Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Prophets and Rulers (2) Telling Rulers what to Do

Prophets have the ability to give advice to rulers. They can share God’s wisdom with them and tell them what to do, if the ruler wants to obey God and align with him.

  • The Old Testament prophets shared their wisdom with the covenant kings of Israel and Judah.

    • Elisha gave his king tactics for defeating the King of Aram in battle (2 Kings 2:8-23).

    • Elisha told Jehu what to do once he became king (2 Kings 9:1-3).

  • The Old Testament prophets did not give advice to pagan kings. They rarely shared God’s wisdom with them.

    • Elisha told Hazael of Damascus that he would kill the King of Aram, but he did not give him advice about what he should do once he became king (2 Kings 8:7-15).

    • Jesus did not give advice to King Herod or Pontius Pilate. He did not share the wisdom of God with them or tell them how they should exercise their power.

    • Prophets occasionally interpreted dreams for pagan kings. God sometimes uses dreams when he wants to speak to a pagan ruler.

      • Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream to him. God had given the dream to Pharaoh to provide food security for Jacob’s family and to prepare the way for his chosen people to be led into the promised land. The dream was not meant for Pharaoh’s benefit.

        Joseph became Pharaoh’s administrator. In this role he had to carry out Pharaoh’s instructions. Pharaoh used Joseph to enrich himself and to enslave the Egyptian people. Joseph was not able to share God’s advice about how to be a good king.

      • Daniel interpreted a dream for the king of Babylon (Daniel 4). God wanted him to understand that he is sovereign and controls the rising and falling of kings. Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel governor over the province of Babylon. He had to carry out Nebuchadnezzar’s instructions. He was not advising the king how to obey God’s will. Nebuchadnezzar actually continued to be evil. Daniel later explained this to his son.

        All the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride (Dan 5:19-20).
        Neither Pharaoh or Nebuchadnezzar drew on prophetic wisdom to become good kings. They used the prophet’s administrative skills to advance their own purposes, power and wealth.

  • Modern rulers who are not followers of Jesus will not usually be seeking the wisdom of God. They are unlikely to be interested in seeking the advice of Christian prophets. They will not be wanting to do God’s will, so they will not listen to prophets who can speak God’s wisdom.

    If God challenges a non-Christian ruler through a dream, a Christian prophet might receive the interpretation of the dream. They should pass it on if the Holy Spirit provides an opportunity.

  • Advising Christian rulers what to do is probably an acceptable activity for Christian prophets, although there is no example of it in the New Testament (because there were no Christians rulers). The role is akin to the OT prophets advising covenant kings.

    Democratically-elected Christian rulers do not have absolute authority like the ancient pagan kings. They are accountable to their electorates and the existing laws of their nation. They are also bound by their party’s principles and other political conventions, so they are not always free to do God’s will for their nation.

    A Christian prime minister or president is still bound by their cabinet and parliament (congress), who may not be Christians. If the prophet speaks God’s wisdom for a situation to them, they may not be able to act upon it.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Prophets and Rulers (1)

Prophets who are dealing with rulers have four main roles.

  • Telling rulers what to do by sharing the wisdom of God.

  • Calling out the sins of rulers.

  • Telling rulers what is going on in their world, including:

    • physical level – what their enemies are doing.
    • Spiritual realms – understanding spiritual events is more important.

  • Warning rulers of threats to their personal safety, including:

    • physical attack
    • spiritual destruction

Categories of Ruler
Rulers can be kings, presidents or prime ministers. For simplicity, I will refer to them all as rulers, regardless of their current title.

Prophets will respond to rulers depending on how they fit within the following four categories. The first two are described in the Old Testament. The second two relate to the New Testament age. Some of the scriptures about the first two groups will be applicable to the second two groups, respectively.

  • Covenant kings – these were the kings of Israel and Judah who were accountable to the covenant that Moses initiated between God and his people. The OT prophets dealt with covenant kings in terms of the requirements of the covenant.

  • Pagan rulers – the nations were controlled by pagan kings and emperors during the times of the OT Prophets. The OT covenant does not apply to them, because they have never committed to serving God.

  • Christians rulers – in the New Testament age, there have been many Christian kings, prime ministers and presidents. They have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour so they are bound by God’s standards.

