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.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Romans 16:27 – Praising the wise God

It is possible to worship God in a general way or in a specific manner. Here Paul is specific, and we can see that his specific expression of praise is very suitable for the context in which he has explained aspects of the gospel. We would not be surprised if Paul had linked the love of God to the gospel, and he does so elsewhere. But here he links the gospel to the wisdom of God. How does the gospel show the wisdom of God? Here are a couple of suggestions.
First, the gospel shows that God is wiser than the devil who had imagined that through his wrong wisdom he had managed to ensure that God would never receive glory from his creatures. Moreover, the gospel shows that God is wiser than all the originators of alternative religions who had devised ways by which they imagined God could be found – they never found God through those ways, but millions have found him through the gospel of grace.
Second, the gospel is the means through which God will eventually have eternal glory. Glory here is a reference to praise, and when we think about the numbers who will gather in eternity to praise God we should be staggered by the success rate. All who the Father planned to be there will be there. Not one will be missing. As we think about the praise that will be offered, we can say with confidence that it will be grateful praise offered by those thankful to God for his grace. We can also say that it will be increasing praise in the sense that the redeemed will praise with a developing understanding throughout eternity as they discover the many blessings that God has in store for his people. Moreover, the praise that will be offered endlessly will be marked by love that is always at its strongest. The praise will be enthusiastic and warm, sung by those in harmony with one another and with God himself.
Third, Paul mentions the centrality of Jesus Christ in the eternal praise of God the Father. Obviously he will bring glory to the Father in the period before the second coming as well as afterwards. Yet I think Paul’s emphasis is that Jesus will remain forever the mediator between God and man after the second coming; then he will be forever the spokesman for God as he instructs us in what God has in store for his people throughout that endless future; he will be forever the ruler over all of the new creation; and he will be forever the priest who leads the praise of the Father by the assembled throng throughout eternity. He promised he would do this in Psalm 22:22, which says that he will declare God’s name to his brothers in the gathering of his people.
As we think of the role of Jesus in the future, we should admire the endless capability that Jesus will have, and it is important to notice this because, as Paul says earlier, it is through Jesus that we receive strength for the here and now. So if he will never lose his strength in the future, we can be confident that we will receive it now. And we can also remind ourselves of the celebratory nature of his role as he and his people share in the fruits of his victory forever.

Paul closes his letter with ‘Amen’, which is how we all should respond to what Paul has taught us in this letter. We say ‘amen’ to the God of all grace and his amazing purposes described in chapters 1–12, and we show that we mean it by becoming the living sacrifices described in chapters 13–16.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Romans 16:25-26 – The gospel and its demands

Paul reminds his readers that the gospel is a mystery and he also tells them what a mystery is. It is something that was kept secret in the past, but which is now revealed. So he does not mean by the word mystery something that is complicated or hidden, which we may have thought because of the way we use the word in everyday life. Instead the gospel is now straightforward and open for all to see.
There are several mysteries mentioned in the New Testament, such as the mystery of the relationship between Christ and his church in Ephesians 5 or the mystery of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15 or the mystery of Israel’s spiritual blindness in Romans 11 or the mystery of what will happen on the day of Jesus’ return as described in 1 Thessalonians 4. Regarding each of them, Paul reveals details about them, which means that their meanings are not hidden.
Secondly, at the time Paul wrote, the information about the gospel was contained in the prophetic writings, which is another way of describing the Old Testament (by extension of divine inspiration, the same can be said about the New Testament). Paul’s words are a reminder that the Old Testament is mainly about Jesus, the promised Messiah. He is the key that enables us to open all the doors, as the two disciples on the way to Emmaus discovered from the risen Jesus himself (Luke 24:25-27).
It is hard for us to appreciate that God’s people before the cross and resurrection did not always grasp what was said in the Old Testament. But Peter tells us this was the case: ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look’ (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Yet as far as we are concerned, we can see Jesus in all the scriptures because of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. We can see the gospel in the types connected to the Levitical religious system and in the prophecies of the Messiah, such as Isaiah 53.
Thirdly, the gospel was intended to bring spiritual blessings to all nations. Paul here reminds us of the covenant that God made with Abraham, which included gospel blessings on a worldwide scale. Isaiah prophecies that the nations would come to Zion to be taught by the Messiah. In Psalm 67, the author asks God to fulfil the promises of blessing going to the nations. And in Psalm 87, the picture there is that even hostile nations will be brought into the kingdom. No doubt, Paul in saying this was reminding the Jewish believers about God’s predicted intention to bring Gentiles into the Messiah’s domain.
Fourthly, the making known of the gospel was in obedience to the eternal God, the one who reigns forever. Paul here obviously is affirming the sovereignty of God who had determined when the spread of the kingdom into the Gentile world would occur. It was his sovereign will that this should happen once Jesus had risen from the dead. In addition to stressing the sovereignty of God, Paul’s description of God also indicates that it was not an afterthought of his to do this. Nor was it an indication that somehow he had changed his mind. He is still the eternal God, the only God that exists. But it is good to remind ourselves that the sovereign God wants the gospel to spread everywhere.
Fifthly, Paul mentions what the response to the gospel should be – it is the obedience of faith. This description reminds us that genuine faith has several elements. There is trust in Jesus because there is recognition of who Jesus is as well as regarding what he did. The gospel includes the important assertion of his Lordship, that he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. Therefore, real faith is trust in him as the One who now reigns from God’s throne, having previously been the crucified Saviour who bore divine judgement on the cross because of our sins.

It is the gospel that brings all this about and since the message is all about what God has done, it is fitting therefore that he should be praised, and praise is what Paul declares in his doxology, ‘to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.’

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Romans 16:25 – The God who strengthens

It is good to know that the Almighty can strengthen us. Many times the Bible describes evidences of his power in order to encourage his people. Isaiah 40 mentions his power in creation and reminds us that his power can strengthen us when we are weak and faint. Paul in Ephesians 1 reminds his readers that the degree of divine power that raised Jesus from the dead is now at work in all believers. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes his own assurance of divine power when he tells how the Lord confirmed that his strength was made complete in Paul’s weakness.
Those examples remind us that God can strengthen his people in different ways. In what way does Paul expect God to strengthen his people here? He says that it will ‘according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ’. Does Paul mean the same thing by ‘my gospel’ and ‘the preaching of Jesus Christ’? Obviously the gospel is about Jesus Christ, so why would he add the phrase about preaching?
The phrase can be regarded as subjective or objective. If objective, it would mean ‘preaching about Jesus Christ’, and this is how most commentators take it to mean. Yet it could be subjective, which would mean ‘preaching by Jesus Christ’. Paul does say in Ephesians 2:17 that Jesus ‘came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near’. Jesus had not preached physically in Ephesus, but he preached through his servants. So it is possible that Paul has in mind that Jesus is involved when his servants declare his message.

This possibility may explain how strength would come to Paul’s readers. We can understand how Jesus empowers his message in order to bring to his people what they need to hear. Obviously he does this through his Spirit, but it is still an aspect of the prophetic ministry of Jesus. And this means that we can have confidence of spiritual blessing when we are listening to a sermon.