NUGGETS OF WISDOM

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BELIEVING WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

David recollected that as a young lad, with long unruly hair and a ruddy complexion, sleeping out in an open pasture under a starry sky after watching his father’s sheep all day long; how he would take his little harp and sing to the God above all gods. Looking up, he saw the sky as a huge tent with the sparkling stars as lights that lit up the night. He may have even tried to count them once or twice. But what really impressed him was that each night every star was in exactly the same place, not one of them was missing. He was so overcome with awe that he penned a hymn to the creator of that starry universe.

O my LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius, as You display Your grandeur all over the heavens for all the world to see. For through these small and tiny dots of light You communicate as a way of countering those who don’t take You seriously; yes, You do this to silence the doubter and unbeliever. When I look up into the sky and see the galaxies Your hands created, the stars and the moon You put into orbit I ask, “What role do humans play in this vast universe; why do You care and fuss over them?” Then I realized, You created them a little short of being angels; endowing them with attributes of honor and dignity; making them the smartest and most influential creatures on earth; putting them in charge to being stewards of Your handiwork, even taking care of the animals, both domestic and wild, including the birds that fill the sky and the fish that fill the sea. O LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius for all the world to see.” Psalm 8:1-9

Reflection: Back in the days of the hippy movement I sat in a coffee house in Stuttgart, Germany talking with a long-haired flower-child about God. The young man was respectful but adamant about his doubts concerning God’s existence because he couldn’t see Him or talk to Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration, so I pointed to a picture hanging on the wall beside our table and asked the young man if he believed that picture came into being due to an accidental collision of paint and paper. He laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous; that picture was painted by an artist.” I responded that I wasn’t convinced because I couldn’t see the artist in the picture; how did I know that maybe one day it just appeared on the wall by accident. The young fellow looked at me for a moment and then admitted that even though I couldn’t see the artist in the painting, I had to accept the fact that an artist painted the picture because it just makes sense. I told him that in the same way, one must exercise faith to believe an unseen talented artist created such a beautiful portrait, we can also believe an unseen God created the beauty of the universe. The magnificence of God’s creation shows His responsibility for man’s existence, and man’s responsibility to acknowledge God’s handiwork. The young man smiled somewhat embarrassingly as he bowed his head and said, “Okay, you got me on that one.” I asked him if we could have prayer for him to have faith, but he wasn’t sure. As he went away I asked the Holy Spirit to go with him and open his eyes to the truth.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXII)

One thing that God appreciates highly and what fellow believers hold dear is when a person is faithful and trustworthy. Paul expressed this to the Colossians: “I pray that God’s great power will make you strong and that you will have joy as you persevere and remain patient in every situation.1 And to the Thessalonians who were concerned about missing the coming of the Lord should they die before His return, Paul wrote: “We thank God for you all the time and pray for you. While praying to God our Father, we always remember your work of faith and your acts of love and your hope that never gives up in our Lord Jesus Christ.2 And when he wrote them later, Paul had this to say: “We are proud of you and tell the other churches about you. We tell them how your faith stays so strong even when people make it hard for you and make you suffer.3

Then when Paul wrote young Timothy, he advised him to stay right with God, to live a God-like life, and be willing to remain strong. Then said Paul: “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the life that lasts forever. You were chosen to receive it. You have spoken well about this life in front of many people.4 When Paul received word on how Timothy was doing, he wrote him again and suggested that he follow his example: “You know what I teach and how I live. You know what I want to do. You know about my faith and my love. You know how long I am willing to wait for something. You know how I keep on working for God even when it is hard for me.5

Early church scholar Ambrosiaster talks about the power of joy and how even during times that do not allow us to speak publicly about our faith, nevertheless, we can still rejoice in tribulation. The world does not understand how believers can have sadness bring joy. It is the joy that comes from hope that helps believers to endure tribulation, knowing that the things which are promised to those who suffer are much greater than anything they may have to surrender down here. But joy is still not enough, it must be fortified with constant prayer.6 And Gennadius is certain that God’s mercy does not abandon His people under such circumstances. We can all be sure that He will constantly be there to help us persevere through all things.7

In the 95 theses that Luther posted on the Wittenberg Castle Church door, the last one reads as follows: “And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22). Of course, Luther was speaking out against the sale of indulgences to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome that was leading the people to believe that they could avoid any punishment for sins committed and help dead relatives escape some of Purgatory’s punishment for a few coins dropped into a tin box.

Adam Clarke agrees with Ambrosiaster by adding that we must never forget that everything we suffer as Christians we suffer for Christ‘s sake. Our steadfastness and faithfulness are to His honor. It also brings honor of our Christian profession when we suffer with a calm mind.8 To this we can add Albert Barnes’ note that believers are sustained by the influence of their hope in the coming future glory to all who endure until the end. We even get excited that the day is coming when we will live where there shall be no more death, and where all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes.910

Robert Haldane gives an exposition on being patient when troubles come our way. First of all, since we have been provided with such good hope through grace, this should help us to be patient while going through their afflictions. What more do believers need to enable them to bear calamities than knowing in advance the happy ending? And what can equal the expectation of every Christian who must go through the fiery furnace of persecution than the fact they will emerge as pure gold? So we can see that a believer’s afflictions are not only necessary for being tested and tried, and that to do so brings honor and glory to God. And as Paul himself said, there is a crown that awaits the faithful servant.11

As we learn from Scripture, the afflictions of the righteous, which are but for a moment, work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal abundance of glory.12 Furthermore, God’s Word tells us that the trial of our faith is much more precious than that of gold, though it is tried with fire, and will provide praise and honor and glory in the day Christ returns.13 Afflictions are allowed by God in order for His people to increase their patience.14 It is true that on account of the sin that remains in this world it will continue to have an effect on our minds and bodies. But remember, behind the clouds we have this rainbow of hope from our Lord Jesus: “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.1516

Karl Barth again shares what he sees. For him, trials and tribulation are an ethical issue. For how can we prove our true allegiance and Christian patriotism to the Kingdom of God unless we are persecuted? This then allows us to glory in tribulation.17 To be oppressed can be seen as a positive human action. When believers endure their tribulation with patience, it is their way of protesting the way of the world. Patience gives us the strength to love those who oppress us. And when the world sees Christians express their faith in God during times of hardship without seeing Him, it impresses us to have faith in the One we cannot see because we believe He is there. As such, our faith and patience is what makes tribulation an ethical action because it helps us advance in our Christian faith.18

Verse 12c: Always keep your prayer life proactive.

