Sunday April 18th
Now that April 15th has come and gone, I guess we can all relax about our taxes until next year. But tax day made me think about a story of a man who got away without paying any taxes.
This man would cross the border every morning riding on a donkey loaded with bags of straw. When he reached the bridge at the border, the tax collectors would search his bags to calculate how much tax he would be required to pay on his exports. Every day, they would find nothing in the bags but straw. So the man paid no tax. But after their shift had finished and they were back into the city, these tax collectors would see that same man spending lots of money and boasting that he was a tax-evading smuggler and that no one would ever catch him.
Every day the tax collectors continued to search through his bags of straw. They sifted the straw, cut it into pieces, and ripped open the fabric of his bags. They checked his hat, his pockets, his beard and even his shoes in the hope of finding hidden coins or treasure. And still they found nothing.
But there he would be, each evening, back in the city growing ever more prosperous - even offering to pay for the tax collectors meals and drinks while continuing to brag about his smuggling. The tax collectors continued their futile searches of the straw bags for years, to no avail.
This continued on, year after year until, one day, the smuggler moved away to another city and settled down to enjoy his immense wealth. Years passed by and then by chance, one of the retired tax collectors met him on the street and asked,
'Many years have passed by: I am no longer a tax collector and you are no longer a tax evader - we are just two old men. Please, can you tell me, what were you smuggling past us all that time?'
The smuggler replied, 'Donkeys.'
Unfortunately for all of us, we can’t get away with avoiding taxes that easily. And according to Romans chapter 13, God actually tells us not to avoid paying our taxes!
Here’s how Paul starts out in verses 1-2
Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
These verses make it quite clear that Christians have a duty to submit to the governing authorities, no matter whenever and wherever the live. That duty is based on the recognition that God is the source of any governmental authority in our society.
This isn’t the only place where we see this idea in the Bible.
In Proverbs 8:15 God says,
By me kings reign,
And rulers decree justice.
In Daniel 2:21we see that:
It is He (God) who changes the times and the periods; He removes kings and appoints kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men,
And knowledge to people of understanding.
Paul then goes on to point out that people who are behaving properly, like Christians are supposed to, should have no reason to be concerned about the power of government ruling over them:
3 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; 4 for it is a servant 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 servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.
In verse 4 Paul says that government is actually God’s servant for our good.
One commentary puts it this way:
The state’s authority is for society’s benefit; this is its normal function, and Paul assumes it may be realized in practical terms even when governments are professedly non-Christian.
In fact, Paul says that the government can even “bear the sword” on God’s behalf. This would include enforcing punishments for wrongdoing, including Capital punishment for serious crimes
Now Paul is going to bring this issue of governmental authority to a very specific focus, paying taxes:
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
When Paul says, “you also pay taxes” we can interpret that to mean “I certainly hope that you, as believers, are paying your taxes!”
Listen again to how this commentary describes the reasoning behind this:
Because the task of government is divinely ordained and requires financial support, the Christian can pay taxes with a distinctive motive and understanding, as an element of devotion to God.
What? Paying taxes as a form of worship? You’ve got to be kidding me! But verse 7 reinforces this:
7 Pay to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; respect to whom respect; honor to whom honor.
Let’s take a moment here to consider what Paul is saying in light of Jesus’ response to this same issue in Matthew 22:15-21
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said. 16 And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and do not care what anyone thinks; for You are not partial to anyone. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it permissible to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” 21 They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then pay to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
Boom! Drop the mic! Could that be any clearer?
We can add to that the story of Jesus, Peter, and the fish from Matthew 17:24-27
24 Now 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?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 When Peter said, “From strangers,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a stater. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.”
It’s pretty plain that Jesus did not feel obligated in any way to pay that poll-tax, but He did it anyway.
In some ways that reminds me of the fact that Jesus chose to get baptized. He didn’t need to get baptized, but He did it anyway.
In both cases, Jesus is doing something to show us how we should respond. He is demonstrating proper godly behavior by setting an example for us.
Paul now continues on by saying that if we are paying everything that we are supposed to pay to everyone we are supposed to pay it to, then we shouldn’t owe anyone anything, other than to love them:
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law. 9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law.
This is the basic principle of Christian living – love one another – love your neighbor as yourself. Yes, a Christian has a financial obligation to pay taxes to the state. But this love obligation is even more significant.
So we shouldn’t be cheating the government of our taxes.
But even more importantly we shouldn’t be cheating our neighbors of the love that Jesus asks us to give them!
In 1 Peter 2:13-17 we see this same comparison being made:
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14 or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. 15 For such is the will of God, that by doing right you silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Act as free people, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-servants of God. 17 Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.
