罗马书第七章读经笔记 Romans 7 study notes

罗马书在前面已经阐述了基督的死与复活在称义(justification)和实际生活(practical living) 方面的意义。

在五章11节前,基督为我们的罪死了。从五章12节起,既然他已经为我们死了,我们也向着罪算为死,向着 神却通过基督而活。

现在使徒继续阐明另一个点,就是这个向着罪死又向着 神活的真理,与律法之间的关系。

乍一看,这里好像在重复前面已经说过的。但这里使徒从一个根本性的角度去看律法,把律法摆到具有“不以人的意志为转移、不可随意更改的管辖力”的地位,犹如自然律对着自然物有其不可更改的力一般。

或者说,就着其有效范畴来讲,律法的管辖力是绝对的。在律法使用的范畴之内,律法管制的效果无法逃脱,因此唯一脱离律法管辖的方法,就是脱离律法有效的范畴被转移到另一个范畴。

在明白了前面的有关基本真理后,接着明白这一点极其重要,因为这使得我们对肉体和罪的效果和权势有清楚的认识,不再怀侥幸,同时也对那救我们出来的大能有清楚认识,不再有怀疑。

这就是圣灵为什么带领使徒在这一章专门做这样一个论述的缘故。神的话没有一句是多余的。

Continue reading “罗马书第七章读经笔记 Romans 7 study notes”

罗马书第六章读经笔记 Romans 6 study notes

在罪上死了的,不能仍在罪中活着

反命题: 既然罪能够通过律法把恩典更加显出来,那我们是否应该(或至少可以)仍留在罪中,让恩典显多呢?

这是堕落肉体在理性上对福音的一个反应,其目的或是为了找到继续犯罪的理由,或为了占据一个自义的位置来推断使徒所传的是不合理的。前者是“诈降”,后者是“负隅顽抗”,但都是肉体抵抗福音的一种策略。

但是这个反命题却不是幼稚的。

有个儿童动画故事,讲到电子游戏中那些拟人的角色,其中一个有趣的命题乃是,既然游戏中的“坏蛋”和“英雄”一样是游戏中不可缺少的,那么“坏蛋”的价值应该是同样值得肯定的。虽然故事本身只是一个带些夸张的娱乐,但要是稍稍认真想想的话,这里所说的其实无意中涉及到一个极深刻的道理。 Continue reading “罗马书第六章读经笔记 Romans 6 study notes”

罗马书第五章读经笔记 Romans 5 study notes

救恩的果效

在前面,使徒已经阐明了救恩的重大原则,现在要来到救恩背后能力的根源,以及其实际果效,尤其是在人当前的生命状态和人“魂”的感觉和体验上的果效。真理,即救恩的真理,并非一些抽象的道理。 人在信心中接受真理后,必定要在圣灵的大能中发生实际效应。

第一个效应就是平安,或更直接就是和平(peace)。与神和好的平安。“我们即因信称义,就藉着我们的主耶稣基督得与神相和。”(5:1)。称义是人在生命本质上的司法位置,而与神相和却是人生命里可以感觉到的一个状态。然而这个状态的根基却不是我们的感觉,而仍然是在主耶稣基督里的信心。

这相和不是靠人的努力挣来的(那样的话会由于人的变化而改变),而是 神的恩典,这恩典是 神对我们的喜爱(favor),不是由于我们的可爱,而是在基督里的恩典,并且这恩典并非 神仅仅由于怜悯而勉强所做的妥协,而是 神在耶稣基督里荣耀的作为 (5:2)。

恩典是 神的荣耀!神越显出祂的恩典,就越显出祂的荣耀。但这一切不是没有原则没有根基地宽容,而是在耶稣基督里面发生的,因为这让罪人称义,让死人复活的,不仅仅是一个主观的态度,而是这全宇宙最大的能力,荣耀的能力。 Continue reading “罗马书第五章读经笔记 Romans 5 study notes”

罗马书第四章读经笔记 Romans 4 study notes

亚伯拉罕因信称义,不是凭行为

这一章是因信称义这个主题的继续。使徒在前面概括性的论述了犹太人和外邦人之后,对犹太人的特例继续论述。这里是亚伯拉罕和大卫的特例。 使徒强调指出,这些人不仅不是例外,并且是 神专门为启示因信称义的特别工作。

