I AM NOT ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL

elgreco_paul154x200

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

Dr. Robert R. Seyda

EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS

CHAPTER FOURTEEN (Lesson V)

H. A. Ironside sees this seething controversy not as something involving new converts wanting to join the church in Rome, but those who were already a part of the congregation. So these were not people who rarely attended worship or participated very little in fellowship, these were members already inside and fully engaged in the congregation. Paul said that such individuals just starting out on their Christian journey should not be looked down upon coldly and unappreciated because of their doubtful thoughts but received warmly and cordially with the idea that their easily offended consciences should be carefully considered when suggesting any changes they should make.

Paul advises caution, however, because the one being dealt with might be one who is still under Law as to things clean and unclean or one who has difficulty grasping the importance of certain holy days. In the first case, the believer who is strong in the liberty that is in Christ believes they may, as a Christian, eat all things without raising any questions as to their ceremonial cleanness under the Law of Moses. Then there is the more cautious believer, who is so afraid of defilement that they subsist only on a vegetable diet rather than possibly partaking of what has been offered to idols and not considered as “kosher1 according to Levitical Law. The one who is “strong” must not look with contempt upon their over-scrupulous fellow believer. On the other hand, the weak are forbidden to accuse the stronger of insincerity or inconsistency.2

Karl Barth has an interesting way of treating this subject on being tolerant with one another’s preferences. He says that those who have a carefree and unattached manner of living only reflect one of many variations of lifestyles that people choose for themselves. But at the same time, it is one of the most subtle because it lacks specific characteristics. That’s why many people shake their heads at such happy-go-lucky individuals and go on with their own lives. That makes it hard to point to any particular thing they do but point to the person in particular. In other words, when something is done that some object to it’s not the action that gets the attention but the person themselves. You’ll overhear it explained this way, “Oh that’s just the way he or she is.”

What Paul is pointing out here is how this all fits into a harmonious fellowship. Certainly, any action that might offend a few would clearly question the value of having such an individual in the group. They may be peculiar, but does their peculiarity help anything? Everyone must be aware that there are many possibilities on how to handle things such as what ethics and virtues are required. The strong believers in the group are not those who always have their way, but the ones who are willing to abstain if they know it helps someone whose faith is just beginning to blossom.3

Douglas Moo gives us his impression of what Paul was dealing with here. He sees Paul trying to get both groups to change their attitude toward the other. The mature believers should stop “looking down on” the immature. The English translation can be stronger than what the KJV supplies because the Greek verb exoutheneo has in this context the nuance of “reject with contempt.”4 But the weak are also at fault. They must stop “criticizing”(Greek krino) the strong believers. Krino means to pronounce doom on a person, to deny someone’s right to call themselves a sanctified Christian. Paul will later argue that only God has the right to make such a determination. But here he points to a more specific issue: God has accepted the strong and weak believers alike. So how can we reject anyone from our fellowship whom God has accepted? This constitutes Paul’s theological bottom line in his critique of judgmentalism in the church.5

One Jewish writer shares his thoughts on Abraham’s faith related to this subject. As he sees it, Abraham was counted as being right with God, not due to his efforts of faith but due to his decision to trust in God despite the circumstances. This theme is continued in verses 19 and 20 in this chapter to show that his faith was not “weak.” That’s why Paul points to Abraham to teach us that there is one “work” that we can and must do in order to achieve salvation. We must choose to “trust God” as Abraham did. All else was out of his hands as it is ours. This is consistent with what the Talmud teaches.6 In the words of Rabbi Hanna, everything is in the hands of God except reverence for God.7 This means that all a person’s qualities are fixed by nature but their moral character depends on their own choices.8

Verse 4: You cannot judge the servants of someone else. Their own master decides if they are doing right or wrong. And the Lord’s servants will be right because the Lord is able to make them right.

As we can see from this verse, Paul speaks of “belief” as something a person hears or is taught or preached to them. But it goes beyond their conviction that what they heard is true; that what the preacher is saying is real. Instructing a new believer should concentrate on their relationship with God and other spiritual matters, not just on their fellow Christians and man-made rules of the church. It is one thing to instruct and build up a new believer in the Lord and quite another thing to go over the line with personal preferences. In an effort to counsel them, we may end up overriding their level of understanding and replace it with our personal convictions based on custom or tradition. This has been especially true when older Christians attempt to emphasize practical theology rather than systematic theology. Both are needed, but teaching a person how to decorate and furnish a house before they are taught how to lay the foundation and build is a waste of valuable time and very confusing. Remember, when one plants a new tree, they may not know what the tree will look like later. But, let it grow and sink its roots deeper and its fruit will soon identify it for what it is. Then it can be pruned and watered to make it grow stronger.

Now Paul elevates his argument to another level. Not only are we admonished not to judge one another on things that really have nothing to do with salvation but are designed to define Christian conduct, but Paul says we have no right to tell the master of another house how to treat their servants. This is especially true of how God treats His children. Peter learned this at Cornelius’ house.9 No doubt that testimony of Peter made a great impression on Paul. In fact, he told the Corinthians that they should think of one another as servants who are owned by Christ.10 Today we could liken this to one pastor telling another pastor how to treat his or her congregation.

The Apostle James seems to have encountered a similar attitude, so he wrote: Christian brothers, do not talk against anyone or speak bad things about each other. If a person says bad things about his brother, he is speaking against him. And he will be speaking against God’s Law. If you say the Law is wrong, and do not obey it, you are saying you are better than the Law.” Of course, James was not talking about those things the Scriptures clearly identify as sin and an abomination to God’s sense of holiness. But those that are man-made rules imposed by a congregation. That’ why he continued: “Only God can say what is right or wrong. He made the Law. He can save or put to death. How can we say if our brother is right or wrong?11

But Paul has another thing he wants to emphasize. That is, while we may desire, and even need, the advice, help, and encouragement of our fellow believers, it is God’s approval that matters most. In his prayer to God, David had this to say: “My steps have followed Your paths. My feet have not turned from them.12 That path not only includes the path of righteous living described in Psalm 1 but where that path leads according to God’s destiny for the believer’s life. In another Psalm, David proclaimed that the Lord upholds those who do what’s right,13 and if they stumble He won’t let them fall but will grab them by the hand.14 That’s because: “The Lord loves what is fair and right. He will not abandon the people who belong to Him. He will treasure them forever.15 That allowed Isaiah to tell the children of Israel: “He gives strength to the weak. And He gives power to him who has little strength.16

