Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Romans 15:29-32 – Fellowship

It is very clear that Paul loved fellowship. If there ever was a Christian who had the potential for being self-sufficient, it was Paul. He knew more theology than any, he had richer spiritual experiences than most, and he possessed more natural talents than most. Yet he wanted to be with believers even although they had not experienced what he had or did not know the same truths as well as he did. We see his desire for fellowship in verse 24 when he writes that he wanted to enjoy the company of the believers in Rome for a while. He expresses the same desire in verse 32 when he writes that he would be refreshed by them.
We are not to imagine that Paul assumed that fellowship would only occur if they or he did something for God while they were alone. He knew that true fellowship needed contributions from him and from them. There is no such thing as the fellowship of individualism, nor is there a fellowship of silence. But what are they to speak about in their times of fellowship? Paul gives us the answer in verse 29 when he refers to the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I assume that what he means by fullness is the riches of the gospel.
Fellowship is a mark of a spiritual church and of a healthy Christian and if believers are not engaged in it they are likely to be backsliding. We can see that is the case from the description of the church in Jerusalem following the Day of Pentecost. Luke lists the priorities of the church in Acts 2:42 and one of them is fellowship.
What can we say about fellowship? Here is a list of suggested aspects – fellowship is spiritual, scriptural, sharing, sensitive, searching, and sweet. It is spiritual because it is an activity of the Spirit in the lives of his people. The Spirit creates a bond between them and constantly works to stimulate the bond as they develop together. A Christian by definition loves being with other Christians because they have been made alive by the Spirit.
Fellowship is scriptural because the Spirit leads them to focus on the issues revealed in the Bible. If our fellowship is not based on the Bible, then there are no limits to the suggestions and claims that can be made, and often they are little more than imagination. Yet there are hundreds of matters in the Bible that can be the basis of fellowship.
Fellowship is sharing because it does not happen without open hearts and open mouths. Christians should have something to share from their use of the Bible or from a need that others should pray about or a choice that they have to make in providence. They can speak about the provision of spiritual comfort or their longing for a better world.
Fellowship is sensitive, not in the meaning of not disagreeing with one another, but in wanting others to benefit from what is shared – it is not about winning arguments, but about edification. We speak because we love other believers and because we want them to become more like Jesus.
Fellowship can be searching because if we see that others have attained to a certain understanding or enjoyed a degree of assurance we ask ourselves why we don’t have it and then take steps to have them for ourselves. Real fellowship motivates healthy Christians to search for more of Christ when they see that others enjoy being Christians.

And such fellowship is sweet because it pleases God to join them and he gives them his peace. Whenever Christians have fellowship, there is an invisible person present blessing each of them. The invisible person (God) takes the aroma of his home wherever he goes and spreads its fragrance in the lives of his people.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Romans 15:25-28 – Works of compassion

Paul believed very strongly in what we could call mercy ministries. Before he would walk to Spain in the west, he was going to make another journey to the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea, to Jerusalem in order to give practical help to the believers there. Paul had been gathering this great collection for a couple of years and he also mentions it in other New Testament letters that he wrote. Paul has some interesting comments to make about helping the needy.
First, Paul says we have an obligation to help poor Christians in other parts of the world. He mentions the contribution from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia – that would be the churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens and Corinth and elsewhere – and commends them for providing part of the collection. Wherever he had gone in recent months, he had mentioned this collection that he was putting together. Of course, he knew that on one occasion all the leaders of the church had got together to discuss policy – we call the meeting the Council of Jerusalem – and they had specified that Gentile converts should remember the poor. It is safe to deduce that if a congregation ignores poor Christians it ceases to be a biblical church.
Second, Paul says an obligation in itself is not enough. In addition, there has to be a desire and a delight in participating in it. Merely doing it out of some sense of obligation was not in itself commendable to the Lord. As Paul stresses elsewhere when referring to this collection, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. And if we can borrow the insights of a fellow leader with Paul, we will observe that the apostle John states very clearly that those who express concrete brotherly love will enjoy great assurance of salvation as they make their way through life. He also says that its absence is a real cause of concern about the reality of a person’s faith in Jesus (1 John 3:16-20).

Third, Paul had a spiritual reason why the Gentile churches should provide practical help for the poor saints in Jerusalem. He tells us the reason in verse 27 – the Gentiles have received spiritual blessing through the the church in Jerusalem, probably through what had happened there in the early days of the church. After all, those who commenced the church in Rome were probably converted on the Day of Pentecost because Rome is one of the places of origin mentioned by Luke in Acts 2. Because they had received spiritual help from Jerusalem, therefore they should send practical help to Jerusalem. I suppose Paul would say to us in the affluent West, ‘The poor Christians in other parts of the world are praying for you and God is answering their prayers for you, therefore you should send them practical help.’ Maybe he was dropping hints that the believers in Rome should adopt a project, such as helping him take the gospel to Spain.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Romans 15:15-24 – Know who you are

Paul informs his readers of his God-given role. He had no doubts about what his role was, and that is a mark of a leader. We know that in a company or a firm the person in charge cannot doubt his strategy if it is based on sound reasoning. Paul knew that God had called him to the specific task of getting as many Gentiles as possible to praise God. That is what he says in verses 15 and 16. He devoted his life to it, and he gives his impressive CV in verses 18 and 19. Yet since he was such a leader with a vision that propelled him forward, he wanted to spread the influence of the firm for which he worked. He did not see the point of duplication, even of imitation or even discussing, the methods of others.
We may be surprised that Paul calls himself a priest in this self-description. A priest had three functions in Israel: he offered sacrifices, he instructed the people regarding God’s will and he pronounced blessings upon his listeners. Paul transforms those functions and gives them a gospel meaning. He wanted to teach the gospel to Gentiles, he delighted in pronouncing God’s blessing on them, and he wanted to present them to God as an acceptable offering. What made them acceptable was that through the gospel they had become new people through the cleansing of the blood of Jesus and through the other benefits connected to sanctification.
Paul wanted more and more Gentiles to be converted, to have their lives changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he was prepared to go to any lengths in order to achieve it because he tells us in verse 24 that he intended to go to Spain in order to have converts. I know many Christians who go to Spain regularly, but they don’t go for the reason Paul wanted to go. He looked out on those people living in pagan darkness and believed that God could turn them into saints once they had heard the gospel.
Of course, Paul would say that we don’t have to go to Rome or to Spain to bring this about. The passion that marked Paul as a leader marked him because it was there in him as a Christian. He longed for converts, and he wanted everyone to aim for converts wherever they were. There are some companies in which persons other people would least want to be like are its leaders. It was different with Paul; he was a good example for other believers.

One of the core doctrines of our church is the priesthood of all believers, which basically means that every believer can speak to God about anyone or anything and we all can speak for God to anyone about anything as long as our comments are in line with what the Bible would say about it. Paul would encourage us to fulfil this privileged role.