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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS

A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

http://www.httpcity.com/amightyfortress/index.html

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419

623-334-8014; chemnitz@uswest.net

 

Comfort in Forgiveness

 

KJV Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. 5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God. 8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. 12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. 13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

 

Two important themes in this epistle concern Paul’s argument against legalism and also his trust in the unifying effect of the Gospel.

 

Legalism is man’s attempt to command or forbid what God has not commanded or forbidden in the Scriptures. In fact, doing the right things in a legalistic fashion can destroy many good efforts.

 

We are fortunate in having a foreign and exotic issue to consider as an example of legalism. The early Christians faced a major problem in dealing with whether they could eat meat offered to idols (later sold in a marketplace). The thought of many was this: “If I eat meat offered to idols, I am participating in idol worship.”

 

Some people will readily attribute this mentality to Judaism, since Jewish literature is full of example of legal definitions. For instance, if someone cannot work on the Sabbath, what is the definition of work? Work may involve hitching up the carriage, so it is better to walk. However, a long walk would be laborious, so it would probably be less work to use a vehicle if the distance to worship is more than a mile or two. The Talmud often defines and discusses these distinctions at great length.

 

Other people will say, “Oh, the conservative Lutherans are always falling into bouts of legalism. They are especially prone to this problem.”

 

Actually, I was shocked to hear WELS Lutherans use the term “casuistry” in circuit and conference meetings, because the term “casuistry” is used negatively in ethics. (Casuistry can be described as “case law.”) The Roman Catholic Church said a woman may not kiss a man in public. When war broke out, people asked, “What about kissing a husband when he is leaving for war?” OK, it is permissible to kiss a spouse in a public place, if he is leaving for war. Then came the question, “How long?” Next someone decided that a wife may kiss her husband in a public place if he is going off to war, but only the way she would kiss her own brother.

 

Without question the conservative Lutherans have often fallen into destructive, legalistic debates. One would never guess that Jesus preached AGAINST the Pharisees. One pastor gathered a history of the fights in the pee-wee synods, all of them legalistic and ridiculous. The same pastor then launched into similar battles with others.

 

"Now, where Paul's Christian doctrine does not obtain, naturally each individual forgets the beam in his own eye and perceives only the mote in his neighbor's. One will not bear with the faults of the other; each requires perfection of his fellow...These puff themselves up and put on airs. Whoever is not just like them is held in disgrace, in disparagement and contempt. Only themselves are worthy of admiration...They are not aware of the secret satanical pride in the inmost recesses of their hearts, which pride is the very reason they haughtily and meanly despise their neighbors for their imperfections."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 35. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

Nevertheless, legalism is also found in great abundance among the liberals as well. There is a vast database of unwritten laws everyone must obey. Certain attitudes must be maintained. Some words may never be used in polite conversation. Other words must always be used instead. All of these laws change constantly, but ignorance of them is no excuse. For example, at one period no decent liberal would serve grapes because of the grape boycott (1970s or so). A liberal professor at Notre Dame had a party at his home and actually prominently displayed huge bunches of grapes. The guests were shocked, but worse followed. The professor did not realize why grapes were forbidden! Years later I heard this shocking scandal being discussed by two doctoral students. They still had not forgiven the professor for not knowing about the grape boycott.

 

I believe we are all legalists by nature because we think first in terms of the Law. Legalism is a major issue in the New Testament because God uses the Word to destroy all legalistic notions in those who cling to His Word. If I could edit the New Testament, I would eliminate all the discussions about meat offered to idols and circumcision. They take up a lot of space and do not concern us directly. That is why we must study these lessons, because these so-called minor issues really become major calamities when the error of legalism grows and metastasizes.

 

So, before we start editing the New Testament down to match our expectations, we should ask ourselves about the dangers of legalism.

 

One of the key phrases is one I use in most worship bulletins: Receive one another as Christ has received you. Some modern translations use the term “welcome one another,” which is also a good way to express this thought. Legalism divides people. It divides people because it is anti-Gospel and a parody of God’s Law. It also divides people when people use legalistic methods to promote good causes.

 

For instance, I agree with all the confessional Lutherans I know (pastors and laity) in favoring the King James Version. Two laymen tell me they like the original Luther’s Bible even better, but the KJV is closest to Luther’s Bible and has a direct connection to it through William Tyndale. My choice of the KJV is obvious in the fact that I use the KJV for almost everything, except for those rare occasions when it is good to quote another version (usually to show translation errors).