The Apostle Paul was not as interested in praying for things that happened and getting God’s guidance on how to deal with them, as much as he was in praying in advance for what one planned to do so that God’s guidance could help in navigating through any problems that might be encountered. The Greek verb proskartereō that Paul uses here speaks of keeping something going, a constant activity with no downtime or convenient breaks. It also means to be diligent in maintaining such activity. In this case, Paul focuses on the believer’s prayer life. Thayer, in his Lexicon, places the way the word is used here as a dative verb that means: “giving constant attention to a thing,” and here he points to prayer.

We see it used the same way when the disciples and others were in the Upper Room awaiting the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Luke tells us: “These all devoted themselves single-mindedly to prayer.19 And when the disciples needed to chose those who would take care of the everyday affairs of the early church in Jerusalem, they explained: “We ourselves must give our full attention to praying and to teaching the Word.20 And when Paul wrote the Colossians, he requested they: “Keep praying. Keep watching! Be thankful always. As you pray, be sure to pray for us also. Pray that God will open the door for us to preach the Word.21

Paul also wrote the Thessalonians and told them: “Never stop praying.”22 Under no circumstances should this verse be misconstrued as telling believers never to get off their knees, but to remain in prayer as long as humanly possible. It simply suggests that prayer should be an integral part of their life and ministry. We certainly see that this was practiced after Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and the church in Jerusalem was formed. Luke tells us: “They were faithful in listening to the teaching of the apostles. They worshiped and prayed and ate the Lord’s supper together. Many powerful works were done by the Apostles.”23

Although there is little said by the early church scholars on Paul’s admonition to keep one’s prayer life active, there are volumes filled with the prayers of early church leaders. Tertullian did write on prayer. He does not believe that God, who demands prayer, has ever denied a prayer coming to Him through spirit and truth.24 On the other hand, how many inspiring stories have we read, and heard, and believed, that convince us that God answers prayer? Prayers in the First Covenant period resulted in The way the ancients prayed, freed them from fires,25 and from beasts,26 and from lack of rain.27 And think, that happened before prayer was taught by Christ. So how much more effective is Christian prayer now!28 Did not Jesus tell us that when we face any opposition and need help to strength our faith, that whatever we ask for in prayer to believe it is ours and we will receive it?29 And listen to what Paul to the Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.30

Martin Luther calls this a loud alarm that all Christians, especially ministers, should heed and consider. Paul is calling on complete dedication as demanded by true prayer. His request is not without merit. Did not an ancient church believer say: “There is no work quite so difficult as praying to God.31 Genuine prayer works well with a humble and repentant mind. But it also excels when joined with an uplifting, victorious spirit.32

1 Colossians 1:11

2 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

3 2 Thessalonians 1:4

4 1 Timothy 6:12

5 2 Timothy 3:10

6 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Gennadius of Constantinople: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 244

9 Revelation 21:4; 7:17; compare James 1:4

10 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 2 Timothy 4:8

12 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

13 1 Peter 1:7

14 James 1:3

15 John 16:33

16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 567

17 See Romans 5:3

18 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

19 Acts of the Apostles 1:14a – Complete Jewish Bible

20 Ibid. 6:4

21 Colossians 4:2-3

22 1 Thessalonians 5:17

23 Acts of the Apostles 2:42-43

24 John 4:24

25 Daniel 3:26-27

26 Ibid. 6:19-23

27 1 Kings 17:1; 18:42-45

28 Fathers of the Church: On Prayer, Tertullian, Ch. 29

29 Mark 11:24

30 Philippians 4:6-7

31 Luther’s exact quote is hard to pinpoint among the sayings of the early church fathers since Luther wrote in German and quoted from Latin. Yet, he may have been referring to the one by the desert monk Abba Agathon that goes like this: “I consider no other labor as difficult as prayer.”

32 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 176

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXI)

The Apostle Paul told the Colossians something that has happened to all of us. He wrote: “You must not change from what you believe now. You must not leave the hope of the Good News you received. The Good News was preached to you and to all the world.1 And what was that good news? Paul goes on to say: “The secret is this: Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come.”2 And this is what he told the Thessalonians: “Our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father loves us. Through His loving-favor, He gives us comfort and hope that lasts forever.”3

Then, when he wrote to young Timothy he begins with these words: “This letter is from Paul, a missionary of Jesus Christ. I am sent by God, the One Who saves, and by our Lord Jesus Christ Who is our hope.”4 And to his protegé Titus, Paul wrote: “This letter is from Paul, a servant owned by God, and a missionary of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to those God has chosen for Himself. I am to teach them the truth that leads to God-like living. This truth also gives hope of life that lasts forever.5

Origen says that the person who not content with what is already available but eagerly awaits what is yet to come is the one who rejoices in hope6.7 And Chrysostom preached that when all these things are fuel for the fire of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing which makes the soul more courageous and venturesome than unshakable hope.8 Also, Augustine agrees with Origen that we rejoice in hope in order to look forward to what’s yet to come so that we can conduct ourselves cheerfully in the midst of troubles and trials.9 Then Pelagius writes that if we have the joy of hope for things yet to come, it can help us bear up under everything because of the joy that hope gives.10

In speaking about the role hope plays in the believer’s life as they attempt with all their heart, mind, and strength to carry out God’s will for their lives, Martin Luther believes strongly that when we rejoice in hope, it must not be just for what is present, things we have already experienced and learned to appreciate. There is nothing wrong when we rejoice in what we see, but that joy may not last very long. On the other hand, there is also rejoicing in what we cannot see, things we only posses by faith. That is certainly true of our abiding joy in eternal life.11 Luther goes on to say that such joy can only come when we put aside those things we possess here on earth and any desire we may have to experience good fortune as the basis for our joy. As long as we are able to do that and remain steadfast, Luther says we can then experience hope, and through hope to rejoicing.