Do you see how Peter also ties in our respect for authority with our call to love one another?
In the final verses of this chapter, Paul puts an emphasis on the need to do this NOW, without delay or hesitation:
11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let’s rid ourselves of the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
I believe that when Paul speaks about the “night” the “darkness”, he is referring to the unsaved condition of the world around us. Now that Jesus, the “light of the world” has come we need to be focused on spreading that light as far as we can, and ASAP.
By using of the phrase “the armor of light” he stresses that the establishment of God’s light in a dark world is going to feel like being in a battle at times.
And one thing you don’t ever want to do when you’re in a battle is to give your enemy more ammunition! So Paul includes this warning:
13 Let’s behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and debauchery, not in strife and jealousy.
14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Do you see the concept here of not giving the enemy any help? We can’t be bringing the light of Jesus into the world if we are running around committing deeds of darkness!
And Paul’s warning against sin includes not only the sins of the flesh that can easily be seen on the outside, but also sins that can be hidden within our hearts such as “quarreling and jealousy”.
Darkness is darkness, whether it’s on the outside or on the inside.
And the idea of “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” is basically the same thing as “putting on the armor of light”, because Jesus is the light that we put on as we go into battle. Take off the darkness, put on the light.
Now it wouldn’t be proper to wrap up this chapter without addressing the concept of exceptions, those times when we are actually called to resist the authority of our government rather than yielding to it. For example, there is this incident from Acts 5:27-29
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the Council. The high priest interrogated them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us.”
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
And then we know this familiar story from Daniel 6:
7 All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors, have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who offers a prayer to any god or person besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. 8 Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it will not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.” 9 Thereupon, King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction.
10 Now when Daniel learned that the document was signed, he entered his house (and in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and offering praise before his God, just as he had been doing previously.
So, yes, we are called to disobey the authorities if they order us to disobey or dishonor God.
But that is the exception rather than the rule.
In most cases, whether we like our current governing officials – whether we voted for them or not – as Christians we are called to be model citizens, and model employees, obeying the laws of the land and paying our taxes.
We may not like it sometimes, but unless those who have authority over us are literally asking us to violate the commandments or to deny our faith in Christ, the Word of God is very clear about our responsibility.
And part of that responsibility is to pray for our leaders – even the ones that we don’t like!
1st Timothy 2:1-2 tells us:
First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made in behalf of all people, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
Paul tells Timothy that he is URGING that intercessors would cover their authorities in prayer. And he explains that doing so can help to ensure that all of us can lead peaceful, dignified, and godly lives.
That’s certainly a good thing, isn’t it?
So let’s make it a point in our lives as believers to obey and to pray!
Obey God’s Word by obeying the law, and pray for those that make our laws and enforce our laws that they will be guided by the very hand of God!
Often the things that split us as believers are issues that really are not that important. We give too much room for the enemy to divide us over matters that God is really not concerned about. The Lord desires above all else that we are one as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one. We will learn here in Romans 14 how to respect one another's convictions while maintaining Spiritual unity. We are not all wired the same; yes, we must agree on the majors, which are the essential doctrines of Christ, but other matters are just minors, and in those, we have the liberty to think differently.
We are all in the process of transformation into the image of God, but there are different levels. Some are just starting, while others have advanced much further. There are those weak and those strong in the faith; we must learn to trust the process. Each of us is God's workmanship! We must trust each person to God and make sure we don't get in His way by correcting an issue ahead of His timing. If another believer doesn't have the same conviction about a minor issue as we do, we don't tell them differently, for it is God that convicts us.
The issues that are addressed here in Romans 14 are eating and the Sabbath. Paul recognizes these as minors and tells believers to honor each person's conviction. If you are invited to eat with someone who doesn't feel it is right to eat certain things such as pork, don't eat it. If you are invited to observe a certain day as a Sabbath by your hosts, observe it. Honor each person's convictions. You may feel these matters shouldn't be so important; your level of faith might be stronger, but that doesn't mean that you should disrespect them. It is not worth it causing division, and what one does unto the Lord is honorable to God, and we need to leave it between them.
Verse 13 says it plain; "let us no longer criticize one another. Instead, decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother's way."
How better off would the body of Christ be if we followed this command? Let us today repent of being critical and start loving each other God's way.
Verse 17 says, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
It is not the outward but the inward that God is after; if our character reflects God, then we are in the right relationship with Him, and really what else matters. Yes, as the inward changes, the outward will change with it, but what that looks like is up to our maker.
Verse 19 says, "We must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another."
God is a builder." The enemy tears down. Whose side do we want to be on? If we allow the issues of our day of politics and cultural differences to divide, then we are instruments of the enemy and not vessels of God.