对犹太人来讲,摆在他们面前的第一是律法,第二是以亚伯拉罕为开始 神特别的工作。他们必定要拿这两件事来对照福音,如果有悖的话,他们就无法接受福音。

律法的事,使徒在前面几章已经阐明清楚了。现在就进入亚伯拉罕和大卫, 尤其是亚伯拉罕。使徒要回答的核心问题,乃是到底 神是在什么样的原则上 (即凭着什么)让亚伯拉罕称义呢?这个问题对犹太人来讲极为重要,因为即使他们承认在律法面前他们都服了(即认罪了),他们仍然会在亚伯拉罕身上存一份侥幸的心,觉得既然亚伯拉罕是他们的父,神又明明称亚伯拉罕为义人,或许犹太人虽然无法靠着律法称义,但是至少可以靠着继承亚伯拉罕而赢得某种特权或偏待(favor)。 Continue reading “罗马书第四章读经笔记 Romans 4 study notes”

罗马书第三章读经笔记 Romans 3 study notes

罪人以犹太人为代表的辩词

本章直到第20节,是前一章所设公义的检验命题的继续,仍然不是福音原则的本身。这个检验命题就是为着得出罗马书3:20那个结论,并引进福音。

这里,使徒将检验“公义的实际”的标准进一步用在犹太人身上。这个检验的标准在前面的第二章已经广泛应用过,并得出结论无论是犹太人还是外邦人,神都要求“公义的实际”,没有偏待。但这里使徒再把犹太人特别挑出来,强调地说明一个共同的事实,即按照 神对公义的要求,没有一个人可以靠着自己称义的。

为什么犹太人这么特别,要如此特殊论证? 因为犹太人不服;不仅如此,并且因为犹太人是罪人能推举出来为自己辩解的最好代表。他们的不服还不只是人一种常见的情绪上的不服,甚至也不只是一种由于犹太人文化和传统的特殊性而有的骄傲所产生的不服;而是深层、根基上的不服,因为他们要抓住 神的作为本身为把柄,想反过来指认如果 神要定犹太人的罪,神就是否定祂的自己,甚至证明 神自己是不公义的。 Continue reading “罗马书第三章读经笔记 Romans 3 study notes”

罗马书第二章读经笔记 Romans 2 study notes

神公义的要求

罗马书二、三两章的主题并不是福音,描述的也不是福音的原则,而是公义按照律法的要求,作为前提,为福音铺设。看不到这一点,就可能误解这两章,甚至以为这两章与罗马书的前后自相矛盾。

罗马书第一章做了两个重要的宣告:神的义,人的不义。

关于人的不义,保罗给不义之人画了一幅肖像:装满了各样不义、邪恶、贪婪、恶毒,满心是嫉妒、兇杀、争竞、诡诈、毒恨; 又是谗毁的、背後说人的、怨恨神的、侮慢人的、狂傲的、自誇的、捏造恶事的、违背父母的。  无知的,背约的,无亲情的,不怜悯人的。 他们虽知道神判定行这样事的人是当死的,然而他们不但自己去行,还喜欢别人去行(1:29-32)。

对照这幅肖像,常听到的反应是:“不像我。 这个不是我。” 真的吗?如果你把这幅肖像拿给天使和其他任何受造之物看的话,他们的反应会很简单、很清楚:我认识这个画里的,是 “人”(亚当的后裔)。

人正是不义之人,这包括所有亚当的子孙。

关于 神的义,罗马书是分两步从两个相呼应的角度说的。在罗马书里,要清楚区分这两样事:(1) 神公义的要求;(2) 义实际的满足。无论是阐述的角度还是语气、语义上,这两样事在罗马书里都是不一样的,如果分不清,就很容易误解罗马书,甚至以为罗马书是自相矛盾的。

正常情况下,用来满足要求的,应该和所要求的完全一致,才算完全满足了要求。但在 神的义上,我们面临的是一个非同寻常的情况,此情况的不正常导致一个不正常的结果,即所要求的和用来满足要求的,在表面上不一致,好像换了一个内容。但明白了福音,就会明白实质上不仅没有不一致,而是一个不正常条件下的完美一致。这里的 “不正常”是双重的:有一个负面的异常(人的罪),但又有一个正面的反常(神在耶稣基督里的奇异恩典),两相对应。

具体说,神公义的要求是在人行为的实际上,但事实上这个义的合法要求最后却不是在人的行为上得满足的,而是在信(faith)上实现的。这正是为什么叫“福音”的缘故,因为 “福音”是一件出乎人预料的事:本来应该在行为上满足,但实际上却在信(faith)上满足。换个方式讲,就是本该在律法要求的行为上显明义,但实际却是在恩典福音赐给的信(faith)上显明义。

