Exposition of Romans 3:13–19 Plan on lacking words before God

Going to court is no fun. If you are the defendant, it is scary indeed. If you have no defense, the feeling defies description.

If God is your judge, luck plays no role and error is not possible. What will you say before God?

(ESV) Romans 3:13-19

“Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;

16 in their paths are ruin and misery,

17 and the way of peace they have not known.”

18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Douglas Moo tells us about the structure of the series of OT texts for today’s lesson: “The next four lines (verses 13–14) describe sins of speech, each line referring to a different organ of speech [throat, tongue, lips, mouth]. Verses 15–17, on the other hand, focus on sins of violence.”[1]

C.E.B. Cranfield notes that the amount of space devoted to sins related to speech is “striking.”[2] Paul is telling us that if you want to know about the human heart, just open your ears! If you watch much news, it may not be long before you hear yourself wishing someone’s death or severe punishment. After hearing your own words, imagine what a casual discussion is like in a drug cartel!

For thoughtful people, the prevalence of lies and the venomous nature of certain lips (3:13) is well known. We take it in stride and become blind to its frequency. For example, think about advertising; it is often the business of telling people they need something which they do not need. Consider what children tell parents and what single adults tell one another during the dance of dating. We are awash in lies!

While all major translations agree on the translation “bitterness” in 3:14, the noun may also mean “animosity, anger, [and] harshness.”[3] That means that some people who would think themselves exempt because they are not bitter would indeed be condemned as either angry or harsh.

NLT at times uses a bit of poetic license, but they probably get it right in 3:15 by saying, “They rush to commit murder.” Shall we talk about drive-by shootings, gang initiations, honor killings, abused children and all the rest?

Actually, the verse just discussed (3:15) should be taken together with 3:16–17, because they all come from Isa. 59:7–8a. Think of terrorism and the description of 3:15–17 falls right into place.

Thomas Schreiner offers keen insight on 3:18 by saying:

The ferocity and brutality of human sin as described in verses 13–17 might cause one to understand it primarily in sociological terms. Thus Paul reminds the reader [in 3:18] that the root and basis of all sin is the failure to fear and reverence God. Sin is fundamentally theological in nature, but it has terrible sociological consequences.[4]

Our challenge in 3:19 is to define terms and use the contextual clues to our advantage. Note that the word “law” (Greek nomos) occurs twice. In the first case, the law likely refers to the entire OT because Paul has just quoted from both the Prophets (including Isaiah) and the Writings (including Psalms). The second mention of law probably refers to the five books of Moses because of the phrase “under the law.”

When we get to “so that every mouth may be stopped” (3:19), we are talking about the Jews because their conduct under the law makes them accountable to God. Moo explains the metaphor by saying: “The terminology of this clause reflects the imagery of the courtroom. ‘Shutting the mouth’ connotes the situation of the defendant who has no more to say in response to the charges brought against him or her.”[5]

The Gentiles are no better off. Schreiner puts the matter well: “How could the whole world be liable to God’s judgment because of a law given to the Jews? The answer is not that difficult. If the Jews, who had the privilege of being God’s covenantal and elect people, could not keep the law, then it follows that no one, including the Gentiles, can.”[6] Oh my!

So, both Jew and Gentile stand before God guilty of sin, without excuse, and lacking a single effective word in defense of their actions. Many will be profoundly shocked to be standing there!

The longest day

How many times have you seen news about those who feel bitter because justice cannot be done in a certain situation? But wait! Everyone will stand before God and give an account of their actions, so how can anyone escape justice? They cannot. No one gets away with it!

1. Since all of us are accountable to God for our actions, how could or should that fact change your general behavior?

2. If you have trusted Jesus Christ, you will have something to say when we all stand before God. Express it in your own words.

“And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” (Rev. 20:11-12, NLT)

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 202.

[2] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 194.

[3] BDAG-3, pikria, bitterness, anger, harshness, q.v.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 167.

[5] Moo, Romans, 205.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 168.