See Step One!

Coliseum at night with colorful blurred traffic lights.

What in the World is God Doing?

Part 61: See Step One

Romans 16:25-27

25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

In our previous look at the closing chapter of Romans, we saw Paul warn the Church of Rome about the dangers of false leaders – people bent on dividing the congregation for their own purposes and ultimate self-glory. Paul’s command was not, “Be nice to them” or “Listen politely to their divisive talk” or “Decide whether or not he or she has a good point” or even “Come alongside them and love on them until they change.”

Paul’s command was very simple and clear: avoid them (16:17). The false leader may or may not come with a title of teacher. She may be someone in the congregation for many years. He may have spent a long time cultivating church relationships and participating in the life and ministry of the church. How do we recognize them? Very simply, they cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught (16:16).

The measure of a false leader is NOT how nice they are to you personally. Like the serpent in Eden, they excel in love talk and flattery (16:18). The measure of a false leader is their ability to build obstacles to Step One (It’s all about Jesus). They will be nice to you; but they will have what seem to be sincere “concerns” about someone or something else in the life of the church. “Hey, Persis, I was talking to Rufus the other day and HE said he wasn’t comfortable with this idea of worship with meat. HE thinks an all-vegetable love feast would be more efficient. I think HE may be on to something there. How about you; what do YOU think?

Through such seemingly-harmless conversation, false leaders compile their friends and enemies lists – the Victorious Vegetarians list and the Carnivores for Christ list. Battle lines are drawn and landmines of gossip and grumbling are placed. The leadership Christ appointed for his church is undermined; the glory of Christ shining through the unity of his people is bombarded by your new friend. And it just seems wrong, unchristian, so upside-down for you to avoid people who are SO NICE to you.

YOUR glory in having such a polite, kind, helping friend becomes more important to you than Jesus’ glory through a unified, humble, loving congregation. False leaders ALWAYS appeal to YOUR glory in their secret bid for their own glory. They kindly, gently take you by the hand and lead you slowly and imperceptibly away from Step One (It’s all about Jesus). False leaders rarely “lead the war;” they subtly create the war through personal, kind and flattering conversations.

Paul, being a pastor, has seen this time and again in his congregations. It’s one of his greatest spiritual anxieties for the church. So what keeps Paul confident and resolved in the face of this constant demonic attack against the unity of the Church? He tells us the source of his confidence as he closes out this great letter with this rich praise-blessing. He has unshakable confidence is in the powerful truth of Step One.

  1. GOD ESTABLISHES (16:25a)

    1. Doxology

      1. Paul lifts up his readers’ hearts and minds in praise to God. That’s what we call a “doxology” (Gr. “praise word”). This is the longest doxology in all of Paul’s letters and in the entire NT.

      2. This is a complex compound sentence. But the message is very simple: “…to him…be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. Put into the context of the whole letter of Romans, the message is: See Step One!

      3. It is simple; but it’s also complex because he is summarizing all the doctrine of this letter in one sentence.1 We could use this doxology to do a point-by-point review of the whole of Romans over several Sundays.

      4. That’s wouldn’t be a terrible idea since we’ve only covered this book superficially. We have spent 61 weeks in Romans. Dr. James Boice, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, and Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse spent many years (Boice spent 8 years in 236 sermons) on the exposition of Romans.

      5. Even at the end of our superficial study of this great letter, we still find a final sentence that directs us to the central fact of the universe: the glory of the Godhead through Messiah Jesus’ great unifying work of perfection, sacrificial death, and eternal life that destroys all the self-glory of the Old Adam. See Step One.

      6. Paul first directs us to God’s power to keep, strengthen, establish.

    2. Power to Establish

      1. 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you [ESV] can be translated, “To Him who is powerful to make you firm and unchanging…” [trans. mine]. The verb translated able is δύναμαι [δυνατέω]. Can you hear the English words “dynamic” and “dynamite” in it?

      2. Paul is focusing our attention on the power of God to plant his people on solid ground so that they are not tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming (Eph. 4:14).

      3. God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” as Paul told the Ephesians (Eph. 3:20).2

      4. This really is the “bookend” of Romans.3 You’ll remember how he began the letter in 1:16, “16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power[δύναμιςof God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

      5. Remember, “salvation” doesn’t simply mean justification, but every point along the line of our union with Christ from the dung heap to the glory heap. Salvation is of the Lord. Therefor God WILL keep his people (Jew and Gentile); he is powerful to establish them in the gospel, to preserve them as one unified congregation, and to carry them along to eternal glory.

      6. The same gospel that has the power to make us right with God is the gospel that has the power to keep us despite the demonic forces bent upon ripping apart Christ’s people over such things as Jewish believers’ and Gentile believers’ worship scruples.

      7. God strengthens/establishes his people by means of his gospel. Isn’t that the reason Paul stated in 1:11 he wanted to visit Rome? “11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen [confirm, establish] you.”

      8. “…Paul is not only interested in their escaping the clutches of the seducers, but also in their firmness of inner spiritual life in general, in their obtaining an impregnable spiritual consistency of life.”4

      9. How often we are tempted to seek spiritual consistency in things other than the gospel. How foolish we are to seek power in impotent things, impotent people, and impotent ideas – false messiahs, idols.

      10. The power of God is not in positive thinking and self-affirmations; it is not in behavior modifications; it is not in political messiahs; it is not even in the very best of the book-selling, camp-meeting holding Christian gurus (for the only power any minister can convey is the truth of Scripture).

      11. The power of God is in the gospel, which Paul teaches here. He calls it my gospel not because Paul invented it but because he clings to it as something he received directly from Jesus.

      12. 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to …the preaching of Jesus Christ…. Literally the phrase is, “the message about Jesus Christ,” defining the phrase “my gospel.” In the early church, the word gospel referred to the entire message of Christianity – the entire content of the doctrines Paul sets forth in Romans.5

      13. I have a question for you: “Is Paul’s gospel YOUR gospel?” Or, to put it another way, “What is YOUR ‘Step One?’” If your Step One is your personal happiness, your improved behavior, your increasing stockpile of good-works, or your increasing bible knowledge then you have a very different Step One than Paul’s gospel.

      14. It’s not bad to be happy, to perform works of love, to know more and more scripture. It’s bad if any one of those fruits of trust becomes your primary goal; because our chief end is glorifying and enjoying God in Christ Jesus. See Step One!

      15. As soon as Paul mentions the power of God in the gospel, he has directed our attention back to the entirety of Romans and all of its Old Testament proofs of gospel truth. Because the test of every work is this: is it in harmony with the divine Word?6

  1. GOD REVEALS (16:25b-26)

    1. Mystery (25b)

      1.  Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to… the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages….

      2. This powerful message about Jesus Christ, Paul says, was kept partly hidden for ages. That’s a hard thing for us in the present age to understand. In medieval times, theologians treated the word mystery as something only the institution of the church could know, something beyond the intellect of ordinary people.

      3. But that’s NOT how Paul uses the word mystery. A mystery is a divine truth that cannot be known apart from direct revelation. When Paul uses “mystery” in Romans (11:25; 16:26), he is speaking of God’s plan to unite both Jew and Gentile into one new spiritual race in Christ Jesus.

      4. What the apostle is saying is that “the gospel is something no human being could have guessed. In the past it was entirely hidden in the mind of God. In fact, when God began to reveal it during the Old Testament period, the details were puzzling even to the prophets to whom the revelation was given, for they were unable fully to understand what God’s Spirit had caused them to write. We understand it only because Jesus has now come.”7

      5. Peter explained it this way, “The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10–11).

      6. Jesus, God incarnate in human flesh, fully God and fully man, came as the full and final revelation (Heb. 1) of God’s plan to re-unite God and man, heaven and earth. Christ reveals the mystery of the divine plan at the right time (Rom. 5:6). What on earth is God doing? He’s uniting all things in Christ Jesus!

      7. The Seed of the woman, the serpent-crusher has come. Abraham’s Seed has come. The prophet greater than Moses has come. Shiloh has come. King David’s greater son has come. The arm of the Lord has come. The righteous branch has come. The Suffering Servant has come. The virgin’s son has come.

      8. But who could have foreseen Messiah would die a criminal’s death, be buried in the earth like a lifeless seed, and spring forth from a garden tomb, and ascend to the throne of the universe as the Man in heaven? Who could have understood that these events would unite God’s people of the Promise and uncircumcised pagans into one single race holding a New Covenant from God?

    2. All Nations (26)

      1. Paul’s praise-blessing continues, “the mystery …has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith….”

      2. I hope you can taste at least some of the excitement Paul has about the message of the Lord Jesus Christ as this great praise-blessing rises higher and higher. Despite all of his beatings, his imprisonments, despite the constant threats of death, the illnesses, and hardships of travel, Paul found surpassing joy in fulfilling his calling to take the message of Messiah Jesus to the Gentiles (all nations).

      3. That is not just Paul’s calling. That is YOUR calling. It is this congregation’s calling to share the message of Christ, my gospel with Jew and non-Jew. I long that we should taste something of Paul’s thrill in the mission of the church!

      4. My prayer is that as we finish this letter we have some sense of the thrill of the mission of sharing Christ with the lost, that we LONG to see the spiritually dead raised to eternal life in Christ. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU; IT’S NOT ABOUT ME. IT’S ALL ABOUT JESUS.

      5. That is a life-transforming, sacrifice-producing, mission-oriented, gospel-thrilling way of life! God’s secrete plan to bring man and God, heaven and earth back together has been revealed in Jesus!

