Romans Commentary, Romans 14:1-15:13

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

 

OUTLINE:

VII. The Resolution of a Particular Conflict in the Church of Rome (14:1-15:13)
A. Christians are accountable to God with respect to ethical decisions (14:1-12)
B. Christians must not cause harm to others, but edify them (14:13-15:6)
C. God wants all believers to live in harmony (15:7-13)

 

VII. The Resolution of a Particular Conflict in the Church of Rome (14:1-15:13)

Chapter divisions are not part of the original text, and here is a case where must continue to read up through 15:13. In this section Paul raises the issue of how to deal with unspiritual “quarreling” which might divide the church. Some think he was dealing with some hypothetical situation, but since he gives so much detail, we conclude that he was describing an actual debate in Rome, in which Christian was divided against Christian.

People “in the flesh” cannot dwell in peace with each other; they are poisoned by “strife” and other social sins (1:29-31). Christians too might fall into “dissension and jealousy” (13:13). Their internal debate has to do with three practices observed by people called “the Weak”: some observed a sacred day; abstained from wine; ate no meat. The “strong” thought that all days were alike sacred; also, that it was permissible to eat meat and drink wine. The most likely explanation is that the Weak were those Jews who believed that these scruples represented God’s will for them (14:14, 20). Then Paul begins in 15:7-13 to speak of Jew and Gentile Christians. Paul, though Jewish, regards himself as one of the Strong (15:1) and does not agree with the scruples of the Weak, since “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking” (14:17).

This section is Paul’s central teaching about how to handle the so-called adiaphora (the singular form is adiaphoron), “indifferent” matters: practices where one believer quotes some Bible truths, another emphasizes others, and they come to different conclusions. In fact, Christians cannot even agree on which practices are truly on the list of adiaphora. Hence, part of Paul’s task here was to convince both parties that their choices in these three areas were genuinely adiaphora.

Although this passage of Romans is similar to 1 Corinthians 8-10, it does not describe the situation faced in Corinth, in which there was uncertainty over whether one could eat meat sacrificed to idols. Paul’s answer in that epistle was long and complex, with several conclusions: (1) such meat is in no way “tainted” or poisonous to the spirit – meat is meat; (2) still, it should not be consumed if it damages someone’s conscience; (3) a meal offered to an idol in a sacramental meal, a parallel to the sacrament of communion, is a symbol of alliance to a pagan god – therefore a Christian must not participate (that is, the practice (3) is not adiaphoron). In Romans 14, Paul focuses mostly on (2), the damage that might be done to another believer.

This tension has its roots in the historical background of the Roman church. Years earlier the emperor “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome” (Acts 18:2). Jews were technically not allowed in Rome between the years 49-54 d. C., at which time Claudius died and the order was revoked. The result was that the church had been predominantly Jewish beginning on the day of Pentecost; then it became a primarily Gentile church between 49-54; and Jews and Jewish Christians returned to Rome beginning in 54 and through the year 57, to the time when Paul wrote this epistle.

When the Jewish believers returned, they experienced culture shock. Whereas their practice of the faith had been Jewish Messianic, they came back to a church where the numbers and influence lay with Gentile believers.

The Jews expected to worship Christ on Saturday, but already in the 40s and 50s, the Gentile church was meeting on Sunday (see Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-2; see the reference to Pliny below). This explains the issue of the “more sacred day”, but what of the wine and meat? Most Jews drank wine, thus so too Jewish Christians in moderation (1 Tim 3:3). Jews ate meat, so long as it was kosher. The fact that Paul uses the Jewish adjective for impure meat in 14:14 (koinos, see Mark 7:2; Acts 10:14, 11:8; and the verb koinoō in Matt 15:11; Mark 7:15; Acts 10:15, 11:9; Acts 21:28), once again leads us think of Jewish purity concerns.

