Agreeable disagreeing

Back in 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church gathered together for its annual denominational meeting. During the course of these meetings the bishops were involved in a heated dispute full of fussing and feuding. A few doors down the street another meeting was going on. The Bulshavics had assembled together to plot the overthrow of the Czar. This marked the beginning of what we now know as communism. So what was the church arguing about while the empire was crumbling around them? Candles—were they to be 18” or 22” long?
Fortunately, this happened in Russia over one hundred years ago. I’m relieved to say that similar occurrences have not happened since. I’m also proud to say that this would never happen in America today. I confess, I am being a bit sarcastic. I wish that I could say it was optimism, but it’s really sarcasm. The sad truth is that the church has been filled with division and disunity since its inception. This has led to church splits, pastoral resignations, and great disgrace brought upon the name of Christ. The popular pastor and radio preacher, Chuck Swindoll, says that he has looked at many churches and he has yet to find a church that split over what he would call an essential issue. How tragic! Stop for just a moment and think about what churches disagree over. We disagree over whether we should have pews or chairs, whether flags should be present or absent, whether we should sing hymns or choruses, whether we should use the organ or the keyboard, and whether we should have drums or no drums. Other issues of disunity surround the timing of Christ’s return, the mode of baptism, the charismatic gifts, women in ministry, and church government. Yet, to all of these, I can only exclaim, “How trivial!” Now I realize that in making my point I may have stepped on your toes. But please stay with me as we look into God’s Word. In Romans 15:1-13 Paul testifies that true unity demands sensitivity. He then unfolds two aims that are necessary to ensure and preserve biblical unity.

1. Aim To Please One Another (15:1-6)
Paul calls us to imitate Christ in pleasing other people rather than ourselves. In 15:1 Paul writes: “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.” It is important to understand the distinction between the “strong” and the “weak.” They aren’t strong or weak physically, mentally, emotionally, or even necessarily spiritually; their strength or weakness is specifically related to their attitude toward “non-essentials.” God has said clearly that some things are always right for everyone. He has also said that some things are always wrong for everyone. But regarding many things, God hasn’t said. The “strong” Christian is one who has lots of freedom of conscience respecting these matters not nailed down in the Bible. The “weak” Christian has very little freedom of conscience about these matters. This person tends to have quite a long list of “don’ts.”

Here, Paul includes himself with the “strong” and states that those who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak. The word translated “ought” (opheilo) doesn’t mean “should,” it means “to be a debtor under obligation.” Paul is not making a recommendation; he is imposing a rule. He is saying that the strong need to limit their Christian liberty so they can reduce the problems of their brethren. He expects those with greater freedom to make sacrifices. “To bear” (bastazo) is not just enduring or tolerating someone; it means to personally shoulder a burden as if it was your own. It means to do something hard and costly for the sake of another. The verb is used in the Gospels of Jesus bearing His cross (Luke 14:27 and John 19:17).

So how do we “bear the weaknesses” of the weak and not please ourselves? Paul tells us in 15:2: “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.” Paul’s use of “each of us” leaves no room for any exceptions. We are to please our “neighbor.” What is this Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood? No! The unexpected use of the word “neighbor” (plesion) reveals that Paul has the “love command” of Lev 19:18 in mind: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He expects us to be sensitive to our Christian brother or sister who is close by. In other words, we are to seek to please those whom we have frequent contact with in our church or community. True unity demands sensitivity.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “your freedom ends where my nose begins.” In a sense that is what Paul is saying, only it’s not noses he’s interested in—it’s spiritual growth. Paul indicates that our goal is to please other believers for the purpose of their “edification” (oikodome, 15:2b). This is a term that means “to build others up spiritually.” Hence, we must follow the preferences of other believers with respect to our liberties. If your mother-in-law lives in the same town as you do and her conscience is violated by dancing don’t flaunt your freedom to dance in her face. If a brother’s conscience in your small group is bothered by gambling, don’t ask him to participate in a fantasy football league that requires a buy-in. If your spouse’s conscience is bothered by drinking alcohol, don’t drink.

Maybe you are uncomfortable with the command to please people. Paul says that we are to please others, yet elsewhere he warns us of pleasing people. How do we resolve this tension? Paul is not saying that we should be “people pleasers” and do whatever anyone wants us to do simply because it will please them. We must differentiate between pleasing God and pleasing people. Boiled down, in its simplest form, we should not please others rather than God, but we should please others rather than ourselves. After all, “pleasing ourselves” is what causes people to fracture on every scale. From the marriage or family arguing about what TV program to watch or what to do on a vacation, right up to nations fighting to preserve their own interests: Pleasing ourselves destroys peace and harmony.