      6. What meat or vegetable diet, what feast and fast day differences can compare to Step One? No false leader can stop the gospel power from accomplishing the will of God to unite His people in Christ and to one another.

      7. Through the church on mission, sharing the message of Christ Jesus, the lost are brought into the obedience of faith. What does that mean? It means to humbly submit myself to God’s free gift of Christ – to give up trying to earn, to set aside my pride and my demands, to come wrap my dirty hands around the blood cross as my ONLY hope of rightness with the Holy God.

      8. John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you trust in whom he has sent.” You will live according to what you trust. Are you trusting into Christ? It’s Paul’s passion for you to that. It’s my passion. It’s to be the passion of this congregation.

  1. GOD GLORIFIES HIMSELF (16:27)

    1. Wisdom (27a) 8

      1. Finally, Paul writes, “27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” Why does Paul bother with calling God wise when he’s already called him powerful?

      2. It’s very interesting that the next book in the NT opens with the same theme that closes Romans: the wisdom of God. That’s important because God’s wisdom is utterly upside down from human wisdom.

      3. Ask anyone who believes in a higher power and some form of afterlife what their hope is. How do they know they will have a happy afterlife? Human wisdom in religion ALWAYS looks to some form of human merit or self-improvement.

      4. But as Paul says just one page over in 1 Cor. 1:18-25, “18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

      5. Can you see it? God displays his power to save in the abject weakness of cross of Jesus Christ. There is no other power in the universe able to deliver us from the power and guilt and shame and bondage of sin, from death and Satan, and hell and judgment.

      6. God’s wisdom is power in the weakness of the crucified Christ. In another letter to the same status-hungry, title-loving, guru-following Corinthians Paul will say, “10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

      7. There is no greater wisdom in the entire universe than the wisdom our God has shown in bringing salvation to lost sinners by means of the weakness of the cross where both God’s justice and his vast one-way love could meet.

      8. As totally perfect as the angels are, they veil their faces before God’s glorious perfection. But in the wisdom of God, he has made a way for us to behold him with unveiled faces (2 Cor. 3:18) by means of the inimitable blood of the willingly-bound and helpless Lamb of God.

      9. It’s that upside down wisdom Paul showed us Romans 8 where God uses our sufferings to produce glory in us. This is the upside down wisdom of God. All that human and demonic powers can do to God’s people is make them more and more like Christ.

      10. That is the upside down wisdom and power that leads believers, even today, through martyrdom. God’s wisdom, his power, his glory shine in the oppression, the trials, the suffering of his people.

      11. Even in the midst of the congregation, with people of different religious backgrounds and different cultures and different scruples over worship God shows his upside power as the weak are carried along by the strong.

      12. The unity of Christ’s church is NOT in strength. It’s NOT in political power. The unity of Christ’s church is in its weakness. God’s power and wisdom is displayed in our weakness.

    2. Glory Through Christ (27b)

      1. All of this leads us to glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

      2. At the end of chapter 5 he told us our salvation was in Jesus Christ. At the end of chapter 6 he told us our salvation was in Jesus Christ. At the end of chapter 7 he told us our salvation was in Jesus Christ.

      3. At the end of chapter 8, “38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

      4. Paul began his letter explaining how man exchanged God’s glory for idolatry. In chapter 3 he explained how all humanity has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

      5. He told us how, because we are justified by trust into Christ, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. In chapter 8 he wrote about how we are bought to glory through tribulations and, at the end we will be filled with God’s glory.

      6. At the end of explaining God’s great plan for both Jew and Gentile to be one in Christ, Paul exclaimed to God alone be the glory. Then at the end of his teaching on fellowship in the church at 15:7 he wrote, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

      7. Recall Jesus’ final earthly prayer before the cross. He prayed to the Father, “22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” (Jn 17:22).

When God’s people embrace one another in the love of Christ, God’s Shekinah Glory rests upon them. When the world encounters God’s people living in happy fellowship and mutual reconciliation and love for each other with a single mission to bring the message of Christ to the lost, the world cannot fathom that glory.

But sometimes, by God’s grace, the lost can taste a little bit of this amazing glory when they come into the gospel culture of a church that is all about Jesus.

This gospel comes from the glory. This gospel brings us to the glory. This gospel is for the glory of God through Christ Jesus.

Step One: it’s all about Jesus.

Step Two: See Step One.

1 Ferguson, Romans 16:25-27: “Paul’s Gospel” accessed 3/31/16 at: http://mp3.sa-media.com/filearea/391295460/391295460.mp3

2 Boice, 4:1960–1961.

3 Id.

4 Johnson, 50:2.

5 Id., 3.

6 Id.

7 Boice, 1963.

8 Ferguson, op. cit.