Ephesians 2 – God’s Way of Reconciliation
Video for Ephesians 2:
A. The need for reconciliation.
1. (1) Christians are alive from the dead.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
a. And you He made alive: The words He made alive are in italics, which indicates that they are added to the text but implied from the context. Paul wrote to believers who were made alive by God’s work.
i. Paul ended the last chapter by considering that the ultimate example of God’s power was the resurrection of Jesus. Now Paul considers what the implications of Jesus’ resurrection power are for our life.
b. Who were dead in trespasses and sins: Though Christians are now alive, they must never forget where they came from. They were dead in trespasses and sins.
i. There are many kinds of life: vegetable life, animal life, mental life, moral life, and spiritual life. A being might be alive in one sense but dead in another. To be spiritually dead does not mean that we are physically dead, socially dead, or psychologically dead. Yet it is a real death, a “dead death” nonetheless. “The most vital part of man’s personality – the spirit – is dead to the most important factor in life – God.” (Wood) “Not in a moral sense, nor a mental sense, but in a spiritual sense, poor humanity is dead, and so the word of God again and again most positively describes it.” (Spurgeon)
ii. This touches on one of the most controversial areas in theology – in what manner, and to what extent, is a person dead before conversion? Must a person be converted before he can believe, or can there be a prior work of God to instill faith that is still short of conversion? Those who argue that man must be regenerated before he can believe like to say that a dead man cannot believe. This takes this particular description further than intended, to say that unredeemed man is exactly like a dead man, because a dead man also cannot sin.
iii. We err if we think that dead in trespasses and sins says everything about man’s lost condition. It is an err because the Bible uses many different pictures to describe the state of the unsaved man, saying he is:
· Blind (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
· A slave to sin (Romans 6:17).
· A lover of darkness (John 3:19-20).
· Sick (Mark 2:17).
· Lost (Luke 15).
· An alien, a stranger, a foreigner (Ephesians 2:12, 2:19).
· A child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
· Under the power of darkness (Colossians 1:13).
iv. Therefore, in some ways the unregenerate man is dead; in other ways he is not. Therefore, it is valid to appeal to all men to believe. We need not look for evidence of regeneration before we tell men to believe and be saved. As the Puritan John Trapp wrote, “Howbeit, the natural man, though he be theologically dead, yet is ethically alive, being to be wrought upon by arguments; hence Hosea 11:4, ‘I drew them by the cords of a man,’ that is, by reason and motives of love, befitting the nature of a man. So the Spirit and Word work upon us still as men by rational motives, setting before us life and good, death and evil.”
c. In trespasses and sins: The idea behind the word trespasses is that we have crossed a line, challenging God’s boundaries. The idea behind the word sins is that we have missed a mark, the perfect standards of God.
i. Trespasses speaks of man as a rebel, sins speaks of man as a failure. “Before God we are both rebels and failures.” (Stott)
2. (2-3) The life of death.
In which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
a. In which you once walked: At one time we lived in trespasses and sins, according to the course of this world, which is orchestrated by Satan. Satan (the prince of the power of the air) is still very much active among those in rebellion against God – the sons of disobedience.
b. You once walked: The self that once walked was the old man, now crucified with Jesus at the time of conversion. The sin nature inherited from Adam influenced the old man, but the world system and Satan do also. One might say that the influence of the old man lives on in what the New Testament calls the flesh.
i. Once walked means it should be different for those who are made alive by Jesus Christ. A dead man feels comfortable in his coffin; but if he were to be made alive again, he would instantly feel suffocated and uncomfortable. There would be a strong urge to escape the coffin and leave it behind. In the same way, when we were spiritually dead we felt comfortable in trespasses and sins; but having come to new life we feel we must escape that coffin and leave it behind.
c. Who now works in the sons of disobedience: In sin we respond to Satan’s “guidance.” The same ancient Greek verb is used in Ephesians 2:2 for the work of Satan in unbelievers as is used in Ephesians 3:20 for the power of God that works in believers.
d. The prince of the power of the air: This unique title for Satan speaks of his authority (prince) and his realm (the air, a way of referring to Satan’s “environment”).
i. “The domain of the air, in fact, is another way of indicating the heavenly realm, which, according to Ephesians 6:12, is the abode of those principalities and powers, world-rulers of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness against which the people of Christ wage war.” (Bruce)
ii. Satan is not the ultimate ruler, but he is a prince in the sense that “Evil men set him up for their sovereign, and are wholly at his beck and obedience.” (Trapp)
e. We all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh: We once were among the sons of disobedience, proven by our conduct. We embraced the lusts of the flesh, which are primarily perversions of the legitimate desires of human nature.
i. “The converts are to be reminded what they have been delivered from, as well as what they have been lifted into. They must be led to look down again into the pit, into the grave, from which grace called them out and set them free.” (Moule)
f. And were by nature children of wrath: Because of our surrender to the old man, the world, and the devil, we were by nature children of wrath. We rightfully deserved God’s wrath, and deserved it because of who we were by our heritage.
i. The Bible knows nothing of the idea that all men are “children of God,” except in the sense that He is our common creator (Acts 17:28). Here Paul says that there is a “family” of wrath that has its children, and Jesus called the Pharisees “a family of snakes” (brood of vipers in Matthew 3:7, 12:34, and 23:33) and said that their father was the Devil (John 8:44).
B. The process of personal reconciliation to God.
1. (4) God’s motive in reconciliation.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
a. But God… because of His great love: With but and because, Paul explained God’s reason behind reconciling man to Himself, and these reasons are found totally in God. The reasons are His rich mercy and His great love, which He focuses on us.
i. “As they were corrupt in their nature, and sinful in their practice, they could possess no merit, nor have any claim upon God; and it required much mercy to remove so much misery, and to pardon such transgressions.” (Clarke)
b. With which He loved us: We might imagine a God of rich mercy and great love who did not focus that mercy and love upon us. But behind the good news of God’s salvation offered in Jesus is the fact that this mercy and love is extended to us.
c. His great love with which He loved us: Some warp the idea of God’s great mercy and love into something that justifies our pride. Some imagine that God loves us because we are so lovable. Instead, God’s love is so great that it extends even to the unlovely – to the children of wrath mentioned in the previous verse.
i. Every reason for God’s mercy and love is found in Him. We give Him no reason to love us, yet in the greatness of His love, He loves us with that great love anyway.
ii. Therefore, we must stop trying to make ourselves lovable to God, and simply receive His great love while recognizing that we are unworthy of it. This is the grace secret of the Christian life.
2. (5-7) The past, present, and future of God’s work of individual reconciliation.
Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
a. When we were dead: This is when God started loving us. He did not wait until we were lovable. He loved us even when we were dead in trespasses, providing nothing lovable to Him.
i. This is the requirement for being saved. You must first be dead, dead to every attempt to justify yourself before God. He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me… has passed from death into life (John 5:24).
b. Made us alive together with Christ: This is what God did to those who were dead in sin. He shared in our death so that we could share in His resurrection life. The old man is crucified and we are new creations in Jesus with the old things passing away and all things becoming new.
i. By grace you have been saved: Paul is compelled to add here that this is the work of God’s grace, in no way involving man’s merit. Our salvation – our rescue – from spiritual death is God’s work done for the undeserving.
c. Sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus: This is the present position of the Christian. We have a new place for living, a new arena of existence – we are not those who dwell on the earth (as Revelation often calls them), but our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
i. We don’t sit in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus, or at least not yet. Instead, we sit in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Since our life and identity is in Christ, as He sits in heavenly places, so do we.
ii. “And now we sit in heavenly places – we have a right to the kingdom of God, anticipate this glory, and are indescribably happy in the possession of this salvation, and in our fellowship with Christ Jesus.” (Clarke)
d. In the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace: In the future, God will continue to show the exceeding riches of His grace to us. God will never stop dealing with us on the basis of grace, and will forever continue to unfold its riches to us through eternity.
i. He might show: “The original implies, that the exhibition is for His own purpose, for his own glory.” (Alford) This work in us reflects infinitely more on the glory of God than on our own glory, and God will use His work in the Church to display His glory throughout the ages.
ii. “From this verse it is clear that Paul fully expected the gospel of the grace of God to be preached in the ages to come. He had no notion of a temporary gospel to develop into a better, but he was assured that the same gospel would be preached to the end of the dispensation. Nor this alone; for as I take it, he looked to the perpetuity of the gospel, not only through the ages which have already elapsed since the first advent of our blessed Lord, but throughout the ages after he shall have come a second time. Eternity itself will not improve upon the gospel.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “When all the saints shall be gathered home they shall still talk and speak of the wonders of Jehovah’s love in Christ Jesus, and in the golden streets they shall stand up and tell what the Lord has done for them to listening crowds of angels, and principalities, and powers.” (Spurgeon)
iv. The exceeding riches of His grace: “So is it with the grace of God: he has as much grace as you want, and he has a great deal more than that. The Lord has as much grace as a whole universe will require, but he has vastly more. He overflows: all the demands that can ever be made on the grace of God will never impoverish him, or even diminish his store of mercy; there will remain an incalculably precious mine of mercy as full as when he first began to bless the sons of men.” (Spurgeon)
v. One way to see the greatness of the grace of God is to see how He begs man to receive it. When we offer a gift to someone and they refuse it, we are likely to allow them to refuse and leave them alone. God does not do this with us; even when we refuse His mercy He reaches into His storehouse of grace and persists with us, begging us to receive the free gift.
3. (8-10) A summing up of God’s work of individual reconciliation.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
a. For by grace you have been saved: Paul cannot speak of this glorious work God does without reminding us that it is a gift of grace, given to the undeserving. We are not even saved by our faith (though faith itself is not a work), but by grace through faith.
i. We can think of water flowing through a hose. The water is the important part, but it is communicated through the hose. The hose does not quench your thirst; the water does. But the hose brings water to the place you can benefit from it.
ii. “The precise form of words here stresses two things. As consistently emphasized by Paul, it is entirely of His grace, His free, undeserved favour to mankind. Then also this salvation is presented as an accomplished fact.” (Foulkes)
b. And that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: The work of salvation is God’s gift. Paul’s grammar here indicates that the words apply to the gift of salvation mentioned in Ephesians 2:4-8, and not directly to the faith mentioned in this verse.
i. Clarke emphatically states that the original Greek is clear in noting that when it says it is the gift of God, the it referred to is salvation, not faith. The great Greek scholar Dean Alford also clearly pointed out that the this not of yourselves referred to salvation, not to faith in this passage.
ii. Yet, even our faith is a gift of God. We cannot believe in Jesus unless God does a prior work in us, for we are blinded by our own deadness and by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4).
iii. “But it may be asked: Is not faith the gift of God? Yes, as to the grace by which it is produced; but the grace or power to believe, and the act of believing, are two different things. Without the grace or power to believe no man ever did or can believe; but with that power the act of faith is a man’s own. God never believes for any man, no more than he repents for him; the penitent, through this grace enabling him, believes for himself.” (Clarke)
iv. This shows us the essential place of prayer in evangelism. Since God initiates salvation, we should begin our evangelism with asking God to do the initiating, and granting the ability to believe to those we want to see saved.
c. Not of works, lest anyone should boast: God did it not of works simply so that no one could boast. If salvation was the accomplishment of man in any way, we could boast about it. But under God’s plan of salvation, God alone receives the glory.
i. “I thought Napoleon did a good thing, when, on the day of his coronation, he took his crown, and put it on his own head. Why should he not take the symbol that was his due? And if you get to heaven, one half by grace and one half by works, you will say, ‘Atonement profited me a little, but integrity profited me much more.’ ” (Spurgeon)
d. For we are His workmanship: God saves us not merely to save us from the wrath we rightly deserve, but also to make something beautiful of us. We are His workmanship, which translates the ancient Greek word poiema. The idea is that we are His beautiful poem. The Jerusalem Bible translates workmanship as “work of art.”
i. God’s love is a transforming love. It meets us right where we are at, but when we receive this love it always takes us where we should be going. The love of God that saves my soul will also change my life.
ii. We are His workmanship, His creation – something new He has made of us in Jesus Christ. “The spiritual life cannot come to us by development from our old nature. I have heard a great deal about evolution and development, but I am afraid that if any one of us were to be developed to our utmost, apart from the grace of God, we should come out worse than before the development began.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Our new life is as truly created out of nothing as were the first heavens, and the first earth. This ought to be particularly noticed, for there are some who think that the grace of God improves the old nature into the new. It does nothing of the sort.” (Spurgeon)
e. Created in Christ Jesus for good works: That beautiful thing God is making of us is active in good works. These are just as much a part of God’s predestined plan as anything else is. These good works are valid evidence that someone is walking as one of God’s chosen.
i. “Works play no part at all in securing salvation. But afterwards Christians will prove their faith by their works. Here Paul shows himself at one with James.” (Wood)
C. The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Jesus.
1. (11-12) The need for the reconciliation of Gentile and Jew.
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh; who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands; that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
a. You, once Gentiles in the flesh: God’s work of reconciliation is not only between God and the individual, though it must begin there. It is also between groups of people that are at odds, such as Jews and Gentiles were in the days of Paul.
b. Who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision: Gentiles were in a desperate place, being aliens, strangers, having no hope and being without God. This shows that they were not only spiritually dead, but they also did not have the access to God that the Jews enjoyed.
i. Before coming to Jesus, Gentiles were “Christless, stateless, friendless, hopeless and Godless.” (Stott quoting Hendriksen)
ii. Having no hope: “The absence of hope in the face of death is amply attested in the literature and epigraphy of the Gaeco-Roman world of that day.” (Bruce)
iii. Without God in the world: Some people believe in God, but they believe He lives in heaven and has nothing to do with this world. In that way, a person can still believe in God and be without God in the world.
c. Without Christ: These are terrible words, and the implications of them are the sum of the woeful condition of the lost man or woman. To be without Christ means to be:
· Without spiritual blessings.
· Without light.
· Without peace.
· Without rest.
· Without safety.
· Without hope.
· Without a Prophet, Priest, or King.
i. “Without Christ! If this be the description of some of you, we need not talk to you about the fires of hell; let this be enough to startle you, that you are in such a desperate state as to be without Christ. Oh! What terrible evils lie clustering thick within these two words!” (Spurgeon)
d. Aliens from the commonwealth of Israel: This likely includes separated Jews as well as Gentiles. “For there were also Israelites who were outside the commonwealth, not only as foreigners but as lax Jews, and lost their part in the covenants, not as foreigners, but as unworthy.” (Alford)
2. (13) Gentiles brought near to God.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
a. But now in Christ Jesus: Those Gentiles who are now in Christ Jesus are no longer far off. They are made near to the things of God, and the blood of Christ accomplishes this, by His sacrificial death.
i. This coming near happens only by the blood of Christ. Gentiles who are not in Christ Jesus are just as far off as they ever were. This reconciliation only happens in Jesus.
ii. It is important that Paul connects the ideas of the great love of Jesus and His sacrificial death. Many people think that preaching Christ crucified is all about a bloody, gory Jesus. But the point of Christ crucified is not gore, but love. Preaching Christ crucified means we preach Jesus full of love – sacrificial, giving, saving love.
b. By the blood of Christ: Many people suggest different ways to come near to God. Some think you can come by keeping the law or by belonging to a group (such as Israel or even the church). But the only way to be brought near to God is by the blood of Christ. What Jesus did on the cross, suffering as a guilty sinner in the place of guilty sinners, brings us near to God.
3. (14-16) Jew and Gentile brought together in the Church.
For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.
a. For He Himself is our peace: Jesus Himself is our peace; He hasn’t simply made peace between God and man and Jew and Gentile; He is our peace.
b. Who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation: The work of Jesus on the cross is the common ground of salvation for both Jew and Gentile. Therefore, there is no longer any dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. Jesus broke that wall down.
i. In the temple, in between the court of the Gentiles and the court of the women, there was a physical barrier, an actual wall of separation between Jew and Gentile.
ii. Paul was, at the time of this writing, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting trial because he was falsely accused by the Jews of taking a Gentile into the temple past the literal wall of separation dividing Jew and Gentile. Paul made it clear that in Jesus, the wall is gone.
iii. The wall of separation is gone because the common Lordship is greater than any previous division. If the Lordship of Jesus Christ is not greater than any difference you have with others – be it political, racial, economic, language, geography or whatever, then you have not fully understood what it means to be under the Lordship of Jesus.
c. Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances: The source of contention between Jew and Gentile was the fact that the Gentiles did not keep the law. But since Jesus fulfilled the law on our behalf, and since He bore the penalty for our failure to keep the law, we are reconciled through His work on the cross – putting to death the source of contention.
i. “The enmity of which the apostle speaks was reciprocal among the Jews and Gentiles. The former detested the Gentiles, and could hardly allow them the denomination of men; the latter had the Jews in the most sovereign contempt, because of the peculiarity of their religious rites and ceremonies, which were different from those of all the other nations of the earth.” (Clarke)
ii. “And the separation was intensified and emphasized by those institutions which were, in part, designed to isolate Israel from the world, until the fit time for the wider blessing. And He ‘annulled’ them by fulfilling them, in His sacrificial work; thus at once reconciling man to God and man to man.” (Moule)
iii. The law as a source of righteousness is no longer an issue. That source of enmity between Jew and Gentile is dead.
d. That He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross: Gentiles and Jews are brought together into one body, the Church, where our unity in Jesus is far greater than our previous differences.
i. So as to create in Himself one new man from the two: Early Christians called themselves a “third race” or a “new race.” Early Christians recognized that they were not Jews, not Gentiles, but one new man embracing all who are in Jesus.
ii. “As Chrysostom explained, it is not that Christ has brought one up to the level of the other, but that he has produced a greater: ‘as if one should melt down one statue of silver and another of lead, and the two together should come out gold.’ ” (Wood)
e. Through the cross: We see the emphasis Paul places on the work of Jesus on the cross. He repeats the idea several times: made near by the blood… having abolished in His flesh the enmity… in one body through the cross. This unity didn’t just happen, it was the hard-fought accomplishment of Jesus.
i. This means that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 (that they all may be one) wasn’t “just” a prayer. It was a prayer Jesus prayed knowing that His work of the cross would accomplish the answer, and a prayer He was willing to pray knowing that His agony would be used to answer.
ii. This bringing together of Jew and Gentile in Jesus is a partial fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose as stated in Ephesians 1:10: that… He might gather together in one all things in Christ. God uses the bringing together Jew and Gentile into the Church as a preview of His ultimate work of summing up all things into Jesus Christ. Since He can do this, He can also do that.
4. (17-18) How Jews and Gentiles are brought together.
And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
a. He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near: As they respond to the same gospel, the same peace that is preached to those afar off (Gentiles) and those near (Jews).
b. Through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father: They enjoy the same access to God, access that comes by one Spirit to the Father. Not only are Jews and Gentiles saved by the same gospel, but they also have the same essential walk with God and access to Him. One group does not have a greater access than the other does.
i. “Access is probably the best translation of prosagoge, though it could be ‘introduction.’ In oriental courts there was a prosagoges who brought a person into the presence of the king.” (Foulkes)
ii. When conflict arises among Christian groups of different backgrounds, you can be sure that they forget that they were saved by the same gospel and that they have the same access to God. One or both groups usually feel they have superior access to God.
iii. “This text is a plain proof of the holy Trinity. Jews and Gentiles are to be presented unto God the FATHER; the SPIRIT of God works in their hearts, and prepares them for this presentation; and JESUS CHRIST himself introduces them.” (Clarke)
5. (19-22) A picture of God’s work of reconciliation, both individual and among groups.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
a. You are no longer strangers and foreigners: Paul refers to Christians of Gentile background. They should not regard themselves as “second-class citizens” in God’s kingdom in any regard. They are not only full citizens, but also full and equal members of God’s household.
b. Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets: Because we are one body and have the same access to God, it also follows that we are all built upon a common foundation. That foundation is the original apostles and prophets, and their enduring revelation, recorded in the New Testament. May no one ever lay any other foundation.
i. Though Chrysostom, Jerome, Calvin and others saw the prophets mentioned as Old Testament prophets, it is better to see them as New Testament prophets, perhaps New Testament authors who were not strictly members of the core apostolic group.
ii. “Those who ranked next to the Apostles in the government of the church… They were not in every case distinct from the Apostles: the apostleship probably always including the gift of prophecy: so that all the Apostles themselves might likewise have been prophets.” (Alford)
iii. In this sense of laying a foundation of supremely authoritative revelation for all God’s people, there are no more apostles or prophets today. The foundation is already set. In a lesser sense there may be apostles and prophets today, but not in the sense Paul means here.
c. Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone: This corner stone “literally means at the tip of the angle. It refers to the capstone or binding stone that holds the whole structure together… often the royal name was inscribed on it. In the East it was considered to be even more important than the foundation.” (Wood)
i. Salmond on corner stone: “It denotes the stone placed at the extreme corner, so as to bind the other stones in the building together – the most important stone in the structure, the one on which its stability depended.”
ii. “That structure and cohesion may have for its scaffolding the sacred order of the Church in her visible aspect. But the cement is not of these things; it is wholly divine; it is the Spirit, possessing each saint for God, and binding them all together by articulating them all to their Head.” (Moule)
d. In whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord: As we keep to our common foundation, the whole building of God’s people grows together in a beautiful way, as a holy temple where God dwells in beauty and glory.
i. This tells us that the Church is a building, perfectly designed by the Great Architect. It is not a haphazard pile of stones, randomly dumped in a field. God arranges the Church for His own glory and purposes.
ii. This tells us that the Church is a dwelling place, a place where God lives. It is never to be an empty house that is virtually a museum, with no one living inside. The Church is to be both the living place of God and His people.
iii. This tells us that the Church is a temple, holy and set apart to God. We serve there as priests, offering the spiritual sacrifices of our lips and hearts, our praises to God (Hebrews 13:15).
e. You also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit: When Solomon’s temple was built, the stones were prepared at a place far from the temple building site. It was said that you couldn’t hear the sound of a hammer or axe or other iron tools at the site (1 Kings 6:7). In the same way, God prepares us first, and then He fits us into His building.
i. “The Father makes choice of this house, the Son purchaseth it, the Holy Ghost taketh possession of it.” (Trapp)
ii. “And the everlasting FATHER will perfectly reveal Himself, to all the watchers of all the regions of the eternal world, not anyhow but thus – in His glorified Church, in the Race, the Nature, once wrecked and ruined, but rebuilt into this splendour by His grace.” (Moule)
iii. Adam Clarke explained how God’s work in the Church gave glory to the wisdom, power, and love of God. See all this, we should praise God for His glorious Church.
