Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Man vs. God

Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of My strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!” And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh — ‘the Lord.’ I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai — ‘God Almighty’ — but I did not reveal My name, Yahweh, to them. And I reaffirmed My covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of My covenant with them. “Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as My own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’” . . . . Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country.” Exodus 6:1-8, 10-11 (NLT)

Starting at Exodus 6, Pharaoh is introduced to the mighty God of Israel – God Almighty (Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 6:3). Yahweh is sometimes rendered “Jehovah” or “the LORD”. God Almighty also means “El-Shaddai” and this is the name for God used in Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3. God’s name stresses His true significance – Redeemer. The Lord God Almighty is also Redeemer (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; see also Job 19:25; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 59:20). The name Yahweh was known to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but God’s names as the One who would redeem Israel from Egyptian bondage was not known until the Exodus. Redemption means not only release from slavery and suffering but also deliverance to eternal freedom and joy.

Even more, God wanted the Israelites to know He is also a promise keeper (Exodus 6:4). Yahweh or Jehovah is the special name of God that links Him with Israel and His covenants (promises). The promises making God is the same promising keeping God. “El” is the name of God that speaks of His great power. Scholars do not agree on the meaning of “Shaddai.”  Some scholars say “Shaddai” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to be strong”; while other scholars prefer a word meaning as “mountain” or “breast.” According to biblical scholar Warren W. Wiersbe, if we combine these several ideas, we might say that “El Shaddai” is the name of “the all-powerful and all-sufficient God who can do anything and meet any need.” 

When I raise My powerful hand and bring out the Israelites, the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” Exodus 7:5 (NLT)

In the book of Exodus, God’s displayed His mighty and strong power in the redemption of His people (Israel) and His judgments against Egypt. Pharaoh and the Egyptians soon discovered that Israel’s God was the true and living God of the universe! We must remember that the Egyptians viewed Pharaoh as a god himself, and not merely a representative of the gods. God visibly revealed His great power and might to the Israelites and the Egyptians alike in a series of wonders, miraculous plagues and other devastations in Exodus chapters 7 through 12 so the people would know that the God of Israel is God Almighty (see Exodus 3:20; Exodus 4:21; Exodus 7:14-12:30). The God of Israel is the only God who is all-sufficient and all-powerful, and nothing is too hard for Him. God’s gracious loving-kindness would be manifested to the Israelites through a powerful redemption and deliverance.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let My people go, so they can worship Me. If you do not, I will send more plagues on you and your officials and your people. Then you will know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. By now I could have lifted My hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose — to show you My power and to spread My fame throughout the earth. Exodus 9:13-16 (NLT)

In the book of Exodus, God sent ten devastating and cataclysmic plagues to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to reveal His might and power. The Holy Bible does not tell us how these plagues occurred but simply affirms that something supernatural took place. Essentially, these ten plagues were God’s declaration of war against Pharaoh and the other false gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12) and His proclamation to Pharaoh, the Egyptians and the Israelites that “I am the LORD” (Exodus 7:5). Egypt and the Egyptian people had scores of gods they worshipped and revered. Against that background, the plagues appear as God’s open warfare against the false gods of Egypt. God said as such:  “I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD” (Exodus 12:12, NIV). Even more, these ten plagues from God established Moses’ authority as God’s leader. Moses had previously hesitated to accept God’s leadership role, doubting whether the other Israelites would accept and trusts his leadership role (see Exodus 3:11, 13; Exodus 4:1, 10, 13).

Sadly, some people will not obey God’s holy and good words of warning or acknowledge God. So, God must speak by works of judgment. These plagues and other devastations reveal that when God speaks, people must either obey and submit their whole hearts to Him or disobey and face God’s judgment (Hebrews 3:7–13). In many places, the Holy Bible warns us not to “harden” our hearts against God (e.g., see Psalm 95). From a human point of view, Pharaoh willfully resisted God and God sent His judgments. Pharaoh was soon to discover that to resist God is to be destroyed (Psalm 78:32-33). The same truth applies today.

The ten plagues from God did not follow in rapid succession but over a series of approximately nine months up to two years. In the first plague, God turned the Nile River into blood (see also Psalm 78:44; Psalm 105:29). This miracle caused the fish to die, the river to smell, and the people to be without water (Exodus 7:14-24). Second, God plagued the entire Egyptian country with frogs. Frogs came up from the water and completely covered the land (Exodus 8:1-15). Third, God sent a massive swarm of gnats that covered Egypt (Exodus 8:16-19). Previously, Egyptian magicians and others were able to duplicate God’s miraculous acts but they were unable to duplicate the massive swarm of gnats. These evil workers said it is the “finger of God” (Exodus 8:19; see also Luke 11:20). But Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not listen. Fourth, God sent flies to swarm the Egyptian land (Exodus 8:20-32). These flies infested the houses and stables and bite people and animals (Exodus 8:21). Yet, God protected His people – the Israelites – from the devastating flies (Exodus 8:22-23) demonstrating that God can preserve His people while judging Egypt. Fifth, God destroyed all the Egyptian livestock but again God graciously saved Israel's livestock from death – mercy in the midst of judgment (Exodus 9:1-7). Sixth, God sent horrible boils to break out on the Egyptian people, even the Egyptian magicians (Exodus 9:8-12). Seventh, God sent powerful hailstorms on the land that killed all the slaves and animals and stripped or destroyed almost every plant (Exodus 9:13-35). Briefly and for the first time, Pharaoh admitted his sin and perceived the devastating results of disobedience against the true and living God (Exodus 9:27-28). Pharaoh sought repentance from God but this repentance was short lived and not genuine. He only wanted Moses to stop the devastating plagues from God. True repentance involves a change of mind and heart that leads to a change of life oriented towards pleasing and obeying God and not just lip service (see Psalm 78:36-37). Pharaoh once again returned to rebellion and disobedience against God (Exodus 9:34-35). In the eighth plague, God sent hordes of locusts that covered Egypt and ate everything left after the hail storm (Exodus 10:1-20; see also Joel 1:4-7; Joel 2:11; Amos 7:1-3). Then, the Egyptian officials pleaded with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go (Exodus 10:7).

