Tag Archives: Paul

Selfish or Selfless?

Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32
Psalm 25:1-8
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32


Appearing in the September 12, 2017, issue of Fast Company, an online magazine, was an article called Brené Brown: America’s Crisis of Disconnection Runs Deeper Than Politics. The article is based on Brown’s book: Braving the Wilderness.

The general concept of the article is that Americans have moved in the past seventy years into increasingly uniform neighborhoods where we all think alike on most issues. But, surprisingly, this has caused us to become lonelier than when we lived with people of differing religions, politics, languages, morals, etc.

He goes on to write:  if we’ve hunkered down, ideologically and geographically, with those we perceive to be just like us, doesn’t that mean we’ve surrounded ourselves with friends and people with whom we feel deeply connected? Shouldn’t “you’re either with us or against us” have led to closer ties among the like-minded?

In fact, the opposite is happening. At the same time that cultural and political sorting is on the rise, so is loneliness.

For Christians, our goal is to hang out with people who believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. All others should move down the road.

Reading today’s scripture in Ezekiel seems to support that attitude. The one who sins will be the one who diesNIV

But Jesus said, The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of youNIV Why? Because they were like the first son who said no to his father, but later did what was asked of him.

Christians are children of God, but so are the worst sinners, including those who don’t believe in God. Does God want us to live separated from sinners? Or does he want we sinners who have repented to live with those sinners who need repentance?

As Paul put it: Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the othersNIV

In the early Third Century, Marius Victorinus wrote: We are truly acting for ourselves if we also have a concern for others and strive to be of benefit to them. For since we are all one body, we look out for ourselves when we look out for othersACCS

Too often we Christians assume that means we only watch out for our fellow Christians, forgetting that we too are sinners.

Read my comments on these NT readings here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

1 Corinthians 2-6


I will be using the work of Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes, for much of this study on the letter to Corinth

Monday, June 9, Chapter 2

Paul has to make a point with the Greeks especially, but also with the Romans and to some extent the Jews and others.  The Greeks loved philosophies and philosophical speakers.  They loved a good, hard-nosed debate in the classical logical style.  Philosophers were the rock stars of Greece.  Paul wanted the Corinthians to understood that he stayed away from that kind of speaking when he was with him.  He wanted them to see the simplicity of the Cross of Christ.

He had just arrived from Athens where he was invited to speak on Mars Hill, the center of the intellectual world in the Empire.  He gave an impressive speech that juggled the logical Greek with the story style of Jews.  He successfully bridged two worlds.  He did not found a church that day in Athens, but the city was ready and became the home of today’s Orthodox Church.

Paul walked from there to the city of slaves and sailors and assured them he would not use the ivory tower language of Athens with them, only the language of the Cross.

Notice the pattern in verses 7-10.  In 7, God’s Wisdom is hidden, but in 10, it is revealed by the Spirit.  In the second half of 7, God destined His Wisdom for us and in the second half of 9 He prepared it for us.  In both 8 and 9, it is not understood by the people.  They would not have crucified the Lord of glory, is of the Cross, right in the center of these matching statements.  This is a pattern Paul uses throughout his letters.

In verse 11, Paul says we cannot know the thoughts of God.  Only the Holy Spirit can know those thoughts.  If we allow the Spirit to dwell in us, the Spirit will share that knowledge.  Verse 13 is the central statement that we share that knowledge of God with others who do not have the Spirit.

Paul is talking about the three parts of man and the three parts of God.  Humans are body, thoughts, and soul; or physical, mental, and spiritual.  We control all three, but in doing that, we are unable to communicate with God.  Only when we allow the Holy Spirit to replace our personal spirits can we know God.

Tuesday, June 10, Chapter 3

Go back and look at verse 1:4 where Paul is thankful for the gifts given.  Now, in 3:1-3 Paul is saying that they failed to take in the gifts.  The divisions and infighting are sure signs that the Holy Spirit has not taken over the worldly spirits.