· There is nothing as noble as the Church, seeing that it is the temple of God.
· There is nothing so worthy of reverence, seeing God who dwells in it.
· There is nothing so ancient, since the patriarchs and prophets worked to building it.
· There is nothing so solid, since Jesus Christ is the foundation of it.
· There is nothing so high, since it reaches as high as to the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
· There is nothing so perfect and well proportioned, since the Holy Spirit is the architect.
· There is nothing more beautiful, because it is adorned with building stones of every age, every place, every people; from the highest kings to the lowest peasants; with the most brilliant scientists and the simplest believers.
· There is nothing more spacious, since it is spread over the whole earth, and takes in all who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
· There is nothing so Divine, since it is a living building, animated and inhabited by the Holy Spirit.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Galatians 4 – Heirs and Slaves, Grace and Law
A. No longer under bondage to the basic elements, we are God’s children.
1. (1-3) An illustration and application comparing a child and slave.
Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
a. The heir, as long as he is a child: The word child has the idea of a minor. It doesn’t suggest a specific age, rather someone who is not yet legally recognized as an adult.
i. In both Jewish and Greek cultures, there were definite “coming of age” ceremonies where a boy stopped being a child and started being a man, with legal rights as an heir.
ii. In the Roman custom, there was no specific age when the son became a man. It happened when the father thought the boy was ready. When Paul used the phrase until the time appointed by the father, he shows that he had the Roman “coming of age” custom more in mind than the Jewish custom.
iii. “A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. At this time the child was formally adopted by the father as his acknowledged son and heir and received the toga virilis in place of the toga praetexta which he had previously worn.” (Boice)
iv. “There was a Roman custom that on the day a boy or a girl grew up, the boy offered his ball, and the girl her doll, to Apollo to show that they had put away childish things.” (Barclay)
b. As long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all: Think of a wealthy ancient household, with a young boy who is destined to inherit all that his father has. When the boy is just a child, he actually has less day-to-day freedom and authority than a high ranking slave in the household. Yet, he is destined to inherit everything and the slave isn’t.
i. In fact, the heir is under the strict care of guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father.
c. Even so: Now comes the comparison to our own spiritual condition. We are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26), and we are heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). The law was our guardian (Galatians 3:24-25), to watch over us when we were still “children.” The law’s effect on our corrupt nature was to bring us into bondage under the elements of the world.
d. Elements of the world: Paul uses an interesting phrase here. “To describe it Paul uses the word stoicheia. A stocheion was originally a line of things; for instance, it can mean a file of soldiers. But it came to mean the ABC, and then any elementary knowledge.” (Barclay)
i. Cole translates the idea: “So too, we, when we were ‘young children,’ were kept in slavery to the ABC of the universe.”
ii. The idea of the “ABC of the universe” is important. If there is any “ABC of the universe” (elementary principle) that we must break free from, and that is stressed in pagan religion just as much as Jewish law, it is the principle of cause and effect. One may call it karma or “you get what you deserve” or something else; yet it rules nature and the minds of men. We live under the idea that we get what we deserve; when we are good we deserve to receive good and when we are bad we deserve to receive bad.
iii. Paul told the Galatians to go beyond this “ABC of the universe” into an understanding of God’s grace. Grace contradicts this “ABC of the universe,” because under grace God does not deal with us on the basis of what we deserve. Our good cannot justify us under grace; our bad need not condemn us. God’s blessing and favor is given on a principle completely apart from the “ABC of the universe.” His blessing and favor is given for reasons that are completely in Him, and have nothing to do with us.
iv. The “ABC of the universe” is not bad in itself. We do and must use it in life, and God has a proper place for it. But we must not base our relationship to God on this principle. Since we are now under grace, He does not deal with us on the principle of earning and deserving. Because this is such an elementary principle, it is so hard for us to shake this kind of thinking. But it is essential if we will walk in grace. When we live on the principle of earning and deserving before God, we live in bondage under the elements of the world.
v. False teaching is according to these elemental principles, and not according to Jesus (Colossians 2:8). In Jesus, we die to the elemental principles of the world (Colossians 2:20).
2. (4-5) The liberation of heirs from their bondage.
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
a. But when the fullness of time had come: The idea behind the phrase the fullness of time is “when the time was right.” Jesus came at just the right time in God’s redemptive plan, when the world was perfectly prepared for God’s work.
i. “But introduces a contrast. The control of the elemental principles was only for a limited time.” (Morris) For those who were under bondage to the law, it may seem that Jesus’ coming was late. Paul assures us that it was at just the right time.
ii. “It was a time when the pax Romana extended over most of the civilized earth and when travel and commerce were therefore possible in a way that had formerly been impossible. Great roads linked the empire of the Caesars, and its diverse regions were linked far more significantly by the all-pervasive language of the Greeks. Add the fact that the world was sunk in a moral abyss so low that even the pagan cried out against it and that spiritual hunger was everywhere evident, and one has a perfect time for the coming of Christ and for the early expansion of the Christian gospel.” (Boice)
iii. The time was also right because the 483 years prophesied by Daniel were drawing to a close (Daniel 9:24-26).
b. God sent forth His Son, born of a woman: Jesus came not only as God’s Son, but also as one born of a woman, born under law. The eternal Son of God in heaven added humanity to His deity and became a man, born of a woman, born under law.
i. Born of a woman may be a veiled reference to the Virgin Birth, because Paul never says that Jesus was born of a man. “The more general term ‘woman’ indicates that Christ was born a true man. Paul does not say that Christ was born of man and woman, but only of woman. That he has the virgin in mind is obvious.” (Luther)
c. To redeem those who were under the law: Because Jesus is God, He has the power and the resources to redeem us. Because Jesus is man, He has the right and the ability to redeem us. He came to purchase us out of the slave market, from our bondage to sin and the elements of the world.
i. John Newton, the man who wrote the most popular and famous hymn in America, Amazing Grace, knew how to remember this. He was an only child whose mother died when he was only seven years old. He became a sailor and went out to sea at eleven years old. As he grew up, he became the captain of a slave ship and had an active hand in the horrible degradation and inhumanity of the slave trade. But when he was twenty-three, on March 10, 1748, when his ship was in imminent danger of sinking off the coast of Newfoundland, he cried to God for mercy, and he found it. He never forgot how amazing it was that God had received him, as bad as he was. To keep it fresh in his memory, he fastened across the wall over the fireplace mantel of his study the words of Deuteronomy 15:15: You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you. If we keep fresh in our mind what we once were, and what we are now in Jesus Christ, we will do well.
d. That we might receive the adoption as sons: It would be enough that we are purchased out of the slave market. But God’s work for us doesn’t end there; we are then elevated to the place of sons and daughters of God by adoption.
i. Every human being is a child of God in the sense of being His offspring (Acts 17:28-29). Yet not every human being is a child of God in the sense of this close, adoptive relationship Paul writes of here. In this sense, there are children of God and children of the devil (John 8:44).
ii. Paul probably has in mind the Roman custom of adoption, where adopted sons were given absolutely equal privileges in the family and equal status as heirs.
iii. There is a sense in which this is a totally unnecessary blessing that God has given in the course of salvation, and a demonstration of His true and deep love for us. We can picture someone helping or saving someone, but not going so far as to make them a part of the family – but this is what God did for us.
iv. We receive the adoption of sons; we do not recover it. In this sense, we gain something in Jesus that is greater than what Adam ever had. Adam was never adopted as a son of God in the way believers are. So we are mistaken when we think of redemption as merely a restoration of what was lost with Adam. We are granted more in Jesus than Adam ever had.
3. (6-7) Celebrating our sonship.
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
a. Because you are sons… “Abba, Father!” It is fitting that those who are in fact sons have the Spirit of the Son in their hearts. This gives us both the right and the ability to cry out “Daddy!” to God our Father, even as Jesus did to His Father.
i. Some think that translating the idea of Abba as “Daddy” is too intimate, and even improper. Cole writes on Abba: “While it was the usual informal word applied by a child to its father within the home, it is over-sentimentalizing to translate it as ‘Daddy.’”
ii. But as Boice points out, “The early church fathers – Chrysostom, Theodor of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyprus, who came from Antioch (where Aramaic was spoken and who probably had Aramaic-speaking nurses in their childhood) – unanimously testify that Abba was the address of a small child to his father.”
iii. “Abba is an Aramaic affectionate diminutive for ‘father’ used in the intimacy of the family circle; it passed without change into the vocabulary of Greek-speaking Christians” (Fung)
iv. We have access to the same intimacy with God the Father that God the Son, Jesus Christ had. Jesus addressed God the Father as “Daddy” when He prayed, Abba, Father as recorded in Mark 14:36.
b. Crying out, “Abba, Father!” We don’t whisper “Daddy” as if we were hesitant to speak so affectionately. Instead, we cry it out.
i. Calvin on crying out: “I consider that this participle is used to express great boldness. Uncertainty does not let us speak calmly, but keeps our mouth half-shut, so that the half-broken words can hardly escape from a stammering tongue. ‘Crying’, on the contrary, is a sign of certainty and unwavering confidence.”
ii. “Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries them all. Our feeble groans, ‘Abba, Father,’ will be heard of God sooner than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.” (Luther)
c. God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts: We know that we are the sons and daughters of God by the witness of the Holy Spirit within us. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:16: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
i. “Thus, God’s purpose was not only to secure our sonship by His Son, but to assure us of it by His Spirit. He sent His Son that we might have the status of sonship, and He sent His Spirit that we might have an experience of it.” (Stott)
ii. We also can’t miss the way the truth of the Trinity is woven into the text: God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of God the Son, into our hearts to give us an assurance that we are the sons and daughters of God.
d. The Spirit of His Son: The Holy Spirit can be called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, or linked to God the Father. This is because the nature of God is consistent among the persons of the Trinity. Here, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of His Son because the idea of our sonship is based on Jesus’ sonship.
i. Our sonship is based on who we are in Jesus, yet there are important distinctions between our sonship and Jesus’ sonship. He is the only begotten Son (John 3:16) making Him a Son by essential nature. We are adopted sons and daughters of God, made children by a legal decree of God.
e. Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son: Sons are never slaves and slaves are never sons in their father’s house. Jesus illustrated this in the parable of the prodigal son, where the son was determined to return to his father as a slave – but the father refused, and would only receive him as a son.
f. And if a son, then an heir: There is a beautiful progression. First we are set free from slavery. Then we are declared sons and adopted into God’s family. Then, as sons, we are made heirs.
i. Heirs inherit something and Paul made it clear just what we inherit: an heir of God through Christ. We inherit God Himself.
ii. For some, this might seem like a small inheritance. Yet for those who are really in Christ and who really love God, to be an heir of God is the richest inheritance of all.
g. Through Christ: Our release from slavery, our sonship, the Spirit of Jesus in our hearts, and our status as heirs of God are all birthrights given to us in Jesus. We receive them through Christ. These are things we should be living in and enjoying every day of our Christian life.
4. (8-11) A decision to make: A choice between living under the elements of the world or as a son of God.
But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.
a. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is that you turn again: The bondage is natural when we did not know God and when we served those things that are not gods (then, indeed, when you did not know God). Yet now the Galatians have known God and yet placed themselves under bondage. This was what amazed Paul.
i. Or rather are known by God: Paul made an important point when he wrote or rather are known by God; it is really more important that God knows us (in the sense of an intimate, accepting relationship) than it is that we know God. Remember the terrible words of judgment in Matthew 7:21-23: I never knew you.
b. How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements: In turning to legalism, the Galatians were not turning to a new error, but coming back to an old one – the idea of a works relationship with God.
i. The weak and beggarly elements: Paul used the same word for elements used in Galatians 4:3. As Christians, we can place ourselves under the bondage of a works based, “cause and effect” relationship with God – but this is moving backward, not forward. By writing turn again, Paul shows that the Galatians were not turning to a new error, but coming back to an old one; the idea of a works relationship with God.
ii. “One of the tragedies of legalism is that it gives the appearance of spiritual maturity when, in reality, it leads the believer back into a ‘second childhood’ of Christian experience.” (Wiersbe)
c. Weak and beggarly: These elements of the world are weak because they offer no strength; they are beggarly because they bestow no riches. All they can do is bring us again into bondage.
i. Stott paraphrased the thought: “If you were a slave and are now a son, if you did not know God but have now come to know Him and to be known by Him, how can you turn back again to the old slavery? How can you allow yourself to be enslaved by the very elemental spirits from whom Jesus Christ has rescued you?”
d. You observe days and months and seasons and years: The false teachers among the Galatians demanded the observance of days and months and seasons and years and other such legalistic matters and acted as if this would lead them into a higher plane of spirituality. Yet all these weak and beggarly elements of legalism did was to bring them into bondage.
i. Paul seems amazed that someone would turn from the liberty of Jesus to this kind of bondage. Yet legalism caters to and recognizes our flesh by putting the focus on what we achieve for God, not on what Jesus did for us. The liberty of Jesus gives us status as sons and a rich inheritance, but it won’t cater to our flesh.
ii. “Notice how such a verse is at a variance with any and every theory of a Christian sabbath, cutting at the root, as it does, of ALL obligatory observance of times as such.” (Alford)
iii. “When certain days are represented as holy in themselves, when one day is distinguished from another on religious grounds, when holy days are reckoned a part of divine worship, the days are improperly observed.” (Calvin)
e. I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain: Paul’s fear was that this attraction to legalism would mean that his work among the Galatians amounted to nothing and would end up being in vain.
i. Labored is literally “to labor to the point of exhaustion.” Paul worked hard among the Galatians, as he always did (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul never thought the gospel of free grace meant laziness in serving God.
f. In vain: At the end of this section, Paul set a choice before the Galatians and before us. We can have a living, free, relationship with God as a loving Father based on what Jesus did for us and who we are in Him. Or we can try to please God by our best efforts of keeping the rules, living in bondage as slaves, not sons. Living that way makes the whole gospel in vain.
i. A good example of this is John Wesley. Before his conversion:
· He was the son of a clergyman and a clergyman himself.
· He was orthodox in belief, faithful in morality, and full of good works.
· He did ministry in prisons, sweatshops, and slums.
· He gave food, clothing, and education to slum children.
· He observed both Saturday and Sunday as the Sabbath.
· He sailed from England to the American colonies as a missionary.
· He studied his Bible, prayed, fasted, and gave regularly.
ii. Yet all the time, he was bound in the chains of his own religious efforts, because he trusted in what he could do to make himself right before God instead of trusting in what Jesus had done. Later, he came to “trust in Christ, in Christ only for salvation,” and came to an inner assurance that he was now forgiven, saved, and a son of God. Looking back on all his religious activity before he was truly saved, he said: “I had even then the faith of a servant, though not that of a son.”
B. A personal appeal from the Apostle Paul.
1. (12) Paul appeals: “Become like me.”
Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all.
a. I urge you to become like me: For many of us today, these are strange words from Paul. How could he ever urge the Galatians to become like him? Should he only point them to Jesus? In what way should the Galatian Christians become like Paul?
i. Paul knew well that he wasn’t sinlessly perfect. He wasn’t standing before the Galatian Christians, saying, “Look at how perfect I am. Don’t worry about following Jesus, just follow me.” He simply wanted them to follow him as he followed Jesus.
ii. Instead, Paul knew the Galatian Christians should imitate his consistency. The Galatians started out with the right understanding of the gospel, because Paul led them into the right understanding. But some of them didn’t stay there like Paul did, and in that way, they should become like Paul.
iii. Paul knew the Galatian Christians should imitate his liberty. Paul was free in Jesus, and he wanted them to know the same freedom. In that way, they should become like Paul. “Be as I am is an exhortation to the Galatians to become Christians in the same sense as Paul is a Christian, one who is not bound by the Jewish law.” (Morris)
iv. In some sense every Christian should be able to say to others, “become like me.” “All Christians should be able to say something like this, especially to unbelievers, namely that we are so satisfied with Jesus Christ, with His freedom, joy and salvation, that we want other people to become like us.” (Stott)
b. For I became like you: Paul could say to the Galatian Christians, “When it comes to legalism, I know where you are at. I used to live my whole life trying to be accepted by God because of what I did. In that regard, I became like you and saw that it was a dead end. Take it from someone who knows where you are coming from.”
i. Or, Paul may have in mind the idea that he became as a Gentile when he was among them, according to the philosophy expressed in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. In this thinking, he became “One who lives free from the restrictions imposed by the law. This means he had thrown off his Jewish shackles and come to be like a Gentile; he beseeches his converts not to become like Jews.” (Morris)
c. You have not injured me at all: Paul has used pretty strong words with the Galatians. It would be easy for them to think he spoke just out of a sense of personal hurt. Paul assured them that this wasn’t the case at all. Paul wanted them to get this right, but for their own sakes and not for his.
i. We can feel Paul’s heartfelt emotion in these verses. As Stott observed, “In Galatians 1-3 we have been listening to Paul the apostle, Paul the theologian, Paul the defender of the faith; but now we are hearing Paul the man, Paul the pastor, Paul the passionate lover of souls.”
2. (13-16) Paul appeals: “Remember how you used to respond to me.”
You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?
a. You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first: Apparently, Paul was compelled to travel into the region of Galatia because of some type of physical infirmity he suffered while on his first missionary journey. The book of Acts doesn’t tell us as much about this as we would like to know, but we can piece together a few facts.
i. We know that when Paul was in the region of south Galatia, persecutors tried to execute him by stoning in the city of Lystra (Acts 14:19-20). His attackers gave him up for dead, yet he miraculously survived. Some think that this was the cause of the physical infirmity he mentions. But Paul was already in the region of Galatia when that happened; his wording in Galatians 4 suggests that he came into the region because of a physical infirmity.
ii. “The emphatic position of the phrase suggests that Paul’s original plan had been to go elsewhere (perhaps westward toward Ephesus) and that his missionary visit to the Galatians was due solely to his illness and his need for recuperation.” (Fung)
iii. What exactly was Paul’s physical infirmity? Some believe his problem was depression, or epilepsy, or that his illness was connected with the thorn in the flesh mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12. None of these can be established with certainty.
iv. According to Acts 13, Paul came to the region of Galatia – specifically, the city of Pisidian Antioch – from the city of Perga in the region of Pamphylia. We know a few things about Perga; first, it was the place where John Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13), and the trials related to the physical infirmity may have had something to do with it. Second, Perga was in lowland, marshy area. The Galatian city of Pisidian Antioch was some 3,600 feet higher than Perga. It has been suggested that Paul’s physical infirmity was a type of malaria common to the lowlands of Perga. William Barclay described this malaria as producing a terrible pain that was like “a red-hot bar thrust through the forehead.”
v. However, we should remember what Morris quoted from Stamm: “The difficulty of diagnosing the case of a living patient should warn us of the futility of attempting it for one who has been dead almost nineteen hundred years.”
b. My trial that was in my flesh you did not despise or reject: Even though Paul was not a great example of strength and power because of his physical infirmity, the Galatians still received him, and they received him honorably. They embraced Paul so generously that they would have plucked out [their] own eyes and given them to Paul if that could somehow meet his need.
i. “Obviously, a plucked-out eye would be a gift nobody could use, but Paul’s point is that his converts had been ready to do anything for him in those early days.” (Morris)
ii. This leads some to believe that Paul’s physical infirmity had something to do with his eyes. Noted Greek scholars such as Wuest, Rendall, and Robertson believe that the nuances of the Greek text indicate that Paul’s physical infirmity was an eye problem. Galatians 6:11 – where Paul makes reference to large letters written with his own hand – may also support this idea.
iii. But Cole rightly notes: “Those who see here a proof that Paul suffered from ophthalmia, or some similar eye-disease, are welcome to do so. Certainly with smoky fires, no chimneys, and oil lamps, one would expect a high incidence of eye trouble in the first-century Mediterranean world. To one who had spent years poring over crabbed Hebrew tomes the risk might well be greater. But again we have no proof.”
iv. But the real point here is that despite whatever Paul’s infirmity was, the Galatians did not despise or reject him. “As physical infirmity and illness were regarded by Jews and Gentiles alike as a symbol of divine displeasure or punishment, there would have been a natural temptation for the Galatians to despise Paul and reject his message.” (Fung) This is exactly what the Galatians did not do. Even though Paul seemed weak and afflicted, they embraced him and responded to his message of grace and God’s love.
c. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth? In light of the great love and honor the Galatians had shown towards Paul and in light of the great blessing they received from God when they showed such to him, the Galatians should not think that Paul has now become their adversary when he confronted them with the truth. They needed the truth more than they needed to feel good about where they were at.
i. “It is not enough that pastors be respected, if they are not also loved. Both are necessary; otherwise, their teaching will not have a sweet taste. And he declares that both had been true of him among the Galatians. He had already spoken of their respect; he now speaks of their love.” (Calvin)
ii. “To the degree that ministers and teachers of the Word of God do teach the Word, to that same degree should they be received as the Galatians received the apostle Paul. Ministers should not be received and evaluated on the basis of their personal appearance, intellectual attainments, or winsome manner, but as to whether or not they are indeed God’s messengers bearing the word of Christ.” (Boice)
3. (17-18) Paul appeals: “Beware of the affection the legalists show you.”