John Calvin also speaks about the difference between joy and happiness. For those who learn to get along with what they have here and now, but always strive to rededicate themselves in seeking more of the kingdom of God, they will get excited about what the end will bring as they patiently persevere through their present tribulations. Whichever way it may go, Paul cautions against basing our happiness on present blessings so that our joy is grounded only on earth and on earthly things. Instead, he bids believers, put their eyes on things above so that they may possess them by faith solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of a future life, then our patience will grow during adversities this life, for no amount of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Here we find two things closely connected together: joy in hope, and patience in adversities. No person can calmly and quietly submit to bearing their cross unless they seek true joy beyond this world. They will be able to carry that cross and bear its burden by the consolation of hope.12

John Bengel declares that true joy is not only an emotion of the mind and a privilege of the heart but also a Christian duty.13 It is God’s way of bringing us contentment. It’s His desire that we rejoice and live out our spiritual lives joyously.14 Bengel is not saying here that God is demanding that we be happy or else. Rather, that with everything God so graciously bestows on us at His own great expense, that we should actively and persistently look for those things in which we can rejoice instead of moaning and groaning over those things that do not please us. In fact, Adam Clarke states that not only should we rejoice in what we have already been given, but our rejoicing in hope involves the glory of God that to each faithful follower of Christ will shortly be revealed.15

Robert Haldane also notes that again and again believers are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord. We do that every time we contemplate the One we serve, His person, His office, His power, His love, and our being in union with Him. Here, in the middle of Paul’s exhortations that they attend to their various duties, he wants the Romans to do so as they rejoice in hope. Hope is founded on faith and faith in God’s promises. Hope, then, respects what God has declared in His Word. We are exhorted to exercise hope in things yet to come and rejoice in those future things that hope reminds us of. What greater reason do we have to rejoice down here than the hope of obtaining the blessings of that will be ours up there? As long as we keep this hope alive, it will help raise us above the fear of man and worries about any honors we may miss in this world. That way, any shame that may come because of the cross we bear, it will enable us to endure that shame with dignity.16

Charles Hodge notes that Christians are encouraged to be joyful, patient, and prayerful. It doesn’t matter how tough the going may be, hope, patience, and prayer are not just duties, but the richest sources of comfort and support. Furthermore, the hope of our salvation is the most effective means of producing patience under present afflictions. That is especially true when we are convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will soon be revealed in us.17 That helps us keep our heads held up high as we await His coming and our eternal reward for being faithful and true.18

In his sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon wondered how can anyone “rejoice in hope” if they know nothing about prayer and communion with the God of hope. Whenever our hope seems to fail us and our joy begins to fade away, the shortest way to get them back up and shining is to fall on our knees. As we pray, the Spirit reminds us of the promises we have and the hope that they are already ours by faith. That realization can cause joy to spring up from within. As far as “patience” is concerned, Spurgeon wonders how anyone can be patient if they don’t know how to pray? Have not holy men and women of old sustained themselves in their worst times of grief and depression by going to God in prayer? Jesus did it, the Apostles did it, the saints who came before us did it, so why can’t we do the same?19

Frédéric Godet tells us that the passion of our devotion, referred to in Romans 12:11, has no more powerful side effect than joy. That’s because joy has the effect of causing kindness to flow even to the point of self-sacrifice. But this applies only to Christian joy, to that which is kept alive in the heart by the glorious hope of faith. As Godet sees it, the passage in Romans 5:3-4, shows the intimate bond which unites this joy of hope with the patient endurance which the believer should display in the midst of their trials.20 And what better way to keep the heart beating with the joyful spring of hope than to remain prayerful. The Apostle says keep praying, it is one of a Christian’s more admirable and powerful characteristics.21

Karl Barth explains rejoicing in hope as, ethical behavior. The great hope which God sets before believers urges them to stay on the highway of holiness, not to get detoured onto the side-streets of this world. But is there anyone who does not want hope? And what is it that makes our hope an ethical action? Without a doubt, it is our rejoicing because our rejoicing means that hope is present. Too many want to everything now in this present world, they don’t want to wait for what has been promised in the world-to-come. This is the opposite of hope. To rejoice in hope means to know God in hope without seeing Him, and to be satisfied that it is so. This is what makes hope an ethical decision. For to hope in God turns hope into a joyful act which cannot be bought.22

Verse 12b: Be patient when you have troubles.

Not only should those who give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry keep an open and positive outlook, but they must always be prepared for opposition and persecution. The Greek verb hypomenō that Paul uses here can be understood to denote remaining steadfast where you are. It can also mean to bravely and calmly persevere under adverse circumstances and do not retreat or flee because of ill-treatment. As we can see from the context, it would be this second meaning that Paul had in mind.

This call for patience was initiated by King David when he wrote: “Remain calm before the Lord and be willing to wait for Him [to act]. Don’t get upset when all goes well with those who succeed with their sinful ideas.23 And to show that he was willing to follow his own device, David says that when he found himself in what he describes as a deep hole filled is muddy ooze, “I did not give up waiting for the Lord. And He turned toward me and heard my cry.24 To extrapolate from what David says here, we can also project that when believers find themselves in situations that seem to have no “I’m okay, you’re okay” solution, the harder they try to do things on their own without God’s help the worse things become. This has proven true, especially for those in leadership positions. They just don’t want to besmirch their reputations or lessen the brightness of their halo.

1 Colossians 1:23

2 Ibid. 1:27

3 2 Thessalonians 2:16

4 1 Timothy 1:1

5 Titus 1:1-2a

6 See Romans 5:2

7 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21

9 Augustine: Letter 55

10 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 175-176

12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 See Romans 8:15

14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 343

15 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 244

16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 565

17 Romans 8:18

18 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

19 Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon (No. 1480) Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 22, 1879

20 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3

21 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

22 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

23 Psalm 37:7

24 Ibid. 40:1

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POINTS TO PONDER

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Well-known Indian independence movement leader against British rule, Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) was quoted as one saying, “There is more to life than just increasing its speed.” In other words, getting things done in a hurry without first determining their priority is not what life is all about.

Cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman coined the term “hurry sickness,” for excessive time-urgency, which means being tied to the clock and trying to do too many things at once. By doing things too fast or doing too much at one time, we reduce our effectiveness. If possible, we must recognize that working too fast can result in errors and lower quality work. Remember the old adage: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” It’s usually true.

Motivational speaker John Maxwell says that there is no such thing as time management. The term is an oxymoron. Time cannot be managed. It cannot be controlled in any way. No scientist — no matter how smart — is capable of creating new minutes or slow down the clock. So, what can we do? We manage ourselves! Nothing separates successful people from unsuccessful people more than how they use their time. Successful people understand that time is the most precious commodity on earth.

People who suffer from hurry sickness always carry around a bucket list. While they are very conscientious and hard-working, they still struggle with learning the limits of what can be done in a short amount of time. Consequently, they habitually commit to more than they have time for. This seems to come from a fear of missing out on something. Even when people realize they are already behind time, they are reluctant to disconnect and slow down. The business world knows how to capitalize on this by putting merchandise on sale at 12 noon, but the sale ends at 6 PM.

