Monday, April 21, Chapter 7
Paul writes directly to the Jews in Rome by using the example of re-marriage to show freedom from the law. In a similar way we are all released from the law because we are now free to do what Jesus tells us to do. It is a strange concept, being free to be a slave. Yet, only by being a slave to Jesus can we be free.
With verse 7 Paul has to defend against the possible attack that the Torah (law) is itself sinful. He says it is not sin, it only points out what is sinful. Remember that sin is separation from God, but also separation from our fellow humans, from all living plants and animals, even from ourselves. In Heaven, we will be aware of every other person there. We will be as concerned for them as for ourselves, maybe more so. By following Jesus we come closer to God and others, even as we remain in a state of sin. We are at best reforming sinners. Hi, I’m Mike and I am a sinner.
The Torah teaches us about sin, but does not remove sin from us. For that we need the Messiah.
Verse 9 may refer to the practice that a child was not responsible for any violations of the Torah until age 13, after the bar or bat mitzvah. Paul is saying, now, what I cannot have is what I want.
Paul interchanges sin and death; they mean the same thing.
Verses 14-20 relates the human, or at least the God fearing human, condition of wanting to do good, but being unable to always do it. For reasons we do not understand, we end up doing the wrong things, wrong because they hurt others.
Because we accept God’s Mercy of salvation through Jesus, we live in between, or perhaps in both, the world of sin and God’s perfect world where we will understand everything others say and do and we will never do anything to hurt another.
Tuesday, April 22, Chapter 8
Having explained to the whole church, but especially the Jewish followers of the Messiah, why the Torah cannot save us, Paul turns now to the joy of living in the Holy Spirit. With the Spirit we can defeat sin more often; we can come closer to living the life we were created to live.
Paul Tillich, Witness of the Spirit, paraphrased. This eighth chapter of Paul’s letter is like a hymn praising, in ecstatic words, the new reality which has appeared to him. A Christian is one who participates in this new reality, that is, one who has the Spirit. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. Flesh is the distortion of human nature, the abuse of its creativity. He describes the will of flesh with a depth which cannot be equalled. The natural man hates God and regards Him as the enemy, because He represents for man the law which he cannot reach, against which he struggles, and which, at the same time, he must acknowledge as good and true.
That is why Jesus is so important. He connects us with God in a human way, a way we can understand, a way that seems to us to be natural.
Romans 8:26, In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
From Paul Tillich, The Paradox of Prayer. There are two main types of prayer, the fixed liturgical and the free spontaneous prayer. Both of them show the truth of Paul’s assertion, that We do not know what we ought to pray.
The liturgical churches which use classical formulas should ask themselves whether they do not prevent the people of our time from praying as they honestly can. And the non-liturgical churches who give the freedom to make up prayers at any moment, should ask themselves whether they do not profane prayer and deprive it of its mystery.
The question is: can we pray at all? According to Paul, it is humanly impossible. We talk to someone who is closer to us than we are ourselves. We tell him our darkest secrets, but he knows the secrets we will not even tell ourselves.
When we pray, it is God Himself who prays through us. The Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Words, created by and used in our conscious life, are not the essence of prayer. The essence of prayer is the act of God who is working in us and raises our whole being to Himself.
For the last section of chapter 8, I will quote parts of Paul Tillich, The Meaning of Providence. These well-known words of Paul express the Christian faith in divine Providence. They are the first and fundamental interpretation of the disturbing words in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus commands us not to take any thought about our life and food and clothing, and to seek first the Kingdom of God, for all of our daily life and needs are already known by God. We need such an interpretation. For there are few articles of the Christian faith which are more important for the daily life of every man and woman, and there are few more open to misunderstanding and distortion. And such misunderstanding necessarily leads to a disillusionment which not only turns the hearts of men away from God, but also creates a revolt against Him, against Christianity, and against religion.
When I spoke to the soldiers between the battles of the last war [WWI, the sermon delivered at the start of WWII], they expressed their denial of the Christian message in terms of an attack upon the belief in Providence–an attack which obviously drew its bitterness from fundamental disappointments…. The idea of God seemed to be impossible, because the reality of our world seems to be in opposition to the all-mighty power of a wise and righteous God….
[What is Providence?] It is certainly not a vague promise that, with the help of God, everything will come to a good end; there are many things that come to a bad end. And it is not the maintenance of hope in every situation; there are situations in which there can be no hope…. But the content of the faith in Providence is this: when death rains from heaven as it does now, when cruelty wields power over nations and individuals as it does now, when hunger and persecution drive millions from place to place as they do now, and when prisons and slums all over the world distort the humanity of the bodies and souls of men as they do now–we can boast in that time, and just in that time, that even all of this cannot separate us from the love of God.