In 15:3 Paul uses a doctrinal sledgehammer to crack a behavioral nut. He quotes Psalm 69:9 to support this claim that we must please other believers above ourselves. He writes: “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.’” In this Psalm King David is pictured as taking the abuse of the people because he stood up for God. Paul applies that to Christ in an apt analogy; our insults to God, our sins, were placed on Christ on the cross.

The “Me” in the quotation is Christ; the “You” is God. Paul’s point is: Christ didn’t think of His rights when He went to the cross. Christ thought only of our needs when He died for us. He endured every manner of taunting and suffering. Now, if the Son of God didn’t please Himself but when He went to the cross for us, how much more so ought we to seek to please our brothers and sisters in Christ? If Jesus could endure the insults of others, we should certainly be willing to put up with the minor irritations from Christians with different viewpoints.

If you are a believer, you are likely a stronger brother or sister in some area. Take a moment and run through the various roles and relationships in your life (e.g., spouse, parent, sibling, relative, neighbor, employee, church member). As you consider these relationships, stop and ask yourself this question: with whom and in what area am I willing to forgo my personal preferences for the sake of someone else? True unity demands sensitivity.

Verse 4 is seen by many as a parenthesis or a digression by Paul, but if we are careful as we look at it we can see that what Paul is doing is explaining why the Psalm he just quoted should speak to us. Paul puts it like this: “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.” In this important verse, Paul shares four valuable Bible benefits:

(1) The Bible provides instruction. Although these benefits are applicable to both the Old and New Testaments, Paul is specifically referring here to the Old Testament. It’s been well said that the greatest commentary for understanding the New Testament is a thorough grasp of the Old Testament. This means that if we want to really understand God’s Word, we must not neglect the Old Testament. It will feed us and give us wisdom for life.

(2) The Bible provides perseverance. Reading the stories of godly men and women who have persevered through various trials and tests motivates us to seek to do the same. Perseverance is a “holy hanging in there.” We all need this attribute when we are seeking to please other believers.

(3)The Bible provides encouragement. The great Old Testament characters were sinful beings just like us, and yet in spite of themselves, God used them powerfully. This encourages us to seek to accomplish great feats for God.

(4) The Bible provides hope. In the Old Testament we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to His people and His program. His character reminds us that we have an unshakable future. “Hope” (elpis) is especially needed by Christians when facing suffering in the midst of Christian relationships.

The “hope” of 15:4 causes Paul to break into prayer and praise in 15:5-6: “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice [lit. mouth] glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These verses declare that unity is all about Christ! In 15:5 Paul informs us that “perseverance and encouragement” (15:4) not only come through the Scriptures, but they are ultimately gifts from God. “Perseverance and encouragement” are necessary to keep giving up what we enjoy and are free to partake of.

Paul wishes that all his readers, both the strong and the weak, would appropriate these gifts and apply them in their interpersonal relationships. The result would be unity in the church—we would be “of the same mind.” Bear in mind that this does not mean we have to be of the same opinion. I don’t agree with any one person on every single point of theology or practice. Neither do you. The command is not for uniformity but for unity. To be “of the same mind” means that our attitudes and actions exude harmony and unity. It means that we share a common perspective and purpose. We don’t let the minor issues overtake the major issues.

The last phrase of 15:5 says that we are to do this “according to Christ Jesus.” This phrase refers us back to Christ’s example (15:3) and reminds us that unity is only possible through Christ. A simple question to ask yourself is this: On a particular non-essential issue, is it better to get my way and please myself or is it better to give in and please a brother or sister? Billy Holiday, U.S. jazz singer (1915-1959), once said, “Sometimes it is worse to win a fight than to lose.” True unity demands sensitivity.

There is a purpose clause (“so that”) in 15:6 that ties the concept of pleasing God and people together. Paul states that the purpose of unity is united, vocal praise to God. When this occurs in the church it is an evidence of unity among the strong and the weak. With “one accord” and with “one voice” we are to glorify Christ! This is why we were created. If you’re sold out to Christ and His church you are going to be chomping at the bit to sing praise to God.

