Romans 8:28, Faithful Suffering

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And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (NKJV)

Here is a familiar verse that is often left to stand on its own  in our midst, without context and even that may be shortened to part of the first phrase (“All things work together for good”)! I have even heard Christians use this to support their disobedience to God’s commands, like going ahead to divorce one’s spouse. But, of course, in the larger context of Scripture, “those who love God” also  “… will obey my teaching” (John 14).

Some versions or footnotes read “in all things God works for the good” which relates to issues of text and translation. C. E. B. Cranfield, in his magisterial work (ICC), works through those issues and concludes that the interpretation, as quoted above (in NKJV, AV, RV, Vulgate), “is to be accepted as almost certainly right.” [“Dodd’s objection seems to have no cogency, and we can see no other objection.”]

What is expressed is a truly biblical confidence in the sovereignty of God.”

The obvious limit placed on this, is the knowledge that this confidence is for “those who love God.”

The primary reference of [‘all things‘] is, no doubt, to ‘the sufferings of the present time’ (v. 18), to what Calvin in his comment calls ‘adversities’ or ‘the cross’. That this is so is confirmed by vv. 35-39.”

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul’s meaning is that all things, even those which seem most adverse and hurtful, such as persecution or death itself, are profitable for those who truly love God.”

“. . . such grievous things as are mentioned in v. 35, must serve to help them on their way to salvation, confirming their faith and drawing them closer to their Master, Jesus Christ.  But the reason why all things thus assist believers is, of course, that God is in control of all things. The faith expressed here is faith not in things but in God.”

C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans (ICC)

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Exhortation: “Beware. Be Faithful. Do Right in God’s sight.”

“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an

evil heart of unbelief in deserting from the living God; but

exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of

you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12, 13).

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The New Testament consistently emphasizes the responsibility that we Christians have for each other. The command to exhort one another cannot be obeyed by praying. And it cannot be obeyed by any modern, neutered notion of encouragement.

Have we lost the biblical notion of exhortation? Actually, after much neglect, we quietly nudged it out the door. The Spirit of the Times offered us something more palatable: as for kids, something more like that seducer Sugar.

First, let us be clear about what exhort means. As The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology states it, “to exhort means to exert influence upon the will and decisions of another with the object of guiding him into a generally accepted code of behaviour or of encouraging him to observe certain instructions. Exhortation always presupposes some previous knowledge. It consists of reminding a person of this with the intention that he should carry it out. To exhort is to address the whole man.”

So, then, how has our friend Sugar killed the taste of what God requires from us? Encouragement strides onto center stage. But it is not encouragement to do right, to obey God, to follow his word. Rather, it is encouragement without standards, encouragement in a vacuum, encouragement to “be free, do what is right for you;” not encouragement to do God’s will.

Thus, Encouragement says, “We will be here for you, whatever you do.” Going to rob a bank or murder your enemy? “We are here for you.” Absurd? Let us look at the everyday life of the church when facing issues (i.e. sins) like abortion, divorce, and sodomy. The liberal agenda that encourages homosexuality repulses most of us. But many more Christians approach the abortion issue with the “you just do what’s right for you” philosophy. “We are here for you.” Even the evangelical church builds upon this same sure foundation of sand when facing sins like divorce….

This point needs to be absolutely clear in our minds: In exhortation, there is an “emphasis on the demand for right conduct in this life.” And, we do not set the standard, God’s word does. While in the New Testament “exhortation is an almost stereotyped part of the church’s life,” today, the ever-blowing Zeitgeist seeks to suffocate it. But we can gain the victory in that life and death struggle if we regain some lost territory, especially that of our minds with which we are to love God.

One way in which we have lost ground stems from our switching from the word “exhort”—“to advise or warn earnestly” (Webster)—to the word “encourage”—“to inspire with courage . . . cheer on or up” (Webster).

