77: Outstanding Love

September 24, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:8–10

76: The Powers That Be (Pt 4)

September 17, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

It’s time to wrap up our observations on Romans 13:1-7, though we’re in for a lifetime of application. Some of the next few months might feel like a “lifetime.” I don’t really expect to answer *all* the questions about our relationship to civil authorities, partly because it takes a lifetime of “constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). That said, we can keep working to develop our discernment powers. We’ve outlined the whole paragraph over three previous messages. Verse 1 calls every person to submit himself to governing authorities because all governing authority has been instituted by God. Verse 2 concludes that resisting authorities whom God has appointed will result in God-approved judgment. Verses 3-4 profile the purpose of governing authorities, namely that they’ve been delegated to promote good conduct and punish bad conduct, even to the death penalty. Verse 5 clarifies that we ultimately answer to God for our submission or lack of it. And verses 6-7 make clear that our support of the government should be both pecuniary and postural, paying taxes and honor. These verses teach in principle that the sphere of civil authority is God-given, and so to be seen by us as good and supported by us for our own good. In principle we learn that civil authorities are God’s servants, and so our default position should be that of submission. God has given us rulers and rules and we’re to be submissive and tax-paying citizens. And all God’s people said, “But what about…?” Or, all God’s people said, “You and what army?” I am going to attempt to answer, in principle, some of our responsibilities when the governors are *not* fulfilling their delegated responsibilities. This question has been asked before, not just by Junius Brutus, but by the sweet psalmist of Israel (as David is called in 2 Samuel 23:1): > “if the foundations are destroyed, > what can the righteous do?” > (Psalm 11:3 ESV) Seven considerations/consolations to cheer our souls when the cares of our hearts, especially regarding wicked rulers, are many (see Psalm 94:19-10). # There Is a Higher Throne (1) We do not care about governors governing for state/society’s good more, or more carefully, than God Himself. The LORD is God, God is the ultimate authority. He is the only Sovereign who determines the allotted periods and boundaries of every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26). After asking what the righteous can do (Psalm 11:3), the faithful are encouraged that: > “The LORD is in His holy temple; > the LORD’s throne is in heaven; > His eyes see, His eyelids test the children of man. > The LORD tests the righteous, > but His soul hates the wicked and the one > who loves violence. > (Psalm 11:4-5) Not only do we not care about earthly authorities as much as God, but not one of us comes close to the LORD’s delight in His Anointed, in His Son, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matthew 28:18). Jesus Christ will be recognized as King of kings and Lord of lords on earth at His second coming (1 Timothy 6:14-15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16). We must learn to laugh along with the Father who holds the rebellious rulers in derision (Psalm 2, see especially verses 4 and 7-8 and 12). “Blessed are all who take refuge in Him,” and this is necessarily true for *all* nations, not just Israel. This means that as Christians we must care about what God cares about, we must honor His highest throne, and we must “fret not…because of evildoers” who “will soon fade like the grass” (Psalm 37:1). This is not a political punt on difficult questions, but it is the necessary perspective of faith. This is a reminder that “our citizenship…in heaven” (Philippians 3:20) colors all our submission on earth. # De Facto or De Jure or De Bate (2) First of all, I was helped to see that I was saying the second option wrong, it should be *day JOOR-ay*. We might not be able to fix the President’s dementia, but I can at least fix my pronunciation. De facto means “of fact” or in fact, whether by right or not. De jure means “of law” or according to rightful entitlement or claim. (De bate is just my playful addition about the debate.) When it comes to the governing authorities in Romans 13, is Paul talking about *rightful* rulers or about *whatever* rulers? Think of an example close to home: if an elected official stole the election, must we submit to that cheater? The text itself answers: “the powers that be” (KJV), “those that exist” (ESV). In Latin law terms, Paul is talking about whatever governing authorities are in place, the de facto ones. But that only helps us so much. Our responsibility is higher than this. It doesn’t matter if the authority got his power through all the right channels if he legislates the doing of evil. We cannot do evil “for sake of conscience” (Romans 13:5). And if the authority got his power illegitimately, we still must do good and not evil, whether or not he inconsistently promotes good law later. That said, doing good might include challenging the de facto’s fraud. Perhaps more difficult is when others *act* as if they are an authority; ruling in rhetoric instead of ruling in reality. Brother doesn’t submit to brother, just because he’s older or bigger does not make him the boss. If you got a bill from the Canadian Prime Minister for using maple syrup, you don’t have to pay it. The Colonists had an agreement with the King George III, not with Parliament, so by *law* Parliament wasn’t their authority. That said, we know that they eventually went to war to be free from the overreach. But on the basic point, the colonists were submitting to what was lawful. Scripture is full of examples of God’s appointment of wicked rulers as a scourge to wicked people. That said, Scripture also provides us with laments over it not silent, “sit there and take it” acquiescence. We pray for judgment on those rulers, and prophets call rulers and the people to repent and fear the Lord. Whether de facto or de jure doesn’t change our responsibility to do good, even if it takes wisdom to know what is the best good to do. # Paper or Persons (3) I’ve mentioned previously the observation that Paul doesn’t use the word “law” even once in this paragraph. He consistently talks about the servant-rulers not about their standard for rules. The Romans were known for establishing a legal system, with a decent set of agreeable, knowable, consistent laws, but whatever might have been on paper had to be enforced by persons. For us, as citizens of the United States, all our laws are on paper…somewhere, probably, if you can find it, or understand it. For us to apply/obey Romans 13:1, we expect the president to fulfill his oath: > "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." (From the [Inauguration oath of office](https://www.usa.gov/inauguration#:~:text=the%20u.s.%20constitution%3a-,%22I%20do%20solemnly%20swear%20(or%20affirm)%20that%20I%20will,Constitution%20of%20the%20United%20States.%22)) We say “no one is above the law” in reference to presidents, governors, legislators, judges, and law enforcement persons. We have a national Constitution with Amendments, we have a WA State Constitution, we have RCWs (Revised Code of Washington), along with County and City laws. Who, or what document, do we have to listen to? It’s been said, when everyone is special, then no one is special. Well, when everyone is a lawyer, we all hate one another. Due to the corruption in our day, laws have about the same use as a batting average, interesting to argue about but no guarantee you ever get another hit. In a land where the happiness of the people is promoted, the laws are easy to find, easy to understand, and expected to be upheld. We are not in a happy place, whether men “frame injustice by statute” to “build disorder” (Psalm 94:20), or to provide cover under confusion, or enough people with enough power ignore the laws to make it miserable for everyone. Words have to matter, with definitions for terms that don’t change, even when the words are on paper. Most of the chastisement, though, comes from pietistic, milk-of-the-Word drinkers, who read that submission is right, and are looking for the simplest understanding of that. The aftermath of so many court cases post 2020 has shown that churches that disobeyed the governors/persons were not the ones disobeying the law/papers, and so have won their cases. It’s not surprising when criticisms come from the wanna-be tyrants, that’s to be expected. But a lot of “friendly fire”/accusations were thrown by the stay-at-home Christians at the assembling-for-church Christians who were, turns out, the ones submitting to the law. In all this, Christians need to keep their discernment powers sharpened through mutual discernment, in good working condition. # Many Magistrates (4) What about conflicting (legitimate) authorities, in the same sphere, in layers of authority, let alone conflicting with authorities in other legitimate spheres? This has some similarity to the Paper vs. Persons, Constitution vs. President discussion, but carries over to authorities that are near and far. I’ve learned more about the “doctrine of the lesser magistrates” the last few years. Magistrate is another name for an authority, coming from *magister* in Latin meaning “master.” This “doctrine” is a political expression that recognizes that local authorities—so authorities over smaller areas and numbers of people—have responsibility to resist the higher authorities when the King, the governor, the higher-up has made an unlawful rule. For example, a week ago or so, the Governor of New Mexico banned the right to carry firearms in some public areas for at least 30 days (under a her emergency powers in the aftermath of a shooting), and a County Sheriff said he would not enforce that ban; a federal judge has also now blocked that ban. Good on them. While I appreciate the lesser magistrate piece, what if the lesser magistrate is the problem? What if the Mayor is a mini-despot and the Governor is a freedom-lover? It could look like we’re just picking and choosing according to whatever we like, and, of course, people do that. But if we Christians are constantly distinguishing good from evil, then we would be constantly excited about whatever authority at whatever level is doing the same. The moral responsibility is the same, before God to do good. The strategic opportunity changes, to celebrate or to criticize different levels as necessary. This is not every man doing what is right in his own eyes, this is finding any man that will do what is right in God's eyes. Likewise, the church and the household have their own spheres of authority. A president does not have the authority to tell a pastor how to celebrate communion, and so a pastor *must* resist in that scenario. Pastors must also function as protection to their flocks from overreach. # Restrictions on Rulers (5) Submitting to authorities in the civil sphere does not equal the civil sphere being the “boss” sphere. The State, Church, and Household spheres are a divinely established checks-and-balances on each other. Are there limits on what the civil authority can legislate? How far does his jurisdiction extend? The men at the Kuyperian Camaraderie have been talking about this, and Grant and Philip have written up some of the options. If (righteous) civil life was a fenced in field, can the state roam anywhere he wants inside the fence, or is he on a leash, having access only to a smaller circumference? This is a good discussion, and you can read some of those posts here. Grant has written some about the issue here: https://cgweinberg.com/a-christians-responsibility-to-submit-to-authority and here: https://cgweinberg.com/why-christians-have-a-duty-to-defy-defend-some-governing-authorities And Philip wrote about it here: https://inmirkwood.com/garlic-lemon-butter-trout-is-served-best-in-blue-houses Our national governing documents limit federal government, not just with checks and balances, but specifically Amendment IX and especially Amendment X were meant to clarify that, at least on the national level, if it’s not in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, the power belongs to the State or remains with the people themselves. Again, it’s good and sharpening to discuss these things, for sake of doing good for our neighbors. # Cross-Country Consequences (6) God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7). As US citizens we are connected to all the US citizens. And considered as a country, we are guilty of rebellion against and unbelief toward God. We are part of the same body-politic, and it hurts to get out of bed every morning. Most men don't want to be bothered, and it shows. There is some merit in the let your neighbor be, but not when we don’t bother to pray, to pursue office, or to teach their kids lines of authority. Why should the devil have all the good politicians? The bandits and the stupid have a lot of energy, and we’re getting what we deserve as a whole. That said, as Christians, we are also corporately guilty of tolerating junk in the church, among pastors, let alone in ourselves. We see the stream of stupidity in the State, and want it fixed, and fine. It’s not an either/or effort. But the lack of faithfulness among Christians is the first and foremost pain, the mess we have most immediately responsibility for. # No Wasted Disobediences (7) The authorities murdered Jesus due to what they perceived as rival political claims (Luke 23). He was persecuted to death for “disobeying” the rulers. So consistently be on the lookout for the good to do, even when others call that good “disobedience”; your genuine good deeds will not be wasted, or overlooked (Hebrews 6:10). “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV) Be *zealous*, don’t hold back. “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV) # Conclusion *Jesus is Lord*. We should act like it. Pray like it. Vote like it. Work like it. Be zealous for good like it. We should not be craven, milquetoast, or jello-spined. Do not give way before the wicked. > Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain > is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked. > (Proverbs 25:26 ESV) We also must not qualify ourselves into anarchy; authority is good from God in principle. As we see so much of the foundations destroyed, we should seek a multitude of counselors in order to be as submissive as possible citizens for sake of conscience, with thanksgiving praying for and supplicating for and interceding for those in high positions (1 Timothy 2:1-2). ---------- ## Charge When we look around, it appears that we live in days of groaning and burden; it’s *bleak*. We are tempted to say “behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” But it is possible to be “always of good courage,” as long as “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7). Beloved, walking and working by faith is never vanity, it is victory. ## Benediction: > But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. > Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57–58, ESV)

75: The Powers That Be (Pt 3)