Sadly, division in the church over non-essential issues diverts precious time and energy from its basic mission: the proclamation of the gospel and the glorifying of God. This is a shame! God wants us to come together, to unify as one body, and to lift up praise to God. We should be able to do that, shouldn’t we? The church at Rome was challenged to do this while it was made up of Jews and Gentiles—people with racial, cultural, and religious differences as well as a history of hatred for one another. Your church home may be a diverse body, but you probably aren’t too terribly different from one another. We’re certainly not diverse like the Roman church. God wants us to forsake our preferences and to worship Him.
You may not like our worship style. That’s okay; just don’t let it affect your worship to God or your fellowship with people. God isn’t going to ask you, “Did you attend a church where your musical preferences were met?” He’s going to ask you, “Were you able to support the direction of the church and her leadership in spite of not having your preferences met?” God has called us to unity, even in diversity. He’s called us to please one another. Imagine with me a church that thrives on maintaining unity. Imagine saints that are willing to sacrifice some of their preferences to reach out to a new generation of young people. Imagine young people building relationships and actively caring for those saints who willingly yielded their preferences. What could God do with such a church?
[In order to preserve biblical unity, Paul has said we are to aim to please one another. Now he will state that we are to . . .]
2. Aim To Accept One Another (15:7-13)
We must accept one another because Christ has accepted us along with every other believer. In 15:7 Paul writes, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” The word “Therefore” (dio) looks back to the discussion Paul began in 14:1.The verb “accept” also repeats Paul’s opening exhortation in 14:1. The word translated “accept” (proslambano) is more accurately translated “welcome” or “receive.” This word means that we are to receive into full fellowship our brothers and sisters in Christ. It means to value an individual so much that he or she experiences warmth and belonging. It means to open your heart and your home to another person. True unity demands sensitivity.

People desire acceptance at every level of life: in the family, in marriage, in the classroom, in the workplace. God wired us to seek acceptance, but He wants us to find acceptance in Himself. When we place our faith in Christ, God accepts us. However, Paul is also stating that it is inconsistent for a Christian to reject someone whom God has accepted. We are to receive one another as Jesus Christ has received us. We are fellow members of the family of God. This results in glory for God. To put it simply, God’s goal in everything He does is to bring glory to Himself. The word “glory” (doxa) means to be well spoken of. When we are unified, the God whom we represent receives the glory. He is well spoken of. On the other hand, when we are divisive, rejecting, and lacking in unity, our actions reflect badly upon our heavenly Father. Let not this be the case with us. Rather, let us discover life’s ultimate pursuit: the glory of God.

In 15:8-12 Paul illustrates how Christ accepts us to the glory of God. He begins with a general statement: “For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy” (15:8-9a). Paul explains that Christ became a servant for two important reasons: (1) “to confirm the promises given to the fathers” (15:8b). The word “promises” is plural and looks at the unconditional covenants given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This reminds us of the unconditional faithfulness of God. (2) Christ became a servant to the Gentiles so that the Gentiles might “glorify God for His mercy.” We who are Gentiles should stand in awe of God’s mercy for saving us. God had made no promises to us, and we had no covenants with Him, yet we are heirs with Christ.

In 15:9b-12 Paul quotes four different Old Testament texts in rapid succession to show how the Old Testament promised that the Gentiles would become part of God’s chosen people. In these four verses Paul quotes from the books of the Law, the books of poetry, and the prophets. Please notice the progression in these four Old Testament quotations.
The first quotation (from 2 Sam 22:50) says that Christ will be praised among the Gentiles.
The second (from Deut 32:43) says that the Gentiles and Jews will praise God together.
The third quotation (from Ps 117:1) calls on all the Gentiles to praise the Lord.
The fourth quotation (from Isa 11:10) looks forward to the day when Christ will return and reign over the nations of the earth. Paul writes: “As it is written, ‘THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.’ Again he says, ‘REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.’ And again, ‘PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.’ Again Isaiah says, ‘THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.’” Don’t miss the key point: God always planned to include the Gentiles in His kingdom. He wanted His family to include many different kinds of people from many different backgrounds. These verses prove that our God is a multicultural God with a heart as big as the entire world.

Paul’s point is: God has included all people! We are welcomed by Him! Three times in three verses God calls the Gentiles and the Jews to rejoice together (15:9-11). Furthermore, no less than five different Greek words for praise are used in these brief Old Testament quotes, reminding us how significant praise is in God’s sight.53 The church of Jesus Christ must throw off all racial, social, cultural, and philosophical preferences for the purpose of praise and unity. True unity demands sensitivity.