Had they been filled with the spirit they would be showing love to one another, not jealousy.  Let me quote from Kenneth E. Bailey.  As children of the Enlightenment we have largely come to see the acquiring of truth as a head trip, and that a good mind and a willingness to work hard is all that is required to understand any form of truth, including theological truth.  Paul disagrees.  He was not willing to feed the Corinthians the “solid food” of theology because of broken relationships in their community….

The ancient Eastern churches did not have scholars or theologians, but rather “Fathers of the church.”  The assumption behind that language is:  Only when we see the authenticity of your piety, and your commitment to the church, will we take your scholarship seriously.

Read Isaiah 28:9 and apply it to Paul as a father feeding the Corinthians milk.

Paul tells them it does not matter who plants the seed, it comes from God.  He uses images that come from Isaiah 41:19; 44:3-4; 60:20; and 61:3.  You Corinthians need to grow and fill out the image of that which was planted within you.

Paul calls himself a diakonos, a minister/servant.  He uses the same term for Apollos, Phoebe, and Timothy.  He has no ownership of the people or the church, he is their servant.

In verse 5, Paul uses the image of farming and the farm, changing in verse 9 to buildings.  What we add to the foundation will be shown on the day of Christ’s return, be it gold or straw (verse 13).

Verses 16-17 make up the central thought of this section.  We, you and I, are the Third Temple.  God dwells within us.

Theodore of Mopsuestia (410 AD) writes:  The one who believes in Christ receives the Holy Spirit, who dwells in him by the washing of rebirth, and thus he is spiritual.  But if such people then turn around and serve worldly passions, in that respect they are carnal.  Paul says that those who have become spiritual according to their confession of faith may nevertheless still live as though they were carnal so as to become an insult to the Holy Spirit who dwells in them.

Ambrosiaster adds (370 AD):  Paul says this in order to prick the consciences of those who have corrupted their bodies through evil living, especially the man who was having an affair with his father’s wife.

Paul ends the chapter and begins the next with one parallelism.  It was the style of much of the Old and New Testaments.  Jesus used parallelism in his parables and Paul uses it throughout his letters.  This particular one is called an inverted parallelism because the lines that match one another end up looking like the March Madness bracket


A  18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this            age,he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.  19 For the wisdom of this          world is foolishness in God’s sight.


B  As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord                       knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”  21 So then, no more boasting about               men!


C  All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or                           death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and                             Christ is of God.


D1  4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those                                              entrusted with the secret things of God.  2 Now it is required that those                                            who have been given a trust must prove faithful.


D2  3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I                                          do not even judge myself.  4 My conscience is clear, but that does not                                                make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.


D3  5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord                                           comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose                                           the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise                                               from God.


C’  6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your                                   benefit,


B’  so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what                   is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.


A’  7 For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not               receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?


Notice how A’ is a part of A or built on A.  That is parallelism.  The center three statements are of equal value, matching ideas rather than a building of ideas.  In parables, the center is often the central point, even the climax of the story.  With Paul in this letter, it is the Cross several times.

Wednesday, June 11, Chapter 4

Paul’s whole argument for the Corinthians is that they assumed only Paul knew the truth, or only Apollos, just as we often believe that only Baptists or Methodists or Lutherans or Catholics have the truth.  Either we belong to Paul or to God, not both.

Starting in verse 8, Paul cranks out the sarcasm.  It is a small parallelism with 8 and 10 matching and 9 the center.  It is all sarcasm.

Yet the center contains an image of Christ.  When a Roman general returned to Rome from a successful battle, the parade would always end with the captives in chains who would then be executed for the public’s enjoyment.  That is what Paul is referring to, and it is what happened to Jesus, marched through the streets to a public execution.

Paul reminds us, backhandedly, that we should suffer with God.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in a letter from prison:  Christians stand by God in God’s suffering, and that distinguishes Christians from Pagans.  Could you not keep awake with me one hour? Jesus asks in Gethsemane.  This is the reversal of everything a religious person expects from God.  Human beings are called to suffer with God’s own suffering caused by the godless world.

In Philippians 3:10, expresses the idea more strongly.

In verses 11-13, Paul speaks of the Apostles as traveling preachers in the language of Isaiah 58:7.  And then in verse 16 he says to imitate him.  Imitate the way he follows Christ.  Imitate his willingness to suffer for Christ, even to die for him.

