Christianity 201

November 13, 2012

To Whom Did Paul Say, “For What I Want to Do I Do not Do”?

While we recognize that Romans 7 is New Testament, we often over-Christianize it and miss out on the Old Testament world that shaped the times of the apostles. Scott Lencke at the blog The Prodigal Thought works through this thought, you’re encouraged to read this at source where it appeared (sans soundtrack) as De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.

Everyone know The Police song, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da? If not, you can have a listen and watch here.

Now Romans 7 is difficult enough just on its own terms. But add in the distraction of Sting belting out one of his great hits, well, it’s simply all over (especially after watching the video!).

Why Romans 7 and The Police?

Romans 7 is that chapter where Paul uses the word do so many times. Yes, that chapter! I count 20 times in vs15-20! There we find the famed words,

‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Actually, did you know Romans 7 causes difficulty? Not because of The Police, but rather because people have been debating for a very long time whether Paul is describing the normal life of a Christian or non-Christian.

The popular belief today, at least amongst evangelicals, is that Paul is describing a Christian. For starters, it is argued, if Paul says, ‘For in my inner being I delight in God’s law,’ this cannot be reality for an unregenerate, depraved human. Not only that, but what I think happens even more is that we look at our own lives, evaluate our daily living, and concur that vs15 and vs19 speak very truly about us – ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.’

Now, while some might loathe the idea of utilizing our experience to understand Scripture, I wouldn’t say it’s completely terrible. I’m an advocate of something like the Wesleyan quadrilateral that recognizes we have more than Scripture alone in helping us understand God’s revelation. Rather this perspective takes a more holistic approach, identifying a) Scripture, b) tradition (there is such things as good tradition), c) reason (not ‘objective rationalism’) and d) experience as important in grasping the revelation of God.

So, my point is that understanding Scripture is not completely devoid of our human experience and encounter with God and his truth.

Thus, having said that, those 2 well-known verses (Rom 7:15, 19) might parallel something going on in our own lives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was given to describe our situation. You see, this banter about whether Paul is describing the Christian or non-Christian life, I think it might just bring us on an adventure of missing the point. Well, I would concede it’s part of the point. But I don’t believe it’s the greater point of Paul in what is our ch.7 (you know Paul didn’t have chapter and verse divides in his letter).

What I think happens is that we gloss over a vital statement. And I suppose we miss the larger context of the letter and the sweeping thought of chapters 6-8. So maybe we start there.

What in the world is going on in Rome? For this letter was written to a particular church in Rome.

Paul is writing to a church that is extremely divided. Why?

Some 6 to 8 years before Paul wrote to the church, the emperor Claudius had expelled all Jews from the area of Italy (see Acts 18:1-2). Thus, the church became strongly Gentile. But the successor to Claudius, emperor Nero, allowed the Jews to make their way back into this area of the Roman empire. So we have a church situation that has become mainly Gentile over a number of years, which means you have a strong group of people mainly disconnected from the Abrahamic faith of Israel. Mix in a strong group of Jews desiring to see their great heritage fall to the wayside and you’ve got a bit of a challenge.

So here is a man with wisdom and pastoral compassion trying to help both Jews and Gentiles. You can sense it right throughout the letter.

But what about the difficulty of Romans 7? How does this fit into the Roman context?

Well, we could work through chs.6 and 8, but let’s come back to that. This is where 7:1 becomes all-important.

Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?

Who is Paul speaking to?

Jews! Those who know the law.

Yes, Paul does tell us early on in the letter that even those who do not have the Jewish Torah have a law for themselves (see Rom 2:14-15). But, looking at this statement in 7:1, I think it quite clear Paul is speaking to those who know Yahweh’s Torah, as summed up in the Law of Moses.

When you realize that Paul is mainly speaking to Jews, in this little interlude between chapters 6 and 8, I believe it opens up the passage quite a lot.

It’s not so much about whether Paul is describing a Christian or non-Christian, though we can talk about that, and I will. Rather it’s primarily about one who is trying to live under the law.

And so I do believe we can ascribe to a Jew, a good Jew in the context of the first century, these words of Paul: For in my inner being I delight in God’s law (7:22).

Paul’s not really caught up in our debates about prevenient or irresistible grace. He is describing a good Jew like himself based right in the tension of the first century as things were strongly evolving into the light of the new covenant in Christ. For someone who delights in the law but tries to live under the reign of the law, that person is going to find herself or himself in quite a pickle. Such a Jew might end up arguing with themselves, like Gollum and Smeagol, as seen here. Such a major internal war!

This is why the preceding words of chapter 6 become extremely important. Especially statements like these: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Rom 6:14).

The one joined to Christ has been freed from the reign of both sin and law. Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. But living under the reign of grace, as seen and expressed in the faithfulness of Jesus, releases one to ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code’ (Rom 7:6). And Paul reminds us of the delivery that takes place in Jesus Christ (7:24-25). Not only that, but ‘through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (8:2).