They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them. But it is good to be zealous in a good thing always, and not only when I am present with you.
a. The zealously court you, but for no good: Paul will admit that the legalists zealously court the Galatians; and legalism often comes wrapped in a cloak of “love.” But the end result is for no good.
i. Many cults use a technique informally known as “love bombing.” They overwhelm a prospective member with attention, support, and affection. Yet it isn’t really a sincere love for the prospect; it is really just a technique to gain another member. Christians can use the same technique in some way or another.
b. They want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them: Paul’s legalistic opponents wanted to draw the Galatian Christians away into their own divisive group. They actually wanted to exclude the Galatians from other Christians and to bring them into the “super-spiritual” group of the legalists.
i. The zeal cultivated by legalism is often more a zeal for the group itself than for Jesus Christ. Though they name the name of Jesus, in practice the group itself is exalted as the main focus, and usually exalted as the last refuge of the true “super-Christians.”
c. Exclude: This literally means to “lock you up.” For now, the legalists are courting the Galatians, but once they have alienated them from Jesus and from Paul, the legalists will demand that the Galatians serve them. Legalism is almost always associated with some kind of religious bondage.
i. “The Judaizers had pursued the adroit course of presenting to them only part of the requirements of the Mosaic law, those parts which might be least repulsive to them as Gentiles. Having gotten them to adopt the festivals and perhaps the fast days, the Judaizers were now urging them to adopt circumcision.” (Wuest)
d. It is good to be zealous in a good thing always: Paul certainly wasn’t against zeal. He wanted Christians to be zealous in a good thing always. But it is important to make sure that our zeal is in a good thing because zeal in a bad thing is dangerous.
i. The Galatian Christians were no doubt impressed by the zeal of the legalists. The legalists were so sincere, so passionate about their beliefs. Paul agreed that it is good to be zealous – but only in a good thing always. Zeal in the service of a lie is a dangerous thing.
ii. Paul knew this well, because before he became a Christian, he had plenty of zeal; even persecuting the church (Acts 7:58-8:4). Later, Paul looked back at that time of great zeal in the service of a lie and deeply regretted it (1 Corinthians 15:9, 1 Timothy 1:15).
e. And not only when I am present with you: Paul wanted the Galatians to be zealous for what is good when he was absent, not only when he was present among them.
4. (19-20) Paul appeals: “I love you like a father, please listen to me.”
My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you.
a. My little children: Paul rightly considers himself to be a father to the Galatians. Yet this challenge has made him feel as if he must bring them to Jesus all over again (for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you). Paul knew that his work of forming Christ in them was not complete until they stayed in a place of trusting Jesus.
i. The idea of Christ is formed in you is similar to the idea of Romans 8:29: For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.
ii. It would be wrong for Paul to seek to form himself in the Galatians. That is never to be the job of the pastor. He was right to seek to form Christ in them.
b. My little children: Through this section, Paul masterfully mixed metaphors to give a powerful picture.
i. Paul likens himself to a “mother” who gave spiritual “birth” to the Galatians (my little children).
ii. Something unnatural has happened – the Galatians are drifting away from Jesus and to the law. So Paul has to labor in birth again, and this is unnatural to have labor pains a second time.
iii. Paul has the labor pains, but Christ is formed in them. Paul will keep laboring until it is Christmas for the Galatians, and Jesus is formed in them.
iv. This is a pattern found in all Biblical ministry. “The Word of God falling from the lips of the apostle or minister enters into the heart of the hearer. The Holy Ghost impregnates the Word so that it brings forth the fruit of faith. In this manner every Christian pastor is a spiritual father who forms Christ in the hearts of his hearers.” (Luther)
v. “He likens his pain to the pangs of childbirth. He had been in labour over them previously at the time of their conversion, when they were brought to birth; now their backsliding has caused him another confinement. He is in labour again. The first time there had been a miscarriage; this time he longs that Christ will be truly formed in them.” (Stott)
c. I would like to be present with you now and change my tone: Paul wished two things. First, that he could be present with the Galatians. But he also wished that he did not need to speak to them in such strong words, that he could change his tone. Yet their danger of leaving the true gospel has made such strong words necessary and has made Paul’s doubts necessary to address.
i. This section, Galatians 4:12-20, shows us principles for the attitude for people in the church toward their pastor.
· Their attitude must not be determined by his personal appearance or personality.
· Their attitude must not be determined by their own theological whims.
· Their attitude should be determined by his loyalty to the apostolic message in the Bible.
ii. This section, Galatians 4:12-20, shows us principles for the attitude for the pastor towards the people in his church.
· He must be willing to serve and sacrifice for his people.
· He must tell them the truth.
· He must love his people deeply; never for a selfish motive.
· He must desire to see more than mere excitement, but zeal for good things.
· He must desire to form Jesus in them, not himself in them.
C. Using the Old Testament, Paul shows that the systems of grace and law can’t exist together as principles in our lives.
1. (21) Paul will appeal to the law to those who claim the law.
Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?
a. Tell me, you who desire to be under the law: Now Paul writes directly, both to those who promoted legalism and to those who succumbed to legalism. He writes to those who desire to be under the law, living under law keeping as the basis for their relationship with God.
i. There are many advantages to being under the law as your principle of relating to God. First, you always have the outward certainty of a list of rules to keep. Second, you can compliment yourself because you keep the rules better than others do. Finally, you can take the credit for your own salvation, because you earned it by keeping the list of rules.
ii. Under the law it is what you do for God that makes you right before Him. Under the grace of God, it is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that makes us right before Him. Under the law the focus is on my performance. Under the grace of God, the focus is on who Jesus is and what He has done. Under the law we find fig leaves to cover our nakedness. Under the grace of God we receive the covering won through sacrifice that God provides.
iii. The Christian has no business living under the law. “What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian – it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s law like a rod in terrorem, over Christians, and say, ‘If you sin you will be punished with it.’ It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern… Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us.” (Spurgeon)
b. Do you not hear the law? Paul sensed that he hadn’t made his point yet, so he now approached the matter with another illustration from the Old Testament. Essentially, Paul said “Let’s have a Bible study. Open your Bibles to Genesis chapter 16.”
i. Paul took it for granted that his readers knew the Bible. He explains his point from the story of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah in Genesis 16 without a lot of detail from the story. He assumes that they knew the story.
ii. It is important that Paul refer back to the Scriptures again and again. The legalists among the Galatians presented themselves as the “back to the Bible” bunch. Yet Paul will show that they were not handling the Old Testament Scriptures correctly, and he will show that a true understanding of the Law of Moses will support the true gospel he preaches.
2. (22-23) The Old Testament shows the contrast between the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael.
For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise.
a. For it is written that Abraham had two sons: The legalists who troubled the Galatians protested that they were children of Abraham, and therefore blessed. Paul will admit they are children of Abraham, but they forget that Abraham had two sons.
b. The one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman: Abraham’s first son was named Ishmael. He was born not from his wife, but from his wife’s servant (the bondwoman), from a misguided surrogate mother scheme to “help God” when Abraham’s wife Sarah couldn’t become pregnant.
i. The first contrast Paul draws between real Christianity and legalism is the contrast between freedom and slavery. One son of Abraham was born by a freewoman, and one was born by a bondwoman. The real Christian life is marked by freedom.
c. Born according to the flesh: Ishmael was Abraham’s son, but he was the son according to the flesh and unbelief and trying to make your own way before God.
i. It often doesn’t look like it, but legalism is living according to the flesh. It denies God’s promise and tries to make your own way to God through the law. This is living like a descendant of Abraham – but it is living like Ishmael.
ii. “Legalism does not mean the setting of spiritual standards; it means worshipping these standards and thinking we are spiritual because we obey them. It also means judging other believers on the basis of these standards.” (Wiersbe)
iii. “The better legalist a man is, the more sure he is of being damned; the more holy a man is, if he trust to his works, the more he may rest assured of his own final rejection and eternal portion with Pharisees.” (Spurgeon)
d. He of the freewoman through promise: Abraham’s second son was named Isaac. He was born, miraculously, through Abraham’s wife Sarah (the freewoman). Isaac was Abraham’s son, and he was the son of God’s promise and faith and God’s miracle for Abraham.
i. The second contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between a work done by God’s promised miracle and a work done by the flesh. The real Christian life is connected to God’s promised miracle and not the flesh.
3. (24-27) The Old Testament shows the contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion.
Which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar; for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children; but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren,
You who do not bear!
Break forth and shout,
You who are not in labor!
For the desolate has many more children
Than she who has a husband.”
a. Which things are symbolic: Paul wanted it understood that he used pictures from the Old Testament. His reference to Hagar and Ishmael were pictures, meant to illustrate his point. Now he would bring in another picture.
i. Paul was clearly guided by the Holy Spirit here. For us, we must be careful about reading allegorical or symbolic things into the Scriptures. “Scripture, they say, is fertile and thus bears multiple meanings. I acknowledge that Scripture is the most rich and inexhaustible fount of all wisdom. But I deny that its fertility consists in the various meanings which anyone may fasten to it at his pleasure. Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and simple one, and let us embrace and hold it resolutely.” (Calvin)
b. For these are the two covenants: In the Bible, a covenant is a “contract” that sets the rules for our relationship with God. Paul brought it right down to the issues confronting the Galatian Christians. The legalists wanted them to relate to God under one set of rules, and Paul wanted them to relate to God under the “rules” presented by the gospel.
c. The one from Mount Sinai: One covenant is associated with Mount Sinai, the place where Moses received the Law (Exodus 19-20).
i. This covenant gives birth to bondage. Since it is all about what we must do for God to be accepted by Him, it doesn’t set us free. It puts us on a perpetual treadmill of having to prove ourselves and earn our way before God.
ii. This covenant is associated with Hagar, the “surrogate mother” who gave birth to Ishmael. It is therefore (if used wrongly) a covenant according to the flesh (Galatians 4:23).
iii. This covenant corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, that is, earthly Jerusalem which was the capital of religious Judaism. This was the way most Jewish people in Paul’s day tried to be right with God – by trusting in their ability to please God by keeping the law.
d. But the Jerusalem above: The other covenant is associated with Jerusalem, with Mount Zion – but not the Mount Zion of this earth. Instead, it is associated with the Jerusalem above – God’s own New Jerusalem in heaven.
i. The third contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between heaven and earth. Real Christianity comes from heaven and not earth.
e. The Jerusalem above is free: Paul will now tell us more about the covenant represented by the heavenly Jerusalem. This covenant brings freedom – it is free. It is free because it recognizes that Jesus paid the price, and we don’t have to pay it ourselves.
f. Which is the mother of us all: This covenant has many children; it is the mother of us all. Every Christian through the centuries belongs to this new covenant, the covenant of the heavenly Jerusalem. And every birth under this covenant is a miracle, like the fulfillment of the prophecy from Isaiah 54:1, Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Every one is born because of a miracle by God.
g. The desolate has many more children: The quotation from Isaiah 54:1 also suggests that there will soon be more Christians than Jews – a promise that was fulfilled.
i. The fourth contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between many more and many. The abundance and glory of the New Covenant is shown by the fact that it would soon have many more followers than the Old Covenant.
|The “Ishmaels” – Legalism||The “Isaacs” – True Christianity|
|Slavery and bondage||Freedom|
|Ishmael: born according to the flesh||Isaac: born by God’s promised miracle|
|Coming from the earthly Jerusalem||Coming from the heavenly Jerusalem|
|Many children||Many more children|
|Inheriting nothing||Inheriting everything|
|Relationship based on law-keeping||Relationship based on trusting God|
4. (28-31) Paul applies the contrasts between the two systems.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.
a. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise: As Christians, we don’t identify with Ishmael. We identify with Isaac, as children of a promise that was received by faith.
b. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now: Ishmael and his descendants persecuted Isaac and his descendants. So we should not be surprised that the modern day people who follow God in the flesh persecute those who follow God in faith through the promise.
i. The fifth contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between persecuted and persecuting. The legalists – represented by Ishmael – have always persecuted true Christianity, represented by Isaac. As we walk in the glory, in the freedom, in the miraculous power of this New Covenant, we should expect to be mistreated by those who don’t.
ii. There is no specific mention of Ishmael persecuting Isaac, though Genesis 21:9 says that Ishmael did mock Isaac. Paul may be referring to this mocking, he may be recalling a Jewish tradition, or he may be adding something by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we didn’t know before.
iii. The persecution Christians face “will not always be by the world but also and indeed more often by their half-brothers – the unbelieving but religious people in the nominal church. This is the lesson of history… Today the greatest enemies of the believing church are found among the members of the unbelieving church, the greatest opposition emanating from pulpits and church hierarchies.” (Boice)
c. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son”: The answer to this problem is clear, though not easy. We must cast out the bondwoman and her son. Law and grace cannot live together as principles for our Christian life.
i. Hagar and Sarah could not live together in the same house (Genesis 21:8-14). We could argue all day long whose fault it was, but that isn’t the point. The point is that God told Abraham to send Hagar away. So also every Christian must send away the idea of relating to God on the principle of law, the principle of what we do for Him instead of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ.
ii. Significantly, Sarah could live with Hagar and Ishmael until the son of promise was born. Once Isaac was born, then Hagar and Ishmael had to go. In the same way, a person could relate to the law one way before the promise of the gospel was made clear in Jesus Christ. But now that it has been made clear, there is nothing to do but to cast out the bondwoman and her son.
d. For the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman: Ishmael was not necessarily a bad man or a cursed man. But neither was he blessed with the promise of inheriting the glorious covenant of God given to Abraham and his descendants. That was the inheritance of one heir – Isaac, the son of the freewoman.
i. The sixth contrast Paul draws between Christianity and legalism is the contrast between inheriting all and inheriting nothing. While the “Isaacs” of this world may be persecuted, they also have a glorious inheritance that the “Ishmaels” of this world will never know. We are heirs of God through the principle of grace, not works.
e. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free: For Paul, one of the great issues in this was freedom. He knew the bondage of trying to earn his own way before God, because he lived that way for decades. Now he knew the freedom of living as a son of God, free in Jesus Christ.
i. “Barclay makes the point that anyone who makes law central is ‘in the position of a slave; all his life he is seeking to satisfy his master the law’. But when grace is central, the person ‘has made love his dominant principle… it will be the power of love and not the constraint of law that keeps us right; and love is always more powerful than law.’” (Morris)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Galatians 1 – Challenging a Different Gospel
Video for Galatians 1:
A. Introduction to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
1. (1-2) The writer and the readers.
Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead), and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia.
a. Paul: The apostolic authorship of this magnificent letter is virtually unquestioned, even by more skeptical scholars.
i. Galatians has been called the “Declaration of Independence of Christian liberty.” The great reformer Martin Luther especially loved this letter; he called Galatians his “Catherine von Bora” after his wife; because, he said, “I am married to it.” Leon Morris wrote, “Galatians is a passionate letter, the outpouring of the soul of a preacher on fire for his Lord and deeply committed to bringing his hearers to an understanding of what saving faith is.”
ii. Many scholars believe that Galatians was written in the late 40’s or the early 50’s. An approximate date of A.D. 50 is often given. It seems that Paul wrote this letter before the Jerusalem Council mentioned in Acts 15, because although he mentions several trips to Jerusalem, he makes no mention of the council. Because the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 dealt with the exact issues Paul writes about, it would seem strange if the Council had already happened, yet he made no mention of it. If it is true that Galatians was written around A.D. 50, then Paul would have been a Christian for about 15 years, being converted on the road to Damascus around A.D. 35.
b. Paul, an apostle: This emphasis on Paul’s apostolic credentials is important. Paul had strong words for these Galatians, and they had to understand that he wrote with authority; indeed, apostolic authority. Paul expected that Christians would respect his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
i. “The word apostle as Paul uses it here does not merely refer to one who has a message to announce, but to an appointed representative with an official status who is provided with the credentials of his office.” (Wuest)
ii. It is our duty to also respect Paul’s authority as an apostle. We do this by regarding this ancient letter as the Word of God, and by taking it seriously to heart.
c. Not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father: Paul’s calling as an apostle was not from man, nor was it through man. It didn’t originate with man, and it didn’t come through man. It originated with God and came directly from God. His standing as an apostle was not based on opinion polls and it did not come from any human council. It was based on a Divine call, made through both the Father and the Son.
i. “The bluntness of Paul’s denial is due to the charge… that Paul was not a genuine apostle because not one of the twelve.” (Robertson)
ii. “When I was a young man I thought Paul was making too much of his call. I did not understand his purpose. I did not then realize the importance of the ministry… We exalt our calling, not to gain glory among men, or money, or satisfaction, or favor, but because people need to be assured that the words we speak are the words of God. This is no sinful pride. It is holy pride.” (Martin Luther)
d. And all the brethren who are with me: Paul gave a greeting from all the brethren who are with him; but the use of I in this letter (such as in Galatians 1:6) shows that it was not really a “team effort” written by Paul and his coworkers. Paul wrote this letter and he sent greetings from his friends as a matter of courtesy.
e. To the churches of Galatia: This wasn’t written to a single church in a single city. For example, 1 Thessalonians is addressed to the church of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:1). But this was addressed to the churches of Galatia, because Galatia was a region, not a city and there were several churches among the cities of Galatia.
i. “During the third century BC some Celtic peoples (or Gauls) migrated to this area and, after fighting with the people they encountered, they settled into the northern part of Asia Minor. In due course they came into conflict with the Romans, who defeated them, and from this time they remained under the authority of the Romans as a dependent kingdom. The name ‘Galatia’ covered the territory settled by the Gauls.” (Morris)
ii. There were essentially two regions of Galatia, one to the north (including the cities of Pessinus, Ancyra and Tavium) and one to the south (including the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe). There has been considerable – though mostly unimportant – debate as to if Galatians was written to the cities of the northern region or the southern region.
iii. “It is clear that Paul intended his words to have a wide circulation in the region of Galatia. The letter would be taken to each centre and read there, or several copies would be made and one taken to each church.” (Morris)
f. Of Galatia: Paul was in southern Galatia on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13-14:23) and he went through northern Galatia on his second (Acts 16:6) and third (Acts 18:23) missionary journeys.
i. In the end it doesn’t really matter if the letter was written to the northern or southern regions of Galatia. We may not be able to know and it doesn’t really matter, because this is a letter that has something to say to every Christian. The debate between northern Galatia and southern Galatia is interesting for scholars and adds some understanding to the letter, but not much.
2. (3-5) Paul sends his apostolic greeting.
Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
a. Grace to you and peace: This was Paul’s familiar greeting, drawing from the traditional greetings in both Greek culture (grace) and Jewish culture (peace). Paul used this exact phrase five other times in the New Testament.
i. Paul used the word grace more than 100 times in his writings. Among all the other writers of the New Testament, it is only used 55 times. Paul was truly the apostle of grace.
ii. “These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity.” (Martin Luther)
b. Who gave Himself for our sins: Paul wished grace and peace unto his readers from both God the Father and God the Son. Now, Paul will briefly expand on the work of God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The first thing he wrote about Jesus is that He gave Himself for our sins.
i. “Throughout the epistle Paul points the Galatians to the centrality of the cross. He cannot wait to make this plain, and we find a reference to it in his very first sentence.” (Morris)
ii. Jesus gave. We know from John 3:16 that God the Father so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. Yet God the Father was not the only giver; Jesus also gave. Jesus is a loving, giving God and a loving, giving Savior.
iii. Jesus gave the greatest thing anyone can give – Himself. One might debate if it was more a gift for the Father to give the Son (as in John 3:16) or if it was more of a gift for the Son to give Himself. But that is like discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Jesus gave the greatest gift He could; He gave himself. There is a sense in which we do not even begin to give until we give ourselves.
iv. Jesus gave Himself for our sins. This is why Jesus had to give Himself. Our sins put us on a road to ruin and destruction. If God did not do something to save us, our sins would destroy us. So out of love, Jesus gave Himself for our sins! The love was always there; but there would never have been the need for Jesus to give Himself if our sins had not placed us in a terrible place.
v. “These words, ‘who gave himself for our sins’, are very important. He wanted to tell the Galatians straight out that atonement for sins and perfect righteousness are not to be sought anywhere but in Christ… So glorious is this redemption that it should ravish us with wonder.” (Calvin)
c. That He might deliver us from this present evil age: This explains why Jesus gave Himself for our sins. In many ways, the Galatians battled with and sometimes lost against this present evil age. They needed to know that Jesus had come to save them from this present evil age.
i. The idea behind the word deliver is not deliverance from the presence of something, but deliverance from the power of something. We will not be delivered from the presence of this present evil age until we go to be with Jesus. But we can experience deliverance from the power of this present evil age right now.
d. According to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever: The purpose of this saving work is not primarily to benefit man (though that is part of the purpose). Instead, the primary purpose is to glorify God the Father.
i. False doctrine was a real problem among the Galatian churches, and their false doctrines robbed God of some of the glory due to Him. By emphasizing the rightly recognized glory of God and His plan, Paul hoped to put them on the right path.
B. The danger of a different gospel.
1. (6) Paul’s amazement.
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.
a. I marvel that you are turning away so soon: Paul seemed amazed not so much that they were turning away (this might alarm him, but not amaze him), but that they were turning away so soon.
i. Missing here are the expressions of thanks or praise that Paul often wrote in the beginning of his letters. Romans 1:8-15, 1 Corinthians 1:4-9, Philippians 1:3-11, Colossians 1:3-8, and 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 are each examples of Paul giving thanks and praising the churches in his opening words. But he did not do this with the Galatians and the directness of his approach indicates the severity of their problem.
ii. “This is the sole instance where St. Paul omits to express his thanksgiving in addressing any church.” (Lightfoot)
b. From Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel: They were turning away from a Person (from Him who called you) as they turned to a false idea (to a different gospel). To turn away from the true gospel is always to turn away from the Person of Jesus Christ.
i. From Him who called you in the grace of Christ also connected their turning away to a turning away from the principle of grace. However the Galatians were turning, it was away from the grace of God, not towards it.
2. (7) Three facts about this different gospel brought to the Galatians.
Which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
a. Which is: Galatians 1:7 tells three things about this different gospel. First, it was an illegitimate gospel (which is not another). Second, it was not good at all but trouble (who trouble you). Third, it was a distortion of the true gospel (pervert the gospel of Christ).
b. Which is not another: Paul recognized that this different gospel was not really another gospel at all. Those who promoted this different gospel perhaps said, “We know our message is different than Paul’s message. He has his truth, and we have ours. He has his gospel, and we have ours.” Paul rejected the idea that their message was a legitimate alternative gospel in any way.
i. The word gospel literally means “good news.” Paul meant, “There is no ‘good news’ in this message. It is only bad news, so it really isn’t a ‘different good news.’ It is bad news. This is not another gospel at all.”
ii. The King James Version translates this passage like this: unto another gospel: Which is not another. Actually, the New King James Version translation is much better at this place, because it makes a distinction between different and another, accurately reflecting the difference between two distinct ancient Greek words used. Different has the idea of “another of different kind” and another has the idea of “another of the same kind.” It is as if Paul wrote, “They brought you a completely different gospel. They claim it is just an alternative gospel of the same kind, but it isn’t at all. It is all together different.”
c. There are some who trouble you: Those who brought this other gospel to the Galatians brought them trouble. They didn’t advertise their message as trouble, but that is what it was.
i. Some who trouble you means that someone brought this false gospel to the Galatians. False gospels don’t just happen. People bring them, and the people who bring them may be sincere and have a lot of charisma.
ii. “Note the resourcefulness of the devil. Heretics do not advertise their errors. Murderers, adulterers, thieves disguise themselves. So the devil masquerades all these devices and activities. He puts on white to make himself look like an angel of light.” (Martin Luther)
d. To pervert the gospel of Christ: The other gospel was really a perversion or a distortion of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. It didn’t start from nothing and make up a new name for God and pretending to have a new Savior. It used the names and ideas familiar to the Galatian Christians, but it slightly twisted the ideas to make their message all the more deceptive.
i. The gospel of Christ: Notice that Paul was really not contending for the gospel of Paul, though it was his gospel also. Paul’s gospel was only worth defending and fighting for because it was in fact the gospel of Christ Jesus.
e. Want to pervert the gospel of Christ: Paul plainly wrote that these people want to distort the good news of Jesus. It is sometimes hard for us to understand why someone would want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
i. There is something about the message of the true gospel that is deeply offensive to human nature. To understand this, we should first understand what the true gospel is. Paul stated his gospel most succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The message of the gospel is what Jesus did on the cross for us as reveled by the Scriptures and proven by the resurrection.
ii. When we understand how offensive the true gospel is to human nature, we better understand why someone would want to pervert it.
· The gospel offends our pride. It tells us we need a savior, and that we cannot save ourselves. It gives no credit to us at all for our salvation; it is all the work of Jesus for us.
· The gospel offends our wisdom. It saves us by something many consider foolish – God becoming man and dying a humiliating, disgraceful death on our behalf.
· Third, the gospel offends our knowledge. It tells us to believe something which goes against scientific knowledge and personal experience – that a dead man, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead in a glorious new body that would never die again.
3. (8-9) A solemn curse upon those who bring a false gospel.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
a. But even if we, or an angel from heaven: Paul didn’t care who brought the false gospel. Even if it were himself, or an angel from heaven, it was to be rejected. Any person who spreads a false gospel was worthy only of a particular curse from God (let him be accursed).
b. Let him be accursed: Paul seemed to have in his mind the solemn curses pronounced by God upon those who break His covenant (Deuteronomy 27). For Paul, it wasn’t enough to say, “Don’t listen to these people.” Paul soberly thought that they should be cursed.
c. So now I say again: The curse was repeated for extra emphasis; it is really impossible for Paul to express this idea with any more strength than he did here.
i. It might be fair to ask, “Where was Paul’s love?” He asked for a “double curse” on people – people who spread a false gospel. He didn’t just ask God to curse the message, but to curse the people who spread the message. So, where was Paul’s love? Paul’s love was for souls that were in danger of hell. If a gospel is false, and not “another good news” at all, then it can not save the lost. Paul looked at this false, perverted gospel and said, “That is a rescue ship about to sink! It can’t save anyone! I want to do everything right before God to warn people away from the wrong rescue ship.”
C. The Divine source of the gospel Paul preached.
1. (10) Paul’s gospel did not come from a desire to please man.
For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
a. For do I now persuade men, or God? Paul’s idea was not “I want to persuade God to my point of view.” The idea is that God was his audience. When Paul spoke, he spoke first to God and not to man.
b. Or do I seek to please men? Paul’s first obligation was to please God and not to please men. He refused to shape his message just to please his audience. He was more concerned about pleasing God.
i. Though it is not specifically said, we sense that Paul made a contrast between himself and those who brought the different gospel. Apparently in some way that different gospel was built around the idea of pleasing man.
ii. “There have always been preachers who have sought popular acclaim above all else, and there are some still. It is part of fallen human nature that even those charged with the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel can fall into the trap of trying to be popular rather than faithful.” (Morris)
c. For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ: For Paul it was one or the other. He could not direct his ministry towards pleasing men and at the same time direct it towards pleasing Jesus Christ. And if his concern was not first to please Jesus Christ, then he was not a bondservant of Christ.
i. Servant is perhaps not the best translation here; it may be better translated slave. “It is unfortunate that… our English translations should so consistently fail to give this word its true meaning, thereby encouraging the false conception of Christian ‘service’ (as something essentially voluntary and part-time) so characteristic of modern religious idealism. The ‘bond-servant of Christ’ is not free to offer or withhold his ‘service’; his life is not his own, but belongs entirely to his Lord.” (Duncan, cited in Morris)
2. (11-12) The Divine source of Paul’s gospel.
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
a. The gospel which was preached by me: “Paul makes a play on words when he refers to ‘the gospel that I gospelled to you.’” (Morris)
b. Is not according to man: In contrast to the different gospel brought by others, Paul’s message was a revelation from God. Paul’s message was not a man’s attempt to reach up and understand God; it was God’s effort to bow down and communicate with man.
i. Men may have many marvelous things to teach us, but God’s revelation has all things which pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Now more than ever, the world does not need the good advice and wisdom of man, it needs a revelation from God.
c. I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ: Paul’s own relationship to this gospel was unique. Most everyone hears the gospel from someone else; this is God’s most common way of communicating the gospel (Romans 10:14-15). But Paul was not normal in this respect. He received the gospel in a dramatic, direct revelation when He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.
i. Acts 9:1-9 describes this remarkable incident: The Lord Jesus spoke to Paul directly on the Road to Damascus, and then Paul spent three days without sight, before a Christian named Ananias came to him. It was probably during this time – either on the road or during the three days – when Jesus brought His gospel to Paul. Paul certainly had the gospel right away, because he was both saved and began to immediately preach the message Jesus gave him (Acts 9:20-22).
ii. “Paul did not receive instruction from Ananias. Paul had already been called, enlightened, and taught by Christ in the road. His contact with Ananias was merely a testimonial to the fact that Paul had been called by Christ to preach the gospel.” (Luther)
3. (13-24) Paul proves that his message did not come from man.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.) Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God in me.
a. For you have heard: It seemed that everyone had heard how Paul came to the Lord. Paul’s story was familiar to Christians in general and especially to those he had personally ministered to. We can trust that if Paul was among a group a people for a while and preached the gospel to them, it wouldn’t be long until he shared his personal testimony.
i. The value of a personal testimony is not restricted to those who have a dramatic conversion story like Paul did. We can see the glory of God’s work just as much in those who think they have a boring testimony.
b. My former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it: Paul’s credentials as a zealous Jew who persecuted Christians are beyond doubt. Acts 8:1-3 and 9:1-2 describe Paul’s energetic persecution of Christians.
i. This shows that Paul was not looking for some other truth when he was first confronted with the gospel of Jesus. Unfortunately, many of those who seek a new revelation will find it – and find deception that draws them away from Jesus Christ (like a young Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church).
c. But when it pleased God: Paul did not come to Jesus because any man decided that he should. It wasn’t at the pleasure of any man, but when it pleased God. Additionally, God did not choose Paul because there was something in Paul that pleased him; God called Paul through His grace, God’s unmerited favor.
i. We know this call wasn’t because of anything Paul did because he said that he was called from my mother’s womb. Therefore, God called Paul before Paul did anything to deserve it.
ii. Before Paul was a Christian, the emphasis was on what he had done: I persecuted… I advanced… (I was) more exceedingly zealous. Once Paul followed Jesus Christ the emphasis was on what God had done: God, who separated me… called me… reveal His Son in me.
iii. “He wanted to show that his calling depended on the secret election of God, and that he was ordained an apostle, not because he had fitted himself for undertaking such an office by his own industry or because God had discerned that he was worthy of having it bestowed on him, but because, before he was born, he had been set apart by the secret purpose of God.” (Calvin)
d. Separated: This was an important word. The ancient Greek word aphorizo is related to the word used as a title for the religious elite in Paul’s day, the “separated ones” known as the Pharisees. Before Paul came to Jesus he was an important Pharisee (Philippians 3:5), but he wasn’t really separated to God. Now through the work of Jesus he was really separated to God.
i. “The word is akin to that for ‘Pharisee’, and the Pharisees were in no doubt about it: they held firmly that they were ‘separated’ to God.” (Morris)
e. To reveal His Son in me: In Galatians 1:12, Paul wrote of how Jesus was revealed to him (the revelation of Jesus Christ). But here is something different and perhaps more glorious: Jesus revealed in Paul. God wants to do more than reveal Jesus to us; He wants to reveal Jesus in us.
i. “What begins by being a revelation of Christ to Paul becomes a revelation of Christ in Paul as the Spirit produces his fruits in unaccustomed soil.” (Cole, cited in Morris)
f. That I might preach Him among the Gentiles: This shows that God has a sense of humor. He selected a man before he was born for the job of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. That man grew up hating Gentiles, probably believing as some (not all) other Jewish people did in his day: that the only reason God made Gentiles was so they would fuel the fires of hell.
g. I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood: Additionally, upon his conversion, Paul did not immediately confer with flesh and blood (even the eminent apostles in Jerusalem) to discover the content of the gospel. He didn’t need to, because the gospel was revealed directly to him by Jesus.
i. We shouldn’t think that Paul meant here that it was wrong to hear of the gospel through others, or that those who do hear it from someone who isn’t an apostle somehow have an inferior salvation. The point is simply that the gospel Paul preached was not a gospel of man, and this was settled forever because he did not receive it from any man.
h. But I went to Arabia: Paul did not travel to what we would call Saudi Arabia. The area known in that day as Arabia in his day extended all the way to the city of Damascus. Paul probably lived in some quiet desert place outside of Damascus.
i. Then after three years: Paul proved here that he did not learn the gospel from the apostles, because he had been a Christian for three years before he even met the apostles Peter and James.
i. It was unusual for him to wait so long. “A new convert, especially one who had been foremost in persecuting the believers, would surely touch base with the leaders of the movement he was now espousing, if only to make sure that he now had a correct understanding of what the Christian movement was teaching. But Paul did not do this.” (Morris)
ii. Nor was Paul commanded to appear before the apostles in some kind of examination. This is indicated when Paul wrote, “to see Peter.” The word translated to see speaks of someone coming as a tourist. “‘A word used,’ says Chrysostom, ‘by those who go to see great and famous cities.’” (Lightfoot) The idea is that Paul was not commanded to come to Jerusalem to give an account to Peter or the other disciples, but he came of his own accord and visited as a tourist.
j. They were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith he once tried to destroy.” If Paul did not learn the essential content of the gospel from any man, then it was also true that the early Christians were slow in learning just who Paul was in Jesus. All they really knew was that he had been dramatically converted – for which they glorified God. After his conversion, Paul was an anonymous Christian for many years.
i. Paul’s status as unknown is certainly different from our own habit of puffing up any prominent convert as soon as they come to Jesus. Paul was happy and well served to spend many years in obscurity before God raised him up.
ii. In this whole section, Paul showed that there was enough contact between him and the other apostles to show that they were in perfect agreement, but not so much that it showed that Paul got his gospel from them instead of God.
iii. Paul’s whole point in the second part of this chapter is important. His gospel was true, and his experience was valid, because it really came from God. It is fair for every Christian to ask if their gospel has come from God, or if they have made it up themselves. The questions are important because only what comes from God can really save us and make a lasting difference in our lives.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 9 – Has God Rejected Israel?
A. Paul’s heart for Israel.
1. Chapter 9 brings a slight shift in focus to the Book of Romans.
a. In Romans chapters one through eight, Paul thoroughly convinced us about man’s need and God’s glorious provision in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
b. Now, in Romans 9 through 11, Paul deals with the problem associated with the condition of Israel. What does it mean that Israel has missed its Messiah? What does this say about God? What does it say about Israel? What does it say about our present position in God?
i. The question goes something like this: How can I be secure in God’s love and salvation to me when it seems that Israel was once loved and saved, but now seems to be rejected and cursed? Will God also reject and curse me one day?
ii. “If God cannot bring his ancient people into salvation, how do Christians know that he can save them? Paul is not here proceeding to a new and unrelated subject. These three chapters are part of the way he makes plain how God in fact saves people.” (Morris)
2. (1-2) Paul’s sorrow.
I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.
a. I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart: In Romans 8 Paul left us at the summit of glory, assuring us that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. So why has Paul now become so somber in his tone?
b. Sorrow and continual grief: Paul feels this because he considers a people who seem to be separated from God’s love – unbelieving Israel, who rejected God’s Messiah.
c. I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit: Paul uses every possible assurance to declare his great sorrow over Israel. This is something that really bothered Paul and was on his heart.
3. (3-5) The source of Paul’s sorrow.
For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.
a. I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren: This is a dramatic declaration of Paul’s great love and sorrow for his brethren. Paul says he himself is willing to be separated from Jesus if that could somehow accomplish the salvation of Israel.
i. We should not think that Paul merely uses a dramatic metaphor here. The solemn assurances he gave in Romans 9:1 remind us he is being completely truthful.
ii. This great passion for souls gave Paul perspective. Lesser things did not trouble him because he was troubled by a great thing – the souls of men. “Get love for the souls of men – then you will not be whining about a dead dog, or a sick cat, or about the crotchets of a family, and the little disturbances that John and Mary may make by their idle talk. You will be delivered from petty worries (I need not further describe them) if you are concerned about the souls of men… Get your soul full of a great grief, and your little griefs will be driven out.” (Spurgeon)
b. I could wish that I myself were accursed: Paul reflects the same heart Moses had in Exodus 32:31-32: Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold! Yet now, if You will forgive their sin; but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”
i. Of course Paul also shows the heart of Jesus, who was cursed on behalf of others that they might be saved (Galatians 3:13).
ii. We should remember that when it came to ministry, the Jews were Paul’s worst enemies. They harassed and persecuted him from town to town, stirring up lies and violence against him. Yet he still loved them this passionately.
iii. “It is not easy to estimate the measure of love in a Moses and a Paul. For our limited reason does not grasp it, as the child cannot comprehend the courage of warriors!” (Bengel, cited in Newell)
c. The adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the services of God, and the promises: The pain Paul feels for his lost brethren is all the more severe when he considers how God has blessed them with all the privileges of being His own special people.
i. The glory speaks of God’s Shekinah glory, the visible “cloud of glory” showing God’s presence among His people.
d. Of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came: Paul also considers the human legacy of being God’s chosen people. Israel not only gave us the great fathers of the Old Testament, but Jesus Himself came from Israel. This entire spiritual legacy makes Israel’s unbelief all the more problematic.
e. Christ… who is over all, the eternally blessed God, Amen: This is one of Paul’s clear statements that Jesus is God. Those who prefer a punctuation that says otherwise impose their preconceived views on the text. “The grammatical arguments almost all favor the first position [that it says that Christ is God], but most recent scholars accept the second [that God here refers to the Father] on the grounds that Paul nowhere else says explicitly that Christ is God.” (Morris)
i. Wuest, quoting Robertson: “[This is a] clear statement of the deity of Christ following the remark about His humanity. This is the natural and obvious way of punctuating the sentence. To make a full stop after flesh and start a new sentence for the doxology is very abrupt and awkward.”
B. Why Israel is in its present condition from God’s perspective: Israel missed the Messiah because it was according to God’s sovereign plan.
1. (6-9) Has God failed with His plan regarding Israel? No; God has not failed His children of promise.
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this is the word of promise: “At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.”
a. It is not that the word of God has taken no effect: Paul thinks of someone looking at Israel and saying, “God’s word didn’t come through for them. He didn’t fulfill His promise for them because they missed their Messiah and now seem cursed. How do I know that He will come through for me?” Paul answers the question by asserting that it is not that the word of God has taken no effect.
b. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel: One meaning of the name Israel is “governed by God.” Paul says here that not all Israel is really “governed by God.” Did God’s word fail? No; instead, they are not all governed by Godwho are of Israel.
i. “Paul tells us that no one is truly Israel unless he is governed by God. We have a parallel situation with the word ‘Christian.’ Not everyone who is called a Christian is truly a follower of Christ.” (Smith)
c. The children of the promise are counted as the seed: God’s word didn’t fail, because God still reaches His children of the promise, which may or may not be the same as physical Israel.
i. Paul shows that merely being the descendant of Abraham saves no one. For example, Ishmael was just as much a son of Abraham as Isaac was; but Ishmael was a son according to the flesh, and Isaac was a son according to the promise (At this time I will come and Sarah will have a son). One was the heir of God’s covenant of salvation, and one was not. Isaac stands for the children of the promise and Ishmael stands for the children of the flesh.
2. (10-13) Another example of the fact that promise is more important than natural relation: Jacob and Esau.