Verse 17 actually begins the new essay, this on sexual immorality.  He tells them he is sending Timothy, and they would understand that Timothy carried a stick and a carrot.  They could choose which it would be.  Timothy is to lead them back into the way that Paul first taught them.

But he also tells them he is coming soon to deal with the arrogant people and he will bring the whip.  Take care of the problem now, before I get there.  That is a threat and a promise.

Thursday, June 12, Chapter 5

Given the nature of the City of Corinth, it should surprise no one that sexual immorality was so common, even in the church.  This chapter will give us a description of the problems they faced and chapters 6-7 will get into some solutions.

Paul opens verse 1 with a strong statement: Everyone is reporting to me.  The Old Testament penalty for immorality is stoning.  It is one of the BIG sins and Paul wants it taken care of NOW!

People in the church were saying, I am saved, so I am free.  If I am free, then nothing I do is a sin.

Paul has heard that a man is having sex with his father’s wife.  Even Paul cannot come up with strong enough words to express his disbelief at this action.  AND the man is proud.  No wonder Paul called some arrogant.

In verses 3-5, Paul is saying the man must be excommunicated, kicked out of the church.  He is not a follower of Christ.  Perhaps living with the Devil again will remind him he needs to repent.

In verse 9, Paul mentions a letter already sent to the church.  That letter has been lost.  There seems also to have been a letter written between what we call the first and second letters.  This church was so troubled that Paul sent a stream of letters to help them.  We should also note that church leaders of the late first century and early second century wrote letters to struggling churches and many of them are preserved, but not considered scripture.

Paul does not tell us to avoid non-Christians; that would go against the Great Commission.  Rather, we are to avoid people within the church who are arrogantly sinning.

Friday, June 13, Chapter 6

Remember that Paul had an unfortunate experience with the court system while he was in Corinth, even though he was released.  It may be because Sosthenes is co-author that Paul is so upset that people in the church are going to court to resolve disagreements.  Instead of acting in a considerate, loving relationship, these people are acting like street thugs.

In verses 7-8, Paul tells them to throw in the towel, it is over for them.  Salvation will not be theirs because they take pride in their sins.  Verse 9 leaves no wiggle room.  And that is what you are.

Verse 12 is a powerful statement for the Corinthians, and for us; not everything is beneficial.  Sometimes Americans forget that freedom cannot be absolute.  I should not do anything that harms another person or anything that harms me.  I cannot harm the body of Jesus, for that is what I am.  I belong to my Master.  WWJD?


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Romans 12-16


Monday April 28 Chapter 12

Verses 1-2.

First, the literal translation of the Greek text:

Therefore I urge you brothers through the compassions of God to present the bodies of you a sacrifice living holy well-pleasing to God the spiritual service of you and do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewing of the mind for you to prove what the will of God the good and well-pleasing and perfect.

Second, 21st Century KJV

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Third, The Complete Jewish Bible

I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical “Temple worship” for you.  In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the ‘olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed.

Fourth, J. B. Phillips

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Fifth, Living Bible

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.

Sixth, The Message

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Each of these translations, and there are dozens of others on http://www.biblegateway.com/, gives us a different way of seeing the one message.  The simple version is: do not become like the world, become like Christ.

Paul reminds us that we are all tiny cells in the body of Christ, yet every cell is critical to the body, especially the body of Christ.

Good News Translation has perhaps best captured verse 16.  Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties.  Do not think of yourselves as wise.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer began his sermon, Loving Our Enemies, January 23, 1938, with Do not think of yourselves as wise, but focus on God’s path to humankind, how God meets enemies, that path that Scripture itself calls foolish [1 Corinthians 1:18],  the path of God’s love toward all enemies, the love that Christ extends to them all the way to the cross.  It is wisdom at its best to recognize the cross of Christ as the invincible love of God for all humankind, for us as well as for our enemies.