‘Ok, then. But what about 7:25, part b,’ one may ask?! It says: So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Yes, a good Jew will want to be a slave (or obedient) to the torah-law. But that person living in light of their sinful nature, the flesh, will become a slave to the law of sin. It’s reality for Paul, for any Jew. Again, Law + sin = a jumbled mixture of problems in a Jew. This is why Paul could give his list of achievements for being best Jew of the century, but at the same time list his persecution of Christians (see Phil 3:4-6). Living under the reign and lordship of the law is ludicrous, even making one proud of their accomplishments that are contrary to the will of God (and for Paul, that was watching Christians be murdered!). A proper Jew needs releasing from such a view, being drown in the reign of the grace of God in the faithfulness of Jesus.

Now, there is no doubt we could think about the application of chapter 7 for us, Gentiles, some 2000 years later. Though let me remark that I don’t think it completely possible to think like a Jew, even more a Jew from some 2000 years ago like Paul. Still, we can consider the ease of making our own law (not in a Rom. 2 sense, but from an extreme moralistic framework). And, thus, we try and live an overly controlled life under this law, which really ends up wrecking our own hearts and lives, as well as others’. We have to grapple with the practicalities of living under the reign of law rather than the reign of grace.

But Paul is talking about those who know the law, the Mosaic torah. In this extremely divided Roman church, he is taking time to address his brothers and sisters in the fleshly heritage.

And, so, in a sense, Paul is creating a before and after situation. Jews would have once been driven by their commitment to the precious rule of the law (or maybe they still were). But now it was time to live under the reign of grace, under the new way of the Spirit, under the rule of Christ Jesus. That was the glories of which Paul was proclaiming.

This is what Romans 7 is all about, tucked into the middle of a letter to the church in Rome, tucked in between two very telling chapters, that being chapters 6 and 8. I think if we remember this, it will help us continue to understand what God has done for us and in us through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And it will release us to live more and more under the reign of grace, the Jew first and also the Gentile.

~Scott Lencke

August 25, 2012

The Spice Tithe: Selective Righteousness

 

Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

Tithe [tahyth] noun

1.

Sometimes, tithes. the tenth part of agricultural produce or personal income set apart as an offering to God or for works of mercy, or the same amount regarded as an obligation or tax for the support of the church, priesthood, or the like…
Word Origin & History

Old English: teogoþa (Anglian), teoþa (W.Saxon) “tenth,” from P.Gmc. *tegunthon, *tekhunthon. Retained in ecclesiastical sense while the form was replaced in ordinal use by tenth (influenced by ten). The verb is O.E. teoþian.

~dictionary.com

We live in times where an increasing number of Bible teachers are proclaiming that the “tithe” — the giving of ten percent to the Lord’s work — no longer applies to us under the New Covenant; while at the same time a vocal number of Bible teachers are reminding their flock that the tithe is a command that God has not revoked.

Tithing on your spice harvest might require some rather precise measurement. You would only grow what you needed, and in some of these cases you would not need to devote much land to these spices.  A little dill or mint or cumin goes a long way. So in a sense it would “cost you nothing” to give out of a surplus that you had no intention of consuming. But then you could boast of your righteousness in the matter of tithing. “Look,” you could say, “I tithe right down to the smallest crop in my field.”

Matthew Henry writes:

They observed smaller duties, but omitted greater; they were very exact in paying tithes, till it came to mint, anise, and cumin, their exactness in tithing of which would not cost them much, but would be cried up, and they should buy reputation cheap. The Pharisee boasted of this, I give tithes of all that I possess, Luke 18:12. But it is probable that they had ends of their own to serve, and would find their own account in it; for the priests and Levites, to whom the tithes were paid, were in their interests, and knew how to return their kindness. Paying tithes was their duty, and what the law required; Christ tells them they ought not to leave it undone. Note, All ought in their places to contribute to the support and maintenance of a standing ministry: withholding tithes is called robbing God, Mal. 2:8-10. They that are taught in the word, and do not communicate to them that teach them that love a cheap gospel, come short of the Pharisee.

But that which Christ here condemns them for, is, that they omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; and their niceness in paying tithes, was, if not to atone before God, yet at least to excuse end palliate to men the omission of those. All the things of God’s law are weighty, but those are most weighty, which are most expressive of inward holiness in the heart; the instances of self-denial, contempt of the world, and resignation to God, in which lies the life of religion. Judgment and mercy toward men, and faith toward God, are the weightier matters of the law, the good things which the Lord our God requires (Mic. 6:8); to do justly, and love mercy, and humble ourselves by faith to walk with God. This is the obedience which is better than sacrifice or tithe; judgment is preferred before sacrifice, Isa. 1:11. To be just to the priests in their tithe, and yet to cheat and defraud every body else, is but to mock God, and deceive ourselves. Mercy also is preferred before sacrifice, Hos. 6:6. To feed those who made themselves fat with the offering of the Lord, and at the same time to shut up the bowels of compassion from a brother or a sister that is naked, and destitute of daily food, to pay tithe-mint to the priest, and to deny a crumb to Lazarus, is to lie open to that judgment without mercy, which is awarded to those who pretended to judgment, and showed no mercy; nor will judgment and mercy serve without faith in divine revelation; for God will be honored in his truths as well as in his laws.

