Sunday, March 29, 2015

Romans 16: The Goal Of The Gospel

Romans 16:
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21 Timothy, my co-worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Jews.
22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.
Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. [24] [e]
25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.



Earlier this month, the local social media was abuzz with news that Putrajaya has purchased a new private jet for our Prime Minister’s use. It costs tax payers RM 109 million. Many people wonder if the money could be put to better use at a time when people are tightening their belt with rising costs of living. But even Putrajaya was outdone by a pastor who caused an even bigger uproar by asking 200,000 supporters to donate $300 each to his ministry. You may ask why would a mega church pastor need to raise 60 million dollars? (> two times more expensive) Is it for a noble cause like providing education and medicine to poor children? Or feed starving people around the world? Well, sadly no.

All that money will go to buy Pastor Dollar a brand new luxury private jet so he could "continue reaching a lost and dying world for the Lord Jesus Christ." A few people dug deep into their wallets to send him the cash. The rest of us started feeling sick in our stomachs at so many levels. Why can’t he just fly commercial planes? Which Jesus is he preaching anyway? The real Son of God arrived on the back of a humble donkey. He didn’t require a first class, luxury chariot. A prosperity preacher who gets rich off the offerings of poor people is not only exploiting/oppressing the church, he is denying everything that the gospel stands for. There is a word for it: He is fleecing the sheep for his own selfish profit.

That’s why the apostle Paul warns us to watch out for false teachers in the passage we read just now. He says: Be alert of what they are up to. Be on the lookout for their scams. He tells us to keep away from them. There is no getting close to them with a holy kiss. Instead, turn away. Separate yourself from their lifestyles and teachings. Because if we remain silent and pretend that everything is hunky dory, we are in effect giving them legitimacy and opportunity to cause further damage and harm. At the very least, we are showing consent by our silence and close association with them.

Look at verse 17-19: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.” 

There is a sharp transition from greetings to warnings here.

Why? Because unity of the church (expressed by the holy kiss) has its foundation on Christ. We share the same faith in the gospel of His kingdom. That is the basis for our fellowship and partnership. In Christ, we transcend all cultural, social, ethnic barriers.

That is the reason Paul now warns them to be on guard against false teachers who threaten to divide their community. His anger was aroused by their attempts to cause disunity in the church by contradicting apostolic teachings. Contrary to the claims of books like Da Vinci Code that everything is up for grabs until the church tradition defines what orthodoxy is hundreds of years later, Paul is referring to an already established body of apostolic tradition that is normative and binding even at this very early stage of the Christian faith. Truth unites God’s people. Heresy separates and divides us.   

Now look at verse 19: *Everyone has heard about your obedience*, Paul says, *so I am full of joy over you*. But there are two kinds of obedience – blind obedience or discerning, eyes-wide-open obedience. Yes, I’m happy to hear of your obedience *but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil*. To be wise and discerning is to recognize what is good, to love it and follow it. But when it comes to evil, be innocent like a child.

Now, how do we discern truth from error? Paul gives us three litmus tests that we could apply in the form of questions to any kind of teaching we come across.

Does it agree with Scripture? (The biblical test – is it contrary to the apostles’ teaching?)
Does it glorify our Lord Jesus? (The Christological test – does it serve Jesus or someone else?)
Does it promote goodness? (The moral test – be experts in good, and not even beginners in evil)

Recently, I had the chance to speak to some of our guests here and find a recurring theme: one family drove here from quite a distance because they are looking for a church that teaches the Bible consistently and faithfully. They said it’s hard to find one. One sister was greatly helped by solid Bible teachings she found online that made her to question and seek for a similar church. Yet another family shared with me that they were frustrated when teachers do not faithfully interpret what Scripture says, but go off tangent on their own favorite topics that had no connection whatsoever with the text.

Although I don’t know if they will eventually find CDPC Puchong a suitable home church or not, I want to commend them for their commitment to take the trouble to discern the truth from error. I want to encourage you to continue your hunger for faithful preaching of God’s word. Because for some people, it is simply not a priority…

Once I heard a guest preacher from the UK came to a local church and he taught from the pulpit: “There are many ways of salvation apart from Jesus. As long as they are sincere, it doesn’t matter what they believe”. Only a few people picked it up (maybe about ten), and we had a conversation with him after the service. What surprised me was that most people didn’t even realize that what the preacher taught was far from biblical. They just continued with their normal Sunday activities without a hint. Either they didn’t understand his British accent or it simply didn’t matter to them.

But it does matter. It matters whether we are divided by error. It matters for the glory of Christ. It matters for the well being and unity of God’s people.

That is why as part of our Church membership requirement we go through a few sessions on our Basic Beliefs on: What is the gospel? What are some of our core values we hold in unity? Because if we are divided, fragmented and we do not even agree on core doctrines like who Jesus is and what the gospel means, then it would be an obstacle for the church to grow and serve together. In the essentials, let there be unity. On the non-essentials, let there be diversity. We can agree to disagree on lots of other things (which are important to us, and we may have strong views about speaking in tongues or end time scenarios) because the unity we share in Christ and in the gospel transcends all these differences.
In all things, let there be charity, gentleness and respect.

That’s also why I need you to help our team of preachers who serve you by teaching God’s word. Pray for us. Discern with us. Check out our pulpit calendar and study the Scripture text in advance. Help each other to grow in discernment. I always welcome your feedback to help me to be more faithful to the text and more effective in teaching it. If I ever teach things that seem contrary to what the Bible says, you’d do me a great favor by gently pointing it out and correcting me from the authority of Scripture. Maybe that would help me improve. Maybe that would give me a chance to clarify. Whatever it is, our teachings matter so that we give Christ the glory He deserves and to maintain unity in His body.

