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Archive for the ‘Romans 15’ Category

In chapter 15 of Romans Paul first concludes his thoughts from chapter 14 by encouraging the brethren to serve one another in love, to encourage one another, to edify one another. By pointing them to Christ and His example Paul encourages that unity of the brethren in their love for Christ and one another that they might “with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

Notice here, how the Father is glorified. Contrary to how man generally views it, when the message of God’s salvation in the Gospel is seen from God’s perspective, it is evident that the Gospel is not so much about what is brought in for man, in terms of the salvation of God’s elect, but of what is brought in for God and to His glory, through the Son’s redemption of His Bride, the church, whom He brings to His Father to worship and glorify Him, as making known the wonders of His grace before all creation, both now and in eternity.

 

On this foundation the apostle goes on to remind the church at Rome of the great mercy of God in sending the Gospel to the Gentiles that those who had not known the truth before should see “and they that have not heard shall understand”. He affirms how God sent him forth as “the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost” and again expresses his great desire to come unto Rome to preach the Gospel unto the saints there face to face, and to fellowship with the brethren there, being refreshed with them. Yet Paul must first visit the saints at Jerusalem (15:25) and in so doing he reminds his Gentile readers of their unity with both Jewish and Gentile believers and of the love the Gentiles in the church should show their Jewish brethren, for having received of the Jews’ “spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things”.

 

Above all, Paul’s great longing and desire in coming to the church at Rome is to preach the Gospel, to preach Christ, to bring the “fulness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:29). Paul was sent with a message. He had a message to deliver, and that message, “the faith” was that which was “once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3). Paul’s message, his gospel, didn’t vary. He preached the same message in Rome as he did in Jerusalem. The same gospel in Galatia as he did in Ephesus. The same message of the cross, of “Christ crucified” in Corinth as he declared at Thessalonica. He had one message, one gospel, one faith, which had been delivered once by God, through revelation, by His servants to the church. Having been taught that message – the faith – Paul was sent forth to preach it, and his great longing was that the saints at Rome might know it, not just in part, and not just in the head, but in all its fullness, in all its riches, in the inward man, both in heart and mind, that they might be established and built up in the truth, that the “blessing of the gospel of Christ” might be theirs, and that God might be glorified in them.

 

As one sent by God to preach His Gospel, as “a servant of Jesus Christ” Paul not only had a message to deliver to the saints at Rome, but he wrote unto them and would come unto them as one who lived that message, as one who walked in the Truth, as one who served both His Lord and Master, and His brethren, for Christ’s sake. Paul was a servant, a slave, of Jesus Christ, “separated unto the gospel of God” whose life was devoted to the service of others, to “ministering the gospel of God”. Paul led by example. He ministered to others. His exhortations to the brethren to serve one another were borne out by his own life and conduct as he served them. He exhorted them to follow Christ as he followed Christ.

 

Now, let us consider the lesson set before us here. In at least three places in his epistles the Apostle Paul exhorts those to whom he is writing to follow him (1 Corinthians 4:16 , 1 Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17 ). Paul’s exhortation is not without ground or authority. He is not encouraging others to blindly follow him as a man, or follow his teaching simply because ‘he say’s so’. No, Paul’s exhortation carries weight because of the One that he himself follows, the One who sent Paul to preach the Gospel: even the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul writes “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.

Have you ever heard people say “don’t follow a man”? It is a criticism that can often be raised when the ministry of a particular man is commended. The inference is that we should rather follow Christ, than follow men. There is of course truth in this (though the criticism presents a false dichotomy), in that man should never be exalted above his measure, that Christ is pre-eminent in all things, and that ultimately we should be followers of Him who is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Him who gave His life for the sheep that they might have everlasting life in Him, the forgiveness of sins, and peace and reconciliation with the Father. Scripture rightly warns us in one place to “cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils”. Men, being sinners by nature, may often lead us astray. We must be very wise about whom we follow. Many foolish people have been led to destruction by deceivers, by those who promise much and give little, by those who can ‘sound right’ but ultimately speak of themselves, not of God. Except for the grace of God all men are fallen and at enmity with their Maker. Yet, nevertheless Paul exhorts his hearers to be “followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