Some have suggested that the problem is that those Jews still did not have kosher butchers on whom they could rely; but since the Jews had inhabited the city for several years, this is unlikely. Another explanation lies in the story of Daniel and his three friends. “The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table” (Dan 1:5). Daniel 1:10 LXX even uses the same two words for food and drink (brōsis and posis) that Paul uses in 14:17. Thus the Jewish Christians were rejecting the meat and drink of Rome just as Daniel had refused the dainties of Babylon, as a protest against the imperial conqueror of Israel.

The law of love in 13:9-10 includes the active effort to seek good for the other and to do no harm to a neighbor, especially to another believer. If the Romans had followed the law of love, then both the Strong and the Weak would have known precisely how to act. (more…)

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Published in: on November 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lost your Life? No problem! Christ has it in safekeeping

To download the entire file click here: SHOGREN_ILE conference 2018, Lost Your Life No Problem Christ has it in Safekeeping

Mark 10:28 – Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Note: This series was given to students at the Spanish Language Institute in San José, Costa Rica. Most of them were learning Spanish in order to serve God cross-culturally; hence the many references to missionaries and (part IV) to the stress of second language acquisition.

Spiritual emphasis week

Outline:

I. Lose your self, life, identity
II. Lose your family, friends, belongingness
III. Lose your possessions and opportunities
IV. Lose your tongue
V. …only to find them again

 

TEXTS:

Mark 8:34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

Mark 10:28-31 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

I. Lose your self, your life, your identity

Introduction

I lost my glasses! I lost my phone! I lost my keys! I lost my wallet! I lost my car, I don’t know where I parked it! I lost my train of thought! Well, such is the human condition; we probably did not lose these things, we just misplaced them.

But what do we do about this extreme language in Mark 10:28 – Peter said to Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!” Jesus, we have lost our very lives.

That will be our theme is week will be: Lost your Life? No problem, Christ has it in safekeeping (more…)

300th BLOG POST! Love: a simple command, not an easy one

I have been blogging on this site since 2010 and just realized that this is my 300th post (on my other site, http://razondelaesperanza.com, I’m up to 212). So in order to celebrate with a really important theme, here are some thoughts from my Romans commentary. Enjoy! And sign up to be notified when new articles come out. Gary

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10

For those Christians who can relax only when they have lists of rules to follow, the simple command to Love one another seems vague, subjective, even perilous. They feel more in sync with those who believed that a walk of 2000 steps (1 kilometer) did not transgress God’s law, but taking one step more was a sin (see Acts 1:12); or that one is obliged to forgive seven times, but not eight.

On the one hand, the law of love is liberating. At the same time an exacting master.

Why? Because it obligates us to seek the Spirit’s guidance and power, rather than check off holiness boxes or to consult huge 3-ring binders which purport to give God’s answer to every question. We pray, not to get God to help us keep our own rules, but to ask him to remake our minds. We are forced to use those minds – and we are gifted with a transformed way of thinking! (Rom 12:2) – about what is loving behavior. We are pressed to behave in ways that are new and strange to our old selves. We are led to do more than seems reasonable; to be cheerful and generous when others think we are being taken advantage of. We find that love means in this moment to speak courageously and in another moment to close our mouths.

We find this all over the New Testament. The Lord Jesus shows that love might mean washing someone’s feet – and you wouldn’t have found that in the Torah. James shows how the rule of love makes in impact on how we seat people in our meetings (James 2:1-4). Paul insists that if people were really loving, they would think through what to eat for supper (1 Cor 8:13). And all three seem to leave the question hanging: Were you acting in love, you would have known what to do in these situations!

Love – Christ is our teacher

The definition of a loving Christian is not one those happy souls who go around with smiles and hugs for everyone; not the one who does nice things for their friends. Rather, they are the ones who cross boundaries, make costly choices, and take daring action in the name of Christ.

