s return. We will be rightly related to the state (which is God’s minister) and to the law (which is fulfilled in loving our neighbour) only when we are rightly related to the day of Christ’s coming. Although both the state and the law are divine institutions, they are provisional structures, relativized by the last day when they will cease. That day is steadily approaching. Our calling is to live in the light of it, to behave in the continuing night as if the day had dawned. Romans 13.12-14, 353–354.

Believers must act responsibly toward other believers who are at a different level of Christian maturity. God’s righteousness is clearly shown when we can live peaceably with other Christians who disagree with us on minor lifestyle and theological issues. 14:1-15:13

It is wonderful that the apostle lifts the very mundane question of our mutual relationships in the Christian community to the high theological level of the death, resurrection and consequent universal lordship of Jesus. Because he is our Lord, we must live for him. Because he is also the Lord of our fellow Christians, we must respect their relationship to him and mind our own business. For he died and rose to be Lord. Romans 14.4-9, 362.

There must have been some red faces among the strong as they listened to Paul’s letter being read out in the assembly. His gentle sarcasm showed up their skewed perspective. They would have to re-value their values, give up insisting on their liberties at the expense of the welfare of others, and put the cross and the kingdom first. Romans 14.17-21, 367.

In fundamentals, then, faith is primary, and we may not appeal to love as an excuse to deny essential faith. In non-fundamentals, however, love is primary, and we may not appeal to zeal for the faith as an excuse for failures in love. Faith instructs our own conscience; love respects the conscience of others. Faith gives liberty; love limits its exercise. Romans 15.1-13, 375.

In the final section Paul talks about his desire to visit the Romans and minister to them. He encourages them to be bold to minister because they have a mission from God by the power of the Spirit and to work together, pray together and support one another.

So prayer is an essential Christian activity, and it is good to ask people to pray for us and with us, as Paul did. But there is nothing automatic about prayer. Praying is not like using a coin-operated machine or a cash dispenser. The struggle involved in prayer lies in the process of coming to discern God’s will and to desire it above everything else. Then God will work things out providentially according to his will, for which we have prayed. Romans 15.30-32, 390.

His final argument for the power of the gospel to produce God’s righteousness is a list of people who are growing in and living out God’s righteousness. He is assured of the ultimate victory of the believer and church (despite all the diverse and seemingly opposing elements within it) because of God’s power and glory.

But heterogeneity is of the essence of the church, since it is the one and only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls. The vision we have been given of the church triumphant is of a company drawn from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’, who are all singing God’s praises in unison. So we must declare that a homogeneous church is a defective church, which must work penitently and perseveringly towards heterogeneity. Romans 16.3-16, 397–398.

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