We have spent a couple of weeks hitting the highlights of what we have studied in Romans. This morning we are doing part three of our Highlights in Romans; this will be our final one. I wanted to go over the texts that changed my thinking in one way or another as I taught through this book. This morning we look at chapters 12-16.
I think that in order to understand these chapters, we need to have an understanding of the Jewish synagogue in Rome. I hope that you understand that our roots are Jewish. If we are to understand Christianity, we must understand our Hebrew roots.
David Bivin writes, "In any attempt to understand the Bible, there is no substitute for a knowledge of ancient Jewish custom and practice." One of the greatest tragedies of the last 2,000 years has been the removal of all things Hebrew from the church. The church has divorced herself from her Hebrew roots. We even call our Savior by a Greek name "Jesus," instead of His name, "Yeshua."
Our English word "synagogue" comes from transliterating the Greek sunagoge, which means: "a bringing together." In its earliest usage, sunagoge did not refer to a building or place of gathering, but rather to the group of people who were gathered together. Later, as the buildings for gathering developed, sunagoge became used of the "gathering place" as well as the people gathered. So the word "synagogue" is similar to the English word "church" in that we use it for the people who gather together or the place where the people gather together.
The essential aim of the synagogue was the instruction in the Law for all classes of the people. The Hellenistic Jew, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. to A.D.50 ), calls the synagogues "houses of instruction, where the philosophy of the fathers and all manner of virtues were taught." (Cp, ii, 17. Cp.)
We see Paul using this instruction time in the synagogue in Thessalonica:
And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, Acts 17:2 NASB
In the days of Paul, synagogues were a kind of "Jewish island" in the midst of a sea of Gentiles. For those Jews scattered abroad living in some heathen Gentile city, the synagogue gave them the opportunity to retain their identity by gathering together with other like-minded Jews to study the Scriptures and, to some degree, to worship.
When you think of the church in Rome, what comes to your mind? Do you think of them meeting in a church building similar to our church buildings? I want to suggest to you that in Rome the church met in a synagogue. Both Jews and Gentiles would meet in the synagogue to worship Yahweh.
When Saul was persecuting Christians, where did he find them?:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 NASB
Damascus contained many synagogues. So Saul sets out to arrest and bring back to Jerusalem any believers he can find. Saul probably had a large entourage of people traveling with him in order to bring these prisoners back. He later tells us:
"And I said, 'Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in Thee. Acts 22:19 NASB
So the believers were meeting in the synagogue and that is where Saul hunted them.
The Jews who believed in Yeshua, would go to the synagogue on the Sabbath just as they had always done.
The Epistle of James implies that the Christian community to whom it was written was worshiping in the synagogue:
My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Yeshua the Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, James 2:1-2 NASB
The word "assembly" here is the Greek word sunagoge, which means: "synagogue."
In Rome, Jew and Gentiles are meeting in the synagogue and Gentiles are being tempted to consider unbelieving Jews excluded from God's purposes. So Paul tells the Gentiles:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:17-18 NASB
They were being arrogant toward the unbelieving Jews. This is the main point of this section, it is a warning to Gentiles about the dangers of pride. At the heart of his concern is that the Gentile believers were beginning to look at the unbelieving Jews in the synagogue with disdain because they rejected and crucified the Messiah.
The Gentiles in Rome think that Israel has now been replaced as God's people by Gentiles who believe in Yeshua. Mark Nanos, in his book, The Mystery Of Romans, writes, "The results of this investigation into the social setting of Romans suggest that the Christian Gentiles Paul addresses are still meeting in the synagogue of Rome, and that they are considered part of the Jewish community as 'righteous gentiles.'"
The Roman government legally classified synagogues as "collegia," a term used with respect to their shared traits with "private clubs," guilds, and other cultic associations that were legally recognized to have the same privileges: the right to assemble, to have common meals, common property, fiscal responsibilities, disciplinary rights among its members, and responsibility for the burial of members.
In addition to those privileges usually granted to "private clubs," Julius Caesar granted the Jewish communities the privilege "to live according to their ancestral laws."