Here’s how the apostle closes this passage in 15:13: “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.” Don’t you love that verse? It calls God the “God of hope” whose great desire is to fill us with joy and peace. He wants His people to be filled with hope! What a wonderful picture this is. We are to be filled with joy and peace and so full of hope that it overflows (perisseuo) out of our lives and spills over to the people around us. This verse concludes the section on service dealing with the practice of God’s righteousness (12:1-15:13). What will be the fruit of an individual or a church that is marked by unity? Paul shares three wonderful fruits: joy, peace, and hope. Notice though, he states that God will have to be the One who will fill us with these fruits. Biblical unity is impossible on a human level. Only the power of the Holy Spirit is capable of bringing it about. The following application points will enable us to fulfill our responsibility to maintaining unity in our local church.

Pray for unity. Pray for unity in your local church. Ask God to reveal and remove any wrong attitudes that hinder the work of His Spirit in your midst? Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring unity in the larger body of Christ (e.g., throughout your city church, the national church, and the worldwide church).

Praise God for biblical diversity. When you meet Christians of different persuasions in matters of opinion, do not feel obligated to change their opinion. As long as it is not a matter of personal holiness or foundational biblical truth accept them for who they are in Christ. Allow them to reach different people, serve in different ministries, and enjoy different activities than you do.

What is it that everyone in the Miss United State pageant wants? World Peace! Everyone in the world wants peace . . . everyone wants harmony . . . everyone wants unity. However, true unity is only possible through Christ. As believers in Jesus Christ, God has hardwired us to yearn for unity. But this can only happen when we make it our aim to please and accept one another. True unity demands sensitivity. Today, will you make it your aim to demonstrate sacrificial sensitivity to your brothers and sisters in Christ?

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Let God be God part 2

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Authority (9:19-23)

God is sovereign in the actions He takes and gracious in withholding wrath or extending glory. Paul writes in 9:19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’” This is the exact question we are tempted to raise at this point. We might also be tempted to follow up this question with: “How can God blame people for rejecting Him if He did not choose them?” Or, if God hardens people then why does He blame them for being hard? Now this is a great spot for Paul to include an apology or strong word of explanation. But he does neither. He doesn’t try to soften his teaching nor does he feel the need to clarify or defend what he has previously taught regarding election. Don’t miss this! The question in 9:19 is only valid if the premise is valid. The premise of the question is that God is sovereign, and that He does choose to save some but not others. If the premise was wrong, then Paul would have corrected it here and now. But he doesn’t correct the premise. This further confirms that he is teaching the doctrine of individual election.

 

Paul even indicts the questioner for talking back to God: “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The question and the questioner are out of order. It’s a question that no one has a right to ask. We cannot approach God as though He were an equal or as if He had to answer to us. He is under no obligation to give us any answers at all. This is graphically illustrated for us in the book of Job. The book begins with a glimpse into heaven when Satan asks God’s permission to sift Job. The Lord grants Satan permission to do anything short of killing Job. For the next thirty-seven chapters Job goes through every type of trial imaginable. At the end of that time, God comes to Job and says to him essentially the same thing that Paul says here in these verses: “Who are you to answer back to God?”

 

What a great reminder to Let God be God. There are certain jobs that I’m not qualified for. One such job is anything dealing with automotive care. I can change my own oil, but that’s about it. Since I lack the necessary knowledge and skills, I have no right to tell an auto mechanic how to do his job. Likewise, I can’t walk into the home of another man or woman and change the rules of that household. I don’t own the place. Similarly, I don’t own this world. God does; and, He has a right to call the shots.

 

Paul backs up his theology with an Old Testament illustration. In 9:20b-21 he says: “The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?” These verses are some serious “smack down.” Paul says, “Shut your mouth!” He puts you and me in our place! Paul is trying to hammer home the point that God is wholly unaccountable for His dealings with us. This is illustrated in the matter of the potter and the clay. Doesn’t the potter have the right to take a lump of clay, divide it in half, take half of the lump to make a beautiful vessel that is designed for display in a living room, and take the other half to make a slop jar or something for the kitchen? Doesn’t he have this right? Yes, he does. The potter has the right to do with the clay as he wishes. Does clay ever talk back to the potter? Of course not!

