Rights and responsibilites

Have you ever used the right thing in the wrong way? Think of perfume or cologne. If you use it in the right way, a small amount actually makes you somewhat appealing to most people, but use it in the wrong way—use too much—and you will be appalling to people. This is also true of salt. If you use the right amount in your food, it is a delicious seasoning, but use too much and it can ruin your meal. The same principle is true with most medicines as well. Aspirin, for example, is a good blood thinner, but use too much of it and it will thin your blood to the point that it could kill you.
The apostle Paul, likewise, argues that it’s possible to use the right thing in the wrong way. He applies this adage to Christian liberty. Previously, in Rom 14:1-12 Paul stated that we are absolutely free to decide for ourselves on non-essential issues like eating, drinking, dancing, music, and movies. We learned to “be slow to judge others; be quick to judge yourself.” Now in 14:13-23 Paul presents the “other side of the coin” in our Christian liberty. Those who are free to enjoy their liberty are responsible for not having an adverse effect on other believers. Someone has recommended to Americans that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast should be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. Such a balance would be a helpful reminder. We need to recognize the same balance in our Christian life. Rights bring responsibility. How do you handle liberty? The answer is: you handle it with care. Liberty must be limited by love. Paul provides three warnings against abusing your Christian liberty.

1. Don’t Harm Your Fellow Believers (14:13-15)
Paul commands you to limit your Christian liberty because not all believers have the same freedoms in non-essential issues. In 14:13 he writes, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” There is a classic wordplay in this verse. The verb translated “determine” (krino, 14:13b) is the same Greek word translated “judge” (14:13a). This verse can be literally rendered: “Let us not judge one another anymore, but rather judge this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Paul says: Stop judging other believers on “opinions” (cf. 14:1)! What are you more concerned about: what your brother or sister is doing or what you are doing? If we were as preoccupied with our own conduct as we are other believers’ behavior we would really be spiritual! Here, however, Paul is concerned that those who have liberty protect those who don’t. The word translated “obstacle” (proskomma) referred to something in the road that causes one to stumble. In this context, a strong believer who puts an obstacle in the path of a weak believer might set him back temporarily or even do permanent damage to his sensitive conscience. The term “stumbling block” is the Greek term skandalon, from which we get the English word “scandal.” It literally refers to the triggering mechanism on a baited animal trap. The activity looks enticing until those jaws snap shut.

We must not tempt a weaker Christian to sin by partaking of our liberty and thereby violating his or her conscience. We must remember that we are either stepping stones or stumbling blocks.Which one are you? Liberty must be limited by love.

Paul builds his argument in 14:14a: “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself.” Paul is not saying here that anything goes because everything is good. However, he is absolutely confident that nothing is unclean in and of itself (cf. 14:5). In other words, a marijuana leaf is not sinful. A cocoa plant is not an evil thing. A gun or a knife is not wicked. Sex is not impure. These things in and of themselves are not unclean. Rather, it is how these things are used that leads to sin.

Paul confirms this notion in 14:14b when he writes: “but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” If a believer thinks anything is unclean it becomes unclean for that person. This verse leads to a shocking truth: Some things are wrong for you that are right for others, and some things are right for you that are wrong for others. This statement means that you can’t always know in advance what will be “right” or “wrong” for another Christian brother. It is a matter of one’s conscience.

A man consulted a doctor. “I’ve been misbehaving, Doc, and my conscience is troubling me,” he complained. The doctor replied, “And you want something that will strengthen your willpower?” “Well, no,” said the fellow. “I was thinking of something that would weaken my conscience.”

While this may be amusing, it is especially true in the church. Many of us are caught between traditions and preferences and what the Bible really prohibits or doesn’t prohibit. This reality should drive us to study the Scriptures to determine how our traditions and preferences affect what we believe. Like Paul, we must get to the place where we can honestly say, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (14:14a). However, it still may be that you can’t stomach a particular activity or object. If so, it is “unclean” to you and would be sinful for you to participate in. Listen to your conscience! The conscience isn’t always right, but it’s always wrong to violate it (cf. 14:22-23).

In 14:15 Paul switches to the second-person singular “your” for greater clarity and conviction: “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.” Paul explains that it is possible to “hurt” and “destroy” a fellow believer. When another Christian sees you doing what his own conscience condemns, it grieves him or causes him pain. When he then proceeds to do himself what his conscience condemns, he commits sin and is destroyed. Some scholars argue that the Greek word “destroy” (apollumi) refers to eternal destruction. Yet, the word here does not mean “made to go to hell” or “made to lose his salvation.”

Paul is talking about the loss of peace, assurance, and effective ministry. He lays out two motivations for our conduct:
(1) love for other believers and
(2) Christ’s death on the cross (cf. 5:8).

If we are believers we ought to love one another. Furthermore, Christ’s sacrifice should compel us to demonstrate sensitivity. If Jesus was willing to die for believers certainly we should be willing to make the smallest of sacrifices. Remember, liberty must be limited by love.

Some believers just can’t see themselves walking freely in a certain area that they have been brought up to think is wrong; they have difficulty doing so. Thus, we are responsible to be sensitive and thoughtful toward such believers. Liberty must be limited by love.

If your spouse firmly believes that a purchase is wise stewardship but your spouse is worried that the Lord will not approve, you should restrain your liberty for the sake of your spouse. If you are out to dinner with a friend from your small group who has struggled with alcoholism you should not consume alcohol in their presence or even discuss it. You shouldn’t check the Lotto numbers when a friend who disagrees with gambling is nearby. You should never encourage a friend to dress up for Halloween who thinks it is idolatrous. Liberty must be limited by love.
Paul’s first warning is: Don’t harm your fellow believers. His second warning is …
2. Don’t Harm Your Testimony (14:16-18)
Since the world is always observing Christians, we ought to be wise in our use of freedom. Paul writes in 14:16: “Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil.” The phrase translated “spoken of as evil” (blasphemeo) is translated from a word that literally speaks of being “blasphemed,” which is usually used of unbelievers. The “good thing” refers to the liberty to eat meat or to do anything amoral. Paul is saying that unbelievers can legitimately speak of our freedom in Christ as “evil” if it results in the fall of another Christian or the compromise of our testimony. However much we wish it is not so, the world watches what we do.

When we use our liberty indiscriminately the world watches and shakes its head. Many unbelievers’ biggest reason for ignoring God is what they have seen a Christian do. Now certainly, sometimes they have a wrong perspective on what it means to be a Christian, but many times our liberty can harm our ability to tell the world about the Lord. What we intended for good, and what really is good in our lives, can be spoken of as evil when we do not restrain ourselves when it is appropriate. Many non-Christians say, “Why should I be a Christian? You don’t get along with each other, so why should I think becoming a Christian will bring peace or happiness?”

Let’s say you have the liberty to check your personal e-mail at work, but the unbelievers in your workplace do not share this same freedom. Or perhaps you sense the freedom to talk freely with your coworkers during work hours, but those you work with do not feel free to do so. Consequently, in both of these cases they look down on you. Your coworkers assume that you are lazy and are always trying to proselytize others. In your neighborhood, you may have “freedom in Christ” to let your yard go. Grass, weeds, and sticker bushes consume your yard while you are serving the church or taxiing your kids all over the place. Or, maybe God has given you a beautiful view, but you have allowed trees and shrubbery to block your neighbors’ view. In both of these cases your unbelieving neighbors may be rather indignant because in our crashing housing market, you are further hurting the value of their house. While you may argue that you have Christian liberty to do such things, I would caution you to think twice because your testimony could be on the line. Liberty must be limited by love.

In 14:17 Paul explains where true life is for the Christian: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The “kingdom of God” here refers to the sphere over which God rules and in which all believers live and operate. Yet, we are prone to think that God’s kingdom primarily involves what a person does or does not do. This is how the Pharisees lived, making a big deal of externals. But the kingdom of God is not mainly a matter of externals but of eternals. In God’s kingdom, freedom comes from what He tells you on the inside, not what people tell you on the outside. But we spend so much time worrying about what people think that we never get around to finding out what God thinks.

However, Paul is asking: How can you fight about such little things and miss the big things. You are fighting over a gnat and not noticing a camel! You are concentrating on a pimple and not noticing Mount Everest! Paul says the eternals are “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Righteousness refers to “ethical righteousness,” that is, behavior pleasing to God (e.g., 6:16, 18, 19). Peace refers to the horizontal harmony that believers should manifest. The result of these blessings is “joy.”

In 14:18 Paul sums up 14:13-17 and brings the reader back to the main point here: We must decide not to put obstacles or traps in other Christians’ paths. He writes, “For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” If we have a healthy balance in enjoying our liberty and limiting it when it is appropriate we will not only be acceptable to God, we will also win the approval of other people since they realize what is more and less important. When we live out our conscience before God we are accepted by God (14:3), and if we do not abuse our liberty around others we are also approved by people. In other words, they respect us for our restraint and concern for others. When we embrace kingdom priorities, our service to Jesus is pleasing to God and vindicated in the sight of people, even people who disagree with us. Our self-control may also open the door of ministry and witness to the unbelieving community (cf. 14:16).
[Paul has issued two warnings: Don’t harm your fellow believers or your testimony. Now he provides a third and final warning . . .]
3. Don’t Harm Your Church (14:19-23)
Your highest priority is the building up of the church. Paul shifts gears in these transitional verses and moves from a negative to a positive emphasis. He moves from what we should stop doing to what we should pursue. In 14:19 Paul states: “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” The verb “pursue” (dioko) pictures a hunter chasing after his prey or a runner sprinting for the prize. Paul says that we must pursue peace and the building up of one another over our own use of personal liberty. The Greek term “building up” (oikodome) is a construction term that was used to describe the process of making a building stronger.

Our goal, then, is to strengthen and solidify the church by protecting other believers from violating their conscience. It is worth noting that sometimes the authority you may be under will restrict your choices. Female teaching and discussion leaders in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) are required to wear dresses. Some women may see this as a violation of their Christian freedom; however, the women who serve in this capacity whom I have spoken with are more concerned with the joy of serving in this great ministry.