These legal privileges were discussed at length by Josephus, and included the authority to interpret the Law and customs for the community, exemption from emperor worship and civic cults, the right to collect and distribute the Temple tax for Jerusalem, exemption from military service, protection of Sabbath observance including nonappearance in court, and the right to function as independent organizations without specifically seeking authorization to do so.
Evidence indicates that in Rome Christianity and Judaism shared a common heritage and were probably inseparable before A.D. 60, and even perhaps until the middle of the second century. Robert Goldenberg asserts that it is increasingly accepted among scholars that "at the end of the 1st century CE there were not yet two separate religions called 'Judaism' and 'Christianity.'" Outside the synagogue environment the early Christians would have had little opportunity to learn the Scriptures, and they would have been persecuted by Rome.
In Chapters 12-15 it seems that Paul is specifically addressing the Gentile believers. He wants them to treat the non-believing Jews in the synagogue with love that they may be won to Christ. Paul is calling on the Gentiles to do all they can to promote unity in their assembly so that the Jews who do not know Yeshua (the broken off branches) will come to faith in Him.
We are not involved in the synagogue with unsaved Jews, but I think that the application to us is that we are to live in such a way as to be a light to the lost. We are to live in a way that makes the Gospel of Yeshua attractiv:.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB
"World" here is a bad translation; it should be "this age." The CJB has, "Do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the `olam hazeh.'" Since the "this age" ended in A.D. 70, we don't have to be concerned with being conformed to it. So in Romans 12:2 Paul is talking to the saints in first century Rome--he is talking about covenant transformation from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. Now let me just say here that I believe that as we spend time in God's Word, our lives are changed, our thinking is changed, but this is not what Paul is talking about here. He is talking about covenant transformation that was completed by A.D. 70.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. Romans 12:3 NASB
The command here is: "Not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think"--this is obviously cultural and only for the first century saints. Don't you wish!
This command is to every believer at Rome and to all believers at all times in all places; we all struggle with pride. We all think more highly of ourselves than we should.
I see this exhortation as primarily racial, directed to the Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Church. Paul was appealing to the two communities not to think more highly of themselves than they should. This is not Paul's first warning against pride. Three times in chapter 11 he warned them against pride and conceit.
Paul says, "Not to huperphroneo," huper means: "above, beyond, or superior to," and phroneo means: "to think." It is to think above, to be puffed up with an idea of your own importance and superiority. This is a constant danger we all face, and that is why this command is to all believers. Denny said, "To himself every man is in a sense the most important person in the world."
The sin of pride is most likely the chief of sins. Some even think that pride is the root of other sins. It well may be as it leads to so many other particular offenses. Older commentators spoke of pride as a "chief sin" in that other twigs grew from its fertile and fatal root. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis calls pride the "great sin" and says this about it:
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people except Christians ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.... There is no fault which makes man a more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. ( Mere Christianity: NY; MacMillan, 1943, p. 94)
Our society looks at pride as a virtue. Everything in our society is built to cater to man's pride, to build man up, to inflate his ego. But the Bible has nothing good to say about pride--nothing. It is a very destructive, very damaging sin that is to be avoided. This teaching runs all through Scripture--God brings the proud low, but He exalts the humble. Yeshua taught this:
"Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. Matthew 23:12 NASB
It is one principle with two sides. It is a promise of being brought low to those who exalt themselves, and it is a promise of exaltation to those who humble themselves. We know that the world works by inflating egos and encouraging pride. But pride has no place in the Christian life. God calls us to humility, which is the opposite of pride.
Henry Ward Beecher said, "Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow.... A proud man is seldom a grateful man, for he never thinks he gets as much as he deserves."
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14 NASB
The word "bless" in this text is taken from the Greek word, eulogeo, which means: "To speak well of, to bless or invoke a benediction upon, to pray for their prosperity, bless or praise." And you'll notice that "bless," is a present tense, it's the idea of constantly blessing. We bless others by asking Yahweh to bless them. This is the context of the word when we say, "God bless you."
