Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Romans 14:1-9 - The Weak and the Strong of Faith

Paul next moved into a discussion on the weak and the strong in faith.

Romans 14:1-9 (KJV)
1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.

The assembly of believers is to receive the weak in faith, but it can't be with the intention of quarreling over the individuals' faith choices that are not sinful (verse 1). For one believes that he may eat all things, whereas another, who is weak in faith, believes he may only eat herbs (verse 2). Therefore, the one who eats all things is not to despise the one who eats only herbs and the herb eater is not to judge the one who eats all (verse 3). God has accepted both believers.

Only the master of the servant can judge his servant (verse 4). Yeshua is the believer's master who not only judges him, but is able to make him acceptable.

One believer esteems one day above another, but another believer esteems every day alike (verse 5). Each believer must be fully convinced in his own mind as to the rightness or wrongness of his or her actions. In both cases of eating and observing days, these believers act in the manner in which they believe God would be pleased (verse 6).

For no believer lives or dies without accountability to God (verse 7). If the believer lives, it is as a servant to God (verse 8). If the believer dies it is also unto the Lord. Believers belong to the Lord. Because Yeshua died, rose, and revived, He has become the Lord over both the dead and the living (verse 9).

The primary question of this passage is, "Who are the weak and strong of faith?" Traditional Christianity has usually interpreted the weak in faith to be those believers who try to follow Torah, while those who are strong in faith have put aside Torah living. The problem with this understanding is that the discussion is not about Torah observance at all. In Paul's example of the two believers who eat different things, the contrast is between someone who eats only herbs and someone who eats "anything." There are no Torah rules about only eating herbs. So why would a believer choose to only eat herbs? In today's culture, many espouse vegetarianism because of its supposed health benefits, but back in the first century it was likely that the believer who only ate herbs was someone who was trying to avoid any possibility of eating meat that had been offered to an idol before being sold in the market. Yet, not all the believers felt this way. They were convinced that eating the meat was fine. Paul admonished them not to judge each other's decision. Therefore, the contrast does not mean that believers could eat contrary to Leviticus. That simply was not the issue.

Regarding the contrast of the esteemed days also does not mean an abrogation of the Saturday Sabbath or the Feasts of the Lord. Both the Jews and the Gentiles had many days that were celebrated for religious or cultural reasons. The weak in faith chose to continue to follow the observance of days that they were used to following (assuming that they were not contrary to God's Torah), whereas the strong in faith were able to let those go. Again, the two groups were not to judge each other's behaviors.

Lastly, it is important to realize that believers are on a journey of faith. Growth and development happen on the individual's timetable that God determines and that can vary greatly from one person to another. These elements of faith that are outside of God's direct commands must not be used as standards between believers.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Romans 13:11-14 - Put on Messiah Yeshua

Paul now concluded his thoughts on the believers' behavior.

Romans 13:11-14 (KJV)
11 And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.
13 Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.
14 But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

In verse 11 Paul reminded his readers that their ultimate salvation was nearer than when they first believed. This conclusion may imply that the first century believers thought that Yeshua's return was imminent. After all He did teach the following:

Matthew 24:42 (KJV)
42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.

However, in close examination of Matthew 24 it is evident that many things had to take place before Yeshua returned.

Matthew 24:29-30 (KJV)
29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

So, although Yeshua was going to return at an unknown time, there were specific things that the believers were told to watch for. In light of this, Paul considered his day to be the beginning of the last days. The writer of Hebrews agreed.

Hebrews 1:2 (KJV)
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

Paul therefore instructed his readers that since they knew Yeshua was coming, it was time for them to awake from sleep and to seriously watch for Him. The night was far spent and the day was at hand (salvation) (verse 12). Paul told the believers to spend their watching time by casting off the works of darkness (sin) and put on the armor of light. They were to walk in honesty and not be engaged in rioting, drunkenness, sexual immorality, strife, or envying (verse 13). They were to put on Messiah Yeshua and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (verse 14).

