Romans Bible Guide – Day 30

Previously, in Romans: Paul’s writing to two cultures and religions in these house churches –Jewish followers of Jesus, and Gentile newcomers to God’s goodness in Jesus. And Paul’s taking a stab at the big story God’s writing for both groups, one that he hopes will eventually include a shared connection to God.

Romans 11:13-24

13 Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry 14 in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. 15 For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! 16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous…’ – In turning his attention to the Gentile members of the house churches, Paul plays the Greco-Roman boasting game for a minute. The amazing things God is doing through Paul around the Roman Empire are inspiring some of his fellow Jews to turn to Jesus.
  • ‘the reconciliation of the world’ – These Roman house churches might total 50, 100, or a few more people in total. Yet Paul says small at this seems, God is doing something big – reconciling the whole world! Maybe we’ve taken this historical arc for granted, but think about it. After over 1,000 years, whatever story God was doing with the Jews impacted only a few thousand people in a relatively small area around Palestine. As a result of Jewish resistance toward Jesus’ good news, Paul and others are inspired to take the news elsewhere. And it goes viral! God’s original vision of light to the whole world is coming true. And when Jews accept what God is doing too, it will be yet another great story of life out death.
  • ‘dough… root…’ – Paul offers two images to explain what’s happening with this sudden growth. The bit of starter dough given to God as a temple offering is still special even when it’s expanded to feed a family. And the small root of a tree contains the same goodness you see in all its branches. So with God’s story – first to the Jews, then to the Greeks. God has always been good, and all of the people who connect with God – original members of the family as well as the latest additions – get access to that same goodness.
  • ‘a wild olive shoot’ – Though they’re more numerous than the Jews, from Paul’s perspective (and perhaps God’s?), the Gentiles are the new kids on the block. Or now that Paul is working his horticultural metaphor, they are the wild shoot grafted into God’s tree.
  • ‘do not boast over the branches’ – As a fellow Jew, Paul has told Jews again that they can’t claim superior privilege to the Gentiles. Neither genealogical connection to Abraham nor access to God’s law they held dear makes them superior to the rest of humanity. Now Paul addresses the much more numerous Gentiles, who were part of a Roman anti-Semitic culture. Just because they’re following Jesus and they see some Jews who are not doesn’t make them better either. Core to Paul’s message, and core to Jesus’ story, is that we’re all in this together. Culture, faith, and religion aren’t meant to be separators.
  • ‘otherwise you also will be cut off’ – Paul’s warnings about pride get pretty severe. At least in the olive tree image he’s developing, he threatens that these new followers of Jesus can get cut off as well. When I was younger, I think I heard these lines about being connected or cut off from God as speaking to eternal destiny. I don’t think that any more. After all, the cut-off branches here are Jews who’ve rejected Jesus, and Paul’s whole point in this passage is that God’s going to connect them again someday. I think it’s almost more literal. It’s about connection to God, from which we can draw life. Live humbly, and don’t judge your neighbor, and you can stay in God’s kindness. Be proud and judge your neighbor, and you’ll be disconnected and experience God as severe.Jesus himself said that if we forgive others, we’ll be forgiven, but that if we don’t offer others grace, we can’t receive grace ourselves. There’s something deep in human nature and relationships and God’s law at play here. How we relate to others is integral to how we end up experiencing relationship with God.
  • ‘how much more will these natural branches be grafted back’ – If God can gather all these non-Jews into the family of faith, he certainly can reconnect the Jewish people to his good news and life again. Paul began Chapter 9 anxiously asking about the fate of his Jewish people. He’s moving toward a hopeful answer.

Taking It Home:

For youAre you living in strain in any relationship? Perhaps stuck in resentment or bitterness or superiority? As justified as you may be, ask God for help in letting go of this to free you to give and receive grace and kindness with all of your heart.

For your six – If any of your six are Jewish, pray that they will find treasure in their heritage and an ever-increasing living connection to God. Pray that all of your six would know that God is eager to include them in his life.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 29

Previously, in Romans: Paul’s been discussing the irony of what looks like growing Gentile connection to God and growing Jewish disconnection from God.

Romans 11:1-12

11 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,

“God gave them a sluggish spirit,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”

And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and keep their backs forever bent.”