Jesus confirmed this commitment of God to His chosen, especially those who faithfully serve Him: “My Father Who gave them to Me is greater than all. No one is able to take them out of My Father’s hand.17 It doesn’t mean that God will hold onto someone who is kicking and screaming, “Let me go!” But it does mean that as long as we hold on to Him He will never let go of us. Paul made this abundantly clear to the Roman believers earlier in this letter.18 Peter shared the same thought with his readers: “You are being kept by the power of God because you put your trust in Him.19 And Jude ended his letter with the same promise: “There is One Who can keep you from falling and can bring you before Himself free from all sin. He can give you great joy as you stand before Him in His shining-greatness.20

Early church scholar Augustine notes that Paul asked: “Who are we to pass judgment on others?” Augustine tells us that Paul had a reason for asking this question. He says that when something might be done with either good or bad motives we should leave the judgment up to God and not presume that we can rightly judge the other person’s heart. But when it comes to things which could not have been done with good and innocent intentions, it is not wrong if we inform the wrongdoer that this is not in accordance with God’s Word. So when it comes to what foods to eat, that’s another story, Paul does not want anyone but God to be the judge. But in the case where Paul sharply rebukes the son who is having intimate relations with his stepmother, Paul is teaching us to speak up if we see that it is wrong.21 For that man could not possibly claim that he committed such a gross act of indecency with good intentions. So we must share our opinion on things which are obviously wrong.22

1 In Hebrew, “Kashrus,” from the root kosher (or “Kasher”), means suitable and/or “pure,” thus ensuring fitness for consumption. The laws of “Kashrus” include a comprehensive legislation concerning permitted and forbidden foods.

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

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

4 See Acts of the Apostles 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:20

5 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,

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

7 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berachoth, folio 33b

8 Babylonian Talmud: ibid, footnote (25)

9 Acts of the Apostles 11:16-17

10 1 Corinthians 4:1

11 James 4:11-12

12 Psalm 17:5

13 Ibid. 37:17

14 Ibid. 37:24

15 Ibid. 37:28; See Psalm 119:116-117

16 Isaiah 40:29

17 John 10:29

18 Romans 8:31-39

19 1 Peter 1:5a

20 Jude 1:24 – New Life Version

21 I Corinthians 5L1

22 Augustine: On Romans 79

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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 FOURTEEN (Lesson IV)

Paul found himself being judged about his own diet. He once told the Corinthians: “If I can give thanks to God for my food, why should anyone say that I am wrong about eating food I can give thanks for? So if you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything to honor God.1 Another way of putting this would be: If you can’t in good conscious pray over what you are about to eat or drink then push them away. Especially, if it might offend a fellow believer. That’s why Paul wrote the Colossians: “Don’t let anyone pass judgment on you in connection with eating and drinking, or in regard to a Jewish festival or Rosh-Chodesh2 or Shabbat.3 These are a shadow of things that are coming, but the body is of the Messiah.4 There are some fundamental, evangelical, and Pentecostal churches today who use grape juice instead of communion wine because they are opposed to drinking alcohol. Believe it or not, communion wine has only 6–12% alcohol while some cough syrups contain 20% alcohol. Besides, without some alcohol, it is not considered wine. This is not to promote one or the other, but to point out that such things have been the bone of contention between Christian groups because one thinks their way of doing it is more scriptural than the others.

As Origen points out, since the Law given to Moses says nothing about keeping a vegetarian diet, this must have been an issue among the Gentiles. Since there was meat sold in the marketplace that could also be offered to idols, some Gentile Christians must have decided to stick strictly to vegetables. But others saw that it was not the meat that was offensive but the one who bought it felt offended. Meat is meat, so why not buy the same meat to use for God’s honor and glory.5

Pelagius comes up with a practical solution: If you become fainthearted because you see another person who decided to eat only vegetables and it makes you hesitant to eat meat because of their faith, don’t pass judgment on their decision since it is a matter of individual discretion. If you are the one who takes offense at eating meat, then that’s where you draw the line for yourself. Go ahead and eat only vegetables. Who knows, others may see the wisdom in your choice make the same decision for themselves. The whole point is to make abstinence your personal matter rather than criticize others who do eat meat and they become annoyed and offended and, thereby, are merely strengthened in their resolve to go on eating meat just to spite you. You should not condemn someone if they are acting to protect their health, especially in their old age.6

Chrysostom picks up the same theme and comments that Paul does not say that the one who eats based on their convictions should simply ignore the one who abstains because of their convictions, nor does he suggest that the abstainer should not be asked why so that they can become better informed. All Paul is saying is that more-informed believers should not look down on those who are still learning, or be contemptuous of them because it’s taking so long for them to absorb what is being taught. Likewise, those who abstain are not to pass judgment on those who eat. Finger pointing can go both ways. If the more-informed believers confront the less-informed and mock them as being weak, claiming that they have no faith, that they are not really saved, or that they are acting like the Judaizers, then the abstainers have the right to point back at the more mature believers and call them lawbreakers and gluttons. Since these were probably mostly Gentiles, Paul reminds them that God has welcomed them all.7

Martin Luther warns that when one believer starts judging another they are showing disrespect for one of God’s children. That’s why Paul urges them to consider each other in humility and have patience with one another so that things can be worked out amicably.8 Luther believes that with these important words Paul closed the mouths of those who were engrossed in such action. To be such a critic is like an archer shooting arrows at a wounded animal that has no way of escape.