There is no one like the Lord our God. Exodus 8:10 (NIV)

God’s judgments had practically ruined the land. With each gloomy plague, the Egyptian people realized how powerless their own gods were against the true and living Almighty God! But once again, Pharaoh would not give in and humble himself before God (Exodus 10:3). He continued to rebel against God as well as his own people, the Egyptians. Pharaoh thought he was showing great strength. In reality, God was using Pharaoh to display His own sovereignty and power (Exodus 9:16; see also Romans 9:17–18). God is greater than any ruler, so we need never fear (Daniel 4:34–37). “The earth belongs to the Lord” (Exodus 9:29, NLT).

Ninth, God sent total darkness that spread over Egypt for three days so no one could even move (Exodus 10:21-29). However, God gave grace and mercy to His people, the Israelites, and provided His light (Exodus 10:23). Graciously, most of the plagues affected only the Egyptian people but not the Israelites, who were God’s people. This fact should have convinced Pharaoh that he was fighting against a supernatural force, not just the notion of nature. In the tenth and finally plague, God sent death to every Egyptian firstborn son – killing the firstborn human son and firstborn cattle of Egypt die (Exodus 11:5; see also Psalm 78:51; Psalm 105:36; Psalm 135:8; Psalm 136:10). This is the ultimate disaster. However, God graciously saved the Israelites (Exodus 11:7). Finally, Pharaoh and the Egyptians became so convinced of God’s power and might that they let the Israelite people go from slavery with the wealth of Egypt – gold and other riches – showered upon them as a farewell present (see Exodus 12:33-36).

In all, it took ten plagues to finally persuade Pharaoh and the Egyptian people to free the Israelite people. God used the ten plagues as a form of warfare against the false gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12). Some scholars see in each individual plague an attack against each Egyptian god. Thus, they believe the plague on the Nile River opposed the Egyptian river god, the plague of the flies flouted worship of the sacred fly, the plague of darkness attacked the sun-god Ra, and the plague on the livestock countered the sacred bull god. These miraculous plagues and wonders express one fact:  God is real Almighty!

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
 Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NLT); see also Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30.

KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Eves, Terry L., Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Exodus: God Appears With The Birth Of A New Nation

Years passed, and the king of Egypt died. But the Israelites continued to groan under their burden of slavery. They cried out for help, and their cry rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and He remembered His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He looked down on the people of Israel and knew it was time to act. Exodus 2:23-25 (NLT)

The Old Testament book of Exodus describes a magnificent series of appearance of the true and living God. For over four hundred years, the Israelites (also called “Hebrews” and later called “Jews”) were enslaved by the Egyptians. These descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had grown from seventy people to over two million (Exodus 1:1-7; see also Genesis 46:26-27; Exodus 12:37; Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1). They were a large immigrant nation (see Genesis 46:3-4). Jacob’s descendants had many children and grandchildren and became extremely powerful. The Hebrews filled the Egyptian lands (Exodus 1:7). “The Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7, NIV). God had promised Abraham that his descendants would multiply greatly, and they did (Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5). Jacob (also known as “Israel”) (see Genesis 32:24-30) moved to Egypt with his sons and their families: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Eventually, the Hebrews outnumbered the Egyptians and they were strong (Exodus 1:9).

To Egyptians, these Hebrews posed a grave threat and fright. So, the Egyptian Pharaoh decided to turn the Hebrew people into slaves (Exodus 1:11). But the more the Egyptians oppressed and hurted the Hebrews, the more the Hebrews multiplied, spread and grew strong. This abundant growth terrified the Egyptians (Exodus 1:12). So, the Egyptians decided to kill off Hebrew male children in hopes the Hebrew girls would marry Egyptian males to eventual destroy the Hebrew race (Exodus 1:15-16, 22). However, two courageous Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, disobeyed the Egyptian’s evil commands to murder the Hebrew male children at birth (Exodus 1:15-16). These courageous women obeyed, respected and feared God more than man (see Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29) and allowed these Hebrew male babies to live (Exodus 1:17-21). Shiphrah and Puah’s aim were not to oppose a bad law but to uphold reverential trust in God (see Psalm 15:4; Psalm 34:8-14; Proverbs 1:7). ALWAYS TRUST IN GOD FIRST AND FOREMOST!

One of the Hebrew male children that lived was a special Hebrew boy named Moses (Exodus 2:1-2). Moses was “no ordinary child” but was but a “fine child” fair in the sight of God (Exodus 2:2; see also Acts 7:20; Hebrews 11:23). Moses’ mother courageously hid Moses for three months from the evil Egyptians (Exodus 2:2). Eventually, Moses’ mother placed Moses in a watertight basket into the Egyptian Nile River (Exodus 2:3). Moses’ sister (Miriam) courageously stood at a distance, watching to see what would happen to her younger brother Moses (Exodus 2:4). Moses’ mother and sister had no fear of fatal consequences, only the quiet expectancy that God would do something wonderful. Through God’s sovereignty, the special Hebrew boy caught the eye of Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5-10). Pharaoh’s daughter retrieved Moses from the river and adopted Moses as her son. Ironically, Moses’ mother was hired and paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to care for Moses (Exodus 2:9). How gracious of the true and living God to reunite Moses and his mother. Moses’ mother not only got her son back, but she was paid to take care of him! The daughter of Israel’s enemy became Moses’ patroness. Moses’ parents’ names were Amram and Jochebed (Exodus 6:20).

Adopted into the palace, Moses became a member of the royal household. Moses would eventually rise to Egyptian power and become a famous prince inside Pharaoh's palace (Exodus 2:10). Moses was the son of a slave, yet brought up in the seat of Egyptian power. In fact, “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22, NIV). Through a series of prideful events, Moses would murder an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14) and his murder caused him to flee into the Midian desert land for 40 years (Exodus 2:15; see also Acts 7:27-30). In Midian, Moses married Zipporah, gave birth to two children and became an unknown shepherd (Exodus 2:16-22; see also Exodus 18:3-4; 1 Chronicles 23:15; Acts 7:23-29). What a humbling experience! However in the Midian wilderness, God was preparing Moses for a leadership role as God would also make an active appearance to bring about the Hebrews’ deliverance.