  • In the current season, there are more non-Christian rulers than there were in the past: Christian kings, prime ministers and presidents. They have never committed to obeying God. They feel no obligation to him.

Prophets will have a different interaction with each of these different categories of ruler. I will describe them separately in more detail in the next few posts.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Normal America

Many American evangelicals are getting stirred up about President Trump. They think the nation that is being ruined by a highly abnormal president. They see the next presidential election as pivotal because they fear that the President has set the nation on a dangerous path from which it will struggle to recover.

The reality is that Donald Trump will be gone in four years’ time, and quite likely in six months’ time. I suspect that nothing much will change when he goes because he is a symptom of a problem, not the underlying problem itself. That problem has been there for a long time, so it will remain for a long time after he as gone.

Changing a president does not change a nation's behaviour, because the government-spirits that controlled the election of the president will still be in place when he is gone. The United States has been dominated by spirits of war and violence and power from its inception, partly because it was birthed out of war. These violent and warring spirits ensure that the nation elects a president who loves war and military dominance. If a peace-loving person like Obama is elected president, these spirits will transform him/her into a warmonger.

Donald Trump claimed that he would withdraw America from unnecessary wars, but he has not succeeded. The violent and warring spirits that control the nation have worked with the establishment to keep the nation involved in wars all over the world.

Donald Trump was not an aberration. He was a perfect choice for the government-spirits that control the United States. A brash bully is just what they wanted to lead an arrogant nation that they use to bully the other nations of the world.

Caitlin Johnston has a perceptive article, despite not understanding the spiritual powers behind what she observed. She says that “Donald Trump is a very normal US president”.

Trump is a very normal president, the media just yell about this president a lot more than usual because he puts an ugly face on the horrific normal that was already there. Sure he makes rude tweets and says dumb things and has made a mess of the pandemic response, but by and large when you strip away the narrative overlay Trump has been a reliable establishment lapdog advancing more or less all the same status quo imperialist and oligarchic agendas as the presidents who came before him. There are just a lot of establishment loyalists with a vested interest in spinning the ugliness his oafishness is exposing as caused by and unique to him.
If people could only open their eyes, the President is revealing the heart of the nation and the government spirits at work in it.
It isn’t Trump’s abnormality that makes him truly heinous, it’s his normality. It’s his perpetuation of a status quo which is brutal, corrupt, and utterly fascistic. And which got there long before he did.

Going back to how it was before Trump was elected is not the solution, because that was just as bad.

Wanting America to go back to how it was before Trump is wanting the conditions which gave rise to Trump. This is like landing at the bottom of a well and wishing you could go back in time to a few moments earlier when you were merely falling down the well. Wanting the same status quo austerity, exploitation, oppression and warmongering that made people so angry they wanted an obnoxious demagogue to come knock over the whole apple cart in the first place is just rewinding the same horror movie to the scene right before the scene that’s scaring you.

The only solution is real change.
This is what your government is, America. This is what it’s always been. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, don’t just try to put a nicer mask on it so you can go back to sleep. Change it. Change your normal. Create a new normal.

Trump is everything America is. As one reader recently put it, “Trump didn’t make things the way they are, he is the personification of the situation. If the United States was a suit, then it was tailor-made for Trump.”

Trump is normal. If you don’t like your normal, America, then push for real change, not cosmetic change. It’s not going to come from any president. It’s going to have to come from you.

That change will require a change of heart that frees it from the powerful government-spirit that controls it.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Big Banks Again

Frank Partnoy a law professor at UC Berkley has a disturbing article in the Atlantic Magazine called the Looming Bank Collapse. The article is worth reading. Partnoy reminds us that the underly cause of the 2009 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) was default on home mortgage debt. Big banks had sliced and diced mortgages into collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) that were sold on to a variety of financial institutions.

At the time, the experts at the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve claimed that this strengthened the financial system because the risk was carried by those organisations that could afford to carry it. Of course, that claim proved to be a joke. The risk had been chopped up and shifted around so much that no one no who was carrying it, and in the end, taxpayers found themselves carrying most of the risk.