September 10, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

One of the great illustrations in God’s Word about receiving God’s Word is that of milk and meat. When admonishing his readers that they should’ve known better, the author of Hebrews wrote, > You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12–14 ESV) The “word of righteousness” is Scripture, and the basic stuff, the “elementary doctrine” (6:1), is for the immature. There’s nothing wrong with the milk, but the Christian should start to grow some teeth. The solid food, or “strong meat” (KJV), is for the mature. Note that this maturity doesn’t come from time passing, it comes from “constant practice.” It comes from work and “training” one’s “discernment powers.” Romans 13 has milk and meat applications. There are basics, rudiments, fundamentals of the faith when it comes to the Christian’s relationship to God and government. What does a newer Christian need? He needs milk, and the milk is that earthly authorities are good, they are God appointed, and good citizens submit to those governors. That said, in the same passage, there are some things that require some chewing. For the Christian whose submission bones have plenty of calcium, he’ll need steak to build up some discernment muscles. Again, the milk and the meat are both good. The simple answer is submission, but the more you learn the more you realize that not everything is simple. In order not to choke, we’re going to need to up our training and practice in distinguishing good from evil (which is not too different from Romans 12:2 “that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”). It’d be worth praying that God would bless our civil authorities to do the same. So far in verses 1-7 we’ve considered the origin and scope of government (verse 1), namely that God calls every soul to be subject to every civil authority He’s established. The God-makes-governors establishment is so recognized that resistance to the government is actually resisting God and so results in judgment (verse 2). Then Paul provides encouragement with the delegated purposes of government which include promoting the good and punishing the bad (verses 3-4). To finish the paragraph we’ll see how Paul takes our accountability up another level in verse 5 and then makes it very practical when it comes to how we support the authorities. There will still be more meat on the bone after today, so I’ll see what I can do to “set the record straight” next Sunday. # The Highest Accountability to Government (verse 5) This is the second conclusion in the paragraph, the second “therefore.” God established the authorities, therefore resisting the authorities results in judgment (verse 2). Paul repeats the same requirement and the result, but ups the motivation ante. > Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:5 ESV) The ESV adds “to avoid”; it’s a fine supplement. But in its bare for it is necessary to **be in subjection** “because of the wrath,” which is God’s wrath brought about through the human authority as an avenger in verse 4. Again, that’s a repeat reminder. The new piece is “but also because of the conscience.” This is *internal* motivation. We submit because of what we know is right, not just in order to evade negative consequences. The **conscience** is God-given, and universal, as in, every soul/person has one. Paul referred to the conscience in earlier in this letter, which was explicitly about *un*believers having a conscience in which their “conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). Christians have more than mini George Washington sitting on one shoulder (maybe fighting with mini Napoleon on the other). We have redeemed consciences, and we have God’s Word to inform us about what is right. It is right to do what is right, including when the authorities promote it. Conscience makes our duties in the civil sphere both higher and also tighter. We answer to God whether or not the governor cares. We answer to God above governor, which also simplifies the pecking order of which we must obey if there’s a conflict between them. For that matter, no governor can make this claim; our consciences are beyond the reach of man. “Be subject *for the Lord’s sake*” (1 Peter 2:13). (For the interested, the Greek phrase in Romans 13:5 is διὰ τὴν συνείδησιν compared to διὰ τὸν κύριον in the 1 Peter passage.) # Giving Practical Support to Government (verses 6-7) This final principle of God and government hits deep down into the dark parts of our wallet where dust gathers. For us who have continued to climb out of the hole of dualism, we see that our support of the civil authorities can’t be mental only, it takes our monies. > For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:6–7 ESV) It’s a big **because**, this **this**. The **this** is referred to again at the end of verse 6, pointing back to **this thing**. What is “this”? The “this” is when the authorities follow their delegated purpose as God’s servants, approving do-gooders and bringing judgment on wrong-doers. This is what they are **attending to**, being “busy with, engaged in, devoted to” (BAGD). It’s their lawful vocation to establish a society of justice as **ministers of God**. This is a different word than *deaconos* in verse 4, this official is referred to as a *liturgos*, the one doing work for the public. Because the authorities are doing divinely-appointed duties they should be financially supported, so we **pay taxes**. It’s not a command in verse 6, it’s a reality, and a reality approved by God. We provide the state with fiscal resources, with the implication that we depend on them to do their job for our good. As with most of the principles in the paragraph Paul provides no explicit qualification regarding percentage, collection methods, or accounting of all expenditures. We pay, even when they might fritter away. Verse 7 finishes off with a basic code, and these *are* commands. Citizens have obligations; authorities are **owed** certain things, it’s not based on citizen’s discretionary free-will offerings. Paul repeats **taxes**, probably collected based on income and property, and adds the word **revenue**, which could be distinguished as a toll for use or as duties on goods. Perhaps our sales tax has some similarities. Paul says: pay it. Federal, state, city. We are getting a lot out of our taxes (and so is Zelensky). We must also pay **respect** and **honor**. Civil authorities at various levels deserve various levels of recognition and deference and esteem. Their roles are subordinate to God, so they must not be deified, but they do have delegated dignity. Our refusal to give honor to whom honor is owed makes *us* dishonorable. It is well known that Jesus Himself said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). God established the sphere of civil/state authority, and expects that all souls will give practical support for the maintenance of the work. This is a great *blessing* to those who do good, who have their property and profits protected from theft and vandalism. Societies in which justice is sure and sentences against evil deed are executed speedily are a check against evil hearts (unlike the opposite as Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 8:11). Those who fear the LORD and the king wisely avoid those who do otherwise and the disaster that comes on them (Proverbs 24:21-22). # Conclusion And again we say, *But!*. Must we pay taxes when the authorities are *not* doing their job, especially when they are opposing good and upending justice? Can we honor the office without honoring a dishonorable man holding that office? There is more to say next time. We do know, though, that private vengeance is out (Romans 12:18), and that prayer for our authorities and paying taxes toward and promoting their judgment on evil is in. Let us do so much good that we put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15). In application from Romans 13:6-7 I particular, - Milk: pay your taxes, don’t grumble about the reality of taxes, and look for all the ways we can be grateful for what good God gives us through tax-supported infrastructure. - Meat: as you look at the meat of the instruction, and as you’re able, sharpen up the steak knife to keep as much of your own fat as you can. ---------- ## Charge Paul told the Thessalonians about a coming great rebellion under the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who will proclaim himself to be God (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). He’ll actually be successful in his deception because men have refused to love the truth (2:10) and have their pleasure in unrighteousness (2:12). That all sounds bad. And in light of all that, he said, “as for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (3:13). Don’t be idle, and don’t be distressed by evil men. ## Benediction: > Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. (2 Thessalonians 3:16, ESV)

74: The Powers That Be (Pt 2)

September 3, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

There’s a phrase in Scripture used for men who “had understanding of the times,” to know what ought to be done, especially in political affairs and intrigue (see 1 Chronicles 12:32, Esther 1:13). I’ve seen it going around the last few weeks, and, while I don’t claim to be one of those guys, I do try to pay attention. I think that it’s timely that we’re here in Romans 13, and we do have application questions that are provoked *by* our current times. And also, application is third; it comes after observation and interpretation. What does the text say, what does the text mean, then what do we do in light of the text. Our situation might enable us to observe things from different angles, but Paul meant what God moved him to write apart from our problem politics. While it is important to know the times, it is actually of first importance to know what God has revealed for *all times*. The quickest way to become irrelevant is to seek to be relevant, and the easiest way to be useless in our times is to be stuck in them. Before we appeal to the Constitution (which *is* part of the application for us), we need to understand the Bible. Scripture teaches the good of submission for Joe Christian Citizen. Wives submit, children submit, slaves submit, citizens submit, and there is even a mutual submission. What governs all those is submission to God. So husbands, fathers, masters, and governors must submit to God, so submission to those men can never be absolute. God is the origin of earthly authorities, God determines the purposes for those authorities, and God has established boundaries for those authorities. Paying attention to the boundaries, or pushing them, is a lot of life. In Romans 13:1-2 we considered God as the origin of civil authorities, and how *every* person—Christian and non—is called to recognize that *every* (civic) authority has been instituted by God. So those who resist face the result of judgment, which is probably judgment through the exercise of power by the human authority. This morning we’ll see the purposes of government (in verses 3-4). That’ll leave us at least one more message about our consciences and paying taxes. # The Delegated Purposes of Government (verses 3-4) Ruling is a lawful vocation, as in, God calls some men to wield authority over other men as a job. What is the job description? These verses provide it in *very* broad terms. > For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:3–4 ESV) That first line is *oddly* positioned and *historically* questionable. **For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.** Knowing what we know, a *bunch* of questions come to mind. Who in the world is Paul talking about? *Actual* people, Gentile/pagan/polytheistic men like Nero?! Before or after Nero blamed the burning of Rome on Christians and used them as human candles, and does that matter? How do these rulers identify good and bad; what is their standard? And what about *all* the times when rulers *are* a terror to good conduct, for one example, when they killed Jesus? And why does Paul feel the need to start with this “comfort”? It is a surprisingly positive, if not romantic, presentation. It’s easy to imagine, but has it not been more frustrating than factual? Paul’s angle seems to assume that Christians in particular were suspicious of government. We would assume that they had good reason for suspicion, if not for **fear**. But still Paul says here that there is no reason to fear if you do what is good. Let’s keep working with that first. This gets us to the two broad purposes of government: *approve/praise the good* and *avenge/punish the bad/wrong*. For what it’s worth, Peter makes the same two points in 1 Peter 2:14 while calling believers to “be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution.” Paul assumes that rulers can know and distinguish between good and bad, right and wrong. Paul does not say how they know. At the least he must have included the conscience, as he described in Romans 2:15. But for all he’s written about the law in Romans (even though we can’t be saved by works of the law) he doesn’t use the word law once in this paragraph. Yet he encourages Christians to keep doing good because the rulers will approve the good, and that implies that good is not subjective, that it can be recognized and agreed upon, even with ungodly authorities. When the ruler acts according to true good and true bad, **he is God’s servant for your good**. Skip a sentence and Paul repeats: **he is the servant of God**. The word **servant** is *diakonos*, an intermediary, an agent working on behalf of, with an emphasis on ministry. So “public servants.” So also, Paul doubles-up on the punishment of wrong. **If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain**, he is **an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer**. To “bear the sword” is a threat of force up to execution and capital punishment, the death penalty. This servant is *armed* and dangerous. However, authorities who truly knew good and wrong would not execute every misdemeanor to death, so this represents the most extreme form of judgment (verse 2), implying that lesser levels such as prison, beating, fines were part of the toolkit. These are *not* (necessarily) Christian rulers, but they are ruling in a way (mostly) consistent with Christian definitions of good and bad. Christians can explain the origin of the morals and the origin of offices, but they can also be thankful to God for rulers who may not know either, *while* also praying/seeking for the confession of the authorities that Christ is Lord. That would be better blessing, but it is not the only blessing level. BUT. What if the rulers praise the *wrong* wrongdoer, as in Romans 1:32: > Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV) Now we’re talking about not just neighbors, but legislators. “Can destructive rulers join You / And by law disorder build?” (Psalm 94:20)? “Those who frame injustice by statute…they band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death” (94:20-21, ESV). Really big question: do we have to obey *those* rulers? I’m obviously building up some tension, even possible conflict. But the Big E on the eye chart is not hard to see, understand. We already know the answer to this Yes/No question. The answer is obvious. Let’s set it up again. Verse 1 says every person must be subject to governing authorities because God appointed those authorities, and there are no qualifications. Verse 3 explains the purpose of governing authorities regarding good and bad, and does not offer qualifications either. But I think that’s because the answer is clear. *We must **not** obey wicked rulers when they prohibit good conduct or require bad conduct*. It is simple, in principle. You must not obey man rather than God (see Acts 5:29). So you must not obey a governor who requires you to kill your neighbor. No earthly authority has absolute authority, so because we know God and His law is above all, we *must* not violate what we know God says is good/evil. We cannot be in subjection “for the sake of conscience” to God (verse 4) and go against our informed consciences, no matter how Constitutional, how majority voted, how procedurally correct the legislation was written, or how loudly pressured or physically/financially threatened. So I am arguing that all Christians agree that there are qualifications on being subject to the governing authorities. Of course we disagree about where the line is on the spectrum, from a law requiring us to kill someone (obvious wickedness) to a code prohibiting us from watering our yards more than two days a week (because of climate change concerns)(less obvious). That said, here is a different challenge: why would be need to submit if we already only wanted to do good and that’s all the government wanted from us? We would be the governments’ favorites, but we’d be *agreeing* more than submitting. It can’t be that we submit only to the things we agree to call good, and yet, our submission cannot be to things we know are not good. # Conclusion Human authorities/the officers of civil rule are: - *Delegated by God, not absolute*. To be respected, followed, but not devotionally. Rulers are servants of God, and will give account to God. We cannot submit to a ruler instead of God, but as part of our submission to God. - *Delimited by God, not unlimited*. To be acknowledged, followed, but not uncritically. Rulers are not infallible, and their power is not unbridled; God has set down boundaries. It is not weak to submit, it is wicked not to. That said, sometimes rulers are the revolutionaries, and must be resisted. We are in times of trouble. It seems that the majority of our seated authorities are committed to their revolution of good and evil. It is nowhere near the first time men have called evil good and visa versa. But it requires us to be ruthlessly submitted to God, not cowards, wise as serpents, and looking to the LORD as our stronghold, to God as our rock of refuge (Psalm 94:22). More still to come in the paragraph. ---------- ## Charge Jesus told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Oh, how tempted to be troubled we are, how often we are burdened by anxiety, especially when the wicked exalt and pour out their arrogant words (Psalm 94:3-4). Listen to Jesus, trust the Lord, let His comforts cheer your soul, live in His grace. ## Benediction: > The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Romans 16:20, ESV)

73: The Powers That Be (Pt 1)