Bible Colleges, Christian organizations, and churches also have certain rules and expectations that may not be explicit in Scripture. Nonetheless, if you choose to be a part of such an entity, you need to pursue peace and honor the guidelines that have been established. Liberty must be limited by love.
Paul makes another strong statement in 14:20: “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.” There is a play between “build up” (14:19) and “tear down” (14:20). Both are construction metaphors. Paul uses the verb “tear down” (kataluo), which functions as a synonym with the verb “destroy” (apollumi) in 14:15. In 14:15 the danger was destroying the weak Christians, and here it is expanded to encompass the destruction of “the work of God”—the church as a whole. Paul reminds us again—it’s just not worth indulging yourself. Yes, “all things are indeed clean” (cf. 14:14a) but to a fellow Christian who is a weaker brother or sister they may be “evil.” The “weaker brother,” then, is not the one who simply disagrees with what I do, or who gets upset by my freedom; the “weaker brother” is the one who is likely to imitate me in what I do, violating his own conscience and convictions. The “weaker brother” is the one more likely to sin because he gives in to another’s convictions rather than living by his own.
So what are some steps we can take that will help keep other believers from stumbling over us? Paul gives three practical applications.

Be considerate. In 14:21 Paul writes, “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.” Paul urges the “strong” to abstain, not because their example might lead the “weak” to drink to excess, but because their example might lead the “weak” to drink, and thus to violate their consciences (14:22-23). Paul himself is willing to forego any particular food or drink to avoid causing spiritual growth problems for a brother. Certainly we should be willing to do the same. We willingly alter our pace of walking while leading a small child by the hand so he or she will not stumble. How much more should we be willing to alter our Christian walk for the benefit of a weaker brother or sister in Christ whom we are leading? We must learn the sensitivities of other believers and we must respect differing convictions. Liberty must be limited by love.

However, I do think it is a healthy thing for a Christian who has liberty in some of these areas to indulge it on occasion. I do not think the cause of Christ is ever advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation completely forsake their right to indulge in some of the things God has given them the freedom to enjoy. What happens, then, is that the whole question is settled on the basis of the most narrow and most prejudiced person in the congregation. Soon, the gospel itself becomes identified with that kind of view. That is why the outside world often considers Christians to be narrow-minded people who have no concern except to prevent the enjoyment of the good gifts of life that God has given us. Because we tend to major on the minors, we’re known for what we’re against, not what we’re for. Ultimately, exercising Christian liberty is very much like walking a tightrope. As you walk the rope with balancing pole in hand, at one end of the pole is love for others and at the other is Christian liberty. When these are in balance, your walk is as it should be.

Be convinced. In 14:22a Paul states, “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.” If we are engaged in certain activities that are not clearly prohibited by the teaching of Scripture, then we should be confident in our thinking that they are right. If we entertain any doubts about the goodness of these activities, then we should give them up. Unfortunately, the NIV provides a rather misleading translation. It suggests that you are to keep quiet about your liberties. However, that is not quite accurate. What Paul is saying is: If you have faith, have it between yourself and God. That is, let God and His Word be the basis for your faith, and nothing else. Be sure that what you are doing is not because of pride on your part because you want to show off how free you are; you are doing this because God has freed you by His Word.

Be consistent. In 14:22b-23 Paul writes, “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” You are a happy (blessed) person if, in exercising your liberty, you do not condemn yourself by harming another. You are blessed if your exercise of freedom is free from doubt. When we arrive at the conclusion that something is right, unless we receive solid confirmation to the contrary, we should not waver in our conviction. For doubts concerning our beliefs will yield condemnation, but consistency in belief will bring us happiness.

In this context, “faith” (pistis) does not refer to the teachings of Christianity but to what a person believes to be the will of God for him. If a person does what he believes to be wrong, even though it is not wrong in itself, it becomes sin for him. He has violated what he believes to be God’s will. His action has become an act of rebellion against God for him. Whatever is done without the conviction that God has approved it is by definition sin. God has called us to a life of faith. Trust is the willingness to put all of life before God for His approval. Any doubt concerning an action automatically removes that action from the category of that which is acceptable. For a Christian, not a single decision and action can be good which he does not think he can justify on the ground, of his Christian conviction and his liberty before God in Christ.

Many tales are told about the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, England’s Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He ruffled the feathers of not a few Christians in his day by his lifestyle choices—particularly his fondness for fine cigars. Compared to today, there was relatively little public awareness of the ill effects of tobacco on the human body, but smoking was shunned nonetheless by many Christians, but not Spurgeon. On one occasion, a young man approached Spurgeon and asked what he should do with a box of cigars he had been given. “Give them to me,” Spurgeon replied, “and I will smoke them to the glory of God.” Some time later, at the height of his fame, Spurgeon was walking down the street and saw a sign which read, “We sell the cigar that Charles Spurgeon smokes.” After reading this sign Spurgeon gave up the habit. He came to see that what was for him a freedom might cause others to stumble.

What Christian liberty is God calling you to give up either indefinitely or at appropriate occasions? Whatever it is, would you respond today? God wants you to prioritize other believers and follow Christ’s sacrificial example. Liberty must be limited by love.

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The Laws of the Land

What is dual citizenship? Dual citizenship means that an individual is a citizen of two countries at the same time. In America, dual citizenship is not something that can be applied for. It occurs automatically for some individuals. For example, if a child is born in the U.S. to foreign parents, the child automatically has U.S. citizenship as well as citizenship of the parents’ home country. Similarly, the Bible calls you to dual citizenship. If you were born in the U.S. you are an American citizen, but when you were born again you became heaven’s citizen. You are responsible to live out both citizenships. The problem is some Christians are prone to extremes: either focusing on their earthly citizenship or their heavenly citizenship. Yet, Paul argues that both citizenships are essential since you have dual citizenship. In Romans 13:1-14 Paul instructs you in your obligations as an earthly and heavenly citizen.

1. Submit To Government (13:1-7)
God is glorified and His will is fulfilled when you submit to His governing authorities. In 13:1a Paul writes: “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.” The command begins with the words, “Every person” (pasa psuche lit. “Every soul”). This includes believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, great and small, without exception. But Paul’s primary concern is that believers “submit” to governing authorities. The verb “submit” (hupotasso) means “to place oneself under.” After reading this blanket command, some look for exceptions. However, here Paul provides the general rule, not the exceptions. Of course, there are at least three areas in which a Christian should resist authority:
(1) If he or she is asked to violate a command of God.
(2) If he or she is asked to commit an immoral or unethical act.
(3) If he or she is asked to go against his/her conscience.

But when a believer resists authority he/she must be willing to accept the consequences (see 13:2). Submission is never easy and frequently there are grave ethical dilemmas.

Fortunately, in 13:1b Paul gives the first reason you must submit to government. He writes, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” This is the first of four uses of the word “authority” (exousia), which means “delegated authority.” Paul’s entire argument is based upon a fundamental premise: God is sovereign and He possesses ultimate authority. However, no one has authority independent of God. (Underline the word “no” in 13:1b). He alone delegates human authority to people. This means that every government is to be acknowledged and obeyed by virtue of its existence, not because it meets your preferences. The term that is translated “established” or “ordained” (tetagmenai from tasso) is in the perfect tense, referring to a past action with continuous results. Paul means that all governments (past, present, and future) that exist are ordained by God, whether good or bad.

Now perhaps you are asking the question, “What about Hitler, Stalin, and Hussein? Did God ‘ordain’ these authorities?” The Scriptures teach an interesting paradox: on one hand, Satan is actively involved in the political process (Luke 4:6-7). The book of Daniel teaches that there are wicked spirits who are assigned to various leaders. Yet at the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that God rules in the affairs of men. In Psalm 75:6-7 Asaph says: “For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation; but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.” Proverbs 21:1 says: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” In other words, God is sovereign over whoever is in authority.

Remember, Nero was in power when Paul wrote Romans 13. Nero hated Christians, had them rounded up, dipped in tar, and lit as torches for his parties. He covered Christians in animal skins and threw them to wild dogs. He ordered Rome set on fire and then blamed the Christians, setting off the first wave of official persecution. We’ve largely forgotten how wicked pagan ancient Rome really was. Sorcery and black magic abounded, abortion flourished, homosexuality was accepted as normal, and the masses worshipped Caesar as Lord. No government in America has ever been as pagan as the government of ancient Rome.

In 13:2 Paul shares the first consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes, “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” Paul is saying that when you resist government you are resisting God! To put it positively, submission to government is an expression of your submission to God. Therefore, whether you think a law is fair or not, you have no right to disobey simply because of your preferences. If you choose to disobey Paul states that you will receive condemnation upon yourself. “Condemnation” (krima) or “judgment” refers to both God’s judgment and government’s judgment. Government penalizes people for their wrongdoings. What government fails to judge properly in this life, God will make right in the final judgment.

In 13:3 Paul gives a second reason why you should generally be submissive to governing authorities. He explains, “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.” Rulers uphold the law. Hence, if you are honoring the law, you have nothing to fear under a good government. But when you do evil, you have much to fear. Have you ever experienced the surge of fear that shoots through you when you speed through a speed trap and then look down at your speedometer? It’s a frightening thing. (I know from first-foot experience!) Now if you never speed, you have nothing to worry about, right? Right! But if you drive I-20 like the German autobahn, be worried . . . be very worried! The consequences of judgment or “praise” are true of every scale of crime. Choose your consequences. It’s up to you.

Paul gives a second, surprising consequence if you fail to submit to government. He writes in 13:4: “for it [rulers] is a minister 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 minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Two times in 13:4, Paul calls rulers a “minister” (diakonos), which is also the word for deacon. So you are to look upon governing authorities as part of God’s ministerial staff. They are a part of the team He assembles to work in the world today. The task of this minister is to serve God by dealing appropriately with those who do good and also with those who do evil. In case there is any doubt in your mind, Paul puts the word “God” (theou) in the emphatic slot in both phrases of 13:4. Governing authorities are God’s ministers, so you are commanded to submit to them. You have dual citizenship.

In 13:4 Paul also alludes to “the sword” that government bears. Notice he doesn’t refer to “the whip” or “the jail sentence”—he says “the sword.” In New Testament times the sword was an instrument of capital punishment to behead criminals. Roman officials had sabers carried in front of them as a constant reminder that they held the power of life and death. Now, it may be true that Paul’s words carry a much broader meaning, but it’s also true that capital punishment is certainly included in this concept. He seems to be saying that the state or the government, not the individual, has the authority to take another person’s life. Hence, there is no conflict here between Paul’s words in 12:19-20 about not taking vengeance, and his use of the sword to restrain evil.

