The One and Only…

Paul concludes his letter to the Romans with another signature doxology. There’s a lot to unpack, but boiled down it goes like this.

Now to him who is able, the eternal god, the only wise God, be glory forever.

There is no other God with this résuméNo one able. No one eternal. No one wise.

The world gets excited when a wise man comes along, and wise they thought Jesus was and nothing more.

But he proved able to strengthen (i.e. “establish”) the dead back to life and conquer death. This is what Paul taught. This is what Jesus preached. This is what the prophets foretold.

If yours is an obedient faith, you know this, to which you can only respond “Amen!”

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I Kissed Christianity Goodbye

Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. Romans 16:17-18 (NAS)

You must keep your eye on even the most faithful teachers of the word. If you’ve lived long enough you’ll have been shocked to hear news of a prominent defection from the faith.

Lately I’ve been surprised that it’s not a subtle wandering away you see, but a defiant reversal announced loudly on social media. They might as well be saying, “I now hate Jesus!” I’d be running for cover if I did this, knowing the kind of vengeance that could rain down on me at any moment.

But God is gracious and longsuffering, not wishing for anyone to be reduced to ashes before given a chance to reconsider. I would not be so kind.

What are the telltale signs of a movement away from the truth? Dissension when there was agreement. Hindrances when there was smooth sailing. Contrarian views from what was stated as sacrosanct in the past. Strange doctrine rather than sound doctrine. Advocacy of or a growing deference to popular movements that justify sensual behavior. Seductive words (“smooth” and “flattering”) rather than sensible words.

We need to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. Study Satan’s ways and you’ll be able to spot the defects (Romans 16:19-20).

Keep an eye out!

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Who Are These People?

Paul concludes—not begins—his magnificent letter to the Romans with a long list of greetings and salutations. One wonders how he could know so many in the church there! But it’s no wonder considering what a master he was at “working the crowd.” When you read his work you know that he knew all the political and psychological angles of persuasion, but he always compelled others with a twist of love and grace.

It is obvious that Paul used every opportunity for strategic advantage in furthering the cause of Christ and his mission to the uttermost parts of the world. He was his own advance team.

So, who were these people in Romans 16:1-16? One was on her way there, probably with his letter in tow. Phoebe was a deaconess from the church at Cenchrea. Paul made sure her reputation as a “helper of many” preceded her.

He went on to praise a well-known dynamic duo, Priscilla and Aquila, fellow neck-riskers in the cause of Christ. This married couple did everything together. They were real go-getters. Ask Apollos! (Acts 18:24-26)

At least one other married couple was on Paul’s list of saints to greet, Philologus and Julia. I’m convinced that if Paul was married it would be to a Priscilla or Julia. Seems Aquila and Philologus were before their time. There’s nothing sexier than a strong woman of the faith.

Paul next mentioned his first convert to the faith in Asia, Epaenetus. No need for an extensive resume when you’ve got your man in town. I recall the blind man Jesus healed in response to accusations from the Lord’s detractors, “All I know is I was blind and now I see.”  (John 9:25) All Epaenetus had to say is “I’m here because of him.”

Paul was always impressed with effort spent furthering the gospel. He loved those in the trenches with him, the fellow workers, like Mary, who worked hard for the Roman church, and Urbanus and beloved Stachys. Sisters Tryphaena and Tryphosa stood out, as did the single woman Persis. The question is, do we single out and praise those who leave it all on the field for Christ? Try making this your ministry!

While Paul gave a shout out to his Jewish kinsmen in Rome like Herodian, kinsmen Andronicus and Junias shared a special kinship with Paul, having suffered for Christ as “fellow prisoners.” In Paul’s words, they were “outstanding among the apostles,” meaning the greats of the faith also held them in high esteem.