August 27, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 13:1–7

God and government is a huge and tangled subject, and Romans 13:1-7 is a fairly small paragraph comparatively. These verses include some foundational principles, and for Christian citizens in the current (covidian) climate, it has pushed its way into the spotlight. We desire to understand Romans 13, and to apply it, almost two-thousand years after Paul wrote it. That requires some thoughtfulness. What's also relevant, is that much of (or at least much of the remnants of) our ideas about government in Western Civilization have been built on Romans 13. That requires our thankfulness. Rights as God-givens rather than state-givens, checks-and-balances among men, legislation for maximum liberty, these are not the fruit of idolatry or atheism, humanism or secularism. Whether you are blue pill, red pill, black pill, white pill, you need God over the system. If all we have is what's under the sun, if there is no God over the state, then the state becomes god. The eternal God says earthly, temporal government is good, though obviously not every governor governs in a godly or good way. God says authorities, hierarchy, structures, powers, force, and taxes are good. God says individualism, anarchy, rebellion and revolution are bad. God is sovereign over all, God sets up kings and kingdoms and nations and boundaries and God tears them down (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21). God will take account from every official, and every citizen. It is part of the human condition. I've read men who’ve argued that there would be no need for government apart from the fall (Abraham Kuyper is one example). It's speculation either way, but had mankind not sinned I'm not convinced that some kind of political organization would not have happened. There wouldn't be a need for laws and punishments, but there could have been leaders and followers among fathers, just as there was organization and hierarchy in the household. As they filled the earth, a collection of households might have decided to do things one way in one place, and another collection differently, both good and not resulting in conflict. I say that to emphasize the fact that authority is *good*. Abuse of authority is obviously not, whether by self-interest or indolence or ignorance, and we have seen that all over. When men have power over men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9), it is a heavy trouble and grievous evil. But good authorities are like the dawn. > The God of Israel has spoken; > the Rock of Israel has said to me: > When one rules justly over men, > ruling in the fear of God, > he dawns on them like the morning light, > like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, > like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. > (2 Samuel 23:3–4 ESV) Righteous rulers are a blessing to a nation and cause the people to rejoice, though they groan when the wicked rule (Proverbs 29:2, see also Proverbs 14:34). Part of how we know that our rulers are bad is not just because of pain we experience, but because our consciences tell us that something else is better. We know there is a better pattern, and that's because God has built it into us. As I said, there has been renewed interest in Romans 13 since 2020, and these verses are like a step-stool for living sacrifices as they get up on the altar in public. So many sermons, podcasts, books, Twitter threads, memes. Here is another. A good look at this paragraph will show that "Shut up and submit no matter what" is *not* what Paul required, of the mid-first-century Romans, or of us two millennium later. Paul was arrested/beaten for disobeying the government multiple times. He also avoided death and got to Rome itself on the government dime. But Paul does help us see that our default attitude should be toward law and order, and to see our opportunity to serve God as we submit to our governors. Sure it's worthwhile to take a couple Sundays to consider this Scripture, unique in the Pauline epistles. Today verses 1-2, digging out the foundation. # The Origin and Scope of Government (verse 1) This is an exhaustive-exhaustive, a two-fold fullness. > Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1) We're talking about **every person** and every **authority**, stated as **there is no authority except**, a universal affirmative (All persons are required-to-submit-to-authorities-persons) and a universal negative (No authority-person is a non-God-appointed-person). Put that on your square of opposition. Let's not let it go without saying that Paul is writing to the Roman *Christians*, those who had been saved by the mercies of God. But let's also observe that Paul doesn't limit his target to living sacrifices, though living sacrifices are included. There aren't any escape clauses. Every *soul*, Christian and non-Christian, means that there is no entirely private person; no one is above the law. The **governing authorities** are *human* beings in positions of power. There is another use of the word “authorities,” even by Paul, to refer to supernatural, angelic beings “in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, 6:12). But in none of those passages do we *submit* to angels, we submit to men. That is the command here: **be subject**. It means to submit, follow, do what someone else wills. The reason is built in: God is the one who put these people in place. “*The powers that be* are ordained of God” (Tyndale/KJV). Paul says it twice, the first that eliminates alternatives and the second that emphasizes God's appointment. Where there is authority, it's **from God**; God **instituted**, He “established” (NASB), put in place, all those powers. This does *not* mean that the authorities realize how they got/hold their seat, and so problems arise when they fail to recognize their authority is only delegated, not absolute. But *we* know the origin of civil authorities-God Himself, and the scope of civil authorities—every person. # Resistance to Government and Its Result (verse 2) The reality is so inescapable that God installs government/governors that disobeying the human authority is disobeying God. > Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:2) **Therefore**, here's the conclusion based on the divine origin and ordination of authorities. "The one resisting," is the opposite of submitting; there's a play on words, submit is *hupotasso* - get under, and resist is *antitasso* - go against. To **resist** is to go against the force. Opposition to the authority is opposition to what God ordained. One example, as when Moses told the Israelites in the desert, “Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD” (Exodus 16:8). There is a synonym for the anti-arranging in the last part of verse 2, the anti-stander. The ESV uses **those who resist** again, and it's another way to refer to those who stand-against, who oppose. What about when the apostles said that they had to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29)? And if Paul wasn’t a hypocrite to his own instruction, why was he in prison so often? These are good questions, but they are good *second* questions, after we acknowledge the default of divine authority in the affairs of nations. # Conclusion Verse 5 makes clear that we are to submit not just because we might be punished, "but also for the sake of conscience." This is higher than any human authority can accomplish, even if they do “want to know what we think” and convict us of thoughtcrime. We submit directly to God while we submit indirectly but more intimately to the governing authorities. What about when those rulers are illegitimate; what if power was seized through a coup, or a stolen election? What about when those rulers are unjust? Do we submit to the powers that be *de facto* (according to what is in fact), or just to those *de jure* (according to what is right by law)? Again, all really relevant questions. We are commanded to recognize that civil government is God-ordained, even as we would recognize that family/household government and church governments are God-ordained. These are *all* subject to God, whether they realize it or not. As such, each sphere of authority can function as checks-and-balances to each other. But fathers are not the boss of everything, though they are first-responsible at home. Elders/pastors are not presidents, and Health Department directors can't prohibit Christian communion. Paul himself was imprisoned *wrongly* by the government, he used the government to keep himself from death, and he deliberately disobeyed the government when it came to proclaiming the gospel. Before that, Paul himself had used power to cause the unjust suffering/death of Christians. Government is given by God, government that does not acknowledge God will give account for that, will inevitably move toward taking on god-like ego, and Christians are *not* allowed to serve two gods. But we also must take care not to qualify ourselves out of anything that looks like submission. The results are never good when every man does what is right in his own eyes, and professing Christians are no less susceptible to that temptation. And while we pray for kings/presidents/governors and all who are in high positions (1 Timothy 2:2), we also know that apart from repentance (cf. Isaiah 46) and submission to Jesus as Lord, we deserve all the judgment *of* wicked rulers we receive. There is more in the paragraph, more principles, more unanswered but relevant questions, more about God’s rules for submissive and tax-paying citizens. ---------- ## Charge In _Mere Christianity_ C.S. Lewis noted: > “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” Be occupied with God and presenting your body as a living sacrifice to God. Thank Him for blessing you with fruit here because your hope is in Christ’s forever kingdom. ## Benediction: > Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, ESV)

72: Altar Perfection

August 20, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:17–21

There's no coincidence that these applications for living sacrifices in Romans 12:9-21 are the Ancient Jealousable Ways. I keep puling jealousable forward from Romans 11 where Paul talked about God’s blessings to believers that provoke the right kind of jealousy in order to provoke repentance and faith in Jesus as Christ — risen from the dead, Lord of heaven and earth. God gives His people the blessings of salvation, and as living sacrifices, God gives His people the blessings of suffering, even unjustly. These are ancient jealousable ways, these are the ways of Jesus. In the most well-known sermon in history Jesus said that the persecuted are *blessed*. He said that when others revile and persecute and lie about us for the good we do, we are *blessed* and we ought to rejoice and be glad for our greater reward is coming (Matthew 5:10-12). Living sacrifices are transformed into *perfection* like their heavenly Father as they love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (Matthew 5:38-48). These Jesus-taught, blessed-as-jealousable, ways make us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. These are the marks of those *not* conformed to the world, the customs of altar living. If we've seen altar commitments and altar perspectives, we could call these final exhortations altar *perfection*. As with the whole chapter of application for altar living, verses 17-21 continue tempting translators to make things less confusing by turning modifying ideas into main ideas, translating participles as commands (16 total verbs, 9 commands in the ESV, but only 5 imperatives in the original language). Again, do all the things. But here's a way to read it while recognizing primary commands and secondary clarifications. > *Repaying* no one evil for evil > *giving thought* to what is honorable in the sight of all > if possible, so far as depends on you, > *living peaceably* with all men, > *never avenging* yourselves, beloved, > **give place** to the wrath of God, > for it is written: > “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” > On the contrary, > if your enemy is hungry, > **feed** him; > if he is thirsty, > **give drink** to him, > for by so *doing* you will heap burning coals on his head. > **Do not be overcome** by evil, > but **overcome** evil with good. > Three more additions to the previous six: Defer Peaceably (17-19), Supply Knowingly (20), and Conquer Honorably (21). # Defer Peaceably (verses 17-19) The *one* imperative is to make room for God's wrath. All the other parts help us see how to think and act toward those that are making life miserable. > *Repaying* no one evil for evil, > *giving thought* to what is honorable > in the sight of all; > if possible, so far as depends on you, > *living peaceably* with all men; > *never avenging* yourselves, beloved, > **give place** to the wrath of God, > for it is written: > “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” This is not a *denial* or *redefinition* of **evil**. Evil has been done, wrong has been committed, an injustice has taken place. The legal principle of *lex talionis* is the "eye-for-an-eye" proscription, comes from God's law (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21)). Jesus said He came not to abolish the law, but He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:38-39). This is *personal* humiliation and harassment, any challenge to our self-absorbed attitudes. Paul says that we should retaliate *not* by **repaying evil for evil** but by **giving thought** about what we could do that considered beautiful, **honorable** in the eyes of others (actually the same word as “good” in verse 21). To give thought has the idea of thinking beforehand, of planning, ways to make an good show while we've been treated wrongly. We understand that there are conditions/persons for which no amount of planning on our part will accomplish immediate—and possibly even for delayed—benefit, but our goal is to be **living peaceably**. So far as depends on you; it is not always possible, sometimes they just aren’t listening. You eliminate the offenses you can. You put your Blood Avenger cape back in the box. You be the wet lump of bread dough to their lit match. Again a tension, per Jesus’ purpose (Matthew 10:34). We want peace, but not by giving away the house so to speak, by agreeing with heresy, by accepting lies, by redefining evil. We ought not “to flatter the vices of men for the sake of preserving peace” (John Calvin). But even that will be a sacrifice to sacrifice peace. This requires faith; there’s no need for frustration that real wrongs will go unpunished. Every sin will be accounted for; either Christ died to take the punishment for it or God will bring punishment onto the person himself for it. But no evils, no sins are missed. But we are not Judge and jury. Paul throws in a **beloved** here, a term of sympathy, and theology; these sufferers are God's sons (think Romans 8:15-17). The explicit imperative is **leave it to** or "give place" to God's **wrath**. Then Paul quotes the law from Deuteronomy 32:35. The Lord makes the vow that vengeance is *His* and that He will take care of it. Defer is not only a time issue, but an agent issue. We defer to God. Besides, for whatever scheming we think we could inflict for pain, we ourselves have an eye-dropper of vengeance compared to the flood of God's wrath. Again, this is personal. There is tension, and ours is an age of tension-hating if there ever was one. Imprecatory Psalms (such as Psalm 94) did not even contradict the Mosaic Law in the same Old Covenant, nor did Jesus abolish our hope and prayers for justice. But we are never more worldly than when our feelings demand that someone else feel bad for causing our bad feelings. We are never more without faith than when we want pain for another person immediately and brought about by our own moves. Authorities in their spheres (e.g., Romans 13:3-4) *must* not ignore injustice, while individuals also look to the ultimate Authority. # Supply Knowingly (verse 20) There are two conditions followed by two commands, following the imperative we just read to give place to the wrath of God. Here is hospitable wisdom from Proverbs 25:21-22. > On the contrary, > if your enemy is hungry, > **feed** him; > if he is thirsty, > **give drink** to him, > for by so *doing* you will heap burning coals on his head. This is “practical generosity” (Murray), in a way unreasonable hospitality, as in exceptional, but also reasonable, as in there is a reason built in. Note the **enemy** (ἐχθρός), which means Christians *have enemies*, not that we hate them but we can tell that they are hostile toward us. And, really, if we cannot notice an enemy then we cannot obey God's command how to treat them. This is also *personal*. This is not instruction for generals in a war, this is not instructions for fathers with an intruder into their house. But it is personal, and none closer than someone face-to-face to whom you could actually give bread and water/wine. The built-in reason has been variously understood. Most of the commentators I read seem pressured to avoid it being a negative. They want it to be related to an old Egyptian practice where hot coals were a sign of contrition and repentance, so that our feeding causes a good guilt in the enemy so that the enemy becomes a friend. But **heaping burning coals on the head** is constantly used in the Old Testament as a sign of judgment. More than that, we have a great help already in Romans 2:4-5. God's own kindness is meant to lead others to repentance, for sure, but as He pours out kindness, if they do not repent, they are heaping up wrath for themselves on the day of wrath. For the Christian, this kind of kindness is win-win. If the kindness causes softening, win. If the kindness causes hardening, we cannot be an excuse in the enemy's mouth when answering to God. We supply knowingly: knowing the enemy, knowing his need, and knowing the outcome. # Conquer Honorably (verse 21) This is a potent and poignant rally point. > **Do not be overcome** by evil, > but **overcome** evil with good. > Twice we see **overcome**, two uses of the verb *nikao* meaning victorying or triumphing or *conquering*. The first use is an imperative in the passive voice, meaning don't let this happen to you by something else. The second use is an imperative in the active voice, that includes an instrument, or better, a *weapon*. Go, (fight), win. Our weapon is **good**. The human way is to get even. The perfect way is to get good. # Conclusion Don't hold back obedience to the Lord, and also, wait for the Lord to not hold back. These are imperatives for the altar life, for the way we look at the world, for the way we look at winning. Win-Win-Win: blessed and jealousable ways. > “The essence of ungodliness is that we presume to take the place of God, to take everything into our own hands.” —John Murray Alter perfection is deferred retaliation for the win. You’ve got to do gooder than the ungodly: “be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” ---------- ## Charge Beloved, leave what is God’s to God. Live on the altar as a sacrifice for God. Defer retaliation to God for the win. Win over evil with good. May God bless your zeal for good. ## Benediction: > Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4, ESV)