Romans 12 is personal; Rom 13 is constitutional.
In Romans 12 vengeance is at work; in Romans 13 justice is at work.
Thus, I understand 13:4 to teach that government has the right to execute capital punishment. God established the death penalty before the Law back in Gen 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” It has nothing to do with our opinions about it—whether we find it distasteful or arrogant to assume that society has the right to take a person’s life. All of that is an irrelevant discussion.

God has addressed the matter. The Bible says that anyone who deliberately and premeditatively takes a life, his or her life shall be taken. In fact, not only is capital punishment biblical, but public capital punishment is biblical so that those watching will say, “I don’t want that to happen to me” (Numbers 16:30-34; Josh 7:24-26). The principle here is: God highly values human life. Murder is a unique crime, a crime against the “image of God” in man. The natural deterrent to upholding this intrinsic value is to practice the death penalty. It is a necessary function of society to harness the evil of people.

Admittedly, capital punishment isn’t always administered justly and we must fight to correct the injustices. But the institute of capital punishment is necessary to punish evil and help instill fear of authority. This truth is further confirmed in Romans 13:4, when Paul calls governing authorities “an avenger” (ekdikos). If a person killed another person, in the Old Testament, even accidently, that person’s family had the right to exercise the “eye-for-an-eye” vengeance (the blood avenger). Paul seems to be relating the Old Testament custom to the authority of civil government.

In case you are confused, Paul summarizes his command (13:1a) and his reasons to submit to government (13:1b, 3). In 13:5 he writes, “Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience sake.” In light of all that Paul has said (13:1-4) he hopes that you will be “in subjection.” Paul repeats the two reasons to submit to government in reverse order. The external motivation that promotes submission is the fear of punishment. The internal motivation that promotes submission is a desire to maintain a pure and undefiled conscience. You have dual citizenship.

Paul closes this section in 13:6-7 with specific applications: “For because of this [God’s ordaining of governing authorities] you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing” (13:6). How can you demonstrate your submission to the government? By paying taxes! One reason for paying taxes is that rulers are “servants of God.” This is the third time that governing rulers are referred to as God’s “servants” or “ministers” (cf. 13:4). Yet, here Paul uses a different word for “servant” (leitourgos). This term is used for temple servants in the Old Testament. Paul also uses this word of himself a “minister [leitourgos] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles” (15:16).

Many governing officials may not realize it, but God has put them where they are to serve Him. Civil servants, then, are performing God-ordained functions full-time, and you should pay your taxes to support their ministry. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take deductions or pay more than needed, but it does mean that you should pay your share willingly. How honest are you in paying your taxes? How online purchases have you made to purchase items to avoid sales tax? Did you report sales tax on items you bought out-of-state (e.g., Internet site purchases)? Did you report all the tips you made? If you are willing to pay your taxes, it is likely that you will be submissive in other areas as well.

But what about when my taxes are being used for things I disagree with? What if I don’t believe in spending money on foreign aid? What if I feel it is wrong to support the military? What if I believe it is criminal that state or federal funds are used to pay for abortions? Stop and ask yourself what Roman taxes were going toward in Paul’s day? The answer is the luxurious lifestyle of the Caesars, abortion, and the construction and maintenance of temples devoted to the worship of the Roman Emperor. You may not like the taxes you are asked to pay, you may not deem them fair, you might not agree with every way that our tax dollars are being spent, but you have no right to decide which taxes you want to pay and which ones not to pay. God has not given you the authority to make that decision.
In 13:7 Paul writes, “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Paul states that you are to pay direct taxes and indirect taxes (customs). But he also says that you are to fear and honor your governing authorities. “Respect” (lit. “fear”) refers to your awareness that they have God’s authority to punish the evil-doer (13:4). “Honor” refers to your realization that God places value and significance upon such people. Notice, Paul does not qualify the word “all” (pas). This means all civil servants, at every level, are to receive honor and respect. This respect is not just for the office but to the person as well. This respect is “due them,” regardless of their party affiliation, regardless of how they live their private life, and regardless of the sly way they catch you speeding. Perhaps you’re thinking you can’t honor your president or governor. Can you pray for this person? As you pray for this person, you’ll find it easier to honor the governing authority. Remember, you have dual citizenship.

There are many other relevant applications in this section:
(1) Don’t ignore your responsibility to vote.
This is one of the greatest sins in the Christian church. We whine and fret over the direction of our country, but we refuse to vote. What insanity! Christians who don’t vote are abdicating their responsibility and must answer to God. The Bible says that Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, was honored “because he sought the good of his people” (Esther 10:3). Shouldn’t we also work for the good of our nation? Don’t look at voting only as a responsibility; however, look at it as an opportunity—an opportunity hundreds of millions of people in our world wish they had.

(2) Encourage your governing authorities. Instead of being critical every time they do something you don’t like, contact various civil servants and let them know that you are praying for them (1 Tim 2:1-2). When they do something right, drop them an e-mail, a handwritten note, or even pick up the phone and call directly. Let them know how pleased you are and that you are grateful for them.

(3) Consider public service if you have been given abilities appropriate to the task. If you are a young person, God may want to use you as a “minister” on His full-time staff. If your child or grandchild expresses an interest in politics, don’t discourage him or her. Rather, challenge such a one to serve the Lord on the frontlines. How wonderful it would be if one of your children was instrumental in helping to turn around our country!
[Not only are you to “submit” to your governing authorities, you must also . . .]
2. Live To Love (13:8-10)
Paul calls you to live out a lifestyle of love with everyone God brings you in contact with. In 13:8-10 he writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 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.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” There are several observations worth noting in these three verses.

First, the NASB’s translation “owe nothing to anyone” can be misleading because it seems to prohibit any form of debt or borrowing. However, this verse does not mean that you may never incur financial obligations or that you may not borrow from others in case of need. The New Testament does not forbid borrowing, only the practice of charging inflated interest on loans and failing to pay debts. A strong argument can be made for the view that one is not really in debt unless his liabilities exceed his assets, unless he has borrowed beyond the means to repay, or unless he has fallen behind on payments. The NIV’s translation, “Let no debt remain outstanding” avoids the literal interpretation but gives the correct interpretation of Paul’s thoughts.

Second, you should strive to love, but you should never consider the debt “paid in full.” Unlike house payments, car payments, credit card debt, and even college debt, love is a debt that continues forever. Therefore, when faced with a difficult situation, you can never say, “I’ve loved that person enough. I’m going to stop now. I have nothing else to give.” You must always remember Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s love for you has been, and always will be, absolutely unconditional. Regardless of how you treat God, He showers you with mercy, grace, compassion, and patience. He lavishes love upon you.

How can you not love your fellow believers? But you may say, “You don’t know my wife. She disrespects me in front of the kids. She deprives me sexually. She doesn’t keep the house clean. She has let herself go physically.” I hurt for you . . . I really do. However, you have a debt of love to your wife that will never be paid.

Perhaps your children are rebellious and they have caused you nothing but grief. They have publicly humiliated you. Every day of your life is an all-out war. You feel like you are losing your mind. My heart truly grieves for you. Nonetheless, you owe your children a debt of love. This clarion call to love applies to an unruly boss, a cantankerous coworker, an annoying neighbor, and a gossiping church member. Despite how you are treated, God is calling you to a supernatural love for others.

Third, love fulfills the law. When you love your neighbor as yourself, the purpose of the law is brought to completion. However, Paul doesn’t want you to focus on the law; he wants you to focus on love since love should be the mark that distinguishes you as a Christian (John 13:34-35). Since the world believes Christianity is responsible for racism, sexism, homophobia, the Crusades, and religious wars, we must break the stereotype of intolerance and narrow hate that seems to mark us. Naturally, we can only accomplish this as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who works in and through us and grants supernatural love. Today, don’t think vaguely about loving everybody; think about loving one or two particular people, the difficult ones whom God has set before you. As you do so, you will fulfill the law and demonstrate your dual citizenship.
[You are obligated to submit to government and to live to love. Your third and final obligation is to . . .]
3. Refuse To Sin (13:11-14)
Paul uses the issue of the urgency of Christ’s return as a chief motivation to live the Christian life. In 13:11 he writes, “Do this, knowing the time, it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” The word “Do” is not part of the original text. The first phrase in 13:11 literally reads, “And this knowing the time.” “This” (touto) refers to the duties prescribed in 12:1-13:10.

These duties can be categorized under two headings—love and service. We are to love and serve knowing our time is short. Have you ever noticed that we are obsessed with time! The first cognitive thought in our mind every morning is, “What time is it?” Have you ever counted the number of clocks you have in your house? (I counted over thirty last night in mine.) Think of your kitchen: coffee makers, oven, and microwave. What about your cell phones, laptops, DVD players, watches, and alarm clocks. We are fixated with time. But, are we measuring time correctly? We seem to be most concerned with what time it is now. God seems to be more concerned with what time is drawing near!

Paul often uses the word “sleep” (egeiro) as a picture of believers who have been lulled into worldliness. He sounds a spiritual alarm because many of us are asleep. We might say many believers are “sleep-walking.” They are alive, but they are caught up in the ways of the world. Paul says, “Wake up, Christian!” The term “salvation” (soteria) refers to Jesus’ coming and our glorification and reward. Paul wants you to live with your eyes set on the prize because Christ’s return could come at any moment. We need to be ready all the time because at any time Jesus may return.

In light of the urgency of Christ’s return, Paul writes in 13:12, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” “The night” refers to the time of Jesus’ absence; “the day” refers to His return. Again, Paul’s point is that Jesus’ return is imminent (i.e., it could happen at any time). Therefore, Paul commands us to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” In other words, we are to take off our soiled clothes and put on spiritual armor. This life should be viewed in light of the next.

Have you had an article clothing that you had too long? Have you heard: “Either you lose that shirt or I will!”?
Do you have a something that is unsuitable for the light of day? Sadly, you may be married to Christ, but still committing “deeds of darkness” that need to be done away with. Paul says, “Get rid of your old pajamas and put on the armor of light.” You’re in a war! That’s why you need armor. Putting on this armor will permit you to plan as if Christ’s return is years away, but live as if He’s coming today.
In 13:13 Paul warns about the deeds of darkness: “Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.” Paul lists three couplets of the old uniform:

(1) Party sins (“carousing and drunkenness”). Drinking to excess has become rather popular among believers today. My question is: If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you abuse alcohol? Would you allow yourself to become intoxicated to the point that you may unintentionally do something foolish?

