Reflection on Romans 1:8-17

Scripture

I am not ashamed of the Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes- the Jews first and also the Gentile.

Observation

Paul thanks God for the believers in Rome, whose faith is being talked about throughout the world.

He prays often for them and for their needs. He especially prays for the opportunity to be able to visit them.

So far, Paul has been prevented from going to Rome, but he longs to go and work among them.

Application

The gospel is God’s mighty power at work, bringing salvation to both Jews and Gentiles.

Paul is clear in his writing that there is no distinction in the way God deals with people. There is not one pathway for Jews and another for Gentiles. We are all saved by faith in Christ.

This is the power of God at work. We are brought from a place of condemnation to a place of reconciliation with God. We know it is true because our hearts yearn for relationship with God.

God came into the world to reveal to us His great love for us. He died to set us free from death and sin.

The preaching of the gospel is powerful to change lives because it is empowered and endorsed by the Holy Spirit. The words of the gospel are brought to life by the confirmation in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

God’s mighty power breathes life into souls that were dead and washes away all of our sin, guilt and shame.

Prayer

Thank you Father for the power of the gospel. Thank you for sending Jesus into the world to pay for my sins. Amen.

Reflection on Romans 1:1-7

Scripture

The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David’s family line and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Observation

The letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ set apart to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles. The Good News is about Jesus Christ.

We are called by God to belong to Christ. We are loved by God and called to be His holy people.

Application

The Good News is all about Jesus Christ God’s Son.

Jesus was born into the family line of King David. He is the descendant of David of whom it was promised would reign on the throne for ever.

Jesus is both human- the Son of Man- and the divine Son of God. While He is forever part of the Trinity, He has also uniquely lived among us ad knows what it is like to be a person.

In that sense, Jesus is like us. He was tempted and tested just as we are. He faced every human weakness and overcame it all.

Finally the people nailed Him to a cross, seeking to remove His sinless perfection from them. His death on the cross became the sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world.

But death could not hold Him down. The resurrection demonstrated to the whole world that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for calling me into your kingdom and into the family of believers. Amen.

Ephesians 2:15

Here is my commentary on Ephesians 2:15. I am publishing these once or twice a week, but you can read all of the available articles at our web-site, http://www.new-life.org.au

Ephesians 2:15

“… by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one man in the place of two, so making peace.”

We are used to saying that Christ took our sins on his body on the cross, here Paul is saying something far more radical. Christ took the law with all of its commandments and regulations, and put it to death on the cross.

Jesus dealt with our guilt by destroying the power of the law to condemn us. If there is no law, there can be no transgression and no condemnation.

Every year politicians add more and more laws to our law books. There are so many now, some of them contradictory, so that it is impossible for any person to know all the laws that might apply to them, much less to know if they have broken the laws.

Just in driving a vehicle, the laws have become so many and so varied that most people break the law every day.

Paul says that in respect to the Jewish law, the law of God, Christ abolished the law in his flesh.

What freedom this brings to us, knowing that we are no longer bound by laws of sacrifice and diet. When we break those laws we are no longer under judgement because the laws are no longer in existence. Christ abolished them.

The early church had to wrestle with the question of whether the Gentiles who became Christians first had to become Jews. Did the uncircumcised have to belong to” the circumcision” to be acceptable to God? No,the Law had been abolished in Christ.

The result of the abolition of the law was the abolition of the distinction between Jews and Gentiles. If a Jew was the person who obeyed (or tried to obey) God’s law, then where there is no law there is no distinction between the two, other than perhaps cultural differences.

When it comes to salvation, when it comes to God, both Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat. They are “one new man.”

If the law has been abolished by Christ, Jewish people cannot be saved by the Law. Like Gentiles, they can only be saved by grace through faith in Christ. And many have been.

The” one new man” that Paul talks about here is the Christian Jews together with the Gentiles who follow Christ. Whether Jew or non-Jew, it is faith in Jesus that saves us, and it is faith in Jesus that unites us.

By abolishing the law in his flesh, Jesus is made peace between the two factions. There can no longer be any debate, conflict or hostility between the two as we are all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Where there is family, there is peace

Key points in this verse

  • Christ abolished the law in his flesh
  • Where there is no law there is no guilt
  • Jews and Gentiles alike are saved by faith in Christ, not by the law
  • Jews and Gentiles who are saved are part of one family, brothers and sisters in Christ
  • Where there is family there is piece

Reflection on Matthew 11:16-30

Scripture

Then Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Observation

Jesus addresses the crowds. He says that people complained against John the Baptist because he was harsh in his judgements and lived an austere lifestyle. But they are now critical of Jesus for partying with sinners,

He goes on to denounce the towns where he has worked great signs and miracles, but the people in those towns failed to repent.

Then Jesus makes His offer to all who will trust Him. If we let go of the burdens that wear us down and take up His yoke, we will receive rest in Him.

Application

The religious laws were a heavy burden for the Jewish people. The original laws given by God were not meant to weigh people down, but to be a joyous part of life. But over the centuries they became such an imposition that nobody could hope to fulfil them all. What had been a means to fellowship with God was now a barrier to fellowship with God.

