Happy New Year to my readers! This is going to be a great year, I can feel it in my spirit! Just a note before I present my Scriptural thoughts. Like all writers and bloggers, I love hearing from people who read the stuff I put out there. Some of you regularly respond with comments, but most don’t. While conversing with my dear friend Charla, she shared, “Discussion is my love language.” She pointed out that she would get a lot more out of my material if I included questions that invite discussion at the end of each blog. I agreed that this would help bring greater insight and application and would also make the whole process livelier and more fun. So…I would love to interact with you more this year and hear your thoughts in response to my writing. Let the conversations begin!
Recently as I was finishing my reading of the book of Romans, I was struck by the honor, respect and tenderness in Paul’s tone, and found some useful application to our respective ministries today.
Paul’s letter to the Romans remains one of the finest pieces of literature ever penned in any genre. It is loaded with spiritual insight, profound doctrinal truths, Jewish history, and sound instruction to the church at large. This letter lacks the rebukes found in Galatians or Colossians. Paul seemed very pleased with the church at Rome, longing for the opportunity to visit them. It was not a church he had founded or established, so he seems more circumspect than in other epistles about the exercising of his authority toward them.
As he begins to wrap up his missive, he praises them with this beautiful statement: “And I myself also am persuaded of you, my brethren, that ye also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14). This is just one of his general votes of confidence in the church at Rome. He considers them an “acceptable offering to God, made holy by the Holy Spirit” (15:16) He solicits their prayers for him, seeing them as worthy peers and partners in ministry. According to Paul, they had embraced the heart of the gospel message and had begun in large numbers to live what Tim Keller calls a “gospel-shaped life.”
Paul then moves into the naming of 28 individuals who had specifically impacted his ministry and the advancement of the kingdom of God. He commends them for these things, among others: modeling Christian faith even before Paul had met Christ; risking their lives or going to prison for the sake of the gospel; faithfully leading their house churches; helping those in need; working hard for the benefit of others; mothering him when he needed a mother; being worthy of honor; being truly good men and women, those whom “the Lord picked out to be his very own” (16:13). It is heartwarming to see this individual, public recognition for those who had served so unselfishly in Christ.
Exhortation is one of my strongest motivational gifts. Paul inspires me here to be even more proactive about expressing words of affirmation, encouragement, and thanks when it is due.
One more thing that Paul teaches me at the close of his letter. He warns the Roman church about those who are not walking admirably or honorably. He writes, “Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people” (16:17-18).
He doesn’t call out these people by name as he does in his pastoral epistles. He simply describes the indicators that an individual is not properly representing Christ and warns the believers not to become yoked with them.
It hurts my heart when I hear ministers publicly condemning other ministers by name without sufficient evidence that the ministers in question are causing division, teaching false doctrine, serving only themselves, or seeking to deceive. Unfortunately, in 2019 there was plenty of this on display in the American church. I believe this is largely demoralizing to the church and a very bad witness to the secular world that is watching how we respond to conflict. We must be quick to commend those who are serving well, and slow to criticize those with whom we might disagree, especially when our disagreement is based on strictly religious, tribal preferences.
So here are some application questions: Are there some people you’d like to honor and commend for their kingdom work, or their perseverance, or their character, or their abounding love for others? Will you seek them out and tell them how much you appreciate them? Have you been tempted to speak badly about other leaders? When is it appropriate to name individuals you think might be harming the church?
Feel free to respond to any or all of these.
Let’s have a great year, my friends, loving Christ and one another well, that we might receive the commendation of heaven!