Frank Partnoy suggests that a similar situation has emerged with collateralised corporate. The big banks have been slicing and dicing some fairly dodgy corporate debt into Collateralised Loan Obligation (CLOs) with the same techniques that they used for house mortgages. The value of outstanding corporate debt CLOs is now greater than mortgage-based CDOs prior to the GFC. The experts say that this is good because the risk has been shifted around and is now held by financial institutions that are best placed to carry it. We have heard that one before.

The other so-called advantage of CLOs is what the insiders call “default correlation”. They rely on avoiding it The idea is that even during a recession, different industries and regions will perform better than others. The CLOs are supposedly constructed in a way that should spread the regional and industry coverage to ensure that a negative event will only affect some of the loans. Remember when they used to say that the house prices have never fallen right across the United States at the same time. Same story.

Default correlation might be a useful tool in normal times when even if some businesses are struggling, others will be prospering. Unfortunately, that does not apply during a global pandemic when businesses in most regions and sectors are badly affected, so we will soon see how bad default correlation can bite.

I am not sure how serious this problem is, but it sounds ugly. Frank Partnoy ends his article with a dire warning for the big banks.

It is a distasteful fact that the present situation is so dire in part because the banks fell right back into bad behavior after the last crash—taking too many risks, hiding debt in complex instruments and off-balance-sheet entities, and generally exploiting loopholes in laws intended to rein in their greed. Sparing them for a second time this century will be that much harder.
And the ordinary taxpayer will pay the price.

Shifting Risk

A company that operates 128 early childhood education centres across New Zealand tried to impose new employment contracts on its staff. The new contract states that hours of work will be between 20 and 40 hours a week, with a guaranteed minimum of only 20 hours.

The company claims that it has had to take this action because a significant percentage of children have not returned to child care following the coronavirus shutdown. It said that when the children return, they will give their existing staff additional hours. However, the contracts were not temporary, so they change the situation so that staff would lose out, rather than the company, if the numbers of children decline in the future.

Although the company backed down, after pressure from the unions and the government, which provides much of their funding, this type of contract is becoming more and more and more common.

According to economic theory, businesses are entitled to profit to compensate them for the risk that they run in starting and operating a business in an uncertain world. That is correct, but in recent years, we have seen more and more businesses shifting the cost of risks of doing business onto their employees, who cannot afford to carry the risk of losing their income. Of course, the business still expect to make the same volume of profits, despite not carrying so much risk. This is dishonest.

In recent years, many businesses have done something similar. The worst example is putting employees on zero-hour contracts, which requires them to be available when the business wants them to work, but with no guaranteed hours. No one can live like that. The practice of using contract employment agencies to provide staff rather than employing them directly is another example because staff can be removed with no cost at any time. This pushes business risk onto poorly-paid employees.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Staff Shortages

I get tired of hearing business owners complain on television that they cannot get staff because the border is closed to migrants. These are people who vote for right-wing political parties because they supposedly believe in free markets.

In a free market, there is a simple way for businesses to get staff. Pay a better wage than other employers are paying.

But businesses are mostly unwilling to practice what they preach. Instead, they ask the government to bring in migrants who will work for the minimum wage.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

International Tourism

Since the collapse of the demand for wool in the 1960s and 1970s, New Zealand has been looking for an alternative way of paying for the imports that we need for a modern lifestyle. For many, international tourism was seen as the solution, but even after significant investment by the government, tourism directly contributes a bit less than 6 percent of our GDP, and about half that comes from international tourism. International tourism is more important for providing employment, as most tourism activities are labour intensive. About a fifth of the workforce is directly involved in tourism.

The closure of the border to keep out Covid19 has had a serious impact on businesses who depend on international tourist. And due to the uncertainty about when the border will be opened again, there is serious uncertainty about when international tourism will get underway again. I hope that when the tourists do return, the industry will be re-established on a sounder basis.

  • Although international tourism has provided employment for large numbers of people, the wages are poor. Many of the employees who serve tourists are only paid the minimum wage. Many of the jobs are part-time and some are seasonal, so they are inadequate for supporting a family.

  • Because many of the jobs offered are poorly paid, tourism-related businesses often find it difficult to attract New Zealander to work for them. Consequently, they depend on migrant labour, because only migrants are willing to work unsocial hours on a seasonal basis for poor pay. Following the coronavirus shutdown, large numbers of migrants are stuck in tourist towns, with expired visas and no income, because they can’t afford to go home.