John Calvin sees it from another angle. For him, Paul is addressing the faults of both parties wisely and suitably. They who claimed to be stronger in the faith were making this error: They despised those who were still deciding as superstitious; were over conscientious about insignificant things, and then belittled them as being childish. On the other hand, there were those who were prone to make rash judgments and ended up condemning what they knew little about, or what they perceived to be contrary to their own opinion as being ungodly. That’s why Paul strongly urges liberated believers to refrain from being contemptuous, and the more fundamentalist believers to avoid excessive moodiness and backbiting. Furthermore, what Paul sees as belonging to both groups ought to be applied to these two clauses: When one believer sees another doing something that they object to, don’t immediately judge them until more is known. Also, keep in mind that whether you agree with them or not God has accepted them as His children.9

Adam Clarke gives us his thoughts on what Paul is advising here. It was obvious that certain Jews, lately converted to the Christian faith, were not yet fully informed of the Gospel and its doctrines. They still felt allegiance to the Mosaic Law as still being relevant to eating clean and unclean foods. Therefore, when a converted Jew was in Gentile territory they should decline eating meat entirely and live on vegetables to avoid being defiled. That’s why a converted Gentile should not detest their Jewish brother in the Lord who eats no such meat but only vegetables. At the same time, let the Jewish brother that has a much stricter diet not be so quick in judging Gentiles and calling them unsanctified. For God calls both of them His children – both being sincere and upright and acting in reverence to God. As such, they are heirs to eternal life without any bias on account of these religious ethics or prejudices.10

Robert Haldane follows a similar line of thinking. For him, Paul is not making a blanket accusation of misconduct to every believer in Rome, he is identifying each peculiar attitude and action to which those having the debate are responsible for. Having pride in what you know often leads to holding those less informed in contempt. At the same time, feeling weak because of what one doesn’t know can lead to condemning those who, from more enlightened views of Divine truths, are not unsure of their practices and ethics. Apparently, those in Rome who could eat anything without exception were considered strong because they had solid views on the items in question. However, they were prone to show little respect for their fellow believers because of their misunderstanding. At the same time, those who thought it unconscionable to eat certain foods were considered weak because they had indefensible positions on the subject. They, therefore, were tempted to judge the motives of their more liberal brethren with prejudice. Paul is not hesitant in forbidding them to do this to each other.

Haldane says we must observe that it is their fellow Christians they are forbidden to condemn and not the things they were doing. There was no reason why they could not express their disappointment in what they saw as being bad ethics because they considered it against the Law of Moses. But they were not permitted to condemn those who did these things as though they did so with improper motives. For instance, things involving their desire to satisfy their appetite with foods thought to be stained with their connection to idolatry. It also pointed to their unwillingness to practice self-denial, or from a wish to conform to the world to be more acceptable to their unbelieving neighbors. Christians who are not mature often cause discord by ascribing a certain conduct to their brethren with false motives. The weak, then, are as liable to judge improperly as the strong are to despise them. They ought both to take heed of the Apostle Paul’s admonitions that he outlines in these verses.11

Charles Hodge deals with the consequences of such judging and criticism among the believers over what should or should not be eaten. There must be a mutual understanding among believers as to this subject of abstaining or not abstaining from consuming certain foods or drinks. Those who have no problems with these things should not look down on those who have reservations about them, calling them superstitious or lacking in sophistication. At the same time, those who question whether or not a believer should eat or drink certain items should not criticize and condemn those who feel free to eat or drink these items.

Hodge goes on to say that such points of disagreement should not be allowed to disturb the harmony of Christian fellowship. God has recognized each as Christians and received each into His kingdom. Paul’s reasoning here is not designed to enforce one duty for tolerance over the other. Instead, that both duties must be mutually respected. As God does not make eating or not eating certain kinds of food a condition of acceptance,12 Christians ought not to allow it to interfere with their communion as brothers and sisters. The Jewish converts were perhaps quick to condemn the Gentile Christians because they felt despised as Christian Jews; Paul, therefore, frames his admonition so as to target both groups.13

In one of his sermons, Charles Spurgeon makes all of what we’ve read relevant to Christians by asking why is it that so many believers seem to think that they are masters and have a right to judge the Lord’s other children as servants? Spurgeon said he knew some Christians who not only pronounced judgments, and very severe judgments at that, on all those around them based on a few facts that may have come to their attention. But worse than that, without any facts whatsoever, they make up their minds about people they’ve never met or even know and start speaking against them with stubborn prejudice!

Spurgeon also accuses some of twisting words that people may or may not have said to mean something that these individuals never intended them to mean. Not only that but when they found out how wrong there were, they didn’t even bother to apologize for misinterpreting the words. It’s like they just sit around waiting for an opportunity to criticize other believers, especially those whose ministries are successful. They seem to find ways to feel slighted or insulted and then follow that with unwarranted disapproval. They need only imagine that they were unfairly treated and then no matter what you may do to show them there were no such intentions they will still think that everything being done is done out of spite. Not only that, but they will now suspect everyone else as being against them.14

1 1 Corinthians 10:30-31

2 In Hebrew, Rosh Chodesh means, literally, “head of the month” or “first of the month.” Rosh Chodesh is the first day of any new month.

3 Shabbat is the name of the Jewish Sabbath which falls on the last day of the week – Saturday.

4 Colossians 2:16-17

5 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc, cit., Bray, G. (Ed.), p. 326.

6 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Bray, G. (Ed), p. 326

7 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 25

8 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 198

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

10 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 267-268

11 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 595

12 Acts of the Apostles 10:14-15

13 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 649

14 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon – “The Judgment Seat of God,” Text: Romans 14:10-12

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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 FOURTEEN (Lesson III)

Bible teacher H. A. Ironside offers his view on what Paul says here by pointing out that those unsure in their faith, that is, those whose uninformed consciences cause them to be troubled by things of little significance, are to be welcomed with open arms and not to be judged for their questionings or doubting thoughts. The principle is a far-reaching one and indicates the breadth of Christian love that should prevail over the spirit of legality into which it is so easy to fall. Seeing the full light on all issues is not the ground of being accepted as a believer in Christ. Having the life we all enjoy in Christ is the first requirement. All those who are children of God are to be recognized as fellow-members of the Body and, unless living in evident immorality are to be accorded their blood-bought place among all Christian believers. Wickedness and weakness are not to be misconstrued as being the same. The wicked person is to be dismissed, while the weak believer is to be welcomed and protected.1

F. F. Bruce gives us insight into Paul’s mind on this subject by noting that Paul enjoyed his Christian liberty to the fullest. Never was a Christian more thoroughly emancipated than he was from being chained to old Jewish traditions, rituals, and ceremonies. So completely was he liberated from spiritual bondage that he was not addicted to it anymore. He respected Jewish customs when he was in Jewish gatherings as cheerfully as he went along with Gentile mannerisms when he was among Gentiles. The interests of the Gospel and the highest well-being of men and women were paramount considerations with Paul. To these, he subordinated everything else. But he knew very well that many other Christians were not so completely independent as he was, and he insisted that these must be treated gently. A Christian’s faith in many respects might be weak, immature, and lacking in instruction but we must welcome them warmly as fellow Christians and not immediately challenge them to a debate about those areas of life in which they are still battling their conscience.2

John Stott sees Paul advocating a two-part positive principle. The first part is to accept those whose faith is weak (Verse 1a). We note that there is no attempt to conceal or disguise that these brothers and sisters were considered weak in their faith. They were easily convicted, immature, untaught, and as Paul’s unfolding argument makes clear, mostly mistaken. Nevertheless, they are not to be ignored or treated with disrespect. When this is done too early, they may not seek to be corrected. So they should be welcomed into the community of believers with open arms.

