Letters from Paul


Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-31
Romans 4:15
Romans 5:1-11
Romans 5:1-5
Romans 6:12-23
Romans 7:15-24
Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
Romans 8:22-27
Romans 8:28-38
Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:27-29; Ecclesiastes 2:18-23, 3:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12

More Letters from Paul

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Romans 1:16-17, 3:22-31

Throughout their history, the Jews had been proud of who they were, what they were, and what they did.  They were God's chosen people, and they had the Law, and they obeyed (sort of) the Law.  They often fell into the trap of thinking that God had chosen them because they were better than other people.  They knew for a fact that the Law was better than other people's law (they were right about this).  And they were proud of keeping the Law, even when they didn't.  Paul says, none of that matters!  Jew or non-Jew, Law or no Law, obedience to the Law or disobedience, the only thing that matters to salvation is faith in Jesus Christ.  This is a reiteration of yesterday's scripture lesson:  How do you get into heaven?  By the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Romans 4:15

Romans 5:1-11

One of the problems that we face as human beings is that once we commit a sin, there is absolutely nothing we can do to transform ourselves back into non-sinners.   This is a problem for God, too, because he really doesn't want us to be separated from him.  He had a rule:  if you sin, you pay for it in blood.  Unfortunately, if we pay with our own blood, we are dead and eternally separated from him.  So he expanded the rule:  Jesus will pay for everyone's sin in blood.  Anyone who accepts this payment for himself will not die, but will live eternally.  Paul says, "This is amazing!  Most of us aren't even willing to shed our blood for a good person, but Jesus shed his blood for us while we were still bad!  God must love us more than we can imagine!"

Romans 5:1-5

Paul is not saying in today's reading that suffering is a good thing.  He is saying that suffering can build endurance, and endurance builds character, which gives us hope, which is a good thing.  Saying that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. 8:28) is not the same as saying that "all things are good for them that love God."  You need to get your theology straight on this one before you start to suffer, because otherwise you are apt to fall into the "Why me?" trap. 

Old Testament Judaism originally had a fairly simple rule:  If you are suffering, you deserve it.  About the time of Job, people began questioning this rule, and the New Testament rejects it.  The NT position is more like this:  If you are suffering, don't whine about it.  Either (a) you deserve it, or (b) you don't, in which case you can turn your response to suffering to the glory of God.

Romans 6:12-23

I remember a powerful statement I heard in a sermon about 30 years ago:  "Only volunteers go to Hell."  The sermon text was roughly the same as the reading we have today from Romans.  You probably learned vs. 23-24 as "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."  You have to work to get wages, and you can't do any work to get a gift.  You've also learned, "God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."  God doesn't want to condemn anybody.  Therefore, anyone who ends up condemned to Hell must have volunteered to go there.  Amazing!

Romans 7:15-24

Here's what John Wesley has to say about our reading from Romans:  "This is a kind of a digression, [from vs. 7] to the beginning of the next chapter, wherein the apostle, in order to show in the most lively manner the weakness and inefficacy of the law, changes the person and speaks as of himself, concerning the misery of one under the law. This St. Paul frequently does, when he is not speaking of his own person, but only assuming another character. The character here assumed is that of a man, first ignorant of the law, then under it and sincerely, but ineffectually, striving to serve God. To have spoken this of himself, or any true believer, would have been foreign to the whole scope of his discourse; nay, utterly contrary thereto, as well as to what is expressly asserted" in Romans 8:2, that is, "The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death."

Usually we take Paul's words to mean that he was a sinner in spite of himself, and thus, obviously, it's unavoidable that we sin – but we didn't really mean it, so it's sort of ok.  Wesley refutes that idea.

Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17 (6/5/09)

Earlier this week we read about God's voice.  Paul says that we, too, have a voice.  In particular, we have a voice to cry out to our Father in heaven about anything that is on our minds, because we are God's children. See also John 3:1-17.

Romans 8:22-27 (5/29/09)

Paul says, "we do not know how to pray as we should," and that is certainly true for me. Your fellow reader Mary-Lou D. is studying "Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God" by J. David Muyskens, a book about "centering" or "contemplative" prayer, and finding it instructive and useful. I have read a few books about other types of prayer over the years, and the one thing they all had in common is that they didn't particularly improve my prayer life. Most likely this is a failure in me and not in all the books. Paul is comforting when he assures me that I'm not alone in having this problem, and that the Holy Spirit, my advocate, helps me in my weakness and intercedes for me when I don't even know what my problem is.

Romans 8:28-38

We need to talk about predestination.  If you have never been puzzled by Romans 8:29-30, possibly you haven't looked at it carefully enough.  John Wesley said about Chs. 8-9 that they must be hard to understand, considering that intelligent, well-educated people have continually differed in judgment concerning them.  He said that because there is so wide a difference between people "of the greatest learning, sense, and piety, one might imagine [that] would make all who now speak upon the subject exceedingly wary and self-diffident ... but ... just the reverse is observed."  He offered what he called "a few short hints" on vss. 29-30 in his sermon number 58. 
Here is a brief summary of Wesley's argument.  Vss. 29-30 are showing the process by which persons are saved, not which persons are saved.  God stands outside time and knows what's happening; consequently he knows who will be (in our terms – there is no future or past from God's point of view) saved and damned.  This does not mean that he wills anyone to be damned, any more than I cause the sun to shine by looking outside and observing that it shines.  Wesley says in conclusion, "What is it, then, that we learn from this whole account? It is this, and no more: – (1) God knows all believers; (2) wills that they should be saved from sin; (3) to that end, justifies them, (4) sanctifies and (5) takes them to glory.  O that men would praise the Lord for this his goodness; and that they would be content with this plain account of it, and not endeavour to wade into those mysteries which are too deep for angels to fathom!"  Elsewhere Wesley notes that the number of persons called, justified, and sanctified is nowhere stated to be the same.  Indeed Jesus said, "Many are called, but few are chosen."
So the Wesleyan position on predestination in the way that we normally think about it – some are saved no matter what and some are damned no matter what and the numbers are predetermined – is that it is incorrect.  Even though in this sermon he suggests that one should be wary and diffident, in other forums he was more outspoken in disagreeing with the predestinarian position.
Here's the full text of Wesley's Sermon 58.

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 5:27-29; Ecclesiastes 2:18-23, 3:12-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12 (9/16/11)

The Bible holds a lot of ideas in tension with each other, and we see a couple of the pairs today. These particular pairs call for a course of moderation.

On the one hand, we are supposed to obey the law of the land, whatever land we are in. On the other hand, we are supposed to obey God, not man. I think we are supposed to think long and hard about whether we should disobey the law of the land. If we do that, we must be in the position of Peter and the apostles, who could say confidently, “We obey God, not men,” and we must to be prepared to take the earthly consequences of breaking earthly laws.

On the one hand, work can wear us down, and wealth doesn’t get usanything but a lovely tombstone. On the other hand, work well done is a cause for joy, and if you refuse to work, you should go hungry. It appears that we are supposed to work, but not to the exclusion of worship, being with our families, and enjoying life.

More Letters from Paul
Overview of Paul's Letters
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Galatians, Ephesians, Philemon
Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 Timothy

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