Exposition of Romans 2:24-25, Some people want a magic bullet

“Hey, I was baptized as a baby! Surely, that’s good enough.”

“I go the church most of the time, and I figure God knows that.”

“My mother was a real Christian, and she never worried about me going to heaven; so, I’m doing fine!”

Many formerly relied on being born in America, but that does not seem to be as widely claimed in recent years. Do gold stars from Sunday School count?

(ESV) Romans 2:24-25

For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

In his ongoing argument against Jewish superiority, Paul pulls out a powerful weapon by quoting the Old Testament (Isa. 52:5) in support of his point. It is important to realize that the Word of God has always been considered authoritative by the people of God. Neither ancient Jewish posturing nor contemporary opinions can stand if they conflict with what God has revealed to his people in the Bible. “As it is written . . .” (2:24) settles issues among the faithful.

Paul is being ironic by saying that the very people whose conduct should have caused God to be praised became the cause for God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (2:24). How did this come about? Isaiah spoke for God against the idolatry that led to the Jews being taken away into Gentile captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah was removed by Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell.

In the thinking of the ancient world, a deity who could not protect his own people was no deity at all! Because God allowed his people to experience judgment due to their idolatry, the name of God was scorned by the powerful nations who took the Jews into slavery. Peter similarly warns Christians not to dishonor God by their conduct (2 Pet. 2:2).

Of course, the prevalence of idolatry in Israel and Judah is direct proof that the people were not keeping the Law of Moses; they ignored the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Exodus 20:4-6 commanded that no images be made in all Israel. No Jew could deny the historic failure of his people to keep these commands.

Paul applies this truth to the Jews who hear his arguments. Circumcision, an essential sign of the covenant people, was required of all Jewish males (Gen. 17:10-14). James Dunn says, “The irreducibly fundamental importance of circumcision for the Jew of Paul’s time can be easily documented.”[1] When Paul says circumcision is indeed of value (2:25a), all right-thinking Jews would be nodding yes; but his argument tightens when he adds “if you practice the law” (2:25b, NET).

Douglas Moo points out the necessity of deciding what is meant by the phrase “if you practice the law” in 2:25 by saying: “Two interpretations fit the context: (1) a heartfelt, faith-filled obedience to the stipulations of the covenant, (2) a perfect conformity to the letter of the law. If the former is adopted, then Paul would presumably regard this kind of doing the law as possible.”[2] After noting that the decision is difficult, Moo prefers the second; I prefer the first. Great scholars fall on both sides.

Through over-emphasis on circumcision, many Jews did little more. Paul says they are no better than the uncircumcised Gentiles. That view again places Jew and Gentile on the same footing in relation to God’s judgment.

Short cuts not wanted!

Christians must beware of making the same mistake the Jews made! Grant Osborne tells how: “Those who think they are going to heaven because of being baptized but who are not committed to Christ face the same tragic consequence — they too are under God’s wrath.”[3]

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. When Jesus speaks of all I have commanded you, what do you think he expects of those who become his disciples?

2. Baptism for Christians is similar in significance to circumcision for Jews. If you have not been baptized at an age when you fully understood its spiritual significance, what would it take for you to arrange for water baptism through your church? Baptism is not the end of Christian responsibility, but it is very important.

Gaming the system with God has been popular throughout the ages. The only problem is that God is not playing games! The good news is that we have plenty of notice about this issue, so pleasing our Lord can become our main concern.

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

 


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 119.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 168.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 77.

Exposition of Romans 2:14-16, Conscience-judged behavior sometimes pleases God

The fact that all people are sinners does not mean they are as bad as they could possibly be. Sometimes conscience — given by God in creation — may guide even the unsaved to meet God’s requirements in limited situations.

It is a mistake to elevate ourselves by demonizing others. Sometimes they get it right and we do not.

(ESV) Romans 2:14-16

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:14 clearly says one thing: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires. What is less clear is how to position the phrase “by nature.” English translations all agree with ESV that by nature modifies the verb “do.” Other authorities think Paul is saying that Gentiles “do not have the law by nature,” letting by nature modify the verb “have.” While the former view seems more likely, the real point is not lost either way: Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires.

Douglas Moo correctly summarizes: “Paul pursues his policy of putting the Jews and Gentiles on the same footing. The Jew does not have in the law a decisive advantage when it comes to knowing and doing the will of God, Paul suggests; for Gentiles have some of the same benefits.”[1]

Looking at the Gentiles, Paul says (2:15) that the work of the law, the conscience and the thoughts mix in a complex way that often accuses and sometimes excuses them. Grant Osborne says, “Their minds form a type of law court in which actions are judged.”[2] But it is vital to realize that even within the court of their own minds the Gentiles are not exonerated; so, they will certainly stand guilty before a holy God.

C.E.B. Cranfield discusses the concept of conscience by saying, “The basic idea conveyed is that of knowledge shared with oneself.”[3] Sometimes this information is shared after the behavior and sometimes before; the verdict reached is by no means guaranteed to be the same that God would reach!

