What is your memory like? Do you find it easier to remember or to forget? We often hear on the radio or on the TV about dementia don't we? Alzheimer's disease was first described early in the 20 th century but problems of forgetfulness and memory loss are not a recent phenomenon. In fact all of us tend to get more forgetful as we get older.
Over the years people have used a whole range of different things to help them remember things that are important – you may have used these yourselves:
Have you ever tied a knot in a hankie? (A bit more difficult these days when we use disposable tissues more and more)
Perhaps you have left yourself little notes or Post-
Or there is a wall calendar or a diary – you need to be careful about the shorthand you use too don't you? What may have been so obvious when you jotted down an entry may be far less so a month later!
In a more high tech environment people use alerts on their computers or mobile phones
As we return to Paul's letter to the Romans this morning we are entering the final section end of his letter. Paul has completed his development of Christian doctrine and now begins to draw to a close. It is important however that we don't skip too quickly over the remaining chapter and a half assuming that Paul has said all that this is really important.
In this final section Paul becomes very personal again – it is the first time really since the first chapter where he wrote about his desire to visit the Christians in Rome:
As Paul continues he seems to anticipate something of a problem. How would his long letter be received? Would some of the folk in Rome respond critically? After all he hadn't been responsible for planting this church, for building up this church and he hadn't even visited it yet! What gave him the right to address them in the way he had? Did he doubt their sincerity, their genuineness?
Many of us can be somewhat touchy and can read implied criticism where no such criticism exists – that's human nature I suppose – and Paul takes care to explain his reasons for writing. He begins by rejecting one possible explanation before proceeding to add his real reasons.
He had not written because he doubted them
He had written because of his calling as a minister of Jesus Christ
He had written because he wanted to remind the Christians in Rome about matters of which they were already aware
Let's take a closer look at these.
Paul considered them to be genuine Christians
Paul had written about the Christian faith and how it should be put into practice in a bold way and it was possible that some in the church in Rome might understand him to be calling the genuineness of their Christian profession into question.
But that was not the case.
Paul was satisfied about them, that is, he was confident that their profession of faith was genuine. He was confident that they were not unfamiliar with the things he had just written about. He believed too that they had already received and believed these truths and that they had already been producing fruit in their lives.
For us in the UK today although we live at a time when the influence of Christianity appears to be diminishing still many folk still claim to be Christians. What are we to make of this? And how should we relate to such folk? Are we to be satisfied with a mere profession?
Paul's certainty about the Romans gives us guidance here both for reacting to the claims of others and for examining our own hearts:
1. Do they/I know and wholeheartedly embrace the fundamentals truths of the gospel such as Paul has outlined them in this letter?
Sadly many who describe themselves as Christians do not understand even the most basic truths of the gospel and show little if any desire to discover what they actually are. How can such be true Christians when Jesus himself declared: "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jn.8:31-
Now this doesn't mean that we all have to be capable of reproducing Paul's full and careful explanation of the Christian message but it does mean that our convictions will be in harmony with what he wrote.
2. Do they/I possess any fruit as evidence of the gospel in my life? Paul recognised the genuineness of the Roman Christians by the way in which the gospel had affected their lives:
They were full of goodness
They were filled with knowledge
They were able to instruct (warn or admonish) others
Isn't this just what Jesus meant when he declared that "the tree is known by its fruit."Mt.12:33?
Given such tests would Paul be satisfied that you are genuine?
Paul wrote because he was a minister of Jesus Christ
Having rejected a false reason Paul now proceeds to his positive reasons for writing. He has his eye set on pleasing the God who has called him and equipped him for ministry.
In other words Paul was not proudly putting himself forward as some kind of religious empire builder but he was simply and zealously going about fulfilling the tasks that had been given to him by the Lord. Thus in primary place Paul was serving Jesus Christ.
This should be true of all of us as Christians. The task of the Christian minister is NOT to please those he ministers to rather he is seek to acquit himself well before his Lord and Saviour. The extent to which he does this will determine his usefulness or otherwise. Now this does NOT mean that the minister is to ride rough-
Paul described himself as a minister of Christ Jesus who was actively engaged in the service of the gospel of God. He longed for this ministry to be owned by the Holy Spirit as he sanctified those amongst whom the apostle laboured. Do you see just how God-
I must ask myself "How am I doing?" We should all of us ask "How do we all match up to such a standard?"