While there is no guaranteed solution or cure for hurry sickness, there are some things that can help soften its impact. One is to set aside specific times for important things in our life that helps brings us calm. Two of those are “sleeping” and “eating.” No matter when you have to go to bed or get up, always manage to get at least 8 hours sleep. Secondly, give yourself enough time to eat without cramming food down your throat. Remember, although you may be in a hurry, your stomach, and digestive system work at their natural speed. Give your stomach too much too fast, and a stomach ache will slow you down.

If you carry a “to–do” list, make sure it is priority based. That way, if you don’t get everything done in the time allotted, at least you got the most important ones out of the way. If you are a Christian, you can add devotion and meditation time to your schedule. Many do this first thing in the morning or the last thing at night. But making it part of your lunch hour is the most effective. You don’t need a shot of 5-hour energy drink when you can take a sip of living-water from the living-water well, God’s Word.

Apparently, King Solomon knew of this “hurry sickness.” Once he wrote that it is not good for a person to take on something they know little about, and if they try to do it in a hurry they are headed for making a big mistake.1 And in another place, Solomon advises that when you start out doing something with a good plan, you’ll most likely get done what you want to get done. But if you are always in a hurry to get something done without a good plan, you’ll end up still wanting it.2 And according to Bible Wisdom Literature, you need to know when it’s the best time to do what you’re planning to do. There are some things that can be done best in the morning, so don’t try to do them late at night. There is a special time for everything.3

This is what was on the Apostle Paul’s mind when he wrote the congregants in the church at Philippi. He told them not to get in a hurry. Always pray before you begin. Thank God for what you already have and then let Him know what you need. It doesn’t mean that it will be given to you instantaneously, but it does mean you’ve invited Him to work along with you to make it happen.4

So, as Mahatma Gandhi said, living is more than being in a hurry to get everything done as soon as possible. Remember, you cannot manage time, but you can manage how you use time. You can’t make up a minute you waste today by adding a minute to tomorrow. And why would you want to swallow a whole grilled steak just to get it in your stomach? It is better the enjoy each bite so you can savor its flavor. It’s the same with life. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Proverbs 19:2

2 Ibid. 21:5

3 Ecclesiastes 3:1

4 Philippians 4:6

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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NO FORMAL WEAR REQUIRED

Since there was no name attached to this story, I cannot be sure if it really happened or it was written by someone who hoped it would happen. In either case, I wanted to share it just in case there may be someone out there who would like to try it.

Some young people were going around the city passing out invitations to all the homeless people they came across. It was an invitation to a special banquet to be held at a local church in their annex where such functions took place. One man who received an invitation decided to go. But he looked at the invitation once more time and these words caught his eye, “Come as you are. No formal wear required.”

When he arrived at the church, he shook my head in disbelief. This couldn’t be the right place. Instead of it being a small church building, it was a beautiful structure and a place that only well-off people would go. He thought to himself, I couldn’t possibly be welcome here. He saw a sign near a door that said, “Special Banquet! Come on in!”

As he stepped gingerly through the door he saw a room full of people whose faces seemed to glow with joy. All were neatly dressed and were serving people setting at tables that looked much like him. But he was still embarrassed at the way he was dressed. His clothes were tattered and torn and covered with stains. He had not had a bath in months. An unpleasant odor seemed to consume him and he had no way to wash away the grime that clung to his body.

At first, he felt like turning around and leaving before he was asked to go. But a man standing behind a lectern, much like you see a Maîte D at a fancy restaurant, was motioning for him to come forward. So mustering every bit of courage he could find, he walked up to the man standing behind a podium. “Welcome!” the man said cheerfully, “We have been expecting you!” The man didn’t seem to notice this homeless man’s terrible condition, so he continued. “Let me take you to your table.” And with that, he led him over to where another man was sitting.

He handed him a menu and asked if he wanted any water to drink. There was chicken, pork chops, and skirt steak on the menu with a choice of sides such as coleslaw, french fries, corn, etc. After the man came back with the water, he asked the man if he was ready to order. He chose the pork chops with mashed potatoes and baked beans.

After a short while, a nice lady brought him his hot meal, she told him that the dessert menu was on the reverse side. The homeless man turned it over and saw the following fruit listed: “love,” “peace,” “joy,” “blessings,” “confidence,” “assurance,” “hope,” “faithfulness,” and “mercy.” I realized that this was no ordinary dinner at an ordinary church. He quickly looked at the top the see the church name and it read, “God’s House of Grace.”

By this time, the homeless man could no longer control his emotions. A sick, painful ache jerked through his stomach and tears filled his eyes. The lady who brought his meal asked if he was okay. Between sobs he said … “Miss, look at me. I’m dirty and nasty. I’m filthy and don’t really deserve this kind of treatment. I don’t know how you can afford to give such a wonderful meal away and not charge anything. Oh, said the kind lady, It’s all be provided and paid for by a special sponsor of our church. His Name is Jesus, and He did this because He wants to be your friend and sponsor too.

After the meal was over, the homeless man left with a full stomach after eating a dish of hot peach cobbler. He noticed a nicely dressed man at the door. The man told him he could come back any time, even come to the church auditorium next door to attend services. The homeless man looked down at himself and asked, “You mean I can come just as I am?” The Pastor said, “Yes, you can come just as you are.”

Although this is not part of the original story, my imagination led me to envision the following scene. The homeless man does come to church the next Sunday, looking as he always does. He watches as people, who drove up in nice cars, and in very nice clothes are standing with hands raised as they sing praises to God. At this point, the homeless man cannot relate to them and has no reason to sing. But when the Pastor rises he welcomed the man as if welcoming an old friend. Then after preaching on how making God first in your life and turning your situation over the Jesus, it can bring about a dramatic change, he asked the choir to sing that grand old hymn, “Just as I am without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bid’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” I’ll let your imagination take it the rest of the way.