(2) Bedroom sins (“sexual promiscuity and sensuality”). If you knew that Jesus Christ was going to return today would you be sexually immoral by sleeping with your boyfriend or girlfriend or someone who is not your spouse? Would you look at porn or open up a questionable website? Would you carry on an emotional affair or flirt with someone of the opposite sex? Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “I’m not a party animal, nor am I sexually immoral. I can check both of those sins off. I’m not guilty.” However, Paul is not done.

(3) Social sins (“strife and jealousy”). There are many who would be shocked at the thought of drunkenness, immorality or sexual looseness, but seem not to be shocked at all by strife and jealousy. Paul probably adds these sins to humble us all and prepare us for Christ’s return by living a life that is above reproach.
Paul cannot end on a negative note. So he concludes in 13:14 by saying: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The righteous life is putting on Jesus like a suit of clothes. It is abiding in Him and living out His life. Paul instructs us to “make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” The term that is rendered “provision” (pronoia) implies forethought, planning, and activity. In Greek literature outside the New Testament, the term is used of a premeditated crime. Sin seldom just happens; most of the time it is premeditated. Sin is a link in a chain of events. When we surrender to the lusts of our flesh, it is often not a sudden collapse, but rather the culmination of a process. The sins of our flesh are those sins about which we have given much thought and for which we have made provision. If we are to be victorious over sin and the flesh, we must cease to make provision for it.

If you are a student of church history, you will not want to forget Romans 13:14. This verse led to the conversion of Augustine. Discouraged by his inability to overcome sexual sin (cf. 13:13), he one day heard a child at play call out, “Take up and read.” Picking up a copy of Romans, his eye fell on this verse. God convicted him of the reality both of his sin and of salvation, and he was converted.

If you are a student of Scripture and want to make your mark on history, you will not want to forget this verse. Romans 13:14 has the power to set you free from a life of sin. Today, put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Ask Him to help you overcome your sin. Make no provision for whatever sin is plaguing your flesh. Stop gratifying your flesh; instead, gratify your inner man with Jesus. You have dual citizenship. You are a citizen of earth, but you are a pilgrim, a sojourner who is just traveling through. You are on your way to your heavenly home because you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven. So act like it! Jesus has given you all the power you need.

Don’t believe the lie

Many years ago a man in San Francisco was caught speeding. The man blew through an intersection without realizing there was a camera on the traffic light. A couple weeks later he received in the mail a picture of his car and a ticket for $40. Since he had never had a ticket like this before, he decided to have a little fun. So he wrote out a check for $40, took a picture of the check and sent the picture back to the police department. A couple of days later, the police responded in return and sent him a picture. This time it was of handcuffs. He got the point, and they got their money.

There are some laws that we just can’t get away from. One such a law is this: Trusting in religion brings condemnation. Religion on the whole has been Satan’s great counterfeit to true spirituality. Religion has done far more damage to the church than all the atheists, communists, and world-class sinners. Religion is Satan’s greatest lie because it keeps so many people out of God’s heaven. I guess you could rightly say: Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The overall purpose of Romans 1-3 is to level humankind under sin. Paul begins with Gentiles who are guilty of blatant disobedience (1:18-32). He then pronounces the moralist guilty of counterfeit obedience (2:1-16). Now in 2:17-29, Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, goes after his own people the Jews and demonstrates that even the Jew is a sinner who stands guilty before God. Paul issues two timely warnings that have greater relevance to us.

 

  1. Beware Of Religious Overconfidence (2:17-24).

With this section Paul begins a long sentence in which he piles up description after description of the Jews’ privileges (2:17-20), only to show that these blessings mean little because Jews have not lived up to their privileges (2:21-24). Like all good speakers, Paul begins with the positive. In 2:17-20, he summarizes three great privileges or advantages the Jews held over the Gentiles. The first privilege of the Jews is their name. Paul writes in 2:17a, “But if you bear the name Jew.” The name “Jew” means “praise to Yahweh.” This name reminded them that they were privileged among all the people of the world—they were God’s chosen people. So proud were they of this name that many of the Jews living in Gentile cities used it as a surname such as (insert your name), Jew.

 

In the same way, many modern day churchgoers pride themselves in their names: conservative, charismatic, Pentecostal, evangelical, Baptist, and Presbyterian just to name a few. It’s so easy to brag on a preacher or writer. Yet, a principle that we must always bear in mind is: When people are steeped in religion, they talk about names and churches; when people are steeped in Christianity, they talk about Jesus. We must be careful to distinguish between religion and a relationship with Christ. Religion is all pain, no gain. A relationship with Jesus, however, is the difference between pain and gain.

 

The second privilege of the Jews is their book. In 2:17b-18 Paul writes that the Jews “rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.” The Jews possessed the Old Testament and were the keepers of the Law. They knew God’s will in a way the Romans and Greeks never knew it. They knew what was right and what was wrong. They were a people of the book! Sadly, they often failed to see the big picture (i.e., recognize Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament) to fulfill their primary calling (i.e., be a light to the Gentiles). Likewise, a great danger that we face in the 21st century is getting high on our knowledge of the Bible without allowing it to affect our lives. Unlike the Jews, we utilize the full revelation of God’s Word—all sixty-six books. We have multiple versions, cutting edge Bible software, thousands of internet search sites and the Bible on CD and Mp3. Here in America we have every opportunity to know God’s Word. But we must ensure that we don’t fool ourselves into assuming that we know the God of the Bible when all we really know are the contents of the Bible. As R.E.M. once sang, “We need to ‘lose our religion.’” The reason for this seemingly extreme measure is religion is all pain, no gain.

 

The third privilege of the Jews is their works. In 2:19-20, Paul lists four advantages the Jews made for themselves: “. . . you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” These are pretty heavy claims, yet Paul never contradicts them. Each of these claims is good if used in the right way. If you widen the lens to take in all three advantages, they are all outward—a name, a book, and a series of good works. None of those things touch the heart, and since they don’t touch the heart, they can all be faked. They require no inward change. Without a change of heart, the Jew has no advantage at all! The truth applies to us as well. We must be careful not to place confidence in our Christian service, whether it’s children’s ministry, youth ministry, the worship team, or pastoral ministry. Our confidence must be in Christ, not works.

 

Do you like to watch boxing? I bring up boxing because in 2:17-20, Paul was shadowboxing. In 2:21-24, he abruptly turns aggressive and his blows become lethal as he confronts the Jew with the disparity between what he teaches others and his own manner of life. Paul’s right hand comes over the top and breaks the jaw of the Jew with four consecutive questions. This series of questions is an attempt by Paul to turn the complacent Jew back on himself to search his own soul. The Jewish religious leaders of Paul’s day were notorious for their inconsistency and hypocrisy in respect to the Scriptures.

 

Paul begins with the thesis question in 2:21a, “. . . you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” The word “therefore” (oun) links 2:21-24 with 2:17-20. Paul argues that, given all the amazing advantages listed in 2:17-20, it seems that the Jews would teach themselves. It is important that we apply the sermon to ourselves first. John Calvin said, “If the preacher is not first preaching to himself, better that he falls on the steps of the pulpit and breaks his neck than preaches that sermon.”

 

In 2:21b, Paul writes, “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?” The Jews were stealing from one another, perhaps by collecting extreme interest or cheating on business deals. They preached against stealing, yet they themselves broke the eighth commandment. Paul follows this up in 2:22a with, “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” The Jews preached against adultery but were also guilty of breaking the seventh commandment as well. Finally, Paul questions the Jews again in 2:22b, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” God’s Law commanded Israel to destroy pagan temples in Canaan (Deut 7:1-6) and zealous Jews sometimes acted on this statute. However, they often broke the second commandment by confiscating the temples’ treasures (Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:18-19; 20). This isn’t the obedience that God demands. Verse 23 appears to be a fifth and final question; however, it is likely a statement since there is not a question mark in the Greek text. Thus, this verse should be translated: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law” (ESV; cf. NET, NLT). On one hand the Jews boasted in their knowledge of the Law, yet on the other hand, they were guilty of breaking the Law and dishonoring God. We would call this hypocrisy!

 

After doing a search on “hypocrisy” on the web, here is what I found:

Def: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

(1) Driving School owner drives drunk;

(2) a fire station goes up in flames because it didn’t install a smoke detector; (3) a robber who dresses up in police clothing;

(4) a Lowe’s Home Improvement store that failed to pass a building inspection; and

(5) Typo checking software that has a typo in their press releases. 

 

What about for us?

  1. Texting while driving, yet yelling at your children or others not to do it. Guilty as charged on this one. And perhaps the best of all hypocrisy examples in the modern world.
  2. Saying, “I have black friends” as if you have no prejudice against the race, but then holding tighter to your purse or locking your doors at the first sight of a black man. If you were brought up with fear of people of other races, maybe it’s time to work on letting it go.
  3. This is one of the most obvious examples of hypocrisy: thinking that gossip is bad, and then repeating it to a friend. This needs no explanation.
  4. Saying, “No child should go hungry,” but then neglecting to donate to a food bank or doing something about it. If you can afford that daily cup of fancy coffee, you can afford to give to someone in need.
  5. Here’s another one of the best hypocrisy examples out there: espousing the whole work/life balance thing but then not really modeling it yourself. Who is not guilty of this one from time to time?
  6. Telling your teenager to slow down on the road, but then you roll through a stop sign ‘cause you don’t want to miss the season premiere of God knows what. Try to model good driving habits for your kids always.
  7. Telling your children that stealing is bad, but “borrowing” some paper clips or other items from your office to take home. It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.
  8. Complaining about the government, but not voting. This makes us so mad! Let’s just stop there. Now, with all these in mind, go do better, be better and live better.

 

 

Such examples demonstrate that hypocrisy remains a problem today. It is both timeless and universal. But our major concern shouldn’t be with the Jews of Paul’s day or even other contemporary examples. We should be concerned with ourselves. Do we also commit the same or similar sins that we denounce in others? Do we slander the welfare cheats yet take deductions on our income tax return to which we’re not lawfully entitled? Do we rebuke the pornographers publicly, yet vicariously live out other people’s sexual adventures through the media? Do we decry the breakdown of the family yet head for divorce court when faced with difficult marriage problems? What about you? Are you practicing what you’re preaching? Does your life match up to your lips? If not, humble yourself, forsake the spiritual snobbery, and submit your life fully to Christ. 