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
a. Our father Isaac: God’s choice between Ishmael and Isaac seems somewhat logical to us. It’s a lot harder to understand why God chose Jacob to be the heir of God’s covenant of salvation instead of Esau. We might not understand it as easily, but God’s choice is just as valid.
b. Not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil: Paul points out that God’s choice was not based on the performance of Jacob or Esau. The choice was made before they were born.
c. That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls: So we do not think that God chose Jacob over Esau because He knew their works in advance, Paul points out that it was not of works. Instead, the reason for choosing was found in Him who calls.
d. The older shall serve the younger: God announced these intentions to Rebecca before the children were born, and He repeated His verdict long after Jacob and Esau had both passed from the earth (Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated).
i. We should regard the love and the hate as regarding His purpose in choosing one to become the heir of the covenant of Abraham. In that regard, God’s preference could rightly be regarded as a display of love towards Jacob and hate towards Esau.
ii. Morris cites examples where hate clearly seems to mean something like “loved less” (Genesis 29:31, 33; Deuteronomy 21:15; Matthew 6:24; Luke 14:26; John 12:25). Yet he agrees with Calvin’s idea that the real thought here is much more like “accepted” and “rejected” more than our understanding of the terms “loved” and “hated.”
iii. All in all, we see that Esau was a blessed man (Genesis 33:8-16, Genesis 36). God hated Esau in regard to inheriting the covenant, not in regard to blessing in this life or the next.
iv. “A woman once said to Mr. Spurgeon, ‘I cannot understand why God should say that He hated Esau.’ ‘That,’ Spurgeon replied, ‘is not my difficulty, madam. My trouble is to understand how God could love Jacob.’” (Newell)
v. Our greatest error in considering the choices of God is to think that God chooses for arbitrary reasons, as if He chooses in an “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” way. We may not be able to fathom God’s reasons for choosing, and they are reasons He alone knows and answers to, but God’s choices are not capricious. He has a plan and a reason.
3. (14-16) Does God’s choice of one over another make God unrighteous?
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
a. Is there unrighteousness with God? Paul answers this question strongly: Certainly not! God clearly explains His right to give mercy to whomever He pleases in Exodus 33:19.
b. I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy: Remember what mercy is. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve. God is never less than fair with anyone, but fully reserves the right to be more than fair with individuals as He chooses.
i. Jesus spoke of this right of God in the parable of the landowner in Matthew 20:1-16.
ii. We are in a dangerous place when we regard God’s mercy towards us as our right. If God is obliged to show mercy, then it is not mercy – it is obligation. No one is ever unfair for not giving mercy.
c. So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy: God’s mercy is not given to us because of what we wish to do (him who wills), or because of what we actually do (him who runs), but simply out of His desire to show mercy.
4. (17-18) The example of Pharaoh.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
a. For this very purpose I have raised you up: God allowed Pharaoh in the days of Moses to rise to power so that God could show the strength of His judgment against Pharaoh, and thereby glorify Himself.
b. Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens: Sometimes God will glorify Himself through showing mercy; sometimes God will glorify Himself through a man’s hardness.
i. We should not think that God persuaded an unwilling, kind-hearted Pharaoh to be hard towards God and Israel. In hardening the heart of Pharaoh, God simply allowed Pharaoh’s heart to pursue its natural inclination.
c. He hardens: We know that Pharaoh did harden his own heart, according to Exodus 7:13, 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7, and 9:34. But “He does not so much as bother to indicate that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, an evidence of unbelief and rebellion, because he is emphasizing the freedom of God’s action in all cases.” (Harrison)
5. (19-21) Does God’s right to choose relieve man of responsibility?
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
a. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Paul imagines someone asking, “If it is all a matter of God’s choice, then how can God find fault with me? How can anyone go against God’s choice?”
b. Indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Paul replies by showing how disrespectful such a question is. If God says He chooses, and if God also says that we are responsible before Him, who are we to question Him?
c. Does not the potter have power over the clay: Does not God have the same right that any Creator has over his creation? Therefore, if God declares that we have an eternal responsibility before Him, then it is so.
6. (22-24) Doesn’t God have the right to glorify Himself as He sees fit?
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
a. What if God: Again, the same principle from God’s dealing with Pharaoh is repeated. If God chooses to glorify Himself through letting people go their own way and letting them righteously receive His wrath so as to make His power known, who can oppose Him?
b. He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy: As well, if God desires to be more than fair with others, showing them His mercy, who can oppose Him?
c. But also of the Gentiles: And if God wants to show mercy to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (of course, never being less than fair to either), who can oppose Him?
i. “The Jews were inclined to think that God could not make them anything other than vessels of honor. Paul rejects this view and points out that God does what he wills.” (Morris)
d. Vessels of wrath prepared for destruction: Paul does not say that God has prepared them for destruction. Those vessels do an adequate job on their own.
7. (25-26) The prophet Hosea (in Hosea 2:23 and 1:10) declares God’s right to choose, calling those who previously were not called His people.
As He says also in Hosea:
“I will call them My people, who were not My people,
And her beloved, who was not beloved.”
And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them,
‘You are not My people,’
There they shall be called sons of the living God.”
a. You are not My people: These passages from Hosea 2:23 and 1:10 show the mercy of God. God told the prophet Hosea to name one of his children Lo-Ammi, meaning “Not My People.” Yet God also promised that this judgment would not last forever. One day Israel will be restored and once again be called sons of the living God.
8. (27-29) Isaiah (in Isaiah 10:22-23 and 1:9) declares God’s right to choose a remnant among Israel for salvation.
Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel:
“Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea,
The remnant will be saved.
For He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness,
Because the LORD will make a short work upon the earth.”
And as Isaiah said before:
“Unless the LORD of Sabaoth had left us a seed,
We would have become like Sodom,
And we would have been made like Gomorrah.”
a. The remnant will be saved: The passage quoted from Isaiah 10:22-23 speaks first to God’s work in saving a remnant from the coming Assyrian destruction. The suffering of God’s people at the hands of the Assyrians and others would make them feel as if they would certainly be destroyed. God assures them that this is not the case. He will always preserve His remnant.
i. God has always dealt with a remnant. “It was stupid to think that, since the whole nation had not entered the blessing, the promise of God had failed. The promise had not been made to the whole nation and had never been intended to apply to the whole nation.” (Morris)
b. We would have become like Sodom: Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed in judgment. This quotation from Isaiah 1:9 shows that as bad as Judah’s state was because of their sin, it could have been worse. It was only by the mercy of God that they survived at all. Sodom and Gomorrah were both totally destroyed, with not even a very small remnant to carry on. Even in the midst of judgment, God showed His mercy to Judah.
i. The merciful promise is clear: “But if only a remnant will survive, at least a remnant will survive, and constitute the hope of restoration.” (Bruce)
C. Why Israel is in its present condition from man’s perspective: Israel missed the Messiah because they refuse to come by faith.
1. (30-31) Analyzing the present situation of Israel and the Gentiles according to a human perspective.
What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
a. Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness: By all appearances the Gentiles found righteousness even though it did not seem that they really looked for it.
b. But Israel… has not attained to the law of righteousness: By all appearances Israel seemed to work for the righteousness of God with everything it had, but did not find it.
c. Attained to righteousness… not attained: What was the difference? Why did the unlikely Gentiles find righteousness, when the likely Jews did not? Because the Gentiles pursued the righteousness of faith, and the Jews pursued the law of righteousness. The Gentiles who were saved came to God through faith, receiving His righteousness. The Jews who seem to be cast off from God tried to justify themselves before God by performing works according to the law of righteousness.
2. (32-33) Paul emphasizes the reason why Israel seems cast off from God’s goodness and righteousness: Because they did not seek it by faith.
Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. As it is written:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
a. Because they did not seek it by faith: We might expect Paul to answer the question “Why?” again from God’s perspective, and simply throw the matter back on God’s sovereign choice. Instead, he places the responsibility with Israel: Because they did not seek it by faith… they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
i. Paul has already shown in Romans that the only possible way to be saved is through faith, not the works of the law; and that this salvation comes only through the work of a crucified Savior – which was a stumbling block to Israel (1 Corinthians 1:22-23).
b. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone: Paul shows that Israel is responsible for their present condition. Has he contradicted everything he has previously said, which emphasized God’s sovereign plan? Of course not, he simply presents the problem from the other side of the coin – the side of human responsibility, instead of the side of God’s sovereign choice.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 16 – Greetings to the Christians in Rome
A. Greetings to many different Christians.
1. (1-2) A recommendation of Phoebe.
I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
a. I commend to you Phoebe our sister: Paul certainly knew the value of what women could do in serving the church. Apparently Phoebe was on her way to Rome (probably entrusted with this precious letter) and Paul sends an advance recommendation of this sister in Christ so the Romans will receive her and support her during her stay in their city.
b. I commend to you: Such recommendations were important because there was both great legitimate need for this kind of assistance and there were many deceivers who wanted to take advantage of the generosity of Christians.
c. Phoebe: This name is the feminine form of a title given to the pagan god Apollo, the title meaning “the bright one.” Christians, on their conversion, seemed to feel no need to change their names even if there was some pagan significance to their name.
d. Servant is the same word translated deacon in other places. Phoebe seems to be a female deacon in the church, either by formal recognition or through her general service.
e. She has been a helper of many and of myself also: Paul gives Phoebe one of the best compliments anyone can give. This sort of practical help is essential in doing the business of the gospel.
2. (3-5a) Greetings to Priscilla and Aquilla.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
a. PriscillaandAquila: This couple is mentioned in Acts 18:2, 18:18 and 18:26 as associates of Paul and helpers to Apollos. Apparently they were now back in the city of Rome.
i. Spurgeon on Priscilla and Aquila: “When two loving hearts pull together they accomplish wonders. What different associations cluster around the names of ‘Priscilla and Aquila’ from those which are awakened by the words ‘Ananias and Sapphira’! There we have a husband and a wife conspiring in hypocrisy, and here a wife and a husband united in sincere devotion.”
b. The church that is in their house: This phrase gives us a clue to the organization of the early church. In a city with a Christian community of any size, there would be several “congregations” meeting in different houses, since there were no “church” buildings at this time. Each house church probably had its own “pastor.”
3. (5b-16) Various greetings.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. Greet Mary, who labored much for us. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
a. Epaenetus: This man is of note because he was apparently among the very first converts of Achaia (where Corinth was and where Paul wrote the letter to the Romans). Epaenetus was also apparently dear to Paul; beloved isn’t a term Paul used cheaply.
b. Andronicus and Junia: These were apparently Jews (my kinsmen) and were imprisoned for the sake of the gospel (my fellow prisoners). They were well regarded among the apostles, having become Christians even before Paul did (sometime in the first 3 or 4 years after Pentecost).
i. Of note among the apostles has the idea that Andronicus and Junia are apostles themselves (though not of the twelve), and notable among other apostles. If there ever were women recognized as apostles – in the sense of being special emissaries of God, not in the sense of being of the twelve – this is the strongest Scriptural evidence. It isn’t very strong.
c. Amplias: There is a tomb dating from the late first or early second century in the earliest Christian catacomb of Rome which bears the name AMPLIAS. Some suggest that this is the same person mentioned in Romans 16:8.
d. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus: The fact that the household of Aristobulus is greeted but not Aristobulus himself made Spurgeon think that Aristobulus was not converted but many in his household were. It made Spurgeon think of the unconverted who live with believers in their house.
i. “Where are you, Aristobulus? That is not your name, perhaps, but your character is the same as that of this unregenerate Roman, whose family knew the Lord. I might speak in God’s name good words and comfortable words to your wife and to your children, but I could not so speak to you, Aristobulus! The Lord sends a message of grace to your dear child, to your beloved wife, but not to you; for you have not given your heart to him.” (Spurgeon)
e. Rufus: This may be the same man mentioned as a son of Simon the Cyrene in Mark 15:21. This is possible, but Rufus was a common name – so it may have been someone else.
i. Chosen in the Lord has the idea that Rufus had some eminence among the Christians of Rome. It doesn’t refer to his election in Jesus.
f. Nereus: In A.D. 95 two distinguished Romans were condemned for being Christians. The husband was executed and the wife was banished. The name of their chief servant was Nereus – this may be the same Nereus mentioned here and he may be the one who brought the gospel to them.
g. Asyncritus… Phlegon… Patrobas… Hermes: Of the rest of these names, Paul finds something wonderful to say about almost every one of them – noting their labor, his special regard for them (beloved), their standing in the Lord (approved in Christ… in the Lord… chosen in the Lord).
i. This is a tremendous example. It shows Paul’s way of casting about uplifting words to build up God’s people. He was generous in paying compliments that were both sincere and wonderful.
h. Greet one another with a holy kiss: This might sound strange to us, but Luke 7:45 shows how common a greeting a kiss was. Jesus rebukes a Pharisee because he did not give Jesus a kiss when He came into his house.
i. It seems that this practice was later abused. Clement of Alexandria complained about churches where people made the church resound with kissing, and says that “the shameless use of a kiss occasions foul suspicions the evil reports.”
4. The value of Paul’s extensive greetings to the Roman church.
a. Leon Morris explains that this section demonstrates that the Letter to the Romans “was a letter to real people and, as far as we can see, ordinary people; it was not written to professional theologians.”
i. “They were like the most of us, commonplace individuals; but they loved the Lord, and therefore as Paul recollected their names he sent them a message of love which has become embalmed in the Holy Scriptures. Do not let us think of the distinguished Christians exclusively so as to forget the rank and file of the Lord’s army. Do not let the eye rest exclusively upon the front rank, but let us love all whom Christ loves; let us value all Christ’s servants. It is better to be God’s dog than to be the devil’s darling.” (Spurgeon)
b. Notice the women mentioned in this chapter: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, the mother of Rufus, and Julia. These are women who worked for the Lord.
i. “Ministry in the Spirit by a woman is different altogether from her taking over authority, or infringing upon the order of the assembly of God.” (Newell)
c. Notice their work for the Lord: some, like Tryphena and Tryphosa, labored in the Lord. Others, like Persis, labored much for the Lord. “So there are distinctions and degrees in honor among believers, and these are graduated by the scale of service done. It is an honor to labor for Christ, it is a still greater honor to labor much. If, then, any, in joining the Christian church, desire place or position, honor or respect, the way to it is this – labor, and labor much.” (Spurgeon)
d. Of the 24 names here, 13 also appear in inscriptions or documents connected with the Emperor’s palace in Rome. We know that there were Christians among Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22). Paul may be writing many of the servants who worked for Caesar who became Christians.
B. Concluding words and warnings.
1. (17-20) A word of warning regarding dividers and deceivers.
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
a. Note those who cause divisions and offenses: This has in mind both those who would divide God’s people (cause divisions) and those who would deceive God’s people (offenses… contrary to the doctrine you have learned). Once these have been noted (marked), they are to be avoided.
i. This is essential to God’s purpose for the church. Truth without unity leads to pride; unity without truth leads to a departure from the true gospel itself. Each of these must be guarded against.
ii. Now I urge you, brethren: The tone here suggests how important this was to Paul; “It may well be that Paul took the pen and wrote these words himself… It is quite possible that Paul wrote these words, then passed the pen back to Tertius for a postscript. Something unusual happened at the end of this letter, and this is a very possible understanding of it.” (Morris)
iii. “Mad dogs are shot; infectious diseases are quarantined; but evil teachers who would divide to their destruction and draw away the saints with teaching contrary to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles are everywhere tolerated!” (Newell)
b. By smooth words and flattering speech deceive: The warning is necessary because these dividers and deceivers do not announce themselves. They use smooth words and flattering speech and always target the simple – usually those who are young in the faith.
i. Deceive the hearts of the simple: This shows that dividers and deceivers don’t affect everyone. We must not wait until everyone is scattered or deceived until we are concerned with dividers and deceivers.
c. Do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly: Dividers and deceivers never want to appear selfish. Typically they perceive themselves as noble crusaders for a great cause. Nevertheless, however they may appear on the outside, their motives are essentially selfish and fleshly.
d. Your obedience has become known to all: This means that when it comes to dividers and deceivers, it isn’t that the Romans must correct a bad situation. They are already dealing with these situations well, and Paul is glad about it. Yet they must remain diligent against the attacks of the dividers and the deceivers.
e. Be wise in what is good: This is the best defense against dividers and deceivers. It is of far more use to know the good than it is to know the evil, to learn about the genuine rather than the counterfeit.
f. The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly: Any church with the well-deserved reputation of the Romans, who stays on guard against both dividers and deceivers, will see God crush Satan under your feet shortly.
i. We see that God does the crushing, but Satan ends up under the feet of believers.
ii. Of course, this will not ultimately happen until Satan is bound and cast into the bottomless pit (Revelation 20:1-3); but every victory God wins for us right now is a preview of that event.
2. (21-24) Greetings from those in Corinth with Paul.
Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you. I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
a. Timothy rightly rates a first mention, being one of Paul’s closest and most trusted associates.
b. I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle: Tertius was Paul’s writer as the apostle dictated the letter. This was Paul’s normal practice in writing letters to churches, but this is the only letter where Paul’s secretary is mentioned by name.
c. Gaius: This brother had such a reputation for hospitality that Paul can say he was regarded as the host of the whole church.
3. (25-27) Conclusion to the letter: praise to God.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith; to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.
a. Now to Him who is able: With all the dangers facing the Romans – and every church – Paul fittingly concludes by commending them to Him who is able to establish you. Paul also knows that this will be done according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.
b. According to the revelation of the mystery: Paul means this as the whole plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. Though God announced much of the plan previously through prophecy, its final outworking wasn’t evident until revealed by God through Jesus.
i. Now that the mystery has been revealed through the preaching of the gospel, God calls all nations to obedience to the faith.
c. To God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever: In this conclusion Paul reflects on the wisdom of God’s plan in the gospel and the fact that such wisdom is beyond man. God had a plan no man would come up with, but the wisdom and glory of the plan is evident.
i. If there is anything that the Book of Romans explains from beginning to end, it is the greatness and glory of this plan of God that Paul preached as a gospel – as good news. It’s entirely fitting that Paul concludes this letter praising the God of such a gospel.
ii. The good news Paul preached presented the God who chose to glorify Himself through the person and work of Jesus Christ, and who will glorify Himself that way forever. Amen!
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 15 – Living to Bless Your Brother
A. Being filled in the Christian life.
1. (1-2) Filled with care and concern for others.
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
a. We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves: If you consider yourself strong in comparison to your brother, use your strength to serve your brothers in Christ – instead of using your “strength” just to please yourself.
i. Bear with: The idea isn’t really bearing with, but bearing up the weaker brother – supporting him with your superior strength.
ii. This goes against the whole tenor of our times, which counsels people to “look out for number 1” and despises those who live lives of real sacrifice for the sake of others. Yet, undeniably Paul points the way to true happiness and fulfillment in life – get your eyes off of yourself, start building up others and you will find yourself built up.
b. Let each of us please his neighbor: It is a simple yet challenging call to simply put our neighbor first. Paul later wrote much the same thing in Philippians 2:3-4: Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
i. This does not mean that the church is ruled by the whims of the weak. “A genuine concern for the weak will mean an attempt to make them strong by leading them out of their irrational scruples so that they, too, can be strong.” (Morris)
c. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good: This shows that Paul does not mean being a “man-pleaser.” Such a person may want to please his neighbor, but not for his neighbor’s good.
d. Leading to edification: All too often, Christians find it easier to tear each other down instead of building each other up; this is a classic strategy of Satan against the church that must be resisted.
2. (3-4) Filled with the example of Jesus, who always put others first.
For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
a. For even Christ did not please Himself: Jesus is the ultimate example of one who did not please Himself, but put others first. Paul’s classic development of this idea is in Philippians 2:5-11.
b. As it is written: As Jesus took abuse and suffered wrong for God’s glory, He fulfilled what was written in God’s word. Jesus showed by example that for the most part we are entirely too quick to vindicate ourselves, instead of letting God vindicate us. Jesus showed how the Father is well able to vindicate us.
c. The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me: The commandment Jesus fulfilled from Psalm 69:7 applies to us as well. It was written for our learning, that we might have hope, knowing we are doing what is right even when it is difficult.
i. When we respond rightly to the reproaches the world casts against us for Jesus’ sake, it bothers them even more. It makes them know there isn’t anything they can do against a child of God whose eyes are really on Jesus.
3. (5-6) A prayer for the fulfillment of this attitude in the Romans.
Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Now may the God: The fact that Paul puts these words into the form of a prayer demonstrates that he recognizes that this is a work that the Holy Spirit must do inside us.
b. The God of patience: Our God is a God of patience. We are often in such a hurry and God often seems to work too slowly for us. Often the purposes of God seem to be delayed but they always are fulfilled. God’s delays are not His denials, and He has a loving purpose in every delay.
i. We love God’s patience with His people – we need Him to be patient with us! Yet we often resent God’s patience with His plan – we think He should hurry up. Nevertheless, God is patient both with His people and in His plan.
c. That you may: The goal is to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We accomplish that goal by having one mind and one mouth – by unity in our thinking and speech.