We are to bless those who persecute us. The Greek word translated "persecute" comes from dioko, which means: "to pursue" or "chase away." Over time it came to mean "to harass" or "treat in an evil manner." In the New Testament it is used of "inflicting suffering on people who hold beliefs that the establishment frowns on," and it is this kind of persecution of which Paul speaks here.
"...Bless and do not curse"--that means when they speak evil of you, when they curse you, when they persecute you; you speak well of them. You speak of them with a heart's desire for their welfare. You do not bring defamation upon them or their name. You do not stoop to their level. We usually bless those who persecute us, don't we? Ouch!
The injunction to bless those who persecute us is one of the most revolutionary statements in the New Testament and can only be carried out by the Holy Spirit. By asking the Roman believers to bless their enemies, Paul was effectively saying that they should pray for them--not seeking their humiliation or destruction; this is what Yeshua taught.
Yeshua says to His followers: you should "...love your enemies." This is a powerful and radical teaching about the inclusiveness of love. The kind of love that Yeshua advocates even embraces our enemies. When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you blessed or prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you?
This is too convicting; let's move on to chapter 13. Romans 13:1-7, presents a few problems. One writer says of it: "These seven verses have caused more unhappiness and misery in the Christian East and West than any other seven verses in the New Testament."
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:1-2 NASB
The majority of Christians believe that this text is calling for submission to the State of Rome, and thus calling for Christians to submit to all civil government. Those who apply these verses to civil government say that we must obey every law that our government passes or we are sinning against God. First of all, I don't believe these verses are talking about civil government. I don't think that Paul is telling believers to be subject to the Roman government. If he was doing that, why would Rome put him to death?
We in the United States of America do not live under a monarchy. We have no king. There is no single governing official in this country. The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the Land. Under our laws, every governing official publicly promises to submit to The Constitution of the United States. Under our laws and form of government, it is the duty of every elected official to obey The Constitution of the United States (and his or her State Constitution).
The problem in America today is that our political leaders have violated their oaths of office and ignore--and blatantly disobey--the "Supreme Law of the Land," The Constitution of the United States. Our government is loading us up with unlawful laws. I don't believe that we have to submit to these laws, because they are unconstitutional.
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Romans 13:6 NASB
Talk about taxes, let me ask you a question: Are actions which are sinful for individuals, such as theft, murder, and kidnaping, also sinful even for those who call themselves government? Is it wrong for the government to take from some persons what belongs to them, and give it to other persons to whom it does not belong? Is it wrong for the government to benefit one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime?
I hold the position that Romans 13:1-7 is referring to--the Synagogue rulers in Rome. This is the position put forth by Mark Nanos in his book, The Mystery of Romans. The issue in 13:1-7 is still love as we saw in chapter 12. Paul is calling for love and unity in the synagogue for the sake of the elect Jews that have not yet come to Christ:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Romans 13:1 NASB
Who are the exousia or authorities that Paul was referring to in this verse? It is the leaders of the synagogue who are to be obeyed, for their authority is from God and is recognized even by the Roman emperor. Josephus indicated that Julius Caesar's decree forbid the assembly of foreign religious societies other than Jewish ones in the city of Rome:
Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. Romans 13:2 NASB
Paul wants the Christian Gentiles meeting in the synagogue to realize that Yahweh has put the leaders in their position, and they are to submit to them:
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; Romans 13:3 NASB
The word "rulers" here is the Greek word archon, which is used 37 times in the New Testament, and 24 of them are referring to synagogue ruler.
for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:4 NASB
The word "minister" here is from the Greek diakonos, which means: "an attendant, a waiter (at table or in other menial duties)." It's the word from which we get the English word "deacon." I would find it difficult to believe that Paul would be speaking of secular rulers as deacons. This is an ecclesiastical term. Paul uses this word to describe the authorities in verse 1. This strongly supports the fact that he was talking about God's leaders, not Rome's.