11 So I ask, have they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!


Points of Interest:

  • ‘Has God rejected his people’ – You’ll remember that in Chapter 9, Paul suggested this was God’s prerogative, that he’s free to have mercy on whomever he’ll have mercy. But what does this mean for the faithfulness and righteousness of God that’s central to the message of Romans?
  • ‘I myself am an Israelite’ – Exhibit A is Paul, a Jew himself. So that’s at least one person in Abraham’s Jewish family who’s still turning toward God as revealed in Jesus.
  • ‘seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal’ – Exhibit B is a recasting of an old Jewish story from I Kings 19. Elijah is very depressed and feels entirely alone. God has him rest and eat and gives him an experience of feeling God close to him. Then one of the ways God reassures him is by telling him there are 7,000 other people who, like Elijah, have been faithful to God. He is not alone. Paul himself has felt angst and pressure over the rejection of Jesus by so many of his fellow Jews. Similarly, though, he is not alone. There are many other Jewish followers of Jesus.
  • ‘it is by grace’ – What explains this minority response to Jesus? Why do some find Jesus to be good and true, and others don’t? Does it speak to something superior in their intellect or morality? Nope, it’s just kindness, just grace.
  • ‘the rest were hardened’ – If grace explains those that have responded to God, what about those that haven’t? I find Paul’s implications troubling. Recalling language from Chapter 9 again, he says they were closed off to God and implies that God caused this to happen. The quotations are a mash-up of Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10, and then an excerpt from Psalm 69. In its original context, the Psalm speaks of David’s enemies as the enemies of God. Here Paul makes the surprising interpretive move of applying that line to people who saw themselves as God’s chosen.
  • ‘have they stumbled so as to fall?’ – So I confess to not fully following Paul’s logic here. But it’s something like this. Many, but not all, of Paul’s fellow Jews were resistant to the good news of Jesus. They were looking for God, but didn’t think God would look like Jesus, so they missed it. Maybe this is even partly God’s fault. Why? Because he wanted to evict them from the neighborhood and give their spot to the Gentiles? Well, not exactly. Somehow, their fall left room for the Gentiles’ rise. Now that they see Gentiles enjoying the full favor of God, they will be jealous and come back and that will be even better!We’ll break here before reaching the end of Paul’s logic, but for now, it feels like he’s devising an explanation for this part of God’s story that troubles him. It’s like he’s excited for the growing number of new in-laws and adoptees at God’s family reunion but sad over the long-time family members that don’t come around anymore. So he finds a way of explaining their temporary absence, even while he looks forward to a day when they’ll return.

Taking It Home:

For youLet’s take the logic of this passage in a different direction. Has any part of you been hardened toward God? Disinterested in or even resistant to God’s guidance? Without worrying about why this is so, ask God to bring something good even out of this hardening. And pray that in this area, God will give you hope and receptivity to him again.

For your church/city – Pray for people in your city, or perhaps former members of your church, who have maybe stumbled in faith and lost it. Pray that Jesus would give life to many former churchgoers and going-through-the-motions current churchgoers as well.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 28

Previously, in Romans: After grieving over so many of his fellow Jews’ rejection of Jesus, Paul has reiterated just how close and good and alive Jesus is, encouraging the Romans that all people who “call on Jesus” will be saved.

Romans 10:14-10:21

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” 16 But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” 17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 Again I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”


Points of Interest:

  • ‘but how are they to call…?’ – Paul asks a series of leading questions that move from the power of connecting with Jesus to the importance of the people that make that connection possible. Rome has its ambassadors and armies, and Jesus has his messengers. For the Romans, this might call to mind the people that first started their house church communities or perhaps Paul himself.
  • ‘how beautiful are the feet…’ – This sounds like a funny idiom, but it’s another Old Testament reference, again from Isaiah (52:7). Paul edits the quotation pretty significantly to suit his context, applying the passage to the good news of Jesus shared by human messengers throughout the earth. But the whole second half of Isaiah shares the narrative arc of the book of Romans – that God, in the person of a servant, will bring renewal not only to Jews but to all the earth. Paul says it’s happened, and the people helping make it happen are beautiful, or at least their feet are.
  • ‘for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed…”’ – The disappointment Paul feels that so many people have rejected God’s good news is also predicted in Isaiah. Perhaps Paul takes at least comfort in knowing that it’s always been this way.
  • ‘their voice has gone out…’ – The quotation in verse 18 is from Psalm 19. The psalm is about the wonders of nature that show everyone the power and beauty of God. Here Paul applies it to the message of Jesus, which is filling his known world as he writes this.
  • ‘I will make you jealous…’ – Now we’re back to Deuteronomy again. (32:21) In its original context, Moses is saying that when Israel loses interest in God, God will prosper surrounding nations as a wake-up call for them to come back to him. Here Paul applies the “make your ex jealous” image to his first century context. The good news of Jesus is going out to all the earth, with at least some non-Jews joyfully benefitting from the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.
  • ‘Then Isaiah is so bold as to say’ – Paul completes another one of his Old Testament mash-ups. I actually get a big kick out of Paul’s confidence that in the story of Jesus, he’s unlocked the key to understanding such a wide range of Hebrew scripture, often employing it differently than how it was originally understood. Paul ends this section with the powerful image of God extending welcoming hands. People who weren’t even looking for God’s welcome are receiving it, while those that were originally welcomed are stubbornly turning their backs.Paul is so glad that the Greco-Roman world is connecting with God through the welcoming hands of Jesus. But he can’t get over his frustration and grief that his own people have been too busy interpreting the law and fighting the Romans to receive the welcome God has for them.