71: Altar Perspectives

August 13, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:14–16

We’re back for more *altar commitments*, as in, more of what life as a living sacrifice looks like. A bunch of this applies to body life; if the individual members of the body used their gifts for the body and then treated one another according to these “one anothers” in verses 9-21, we’d be built up and blessed. Paul gives us more of the Ancient Jealousable Ways, and verses 14-16 are particularly outside the world’s pattern. These are commitments for what living sacrifices look like, but also *altar perspectives*, *how* living sacrifices look. These perspectives put our self-absorbed attitudes up on the altar to die. For the first time we hit actual imperatives in the original text. Verse 14 alone has three of them, and there’s another one that finishes verse 16. But, as in verses 9-13, there are some secondary verbs that should be taken as modifiers, which hardly any of the typical English translations recognize. I’d propose this way of reading the passage: > **Bless** the ones persecuting you; > **bless** and **do not curse**. > [**Seek**] *to rejoice* with those rejoicing, > *to weep* with those weeping. > *Thinking* the same toward one another, > *not thinking* highly, > but *associating* with the lowly, > **do not be wise** according to yourself. We’ve considered in verses 9-13 the requirements to Love Discriminately, Honor Surpassingly, and Christian Zealously, and there are three more in these verses. There’s plenty to make your teeth hurt so good, like biting into orange juice concentrate. # Bless Transcendently (verse 14) Don’t fake love, don’t phone in serving the Lord, be helpful to those with needs, so said verses 9-13. While that actually can be challenging enough, verse 14 takes the challenge up to another level. In fact, obedience here it requires seeing beyond the field immediately in front of you. > **Bless** those who persecute you; > **bless** and **do not curse** them. To **bless** has obvious verbal implications. First, it’s built into the word; *eulogeo* is from *eu* meaning good/well and *logeo* meaning speak, so “good wording” or “speaking well,” so our word eulogy means a speech of praise. Second, it’s contrasted with cursing (and with reviling elsewhere), which is also primarily associated with words. But blessing others in the Bible is more than a spoken formula, it includes the desire for the other person to receive good - beyond what the situation calls for. For Christians, when we bless someone else, we want God’s special favor to be given. We bless our kids, we bless our friends, we want God to give them good. Here we are commanded to bless our hostiles, “the ones persecuting you.” This is a substantival participle, characterizing the ones who harass, pressure, and attack. Bless *them*. Remember that this is the first explicit command since verse 9, and it is immediately repeated and followed with a prohibition. To **curse** is more than to complain, though it includes that. It’s to desire the harm and/or misery of someone else, invoking supernatural power to bring about the pain. You almost always have a *reason* to get back at them. Be careful little mouth what you say. There’s much more about this in verses 17-21. Since we’ve got more than Romans, I think this is encouraging: > Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9 ESV) It is the Christian’s calling to do the contrary than be conformed to the world’s ways *so that* we may obtain a blessing. That requires faith, a transcendent perspective and trust in the “faithful Creator” who works suffering for good while we’re doing good (see 1 Peter 4:19). Jesus taught that it is no big deal to love those who love you; loving lovers is the natural, *worldly* way (Matthew 5:44, 46). What if the ones persecuting you are the government? What if they are a business—that you paid for—with shoddy products/service? The primary context is interpersonal, but if your reactions are as self-absorbed as the world’s, then don’t expect to obtain great blessing yourself. # Relate Sympathetically (verse 15) There is no explicit command in verse 15, but two parallel phrases that start with infinitives. Rather than understand the command “be (something)” as in the previous verses, here something such as “seek” or “pursue” works better. > [**Seek**] *to rejoice* with those who rejoice, > *to weep* with those who weep. There are “rejoicers” and there are “weepers.” To the Corinthians Paul had them connected within the church body: > If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV) In the previous verse we wouldn’t think of persecutors as being brothers in Christ, but we’re also not supposed to think the same thing as non-Christians like in the following verse. We can at least say that this verse applies to rejoicers/weepers we worship with, and yet there are ways that we can relate even to unbelievers. It is mean to delight in another person’s loss, but it is a different challenge to celebrate with their victories. The temptations to envy are legion compared to the temptations to being aloof. This is good, old-fashioned sympathy, shared *pathos*, understanding between people and having a common feeling. So compassion represents a suffering with, a concern for the pains of others. It’s mutually exclusive with self-absorbed attitudes. There is discrimination involved. If the other person is weeping that his adultery didn’t work out, you should rejoice in that. If she is weep-cursing her neighbor, don’t have a good gripe-session. Give the benefit of the doubt, and also don’t believe everything they say, at least not right away. Don’t complain with those who complain-weep, and for that matter, don’t immediately criticize those who weep as complainers. Don’t sing songs to a troubled heart (Proverbs 25:20), and also, don’t curse those who are trying to help, even if clumsily. # Think Accommodatingly (verse 16) There is an explicit imperative in verse 16, but comes at the end. Three participles (the verbs ending in -ing) before it prepare the way. > *Thinking* the same toward one another, > *not thinking* highly, > but *associating* with the lowly, > **do not be wise** according to yourself. The first phrase is turned into a command differently by some good translations: “Live in harmony with one another” (ESV) or “Be of the same mind toward one another” (NASB), but it could be “the same thing unto one another **thinking**.” The nuance of this word for thinking might be about carefully considering your opinion about a thing (BAGD). As it modifies the imperative coming at the end of the verse, it means that this is required, and so a kind of shared thinking is to be *pursued*. You can try it, make progress toward it. Harmony requires adjustments on *your* part. The same participle for **thinking** is used in the second phrase, with a negative for being “high,” and so figuratively referring to what is haughty, proud. This is apparently a big deal to Paul, since he stated it in 12:3 too, don’t be “high-thinking.” In contrast we (gladly) bring ourselves to be **associating** with the lowly. Again, we adjust ourselves. We accommodate, which has the idea of providing space or even adapting the space so that things will fit. We adapt, we get our bearings where they belong, not thinking that we are all that. So the final imperative, **Do not be thinking (self-smart) in the sight of yourself**, is a play on words. Think accommodatingly not alienating-ly. Watch out when you estimate your perspective to be better than everyone else’s, when you think of yourself as the standard rather than thinking of yourself in light of the standard, and along with others. This is ancient wisdom: Do not lean on your own understanding, be not wise in your own eyes (Proverbs 3:5, 7). Those who are self-absorbed are notoriously relentless and invulnerable to insight (Edwin Friedman). # Conclusion These altar perspectives are more of the Ancient Jealousable Ways. All these require that we life from faith to faith, living in an awareness of God’s oversight and governance. We must put our preoccupations with our own feelings, our own concerns, up on the altar to die. ---------- ## Charge Don’t be a blessing bully. Be sure that a rejoicing brother is rejoicing in *evil* before you try to “bless” him by confronting his rejoicing as wrong. Likewise, there is a time to weep and a time to mourn; don’t “bless” them by demanding a dance out of season. Likewise likewise, if you can/must bless those who persecute you, then you can bless those who misunderstand what you’re going through. There is no third line (in Romans 12:15), “Be angry with those who didn’t rejoice or weep with you as they should have.” That’s not a blessing either. ## Benediction: > Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. > The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11, 14, ESV)

70: Altar Commitments

August 6, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:9–13

I have loved this paragraph for a couple decades. It is a kick in the living-sacrifice pants, a kick in the member-of-one-body pants, a kick in the pants for people who don’t love grammar, or the Christian lifestyle. Here is application par excellence, application for those who might want to go back to abstract ideas if *this* is what application looks like. There are really good reasons to observe verses 9-21 all together. That said, I think a good case could be made for a division at verse 17, which appears to address how Christians behave toward non-Christians, though there’s a piece of that in verse 14. The ESV breaks a paragraph after verse 13, which does have a grammatical benefit as well, since verse 14 is the first verse that technically has a command, an explicit imperative verb rather than implied imperatives. More on that in a moment. In Romans 12 we’ve acknowledged Paul’s appeal to be transformed, we’ve received Paul’s analogy about being members of one body. What are these verses about? Some editions of the Bible provide headings over verses 9-21 such as “Rules of the Christian Life” (UBS4). “Marks of the True Christian” (ESV). “Love in Action” (NIV). “Christian Ethics” (HCSB). I’d like to say these are the Ancient Jealousable Ways. When you want to know what a living sacrifice does on the altar, here’s a good start; these are *altar commitments*. When members of the body want something more practical than just appreciating other members, here’s how that appreciation looks in practice. The grammar here is fun. As I said, the first un-implied command is in verse 14, but there are three implied commands of “be (a particular way)” in verses 9-13, with some follow up to each. Between the adjectives and a lot of participles, both of which modify main ideas, I’d translate the verses like so: > Let love [be] without hypocrisy; > *abhorring* what is evil, > *clinging* to what is good. > [Be] devoted to one another in brothers affection, > *outdoing* one another in [showing] honor. > Do not [be] slothful in zeal; > *being fervent* in spirit, > *serving* the Lord, > *rejoicing* in hope, > *persevering* in tribulation, > *being devoted* to prayer, > *contributing* to the needs of the saints, > *seeking* to show hospitality. With this structure in mind we see the first three altar commitments. # Love Discriminately (verse 9) The verse opens with an article, a noun, and an adjective, with an assumed linking verb, more than likely a command. The rest of the verse has a pair of participles that not only make an obvious contrast, but also help explain the first line. Again: > Let love [be] without hypocrisy; > *abhorring* what is evil, > *clinging* to what is good. **Love** has its hands all over the Bible. It is the Greatest Commandment and the second is like it, which got its start in Deuteronomy and renewed by Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40). The Spirit produces love in believers (Galatians 5:22); it is the way the world knows we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35). Love binds the body parts together in harmony (Colossians 3:14). And such love should be *un-hypocritical*, without pretense, “without play-acting” (BAGD). If you read the next two phrases as commands, such as in the ESV, fine. Obeying all the parts of the verse gets to the same outcome. But there’s another level of clarity about what makes love hypocritical: abhorring evil and holding to the good. Sincere love *discriminates*. Love isn’t love if it does not distinguish between **evil** and **good** and act accordingly. This is one reason we don’t say “Love is love.” Love does not deny standards. Love that clings to evil and abhors what is good is *not* love; that’s like loving the thorn, not the flower. # Honor Surpassingly (verse 10) Similar to verse 9, verse 10 opens with an article, a noun, a prepositional phrase, and then an adjective: the brotherly-love — to one another — loving dearly. Or: > [Be] devoted to one another in brotherly affection, > *outdoing* one another in [showing] honor. *Philadelphia* is brother-love. Is it easier, or harder, to love your brother? Yes. I’ve benefited from Rene Girard’s observations that we usually have a harder time loving the ones that want the same things as us. I don’t really have a lot of fights with the Lesbian Unitarian pastors; we’re not competing for the same demographic, at least not week to week. And while it may be true that, at the end of the day, a brother would willingly spare a kidney for another brother, lots of times brothers punch each other; sibling rivalry is real. They’re stuck in the same location, the resources are limited, they’re fighting it out for attention and space, and glory. Brotherly love is recognizable and *command-able*. It’s also why the follow up participle does a lot of work. Love *honors*, and if there is any competition, it’s a competition for who can show more honor to the other person. The NASB has “give preference in honor,” “honor above yourselves” says the NIV, “showing eagerness in honoring” (NET). But Tyndale and the ESV seem better, “In gevynge honoure/goo one before another.” Beat one another to honoring one another. # Christian Zealously (verses 11-13) One more time, verse 11 begins with an article, a noun, a negative, then an adjective, followed up by seven participles that modify. It’s a bunch of Christian basics under the basic reminder of: don’t be lazy. > Do not [be] slothful in zeal; > *being fervent* in spirit, > *serving* the Lord, > *rejoicing* in hope, > *persevering* in tribulation, > *being devoted* to prayer, > *contributing* to the needs of the saints, > *seeking* to show hospitality. **Zeal** is the virtue, an eagerness and *haste*. Don’t just sit there, get busy. The adjective **slothful** has the idea of “lagging behind” (NASB), hesitation, reluctance (BAGD). Don’t let the zeal flag flop. Maybe this could be like the opposite of telling someone to “Calm Down. Relax.” which hardly seems to work. Does the command to *!Be excited!* really help? It could be emotional volume without substance, but that’s one benefit of the next bunch of modifiers, which most English translations turn into commands. And fine. But they belong together in such a way as to say: don’t hold back. **Be(ing) fervent in spirit** is probably one’s human spirit rather than the Holy Spirit, and it means to get charged up. Homer used the word for boiling or seething liquid, so figuratively our spirit should be stirred up, our affections excited, on fire. John Calvin said, “our flesh, like the ass, is always torpid.” Go ahead, be a Jesus freak. **Serving the Lord** frames the zeal because we are not the Master. Our confession is that He is Lord, we do what He says. When the zeal and fervor is at low tide, remember that you are working for the Lord and not for men, and it’s from the Lord that you will receive the reward (Colossians 3:23-24). Into verse 12, these three phrases work together for good, all in parallel form. We’re zealously **rejoicing in hope**, which earlier we learned is the hope of glory (Romans 5:2). Hope is the flavor of rejoicing. We’re zealously **persevering in tribulation**, which is a steadfastness, also which we know God works for our perfection (James 1:2-4). And we’re zealously **being devoted to prayer**, which should go along with the attitude in afflictions, because we need the Lord’s help. The two phrases in verse 13 complement each other. There’s zeal for **contributing to the needs of the saints** and **seeking to show hospitality**. Some have the gift of giving (Romans 12:8), all of us have different ways we can give. The **hospitality** part, especially in the first century, was more important since it was often strangers who needed it. Maybe evangelists were traveling, maybe there just weren’t available inns for passers-by. Christians had a great ministry *in their homes*, not just outside of them. It’s not ridiculous to think that we can apply this, but having your favorite family over for dinner and game night is not exactly the same. That said, it’s good practice in an inhospitable world (Murray). Zeal is cheerful, faithful, prayerful, merciful, bountiful. # Conclusion Don’t hold back *love*, don’t hold back *honor*, *don’t hold back at all*. This shows what altar commitment looks like. These are the Ancient Jealousable Ways. While much of Romans expects our “Amen!”, these require us to *Act!* ---------- ## Charge “Good works are conspicuous/obvious, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25). Love the good. Find someone to outdo in honor. Pray. Be patient. Give when you can. Don't hold back. ## Benediction: > Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23–25, ESV)