But the text says, "...for it does not bear the sword for nothing."--this verse is often used as proof that Paul was talking about civil authorities, since Rome had the power of capital punishment. The word "sword" is from the Greek word machaira, which is used of a knife used for circumcision in Joshua 5:2; and in the offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:6, 10; and of a dagger or small sword in Judges 3:16. Sword could be used here symbolically or metaphorically.
Paul could be using sword here figuratively for the Word of God. The authorities of the synagogue were the interpreters of the Torah, God's Word to Israel. The authorities would judge behavior based on their interpretation of Torah. They would praise good behavior according to their understanding of Torah; and they would administer God's wrath on those who violated the faith:
For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Romans 13:6 NASB
This is used as another proof that Paul was commanding submission to the civil authorities--because only the civil authorities collect taxes!
The Greek word used for "tax" here is phoros, which means: "a tax, properly an individual assessment on persons or property." I think that the tax that Paul is talking about here is the Temple tax:
When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" Matthew 17:24 NASB
There are historical references indicating that "righteous Gentiles" paid the Temple tax during this period. Josephus mentions that the vast wealth of the Temple was directly related to the extensive contributions of Jews and "God fearers" from around the world.
"...for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing"--the word "servants" here is leitourgos, which means: "a functionary in the Temple or Gospel, or [generally] a worshipper [of God]." It is where we get our word "liturgy." It speaks of spiritual service to Yahweh.
In my understanding, Paul's purpose in Romans 13:1-7 was to promote peace among the Jews and Gentiles in the synagogue as much as it was possible:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Romans 12:18 NASB
He wanted them to do this so that the Jewish community would not be alienated prior to his arrival in Rome to preach the Gospel.
Side Bar: Can we, as Christians, fix the mess our country is in? I don't think we can fix it politically, because I believe our political situation is a judgment of God. When the Church is faithful, God gives her good leaders. I do not think we can reform the "State" as an action separate from reforming the Church. If the Church is faithful, God will bless her and there will be good rulers.
Notice what Yahweh says to Judah through Nehemiah:
"But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. "Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. "Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:35-37 NASB
This could be said to America today. The rulers that we have are a result of the sin of Yahweh's people. A weak Church is not the victim of an evil society. An evil society is the victim of a weak Church. We won't fix this country through an election, but through the Church honoring Yahweh through righteousness. If a man like Ron Paul ever gets in office, it will be because Yahweh put him there as a blessing to His Christ honoring Church. We need to work to reform the Church, not the government.
Chapter 14:1-15:13 is a section dealing with the weak and the strong. Most commentators see this section as a call for Christian unity based on understanding Christian liberty. They see this as Paul encouraging these two groups to live in harmony. Most see the problem in this text as this: You've got the strong believers who are totally liberated, they understand their freedom in Christ, and they're enjoying it. On the other hand you have the weak who are still hung up on different things and don't understand these liberties. So the strong are tempted to look down on the weak as legalists--weak people in bondage who hinder the strong from enjoying their liberty. The strong's reaction is to despise that person, to look down on them with the attitude, "Grow up, you baby."
I think that we all realize that believers differ in their preferences and convictions. And because of these differences, there is a great potential for conflict and disunity in the church. But I don't think that is what Paul is talking about in this text.
This section, 14:1-15:13 is about two groups who Paul calls the "strong" and the "weak.":
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. Romans 14:1 NASB
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Romans 15:1 NASB
The word "strong" here is from the Greek dunatos, which means: "powerful or capable." Most, if not all, of Paul's exhortations in this section are to the strong. And the "strong" are Christians. The "strong" seem to be predominantly Gentile Christians. They have no problem eating whatever they want:
I know and am convinced in the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Romans 14:14 NASB
This verse makes it clear that the issue dividing the "weak" and the "strong" is a Jew/Gentile issue of purity. The word "unclean" is from the Greek koinos, which means: "common, that is, [literally] shared by all or several, or [ceremonially] profane: - common, defiled, unclean, unholy." Peter uses this word of himself in:
But Peter said, "By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." Acts 10:14 NASB
Unholy here is koinos. Clearly, Peter indicates he is abiding by the dietary laws of Israel.
