Dan Popp
Wise and simple
Romans: The most important book ever written
By Dan Popp
July 8, 2011

So be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. — Jesus (Matt. 10:16b, CEV)

Once again, thanks for taking time to participate with us in the Romans Book Club. I'd like to skip a few verses from where we left off in Chapter 15, and pick up in the midst of Paul's personal remarks, at verse 25:

But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. [NKJV]

This offering is mentioned several times in the New Testament (see especially 1 Cor. 16:1). There are several things to note here: First of all, no one was forced to give, least of all the Romans. Paul's "pitch" is so soft that we may miss it. But Luther asks, "For what other reason should he have mentioned this matter to them? But he wants to incite them that they, induced by the example of the others rather than by a demand, do of their own free will, and without any coercion, what there is to do." (Commentary on Romans)

Leftists picture Jesus with a gun in His hand. He points the gun at someone and demands that he hand over his wallet. The Lord then pockets most of the money, gives a few coins to someone who may or may not be needy, and promises to give him more — if he votes for Him. This is what it must mean when they say, "Jesus was a liberal," because that is what postmodern liberalism does. But the real religion of Christ does something very different, as we see here.

Authentic Christianity never forces anyone to "give."

Second, there are some poor among the saints at Jerusalem. As the Jerusalem Bible notes in a related passage, "The saints are the Christians in Jerusalem who from the earliest days stood in need of help." As I've shown elsewhere, the book of Acts does not describe a kind of Marxist Christianity in the City of Peace. But if it did, the perpetual destitution of that church should be more than adequate warning against redistributive economics.

Third, Paul's reminder that Gentiles owe a debt to the Jews is another tie to bind us together as one family of God.

Lets' move now to the final chapter.

Chapter 16

I'd like to momentarily fly over Paul's personal greetings here, and alight on verse 17.

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. [ESV]

It's a Pharisee who puts up obstacles or hindrances on the road to heaven (see Matt. 23:13).

The doctrine you have been taught, or the instruction which you were given (per Goodspeed) is the plumb line by which all future teaching must be judged — and think how few and basic those early lessons were! "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8, KJV) Jude boldly says that the good news of grace and faith was "once for all delivered to the saints;" that is, the believers (Jude 3 and 4).

Paul has appealed to Scripture many times in this short letter. The doctrine contained in the Word of God has been literally his first (1:2) and final (16:26) authority.

For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites [NASB] ...their own base desires [Mof] ...their own belly. [KJV]

I read here an indictment of the Judaizers, who taught that the kingdom of God is so mundane as to be concerned with trivial matters of meat and drink. (Rom. 14:17)

and through their kind and smooth speech deceive the hearts of the guileless [ABUV] ...with their plausible and pious talk they beguile the hearts of the unsuspecting [Mof] ...naive people [NIV] ...the simple. [KJV]

Each of us, I believe, is vulnerable to what someone has called "The Gospel, And." To the saving grace of God through faith in Christ we must add our works, or abstain from certain foods, or perform religious rites, or learn the "higher secrets," or add this or that "key." The Gnostics made several deadly cults out of this kind of appeal to human pride. It's very seductive. The antidote is the teaching you have learned — the truth that Paul has outlined in this book.

For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. [NKJV] ...and innocent in what is evil. [Wey] ...but simpletons in evil. [NEB]

We don't want to be simple-minded and open to deception, as in the preceding verse; we want to be simple-hearted. That means unalloyed, pure in our devotion. Sometimes this line, be innocent in what is evil, comes to mind when I'm watching a crime drama on TV or listening to the news on the radio. Do I really need to learn how twisted the human heart can become? In disgusting detail? By the way, this verse refutes the notion that only those who have committed heinous sins can minister to heinous sinners. God wants you to be a dunce in the "ways of the world."

Conversely, the directive to be wise in what is good surely implies that there are some things that appear to be good, but are not; and that it's a Christian's responsibility to come to know the difference.

and the God of peace will soon crush Satan beneath your feet. [NEB]

Some translators omit the and, but I think it's important. It makes the promise of treading on the Adversary conditional on the instruction to be wise and be simple.

In Genesis 3:15, God promised that the seed of the woman would "bruise" or "crush" the head of the serpent — though the serpent would wound the Anointed One on the heel. Paul here puts us in the sandals of Jesus, trampling that snake underfoot. We as the "body of Christ" share the duty and the glory of stamping out Satan's rule on this planet. Once again we see God working all things together for good — that is, together with us — who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose. (8:28)

Before ending this meeting, let me ask you to ponder a vision of the God of peace doing violence to one of His fallen creatures, the devil. It might just be that our conception of peace has been too childish. Another area for growth in wisdom.

Next time we'll read Paul's power-packed conclusion, and we'll also go back and look at a verse I skipped on purpose, to conclude our hours together at the Romans Book Club.

© Dan Popp


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