Having reflected on the acceptance part of this principle, Stott suggests we now take a look at the second part of the principle. This involves their qualifications as fellow believers without passing judgment on disputable matters (Verse 1b). Both Greek nouns used by Paul have a range of meanings. Dialogismoi (translated by KJV as “doubtful”) can mean “deliberating within oneself as to one’s purpose or design and questioning what is true, hesitating, doubting, disputing, arguing.” Then we have Diakrisis (translated by KJV as “disputations”), which can mean “passing judgment, discerning, or distinguishing.” Thayer in his Greek Lexicon defines it as “passing judgment on opinions to determine which is to be preferred as correct.

Paul is saying that we should not be judgmental when receiving an immature Christian into the fellowship of believers, nor should we question such insecurities as evidence that they are not real believers. They should be welcomed “without debate over their misgivings or scruples” (Revised English Bible), or, “not for the purpose of getting into quarrels about opinions” (Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker Greek Lexicon). For Stott, this means that we are not to turn the church into a debate club whose chief characteristic is argumentation nor should the church become a court of law in which weak persons are put on the witness stand, interrogated, and arraigned. The welcome we give them must include respect for them as fellow Christians and their opinions.3

Current Bible commentator Douglas Moo feels that if we are to understand the point of this section as a whole, we must recognize that the phrase “whose faith is weak,” (which literally means, “one who is weak with respect to faith”) does have a special subtlety in meaning as Paul uses it in this context. “Faith” refers not directly to one’s belief generally but to one’s convictions about what that faith allows him or her to do. The weak in faith are not necessarily lesser Christians than the strong. They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do. Paul does not want the strong to begrudgingly offer tolerance to the weak but to welcome them (the Greek verb proslambano, used here, means to gladly receive or accept someone into one’s society, home, or circle of acquaintance). Believers should not allow differences over disputable matters to interfere with their full fellowship in the Body of Christ.4

One Jewish writer believes that the term “weak” must be understood in its Hebraic sense, where it carries the meaning of “unable” or “incapable,” with regard to their measure of faith. The Complete Jewish Bible renders it, “whose trust is weak.” The Hebrew verb kashal in Jewish Biblical literature has to do with “stumbling.”5 Paul actually introduced this concept back in chapter 4 of this letter, when he explained how Abraham’s faith was considered “strong” when he trusted in God’s promise even when circumstances dictated otherwise. This principle is important to understand when considering why Paul views his Jewish brethren who do not yet accept Yeshua to be “weak” in faith. Their faith is valid (as was Abraham’s prior to the binding of Isaac), but is weak in that they have not yet taken the step in trusting God by accepting Yeshua which is the “measure of faith.”6 This “measure of faith,” has nothing to do with the 613 commandments found in the Torah, since (as Paul teaches in chapter 4), Abraham had faith before the giving of the Torah and circumcision. The “strong” in faith are both Jews and Gentiles who are of the faith of Abraham, whose “strength” was shown long before the Law was given at Mount Sinai.7

Verses 2-3: Some people believe they can eat any kind of food, but those who have doubts eat only vegetables. Those who know they can eat any kind of food must not feel that they are better than those who eat only vegetables. And those who eat only vegetables must not decide that those who eat all foods are wrong. God has accepted them.

Now Paul more or less revisits what happened between him and the Apostle Peter at the church in Antioch where Paul accused Peter of being hypocritical for eating only with the Jewish members.8 Meanwhile, in Rome, it apparently had to do with meat purchased at the local market that was the same meat offered to idols. Paul had given advice on this to the Corinthians: “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for the earth and everything in it belongs to the Lord.”9 “If some unbeliever invites you to a meal, and you want to go, eat whatever is put in front of you without raising questions of conscience.”10 In fact, Paul told Timothy that everything God made (not what man-made) that is good for us to enjoy it.11 And in the Book of Hebrews, we find this advice: “Do not be carried away by various strange teachings; for what is good is for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods. People who have made these the focus of their lives have not benefited thereby.12

But Paul’s point here is not an apology for vegetarians nor an endorsement for eating meat. He is talking about people developing a superiority complex by which they think so highly of the things they do that they speak disparagingly of those who disagree. Jesus gave a perfect description of such an attitude in his story of the prayer offered by a pious Pharisee compared to a prayer offered by a distraught tax collector.13 The story pointed out that there are some who trust in their own righteousness so much that they look down on everyone else, even holding them in contempt. Paul told the Corinthians: “Food will not bring us nearer to God. We are no worse if we do not eat it, or we are no better if we eat it.14 Perhaps you have heard some Christians say derogatory things about those who do not fast as many days as they do, or pray as long each day as they pray.

I’m sure Paul was fully aware of the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras and his argument for a vegetarian diet. We read that Greek teacher Pythagoras was born on the island of Samos in 580 BC and studied in what are now the countries of Greece, Egypt, and Iraq before establishing his school in southern Italy at the city of Crotone. While Pythagoras is famous for his contributions to math, music, science, and philosophy, it is his philosophy that is of particular interest. He taught that all animals, not just humans, had souls, which were immortal and reincarnated after death. Since a human might become an animal at death, and an animal might become a human, Pythagoras believed that killing and eating any animal tarnished the soul and prevented union with a higher form of reality. Additionally, he felt that eating meat was unhealthy and made humans wage war against one another. For these reasons, he abstained from meat and encouraged others to do likewise, perhaps making him one of the earliest campaigners for ethical vegetarianism.15 Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, plus Seneca and Plutarch (who both lived during the time of the Apostle Paul), were all influenced by this teaching of vegetarianism. So this was not a new subject to the Christians in Rome.