 

However, every so often someone decides to pound me for saying that those who must have a modern translation should use the New King James Version. My feeling is that Lutherans should stick to the King James family of translations, and that would be a vast improvement over the situation today, since we have a modern Babel of translations. We can see that the urge to attack over a slight difference is a legalistic frame of mind. Often such people fall into factual errors, trying to claim that there is a “double inspiration” of the Bible, the King James having its own separate inspiration. Or someone will publish the mistaken claim that the KJV has never changed. If that were so, no one would read it today, because spelling has changed and punctuation has become less comma-prone. (Therefore, the KJV has been changed, but only in minor ways.) But it is the condemnatory attitude that divides and destroys, not the point of contention itself. People can differ over these matters and clarify what a good position should be, without condemning one another.

 

Similarly, Lutherans often attach exotic and conflicting notions to their concept of the church. For instance, a conservative Lutheran pastor may only wear a black Geneva gown, even though it is definitely secular dress. Judges and some college students in Europe wear the Geneva gown today.

 

It is very popular to condemn traditional Lutheran worship as “Catholic” and bad. The LCMS founders were always facing the criticism of being Roman Catholic, although many of their practices were simply passed down from the Reformation. In America there was a great desire to be like the Baptists and Methodists, to get rid of liturgical robes, chanting, and the liturgy itself. The same effort is being replayed today.

 

So in following Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we have to ask ourselves first whether something is commanded or forbidden by the Word of God. We may realize that the Scriptures do not address the situation but still have an emotional response. I heartily dislike Geneva gowns, but that does not make them evil or wrong. Some react to clergy collars, which were Roman originally (to defeat a ban on Roman Catholic priests wearing their long cassocks as distinctive dress – so they turned their collars around).

 

Paul’s urging in this lesson says, in so many words, “You may find such meat disgusting, but do not carry over your attitudes over in shunning other believers.” After all, Peter wobbled for a period of time about Jewish observances. As one newly converted Jew said when offered pork, “My heart is converted to Christianity but my stomach is still Jewish.”

 

That is why this verse is so significant in this lesson - 7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

 

We can see the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in this Gospel admonition. It would be easy to say, “Stop fighting, you boneheads!” It would be like the dogfight I saw broken up with well-aimed kicks to their ribs. The dogs stopped fighting and barking, but the basis of their battle remained the same – jealousy.

 

Paul reminds us, “How did Christ receive you?” As someone perfect, a model of virtue, a person so good that He is thankful to have you in His Kingdom? No, not at all. Christ received us as sinners without a single plea. His mercy is based upon His love for us and not upon our virtue and good deeds.

 

Who receives Holy Communion? Only sinners. Christ does not unite us because He has selected the very best. He unites us because of our identical faith in Him, our unified praise of Him. This can be experienced when a large group of believers worship together. Few have good voices by themselves. United, they create a moving blend of voices singing praise to their Savior.

 

It would be possible to encourage some people by telling them how good they were. The Pharisee in each one of us would respond to this. However, it would also harden our hearts against the true ministry of the Law, to hammer the hardness of our hearts and prepare us to love and grasp the Gospel in faith.

 

Even if we want to be praised, the heart will still confess, “I am not as good as all that.” That may be why so many successful people become self-destructive. They think, “I don’t deserve this,” and they don’t. Who does? But their answer is not to thank God for the opportunity but to throw away the chance for some convenient reason.

 

In addition, when someone thinks only in terms of the Law, then reverses must be understood wrongly in view of merit. If God loves the rich, then He must hate the poor. The ministers who sell health and success are really planting a legalistic bomb in the hearts of their hearers. When things unravel, how many of these novices will say to themselves, “Through difficulties and afflictions, God is helping me. I can be thankful for persecution, the dungeon, financial ruin, and the desertion of so-called friends.” Bearing the cross is completely alien to all the self-help, health and wealth gurus.

 

Christ unites us with comfort.

 

13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.

 

Joy and peace in believing – those are beautiful words of great comfort. Relying on the Law is like making a bed out of goat’s head or thistles. The prickling sensation will never stop.

 

Faith gives us joy and peace. Why is that? It is faith in Christ and His atoning death for our sins. It is knowing that our Savior has taken away our sins and declared us to be innocent. We are outcasts for being sinners, but God takes us into the family and says, “You are My child and your brother is Christ.” Most of our society is based upon belonging and shunning. When I went to a corporate dinner, the staff had their own table marked “Reserved.” Could I sit there? No, you do not belong. You are not one of us. You are hourly. We are salaried. We cannot sit with the hoi polloi.