While we all agree that the first part of this illustration about inviting homeless people for a free meal at a church social center is quite logical and practical. But the second part about the menu listing spiritual fruit as a dessert is something that the Holy Spirit would need to be in control of. It may take a lot of explaining to some people who never went to church and know nothing about the Fruit of the Spirit. It serves as a reminder to all of us of what God has for those hungry for more of His grace and goodness. But no one will ever never know how realistic this illustration is until they try it. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXX)

Charles Hodge also has something interesting to say about serving the Lord. For him, our zeal in serving Him means having all our activities influenced by the fact that we are in effect serving Christ. Keeping this in mind should become a strong motive in helping us maintain our interest and enthusiasm for going ahead with our assignments from God. When we read what Paul told the Ephesians about doing their everyday work with the same enthusiasm they had in serving the Lord, it meant that no matter what their ministry or employment, they were being used by Lord for His glory.1 So for us, instead of dividing our time and concentration between what we do for a living and what we do for the Lord, we should see that as servants of God we can consider everything we do as a way of serving our Master.2 That way, we make the most of every opportunity, or as others understand it, “adapt our conduct to our circumstances,” as a way of honoring Him and all He’s done for us. But Hodge sees one more factor. Any zeal which the Apostle Paul recommends for what we do at all times is based on our love for Christ, not for our own advancement or interests.3

Preacher Charles Spurgeon agrees with doing everything to the glory of God as part of our everyday life. Spurgeon’s whole point seems to be that whatever our position in life may be, we are to conduct ourselves in such a way that whether what we do is for the church or for our employer, both are to be done conscientiously and meaningfully. What Spurgeon touches on is seen even in our world today. If when you walked into church a person greeted you enthusiastically with a smile, then during praise and worship you saw them raise their arms toward heaven and appeared thrilled by the preacher’s sermon, but the next day saw them at work with a frown on their face, and words not befitting a Christian coming out of their mouths while telling an off-colored joke, you’d say they are two different people. That’s what Solomon and Spurgeon were trying to say. A Christian is not to be an average employee just because they want to appear humble, they should be an enthusiastic worker! Nor should they pretend to be an expert in everything, but do their best with what they know. It certainly would have been disappointing if the tents that Paul made were the worst on the market in Tarsus,4 and Lydia’s purple cloth was made with the poorest dye on the cheapest material5.6

Frédéric Godet takes what Paul said in verse 10 about being devoted and showing respect to others and connects it what he says here about not being lazy. This was to warn against the tendency of becoming selfish, especially when it might require a certain amount of self-sacrifice. This was to be replaced with getting involved by responding enthusiastically to those Divine impulses of God’s Spirit that are intended to keep the inner fire burning that sets our spirit aflame. Godet agrees that the word “spirit” undoubtedly refers here to the spiritual element in the person themselves that is quickened by the Holy Spirit. Godet says that as we read these words we should envision a believer rushing ahead with their heart on fire, ready to do wherever they have been given to do so that it may be done for the glory of God Himself.7

John Stott makes the point that people who are enthusiastic about their religion are often thought of as “fanatics.” History tells us that this word was applied in a derogatory way to the early Methodists in the eighteenth century, and to Pentecostals in the early twentieth century, often referring to them as “Holy Rollers.” Such name-calling was often based on these enthusiastic saints portraying themselves as perfectionists. Unfortunately, it was because they were quick to criticize those who did not think, dress, act, or worship like them, and were very intolerant with those brothers and sisters who stumbled and fell. But Stott feels that Paul has something totally different in mind when he bids the Romans not to lose their enthusiasm and zeal as long as it is according to their spiritual knowledge.8 In encouraging the Romans to let their spirit glow with the Spirit, the picture is not so much of a glowing lamp as it is of a sparkling star. The additional clause “serving the Lord” may have been Paul’s way of saying that such zeal and glowing spirit must be kept under control. A believer’s practical commitment to do things the Lord’s way is much like a servant enthusiastically serving their master. And since Jesus is our Master, it should keep all of our zeal and enthusiasm rooted in reality.9

After watching a total lunar eclipse on television some time ago, I learned a spiritual lesson. As people looked up at the bright moon shining in the sky, they suddenly saw a shadow begin to creep across the face of the moon. As the shadow edged further and further, less and less of the moon’s glow was visible. Of course, that shadow was caused by the earth coming between the moon and the sun which is what illuminates the moon. Christ is our Sun and it is His light that makes us shine. But when the world comes between Him and us, our glow diminishes until it can no longer be seen. When we put our interests ahead of our zeal for Christ, we too will suffer such a spiritual eclipse.

One Jewish commentator notes that Paul follows “fervent in Spirit,” with “serving the Lord,” as a reminder that it is not outward visible excitement that shows the work of the Spirit, but rather a desire to serve God according to what He has laid out in His Torah.10 The point here is well made. How often have we seen someone who is, what is called, “on fire for the Lord.” whether it’s in their singing, preaching, witnessing or testimony. But when all the dust clears and the pieces are picked up, it is obvious that very little has been done that will last. On the other hand, there are those who draw little attention to themselves and almost seem as though they are not really involved. But when we examine their life and relationships we find that they have on occasions moved mountains with their faith.

Verse 12a: Be glad because of the hope you have.

Now Paul adds a comment that is worth noting. He doesn’t tell the Roman believers to be glad because they are doing such great things or performing a spectacular ministry. But be glad because of the hope that keeps them going. How many mountain climbers would keep going in spite of the harsh winds and freezing cold if they did not have any hope of reaching the top? How many astronauts would have remained calm and resolute while speeding toward the moon if there was no hope of them making it back to earth? So it is with believers who go through highs and lows, ups and downs, times of sorrow and times of rejoicing if they had no hope of one day seeing their Savior face to face?

The Psalmist surely had this hope when he wrote: “I will give honor and thanks to the Lord, Who has told me what to do. Yes, even at night my mind teaches me. I have placed the Lord always in front of me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be moved. And so my heart is glad. My soul is full of joy. My body also will rest without fear. For You will not give me over to the grave. And You will not allow Your Holy One to return to dust. You will show me the way of life. Being with You is to be full of joy. In Your right hand there is happiness forever.11

Solomon offers similar advice: “What the righteous hope for will end in joy; what the wicked expect will come to nothing.12 Then later he wrote: “The sinful man is brought down by his wrong-doing, but the man who is right with God has a safe place to go when he dies.13 Even the beleaguered prophet Jeremiah had this to say: “‘The Lord is all I have,’ says my soul, ‘so I’ve put all my hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to those who keep looking Him to act. It is good that one should be quiet and wait for the saving power of the Lord.14 And the prophet Habakkuk said it so eloquently: “For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in Adonai, I will take joy in the God of my salvation.15