Just when Moses felt his life was beginning to die, the true and living God visited Moses in the mysterious flames of a burning bush on Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai) (Exodus 3:1-3). Moses was about 80 years old (see Exodus 7:7; Acts 7:23, 30). He stared in amazement as the true and living appeared to him inside a blazing fire from the middle of a bush (Exodus 3:1). Though the bush was engulfed in flames, the bush miraculously did not burn up (Exodus 3:2-3). As Moses came closer to the burning bush, the Lord God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!” (Exodus 3:4). From the burning bush, the true and living God said to Moses “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:5-6). Moses approached God with worship – awe, respect, reverence, and humbleness (Exodus 3:5-6). God is our Friend, but He is also the holy and sovereign King of the universe (see 1 Samuel 12:14; Psalm 47:7-8; Isaiah 52:7). The God of Israel is the Creator and Possessor of the earth and everything in the earth (see Genesis 14:19, 22; Psalm 24:1-2).

God to Moses:  Then the Lord told him (Moses), “I have certainly seen the oppression of My people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey — the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live. Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached Me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead My people Israel out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:7-10 (NLT)

God had seen and heard the enslavement of the Hebrews by the cruel Egyptians (Exodus 2:23-25; see also Exodus 3:7-10). These verses show that God truly cares for His people and we must constantly cry-out to God for our help. Now, God was commissioning Moses for the task of not only prophet but a liberator (Exodus 2:15 -- Exodus 4:31). Moses became the first prophet of the Old Testament (Numbers 12:6-8). God gave Moses words to speak and reminded Moses that He “decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see” (Exodus 4:11-12). When Jesus Christ came as the great Prophet, Priest and Liberator, the New Testament book of Hebrews reached back to Moses for a comparison (Hebrews 3:1-6). Every true prophet was called by God (e.g. see 1 Samuel 3:4; Isaiah 6:8; Jeremiah 1:4-5; Ezekiel 2:1-8; Hosea 1:2; Amos 7:15; Jonah 1:1-2).

At the outset, Moses did not want the job assignment from God (see Exodus 3:11, 13; Exodus 4:1, 10, 13). Five times Moses tried to excuse himself from God's prophetic call and liberation. However, God assured Moses that He would be present during the deliverance (salvation) and that the nation would one day worship God at that very mountain (Exodus 3:12). Moses even pleaded with God not to send him back to Egypt. To give some assurance to Moses, God performed a number of miraculous signs for Moses (Exodus 4:2-9). Nevertheless, God also gave part of Moses assignment to his older brother Aaron (Exodus 4:14-17). Later, Aaron and his sons were chosen by God to serve as Israel’s priests down through the generations (see Exodus 28:1; Exodus 29:4-9). Moses' sister, Miriam, and brother, Aaron, were both older than Moses. With the true and living God on their side, Moses and Aaron returned to Egypt to bring freedom to the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. “This is what the Lord says: Israel is My firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22, NLT). Israel had a special relationship with the true and living God (see Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1).

At first, Pharaoh bulked and laughed at Moses and Aaron’s sovereign God. Pharaoh believed that his gods were stronger and mightier than Moses and Aaron’s God. A considerable amount of time and ten devastating plagues were used to gain the release of the Hebrews from Egyptian Pharaoh’s evil grip. But soon the true and living God of the universe revealed to Pharaoh, the Egyptians and the Hebrew people that He was the GREAT I AM or “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). This name for God describes God’s eternal power and unchangeable character as the dependable and faithful God who desires the full trust of His people (see Exodus 3:14-15). Yahweh (or Jehovah) is derived from the Hebrew word for “I AM.” Through a cycle of miraculous plagues and destructions, Pharaoh and the Egyptians succumb to the realization that Moses and Aaron’s God was truly stronger and mightier not only of the Egyptians gods but all the gods of the universe (Exodus 3:19-20; see also Exodus 5:1 -- Exodus 12:33). God unleashed a spectacle of might and power that brought the cruel Pharaoh to his knees. Pharaoh released the Hebrew people from slavery. The entire Hebrew nation set out with the riches of the Egyptians – gold and silver (Exodus 3:21-22; see also Exodus 12:34-36; Psalm 105:37). This fulfilled the prophecy of Genesis 15:14. These items were used later in building the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:5, 22). Amazingly, throughout the early parts of Exodus, all the Pharaoh’s efforts to suppress and harm the Hebrew people were frustrated by women:  the midwives (Exodus 1:17), the Hebrew mothers (Exodus 1:19), Moses’ mother and sister (Exodus 2:3-4, 7-9), the Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5). 

Moses and Aaron did not have an easy task to move 2 million people from Egyptian bondage. However, the true and living God was with the people as they marched out of Egypt, through the Red Sea as they headed towards the land promised to father Abraham (Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:13-14). God led the march from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land. The true and living God was with the Hebrews through the visual pillars of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:17-22) and miraculous provided for the people’s physical and spiritual needs with food, shelter and other rations (e.g. see Exodus 16:1, 13-15). God even sweetened the Hebrews’ water supply (Exodus 15:22-25) and miraculously provided water from a rock (Exodus 17:1, 5-6). The people also received protection from their enemy, the Amalekites (17:8–16). God made such appearances to encourage the people. The deliverance from bondage was a crucial event in the experience of the Israelites. Many authors of the Psalms and Old Testament prophetic books acclaimed this great deliverance as the most significant miracle in Israel’s Old Testament history. Yet, the true and living God’s visual presence was not enough for the Hebrew people. The people began to grumble, complain and worry despite God’s continual evidence of love and power. In fact, some Hebrews even wanted to return to Egyptian bondage and slavery and not trust God’s leading into a better land. So, God judged His people’s disobedience and lack of faith in Him for all their needs.

