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Romans 15:4 - Team work and God's Word for all - Reformation Sunday 2021
We’re taking a short (one week) break today from our regular series in 1 John to look at a contemporary issue.
I imagine that with COP 26 starting in Scotland this weekend you’re already thinking ‘he’s going to go on about the Environment a bit …
Not quite this time!
You’ll have heard that the Queen isn’t well enough at this time to go to Scotland for this conference and I’m sure we’ll have been remembering her in our prayers as the Scriptures teach us to, whether we are monarchists or not.
But have you heard that although the Head of the Anglican Church can’t make it to the conference, the organisers have managed to make sure the Pope is in town?
Well, I only know because he was doing the Thought for the Day on radio 4 on Friday morning … but he is.
Which is a tiny bit relevant to the fact that around the world today (this Sunday) Bible believing Christians are celebrating Reformation Day.
• Reformation Day
Reformation Day is a Protestant Christian religious holiday celebrated on 31 October, coinciding with All Hallows Eve (which others have turned into Hallowe’en … something very different.)
Reformation Day exists in remembrance of what most of the school history books say is the start of the Reformation … the big ‘Back to the Bible’ movement of the 1500s all across Europe
The date for Reformation Day is chosen because according to Philip Melanchthon, 31 October 1517 was the day German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire.
The thing is, I’m not sure God entirely bases his work on just one man’s ideas in the way a lot of the books write this story up.
Let’s look at a verse for that … and we’ll work that verse out through the teaching of our verse of Scripture today which is Romans 15:4
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
• Romans Context
Paul’s letter to the set of house churches around Rome seems to have been written while Paul was in Corinth, probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius, and transcribed by Tertius, his amanuensis.
The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go up to Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city.
Therefore, the majority of scholars writing on Romans propose the letter was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57.
That puts this letter bang in the middle of the reign of the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero (54–68 A.D.)
Nero was at this time, though, still young and had not yet murdered his mother, faced up to Boadicea’s revolt in England nor kicked his pregnant wife to death. Allegedly.
This letter WAS however written at a time of cruelty and pagan excesses, immorality and violence whilst the Roman world during a time of rapid social change … an age of turmoil that would lead to a lot of unrest after Nero’s death.
It is written to believers from all strata in society, living in unsettling times at the heart of Rome’s evil Empire with an unstable young emperor at the helm.
• Romans content
Some of you have heard me summarise the content of this letter to the Romans before, but it pays to have a clear outline of this (Paul’s last and longest letter, and his great magnum opus) clearly established in our minds.
In that social context where there are SO many social issue, moral issue and instances of social injustice to tackle, Paul side-steps those to deal with the strings of the heart and the soul, which when properly tuned will adjust the melody of the heart and re-orientate the dance of life.
He starts with the heart of the human problem, which is the problem of the human heart … and he sets out what GOD has done (not what mankind has done) to address the very heart of the problems with the world.
I doubt if they’ll get anywhere NEAR these at COP26 this week, but even where the Climate Crisis is concerned, it seems to me that the human heart lies at the heart of the climate change problem, and that in itself is why science on its own won’t change our warming world.
To summarise the context of the verse we are looking at today, the main sections of he letter look like this:
• Romans 1-3 All of humanity is in the same storm, and we are all offered the same lifeboat … “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
• Romans 4-5 The ‘We are Sons of Abraham so don’t need your Gospel of Faith objection’ – met by the Scriptural teaching that actually Abraham was NOT justified by keeping the Law but by faith (Romans 4:3)
• Romans 6-8 The immorality objection which says that if you are justified by faith you don’t need to behave properly … met by the Biblical teaching that faith and REPENTANCE go hand in hand (Romans 6:22, for example)
• Romans 9-11 The Jewish objection which says that God promised salvation to the Jewish people and if it is now on some other basis God is unfaithful to His covenant … basically Paul shows that ethnic Israel has stepped out of the covenant and that ‘not all of (ethnic) Israel, are truly Israel’.
• Romans 12-15 Life in the Lifeboat … Paul spells out in chapters 12-15 the implications of living within the life that justification by grace through faith alone brings
• Romans 16 - The Fellowship of the Lifeboat
In Romans 16 Paul reviews all the folks in the Roman churches who have been together in the lifeboat … fellow believers in and therefore workers for this gospel … because if you believe it, then you will see how important it is, what good news it is and how important it is that people get to hear and know about it for themselves.
