Sunday May 2nd
Did you ever hear the phrase “denial is not just a river in Egypt”?
The psychological phenomenon of denial is a very powerful thing.
Did you ever have anyone accuse you of being in denial?
I was having a conversation with someone recently who kept accusing me of denying reality and living in a fantasy world.
That’s so ridiculous! It actually made me laugh so hard that I practically fell off of my unicorn!
The heading over Romans Chapter 15 in the New American Standard Bible says that it’s about “Self-denial in behalf of others.”
Here’s how the Apostle Paul brings this out, starting in verse one:
Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not just please ourselves. 2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
Notice that Paul say “we” who are strong have an obligation to bear with the struggles of the weak. Paul obviously considers himself one of the “strong” ones. And he sees the misinformed and immature “weak” ones as a true cause for concern, but his main emphasis is on the responsibility of the “strong” ones to support the “weak” ones. He doesn’t want to see pride, such as the flaunting our freedom in Christ in a way that is offensive or a stumbling block to our weaker brothers and sisters.
We see similar statements in Romans 14:19
So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another
And then in 1 Corinthians 8:1
Now concerning food sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes one conceited, but love edifies people.
Then in 1 Corinthians 10:23
All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted, but not all things build people up.
And further down in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God. 32 Do not offend Jews or Greeks, or the church of God
So this idea of not offending our weaker brothers and sisters is a pretty consistent theme for Paul, and he explains why in verse 3:
3 For even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written: “The taunts of those who taunt You have fallen on Me.”
Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 here, pointing out that the willingness of Jesus to deny Himself and suffer for the benefit of others should serve as an example to all Christians in relating to our weaker members.
4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Paul is referring here to the Old Testament Scriptures, which were written not just for the benefit of the people of Israel, but also for the benefit of Christians. We also know this to be true from 2nd Timothy 3:16
All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one purpose and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It takes patience, perseverance, and encouragement to work together, but unity in the church is essential if God is going to be glorified. When we worship God with one common purpose and one common voice, then God’s true glory is manifested through us. And how does that unity begin? With acceptance.
7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us, for the glory of God.
A good basis for accepting others, even with all of their faults and failures, is to remember that Jesus accepted us into His family despite all of our own faults and failures. And notice again that when we do accept one another, it brings God more glory!
Now Paul addresses a specific area where acceptance might be a problem – the separation between Jewish and Gentile believers:
8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision in behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises given to the fathers,
When I first read this, I was thinking that Paul was talking about his own role in serving the Jewish believers, but what he actually says is that Christ (Himself) has become a servant to the circumcision (which meant the Jewish people).
But Jesus didn’t stop in His servanthood with just the nation of Israel. He became a servant to all:
9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written:
“Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles,
And I will sing praises to Your name.”
10 Again he says,
“Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people.”
11 And again,
“Praise the Lord all you Gentiles,
And let all the peoples praise Him.”
12 Again Isaiah says,
“There shall come the root of Jesse,
And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles,
In Him will the Gentiles hope.”
Paul quotes a series of Old Testament verses to show that God’s plan for salvation has always included the Gentiles as well as the Jews. And his quote from Isaiah points to the hope that comes with that promise. So in verse 13 Paul prays a little benediction over the Roman Christians:
13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Having hope is actually evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Wherever you find hope, you will surely find the Holy Spirit behind it.
Starting in verse 14, Paul begins drawing this letter to a close by returning to the theme of his vision for expanding the influence of the gospel.
14 And concerning you, my brothers and sisters, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. 15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God, 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
In some ways, Paul sees his evangelistic ministry as a form of priestly service. Since he was raised as a Jewish man, seeing the offering of sacrifices in the temple, Paul now sees preaching the gospel as the means by which these Roman Gentiles will be brought to God as his form of personal offering. That makes sense for two reasons:
17 Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. 18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, 19 in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and all around as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
I think we should take note of the fact that Paul describes his ministry in terms of a work of the Trinity - God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit, who has moved in signs and wonders throughout Paul’s preaching of the Gospel. God works in unity with us as well.
And Paul describes the extent of his ministry as reaching “from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum”. Paul’s journeys, according to the book of Acts, stretched from the eastern part of the Mediterranean as far west as Macedonia. That quite an expanse of territory, especially considering that much of it was covered on foot. But Paul had a real passion to reach those who had never been reached:
20 And in this way I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already known by name, so that I would not build on another person’s foundation; 21 but just as it is written:
“They who have not been told about Him will see,
And they who have not heard will understand.”
Now keep in mind that the Christians that Paul is writing to are in Rome, a place where Paul has not been to yet, but it has been a great desire of his:
22 For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; 23 but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain—for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while--
There are two things that will make Paul’s visit to Rome possible at this time:
(1) The previous phase of Paul’s ministry in Asia Minor has been fulfilled for the most part. He is now ready to take on some new challenges
(2) Paul feels like the next phase of his ministry involves reaching Spain, and Paul can therefore stop by Rome on the way to Spain.
Spain was actually the western-most extremity of the known world back then. If Paul took the Gospel there, he would have essentially preached to the “ends of the earth”. But before he could head towards Spain or Rome, he had another stop to make along the way:
25 but now, I am going to Jerusalem, serving the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to do them a service also in material things.
Paul reveals that his immediate plans are to visit Jerusalem with the financial gifts that the Gentile churches had raised for the Christians there. But Paul also sees a greater significance in their gift.
He believes that it is the duty of the Gentiles to look after their Jewish brothers and sisters in view of the spiritual blessing they have received by being grafted into God’s olive tree, as we saw back in chapter 11.
28 Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. 29 I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.
Now I want you to think about this. As far as we know, Paul may have never made it to Spain, but we know for certain that he made it to Rome. How did he arrive in Rome? As a prisoner! Paul says that when he comes to them, it will be “in the fullness of the blessing of Christ”.
Can we still believe that the full blessings of Christ are with us even in the midst of struggles, trials and persecution? Paul did.
But he also asked for prayers along the way:
30 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, 31 that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints;
Paul’s prayer request is twofold:
32 so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and relax in your company. 33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.
I want you to notice again here that Paul believes that it is the will of God for him to visit Rome. And he also says he expects to come to them “in joy”.
What did we just establish a few minutes ago? What was Paul’s status when he finally arrived in Rome? He was a prisoner. And he had been shipwrecked and bitten by a poisonous snake along the way! Did Paul still arrive in Rome filled with joy?
To find out the answer to that question, we can look at Acts 28:15, which is the first verse that Luke wrote after he and Paul had landed in Rome:
And from there the brothers and sisters, when they heard about us, came as far as the Market of Appius and the Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
Did Paul let the circumstances of his arrival to Rome dictate his attitude? Not at all.
He simply thanked God for the opportunity to connect with other believers and he took strength and courage from the fact that he was not alone.
And as the book of Acts comes to an end, here are the last two verses: 30 Now Paul stayed two full years in his own rented lodging and welcomed all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching things about the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
Do you see how this ties back in with the theme of self-denial? Paul still was a prisoner. He could have focused on that. “Woe is me! Life is so unfair! I didn’t do anything to deserve this!” But instead he takes any opportunity he has to receive visitors and tell them about the love of Jesus. Which is why he is able to write to the Philippians from prison and say this: (Phil. 1:12) Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.
What circumstances are you facing today that God can use for the greater progress of the gospel? Are you ready and willing to be used in that way?