The Goodness of God for Our Instruction

How often do you look to family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers for guidance and instruction? How do you think about Christians who are taking stands about wearing masks or participating in protests? Do you agree with those who are being extra cautious to stay socially distant? Do you evaluate their decisions? Do you trust that they are as informed and wise as you are (or think you are)? With the internet, there is no excuse to be uninformed about scientific, medical, economic, or research data. However, we need much more than that if we are going to instruct each other prudently—we need the wisdom of God—which we have or can have if we are in Christ.

Some Christians in the first century disagreed and took sides when it came to the clash between the Jews and the Gentiles. “The focus on Jew-Gentile issues suggests that tensions existed between Jews and Gentiles in the church in Rome…The Roman historian Suetonius records that the Roman emperor Claudius…expelled Jews from Rome in AD 49 because of strife over ‘Chrestos’…The expulsion of Jews from Rome is confirmed by Acts 18:2. Because of the expulsion, the Gentile churches would have developed for a number of years apart from the Jews. Over the years the Jewish Christians slowly filtered back into Roman churches. It is not difficult to imagine that tensions would develop between law-observing Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who lived free of the restrictions in the Mosaic law.” (1) The strains that we are experiencing in our world are not unique; through the ages, cultures have clashed, countries fought, and states have engaged in civil warfare. Paul’s letter explains the “OT promises of salvation are fulfilled in the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of new life received through faith in him. The gospel goes to both Jew and Gentile, fulfilling God’s plan to bless the nations.” (2) There is nothing more reasonable than the gospel’s work to bring an end to conflicts. But Paul’s statement in Romans 15:14 goes beyond an intellectual faith in the gospel to its power and efficacy in God’s people. He writes, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” Believers are full of Christ’s goodness and knowledge, not just for our benefit but also for others’ sake. And, since we are full of goodness and knowledge, we should accept the biblical instruction from others, as we likewise instruct them.

“Nothing is clearer than that the {Romans] letter is for people who take their faith seriously. Yet it is not the mere fact of the letter that is a compliment. Paul is aware that his confidence in these believers, whom he had never seen, might nevertheless be misunderstood. So he compliments them directly, using the terms appearing in this verse: (1) ‘full of goodness,’ (2) ‘complete in knowledge,’ and (3) ‘competent to instruct one another.’ John Murray says of this verse, ‘He could scarcely have devised a combination of words that would more effectively convey to them his own personal conviction of the fruit of the gospel in their midst.’ If this really is Paul’s way of complimenting the Roman church on being what a church should be, then he is also giving us three criteria by which we can evaluate ourselves—or any local gathering of believers.” (3) Do you know believers who meet these three criteria? It is a delight to name many individuals who are full of goodness, have in-depth knowledge of Christ and biblical doctrine, and are competent to teach me. But I confess that when I think of myself, I realize that I am too self-absorbed, especially during social isolation. Those of us who enjoy being introverts, at least to some extent, settle into a distancing pattern too quickly.

“The word is agathôsunê [used by Paul here], is significant because it refers to moral or ethical goodness as well as to what we would most naturally think of—namely, kindness, thoughtfulness, charity toward the poor, and such. This is important, of course, especially when we remember what Paul had to say about goodness in the earlier chapters. In his study of the nature of fallen man developed in chapter 3 he quoted Psalm 14:1–3 and 53:1–3 as teaching that ‘there is no one who does good, not even one’ (v. 12). Even worse, not only do we fail to do or practice good; we also actively do evil, and that continuously… ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’ (Romans 3:13–18) How, then, can Paul speak in chapter 15 of the Roman believers being filled with goodness? The answer, obviously, is that they had become Christians, having been turned from their sin to faith and righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is true, as Robert Haldane writes, that ‘in our flesh there is nothing good.’ But it is equally true that ‘from the work of the Spirit on our hearts we may be full of goodness.’… We need to remember that Galatians 5:22–23 lists goodness as one part of the Holy Spirit’s fruit…and that, according to Ephesians 2:10, doing good works is the necessary outcome of our having become Christians: ‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’” (4) It is a relief to know that we believers are full of Christ’s goodness and knowledge for the sake of others.

Since believers are full of goodness and knowledge, we should accept their biblical instruction as we likewise instruct them. Romans 15:14 continues, “…filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” “The Greek word translated competent is based on the word ‘dynamis’ (actually ‘dynamenoi’), which has the idea of being powerful or effective. ‘Dynamis’ was the word used in the phrase ‘by the power of the Holy Spirit’ in verse 13. Instruct is ‘nouthetein,’ which carries the idea of admonishing another person in order to correct something that may be wrong. In the New Testament the word occurs only in Paul’s writings plus once in a speech of his recorded in Acts 20:31. In Acts 20 Paul has arrived at Miletus on the coast of Asia Minor near Ephesus and has sent for the elders of the Ephesian church in order to say good-bye to them and give them his final admonitions and encouragements. As part of this helpful instruction he brings forward his own example when he was with them earlier, saying, ‘Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:31).” (5)

Of course, we’re not apostles, and most of us are not pastors or evangelists, although we should all be sharing the gospel regularly. John Gill describes Paul’s knowledge and that which we should have: “all spiritual knowledge relating to God; to Christ and the work of redemption by him; to the Spirit, and the operations of his grace; to the Gospel, and the doctrines of it; to their duty to God, fellow creatures, and fellow Christians; in short, with all knowledge necessary to salvation, though as yet not perfect…goodness and knowledge are necessary to admonition, and qualify persons for it: if a man is not a good man himself, he is not fit to admonish another; and if he has not knowledge, he will not be able to do it as it should be; and without humanity and tenderness, he will not perform it aright, and with success; but all this being in these persons, they were able and fit for it.” (6) Psalm 84:11 says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Since the Lord doesn’t withhold his goodness, we should not withhold ours, having the knowledge and life experiences we do with Christ. Do you doubt the power of the goodness of Christ in you? God doesn’t, and he gives us much encouragement in his Word. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-8) So, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

(1) English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Romans—Theme, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.

(2) ESV Notes, Ibid.

(3) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Romans 15:14, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

(4) Boice, Ibid.

(5) Boice, Ibid.

(6) Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 15:14, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/romans-15.html

July 24, 2020

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