If we have children who compete in sports, we cheer them on in a race, or on the basketball court or football field. But certainly, that differs from an earnest warning to follow the rules of the event or of the game.

Now, in the New Testament, the Greek word (PARAKALEO) does have this range of meanings and a bit more. As always, the meaning depends on the context. We can see this by looking at the various words which the Revised Standard Version uses to translate it. Of the 109 occurrences of that Greek verb, the most often used translation is “exhort” (20 times). But it is also translated as “encourage” and “entreat” (6 times each); as “comfort” (15 times); and “beseech” (14 times). It also has the basic meaning of “call to” which is translated as “beg” (15 times) in such incidents as the petitions of the demons and of the citizens in the country of the Gadarenes, or as in the blind man’s cry for Jesus’ help.

Different contexts reflect different shades of meaning. When we examine the New International Version, probably the most widely used version, we see that in most instances, it uses “encourage” to replace “exhort” (except, inexplicably, in two verses, probably because of their familiarity). It also uses “urge” as a replacement (four times), and “plead” and “appeal” (once each).

But, here, if we lose ground, the responsibility for that loss falls mostly upon us as the readers, rather than upon the translators. We lose ground only when we focus on “encourage” in its popular sense without paying diligent attention to the text—a key weakness which we Christians have. In these verses, “encourage” has a strong focus: “to remain true to the Lord” (Acts 11:23) or “to the faith” (14:22); “to live lives worthy of God” (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 4:1) and to grow in our love for one another (4:10).

We are encouraged to carry out specific actions: warn, console, or help, depending upon the problem (5:14). And as we encourage others, it is not from the well of our own opinions that we draw water, it is with “careful instruction” (2 Tim 4:2)—that “teaching” of the Apostles which is handed down to us in Scripture.  Clearly, this is not that encouragement in a vacuum (without rules) which prevails today, where the focus turns to self as the final authority (that idolatrous individualism mentioned in chapter one).

That is why when we exhort our fellow Christians, we focus on God’s word. He has entrusted us, as stewards, with his revelation. We are to bring the light of his word to bear on the situation without fearfully shrinking back. And by our words we faithfully encourage those who stumble or who are leaving the narrow way to look at what God’s word reveals. We plead with them to conform their lives to Christ’s commands and directions. And if we are the ones doing the exhorting, we must always be mindful that that “demand for right conduct” comes, not from us, but from God.

–From Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies.

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‘The Love Chapter’

Sad to say, most Christians read a great passage like “The Love Chapter” as if it stands alone, oblivious to the fact that Paul wrote a letter not chapters. First Corinthians, like the rest of the New Testament, stood without chapter divisions for over a millennium….

 

To divorce the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians from the rest of

the letter is to do violence to God’s word. This clouds our

understanding because it betrays the context. Regarding rules for

study, Haddon Robinson on Radio Bible Class is fond of quoting one of

his seminary colleagues: “Context is king.”

 

So, let us look at the context of love in First Corinthians.

Paul describes some of the qualities of love in verse four of

chapter thirteen: long-suffering, kind, absence of envy and

of parading itself, not puffed up. Being puffed up described

the Corinthians themselves (5:4). This attitude allowed them

to overlook sexual immorality in their midst. Paul tells them

that not only are they proud, but they have not “mourned”

(5:2) over this sin. And in chapter 8, he rebuked them:

“knowledge puffs up; but love edifies” (v. 1).

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When we hear those ringing words, “love . . . does not

rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (13:6, italics

added), we should recall the Corinthians’ sinful condition in

chapter 5—their disobedience, displayed by their toleration of

blatant sin in their fellowship. Here, Paul calls for stern measures

of Christian discipline so that they can celebrate Christ’s

sacrifice for sins “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and

truth” (5:8, italics added). The concern expressed in the first

citation (13:6), taken in the context of the letter, should draw

our minds back to the problem confronted in the second citation

(5:8). Note the concern for truth in both passages.