Taking It Home:

For youHow did you first hear about Jesus? What was your initial response? Thank God for his past and present welcome of you. Consider saying thanks, or sending a thank you note today, to someone who was a beautiful messenger of the good news of Jesus to you.

For your church/city – Pray that more people from your church would become beautiful-footed messengers of the good news of Jesus. Pray this would happen in ways your city can joyfully respond to and see as God’s welcome to them.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 27

Previously, in Romans: Paul has been exploring why many of his fellow Jews didn’t recognize Jesus as the mercy and compassion of God for them.

Romans 10:5-10:13

Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


Points of Interest:

  • ‘the person who does these things will live by them’ – This line attributed to Moses is in several places in Deuteronomy, the last of the Old Testament’s opening five books, often called the law for short. In fact, it’s almost a thesis statement for Moses, and it shows up in a key moment in Chapter 30, which is something of a climactic one. “Do what God says, and you will live!” he says. Of course, in Romans, Paul says it’s rarely that simple. People don’t simply do these things. They have opinions about them, they complicate them, they take the law’s ropes and look for loopholes for themselves and nooses for others.
  • ‘but the righteousness from faith’ – Paul is bold enough to say that there’s a better way than what Moses emphasized. Drawing back to his own thesis statement (1:17), Paul says you live when you get the good life out of a trusting relationship. God’s not looking for minions, but partners and friends and children.
  • ‘the word is near you’ – Paul digs back to that same chapter of Deuteronomy and wonders if Moses saw this as well, whether or not he realized what he was seeing. The three quotations in verses six through eight are also all from the same thirtieth chapter of Deuteronomy. Moses was saying poetically that God’s words aren’t out of reach for you. Paul takes it further. God’s word is Jesus. And you don’t need to do anything impressive or extraordinary or even particularly mystical to find him. He’s right here, as close as your speech and your mind and your heart.
  • ‘confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord’ – If Jesus the word is so near, how do we find him with our lips and heart? One way Paul suggests is a subversive oath of loyalty. To confess with your lips that Caesar is Lord is to give your loyalty to the tyrannical regime of Rome. Perhaps you’d say this as you gain your citizenship or serve in the army. Paul subverts this phrase and tells the Romans that if they offer this loyalty to Jesus, they will find rescue and standing in this life and the next. This feels like both an insult and a promise. It’s an insult to the pretend claims to ultimate power that any tyrant or institution can ever make. And it’s a promise that Jesus can deliver good to us in ways they never can.
  • ‘and believe in your heart…’ – The loyalty oath is really just the beginning of a compact, but pretty full treatment of connecting with this so-close living word of Jesus. Verses 9-10 are a chiasm, a common Hebrew poetical/rhetorical form that Paul makes use of, even while writing in Greek. Chiasm begins with one thing, moves on to the next, and then reverses course.Here the chiasm begins with what you say with your lips, then moves to what you believe in your heart, and then reverses, with a repeat of the heart and then another statement about what you say. Chiasm serves to focus attention most in the center, here the two-fold invitation to heart belief. The invitation here is to believe at the center of your being that Jesus has been raised from the dead. That’s connected to justification – comfortable and confident standing with God. Why is this so important? Well, if Jesus is no longer dead, he is alive still, able to communicate, to love, to help, to intercede – in short, to be there as our help and friend and backer.
  • ‘no one who believes in him will be put to shame’ – Paul just quoted this line from Isaiah in chapter 9. But it’s important enough to bring up in his little summary here. It’s hard to emphasize just how much being put to shame was the great fear of both Jew and Gentile in Paul’s age. To be exposed as a loser in society’s status rankings, to lose standing and reputation and the privileges they conferred – this was the great fear, or the tragic reality, of Paul’s audience.I wonder how much times have changed. In my more honest moments, I am aware that fear of failure and insignificance loom as pretty powerful forces in my imagination, ready to haunt me and drive a defensive, stressful existence. With Jesus, this possibility is off the table. God will be generous to all the Jesus people, regardless of their cultural or religious background, and regardless of their standing in the world. And Paul will insist that these churches mirror this reality as well.