因着这个缘故,罗马书第一章先结论性的宣告了福音(1:17);但为了说服人,又在第二、三章提出并检验 神公义的要求;之后又再回到福音并详细解释,是一个有节奏的三部曲。因此,二、三两章的主题不是福音,描述的也不是福音的原则,而是公义按照律法的要求,作为前提,为福音铺设。

具体,在宣告地上没有一个义人,一个也没有 (3:10;3:20)之前,罗马书进一步阐述人在 神面前的位置。从 2:1 到 3:20,罗马书阐述一个义的要求:神的义是以生命里面的实际 (Reality) 为准。而这个实际,若是按照 神的义的要求,应该在人的行为中找见才算数。罗马书把所有人都放在这个要求之下。然而,罗马书随后得出结论:地上凡属血气的,没有一个满足这个义的要求。这不是福音,这是坏消息。 而福音正是在这个坏消息的前提下被引进的: 义的实际是人里面隐秘的事,将在 神所定的日子由耶稣基督照着福音所言来审判。在那个审判中,原本无望称义的却称义了。这个出乎意料的惊喜是福音的特质。

明白这个论理的顺序,是明白罗马书的一个关键。

罗马书 2:6-11 就是 神的义要求的实例:“他必照各人的行為報應各人。 凡恆心行善、尋求榮耀、尊貴和不能朽壞之福的,就以永生報應他們; 惟有結黨、不順從真理、反順從不義的,就以忿怒、惱恨報應他們。 將患難、困苦加給一切作惡的人,先是猶太人,後是希利尼人; 卻將榮耀、尊貴、平安加給一切行善的人,先是猶太人,後是希利尼人。 因為神不偏待人。”

首先,为什么在第一章刚刚宣告 “义是出自信,又归于信”,“义人必因信而生”,在第二章里又要在人的行为里面刨根究底,并且说是按照个人的行为报应个人呢? 如果看不到第二章的这个前题,就会以为这里是前后矛盾的,但若看到这个前题,就看到使徒是以何等样的高度和深度阐述了一个人与 神之间关系的核心问题,让世上一切哲学和宗教思想相比之下皆如尘土。

罗马书 2:6-11 是在 神的义的实际 (reality) 这个大前提下,就着人的光景,使用合法的义的要求所设的一个检验命题,为的是“堵上人口”。

这里不是从恩典的角度阐述救恩的基本原则 (否则这里就和罗马书通篇所显明的主题矛盾了;难道保罗忘了他在第一章刚刚说的,并且在后面马上还要接着说的吗?)。这里是从律法的角度按照义的要求而所立的一个检验命题。因为 神要的是实际 (reality),于是 神第一个要看的地方就是人的行为。如果人的行为真的是按照 神的要求达到标准(恆心行善、尋求榮耀、尊貴和不能朽壞之福)的话,这人就是义人,神必将以永生回报人。

但是罗马书已经得出并且还要继续得出结论:凡属血气的,没有一个靠着律法的要求可以称义的。因此,这里的检验命题虽然本身是成立的 (不仅是成立的,并且为着堵上人的口,也是必须的),但其结论对人来讲却是一个灾难性的坏消息。这个灾难性的结论把人的口都堵上了,尤其让那些自以为公义的人,那论断人的,以为在道理上冠冕堂皇就可以不仅指责别人并且可以逃脱 神的审判的人,都哑口无言,因为 神要的是实际 (reality), 不是外表和模样。那些宗教和道德的外表,在 神的审判之中必都暴露无遗。

罗马书 2:1 到 3:20 把所有人都放在这个检验命题下,并不直接跳入结论,而是先按照这个命题的逻辑来论理。如果明白这个,就会不仅不觉得这段经文和罗马书的主题矛盾,反而惊叹圣灵的智慧和耐心。

同时,需要指出罗马书只是把人放在 神公义的律法要求下,就足以显明人的光景。人如果被放在基督的荣耀之下,岂不更加显出败坏的光景!那些自以为道德高尚的人,如果有圣灵的光照,可以来看道成肉身的耶稣。谁曾在生命里达到如此的完全,以至于他的身体在变化山上成为荣形? 又有谁因着他的圣洁,战胜了死亡,从死里复活呢? 这些不只是高尚的行为和人格,甚至也不仅是为了拯救众人的大能和恩典,而是人子(真人)生命荣耀的彰显,从反面说出我们人人都犯了罪亏缺了 神的荣耀。然而基督荣耀的彰显,不是为着定罪人,而是为着带领众人进入他的荣耀。这个层面的真理,不是罗马书所强调的,因为罗马书的重点是每个个人基本的救恩。在这个层面上人还不能看到并进入基督更高更大的荣耀。圣灵藉着福音书和其他的书信共同显明这个荣耀。

因信称义和义的实际

如果 神坚持要求义的实际,为什么又说 “因信称义”呢?