 

In Paul’s analogy, sinful humankind is the lump of clay, which is sinful through and through. There is no neutrality in man—he is an enemy of God. So the question is not, “Why are some made to dishonor?” because dishonor is the natural state of the clay. The question is rather, “Why are some selected for honor?” Paul wants us to realize that we’re not the customers, we’re not the critics . . . we’re the clay! And the potter always has full right over the vessels that he creates.

 

On an intensely practical note:

Have you given “Potter’s Rights” to the Lord for how He made you, your personality, your looks, your physical makeup, your abilities and skills, your intellect, and the opportunities of your life?

Are you content with who God has made you to be and what He is doing in your life?

Do you want to be like someone else, or do you want to have something more? You and I must realize that God has the right to do whatever He wants to us and in us and through us and with us. We must submit ourselves fully to His use and let God be God over our lives.

 

Paul now comes to two of the most difficult verses in the entire New Testament. In 9:22-23 Paul writes, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.” These verses have brought more than one reader to his or her knees before our awesome God. It’s time to put your thinking cap on. In an attempt to simplify the complicated, let me make a few observations:

 

  1. There is an obvious contrast between “vessels of wrath” and “vessels of mercy.”

 

  1. Two different Greek words are used to translate the word “prepared.” In 9:22 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of wrath, is a passive participle with no clear subject. In 9:23 the word “prepared,” referring to the vessels of mercy, is an active participle that has God as the subject. In 9:23 God is clearly the one who does the preparing. In 9:22 Paul avoids God’s direct involvement in the preparation of the vessels of wrath for destruction.

 

  1. The “vessels of mercy” were “prepared beforehand.” The Greek word translated “prepared” has a prefix at the front of the word that means “before.” This would seem to suggest that the vessels of wrath were prepared, but not necessarily in eternity past. Like Pharaoh, who hardened his own heart, and then God entered the picture and hardened his heart, the vessels of wrath may be prepared for destruction during their lifetime. But vessels of mercy are prepared in eternity past by God’s election. This great truth should never be softened or finessed.
  2. God’s choices on these matters are not disclosed to us, and they are not meant in any way to cause despair. It has been well said, “These truths were not meant to be a puzzle to the mind but a pillow to the soul.” The point of these two verses is to demonstrate God’s glory, which is evidenced in His patience and mercy. Putting it simply: The “vessels of mercy” have only God to thank, and the “vessels of wrath” have only themselves to blame.The vessel of mercy can only say, “I’m in heaven because of God!” While the vessel of wrath can only say, “I’m in hell because of me!” Those who experience eternal destruction will never be able to blame God or say, “I’m damned because God did not choose me!” Their damnation is based not upon God’s rejection of them but upon their rejection of God.

 

Imagine the following scenario. A man is imprisoned for a crime he actually committed; yet, he calls a press conference claiming to the world he’s been unjustly jailed. His incarceration is not fair. Why not? “It’s the governor’s fault,” he says. Why is it the governor’s fault? “Because the governor didn’t give me a pardon. If he would give me a pardon, I’d be out on the street right now; but, since he didn’t give me a pardon, I’m in prison. Therefore, it’s the governor’s fault I’m in prison, not mine.” Would you be swayed by that logic? I doubt it. Instead, you’d reply that the criminal is behind bars for crimes he committed—because he killed somebody, he robbed somebody, he stole something, or he extorted something. He broke the law, that’s why he’s in prison. Now, the criminal might be out if the governor chose to exercise mercy, but that isn’t why he’s behind bars. He’s in prison because he’s a criminal.

 

The same thing is true with us. We’re in deep trouble with God because we are criminals against Him. If we go to hell, it’s for only one reason: because we’ve rejected Christ as our sin bearer. Those who are punished are not punished unjustly. They are punished justly because they’re guilty. It would only be unjust if they weren’t guilty. If God chooses to exercise mercy on some people then it’s His prerogative. We must step back, sit down, shut up, and let God be God.

[God’s choice is a matter of His character and His authority. Now we will see a final great truth . . .]

  1. God’s Choice Is A Matter Of His Program (9:24-29)

Regardless of how it may appear, God is bringing about His kingdom purposes. Paul concludes the whole argument of this passage by stressing the fact that the Gentiles are as much an object of God’s mercy as are the Jews. The salvation of Gentiles is not an afterthought with God. Indeed, someone has well said that all saved are not God’s afterthoughts, but His forethoughts! Our text culminates with four quotations from the Old Testament, in which the same theme is sounded, namely, that it is because of God’s grace and mercy that any are saved, and those He has saved are not saved because they belong to a certain race or class but simply because God chose them and loved them.