The Charge: Let us today repent of being critical and divisive and start loving each other God's way.
Before we go forward, let's review the previous few weeks. In Romans 7, we discovered the source behind all our sin issues; in Romans 8, we learned the answer to that problem is Holy Spirit. In Romans 9-11, we dealt with salvation in light of the Jews believing works saved them. Paul clarified that it is only by faith in Jesus, not works, that one is saved. One must first realize they need salvation to be open to receive it. If we think we are good as is, we, in our pride, will remain in sin.
Romans 12 builds on Romans 8; it takes us from the Spirit working in us to how it works through us, transforming from sin to being an agent of transformation in the world. The first thing in this process is how we present ourselves daily. Romans 12:1 instructs us to present ourselves as living sacrifices, which is worship as a lifestyle, considering all that the Lord has done. We must choose to avail ourselves to God; as a gentleman, He will not force His will on us. In verse 2, it says to be no longer conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God are. As long as we acknowledge God in all our ways, He will direct us, exposing our old way of thinking and revealing His way of doing.
There is no safer place than the center of God's will, each day; we allow the Lord to direct our steps; we become more transformed into His Image. The more we become like Him, the more He works through us. The warning in verse 3 is to remain humble and never forget it is through grace, not works. We partake in the Pharisees' leaven when we, out of pride, think we are better than others. Paul now begins to share how we are like a body made up of many parts. Each part is an individual yet connected to a group; all parts are necessary, and therefore not one part should think they are anything separate from one another. We all need each other to function right.
Our abilities are not our own manufacturing; they have been given to us by grace. The gifts here listed are motivational, the aspect of what drives us as individuals. Verses 6-8 lists them as prophecy, service, teaching, exhorting, giving, generosity, leading, and showing mercy. These motivational gifts should be the determining factors in where one best fit. It is easier to reflect the nature of God in what we do when we enjoy what we do.
Paul now teaches on Christian Ethics in verses 9 through 21. One's behavior speaks volumes. Our message is best seen than heard. We cannot expect to be change agents in the world if our life has not yet been transformed. We lead by example; if people follow us, they must see something in how we behave that they admonish.
If we are allowing God to work in us, He will work through us. As we transform, we become transformers. We may look like everyone else, but Holy Spirit is working through us so that wherever we go, transformation follows. Like the movie says, "there is more than meets the eye."
Sunday April 4th (Easter)
The other day I went to the library, and I asked the librarian if they carried a book called “How to deal with Rejection.”
She told me no, so I fell on the floor and started shaking and crying uncontrollably!
Rejection can be a difficult matter to deal with.
But fortunately for all of us, Romans chapter 11 is going to assure us that rejection is not part of God’s plan for our lives. Paul points that out in the very first verse:
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? Far from it! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
The verb used here for rejected conveys the sense of vigorously pushing away, almost repulsion. Paul’s response to his own question is simply – Far from it!
God certainly hasn’t rejected or pushed away the Jewish people. And Paul uses himself as an example to prove his point.
He says “I too am an Israelite”. Paul’s lineage could be traced back to Abraham, through the line of Benjamin, which was the tribe in whose territory Jerusalem was and also the tribe of Saul, the first king of Israel. If God had rejected the Jewish people, Paul asks, then how did I get saved?
Then he continues to build his case for the salvation of Israel:
2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”
Paul says that God’s special love and His choosing of the nation of Israel as His own makes it unthinkable that He would reject them as a people, even though they have now rejected Him by rejecting His son, Jesus Christ.
But he brings up the example of Elijah to show that God always saves a remnant, or a portion, of His people in order to keep His promise to them alive. Verse 5 picks up on this same theme:
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.
In Elijah’s time, when there was a great level of apostasy in Israel, there was still a remnant of faithful Israelites, proving that God had never fully rejected His people.
But the other key point about the remnant is that it only survived because or God’s faithfulness and grace. And that’s what Paul wants to emphasize next:
6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, since otherwise grace is no longer grace.
All throughout this letter to the Romans, the power of God’s grace is contrasted with the ineffectiveness of works of the law. It actually becomes the defining factor as to which of the Jewish people get saved. Paul keeps this thought going in verses 7-10
7 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; 8 just as it is written:
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“May their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
10 May their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs continually.”
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 29:4; Isaiah 29:10; and Psalm 69:22-23 to describe a biblical process of people hardening their hearts by rejecting God’s grace and trying to obtain righteousness by their own works. And God allows them to harden their hearts because it fits in with His overall plan:
11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? Far from it! But by their wrongdoing salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.