有人以为这是由于  神看到义的标准太高,人都达不到,所以就迁就一下,许可人“因信称义”,好像 神看到既然人实际上做不到,那就要求人至少有个主观的表示吧。

这是对福音颠倒性的误解。

许多人的问题是,因为认为“信”是主观的,所以如果说 “因信称义”的话,那 “义”也就是主观的,既不可靠,又廉价。这是人的思想跌倒之处。 神的义是客观真实的实际 (reality),是生命里的实际,是 神绝不会打折扣的实际。因信称义正是唯一保证这个实际的方法。你若有一点公平常识和经济头脑,一定会直觉地意识到用信来保证实际的义,这里有个很大的误差,或差价。 而这正是福音的核心,因为其中所有的差价,在耶稣基督里被填补。如果因信称义本身是一个公平合理的交易的话,耶稣就不需要死在十字架上了,而信耶稣也许就是这世上最没价值的信仰。

首先,神不是被动地、不得已地勉强许可因信称义;神是主动要求因信称义。其次,神要求因信称义的原因,不是因为迁就而降低标准。恰恰相反,正是因为 神绝不在义的实际上降低称义的标准。那义的实际,正是在耶稣基督里,是客观的、实际的、是完成的、是义的“实底”; 而得到这个义的实际的唯一方法和道路,是通过信。

是“信”让人得到所望之事的实底。不是人那个愿意相信的主观心态本身能成为人的义,而是通过信,在耶稣基督里得到义的真实实际,并因此成为义。这个实际,是 神所要求的,祂不会降低半点标准;而恰恰是由于 神在这个标准上的不打折扣,神才要求人因信称义,这一切皆因为一个值得重复的事实:称义要求义的实际,只有在基督里才有这个义的实际,而信则是在基督里得到义的实际的唯一道路和途径。

从人的罪,如何藉着简单的信就能达到基督极重无比的义呢?这是主的恩典所量过又填补的距离、是主耶稣亲自付上的代价。所要求的信,是一个简单的信,但却是诚实无伪的信。“信”,是打开宝库的钥匙,又小又简单,但却必须是正确的,不是随便一个伪造的貌似钥匙的东西就可以假冒的。这把钥匙是圣灵给人的一个最宝贵礼物。信虽然是通过人心运作的,但却不是人心杜撰的。人心要有反应,但感动却是来自圣灵。

千万抓住圣灵的感动,不要放过,如落水之人拼命抓住营救者的绳索一般。

经节要点笔记:

2:12:“凡沒有律法犯了罪的,也必不按律法滅亡;凡在律法以下犯了罪的,也必按律法受審判。” 这里中文的“必不按律法滅亡”是一句很简练的话,需要小心才不误解。这里当然不是 “按律法必不灭亡”的意思,而是 “必灭亡,只是在律法之外灭亡。”这正是本章检验命题的结论。

2:13: “原來在神面前,不是聽律法的為義,乃是行律法的稱義。” 同样,这不是救恩原则的阐述,而是本章检验命题的重述。

2:14: “沒有律法的外邦人若順著本性行律法上的事,他們雖然沒有律法,自己就是自己的律法。” 外邦人没有领受 神的律法,但并没有任何借口让他们生命的实际逃脱本章所述的命题的检验。而且只要被检验,结论也是确定的。

2:15: “這是顯出律法的功用刻在他們心裡,他們是非之心同作見證,並且他們的思念互相較量,或以為是,或以為非。” 人良心中的是非之心是来自 神的,并非有些不虔不义之人说的,是一种“不开化的原始心态”。虽然这是非之心无法救我们,但却可以作为一个导向,引我们来寻求 神。

2:16: “就在神藉耶穌基督審判人隱秘事的日子,照著我的福音所言。”首先,审判的日子不是今天,也不是人所定的或所愿的日子。更重要的是,虽然审判的确是针对人的心,但审判的标准却不是人的良心。这是一个常常被误解的道理。人以为,“我只要不愧对良心,就不怕审判”,但实际上在审判的时候,第一个被审判的,就是人的良心本身,要判决良心是否对 神的公义忠实、完全又活泼 (faithful, complete and living)。 其次被审判的,才是人在是非之心上较量而产生的行为。