“Love: a simple command, not an easy one,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Romans Commentary, Romans 12:1-13:14

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here: Shogren_Commentary on Romans

VI. Details concerning how the New Life in Christ fulfills the Law (12:1-13:14)

A. Christians offer themselves as living sacrifices (12:1-2)
B. Christians live in love in the Church and in the world (12:3-21)
C. Christians have a political responsibility (13:1-8a)
D. Christians live according to the principle of brotherly love (13:8b-10)
E. Christians live in two ages (13:11-14)

 

VI. Details concerning how the New Life in Christ fulfills the Law (12:1-13:14)

Preachers like to divide Romans into two sections: the doctrinal (1-11) and the practical (12-15). It is better to read the epistle as one integrated message – Paul teaches how the gospel changes lives through Christ, and he then goes into the details of what the new life looks like. He does not and cannot teach an ethic as such, as if one could compile a list of basic Life Principles to share with the world. Rather, the Christian life is presented as a “sacrifice” (12:1). The Gentile believers of Rome had had plenty of experience with sacrifices in their old lives, when they “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (1:25). Now they can worship the true God with the pleasing sacrifice of their very selves.

The apostle has already shown in Romans 6-8 that if a person tries to combine two good ingredients – Torah observance, the gospel – he will by no means end up with a superior brew. Rather, they will turn and poison him and ruin any possibility of pleasing God. Instead, the believer must be one with Christ and live and walk in the Spirit. Only then will he find power to fulfill God’s overarching purpose, which is that all people live in love – and love is the fulfillment of the Torah. And so supernatural love, directed from within, is the theme that holds Romans 12 and 13 together: “Love must be sincere” (12:9); “whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (13:8); “love is the fulfillment of the law” (13:10), the Torah.

Paul does not give hundreds of rules (by the process of “casuistry”), to try and show the path of righteousness for every possible situation; that is what the rabbis would attempt to do in the Mishnah, collated and published around AD 200. The Christian must know the Scriptures and submit to the Spirit in order to understand what love is – it is a life based on a dynamic interaction with God himself.

A. Christians offer themselves as living sacrifices (12:1-2)

After he has reminded the reader about God’s mercies in Romans 9-11, Paul returns to the theme he had merely touched upon in 6:13 – “rather offer yourselves to God”. Now he shows that this is a way of life, to offer our whole person to God, not to earn acceptance, but because God has already forgiven and changed us by his “mercy” (see the same Greek word in 2 Cor 1:3). Let us explore some of the terms of this walk: for example, the word offer is a semi-technical term for offering a sacrifice (see its ironic use in Josephus, Wars 2.6.2 §89). Paul also calls the sacrifice living, that is, it is not an animal that is killed and then burned on an altar, for Christ’s people are, for the first time, truly alive: “live in accordance with the Spirit” (more…)

Published in: on September 28, 2018 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Church attendees should be seen and not heard…not!

In one of the only glimpses we have of an early church meeting, Paul observed: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26). We would not say that 100% of the people always stood to lead the worship, but it certainly gives the impression that a broad percentage might. [1]

This verse was heavy in my mind when I wrote on Romans 16:

Today’s American church has become professionalized, and only a handful are allowed anywhere near the microphone. By contrast, the early believers did not meet as a megachurch, but as a network of house churches of fewer than 100 people. When Paul describes a meeting, he envisions a worship service where everyone had the chance to participate, not just by singing and giving money, but by teaching, leading a song, or giving a supernatural message.

Some indigenous tribes have used an object called a “talking stick”; in meetings, it was passed from hand to hand – whoever had the stick had the right to speak his mind.

talkingstick1

Traditional talking stick

Today’s church microphone has become the “talking stick” that is the domain of a few pros, usually men. (more…)

Romans Commentary, Romans 9:1-11:36

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

Outline:

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)
A. The unbelief of Israel and the election of the Gentiles is in accordance with Scripture (9:1-10:4)
B. Israel can receive righteousness of Christ if only it believes (10:5-21)
C. Both the chosen Gentiles and the eschatological remnant of Israel will be saved (11:1-36)

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)

Romans 9-11 is a unit and must be read as such. Paul returns to the fellow Israelites about whom he spoke in chapters 2-3. Again there are frequent quotations of the Old Testament (see 3:10-18) and an “apostrophe” to address an imaginary opponent (compare 9:19-21 with 2:1-24). It is possible that in chapter 9 Paul is using previous material, perhaps a sermon he had used within a synagogue. Nevertheless, the whole section is well connected with the rest of the letter, especially God’s “call” to receive the gospel (see 1:5, 6, 7; 8:28-30). It is not something tacked on, interrupting the flow from chapters 8 to 12 with some random thoughts on salvation history.