At Mount Sinai, God appeared to the people and gave His laws for right living. During this time, God gave the people His Ten Commandments as well as other laws for right living. Also, God gave the people His blueprint for building the Tabernacle (Exodus 19 -- Exodus 40). The Ten Commandments were the absolutes of spiritual and moral life. The other laws given helped the people manage their lives. Many great countries of the world base their laws on the laws of the book of Exodus. God was building a holy nation of priests devoted wholly to Him (Exodus 19:6; see also 1 Peter 2:5, 9). The true and living God wanted the people to trust and love Him first. Even more, God was building a nation as a source of truth and salvation for the entire world. Exodus is a wonderful story of God guidance for His people.

But Moses told the people: “Do not be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:13-14 (NLT)

The theme of the book of Exodus is redemption or salvation, in fulfillment of Abraham’s promise of Genesis 15:13-14. The heart of redemption theology is best seen in the Passover (Exodus 12). The Apostle Paul viewed the death of the Passover lamb as fulfilled in Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). Indeed, John the Baptist called Jesus Christ the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Moreover, Exodus records the birth of the nation Israel, the giving of the Law, and the origin of ritual worship. The appearance of God is dominant throughout Exodus. In the pages of Exodus, we see God controlling history (Exodus 1); revealing His Name and character (Exodus 3:13-15; Exodus 34:6-7); illuminating His sovereignty and faithfulness (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Exodus 19:5); judging His people (Exodus 4:14; Exodus 20:5; Exodus 32:27-28) and the enemies of His people (Exodus 7-12). Exodus also reveals God as being transcendent (Exodus 33:20) yet He lives among His people (Exodus 29:45). The book of Exodus concludes with an extended account of the building of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle points to the grace of God. By means of the Tabernacle, the omnipotent, unchanging, and transcendent God of the universe came to “dwell” or “tabernacle” with the His people, thereby revealing His gracious nearness as well (see also John 1:14). God is not only mighty; He is also omnipresent. 

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. New York: Zondervan, 1992.
Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.
Spirit Filled Life Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Eves, Terry L., Ph.D., Professor of Old Testament. Columbia Campus: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2014.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apostle Paul’s Friends and Final Instructions

Apostle Paul:  Greet each other in Christian love. All the churches of Christ send you their greetings. And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people. But everyone knows that you are obedient to the Lord. This makes me very happy. I want you to be wise in doing right and to stay innocent of any wrong. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. . . . Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong, just as my Good News says. This message about Jesus Christ has revealed His plan for you Gentiles, a plan kept secret from the beginning of time. But now as the prophets foretold and as the eternal God has commanded, this message is made known to all Gentiles everywhere, so that they too might believe and obey Him. All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. Romans 16:16-20, 25-27 (NLT)

The final chapter of Romans is remarkable with a roll call of heroes – Apostle Paul’s friends. In Romans 16, the Apostle Paul greets at least twenty-six people.  The Apostle Paul does not give us the details of the stories behind each of these names listed. However, his personal greetings went to Romans, Greeks, Jews and Gentiles, men, women, prisoners and prominent citizens. These people of Romans 16 were a multicultural mixture. This list of people shows the various parts people played in Apostle Paul's efforts to spread the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. Rome was the world's political, religious, social, and economic center. From Rome, the Good News of Jesus Christ spread to the ends of the earth. Also, the Apostle Paul greeted several churches that were meeting in people’s homes (Romans 16:5, 10-11, 14-15). Apparently there was an assembly of believers meeting in various Christian homes or house synagogues (see also 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).

The Apostle Paul begins Romans 16 with Phoebe (Romans 16:1). Phoebe’s name means “radiant” or “bright.” Apostle Paul calls Phoebe “our sister” (Romans 16:1).  Phoebe was the lady who carried the Apostle Paul’s important message to the saints at Rome. Some theologians believe Phoebe was a servant (the Greek word used here is often translated “deaconess”) while other theologians consider Phoebe a helper. There were women in the early church doing the work of deacons: visiting the sick, assisting the young women, and helping the poor (see also Romans 12:7; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8. The Apostle Paul confessed that Phoebe had been a great help to the Roman church and the Apostle Paul encouraged the church to care for Phoebe. This provides evidence that women played important roles in the early church with the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:3, 6-7, 12-13, 15; see also John 8:1-3; John 19:25; John 20:16, 18).

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple and the Apostle Paul's “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3). They were close friends of Apostle Paul (Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 26). Priscilla and Aquila had “risked their lives” for Apostle Paul (Romans 16:4, NLT). Just when Priscilla and Aquila risked their own lives for Apostle Paul is not known, but their friendship with Apostle Paul was so intense that he mentions them in the salutations of two other New Testament books (cf. I Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19). At the time of this writing, Priscilla and Aquila were in Rome and a church met in their home (Romans 16:5). Priscilla and Aquila were Christians before they met the Apostle Paul. Like Apostle Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were missionaries. They helped other fellow believers in Ephesus (Acts 18:18-28), in Rome, and again at Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

Four people the Apostle Paul called “beloved” or “dear friend”: Epenetus (Romans 16:5), Ampliatus (Romans 16:8), Stachys (Romans 16:9), and Persis (Romans 16:12). In particular, Epenetus was one of the first people to accept Jesus Christ in Asia (Romans 16:5). The conversion of Epenetus led to the salvation of others in Asia. Andronicus and Junias are called “kinsmen,” which may mean blood relatives of Apostle Paul, or only that they too were Jewish, possibly of the tribe of Benjamin like Apostle Paul (Romans 16:7). At one time Andronicus and Junias had been in prison with Apostle Paul. Andronicus and Junias were called “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7) and they had distinguished themselves as apostles. Mary “bestowed much labor” (Romans 16:6). These and other devoted people listed in Romans 16 fulfilled their ministries to the glory of God.

However, not everyone was working with the Apostle Paul to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. There were some who were dividing and separating the churches by teaching false and incorrect doctrine (Romans 16:17-20). Instead of preaching the truth, these selfish and false teachers spread their own religious propaganda, using deceit and lies with smooth styles (Romans 16:18). The Apostle Paul warned the Roman Christians to mark these evil workers causing division, and avoid these false people (Romans 16:17). Anyone who divides the unity or harmony of the church does not serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul says that these evil workers will be completely defeated (Romans 16:20; see also Genesis 3:15).

