Thursday, December 15, 2011

Believing In Him (part 44)

Importantly, we and the body of believers in Rome are reminded of the purpose of the words of the fourteenth chapter, and of much of the letter itself, by the words of the fifth verse of chapter fifteen: “Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus” (15:5).  Unity, especially at the table of fellowship, was to be a hallmark of the church of Christ that lived out the kingdom of God as exampled by the life and ministry of Jesus.  Why was unity, across both the social spectrum and the long-term ethnic (Jew & Gentile) divide so crucial, “so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (15:6).  Obviously, this “voice” was both verbal and non-verbal; and the unity that was productive of this voice would run back to its basis, which was the belief in Jesus and the Gospel of the kingdom that provided justification for all. 

Is there really a place here to consider justification, with its production of a kingdom of Jesus believing Jew and Gentile children of Abraham?  From the beginning of chapter fourteen, we have been looking at the meal table through the lens of Jewish and Gentile sensibilities, and Paul is sure to bring this back squarely into focus when he instructs this body of Jesus believers to “Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory” (15:7).  This “receiving” probably carries with it an element of election, and is directed to both Jew and Gentile, who stand in equality before God, doing so on the basis of their belief in Jesus and their unswerving loyalty to Him. 

However, one might be tempted to ask if the Jew/Gentile issue is really here in sight.  The answer would come back that it most assuredly is, as Paul unleashes a veritable flood of Scripture, reminding us that the all-inclusive kingdom of God and the Scriptural narrative of His reconciling interaction with the world is always top of mind for him, and writing “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and thus the Gentiles glorify God for His mercy.  As it is written, ‘Because of this I will confess you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to Your name.’  And again it says: ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.’  And again, ‘Praise the Lord all your Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.’  And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will come, and the one who rises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him will the Gentiles hope.’” (15:8-12) 

As we are well aware, this rule over the Gentiles is not a domineering rule, but is something more alone the lines of a surprise, as the Gentile nations are compassionately encompassed within God’s merciful rule, just as God did with Abraham.  Thus, the Gentiles, rather than being subsumed under the previously elected covenant people, with Israel exalted over the nations, praise God that they, through the instrument of the Messiah Jesus, have been made to stand alongside Israel, justified as full and equal participants in the kingdom of God.  Quite rightly then, Paul closes out this section of the letter, encouraging his hearers with “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).  As always, belief is in the foreground.  By that belief, Gentiles are able to join in the hope of Israel, which is the hope of resurrection and new creation, doing so via the power of the Holy Spirit that has been poured out on all (5:5). 

This now brings us back to the fifth chapter of Romans.  By means of recapitulation, this is the point from which we ventured forth into Acts so as to learn about the early/oral history of the church that would have had a hand in shaping Paul’s theology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, along with his understanding of the indiscriminate pouring out of the Holy Spirit.  Our “ology” shaping journey through Acts concluded with chapter fifteen.  There, within a Hellenistic culture that was both powerfully shaped by and reflected in the meal table, that met with the forces of the covenant marking Jewish dietary practice, we underwent a significant amount of reflection, hopefully gleaning a substantial amount of useful information and ideas, always remembering that the church, in some sense, developed around the meal table as it sought to emulate the practice of its Lord, as understood by the stories that it undoubtedly shared about Him. 

This consideration of the meal table and the controversies it engendered, led us to the fourteenth chapter of Romans, where we could glimpse something of Paul’s personal response to the determinations concerning food proffered by the Jerusalem council.  The whole of this side journey, of course, was made with an eye towards justification and the all-important role of faith and its response of believing in Jesus, as we, like our earliest Christian brethren, attempt to navigate their world by means of the compass of God’s covenant faithfulness, in consideration of the implications of the crucifixion and the Resurrection, and the demands of the advent of that ever-expanding kingdom of God that is to be announced to the world via a Gospel that speaks of a shameful, scornful, embarrassing cross, that we might likewise navigate the world in which we find ourselves.

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