Paul starts out in Romans 9, apparently in a black mood concerning Israel’s fate. Yet he finishes Romans 11 with joyful praise. Despite this surprising conclusion, “…one can hardly claim that Paul did not know at the outset how his discussion would end” (Käsemann, p. 257). The pivot of his argument lies in 10:1 – “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” And his study of the Scripture plus a fresh revelation of a divine “mystery” intersect at the same conclusion, that one day, “all Israel will be saved” (11:26a).

The section offers solutions, but it is also necessary to reconstruct what were the questions that Paul was trying to solve. We propose the following:

  1. What is the relationship between God’s calling of the Christian (8:29-30) and his ancient call of Israel to be his chosen people (9:12; 11:29)?
  2. If the author of the gospel is the God of Israel, then why does only a small minority of Jews believe it?
  3. If the Jews fail to see Jesus Christ in the pages of their own Bible, then does that mean that the Old Testament is invalid for the Christian?
  4. Is this the end of Israel’s status as God’s ancient people?

His answers are:

  1. If even one single Israelite believes in the gospel, then God must still be calling Israelites to faith.
  2. The Old Testament Scriptures show that God’s chosen people Israel constantly rebelled and refused to believe.
  3. The same Scriptures, if properly interpreted, predicted this outbreak of unbelief among the Jews, the call of Gentiles to faith, and the ultimate bright future of Israel.

God will use the conversion of many Gentiles, in part through Paul’s mission, to provoke Israel to jealousy; in the end, all the survivors of the nation of Israel will be redeemed (more…)

Published in: on August 11, 2018 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Beware “The Pure Word” New Testament!

There are way too many English Bible translations and way too many people claiming – as in this case – to have the one true guide to its interpretation.

These are the stars that I sail by when I evaluate a Bible version or guide.

Fortunately, one new publication, The Pure Word – New Testament (TPW), has made my job simple: the TPW, far from helping the Bible student, in fact takes the reader farther away from the plain sense of scripture. This is why my thoughts in this article will seem brusque and more black-and-white than usual.

Part One: What is “The Pure Word”?

What they claim to do and what they have actually done are two different things. They claim to have (at long last!) gone back to the original Greek to produce the perfect and pure paraphrase of the King James Version, one which they imply will take away the misunderstandings in the Christian church to evaporate! [see their video on their page] So Arminians and Calvinists, Baptists and Pentecostals will finally be able to see the light and shake hands all around!

Let the buyer beware of claims that a new key has finally, after 2000 years, unlocked the true hidden meaning of the Bible. That is why my stomach clenched when the first thing I saw was “The Pure Word is an unprecedented New Testament resource, over 20-years in the making, that reveals the original Koine-Greek depths-of-meaning from the time of Christ…[allowing the reader to] experience deeper scriptural meaning that has never before been achievable in English.” Oh, and their claim that all, 100%, of Bible translations are “riddled with inaccuracies that never referenced the original Greek scriptures” and “incredibly rarely did they ever go back and look at even of the few original Greek words. Never mind this project which took over 20 years and a major scholarly group looking at every single word in the Greek.”

This last statement is either incredible hubris or simply a complete lack of awareness of what English Bible translators have been doing in the original languages for the past 500 years! (more…)

Prayer for our nation

Here is a prayer I use:

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion us into one united people. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gary again – May I suggest that many (most?) of us would pray it this way:  that we will apply the “good stuff” to ourselves, and the negative things to The Other (the other race, the other language, the other political party).

