34. God be True

Meditations in Romans : 34 :  Let God be True

Rom 3:1-4 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.”

Paul has just been saying things that almost appear to undermine being Jewish but he has done it as a means of undermining self-confidence to show them their need of salvation is just the same as anyone else’s. But he doesn’t want them to be driven away. He doesn’t want them totally discouraged; he still wants them to listen to what he writes and so he temporarily steps back as he foresees them asking so what advantage then, is there from being a Jew? Indeed one might go on, what value is there in circumcision? Oh, it’s not pointless he tries to say – Much in every way. First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God – that is important! Oh yes, let’s not completely demolish being a Jew. They need salvation as much as anyone else but let’s recognise that they are in a privileged position having had all those years of relationship with the Lord! He doesn’t expand on it here for that is not his goal, but later on in the letter he does: Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ” (Rom 9:4,5) Oh yes, they have much to be thankful for, but that doesn’t make them any the less sinners who need to be saved by the blood of Christ.

But the moment we start thinking about their history it raises a problem for it is clear that at a number of times in their history many of them did not have faith and that creates a problem. God had promised to bless them and make them a special nation so that He could bless the rest of the world through them. Does the fact that they had been unfaithful now mean that God will be unfaithful to His original intention to bless the world?  No, certainly not!

Here it comes – even if everyone else lies, God won’t, He will always remain true and so (implied) if He has said He will bless the world, He will!  The lack of faithfulness of the Jews will not detract from that. The fact is that He still brought His Son, Jesus, into this world through that nation and brought the means of salvation about through this nation, through their sinfulness in fact. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, speaking about Jesus to the Jews said, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) and preaching a few days later, again to Jews, “You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life.” (Acts 3:13-15) Yes, they had the dubious privilege of being used by God to bring about His purposes of redemption.

To drive home this point about God never lying but being revealed at truthful, even through our sin, Paul adds a quotation from the Old Testament which in its fuller version reads, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” (Psa 51:4) That had been David in confession mode, saying that even though he did wrong, God would be seen to be right. That would have happened when God held him accountable for his sin and stood as Judge, speaking against David’s sin and bringing corrective action against it. Yes, God’s righteousness is revealed whenever He has to confront our sinful behaviour. His words of judgment and His corrective action reveals that He is true to His nature and to His word and so He always remains righteous and always remains faithful to His declared will.

There is a danger, when either we do wrong or others around us do wrong, and everything feels bad, to think and feel that God will not remain true to the loving, forgiving character that He reveals to us, but the truth is that His character does not change one bit when we sin, however bad it is. Yes, He will hold us accountable, but He still remains a loving, caring God who wants the best for us and wants us to come to repentance and back into a relationship with Him. Some of us really need to hear this: He does NOT change when we blow it. He remains faithful and still works to draw us back to Himself. That IS His objective, and He will always remain true to it; that is why He sent Jesus. He wants you back!

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32. Circumcision?

Meditations in Romans : 32 :  Circumcision?

Rom 2:25-27 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

Circumcision was a very Jewish thing. Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.” (Gen 17:9,10) This had been God’s command to Abraham. It was a rite through which every Jewish male went through a week after they had been born. It was a tangible reminder, if you like, of their relationship with the Lord. Thus in Paul’s day Jewish males could say, “We have the Law from God and we have been circumcised as a sign of our relationship with God.” These were things that made them special, different from the ungodly Gentiles – or so they thought.

And then along come Paul who pours cold water on their pride. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.” What! Yes, if you keep the Law and show your relationship is real with the Lord, then the marks of circumcision are genuine and meaningful, but of you don’t keep the Law, what is the point of the circumcision, because it is clear you don’t actually have a real relationship with God!

He presses home to point: If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” Circumcision and keeping the Law are both signs of a relationship with God, and so if we find a Gentile who is keeping the things that the Law requires, then they are clearly someone with some ort of relationship with God and so, surely, that is as good as circumcision for them.

Then he smacks home the next point: The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.” i.e. the Gentile obeying God’s Law, even if he doesn’t have the outward signs in his body, will show you up, you who don’t keep the Law, despite the fact that you have the outward sign in your body. Your lawbreaking annuls the mark of circumcision.