The Apostle Paul closed with greetings from nine believers who were with him in Corinth when he wrote the magnificent letter to the Roman church (Romans 16:20-24). People are prone to honor Apostle Paul but forget the many ordinary people who helped make his ministry possible. Lucius was a prophet and teacher of Antioch (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 13:1). Jason was Apostle Paul’s host at Thessalonica (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 17:5). Sosipater was from Berea (Romans 16:21; cf. Acts 20:4). Tertius was the scribe, who wrote the Apostle Paul’s letter to Rome (Romans 16:22). In other words, Apostle Paul was the human author of Romans, but Tertius actually wrote the letter as a scribe or secretary. With hospitality, Gaius gave Apostle Paul a place to live and work while writing the Romans letter (Romans 16:23). Erastus the chamberlain was probably the city treasurer (Romans 16:24; cf. 2 Timothy 4:20).

Romans 16 shows that the Apostle Paul loved people as well as a soul winning (see also Romans 16:16). The Apostle Paul did not live an isolated life. Instead, the Apostle Paul was friendly and kind to people as he spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. He encouraged the Roman church to “greet one another with a holy kiss” and with Christian love as they went around doing good and not evil (Romans 16:16, 19; see also 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). Even more, Romans 16 reveals that no one in God’s family is unimportant and no ministry is insignificant.

The closing benediction of the Apostle Paul is the longest one he wrote (Romans 16:25-27). This benediction reflects the Apostle Paul’s special ministry of uniting believing Jews and Gentiles in the one body, the church (see Ephesians 3). This was the Apostle Paul's special message. And the result: “Now all glory to God, who is able to make you strong. . . . All glory to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, forever. AMEN” (Romans 16:25, 27, NLT).

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.
Wiersbe, Warren. With the Word Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1991. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How To Live A Happy Christian Life

Apostle Paul:  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him. Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. . . .Do not think you are better than you really are. . . . Do not just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Do not curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Do not be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And do not think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. . . . Do not let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:1-3, 9-18, 21 (NLT)

The next great section of Romans is chapters 12 through 15. In these chapters, the Apostle Paul gives practical, real-world guidelines and duties for living as blessed (happy) Christians. The Apostle Paul gives details on making Jesus Christ Lord of every area of our lives. According to the Apostle Paul, Christians are to be wholly devoted to Jesus Christ as living sacrifices, obey the government, genuinely love our neighbors, and take special care of the weak and helpless in the faith.

In a real sense, the entire book of Romans has been directed toward the goal of showing that God demands our action as well as our believing and thinking. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ always expresses itself in obedience (see also James 2:14-26; 1 John 5:1-3). As stated by Martin Luther, genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection will produce good and righteous deeds in our everyday life. Genuine faith in Jesus Christ and goods deeds are interrelated and interwoven and not separate. Loving actions are evidence of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (James 2:21; see also Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26; Galatians 5:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; James 2:14-26). For the Apostle Paul, theology is worthless, unless our theology made a difference in how people lived.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not a mere intellectual assent (see James 2:18-19) but a living trust in God’s grace and mercy that expresses itself in acts of goodness and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). A right relationship with God means right living – a truthful, moral, ethical, good and virtuous life. According to the Apostle Paul: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (see Galatians 5:6). Although we are saved by faith, not by good deeds (see Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:15-16), love for others and for God is the response of those whom God has graciously forgiven (see Ephesians 2:8-10; 1 John 3:10-11). Jesus Christ said that those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). If we have a right relationship to God, we will also have a right relationship with people (1 John 4:20).

Once we yield our hearts, bodies and minds to the true and living God, we can live victorious (Romans 12:1-2). We are to die to proud, covetous, selfishness, stubbornness, and arrogance and wholeheartedly yield to the glory of God as this is “our reasonable service” or “our spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). God wants everyone to offer their whole hearts to Him for His honor, glory, and purpose (Romans 12:1-2; see also Philippians 1:20-21). Now that we belong to Jesus Christ through faith in Him, our bodies become God's temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and God’s Holy Spirit lives within us (Romans 8:9). Through God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ continues to live within us to continue God's good work as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

God has good, pleasing, and perfect plans for His people. As we spend time reading and meditating on His Holy Word, the Holy Spirit renews our minds and hearts for good and spiritual purposes (2 Corinthians 3:18).To have a right relationship with God, we must start EVERY DAY by yielding to Him our bodies, minds, and wills.

We Christians belong to God and each other (Romans 12:3-16). Christians are to live and work together under the command and authority of God. The Apostle Paul likens Christians to members of a human body (Romans 12:4-8). There are many members and each has a different function, but all are needed for the health and growth of the church. The Apostle Paul emphasizes unity within the diversity of the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).

Moreover, our gifts, talents and skills are from God. We are to use our gifts, talents and skills for the good of the whole body of Christ (the church) and for the common good of others (1Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:1-16). Our gifts, talents and skills come from God because of GOD'S GRACE and must ALWAYS be accepted and exercised by faith and humility (1 Corinthians 13; Philippians 2:1-4). There can be no basis for a superior attitude or self-righteousness. All we can do is accept our gifts and talents and use them to honor and glorify God and help others (1 Corinthians 15:10). As faithful Christians, our role is to seek ways to help others for good with God’s gifts. God calls His people to real love and goodness. This means helping and caring for others good and not evil (Romans 12:9-10). “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9, NIV). The love the Apostle Paul speaks of is not mere emotions but love in action (see James 2:1-4, 14-17; 1 John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:19-21). Christians have a social responsibility to all people, but especially to other fellow believers in Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus Christ’s teaching (see Matthew 5:39-42, 44-45; Luke 6:27-28) as he urged Christians to return good for evil in the Name of the Lord. The only way to overcome evil is with good.

Apostle Paul:  Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority. Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Do not participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And do not yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Romans 13:1-14 (NLT)

The issue of politics surfaces in Romans 13. As in the Apostle Paul’s day, the issues of politics are hotly debated. During the later parts of the Apostle Paul’s ministry, such emperors as Nero vengefully turned on Christians, torturing and murdering thousands of them, probably including the Apostle Paul himself.