 

The hypocritical behavior of the Jews led to a disturbing result in 2:24. Paul explains: “For ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU’, just as it is written.” This quotation can be traced back to Isaiah 52:5 LXX (cf. Ezek 36:20-21) where God is mocked by the Gentiles on account of Israel’s disregard for and disobedience of the Law. The Gentiles knew that Israel was God’s “chosen people.” They expected them to live accordingly. When the Jews violated God’s Law, the Gentiles “blasphemed” (blasphemeo) God’s name. In other words, they developed a wrong attitude about God. On one hand, the Jews were so jealous for God’s name that they would not even pronounce it; they would substitute another word for God instead. Yet, their conduct caused the Gentiles to blaspheme that very name. The Jews utterly failed in their calling to make God known. Will we?

 

Friederick Nietzche (1844-1900) once said that the best argument against Christianity is Christians. Nietzche was so right! We are our own worst enemies. The acid test is not so much what we say about ourselves but what the world says about God because of us! Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). Does your life point people to the Savior? Or, does your life cause people to blaspheme His holy name? We must recognize that there is nothing that God is more concerned about than His Name (i.e., His reputation and glory). Our job is to live godly and make Him look good before the nations. If we’re striving for practical righteousness in our lives, the world will sit up and take notice. If they see that we live lives of humility, integrity, and purity, they may just be attracted to what we believe.

[Confidence in one’s good works provides no assurance for salvation. God requires complete obedience. Thus, Paul exclaims, “Beware of religious overconfidence.” His second warning is . . .]

  1. Beware Of Religious Association (2:25-29).

These verses serve as “the great reversal.” Paul levels Jews and puts them on par with Gentiles. He does so by calling out their favorite religious work—circumcision. He indicates that even circumcision will not ensure salvation. Paul puts it like this: “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25). Paul is quite clear that circumcision is only valuable “if” (repeated twice) you continually practice the Law. For those Jews who have failed to keep the Law and are relying on their circumcision, it’s “uncircumcision.” Paul is slapping his readers silly with a spiritual 2×4. One of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call another Jew “an uncircumcised one,” and this is exactly what Paul is doing here. He’s showing no mercy on his fellow Jews! He argues that the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law will literally “become a foreskin” (Greek). This means they are no different than a Gentile. What a slam upon these overconfident Jews!

 

Our primary problem in approaching these verses is that circumcision doesn’t mean to us what it meant to the Jews. To us, circumcision is an optional physical act performed on baby boys. Some are circumcised; some aren’t. Outside of the Jewish faith, few people are circumcised for religious reasons. Most undergo the procedure for hygienic reasons. But the act of circumcision was incredibly significant to Jews. God first instituted circumcision as a “sign of the covenant” that God entered into with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10-14). All males descended from Abraham were to be circumcised on the eighth day as a mark of their identity as the people of God. To the Jews circumcision was intended to demonstrate that a man had committed himself to obey the Lord, and it invited God to cut off the man and his heirs if he rebelled against God. Unfortunately, many Jews came to think that the mere rite guaranteed their salvation.

 

One Jewish Rabbi stated that Abraham himself will sit at the entrance of Hell to make sure that no circumcised man was ever cast into Hell. However, circumcision was never meant to be an end in itself. The physical mark was meant to be accompanied by a deep spiritual commitment to God. Where commitment was absent, circumcision soon degenerated into ritualism. That’s roughly what happened over the centuries. By the first century many rabbis spoke of circumcision as if it were an automatic ticket to heaven. However, this is like placing a Mercedes Benz hood ornament on a broken down Yugo.

 

Circumcision was a ritual meant to be an outward sign or seal (Rom 4:11) of an inward reality. The outward ritual profits a person only if it is accompanied by the inner reality. The outward rite is worthless (of no benefit or advantage) apart from the inward reality. Apart from this, it is just ritual with no reality, a symbol with no substance. Now, in the place of circumcision, you can put a number of equivalent things: baptism, confirmation, church membership, communion, and other good works. Personally, I’m concerned for many who regard their infant baptism in much the same way the Jews regarded circumcision.

 

Some churches even teach that baptism saves from sin and guarantees entrance into heaven. To put a sharp point on it, this is one place where the practice of infant baptism may be rightly criticized. Multiplied millions of people today are putting their hope of heaven in the fact that a priest sprinkled some water on their forehead when they were a few days old. Whatever may be said in favor of infant baptism, this is the most damning indictment against it! It can become a religious ritual that leads many people away from saving faith in Jesus Christ. Hence, when a well-meaning individual acknowledges that he or she is trusting in infant baptism or any other work for salvation, please urge this person to believe in Christ alone. Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

In 2:26-27, Paul expounds on his thought that Jews face God’s judgment because they have sinned just like Gentiles. “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” In these two verses Paul powerfully sets forth the truth that inner change happens without works. If the Gentile has the inward reality, then he has the one thing that really counts. The uncircumcised Gentile who perfectly keeps the Law (or as some argue: the Christian who fulfills the Law through the Spirit) is capable of surpassing the circumcised Jew who transgresses the Law. Paul even puts forth the possibility that if the uncircumcised Gentile keeps the Law he or she will judge the circumcised Jew who does not. Ouch! This is a serious slap across the face of the Jew who is reading this letter or listening to Paul’s words being read.

 

(optional) Do you like peaches? If so, I have a can of peaches right here that I’d be willing to give you. But what you don’t know is that this can of peaches is actually a can of peas. I replaced the labels, so that it has the appearance of being peaches, when in reality, it is a can of peas. (UGH! I don’t know about you, but I hate canned peas.) The outside of this can is not consistent with what is inside.

In our day cans and bottles have labels on them to indicate what is inside. Circumcision was a label, and it implied that the Jew was obedient to God. However, if he was not completely obedient the label was not only worthless but misleading. The contents of the can are more important than the label. Similarly, if a Gentile was completely obedient to God, the absence of the label of circumcision was not of major consequence. The Jews had put more emphasis on the presence of the label than on the contents of the can. Paul’s point is that disobedience brings condemnation and perfect obedience, hypothetically, brings salvation, regardless of whether one is a Jew or a Gentile. Circumcision or baptism or any other rite practiced in an attempt to gain salvation is analogous to a label on a can of fruit or vegetables. If the outer label doesn’t match with the inner product, something is rotten! Religion is all pain, no gain.

 

Again, let me be clear on this point. Paul is saying that all religious ritual is worthless unless something has already happened in the heart! Baptism can’t save you or help you. The Lord’s Supper can’t save you or help you. Church membership can’t save you or help you. Good works can’t save you or help you. These things aren’t bad—they are wonderful. God expects you to obey Him in each of these areas. But to whatever extent you base your hope of eternal life upon any of these things, you’re making the same mistake the Jews made 2000 years ago. Good works are always an expression of gratitude for the gift of salvation. They are never to be equated with salvation or included in the salvation equation.

Paul closes this section by explaining positively what a true Jew is: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:28-29). The real message of this passage may be summed up in one simple sentence: Being a Jew is not a matter of racial heritage or religious ritual, but is instead a matter of the heart. No outward circumcision will ultimately earn praise from God. Salvation is by sheer grace, for God will not share His glory with another.

 

The great ignorance of religion is that people don’t realize that God approves matters of the heart. He seeks a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit. This is what results in the praise of God. Why? Because what a man is inwardly is the true measure of what he is before God. The word translated “but” (alla) in 2:29 is the strongest contrast in the Greek language. Paul transitions from the exterior to the interior, from the body to the heart. In doing so, he uses a play on words to summarize the point of this section. The word “praise” (epainos) links back to the word “Jew” (Ioudaios) in 2:17, because the word Jew means “praise.” It comes from the Hebrew word judah, which means “praise.” These Jews were praising themselves because they had the rite of circumcision. This was the great mark of the true people of God. Whenever anybody questioned their standing before God, they only had to refer to the fact that they were circumcised. Yet, they failed to appropriate true praise from God.

 

With this we come to the bottom line. As shocking as it may sound, there will be many church members in hell. In fact, hell will be populated with people from every religious persuasion. Why? It is because many people are locked into a false religious confidence. They trusted in religion instead of Christ. In the end, they were too religious for their own good. What are you trusting for your eternal salvation? Or, to put it more accurately: In whom are you trusting to take you to heaven? After all, salvation isn’t a what; it’s a who. The issue on the floor is your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let me give you five simple words that can take you all the way from earth to heaven. Here they are: Faith alone in Christ alone. Only Jesus can save you, so put your trust in Jesus only.

It was every business person’s nightmare. Arriving at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in Sacramento, CA were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. “They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending,” says Harv’s owner, Aaron Zeff. The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff’s on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was . . . four cents. Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt—stemming from the 2006 tax year—were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv’s with an obligation of $202.35. Thank God, when it comes to our sin debt, Jesus paid it all; He didn’t leave a balance.

 

Aren’t you glad that the debt you owe has been paid for by the person and work of Jesus Christ? His sinless life and His excruciating death have turned away God’s wrath and satisfied His holy demands. Your sins—past, present, future—have been forgiven, forgotten, forever. All that is necessary for you to have eternal life is to place your confidence in Jesus Christ alone. Today, will you simply acknowledge your sin and turn to the Savior?

The power of the resurrection

I take the long way around my personal problems and my messes. I do my best to do everything right. I strive to follow all the right steps. I read all the right books and talk to all the right people. But somewhere in the midst of my hard work and frantic rush, I forget to cry out to Jesus and depend upon Him. If I would just stop and listen to Jesus, He would tell me, “Just go the right way and save yourself some precious time. Cling to My cross and rely upon My resurrection.” In John 16:16-33, Jesus talks to His disciples about the challenges that will await them after His departure.

