Speaking Up

Rebecca Van Noord

Exodus 21:1–23:33; John 4:27–42; Song of Solomon 3:1–2

Because we convince ourselves that people won’t accept our testimony about God’s work in our lives, we’re not usually ready to share it. We might prejudge their reactions or simply lack confidence. Soon, staying silent becomes a way of life. We become accustomed to the monotony and forget our calling in the world.

But we’re called to action. Our words have power, and not because of our own storytelling talent or our ability to tap into others’ emotions. God can and will use our words to draw people to Him through His Spirit—perhaps without our even being aware of it. In John 4:27–42, Jesus uses a Samaritan woman with a tarnished reputation to bring Samaritans (people whom the disciples and the Jews looked down upon) to faith.

Like the disciples, we have to realize the urgency of the good news. We have to show others that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We are called to action. Verbalizing, with humility, what God has done for us is an important part of faith. We shouldn’t shy away from it or doubt that He will use it to bring others to Himself. This should bring us to a place of confidence and humility. And it should compel us to speak.

Do you speak to others about your faith? How can you begin telling others about the work God has done in you?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: Introducing Romans

Matthew M. Whitehead

Introducing Romans: Critical Issues in Paul’s Most Famous Letter
Eerdmans, 2011

A precursor to Richard Longenecker’s forthcoming commentary on the book of Romans, this work intends to provide an “overall account and evaluation of the major critical issues in the contemporary study of Romans” (8). While examining introductory, rhetorical, literary, text-critical and theological issues, Longenecker provides a synopsis and evaluation of competing positions.

Longenecker also investigates Paul’s contextualization of the gospel. Concerned with how to communicate the good news to various cultures, he uses Paul’s methods to suggest a present-day approach. In addition to being a valuable tool for studying the book of Romans, this book is also practical for those interested in missions.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation . Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 7

The Cure for Suffering

Preston Sprinkle

When I enter my weekly Bible study, I know I’ll hear laughter. Not always from every person, but definitely from John. His laughter is loud and rhythmic—that sort of from-the-gut outburst of emotion. He’ll laugh after a set of worship songs, during a prayer request, or when my two-year-old son runs and jumps into his lap. One thing makes his laughter unusual, though—John is blind. What’s more? John’s wife died unexpectedly, removing the one who filled in for his eyes. But John still laughs.

Why does he not resent God? Why the joy? John would affirm, with Paul, that “God works all things together for good” (Rom 8:28). But Romans doesn’t speak of blindness, death or laughter. And it certainly doesn’t explain why good people suffer. Rather, this passage puts the focus on God: “Who are you, O person, to answer back to God? Will the clay say to its Potter, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ” (9:20).

In this passage, Paul is wrestling with Israel’s rejection of Christ. He uses the example of Pharaoh to make the point that we don’t always know why or how God acts. We don’t know why Pharaoh was raised up as a leader, other than that he was a tool in God’s plan—a tool that ultimately led to God’s glory.

The imagery that Paul uses can also be found in Jeremiah. God instructs the prophet to go to a potter’s house. Jeremiah watches as the clay is “spoiled in the potter’s hand,” and then “reworked … into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jer 18:4). Then God says, “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand” (18:6).

The Bible doesn’t tell us why bad things happen to good people, but it affirms that we serve a Potter who molds His clay with wisdom, intention and goodness. Paul insists that God is faithful to His promises (Rom 9:6–8)—merciful and compassionate to those He loves (9:14–18). God will—in the end—break open His treasury and lavish His people with “riches of his glory” (9:23).

When our life experiences don’t seem to reflect this, we need to rest in God. Sometimes the best antidote for our suffering is not an answer but an affirmation that God is God.

John believes this. He loves God. And he is happy that God is on the throne and he is not. And that’s why John laughs—in that deep, rhythmic, from-the-gut sort of way.

Want more out of your study of Romans? Pick up the resources you need at Logos.com/Romans.