History shows that most Christians followed the Apostle Paul’s difficult advice in Romans 13 by refusing to revolt against the government but submitting to the government no matter how hostile the government became. To resist the government and their laws is to resist the God because God established and ordained the system of human government (Romans 13:1-2; see also 1 Peter 2:13-17). Of course, if government authorities or laws conflicts with God’s guidelines and rules, then Christians MUST OBEY GOD rather than human authorities (Acts 4:19; Acts 5:29). There will be situations where you cannot obey both God and people. In those conflicting situations, Christians must obey God and trust God’s Holy Word. Our highest loyalty and devotion belong to God! But when the law is right, the Christian must obey the law, including paying our taxes (Romans 13:7). Christians ought to be the best citizen.

The issue of love also surfaces with the Apostle Paul. “Love one another” is the most basic and essential rule of the Christian life. Love is the “new commandment” given by our Lord Jesus Christ (John 13:34). Jesus Christ was a living example of love and He teaches that our love will confirm we are His disciples (followers) (John 13:34-35). Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action (see 1 Corinthians 13). Essentially, when we practice love, there is no need for any other law. “For he who loves another has fulfilled the law. . . . Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10, NKJV). In these verses, the Apostle Paul is quoting Leviticus 19:18. If we genuinely love others, we will not sin, harm and hurt others (Matthew 22:34-40; John 14:15; Colossians 3:14; James 2:8-9; and 1 Peter 2:16-17). As Christians, we are to wear God’s armor of light and goodness, not deeds of darkness and evil (see Matthew 5:13-16; Ephesians 6:10-19). Christians are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14 (RSV). To “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ means to become more like Him by walking in His ways of love, humility, justice, mercy, truth, forgiveness, and service (see also Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23; Galatians 3:27). Walking like Jesus Christ shows our unity with other Christians and with Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 13:14; see also Ephesians 4:24-32; Colossians 3:10-17). We may not always agree on politics or parties, but we can agree to genuinely LOVE ONE ANOTHER!

Apostle Paul:  Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and do not argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. . . . Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let Him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive His approval. . . .  In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor Him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we do not live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it is to honor the Lord. And if we die, it is to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bend to Me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’” Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let us stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. . . . For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Do not tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. Romans 14:1, 4-13, 17-23 (NLT)

During the Apostle Paul’s day, Christians in Rome were disagreeing on what was proper behavior for a Christian (Romans 14:1-15:4). Christians were hotly debating such issues as eating meat, celebrating holidays, and drinking wine. One person was sure another was sinning; but that “offender” was convinced the accuser was hopelessly narrow-minded and intolerant. Some of these problems stemmed from the backgrounds of the believers in the churches. Probably, some Jewish Christians at Rome were unwilling to give up the dietary laws, keeping of the Sabbath, and other special days. Other Christians were not yet clear as to the status of the Old Testament regulations under the new covenant inaugurated by the coming of Jesus Christ. Who was right? In this chapter, the Apostle Paul gave practical guidelines to the church on how believers could disagree on nonessentials and still maintain unity and harmony within the church. God wants unity, harmony and peace among His people (see Psalm 133:1) and not conflict and disharmony (e.g., see Psalm 15:3; Proverbs 6:19; Matthew 5:9). According to the Apostle Paul:  “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. . . . So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:17, 19, NASB).

The Apostle Paul’s advice to the Roman Christians applies to people today who debate questionable issues or “gray areas” that are not clearly right or wrong to every believer. The specific issues change with each culture, but the Apostle Paul’s guidelines on the proper attitude apply to all people today. Some activities are clearly wrong, because the Holy Bible clearly denounces and condemns such actions. Other activities are right, because the Holy Bible clearly commands such actions. But when it comes to areas that are not clearly defined in the Holy Bible, we find ourselves in the “gray areas”. Fellowship among Christians is not based on everyone’s agreement on disputable questions. Christians do not agree on all matters and they do not need to agree.

According to the Apostle Paul, we are to welcome and accept one another (Romans 14:1-2). It is NOT our responsibility to judge others; only God can judge. As stated by Saint Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” In every church, there will be different kinds of people from different backgrounds. Yet, God graciously receives all people; therefore, we should also receive and accept one another. God is the Master and the Judge (Romans 14:10-12). Nobody has the right to “play God” in a person’s life as God alone has the final authority. We can pray, discuss, and even warn, but we cannot judge (see also Matthew 7:1-6). If Christians would go to God in prayer FIRST instead of criticizing and judging others, there would be stronger fellowship and unity within our churches. Our first responsibility is to God and everyone must stand before Him in judgment (Romans 14:10; see also 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

Instead of judging, criticizing, and belittling, the Apostle Paul encouraged love and unity among believers (Romans 14:13-23). The key to proper settlement of disputes is love (Romans 14:15). We do not live to please ourselves but God (Romans 14:7-8). If we genuinely love each other as Christ commanded, we will seek to edify each other and build each other up in the faith. Love, holy living and godly service are important to God. We are to serve and love God and love one another with a heart of thanksgiving (Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Matthew 22:34-40). “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV). As stated by Jesus Christ, let us not ignore “justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). God wants everyone to exercise love and patience with one another. The result will be peace and unity within the church to the glory of God. Disunity and disagreement do not glorify God but rob God of His glory (see Genesis 13:8). Christians may hold different convictions and opinions about many matters, but they must hold them in love! In His prayer in John 17, Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of the church to the glory of God (John 17:20-26). Genuine Christians must seek peace!