人所说的“对得起良心”都是相对于自己那个不健全的良心而言的。一个泯灭的良心、被玷污的良心,被扭曲的良心,或一个被贿赂的良心,即使人自己觉得完全无愧,如何能通过这个审判呢? 况且,这世上的人,就连自己那个已经是残缺的良心,也是无法说完全无愧的。

的确有人自认为他完全无愧于自己良心,并且这样的人为数不少。但那只是他的自我感觉。愿 神怜悯,靠圣灵开启并光照人心! 然而,即使能通得过自己的良心,也还是通不过那个审判,因为那里的标准不是人自己的良心,而是按照福音而言的耶稣基督。

2:17-25: “你稱為猶太人,又倚靠律法,且指著神誇口。。。” 神赐的律法果然比一般人的良知要清晰,这就给了犹太人一个优势。但犹太人照样最后要在审判实际 (reality) 的那日和外邦人一同被审判。

2:26:“所以那未受割禮的,若遵守律法的條例,他雖然未受割禮,豈不算是有割禮嗎?” 这仍是本章检验命题的应用。但是对律法的完全遵守,只有在耶稣基督里才可得以成全。  

2:29:“惟有裡面作的,才是真猶太人;真割禮也是心裡的,在乎靈,不在乎儀文。這人的稱讚不是從人來的,乃是從神來的。” 这是将来那以实际 (reality) 为标准的审判在人身上的应用。但这“真割礼”不是一个额外附加的标准。我们知道 (从罗马书和整个新约里),唯有真信心才产生真割礼。同时,也只有产生真割礼的才是真信心。因此这里仍然归结于信心,正是罗马书第一章所宣告的福音: 就着人的角度来讲,神的义,在耶稣基督的福音里,出自信心,又归于信心。但从 神的角度来讲,神的义,在耶稣基督的福音里,出自 神,又归于 神,正如这里所说:“這人的稱讚不是從人來的,乃是從神來的。”

这样就完成了福音的完全过程: 神的义,在耶稣基督里做成,藉着信心成为人的,又藉着信心成为人生命的实际 (而信心的一切工作,都在乎灵,不在乎仪文),被 神接受,得了从 神来的称赞,这称赞又在信心中归给那为信心创始成终的主耶稣(同样在乎灵,不在乎仪文),让父神的心意得满足。哈利路亚。

罗马书第一章读经笔记 Romans 1 study notes

书信和福音书

圣经新约可分为福音书和书信,其中福音书包括四福音书,广义上也包括使徒行传;书信则包括保罗、彼得、约翰、雅各和犹大书信,在广义上也包括启示录。

福音书呈现的是主所做、所成就的救恩,而书信则是圣灵展开解释主所成就的救恩。简单来讲,福音书是有关“发生了什么”,而书信则有关 “所发生的意味着什么”。

就福音书来讲,首先,是主做的,不是任何别人做的,更不是人想象的、希望的、创作的 (这是救恩和任何宗教的区别)。其次,是已经做的,完成的,不是仅仅被应许的、预言的 (这是新约和旧约的区别)。

就书信来讲,首先,是圣灵亲自解释的,不是人的理论和评论。其次,圣灵说话的器皿是使徒,而听众则是基督的教会。 Continue reading “罗马书第一章读经笔记 Romans 1 study notes”

Romans 16 study notes

This is the last chapter of the book of Romans.  Paul sends many personal salutations to the saints in Rome. Paul had never visited the Christian assembly in Rome before he wrote the letter (which became the book of Romans). Yet he knew many of them individually and his heart dwelled on them.  These are individuals Paul served and co-served with.  Paul’s heart is attached to those who had received service he rendered and those who had served others along with him.

Who is Paul? He is the one who by grace of God had searched into the deep counsels of God, who had been allowed to see secret things that could not be made known to man, and who was probably the greatest servant God ever had in the New Testament time after our Lord ascended. Yet this Paul remembered all these humble Christians, even those devoted women, and remembered what they had done for him and for the Lord.  This is love; it is the real proof of the power of the Spirit of God; it is true charity.