 

But God says, “You do belong because of Christ. You belong to the same family all over the world. No matter what may happen to you, you still belong to Me and I belong to you.”

 

That is why we can have such a sense of belonging with people all over the world. We are not united by racial origin or nationality, but by faith in Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

Luther on Romans 15:4-13

"Again, both Jews and gentiles, in consequence of this same disordered idea, could not venture to eat of bread and meat offered to idols by unbelievers, though sold in the public market. They imagined that to eat thereof was to honor the idols and deny Christ, when in fact the act had no significance. For all kinds of food are clean, and good creatures of God, whether in the hands of heathen or Christians, whether offered to God or to the devil."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 29. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"The first difficulty was this: Some Jewish converts feared that deviating from former customs would be committing sin. Notwithstanding they had been taught the New Testament freedom regarding meats, days, clothing, vessels, persons, conditions, customs; that only faith renders us righteous in God's sight; and that the restrictions of the Law concerning the eating of flesh and fish, concerning holidays, places, vessels, were entirely abolished....

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 29. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"One consists of those weak in the faith, of whom we have already spoken. It is to this class alone Paul here refers. They are good, pious, common people, willingly doing better when they have the knowledge or power. They are not tenacious of their opinions; the trouble lies altogether in weakness of conscience and lack of faith. They are unable to extricate themselves from prevailing doctrines and customs. The other class are obstinate. Not satisfied to enjoy liberty of conduct for themselves, they must enforce it upon others, constraining them to their own practices. They claim that because certain liberty is permissible, it must be enjoined. They will not listen to real truth in the matter of Christian liberty, but strive against it."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 30. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Suppose a wolf were to wound almost fatally a sheep, and you were to proceed with rage against the sheep, declaring it to be wrong in being wounded, that it should be sound, and you were violently to compel it to follow the other sheep to the pasture and to the fold, giving it no special care; would not all men declare you inconsiderate? The sheep might well say: 'Certainly it is wrong for me to be wounded, and unquestionably I ought to be sound; but direct your anger toward the inflicter of my wounds, and assist in my recovery.' So should these Romans have done and have faithfully repelled the wolf-life teachers."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 31. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"No one will open his eyes to the fact that mere human devices and doctrines are ensnaring souls, weakening consciences, dissipating Christian liberty and faith, and replenishing hell. Wolves! Wolves! How abominably, awfully, murderous, how harassing and destructive, are these things the world over!"

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 32. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Recognizing the weak and wounded condition of the offender, Christ's doctrine comes in a friendly way, teaching the real truth about human laws--that of Christian liberty. It is patient, bearing with him who does not immediately abandon his erroneous ways, and giving him time to learn to forsake them. It allows him to do the best he can, according to what he has been used to, until he is made whole and clearly perceives the truth."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 33. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Now, where Paul's Christian doctrine does not obtain, naturally each individual forgets the beam in his own eye and perceives only the mote in his neighbor's. One will not bear with the faults of the other; each requires perfection of his fellow...These puff themselves up and put on airs. Whoever is not just like them is held in disgrace, in disparagement and contempt. Only themselves are worthy of admiration...They are not aware of the secret satanical pride in the inmost recesses of their hearts, which pride is the very reason they haughtily and meanly despise their neighbors for their imperfections."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 35. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Now, the Christian hatred of sin discriminates between the vices and the individual. It endeavors to exterminate only the former and to preserve the latter. It does not flee from, evade, reject nor despise anyone: rather it receives every man, takes a warm interest in him and accords him treatment calculated to relieve him of his vices. It admonishes, instructs and prays for him. It patiently bears with him."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 35f. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Observe, however, what the devil has accomplished through the Papists. It was not enough for them to throw the Bible under the table, to make it so rare that few doctors of the holy Scriptures possessed a copy, much less read it; but lest it be brought to public notice they have branded it with infamy. For they blasphemously say it is obscure; we must follow the interpretations of men and not the pure Scriptures. What else is their proceeding but giving Paul the lie here where he says the Bible is our manual of instruction? They say it is obscure and calculated to mislead."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 41 Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13.

 

"Mark you, the real mission of the Scriptures is to comfort the suffering, distressed and dying. Then he who has had no experience of suffering or death cannot at all understand the comfort of the Bible...It is the province of the Word alone to comfort. It must therefore meet with patience first. It is jealous and will not permit human relief on a level with itself, which would be to frustrate the purpose of patience and suffering."

Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 44. Second Sunday in Advent, Romans 15:4-13