Paul also had the teaching of Jesus to point to on the subject of one believer using his own interpretation of the moral code to become the judge of another believer. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told His listeners: “Don’t complain about what’s wrong in other people’s lives so other people won’t complain about what’s wrong in your life. You’ll end up being guilty of the same things you find in others because what you pointed out being wrong in their lives will be used against you in your life.16 Jesus saw this first hand when some disciples of John the Baptizer complained that while they and the Jewish religious leaders fasted so their prayers could be more effective, Jesus’ disciples never fasted in order to improve their prayer life.17 Of course, Jesus compared their thinking to asking people to fast during a wedding banquet instead of enjoying a meal with the bride and groom.

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

2 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 244

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

4 Douglas J. Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

5 See Proverbs 4:12, 16, 19

6 Romans 12:3

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

8 See Galatians 2:11-21

9 Psalm 24:1; 50:12; 89:11

10 1 Corinthians 10:25-26

11 1 Timothy 4:4-5

12 Hebrews 13:9

13 Luke 18:9:14

14 1 Corinthians 8:8

15 Pythagoras: Encyclopedia Britannica

16 Matthew 7:1-2

17 Matthew 9:14

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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 FOURTEEN (Lesson II)

Luther looked around at the conditions of the church during his day and advised that everyone should carefully examine their intentions when they pray, or give an offering, or enter the choir loft, or what else they may do to discover whether they do all this of their own free will and not because they were told this is something they must do to prove themselves a true Christian. Then God will help them see themselves as He sees them. Everyone must live with their own conscience for the choices they make. They should not be pressured to do or not to do something different than they would do if it were left up to them alone to choose.1

Fellow reformer John Calvin sees Paul as laying down a principle that is necessary for the instruction of the Church – that they who have made the most progress in Christian doctrine should take the time to truly understand those who are less informed and employ their spiritual wisdom to help them deal with their misgivings. It is clear that among the people of God there are some less confident than others, and who, unless they are treated with great tenderness and kindness, will become discouraged and might feel alienated from their faith. It is highly probable that this was happening in Rome and elsewhere, especially at that time where many Churches were integrated with both Jews and Gentiles.

It would make sense then, that the Jews, who having been long accustomed to practicing the rites and rituals of the Law of Moses, having been brought up in them from childhood were not easily persuaded to give them up. At the same time, there were the Gentiles, who, having never practiced such things refused to be yoked together with the Jews in observing customs they were not familiar with. Calvin then goes on to note that Paul is uncomfortable with the Romans debating those questions which can disturb a person’s mind, especially those issues that have not yet been determined to be something that raises more questions about one’s faith. Furthermore, why bring up any difficult and challenging subjects by which those with weak consciences might become uncomfortable and distraught. First, we ought to consider what questions new Christians are seeking answers to and structure our teaching to the capacity of each individual to understand what is being taught.2

John Bengel makes an important point here about being careful when trying to persuade another believer to do what we are doing just because it’s okay with us. Anyone who tries to convince another person to go against their conscience will only cause them to have more doubts about their faith and their understanding of the Gospel. Paul calls it, “doubtful thinking,” for those who may be imagining more than they can understand or explain.3

Adam Clarke looks at the two Greek nouns combined here by Paul. One is translated by the KJV as, “doubtful” (Greek “dialogismos” – which means: “inward reasoning”), and the other, “disputations” (Greek “diakrisis– which means: “passing judgment on opinions”). Clarke points out that these words have been variously translated and understood by various Bible scholars. So it is important that we do our research carefully before using them to teach new believers what the Bible says about the path they should follow in meeting the expectations of others.

Dr. Daniel Whitby believes we can understand how Paul uses these Greek nouns when we take them to mean overriding another person’s convictions with our own. We should never reject or dismiss anyone from our Christian circle because of their particular opinions on things which, in reality, are unimportant. There’s no reason to dig into their religious ethics, nor condemn them on what is found. Be courteous to fellow believers who are dealing with personal issues related to their faith rather than lecturing them and forcing them to change. It is alright to request more information on what they are dealing with, but only for better understanding. Never should it be made a matter of church doctrine.4

Robert Haldane addresses this subject of the unnecessary debating of insignificant matters. As always, there are many different interpretations of Paul’s words, but from Haldane’s point of view the meaning seems to be that when a believer encounters a brother or sister who is still uncertain about things they are doing they should not be pressured into accepting someone else’s view after engaging them in discussions on issues for which they have little knowledge. Such conduct would either end up causing a wound to their conscience or keep them from seeing the light on their own. Such disputes seldom bring about unanimity. It is very important that believers who have inadequate or uninformed views of any part of the Gospel be given the opportunity to study or read more in order to get a clearer picture of what the Bible teaches.

A good way to get this started is to avoid engaging them debates or arguments in areas of theology where they’ve had little instruction. To push them forward faster than they can absorb directions from the Word and Spirit of God will only cause them to stumble and injure their faith rather than making them strong. When it is necessary to explain to a less informed brother or sister involving things they may misunderstand as to what the Bible says, it is best to begin by building a foundation with the most fundamental truths they already accept. This will at least give them solid ground to stand on as they try to gain better understanding of higher discernment. This is called edification in that we are trying to build them up rather than tear them down. The whole purpose of this is to help them grow stronger in their faith and more mature in their comprehension of greater Biblical truths. When done this way we can count on the internal spiritual influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit to help both the one teaching and the one being taught.5

Charles Hodge offers his scholarly view by noting who these struggling believers in Rome were, and what was the nature of their ethical virtues being brought into doubt. Some say they were Jewish converts who were still holding on to their continued obligation to Ceremonial Law. But to this, it is questionable since it is reported that they abstained from all meats (verse 2,) and refused to drink wine (verse 21). These were things not prohibited in the Law of Moses. Others think they were persons who had misgivings about the use of foods which had been offered in sacrifice to idols and of the wine employed in making a toast to false gods. But for this, there is no clear evidence in the text. However, it is plain that these individuals held onto parts of Jewish Ceremonial Law which converts from among the Gentiles were not be likely to understand. But there is nothing inconsistent with the assumption that the fainthearted believers spoken of here were the highly scrupulous Jewish Christians.