69: Applied Grace (Pt 2)

July 30, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:3–8

The human body is amazing; a demonstration of God’s kindness and creativity. The church body may be more amazing; a demonstration of God’s wisdom and power, plus His kindness and creativity (Which is harder, breathing life into molded dirt or uniting depraved and disparate parts into one who will work together, beside each other, all day long?). We might take either body for granted, and it’s easier when the body and her parts are healthy, working properly. Our physical bodies will be resurrected and glorified for eternity, and Christ’s body will be perfected in blamelessness and unity forever as well. It’s all by grace. As the mercies of God motivate our individual renewal and proving of what’s good, so the grace of God teaches us how to think with right-thinking about ourselves, including how we are connected in Christ to other Christians and how not one of us has all the powers. Paul admonished sanity (verse 3), he introduced the analogy of membership (verses 4-5), and now he gives an application of usefulness for the spiritual gifts God has given by grace to the body (verses 6-8). Gifts are like spiritual milk: they do the body good. Having taught through 1 Corinthians 12, the first time Paul wrote about the body analogy and extended it into a list of gifts along with the reason for the gifts (to build up), I was definitely surprised at some low-level resistance to actually considering one’s own giftedness, and definitely to thinking about how God uses others. But both in the Corinthians and for the Romans, God’s Word through Paul aims to help us think about it correctly. # The Reality of Gifts (Romans 12:6a) There are three mind-renewing phrases before getting into the list of gifts, phrases all at the beginning of verse 6. The first part is Paul’s assumption of the reality of having received gifts from God. > Having gifts…that differ The grammar of verse 6 assumes a gift-giving *and* assumes our general stewardship for those gifts. God gave so we must use. Paul opens with a participle, “having gifts,” and the noun **gifts** is separated by six words from the adjective that modifies it, **differ**: “gifts — according to the grace given to us (that are) — different.” The NASB translates, “*Since* we have gifts that differ.” Paul doesn’t try to prove it, he accepts as true that we have the gifts. **Gifts** is the word *charismata* (χαρίσματα), with the Greek word for grace (*charis*) built-in: so these are then “grace-gifts” or “gifts of grace” or “freely bestowed gifts.” The gifts **differ**, they are distinct, not the same, unlike in quality and in purpose/use, as we’ll see. There isn’t any hint that only some have gifts. The thrust of the paragraph has been to *each*. This is how “everyone among you” should think, think “each according to the measure,” and “we, though many,” we are “individually members of one another.” And it’s this group, the *all of us*, that are the having ones. # The Source of Gifts (Romans 12:6b) The gifts were not requested by us. > gifts that differ according to the grace given to us “God has assigned” a measure of faith (verse 3), and God has given gifts by grace. The voice of **given** is passive. God did the giving. The **given** also means not decided by us or taken by us. God is the one who chooses who gets what and how much. **Grace** is undeserved, and Peter called it “varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10), the same Greek word used to translate Joesph’s coat of “many colors.” Gifts are given, discoverable, usable. Since we all have what we have by grace, there is no need for resentment or anxiety. As a reminder from the body talk in 1 Corinthians 12: “There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. Too each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:6-7). “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). “As it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose” (1 Corinthians 12:18). “God has so composed the body” (1 Corinthians 12:24). “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed…” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). The fact that it’s by grace, not deserved, and that it’s been given, not decided by us, encourages humility and gratitude (to God and for others), both for what we have and *don’t* that others do. > For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? (1 Corinthians 4:7 ESV) # The Responsibility of Gifts (Romans 12:6c) The ESV simply exhorts: **let us use them**. > “*each of us is to exercise them accordingly*” (NASB) The NASB puts the whole phrase in italics, which is good, because there is no main verb/imperative in the rest of the original language paragraph. The KJV added three imperatives, mixed into the list. But this is certainly implied. These gifts aren’t to be treasured behind glass, and certainly not buried (think Jesus’ parable of the talents). They must be *used*. # The List of Gifts (Romans 12:6d-8) This list is not exhaustive, but do take care when adding. One of our members recently visited a Bible study and met a woman with the spiritual gift of *scent*, and she said that she can smell rainbows. I can *see* rainbows, but I wouldn’t count that as the way I build up the church. Rather than list body parts by name, such as arms and legs or hands and feet, the parts are described by function. > if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6–8 ESV) Two broad categories: speaking and serving (as Peter summarizes in 1 Peter 4:11). If you’re speaking, do it according to God’s Word, if you’re serving, do it according to God’s strength. **Prophecy** is a speaking of God’s Word, but I tend to think this is a gift that ended with the completion of the NT. Prophecy communicated revelation, not necessarily only about things in the future. Those with prophecy were gifted to speak God's Word into particular contexts. They made announcements, gave judgments, and their messages were to be tested (see 1 Corinthians 14). It was to be exercised **in proportion to our faith**, but it could be better understood as “according to the analogy of *the* faith.” or “agreeing unto the faith” (Tyndale). **Service** translates the word *deaconian*, so ministry. Paul isn’t referring to the office of deacon here, but this general service means that you are gifted to work in an intermediary capacity. As in, if you see the need and can bring support from A to B, then do it. **Teaching** is a transfer of “the faith,” and this would be especially important in a time pre-printing press and pre-podcast apps. To distinguish teaching from the next gift, teaching aims more toward the mind and understanding. **Exhortation** is more conducive (make it happen) than cognitive, to encourage and even to comfort. Exhortation aims at the heart, the will, and for decision. The next three have different modifiers. **The one who contributes** or *giving*, not so much in “generosity” (as the ESV), but in “simplicity,” with single purpose or single-minded, not “twofold” or duplicitous. There’s no outward show concealing an improper ambition. No strings attached, no hidden agenda. **Leading** means to stand in front, to put forward, to go first. Jesus is the Head of the Body, but He ascended to the Father and gave men to represent Him. That includes those who manage and administrate, who “rule” (as elders do in 1 Timothy 5:17). Solomon once wrote about church bulletins: of the need to organize events there is no end, and many potlucks are a weariness of the flesh. That part is tongue in cheek, but there are many decisions to be made to lead the flock. And that leading is to be done with **zeal**, swiftness, with commitment and diligence. **Mercy** is especially to the needy or hurting, and to do it with **cheerfulness** means that you’re doing it with low drama, without acting put out, not making the other feel that they are a burden. # Conclusion We don’t need a spiritual gifts business card, nor to add our spiritual gift to our Twitter bio. We definitely don’t need to make excuses based on what gift we think we *don’t* have; worship and discipleship and loving one another are for *all*. And we can’t ever claim that we don’t need help from others; we are members of one another. If you are in Christ, you are a member of His body. What is your part, is it working properly, is it building the body up (Ephesians 4:16)? ---------- ## Charge “God has so composed the body…that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:25–26 ESV) You have God’s Spirit, and to each has been given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. “Everything” is not a spiritual gift, neither is “Nothing.” Do something good for the body. ## Benediction: > As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10–11, ESV)

68: Applied Grace (Pt 1)

July 23, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:3–8

The point of this paragraph is that Christians are connected to one another. This is true, even if the parts and joints aren’t always healthy. It goes wrong when we think of ourselves, and especially of our abilities, either too much or too little. It goes wrong when we think we’re indispensable to the body or independent from it. It goes wrong when we forget that grace gives assignments, grace gives gifts, and those aren’t the same for everyone. The point of the previous paragraph, Romans 12:1-2, is that God calls each Christian to present himself as a living sacrifice. We must, all of us, get up on the altar of serving God. He’s changing us so that we live by His will not the world’s ways. And not only does Romans 12:3-8 get more specific, it makes the first place for applied mercies our *church*. When we present our bodies to God as sacrifices for service, we realize that He wants us to serve *one another*. When we are not conformed to this world, we realize that part of what it means is to stop competing with and isolating from one another. When we are transformed by the renewing of our minds, we seek to bless our brothers and build them up. Faith is personal, and faith is exercised *for* the body. And the body is only as consecrated as its most worldly member. We’re going to meditate on this paragraph in two parts, partly because I have an aim to preach shorter, but also because the admonition is that challenging. It’s been said that everyone wants to change the world but no-one want to help mom do the dishes. So also, all the world is an altar, and the first ones God wants you to sacrifice for are within eye sight. “Lord, I’ll be humble before anyone but him.” Well, the Lord just showed you today’s altar. # The Admonition for Sanity (verse 3) Renewed minds think about God differently, they think about the world differently, and they think about their own identity differently. > For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV) Paul wrote Romans from Corinth, probably around AD 56. He had not only already founded the church in Corinth, but had already written one or both of the letters we have to the Corinthians. That’s significant because Paul had first-hand experience with believers puffing themselves up over one another. There’s no indication that the Romans were already having this problem. As they thought about God’s mercies as a motivation for consecration, they should think about God’s grace to Paul as his motivation for the admonition. “[Let] no man esteme of him selfe moare then it becōmeth him to esteme” (Tyndale). Esteem is a good word, originally connected with an *estimate*, with assessing merit. We’re all always thinking about it, whether center-screen or a background process, whether accurately or with a finger Ron the scale. Paul urges that we think (φρονεῖν), not high-thinkingly (ὑπερφρονεῖν) but sound-thinkingly (σωφρονεῖν), which is the necessary-thinking (ὃ δεῖ φρονεῖν). **Sober judgement** is fine, but it’s being in one’s right mind, to be sane, from *sanus* meaning healthy. The temptation is for a man **to think of himself more highly**, so it’s not just self-esteem, but *vanity*. “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3 ESV, see also Isaiah 5:21). There are two ways this exaggerated sense of one’s own value or abilities can be expressed: 1) self-importance (“everybody needs me”) and 2) self-independence (“everybody get away from me”). The analogy in verses 4-5 of the body means that we don’t do the same things, but that’s not a sign of worth. Be reasonable. The admonition is to **each**, and the standard is ** according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.** God has measured the measure of faith, He’s apportioned the portion. What does Paul mean? Some have more faith than others? Or faith is *for* different uses for some than others? Based on the rest of the paragraph, it would be the latter. It is true that faith might be strong or weak (which are categories in Romans 14-15), but this is about identifying that God gives faith to be exercised in a variety of edifying ways. There is a sobriety, a sanity, a modesty necessary to our identity. By grace we ought not overstate or understate what God has given us. # The Analogy of Unity (verses 4-5) Christians who are being transformed are not conformed to this age, they are being conformed to Christ, and yet this isn’t a cookie-cutter factory. > For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4–5 ESV) The conjunctions — **for (just) as** — show that this simile is stretching out our thinking on our identity. We are members, as members we are part of one body, members have different functions in this body, this is a supernatural body connected because we are in Christ, and this is God’s work and what He has portioned. There is a partial list in verses 6-8 of some of the types of functions. But the analogy should get some mind-renewing time itself. Plato wrote about a community, even a state, as a body in his _Republic_. Paul used the body analogy in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and here. It’s good because a body is a living, growing organism, measured more by health than by size. It’s good because a body is not far from personification, which Paul did in 1 Corinthians where he portrays the parts as talking to each other. It’s good because a body suggests coordinated effort, a shared goal. A **member** belongs to the body; “part” is fine, or “limb.” Without stretching the body image too far, any given member could be fit or frail, reliable or nagging, good or bad at what it’s supposed to do. But *every* member has a function, and **the members do not all have the same function**. This is *exactly* the case with the *church*. Three other places Paul immediately connects body and church, so we know these are two names for the same group: “Christ is the head of the church, His body” (Ephesians 5:23), “He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18), and again, “His body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). The Church is the universal church, that is, all those who believe, but while the universal church can be helpfully distinguished from local churches, and while local churches do share the ability to bless across flock-lines, the immediate benefit for being connected to the other members is within the limits of the communion. We are **members one of another**, or “each one is member of the one-another members.” The presumption is that we want the best for those who are us. # Conclusion Is it harder to be a solo Christian, or harder to be a Christian in connection with *these* Christians? Is it more of a temptation to think highly of yourself like others should be valuing you more, or highly of yourself like you don’t need to value others more? The will of God *is* your sane view of the grace and faith given to you with a renewed mind to see the beauty/blessings of our one body in Christ. This age has a consumer/customer mindset, low on connection and high on complaints. Among the brothers, these things ought not to be so. I’m grateful, and more and more as years go by, for all the body parts that help me, that are better at things I’m no good at, that make the whole church attractive and strong. Each member, by faith seeking to be the best asset to the body, and the least liability. Each part strong *and* connected. Individuals healthy and dependent, not helpless or autonomous. This is *not* forgetting yourself, it is receiving your responsibilities and your relationships from God, one body in Christ. The church is an altar for parts, and the church together is a living sacrifice. ---------- ## Charge The analogy of body parts being one body in Christ is a metaphor, but it is not a mystery (that’s hard to comprehend) or a mandate (something that we make happen by our effort). We *are* one body with many members. Whatever you think makes you special/different is only something you *received* (1 Corinthians 4:7), so thank the Lord for you. We need it. Keep doing it, do it better. Honor God and bless the body. ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)