As a minister of Christ Jesus, Paul was especially called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. As he served the gospel of God he compared the work he was involved in to the priestly offering of a sacrifice. The Gentiles saved and sanctified through his ministry were to be presented as an acceptable offering to God and such offerings had to be pure and undefiled. Paul then was not interested in recording mere decisions for Christ he wanted to see men and women converted and becoming mature disciples of Jesus Christ. This was Paul's passion:
Col 1:28 "(Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
We will see next week, God willing, how Paul readily recognised that anything useful that was achieved through all his labours was to be attributed directly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
So we have seen so far that Paul hadn't written his letter to the Romans because he thought they weren't genuine. And now we have seen that he wrote in the exercise of his ministry to which he had been called and appointed by God.
Now we must turn to his third reason:
He had written with the express purpose of reminding them
Do you see that in v.15?
"But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder…"
I'm not sure about you but I don't always react well to being given reminders by someone else. My old human nature doesn't take well to being "reminded" and easily classifies it as nagging when it comes from certain people close to me. And yet far better to be reminded than to miss an important appointment or deadline for example!
And spiritual matters are much more important than a doctor's appointment! Again and again the question of reminders resurfaces on the pages of the Bible.
We really have no reason to be offended or annoyed by reminders – in the OT the all-
Num.10:10 "On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I am the LORD your God."
Another example of a reminder is also to be found in the Book of Numbers with the record of Korah's rebellion. Korah was not a descendant of Aaron but wanted to be able to do what was only permitted to the descendants of Aaron. He was destroyed and the censors that he and his co-
Num.16:40 "to be a reminder to the people of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, should draw near to burn incense before the LORD, lest he become like Korah and his company––as the LORD said to him through Moses."
In the NT the writer to of the Epistle to the Hebrews explained that one of the effects of the regular repetition of OT sacrificial offerings was specifically to be a reminder of sin:
Heb.10:3 "in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year."
Elsewhere in the NT we find that Jesus gave his followers a meal whereby they might regularly be reminded concerning the most important things – in particular his death, resurrection and second coming. You know the repeated words in the Communion service don't you? "Do this in remembrance of me." (1Cor.11:24+25)
The apostles Peter and Jude were both concerned that the people of God be given reminders to help them on, their pilgrim way:
Peter knew that "known truths" could all too easily become "ignored truths" and so was happy to take the time to write reminding Christians of what they already knew so that they might gain a rich entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ:
Peter longed to stir up the minds of his readers by "way of reminder".
Jude too was quite happy to underline for his readers things he believed them to have known well at one time – the inference being in this case that they had forgotten or at least ceased to realise the significance of what they knew:
Jude 5 "Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it…"
And in several other places Paul demonstrated the same concern to remind Christians that he showed to the Romans.
When, for example, the Corinthians were in danger of turning away from the truth to follow the instruction of some flashy attractive men Paul sent Timothy to them with a message: they were to imitate Paul's example because he was their spiritual father:
1Cor.4:17 "That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church."
Later in the same letter Paul reminded them of the gospel they had already received.
1Cor.15:1 "Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,"
He did this because they were in danger in wandering away from it or of moving 'beyond it'.
As an old man Paul wrote to Timothy recalling Timothy's sincere faith. But Timothy needed to be careful, he was somewhat timid by nature and in danger of a misplaced humility:
2Tim.1:6 "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God," wrote the apostle.
Paul continued to write about what Christ had achieved and urged Timothy to remember these things. Once he himself did that he would be well-
2Tim2:14 "Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers."
Writing around roughly the same time Paul told Titus similar things. Titus would have to remind others of how the gospel was to impact their lives.
What does this means for us on a practical level
Don't switch off if you think you've heard it all before
Don't look for novelty and newness – we need to be constantly refocused upon what is really important
Remember that God in his grace is giving you what you need – it is safe for you to hear these things again and again
Do make sure that the truth you hear and know has also become truth that you have welcomed and embraced
Seek to ensure that these truths are doing their work and producing fruit in your life – don't be content with some mere intellectual assent or some form of easy believism – look to the Spirit of God to further his sanctifying work in you remembering that he uses the truth of the Word of God to do just that.