Apostle Paul:  We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. For even Christ did not live to please Himself. . . . May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Remember that Christ came as a Servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises He made to their ancestors. He also came so that the Gentiles might give glory to God for His mercies to them. . . . I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:1-3, 5-9, 13 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
New Student Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

God’s Redemptive Plan

The next great section of the book of Romans is chapters 9 through 11. In these great chapters, the Apostle Paul reveals how both Jews and Gentiles fit into God’s redemptive plan to save humanity of sin. God’s faithfulness to the Jews is also central in these chapters. God gave His promises to the Jews, the first to Abraham, then additional promises to Moses, David and the prophets. If God was not faithful to the Jewish promises, how do we know if He will be faithful to the Gentiles? The Apostle Paul admits that, on the whole, the Jewish people rejected Jesus Christ and the Good News proclaimed by His apostles. Despite all the advantages of Old Testament history, the Jewish people stumbled over the “stumbling stone,” Jesus Christ (Romans 9:32-33). Yet the Apostle Paul reveals in chapters 9 through 11 that God’s promises to the Jewish people are still valid and binding (Romans 9:4-5). In the end, the Jews will be saved (Romans 11:26).

Romans chapters 9 through 11 is probably the strongest and the most extended teaching of the Apostle Paul on election. The Apostle Paul discusses election but NOT personal election. He asserts that no one can claim to be chosen by God because heritage or good deeds. God freely and mercifully chooses to save whomever He wills. God's sovereignly selects to save people according to His goodness and mercy (Romans 9:14-16, 18). God is not arbitrary. The Apostle Paul affirms God’s faithfulness (Romans 9:1-13), righteousness (Romans 9:14-18), justice (Romans 9:19-29), and grace (Romans 9:30-33). Like the Apostle Paul, the Prophet Jeremiah also confessed the faithfulness of God:  “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning . . . . The Lord is good to those who depend on Him, to those who search for Him” (Lamentations 3:22-23, 25 (NLT). The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of the potter and the clay to teach God’s sovereignty and power over all humanity (Romans 9:19-21). The main point of this analogy is the sovereign freedom of God in dealing with people (see also Jeremiah 18:1-10). God knows what He is doing even if humans do not understand God’s plans and purposes.

In chapters 9 through 11, the Apostle Paul shows his great love for the Jews and the Jews’ salvation (Romans 9:4-5; Romans 10:1; Romans 11:1). The Apostle Paul was “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1, NLT). He expressed genuine concern for his Jewish “brothers and sister” by saying that he would be willingly to take God’s wrath and become cursed (“anathema”) if that could save the Jewish people (Romans 9:2-3). Like Moses, the Apostle Paul was willing to be cursed and separated from Jesus Christ if it meant the salvation of the Jews (Exodus 32:30-35). Sadly, members of the Apostle Paul’s own race, the Jews, were rejecting the Good News of God’s free salvation and righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Rejection of the Good News by the Jews was a crushing blow to the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul was willing to forfeit his own relationship with Jesus Christ for the sake of his Jewish people (Romans 9:3). The Apostle Paul was STILL a Jew and apart of Israel. However, the Apostle Paul was a part of Israel that believed in Jesus as God’s Messiah to the world.

Jesus came into the world as a Jew in fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises. Even more, Jesus was a descendent of Abraham, grew up in Palestine as a Jew and He was viewed as a Jewish Rabbi in public ministry. Also, Jesus centered His preaching and teaching in the Jewish synagogues and the Temple. Jesus’ teaching and preaching in His public ministry repeatedly stated to the Jews He was the Messiah (the Christ). Therefore, the Jews were the most prepared to accept Jesus as their Messiah. However, the Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah. When Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews also rejected the preaching of the Good News message by His apostles. However, the Gentiles accepted the Good News of salvation and righteous by faith in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul reveals that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus Christ does not deny the faithfulness of God. God is still faithful, righteous, just, and gracious, and He can be depended on to accomplish His purposes and keep His promises.

In Romans 9:6-9, the Apostle Paul redefines Israel (also called Jewish or a Hebrew). Not everyone with Israelite blood in their veins is really Israelites. Physical descent is no guarantee of a place in God’s spiritual family. The Apostle Paul clarifies in Romans 9:8 that the true Israelites are not because of the flesh but according to the promise. The true Israel (true Jews) are those people that have accepted Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) by faith. Only those faithful to God according to the promise (the remnant) were considered true Jews (Romans 11:5). Some Jews like the Apostle Paul, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, the Twelve disciples, Crispus, and many other Jews accepted Jesus as the Christ by faith and became His devoted followers. So, the Apostle Paul is reminding his readers that although many Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah there were some Jews that accepted Jesus as their Messiah and these people were the real Jews (see also Rom 2:29; Galatians 3:7). Even though the Apostle Paul went to the Jews first, relatively few Jews ever accepted by faith the Good News (Romans 9:27-29, referencing Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:22-23). Therefore, the real Jew is the one that accepts and believe in Jesus as their Messiah and the Good News (Gospel).

For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven’ (to bring Christ down to earth). And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on Him. For “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:5-13 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul proclaims in Romans 10 by citing Old Testament passages that Jesus Christ has provided salvation and righteousness (a right relationship with God) through wholehearted faith in His incarnation (coming to earth) and resurrection (coming back from the dead) (Romans 10:5-13; see also Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:12-14; Isaiah 28:16; Joel 2:32). The Apostle Paul takes these Old Testament passages that was given as the way to life and applies these passages to the Good News of Jesus Christ as the way to life. According to the Apostle Paul, the Jews’ enthusiasm and zeal for God was misdirected (Romans 10:2). Sadly, the Jewish people did not understand God’s way of making people right with Himself was not by keeping the law (Romans 10:3). Jesus Christ had already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. During His public ministry on earth, Jesus Christ revealed and lived the true intent of the Old Testament law (e.g., love, mercy, humility, faith, peace, forgiveness, and thanksgiving) (see Matthew 5:3-20; see also Matthew 23:23). As a result, all who believe in Jesus Christ and follow His example are made right (declared righteous) with God (Romans 10:4; see also e.g., Deuteronomy 10:12; Proverbs 22:4; Romans 1:17; 1 Peter 5:14). Righteousness (a right relationship with God) is gained by faith in Jesus Christ, and is readily available to anyone who will receive the gift of righteousness freely from God through Jesus Christ (Romans 10:8).

Essentially, the Apostle Paul was teaching what the Old Testament prophets had repeatedly taught on the importance of seeking God with all our whole hearts and confessing our love and devotion to Him as the true God of both heaven and earth (see e.g., Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Joshua 24:14-15; Kings 18:36-37; Amos 5:24; Micah 6:6-8; Habakkuk 2:2-4; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:29). The Apostle Paul affirmed that in Jesus Christ the God of Israel was Himself present among His people. Jesus Christ is the most complete revelation of God and no one can fully know God apart from Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul confessed that “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) and Jesus is “God over all” (Romans 9:5, NIV).

The Apostle Paul teaches that our salvation and righteousness is as close as our own mouth and heart (Romans 10:10). Salvation requires inward belief (“with our heart”) and outward confession (“with our mouth”) (Romans 10:10). If we genuinely believe in our hearts and say with our mouths that Jesus Christ is the risen Lord, WE ARE SAVED and made right with God (Romans 10:8-13). Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved (see also Joel 2:32). No longer has one to try to make him or herself righteous with God by keeping the law but only to call upon the Name of the Lord. This is the freeness of the Gospel. God’s salvation is a gift and the only condition is openness of the heart and this statement of the Apostle Paul is repeated throughout Romans and the New Testament (e.g., Romans 1:16-17; see also John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:8-9). According to the Apostle Paul, we do not have to make ourselves righteous with God by obeying the law. Jesus Christ has provided the Gospel and we are made right and reconciled with God through our wholehearted faith and trust in Him alone. All God requires is our wholehearted acceptance of Jesus Christ His grace, and not our merit or deeds, for our happiness and salvation.

In Romans chapter 11, the Apostle Paul reviews the history of the Jewish people and reveals God’s eternal love for His chosen people (Romans 11:25-27). God has not rejected the Jewish people. The Apostle Paul quotes from the Old Testament’s story of the Prophet Elijah and the faithful remnant who remained loyal to God (1 Kings 19:10-19). According to the Apostle Paul, the Jews that believe Jesus Christ now (this small majority that believes) are the faithful remnant (Romans 11:2-4). The Apostle Paul remains the Roman church that God has always had a small group of people (a remnant) that has remained faithful to Him (Romans 11:1, 5). As it was in the days of Elijah, so it was in the Apostle Paul’s day. There was still a faithful remnant that believed in Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:5-6). As mentioned above, the Apostle Paul himself was a Jew, and so were Jesus Christ’s disciples and nearly all of the early Christian missionaries were a part of the faithful remnant.

Speaking to Gentile Christians, the Apostle Paul warns them not to feel superior or greater than the Jewish people (Romans 11:17-24). Abraham's faith is like the root of a productive tree, and the Jewish people are the tree's natural branches. Because of unfaithfulness, the Jews were the broken branches and Gentile believers have been grafted into the tree like a wild olive shoot. Yet, both the Jews and Gentiles share the tree's nourishment based on faith in God. Botanists and orchard growers commonly used grafting to improve their stock of flowers and fruit. Usually, they graft a weaker, cultivated branch onto a wild but sturdy root stock. The Apostle Paul admits at Romans 11:24 that “contrary to nature” God has grafted the wild branches (Gentiles) onto the cultivated roots (the Jewish people) – a reverse technique sometimes used to reinvigorate an olive tree. Therefore, the Apostle Paul interprets the Jews’ temporary felling to accept Jesus as the Messiah resulted in Gentiles being engrafted. Yet, the salvation of the Gentiles is dependent on the Jewish people, especially the patriarchs (see e.g., Abrahamic covenant) “for salvation comes through the Jews” (John 4:22, NLT). For God’s Messiah (Jesus) came through God’s historic people (the Jews) (Romans 1:16-17).

Therefore, the Apostle Paul looks at the rejection of the Good News by the Jews not a tragedy because this rejection enabled the Good News to be taken to the Gentiles. The Gentiles only received the Good News message because the Jews rejected this gracious message. So, the Apostle Paul sees the rejection of the Good News by the Jews not a failure but furtherance of God’s eternal redemptive plan and promises. Through the Jewish people’s rejection of the Good News, the true Jews (those that accept Jesus as the Messiah) took God’s Good News to the Gentile world (Romans 11:11, 15). Now, the Gentiles have been grafted into the people of God. Therefore, Jews and Gentiles are reconciled and saved by grace and mercy of God (Romans 11:15, 17).

The Apostle Paul confirms that the Jewish rejection of the Good News is not permanent but temporary until the appointed or complete numbers of Gentiles have been reached (Romans 11:25-27). All Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26). So the temporary rejection of the Jewish people will be ended when the full number of Gentiles has come. Therefore, the Apostle Paul says that God will save Israel in the end because God is faithful to His promises and this summarizes Romans 9 through 11.

In summary in God's original plan, the Jewish people were to be the source of God's blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3). God chose the Jewish people to be the people through whom the rest of the world could find salvation (Genesis 12:1-3). When the Jewish people neglected this mission, God blessed the Gentiles anyway through the Jewish Messiah. Yet, God still maintained His love for the Jewish people because of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Romans 11:28-29). Someday, the faithful Jews will share in God's mercy.

The Apostle Paul had a vision of a church where all people – Jews and Gentiles would be united in their wholehearted love for God and in their obedience to Jesus Christ. While respecting God's law, this ideal church would look to Jesus Christ alone for salvation. God chose the Jews, just as He chose the Gentiles, to unite Jew and Gentile into a new Israel, a new Jerusalem, ruled by His Son, Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). God's plans will not be defeated because God is faithful and faithful to His promise. He will “have mercy on them all” – Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 60).

Apostle Paul:  Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give Him advice? And who has given Him so much that He needs to pay it back? For everything comes from Him and exists by His power and is intended for His glory. All glory to Him forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)

“Listen, all you people . . . ! The Lord will stay with you as long as you stay with Him! Whenever you seek Him, you will find Him. But if you abandon Him, He will abandon you. For a long time Israel was without the true God, without a priest to teach them, and without the Law to instruct them. But whenever they were in trouble and turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought Him out, they found Him.” 2 Chronicles 15:2-4 (NLT)

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