Behind these false teachers and divisions and factions, Paul sees the work of Satan, the enemy. So look at the promise in verse 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. God’s peace is not compromise with evil. It is not through appeasing Satan but the defeat of evil that true peace is attained. For that, we need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

With these warnings, Paul continued with a shorter list of names and greetings. Here we go again in verse 21-23 other fellow workers and friends of Paul who were with him in Corinth show up to send their greetings to the church in Rome. Timothy is his famous son, protégé in the Lord. Do you notice something interesting here verse 22? “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” The ideas and words in this letter were all from Paul but he was technically not the person who wrote it down. He collaborates with a scribe named Tertius. And if I could meet him personally, I want to thank Tertius for writing one of the most influential and important letters ever written. It was a momentous task, a difficult mission to keep up with Paul’s complex thoughts especially when he gets excited, but he has done a wonderful job so we can read it today.  

With that we come to the appropriate conclusion, the grand finale of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here he breaks forth into praise: “To the only wise God be glory forever“! There is a reason for this and it’s simply this: Theology is for doxology. After reflecting and explaining who God is and what Christ has done to effect our salvation at such length and depth, it is time to bow down and worship Him for all that He is, for all that he has done. Because the goal of all Bible studies, of all Christian education, of all Sunday school catechism, of all youth group Systematic theology, of all Alpha course, of all doctrinal reflection is ultimately for the glory and love of God. They are like fuel that feeds the fire of our worship. That’s why in our worship songs we put a high premium on solid, truthful and biblical lyrics and express that in song, with emotion.

Because the purpose of studying about God is not to just stop at satisfying our curiosity or some sort of intellectual exercise. God is not to be merely analyzed and discussed, He is to be adored, marveled at, obeyed, exulted in, to be reveled in and magnified for all that He is. If theology stops short of worship/doxology, it is stunted and incomplete. Do you see and do you love it? You were made for this. Something deep in your soul is saying to you: I was made for this—to behold the glory of God and to reflect that glory. 
What does Paul praise God for? Interestingly, God is glorified for 3 things… Three major themes in the entire letter of Romans captured in a nutshell. These are the same themes found at the very beginning of this letter’s introduction (Romans 1).

1) Earlier, he speaks of the power of God to save sinners. Now, he speaks of God’s power to establish saints. He not only brings us to faith, He also strengthens and nurtures us to grow in faith. When we see that spiritual progress is getting hard and seems hopeless, that’s not a reason to give up… All the more you should press on because God is able to establish us against errors, He is able to make us stand firm against temptation. He is able to grant us courage against dangers.

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till he returns or calls me home
Here is the power of God I stand.

2) Paul speaks of the gospel of Christ as something promised and revealed progressively “through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God” (verse 26). It is a mystery that beyond the powers of the human mind to discover on its own, a secret that is hidden for long ages past in symbols, hints and clues in the Old Testament. But now it is revealed fully in the person of Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection as recorded in the NT.  

Spurgeon has this to say about how we read all of Scripture, especially the OT: “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London? So from every text of Scripture there is a road to Christ. And my dear brother, your business is, when you get to a text, to say, now, what is the road to Christ? I have never found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if ever I do find one, I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it.”

Christ is in the OT concealed, and in the NT revealed.

3) Thirdly, God is praised for *the evangelization of the nations*. Not only is the gospel revealed, it must also be made known *all nations might believe and obey him* (verse 26). Again, this is a major theme at the beginning of Romans 1:5 – Paul received his calling as an apostle to *bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of Christ’s name among all nations*.

And this is not a divine suggestion. This universal, all inclusive commission to bring the gospel to all nations is by *by the command of the eternal God* to unite Jews and Gentiles, bumiputra and non bumiputra as one people in Christ. And the only proper response to the gospel is faith alone, but it is not just merely lip service (I believe, and then live just like everybody else). That faith is itself an act of obedience to what God has revealed and demanded… and that genuine faith will result in a life of obeying Christ as Lord and King.  
So, God is praised and worshiped for His wisdom and power in making known the gospel through Scripture, by God’s command, so that all nations may believe and obey.

Let us worship him for his power and wisdom displayed in the gospel.

11 comments:

Perisai Pedang said...

Thanks for your faithfulness in blogging, bro Dave.

How are you, btw?

I am coming back to revive my blog.I have been writing on my facebook (Pena Rajawali) but they got mixed up with other things that my followers hard to trace back my former postings...

Hey, we have never met up, kan?

Joshua Lim said...

Hi, Dave. Joshua Lim here. The 3 Litmus tests u mentioned are fine. Nevertheless, if things were so clear like you say, we wont be having so many different Interpretations based on the same 66 books. I think glorifying Jesus Christ is easier to discern.I agree with you on the urgency to share the way of salvation thru Jesus Christ, epistemology & hermeneutics aside.In non-essentials, maintaining our bond in Christ.

Dave Chang said...

Helo Pena Rajawali, we'd not met face to face yet though you are my FB friend lar. More pastoral duties now so less time to blog. Only upload sermons now haha... catch up when ur in KL or when i go sabah lar.

Hi Joshua, thanks for your comments! Agree that it's not easy and could be complex... though it's heartening to note that the technical debates usually revolve around those basic questions.

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