4. (7-13) Filled with love for others and joy and peace by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:
“For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles,
And sing to Your name.”
And again he says:
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!”
“Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!”
And again, Isaiah says:
“There shall be a root of Jesse;
And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles,
In Him the Gentiles shall hope.”
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
a. Therefore receive one another: Instead of letting these issues about disputable things divide Christians (especially making a division between Jew and Gentile), we should receive one another just as Christ received us – in the terms of pure grace, knowing yet bearing with our faults.
i. Spurgeon on just as Christ also received us: “Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.”
b. As it is written: Paul quotes a series of passages from the Old Testament demonstrating that God intends that the Gentiles praise Him. Instead of dividing over disputable matters, Jews and Gentiles should unite in Jesus over the common ground of praise.
i. I will confess to You among the Gentiles: The quotation from Psalm 18 describes Jesus Himself giving praise among the Gentiles.
c. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace: The prayer and blessing concluding the section is appropriate. As God fills us with the blessings of His joy and peace in believing, we are equipped to live in this common bond of unity God calls us to.
B. Paul’s burden in ministry.
1. (14-16) Paul’s reason for writing.
Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
a. Able also to admonish one another: Paul didn’t write because he felt the Roman Christians couldn’t discern what was right before God or admonish each other to do right. Rather, he wrote to remind them, encouraging them to do what they knew was right.
b. That I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles: This is consistent with Paul’s calling to be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In fulfilling this call, he didn’t just preach the gospel of salvation but also instructed believers how to live before God.
c. That the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable: When the Gentiles live glorifying God, then their offering to God is acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit – the necessity of such a sacrifice makes Paul’s writing necessary.
d. The offering of the Gentiles: Romans 15:16 is filled with the language of priesthood. Paul says he serves as a “ministering priest” of Jesus Christ presenting the gospel as a “priestly service” so Gentile converts would be an acceptable sacrifice to God.
i. “When he defines his ministry as ministering the gospel of God the apostle uses a word occurring nowhere else in the New Testament which may properly be rendered ‘acting as a priest.’ So the ministry of the gospel is conceived of after the pattern of priestly offering.” (Murray)
2. (17-19) Paul glories in the work God has done through him.
Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient; in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
a. Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus: As he considers his call to be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, Paul can glory in God that he received such a call – speaking only of the things God did through him to bring salvation to the Gentiles.
i. “Paul will glory only in what Christ has done through him. He is sure that Christ has done great things through him, and he is glad that he can draw attention to those things. But he is not trying to attract adulation. It is what Christ has done that is his theme.” (Morris)
b. In word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient: God used mighty signs and wonders and the broader power of the Spirit of God to help Paul fully preach the gospel of Christ everywhere he went – from Jerusalem to Illyricum.
i. I fully preached the gospel of Christ: We sense that Paul would consider “bare” preaching, without the active and sometimes miraculous work of the Holy Spirit evident, to be less than fully preaching the gospel.
c. From Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel: Illyricum is modern Yugoslavia and Albania. This means that Paul’s ministry spread from Illyricum in the west to Jerusalem in the east.
d. Christ Jesus… God… Spirit of God: Paul effortlessly weaves references to each member of the Trinity in Romans 15:16-19. Paul can’t talk about God without recognizing His three Persons.
3. (20-21) Paul’s desire to preach the gospel in new places.
And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, but as it is written: “To whom He was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand.”
a. Not where Christ was named: Paul did not want to build on another man’s foundation. Rather he wanted to do pioneer work for the Lord – not because it was wrong or bad to continue the work begun through another man, but because there was so much to do on the frontiers.
b. But as it is written: Paul saw his pioneering heart as obedience to the Scriptures, fulfilling the passage he quotes from the Old Testament.
C. Paul’s desire to come to Rome.
1. (22-24) Why Paul hasn’t visited the Christians in Rome yet.
For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while.
a. For this reason I also have been much hindered: It was his great desire to do pioneer work that hindered him from coming to the Romans, though he did desire to see them.
b. Whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you: Therefore, Paul supposes that he will visit the Romans on a future trip to Spain, where Paul will preach the gospel on the frontiers. Stopping off in Rome on the way, Paul anticipates that he can enjoy the support and fellowship of the Romans before he goes to preach the gospel in the regions beyond.
i. Paul probably wanted Rome to be his base of operations for the western part of the empire, even as Antioch was his base for the eastern part.
c. For I hope to see you on my journey: Paul had these plans; yet things did not work out according to his plans. He did go to Rome, yet not as a missionary on his way to Spain. He went to Rome as a prisoner awaiting trial before Caesar, where he would preach the gospel on a different kind of frontier.
i. God had unexpected frontiers for the gospel in Paul’s life, giving him unexpected access to preach to the emperor of Rome himself.
ii. After his release from the Roman imprisonment at the end of the Book of Acts, we have reason to believe that Paul did in fact make it to Spain and preached the gospel there.
2. (25-29) Paul’s present plans.
But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.
a. But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints: Paul thought he would stop in Corinth on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a collection from Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 20:1-3).
b. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things: Paul’s observation is appropriate: the Gentile Christians of the broader Roman empire had received so much spiritually from the community of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, it was only right that they help the Jerusalem Christians in their need.
c. I shall go by way of you to Spain: Paul would indeed head for Rome after his time in Jerusalem, but not in the way he planned!
3. (30-33) Paul’s plea for prayer.
Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
a. Strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe: Sensing that danger awaited him in Jerusalem (having been warned several times as recorded in Acts 20:22-23 and Acts 21:10-14), Paul knew he needed the prayers of God’s people to see him through the difficulty promised him.
i. Strive together with me: The idea is that Paul wants the Romans to partner with him in ministry through their prayers. The New English Bible translates this: be my allies in the fight. The New Living Bible translates the phrase like this: join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.
ii. “Ministers need the prayers of their flocks. With Paul I urge you to strive in your prayers for your pastors. We need your prayers and we thank God for them. Pastors are sustained by the power of the Spirit through the support of their congregations.” (Smith)
iii. The ancient Greek word translated strive together is sunagonizomai – literally meaning, “agonize together.” This is the only place in the New Testament where this specific word is used.
iv. Yet, this same root word for agony is used of Jesus’ anguished prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus asked His disciples to agonize with Him in prayer. They failed at that critical moment and left Jesus to struggle alone. We must not leave our ministers and leaders to struggle alone. “It reminds us of Carey, who says, when he goes to India, ‘I will go down into the pit, but brother Fuller and the rest of you must hold the rope.’ Can we refuse the request? Would it not be treachery?” (Spurgeon)
v. “Does it astonish you that a man so rich in grace as Paul should be asking prayers of these unknown saints? It need not astonish you; for it is the rule with the truly great to think most highly of others. In proportion as a man grows in grace he feels his dependence upon God, and, in a certain sense, his dependence upon God’s people.” (Spurgeon)
b. That I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe: Paul knew that his danger in Jerusalem would come from those who did not believe. This was the case, as demonstrated in Acts 21:27-28 and 22:22.
c. And that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints: Paul knew that the church in Jerusalem was very conservative, and sometimes regarded men like Paul as dangerous innovators; for this reason, he asks the Romans to pray that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.
d. That I may come to you with joy: The prayers of Paul and the Romans were answered, though not in the manner they expected. Acts 28:15 describes Paul’s “triumphal entry” into Rome, so that he did come to them with joy – though also in chains!
e. Amen: Paul concludes the letter here except for the personal greetings in Romans 16.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 14 – Helping a Weaker Brother
A. Don’t judge each other in doubtful things.
1. (1-2) Receiving the weaker brother.
Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables.
a. Receive one who is weak in the faith: We accept those weak in the faith, but not for the sake of carrying on a debate with them regarding doubtful things.
i. Receive the one who is weak in the faith: These are words to take seriously. Paul warns us to not make spiritual maturity a requirement for fellowship. We should distinguish between someone who is weak and someone who is rebellious.
ii. There are many reasons why a Christian might be weak.
· They may be a babe in Christ (babies are weak).
· They may be sick or diseased (by legalism).
· They may be malnourished (by lack of good teaching).
· They may lack exercise (needing exhortation).
b. Eats only vegetables: As an example of a doubtful thing, Paul looks at those who refuse to eat meat for a spiritual reason. Perhaps they refused it because they feared it was meat sacrificed to a pagan god (as in 1 Corinthians 8). Perhaps they refused the meat because it wasn’t kosher, and they stuck to Jewish dietary regulations and traditions.
i. Because some Christian saw nothing wrong in this meat and others saw much wrong in it, this was a burning issue among believers in Paul’s day. While the issue of not eating meat for spiritual reasons is no longer directly relevant to most Christians today, there are plenty of issues where some believers believe one way and others believe differently.
c. He who is weak eats only vegetables: In Paul’s mind, the weak brother is the stricter one. It wasn’t that they were weaker in their Christian life because of what they ate or didn’t eat, but they were weaker because of their legalistic attitudes and lack of love towards others.
i. Undoubtedly these weak ones did not see themselves as weaker. It’s likely they thought they were the strong ones, and the meat-eaters were the weak ones. Legalism has a way of making us think that we are strong and those who don’t keep the rules the way we do are weak.
2. (3-4) Judging our brother is inappropriate because we are not their masters.
Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.
a. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat: It would be easy for a Christian who felt free to eat meat to despise others as hopeless legalists. It would also be easy for those who did not eat meat to judge those who did. But God has received those Christians who eat meat.
b. Who are you to judge another’s servant? Paul reminds us that it isn’t our place to pass judgment on any fellow Christian. They stand or fall before their own Master, God – and God is able to make those “meat eaters” stand.
i. There is a lot of useless, harmful division among Christians over silly, bigoted things. Paul isn’t telling these Christians to erase their differences; he tells them to rise above them as Christian brothers and sisters.
3. (5-6) Judging our brother is inappropriate because these are matters of conscience.
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.
a. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike: By bringing in the aspect of observing certain days, Paul lets us know that he is talking more about principles than specific issues. What he says has application to more than just eating meat.
b. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind: In such issues, Paul is willing to leave it up to the conscience of the individual. But whatever we do, we must be able to do it to the Lord, not using “conscience” as an excuse for obviously sinful behavior.
4. (7-9) We live and die to the Lord.
For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
a. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself: We must understand that from beginning to end our life is connected to other lives. Paul reminds the Roman Christians that “No man is an island.”
b. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s: From beginning to end, our lives are to be dedicated to God. Therefore, whatever we do, we do it to the Lord – because Jesus is our Lord (that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living).
5. (10-12) Judging our brother is inappropriate because we will all face judgment before Jesus.
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:
“As I live, says the LORD,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
End every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.
a. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? Probably, the use of both judge and show contempt is meant to have application to both the “strict” and the “free” individuals. In either case, the attitude is wrong because we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
i. The strict Christian found it easy to judge his brother, writing him off as an unspiritual meat-eater-compromiser. The free Christian found it easy to show contempt against his brother, regarding him as a uptight-legalistic-goody-good. Essentially, Paul’s answer is “Stop worrying about your brother. You have enough to answer for before Jesus.”
ii. The judgment seat of Christ: “This is the bema seat, equivalent to the judge’s seat in the Olympic Games. After each game, the winners came before the judge’s seat to receive crowns for first, second, and third places. Likewise, the Christian’s works will be tested by fire, and he’ll be rewarded for those which remain… The judgment seat of Christ is only concerned with a Christian’s rewards and position in the kingdom, not with his salvation.” (Smith)
b. Every knee shall bow: The quotation from Isaiah 45:23 emphasizes the fact that all will have to appear before God in humility, and give account of himself before God. If this is the case, we should let God deal with our brother.
6. (13) Summary: don’t make it an issue of judging, but don’t use your liberty to stumble another brother.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
a. Let us not judge one another: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus helped us to understand what this means – it means judging others according to a standard that we would not want to have applied to ourselves.
i. This does not take away the need and the responsibility for admonishment (Romans 15:14) or rebuke (2 Timothy 4:2). When we admonish or rebuke, we do it over clear Scriptural principles, not over doubtful things. We may offer advice to others about doubtful things, but should never judge them.
b. Not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way: We might stumble or cause our brother to fall in two ways. We can discourage or beat them down through our legalism against them, or we can do it by enticing them to sin through an unwise use of our liberty.
B. Don’t stumble each other over doubtful things.
1. (14-15) Destroying a brother makes a privilege wrong.
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
a. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself: Paul knew that there was nothing intrinsically unclean about meat that was not kosher or sacrificed to an idol. Yet there was nothing that could justify the destruction of a Christian brother over food.
i. Trapp on I know and am convinced: “Many, on the contrary, are persuaded before they know; and such will not be persuaded to know.”
b. You are no longer walking in love: The issue now is not my personal liberty; it is walking in love towards one whom Jesus loves and died for.
c. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died: If Jesus was willing to give up His life for the sake of that brother, I can certainly give up my steak dinner.
2. (16-18) Pursuing the higher call of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
a. Do not let your good be spoken of as evil: Our liberty in Jesus and freedom from the law is good, but not if we use it to destroy another brother in Christ. If we do that, then it could rightly be spoken of as evil.
b. The kingdom of God is not eating and drinking: If we place food and drink before righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, then we are hopelessly out of touch with God’s priorities and His heart.
c. Acceptable to God and approved by men: Serving God with a heart for His righteousness and peace and joy is the kind of service that is acceptable in His sight, and will be approved by men.
3. (19-21) Use your liberty to build each other up, not to tear each other down.
Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.
a. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food: If eating or drinking something will stumble another brother, then we are not free to eat or drink in that circumstance. Even if we have the personal liberty, we do not have the liberty to stumble, offend, or weaken a brother.
b. All things indeed are pure: Paul will concede the point that there is nothing impure in the food itself; but he likewise insists that there is nothing pure in causing a brother to stumble.
c. Nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak: However, we shouldn’t think that Paul would permit this kind of heart to cater to someone’s legalism. Paul speaks about the stumbling of a sincere heart, not catering to the whims of someone’s legalism.
i. For example, when some Christians from a Jewish background were offended that Gentile believers were not circumcised, Paul didn’t cater to their legalistic demands.
4. (22-23) The concluding principle of faith.
Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
a. Do you have faith? If you have [strong] faith, and feel liberty to partake of certain things, praise God! But have your strong faith before God, not before a brother who will stumble.
b. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves: Not every Christian knows this happiness. There are things God may challenge us to give up, but we go on approving them in our life – thus we condemn ourselves. It may not be that the thing itself is clearly good or bad, but it is enough that God speaks to us about the matter.
i. Each of us must ask: “God what is there in my life hindering a closer walk with You? I want to know the happiness that comes from not condemning myself by what I approve in my life.” This takes faith, because we often cling to hindering things because we think they make us happy. Real happiness is found being closer and closer to Jesus, and by not being condemned by what we approve.
c. Whatever is not from faith is sin: Paul concludes with another principle by which we can judge “gray areas” – if we can’t do it in faith, then it is sin.
i. This is a wonderful check on our tendency to justify ourselves in the things we permit. If we are troubled by something, it likely isn’t of faith and likely is sin for us.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 13 – A Christian’s Obligation to Government
A. The Christian and government.
1. (1-2) Government’s legitimate authority and the Christian’s response.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
a. Subject to the governing authorities: The connection between Romans 12 and Romans 13 is clear. If the Christian is not to seek personal vengeance, it does not take away the government’s authority to punish wrongdoers.
b. Every soul: This certainly includes Christians. Paul simply says that we should be subject to the governing authorities. This was in contrast to groups of zealous Jews in that day who recognized no king but God and paid taxes to no one but God.
c. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God: We subject ourselves to governing authorities because they are appointed by God and serve a purpose in His plan.
i. No authority except from God: God appoints a nation’s leaders, but not always to bless the people. Sometimes it is to judge the people or to ripen the nation for judgment.
ii. We remember that Paul wrote this during the reign of the Roman Empire. It was no democracy, and no special friend to Christians – yet he still saw their legitimate authority.
iii. “Your Savior suffered under Pontius Pilate, one of the worst Roman governors Judea ever had; and Paul under Nero, the worst Roman Emperor. And neither our Lord nor His Apostle denied or reviled the ‘authority!’” (Newell)
d. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God: Since governments have authority from God, we are bound to obey them – unless, of course, they order us to do something in contradiction to God’s law. Then, we are commanded to obey God before man (as in Acts 4:19).
e. Those who resist will bring judgment on themselves: God uses governing authorities as a check upon man’s sinful desires and tendencies. Government can be an effective tool in resisting the effects of man’s fallenness.
2. (3-4) The job of government: to punish and deter evildoers.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.
a. Do what is good, and you will have praise: Paul’s idea is that Christians should be the best citizens of all. Even though they are loyal to God before they are loyal to the state, Christians are good citizens because they are honest, give no trouble to the state, pay their taxes, and – most importantly – pray for the state and the rulers.
b. He is God’s minister: Paul describes government officials as God’s minister. They have a ministry in the plan and administration of God, just as much as church leaders do.
i. If the state’s rulers are God’s minister (servant), they should remember that they are only servants, and not gods themselves.
c. An avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil: It is through the just punishment of evil that government serves its function in God’s plan of holding man’s sinful tendencies in check. When a government fails to do this consistently, it opens itself up to God’s judgment and correction.
d. He does not bear the sword in vain: The sword is a reference to capital punishment. In the Roman Empire, criminals were typically executed by beheading with a sword (crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals of the lowest classes). Paul, speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has no doubt that the state has the legitimate authority to execute criminals.
3. (5-7) The Christian’s responsibility towards government.
Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.
a. Therefore you must be subject: We must be subject to government; not only because we fear punishment, but because we know it is right before God to do so.
i. For conscience sake: Christian obedience to the state is never blind – it obeys with the eyes of conscience wide open.
b. You also pay taxes… Render therefore to all their due: We are also to pay the taxes due from us, because there is a sense in which we support God’s work when we do so.
i. By implication, Romans 13:6 also says that the taxes collected are to be used by government to get the job done of restraining evil and keeping an orderly society – not to enrich the government officials themselves.
c. Taxes… customs… fear… honor: We are to give to the state the money, honor, and proper reverence which are due to the state, all the while reserving our right to give to God that which is due to God alone (Matthew 22:21).
d. In light of this, is rebellion against government ever justified? If a citizen has a choice between two governments, it is right to choose and to promote the one that is most legitimate in God’s eyes – the one which will best fulfill God’s purpose for governments.
i. In a democracy we understand that there is a sense in which we are the government, and should not hesitate to help “govern” our democracy through our participation in the democratic process.
B. The Christian’s obligation to his neighbors.
1. (8-10) The obligation to love.
Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
a. Owe no one anything except to love one another: On a personal level, the only “debt” we are to carry is the “debt” to love one another – this is a perpetual obligation we carry both before God and each other.
i. Some take this as a command to never borrow, but Jesus permitted borrowing in passages like Matthew 5:42. That isn’t the sense of what Paul is saying here, though the Scriptures do remind us of the danger and obligations of borrowing (Proverbs 22:7).
ii. “We may pay our taxes and be quiet. We may give respect and honor where they are due and have no further obligation. But we can never say, ‘I have done all the loving I need to do.’ Love then is a permanent obligation, a debt impossible to discharge.” (Morris)
b. You shall love your neighbor as yourself: Paul echoes Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 22:36-40. This is one of the two commands upon which hang all the Law and the Prophets.
i. Love your neighbor means to love the people you actually meet with and deal with every day. It is easy for us to love in the theoretical and the abstract, but God demands that we love real people.
ii. “No man can compass the ends of life by drawing a little line around himself upon the ground. No man can fulfill his calling as a Christian by seeking the welfare of his wife and family only, for these are only a sort of greater self.” (Spurgeon)
c. Love is the fulfillment of the law: It is easy to do all the right religious “things” but to neglect love. Our love is the true measure of our obedience to God.
2. (11-14) The urgency to love and walk right with God.
And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
a. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: Because we know the danger of the times and we anticipate the soon return of Jesus, we should be all the more energetic and committed to a right walk with God instead of a sleep-walk with God.
i. How important it is to awake out of sleep! It is possible to do many Christian things and yet essentially be asleep towards God.
· Sometimes people talk in their sleep.
· Sometimes people hear things in their sleep.
· Sometimes people walk in their sleep.
· Sometimes people sing in their sleep.
· Sometimes people think in their sleep; we call it dreaming.
ii. Because one can do many religious things and still be asleep toward God, it is important for every Christian to make sure they are truly awake and active in their life before God.
b. Cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light: The illustration is from taking off and putting on clothes. When you get dressed every day, you dress appropriately to who you are and what you plan to do. Therefore, everyday, put on the Lord Jesus Christ!
i. We must cast off before we can put on. “The rags of sin must come off if we put on the robe of Christ. There must be a taking away of the love of sin, there must be a renouncing of the practices and habits of sin, or else a man cannot be a Christian. It will be an idle attempt to try and wear religion as a sort of celestial overall over the top of old sins.” (Spurgeon)
c. The works of darkness: These are characterized as revelry and drunkenness, licentiousness and lust, strife and envy. These are not appropriate for Christians who have come out of the night into God’s light.
i. The idea behind the word for licentiousness is “the desire for a forbidden bed.” It describes the person who sets no value on sexual purity and fidelity.
ii. Lust in this passage has the idea of people who are lost to shame. They no longer care what people think and flaunt their sin openly, even proudly.
d. The armor of light: This is related to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. When we put on Christ, we put on all the armor of God and are equipped to both defend and attack.
i. “Putting on Christ is a strong and vivid metaphor. It means more than put on the character of the Lord Jesus Christ, signifying rather Let Jesus Christ Himself be the armor that you wear.” (Morris)
e. Make no provision for the flesh: The flesh will be as active as we allow it to be. We have a work to do in walking properly, as in the day – it isn’t as if Jesus does it for us as we sit back; instead, He does it through us as we willingly and actively partner with Him.
i. God used this passage to show Augustine, the great theologian of the early church, that he really could live the Christian life as empowered by the Holy Spirit – he just had to do it. And so do we.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 12 – Living the Christian Life
A. The foundation for Christian living.
J.B. Phillips has an outstanding and memorable translation of Romans 12:1-2:
With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the Plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
1. (1) The living sacrifice.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
a. I beseech you: This reminds us that Paul appeals to our will. God calls us to make a choice about the way that we live for Him.
b. Therefore brethren: It is Paul’s pattern to begin a letter with a strong doctrinal section and follow with exhortations to Christian living. Paul begs Christians to live a certain way in light of what God did for them.
i. “When he uses this pattern Paul is saying that the Christian life is dependent on the great Christian doctrines.” (Morris)
c. By the mercies of God reminds us that we do this because of the mercy shown to us by God (described well in Romans 1-11), and that we are only able to offer ourselves to God as He works His mercy in us. God commanded us to do this, and He makes it possible for us to do it.
i. “Whereas the heathen are prone to sacrifice in order to obtain mercy, biblical faith teaches that the divine mercy provides the basis of sacrifice as the fitting response.” (Harrison)
ii. Think of all the mercies of God Paul has explained to us thus far:
· Justification from the guilt and penalty of sin.
· Adoption in Jesus and identification with Christ.
· Placed under grace, not law.
· Giving the Holy Spirit to live within.
· Promise of help in all affliction.
· Assurance of a standing in God’s election.
· Confidence of coming glory.
· Confidence of no separation from the love of God.
· Confidence in God’s continued faithfulness.
iii. In light of all this mercy – past, present, and future – Paul begs us to present your bodies a living sacrifice. “We must believe that these Divine mercies have persuasive powers over our wills.” (Newell)
d. Present your bodies: Connected with the idea of a living sacrifice, thiscalls to mind priestly service. Spiritually speaking, our bodies are brought to God’s altar.
i. It is best to see the body here as a reference to our entire being. Whatever we say about our spirit, soul, flesh, and mind, we know that they each live in our bodies. When we give the body to God, the soul and spirit go with it. Present your bodies means that God wants you, not just your work. You may do all kinds of work for God, but never give Him your self.
ii. The previous appeal to the will (I beseech you) means that the will is to be the master over the body. The thinking of our age says that our body must tell the will what to do; but the Bible says that our will must bring the body as a living sacrifice to God. The body is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. Keeping it at God’s altar as a living sacrifice keeps the body where it should be.
iii. An ancient Greek never thought of presenting his body to God. They thought the body was so unspiritual that God didn’t care about it. Paul shows here that God is concerned about our bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:20 reminds us that God bought our bodies with a price.
e. A living sacrifice: First century people, both Jews and pagans, knew first-hand what sacrifice was all about. To beg that they make themselves a living sacrifice was a striking image.
· The sacrifice is living because it is brought alive to the altar.
· The sacrifice is living because it stays alive at the altar; it is ongoing.
f. Holy, acceptable to God: When we offer our body, God intends it to be a holy and acceptable sacrifice. The standard for sacrifices made to God under the New Covenant are not any less than the standard under the Old Covenant.
i. In the Old Testament, every sacrifice had to be holy and acceptable to God
· He shall bring a male without blemish (Leviticus 1:10).
· But if there is a defect in it, if it is lame or blind or has any serious defect, you shall not sacrifice it to the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 15:21).
ii. The idea of a sweet aroma to the LORD is almost always linked to the idea of an offering made by fire. There is a “burning” in this matter of a living sacrifice. It also shows that Paul has in mind the burnt offering, in which the entire sacrifice was given to the Lord. In some sacrifices, the one offering the sacrifice and the priest shared in the some of the meal, but never in the burnt offering.
iii. The holiness we bring to the altar is a decision for holiness, and yielding to the work of holiness in our life. As we present our bodies a living sacrifice, God makes our life holy by burning away impurities.
g. Reasonable service: The ancient Greek word for reasonable (logikos) can also be translated “of the word” (as it is in 1 Peter 2:2). Reasonable service is a life of worship according to God’s Word.
i. The sacrifice of an animal was reasonable service, but only for the one bringing the sacrifice – not for the sacrifice itself. Under the New Covenant we have far greater mercies, so it is reasonable to offer a far greater sacrifice.
2. (2) Resisting conformity to the world and embracing the transformation that comes in Jesus Christ.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
a. Do not be conformed to this world: This warns us that the “world system” – the popular culture and manner of thinking that is in rebellion against God – will try to conform us to its ungodly pattern, and that process must be resisted.
b. But be transformed by the renewing of your mind: This is the opposite of being conformed to this world. The battle ground between conforming to the world and being transformed is within the mind of the believer. Christians must think differently.
i. “I don’t want to be conformed to this world. I want to be transformed. How do I do it?” By the renewing of your mind. The problem with many Christians is they live life based on feelings, or they are only concerned about doing.
ii. The life based on feeling says, “How do I feel today? How do I feel about my job? How do I feel about my wife? How do I feel about worship? How do I feel about the preacher?” This life by feeling will never know the transforming power of God, because it ignores the renewing of the mind.
iii. The life based on doing says, “Don’t give me your theology. Just tell me what to do. Give me the four points for this and the seven keys for that.” This life of doing will never know the transforming power of God, because it ignores the renewing of the mind.
iv. God is never against the principles of feeling and doing. He is a God of powerful and passionate feeling and He commands us to be doers. Yet feelings and doing are completely insufficient foundations for the Christian life. The first questions cannot be “How do I feel?” or “What do I do?” Rather, they must be “What is true here? What does God’s Word say?”
c. Transformed: This is the ancient Greek word metamorphoo – describing a metamorphosis. The same word is used to describe Jesus in His transfiguration (Mark 9:2-3). This is a glorious transformation!
i. The only other place Paul uses this word for transformed is in 2 Corinthians 3:18: But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. For Paul, this transformation and renewing of our minds takes place as we behold the face of God, spending time in His glory.
d. Prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God: As we are transformed on the inside, the proof is evident on the outside, as others can see what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is through our life.
i. Paul here explains how to live out the will of God:
· Keep in mind the rich mercy of God to you – past, present, and future (by the mercies of God).
· As an act of intelligent worship, decide to yield your entire self to Him (present your bodies a living sacrifice).
· Resist conformity to the thoughts and actions of this world (do not be conformed).
· By focus on God’s word and fellowship with Him (be transformed by the renewing of your mind).
ii. Then, your life will be in the will of God. Your life will prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
iii. You may know what the good and acceptable and perfect will of God is, but you can’t prove it in your life apart from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
B. Living out the spiritual gifts God has given.
1. (3) A warning to live in humility.
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
a. To everyone among you: Paul will soon speak about how we should exercise spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, but a warning about humility is in order, given the inordinate pride that often arises from those who regard themselves as spiritually gifted.
i. We should remember that spiritual giftedness does not equal spiritual maturity. Just because a person has substantial spiritual gifts does not mean they are necessarily spiritually mature or a worthy example.
b. Not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think: Paul does not tell the believer to take an attitude that finds pleasure in humiliation or degradation. Rather, the idea is that we should see the truth about ourselves and live in light of it. When we see ourselves as we really are, it is impossible to be given over to pride.
c. God has dealt to each one a measure of faith: This means that we should see even our saving faith as a gift from God, and that we have no basis for pride or a superior opinion of ourselves.
2. (4-5) Unity and diversity in the body of Christ.
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
a. Many members in one body: The church is a unified whole (one body), yet we are distinct within that one body (individually members). In the body of Christ there is unity but not uniformity.
b. Individually members of one another: We err when we neglect either aspect; unity should never be promoted at the expense of individuality, and individuality should never diminish the church’s essential unity in Christ; He is our common ground, we are one body in Christ.
3. (6-8) An exhortation to use (and how to use) the gifts God has granted to the individual members of the church.
Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
a. Having then gifts: The difference and distribution of gifts is all due to the grace that is given to us. Spiritual gifts are not given on the basis of merit, but because God chooses to give them.
i. This idea is related in the ancient Greek word for “spiritual gifts”: charismata, which means a gift of grace. This term was apparently coined by Paul to emphasize that the giving of these spiritual gifts was all of grace.
ii. Spiritual gifts are given at the discretion of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:11 says, But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
iii. Knowing this should be an insurmountable barrier to pride in the exercise of spiritual gifts. However man, in the depravity of his heart, finds a way to be proud about spiritual gifts and insists on exalting men for how God has gifted them.
b. If prophecy: Prophecy must be practiced in proportion to our faith. God may give us something to say to an individual or church body that stretches our faith. If we can’t prophecy in faith and trust that God has really spoken to us, we shouldn’t do it at all.
i. We are reminded that prophecy, in the Biblical understanding, isn’t necessarily “fore-telling” in a strictly predictive sense. It is more accurately “forth-telling” the heart and mind of God, which may or may not include a predictive aspect.
ii. This warns us against flippant, “stream of consciousness” prophecy that has no difficulty saying, “Thus says the Lord” at the drop of a hat.
iii. In proportion to our faith: The ancient Greek text actually has “the” before faith. Paul may be cautioning that prophecy must be according to the faith, in accord with the accepted body of doctrine held among believers.
iv. Some take the proportion of faith to be the proportion of the faith of the audience of the prophecy; this has truth also.
c. Ministry: This has in view the broader picture of simply serving in practical ways. Paul sees this as important ministry from the Holy Spirit as well.
d. Teaching: This has in mind instruction, while exhortation encourages people to practice what they have been taught; both are necessary for a healthy Christian life.
i. Those who are taught but not exhorted become “fat sheep” that only take in and never live the Christian life. Those who are exhorted but not taught become excited and active, but have no depth or understanding to what they do and will burn out quickly or will work in wrong ways.
e. He who gives: This refers to someone who is a channel through whom God provides resources for His body. This is an important spiritual gift that must be exercised with liberality. When someone who is called and gifted to be a giver stops giving Iiberally, they will often see their resources dry up – having forgotten why God has blessed them.
f. He who leads: This one must show diligence. It is easy for leaders to become discouraged and feel like giving up, but they must persevere if they will please God by their leadership.
g. He who shows mercy: This gift needs cheerfulness. It can be hard enough to show mercy, but even harder to be cheerful about it. This reminds us that the gift of showing mercy is a supernatural gift of the Spirit.
C. A series of brief instructions on living like a Christian with others.
This section shows one thing clearly: Paul knew the teaching of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount
1. (9-13) Relating to those in the Christian family.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.
a. Let love be without hypocrisy: Of course, love with hypocrisy isn’t real love at all; but much of what masquerades as “love” in the Christian community is laced with hypocrisy, and must be demonstrated against.
b. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good: In some ways, it is often easier for us to eitherabhor what is evil or cling to what is good rather than doing both. The godly person knows how to practice both.
c. Be kindly affectionate to one another: This is a command, that Christians should not have a cold, stand-offish attitude. In honor giving preference to one anothershows that the displays of affection are genuine.
i. We should see in this, as much as anything, a call to simple good manners among Christians.
d. Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord: If we are called to warm relations and good manners, we also know that we are called to hard work. The church is no place for laziness.
i. Fervent in spirit could be translated, “with respect to the spirit, boiling.”
e. Rejoicing in hope: The call to hope usually has in mind our ultimate reward with Jesus. Paul says we serve God rejoicing in hope, not rejoicing in results. This shows how we are commanded to do all these things with an eye towards heaven. This is how we fulfill the command for hope, patience and steadfast character described here.
f. Patient in tribulation: Difficult times do not excuse us when we abandon hope or patience or continuing steadfastly in prayer. Trials do not excuse a lack of love in the body of Christ or a lack of willingness to do His work.
i. Leon Morris explains these two important words. Patient “denotes not a passive putting up with things, but an active, steadfast endurance.” Tribulation “denotes not some minor pinprick, but deep and serious trouble.”
g. Distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality: Our care and concern will demonstrate itself in practical deeds done for others, either going to them (distributing to the needs of the saints) or inviting them to come to us (given to hospitality).
i. The ancient Greek word for hospitality is literally translated “love for strangers.” In addition, “given” is a strong word, sometimes translated “persecute” (as in Romans 12:14). The idea is to “pursue” people you don’t know with hospitality. This is love in action, not just feelings.
2. (14) Relating to those outside of the Christian family.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
a. Bless those who persecute you: We are not to have a hateful attitude towards anyone, not even towards those who persecute us.
b. Do not curse: Jesus spoke of this same heart in Matthew 5:46: For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? The surpassing greatness of the love of Jesus in us is shown in that it can be extended to our enemies.
c. Who persecute you: Of course, not all persecution comes from outside the church. Jesus told us the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service (John 16:2).
3. (15-21) How to get along with people both inside and outside the church.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
a. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: This is how we can fulfill the command to be of the same mind toward one another. It is a simple command to be considerate of the feelings of others instead of waiting for them to be considerate of your feelings.
b. Associate with the humble: Paul cautions us to have a humble mind-set. In refusing to set our mind on high things and in associating with the humble, we simply imitate Jesus. Do not be wise in your own opinion reminds us of how far we still have to go in actually being like Jesus.
c. Repay no one evil for evil recalls Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:38-45. We are to love our enemies and treat well those who treat us badly.
d. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men is a way to live out the idea of praising what is good. People should be able to see what is good and what is not based on our conduct.
e. Live peaceably with all men reminds us that though we are in contrast to the world, we do not seek out contention. If it is possible, we will be at peace with all men.
i. “If it be possible indicates that it may not always be possible.” (Murray)
f. Do not avenge yourselves: The one who trusts in God will not think it necessary to avenge themselves. They will leave the issue of vengeance to God, and give place to wrath – giving no place to their own wrath, and a wide place to God’s wrath.
g. Overcome evil with good: With this mind-set, we will do good to our enemies, looking for the most practical ways we can help them. This is the way we are not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
i. Is the heaping coals of fire on his head something good in the eyes of our enemy or is it something bad? It most likely refers to a “burning conviction” that our kindness places on our enemy. Or, some think it refers to the practice of lending coals from a fire to help a neighbor start their own – an appreciated act of kindness.