67: Applied Mercies

July 16, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 12:1–2

For those who fear the Lord what’s not to love about Elijah’s showdown with the 450 prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18? We read prophetic smack-talk at its finest, and we just know what’s going to happen when Elijah called all the people near to him and repaired “the altar of the LORD” in front of them. He used twelve stones to represent each tribe of Israel, then he dug a trench and put the wood in order and cut up a bull in pieces and placed it on the wood. Then he had twelve jars of water poured over the alter. And when he prayed, the “fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” (1 Kings 18:38). And, beloved, may the Lord make us even more pleasing and potent offerings. All the world is an altar and we are living sacrifices. Because of the mercies of God our lives are to be consumed for God, not necessarily through shed blood but with every breath. Our brains and bodies, our priorities and our practices, are from Him and through Him and to Him. We have been justified by faith and now we are being consecrated, set apart, in full for God. We are concerned, we are *consumed* with God’s mercies. Romans 12:1-2 is a great passage, a great flag planted for us to rally toward, a great transition in the epistle. There have been applications sprinkled in the first eleven chapters, but the exhortations about the behavior of believers comes like a stampede of buffalo through the rest of the letter. These first two verses provide a general call to applied mercies, with more specifics to come. Roman 12:1-2 is easier to quote than to carry out. For most Christians, they have a greater sin being conformed to the world than misunderstanding *sola fide* or God’s plan for Israel. # Full Devotion (verse 1) Paul’s original readers, Jew or Gentile, would have had much more familiarity with watching offerings, and because of that would have been much more startled by a few parts of this appeal. > I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1 ESV) Much hinges on **Therefore**. The doxology in the previous paragraph probably doesn’t go back far enough, and though the doxology seems especially to sum up praise for chapters 9-11, this doctrine/application conjunction-hinge is heavy-duty strength, with good reason to look to the beginning the letter. All the justification by faith, the peace with God, our freedom from sin, certainty of glorification, and the power of God in the gospel are part of the **mercies of God**. Paul connected sound doctrine with character and good works (see Titus 2:1-10), and also he often built behavior on the foundation of union with Christ, an even greater mercy than forgiveness by itself. The beginning of chapter 12 commences a concentration on conduct, on “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). Paul makes an **appeal**, he urges, he exhorts them to a kind of life. Again, the motivation should be **by the mercies of God**. How much behavior is motivated by *threats*—in civil, household, and religious spheres? And God Himself reveals the dangers and disasters and destruction awaiting the disobedient. But what a surprise it would be that *mercies motivate*. “His mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22); He is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). That means that mercies do not lower the standard, they make the standard not just doable, but desirable, even a delight. It may have also surprised some to think that their **bodies** would be the offering, or even more basic, that they themselves would be be the offering. They knew sacrifices, they’d seen animals killed and blood spilled and fire burning; a man presented a symbol of himself or a substitute of himself. But here this is the **brothers**, every believer, not trying to get out of the body (or downplaying it like dualists), but spending it. And certainly the idea of a **living sacrifice** would be most uncomfortable. The imagery is of the burnt offering, in which the entire animal was cut up and laid on the altar and fully consumed by the fire as a picture of complete consecration. There wasn’t any part of the animal kept back or left over; the whole thing was presented. This is full devotion. And of course, all this meant the sacrifice was *killed*. But the sacrifice in verse 1 isn’t destroyed, it is ongoing, living, breathing dedication. It’s “always dying” but not quite dead yet (see 2 Corinthians 4:11-12). Such a sacrifice is also **holy and acceptable to God**. To offer blemished animals was sacrilege. For Christians, we’re not just giving ourselves to God rather than to sin, though that’s true. Not sinning ought to be the start. All this Paul calls our **spiritual worship**. The two Greek words (λογικὴν λατρείαν) could be translated as “logical/rational service,” or a mix and match of meanings. There is a cognitive aspect in *logiken*, which also anticipates our minds being renewed in the next verse. The emphasis of “spiritual” is that it’s not our bodies literally burned up but metaphorically so. The word also emphasizes that God’s mercies, carefully thought through, make it obvious that we are not our own. It’s “reasonable” (Tyndale/KJV), mental, neither mystical or mechanical. **Worship** or “service” is often used in a liturgical context, but there is nothing in verse 1 that limits the living sacrifices to Sundays, or to the assembly assembled. All the world is the altar, as verse 2 makes even more obvious. The altars, so to speak, on which the Lord calls us to be living sacrifices, are probably not going to be clean, probably not convenient, or quiet. Don’t expect the scene to be pretty; or yourself to be looking good. It’s not just getting up early for devotions, but devotions prepare *you* as the devotions. # Ongoing Difference (verse 2) There are two imperatives here, a prohibition and a positive command. > Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV) **Do not be conformed** is from *suschematizesthe*, don’t be “with-schema-ed,” don’t follow that form; “fashion not yourselves like unto this world” (Tyndale). Here is antithesis to the world’s thesis. **This world** is fine as a translation, but maybe better “this age.” We must think, and anticipate, and desire, something else and something eternal. There are socially acceptable standards, there are influencers, there are pressures, propaganda, popular priorities. But as the commentator Franz Leenhardt wrote, “what madness it is to join in this puppet show which is displayed on a tottering stage.” This age is full of sentimentality, envy, resentment, blame-shifting, victimhood/easily-offended, love of political power, love of money, self-fulfillment/self-identity, ingratitude and irrationality/cognitive dissonance (as in Romans 1:21). Instead, we’re commanded to **be transformed by the renewal of your mind**. The Greek imperative is *metamorphousthe*, so: be *metamorphosized*. Be changing away from what is passing away (1 John 2:17, see also 2 Corinthians 4:18). Even more specifically, be transformed as one conformed more and more to the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29). The changes happen inside-out, a renewing of **your mind**, your “wits” (Tyndale). You know this, but for the record, Christianity isn’t emotionalism, nor externalism/mechanical. Truth, doctrine, theology drives behavior. Thinking has consequences, which is why it’s so important to think on the right things (see Philippians 4:8). Minds being renewed see the same things differently. Creation is not an idol, but it is also a gift of God, a revelation of Him to us, that also groans along with us. We do not suppress the truth, we let it spring up. We *give thanks* and we *give honor* to God by Name. We see all as from-through-to Him. The NASB: **so that you may prove what the will of God is**. To **prove** to “test” is a frequent image regarding the purifying of metals, with for the purpose of getting the good stuff. Here the good stuff is **the will of God**, and this would be things that require thinking and proving *that aren’t already revealed in Scripture*. We don’t test the part of God’s will that He’s already told us. The **good** means no frustrating guilt, the **pleasing** means no frustrating burden, the **perfect** means no frustrating dissatisfaction. This is contra: “all is vanity." There is to be ongoing difference, not just between us and the world; that’s the base line. There is to be ongoing renewing for ongoing proving of obedient, fruitful, jealousable sort of embodied worship. # Conclusion Imagine the scene at Solomon’s dedication of the temple when there were so many sheep and oxen offered that “they could not be counted or numbered” (2 Chronicles 5:6). That must have included the smell of blood, but what of aroma of the living and blessed sacrifices? We are a holy temple (Ephesians 2:21), a dwelling place for God, and we are living sacrifices. And you might think that my emphasis on the *group* out of place, except that the next paragraph is about our relationships to one another in the body. Also, this is for *every* Christian. People who don’t want to lose their lives should not confess that Jesus is Lord. God’s grace does not extinguish the desire for a godly life (John Calvin), God’s grace teaches us that sacrifices which please Him are holy sacrifices. Also, *God* is the one who decides and gives the harvest from this. All of life is an altar for His mercies to be applied. ---------- ## Charge Beloved, you have been saved by grace, you are being saved by grace, and it is by grace that you *must* live all-in in all of life for God. All of life is an altar, and you are a living sacrifice. You are pleasing to God, and so go please Him more with what is good, well-pleasing, and perfect. ## Benediction: > Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. > The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, 28, ESV)

66: From-Through-To Him

July 9, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 11:33–36

It’s been a few Sundays since we’ve been in Romans, but we started this section of Romans in mid January. Romans 9-11 deserves its own tier-one heading, and it gets its own doxology. Romans 11:33-36 may be the *best* doxology in the Bible. A doxology is a word of “glory” (δόξα/*doxa*, as in verse 36), a formula of praise. In God’s Word they are all good, all inspired. This particular explosion of rhetorical splendor comes after a particularly gnarly doctrinal concern. While some commentators propose that this paragraph divides the book in two: doctrinal 1-11 and practical 12-16, the content of the praise itself connects not just with the righteousness of God in general but with a question about God righteousness in His covenants to Israel. If the only special revelation from God a Gentile had was the epistle to the Romans, it would be an easy (perhaps even preferable) step from 8:38-39 directly to 12:1-2. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, *so* present your bodies as a living sacrifice. But if you had more Scripture, especially if you had the Old Testament, and certainly if you were a Jew, you would have more questions. The salvation promises in the gospel sound like truly good news. But what about all the promises God made to Israel? Has the word of God failed (Romans 9:6)? This is where Paul started in Romans 9, and it’s Paul’s burden that takes up his attention—and ours with him—for so much time. It wasn’t my idea (or a Dispensationalist’s dogmatic dream) to insert three whole chapters about God’s irrevocable gifts and calling of God to Israel (Romans 11:29), to Israel as identified by blood and covenant. Paul explained that God did not elect each and every Israelite in every generation unto salvation. There was, and still is for now, only a remnant among God’s chosen nation who confessed that Jesus is Lord. He also explained that God will fulfill His promise to save “all Israel” in a coming generation (Romans 11:26), but that part of that process will be to use many Gentles confessing that Jesus is Lord and receiving the blessings that come from serving the Lord to provoke the Jews to jealousy. It is a grand narrative. To many Israelites it would have been a mystery story, not entirely understood until Paul. But this final bow of praise reminds us that it is most certainly not a man-made arc/plot. This isn’t how men would have written it out. Praise God! Amen! It’s been good to hear some of your thoughts in response to my last message. I’d like to make a couple things super clear before we doxologize. Supersessionism, which replaces ethnic Israel with a “spiritual” definition of Israel as the Church regardless of Jew or Gentile, is “exegetical violence” (per the Reformed commentator/theologian John Murray). Supersessionism is a very specific error, and a specious one, in that it is attractive and *misleading*. It’s also reckless, revisionist, and makes one vulnerable to *doubting God’s Word*. So I don’t think that (and didn’t say that) Covenant Theologians are liars. I don’t think that Postmillennialists or Amillennialists are liars (even though those positions are inconsistent with non-Supersessionism; I can be very thankful for that kind of inconsistency while arguing for something better). But I am saying that, in effect, a Supersessionist is calling *God* a liar, because God’s covenant promises are very specific to the house of Israel and the house of Judah (see Jeremiah 31:31ff where the New Covenant parties are named). Changing the meaning of a word (such as “Israel”) in the middle of the conversation is a fallacy of equivocation, and here it would be deceiving at best and destructive to God’s character at worst. The only reason for these chapters is to answer the question about the Jews: will God save them as He covenanted to do? Paul *could have easily said* that the Jew/Gentile distinction is done in every way, and that “Israel” actually just means “Christian.” He could have said the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to *figurative* Jews, Greeks who believe. But though Jews and Gentiles are saved the same way—by confessing that Christ is Lord and being justified by faith in the gospel—Paul maintains and celebrates the distinction in God’s work of redemption on earth and in history. Jews in the main rejected the Messiah, Gentiles all over received and are receiving the Messiah, in such a way the provokes Jews to jealousy unto their restoration of blessings through Jesus at the proper time. “God is not man, that He should lie.... Has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19) You just can’t be listening to Paul explain God’s faithfulness to His Word and not respond by exulting in God’s glory. Even Paul “responds” out loud in this passage. Paul emotionally, formally, and eloquently responds in praise to all the truth in chapters 9-11. Paul has been *on edge* in dealing with debaters questioning God’s righteousness, and now he exalts the riches of God’s wisdom and ways. There are three parts, they all emphasize God as the beginning and the end, as the sovereign and as glorious in not only the mercy shown, but the majesty of His purposes, subordinate and ultimate. - 3 emotional exclamations that emphasize God’s transcendence (of His being above and beyond our comprehension, excelling beyond usual/human limits) - 3 rhetorical questions that argue for God’s self-sufficiency (that is, a fullness of needing nothing from men) - 3 prepositional phrases that punctuate God’s centrality (or His being most crucial and important) # Exclamations of God’s Glory (verse 33) It is interesting that this exclamation of praise is driven by language stressing what we do not know about God (“unsearchable,” “inscrutable/unfathomable/untraceable”). This doxology is about God’s great wisdom, not men’s obvious and final and complete and tidy solutions to every difficult problem. Even still, what Paul says in the next few verses—though in the language of what is beyond us–is not to highlight the countless unrevealed things of God, but instead to stress the depth of what we do know through God’s revelation. We *do* know this all-wise God, *and* we know what that God has told us. > Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33 ESV) **Depth** is a measurement of scale. The scope of the following three attributes (riches, wisdom, knowledge) of God extends to a degree or range of amount or quality that is hard for our finite minds to grasp; there isn’t a theological pressure suit strong enough to get down to the bottom floor of His **riches**. In context **wisdom** summarizes God’s arrangement of all things to fulfill His designs for redemption (Murray). **Knowledge** summarizes God’s all-inclusive and thorough comprehension. The word **judgments** refers to God’s manner of ruling. These are His executive decisions about the direction of history, especially as history relates to salvation. And these judgments are **unsearchable**, inaccessible, impossible of explanation by human minds. Men can search and scrutinize all they want, they can make a careful examination and investigation, but they will not be able to fully penetrate how God works. God’s **ways** are His ways of acting, His mode of operations. These ways are **inscrutable**, unfathomable; perhaps the best gloss is untraceable; they are “past finding out” (KJV). Paul is not denying that we see things as they happen. The point is that mere observation of these events does not translate into a complete understanding in-real-time of what *God* is doing in history. # Arguments for God’s Glory (verses 34-35) From Scripture: > “For who has known the mind of the Lord, > or who has been his counselor?” > “Or who has given a gift to him > that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:34–35 ESV) Verse 34 is close to Isaiah 40:13 LXX. This is the first rhetorical question, and like the others, it expects a negative answer and implies that God alone can take credit for what is happening. The OT context of this quote is huge. In Isaiah 40 God promises an exodus from Babylon, but Israel is filled with doubts and fears because they are so weak and Babylon so strong. God assures Israel that He can accomplish His saving plan because all the nations (let alone Babylon by itself) are nothing before Him, a mere drop in the bucket or a speck on His scales (see Isaiah 40:12-31). Our lack of knowledge is not to be a discouragement; it’s humbling in a way that increases hope in Him. It is *good* that we don’t know everything, and that God does! We don’t have the know-how or expertise to be God’s consultant. We are not able to troubleshoot problem areas for God. Verse 35 is a reference to Job 41:11. No one is ahead of God in giving. One of Job’s major complains during his suffering was that God was unjust. This led Job to question God’s wisdom. In Job 38-41 God reveals Himself to Job and rebukes him for questioning. Job was too limited and finite to govern the world, and those who are most frustrated are those who attempt to live without faith in the Lord. # An Abstract of God’s Glory (verse 36) In this case an *abstract* is a summary of the contents. All the work of God is summarized in a trifecta of prepositional phrases. > For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36 ESV) First, all things are **from Him**. This shows that He is the SOURCE, the originator. Second, all things are **through Him**. This means that He is the SUSTAINER, the agent and cause and energy behind everything. Third, all things are **to Him**. This means that He is the GOAL, the end, the aim of all creation. God has arranged redemptive history to bring the maximum glory to Himself. All of this goes to show that God is independent, self-sufficient, the first and the last, the all in all. “Who is like the Lord our God?” (Psalm 113:5, also *Quis ut Deus?* from [Mont St. Michel](https://twitter.com/tohuvabohu/status/1678800286893350912?s=20)). Men have no ideas, expertise, or resources compared to God. We also have no cause for complaining against God. *Soli Deo gloria* unto the ages, and **Amen**. # Conclusion Christians live from faith to faith in God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, from-through-to Him are all things. So in Romans 9-11 we’ve touched on Ecclesiology (distinctions between Israel and the Church, Eschatology (His kingdom come), Soteriology (election and reprobation), World History (rise and fall and redemption), Sovereign mercy (Calvinistic) and Riches for the world (Kuyperian) and a future for Israel’s full restoration (Dispensational), all toward this doxology of God’s mind and gifts. God is faithful to His Word. The word of God has not failed (Romans 9:6). So His covenants are unchangeable, and that makes us more than conquerors through Him who loved us. By the great mercies of God, receive the blessings that make you jealousable and present your bodies as living sacrifices of worship. ---------- ## Charge Beloved, you know things that the world's wisest haven't put together. You have a wisdom that is not of this age or of the rulers of this age. You know the From-Through-To God. Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows the Lord (see Jeremiah 9:23-24). To Him be glory forever! ## Benediction: > For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:5–6, ESV)