Hodge tells us that Jewish historian Josephus records that some of the Jews in Rome lived exclusively on fruit out of fear of eating something unclean due to the way it was used by Gentiles. When Paul talks of people being weak in faith, he is referring to their uncertainty about understanding the truth of the Gospel. A person may be strongly persuaded as to certain truths, and yet very uncertain about other truths. Some of the early Christians were, no doubt, fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and yet felt great doubts whether the distinction between clean and unclean meats was entirely done away with. This was certainly a great stumblingblock for some Christian because it arose from the want of an intelligent and firm conviction of their new freedom to be what they wanted to be in Christ and of the spiritual meaning of the Gospel. Since, however, this weakness was not inconsistent with sincere devotion to Christ, such persons were to be accepted as fellow believers6.7

Albert Barnes has his take on what Paul meant by doubtful debates. For him, the plain meaning is that believers should not open the door to people for the purpose of debating a matter in an angry and harsh manner. At the same time, don’t just send them away without them having a chance to explain their point of view. This will only confirm the doubts they already have. Furthermore, don’t try to persuade them to change their views on how they feel about certain foods, drinks, religious holidays, certain rites, rituals, ceremonies, etc.

The main point Paul is trying to make here is that they should not participate in any harsh and angry denunciation of other believers over things that are not scripturally wrong but are a matter of conscience based on what they have been taught or the customs and manners of their race or ethnic group. Rather than leading to more understanding, it will only generate more misunderstanding. To welcome them affectionately does not mean you automatically agree with them. But it does show that you are willing to talk freely and openly with them and to help them see other views. This will do more to help them trust you and confide in you about their feelings. So when it comes to questions about modes of dress, different modes of water baptism, serving communion, about other rites and ceremonies practiced by various congregations, this is by far the wisest way to address such issues if we wish to be helpful to a brother or sister as they deal with matters of conscience and conviction.8

Charles Spurgeon had an interesting way of illustrating what he hears Paul saying here. He did not think that is was worthwhile to go through a horse pond and get covered with filth just for the pleasure of taking a bath later! It may be that some strong person, like Samson, may have to go in among the Philistines and pull their temple down around their ears,9 but poor Hannah could not do that, and those who are like her – women with burdened hearts – had better go home and get out of the way of such troublemakers.10 They may even be contentious professors squabbling about this doctrine and that – and perhaps not understanding any of them properly – so the Savior said to the woman who touched the hem of his garment that because she dared to believe she now has the assurance of being made well again. And don’t let anyone try to take away her peace by persuading her otherwise.11 This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says to welcome those who are uncertain in their faith but without intending to engage them in doubtful disputes.”12

1 Luther: ibid., p. 197

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

3 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 350

4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 267

5 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 594

6 See Acts 28:2; Romans 15:7; Philemon 1:15, 17

7 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 646-648

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

9 Judges 16:29

10 1 Samuel 1:3-7

11 See Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50

12 Charles Spurgeon: Sermon titled: “Go in Peace,” on the text: Luke 7:50, Delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, England, Sunday evening, September 23, 1883

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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 FOURTEEN (Lesson I)

Verse 1: Be willing to take those under your arm who are weak in faith. Don’t argue with them about what they think is right.

This is a continuation of the theme in chapter thirteen of being indebted to no one accept the debt of love we owe our fellow believers and Paul’s call to wake up to the fact that for many of us sleeping on the job as Christians was ending, so it was time to get up and get busy with the Lord’s work before the nightfall of our lives arrived. Here in verse one, the Apostle Paul talks about those who have the spiritual wisdom and ability to help those who are still struggling with issues in their new Christian walk with God. Paul uses the Greek noun pistis (faith) to describe the convictions we all have with what we’ve come to believe through the Gospel.

This noun pistis can be utilized to mean many things. Thayer tells us in his Lexicon that it can denote being convicted of the truth enough to believe it; religious beliefs, such as creeds; having confidence in a predominate idea; and, faithfulness. It is also used to identify one’s religious organization as their “faith.” Thayer says that Paul uses pistis here as “concerning things lawful for a Christian to do that do not go against their conscience.

When counseling or mentoring others, some well-meaning Christians often take single verses out of the Scriptures and apply them without first checking who wrote them; to whom they were written; what were they writing about; or what subject they were dealing with. In other words, they do not see the context in which the verse was written. When this happens, it is identified with a very well-known phrase called, “taken out of context.” Unfortunately, this often happens when they approach a freshly newborn child of God and straightway begin to discipline them over what they should or shouldn’t do now that they are a Christian, based on these verses that they’ve selected.

This is not a case of helping others to make up their minds to please God, but in forcing others in making up their minds to please us. We see this practiced as far back as the wise man Job. His friend, Eliphaz, gave Job this compliment: You have given moral instruction to many, you have helped those with trembling hands, your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have strengthened those who are weak-kneed.1 Later, God would encourage the prophet Isaiah to continue the work he was given, by instructing him to: “Give strength to weak hands and to weak knees. Say to those whose heart is afraid, ‘Be strong and unafraid.’2

But the message God sent to the religious leaders of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel was not as positive. He told them: “You have not given strength to the weak ones. You have not helped the sick find healing. You have not helped the ones that are hurt. You have not brought back those that have gone astray. And you have not looked for the lost. But you have ruled them with power and without pity.3 Paul did not want the same thing to happen at the church in Rome. He did not want them to become the kind of shepherds described in Zechariah: A shepherd who wouldn’t bother caring for the ones who are dying; won’t help guide the young as they learn to walk; won’t find healing for the wounded and won’t encourage those who are not grazing to find nourishment.4

There is an interesting parallel here between the Gentiles who joined the Jews in the Church in Rome and the Gentile Egyptians who joined the Hebrews in their exodus from Egypt. Rabbi Abraham Saba tells us that when they came to the place called Rephidim,5 that the people began to complain about not having any water. This irked Moses because when God fed them manna from heaven it was collected along with the dew in the morning. Therefore, they already had water. But they wanted more, they wanted water to drink. They even accused God of using Moses to bring them out into the desert so they could die. Rabbi Saba says that it may have been the Egyptian proselytes who were unable to adjust to the customs and manners of the Hebrews. Says Rabbi Saba: “It is clear that Moses saw in the people’s complaint a lack of faith on their part.6 Likewise, here in Rome, it was the Jews who were unaccustomed to the manner and customs of the Gentiles, especially when it came to eating non-kosher foods.