Taking It Home:

For youWant to try a “word is so near” moment for yourself? If you’re ready, say with your lips, Jesus is Lord. I’ll wait, go ahead – “Jesus, you are Lord”…. And then ask Jesus for faith to believe that he is risen from the dead, alive and present still. Thank Jesus for making you a child of God and promising that you will never be put to shame.

For your 6 – Like those people looking up to heaven or the abyss for God, are any of your six in an uphill battle to find meaning and significance and love and standing in the world. Perhaps you don’t even know if they feel that way. Pray for them all by name, that they would know Jesus as near to them, advocating for them and giving them all that they are looking for and more.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 26

Previously, in Romans: Paul has retold the story of Israel, reminding the Romans that God in inclined toward mercy but whether people reject or receive that mercy is unpredictable. So far, both have continued to happen.

Romans 9:30-10:4

30 What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; 31 but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32 Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

10 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘righteousness through faith’ – Paul is back to the language of Chapters 1-4, when he insisted that for all of human history – or at least since Abraham – God has made people right through trusting him, not through human status or achievement.
  • ‘Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it’ – Obviously, given the last chapter, Paul isn’t praising all Gentiles and criticizing all Jews. He is highlighting the irony that people who weren’t looking to be right with God found it, and that others who cared about this so much have missed it.
  • ‘a stone that will make people stumble’ – So many Jews missed what God was doing because they got tripped up on this stone that God himself put there. What’s the stone, and why would God do such a thing?Well, the stone is likely Jesus, who is sometimes compared to a stone that builders reject who then becomes the cornerstone, the most important stone in the new building. (Psalm 118:22, Acts 4:11) Here Paul is quoting directly from the prophet Isaiah (28:16 and 8:14), again from contexts that many Jews thought related to God’s promised King, the Messiah. Jesus – a Messiah who dies to redeem and reconcile rather than conquers to restore land and political freedom – is a disappointment, a reject. But he becomes the centerpiece in God’s extension of mercy. On these terms, God isn’t trying to trip people up. God offers himself as he is – sacrificial, compassionate, merciful – and can’t help it if people don’t recognize him.
  • ‘not be put to shame’ – Paul echoes earlier themes that trusting in the shameful scandal of the cross means being free from all of society’s honor/shame codes and never again fearing shame.
  • ‘they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened’ – Zeal for God, in Jewish history and in Paul’s first century context, was seen as a passion for devoted obedience to God and defending God’s honor against human opposition. Paul, just as Jesus did, sees this zeal in an unenlightened passion for God’s law that is in opposition to the love and sacrifice and peace seen in Jesus on the cross. God is not looking for “fanatical violence”, but “acceptance of grace.” (Jewett, Romans, 131-132) For now, Paul sees many of his fellow Jews stuck in this kind of zealous so-called righteousness that keeps them from God. He prays that they’ll discover God’s righteousness in Jesus and set aside their law.

Taking It Home:

For youThere is nothing you can do to make God love and accept you more than he does today. It is all on the basis of faith. If you believe in Jesus, you will never be put to shame. Meditate on these assurances for you.

For your world – Pray for the religious zealots of our own time, be they Islamic jihadists or Christian separatists or fundamentalists of any stripe. Pray that they would find “righteousness through faith” and set aside their “law of works” and find peace with God and others.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 24

Previously, in Romans: Paul completed an eight chapter-long tour of God’s good news in Jesus, given to Jews first, and then to Greeks.

Romans 9:1-18

9 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

It is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 Nor is that all; something similar happened to Rebecca when she had conceived children by one husband, our ancestor Isaac. 11 Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, 12 not by works but by his call) she was told, “The elder shall serve the younger.” 13 As it is written,

“I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.”