In 16:16-19, John reveals that you’ll experience perplexity in the crises of life if you fail to appreciate the implications of Christ’s resurrection. Jesus says, “‘A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.’ Some of His disciples then said to one another, ‘What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’? So they were saying, ‘What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about. Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, ‘Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’?” You’re probably thinking: What a bizarre series of verses, right? I’m with you. This is a peculiar exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Verses 16, 17, and 19 contain an identical refrain (“a little while”) that concerns first, not seeing Jesus shortly, and second, seeing Jesus shortly. It sounds like an ancient game of peek-a-boo: “Now you see Me; now you don’t.” Naturally, the disciples have no idea what Jesus is saying so they converse among themselves. Their confusion is somewhat understandable. In 16:10, Jesus has said that He is going to the Father and they will not see Him any longer. Then He says that they will see Him, and it won’t be long. What does this all mean? Quite simply, Jesus is saying that His time on earth is drawing to a close. His disciples will only see Him for another few hours. But in three days, they will see Him again when He rises from the dead (cf. 20:17-23).

It’s a lot easier for us to see Jesus’ intended meaning since we have the full counsel of God’s Word. The disciples, on the other hand, are expecting a Messiah that will rule and reign, not die and depart. So they began discussing what Jesus means. The verb tense in 16:18 that is translated “they were saying” denotes that the disciples were continually speaking among themselves, so we get the picture that there is a considerable amount of discussion going on. Nevertheless, I appreciate their willingness to admit their ignorance instead of pretending to be spiritual know-it-alls. Sadly, they didn’t take their questions to Jesus. Instead, they tried to figure things out for themselves. So here they are talking amongst themselves when they should be listening to Jesus. Stop right now and say, “Note to self: Don’t try to figure out the Bible myself. Rather, ask Jesus and the Holy Spirit for revelation. Don’t attempt to neatly categorize and systemize the Bible.” There are some biblical tensions. One of the reasons Jesus included these in Scripture is so that we would have to depend upon Him and ask Him for insight. Similarly, our church needs to be a safe place that welcomes questions from those seeking to understand the Bible. We must do what we can to help people feel comfortable enough to ask spiritual questions. In our day and age, most people (including many Christians) know very little about the Scriptures. We must help each other grow in our understanding of His Word.

In 16:20-24, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite your crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:20-22 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you7 will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”You’ve got to hand it to Jesus; He always tells His disciples the truth in advance. In these verses, the noun “sorrow” and the verb translated “be sorrowful” appear four times, while words with similar meanings (“weep,” “lament,” and “anguish”) appear three times. The noun “joy” and its verb “rejoice,” appear five times. Each time a word associated with sorrow is used, it is contrasted with joy. Jesus’ point: The greatest spiritual progress often follows the greatest sufferings. The greatest blessing that would ever come to these apostles—the gift of the Holy Spirit—would follow the greatest trauma they had ever experienced. It has been observed that Jesus does not tell His disciples that their sorrow will be replaced by joy, but rather that their sorrow will be turned into joy. There is a very significant difference. Many wish to have joy, but they want to have it without sorrow. If joy is sorrow which God has transformed into joy, then we must endure the sorrow to experience the joy.

I must confess, I got a kick out of Jesus’ illustration about childbearing in 16:21. I could never get away with using such an illustration! I’d be feathered and tarred and run out of town. But Jesus, the Son of God, can say whatever He likes. I do smile a bit, though, because Jesus spoke these words in the presence of eleven men. Even though He could have gotten away with these words, He didn’t speak them in the presence of any women. I would also add that it is likely that Jesus is using hyperbole when He refers to a woman who no longer remembers the pain of her labor. I suspect most women remember the pain for a relatively long time. Perhaps just reading these words causes you pain. You will never forget all that you went through. But the pain of childbirth is turned into joy as you behold your child. Likewise, our temporary trials will be turned into joy (cf. 2 Cor 4:16-18).

In the last clause of 16:22 Jesus says, “. . . no one will take your joy away from you.” I love this! No matter what kind of earthly success you experience, it is temporary. You may be smart, successful, strong, popular, and good-looking, but these blessings can fade like a breath. The joy that Jesus offers is eternal. It is good for this life and the life to come. As the old adage says, “Happiness is the result of happenings, whereas joy is the result of Jesus.” Today, will you choose joy regardless of your circumstances?

In 16:23-24, Jesus transitions to the topic of prayer. He does so because He recognizes that prayer is essential when one encounters troubling times. Jesus says: “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full.”After Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the disciples’ questions will be answered. Furthermore, Jesus’ death and resurrection will open for them the way to prayer to the Father in Jesus’ name (cf. 14:13; 15:16). I’m not referring to what you hear on Christian television: “In Jesus name.” Nor am I speaking about how our children often conclude their prayers with a rapid-fire, slurred version of “InJesusNameAmen.” To pray in Jesus’ name means to pray that Jesus’ will is accomplished on earth as it is in heaven. It is to pray that His plan, program, and purpose are accomplished. When you pray according to His will, your prayers will be answered.

It is significant that the joy Christ promises is connected with prayer. Although prayer is designed for God’s glory, it’s also for our good. The purpose clause at the end of 16:24 reads: “so that your joy may be made full.” So, why is the church lacking in joy? Why are you lacking in joy? What is it that Jesus Christ has already done that you are trying to do? Jesus wants you and me to pray to Him. He wants us to cry out to Him. He wants you to come to the end of yourself. He wants us to cry out, “I can’t . . . you can . . . please help.” 

In 16:25-33, John explains that you can enjoy peace despite life’s crises if you rest in Christ’s resurrection. In 16:25 Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.” Explicit predictions about future events would have overtaxed the disciples’ weak faith at this point (cf. 16:12-13), so Jesus spoke to the disciples in figures of speech. He then immediately follows up his figure with two more verses on prayer: “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father” (16:26-27).

With small variations, this promise is repeated six times in this discourse. The reason: Disciples are often guilty of being prayerless. In these verses, Jesus emphasizes God the Father’s great love for the disciples. Despite their unfaithfulness, God had a deep love for them because they love Jesus. Consequently, Jesus’ death will afford the disciples a deeper and more intimate relationship with His Father. They will now have the opportunity to pray to the Father 24-7. Jesus would no longer need to pray on their behalf in the role of an earthly priest, but He will intercede for them as a heavenly priest. What a privilege to experience direct communion with the God of the universe!

Yet, the sad truth is most Christians are more concerned with God’s blessings than they are with God’s presence. In other words, many Christians are seeking a God who provides secrets and solutions to better health, a better career, a better marriage and family, or more money. What about you? Do you see prayer as a “request-line” or as a “life-line?” Jesus wants you and me to be in love with Him. He wants us to deeply desire Him above all else. Today, will you respond to the Father’s love and begin to communicate with Him? He wants to hear from you. Maybe you are intimidated because you assume that you’ll have to pray two or three hours a day. Don’t worry about the duration of time. Simply take a baby step and make a commitment to begin talking to God. When my children want to talk with me, even if it’s just a sentence or two, I want to listen and hear from them. From what I’ve been told as children move into the teenage years, relish even a simple sentence of conversation. Did you know that God feels this way about you? He wants to converse with you. He wants you to pour out your heart to Him—your dreams, your hopes, your interests. While He already knows all of it, He still thoroughly enjoys fellowship with you. I know this is mind boggling, but it’s true. God loves you and desires intimacy with you through prayer.

The reason that God can have unconditional love for you and me is found in 16:28. Jesus says, “I came forth from the Father and have come into the world; I am leaving the world again and going to the Father.” This verse is a summary of the whole visit of the Son to the world. It includes His mission, nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Everything that Jesus is and all that He has accomplished makes it possible for us to have a relationship with God and to be recipients of His love.

In 16:29-32, John records a surprising exchange. Jesus’ disciples say, “‘Lo, now You are speaking plainly and are not using a figure of speech. Now we know that You know all things, and have no need for anyone to question You; by this we believe that You came from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” The overconfidence of the disciples is startling! Apparently now, everything is crystal clear. The light switch has been flicked on. Yet, Jesus humbles them with a question with thinly veiled skepticism, amounting to a mild rebuke: “Do you now believe?” Jesus is speaking with a bit of irony and sarcasm. However, Jesus’ words do not imply that their faith in Him is non-existent; they have believed that He is the Messiah (cf. 2:11). He is merely saying that at the present time their faith is inadequate. After the resurrections occurs, the disciples will come to believe that He is both Lord and God (cf. 20:28). You and I continue in the Christian life the same way we began, by believing in Jesus. The more we learn of Christ, the more we have to believe. The more we place our trust in Jesus, the more we receive. The more we receive, the more we can accomplish for His glory.

Jesus proceeds to allude to Zech 13:7. As predicted, all the disciples (except Peter and John, 18:15) abandoned Jesus when He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even though He was abandoned by His disciples, Jesus wasn’t completely alone—the Father is with Him. And important principle emanates from Jesus’ words: People (even disciples) are fickle, but God is faithful. The truth is your spouse will disappoint you. Your children and grandchildren will disappoint you. Your coworkers and neighbors will disappoint you. Your pastors and elders will disappoint you. There will be times in your life when it seems like everyone has let you down and you’re all alone. Yet, Jesus wants you to know that God will never leave you nor forsake you (cf. Heb 13:5). I believe God often allows people to disappoint us so that we have no one to look to but Him. If people always meet our needs and never disappointed us, we would never choose to look to God. We could be satisfied in all of our horizontal relationships with other people. Ultimately, God wants us to be satisfied with Him alone. He yearns for our vertical relationship to be the most important pursuit in our lives. Will you prioritize God today because you’re grateful for His faithfulness, not because everyone has left you high and dry? He wants your love and gratitude.

Jesus’ final words in this passage are also His final words to His disciples on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Chapter 17 begins Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer to the Father. So Jesus has been building up to an important word in 16:33. He says: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The phrase “these things I have spoken to you” refers back to all that Jesus has said in the Upper Room Discourse. What Jesus has been building up to is a single word: PEACE. Jesus wants the disciples to experience His peace. He knows that they are anxious and frightened over His departure so He offers them peace. First though, He assures His disciples that they will have “tribulation.” This is one Bible promise very few “claim” today. The word “tribulation” (thilipsis) doesn’t point to some minor irritation, but to very real hardship. It is used, for example, of the treading of grapes. Perhaps you can relate to this. Do you ever feel like you are being squished and squashed? Do you ever feel like your insides are being sprayed all over the place? Today, are you feeling pressure to the breaking point? The world offers pressure; Christ offers peace. He is available to you today.