When the great Shepherd, Jesus of Nazareth, came. He told His disciples: “Whoever welcomes a little child because of Me welcomes Me. But whoever is the reason for one of these little children who believe in Me to fall into sin, it would be better for him to have a large rock put around his neck and to be thrown into the sea.7 So Paul was not teaching something new here, it was already part of the Gospel of Christ. For Paul, it was not just a matter of giving the meat of the Word to a young Christian so they could grow, but feeding them the milk of the Word until they are ready for something with greater substance.8 And this is not the first time Paul has admonished believers to be careful about what they approve of as good or bad.9 That’s why Paul tells the Corinthians: “Some are weak. I have become weak so I might lead them to Christ. I have become like every person so in every way I might lead some to Christ.10

Early church scholar Origen points out that it is better to have weak faith than no faith at all. That’s why the person who is lacking in faith must be treated differently than the unbelieving sinner.11 Then the Bishop of Laodicea instructed his ministers to be aware that any rules concerning which foods to eat or not to eat must be enforced with moderation because everything has been sanctified by the power of Christ. They must keep in mind that not everyone is so strong in their faith that they are in no danger of being tripped up by these things. That’s why whether we upset such a person or do not upset them must be taken seriously, but we are to take great care to ensure that no one damages their faith by eating something which they think might be wrong to eat.12

Several decades later, early church scholar Ambrosiaster concluded that the Apostle Paul tried to solve these disputes by arguing that the person who abstained from eating certain foods gained no advantage in the sight of God nor did the one who ate such foods lose anything. He says that the person who is afraid to eat because some of the Jews had forbidden it, needs strengthening in their faith. Ambrosiaster wanted such individuals to be left to their own judgment so as not to feel hurt and depart from that love nurtures their souls.13 An important factor to remember with this point of view is that whenever two believers come to an impasse on whether it is right or wrong to eat certain foods, the one who is stronger should be willing to abstain for the sake of the weaker friend.

Then Augustine says if we are the stronger believer and are willing to put aside our preferences for the sake of a hesitant believer their weakness becomes supported by our strength.14 In other words, when they see that we have no pleasure in criticizing their weakness they will become more open to learn and grow. And Pelagius also feels that from here on Paul indirectly begins to admonish those who thought they were strong enough to eat anything they wanted without restraint. Paul tells them not to judge the others who abstain based on their own opinions when the Church has no such rules to back them up.15

And finally, Gennadius asks why anyone would be so inhumane as not to have sympathy for the weak and trample on them, not even offering them the help they need in coping with certain issues? Paul makes it absolutely clear that anything the Law may have to say about such matters has been abolished because Christ is now the one we listen to. Yet, he was conscious that the ethnic heritage of the Jews weighed more heavily on them, especially those who felt that they would be sinning against their fellow Jews if they went against the Law.16 This Greek Patriarch makes a good point here. We must all remember that many, if not all, of our customs and manners, were formed by the ethnicity of our ancestors which may not match those of another believer. So the Word of God must become our arbitrator, and Spirit of God our guide.

Reformer Martin Luther states that the strong believer has his or her own opinion which is determined by their reasoning. In the same way, the weak have their opinions. Therefore, the Apostle says let everyone make up their own mind. That means: “That everyone should remain sure and certain in the opinion which their conscience suggests.” Luther also cautions that this does not mean that we should put up with any pretentious acts of one person trying to be more holy than another, especially when we see that they are only trying to cover their weakness in the faith.17 In other words, people who often criticize those who are more conservative and restrictive in their thinking do so because they are not all that sure about their own allowances under spiritual freedom.

Luther goes on to point out that the Apostle Paul admonished the Galatians that they should not use their liberty to satisfy any personal wishes,18 which he sees being done in Rome where no one any longer troubles themselves about what God’s Word has to say. They were being overwhelmed by endless arguments. They certainly have the right to moderately agree or disagree with one another over what one should wear, eat, or do, but they should never insist on being right just so they end up having their own way. This was only covering one’s spitefulness with the cloak of being strong in the faith.19

1 Job 4:3-4

2 Isaiah 35:3-4

3 Ezekiel 34:4

4 Zechariah 11:16

5 Rephidim was one of the stations where the Israelites stopped to rest and look for water. They could find none so God ordered Moses to strike a rock and streams of water came flowing out. See Exodus 17. The term Rephidim means: “Rest.” In other words, to spread out and camp.

6 Tzror Hamor, by Rabbi Abraham Saba, Vol. III., Lambda Publishers, New York, 2008, p. 1007

7 Matthew 18:5-6

8 See 1 Corinthians 3:1-2

9 Ibid., 8:7-13

10 Ibid., 9:22

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

12 Apollinaris of Laodicea: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.

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

14 Augustine: On Romans 78

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

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

17 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 196

18 Galatians 5:13

19 See 1 Peter 2:16

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POINTS TO PONDER

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The Saskya Pandita (1182-1251) was a Tibetian wise man and spiritual leader as a Buddhist scholar. This title was given to him in recognition of his scholarly achievements and knowledge of Sanskrit. He is considered in tradition to have been a reflection of the embodiment of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. He was once quoted to have said that we are “Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or abilities are the characteristics of an excellent person.1

This was another way of saying that each person must have a clear picture of self-awareness: knowing where you came from, who you are, what you are, and where you’re headed. This will allow us to understand why not everyone behaves or conducts themselves the way we do. For example, one person may be very quiet and contemplative while another may be the life of the party. That doesn’t mean that one is right and the other wrong. Identifying our own preferences and the preferences of others can be an important building block in the foundation for our success. This knowledge can help us understand situations as they unfold and improve our communication with others, and influence people and situations to get the results that are good for all of us.

Every one of us has natural tendencies that dictate our preferences. How these are developed in each of us is a complex combination of things. Whether we were born with them or learned them – nature or nurture – can be an interesting question to explore. It is also interesting to think about how much preferences guide our behavior. Behaviors that feel comfortable, that we do without thinking, that just seem natural, that we resort to when under stress, or that we simply identify as “the way we do things” can all be considered as natural tendencies or our personal preferences. Being aware of personal preferences is an important step. Understanding others, being aware of what makes them tick, is another important interpersonal skill. So instead of resenting or showing distaste for other people’s preferences, remember to treat them the way we would like for them to treat us.