14 What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. 17 For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘I am not lying’ – Paul isn’t, and I’ll try not to! Romans 9-11 is challenging material. Some readers have viewed it as the centerpiece of the whole letter, and others have wondered if it was a tangent that went out of control but then unedited. Like all of Romans, scholars and pastors and priests have had vociferous disagreements over its meaning. But for some of us, this section can feel more abstract, less immediately relevant, and so tougher to slog through than the rest of the book. Paul is clearly getting personal here, but he’s also trying to wrestle through the implications of the good news of Jesus for God’s larger story and character. Let’s see where that takes him, and us.
  • ‘I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish’ – This is an unusually intense way of phrasing the idiom about losing sleep over something. Here it’s Paul’s pain that most of his fellow first century Jews did not receive Jesus as God’s great gift to them. What does this say about God, and about history, and about Paul’s own culture and people? If you’re Jewish yourself, or closely connected to Jews you care about, you may share these questions. But even if not, we all wonder what it says that some people we love lack interest in Jesus. This raises some of the same questions for us about God and about them. Perhaps we can enter into this material sensitive to that.
  • ‘for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh’ – Calvinist theological traditions have viewed these chapters as an affirmation of the inherent worthlessness of humanity and the justice of a God who freely chooses to have mercy on some humans and reject others. We’re reminded again in the introduction that Paul isn’t developing a cold-hearted, abstract theological system. Rather, he’s trying to come to terms with a personal and painful dilemma. His cousins, his mentors, and likely his parents and his siblings – along with the majority of his culture – seem to have cut themselves off from Jesus. Paul would give away what he has for the chance for them to have it. And so again, how can he and the Romans and we come to terms with this tension that some respond to Jesus gladly and with faith, and others do not?
  • ‘to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants…’ – Earlier in Romans, Paul made the point that Jews have no more honor or privilege than Gentiles – we are all in this together. Now Paul reminds his mixed Jewish/Gentile house churches in Rome of just how wonderful and beautiful has the Jewish experience been. An implication here is also just how much Gentile followers of Jesus owe to the Jewish experience. Rome was a hotbed of anti-Semitism, and Paul offers a strong correction to any of that attitude that might have filtered into the house churches.
  • ‘from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah’ – As much as this shouldn’t need saying, Paul reminds everyone that Jesus was Jewish as well. I attended a largely Jewish university in the 1990s, and even then, lots of students raised in culturally Christian contexts had, at one time or another, been told that the Jews killed Jesus. This pernicious past teaching of many church traditions bubbles up still. Here Paul reminds that God could have become a person of any ethnicity he chose, but he became a Jew.
  • ‘It is not as though the word of God had failed.’ – This is exactly the problem that Paul needs to address, that it appeared to some, and maybe even to Paul sometimes, that the word of God had failed. How could God be faithful and persuasive when so many of his first chosen people group didn’t say yes to Jesus?
  • ‘the children of the promise are counted as descendants’ – With Abraham, Paul begins retelling of the story of Israel, reminding that who seems to be “in” and “out” of God’s promises has always been complicated.
  • ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ – My oldest child once noticed – much to her chagrin – what many oldest child Bible readers come across at one point – that the Hebrew scriptures seem to have a thing for the younger ones. God’s always subverting cultural expectations of who will end up closest to God. With this reminder, Paul intentionally highlights some of the Old Testament passages that most seem to indicate God playing favorites, but in the opposite direction of what people might have expected.
  • ‘He says to Moses, “I will have mercy…”’ – In its original context (Exodus 33 and 34), Moses heard this word from God as an assurance of just how deeply merciful and compassionate God is. God was indicating to Moses that his mercy and love are far greater and longer-lasting than his disappointment and anger. This is a reminder that when Paul is exploring what “in” and “out” mean with God, he’s doing so relative to a God of mercy and compassion beyond what we can usually see right now.
  • ‘he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses’ – Paul applies this remarkable mercy to the story of Israel’s exodus from slavery under the Egyptian Pharaoh. Without ever excusing the Pharaoh’s violence and tyranny, Exodus also says that God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, that God had agency in increasing this ruler’s stubbornness and resistance. Is this part of how God works in the world, choosing some for favor and rejecting others in hatred? Paul raises this question and says this is certainly God’s prerogative and is one way of understanding his history to this point.