Wednesday, April 23 Chapter 9
Paul begins, or rather picks up again the advantages of the Jews. Jewish tradition, believed in Jesus’ time, states that six things existed in some form before Creation: the Torah, the Throne of Glory, the Patriarchs, Israel, the Temple, and the Messiah, or rather the name of the Messiah. Since there is only one God, Jewish teaching does not allow for a Son of God or even a god-like man.
Paul, naturally, places the Messiah at the top of the list. His whole point in this chapter is that Israel served as a model for the gentiles. They acted as the custodians of the Faith until it was time for the Messiah to arrive. Because of that special status, they were given special treatment.
With verse ten, Paul introduces the twins, Jacob and Esau, destined to be in constant conflict and destined to become symbols of faithful followers (Christians) and not faithful (gentiles).
In verse 14 Paul begins to deal with the likely objection that God is not fair, he had no good reason to pick Jacob over Esau. The same question comes up in other forms in this chapter. Paul’s answer is always: God is our Creator; we are His to use as He sees fit. Out if it all, Paul concludes that Israel and Gentiles are equal in God’s eyes.
Exodus 33:19 gives us the answer from God: And the LORD said, I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, l the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
Exodus 4:21 is in sharp contrast to the verse above. The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Yet, both tell us that God is in complete control. He alone decides who receives mercy and who does not.
Some people will argue that if we are the clay and God is the potter, He must be responsible for our imperfections. Paul will have none of that. We have free will. Contrary to Calvin’s teachings, humans have the freedom to accept or reject God. Did God force Pharaoh to chase after the Hebrews? No, God knew Pharaoh would do it even before the Creation. That is a power of God we have a hard time understanding; He stands outside of time, so can see everything that happens in the universe. Think about an oil painting. I know that I am a blue speck of paint next to a yellow speck; God sees all of the billions of specks that make up the complete painting.
We are made perfect by the perfect God, but we have to live in a world of sin which degrades us. Sin works on us even before conception, sometimes resulting in malformed bodies and minds. God wants us to meander through life, always seeking Him and trusting that He will remake us in the perfect form we started in.
Paul’s quotations from Hosea and Isaiah are proof texts of Paul’s point that both Jew and Gentile will be shown Mercy.
Paul asks an important question about Jews who have not come to follow Jesus, but he does not answer it in this chapter. He will get to it in chapter 11.
Thursday, April 24 Chapter 10
As a Pharisee, Paul knew all too well how important it was for him to become perfect or righteous, not understanding that only God is righteous. To become righteous, he and we must become a part of the body of the Son of God; perfect righteousness.
Verses 5-8 uses the following quotes: Leviticus 18:5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD. Deuteronomy 30:12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Deuteronomy 30:13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Deuteronomy 30:14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
The message of Jesus is another paradox; it is both simple and complex; both easy and difficult; both of Heaven and of earth. All who believe the message and the Messenger will receive the Mercy of God, regardless of their good works or lack of good works. It is always about the Faith of Abraham.
Friday, April 25 Chapter 25
Paul takes up the former question of the fate of Jews and provides the same answer he gives to Gentiles: those who have faith can expect Mercy from God. Do not be misled by the citation of 7,000 as the remnant. Remember that 7 is the number of perfection; the thousands acts as a multiplier of the 7. The actual number in human terms will be totally in God’s hands.
Paul hopes that Jewish non-believers will become jealous and become believers. He continues to preach with that hope in mind.
To the Gentiles, Paul points out that being grafted onto the root of Jesse, the Jewish root, does not make them superior to the grape branches that have broken off the vine. They are still God’s Chosen and He can do with them as He pleases. Never forget that the Vine Dresser will prune off unproductive branches.
If there is any doubt, study verses 25-27 carefully. God’s Covenant with His Chosen people is still in effect.
This is what Origen (about 230 AD) had to say about verse 33: Paul did not say that God’s judgments were hard to search out but that they could not be searched out at all. He did not say that God’s ways were hard to find out but that they were impossible to find out. For however far one may advance in the search and make progress through an increasingly earnest study, even when aided and enlightened in the mind by God’s grace, he will never be able to reach the final goal of his inquires.
Pelagius (about 400 AD) comments: Paul praises the wisdom of God, who according to his foreknowledge waited until all were in need of mercy in order to take from everyone the glory that derives from unfounded boasting in works. The judgments of God are a great deep, for they cannot be clearly grasped.
Be righteous and do good.