Romans 2

It is important to note that chapters were added to the biblical text by later copyists and editors for ease of navigation and citation, not by the original authors themselves. The chapter break between 1 and 2 is artificial, for 2 continues the train of thought found in 1.

As Paul develops his narrative that mankind has descended into sin, he establishes that sin is universal. All humans are tainted by it, both Jew and Gentile.

In establishing that sin is universal, Paul can then develop this point to show that all humans need salvation if they are to survive the judgment of God. This idea Paul then focusses on Israel to expose hypocrisy.

He attacks the idea that one does not need salvation if one adheres to the Law of Moses, the Torah. It is important to understand the nuance here. Paul is not saying that the Torah is of no value. Nor is he saying that a person who keeps the Torah perfectly need fear the judgment of God.

Rather, he is saying that one must keep the Torah perfectly in order to withstand the judgment. But since no one can keep the Torah perfectly, as is evident from the sins of Israelites, one cannot be saved by attempting to keep the Torah.

This will become clearer in subsequent chapters, where Paul will discuss justification in more depth. At this stage, he is establishing that (1) Israelites are in need of salvation, just like the Gentiles, and (2) Israelites should be humble before God because of point (1), especially in light of the fact that the Gentiles themselves obey the moral precepts of the Torah (albeit imperfectly).

Paul is writing to a mixed audience, and he is trying to build a community where there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ, but all love one another as Christ loved us. (Although, as we shall see later, Paul’s doctrine of Israel is complex.)

Paul reminds his readers of the eschatological consequences of sin, for those who do not receive salvation: judgment during the Day of the LORD and in the hereafter. This note of warning and sobriety is another way of impressing upon the audience its need for salvation.

Don’t you know there’s a war on?

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This Sunday’s sermon by Pastor Gervase Charmley of Bethel, Hanley

Don’t you know there’s a war on? The Christian life is a warfare – not according to the flesh, but in the flesh. Its weapons are spiritual, and require us to think like Christians, and its victory is Christ’s, so we boast and glory in him.

Text taken from: 2 Corinthians 10

https://www.sermonaudio.com/solo/gncharmley/sermons/112220122132251/?fbclid=IwAR3HhflFlnjQxAYPF5XyfdaYLTTFKI4T8Eej_gPvODD7SOtEqWB1K8T8KPQ

Romans 1

While each Epistle has several purposes, there is often a main purpose that strikes the reader. Galatians was intended to address issues around Gentiles being part of the Church; 2 Thessalonians addresses eschatological doctrine; 1 Corinthians addresses chaos, morality, and discipline in church conduct and governance. We could say that the predominant purpose of Romans is to preach the Gospel and hand it on for posterity.

Romans is a long epistle and the Gospel portion of it is lengthy. This may seem odd to modern Christians who may be used to condensed versions of the Gospel along the lines of “Jesus died in our place so that our sins could be forgiven.” I hasten to add that I am not opposed to shortened versions of the Gospel where appropriate, but do point out that frequently in Acts the Gospel is preached in a narrative format, just as Paul chooses to in Romans.

Paul’s Gospel is international and rooted in the Jewish Scriptures, which he presents as a record of oracles, covenants, and promises made by God to His people Israel. Paul depicts Christ as Jewish and human, thus both particular and universal. He also presents Him as man and God: both perfect and able to identify with us in our plight. Paul’s Jesus is the Saviour, the One who fulfils God’s promises to Israel and delivers us from darkness and the wrath of God.

Paul makes clear from the beginning that this salvation is a gift from God, not merited by our works and to be received by coming to God and trusting Him, forsaking former religious ties, and holding on for the end, though we do not see God with our eyes in this life.

Paul tells the story of our descent into darkness, which simultaneously reveals both our need for salvation and the fate of those who will not repent. He illustrates our spiritual darkness with examples, ranging from polytheism and idolatry, which would have been familiar to the Roman’s, littered and Rome was with temples and statues, to sexual misconduct and general disobedience and selfishness.

Here Paul’s theology moves on to two points: God’s temporary abandonment of the Gentiles (Deuteronomy 32 and Psalm 82); and the fact that God does not force salvation on anyone: we must freely accept the Gospel.

This allows Paul to set up the election and purpose of Israel, which is an essential element of his Gospel narrative. Paul also begins warning that sin leads to death: there is something from which we are to be saved as well as Someone we are to be saved for.

Saturday Jess: the good life?

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We are about to miss the eucharist for the third time since the second lockdown which is not, the government insists, a lockdown. There was no answer to our archbishops, nor to the leaders of any other Church about why this was necessary. We have grown used to it. I know of no one who believes a word that comes out of the Prime Minister’s mouth, and the moment it is safe for someone else to take on the role, all the mistakes of the last year will be loaded on him as the scapegoat, and he will be gone. But the damage done will remain. We are told all this is to ‘save lives’, but what sort of life do our rulers imagine we want or need apart from the bare fact of breathing?

I am not among those who think this is a “scandemic” or think there is a conspiracy afoot. I was taught that given a choice between “cock up” and “conspiracy” that, since governments can seldom organise the proverbial in a brewery, the former is the more likely culprit. I accept, as many of us do, that this is about ‘saving lives’, but it does rather raise the question on what life is for? If we cannot see and hold our dying relatives; if we cannot visit the sick; if we cannot help others except in a “bubble”, if the elderly in care homes are dying unshriven and unheld, then just what is this “life” we are saving, beyond the act of breathing? It is as though the government knows the price of life but not its value.

I can’t help but wonder if a society based on consumerism and individualism can cope with a pandemic? Absent consuming, what is it we do? Absent others, why are we here? When we say “life is for living” we don’t usually just mean that literally. We usually mean that by doing x, y or z, we enhance our experience of life. But in a society which does not believe there is any life but this one, where death is so taboo, life in any form is preferable to the risk of dying, perhaps our rulers forgot the question of what life is for and what we do with it?

But when this is over, what of the small business owners who will have lost not only their livelihoods, but something in which they have invested their very selves? No doubt the Exchequer will miss the tax receipts, but what about the social capital? Small businesses are part of the weft and warp of lives in our towns and cities, they help form our social networks, they are part of the social fabric. Absent them, what then? Dystopian town centres with empty shops? Dystopian lives with empty centres?

Donne was correct, no man (or woman for that matter) is an island. Yet, as we walk the streets and see others, and ourselves, socially distance, we send out the signal that we are, each, an island. There really is no such thing as society.

As we approach the end of the Church year, we need no reminder that Advent is a period of waiting and repentance. Yet the temptation to start Christmas early is strong in the sense that we are all in need of cheering up. I caught a minister the other day on the radio talking about the possibility of cancelling or postponing Christmas, and I wondered how anyone could mind showing himself to be that ignorant? But then from someone in a government which allows us into supermarkets but not churches because we need what the former supply and not what they latter supplies, why be surprised?

Even if you do not believe, as I do, that in the Eucharist you are receiving the body and blood of Christ, then church still has functions that people need. For many elderly people it is the focus of their life, and without it there is no focus. We meet together to sing to the Lord. But we can’t gather together, and even when we could, we weren’t allowed to sing. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

As we approach Advent, it’s a time to reflect on what we think life is for, and perhaps wonder what the way in which those in power have reacted to this crisis says about the chasm between their version of the “good life” and a real version.

Psalm 63

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When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.

For those of us who have trouble sleeping, this part of the psalm has special meaning. It was this passage which helped me when I was suffering a prolonged period of ill-health which often made sleeping a problem. It allowed me a way into a place where I could structure that time to be part of a prayerful meditation.