Biblical passages are the author’s translation.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 6

Paul the Pastoral Mediator

Michael F. Bird

The challenges that faced the church in Rome would be staggering for any leader to deal with—deep ethnic and legal battles were threatening to split the community. Paul addressed these issues in a letter—to a church he had never visited.

Paul had been through vitriolic debates before in Antioch, Galatia and Corinth, and he didn’t want the Roman churches to experience the same conflict. He needed to show them that, despite their different convictions, they could still accept one another and serve God together.

Romans 14 and 15 are often treated like an after-dinner mint to a theological feast. But these chapters are the pastoral climax of Paul’s letter. Here, we find Paul’s picture of the church becoming a reality.

Several issues fed the conflict in Rome. Originally, the gospel had come to Rome, independently of Paul, through Jewish Christians. An influx of Gentiles (non-Jews) into the church had resulted in tensions over issues like vegetarianism (because meat could be tainted with pagan religion), wine consumption (because of its use in drink offerings to Roman gods), and observance of special days (like the Sabbath).

Paul identifies the “weak” and “strong” in this conflict. While it’s easy to assume that the weak were exclusively Jewish Christians and the “strong” were exclusively Gentiles, Paul (a Jewish Christian) numbers himself among the strong (Rom 14:14). Also, some Gentile converts to Judaism may have had conservative views on Law observance.

But however the lines were drawn, they were drawn. Those who were weak in the congregation were easily offended by those who were strong. The strong looked down on the weak.

Paul addresses this internal conflict by differentiating between areas of conviction and areas of command. Paul encouraged the Romans to allow flexibility and withhold judgment in matters where the gospel was not threatened: “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” (14:2–3).

While Paul allows freedom for matters that are “indifferent,” he says that each person should judge their own convictions: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (14:5).

He also encourages the strong to exercise convictions in wisdom. They still had the responsibility of not causing the weak to stumble in their faith: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15).

Ultimately, Paul wanted those who disagreed to mutually affirm each other: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (14:19). The basis of this was their status as fellow servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul points them to Him as the ultimate example of how we should act and why we should accept others: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (15:7). God is glorified when we accept each other as Christ accepts us—despite our differences.

Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 3 No. 6

It's Standing between You and God

John D. Barry

Exodus 19–20; John 4:1–26; Song of Solomon 2:14–17

There is nothing more frustrating than being ordered around. Few people take to a drill sergeant. Although we like to cite the Ten Commandments (Exod 20) because they’re the norm, the rebellious part of our spirits has trouble with them. If we’re honest with ourselves and take them the way Jesus did (Matt 5–7), we’re confronted with the fact that we’ve all violated them at some point or another. (I don’t know anyone who has always honored their father and mother.)

If everyone lived by the Ten Commandments, the world would be a peaceful place. But again, we’re rebellious. The Ten Commandments reveal something about us: we’re weaker than we would like to believe. They also reveal something about our place before God: it’s not good—not without Jesus’ saving act that redeems us from our sins.

In John 4:1–26, we see Jesus confront a woman at a well who, like us, is a commandment-breaker. And because, as a Samaritan woman, she worships in a different place and in a different way than Jewish people, she is further frowned upon by the people around her. This makes Jesus’ remark to her all the more startling: “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Jesus tells her that He is what she is searching for—not rules or justification for her lifestyle as a commandment-breaker.

We commandment-breakers can live as legalists or attempt to justify our own decisions. Or we can do something entirely different and admit our need for the living water: Jesus. We can recognize that our religion or inability to keep commandments is not what matters most—what really matters is what God can do for us. We must acknowledge our weakness and need for Him. We must say, like the woman, “He [being Jesus] told me everything that I have done” (John 4:39).

How is religion, self-deprivation, or legalism standing between you and God?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

John D. Barry is the CEO and founder of Jesus’ Economy, a nonprofit dedicated to creating jobs and churches in the developing world. To empower the extreme poor, Jesus’ Economy also has an online fair trade shop. John is also the general editor of Faithlife Study Bible and the former editor-in-chief of Bible Study Magazine. Learn more about John’s work with Jesus’ Economy at www.jesuseconomy.org.