Jan 22 2023 - Romans 2-3 True Community?
22nd January 2023
Reading this week – Romans 2-3 reminds me why I have never taught through Romans! There is a lot here – a lot of good stuff – like, Wow! Look at all that is here – and how do you go through this – what is he saying and not saying – and who am I?
Paul is having a debate with himself! Engage in that debate! The technical term – interlocular – look it up – like Gollum in LOTR – the Good Sméagol and the Bad Gollum. There are questions he asks and answers – the bad Paul asking and the good Paul answering!
What is so special about the Jews? Or Israel?
Second – Who do you think you are?
Why do you have such superior attitudes?
What does Abraham have to say about Romans?
Those are the three questions Paul is discussing.
I am going to close out the weak and the strong until we get to chapter 14 – and you are saying – Good riddance to it!
Both groups were trying to live faithful Christian lives – both had really different opinions – and Paul was not saying one was doing it right and the other was doing it wrong – both felt they had scriptural evidence for their convictions.
The specific concern – how to be a faithful Christian in Rome – a City/Empire filled with violence and immorality. For the ‘weak’ – mostly Jewish Christians (and some Gentiles) who believed you needed to follow the Law – believed they had to become separatists and protectionists. The danger is becoming isolationists. For the ‘strong’ – engagement and participation and the danger is conforming.
There are three practical keys – and we will look at 2 today – identity and community – and next week, mission.
Deeply theological book – and we will go practical with it.
Why do the Jewish Christians have attitudes of superiority? They have legitimate reasons.
Romans 2:17 But if you (those who are judging the Gentiles) bear the name "Jew," and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,
Remember back to last week – erase the word LAW in our brains – because we think of policemen pulling you over for speeding – but this is Torah – a covenant between God and His people. So here are the three reasons why they had superiority attitudes. It begins in Deuteronomy:
Deut. 32:8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided up humankind, he set the boundaries of the peoples, according to the number of the heavenly assembly (Elohim – the gods). "For the LORD'S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.”
SO, the first reason they had superiority attitudes – they were the Chosen People – God’s covenant people! And that can give you an attitude!
If we look in Romans 3:1-2 Then what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First, that they were entrusted with the actual words of God.
Only the people of Israel received the Torah.
Third – all of the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Jesus were coming to faith in the Jewish Messiah –
You folks are just joining us… we were here long before you… we should be the ones running the show, and there are some things you all need to do.
Israel has this special relationship – but misinterpreted the scope and privilege and role and they became entitled and acted that way toward others.
Michael Gorman – They had the Torah, and the Oracles of God – telling the story of Creation to Messiah – the calling of Israel until the calling of the Gentiles – it reveals Israel’s faithlessness, God’s faithfulness, and the resolution in Jesus.
The Israelites have been in on God’s plan from the time of Abraham – and they were judgmental because of this attitude of superiority.
Judgmentalism renders people incapable of rightly perceiving others, ourselves, and God!
When we are judgmental, it causes us to think too highly of ourselves, too lowly of others – and misunderstanding God.
For these people to thrive in the church, their identity is going to have to be transformed.
Paul continually repeats how both Jews and Gentiles are all sinners – none righteous, none understands, none does good….
And in the middle of talking about how everyone is lousy…
Romans 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
So, what he is saying – actually – you are all Jews! You are all the same – it has nothing to do with ancestry or rituals – it is about a heart of faith that equalizes everyone. What Paul is trying to do – create a new and common, shared identity – an ‘in Christ’ identity – which we will see in Romans 6-8
How to resolve this conflict in developing a common identity? Rome/the Roman Empire, and this book are so relevant to us living here today. We share much in common with Rome – two ways in particular – our culture has many of the same flaws and sins – idolatry, violence, immorality – AND Christians in our culture share some of the exact same problems as Christians in Rome – but not Jew and Gentile, but judgmental attitudes come from different places but they act exactly the same as they did in Rome.
We divide in how to engage in culture – HUGE divide – we have our own versions of the weak and strong – though our separations will vary.
One of the great -isms – individualism. We are, in America, a very self-oriented people – anytime you look at Instagram or Twitter will reveal that.
Identity is enormous -and everyone is creating their own personal identity/brand – and the more unique, the better – and that makes it hard to share a common identity.
Leave Christ out of it – do we have a common identity in our nation? No, not even close. It is not just a gender issue – but there are so many ways.
We are all made in the image of God, we are humans – and we add all this stuff onto that and call it our identity and it is just stuff being added on to it.
Back in the 60s, 70s, 80s – there was a syncretism issue with the Church – it started becoming a BUSINESS – Church growth books were all about the business – but the church is not a business first, it is a family first – but as a business – what these seminars and books started talking about personal distinctions from all the other churches. It was everywhere in Christianity – then it was like your competitive advantages over all the other churches – your brand – and that became your church identity and that is just not kingdom stuff.
After lunch – we had a discussion – if we were all forced to go to the same church in Cuyahoga Falls – Henry thought it would be amazing – others, impossible. And Christ first – you’d have to lay aside so much – and focus on the basic aspects of the faith – things all Christian have in common. Think how small that list will be! That is right.
Let me give a list of things Christians don’t have in common – style of worship – leadership structure – church organization (boards, committees, missions) – go to ten churches and you will find ten ways – sermon style and length.
So, all of that would need to be set aside to gain an in Christ, common identity.
Now we come to our little church – we are a diverse people – and look at, with a close eye – the way we do church – we would find some things we would prefer to do differently. We all would. We are doing it that way because others prefer it that way. That is why having a common identity is hard and having community is hard. It will always be that way in every church. We are human – it is what humans do best! To build a common identity – we have to lay aside some of those things.
Christian communities are flawed, messy, and painful. All communities are. Even family.
Dave Brunelle and I were together for coffee on Thursday – He paraphrased Bonhoeffer to me – the moment you reach the place of disappointment in that community is the first time you have truly encountered that community.
Communities/people disappoint. All of us offend. And all of us are offended. You will offend someone, and someone is offended by you! With engagement comes disappointment and offense.
We can be way too idealistic and unrealistic about Christian community - again, quoting Bonhoeffer: “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly."
To focus a God identity – which we will look at in 6-8 – we need to look at what we have in common – Acts 2:42 – Christian teaching – the Bible – and discussing, teaching, and talking about the Bible
Second – fellowship – partnering and doing life together.
Breaking bread – remembering the Lord’s death and resurrection
And Prayer – that is four things that all churches have in common.
We do 1-2 pretty well, but could excel still more.
Breaking bread – doing well, but maybe we need to make it more part of our normal life together beyond Sunday morning.
Prayer – I think we do it pretty well personally – but not corporately.
Fifth – having all things in common – or sharing with those in need.
5 things we can do! Let’s pray.