 

Paul writes in 9:24-29: “. . . even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, ‘I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’ ‘AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.’ Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED; FOR THE LORD WILL EXECUTE HIS WORD ON THE EARTH, THOROUGHLY AND QUICKLY.’ And just as Isaiah foretold, ‘UNLESS THE LORD OF SABAOTH HAD LEFT TO US A POSTERITY, WE WOULD HAVE BECOME LIKE SODOM, AND WOULD HAVE RESEMBLED GOMORRAH.’” At first glance, you may say, “What’s the point of all these Old Testament quotes?” They speak to one of the primary objections against predestination. Many people think that predestination means that only a few people will be saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has determined to open the doors of heaven to the whole wide world. Anyone who believes in Jesus can be saved. In Paul’s day that meant that salvation was not just for the Jews; it was also for the Gentiles.

 

Today there are approximately 13.5 million Jews in the world out of a total population of nearly seven billion people. Who are the Gentiles? That’s everyone who isn’t Jewish, which is roughly 99.999% of the world. If God had said, “I’m only going to save the Jews,” he would still be fair because no one deserves to be saved. We couldn’t complain if salvation were limited to a small group if that’s what God had decided to do. Remember, no one can talk back to God. But, He didn’t do that. These verses teach us that God opened the door of salvation to everyone!

Romans 9 is designed to bring us to our knees. As a result, God wants us to cry out, “MERCY!” He longs for us to acknowledge that it is His mercy that has saved us. He also wants us to cry out, “MERCY” because we recognize that His ways are incomprehensible. If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, your concern should not be, “Have I been chosen?” but rather, “Have I believed?” Please humble yourself before the sovereign Lord of this universe, acknowledge your sins, and believe in Christ today.

 

 

Hope renewed

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT WAYS PEOPLE RESPOND TO FAILURE?

We fail, but Jesus gives us hope.  We often kick ourselves when we are down. “If I were a real Christian, I wouldn’t do that!” Peter knew something of failure – HIS BIGGEST? Denying Jesus three times.  Our failures may not get THAT kind of attention (thankfully), but we need to experience that grace every time we fail.

The same grace we need for salvation is what we need to live out the Christian life.  The hope we have in Jesus is grounded in grace – and that is what we need every day. It is a grace that picks us up when we fall.

DO YOU REMEMBER LEARNING TO RIDE A BIKE?  Who taught you?  Did you use training wheels?  What did you do when you fell? How long before you tried again?

HOW IS THIS LIKE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE? We will all fall and need others to help us up. Failure is painful.  The question is not IF we are going to fall, but what we will do WHEN we fall.  I am thankful that I can learn from Peter.

When we consider the life and ministry of Peter, we see a common, hard-working man who by God’s grace came to know and follow Jesus.  But, like us, he had some difficulties to overcome. The Holy Spirit did not give up on Peter – and He will not give up on us either.

READ John 18:15-18 and 25-27

Do you remember how Peter met Jesus?

READ John 1:35-42

Jesus identified Peter as “rock” – an appropriate name for Simon after his conversion.  Later, Jesus came by the Sea of Galilee and called Peter, his brother Andrew, James and John to follow Him.

When Jesus asked who the disciples said He was, it was Peter who said – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 16:16).  Jesus commended him and promised to build His church on that truth.  Later, Peter (with James and John) witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration as He talked to Moses and Elijah.  They heard a voice from Heaven – “This is My beloved Son.  I take delight in Him.  Listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5).

Jesus also prepared Peter and the other disciples for His death and resurrection – but I suspect that was hard to grasp.  Going from a royal reception for His arrival in Jerusalem to being arrested not too long after no doubt shook up everyone in their group. This is the same Peter who even refused Jesus’ washing his feet – he did not want to accept the Servant Leadership Jesus came to demonstrate.  But Jesus did tell him that he would be “sifted” by Satan and that Peter would deny Jesus three times.

Nonetheless, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the garden of Gethsemane. WHO WAS IT THAT TOOK OUT HIS KNIFE TO DEFEND JESUS? Peter, of course.

SO, HOW COULD PETER BE SO AFRAID OF BEING IDENTIFIED WITH JESUS?

We tend to see the men and women of Scripture as bigger than life.  Their encounters with God, both their victories and their failures, seem so far beyond what we experience today.  We might be tempted to say, “I would never fail Jesus like that” – but that is exactly what Peter said too, and he did it three times!

HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THE SHAME OF FAILING OVER AND OVER AGAIN?

Murray Warmath, former head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers (1954-1971), once said about his team’s pathetic win-loss record in 1958 and 1959: “If lessons are learned in defeat, our team is getting a great education.”

Do you feel like you too are getting nothing but a “good education”? Do you feel like you’re knocked down more times than you deserve, crossing the goal line fewer times than you should? We all go through stages of defeat — sometimes stages of extended defeat — but Warmath is right: this is where lessons are learned; it’s where we get the best education.

Bill Gates once said, “Success is a lousy teacher.” One of the world’s most successful men understands this principle: You learn more from your losses than you learn from your victories … that is, if you’re willing to take the time to evaluate your failures.

Ever had a bad day at work? When it happens, how do you respond? Do you shrug your shoulders and say, “Oh well; guess I wasn’t ‘on’ today.”? Do you ask, “I wonder what was wrong with those people today?” Or do you relive it moment by painful moment?

It’s the days of defeat that often teach us our most valuable lessons in preparation and dependence on the leadership of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, I am thankful for the projects or activities that went awry. In the long run, they’ve helped me be more effective and more consistent.

This principle works in every area of life, IF you’re willing to learn from your past mistakes — jobs that didn’t work out, relationships that failed, ministry projects that fell short of expectations, and on and on. We need to get in the habit of using mistakes as a foundation for a good education. Failure is a good teacher if you’re willing to pay attention to what it says.

WHAT ABOUT PETER? Did he learn from this failure? Let’s hear the rest of the story…

READ John 21:15-19

At least ten times, Jesus appeared after His death:

  1. Mary Magdalene at the grave – John 20:1-18
  2. Mary (Martha’s sister) at the tomb – Matthew 28
  3. He appeared to Peter (no details) Luke 24:34
  4. He appeared to two men on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-25)
  5. He appeared to the ten disciples behind closed doors (Luke24:36-39)
  6. A week later, He appeared to the disciples with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
  7. After that, he appeared to some disciples fishing – this is the passage we just read
  8. He appeared to many at a mountain in Galilee, including the disciples – Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20)
  9. Later he appeared to his brother James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
  10. Final appearance – (to all) He promised them the Holy Spirit and that they would “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:4-8)

DID YOU CATCH HOW MANY TIMES JESUS APPEARED TO PETER OF THE TEN?  SIX.

There’s no doubt that Peter loved Jesus, but Peter may have wondered what his future with the twelve disciples would be.  That may explain why Peter told some of the other disciples, “I am going fishing” (John 21:3).  The night’s fishing proved fruitless, until, at daybreak, a figure on the shore told them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat.  Then, when the catch was so large that they could not haul it in, John stated that it must be Jesus on the shore.  In his usual fashion, Peter leapt out and went straight for Jesus.

This sets the stage for these passages and for the conversation between Jesus and Peter. The three charges to Peter from Jesus include feeding, guiding and taking care of the flock.  Peter was charged to be the “rock” and provide whatever was needed to the new church.

From Peter’s experiences, we are reminded that each of us can and will fail at times.  But as Peter’s life shows, Jesus is waiting to restore us.

READ Proverbs 24:16 – For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity

Experiencing failure puts you in pretty good company. There’s a long list of great people who have failed in the past.

Speaking only of financial failure (bankruptcy), do you know who this list includes? Mark Twain. Burt Reynolds. Walt Disney. Donald Trump. Milton Hershey, of Hershey Chocolate. H.J. Heinz, of Heinz Ketchup. Wayne Newton. Larry King. Mickey Rooney. Johnny Unitas. Even Johnny Unitas!

All of these experienced financial failure, but the label of failure doesn’t exactly fit them, does it? Why not? Because they got up and tried again.

The Bible says even a righteous man will fall seven times (in other words, again and again), but he gets back up.

That’s the difference. The wicked are brought down by calamity, but the righteous man gets up to try once again.

In which area of your life do you need to get up and try again?

 

 

What now?

  1. Be honest – about your failures and sins. The Psalmist reminds us in Psalm 103:12 that He will toss those failures away as we confess them. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
  2. Seek reconciliation – sin rarely just hurts us – go and humbly ask for forgiveness – repair any damage you have caused
  3. Foster reconciliation in others – listen and pray with someone seeking forgiveness and restoration