According to Paul here in verse 11, the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jewish people is neither total nor final. Their rejection of Jesus has simply opened the door for the spreading of the gospel to the Gentiles. And to complete the plan, God is going to use the salvation of the Gentiles to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and envy over the Gentiles’ blessings in their relationship with Christ, which will ultimately lead to their salvation as well.
That’s why Paul says that they didn’t stumble in order that they might fall. The Jewish people’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah is not irreversible.
Here’s how one commentary sums it up:
Paul sees a divine pattern and purpose behind the unbelief of the Jews. The pattern therefore, is as follows: (a) the transgression of the Jews has led to the justification of the Gentiles; (b) the salvation of the Gentiles will cause the Jews to envy; (c) the envy of the Jews will draw them to the same salvation as the Gentiles.
And how awesome is it going to be when God’s chosen nation comes back to Him through faith in Jesus! Paul expresses it this way:
12 Now if their wrongdoing proves to be riches for the world, and their failure, riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
The phrase “their fulfillment” signifies the Jewish people’s acceptance of Jesus as their messiah and their restoration to God.
And Paul wants these Gentile Christians in Rome to not lose sight of the fact that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel. He says in verse 13-15:
13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Therefore insofar as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14 if somehow I may move my own people to jealousy and save some of them. 15 For if their rejection proves to be the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
In Paul’s view, the Jewish rejection of Jesus was a blessing to the Gentiles because it allowed them to be reconciled to God by faith in Jesus. But the return of the Jewish people back to God through their own faith in Jesus will be an even greater cause for celebration, because it will be as though they were brought back to life from the dead!
Then Paul uses two analogies to remind the Gentiles that they are only “adopted” into God’s family, whereas the Jewish nation was born into God’s family:
16 If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are as well. 17 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, 18 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.
The people would have understood the concept of a wild olive shoot being grafted into a cultivated tree. This was a common practice. But what his point here is that the Gentiles should “not be arrogant”, because since their salvation is entirely by God’s grace, they have no cause for criticizing or looking down on their Jewish neighbors. In fact, Paul warns them that if they get prideful about their salvation, that pride might become a stumbling block for them, just like it was for the Pharisees and others who trusted in their own self-righteousness.
Look how Paul explains it in verses 19-22:
19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22 See then the kindness and severity of God: to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; for otherwise you too will be cut off.
The breaking off of the Jewish branches was an act of God’s judgment based on their unbelief, and the grafting in of the Gentiles was an act of God’s grace. It is certainly not based on any superior quality that God saw in the Gentiles.
Therefore, these Gentile believers are urged to take seriously the kindness of God’s character and not to take it for granted. Because God still desires to show that same kindness to the Jewish people:
23 And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
Again Paul emphasizes that the cutting off of Israel was simply because of their unbelief, and not because the Gentiles were better qualified, or had earned the right to be a part of God’s olive tree.
And God fully intends to bring those of Jewish heritage back into His chosen olive tree, even though how that is going to be fulfilled is still a mystery:
25 For I do not want you, brothers and sisters, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
27 “This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
There has been some discussion of what Paul means when he says that “all Israel” will be saved.
But based upon what the previous verses have indicated, it might be fair to say that Paul is proclaiming how God will, in the future, bring such widespread salvation to the Jewish people that it can be said in essence that “all Israel will be saved”.
It could also mean “all (spiritual) Israel,” that is, all of God’s chosen people, both Jewish and Gentile.
In that context, that we were all once unsaved, and therefore were once enemies of God, we should never see the Jewish people as our enemies:
28 In relation to the gospel they are enemies on your account, but in relation to God’s choice they are beloved on account of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Paul says the gifts, the calling, the promises of God are irrevocable. If God promised to send a messiah to save the nation of Israel, then He will certainly fulfill that promise!
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience, so that He may show mercy to all.
Paul’s explanation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles concludes by stressing that Jews and Gentiles are united by two things: they both struggled with the disobedience of sin, and they both can only be saved by the grace and mercy of God.
And that grace and mercy – wow! What an unfathomable gift we have been given!
33 Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him, that it would be paid back to him? 36 For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
Listen to how a commentary sums up those final verse:
Having drawn together the various strands of his argument, Paul now responds in lyrical fashion with a song of praise that reaches heights that correspond to the depth of concern he had sounded. God’s dealings with Jew and Gentile display a cross-section of His majesty in which His sovereign will (“from him”), His sovereign activity (“through him”) and His sovereign glory (“to him”) are richly displayed.
And the greatest display of God’s sovereign will, action, and glory are all found in the cross that Jesus hung on, for the forgiveness of all sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike, and the empty tomb that pronounced His victory, once and for all, over the curse of sin and death!
To Him be the glory forever and ever!