It is in that final part of Paul’s sentence that we may find the answer to whether or not we should follow men, and, if at all, which men. Paul was a follower of Christ! His exhortation was not simply to follow him, but to follow him as he followed Christ. Paul led his followers to Christ, and that is why they should follow him. By following Paul they followed Christ. It is Christ who appeared to Paul (when he was named Saul) on the Damascus road, revealing Himself to him from heaven above, and sending him forth to preach the Gospel (See Acts 26). Paul was sent by Christ Himself to open the eyes of sinners, “to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me [Christ]” Acts 26:18. It is this sending forth by Christ to preach the Gospel which gives Paul’s exhortation to “be ye followers of me” such weight. Christ sent Him to His people to lead them unto Christ. Then should they not follow such a one unto Him who died to save them?

In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul makes a similar exhortation and adds a further reason why he should be followed. “I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have yet not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.” 1 Corinthians 4:14-17.

The believers at the church at Corinth to whom Paul was writing had been born again by God the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel through Paul’s lips. Hence Paul called them his “beloved sons” and writes that “in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel”. So close was Paul’s relationship to these believers, so involved was he in leading them to Christ, so instrumental was he in their conversion that he declares himself to be their father, and they his sons. Whilst it is true that their birth was by the Holy Ghost from above, whilst it is true that only God is their true Father, nevertheless it is God’s means to use the preaching of the Gospel, by the lips of those men He sends forth with it, to bring dead sinners to life. Paul was sent with that Gospel to Corinth , men and women were saved under the preaching of that Gospel and Paul rightly declares that “in Christ Jesus” he had “begotten [them] through the gospel”. Then should they not follow him who faithfully led them to Christ, who faithfully declared Christ to them in the Gospel, by whose words they were born again from above? Though they might have had ten thousand instructors in Christ, was not Paul their ‘father’ by whose preaching they were saved? By Christ, yes, by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating work, yes, by believing the Gospel with God-given faith, yes, but nevertheless by believing that Gospel as delivered unto them by the man whom God sent forth, that Gospel which they heard from Paul’s lips. God begat them through Paul’s preaching of the Gospel of Christ. Then surely they should follow such a man, sent from above to bring them to the One who sent him? “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”

As if these were not good enough reasons – that Paul followed Christ, and that his preaching of Christ’s Gospel had caused his hearers to be born again – Paul sent unto the Corinthians his beloved son Timothy, one faithful in the Lord, to bring them “into remembrance of [his] ways which be in Christ, as [he taught] every where in every church.” Paul’s teaching and conduct confirmed that he was a follower of Christ, one whom God’s children should gladly follow. So Paul sent Timothy to the people to testify of Paul’s character, of his “ways which be in Christ” and of his teaching which he taught “every where in every church” lest Paul’s absence should have caused the Corinthians to become forgetful of his true character in Christ.

Yes, Paul taught others to follow him. But not without cause! He gave here three reasons which should dispel all opposition, which should silence every contrary tongue, which should answer every objection regarding the following of men. Firstly he followed Christ, and hence by following Paul others would be led to Christ. Secondly Christ sent him to preach His Gospel and by the preaching of that Gospel God, through Paul, had brought many to life in Christ Jesus. And thirdly, Paul’s conduct, his “ways which be in Christ” and his teaching in all the churches bore witness to the work of God in him and by him. It proved with what authority he said these things. It demonstrated the fruit by which Paul’s followers might know that He was sent of Christ to lead them to Christ (Matthew 7:15-20). Then how could they not follow him?

Paul’s hearers were right to follow him. In doing so they were not following a man, but following Christ by receiving him whom Christ had sent to them, by believing the word preached by Christ through that man, and by owning the evident work of God seen in Paul, whom they had as an example of one who lived and breathed to serve His Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.” Philippians 3:17 (See also 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9 and Hebrews 13:7).