  • Tourism places a big load on public infrastructure without contributing to the costs. The industry wants airport expansion, cruise ship terminals, and better roads. They expect accommodation to available where and when they need it. Tourists want to be able to travel in National Parks without contributing to the costs. When they get sick, they need medical services, but they do not always pay for it.

  • Most tourists are stingy with their spending. I know I was when I have travelled overseas. It is their choice to keep their spending controlled while visiting the country, but that means that they are not going to be the solution to countries problems.

If international tourism starts up again, I hope that it will be established on a sounder economic basis. New Zealand needs tourism businesses that:
  • contribute to the cost of the infrastructure that they use;
  • pay wages or salaries that provide enough income to support a family
  • are not dependent on the exploitation of migrants to be profitable.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Romans (14) Final Challenge

Paul gives a final challenge to the Jewish Judger in Romans 14.

Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way (Rom 14:13).
This is a direct message to the Judger. Stop judging people incorrectly. Rather, think about how to avoid putting stumbling blocks in the way of fellow believers. This reflects Jesus' criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt 23:2-4). They were using the law to place a burden on people, when they should have been using it to liberate them.

Paul then reiterates his point by saying,

Discover how to build each other. Don't pull down God's work (Romans 14:19-20).
God was at work in Rome building something special. The Jewish Judger was in danger of pulling God's work down.

Getting toward the end of the letter, Paul states God's purpose once again.

The Messiah became a servant... in order to demonstrate the truthfulness of God's promises (Rom 15:8).
The gospel is a revelation of the goodness of God, not of his wrath.

This full series of posts can be found at Reading Romans.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Romans (13) Clouded by Slavery

In the first half of Romans, the most common theme is "slavery" to evil. Humans are slaves who needed to be set free. The spiritual powers demanded "death" of the person as their ransom. This was harsh, but they had the power to do it, because humans had freely submitted to them. Therefore, the main purpose of Jesus was to "redeem" people who were trapped in sin by the powers of evil. He paid the ransom demanded by willingly dying on the cross.

In the season following the Reformation when the scriptures were made accessible to everyone through English translations, and for many years in America, slavery continued to be an acceptable part of the Christian culture. This ambivalence towards slavery made Christians reluctant to deal with passages in the scriptures that condemned slavery. Exodus was an account of God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt, and establishing them in a land of their own with his good laws to enable them to live in freedom and at peace with each other, without the need to enslave people.

The foundation of the protestant understanding of Romans was laid by men who supported slavery, so when they studied the letter, they avoided the obvious reading that Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from slavery to the spiritual powers of evil. They preferred a message that God was angry with his people and needed to be appeased. They focussed on Jesus' death as a sacrifice that dealt with God, and ignored the major theme that Jesus delivered his people from slavery to the spiritual powers of evil.

If they had emphasised Paul's message that deliverance from slavery to evil, they would have had to face up to their own practice of slavery, and they did not want to do that. Now after slavery has been ended in the Western world, the same emphasis on God being offended has continued, and the message of deliverance from slavery is still being ignored.

The main theme of Romans is that we have been released from bondage to sin, death and fear (Rom 8:15) and been adopted as children of God.

You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-17).

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Romans (12) Judges

When we think about the judicial passages in Romans, we tend to think of a criminal court, but this concept is a modern one, which did not exist in biblical times. In our times, a crime is an offence against the state. In the UK, the court case is "The Crown v the offender". In the United States, it is the "The State of Florida v the offender". So, when a person is convicted of stealing, they have to pay a fine to the state, ie the payment goes to the government, not to the person who was robbed. Any reparation to the victim depends on the generosity of the state. It should not be taken for granted.

In biblical times, courts were more akin to commercial courts. The contest was between two people: the offender and the victim. If a person was convicted of theft, restitution was paid to the person whose stuff was taken, not to the king. Even murder was treated as an offence against the family of the victims. They have been robbed of their means of support and any potential inheritance. That is why they could choose a ransom payment because it would restore their economic position.