Then when Jesus sat His disciples down and began to teach them about all the blessings that would be theirs if they had the right attitude about completing their mission. He ended it this way: “Be glad and full of joy because your reward will be much in heaven. They made it very hard for the early preachers who lived a long time before you.”16 And later, when He sent out seventy of his loyal followers on their first personal evangelism effort, He told them what to expect, both the good and the bad. But even if they returned with great victories behind them, Jesus told them: “You should not be overjoyed because the demons submitted to you but be happy because your names are recorded in heaven.17

This powerful aspect of hope certainly pervades the writings of the Apostle Paul. He asked the Corinthians if they’d ever heard of a soldier who paid his way to go to war? Or a gardener who planted and cultivated a vineyard who did not taste the fruit of his labor? Or a dairy farmer who feed and took care of his cows who did not drink some of their milk? So Paul concludes by citing the Torah where it says: “When the cow is made to walk on the grain to break it open, do not stop it from eating some.18 He then goes on to say: “Did not God speak about this because of us. For sure, this was written for us. The man who gets the fields ready and the man who gathers in the grain should hope to share some crop.19

When Paul wrote the Ephesians from prison, he told them to work hard for the Lord but without pride. They were to be gentle and kind, not always putting others down. He told them that love would keep them from doing that. He then wrote: “Work hard to live together as one by the help of the Holy Spirit. Then there will be peace. There is one body and one Spirit. There is one hope in which you were called.20 Isn’t it amazing that although there are Christians all around the world from different races, ethnic groups, colors and cultures,.yet one day we will all wind up in the same place because we all have the same hope of being in heaven with our Father, Savior, and Comforter.

1 Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-23

2 Ephesians 5:16

3 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 616

4 Acts of the Apostles 18:1-4

5 Acts of the Apostles 16:11-15

6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

7 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

8 See Romans 10:2

9 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

10 Messianic Bible: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

11 Psalm 16:7-11; Cf. 71:20-23; 73:24-26

12 Proverbs 10:28 – Complete Jewish Bible

13 Proverbs 14:32

14 Lamentations 3:24-26

15 Habakkuk 3:17-18 – Complete Jewish Bible

16 Matthew 5:12

17 Luke 10:20

18 Deuteronomy 25:4

19 1 Corinthians 9:10

20 Ephesians 4:3-4

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXIX)

Early church scholar Pelagius admonishes believers not to become distracted and procrastinate in becoming involved in God’s work because they are more interested in worldly activities. The Lord is not pleased with those who are unresponsive to His Spirit. In fact, at one point He said He was actually nauseated by those who are lukewarm.1 If we are resistant to the world we can then be aglow with the Spirit doing all things, not for the world or its vices, but for the Lord.2 And Bishop Theodoret shares that the Spirit is the word Paul uses here for “grace.” He does the same thing elsewhere when he says: “Do not quench the Spirit.”3 The Spirit is quenched in those who mishandle grace.4 It’s like an unemployed individual who is given a free education and training in some important occupation and then hangs the diploma on the wall but never tries to find work.

Martin Luther states what he thinks by saying that we should look at how love hoards nothing for itself but seeks to share what it has to be of help and a blessing to a neighbor.5 By neighbor, Luther means those around us. How often have you seen someone trying to read a map or talking on their cell phone who slowed their car down to a crawl while the traffic behind them builds up to a long, impatient, line, instead of pulling over to the side to figure things out? Or when you are looking for a parking spot and see a car that was carelessly parked with its wheels straddling the lines instead of between the lines, and, thereby, denying you and others of a valid parking spot? Or a group of two or three who stop in the middle of an aisle, thereby, blocking it, either in church or a grocery store, and pay no attention to those trying to get by? So it is in life, Paul says. Everything we do should be done with a full awareness of how it will involve or affect everyone around us.

Luther goes on to point out that in spite of Paul’s plea, there were some who just yawned and sat back in their seats and went to sleep. As Luther sees it, no matter what they get involved in, they end up ruining it for themselves and others because they lose interest. This is what we read about in Proverbs: “The person who is lazy in doing their work is a relative to the person who always ruins everything.6 Such persons are despised not only by their fellowmen but also by God. For this reason, the Apostle Paul directs himself against this capital sin, that is, against “inactivity,” or our being opposed to getting involved in doing good for others. As far as Luther was concerned, this unholy attitude was so widely spread in his day that almost everyone began to think it wasn’t worth getting involved.

Luther concludes by stating that what he is saying is directed to those in the world who look out for their own greed. But, he also saves the same admonition, with much greater emphasis, for those in the Body of Christ who stubbornly stick to their individual good works instead of doing other things God wants them to do. Therefore, they serve themselves rather than God. They refuse to do God’s will and persist in petty projects they have chosen for themselves. Luther calls them fools! They refuse obedience to God’s Word in order to do things their own way. They have no clue what it means to “serve the Lord,” for that denotes being willing to go wherever the Lord sends us. When that message comes, we must not resist Him His calling, nor stubbornly insist on anything that goes against His will. There are blessings in wholeheartedly doing God’s will that are totally unavailable any other way.7

What Luther says here is so important to believers even today and in the future. There are some who say they feel the call to a certain ministry, but when other opportunities come open they refuse to move on because they are so comfortable where they are. In some cases, ministers and missionaries have been known to stay put in a particular position even when it has started to go downhill and is either no longer needed or efficient or effective. I guess we could call it the “Jonah Syndrome.” Sometimes when they get discouraged and walk off, intending to blame everybody else for their failure, God has to find or create a big fish to swallow them until they come to their senses.

John Calvin has an excellent treatment of this verse pointing out that this precept of working hard with great enthusiasm and energy is given to us not only because a Christian life ought to be an active life, but because it should be managed in such a way that less time is given for ourselves and more time spent on behalf of our brothers and sisters. In other words, don’t get in it because of what you get out of it, rather, because of what you can put into it. Unless we can adapt to this formula we will never really be prepared for further service in the Lord’s vineyard.8 Paul added that our spirit should be aglow with the thought of serving our Lord. Otherwise, we act like a donkey. Our urge to pull or carry our load becomes sluggish until we are motivated with encouragement or discipline. Calvin sees Paul here using the term “spirit” as a reference to the Holy Spirit. However, he does leave the door open for us to see it as the Spirit’s influence on our spirit to correct any reluctance or hesitancy.