What was true of Paul is true for all those whom God sends to His church to preach the Gospel. Whilst Paul was indeed an apostle, and was unique in that respect, nevertheless those who have followed him are still called from above, still sent by Christ from above, to preach the same Gospel as Paul did. They still come with the authority of the One who sends them, they still declare the same Gospel by which men and women have their eyes opened, are turned from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God. It is by the preaching of the same Gospel that God the Holy Spirit quickens dead sinners unto everlasting life in Christ Jesus. It is by the preaching of the Gospel that Christ brings a people, His Bride, unto His Father to glorify Him. And it is the same wonderful work of grace in the lives and characters of those whom God sends forth with His word that makes them examples for others to follow, as they follow Christ. Paul rightly exhorted others to follow him, and in such an exhortation God rightly exhorts us to follow those men whom He sends unto His church as gifts for its edification, as they too follow Christ.

You see, the question is not so much about whether or not we should follow men (for Paul’s exhortations make it clear that we should), but about which men we should follow. So, which men should we follow? Those who follow Christ! For when God purposes to save a people He always sends a man with His Gospel to lead that people unto Christ (Romans 10:14). Paul said, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” We should follow those who, like Paul, are sent by Christ to preach His Gospel, those who proclaim the same apostolic doctrine: Those who declare the same truths regarding the person and work of the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who declare His divinity, His humanity, His incarnation, His baptism, His visitation, His death, resurrection and ascension, His present ministry from the glory. Those who declare the fall of man and his total depravity in sin by nature. Those who declare the finished work of Christ upon the cross, a free justification of fallen sinners by the blood of Christ, the imputation of the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all who believe on His Name, the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the Father for all that election of grace chosen of God in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Those who declare that salvation is of the Lord, entirely of the Lord, entirely by grace from start to finish. Those who declare the threefold work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in salvation. Those who declare the Gospel of Christ, just as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – just as Paul preached it as the Spirit of God gave him utterance, and as the Spirit continues to do so down through the ages through all those whom He sends in Christ’s Name. These are the men who we should follow, those who follow Christ.

…Whereas others should certainly be avoided. We should test what all men say in the Name of Christ by the scriptures, and if found wanting we should turn from them. We should turn from such who would bring another gospel, and another Jesus, with another spirit (2 Corinthians 11:4). We should turn from such who deny the person of Christ or that He has truly come in the flesh. From such who deny One God in Three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. From such who question and deny the inspiration and authority of God’s word recorded in all the scriptures and its continual testimony to the person and work of Christ. From such who proclaim salvation by the works or by the will of man. From such who deny the free and sovereign grace of God in salvation. From such who deny God’s eternal purposes and decrees in Christ, in electing a people for whom Christ should die, to bring them to everlasting life in Him. From such who deny the true regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in quickening dead sinners unto life. From such who preach a mixed gospel, a mixture of works and faith, of law and grace, of Sinai and Zion . From such who preach so much of man and so little of Christ that their followers can only be led away from Christ and never led to Him. Such men should be avoided. But, despite these, there are those who do follow Christ, those whom Christ has sent with His Gospel: and those men we should follow. For those men seek for man to be abased and Christ to be exalted, they labour that they should fade from view, that their followers should see “no man save Jesus only”.

To turn our backs on those whom God sends forth with His Gospel; to shy from following them in a pious fear of being found to follow men, is, if those men truly follow Christ, to turn our backs on Christ Himself. To not receive those whom Christ sends to us, is to not receive Christ Himself. To treat with caution and reserve those preachers of the Gospel whom Christ has sent, is to treat with caution and reserve Christ Himself. To turn from all men and to trust only our own interpretation of the scriptures, is, ultimately, to follow ourselves and our own understanding. We are right to be wary of man, and the teaching of men, we are absolutely right to weigh up every word spoken by man by that which we find in the scriptures, but we would be wrong to be so wary that we turn away from the teaching of Christ Himself, by the Spirit, in power, through those men whom He has sent forth to preach His everlasting gospel of salvation, those who minister the Gospel of God.

May we be given grace and discernment from God to know and recognise those whom He sends as gifts to His church, and to follow them as they follow Christ! For to truly follow Christ is to receive those whom He sends with His word, those gifts given to His church for its edification, for the building up of the church, for Christ’s glory!

And may we be found to be true followers of Christ as we follow those who follow Him, that Christ might be glorified in His body on earth, and the Father by Him, for “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing”. Revelation 5:12.

Amen. 

“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we should henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ, From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:37-40

 

 

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