You see, the way the Reformation gets communicated in school history lessons and often in TV programmes about it and so on is as if it was down to one man, Martin Luther, being a bit of a lad and nailing some stuff to a church door because he’d got annoyed with the pope.
But in fact it started way back before that as scholars started to translate books like Romans, the Biblical Scriptures (the ‘everything that was written in the past’ in our verse today) into language that first of all the educated people and then as they passed it on and taught ordinary people to read, the delivered it to the masses in the sort of language that also the ordinary people could understand.
The message we really need to get across this Reformation Day is this:
The Reformation (which we commemorate today) wasn’t so much Luther’s work as Bible work and teamwork … Gospel work is always teamwork as that final chapter of Romans so clearly portrays.
And this is an example and delivers an exhortation to us to do likewise.
Teams have leaders, for sure, but God works through His people in fellowship together around His Word.
Long before Luther turned up on the scene, there were at least four men who led up to this big back to the Bible movement, and a good number came after Luther’s initial bombshell to put some shine on the job too.
And then Luther was himself part of ‘the Big Three’ … Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.
But they were all doing one thing … improving the job of doing one thing.
There’s a Reformation Day ‘extra’ that I’ve produced showing the principles of the Foundational Four and the Big Three leaders of this huge Back to the Bible movement that did so much to shape modern Europe which you’ll find in the podcast and the blog but the basic issue is this …
The Reformation was all about the Word of God and putting it straight to the ordinary people that motivated the Foundational Four (Wycliffe, Waldo, Hus and Savonarola) then the Big Three (Luther, Calvin and Zwingli) along with all of these other guys they reached and that they motivated into action … and they did this with their plain, simple Gospel and Bible teaching.
And that’s the thing the Reformation illustrates and that any other Back to The Bible movement which bring spiritual renewal is characterised by and draws its power from.
And the leaders of the churches - acting possibly loosely but together - using their training and their gifts of intellect and rhetoric to put Scripture and give empowerment to use it to ordinary people, convinced themselves and convincing EVERYONE of the truth of our text today, which I’m now about to come to …
• More than one man, v. 4a
Everything that was written in the past
Paul has dealt with the potential for Jewish believers to argue back against the Gospel of God’s grace in the context of a growing Gentile element in the Christian churches of Rome from chapters 4-11.
That’s a huge lot of effort in just one book.
But now Paul explicitly affirms the value of Scripture whether it was old or apostolic.
It’s worth just reminding ourselves of what Paul is trying to say in the context of the text we are looking at here:
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.
2 Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up.
3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’[a]
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Paul is writing about nurturing the weak with the strong in the churches of Rome as the outflow, the consequence and the fruit of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone.
In doing so Paul notes that this will require believers refraining from pleasing themselves and instead pleasing their neighbour to build them up.
That’s something we need to keep hold of in church life …
And then Paul highlights the Lord Jesus’s doing just that Himself to encourage US to do it.
Next, Paul quotes a verse from the Old Testament, from Psalm 69:9 to back up the Lord’s example … Old and New testaments working together, Old Testament writers and Gospel writers working together, to show how the Psalmist and the Saviour hung close on this issue of not pleasing themselves but serving the Lord first.
And THEN Paul writes our verse about the ‘hang together-ness’ of the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets:
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us …”
Christianity, genuine Christianity, takes us back to the ‘personal experience of the Living God Who speaks plainly through His Word’ sort of faith that was recovered at the time of the Reformation.
It’s a faith of clear, plain language Bible and walking close with the God Who speaks in His Word.
It is not an innovated faith but a rooted one …. rooted in the speaking and the walking with His people that God has done through godly men across continents, cultures and history.
A God Who is consistent with His Word and His revealed character as He has spoken His Word to His people and as those inspired by the Spirit to write Scripture passed His Word on.
The word used in the text here means all that was written beforehand here the word used is προγράφω
… it became a technical term for all the Scriptures …
It is fascinating how much of what we’ve illustrated from the sixteenth century Reformation is covered by this word!
Everything that was in God’s written, set forth Word in times past …
And what that Word of God and what those Scriptures written beforehand do is they don’t just make an interesting museum-piece.