65: Covenant Mercy

June 11, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 11:25–32

The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. Our God is eternal, sovereign, righteous, and *merciful*. We note His kindness and severity, His perfect standard and His offer of forgiveness for all who have sinned against it. He is making His merciful name known among the nations. We are nearing the end of this section of Paul’s letter to the Romans. We have not heard the last about Paul’s missionary efforts to Gentiles or Paul’s exhortations related to Jewish scruples. But here is the final paragraph of his explanation for how he could so confidently say that “it is not as though the word of God has failed” (Romans 9:6). The Lord’s covenant mercy to Israel has not failed. There is a “mystery” as Paul reveals it, as Paul has been revealing it, in Romans 9-11. The mystery isn’t that God changed His mind, it’s that how God fulfills His mind doesn’t look exactly like we might have had in mind. The end is the same, the way He gets to the end is higher than our ways. It ought to keep us humble, and that’s how he starts this last paragraph before the doxology. # The Mystery in Israel’s Complete Salvation (verses 25-27) It is not a mystery that Israel would be saved, but how the process of their salvation would come about. ## The Reason for Revealing the Mystery (verse 25a) Unlike the ESV’s switch of the phrases, Paul actually starts with his desire for them to understand, and that understanding will keep them from getting self-wise. He also starts with a “For” (KJV, NASB), as this paragraph explains the previous parts of chapter 11. > Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: (Romans 11:25a ESV) He didn’t want them to be “without knowledge,” to be “ignorant” (KJV) or “uniformed” (NASB) about the **mystery**. Mystery is a New Testament favorite, for Paul in particular (see again in Romans 16:25), referring to a thing that had previously been un-manifested. A mystery isn’t a new thing, but before it was “in God’s private counsel” (BADG), a secret of sorts. Paul has actually been unveiling the mystery for the last three chapters, but will spell it out in two sentences shortly. He’s talking to the **brothers**, which would include all the believers, but especially the Gentiles whom he started addressing directly in verse 14. Understanding this mystery will help keep them from being arrogant and proud (see those admonitions also in verses 18, 20). ## The Nature of the Mystery (verses 25b-26a) There are *three* parts/stages to the mystery. > a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, (Romans 11:25b–26a ESV) Stage one: **a partial hardening has come upon Israel**. This is a summary of much of Romans 9 about election and Romans 10 and 11 about hardening. **Partial hardening** doesn’t mean a percent of hard and soft in hearts, it’s not about only fragments of arteries being blocked, but fully hardened hearts among a percent of the people of Israel. God’s choice of Israel did not mean that every generation of Jews would be good, or even that the majority would receive their Messiah when He came. We know they didn’t. Only a remnant would believe, the rest were hardened. Stage two: **until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in**. It’s not just that much of Israel would disobey, but that Gentiles would be grafted in to the salvation blessings, and here Paul clarifies that there is a **fulness**, a final part/full number of Gentiles elected to salvation. On the timeline, we are somewhere in this stage. Stage three: **And in this way all Israel will be saved**. When the work of God among the Gentiles is done, then He will graft back in the Jews. This first part of verse 26 is a punch in the throat to Supersessionism. It simply will not do as decent Bible reading to call this **Israel** the church, or all the elect Jews and Gentiles (as John Calvin, “I extend the word Israel to all the people of God”), or any other group than ethnic, national Israel. This Israel to be saved is the same Israel that knew partial hardening. As generations of Jews rejected, so a coming generation will be fully included, reconciled, grafted back in (Romans 11:12, 15, 24). It has been just a remnant, but now all will be restored. > “The main thesis of verse 25 is that the hardening of Israel is to terminate and that Israel is to be restored. This is but another way of affirming what had been called Israel’s “fulness” in verse 12, the “receiving” in verse 15, and the grafting in again in verses 23, 24. To regard the climactic statement, “all Israel shall be saved”, as having reference to anything else than this precise datum would be *exegetical violence*.” (John Murray, _The Epistle to the Romans_) If it is *all* the Christians, including Gentiles, then Gentiles being saved *IS* Israel being saved and that is not a mystery, that would be an undoing of the covenant promises. It makes the following OT covenant a lie. ## The Covenant behind the Mystery (verses 26b-27) Here are just partial quotes from two Old Testament prophecies that Paul sees being fulfilled when Israel is saved. > as it is written, > “The Deliverer will come from Zion, > he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; > “and this will be my covenant with them > when I take away their sins.” > (Romans 11:26b–27 ESV) The first comes from Isaiah 59:20-21, the second comes from Isaiah 27:9. Israel had the “covenants” (Romans 9:4). It was through the patriarchs, the “forefathers” (see the next verse), and then through the prophets. Isaiah revealed the promise of God to send a **Deliverer** who would come **from Zion**, that is, from Jerusalem, who would **banish ungodliness from Jacob**, also named by God as “Israel.” The **covenant** is: **when I take away their sins**. It’s a covenant to forgive them, and because it includes forgiveness, it is unconditional. Though somehow John Calvin, “in this prophecy deliverance to the spiritual people of God is promised, among whom even Gentiles are included.” An even worse take: > "the Christian Church in which the earthly distinction between Jew and Gentile disappears never to be re-instituted. To re-instate the old distinction between Jew and Gentile after the New Testament era has dawned would be to reverse the forward march of the Kingdom, and would be as illogical and useless as to go back to candle or lamp light after the sun has risen." (Loraine Boettner, _The Millennium_, 241) That is “exegetical violence.” We’ve seen the New Covenant explicitly referred to in Jeremiah 31, and the similar promise of a “new heart” for sake of obedience in Ezekiel 36. And those covenants of mercy include earthly, geographical and agricultural promises to “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.” The Lord promised them forgiveness and fruitfulness. This is contra the Reformed Murray, who as an amillennialist at least accepts salvation for Israelites, but says none of the other physical/temporal parts of the covenants are to be expected. > The elements of these quotations specify for us what is involved in the salvation of Israel. These are redemption, the turning away from ungodliness, the sealing of covenant grace, and the taking away of sins, the kernel blessings of the gospel, and they are an index to what the salvation of Israel means. There is no suggestion of any privilege or status but that which is common to Jew and Gentile in the faith of Christ. (Murray) Apparently there’s more than one way to commit “exegetical violence.” Also, other than 9:4 this is the only explicit mention of **covenant** in Romans. One would think, if we were to understand all the things through the covenant lens, that Paul certainly would have helped us learn to use that vocabulary. # The Showcase in Israel’s Complete Salvation (verses 28-32) The last word on God’s purpose for Israel in particular. ## A Showcase of God’s Election (verses 28-29) > As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 11:28–29 ESV) The Jewish religious leaders pressed the Romans to put their Deliverer to death. No one persecuted the Christians more in the first century than Jews, Paul himself a prime example. The Jews loved their privilege as possessors of the Law (not **gospel**) and tried to establish their own righteousness apart from faith as called for in the gospel. So **they are enemies for your sake**. And yet there is a way in which all those with Jewish blood belong to the root that increases their accountability because they are **beloved for the sake of their forefathers**. They have something unique. In God’s Word only one kind of person can be elect in two ways, and there are two ways to be elect in only one way, and then there are the non-elect (or the reprobate). Only Jews can be part of the elect nation and elect unto salvation. **For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable**. This is true for our salvation *because* it is true of God’s Word. That counts for His covenants, and that means that *all* of what He said in those covenants must come to pass. There may be mystery in how it comes, but it must come about. God doesn’t repent from giving privileges, and neither should we for receiving them from Him. ## A Showcase of God’s Mercy (verses 30-32) The forgiven tend to get stingy about forgiveness, and we shouldn’t. > For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:30–32 ESV) What’s different is that whereas Israel’s disobedience led to our receiving of mercy, it is our receiving of mercy that will lead to their receiving of mercy. We share disobedience; we all know how to do that. But in God’s purposes He aims for the final and full showing of **mercy on all**. This isn’t universalism. It is still in the context, not just of that “fulness” of Gentiles, but of “all Israel.” # Conclusion Supercessionism is a long name for a simple error. Supercessionism is another name for replacement theology, or fulfillment theology, for *covenant misleading* not covenant mercy. It’s a Bible reading error. If you read enough to believe that God will fulfill His covenant word to Israel, and that while the church receives many salvation blessings it does not fulfill the words of God to Jews (but rather will be used by God at the right time in the future to bring about Israel’s salvation), then you will end up a Dispensational Premillennialist. And while we appreciate many brothers who don’t identify that way, we think they miss out on the hope that this understanding secures (per Romans 8), and on the praise it provokes in doxology (per the next paragraph). His mercies never come to an end, great is His faithfulness (see Lamentations 3:22-23). Praise the Lord! ---------- ## Charge I will miss being the minister proclaiming the benediction for the flock the next few Lord’s Days. But of course it is not my blessing, it is God’s blessing on His people through the minister. May the Lord bless You and keep you and make His face shine upon you. ## Benediction: > Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25–27, ESV)

64: Root and Branches (Pt 2)

June 4, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 11:16–24

Last Lord’s Day in Romans 11:16-24 we saw the introductory Analogies and the first Admonition. Verse 16 offers two illustrations, dough and root are connected to the whole loaf and branches. It’s the root and branches analogy that Paul carries through the paragraph until verse 24. The branches are Jews, and though they shared an identification with the root of the patriarchs, they were broken off from the salvation blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There are three reasons for identifying the root as Israel’s patriarchs. First (immediate context), the root is like the dough, and both illustrate first parts that represent later parts, both presented to, or for, God. Neither dough or root represent Christ as a first part, the subject is Jews (per verse 14) and where they started. Second (broader context), the patriarchs are referenced at the beginning of Romans 9 (verse 5, to Israel “belong the patriarchs”) and again at the end of Romans 11; Romans 11:28 says in different words the same sort of thing as this paragraph: “as regards election, [the Jews] are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” Third (theological context), while better than a second-grade Sunday School answer, identifying the root as Christ not only misses that the Christ, the Seed/Offspring, was promised *to* and *through* the root, it also suggests that some Jews were in fact *in* Christ and then cut off from Christ. This contradicts Romans 8:1, 38-39, which says there is no condemnation for those “in Christ” and nothing can cut us off from His love. Gentiles are grafted in to “*share in the nourishing root of the olive tree*.” Believers partake of the salvation blessings first promised by the Lord in His covenant to Abraham. And I say that the tree illustrates salvation blessings, rather than Israel or the Church or even the covenants, because of the previous paragraph, Romans 11:11-15. What makes Jews jealous is that “salvation has come to the Gentiles,” a salvation that is “riches for the world” and “riches for the Gentiles.” The Gentiles aren’t the “new” Israel or the “true” Israel or “spiritual” Israel, but they do receive the sorts of salvation riches first promised to the Jews. This is the “fatness” of the olive tree, the life-juices. There’s four more parts to the paragraph, with an emphasis against Gentile arrogance and toward anticipation for God’s kindness to the Jews. # Argument (verse 19) Paul just said “do not be arrogant toward the branches” and he expects some orthodox push back. > Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (Romans 11:19 ESV) This isn’t an argument about capacity or amount of available space. It’s not as if there were only “this many” that could be saved and grafted in. Unlike a physical plant limited by surface area, or even by the inability of the sap-system to scale up for sustaining extra branches, the point of this interlocutor is about God’s purpose. He had listened to *some* of what Paul said. “Through (Israel’s) trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (verse 11). The **broken off so that** is a narrative plot twist. And it’s *true*, but it’s not the last season, it’s definitely not the climax of the story. # Answer (verses 20-21) Yes, “quite right” (NASB), and sure. That (most) Jews are out and (many) Gentiles are in, for now, is part of Paul’s point. But the imperative here is less pressing for jealousability and more pressing against being a jerk. > That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (Romans 11:20–21 ESV) **True**, “granted” (NIV), some Jews were broken off. It was part of God’s sovereign plan *and* it was part of Israel’s responsibility. They should have believed. The privileges they had increased their accountability to trust the Lord, and yet many trusted in what they considered to be their own righteousness. They got comfy, complacent. **So do not become proud, but fear.** Don’t think about yourself in an exalted way, but be humble. Fear the Lord, yes, as you consider that the salvation blessings are gifts, including faith, and that without God sustaining that faith you would fall away. Pride opposes not just humility but *faith*. The next conditional argument comes in as an explanation. Why should we be humble? **If God did not spare the natural branches**, and we’ve seen that He didn’t, **(then) neither will he spare you.** This sort of warning may have similarities to Israel, but it is not based on being in the covenant as many of the warnings to them were. It is an exhortation, from man’s perspective in light of man’s responsibility, to take heed of superficial confession and so superficial connection, and to keep on believing. The righteous *live* by faith, they don’t merely “pray a prayers” expressing faith and be done with it. We’ll be done living by faith when faith becomes sight. None are saved because they are born into or grow up in a Christian family, because they prayed a prayer, because they got baptized, because they go to church. Those are all blessings, and they are blessings especially as they stimulate *faith*. Salvation is *always* by faith *alone*. # Appeal (verse 22) Two key words, both repeated a couple times: kindness and severity. > Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:22 ESV) **Note** is fine, a focusing imperative, “Behold” or “notice” this. There is **kindness** and **severity**. **Kindness** or “goodness” (KJV) is a “quality of being helpful or beneficial” (BAGD). It belongs with God’s grace, His saving of enemies and generosity toward the ungrateful. He gives riches to the poor who preferred their poverty until He worked in them. **Severity** or “sternness” (NIV), “harshness” (NET), “rigorousnes” (Tyndale). God’s patience and kindness is significant *because* of His righteousness and glory and severity, His *wrath* (remember Romans 1:18 and Romans 2:5, 8-9). He is the most Jealous for His name. While He is divinely patient He is also divinely inflexible about the standard for honoring His Son and His Son’s name. Kindness and blessing are for all who believe. Severity, curses, being cut off and judgment are for those who refuse. Believers are to **continue in his kindness**. # Anticipation (verses 23-24) We’re nearing the end of the arguments against arrogance, and these two verses summarize the analogy. It’s another “how much more” argument. > And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:23–24 ESV) The repetition is Paul’s before it was mine. We’re back to branches from **a wild olive tree** (Gentiles) and those from **a cultivated olive tree** (Jews). There’s nothing more **natural** than to be **grafted back into their own olive tree**. This is not only what God has the power to do, it is what God has *promised* to do (per the specific New Covenant parties and terms). There is *hope* for Israel (Morris). Men such as Martin Luther missed this. He wrote “On the Jews and Their Lies” in which he said, > Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, **nor can we convert the Jews**. (Location 3491) … next to the devil, a Christian has no more bitter and galling foe than a Jew. There is no other to whom we accord as many benefactions and from whom we suffer as much as we do from these base children of the devil, this brood of vipers. (Location 3526, as quoted in _Forged from the Reformation_) For as much as we appreciate God’s use of Luther reading and understanding Romans 1:17 to spark the Reformation, he didn’t read everything as carefully, which is another reason we are Reformed and still reading our Bibles. # Conclusion Are we (Gentiles) in? Yes. In what? We who confess Christ as Lord are in among the remnant of believing Jews and sharing the fatness of the root. What's the root? *Not* Israel, Israel is also in the root, but we’re in the riches of salvation as promised to the root of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What is Paul's point? Here it is not about us needing to recognize more that we're in, but that Israel will be in, and we’re to be jealousable, not jerks. ---------- ## Charge Do not become proud, but fear. Stand fast through faith. Remember the kindness and severity of God. “Continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43). ## Benediction: > Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 1:24–25, ESV)

63: Root and Branches (Pt 1)

May 28, 2023 • Sean Higgins • Romans 11:16–24

Imagine you were adopted by loving parents who gladly sacrificed for you and provided for you and raised you into maturity. As you got older, your parents described the inheritance they had been preparing for you, showing you the papers and how everything was in order. And, at the proper time, they told you that you had a much older brother, to whom they also promised an inheritance, including a particular piece of property previously purchased. That news wouldn’t cause you to question your adoption. It would cause you to rejoice in the goodness and generosity of your parents. For what we count as the first eight chapters of Romans Paul has been showing us the goods of our salvation. All have sinned, any can be reconciled. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We’ve “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Romans 8:15, 17). And starting in Romans 9 Paul brings up the older brother. The radical point of Romans 11 is about how God promised to save Israel and how He will save them just as He said. God purposed to bless the Gentiles with salvation blessings so as to make Israel jealous, to want their inheritance through the Messiah. For (us) Gentiles, that is cause for highest praise. It also, turns out, has become a source of great pride. Paul emphasized the jealousable argument to win the Jews in Romans 11:11-15, and now he argues and warns against Gentile arrogance in Romans 11:16-24. There’s no way that I appreciate to the full all the blessings I’ve been given in Christ. At the *least* we have been blessed “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Having not been a people, but now being God’s people; having not received mercy, but now having received mercy (1 Peter 2:10), these are gracious blessings from the Lord. Our justification apart from the law/works, our peace with God, our reconciliation and access to grace, our adoption as sons, our hope of glory - a hope that does not put us to shame, these are all rejoicing reasons. We’ve been given so much we do not deserve, and should work to grasp how great we have it through the gospel. But the point in Romans 9-11 is not only that God is sovereign in salvation, but that He is sovereign in the salvation of Israel. While we may be grafted in to salvation blessings, we are wild branches, and God isn’t done with the natural branches. Too many Christians seem to unwittingly disobey this very passage. Paul commands: “do not be arrogant” and “do not become proud.” And yet all those who act or teach that the church has replaced Israel are the target. Don’t forget the older brother. There are six parts to the conditional arguments, though my points aren’t limited to the “if this, then that,” and we’re only going to see the first two points in this message. We’ll set up the key terms of root, branches, grafted in, broken off, wild, natural. # Analogies (verse 16) Most of the Greek and English copies that have paragraphs keep verse 16 with verses 13-15. Paul is continuing to address Gentiles, and while this is a transition, the second of the two analogies used in verse 16 set up the discussion through verse 24. > If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:16 ESV) The first analogy is the **firstfruits**, a concept from Numbers 15:17-21, where the first part represents the rest. Here it’s specifically the **dough** out of the **whole lump**. You don’t get a different loaf than the starter (e.g., sourdough bread). The second analogy is the **root** and **branches**, which are parts of the same tree. What is the **root**? It appears to be the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel. They were the first to receive the adoption, the glory, the covenants, and the promises (Romans 9:4), back where we started in this section of the epistle. To the Jews “belong the patriarchs” (Romans 9:5), from their race came the Christ (Romans 9:5), and Israel is “beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Romans 11:28). The patriarchs were the start. The **branches** are generations of Jews, those that came from the patriarchs, as we’ll see contrasted with Gentiles who are “wild olive shoots.” This is the first conditional argument: if this, and this *is*, then this. If the first and root were chosen for salvation blessings, and they were, then it’s expected that blessings are naturally belonging to the lump and branches. # Admonition (verses 17-18) Here is the second conditional argument with such an obvious conclusion that a command becomes obvious. > But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:17–18 ESV) Again, the **branches** are Jews. They are compared with the **wild olive shoots**, so Jews are “natural branches” (verses 21 and 24). They belong with “their own olive tree” (verse 24). **Some of the branches were broken off**. The broken-offs are all the sons of the patriarchs who did not believe. Ishmael and Esau were broken off, all those who stumbled over the stone were broken off, all those who were not the remnant. **You** are the Gentiles, per verse 13. And the Gentiles are ** a wild olive shoot, grafted in**. Grafting is a common method used to propagate and reproduce desirable characteristics of plants. The process involves taking a cutting or bud from one plant, known as the scion, and attaching it to a rooted portion of another plant, also called the rootstock. It involves making precise cuts on both the scion and the rootstock, aligning them carefully, and securing them together until they heal and form a successful union. The procedure Paul describes in verse 17 is atypical arboriculture (the cultivation of trees and shrubs, a little more specific than horticulture). It was typical that a cultivated branch growing good but weak fruit because found on a weak tree, would be cut off and grafted onto a healthy wild root for growing strong. The strength of the wild root would get pushed out of the non-wild branch in good fruit. There’s no good reason to put a wild branch into a vigorous non-wild root; a healthy non-wild root would likely already have healthy branches. Paul knew that this is “contrary to nature” (verse 24). You wouldn’t do it except for fun, or grace. Gentiles who believed in Christ are those who **now share the nourishing root of the olive tree**. It could be translated “a partaker of the root and *fatness*” (KJV), or the “root of the *riches*.” It’s a different word than the “riches” in verse 12, but a “state of oiliness” (BAGD), the “nourishing sap” (NIV), the life-juices, the good stuff. There are a number of places in the Old Testament where Israel is compared to an olive tree (e.g., Jeremiah 11:16; Psalm 52:8). But the **olive tree** can’t be Israel in Paul’s analogy because Israel are the branches *on* the tree. What does it mean to be **grafted in** and sharing the *fatness*? It means to enjoy salvation blessings. Gentiles don’t become Israel. Gentiles and Jews share God’s righteousness from faith to faith, they share God’s life. These blessings were promised by God to the patriarchs—the root, starting with blessings for a nation and then for all the families of the earth through Abraham (Genesis 12:2-3). Be glad, but don’t gloat. Don’t get too big for your branches. **Do not be arrogant toward** or “boast over” (κατακαυχῶ - BAGD: “of a gladiator over his defeated foe”) or consider yourself superior to the natural branches. His reason is that **it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.** So shouldn’t it be don’t be arrogant toward the root? But that’s how much the branches belong with the root. If the root is holy, so are the branches. There is something that belongs to them inherently. > “The Gentiles are not taker-overs, but partakers of Jewish spiritual blessings.” —Fruchtenbaum, _Israelology_ Israel has not been displaced. They were an elect people, given great privileges. # Conclusion The natural branches were not cut off from being Israel/Jews, but from the blessings. We are not grafted into being Israel/Jews, but into many of the blessings promised by God long ago. We are blessed in Abraham among "all the nations" as Gentiles, and that doesn't replace the particular people God promised to bless in Abraham as *a* nation, Israel. So rejoice, and jealousably so, in your blessings, and rejoice in the Father’s promised but unfinished work for our older brother. > "I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this." -Charles Spurgeon, “[The Church of Christ](https://http://www.reformedreader.org/spurgeon/1855-28.htm)” June 3, 1855. ---------- ## Charge Church, your blessings have been given by the Lord, don't be arrogant toward others, including in your theology of Israel. Members of the body, your blessings have been given by the Lord, don't be arrogant against, or jealous of, other parts of the body. You have been grafted into blessings, the sap of God’s salvation promises and grace makes you fruitful. ## Benediction: > May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)