In Romans 2:16, Osborne correctly points out that Paul elsewhere uses “the day” to refer to the Day of the Lord at the end of history (e.g., Rom. 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6, 10).[4] No matter what Jews and Gentiles think about their own behavior, God has set a day when he will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (2:16).

Romans 2:16b closely resembles Paul’s speech in Athens: “he [God] has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31, NET).

Humanity’s good is not good enough

The Jews have been busy justifying their own righteousness by wrongly relying on their possession of the law. The Gentiles have sometimes managed to meet God’s requirements as evaluated by their own conscience, but they too fall short.

1. Why do you think people spend so much effort justifying themselves and their group by comparison with other groups, races, classes, genders or ethnicities? How do people try the same thing with God?

2. If you were convinced that self-justification was futile, what would you do next to become acceptable to God?

Perhaps these questions seem contrived, but they are not. Various cultures have spent millennia trying to figure out how human works relate to acceptance before God. The sad thing is that our culture does not even want to know. By God’s grace, you can prove to be an exception!

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed 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) 151.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 70.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 159-160.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 70.

Exposition of Romans 1:7-12, Imparting spiritual gifts describes our role

The elders at Ephesus could look back in later years to their last meeting with the Apostle Paul at the port of Miletus. His parting words were full of emotional memories: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35).

(ESV) Romans 1:7-12

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you — 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

Romans 1:7 is the concluding verse of a single Greek sentence that includes the first seven verses of Romans chapter 1. Sometimes modern people think the ancients to be less intelligent than we are because they lived so long ago. Hopefully, the profundity of Romans will help put that idea into well-deserved oblivion.

Another tendency we may have is to toss off anything said in the salutation of a NT epistle [letter] and get on to the main event. That is a mistake. In wishing the Roman Christians grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1:7), Paul is telling important things about his presentation of the gospel. “Grace” is used twenty-four times in Romans, and half of those instances occur in chapters 1-5; the next occurrence will be in Romans 3:24 — “they are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (HCSB) — where Paul presents God’s solution to humankind’s problem.

“Peace” is used ten times in Romans, most notably in Romans 5:1 — “therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” — where Paul presents the outcome of being justified by faith. As we will see, peace is not the absence of war but rather the wholeness and solidarity we enjoy through faith in Jesus Christ.

So, when Paul opens by wishing the Roman Christians “grace and peace,” he is telling them how they become justified before God (grace) and the result of that justification (peace). See also Romans 16:20 where these two giant concepts are combined.

In 1:8 we see that we are reading a letter and not a book on systematic theology, because Paul takes time to let the Roman Christians know that knowledge of their Christian faith has spread far and wide. Osborne says, “This refers not so much to the quality of their faith as to the fact of it.”[1] In terms of the spread of information, NT scholar Craig Keener informs us, “Couriers in the first century could get from Rome to London in one week.”[2] Word got around!

John Chrysostom (c. 347-407 AD), patriarch of Constantinople until his preaching against corruption landed him in Antioch, made fascinating remarks on the origin of the Roman church:

Having recently acquired a worldwide empire, the Romans were elated, and they lived in riches and luxury, and then fishermen brought the preaching there, Jewish fishermen moreover, who belonged to a nation which was hated and despised by everyone. And these Romans were asked to worship the crucified one who was brought up in Judea. Moreover, along with this doctrine, the teachers proclaimed an ascetic life to men who were used to luxury and concerned with material comforts.[3]

In a sense, Paul is letting them know that he realizes his visit to Rome will not establish a church but will nurture one that is already thriving. Even though Paul is an apostle, he is taking pains not to talk down to the recipients since that would impede acceptance of his message.

By essentially taking an oath before God (1:9), Paul wants the Romans to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he continually holds them up in prayer.[4] Paul states that he is always asking God to allow him to visit the churches in Rome (1:10), but he is plainly uncertain of the answer. He was right to doubt, because his eventual arrival in Rome occurred under the custody of a Roman guard during a legal appeal to Caesar (Acts 28:11-31).

Paul’s tone is warm in 1:11-12. Osborne says, “This is a wonderful way for all of us to think of our ministries as sharing our spiritual gifts with others.”[5] Paul again takes up spiritual gifts in Romans 12:6-8, where he names prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation. giving, leadership, and mercy. Each of us has a spiritual gift to use: And we have different gifts according to the grace given to us (Rom. 12:6, NET). What are we to do with them?

How to frame your ministry

What frame of reference should we use in thinking about our personal ministries within the church? Osborne captures Paul’s answer by having us think of our ministries as sharing our spiritual gifts with others.

1. How has your spiritual gift been used to bless other believers? How did it affect you to see that others benefited from your gift?

2. When did you receive a spiritual gift from others and how did it move you closer to Christ? Did you let that person know how Jesus used them to strengthen you? If not, how could you do so now?

John Chrysostom said of Paul’s intended spiritual gift to the Roman Christians: “It was not his own things which he was giving them but what he had himself received.”[6] May we too give to one another from what we have received from the Lord!

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


[1] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 35.

[2] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 185.

[3] Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 19.

[4] Osborne, Romans, 36.

[5] Osborne, Romans, 37.

[6] Bray, ed., Romans, 23.