Or do we think that God would love us more than our enemies?  If we thought that way, then we would be deeply rooted in Pharisaism, then we would have ceased being Christians.  Does God love our enemies less, having come for them, suffered for them, died for them as well as for us?  The cross is not the private property of any human being, but it belongs to all human beings; it is valid for all human beings.  God loves our enemies–this is what the cross tells us.  God suffers for their sake, experiences misery and pain for their sake; the Father has given his dear Son for them.  Everything depends on this:  that when we meet an enemy, we immediately think:  this is someone whom God loves; God has given everything for this person.  Therefore, do not consider yourselves to be wise.  Concerning our attitude toward our enemies, this means first and foremost:  Remember that you as well were God’s enemy and mercy has happened to you without your merit or deserving.  Second, that means:  Remember that God also went to the cross for your enemy and loves your enemy as dearly as you….

Now you are at the goal:  “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  This is what Christ did for us.  He did not become confused by our evil; he did not let himself be overcome by it.  He overcame our evil with good.  Let’s repeat how that happens:  not by feeding the other person’s evil with our evil, the hatred of the other person with our hatred.  Rather, it happens when the evil hits emptiness and finds nothing on which it can ignite.

Tuesday, April 29 Chapter 13

The first 7 verses are inconvenient words some times, especially around April 15.  We know that Paul was warning the Romans and all other Christians not to anger the Roman government because of the possibilities of persecutions.  Nero was the new emperor and had not yet shown his dark side, thought two years after this letter was written he had his own mother killed.  That was in the year 59 AD and he began a gradual slide into self-destruction.  In 64 AD a fire burned through Rome for ten days, destroying 75% of the city of one million.  He decided to blame the Christians and that is when the worst persecutions began.  Nero committed suicide 4 years later.  Later Emperors had Christians attacked when they needed public support.

The question is, do his words apply today?  The key to the answer is to consider the context of the whole letter.  In fact, chapter 12 is a clear indication of Paul’s thinking.  We must consider others first.  We support the government because it benefits all of us.

What then of those occasions when the government turns against its people?  Were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington right to start a war because they did not like what the king was doing?  The increased taxes they complained about had been imposed to pay for a war with France fought mostly in the colonies and for the benefit of the colonies.  We could debate the question for a long time, but it is important to consider it in light of Paul’s words, not to mention the teachings of Jesus.

Jesus stood up for the poor and under-represented, even as it angered the leadership.  His motivation was always love and compassion.  Jesus did not ask, what will it do for me?  He also largely ignored the government.  He did not expect it to do his work for him.

Verse 10 is the key to chapter 13:  Love does no harm to its neighbor.

The present time is coming to an end, the hour is at hand.  Paul is near the end of his ministry.  May Apostles, disciples, and Saints have already died and Paul is looking forward to Christ’s return.  As we look back over 2,000 years of Christian history, we might wonder if Paul had a clue about the end times.  Paul is saying we need to live our lives as though Jesus is coming today, but also with the expectation that we will die of old age.  We have to find that balance; plan for the future, but live for today.

Wednesday, April 30 Chapter 14

All of chapter 14 deals with the tensions between groups of Christians.  I want Sunday service with the organ playing old hymns; you want a rock band.  I want to spend time with my old friends; you want to meet new people every week.  I want a pot luck dinner; you want McDonald’s in the building.  I will not attend church that allows for homosexuals; you will.

Paul teaches us to respect each other’s positions.  We will interpret the Bible differently, or more accurately, we will emphasize different parts of the Bible.  There is a reason Jesus gave us the two commands to love God and love one another.  If we think only of love, we will not hate.  How can I hate you for doing rap in church if I love you?  I cannot both love and hate a homosexual person.  Jesus says love.

Verse 12 is key: I will have to stand before God and give an account of myself.  Yes, Jesus will be there to help me, but I still have to face judgement.

Romans 14:13-14 from The Message.  Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

We Christians have a habit of fighting over trivial issues, even as we believe them worth the fight.  When we stand before God, we may not be able to explain why it seemed so important at the time.

We Christians are often criticized for not allowing or encouraging people of different backgrounds into our congregations. I believe we should never reject anyone who wants to join us, but the reality of being human is that we will seek people who are like-minded.  If I belong to a wealthy church, I should work to get the church to sponsor a mission for the poor, either using the same facility or using another one.  Some church buildings are used by a dozen congregations in as many languages.

Thursday, May 1 Chapter 15

Paul addresses the strong here and includes himself in the group.  The strong are those Christians who concentrate on loving one another; who do not get upset with others who do not live as they do.  Jesus approached the very people others most avoided.  Can we do less?

Jews and Gentiles were to get along as Christians, but also Gentiles coming from different backgrounds.  Paul traveled enough to have seen many different fellowships, so he knew that the method of worship was not what was important.  Love and respect for one another together with praise and love for God is always the key to Christian living.

Paul quotes the Old Testament to prove the place of Gentiles in God’s Plan.

He moves on to explain his own mission work, how he tried to find new fields ready for the harvest.  He did not want to compete with or interfere with any other Apostle.  After his years of service to the Greeks, he believes it is time to visit Rome and perhaps Spain after that.

First, though, he needs to visit Jerusalem to take his collection for their support and to receive the blessings of that all important congregation.  The congregation in the Holy City served as the center hub of all missionary activities, so they had added responsibilities and expenses.

He ends the chapter asking for prayers of support.

Friday May 2 Chapter 16

Paul closes the letter with numerous greetings of people he knows who are now in the city.  He is sending the letter with Phoebe who is a deaconess in the fellowship at Cenchrea, one of the ports of Corinth.  This is the only time Paul uses the feminine form for deacon; he usually uses the masculine for both men and women.  He does use the feminine again in 1 Timothy 3:8, but only in a general way.

Most of the names Paul lists, like that of Phoebe, are unknown to us from any other sources.  There are both men and women.  Several are the known names of freed slaves.  The Mary of verse 6 is most likely Roman, not one of the many Marys of the Gospels.

In verse 10, the name Aristobulus may refer to the servants of the former king, or may be another family.

Greetings are included from those working with Paul, including Tertius who actually wrote the letter from Paul’s dictation, Paul’s usual method of writing.

Verse 24 does not appear in older manuscripts and is left out of many translations.

Paul ends with a wonderful benediction.  It is also a summation of much of the letter.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence


Romans 7-11


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.

Mike Lawrence

Romans 2-6


Monday, April 14 Romans 2

Proverbs 14:34 sets the tone for this first section.  Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.  Paul wants the Jews in Rome to realize they cannot judge because they do the same things, in the sense of Matthew 5:22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

This whole passage is built around Leviticus 19:18.  Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the LORD.  Or if you prefer, Matthew 22:36-40.  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jewish teaching has always been that hearing the Word of God does noting.  Doing the Word of God justifies us before God.  Paul warns his fellow Jews not to assume God’s Grace is only for them.  Exodus 34:6-7a, And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

Paul uses the idea in Isaiah 42:14a, For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back.  And Isaiah 64:12, After all this, O LORD, will you hold yourself back?  God promises to punish the wicked, but he tempers that with Mercy.  Because of his kindness to us, we are expected to repent and return to Him.

We should strive to live our lives to benefit others, not ourselves.

In verses 9 and 10, the phrase, for the Jew first, refers to their greater knowledge of God, not to any special treatment.  Paul is actually saying they will receive punishment first because they should know better.  Christians join them, we should know better.

Never having heard the Word of God does not excuse anyone from sin.  Ignorance of the law is not a defense in God’ court either.

Paul uses Jeremiah 31:33, This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the LORD. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  And Ezekiel 37:26, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.  I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.  God gives his commands to all of us, Christian, Jew, heathen.

Starting at verse 17 we should read Christian for Jew.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Paul wrote to the Philippians 4:9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.  Much the same message as Rabbi Nehorai, Fit thyself to study Torah for it is not a thing that comes unto thee as an inheritance.  We cannot be baptized and be done with it.  Being a follower of Jesus is a life long growing process.

Verse 19 uses the common Biblical theme of light verses darkness.  God is light and created light.  Light shines on the darkness of sin and shows it for what is truly is.  If I am to guide anyone, I must first walk in the light.  But it is also true that the blind can lead each other into the light.  We cannot shirk leadership of those deeper in darkness than we are.

Rather than literally robbing temples (where wealth was stored) Paul probably is speaking of our tendency to use money and possessions for ourselves when they should have been given to God.

For Paul, to mistreat a non-Christian is to violate the Torah and dishonor God.

Rabbi Ze’era said there are four uncircumcisions of humans, the heart, the lips, the ear, and the flesh.  The first three are given in Jeremiah 6:10, Exodus 6:12, and Deuteronomy 10:16.  The physical circumcision is only an outward sigh of the inner circumcision, the cutting away of anything preventing us from hearing and doing God’s Word.

Tuesday, April 15 chapter 3

Paul opens with a strong defense of Jews and the special covenant with God. That covenantal  relationship has not been nullified by God.  Jews are still His Chosen People.

His appeal to Psalm 51:4 raises another issue, that of sinning so God can show his Mercy.  He has already rejected that argument in Chapter 2.  Paul stresses that we will be punished for our evil deeds.  Paul is punished for his sins, we are not any better.

Verse 8 makes it clear that Paul has been accused of preaching that we should sin to encourage God’s Mercy.  He rejects that idea again.

Starting in verse 10 Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 4:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 57:7-8, and Psalm 36:1 all to prove that everyone sins, Jew, Gentile and Christian.

The Law tells us what is sinful.  The Pharisees believed they could obey every law.  Jesus told them they failed.  Do not commit murder by thinking bad thoughts about…anyone.

The only way is to repent as John preached and to repent as Jesus preached and to accept the free gift of the removal of the sins by Jesus’s death, the death we deserve.  We still have to be judged by God.  When that day arrives, Jesus will be our attorney and he will testify to God about our faithfullness to his Way of Life.

Paul makes use of Jeremiah 23:6-8 in describing the Messiah.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. So then, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when people will no longer say, As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt, but they will say, As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them. Then they will live in their own land.

In verse 23 we fall short because we do not follow the Messiah described in Jeremiah 23:5. The days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up to David righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  We have trouble doing what is just and right.

The word redemption was used for the purchase price of a slave to become free.  Paul urges us to give up our slavery to sin and be redeemed for a life of slavery to the Messiah.

Paul’s closing is saying that all are redeemed by Mercy, not by doing good deeds.  We are called to do good deeds because we love God and Jesus and want to do what is right and just.

Wednesday, April 16 chapter 4

Jeremiah 9:23-24.  This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

Abraham responded to God, that is his and our only boast.

In verses 4-12 Paul develops the idea that Abraham received the righteousness of God without being circumcised.  Therefore, anyone can do the same by believing in God and in the Son of God.  If we depend on good works to  receive the blessing of God, we will fail.  We do good work because God has blessed us; we do them out of our love for God.

For you who are born as Jews, you have no special status with God until you follow Abraham and believe.  Righteousness is the reward for being faithful.  Punishment is the reward for trying to earn a place in heaven; we cannot do enough good for that.  Jesus was not raised from the dead because he healed, fed, and comforted, but only because he did God’s will every day in every way; he believed.

Abraham is our example because he looked at his 100 year old body and Sarah’s 90 year old body and still believed God’s promise to give them a son.  God does the impossible.

The last verse says it all.

Thursday, April 17 chapter 5

Peace comes only with justification, only when our faith is in God alone.  Offerings were made every day at the Temple until its destruction in 70 AD.  Peace offerings were among them.  The purpose of every offering was to atone for sin and to reestablish a correct relationship with God.  But the offerings had to be given daily because people sinned daily.  Jesus ended that process by  becoming the sacrificial lamb once and for all.  Since sin results in death and Jesus defeated death, we who believe in that miracle will follow him into Heaven.

The veil in the Temple that separates us from God can be bypassed if we hold fast to Jesus.

Christians who expect life to be easy are often disappointed.  We suffer in this world just like everyone else.  But God is with us in that suffering; if we persevere we will end up with hope.  Jeremiah 17:10.  I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.

Remaining faithful in affliction is what it is about.  Being faithful in good times is easy.

Paul uses the words: helpless, ungodly, sinners, and enemies interchangeably.

Paul  in verse 6 builds on Isaiah 61:1-3.  The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

When you read verse 7 think of the most disgusting person you know.  Would you die for that person?  Jesus did.

There is a lengthy story about the Red Heifer that underlies all that Paul is saying in this long section about dying to sin and living to God.  The entire Red Heifer was burned on the Mount of Olives with both cedar and hyssop wood.  Cedar resist decay and hyssop was used to paint the blood on the doorposts at Passover.  The combined ash was then mixed with water and used to purify anyone who came in contact with the dead.  That week long cleansing turned a “dead” person back into the living.  The connections between Jesus and the Red Heifer are so numerous it is a wonder we Christians do not use it more often.

Verses 9-11 Paul uses to list several related ideas on hope, love atoning blood, and reconciliation.

In 12 Paul begins to discuss death entering the world through Adam’s sin, but does digress before he completes the thoughts.  Do notice that God did not create death; there was only a tree of life in the Garden.  Humans were expelled from the Garden before we could eat from that tree and be forced to live for eternity in a state of sin.  Also note that the word “sin” is not used until Genesis 4:9 after Cain kills his brother.

The following is from Romans by Joseph A. Fitzmyer.  Perhaps it will help clear up Paul’s muddled section of 12-14.

But the comparison is not smoothly worked out, for Paul also wants to clarify the dissimilarity and the superabundance of Christ’s grace that now reigns instead of sin and death, which had been in control since Adam.

Just as sin came into the world through Adam (and with it death, which affects all human beings), so through Christ came uprightness (and with it life eternal).

So the Comparison should run, but Paul felt the need to explain his novel teaching about Adam and broke into the parallelism to assert emphatically that it was Adam’s sin that has affected all human beings (5:12c-d, 13-14), making them not just mortal, but even sinners.  Because of this insertion, anacoluthon [inconsistent syntax] appears at the end of 5:14, and Paul’s real conclusion of the comparison is expressed only indirectly (when he asserts that Adam was the type of the one who was to come).

Verse 15 sums up nicely.  The sin of Adam affects us all, but the Grace of God in the free gift of his own Son overwhelms that sin.  Jesus justifies the condemned.

Paul Tillich, in a sermon titled, You Are Accepted, wrote I should like to suggest another word to you, not as a substitute for the word “sin”, but as a useful clue in the interpretation of the word “sin”:  “separation”.  Separation is an aspect of the experience of everyone.  Perhaps the word “sin” has the same root as the word “asunder”.  In any case, sin is separation.  And separation is threefold:  there is separation among individual lives, separation of a man from himself, and separation of all men from the Ground of Being….  We know that the fate of separation is not merely a natural event like a flash of sudden lightning, but that it is an experience in which we actively participate, in which our whole personality is involved, and that, as fate, it is also guilt….

Grace is just as difficult to describe as sin.  For some people, grace is the willingness of a divine king and father to forgive over and again the foolishness and weakness of his subjects and children.  We must reject such a concept of grace; for it is a merely childish destruction of a human dignity….  But grace is more than gifts.  In grace something is overcome; grace occurs “in spite of” something; grace occurs in spite of separation and estrangement.  Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself.  Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected.

Friday, April 18 chapter 6

We must not sin because we have given up sin to follow the Son of God.

To be baptized is to be so fully immersed that we take on the color of the dye in the water.  The word comes from the process of dyeing cloth.  Once we have taken on the color of Jesus we will not want to sin.

Paul in verse 4 states a stronger argument: only be entering the grave of death can we have life.  This is one of the great paradoxes of the Bible and of Jesus; only by giving up this life can we truly have life.  It is like a scene from the Matrix where we have to give up reject that which seems real so that we can have what is truly real.

Isaiah 53:5, But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 


While we are on this earth we have to take up our cross every day and die to sin.  Sin is a constant state in this life so we have to keep after it, like pulling weeds from the garden, there is always one more.

Paul writing to the church at Corinth gave us these powerful words.  Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this chapter with a nice summary and the classic verse 23.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence