Sunday, August 16, 2009

Endurance and Encouragement

Sunday 16Aug09 (Ipoh Garden Baptist Church)
Romans 15: 1-13 NIV

This post was completed on Tue 08Sep09

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. v4

During my early years as a young believer in the 70s, I was often impressed by accounts of church revival. Together with my fellow members in the Christian Fellowship, we often yearned for similar revivals in our church, revival in the manner of great preachers like Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, John Sung or Billy Graham.

In today's passage, however, the Apostle Paul commends to us something more beneficial, more desirable and more abiding than revivals or renewals. It is Christian Endurance and Encouragement. Taken together, these elements appear vital and critical to the health of today's churches - in an increasingly ungodly word, where many believers are growing cold and are falling away from their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning, let us ponder over a call by the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome to endure patiently in bearing with one another's failings, and to encourage one another with the Scriptures, to put our hope in God.

I Christian Endurance v 1 - 6

Christians often pose the question, "Who is my neighbour?" when narrating the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable which teaches us that the Samaritan showed kindness to a Jew - someone who is more of an enemy than a neighbour. Thus, our notion of a "scriptural" neighbour would be some kind of outsider, or foreigner, or an enemy of some sort.

Here in verse 2, however, the word neighbour is used by Paul to refer to our fellow believers in our church! We are asked to please our brother and sister, our "neighbour", to build him up. This is Christian Endurance.

Today we can teach ourselves three things about Christian Endurance from these six verses:

Firstly, Christian Endurance comes by pleasing our fellow believers, our brothers and sisters. Verse 1 tells us to bear with the failings of the weak. The NKJV uses the term "scruples of the weak", probably referring to the sensitive conscience of the believers who are weak in faith, as explained earlier in Romans 14: 1 - 4. Furthermore, verse 2 urges us to please our neighbour, to build him up.

Secondly, Christian Endurance comes by following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 3 says, "Even Christ did not please himself". Verse 5: "As you follow Christ Jesus . . .", and verse 6 says, "just as Christ accepted you". In particular, verse 3 explains that the kind of endurance shown by our Lord Jesus fulfilled a prophecy recorded in Psalm 69: 9,

"The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me"
This reminds us of how our Lord endured reproaches in his ministry among the Jews in Palestine. For example, at his trial before Pontius Pilate, soldiers mocked him, stripped him, slapped him and spat on him. When he hung dying on the cross, the people ridiculed him, taunted him and challenged him to descend from the cross to prove that he was the Son of God. Such was the example of great endurance exemplified in our Lord's earthly ministry.

Thirdly, Christian Endurance comes by turning to God for his blessing. Verses 5 and 6 records a benediction from the Apostle, a form of prayer for God's blessing on the Roman Christians, that they will have the endurance to be united and to glorify God with one heart and one voice.

Brothers and Sisters, this morning the word of God calls us to be a people of great Endurance. We are to seek from God, the ability to endure as a united fellowship in the Body of Christ. We are to follow the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not please himself while he was among his people on earth. And we are to bear patiently with our "neighbours", the failings of our fellow believers, and in doing so, to build up our brothers and sisters in the Church.

II Christian Encouragement v 7 - 13

Beginning from verse 7, there is a distinct change in the subject of the Apostle's writing. Paul appears to shift his attention from Christian Endurance to Christian Encouragement. He moves from talking about pleasing our neighbour to talking about putting our hope in god.

While verses 1 - 6 points us to the past - the example of our Lord Jesus, verses 7 - 13 points us to the future - the prophecies of God's overall plan of salvation to include Gentiles as part of His people, the real Israel.

So, while v 1 - 6 talks about the strong bearing with the failings of the weak in the Church, v 7 - 13 talks about the Jews and the Gentiles in the Kingdom of God.

Similarly, while verses 1 and 2 tells us to please one another, v 7 tells us to accept one another in the Lord.

Also, while the first six verses teaches us how to build up, to edify one another, the next seven verses teaches us how to accept and encourage one another in our hope in God.

Finally, while verse 5 refers to God as the God of endurance (and encouragement), verse 13 refers to God as the God of hope

So, as we move on to the second half of today's pasage, we shift our attention to how we can find encouragement in the Scriptures - for our hope, our future, remembering, from v.4, that it is by "the encouragement of scriptures" that we might have hope.