I take the position that the "weak" in Romans are not believers in Yeshua as Messiah. I believe they are part of the elect remnant, but they have not yet embraced the truth about Yeshua. The "weak" are impotent in faith. They are those Jews who have not yet embraced the truth about Yeshua. They are Torah-observant (which is why they maintain dietary laws and Sabbath), but they have not yet been convinced that Yeshua is God's anointed.
Therefore, Paul instructs Gentile believers (the strong) to live in such a way that they cause no offense to their as-yet-unconvinced Jewish brothers and sisters. In other words, while it is possible that Gentile believers in the Messiah could claim they do not have to live according to Torah (since they are not Jews), Paul tells them that they must live as "righteous Gentiles" so they will demonstrate that they serve the One true God, Yahweh, so as to convince their Jewish colleagues that they really are part of the people of God.
Paul wants to alter the behavior of the "strong" so that the "weak" are not provoked to speak evil of their "good thing":
Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; Romans 14:16 NASB
The "good thing" here is not their freedom, it is their new position as fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God. They now share in the "root of the olive tree," they are partakers of the Abrahamic Covenant. They are not to let this "good thing" be spoken of as evil because of their failure to adhere to the standards of "righteous Gentiles."
Now you may be thinking: But Paul calls the weak "brothers," both to himself, and to the "strong" in 14:10,13, and 15. So how could they be unsaved Jews? Could an unsaved Jew be called a brother to a Christian? Paul did not see faith in Yeshua as a break with Israel and his fellow Jews. Jews were the historical community of the One God. Thus to be a Christian would have made one a "brother" to all Jews, prior to A.D. 70, whether they were Christians or not.
Paul is a Torah-observant Jew who desperately wants his Jewish brothers to see who Yeshua is--the Jewish Messiah. So Paul asks Gentiles to live as "righteous Gentiles" so that the Jews might come to see the truth in Christ. The "strong" (those who know Yeshua as the Messiah) are responsible for the salvation of the "weak" (those who have yet to accept Yeshua as the Messiah) by the way that they live.
Let's remember that Paul is addressing a situation in Rome that predates the separation of the church from the synagogue as a distinct entity. So the "strong" and the "weak" are worshiping together in the synagogue, and they are very different people from very different backgrounds.
Christ became a servant to bring redemption to His people. He accepted both Jew and Gentile, and we are to follow His example:
Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. Romans 15:7 NASB
The Romans were to accept each other, just as Christ accepted them to the glory of God, and I believe we are to do the same. Just as Christ has accepted us unconditionally, we are to reach out to the lost, accepting them as we have been accepted, that we may influence them with the glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
The "strong" have the ability to destroy the "weak" by the way they live, they also have the ability to harm themselves if they choose to please themselves by the sinful act of eating without faith. This text is all about living in love. It is about doing what you do for the sake of making the Gospel attractive to unbelievers.
I think we greatly trivialize this text when we make it about not offending a Christian brother who is doing something we think is wrong. This is about evangelism! We are to live in such a way as to advance the cause of Christ, not hinder it.
In Romans 15:14 and following Paul returns to autobiographical comments that he began in the first chapter. Here we see a much more intimate side of the apostle for here we get a personal look at Paul the missionary. In verses 14-21 we learn Paul's philosophy of ministry. In verses 22-29 we read of Paul's plans for ministry. In verses 30-33 we conclude with Paul's petition for prayer for his ministry.
Then in chapter 16 Paul names many of those in Rome, gives a final warning, then sends greetings from people who are with him in Corinth and closes with a doxology:
to the only wise God, through Yeshua the Messiah, be the glory forever and ever! Amen. Romans 16:27 CJB
In the wisdom of God, He devised a plan whereby He would take rebellious and sinful men and give to them eternal life in His presence, yet without blemish to His attributes of justice and holiness. This He accomplished by the substitutionary death of His Son, Yeshua the Christ. All who trust in what Christ has done for them have eternal life.
This is not only saying that Christ has glorified God, but that God is honored and glorified as we embrace what he has done through Christ's death and resurrection and to live in light of the claims made by His Son.
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