Many cases would be a dispute between two people who had a contractual arrangement with each other, or had an obligation of trust. One person has failed to comply with their contractual or fiduciary obligation to another, who would ask a judge to enforce the contract or trust and remedy the victim's situation (Luke 18:2-3). If a person has failed to carry out their obligation to a dependent, they could ask a court to put their situation right (Luke 12:13-14). Sometimes, the dispute might be about the ownership of a slave. More often, one person would be in debt to another and unable to pay what they owed. The creditor would ask the judge to rule that debtors and his family be made his slaves until the debt was paid (Matt 18:23-34).

The dispute is not between the offender and the judge. Rather, the judge was theoretically independent arbiter between the two parties to the dispute. Of course, many were corrupt and looked out for their friends.

This is how we should read Romans. The human problem is not that we have offended God. If the dispute was with him, he would have to recuse himself from the case, because he could not be a just/independent judge when he is one of the parties to the dispute. Rather, the dispute was between the spiritual powers of evil and humans. When Adam and Eve sinned, they unwittingly enslaved themselves to the evil spiritual powers. The evil powers demanded an impossible ransom for setting humans free.

The dispute is between humans and the spiritual powers of evil. God is the disinterested judge, not the person offended. The spiritual powers of evil were telling God that if he were to let humans off free, then he should let them off, too. They said that humans freely enslaved themselves, so if humans want to be free, they would have to pay the ransom demanded. They claimed that life for life is a fair demand.

The dispute was resolved when Jesus, a perfect human, surrendered himself to the spiritual powers of evil in exchange for the rest of humanity, and died as they had demanded. Once the ransom payment was made, humans were liberated from their bondage. God declared that ransom paid was sufficient. He judged humans to be in the right, and the spiritual powers of evil to be wrong. He declared that they had no case to make, against anyone who is united with Jesus. They cannot call his people to court.

Reading commentaries on Romans, it seems that they see the human problem as guilt before God. So, I did a search of five different translations of the letter and was supplied by the result. The only place where the English words “guilt” or “guilty” is used is in the NKJV translation of Romans 3:19. However, other translations do not use word guilty in that verse as it is not in the Greek text. The word used is “upodikos”, which means “subject to just judgment” of God. Funnily enough, different translations used the word guilt or guilty in the headings they inserted on chapter 1, 2 or 3, which suggests that they assume the letter is about guilt, even though the word for guilt is not used.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Wrong Side

The most dangerous place in the world is being caught in no-man’s land between two opposing armies and not know which side you are on. That is the situation of most people in New Zealand.

We live in a multi-dimensional universe in which the spiritual dimensions exist in parallel to our three-dimensional physical world. The spiritual realms operate in continuity with the physical/natural world that we observe. Most humans cannot see into the spiritual dimensions, so we can only observe the physical side of existence. However, events in our physical world are shaped by activities in the spiritual realm. When we look at the physical world in isolation, we miss much of what is happening in the universe (Kingdom Authority p.28).
A war is going on in the spiritual realms that most people in New Zealand are not even aware of, and many do not even know which side they are on. Much of what happens here on earth is the consequence of events in the spiritual realms, and what happens here, has a significant effect on the relative strength of the two sides in the spiritual struggle.

God has not always been honoured, but for most of history, the God who revealed himself through Jesus, had a place in New Zealand, and enough influence with the people with authority to be able to release some of his blessings.

Over the last few decades, the people have squeezed God out of New Zealand, because they thought that we did not need him, and they did not want him messing with our lives, but without realising it, they have given his place to the spiritual powers of evil. These forces are full of hatred, anger and violence. They love to kill, destroy and steal. By shutting out the God who was restraining them, we have strengthened their position here on earth. They held back for a while to give us a false sense of security, but now they are flexing their muscles and having a go to see what they can do with their power.

Many people believe that life in New Zealand is not as good as it once was. The reason is not that we have elected the wrong party to government. Rather we have chosen the wrong side in a serious spiritual battle, and the good side is losing, while the bad side is winning. Therefore, we should not be surprised that anxiety, distress and are becoming more common.

The reason that both personal pain and economic troubles are getting worse is that we have unwittingly placed ourselves under the authority of the spiritual powers of evil. Not surprisingly, they are doing what they always do when they get an opportunity. Until they are put back in the box, we can expect that they will continue to surprise us with more and more of their evil tricks.