Only if we know how easily we can be lured into the falsehood of human pride and religiosity can we really appreciate what came out of Paul’s heart in this seemingly simple chapter at the end of the epistle.  Slight talents, and a bit of privilege to serve, one’s heart could already be out of touch of God’s people and assembly, thinking that he is better and special, even belonging to a special class.  History has shown this to be a rule with an established religion rather than an exception. Christianity is no exception.  May we fear this horrible religious condition which leads to spiritual death. Let us always humble ourselves and learn from Paul, a true servant to the Lord.

There is more revealed in this chapter.

“… I wish you to be wise as to that which is good, and simple as to evil.” Romans 16:19b.  Paul gives here a precious rule for our walk, namely, to be simple concerning evil, and wise unto what is good. This is not merely wisdom talk. Only true faith in Christ could have given such a rule and at the same time have enabled us to walk by it.  The fact that we as Christians may be simple concerning evil is a blessing and deliverance.  The man of the world needs to acquaint himself with evil in order to avoid it.  In this world of snares, he must corrupt his mind and accustom himself to thoughts of evil, in order not to be entrapped by it. But a child of God who follows the lead of the Holy Spirit may focus his eyes on the Lord Himself and be able to walk by (rather than walk through) the snares without having to acquaint himself with them.

Be simple concerning evil! Some boast their experience of evil claiming that they have learned good through evil. Thank God, by His mercy we may experience evil yet still come out knowing good.  But this is by His mercy, not according to the principle of new life. The principle of the new life is to be simple concerning evil.  We need not to know evil.  Never pretend or venture to be more experienced than we need to concerning evil.

Chapter 16 ends with a glorious doxology.

“Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith, to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” Romans 16:25-27.

This is more than a glorious summary of the wonderful truth of each individual’s salvation as presented in this epistle.  Paul refers to the greatest mystery that God had never revealed before but has now revealed.  If we consider this along with the other epistles written by Paul, such as the book of Ephesians, it is clear that Paul refers to the body of Christ, the assembly, rather than individuals. It is this mystery, concerning the assembly and the summing up of all things into one under Christ, that had been entirely unknown because God had been silent on that subject in the ages. But the mystery was now revealed and communicated to the Gentiles by prophetic writings.

Note that Paul says “prophetic writings”, not “the writings of the prophets.”  The prophetic writings certainly include the scriptures in the Old Testament, but the epistles now addressed to the Gentiles are also prophetic writings because they possess the very same nature.

In short, blessed are we who have received such glorious revelation through the prophetic writings of the apostle Paul who wrote according to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15 study notes

Chapter 15 begins with a continuation of Chapter 14 but leads to new aspects and new depths of the believer’s spiritual life. These instructions are finished at verse 7.

From verse 8, apostle Paul once again tells us that Jesus Christ has come to fulfill solvation for both Jews and Gentiles. It is a summary with an emphasis. He also talks about his personal circumstances and gives salutations.

“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Romans 15:1.

In Christ, we are called to wear the righteousness of God, and this is the basics of our salvation. But in Christ, we are further called to bear the weakness and even wrongs of others.

We wear God’s righteousness as we received it as a gift, and have no reason to complain about it (only the unsaved see God’s righteousness as a burden instead of a blessing). But we also bear the weakness and even wrongs of our fellow brothers and sisters by God’s command, and only in maturity do we see such burden not as a reason to complain, but a reason to give thanks for an opportunity to fellowship with our Lord and his people.

Not to please ourselves. “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good… For even Christ did not please Himself, but as it is written, ‘THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.’” Romans 15:2-3.

“…that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. Rom 15:6-7.

The idea of treating others fairly and even make sacrifice for the sake of others is a basic element of human ideals including moral teachings and most religions. However, if we are seeing only human ideas in Chapter 15 of Romans, we are missing the truth.

There are two fundamental differences between what is taught in Chapter 15 of Romans and what is taught in moral teachings and religious teachings.

The first difference lies in their entirely different purposes. The second difference relates to what actually empowers a person to accomplish what he has been taught to do.

Concerning the purpose, most moral teachings are usually meant for the good of the society, while most religious teachings are usually meant for edification and enlightenment of one’s self. There is nothing wrong with the idea of the betterment of the society, nor the idea of being edified and enlightened. They are just not the ultimate truth.

Concerning the empowerment, the problem with human ideals is not only that it is incomplete but more important, it can never be actually accomplished. Something that can never be accomplished isn’t merely an ideal that’s unfortunately too high to achieve, but in fact a lie.