Taking It Home:

For youWho have you known who has appeared to reject faith in Jesus, or to be resistant to God? Has this been your own story at any point? How does this make you feel about God? What hope can it give you that everything depends on God’s compassion and mercy, and that God has limitless supplies of those?

For your 6 – Have any of your six seen themselves as outside of God’s mercy, or have any of them come to believe that God or the universe is fundamentally unjust. Pray for an experience of undeserved mercy, kindness, compassion, and being chosen.

Romans Bible Guide – Day Twenty-three

Previously, in Romans: We have wrapped up a long overview of the benefits of being united with Jesus, part of God’s growing family of faith.

Romans 8:31-39

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘What then are we to say…’ – This sounds like a conclusion, and indeed it is. So we can expect some summary and some implications – review of the prior content and some sense of why it matters as well. Let’s notice some of the summary first, and then some of the celebratory punch of what it all means.
  • ‘God is for us’ – The law of Moses or the laws of nature can make us wonder if God is against us or if God has abandoned us or never been around in the first place. Paul wants to convince us that God is righteous and active in love for us – good, and faithful, and present for our good.
  • ‘did not withhold his own Son’ – Participating in Jesus’ sacrificial love for our sakes is the chief evidence of just how much God is for us.
  • ‘also give us everything else’ – The prosperity either of our contemporary moguls and celebrities or of the Roman elite Paul’s readers knew about doesn’t seem to be in view here. The “everything else” is something richer and better, what Paul has been calling glorification. This is a future, only partly experienced in the present, in which we’re united with God’s beauty and love and joy and authority.
  • ‘it is God who justifies’ – Paul has used the word justification often in the last several chapters, and I have often referred to it as standing. Here Paul fleshes out that standing by contrasting it to being charged or condemned. To have standing with God is to be above accusation or shame. It is to never fear charges being brought against us. It is to be above rejection and condemnation and judgment.
  • ‘who intercedes for us’ – This is the living Jesus, not just praying for us, but standing in the way of anyone who tries to bring charges or to condemn.
  • ‘Will hardship, or distress, or persecution… or sword?’ In the middle of this review and celebration, we get a pretty vivid window into the difficulties Paul and other first century followers of Jesus faced. There was an awful lot of rejection and hardship involved. Paul isn’t left asking “why?” but observing that these supposedly powerful forces are impotent. They can’t stop God’s good purposes and they can’t separate us from God’s love. This raises an interesting question for me – given the choice, would I prefer comfort and ease, or purpose and love and belonging?
  • ‘will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ – The chapter that began with “no condemnation” ends poetically with “no separation.” God’s love wins again.

Taking It Home:

For youTake a look at the final two verses. Which of those things can seem to threaten separation from God’s love? For me, ironically, it is life, not death. I don’t much fear being disconnected by God after I die, but can experience present life as overwhelming enough to make me wonder how loved I am. What calls God’s love and power into doubt in your life? Ask God to experience God’s love right there, as greater.

For your city/church – Pray for people who are most facing rejection and suffering to know God’s love for them today. For people in the world who love Jesus and face these kind of first century persecutions and consequences, pray for God’s courage and love for them as well.

Romans Bible Guide – Day Twenty-two

Previously, in Romans: We are moving toward the climax of this remarkable section of Romans, which has said Jesus’ life with us leads to no condemnation and to intimate connection with God, even as we all still stuffer and wait and hope for full redemption.