A bold assertion
In v. 8, Paul asserts that Christ has become a servant of the Jews, to bring the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to their fathers, the patriarchs. Quite surprisingly, the next verse follows with the grand divine purpose: so that the Gentiles may also glorify God for his mercy! This must have been almost insurmountable for the Jewish Christians, both Hellenistic and Palestinian Jews, in the Roman Church to accept and to agree with.

In an apparent attempt to support his bold assertion with Scriptural basis, and perhaps to bring encouragement to the Gentile Christians in the church, the apostle quotes from four distinctly different parts of the OT:

  • 2 Samuel 22: 50 (cf Psalm 18: 49) (from David's song of deliverance from the hand of Saul): "I will give thanks to you among the Gentiles"
  • Deuteronomy 32: 43 (from the Song of Moses, just before invoking his final blessing on the people of Israel): "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people"
  • Psalm 117: 1 "Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles, laud him, all you people"
  • Isaiah 11: 10 (a prophecy about the Messiah, referred to as the Root of Jesse): "And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people, for the Gentiles shall seek him, and his resting place shall be glorious"
Why did Paul put so much emphasis on, and paid so much attention to this matter of the Gentiles being included under God's mercies?

An elaborate explanation
In order to understand Paul's concern for the acceptance of Gentiles by the Jewish Christian community, it is helpful to take a brief look at his background and, particularly, what he had written in the earlier chapters of this epistle. Of all the epistles written by Paul, this epistle to the church at Rome probably carries the most complete explanation of his understanding of the Gospel and of his instructions for Christian living.

Paul was a Hellenistic Jew, who grew up in Tarsus in Cilicia, and subsequently came to Jerusalem as a young scholar (Acts 8). As such, he was able to understand the sentiments of the Jews on one hand, and also the circumstances surrounding the Gentile Christians on the other. And earlier, in chapters 1 to 3, Paul had repeatedly emphasised that all people, both Jews and Gentiles, can be reconciled to God: all people, including the Jews, have sinned, all have fallen short of God's glory.

Then in chapters 4 to 8, Paul wrote at length about God's salvation in Jesus Christ, how we are made righteous, justified by Christ's death, how we can become dead to sin and be alive in Christ by putting our faith in Him, how we're set free from sin and become, instead, slaves of righteousness, living by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And the Gospel of salvation doesn't stop there, for in chapters 9 - 11, we can see a broader view of God's plan of salvation for the world. In chapter 9, for instance, Paul pointed out that the election of God's chosen people in the NT Church is solely by His promise, and by His mercies alone, just as it had been with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the OT:

  • just as Isaac was a child of God's promise, born to Sarah and Abraham in their old age, by the great faith of Abraham, today we are children of God's promise of salvation in Christ.
  • just as Abraham's natural offspring, Ishmael, born out of his taking Hagar as second wife, was not recognised as God's child, today not all descendants of Abraham are God's children, asserting, "Not all descendants of Israel are Israel" Rom 9: 6

"It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" Genesis 21: 12

  • and just as it was Jacob, and not Esau, of the twin sons of Isaac, was chosen by God even before they were born, today we are likewise chosen by God's mercy alone.
Sadly, chapters 9 and 10 also records Paul's elaboration on his deep sorrow for the Jews who rejected Jesus as their Messiah, a sorrow so deep that he wished he could be accursed from Christ if that could bring salvation to his fellow Jewish kinsmen.

However, in chapter 11, he turned from sorrow to hope and praise for God when he pointed out that, one day, when the full number of Gentiles have come into God's Kingdom, all Israel will be saved.

This, then, is our great Hope. This is our Christian Encouragement. We are the real Israel, called by God's mercies and chosen by His promise to be His people.

Today, we are reminded and called to practise Christian Endurance - to please our "neighbour", our fellow brother and sister and not to please ourselves, just as our Lord Jesus did not please himself but endured much insults and hostilities from the Jews.

In doing so, let us build up and edify one another continually. It is this on-going edification that is vital for the church to survive the ungodliness of the world in these last days.

Secondly, today we are called to promote Christian Encouragement - to put our hope in God, to trust him with all joy and peace, to overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our hope comes by the encouragement of Scripture - from God's promise to Abraham, his promised son Isaac, his chosen offspring Jacob right down to the tribe of Jesse, to King David, and finally to the fulfilment and confirmation of that promise in our Lord Jesus Christ. By faith in Christ, we Gentiles have, along with the Jews, become God's chosen people.

In this we have hope: our inheritance is from God.

---- Completed on Tue 08Sep09 ---------