Are there areas where I am precise and exact in doing what I feel God requires while completely missing the point on larger, more important issues? I’m sure there are. I call this selective righteousness and we can use this brand of righteous behavior to cover over other areas in our lives where we are not doing so well in terms of what we know God requires.

I wanted to end this with the same passage from The Message Bible, where Eugene Peterson loses the agricultural reference in verse 23 to something more recognizable in a balance-sheet world. But then I felt the entire passage bears repeating:

Matthew 23:13“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.

 15“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.

 16-22“You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.

 23-24“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

 25-26“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

 27-28“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

 29-32“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.

 33-34“Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse.

 35-36“You can’t squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.

April 3, 2011

Jesus’ Attitude Toward the Divorced, Remarried and Those Guilty of Adultery

I “borrow” a lot of things to keep this blog running, but today I’m sure to get caught (again!) because Pastor Kevin Rogers is a regular reader.   This appeared on his blog, The Orphan Age, under the title, Hope for Damaged Divorcees. So much of what we read online consists of our opinions on this subject and we forget how Jesus handled things…

So, what are we to understand about Jesus’ attitude toward the divorced, remarried and those guilty of adultery? His encounters with the guilty help us understand his attitude toward us. The Samaritan woman at the well is a great example of Jesus’ message to lawbreakers.

We find the Lord in a mutually vulnerable situation. He is a Jewish man alone in a conversation with a Samaritan woman. Cultural taboos would suggest that this was inappropriate on many levels. Still, Jesus is not bound by what the neighbors think.

The love of God reaches far beyond the protective limitations of religious people. To the pure all things are pure. Jesus was not about to take advantage of this woman.

The ensuing conversation is loaded with new thought about God’s Kingdom. Jesus is offering her something that will satisfy her at the deepest level, like a drink that has a permanent quenching effect. The offer of God’s life is appealing, but who can be good enough to earn it? Could this woman be respectable enough to merit God’s blessing?

John 4:
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

We see here a woman who had been betrayed and polluted by many. It’s not a question of whether she is the victim or the manipulator, but a recognition of the brokenness. Could it be that every new relationship came with a weak promise of lasting commitment and security? Men were not her answer.

Is the Law of God about adultery applicable to this woman? Indeed it is. The Law condemns her actions. But Jesus does not sound accusatory or judgmental here. Instead he invites her to bring his message of hope to the damaged remnants of relationship. Multiple failed marriages and adultery were not standing in God’s way of bringing lasting satisfaction to her. The impact of this woman’s life would be incredible.

John 4:
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Having been known as the town slut, she now becomes God’s messenger of hope. God took the irreparable damage of her life and gave her a contagious satisfaction. The story never addresses what became of the man she was living with at the time, but we can know with certainty that her newfound belief in Jesus would have a rippling effect that would stay with her for life. The central issue was not how bad she had been, but how loved she would be. God would love her with an everlasting love that would purify her.

It made so much sense that many of her neighbors would want it, too. The question is not how many divorces or adulterous affairs have you had, but are you open to being loved by the King of Heaven. Love covers a multitude of sins and purifies the polluted.

Do you struggle with guilt and condemnation from past failures? Christ’s love and grace is ready to heal you.

Jesus offers great hope of satisfaction to the castaways of broken marriage. You will find the fidelity and contentment you long for. It will come in receiving God’s Kingdom into your life—in receiving the King of Heaven as your satisfaction.

~Kevin Rogers

 

Read a previous Kevin Rogers post at this blog here.

October 20, 2010

A Three-Dimensional Understanding of Sin

Mark Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and the author of In A Pit With A Lion on a Snowy Day, Wild Goose Chase and Primal. This is from his blog, Evotional

In Jewish thought, there was a more nuanced understanding of sin. I think we have a one-dimensional understanding. Sin is sin. But the Jewish people had a three-dimensional understanding of sin. According to tradition, when the priest confessed the sins of Israel over the head of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement, it was a confession of three kinds of wrongdoing: iniquities, transgressions, and sins. The difference? Iniquities were willful. Transgressions were rebellious. And sins were unintentional.

I think our confessions are too vague. We pray: “Lord, forgive me for everything I’ve ever done wrong.” I’m sorry, but that’s weak! We don’t even let our kids get by with that. You need to know what you’re sorry for or you’ll make the same mistake over and over again. A vague confession results in vague forgiveness. You’re not really sure if you’re forgiven because you’re not really sure if you’ve confessed.

Did you know the High Priest was removed from his house and “quarantined” in the cell of the counselors for seven days before the Day of Atonement. Confession was a week long process. I wonder if we’ve ever spent an hour in confession? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about languishing in forgiven sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But confession is like cleaning a wound. If you don’t clean it completely, it often festers! Here’s what I’m getting at: the more nuanced our confession, the more nuanced our forgiveness. I think our confessions would be healthier and holier if we specified the sins we’re asking forgiveness for: the words, the thoughts, the motivations, the actions, the reactions.