Romans 3:1-4 (New International Version):
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.”
I suspect that many a sermon has been preached on this passage alone, not to mention the volumes that exist on the book of Romans as an entirety, but because I can, let me add my thoughts.
I’ve been reading through Romans in large part to coincide with the sermon “series” taking place at Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in Rutland, VT. The UCC is notoriously liberal in its approach to theology so I won’t devote much time there except to point it out to anyone who may not know that Grace Church’s relationship with the UCC (specifically the Vermont Conference) is on solid ground (to my dismay). Either way, I’m always looking for anything that will help make my bible study more purposeful and this fits the bill.
As I read the the third chapter this morning (that will be this week’s sermon topic) it was the first four verses that struck me. I finished reading the chapter and came back and meditated on the first few verses.
The first verse is immediately preceded by these verses from the end of chapter 2:
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
I think I am fairly comfortable with the implications of this passage. It is the heart, or inner man, that matters to God and what matters to God is all that should matter.
In chapter three, Paul asks, “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” To which he quickly answers, “Much in every way!” Now for my limited, human-perspective tastes, Paul is a little short on fleshing out what the advantages are, but regardless of what the advantage means among men, God is still God of both the Jew and the Gentile.
The next part is what strikes me the most profoundly:
First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar.
What if some did not have faith? Does that question even need to be asked? The Old Testament is rife with stories of how the Israelites turned their backs to God and the consequences they faced because of their disobedience.
Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Paul hits a home run here in my humble estimation. Not at all! Wow! God’s faithfulness is greater than our lack of faith. A no brainer, but it still hammers home the amazing grace of God and His worthiness to be praised. If you have a minute, stop and meditate on those few lines and I hope that you will be led by the Spirit to worship God as I have been moved.
With some degree of reluctance I move away from praising God to making it practical for Christians today (I say reluctantly because any manner of disagreement could enter in at this point and make my assertions seem almost political, but that is not what I intend). As it applies to more contemporary goings on this is how the passage struck me. A lot is made of the crusades and how bad they were. Or how was it possible that men of God allowed slavery to be permitted in the founding of our country. To me, these verses from Romans could, or should, serve as an answer to those accusations and doubts. It isn’t the faith of men on which we should focus but rather the faithfulness of God.
Most “self-flagellation” over the misdeeds of our forbears in the faith that takes place in the mainline Christian churches (like the UCC) tend to be too human-centered and not God-centered. In other words, we must make amends for the sins of the past before we can enjoy the fullness of God’s love (although I would argue that it isn’t really God’s love that people seek when they attempt to repent for sins long past, but rather Man’s love). God’s grace is almost completely ignored in an effort to assuage our collective guilty conscience. In fact, a case could be made that such “self-flagellation” is sinful in the eyes of God precisely because it fails to recognize the faithfulness of God and His saving grace through faith in Christ.
My fellow travelers in the mainline church need to come to terms with what happened in the history of our Christian church, for better or worse, and allow themselves to be covered by the blood of Christ. That doesn’t mean to ignore past sins, but to keep in mind and celebrate that God’s faithfulness is greater still than the accumulation of all of mankind’s sins. What is important is that God be true!