The surprise warning comes first: Rom. 16:17-20 is so different from the rest of the book. As we have walked through Romans, the message over and over has been to include as many people as you can into your circle ~ don’t include only people like you, proper behaved people, but messy people, people unlike us. Jesus loves people who you may not understand! The Salvation of God is for people of all nations, all backgrounds. All people need a place to be loved, accepted and find forgiveness. All are sinners and none has the advantage when it comes to God’s grace.
Here is The Roman Road, a path that leads to Christ:
- Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." We have all sinned. Rom. 3:10-18 gives a detailed picture of what sin looks like in our lives.
- Romans 6:23, teaches us about the consequences of sin - "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." The punishment that we have earned for our sins is death, physical and eternal death! Jesus' death paid for the price of our sins.
- Romans 10:9, "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Because of Jesus' death on our behalf, all we have to do is believe in Him, trusting His death as the payment for our sins - and we will be saved! Salvation, the forgiveness of sins, is available to all who trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
- Romans 5:1 has a wonderful message ~ the result of giving your life to Christ: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
- Romans 8:1 teaches us, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Because of Jesus' death on our behalf, we will never be condemned.
- Finally, we a promise of God from Romans 8:38-39, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Salvation is found only in Jesus Christ, BUT all are welcome! Jesus died for all. This is why we draw a large circle. Notice that that the second to the last verse of Romans spells out the command for the gospel to go to all people: READ Rom. 16:26b. This is like the Great Commission at the end of Matthew… near the beginning of Romans Paul declared his love and amazement in the story of Christ: READ Rom. 1:16a. we must not categorically dismiss people that don’t fit into our community of faith. We must welcome people who are unlike us. The road to salvation is narrow going only through Christ, but all are welcome.
What a surprise for Paul to end this book with a warning that seems so contrary to the towering message of drawing a wide circle: READ Rom. 16:17-18. While we want to include as many as we can into the Community of Faith, we also must be realistic because some will not fit. Some people, by their own actions, their own beliefs, there own impure motives, do not fit. God alone knows their hearts, but we must be wise. In our church covenant regarding church membership, part of it says Christian Character is our only test of church fellowship ~ in other words, we don’t know the heart, all we have is what we see, and if there are people who are disrespectful, want to teach contrary to Christian values, live a life that is blatantly contrary to the teaching of the Bible, then we cannot include them in the circle. The sobering truth is that there are people who we cannot help because they don’t want to be helped.
We are called to stand firm in Christ. Unity is found in an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross, forgives sins, and offers eternal life. There is no other path to salvation. All are welcome, but some reject. Be warned, Paul says. Draw the circle as large as you can, but do not include those that seek to undermine the truth.
Who are those we must not include in the circle?
Don’t include those that cause divisions it says in Rom. 16:17. Maybe they are even Christians and part of the larger Kingdom, but if they get certain ideas that are important to them but we don’t hold the same values, if it becomes too much of an issue, then they don’t belong in this body. Years ago in the Nooksack Church when I was the pastor, a wonderful family moved into the community and started coming to the church. They loved it. For a time. Then the husband started questioning me about nuances of the end times. He did not like my answers. The subtle things he believed were not salvation issues, I just could not agree with him. He started talking to other people. Every time he saw me he had studied more to prove me wrong. He eventually left. I did not like seeing a wonderful family leave the church, but I blessed him. I understood. And I agreed that if he was going to continue majoring in a minor issue it was better for him and his family to leave. /// I saw him a few months ago in Costco, first time in probably 10 years, called him by name. I asked him if he was still attending the last church I knew about… “no, he said, trying a new church…”
The word obstacle is used. Not sure all that Paul has in mind, clearly a broad category of people that don’t fit in. Some people that an obstacle because they are not safe. Behind the scenes the elders, the board and others are expecting to reach more and more people for Christ through this church body. In preparation for families and more children, we are doing our best to learn about making this a safe environment for children and everyone else. If people have a background of hurting children they cannot be here, or being unsafe in anyway, targeting the vulnerable. Recently I had a discussion with people who kept asking people for money ~ to me that’s an obstacle. I did not tell them they were not welcome, I told them how to get along and gave them an opportunity to change, but they chose to move on… I’m sad.