That would make it look something like:

And so forth.

No. I cannot imagine that we can dissect a prayer like this and go before the Lord with a straight face. Woe to the worshiper who speaks or even implies such proud exceptionalism in their prayer.

“Prayer for our nation,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

My new book “Iceberg Ahead!” – an excerpt

I have been working on and off for the past few years on a new book. It is a real departure for me, working through how to face ministry disappointments, whether minor or major.

What happens when God’s servants face apathy, ingratitude, racism, psychological issues, physical ailments, lies, and other problems? Our solution is not to ignore our pain, but to “re-tell” our stories through the biblical lens, to ourselves, to others, to God.

We use the experiences of the apostle Paul on his missionary journey to Macedonia as the framework for understanding our own trials.

Enjoy! And I hope to see this in print before too long.

The disappointments in Christian ministry might feel like colliding with an iceberg!

TITLE:
Iceberg Ahead!
When God’s servants
crash into cold, hard reality

Excerpt from the INTRODUCTION

Collision, the North Atlantic, 1912

Two massive objects took intersecting paths. And they nearly missed each other – this word ‘nearly’ is key, since it was a glancing blow alone that turned fatal for 1500 people.

RMS Titanic was the dream of Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line, which planned to astonish the world with the biggest ocean liner ever built. It was ready with only hours to spare: the boarding passengers remarked on the smell of fresh paint. From concept to maiden voyage took four long years, and finally it sailed forth under the command of Captain Edward Smith.

Meanwhile, traveling from the north: The berg was ages older than this or any human ship, calved from a Greenland glacier that had taken thousands of years to form out of layered ice and snow. The massive piece of ice had broken off the previous summer, and it took a year to drift in the direction of Nova Scotia, ambling toward its date with history. On April 14, 11:40pm, it would have been moving at less than half a mile per hour. Later reports noted that it was the only large berg in the vicinity, that is, in theory it could easily have been missed.

And traveling from the east: the Titanic plowed ahead with geometrical accuracy, as if it had planned its deadly rendezvous with the help of satellite positioning. If only the great ship had been traveling one knot faster or slower; if it had steamed from port a few minutes earlier or later; if it had turned a fraction of a degree further south when the iceberg warnings came in. If only we could factor in one of these minute changes, the Titanic would have sailed on to New York and the berg would have floated by in the darkness, unseen and unremarked. The name Titanic would be as historically obscure as the names of its two sister ships, the Britannic (sunk in World War I) and the Olympic (after many years of service, sold for scrap). There are no movies about the Olympic; no Celine Dion songs about the Britannic!

A hundred vain ‘what-ifs’ – and we have had a century to wonder why this disaster came to this ship on that night.

Collision, Paul on his first Macedonian Tour

It was at roughly the midpoint of his ministry years when the apostle Paul launched a new operation, with what seemed like specific direction from God: Go to Macedonia, announce the good news of Jesus.

As it turned out, Paul ran into massive opposition there. To extend the Titanic image even further, Paul rammed into one iceberg, but did not sink; he then limped along and smashed into a second one; and again, and again, for a total of, by our count, eleven distinct collisions, any one of which could have finished him off. (more…)

Sanctification as singlemindedness

Just ran across this from Calvin. By “integrity” he doesn’t mean what we usually do (ethical consistency) but “singlemindedness”, the opposite of “doublemindedness”.

Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at your own pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice.

But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord…

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.6.5

Don’t critique Calvin before reading a bit of his writings! The reader can listen to the Institutes as audible files from librivox.org.

We might also add this from Wolfgang Schrage concerning how the wretched man of Romans 7 is a thing of the past for the Christian:

The human contradiction…the dichotomy and division within the self, is a thing of the past. The radical nature of this new being implies an undivided integrity of God’s claim upon us.

From The Ethics of the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988], 187; see also my “Are you a wretched man or woman? Should you be?”

“Sanctification as singlemindedness,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica