Two aspects of Romans and Ephesians applicable today
Although written in the first century AD, in a society considerably different to that which prevails now, the Pauline Epistles contain teachings which remain applicable to our lives today. Two examples follow.
By way of background, Paul did not found the church in Rome but he had a close relationship with many of its members. Unlike some of his other Epistles, there appears to be no specific problem situation which caused Paul to write his letter to the Romans1 around AD57; rather it was to prepare for his planned visit to Rome. In it, Paul took the opportunity to give something of a detailed and systematic statement of his faith.
One area he examines is suffering, Paul stating (5.3-5) that we rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance, which in turn gives rise to character, leading to hope; a hope which does not disappoint because of the love of God poured into our hearts. Such a cycle of development from suffering2 through to fulfilled hope is reinforced in James 1.2-43 and 1Peter 1.6-74.
This is a powerful statement both for Paul’s time and, equally, for today5. Suffering can bring about abject debilitation and dejection but Paul avers it can be a positive force when God is called upon, because when we ask for His strength we become capable of endurance. Tried and tested faith, Paul suggests, actually reveals a character which can become rooted in God and it is Him at work in us which evidences that our hope of complete salvation is guaranteed.
Paul returns to the subject of suffering later in the Epistle. He writes (8.17) of sharing in Christ’s sufferings in order that we may share in his glory and explains (8.25) about waiting “patiently”6 in hoping for what we do not yet have. This expectation was, for Paul, very real; ‘hope’ for him being essentially the same as ‘faith’ but for the future.
In summary, the key significance for Christian discipleship to take away for today from these verses10 in Romans is that, whoever we are, trials and sufferings are part of our lives but we are to keep our faith and to strengthen our trust in God during times of trial because He creates a greater good out of it11.
Spiritual warfare and the armour of God (Ephesians)
Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians may originally have been an open letter intended for Christians over a wide area12; it speaks in general terms so is certainly applicable to Christians in any location.
Written around AD62 whilst Paul was in prison in Rome, its primary concern is with God’s plan “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Christ (1.10). However, it also includes an appeal to live in a way that makes this oneness in Christ meaningful, particularly regarding right relationships. Paul suggests that viewing wrong relationships as the main challenge to living a truly Christian life is to consider matters from a purely worldly perspective and he goes on to describe a spiritual warfare of which every Christian is a part.
He explains that this warfare is fought in the power of God, not against people but against the powers of darkness and that we are called to stand our ground, this ground13 having already been won by Christ’s death on the cross. Paul then describes the armour of God - which, by our own action, we need to wear in order to engage in the warfare - and the purpose of each piece.
At first sight all this might appear archaic but there is a richness about the analogies which does not merely resonate with today’s circumstances but which also has a direct relevance thereto.
Paul asserts (6.10) that we are to be strong in the Lord and His mighty power, this strength being needed because the fight is actually against the powers of evil14. It might appear at first sight that our enemy is individual people but this is merely a front for the real enemy. How true this is today when, for example, libertarianism, cultural marxism and contemporary philosophical thinking are actively undermining the historic revelation of God through Jesus Christ and creating false “gods” to worship15.
Although the armour which Paul says is required16 is couched in the nomenclature of his day17, the underlying essence and purpose of it is directly compatible with modern times. Paul writes of “truth” (6.14), used in the fight to prevent us from believing Satan’s lies about God and ourselves18 of “righteousness” (6.14), which protects us from false accusations; of the “Gospel of peace” (6.15), thereby reminding us of the good news of Christ. Other aspects of the armour are “faith” (6.16), as confidence in God and His word can stop Satan’s attacks; “salvation” (6.17), offering protection for the mind and the power to break free from sinful thought; “Spirit” (6.17), i.e. the Word of God, used to great effect by Christ himself against temptation.
Seen in these terms, it is clear that what held good in Paul’s teachings for his times is directly applicable in ours. Evil in various forms continues to arise today and needs to be overcome. Significantly, each tool which Paul has laid down to do so has lost none of its effectiveness in the intervening centuries.
As I have commented
elsewhere19, many of today’s issues are actually little different
to those faced by our forebears, thereby making much of Paul’s teachings in
his Epistles relevant and appropriate in the 21st century as a solid bedrock for
Interestingly, Donald Guthrie in “
2 Ray Stedman, in his “Rejoicing in Suffering”, notes that the Greek word for suffering can essentially be translated as tribulation or something which causes distress. He explains: “It can range from minor annoyances that we go through every day, to major disasters that come sweeping down out of the blue and leave us stricken and smitten”.
3 “Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything”.
“You greatly rejoice, although now for a little while you may have had to
suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
5 Henry Brinton in his “From Suffering to Hope” reminds us that we should be mindful of this three-stage process on, for example, Remembrance Day and when we reflect on recent terrorist atrocities and other events. “We need it right now as we struggle to comprehend”, he says, adding “Pain can actually move us closer to the God who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer”.
6 As Matthew Henry rather elegantly puts it in his Commentary on Romans, “Tribulation worketh patience, not in and of itself but the powerful grace of God working in and with the tribulation”.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory
which will be revealed in us”. As an important aside, Steven Cole explains in
his “Present Suffering, Future Glory” that the term ‘present sufferings’
or ‘the sufferings of this present time’ do not relate to an especially
difficult period in history but to the entire present age, the whole history of
creation since the fall being marked by suffering. Cole says “
8 e.g. 2 Cor 1.3 ("The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”) and, particularly, 2 Cor 4.17-18 (“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory which far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal”)
9 In his “Understanding Christian Suffering”, Paul Bucknell asserts “God can and will work out all things for a higher good. No matter what sickness, shortness of life, poverty, persecution, difficulty in life, family rejection or even horrible physical features we might have, we can fully trust God to bring about a greater good. In other words, in His wise providence, the trials are designed to further His good purpose”.
10 which are written in the context of Paul’s more general assertion that, having been freed from sin, believers can be assured of their hope in salvation
11 By way of further reading, a thesis by Siu Fung Wu entitled “Suffering in Romans: An Audience Focussed Reading” is worthy of note. No part of that paper has been used in this piece.
14 Interestly, Jack Wellman in his “Spiritual attacks: putting on the armour of God” maintains that spiritual attacks seem most frequently to occur at times of personal growth in the believer, when a Christian is overcoming a major sin or addiction.
15 Jason Jackson in his “Spiritual warfare is real, difficult and dangerous” explains that the adversary plans to deceive the mind. He says “How easy it is to get someone to go along with something, as long as that person thinks it is alright”.
17 for example “breastplate”, “shield”, “helmet”, “sword”. This is similar armour to that seen in Isaiah 59.17. Indeed, Thomas Smith, in his “Putting on the armour of God”, says whilst it might be assumed that Paul’s primary inspiration for the different parts of the armour came from his observance of Roman soldiers, instead Paul may have turned primarily to his Jewish roots and the Old Testament.
18 Satan’s accusations burden us with guilt and destroy our right relationship with God, discouraging and confusing us. Yet his power over us is bogus; it is maintained by lies.
in “Four aspects of Galatians,
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire April 2017