Romans 8:26-30

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ – Truer words have never been spoken. We are so weak and overwhelmed sometimes that we don’t even know where to start. Or perhaps our inability to pray is yet another sign of our weakness. Regardless, God is there for us. This is not a sign that the Spirit has left us, but is the very moment in which the Spirit is eager to help. The Holy Spirit living within the child of God pulls our unspoken prayers out to our “Abba” even when all we can do is sigh. Prayer encompasses more than our words – it is broader and deeper than that.
  • ‘God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes’ – We’re treading on mysterious ground here, but what a beautiful thought that while being too weak to even know how to pray, we can be at the center of the life of the Triune God – one God comprised of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. United with Jesus in our lives, the Spirit inside us and the Father hearing our prayers communicate with one another and advance God’s will, while we’re sighing or sleeping or fumbling in our prayers. Deep.
  • ‘all things work together for good for those who love God’ – This doesn’t say that all things are good, but that God can take all things and find ways to use them for good. This is more of the meaning of redemption in Jesus, that Jesus has bought our life and freedom, and will continue to take every part of our experience and shape it toward our good.
  • ‘foreknew… predestined… called… justified… glorified’ – This series of verbs has been used to develop some abstract systems of how it is that God works in the world. These systems, particularly in the tradition of Protestant reformer John Calvin, have made God look like a controlling micro-manager who leaves little room for human choice in the big story of how our lives play out. The context here, though, is God working all things for good in those people that love God. Those are the people God has clearly called and has a purpose for. These verbs further elucidate what that calling and purpose look like. If you love God, Paul’s saying, he knew you ahead of time and had good purposes for you (foreknew, predestined). Then God called your name, and gave you standing and importance with God. And now you’re on your way toward a future of unimaginable beauty and perfection (justified, glorified). The emphasis doesn’t seem to be on people who don’t seem to love God, but on a bigger picture of what’s happening with those who do.
  • ‘conformed to the image of his Son’ – Conformity can be a dirty word in the modern West. But here we’re not talking about control, manipulation, or the loss of one’s individuality. Instead, it’s a reinforcement of all Romans 5 and 6 were about – that God’s life plan for you is for you to become like Jesus. Your version of Jesus might not be identical to anyone else’s, but it will have all the life and power and peace and truth that attracted you to Jesus, just in your mind and in your skin.
  • ‘firstborn within a large family’ – I love this little note on God’s hopes for people connected to Jesus. Not unlike some other parents I know, God always wanted a big family. Jesus, remarkable as he is as a firstborn, isn’t enough. God wants lots of other kids, little siblings who bear our own resemblance to big brother Jesus.

Taking It Home:

For youLittle siblings in a large family can sometimes feel unseen. Is there any part of your past or present that doesn’t look like it fits into this hopeful future for you of God working all things for good? Ask God to share his promise that even that will become part of a happy family story. Ask God for hope that every good purpose God has for you will be accomplished.

For your six – Pray that God will hear the unspoken prayers of your six and connect them more with God, so they can have the deep sense of purpose that is part of that connection.

Romans Bible Guide – Day Twenty-One

Previously, in Romans: Paul’s exploring the beautiful life in the Spirit that all Jesus followers have access to, one that’s low on fear and death and high on connection and love and life.

Romans 8:18-25

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘the sufferings of the present time’ – This beautiful life isn’t without pain. Paul had a friend, for instance, who had been expelled from Rome when Emperor Claudius deported Jews from the city in 49 A.D. (Acts 18:2 tells that story.) So persecution, of Jews and of Jesus followers, may be in view here. Paul’s line of “suffering with Christ” is verse 17 might support this too. This line also might reflect Paul’s sympathy with the Roman underclass, who represented the majority of the city and the house church members. Rome’s propaganda proclaimed a golden age of peace and prosperity, but that wasn’t so for most people. And beyond these details, there’s an affirmation that suffering – physical and emotional – is a significant part of the human experience.
  • ‘the glory about to be revealed to us’ – It’s as if Paul tells them to think of the worst suffering they know and without being at all glib about it, says that it can’t compare with the glory God is about to show us. Paul has already said that our human destiny, if we’re united with Jesus, is to be united in his resurrection life and to share in his glory. (5:2) This glory might include everything from the first deep resurrection breath we take in after death to the glow on our faces as we celebrate God’s presence and love together at our next worship gathering.
  • ‘the creation waits with eager longing’ – What a cool image! Paul pictures the whole created order chained in a prison cell, just waiting for the children of God to release it and be restored to its beauty and freedom. Trees, rocks, ocean waves, endangered species – all creation – is decaying and waiting for God’s restoration to glory. God’s children – acting in freedom and glory – will take the lead in making this so. Paul’s cosmic vision of the earth’s suffering and renewal gets to the most beautiful vision of ecological renewal centuries before anyone might have expected it!
  • ‘the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now’ – Paul moves from prison to childbirth. I have never seen anything quite so scary, intense, earthy, beautiful, and powerful as my wife in labor with our three children. This mix of pain and expectation and hope characterizes all creation as it waits to be restored by Jesus to its full glory. I hear a nod to the Adam and Eve story from Romans 5. The first children of God set in motion decay and bondage – their own and that of all creation. That’s an old story that continues in each generation. God’s new adopted family he’s pulling together in Jesus will turn all that around.
  • ‘we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly’ – Life in the Spirit has not instantly removed all human vulnerability. To groan with suffering, or to groan with hope not yet fulfilled is a deeply honest human impulse, even for the child of God.
  • ‘we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies’ – Just like state adoptions these days, God’s adoption process apparently takes a while. Yesterday we heard about all the benefits we have as adopted children of God, and today we’re reminded that the court’s still working on things. We feel that in the suffering of our bodies, which our new family hasn’t yet healed.
  • ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’ – We could read this as an admonishment to patience, which it probably is. “Keep hope alive!” Paul tells us. Jesus will complete your renewal and that of all of creation. But I also read this today as an affirmation of whatever patience and hope are already there, however small. Jesus understands our pain and doubt, and appreciates that faith is requiring a lot of hope and patience.