The good news is that Jesus defeated the spiritual powers of evil on the cross.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:13-14).
Having disarmed principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross (Col 2:15).
God raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (Eph 1:20-22).
The good thing about the spiritual struggle we are engaged in is that we do not have to hide in no-man’s land wondering which side will win the war, and trying to pick that side to align with. Jesus has already defeated the spiritual powers of evil on the cross. The role of his people is to establish that victory on earth by allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and push the spiritual powers of evil out of the territory that they hold.

So, by giving the spiritual powers of evil a free hand in our nation, we have backed the losing side in the ultimate battle, and because they know they cannot win, they are just trying to do as much damage here as they can before they are finally defeated.

Joining the losing side in a battle is a serious mistake. The time has come when the people of New Zealand need to wake up and shift allegiance to the winning side. Jesus will overlook our previous mistakes and welcome us back his side at any time. All we have to do is to tell him that we regret our blunder onto the wrong side, and offer our allegiance to him. He will then release the Holy Spirit in our lives to restore blessing in our lives, and if enough people get on board, establish his government in our nation.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Romans (11) Government Wrath

I have completed a detailed study of Romans 13 (see Understanding Romans 13) in which I explain that Paul was supporting the powers of government, but was confirming the continues of the system of local judges applying God’s law, which God had given to the people through Moses. However, I have noticed that Romans 13:4-6 does not fit the tone of the rest of Romans.

I am not sure about this, but I wonder if these verses are the voice of the Jewish Judger, because he is obsessed with wrath.

But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath... And for this reason, you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to this very thing (Romans 13:4-6).
Wrath is one of the spiritual powers of evil that controls the people of the world. This verse says that human governments are avengers of wrath, which is probably true because they are dominated by powerful government-spirits that loving doing evil. However, if they are serving the spirit of wrath, they cannot be servants of God, so this passage sounds like the Jewish Judger, who insists that God loves revealing his wrath. Paul has proven over and over again, that God is revealing his rightness, not his wrath, so a government that is an avenger that brings wrath on people, it cannot be a servant of God.

Taxes were extremely punitive in Paul’s time. Roman tax collectors would take every cent they could squeeze out of poor people, even if it left them poor and hungry. If the tax collectors were instruments of wrath, this would make sense. The people pay so much tax because the servant of wrath is squeezing them.

Paul counters with a totally different message.

Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Rom 13:9).
This is an amazing statement totally different from the previous verses and consistent with the last verse of Romans 12. God’s law does not need wrath to be fulfilled. It can be fulfilled by love.

We owe love. We do not owe taxes to governments that are instruments of wrath, who are avenging people who have fallen into the hands of evil powers.

Paul ends the discussion about government power with an even bolder statement.

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom 13:10).
God’s law is fulfilled by love, not by wrath. Love does not impose wrath on neighbours. The response to neighbours must not be driven by wrath.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Romans (10) Conquer Evil with Good

Romans 12 is an amazing passage that echoes Jesus’ sermon on the mount. We are to bless those who harm us and overcome evil by doing good. Towards the end of the passage, Paul quotes the Jewish Judger again, after saying that we should not take revenge.

Not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it hath been written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, says the Lord; “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head” (Rom 12:19-20).
Although it does not come through in most English translations, the first word of this statement is “no/not”. This suggests that it is an alternative voice. This voice is concerned about God’s wrath and brings through a different motivation. Paul had been emphasising that we be kind to those who harm us. The motivation for this is love. The alternative voice says that we should be kind to those who harm us, because that will enable God to get them, ie being kind to them we are actually harming them. This sounds like the Jewish Judger to me.

Paul responds to this nasty idea with an emphatic “No”.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
The first word of this verse is “no/not”, so Paul is saying that he disagrees with the vengeful sentiment expressed in the previous two verses by Proverbs out of context.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Romans (9) Jewish Judger Again

In Romans 9-11, Paull addresses the situation of Israel. They had many advantages, especially the covenants and the law (Rom 9:4). He explains that God’s word has not failed. His law has not failed. God had two purposes for the law. The first was to provide spiritual protection for his people by warding of the spiritual powers of evil with animal sacrifices. The second purpose was to give a set of laws that would allow a nation of people to close live together in relative peace and harmony. The Israelites had not always applied these laws correctly, but these laws had not failed. They were successful when applied.

