Poverty caused by misfortune

This post discusses a Christian response to poverty caused by misfortune such as disaster, death of a spouse, job loss, war-trauma or illness. (I am not talking about those who prefer a life of drug abuse or petty crime.)

I am glad to report that my home church does far better than most in caring for the poor and disadvantaged. Our pastor and elders have led the way in this effort since our church formed. However, I still believe that concern for the poor is the number one disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and most evangelical Christians today. Sermons on this subject seem few and far between.

Since I live in Texas, it has occurred to me that Texas culture may bear on the issue. Historian T.R. Fehrenbach wrote a history of Texas published in 1968. One of his conclusions was that Texas has the ethos of the frontier, where the strong live and the weak die. As a man born and raised in Texas, I have come to believe he is right about that. While his description of Texas values is accurate, that does not make this compassionless stance right in the sight of God.

If God had adopted this attitude toward sinners, then Jesus never would have been sent to die for our sins and reconcile us to God. Before our salvation, the Bible describes us as helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6), even enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). By the frontier values of Texas, we would have been left to die in our helplessness. But God apparently does not favor certain Texas values, because he demonstrated his love for us by sending his son to die for us that we might be reconciled to him (Rom. 5:8).

That is what the Bible says, but I may not be wise to publish these views in Texas!

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

Disturbing trend in US business culture

Since investment banks are vital to the current business structure of the United States, the morality of relationships between these institutions and their clients can tell us something about how “the world” functions as well as where it is going. Today’s op-ed by Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith in the New York Times is sending shock waves as he leaves the firm because of its rapacious way of using its clients. Read it here.

While most of us are not wealthy, it may be that a company like Goldman Sachs has some connection with your pension fund, mutual fund, or your bank. Plus, managers trained in the tactics of greed move on to other companies or into important positions in government.

Imagine, if you can, how a Christian could work for a firm that behaves toward others with the “use ’em up” kind of approach that Smith describes. That hypothetical Christian would either follow the ways of Christ and probably get dumped, or they would succumb to the powerful undertow of greed and leave Jesus behind, perhaps forever.

All of us need to think hard about whether we are serving others or simply using them and then casting them aside when their usefulness comes to an end. Christians must be on notice that Jesus is Lord not only of the church but of their entire life. Never has it been more true that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21).

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Exposition of Romans 1:7-12, Imparting spiritual gifts describes our role

The elders at Ephesus could look back in later years to their last meeting with the Apostle Paul at the port of Miletus. His parting words were full of emotional memories: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).

(ESV) Romans 1:7-12

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Romans 1:7 is the concluding verse of a single Greek sentence that includes the first seven verses of Romans chapter 1. Sometimes modern people think the ancients to be less intelligent than we are because they lived so long ago. Hopefully, the profundity of Romans will help put that idea into well-deserved oblivion.

Another tendency we may have is to toss off anything said in the salutation of a NT epistle [letter] and get on to the main event. That is a mistake. In wishing the Roman Christians grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7), Paul is telling important things about his presentation of the gospel. “Grace” is used twenty-four times in Romans, and half of those instances occur in chapters 1-5; the next occurrence will be in Romans 3:24 — “they are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (HCSB) — where Paul presents God’s solution to humankind’s problem.

“Peace” is used ten times in Romans, most notably in Romans 5:1 — “therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” — where Paul presents the outcome of being justified by faith. As we will see, peace is not the absence of war but rather the wholeness and solidarity we enjoy through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, when Paul opens by wishing the Roman Christians “grace and peace,” he is telling them how they become justified before God (grace) and the result of that justification (peace). See also Romans 16:20 where these two giant concepts are combined.

In 1:8 we see that we are reading a letter and not a book on systematic theology, because Paul takes time to let the Roman Christians know that knowledge of their Christian faith has spread far and wide. Osborne says, “This refers not so much to the quality of their faith as to the fact of it.”[1] In terms of the spread of information, NT scholar Craig Keener informs us, “Couriers in the first century could get from Rome to London in one week.”[2] Word got around!

John Chrysostom (c. 347-407 AD), patriarch of Constantinople until his preaching against corruption landed him in Antioch, made fascinating remarks on the origin of the Roman church:

Having recently acquired a worldwide empire, the Romans were elated, and they lived in riches and luxury, and then fishermen brought the preaching there, Jewish fishermen moreover, who belonged to a nation which was hated and despised by everyone. And these Romans were asked to worship the crucified one who was brought up in Judea. Moreover, along with this doctrine, the teachers proclaimed an ascetic life to men who were used to luxury and concerned with material comforts.[3]

In a sense, Paul is letting them know that he realizes his visit to Rome will not establish a church but will nurture one that is already thriving. Even though Paul is an apostle, he is taking pains not to talk down to the recipients since that would impede acceptance of his message.

By essentially taking an oath before God (1:9), Paul wants the Romans to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he continually holds them up in prayer.[4] Paul states that he is always asking God to allow him to visit the churches in Rome (1:10), but he is plainly uncertain of the answer. He was right to doubt, because his eventual arrival in Rome occurred under the custody of a Roman guard during a legal appeal to Caesar (Acts 28:11-31).

Paul’s tone is warm in 1:11-12. Osborne says, “This is a wonderful way for all of us to think of our ministries as sharing our spiritual gifts with others.”[5] Paul again takes up spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8, where he names prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation. giving, leadership, and mercy. Each of us has a spiritual gift to use: And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us (Rom. 12:6, NET). What are we to do with them?

How to frame your ministry

What frame of reference should we use in thinking about our personal ministries within the church? Osborne captures Paul’s answer by having us think of our ministries as sharing our spiritual gifts with others.

1. How has your spiritual gift been used to bless other believers? How did it affect you to see that others benefited from your gift?

2. When did you receive a spiritual gift from others and how did it move you closer to Christ? Did you let that person know how Jesus used them to strengthen you? If not, how could you do so now?

John Chrysostom said of Paul’s intended spiritual gift to the Roman Christians: “It was not his own things which he was giving them but what he had himself received.”[6] May we too give to one another from what we have received from the Lord!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 35.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 185.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 19.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 36.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 37.

[6] Bray, ed., Romans, 23.