But the Word of God is not an ideal. The Word of God is truth with a purpose. God’s purpose is to bring people into His glory so that the purpose of our living is both united and realized in His glory. This is not merely a much higher purpose but more important a purpose with truth, because this purpose is guaranteed to be accomplished by the Almighty God.

It is with this purpose that God commands us to love each other, to bear with each other, and to come into one accord in Jesus Christ. The purpose of doing all that is not a mere means to just solve our social problems or to regulate our social relationships, nor is it a social redistribution program for the sake of balancing people’s resources so that the strong is not too strong and the weak is not too weak.

We are given different gifts and different resources in our temporary lives. But God calls His people into a unified purpose to glorify Him. This is done on earth by God’s people living together, bearing with each other and loving each other. It is in this process that the temporal meets the eternal and finds the meaning of life intended by its Maker with no partiality.

A dear brother in the Lord once confided how difficult and unreasonable one of his siblings is. Every complaint of the brother was more than justified because his sibling was indeed not only less capable, but in fact irresponsible, inconsiderate and even selfish, a family member who seems to contribute more trouble and burdens that help. The brother made much sacrifice both financially and emotionally for the sake of this sibling.

But after pouring out all the hard feelings with sufferings he was made to experience, the brother summarized by saying: “but I have no way to escape, because he is my brother and I am his keeper.”

Now what the brother said captures the essence of family love. In the society, people seek for fairness. But in the family, it is not about fairness but about love in destiny. “Life is never fair” — Without love, this is a cynical statement. But with love, this is just family reality without bitterness.

So is God’s family, in fact even more so because this family is for eternity. We are destined to love each other. So how can we complain about bearing with each other?

Let us not seek to please ourselves, because seeking to please one’s self will never be satisfying nor will it ever be actually achieved. For “even Christ did not please Himself.”

In the rest of chapter 15 of Romans, apostle Paul once again presented the gospel in whole to both Jews and Gentiles. To the Jews, Paul once again emphasized that Jesus came not to invalidate but to actually confirm the promise God made to their forefathers. To the Gentiles, Paul quotes passages from Deuteronomy (that is to say, from the Law), from the Psalms, and from the Prophets to show that God had Gentiles in His heart even while he dealt with the Israel in the past. But at the same time, Paul again demonstrates the contrast and difference between Jews and Gentiles. The former was the subject of the truth in law, the latter became the subject of the truth in grace.

But the truth is one.

Starting from verse 13, Paul leaves the exposition of the general truth regarding the gospel and personally turns to the Romans who are the direct audience of his letter. He showed affection for them. He expressed confidence in their faith. He humbly admits that some words he spoke to the Romans may seem to be bold, but he nonetheless relies on the grace of God given to him to speak such words in truth.

But Paul’s apologetic attitude toward Romans isn’t meant to gain any praise by Romans to him as a personal advantage, but to solidify and guard the authority and the effectiveness of the ministry he received from the Lord. It is all about the service to Christ and work of God, and not about the servant himself. And although he now speaks to both Jews and Gentiles, his ministry is about Gentiles primarily because that is what he was commissioned by his Lord Jesus Christ to do.

“That I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:16.

It is not exactly clear in what sense Paul is referring to by “offering of the Gentiles” (i.e., whether it is “offering made by Gentiles” or “Gentiles presented as an offering”), but in the real spiritual sense, there is no distinction. We are all presented to God as an offering, and like in the Old Testament an offering had to be “proper” in order to be acceptable to God, today an offering must also be “proper” in order to be acceptable to God. An essential property of an acceptable offering to God is sanctification by the Holy Spirit.  Nothing can be acceptable to God unless sanctified by the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit sanctifies nothing outside of Jesus Christ; and nothing outside of Jesus Christ is acceptable, much less desirable, to God.

Romans 14 study notes

We already touched upon chapter 14 when discussed chapter 13. The matter of liberty with regard to what is clean to eat and what is not is the subject of this chapter. It may seem strange to many of us that apostle Paul would devote an entire chapter, in fact a good part of the next chapter as well, on the matter of eating. But this topic had not only a very large historical importance for Christians then, but also illustrates important principles of liberty and brotherly respect and discretion we have toward others in Christ.

The matter of what food can be regarded as clean was a very important one for Jews in the Old Testament time, and continued to be so in the New Testament time when Jews became Christians. In the Old Testament, God clearly commanded Jews not to eat certain kind of foods because they were regarded as unclean. The reasons for the law regulating the cleanness of food are primarily spiritual, although in some cases they might also be health related. The rich spiritual meanings of what food is clean or unclean in eyes of God can be found in the book of Leviticus in Old Testament, and will not be discussed here.