How do believers put on Messiah Yeshua? As believers come to faith in Yeshua they are clothed in His righteousness. After that they are expected to live holy lives in accordance with the Scripture's teachings. By living in this way, in obedience to God, believers put on Messiah Yeshua. And as the end approaches believers should feel an increased desire to be righteous for when He does appear. That is the only way in which believers will truly be ready!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Did Paul Teach Against Torah?

Christianity has traditionally taught that Yeshua has fulfilled the Torah in the sense that believers no longer have to observe and keep Torah. Part of this understanding comes from Paul's supposed teachings that seem to agree that believers are no longer under any obligation to the Torah. But is this accurate? Let's examine this a little further.

Acts 21:17-26 (KJV)
17 And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.
18 And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present.
19 And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.
20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
25 As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.
26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.

Paul had come into Jerusalem in order to complete the Nazarite vow that he had taken. When he had arrived, the brethren received him gladly (verse 17). The next day, Paul visited James, the leader of the Jerusalem assembly and half brother to Yeshua. The elders of the assembly were also there (verse 18). Paul then gave them many details regarding his ministry to the Gentiles (verse 19). Notice that Paul gave all the credit to God. When the elders heard Paul's report, they glorified the Lord (verse 20). They then related to Paul about the thousands of Jews which had come to faith and were zealous of the Torah. However, these Jews had heard about Paul and how he was teaching the Jews to forsake Moses, saying that they should not circumcise their children nor walk in their Jewish customs (verse 21). James wondered what they should do, because the multitude would certainly learn that Paul had come (verse 22).

Apparently, the Jerusalem believers found Paul's teachings to be scandalous. Yet, James and the elders received Paul wholeheartedly and didn't believe that Paul was teaching against Torah.

James and the elders had a suggestion for Paul. There were four other men in their assembly who had also taken a vow (verse 23). Paul was encouraged to go with the four, purify themselves, pay all their expenses, and have their heads shaved (verse 24). In this way, the multitude of believers would see that the rumors surrounding Paul were nothing and that Paul himself kept Torah (like observing a Nazarite vow).

If Christianity persists in saying that either Paul didn't keep Torah or that he taught against Torah, it is accusing Paul of the very same things that the Jewish believers accused him of. Also, James and the elders thought that Paul did indeed keep Torah and did not teach against it.

In verse 25 James continued speaking. He did point out that the Gentiles had not been obligated to do anything more than keeping away from things offered to idols, blood, strangled animals, and fornication. This is in keeping with the Jerusalem council's decision in Acts 15. However, from that passage Gentiles were expected to learn more about Torah as they participated in the synagogues every week on the Saturday Sabbath. The Acts 15 obligations reflect a starting point.

Acts 15:20-21 (KJV)
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
21 For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.

Then in verse 26 Paul agreed with James' suggestion to carry out the completion of the vow.

In this passage of Acts Paul was observing a Torah prescribed vow and he agreed to complete the vow with four others and pay for their expenses to show that he was strictly continuing to follow Torah. He did not want the Jerusalem believers to think that he was teaching against Torah or telling the Jewish believers to stop observing Torah. But Christianity has believed in the rumors and has taught a Torahless faith that Paul so desperately wanted to dispel. This anti-Torah teaching is just as scandalous today as it was in Paul's day!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Romans 13:8-10 - Love & Fulfillment

Paul turned from the believers' responsibility to government to their responsibility to others.

Romans 13:8-10 (KJV)
8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

According to verse 8 believers are to owe nothing to anyone except love, because that is the fulfillment of the Torah. Paul went on to list several of God's commands like, "You shall not commit adultery," "You shall not kill," "You shall not lie," and "You shall not covet." All God's commands regarding the treatment of others falls under loving your neighbor as yourself (verse 9). So, if believers do no ill to their neighbors they have fulfilled the Torah (verse 10).

The overarching theme of the behavior of believers is love. Any action taken must be with the good of others in mind. Therefore, when multiple actions are compared, the one that demonstrates love is the correct action to take.

However, traditional Christianity has gone beyond Paul's intent and generally has believed that Paul was saying that the individual Torah laws weren't important, that as long as a believer responded in a loving way to others, Torah was fulfilled. In essence Christianity has determined that the only law regarding others that anyone needs to be concerned about is, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Rather, Paul was placing a hierarchy over the details. Each of all the Torah Laws are still in force, but deciding which one might take precedence in any given situation could be determined by asking, "Am I loving my neighbor as myself if I take this action, or another?"