Now if you are a Christian you may be wondering what this has to do with you. Christians do not have to be circumcised so what is the point of thinking about this? Put in its simplest of terms the subject above shows people who say they are one thing and have outward signs to prove it, but in reality it means little. The same can be true of Christians. I know we have been over similar ground before in these meditations but it is a vitally important issue. We can go to church on a Sunday – that is the outward sign – but in many other ways we show we do not have the spirit of Christ. If we judge others, look down on them, have pride, think badly of others, hold them at a distance and speak ill of them, we find ourselves in the same position as these Jews that Paul was addressing. We claim to be one thing and give some small religious sign of it, but in our lives generally the fruit is missing that would tell us we had a genuine relationship with the Lord.

The sad thing is that there are many good unbelievers in the world. Only yesterday I was told by one such man that he kept the Ten Commandments and that was his rule of life. He doesn’t realise that the first ones are about loving God. But there are many such people who are good but godless – and some of them are in churches on a Sunday morning! Being good, or being nice isn’t the criteria that God cares about; it is how we respond to His Son, Jesus. He doesn’t want us to just be nice; He wants us to be nice, good and godly, having a living relationship with Him whereby He is able to lead us, guide us, teach us and show us the way on a daily basis, as we allow Him to lead us by His Spirit. For us, “keeping the Law” has become “following the Spirit,” and that of course includes allowing Him to teach us through His word. Oh yes, these words of Paul in this part are very relevant!

21. If God says

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.21

21. If that’s what God says….


Luke 2:21,22 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

“Well, what I think…” How many times have you heard those words? Somehow we try to assert our individuality or create our uniqueness by opinions, as if what we think is THE all-important thing in life. Anyone who has any public role in life – whether it be a politician, TV pundit, newspaper writer, or even simple manager – constantly faces the great temptation to believe that their view is the right one. Politicians probably hold the most extreme position in this respect, when they have to follow a ‘party line’, but we all do it in a lesser measure; we all hold a particular line. I once heard a group of about fifteen men discussing a particular contentious subject with an amazing degree of unity. It was only after about ten minutes that I realized that they had all watched the same documentary on TV the night before and were now all holding the same view. The only problem with all this is when a contradictory view appears in another ‘documentary’ some months later.

With this in mind it is refreshing to observe the simplicity of Mary and Joseph. They don’t go on their own ideas; they, quite clearly, follow God’s views. God has said, through the two angels, that the child is to be named Jesus – so they name him Jesus. Next, being part of the Jewish race, having the Law of Moses, the Law given by God to Israel through Moses, they go to do what the Law required. The Law required the couple to go to the temple after a prescribed period after the birth and present an offering to the Lord. Now this is not the place (with insufficient space) to explain the sacrificial system for the Jews, simply to reiterate that it had been given to Israel to follow. Mary and Joseph therefore followed the dictum, if that’s what God says then we’ll do it.

As we look back over the story so far, we can see that this couple received their guidance from God through direct heavenly communication (the angels), through circumstances (the emperor), through other people (the shepherds), and now through the written word of God (the Law). Similarly today we receive our guidance through heavenly communication (the Holy Spirit – see Gal 5:25), through circumstances, through other people (see esp. Eph 4:11 for ministries and 2 Pet 5:1,2 – shepherds!) and through the Scriptures (see 2 Tim 3:16,17). What a wealth of guidance available to us! I wonder if we avail ourselves of it, or do we only go by what we think, our opinion, our ideas? Such people frequently go astray.

So here is this beautiful couple being led of God. The truth is that it is probably Joseph taking the lead and his capability for following dreams, as we’ll yet see before the story finishes, suggests that he is particularly good at following God’s guidance. Mary, we suggest, simply follows – she’s probably a bit younger than him as well, and following your man was the teaching of the day – and because he’s won the right to call her to follow his headship by first having laid down his life for her. See Paul’s teaching on this (Eph 5:22 -25) which is beautifully epitomized in this couple. So for Mary, she has the additional form of guidance, so alien a concept in the modern Western world, of a life-giving husband, winning her love and submission by his attentiveness to God’s voice and God’s will. Amazing! Is that not beautiful?