Friday, September 26, 2014

Rambling through Romans (14): 3:1-8

3 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Although everyone is a liar, let God be proved true, as it is written,

“So that you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail in your judging.”

But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not say (as some people slander us by saying that we say), “Let us do evil so that good may come”? Their condemnation is deserved!
 

Paul here engages in a bit of back and forth with an imaginary listener.

“What advantage has the Jew?” or “the value of circumcision?” (v.1), asks the listener.  “The oracles of God” (v.2), Paul replies.

As the people chosen by God for the sake of God’s blessing everyone else, the Jews are central to the story and work of God in and for the world.  They are the only people of whom this can be said.

But the Jews have been unfaithful, the listener objects.  Doesn’t this nullify that special status (v.3)?  No, answers Paul.  Or better, “Hell no” (as one of my Greek professors said this phrase is best rendered in colloquial English).  Human, Jewish, infidelity will not keep God from fulfilling his purposes!  And he quotes the Old Testament (Psa.51:4) in confirmation. 

But why should the Jews be punished if even their unfaithfulness serves God’s purposes (v.5)?  Where’s the fairness in that?  Unfaithfulness is still sin, Paul replies.  And God is still the judge (v.6).

The listener continues though, voicing a “slander” Paul has evidently heard in his missionary proclamation of the gospel:  “Let us do evil, then, so that good may come.”  Paul does not even dignify such an idea with a response.  Instead he brusquely dismisses it with a “Their condemnation is deserved!” (v.8).

Seems like a reasonable, or at least a logical, question, though.  Why does Paul dismiss it so summarily?

Because it shows no understanding of grace at all!  Grace binds us to God in a love-trust relationship such that we are adopted into his family in Christ.  We (should) no longer want to disappoint our Father or betray the family name we’ve been graciously given.  To even think in terms of presuming on God’s grace in this way is evidence enough that neither God nor his work in the world is understood.  This is a perversion of the gospel and can only be condemned.

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