This leads me to another key to Paul’s success in recruiting saints for service, his use of words like outstanding, beloved (Persis), approved (Apelles), and a choice man in the Lord (Rufus). It doesn’t cost a dime to commend with words. I remember long contentious elder meetings at a former church and a particular leader who always seemed to hold a different view. I remember more his description of me in later years as a “dear friend.”

Also honorable mentions were leaders of households of the faith (Aristobulus and Narcissus), hosts of house churches, slaves loyal to Christ and their masters, mothers, and a brother (Nereus) and sister act.

Here’s a thought. Instead of sharing criticisms of saints and whispering tidbits of gossip, reserve your comments to only the good things that you see. We are so quick to speak of things that paint us in a good light. Try refusing to speak of anything but good of a brother or sister in the faith. Afterwall, we all will be friends in high places someday soon.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. Romans 16:16

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Purpose-driven

For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while—but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. Romans 15:22-25 (NAS)

Paul longed to see Rome and to be with the believers there, but first needed to finish the campaign he started, to deliver a financial gift from churches he founded in Macedonia and Achacia to the poor in Jerusalem.

But what’s so interesting here is that the driving force was his dream to preach the gospel to the uttermost extent of civilization at that time—Spain. Paul kept moving in accordance with his mission as clearly articulated in v. 20, but not at the expense of priorities emanating from his overarching purpose, or his relationships with people.

His plans were formulated to exact the most out of his time. Now having exhausted all opportunities in the region—having discharged all his spirit-induced responsibilities—he was ready to move on after tying up one last loose end. But this line item was fraught with danger, and as it turns out, was Paul’s one-way ticket to Rome. Based on his stated objectives, he probably didn’t mind at all.

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Think for Yourself

And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation. Romans 15:20

Here’s Paul’s mission statement. It wasn’t formulated after hours of strategic planning, but came from aspirations spawned by a tap on the shoulder by Christ himself. Here’s the what, where and why of his ministry.

Don’t adopt someone else’s mission statement as yours unless you really believe in it. The Spirit has a particular calling for each of us during our brief stint on earth, and it’s not likely going to emanate from a task force, boardroom or consultant.

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Choir Practice

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6

Faith in God through Jesus Christ levels the playing field. Persons of all stripes enjoy the same God of perseverance and encouragement, of mercies and all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). The hope that springs eternal abides in all who believe, creating same-mindedness. Not that of lemmings but of one huge choir harmoniously singing with one voice.

There’s a commonality in Christ that makes for strange bedfellows. It brings us to tears to witness this true oneness. There might be such apparent unity in the stands at a homecoming game of your alma mater, but nothing like this!

Christ-following bands us together with hope, and joy, and peace, and goodness, and power, and all knowledge.

There’s no need for robes in this choir. Just join.

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Smartest Guy in the Room

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4

It’s grossly unfair that I can walk through life guided by the Bible and you, by your unbelief can’t. You may stumble onto a principle and inadvertently apply it and it works, like the blind squirrel, but for every thorny problem of life I’ve got an answer. It’s not that I’m the smartest guy in the room that’s important, it’s that through thick and thin I’m encouraged to persevere. But most of all, through it all I’ve got hope.

I can’t imagine trying to pry myself out of bed each day without the hope of knowing where I’m going. No matter what comes my way, “what was written in earlier times,” let’s say before the foundation of the world, has a word for me. What an amazing privilege to have a window in on God’s mind! It’s like the typical info commercial sales pitch. If you sign up, you’ll be able to access everything you need to know about life. Just call the number on your screen.

We dearly want to have answers. This generation can only be motivated by a TED talk, won’t turn a screw without checking a YouTube, and won’t make a turn without some Google lady telling them to.

I prefer the old fashioned way. Get up. Grab a cup of home-brewed coffee and my iPad, and see what God’s got for me today. And what’s even better, having done this since downloading my salvation a good 50 years ago, I know where it says in the Bible about…

Again, that I have this privilege and you don’t is unfair. I will always be one up. Unless…

Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. Romans 15:7

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