Jesus says, “I have overcome the world.” Notice, He doesn’t say, “I will overcome the world.” Instead, he uses a perfect tense verb which refers to a past act with abiding results. The verb translated “overcome” is the Greek verb nikao. The noun form is nike, which means “victory.” I’d like to believe that the Nike Corporation chose their name based upon Jesus words in John 16:33, but this may be wishful thinking. Nevertheless, the reason that you and I can experience peace in this world is because Jesus has already overcome the world. In eternity past, the Trinity gathered and determined that God would be most glorified by providing a way for humankind to enter into a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. True peace occurs when you and I cling to the cross and rely upon His resurrection.

Perhaps, you’re dealing with a daunting besetting sin that is laying waste to you. Have you stopped to reflect on the fact that Christ’s resurrection has resurrected you and has given you all the power you need to overcome your vice? Maybe you’re spiraling downward in depression over your marriage and family problems or your work circumstances. Did you know that Christ’s resurrection power can soften hearts and change circumstances? You may be feeling utterly hopeless because of your physical challenges. Yet, Christ’s resurrection promises you a new body with no more weakness, sickness, or death. The resurrection can raise you up in the midst of your trials and frustrations. Many times we’re looking for a “silver bullet” solution and Jesus is saying: “Won’t you please just return to the tried and true fundamentals of the faith. I want to give you hope, I want to minister to you in your time of need. But I want you to depend upon Me. Call out to Me today. Ask Me to come and meet your needs.” Times of trouble are times for trust.

I have read of an artist who wanted to paint a picture of peace. He chose, of all things, a storm beating against a rocky coast and depicted the waves, mountain high, crashing against the mighty rocks. He put a shipwreck in his picture, with a great ship driven up against the rocks and in the process of breaking up. In the water nearby there is the body of a drowned sailor. He has made it obvious that there is a wild storm beating against the coast and that this storm means danger and even death to people caught in it. But in the foreground there’s a mighty rock with a crack in it, and in the crack a dove has built her nest and is sitting in it, secure. Underneath, the artist has written the one word: “Peace.”

Jesus promises you peace because He has overcome the world. As you cling to His cross and rely upon His resurrection, you will experience His victory even in life’s most difficult circumstances.

Choose your relationship – lose your religion

Brad Pitt. Just the mention of his name causes women all over the world to melt. If somehow you’re not familiar with Brad Pitt, he is a movie star featured in many films including Legends of the Fall, Fight Club, Troy, Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. He was married to Jennifer Anniston from the TV show “Friends,” and is currently married to popular Angelina Jolie.. In an interview with a German Web site, Pitt was asked if he believed in God. He smiled and replied, “No, no, no!” Pitt insists he is not a spiritual person: “I’m probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there, and then there’s no point thinking about it.” In the meantime, Pitt claims he’s found happiness in life. He says, “I am on the path I want to be on.” And right now, that path is a 2½ hour drive from Berlin to Prague on one of his many motorcycles. When asked by the reporter how many motorcycles he owns Pitt responds “Sorry, but I’ve got a problem with that. To be honest, I don’t know how many I have.” Pitt admits his family and a couple of his motorbikes are his most important possessions in life. In this list he also included Jolie’s backside, along with a prized Michael Jackson t-shirt.

Apparently, this good old Midwest boy lost whatever religion he may have had. Yet, despite what our world may say, the Bible teaches that no amount of fame and fortune means anything apart from knowing Jesus Christ personally. Unfortunately, there are many people like Brad Pitt who are losing their religion. But there can be great wisdom in “losing your religion” because religion is humankind’s attempt to reach God. On the other hand, Christianity is God reaching down to humanity through the person and work of Christ. The religious and irreligious alike need to understand that nothing and no one is saved apart from Jesus Christ. In Philippians 3:1–11, Paul challenges you to lose your religion; choose your relationship. He provides two directives that lead to a right relationship with Christ.

1. Shred your religious résumé (3:1–6). Since religion doesn’t save, Paul urges you to renounce your religious background and tendencies. He begins 3:1 with the infamous phrase: “Finally my brethren.” The word “finally” (loipos) makes it sound like Paul is wrapping up his letter. However, he is only at the halfway mark. He has written sixty verses (1:1–2:30) and still has forty–four more to go (3:1–4:23!) As you can imagine, the phrase “finally my brethren” has occasioned a lot of humor at the expense of preachers. A little boy was sitting with his dad in church and whispered, “What does the preacher mean when he says ‘finally’?” To which his father muttered, “Absolutely nothing, son!” This story is humorous because there is so much truth in it. We all know that when a preacher says “finally,” he’s not really done. In most cases, he is merely warming up! Admittedly, many preachers (undoubtedly myself included) inadvertently tease the congregation by giving the impression that they are landing the sermon, only to descend, fill up, and lift off again. Of course, we preachers could argue that the translation “finally” in 3:1 provides us apostolic precedence!4 Regardless, here the Greek adjective loipos doesn’t mean “finally”; instead, it is a transitional marker that should be translated “so then.”

Paul now issues a command: “rejoice in the Lord.” Literally: “You all keep rejoicing in the Lord.” Throughout Philippians, Paul emphasizes the theme of joy. The words “joy” (chara), “rejoice” (chairo), and “rejoice with” (sunchairo) appear a combined total of sixteen times. Here for the first time, however, Paul follows his admonition to rejoice with the qualifier “in the Lord.” This phrase (or “in Christ”) is the key phrase of Philippians and occurs nearly twenty times. It echoes the language of the Psalms that admonishes the righteous to “rejoice in the Lord and be glad” (Ps 32:11) and to “sing joyfully to the Lord” (33:1). In both of these instances, the psalmist urges the worshiping community to praise the Lord for what He has done for them. In other words, regardless of your circumstances, you can always rejoice in God’s attributes and His provisions. While happiness depends upon happenings; joy depends upon Jesus. It is a decision of your will. You can choose to celebrate Christ in the midst of the most difficult circumstances in your life. This happens when you reject discontentment and instead choose to praise.

In Africa there is a fruit called the “taste berry.” It changes a person’s taste so that everything, including sour fruit, becomes sweet and pleasant for several hours after eating the berry. (Since I hate vegetables, I’m on a quest for some taste berries.) Praise could be considered the “taste berry” of the Christian life. When you spend your day in praise and gratitude even the sour circumstances in your life can taste sweet. While this may seem trite to you, it is nonetheless true. If you praise God for who He is and what He has done for you, gratitude will well up within you. As a result, rather than asking God to remove pain, suffering, and trials from your life, you may find yourself praying that He accomplishes His will in the midst of them. I challenge you today to take a notecard and write down the characteristics and attributes of God that are meaningful to you. You may also want to write down the many good gifts that God has given you. Spend time reading through this card daily (perhaps several times a day) and watch God transform your perspective on your adverse circumstances.
Paul concludes 3:1 by saying: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” What are “the same things” of which Paul writes? They are Paul’s frequent exhortations to rejoice during affliction (cf. 2:28, 29; 3:1; 4:4). Paul writes, “It’s no problem for me to wax eloquent on the need to rejoice in the midst of suffering. The Lord knows I’ve had plenty of experience in this endeavor.” More importantly, Paul declares that his repetition is a “safeguard” (asphales) for the church. This word is the opposite of the verb meaning “to trip up, or cause to stumble.” Paul’s passion is for the believers to stand firm, to be steady and secure. The reason is simple: Words sink in over time. Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. So today “rejoice in the Lord…and again I say REJOICE!”

In 3:2–6, Paul discusses the danger of religion and religious people. He begins with a warning in 3:2: “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”This is very strong language—definitely not very PC! Three times he calls these religious zealots derogatory names. Three times he uses the word “beware!” Paul’s word to the church is: Look over your shoulder and look ahead. Pray, but don’t close your eyes. Although it may appear that Paul is referring to three different groups of people; he is describing three distinguishing characteristics of a single religious group called Judaizers. These Jewish extremists believed that circumcision and other works were necessary for salvation. So after Paul shared the message of faith alone in Christ alone in Philippi, they came onto the scene and told the church his message was inadequate. They had the audacity to insist that the uncircumcised Greek and Roman Philippians were not saved after all. Now you can see why Paul is so righteously indignant and downright ticked off!

First, Paul calls the Judaizers “dogs.” In any day and age, it’s not a compliment to be called a dog; however, in Paul’s day it was a real slap. Dogs were coyote-like scavengers who fed on road kill, filth, and garbage—they were vivid images of the unclean. Rabbis called Gentiles “dogs” because they did not believe in the one true God—Yahweh. The great irony of this rebuke is Paul turns the table on his fellow Jews and declares: “YOU are the ones who have rejected God! You are the ones who are leading people astray through your false teaching. YOUare the dirty dogs!
Second, Paul calls the Judaizers “evil workers.” The term “worker” (ergates) is typically used in a positive sense of a laborer or missionary. But here Paul adds the adjective “evil” (kakos) to denote a worker who perverts God’s purposes. This is true spirit of treachery.
Third, Paul calls the Judaizers “the false circumcision.” The term translated “false circumcision” (katatome) literally means “mutilation.” Instead of using the typical biblical term for circumcision (peritome, cf. 3:3), Paul refuses to dignify this false teaching by giving it a biblical name. Circumcision, the Judaizers’ greatest source of pride, is interpreted by Paul as mutilation. He is saying, “YOU have mutilated the flesh of these young brethren!”
In 3:3, Paul contrasts false religion with a relationship with Christ. Specifically, he certifies that the church is the true people of God: “for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” Paul declares that Christians are not mutilators of the flesh. Instead believers are the true circumcision, spiritually speaking. Paul gives three evidences that Christians indeed are the people of God rather than the unbelieving Jews.

First, Christians “worship in the spirit of God.” In this context this phrase could mean that our worship is internal, not merely external. However, this word for “worship” (latreuo) connotes servanthood or service or coming under the authority of someone. So Paul is likely suggesting that believers are called to worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24), yet are also called to external expressions of that worship.

Second, Christians “glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s word for “glory” (kauchaomai) can mean “to boast,” and, together with two other closely related words (kauchema and kauchesis), is often used in his letters to indicate one’s confidence. We are the true people of God, says Paul, because we boast that the Messiah has come in Jesus.

Third, Christians “put no confidence in the flesh.” “Flesh” (sarx) here refers to “earthly things or physical advantages.” When you stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t you dare say, “We made it didn’t we? Jesus, you did your part by dying on the cross, but I also did mine through my works of righteousness. We partnered together in my salvation.” I can’t think of a declaration more repugnant to the Lord. Instead, we must fall on our faces and acknowledge that we don’t deserve God’s goodness and grace.