This way of looking at the Romans passage fits in with Yeshua's comment to the Pharisees in Matthew.

Matthew 23:23 (KJV)
23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Before the Pharisees should have tithed their mint, anise, and cumin, they should have treated their fellow man with love. Their tithes (following a Torah law), although good in principle, gained them nothing because other weightier (loving) Torah laws were ignored. They did not fulfill the Torah by their actions.

Any time believers act in love towards others they fulfill the Torah. It is something that can be done over and over again. When Christianity removed Torah from believers' obligations, it removed their guidelines on what love looks like. Without Torah, believers no longer know what God expects and they are left choosing actions based solely on feelings. Without knowing the Torah how can the believer ever fulfill it?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Romans 13:1-7 Our Relationship to the Authorities

Paul had just finished his exhortations by telling his readers not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil by good.

Romans 13:1-7 (KJV)
1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Paul was continuing on his theme of how believers are to live. Here, Paul spoke on the believers' interactions with the government. Verse 1 summarizes Paul's stance. Believers are to be subject unto their governments. This means that believers are to obey the laws of the government under which they find themselves.  All the powers of the world are in place because God has allowed them. This certainly doesn't mean that God condones or approves of all the governments on earth, but He uses all to accomplish His will, whether the governments are good or bad.

In light of this, believers are to be law abiding citizens. However, Paul was not instructing believers to obey laws that contradict the Law (Torah) of God.

Acts 5:29 (KJV)
29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

In fact, when believers resist the government, they resist what God has told them to do and are guilty of sin and punishment (verse 2).

Government exists by God's design to institute civil order on a nation (verse 3). Believers who behave in a lawful manner do not need to fear the government. Only those who do evil need to fear. When good is done, the government praises the doer. Verse 4 continues. The ruler of a government is a minister of God to the people for their good. It is government's responsibility to bear the sword and to execute wrath upon those that do evil. Paul was again speaking in a general sense about God's purposes in government and not about those times when laws or the government itself is contrary to God. Therefore, believers are subject to the government, in order to avoid punishment, but for their consciences' sakes, as well (verse 5).

Because believers are subject to the government they must also pay their taxes, again because the government functions as a minister unto God doing its duties (verse 6). Therefore, believers are to give tribute (taxes) to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom is due, fear to whom fear is due, and honor to whom honor is due (verse 7).

In summary, there is no place for believers to disobey the government unless God's Laws demand otherwise. This means that believers should not refuse to pay their taxes or protest against legitimate government activities. On the other hand, laws instituted that are contrary to God's Laws should be protested and disobeyed when necessary. For example, under Hitler's regime, believers had a responsibility to protect the Jews and others who had committed no crimes.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Romans 12:16-21 - Exhortations 2

Paul continued with his exhortations.

Romans 12:16-21 (KJV)
16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

Believers are to have the same attitude towards all (verse 16). They are not to look more favorably on the wealthy or prestigious than those of lowly estate. They are not to think themselves wise when that wisdom is based on one's own arrogance. Believers are not to treat those who have treated them poorly in the same poor or evil manner (verse 17). They are to be honest in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as far as it depends on the believer, they are to live peacefully with all men (verse 18). Believers are not to take revenge, but rather to leave room for God's wrath (verse 19).

Leviticus 19:18 (KJV)
18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 32:35 (KJV)
35 To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.

It is God who will take care of any vengeance. He is the one who will repay. Therefore, believers are to feed hungry enemies and to give drink to their thirsty enemies (verse 20). By doing this it will be as if the believers have heaped coals of fire on the enemy's head.

Proverbs 25:21-22 (KJV)
21 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:
22 For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.

Finally, believers are not to be overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil with good (verse 21).

Again, Paul gave his readers many good examples of how believers should behave. This has never been an easy way to live, since it is so contrary to human nature, but the indwelling Holy Spirit is available to give assistance. It is possible!