So Jesus offers us a different way. We no longer have to obey rules to find peace with God. We simply have to receive the grace of God through Christ. Then our burdens are lifted away and we find rest in Him.

Of course, the religious spirit, which infects every sphere of human existence, immediately rears its head and tries to destroy grace. We feel inadequate because we fall into sin. Churches and pastors invent rules to define acceptable behaviour. A spiritual principle morphs into a religious rule.

Be on your guard against those who say, “You must,” You ought to,” or “Thou shalt not.” Instead the Holy Spirit will direct your conscience and the Word of God will be your guide.

Our way of living must always flow from our relationship with Christ.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for the rest that you give when I hand all my burdens to you. Protect me Lord from false religion and harmful rules. Amen.

Reflection on Romans 7:15-25

Scripture

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

Observation

Paul expresses the dilemma faced by many people. He says: I want to obey God’s law, I want to do what is right, but I don’t. I know God’s law is good, but my sinful nature is what keeps leading me into sin.

If I cannot do what I want to do, then it shows that I am a slave to sin. Sin is like a power that fights me.

There s only one way out of this dilemma, and that is through Jesus Christ.

Application

The old nature, the old man, the flesh, the sinful nature- it has many names. The fact is that as long as we live in this life, we will be prone to sin.

We can only live the holy life we want to live to the extent that we have crucified our old nature and allowed Christ to take control.

The christian life, the way of discipleship, is an ongoing process of allowing God to show us our sin and letting Him deal with it.

That is why Paul says that the answer to out sin problem is Jesus Christ. It is not just about forgiveness of sins, but deliverance from sin. It is not just about salvation but also about sanctification.

We were saved for good works (not saved by good works). When we allow Jesus to break the chains of our sins, then we can begin to be set free to live the lives that we were created for.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you are the way out of sin. You don’t just forgive us but you also teach us and equip us to live holy lives. Thank you. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 28:17-31

Scripture

He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.

Observation

After arriving in Rome, Paul is placed under house arrest. He calls together the local Jewish leaders. He tells them that he was brought to Rome because he was falsely accused in Jerusalem and had to appeal to Caesar.

They set a time to meet with the Jewish people of Rome. Paul shows from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for. Some believe what Paul says, but others do not believe.

Paul continues to live in Rome for two years, proclaiming the gospel boldly to all who come to visit him.

Application

The last words of Acts summarise the whole book: Nobody can stop the gospel.

Here is Paul at the centre of the great empire, the seat of human power. He is under arrest waiting for his appeal to he heard. He seems to be in the position of weakness.

Paul was in prison, but the gospel was not. This is still true today.

There are people who try to censor the gospel and mute the church. The gospel will not be stopped because it is God’s word, God’s message of salvation.

Even the greatest power the world has seen could not quash the preaching of the gospel. Over many decades, the powers would try to eradicate christians, but they failed. In fact, it was Christ who overcame Caesar, not the other way round.

In today’s era, where those who oppose God seem to be on the rise in western nations, we need to remember that no human power has ever been able to thwart God’s Kingdom.

Prayer

Thank you Lord that you are stronger than any human opposition. Thank you for the assurance that your Kingdom will outlast all human empires. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 28:1-16

Scripture

The people waited for him to swell up or suddenly drop dead. But when they had waited for a long time and saw that he wasn’t harmed, they changed their minds and decided he was a god.

Observation

The people on the island, which turned out to be Malta, welcome the shipwreck survivors and build a fire on the shore for them.

Paul gathers some sticks to lay on the fire, and a snake bites him on the hand. The locals decide that he must be a murderer to be punished like this. When he fails to show any ill effects, they decide he must be a god.

Paul and his companions go to the estate of Publius, the chief official of the island. Publius’s father is very ill, so Paul lays hands on him and heals him. All of the sick people on the island then come to Paul and all are healed.

Application

When Paul is bitten by the snake, the people of Malta assume that he must have done something bad to deserve it. But when Paul survives, they change their minds and declare him to be a god.

People are very quick to judge others when something bad befalls them. That judgement can be fickle as it was in the case of Paul.

We know that God is gracious and wants everyone to repent. He will pour out amazing quantities of grace to win over the worst of sinners.

Jesus reminds us that God sends sunshine and rain to both the righteous and the unrighteous alike. We cannot assume anyone’s state of holiness or favour with God by what is happening in their life at any time.

Prayer

Father, please forgive me for assuming things about those who are suffering and those who are prospering. Please help me to see all people as you see them. Amen.

Reflection on Acts 27:13-44

Scripture

“For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me , and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!’’

Observation

Gale force winds blow, and the sailors are not able to control the ship’s direction. They begin throwing the cargo overboard hoping to save the ship.

After many days, all hope is lost. Paul tells the crew to take courage. Paul says an angel came in the night to assure him that nobody on the ship would die, although they would be shipwrecked.