It was difficult for Jewish Christians to accept other Christians eating food that was not considered as clean according to the Levitical laws. These other Christians were Gentiles who had no such observation. And because in Rome both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians lived close to each other and often gathered together for worship, this matter of eating had a very heavy bearing on the peace and unity among Christians. That was the background of what apostle Paul was addressing in chapter 14 of Romans.

The guidance of the Holy Spirit given through apostle Paul, however, goes far beyond the eating itself, but touched upon a very essential matter of our faith and Christian living. This matter is how we regard another person in faith.

It is important to note that the emphasis of the guidance of the Holy Spirit on this matter is not firstly about Christian brotherly love, as many tend to think when interpreting this chapter. Brotherly love is another matter, purely at a different level, but not the basic focus here. It is first of all about fundamentally what constitutes kingdom of God, and what judicial position each of us stands before God and stand in relation to each other.

To put it plainly, the Holy Spirit is essentially telling us straight that we should shut up judging another, not because it is an unloving thing to do (it is not, but we are not at that level to even bring in love on this matter), but simply because we don’t have a right to do so from a legal and judicial point of view. It is simply not right (versus being not good) to do so.

We often confuse the matter of “right” and “good”, and wishfully talk about being “good” when we are not even “right”. We treat the matter of “good” very basely. But God sees “good” on top of “right”. ”For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.” Romans 5:7.  See how God sees a good man beyond a righteous man.

Jesus who was on Mount of Transfiguration was the righteous man (in fact, the perfect man), but Jesus who was crucified on the Mount of Golgotha (the Cross of Calgary) was the good man. The righteous man is able to save himself, but the good man is able to save others as well.  And thank God our Lord is not just perfect and righteous, but is also good.

It is simply not right to judge another brother in the Lord. Here also note that apostle Paul was not referring to just any person, but another one who is a Christian brother.  It is not about social relations, but about our spiritual relations.

Why? Because this other person belongs to God and is a servant of God. It is not right to judge even a servant of another person, much more so to judge a servant of God.  Judging another one’s servant was a quite serious matter in a time of Romans because it was a basic etiquette in that society to show respect to another one’s servant; it was a disrespect to the master to show disrespect to his servant.  Everyone who is saved is called into a heavenly service in the kingdom of God (everyone, not just those who are in a full-time ministry), and is a servant of God.  That person deserves deep respect from others by virtue of his relationship with God.

Often we think of another Christian and evaluate that person’s conduct and status as if we were discussing an academic matter of what’s good and right in our eyes, or as if we were evaluating the qualities of another fellow human being, but we fundamentally forget that person is attached to a far greater authority. He belongs to God. He may be right or may be wrong, or I may be right or may be wrong in my estimate of him, but I fundamentally don’t have a right to judge him. Not only because it is not nice to judge, but because I simply have no right to do so. He belongs to God,and only his Master can judge him.

But he’s not just a servant of God. Christ died for him. Christ died for him! Think about it. The Lord died for him. One could buy a servant with a sum of money, but Christ purchased the life of that person to redeem him by shedding His blood for him and dying for him. If knowing that we ought to respect the Master by respecting His servants isn’t a strong enough reason to stop us from judging another, isn’t knowing what price the Lord has paid for that person enough?

Another aspect of chapter 14 of Romans is the teaching for us to focus on things that truly matter to God and His Kingdom. Consider God’s kingdom and mind things that really matter to the kingdom. We live for the kingdom and the King, not for ourselves.

What a warning it is to us that one can be religious yet actually living for himself but not for God! We tend to be misguided into thinking that showing religiosity is to demonstrate piety to God. It can be just the opposite. We focus on things that are trivial and doubtful for the sake of our sense of religion and comfort, but avoid and even destroy things that are truly important and sure to the service and work of the kingdom of God. May it never be.

But apostle Paul goes beyond just avoiding doing things we don’t have a right to do. He moves beyond obligation and toward brotherly love. He would not only refuse to judge his brother (which would be a wrong thing to do), but also will restrain himself from doing anything which may be lawful to do but could still hurt the faith of the brother. This is more than a good attitude of a co-servant, but in the spirit of stewardship, and the spirit of brotherly love. This is maturity. What a servant our Lord has got in Paul. Let us all learn from Paul.  But before we learn about “good”, make sure that we are “right” in the first place.