Taking It Home:

For you – Lots of extraordinary imagery in this short passage. Choose one image – creation waiting for freedom, creation groaning in labor, our own groaning, our wait for our adoption to be finalized – and meditate upon it. Let your imagination ponder it for a few minutes, and talk to God about whatever comes of that.

For your earth – Identify one way that creation is in bondage and decay, some way you’re aware of the world as it was not meant to be. Be as local or global as you wish, but be specific. Pray that God will equip some of his children to bring this to renewal and change this situation to glory.

Romans Bible Guide – Day Twenty

Previously, in Romans: Paul has begun exploring just how good life in Jesus, with the Spirit of God, can be, even in our current state of vulnerability.

Romans 8:9-17

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.


Points of Interest:

  • ‘you are not in the flesh’ – For a moment, we’ve got to wonder if Paul’s pushing for an alternate reality spiritual mind game, imagining a new, disembodied existence. Let’s see if it’s something else, though, by examining what Paul says about being “in the flesh” vs. “in the Spirit.”
  • ‘you are in the Spirit’ – Firstly, this is more about identity than behavior or day to day living. And the Spirit of God doesn’t dwell in some of Paul’s Roman Jesus-following readers, but in all of them – maybe all of them individually, and certain all of them collectively.
  • ‘will give life to your mortal bodies’ – For a moment, Paul sounded like Plato and other Greek philosophers, who taught that the body is a decaying mess of trouble, but the human spirit is immortal and beautiful and worthy of cultivation. Paul says that being united with Jesus in new life, though, means life in our dying bodies. This could be a promise of resurrection after death, a hope Paul certainly believed in and taught. But given where Paul goes in the second paragraph, it also seems like a present-day reality worth exploring. A more alive experience inside our own bodies is ours to have in this life.
  • ‘we are debtors, not to the flesh’ – We owe it to Jesus, or maybe we owe it to ourselves, to not pay into death-dealing ways of living, even if they are intuitive to us. In the American Christian tradition, tinged strongly by Calvinist Puritanism, many of us will tend to jump right to private moral choices when we hear this. And fair enough as part of the picture – to owe it to ourselves to not become, or go on as, porn consumers and drug addicts feels like moving towards life in our bodies. But this is by no means all, or even most, of what Paul is focused on. To be caught up in society’s competitiveness, status contests, violence, and race or class or nationality-based exclusion and violence would be equally relevant here, as death-soaked ways of the flesh that Jesus frees us from.
  • ‘you have received a spirit of adoption’ – A huge part of life in the Spirit over life in the flesh is to be accepted and loved, and so to live without fear. When it comes to Spirit vs. flesh, Paul is still riffing on his opening assurance of no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. The primary benefit of the Spirit is being God’s children and God’s heirs.
  • ‘Abba, Father’ – It’s a sweet little beat that Paul leaves the Aramaic word for Dad here, un-translated. This is what Paul would have called his dad as a kid, even what Jesus would have called Mary’s husband Joseph, when Jesus was young. It’s not just what we all get to call the God of the Universe, but the kind of relationship that God wants to have with us.
  • ‘if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we also may be glorified with him’ – Rome under the first century Caesars was not an easy environment to be a follower of Jesus. Under Nero, that was about to become much more true. Paul says, as do all the New Testament writers by the way, that it’s worth it. Being God’s kid, with Jesus as big brother, leads to a life-filled present and a glorious future, so hold onto the family name, even when it’s hard, for whatever reason.

Taking It Home:

For youWhatever it was you called your dad as a kid, try starting a conversation with God with that name. If you didn’t have a dad, or if that was a lousy relationship, use the name you wish you would have had. Keep in mind that this parent-God chooses to adopt you and wants you to be in this relationship without fear. See where this conversation goes; try letting it linger.

For your 6 – Simply ask that God would be this same kind of parent to each of them.