About midnight on the fourteenth day of the storm, it appears that the ship will be driven onto rocks. Some of the sailors try to abandon the ship, but Paul tells the commanding officer that they will all die unless the sailors stay on board. The soldiers then cut the rope to the lifeboat.

At dawn, they see a likely landing place, but the ship hits rocks. Everyone heads to shore and they all survive.

Application

While everyone was afraid, Paul was at peace. He knew that God was with him, even before the angel gave him the encouraging report.

When we are at the centre of God’s will, we can know peace that the world cannot understand. When we have a mission from the Lord, even the greatest of storms will not pull us down.

There is peace in the presence of the Lord.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for your peace, your shalom. Help me to walk at the centre of your will so that when the storms of life threaten to overcome me, I will not be afraid. Amen.

Spurious Bible Verses That Should Be There

I just love those Bible verses that people are convinced really exist but aren’t real, but should be. I think we have all heard them whether they are derived from popular imagination or misapplication or poor translation.

Here are some of my favourite Biblical non-quotes.

God helps those who help themselves

Definitely not in the Bible, not even once. It is often used as a justification for getting out there and achieving the goals you want to achieve, with little or no reflection on whether God might want the goal achieved or not.

In a sense this proverb is totally anti-christian. God saves us by grace. We have to come to a place where we realise that we are totally helpless and dependent on God alone. We cannot earn our way to heaven and we can do nothing to persuade God that we are good enough.

On the other hand, it is true that in many areas of life we have to work with God to achieve his purposes. We need evangelists to actually preach the gospel, teachers to teach God’s word, and of course somebody to clean the church bathrooms.

This one should be in the Bible, but with about two pages of footnotes explaining how it applies.

God inhabits the praises of His people.

Awesome verse this one. It suggests that when God’s people gather and praise Him from their heart, then He will come and inhabit the praise and be manifested among us.

This verse, which I really wish was in there, is a mangling of the KJV translation of Psalm 22:3.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

So the verse actually says that God inhabits the praises of Israel. If it applies to everyone who praises God then surely David, who would have been the world champion of praising, should not be so miserable and feeling abandoned by God.

The NIV translates Psalm 22:3 as:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises

It does suggest in the footnotes the rendering “You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

It’s not as straight forward as we would like it to be. To me, what this verse is really saying is that God is in control and His people will praise Him regardless of how distant it seems that He is.

The anointing breaks the yoke

This one is often quoted as an encouragement that the presence of God’s Spirit (“the anointing”) breaks the opposition of the devil (“the yoke.”)

I absolutely agree with this, but it isn’t in the Bible.

The King James Version of Isaiah 10:27 says

And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing.

The “he” in this verse is the King of Assyria who for a long time severely oppressed the nation of Israel. The promise is that the yoke of slaveryto the Assyrians would be broken by the Lord.

The NIV translates this verse as:

In that day their burden will be lifted from your shoulders,
    their yoke from your neck;
the yoke will be broken
    because you have grown so fat.

The NIV also gives the alternative translation as “the yoke will be broken from your shoulders.”

I don’t know why growing fat would cause the Lord to break the yoke, but that might just indicate a Hebrew verse that is hard to understand- that does happen occasionally.

In any event, this passage has little to do with the presence of the Holy Spirit smashing the bondage of demonic powers.

So another verse that should be there, but sadly isn’t. However, it is true that God is greater than all opposition- spiritual and human. As christians we can look to Him to break the yokes that hold us in bondage. That’s an issue of prayer, faithful obedience to God and faith in Him.

I understand that it is easy to talk in spiritual short hand and that sometimes that is helpful. But it is really important that we don’t build whole doctrines on Scriptures that don’t exist. Let’s try to stick to what the Bible says not what we half remember some preacher somewhere claims.

Reflection on Acts 27:1-12

Scripture

“Men,” he said, “I believe there is trouble ahead for us if we go on- shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well.”

Observation

Finally, Paul and his companions board a ship headed for Italy. As a prisoner, Paul is in the custody of a Roman officer.

As they travel, they face increasingly stormy weather. Paul tells the officers that if they continue, they face shipwreck, loss of cargo and threat to lives.

The officer in charge of the prisoners listens to the ship’s owner and the captain rather than Paul.

Application

It is clear from the narrative that the ship faces adverse weather conditions. It is possible that this is not just a physical phenomenon but a demonic opposition to Paul’s journey to Rome.

Paul tried to warn the officer guarding him and the other prisoners that the consequences of carrying on would be disastrous, but the officer would have thought that Paul was just trying to delay his trial in Rome.

On the natural level, it is understandable that a person would pay more attention to the people of the status of ship’s owner and captain rather than a prisoner.

This is where discernment comes in. Christians have the gift of the Holy Spirit, and if we take time to listen to the Holy Spirit, we can go beyond what is natural and, instead, move in the wisdom of God.

Too often we judge by whatever our eyes and reason tell us rather than listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

We need to learn to listen and trust the “still small voice.”

Prayer

Holy Spirit, teach me how to listen to you, how to discern the difference between godly wisdom and human wisdom. Let me walk in your grace always. Amen.