Contrary to the teaching you have learned… A year or so ago, some of you were present, Seeds of Hope met in the Legion. A man wanted a few moments to talk. He’d been after me for months. I was resistant because he told me he wanted to thank me for being a decent person… I relented. He started telling a story from a different religion that was contrary to Christianity. Nice man, but not the place. He went on and on… My regret is that I let it go on too long, but eventually I stood next to him thinking he’d stop talking... Finally I interrupted him in mid-sentence and gently told him it was not a message I could endorse. Anyone is welcome here on a Sunday or other ministires, as long as you don’t cause divisions, as long as there aren’t obstacles, as long as there is not a contrary agenda, as long as there is a basic respect for who we are, but in order to be a leader, you must confess Jesus Christ and the cross. To be a teacher/leader/member you must believe Jesus is the only way to salvation.
Paul throws in this wonderful phrase about how to make this all work: “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” As you seek to become a strong healthy church of Jesus Christ be liberal in including people, affirm people, expect the best, focus on the good, but understand evil is real and there are times you may have to back away from people. We must be willing to include all people, but some don’t want to be changed by Jesus Christ ~ they cause divisions, obstacles, teach contrary ideas. Our unity as a church body is to be based not on the negative and everything that is wrong, but what is right and good and that we believe Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation!
The last word is to stand firm in unity as the body of Christ. READ Rom. 16:25-27
NOW, Paul says… this is such an important word. NOW is the time. Our focus is to join together in Christian unity by enlarging our circle of who is acceptable to God. NOW! Now is the time to move forward. It would be easy to rehash my past as a pastor, a Christian and kick myself for my misunderstanding, missed opportunities, but NOW is the critical time. Brother Jim says that sometimes other churches will ask him about how they might get a Clothesline going like the one in Sumas. I like his answer. The best time is 10 years ago because that is how long it has taken to get to this point. But the second best time is NOW. All we have is NOW. God bless yesterday, I love the stories, but NOW is crucial…
TO HIM It’s all about God, all about Jesus Christ, May our lives and our church family be dedicated to HIM. the last words in Rom. 16:27 is the same thought: READ. May that be our motivation. Not a name for ourselves, not our personal comfort, not stability… but to live for Christ and his glory, for the sake of taking the message of salvation to all people. we dedicate ourselves to HIM ~ to live for Christ is life, freedom, wholeness, purpose, direction, definition… to live for Him brings PEACE!
WHO IS ABLE ~~ God is what makes it all possible, he can do anything. We make Christian unity so hard, and so we are reminded over and over that God can take the sinner and turn him into a saint, forgive sins, redeem the lost, heal the hurting, bring hope to the discouraged, restore broken relationships, give people a place to belong. Our only job is to go along for the ride and be amazed by what God does. HE IS ABLE!
TO ESTABLISH YOU BY MY GOSPEL and there is a long clause stretching into Rom. 16:26… I don’t have time to unpack that entire clause about mystery and prophets of old, but very simply it is saying God has revealed to us the revelation of his truth, making us aware of his plan of redemption by sending us Jesus Christ…we do not need to be in the dark abut Christ, but our eyes are open and he has included us by revealing himself. As the scripture makes plain, we are let in on the message of Jesus, “To Establish You” or as some translations say it, “So you will STAND FIRM.” God has given us the tools to be confident because of Jesus Christ. We who do not deserve, but receive the forgiveness of sins, STAND FIRM. God has already revealed everything we need. The world doesn’t need something new, the world needs the OLD OLD Story of Jesus Christ and His Love. May we stand firm on the Rock of our Salvation Jesus Christ! A searching and confused world needs stability, and the only way we can be used by God to share the story of salvation is if we are firmly established, standing firm on Christ the Solid Rock.
To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ. Amen!