The King’s children go to school

A brother half-jokingly told about a dream his college-freshman daughter had. The world was coming to an end, and she was glad, because she would no longer need to go to school.

Although the young college student’s dream was a bit humorous, I felt it was a very realistic dream and tells a great parable of our life.  If we really know what we are left on earth doing, most of us who belong to the Lord would probably have the same dream about the Lord’s return.  We are left on earth to be schooled. It is very hard schooling, if you are serious about it. While a few really good students may be looking forward to graduation, most of us would be glad any moment if the school is ended early.

But thank God we have the privilege to be schooled.  People who don’t belong to the Lord are just going to the world, living and surviving, and all the meaning has to be found in this process itself. But those who go to school to receive education know that schooling is only means to a greater end.

In the old days, most people could not afford sending their children to a school. But the king’s children always received the best education. So the king’s children go to school.  What a remarkable and enviable thing if you see the privilege.

When it comes to spiritual schooling, only God, the King’s children go to school. They are supposed to go home at the end of school.  The eternal home after a temporal school.  This is an exclusive privilege.  For others, this world is home and it matters not if it could also be figuratively called a school.

Let us be aware of the privilege, take the opportunity seriously, and, although recognizing that schooling is always hard and a heavy burden bearing on the students, be glad that we are being schooled and thank the Father for the privilege.

Abide with me

Abide with me, fast falls the even tide,

The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide,

When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

My heart has been repeatedly touched and blessed by this song written by Henry F. Lyte (1793-1847) in 1847.  Although this song is usually used for comfort by Christians during sorrow and deep distress, I was touched by the song and the author beyond all that.

Henry Lyte wrote this song before his last Sunday at the church in lower Brixham where he served as the pastor for many years.  People tend to think that this song was about asking for help in deep human distress and sorrow, partly because of the circumstance under which the author wrote the song.  Henry Lyte’s health condition was extremely poor, on the verge of dying.  He was only 57 is old.  He was urged and finally agreed to leave Brixham and go to Rome, Italy where the weather condition was better. He wrote the song before he left.

But the spirit of the author, through the song, tells a story that is far beyond seeking comfort and help in human distress. The dear brother in the Lord was touched by Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, and that became the basis of the words in the song.

“Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, “Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.” And He went in to stay with them.” Luke 24: 28-29.

Seeing his life as a journey which was coming to an end, an inevitable end of every man who has lived on earth, the brother saw the Lord truly as his Savior.

We often think that we see the Lord better when we are in the brightness of the sun above us, but the true spiritual experiences like what brother Lyte had experienced tell us that we only see Him better when the evening’s tide is near and the darkness is approaching.

The earth is not our home where we should seek for eternal comfort.  Without seeing this, we would never understand why the Lord’s heart is so close to those who are trodden down in this life and on this earth.  His people do not belong here. Without seeing this our heart would always be offended by a calling to fellowship with the Lord in His suffering; Without seeing this we would always ignorantly think that giving up a bit of earthly glory is such a condescending sacrifice made for the sake of being a Christian; Without seeing this we would never sense and despise the contemptuous arrogance we have against our meek Lord when we despise His little ones.

And we are His little ones. And only the little ones understand the tears shed by the Lord when He lived on earth with His people.

We need the Lord. How we need the Lord!  Not only in order to live this life, but also in order to walk with Him. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus walked with the Lord. But they came to a point that they had to stop for the night. But the Lord would have gone even further. How they needed the Lord, to the point that they had to constrain Him such that the Lord would stop His own course in order to stay with them. And the Lord indeed choose to abide with them, and fellowshipped with them by breaking the bread. The Lord did not require them to walk with Him any further.

Abide with me! O Lord, abide with me, for sometimes I won’t be able to go any further, and I won’t be able to get through the darkness of the night without you.

May the sight of the darkness shed light on our real condition and cast the relationship between the Lord and us under the light of truth and love. May we experience such spiritual revelation before our last days on earth are approaching.

Henry Lyte died on his way to Italy. It was the last sermon he gave and the last poem he wrote.

14 years later, another Christian William H. Monk (1823-1889) wrote the tune for the poem which became the song we know today. William Monk initially named the tune “Eventide” for Lyte’s song. But today the song is known as “Abide with Me”, rightfully.

The complete lyrics of the song:

Abide with me, fast falls the even tide;
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all a round I see;
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
I triumph still if Thou abide with me.

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.

Bearing with your brother

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

A dear brother in the Lord once confided how difficult and unreasonable one of his siblings was.  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 than 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 had 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 having to bear with each other?

In Christ, we are called to wear the righteousness of God, and this is the basis 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.

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.” Romans 15:3.

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.