Those Scriptures work in a particular way for a particular purpose which was CRUCIAL for the well-being of the believers living in the city of Rome as we’ve already described it for you in the early years of the reign of Emperor Nero …
They work … not just to gather an interest group or a supporters’ club, but to do specific extremely helpful things for those who feast on them
“so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide …”
Well we know something is going to come from this first thing they do but let’s hold it there just for a minute …
Everything written in the past … Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures which were really coming together by the time Paul wrote this last letter of his, and which the leaders of the Reformation took us back to …
This ‘everything that was written in the past’ Paul refers to was written to produce endurance and encouragement.
Endurance is taught and encouragement provided IN THE BOOK!
We tend to think that the Fellowship of the Lifeboat is what gives us encouragement … you’re not on your own, you’ve got people with you .. that sort of idea.
But Paul’s point is that you’re not on your own when you’ve got GOD with you, speaking His love, life and truth to your heart through His Word … strengthening you inwardly as He speaks with you by His Spirit from His written Word day by day.
THAT is what gives you endurance.
That is what makes pressurised Christian like the ones in Nero’s Rome to LAST … to persevere through the persecution and the pressures of every day.
‘Endurance’ here is ὑπομονή
1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance
1a) in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings
1b) patiently, and steadfastly
2) a patient, steadfast waiting for
3) a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance
(Drop me an email if you think you don’t need that?
Everything written … Scripture … from the past was written so that when we put it in plain English (or whichever is the language of a person’s heart) and give it to people or when we grasp it and read it prayerfully and dwell on it, then consistently it produces in God’s people eternal endurance.
It was given to give us endurance and it was written so that:
“through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
``through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Now, who is it who doesn’t need encouragement?
But look, the word here is redolent of things more Biblical than therapeutic or congratulatory.
παράκλησις – this word covers exhortation, admonition, and encouragement as well as persuasive discourse, stirring address – an instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful exhortation.
It CAN mean the sort of thing that makes you feel good about doing something, but it often means the sort of pick me up that GETS you up to go again.
‘Encouragement’ actually puts the courage back into you, and it covers pep-talks, correction and coming alongside a person to give help.
If you’ve spent any time Reforming your own life lived with the God Who speaks in his Word, then you’ll have experience of just exactly how it does that.
The Reformation took God’s people back to that.
And we need this functioning of God’s Word in our lives, producing endurance and encouragement for a reason, which is where Paul goes next in this verse.
The reason for living as a person of God’s Word is that together we as God’s people hearing from God’s Word might have HOPE!
“… everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”
Let’s be frank about this.
Just humanly let alone spiritually speaking, it is almost impossible to continue to live without hope.
Just let that factoid sink in for a moment … it is almost impossible to live without hope of one sort or another.
You can even just about live without love … if you hold out HOPE of it.
But it is almost impossible to live without hope.
Cling to hope!
Paul writes to tell the pressurised persecuted Christians in old Nero’s Rome that it is through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide that we might have hope.
it is through the encouragement and endurance taught and brought to them by God’s Word that
τὴν ἐλπίδα ἔχωμεν … that hope we have
ἐλπίς – hope in the Christian sense of hope.
It refers to the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.
And this hope born of dwelling close to the God Who speaks in plain language, through his team of servants, over time, from His Word … which is what gave the Christians tortured to death by Nero the encouragement, endurance and hope to be sustained through that, and what gave the leaders of the Reformation’s great Back to the Bible movement all they needed to bear their sufferings in the cause of the Gospel, and what gives you and me the strength to follow the Lord in the way of His Word through the experiences we face day by day.
Spiritual life in the Old Testament, in the New Testament Apostolic era, in the great Reformation-era Back to the Bible movement and in our own spiritually poor days SPRINGS from, FLOWS from group led, popular level exposure of men and women to the doctrines of grace set out clearly and plainly in God’s Word, producing the encouragement and endurance and hope that empowers and invigorates spiritual life.
It is NOT funky worship that does this … although that helps.
It is NOT great learned preaching that does this … although if that takes us to the heart of God in His Word in ways we can grasp, then that certainly is going to help.
But it is street level, engaged and engaging proclamation of the everything written in the past that is described as the Word of the God Who cannot lie.
Or as the Lord Himself put it in a time of great trial:
“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Even He lived on the accessible and plainly taught Word of God, and as He dealt with the devil quoted the Bible at him from Deuteronomy chapter eight and verse three.
And if that’s where He lived, then this Reformation Day and every day, then how very surely should we?