It did feel as I imagine it would feel in the desert without water, indeed it helped focus my anxieties. What was I looking for became who was I looking for, which reminded me that in all my anxieties I was not alone. It was so easy to lose sight of any sort of bigger picture, and this psalm was like manna in the wilderness. It spoke to the deepest part of me. When I reached out, I knew he was there, and I did, as the psalmist did, feel protected under his wing.

I find what I call the ‘revenge motif’ in the psalms hard to cope with. Its not that I have not had experience of people being nasty to me, far from it, but I cannot think that such people becoming ‘spoil for jackals’ is something I want. If they go to the ‘lower parts’ it is because they take themselves there, despite my prayers for them, and the sword with which they are slain is the one they wield. At least, that is how I have come to think of this motif which runs through so many psalms.

It may be that in distress the thought of one’s “enemies” getting their comeuppance is a source of comfort, but that’s not what Jesus asked us to do with our enemies. Sometimes, in those reaches of the night, it helped to pray for those who needed prayer without even knowing it.

And when the morning light came, and the dayspring from on high with it, somehow I felt lighter and less anxious.

Psalm 62

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On God alone my soul in stillness waits; from him comes my salvation

We have had some beautiful commentaries on the Psalms from Nicholas; I offer this from me to him.

There are so many times in our lives when events give us cause to wonder what it is all for? Why do we bother? Has God abandoned us. It can be tempting to give up, turn our face to the wall and if not actually die, then die in spirit.

Verse five of the psalm reminds us that from God alone comes our salvation. He is always there, even if we are not. That sense of the absence of God is displacement activity; it is we who are absent, not him. We say we love him, but what time to do we give him, how much time to do spend with him, talking and listening? Relationships require two parties and they require effort on our part as well as on the part of our beloved.

God is our rock, our strong tower, and in him alone is our refuge. The things of this world cannot bring us true satisfaction; it follows that its slings and arrows cannot prevail against us if we persevere and trust. We have to have that faith of which the author of Hebrews (1:1) writes: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” God will not desert us, even though we might desert him. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal, he has his arms out though we cannot see him, and he forgives us even though we have not yet told him of our repentance.

We should pray regularly, we should spend time in stillness with God. Sometimes, when the world seems against us, endurance in God is all we have. As the King James version of the Psalm’s eighth verse has it:

Trust in him at all times; ye people pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

Psalm 16

This Psalm is cited in the New Testament as a prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection. We may not always think of the Psalms as prophetic – Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel would more readily spring to mind, perhaps – but the Psalms are frequently cited as prophecy in the New Testament.

This Psalm is about trusting in the one true God, who will raise all people at the Last Day, and welcome His people into the kingdom prepared for them. Those who follow false gods and do not repent will not be part of this kingdom.

Seeking God and being intellectually honest are important. If we delude ourselves into accepting and staying in a false religion, we are not honest on this point. So many people around the world are trapped still, bound up with these systems because of personal, cultural, and national pressures.

Hope, trust, love, and honesty – these must guide us into the House of the Lord.

Psalm 14

This Psalm is about righteousness. It is quoted by Paul in Romans to demonstrate that all are in need of salvation from sin, Jews and Gentiles alike.

The writer describes us as “filthy” and Isaiah, perhaps allusion to this Psalm, describes our righteousness as “filthy rags”, a poor covering for us to stand in God’s presence.

Experience bears this out. Not a single day passes without some sin transpiring in our lives, be it a thought, a word, a deed, or an omission. For centuries the Confiteor has been part of the Christian liturgy (http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Basics/Confiteor.html).

Acknowledging that we are sinners and that we lack the means to overcome our sin by ourselves is the first step on the road of repentance. Sin comes in a variety of forms from “small” acts of self-indulgence to serious offences that will also result in criminal prosecution if picked up by the secular authorities.

Sin begins in the heart. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we have only to think something sinful to have committed sin. We need not act on it to be rendered sinful. We are thus defiled at the root, unfit for God’s heaven, unless He first cleanses us.

Paul, building on the teachings of Jesus, emphasises that we are to focus on love and seek God’s Spirit. This requires self-discipline, but it would be wrong to think that by our effort alone we can overcome sin. Protestantism, looking to Paul’s teachings, advises that we should be conscious of our sin, but keep our focus on living in gratitude for what God has done for us. Where we fall into a deep pit of shame and despair, we are weak against temptation. Faith is, among other things, about trusting God, who is working in us to make us more and more like Jesus. We must focus on Jesus and benevolence and for those grievances in our lives, we must trust that God will make things right on the Last Day.

Psalm 8

This Psalm, in combination with other verses (including from Revelation), inspired the modern worship song “O Lord our God, how majestic is Your name”. You can hear a performance of it here.

This Psalm is also referenced in The Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is applied to Christ. In becoming incarnate, the Creator assumed, for a time, a position lower than the angels. He became weak and tempted like we are, the better to overcome sin and serve as our Great High Priest. But now the LORD has given Him the name that is above every name, that He should receive worship in all corners of creation, to the glory of God the Father, now and forever.

This Psalm, along with other verses from Scripture, was also probably in the background of Paul’s mind when he wrote chapter one of The Epistle to the Romans. The glory of nature points to the greater glory of its creator. This is the “Book of Nature” spoken of by scholars and saints throughout the ages. The more we learn about nature, the more we should realise the existence and glory of its creator and long for the perfection of the age to come.

“For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope…” (Romans 8:20).

In the scheme of things, we are small. What is our seize compared with that of the planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe? What is our power, compared to that of the angels? What is our righteousness compared to that of God? What is our love compared with the Cross? Who are we that our Creator should take on flesh and die for us? And yet He did.

God created us to rule over this earth. We were to rule in accordance with His precepts, the greatest of which is love.

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The Son of Man will rule this earth, enthroned on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem. He will commit authority to those who follow Him, who will rule in accordance with His statutes (Isaiah 53; Revelation 20).

On that day, the name of the LORD will be praised in all corners of the earth. How majestic is that name! There is no other given to man, by which he can be saved.

I leave you with another song inspired by this Psalm: “How Great Thou Art”.

Psalm 2

The Psalms embrace a variety of thought. While their overall purpose is to praise God and be used in liturgy, they often do the following (sometimes simultaneously in a given piece):

  • teach wisdom (through proverb, metaphor, and example);
  • convey our inner thoughts, experiences, and struggles;
  • describe the present;
  • prophesy about the first coming of the Messiah;
  • prophesy about the second coming of the Messiah (though the split between the comings may not have been known to the author).

Psalm 2 demonstrates a variety of layers in line with the above. On the one hand, enemy nations were a problem for Israel and its king in the days of the monarchy. Saul and David fought with the Philistines; David subdued Edom and other surrounding nations; the Egyptians, Aramaeans, Scythians, Assyrians, and Babylonians would prove to be a problem. After the return from Babylon, the Samaritans fought against the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple.

The Psalm also looks further forward, however. In the preceding paragraph we identified the LORD’s anointed as the king of Israel. Jesus is the Anointed One, the final and greatest King. The nations have fought against His Kingdom and His people Israel, and the greatest coalition that has resisted the Gospel and threatened Israel is the House of Islam, and that is the primary Gentile force that will fight Christ when He returns. It is from the House of Islam, led by Gog of Magog, that Christ rescues Israel and His Church.

In the Millennium, Christ will rule the nations, through Israel and the Church, with a rod of iron. This phrase from Psalm 2 is referenced several times in the Book of Revelation. Then too, many shall chafe to throw off His rule. We know this because, at the end of the Millennium, after Satan is released from the Abyss, they form the coalition of Gog and Magog once more, led by Satan, and attempt to destroy “the camp of the saints” (Revelation 20).

But God is in control. He knows all and sees all: their deeds will be remembered on the Day of the LORD and at the Great White Throne Judgment. But blessed are those who put their trust in the Father and the Son: they will not be put to shame.