This would be in line with what Thayer says in his Greek Lexicon that Paul is referring here to our rational spirit, that by which a human being feels, thinks, wills, and decides – the soul.9 That’s because determination in doing what’s right requires a fiery zeal which only the Spirit of God can kindle in our hearts. Some may ask why there would be a need to inspire in order to cultivate this fervency of spirit? Calvin believes that although people may receive a gift from God, yet it is the duty of leaders and ministers to challenge the faithful to shake off hesitancy and make use of the flame kindled by heaven’s presence.10 Otherwise, our spirit will feel suppressed and even extinguished because we did not take advantage of a call to go higher and further for the Lord.

Calvin goes on to point out that there is another factor that should figure into our decision to motivate ourselves and use the Spirit’s gifts to expand the kingdom of God, and that is, time. The course of our life is short, the opportunity of doing good goes by quickly. That’s why it is so important that we become involved and show more liveliness in the way we perform our duties. So Paul bids us in another place to redeem the time, because the days are growing evil.11 The meaning may also be, that we ought to know how to manage time better, because it is of great importance not to waste time. Calvin feels that Paul is opposed to any idleness or lackadaisical attitude when it comes to our duties as servants of the Most High. Calvin also sees Paul’s use of the term “Lord,” not so much as a reference to serving the Lord directly as it pertains to the duties we perform towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. Included in this would be anything done that may help and encourage the faithful to remain faithful.12

Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards raises a unique thought with his words on this subject. The Jews were hard workers in their religion. There were all the visits to the Temple, sacrifices to be given, the holy days to be observed, plus all the rites, rituals, and ceremonies they participated in. So if anyone could point to good works as a possible reason for merit, it was the Jews. But now, as Christians, they have had that burden lifted from their shoulders. But that doesn’t mean they can now sit around getting fat on God’s blessings day after day. He sees Paul saying here that believers should be earnest, fervent in spirit, and vigorously engaged in their hearts in serving the Lord. This was certainly implied in the opening words of this chapter.13

Robert Haldane offers his advice on how Christians should view their service to the Lord. First, they should constantly consider themselves as wholly and at all times in the service of the Lord. Secondly, remember that His eye is always upon them. So whatever they do, it is done in His presence. Thirdly, it is not only during praise and worship, or involvement in some ministry that we should consider as serving Him, but in all that we say and do. Fourthly, even when involved in one’s employment and engaged in social activities, view it all as being under the authority of the Master. Even in eating and drinking, the Romans were exhorted by the Apostle to act for the glory of God.14 If Christians would keep this in mind at all times, how much would their happiness be increased? Believers must always be aware that any increase in their obedience to their heavenly Master will always be accompanied with an increase of true joy.15

Albert Barnes takes on showing how serving the Lord fits into this equation of not being lazy but on fire while doing God’s will as the Spirit leads. First of all, we must regard ourselves as full-time servants of the Lord. We should always be hardworking and burning with desire to make our Savior proud and show that we are willing to persevere in remaining faithful to God’s will and do all we can to promote His glory. Secondly, our behavior should be in alignment with our goal of serving Him with the right attitude. For instance, be aware that there is always a temptation to get so involved with everyday affairs that we forget our first love for the One who saved us. Also, sometimes we forget what God wants because we are so busy with what those around us want and what we want to bring us joy and happiness in this world. Just look up and remember who gave His all for us, and what would have happened if He would have done what we’re doing? Thirdly, don’t forget that what we do to earn a living wage, to support our families, and to be a light in our community can be regarded as serving God. He has arranged the order of things in this life to promote employment. He has made hard work essential to happiness and success; and hence, to be industrious from proper motives is to be regarded as acceptable service of God. And fourthly, God has required that all such employment and activities should be engaged in with following His will and doing it to His honor.16 17

H. A. Ironside also has a point to make by directing our attention to the first part of the eleventh verse. He offers, what he feels, is a better translation: “Be not remiss (neglectful) in zeal.” It is not to be taken as mere persuasion to follow careful business methods, but whatever one has to do should be done zealously, with spiritual fervor, as serving the Lord.18 Ironside agrees with Barnes in that we should not take what Paul says here as only applying to the ministry or efforts on behalf of the church. It should permeate our daily lives and employment.

1 See Revelation 3:15-16

2 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

3 1 Thessalonians 5:19

4 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 175

6 Proverbs 18:9

7 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 175

8 “Be not slothful in haste,” that is, in a matter requiring haste. “We must strive,” says Theophylact (Archbishop of Ohrid), “to assist with promptness those whose circumstances require immediate help and relief.” — Ed

9 Cf. Mark 2:8; 8:12; Luke 10:21; John 1133; John 13:21; Acts of the Apostles 18:25

10 2 Timothy 1:6

11 Ephesians 5:16

12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

13 David S. Lovi. The Power of God: A Jonathan Edwards Commentary on the Book of Romans (p. 280)

141 Corinthians 10:23-33; Colossians 3:17

15 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 565

16 1 Corinthians 10:31; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:17, 22-24; 1 Peter 4:11

17 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

18 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXVIII)

Professor F. F. Bruce puts a real twist on this by translating what Paul says here this way: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Or, “Count others better than yourselves;”1 also, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.23 Also, when it comes to preferring one another Karl Barth believes that this can serve to remind us of the opportunity which attaches itself to this ethical possibility. Most are familiar with the way the world pays honor to each other. But in a way, removing one’s hat and bowing as they pay compliments to each other is nothing less than honoring themselves. That’s why the honor we pay to one another must be done as part of an ethical act of kindness, it must also be an unconditional, genuine preference, which neither expects nor desires anything in return. This is the only way it can represent the honor which we owe to God. And to make sure that it is ethical, it is done as a form of reverence. No amount of kneeling, closing one’s eyes, folding or raising one’s hands can substitute for the honor one feels inside for their Redeemer. On the other hand, however, we should understand that when we pay honor to our brothers and sisters in Christ we are showing genuine respect for holiness. As far as Barth is concerned, when these virtues are not present, we are only acting like a collection of imbeciles.4

John Stott gives us a clearer picture of how Paul uses these words of affection. He sees Paul bringing together in this verse two words associated with family. As the Lexham English Bible renders it, “Be devoted to one another.” This translates the Greek adjective philostorgos as the natural we have affection for our relatives. Also, the “typically, love of parent for their child.” The other word is the noun philadelphia, “brotherly love,” which denotes the love of brothers and sisters for each other. Both words were applied originally to the blood relationship siblings share through their parents in the human family, but Paul reapplies them to the blood relationship believers share through Christ in the Christian family. It is as tender, warm affection which should unite all the members of the family of God to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.5

John Stott brings up a situation that I also saw growing up in conservative Pentecostal church. While some people were so lovey-dovey at church, at home, and in the workplace they were like wild animals, always clawing at one another. Paul is more or less saying that we should treat each other at home or at work in the same way we treat our brothers and sisters in church. That’s because, when our love at home is anything other than love and affectionate for a brother and sister, what then do we have to offer our Christian brothers and sisters at church that is genuine?

Verse 11: Work hard and don’t be lazy. Let your spirit be aglow knowing that you are serving the Lord!

There is no doubt that Paul knew the teaching of the Rabbis concerning the need for good workers in the vineyard. What he says here is similar to the saying of Rabbi Tarphon who stated: “The day is short, the work is much, the workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.”6 It was Solomon who suggested that lazy people should watch ants work in order to show them how much better these little insects performed than they do.7 In another place, Solomon says: “The lazy person always wants something but never gets enough. But the person who works hard and does their best ends up with more than they need.8

Jesus also viewed lazy workers with disdain. In His parable about the estate owner who left his servants in charge while he went away and then came back to see how they did with the money, he left them. Two of them worked hard and doubled his investment. But one just dug a hole, hid it in the ground, and did nothing to advance his portion of the business. So Jesus said that the estate owner called him in and said: “You are a bad and lazy servant. You knew that I harvested without planting. You knew I took in without giving out. You should have taken my money to the bank. When I came back, I could have had my own money and what the bank paid for using it.”9

And the Apostle Paul, as well, knew there were some ministers who were free-loaders, only looking for what they could get with as little effort as possible. That’s why when he met with the Church of Ephesus council he defended his ministry this way: “I have not wanted for myself anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have provided not only for my own needs but for the needs of my co-workers as well. In everything I have given you an example of how, by working hard like this, you must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Yeshua himself, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’10

Later on, when he wrote the Ephesians he told them that free-loaders should stop looking for handouts.
He must work with his hands so he will have what he needs and can give to those who need help,” he told them.11 When he wrote the Thessalonians Paul told them to live within their means. And when they worked, do the best job they could. By doing this, said Paul, you will be well respected as Christians by those who aren’t. Not only that, but you will not become a burden to others because you work hard to provide for yourself.12

He would write the Thessalonians again and touch on the same subject: “Now this is what we tell you to do, Christian brothers. In the name of the Lord Jesus, keep away from any Christian who is lazy and who does not do what we taught you. You know you should follow the way of life we lived when we were with you. We worked hard while we were there. We did not eat anyone’s food without paying for it. We worked hard night and day so none of you would have to give us anything. We could have asked you to give us food. But we did not so that you might follow our way of living. When we were with you, we told you that if a man does not work, he should not eat. We hear that some are not working. But they are spending their time trying to see what others are doing. Our words to such people are that they should be quiet and go to work. They should eat their own food. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we say this.13

But Paul wanted to add some fuel to the fire so that the believers in Rome would understand how strongly he felt about working hard for the Lord. So he adds that they should be fervent in serving the Lord. The Greek verb zeō that Paul uses here, in the physical world, means: to bring to a boil. As a metaphor, it denotes bubbling over with zeal for what is good. The only other place this word is used in the Last Covenant was when Luke described Apollos after being converted to Christianity. He left his native Alexandria in Egypt and went to Ephesus to preach what he had learned. Luke tells it this way: “This man had been informed about the Way of the Lord, and with great spiritual fervor he spoke and taught accurately the facts about Yeshua.14

Since Paul was acquainted with the teachings of the Rabbis, perhaps he was inspired to repeat what Rabbah bar Nahmani said in the Talmud: “If a young scholar gets overly excited in reading the Word it is because the Torah inflames him, as it is said, ‘Is not my word like a fire? said the Lord.’1516 Serving the Lord with such great energy and zeal does not suggest that a person becomes nearsighted like a person driving their car as though they are the only ones on the highway. Rather, it means that when they see obstacles, hindrances, impediments, deterrents, mountains to climb, valleys to walk through, and rivers to cross they don’t become discouraged and want to turn back. But there is another factor. Paul touches on it in his letter to the Ephesians: “Do not work hard only when others are looking. You would be doing this just to please people. Work as you would work for Christ. Do what God wants you to do with all your heart. Be happy as you work. Do your work as for the Lord, not for people.17

Several early church scholars also point out that service without zeal can certainly not be seen as a gift of the Spirit. As Origen sees it, the expression “aglow with the Spirit18 proves that the Word of God is hot and fiery.19 And Ambrosiaster makes the point that this means that we should not be lukewarm in doing God’s work. God says in the Revelation of John: “Because you are lukewarm, I shall spit you out of my mouth.20 It begins with daily meditation on God’s Word that upsets inactivity and makes people awake and watchful.21 Then Chrysostom calls for eagerness in serving God. It means that expressing love for God is not enough, there must be active love. This is called “zeal” for God and His Word and comes out of putting love into action which warms the soul. In this way, love warms the soul and the soul burns with love. There are many people who have the idea of love in their mind but who can never decide on how to make it work. This is why Paul encourages believers to use every means they can to keep the flame burning in their souls so that their love will be on fire.22

We often see that new converts are often on fire for God from the beginning. They can’t get enough of His Word, going to church, being involved in witnessing to others, and sharing their testimony whenever and wherever they can. But as time passes, they seem to become less intense and their zeal seems to have waned. Does that mean the fire has gone out? No. Think of making a fire in a fireplace. At first, the flames ignite the kindling wood, then began to burn the logs. They become high and strong, sending heat out into the room. But after a while, the flames settle down as the logs glow with burning embers. All it takes is one little stoke and the flames shoot up again. That’s that way it should be with a Christian. They are still aglow for all that is Godly. But sometimes they only need a little poke in order for the flame within their heart and soul to rise again and send out its light and heat into the world.

1 Cf. Philippians 2:3

2 Ephesians 5:21

3 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 227

4 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

6 Pirke Abot, Ch. 2. Sec. 15

7 Proverbs 6:6-9

8 Proverbs 13:4

9 Matthew 25:26-27

10 Acts of the Apostles 20:33-35

11 Ephesians 4:28

12 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

13 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12

14 Acts of the Apostles 18:25

15 Jeremiah 23:29

16 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Ta’anith, Folio 4a

17 Ephesians 6:6-7; Cf. Colossians 3:22-24

18 See Amplified Version, loc. cit.

19 Origen: On First Principles 2.8.3

20 Revelation 3:16

21 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

22 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21

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