If we are going to grow and mature, we must have a betters sense of self-awareness. This should start the beginning of a lifetime of growth and learning. Once we understand what we prefer, what is comfortable for us, it is much easier to branch out of our comfort zone to learn new behaviors. Having options, about how to behave, rather than just responding in whatever way feels natural, gives us the freedom to act in a sensible way, given the situation. It is in these moments when we choose to be a bit uncomfortable that we have the most potential to learn and grow. This is especially true if we select these areas for development because we have a personal reason to do so. Motivation is a powerful influence on our success. For instance, if you know you have a short temper, start learning how to control it better and you will become better.

Another assessment tool is introspection. We can pay attention and take note of our own experiences, actions, and reactions. Our own observations are invaluable sources of information about who we are and what makes us tick. Paying attention to how we feel inside while we participate in a variety of activities can give us some insight into our own behavioral preferences. Do we feel happier when working in a group, or alone? Do we feel satisfaction when we accomplish a difficult task? Is it easy or difficult for us to tell others what to do? Our body language can also offer helpful clues. Paying attention to what is going on when we start to feel bored and tired – or lively and interested – is an indicator. If our body is responding positively to the situation, it is likely there are elements there that agree with our personal preferences. We don’t have to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to grow, but it will help us see our own personality more clearly.

In addition to what we see in ourselves, the observations of others can also be helpful. Sometimes others see behaviors in us that we don’t see, especially when we are too involved in activities to pay attention. There are several key concepts to keep in mind if our observation is to be a truly valuable self-discovery process. First, assess the situation – What is going on? In terms of the situation, get a sense of the environment in which a certain behavior has occurred. What are the significant factors? Who is involved? This context information offers additional perspective about the behavior.

Secondly, pay attention to specific behavior – what happened? For an observation to offer objective information rather than subjective, or merely an opinion, it needs to be specific. Vague comments are not as helpful as a concrete example. Since behavior arises from complex factors this protects us from being offensive or narrow in our interpretation and allows for the processes of communicating our thoughts and asking questions to understand even more about others and ourselves. Jumping to conclusions often leads to errors or an incomplete picture.

Thirdly, the impact of our or other’s behavior – what is the result? The impact also needs to be described in concrete terms when making an observation. Some results that could be observed include: Change in body language, Increased energy or animation, Decreased energy or animation, Focus changes, including impacts, observed in reaction to specific behavior gives people a lot of information about not only what they are doing but how that influences people and situations.

We may quibble over the fact that all of this is just too much information for us to digest when we are in a heated situation, who has time to do all this analogy? That’s when we need to train ourselves to step back, observe what’s going on, focus in on what seems to be the point of contention, do not make up our minds of who’s right and who’s wrong, but what can we say to turn down the heat so that everyone involved can have a more measured conversation. Never think of your response as a gift with a beautiful ribbon tied around to be the final answer to the problem. But offer options that the individuals involved can look at to settle their disagreement amicably.

Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, Holland (1469-1536), was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament, and also an important figure in Christian theology and classical literature. On one occasion, Erasmus stated that “It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” This goes along what Saskya Pandita was saying. Don’t change just to fit the situation so as not to cause trouble. Remain who you are so that you can help change the situation for the betterment of everyone.

Does the Bible have anything to say about this? Yes, it does! For instance, the Apostle Paul told everyone that as Christians we have a choice. We can either go along to please the crowd, or we can go along with God to please Him. So don’t try to become what other people appreciate but does not represent who you are. Let God design you from the inside out so that you are doing God’s will, not your will or the will of others. That way you will grow into the kind of person people will appreciate for being genuine and honest, good and pleasing, because they now know what to expect from you.2

And the Apostle Peter also has some advice for believers. When others see how devoted and dedicated you are to being what God wants you to be, they will know that you are for real, not putting on a face just to please them.3 That’s because your real personality is shining from the inside, not some disguise you put on the outside. Pretending will not last long and the real you will quickly be revealed. So why even try to fool anyone. To shine in the light of what and who you really are will last a long time. You won’t have to tell anyone that you are a gentle and humble person, they will see it. Peter says that this is something money cannot buy, it is a gift from God because He’s the only one who can give it.4 – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines: Edited by W. Y Evans-Wentz, IV. The Precepts Compared with “Elegant Sayings,” Stanza 29, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 60

2 Romans 12:2

3 1 Peter 3:3-4

4 Acts of the Apostles 8:20

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SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

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A BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATERS

Although we know that Jesus told several parables involving farmers, it would not surprise me that if this story would have been current in His day He would have included it. Here’s how this story, that I read some time ago involving farmers, goes:

There were these two brothers who lived on adjoining farms that got into a heated argument. It was their first serious disagreement in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery, and using the same farmhands and materials as needed without a hitch. Then this long record of cooperation sadly fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on the older farmer’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? “Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! A few weeks ago there was a beautiful meadow between us. But for some reason, he took his tractor and plowed a path from the pond above our farms down to the river below, and never said a word to me about his plan. As you can see, now there this ugly creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of old lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot solid fence – so I won’t have to see his place or his face anymore.”

The carpenter shook his head “Yes” and said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me where to get some nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do the job, and I hope you will be pleased with my work.” The older brother had to go to town, so he took the carpenter along to get the materials, brought him back and then left for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day – measuring, sawing, and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.

But when the farmer looked toward the fence he expected to see, his eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all! Instead, there was a bridge … a three-foot wide bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, had just walked up to the bridge to see what was going on. When the two brothers saw each other, the younger brother stretched out his hand in the direction of his older brother and said: “You are a great big brother to build this bridge, after all, I’ve said and done to you.” As the two brothers stood facing each on opposite sides of the bridge, there was a moment of silence. Then simultaneously, they walked toward each other, meeting in the middle of the bride. There, they shook hands, embraced, and wiped away some tears from their cheeks.

At that moment, the carpenter hoisted his toolbox onto his shoulder and began to walk away. “No, wait!” said the older brother, stay a few more days, I’ve lots of other projects for you.” “I’d love to stay,” said the carpenter, “but I have many more bridges to build.” When I read this story I immediately thought of the fact that Jesus was a carpenter’s son. He did not come to build fences between people, but bridges. The Apostle Paul was then able to tell us, “Jesus came to bring peace. He did that by breaking down the wall of contempt that used to separate us. Because of this, we can all now be part of one family.”1 So if that wall has been broken down, what’s keeping so many of us apart? Use that bridge today to make peace with those with whom you’ve been estranged. If they ask you why you want to reconcile, tell them that the Carpenter built you a bridge. Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Ephesians 2:14

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