 

Today, it would be a safe assumption to say that the

majority of Christians, including leaders, turn this Scripture

on its head (instead of turning the world up side down—there

goes Murphy’s law again). Many Christians seize upon words

like “love is patient and kind “ and use them to undermine the

Scriptural commands regarding rebuke and discipline which

are to be implemented in the face of disobedience. Again, this

false premise results when we resist holding together those

things which the holy conjunction gives us, things like love

and obedience.

 

We forget that there is only one God who has given us

his word, which both declares “love is patient and kind” and

commands “remove the evil man from among you,” all in

the same letter. When Paul gave the Corinthians that command,

he was quoting Scripture itself (Deut. 17:7, LXX).

Such discipline served God’s gracious, loving purposes so

that “all the people shall hear and fear, and not act presumptuously

again” (Deut. 17:13, KJV). God does not desire “that any should

perish” (2 Pet. 3:9); he calls all to turn from their sin; but when there

are those who continue in their willful defiance of his commands, for

the sake of the health of his bride, his people, he will not tolerate it.

Earlier, Paul had asked the Corinthians, “Do you (plural)

not know that you (the congregation) are the temple of God

and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (pl.)? If anyone

defiles the temple (the congregation) of God, God will

destroy him. For the temple (congregation) of God is holy,

which temple you (pl.) are” (1 Cor. 3:16, 17).

God’s concern here is for the health of his Body, his

church (assembly) in Corinth. Love and obedience are the

keys to this congregation’s well being.

 

Today, this concern is lost among many evangelical

Christians. We so emphasize personal salvation that we

diminish Christ’s concern for his Body, his assembly of

believers wherever it may meet. To use a phrase of Elton

Trueblood’s, we make small what Christ made large. Why?

Again, we dispense with the holy conjunction, “and”—this

to our detriment. If we are to be whole and holy, we must

remedy our neglect. Otherwise, we will never get out of one

of the traps set for us by the spirit of our day—the trap of

individualism.  

Too often, as American Christians, we have fallen for this

potential heresy. But as one Christian radio commentary put

it, “The spirit of individualism is one of the false gods of our

modern age . . . it presumes the individual person is the final

authority in his or her own life.”

 

 

This individualistic spirit is not new. Paul exhorted the

Corinthians, “Love . . . does not seek its own (lit., the things

of herself).” He also wrote this as a direct command: “Let no

one seek his own” (1Cor. 10:24). This command addressed

the wrong attitude which stemmed directly from the

Corinthians’ misshapen view of Christian freedom. They

displayed this attitude with their slogan, “All things are lawful

for me” (6:12; 10:23).

 

The Apostle exhorted the Corinthians to replace their

self-centered focus with a God-centered one. “Flee sexual

immorality . . . you were bought at a price; therefore glorify

God in your body” (6:18, 20). He turned the focus from self to

love of neighbor: “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s

 well-being” (10:24). “I say this to your shame . . . brother goes

 to law against brother, and that before unbelievers”(6:5,6).

 

Just as Paul could not, Christians who love cannot

remain silent when face to face with fellow believers who

are departing from the narrow way. Though Scripture mandates

that we speak up, this imperative sounds off-key to

generations that have allowed the faceless Zeitgeist to

explain away God’s word through today’s fads.

 

It is not that Earthly Wisdom sings about love in, let’s

say, the key of E, while the Word of God sings about love in,

say, the key of G. This analogy will not work. Rather, we

hear two very different songs; while some of the words do

overlap, the dissimilar tunes ring out with a horrible clash

(that is, if God’s people are singing their song, because the

those of the world are certainly singing theirs).

The key question for us, as Christians, is, “Why are we

deaf to this dissonance?” Well, there is a breeze blowing in

our ears. The prevailing winds lull us to sleep as context is

blown away.

 

–From Love, Prayer, and Forgiveness: When Basics Become Heresies

Copyright 2004 by Michael C. Snow