In 3:4–6, Paul seems to respond to those religious objectors who might be brazen enough to say, “Well, Paul, perhaps you prefer grace because you don’t have the works or the religious pedigree that we do.” Paul squashes this notion like a bug when he declares: “…although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul was the crème de la crème. He was a religious connoisseur. In this passage, Paul presents a succinct list of seven reasons why he could boast in the flesh. The first four relate to his birth:
(1) “circumcised the eighth day”: he was a legitimate Jew from the beginning, not a proselyte; (2) “of the nation of Israel”: he had a pure lineage that traced directly back to Jacob (i.e., Israel); (3) “of the tribe of Benjamin”: the tribe of Benjamin provided Israel with its first king and remained loyal to the house of David; and (4) “a Hebrew of Hebrews”: he was not raised as a Hellenistic Jew, but in a family that retained the Hebrew language and customs. The last credentials relate to Paul’s achievements: (5) “as to the Law, a Pharisee”: he was a member of the strictest, most orthodox and patriotic sect of Judaism; (6) “as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”: he was a zealous defender of the integrity of Judaism, and before his encounter with Christ, he aggressively sought to overthrow the early Christian communities; and (7) “as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless”: from the outward perspective of conduct and observance of the Mosaic law, he lived by the book. By rattling off his credentials, Paul successfully demonstrates that he can beat the Judaizers at their own religious game!
What do you boast in? Where does your confidence lie? Perhaps you have claimed one or more of the following. I was…born into a Christian country, raised by Christian parents or grandparents, baptized or confirmed in a church, or educated in a Christian school. Maybe even now you claim…I am a church member, I read my Bible and pray, or I am a good person. While these are blessings and privileges, they do not make you a Christian, or put you in good standing with God. Works have their place, but not when it comes to salvation.
I don’t want anyone to be impressed with my education. It’s all from God! So lose your religion; choose your relationship.
[Paul is clear. In order to have a right relationship with God, you must shred your religious résumé. His second directive is equally straightforward.]
2. Know your ultimate purpose (3:7–11). Instead of trusting in your religious résumé, it is crucial to trust the person and work of Christ. This section forces you to ask: What’s really important in my life? Paul writes in 3:7: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The word “but” marks a sharp contrast with the previous section. The “things” that were gain to Paul is a reference to his religious résumé (3:4–6). The term “count” (hegeomai) is used three times in verses 3:7–8. It is a mathematical term that means “to engage in an intellectual process, think, consider, regard.” The word “loss” (zemia) is only found in two other places in the New Testament. This is a business term for “forfeit.” Paul is saying that at a point in the past when he was converted to Christ, he made a decision of his will to count everything that he had accomplished as loss—making no contribution whatsoever to his salvation. He transferred his trust from his own supposed works of righteousness to the Lord Jesus Christ’s perfect righteousness. Today, if you have never believed in Christ, transfer your trust in your own works to Christ’s perfect work.
Verses 8–11 constitute one long sentence. The main part of the sentence is: “I count all things to be loss.” The rest of the sentence is made up of three subordinate clauses that present three reasons to lose your religion and choose your relationship. In 3:8, Paul moves from a past act to a present lifestyle. Not only did Paul count all things loss in the past; he continues to do so in the present as a believer. He puts it like this: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” In his present Christian life, Paul counts all of his achievements as “loss.” This refers to works such as writing Scripture, preaching Christ, evangelizing unbelievers, planting churches, and mentoring missionaries and pastors. Granted, all of these works of service are wonderful; however, they do not measure up with “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” Ultimately, Paul concludes that these works and many more are “rubbish.” Now this translation is fine if you live across the pond in the UK; however, most Americans don’t use this term.

Let me explain. They try to be prim and proper. But the Greek term that is translated “rubbish” (skubala) means “dung, excrement, poop.” This term is so strong that some Greek scholars even use expletives to define this word. However, if I used the appropriate expletive, it would be the only thing you would potentially remember about my lesson. But I will unashamedly and unapologetically use the word “poop.” Paul says, “Human accomplishments are ‘poop’ compared to the pursuit of knowing Christ.” Even Isaiah 64:6 declares that our righteousness is like “filthy garments” (see the NET’s literal rendering: “a menstrual rag”)

Our “good works” apart from Christ are putrid in God’s nostrils. They cannot earn salvation or even maintain salvation. Even impressive religious works that aren’t carried out by abiding in Christ cannot win God’s favor or bring eventual reward. They will result in “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor 3:12). I want to come to the place in my life and ministry where I truly believe this. I want to be a man who clings to Christ because I recognize that I can’t do anything apart from Him (John 15:5). May I lose my religion and choose my relationship. I pray this for you as well.
In 3:9, Paul indicates that he longs to “be found in Him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul insists that salvation is the work of God. The phrase translated “through faith in Christ” is better rendered “through the faithfulness of Christ” (see NET). This means Jesus Christ initiates and sustains salvation. Someone came to an Orthodox priest one day and asked, “Father, are we saved by faith or by works?” The answer was filled with wisdom. “Neither. We are saved by God’s mercy.” What a great insight! Salvation comes from God. It was His idea and He ought to receive all the glory. Your only response should be to appropriate His offer. This is what the Bible calls “faith” (pistis). It is simply taking God at His Word by receiving His promise that Jesus gives eternal life to those who trust in Him. This is what it means to be “found in Him.”

Would you humor me and take a piece of paper (with your name on it) and your Bible? Let your Bible represent Christ and the piece of paper your life. Now take the paper, place it in the Bible, and then close the Bible so that the paper is completely covered. Now the paper (your life) is “in” the Bible (Jesus Christ). It’s not enough be “near” Christ or “next to” Christ. True salvation means to be “in” Christ so that when God looks at you, He doesn’t see you, He sees Jesus instead. Your sins, past, present, and future are forgiven, forgotten, forever! That’s what Paul means in 3:9 when he speaks of “the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
However, Paul doesn’t stop with faith in Christ. He doesn’t want you to sit, soak, and sour because he’s not satisfied with mere “fire insurance.” Instead he longs for you and me to press on to maturity in Christ. In 3:10, Paul shares his mission and ultimate purpose in life: “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

To “know” (ginosko) Christ does not mean to have head knowledge about Him, but to “know Him” intimately and passionately. Ginosko and its Hebrew counterpart yada can even be used of sexual intercourse. Here, in this context, however, to know Christ is to experience intimate fellowship with Him and live out His life. Paul wants to know Christ’s resurrection, but not just in an intellectual sense. Paul wants to be resurrected in a spiritual sense on a daily basis. He also wants to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. Most Christians would prefer to skip this aspect of knowing Christ. Yet, suffering is part and parcel of the Christian life. Over the course of my life, I have battled back pain. Similarly, if you are a member of God’s family, it is guaranteed that you will share in the suffering of Christ. It is hereditary. Yet, suffering will grow you up in Christ like nothing else. Lastly, Paul yearned to be conformed to Christ’s death, which means a daily dying to self and living for Christ. The story is told that when James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji Islands, the captain of the ship that had carried him there sought to turn him back by saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert’s reply demonstrates the meaning of Philippians 3:10. He said, “We died before we came here.” This is what it means to be conformed to Christ’s death. For Paul and for you and me, knowing Christ can get better and better. Karen and I have been married 28 years and I can testify to you that a Christ-honoring marriage can get better and better with every passing year. Similarly, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I love and appreciate Him. Is anything more important in your life than your relationship with Jesus Christ? If so, ask the Lord to give you a greater passion for Him.

Finally, and I really do mean, finally, Paul concludes this section with an unusual and surprising statement expressing a desire to “…attain to the resurrection from the dead” (3:11). The NASB begins this verse with “in order that”; however, this phrase doesn’t appear in the Greek text. Instead, it is the adverbial phrase ei pos which means “if somehow” (see NASB margin). This leads to several observations.
First, whatever Paul means by “the resurrection from the dead,” he is unsure that he will attain it. It is unlikely, then, that he is referring to his bodily resurrection.
Second, the term translated “resurrection” (exanastasis) literally means “out-from resurrection.” It appears that Paul’s hope is not simply to be physically resurrected, but to gain what he calls the “out-resurrection.” The compound form points to a fuller participation in the resurrection.
Third, attaining to the resurrection from the dead is dependent upon being conformed to Jesus Christ’s sufferings and death. Paul knows that he has to do something in addition to place his faith in Christ. Knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection is required, sharing His sufferings is required, and conforming oneself to His death by laying down one’s life for others is required in order to participate in the “out-resurrection.”
Fourth, this out-resurrection is a reward, not a gift of grace. Verse 14 likens it to a “prize.” Paul is concerned with achieving a distinctive resurrection life—a new life that stands out from the rest. This calls to mind Hebrews 11:35, which speaks of a “better resurrection” for those who suffer. Jesus speaks of believers being “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” for humility, servitude, and obedience (Luke 14:14). Paul is not merely hoping that he will attain physical resurrection. That’s a done deal! He is confident in his salvation. Rather he is seeking to be distinctively resurrected; resurrected to stand before Christ who will approve his life and give him important new responsibilities in the age to come. Thus, in this single passage, Paul hits justification, sanctification, and glorification. Yet, his goal is that the Lord Jesus Christ receives all glory, honor, and praise.

You are likely familiar with the story of the Titanic. But you may not have heard of a rich lady who was in her cabin when the order to abandon the ship was given. There was no time for packing possessions. She noticed two things on her dressing table: her jewel box and a bowl of oranges. She made a rapid assessment of what was most valuable to her given the urgency of the situation. Wisely she abandoned her jewels and grabbed the oranges instead. She recognized that they might give nourishment on the open sea whereas her jewels would be worthless to her. Likewise, you are called to invest your life in a pursuit that doesn’t seem very significant to the world, the pursuit of knowing Christ. In this life knowing Jesus will provide you purpose and significance. More importantly, if you live your life for Christ, in the life to come you will be eternally grateful. Lose your religion; choose your relationship. Make sure today that you choose Jesus Christ. The Bible declares, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Don’t delay; choose Christ today! Seek to know Him intimately. Live for Him all the days of your life. You will never, ever regret it.