ii. Nevertheless, we see that we can destroy our enemy by making him our friend.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! a. Has God cast away His people? Paul’s question makes sense at this point in Romans. If Israel’s rejection of the gospel was somehow both consistent with God’s eternal plan (Romans 9:1-29) and Israel’s own choosing (Romans 9:30-10:21), then does this mean that Israel’s fate is settled, and there is no possibility of restoration? b. Certainly not! Despite their present state, Israel is not permanently cast away. Now Paul will explain this answer. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. a. I also am an Israelite: Paul’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah proved there were some Jews chosen by God who embraced the gospel. b. I also: Whenever we want evidence of God’s work, we could and should look to our own life first. This is what Paul did and what we should do. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. a. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew… at this present time there is a remnant: In Paul’s day Israel as a group generally rejected their Messiah. Yet a substantial remnant embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ, and God has often worked in Israel through a faithful remnant (as He did in the time of Elijah). i. “It is just possible that Paul, likewise persecuted by his own countrymen, felt a special kinship with Elijah.” (Harrison) b. He pleads with God against Israel: Things were so bad that Elijah prayed against his own people! c. LORD, they have killed Your prophets: Elijah thought that God had cast off the nation and he was the only one left serving the Lord. But God showed him that there was in fact a substantial remnant – though it was only a remnant, it was actually there. d. At this present time there is a remnant: We often think that God needs a lot of people to do a great work, but He often works through a small group, or through a group that starts out small. Though not many Jews in Paul’s day embraced Jesus as Messiah, a remnant did and God will use that small group in a big way. i. “It was not the number as much as the permanence of God’s plan for Israel that mattered in the time of Elijah… He put his trust in God’s grace, not in numbers.” (Morris) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: “God has given them a spirit of stupor, And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a. If by grace, then it is no longer of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace: Paul left the previous verse noting that the remnant was chosen according to the election of grace. Now he reminds us what grace is by definition: the free gift of God, not given with an eye to performance or potential in the one receiving, but given only out of kindness in the giver. b. If it is of works, it is no longer grace: As principles, grace and works don’t go together. If giving is of grace, it cannot be of works, and if it is of works, it cannot be of grace. c. The elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened: The elect among Israel received and responded to the mercy of God but the rest were hardened by their rejection. d. Just as it is written: The quotations from Isaiah 29 and Psalm 69 tell us that God can give a spirit of stupor and eyes that they should not see and He can say let their eyes be darkened as He pleases. If God is pleased to enlighten only a remnant of Israel at the present time, He may do so as He pleases. i. Morris calls a spirit of stupor “an attitude of deadness towards spiritual things.” ii. “The idea is that men are sitting feasting comfortably at their banquet; and their very sense of safety has become their ruin. They are so secure in the fancied safety that the enemy can come upon them unaware” (Barclay). The Jews of Paul’s day were so secure in their idea of being the chosen people that the very idea became the thing that ruined them. I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? a. Stumbled… fall: As Paul presents it here, there is a difference between stumbling and falling. Israel stumbled, but they would not fall – in the sense of being removed from God’s purpose and plan. You can recover from a stumble, but if you fall you’re down. Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. a. Certainly not! Paul has shown that God is still working through a remnant of Israel today, but wants to make it clear that the sinning majority of Israel is not lost forever. b. Through their fall… salvation has come to the Gentiles: We should not forget that in many instances the gospel only went out to the Gentiles after the Jewish people rejected it (Acts 13:46, 18:5-6, 28:25-28). In this sense, the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was riches for the Gentiles. i. It wasn’t that the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah caused Gentiles to be saved. It merely gave more opportunity for the gospel to go to the Gentiles, and many Gentiles took advantage of this opportunity. c. If by any means I may provoke to jealousy: Yet, Paul’s desire isn’t only that these riches would be enjoyed by the Gentiles only, but that the Jews would be provoked to a good kind of jealousy, motivating them to receive some of the blessings the Gentiles enjoyed. i. “It is a matter for profound regret that just as Israel refused to accept this salvation when it was offered to them, so the Gentiles have all too often refused to make Israel envious. Instead of showing to God’s ancient people the attractiveness of the Christian way, Christians have characteristically treated the Jews with hatred, prejudice, persecution, malice, and all uncharitableness. Christians should not take this passage calmly.” (Morris) For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. a. If the firstfruit is holy: The firstfruit probably represents the first Christians, who were Jewish. Their conversion was something holy and good for the church. After all, each of the apostles and most of the human authors of Scripture were Jewish. If the conversion of this firstfruit was good for the Gentiles, how much better will it be when the complete harvest is brought in! i. Many commentators take the firstfruit here as the patriarchs, but it fits better to see it as the original core group of Christians – who were each Jewish. b. Some of the branches… a wild olive tree: With the picture of the tree and the branches, Paul reminds the Gentile Christians that it is only by God’s grace that they can be grafted into the “tree” of God – the “root” of which is Israel. i. “When an old olive tree had lost its vigor, it seems that one remedy in antiquity was to cut away the failing branches and graft in some wild olive shoots. The result was said to be the invigoration of the failing tree.” (Morris) ii. The Jewish Talmud speaks of Ruth the Moabitess as a “godly shoot” engrafted into Israel. (Cited in Morris) c. Do not boast against the branches… you do not support the root, but the root supports you: Lest Gentiles think of themselves as superior to Jews, Paul also reminds them that the root supports the branches – not the other way around. d. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith: In addition, any Gentile standing in the “tree” of God is there by faith only, not by works or merits. If Gentiles are unbelieving, they will be “cut off” just as much as unbelieving Israel was. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? a. Consider the goodness and severity of God: Paul stresses the need to continue in His goodness; not in the sense of a salvation by works, but continuing in God’s grace and goodness to us – a relationship of continual abiding. This idea of a continual abiding in the “tree” is also expressed in John 15:1-8. i. “The conditional clause in this verse, if you continue in His goodness, is a reminder that there is no security in the bond of the gospel apart from perseverance. There is no such thing as continuance in the favour of God in spite of apostasy; God’s saving embrace and endurance are correlative.” (Murray) b. God is able to graft them in again: And, if Israel was “cut off” because of their unbelief, they can be grafted in again if they do not continue in unbelief. i. “Evidently some Gentile believers were tempted to think that there was no future for Israel. She had rejected the gospel and it had now passed to the Gentiles; Israel was finished, rejected, cast off. God had chosen them instead. It is this kind of pride that Paul is opposing.” (Morris) c. How much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? If the Gentiles seemed to “graft” into God’s “tree” easily, we know it won’t be hard for God to graft the natural branches back into the tree. We can also assume that the natural branches will have the potential to bear much fruit. For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, a. Lest you be wise in your own opinion: This is a warning to take this soberly. Christians must not be ignorant of this mystery. b. Blindness in part has happened to Israel: Paul summarizes his point from Romans 11:11-24. God’s purpose in allowing blindness in part to come upon Israel is so that the fullness of the Gentiles can come in. i. In part has the idea of “temporary”; Israel’s blindnessis temporary. “One day the Jews will realize their blindness and folly. They’ll accept Jesus Christ, and the glorious national restoration of these people will bring in the Kingdom Age.” (Smith) c. Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in: At that time, God will once again turn the attention of His plan of the ages specifically on Israel again, so that all Israel will be saved. God’s plan of the ages does not set its attention on everyone equally through all ages. d. All Israel will be saved: This all Israel is not “spiritual Israel.” It isn’t “spiritual Israel” in Romans 11:25, because that Israel is spiritually blind. Therefore, we shouldn’t regard it as spiritual Israel in Romans 11:26. i. There is a distinction between national or ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:7 and other passages. Nevertheless, God still has a purpose and a plan for ethnic Israel and will bring salvation to them. ii. We also know this is not “spiritual Israel” because Paul says this is a mystery – and it is no mystery that spiritual Israel will be saved. iii. Harrison on all Israel: “It was the view of Calvin, for example, that the entire company of the redeemed, both Jew and Gentile, is intended. But Israel has not been used of Gentiles in these chapters, and it is doubtful that such is the case in any of Paul’s writings.” iv. “It is impossible to entertain an exegesis which understands Israel here in a different sense from Israel in verse 25.” (Bruce) e. Will be saved: This states clearly for us that God is not finished with Israel as a nation or a distinct ethnic group. Though God has turned the focus of His saving mercies away from Israel specifically and onto the Gentiles generally, He will turn it back again. i. This simple passage refutes those who insist that God is forever done with Israel as a people and that the Church is the New Israel and inherits every promise ever made to national and ethnic Israel of the Old Testament. ii. We are reminded of the enduring character of the promises made to national and ethnic Israel (Genesis 13:15 and 17:7-8). God is not “finished” with Israel, and Israel is not “spiritualized” as the church. iii. While we see and rejoice in a continuity of God’s work throughout all His people through all ages, we also see a distinction between Israel and the Church – a distinction that Paul is sensitive to here. f. All Israel will be saved: This does not mean there will be a time when every last person of Jewish descent will be saved. Instead, this is a time when Israel as a whole will be a saved people, and when the nation as a whole (especially its leadership) embraces Jesus Christ as Messiah. i. Even as the apostasy of Israel did not extend to every last Jew, so the salvation of Israel will not extend to every last Jew; Paul is speaking of the “mass” of Jews when he says all Israel. “All Israel is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’, but ‘Israel as a whole.’” (Bruce) ii. And, when all Israel will be saved, they will be saved through embracing Jesus Christ as Messiah – as unlikely as this seems. They are not saved with some peculiar “Jewish” salvation. iii. The Bible indicates this is a necessary condition for the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:39, Zechariah 12:10-11). Jesus will not return again until God turns the focus of His saving mercies on Israel again, and Israel responds to God through Jesus Christ. g. The Deliverer will come out of Zion: The quotations from Isaiah show that God still has a redeeming work to accomplish with Israel, and that it will not be left undone. Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. a. Concerning the gospel… concerning the election: Even though it seemed that in Paul’s day the Jews were enemies of God and were against Jesus, they are still beloved – if for no other reason, then for the sake of the fathers (the patriarchs of the Old Testament). i. Of course, they are loved for more than the sake of the fathers, but that by itself would be enough. b. The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable: This is another reason why God hasn’t given up on national and ethnic Israel. This principle, stated by Paul, comforts us far beyond its direct relevance to Israel. It means that God will not give up on us and He leaves the path open to restoration. For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all. a. You were once disobedient to God: The Gentile Christians came from disobedience; yet God showed them mercy, in part through the disobedience of Israel. b. Obtained mercy through their disobedience: If God used the disobedience of Israel for the good of Gentiles, He can also use the mercy shown to Gentiles for the mercy of Israel. c. God has committed them all to disobedience: The idea is that God has shut up both Jew and Gentile into custody as lawbreakers. God offers mercy to these prisoners, based on the person and work of Jesus. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! “For who has known the mind of the LORD? For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. a. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! As Paul considers God’s great plan of the ages, he breaks into spontaneous praise. Paul realizes that God’s ways are past finding out, and God’s wisdom and knowledge is beyond him. i. Who would have planned the whole scenario with Israel, the Gentiles, and the Church as God has planned it? Yet, we can see the great wisdom and compassion in His plan. ii. “It is strange that, with such a scripture as this before their eyes, men should sit down coolly and positively write about counsels and decrees of God formed from all eternity, of which they speak with as much confidence and decision as if they had formed a part of the council of the Most High, and had been with him in the beginning of his ways!” (Clarke) b. For who has known the mind of the LORD? The quotations from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 emphasize both God’s wisdom and sovereign conduct; no one can make God their debtor. i. Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? You can try all you want – but you will never make God a debtor to you. You can’t out-give God. He will never need to repay a debt to anyone. c. Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: “All these words are monosyllables. A child just learning to read could easily spell them out. But who shall exhaust their meaning?” (Meyer) i. It is all of Him: This plan came from God. It wasn’t man’s idea. We didn’t say, “I’ve offended God and have to find a way back to Him. Let’s work on a plan to come back to God.” In our spiritual indifference and death we didn’t care about a plan, and even if we did care we aren’t smart enough or wise enough to make one. It is all of Him. ii. It is all through Him: Even if we had the plan, we couldn’t make it happen. We couldn’t free ourselves from this prison of sin and self. It could only happen through Him, and the great work of Jesus on our behalf is the through Him that brings salvation. iii. It is all to Him: It’s not for me, it’s not for you, it’s all to Him. It is to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). It’s for His pleasure that we are created, and we find our fulfillment in bringing Him glory and honor. d. To whom be glory forever: The fact that Paul can’t figure out God makes him glorify God all the more. When we understand some of the greatness of God, we worship Him all the more passionately. ©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
Romans 11 – The Restoration of Israel
A. Israel and the remnant of grace.
1. (1a) Has God cast away (rejected) His people Israel?
2. (1b) Evidence that God has not cast away His people: Paul himself.
3. (2-5) The principle of a remnant.
4. (6-10) God’s right to choose a remnant according to grace.
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”
A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.”
B. God’s plan in saving only a remnant at the present time.
1. (11a) Does Israel’s stumbling as predicted by Psalm 69 mean that they have fallen away permanently?
2. (11b-14) No, God had a specific purpose to fulfill in allowing Israel to stumble – so that salvation would come to the Gentiles.
3. (15-21) To the Gentiles: yes, Jewish rejection of Jesus was made into a blessing for you; but consider how great a blessing their acceptance of Jesus will be.
4. (22-24) Application of God’s purpose in Israel’s rejection that the Gentiles might be reached.
C. God’s plan for Israel includes their eventual restoration.
1. (25-27) The promise that all Israel will be saved.
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
2. (28-29) God’s love and calling for Israel still endures.
3. (30-32) Paul cautions the Gentile Christians to remember where they came from and where God has promised to take the Jewish people.
4. (33-36) Praise to God for His plan and the progress of the plan.
Or who has become His counselor?
Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not!
a. Has God cast away His people? Paul’s question makes sense at this point in Romans. If Israel’s rejection of the gospel was somehow both consistent with God’s eternal plan (Romans 9:1-29) and Israel’s own choosing (Romans 9:30-10:21), then does this mean that Israel’s fate is settled, and there is no possibility of restoration?
b. Certainly not! Despite their present state, Israel is not permanently cast away. Now Paul will explain this answer.
For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
a. I also am an Israelite: Paul’s faith in Jesus as the Messiah proved there were some Jews chosen by God who embraced the gospel.
b. I also: Whenever we want evidence of God’s work, we could and should look to our own life first. This is what Paul did and what we should do.
God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
a. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew… at this present time there is a remnant: In Paul’s day Israel as a group generally rejected their Messiah. Yet a substantial remnant embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ, and God has often worked in Israel through a faithful remnant (as He did in the time of Elijah).
i. “It is just possible that Paul, likewise persecuted by his own countrymen, felt a special kinship with Elijah.” (Harrison)
b. He pleads with God against Israel: Things were so bad that Elijah prayed against his own people!
c. LORD, they have killed Your prophets: Elijah thought that God had cast off the nation and he was the only one left serving the Lord. But God showed him that there was in fact a substantial remnant – though it was only a remnant, it was actually there.
d. At this present time there is a remnant: We often think that God needs a lot of people to do a great work, but He often works through a small group, or through a group that starts out small. Though not many Jews in Paul’s day embraced Jesus as Messiah, a remnant did and God will use that small group in a big way.
i. “It was not the number as much as the permanence of God’s plan for Israel that mattered in the time of Elijah… He put his trust in God’s grace, not in numbers.” (Morris)
And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work. What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written:
“God has given them a spirit of stupor,
And David says:
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a. If by grace, then it is no longer of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace: Paul left the previous verse noting that the remnant was chosen according to the election of grace. Now he reminds us what grace is by definition: the free gift of God, not given with an eye to performance or potential in the one receiving, but given only out of kindness in the giver.
b. If it is of works, it is no longer grace: As principles, grace and works don’t go together. If giving is of grace, it cannot be of works, and if it is of works, it cannot be of grace.
c. The elect have obtained it, and the rest were hardened: The elect among Israel received and responded to the mercy of God but the rest were hardened by their rejection.
d. Just as it is written: The quotations from Isaiah 29 and Psalm 69 tell us that God can give a spirit of stupor and eyes that they should not see and He can say let their eyes be darkened as He pleases. If God is pleased to enlighten only a remnant of Israel at the present time, He may do so as He pleases.
i. Morris calls a spirit of stupor “an attitude of deadness towards spiritual things.”
ii. “The idea is that men are sitting feasting comfortably at their banquet; and their very sense of safety has become their ruin. They are so secure in the fancied safety that the enemy can come upon them unaware” (Barclay). The Jews of Paul’s day were so secure in their idea of being the chosen people that the very idea became the thing that ruined them.
I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?
a. Stumbled… fall: As Paul presents it here, there is a difference between stumbling and falling. Israel stumbled, but they would not fall – in the sense of being removed from God’s purpose and plan. You can recover from a stumble, but if you fall you’re down.
Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them.
a. Certainly not! Paul has shown that God is still working through a remnant of Israel today, but wants to make it clear that the sinning majority of Israel is not lost forever.
b. Through their fall… salvation has come to the Gentiles: We should not forget that in many instances the gospel only went out to the Gentiles after the Jewish people rejected it (Acts 13:46, 18:5-6, 28:25-28). In this sense, the rejection of the gospel by the Jews was riches for the Gentiles.
i. It wasn’t that the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah caused Gentiles to be saved. It merely gave more opportunity for the gospel to go to the Gentiles, and many Gentiles took advantage of this opportunity.
c. If by any means I may provoke to jealousy: Yet, Paul’s desire isn’t only that these riches would be enjoyed by the Gentiles only, but that the Jews would be provoked to a good kind of jealousy, motivating them to receive some of the blessings the Gentiles enjoyed.
i. “It is a matter for profound regret that just as Israel refused to accept this salvation when it was offered to them, so the Gentiles have all too often refused to make Israel envious. Instead of showing to God’s ancient people the attractiveness of the Christian way, Christians have characteristically treated the Jews with hatred, prejudice, persecution, malice, and all uncharitableness. Christians should not take this passage calmly.” (Morris)
For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either.
a. If the firstfruit is holy: The firstfruit probably represents the first Christians, who were Jewish. Their conversion was something holy and good for the church. After all, each of the apostles and most of the human authors of Scripture were Jewish. If the conversion of this firstfruit was good for the Gentiles, how much better will it be when the complete harvest is brought in!
i. Many commentators take the firstfruit here as the patriarchs, but it fits better to see it as the original core group of Christians – who were each Jewish.
b. Some of the branches… a wild olive tree: With the picture of the tree and the branches, Paul reminds the Gentile Christians that it is only by God’s grace that they can be grafted into the “tree” of God – the “root” of which is Israel.
i. “When an old olive tree had lost its vigor, it seems that one remedy in antiquity was to cut away the failing branches and graft in some wild olive shoots. The result was said to be the invigoration of the failing tree.” (Morris)
ii. The Jewish Talmud speaks of Ruth the Moabitess as a “godly shoot” engrafted into Israel. (Cited in Morris)
c. Do not boast against the branches… you do not support the root, but the root supports you: Lest Gentiles think of themselves as superior to Jews, Paul also reminds them that the root supports the branches – not the other way around.
d. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith: In addition, any Gentile standing in the “tree” of God is there by faith only, not by works or merits. If Gentiles are unbelieving, they will be “cut off” just as much as unbelieving Israel was.
Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
a. Consider the goodness and severity of God: Paul stresses the need to continue in His goodness; not in the sense of a salvation by works, but continuing in God’s grace and goodness to us – a relationship of continual abiding. This idea of a continual abiding in the “tree” is also expressed in John 15:1-8.
i. “The conditional clause in this verse, if you continue in His goodness, is a reminder that there is no security in the bond of the gospel apart from perseverance. There is no such thing as continuance in the favour of God in spite of apostasy; God’s saving embrace and endurance are correlative.” (Murray)
b. God is able to graft them in again: And, if Israel was “cut off” because of their unbelief, they can be grafted in again if they do not continue in unbelief.
i. “Evidently some Gentile believers were tempted to think that there was no future for Israel. She had rejected the gospel and it had now passed to the Gentiles; Israel was finished, rejected, cast off. God had chosen them instead. It is this kind of pride that Paul is opposing.” (Morris)
c. How much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? If the Gentiles seemed to “graft” into God’s “tree” easily, we know it won’t be hard for God to graft the natural branches back into the tree. We can also assume that the natural branches will have the potential to bear much fruit.
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
a. Lest you be wise in your own opinion: This is a warning to take this soberly. Christians must not be ignorant of this mystery.
b. Blindness in part has happened to Israel: Paul summarizes his point from Romans 11:11-24. God’s purpose in allowing blindness in part to come upon Israel is so that the fullness of the Gentiles can come in.
i. In part has the idea of “temporary”; Israel’s blindnessis temporary. “One day the Jews will realize their blindness and folly. They’ll accept Jesus Christ, and the glorious national restoration of these people will bring in the Kingdom Age.” (Smith)
c. Until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in: At that time, God will once again turn the attention of His plan of the ages specifically on Israel again, so that all Israel will be saved. God’s plan of the ages does not set its attention on everyone equally through all ages.
d. All Israel will be saved: This all Israel is not “spiritual Israel.” It isn’t “spiritual Israel” in Romans 11:25, because that Israel is spiritually blind. Therefore, we shouldn’t regard it as spiritual Israel in Romans 11:26.
i. There is a distinction between national or ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 3:7 and other passages. Nevertheless, God still has a purpose and a plan for ethnic Israel and will bring salvation to them.
ii. We also know this is not “spiritual Israel” because Paul says this is a mystery – and it is no mystery that spiritual Israel will be saved.
iii. Harrison on all Israel: “It was the view of Calvin, for example, that the entire company of the redeemed, both Jew and Gentile, is intended. But Israel has not been used of Gentiles in these chapters, and it is doubtful that such is the case in any of Paul’s writings.”
iv. “It is impossible to entertain an exegesis which understands Israel here in a different sense from Israel in verse 25.” (Bruce)
e. Will be saved: This states clearly for us that God is not finished with Israel as a nation or a distinct ethnic group. Though God has turned the focus of His saving mercies away from Israel specifically and onto the Gentiles generally, He will turn it back again.
i. This simple passage refutes those who insist that God is forever done with Israel as a people and that the Church is the New Israel and inherits every promise ever made to national and ethnic Israel of the Old Testament.
ii. We are reminded of the enduring character of the promises made to national and ethnic Israel (Genesis 13:15 and 17:7-8). God is not “finished” with Israel, and Israel is not “spiritualized” as the church.
iii. While we see and rejoice in a continuity of God’s work throughout all His people through all ages, we also see a distinction between Israel and the Church – a distinction that Paul is sensitive to here.
f. All Israel will be saved: This does not mean there will be a time when every last person of Jewish descent will be saved. Instead, this is a time when Israel as a whole will be a saved people, and when the nation as a whole (especially its leadership) embraces Jesus Christ as Messiah.
i. Even as the apostasy of Israel did not extend to every last Jew, so the salvation of Israel will not extend to every last Jew; Paul is speaking of the “mass” of Jews when he says all Israel. “All Israel is a recurring expression in Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’, but ‘Israel as a whole.’” (Bruce)
ii. And, when all Israel will be saved, they will be saved through embracing Jesus Christ as Messiah – as unlikely as this seems. They are not saved with some peculiar “Jewish” salvation.
iii. The Bible indicates this is a necessary condition for the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:39, Zechariah 12:10-11). Jesus will not return again until God turns the focus of His saving mercies on Israel again, and Israel responds to God through Jesus Christ.
g. The Deliverer will come out of Zion: The quotations from Isaiah show that God still has a redeeming work to accomplish with Israel, and that it will not be left undone.
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
a. Concerning the gospel… concerning the election: Even though it seemed that in Paul’s day the Jews were enemies of God and were against Jesus, they are still beloved – if for no other reason, then for the sake of the fathers (the patriarchs of the Old Testament).
i. Of course, they are loved for more than the sake of the fathers, but that by itself would be enough.
b. The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable: This is another reason why God hasn’t given up on national and ethnic Israel. This principle, stated by Paul, comforts us far beyond its direct relevance to Israel. It means that God will not give up on us and He leaves the path open to restoration.
For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.
a. You were once disobedient to God: The Gentile Christians came from disobedience; yet God showed them mercy, in part through the disobedience of Israel.
b. Obtained mercy through their disobedience: If God used the disobedience of Israel for the good of Gentiles, He can also use the mercy shown to Gentiles for the mercy of Israel.
c. God has committed them all to disobedience: The idea is that God has shut up both Jew and Gentile into custody as lawbreakers. God offers mercy to these prisoners, based on the person and work of Jesus.
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
“For who has known the mind of the LORD?
For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.
a. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! As Paul considers God’s great plan of the ages, he breaks into spontaneous praise. Paul realizes that God’s ways are past finding out, and God’s wisdom and knowledge is beyond him.
i. Who would have planned the whole scenario with Israel, the Gentiles, and the Church as God has planned it? Yet, we can see the great wisdom and compassion in His plan.
ii. “It is strange that, with such a scripture as this before their eyes, men should sit down coolly and positively write about counsels and decrees of God formed from all eternity, of which they speak with as much confidence and decision as if they had formed a part of the council of the Most High, and had been with him in the beginning of his ways!” (Clarke)
b. For who has known the mind of the LORD? The quotations from Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 emphasize both God’s wisdom and sovereign conduct; no one can make God their debtor.
i. Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him? You can try all you want – but you will never make God a debtor to you. You can’t out-give God. He will never need to repay a debt to anyone.
c. Of Him and through Him and to Him are all things: “All these words are monosyllables. A child just learning to read could easily spell them out. But who shall exhaust their meaning?” (Meyer)
i. It is all of Him: This plan came from God. It wasn’t man’s idea. We didn’t say, “I’ve offended God and have to find a way back to Him. Let’s work on a plan to come back to God.” In our spiritual indifference and death we didn’t care about a plan, and even if we did care we aren’t smart enough or wise enough to make one. It is all of Him.
ii. It is all through Him: Even if we had the plan, we couldn’t make it happen. We couldn’t free ourselves from this prison of sin and self. It could only happen through Him, and the great work of Jesus on our behalf is the through Him that brings salvation.
iii. It is all to Him: It’s not for me, it’s not for you, it’s all to Him. It is to the praise of the glory of His grace (Ephesians 1:6). It’s for His pleasure that we are created, and we find our fulfillment in bringing Him glory and honor.
d. To whom be glory forever: The fact that Paul can’t figure out God makes him glorify God all the more. When we understand some of the greatness of God, we worship Him all the more passionately.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
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