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Rebecca Ang• Timely Word •

Learning from the early church…

By 9 December 2017December 12th, 2017No Comments

In Romans 15:14-33, Paul described the qualities of the early church community in Rome. Here I would like to focus on five aspects. In the first three, Paul described the Roman Christians as having three qualities – “full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another” (Rom 15:14, ESV). As a community of believers, we are encouraged to “instruct one another” and in NKJV, the phrase “admonish one another” is used. Goodness and knowledge are preconditions and lay the foundation for admonition. Admonishing one another suggests that there is sufficient trust and love amongst brothers and sisters in Christ to be receptive to mutually giving and receiving counsel and guidance. As a church community, we have been gifted uniquely with our different experiences and personalities so that we can be used by God to accomplish this.

Besides the above three qualities, two other aspects were mentioned – being sacrificial in giving and steadfast in prayer. Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to give sacrificially and to remember the saints in Jerusalem.

The Gentile believers gave cheerfully and sincerely. Such sacrificial giving stems from an understanding that all we possess comes from God, and it is Christ who first gave up everything for us (Philippians 2). With respect to prayer, Paul asked the believers “to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf” (Rom 15:30, ESV). To strive in prayer suggests intense agony or effort – it is to pray with such faith and fervency, and to wrestle with God as Jacob did. Such intensity in prayer is not only when we are praying for ourselves, but also when we are praying for others. In CS Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, Screwtape the senior devil, instructs Wormwood, his nephew, how to tempt and lead people away from God. On the issue of prayer, Screwtape told Wormwood, “Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment.” Our fluctuating moods ought not to drive our attitude towards and posture in prayer.

Therefore, as believers how can we live out these aspects of being full of goodness, filled with knowledge, able to admonish one another, sacrificial in giving, and steadfast in prayer? Here, I would like to share two reflections arising from this passage of scripture. First, Paul felt it important to remind the Roman Christians of the fundamentals of the faith (Rom 15:15, and book of Romans in general) even though they already know it. Much as I dislike reminders, I must acknowledge that I often need that. I am forgetful and easily distracted – distracted by life’s pressures, pleasures and pursuits. If you are like me, I continue to struggle daily with my old self at work and at home.

Second, with respect to Paul’s ministry in the last section of Romans 15, I am reminded of his complete dependence on God which is the source of his strength and sustenance – “In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience by word and deed… ” (Rom 15:17-18). He saw himself as an instrument for the work of Christ. If anyone had human credentials to boast of – it would have been Paul – he was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews” (Phil 3:5). However, there is no glimpse of boasting in the flesh; instead, Paul’s focus was about God and not about himself. We need to look constantly to Jesus Christ, and we keep our hearts and minds focused on Him. The lyrics of this hymn written by Helen Lemmel, is a good reminder for me:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.”

By Rebecca Ang (YCKC Bulletin 9&10 December 2017)