Paul then explains that Israel’s calling is certain, but that does not mean everyone will be rescued. He chose Jacob as the heir of his promises, even though Esau was the oldest. This was not unjust. It was a sign of God’s mercy at work (Rom 9:10-14).

For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy (Rom 9:15-16).
All God’s dealings with people are driven by his mercy.

After explaining God’s mercy, Paul addresses a question that must have been circulating.

Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will (Rom 9:19)?
Paul identifies the source of this question in his response.
On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God (Rom 9:20)?
By calling his challenger “O Man”, Paul confirms that he is answering the questions of the Jewish Judger again. He tells him that he has no right to answer back to God. He explains that just as a potter can smash his clay and start his pot again, God as the creator can do what he chooses with the people that he created (Rom 9:19-21).

The voice of the Jewish Judger comes through again in Romans 9:22.

What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?
This is the Jewish Judger's favourite theme. He claims that God is wanting to display his wrath and show off his power. He has created some people to be objects of wrath. They have no other purposes, but to be destroyed. This is the opposite of Paul’s message. God does not view people as objects of wrath. He looks upon people with love and mercy. He is sad when they reject his love and blessing. It is true that some will perish, but that is not God’s preference. It is the inevitable outcome for people who refuse to have anything to do with God. If they staunchly separate themselves from the God who sustains everything, they cannot continue to exist.

Pauls message comes out in the next sentence, which gives a different "what if".

What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory (Rom 9:23).
God does not demonstrate the riches of his glory by creating objects of wrath. He sees humans as objects of mercy. God displays his glory by showing mercy. Love, kindness and mercy is the heart of his character; not wrath and unforgiveness.

Paul confirms this message by quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea. People who believe they are not God’s people will become his people (Rom 9:25).

Paul’s dominant theme is that God is merciful. He had personally experienced God’s mercy when he was persecuted Christians. Paul wanted everyone to know that God is merciful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Romans (8) Freed from Slavery

Romans 6 describes how we have been freed from slavery to Sin. It is a spiritual power the gained hold of humans when Adam and Eve sinned. Those who died with Jesus are set free from its hold.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him, so that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Rom 6:6-7).
For slaves of sin, their wages are death. Sin gives the Spirit of death a hold on our lives (Rom 6:20,23). Those who are set free from the power of sin, receive the gift of life now, and in the age to come (Rom 6:23).

This message is confirmed in Romans 7. Although the law is good, sin grabbed the opportunity given by it, and subject us to death (Rom 7:10-11).

The spirit of sin took away our freedom.

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Rom 7:18-20).
The person who knows the law, but not Jesus, knows what they want to do, but they are not capable of doing, because sin has a hold on them. This is the exact opposite of the Jewish Judge in Romans 1:18-32 because he said that people deliberately chose to disobey God. They chose to sin, but if they had wanted to, they could have chosen not to. In Romans 7, Paul explains that this is not right.

The good news is that Jesus has delivered us from our slavery to sin.

Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom 8:2).

Monday, June 22, 2020

Romans (7) Abraham

In Romans 4, Paul uses the example of Abraham to demonstrate that he was rescued by this faith. Jews and Gentiles who trust in Jesus are descendants of Abraham, according to the promise.

The last verse of the chapter has an interesting comment about Jesus.

He was handed over because of our deviations and was raised to life to make us right (Rom 4:25).
We deviated and lost our way, but his resurrection “makes us right” because if we are in Jesus by faith, then we share in his new life, which allows us to live correctly, by walking in the Spirit.

Demonstrated Love
In the early chapters of Romans, Paul says several times that the gospel demonstrates the rightness of God. In Romans 5:8, he explains that the gospel also demonstrates his love.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus death demonstrates God’s love. This contrasts with the Romans 1:18-32 tirade, which claims that God’s anger is being revealed in Jesus’ death.

Death and Wrath
Paul explains in this chapter that the source of our problem changes. Prior to the giving of the law, the world was dominated by a powerful cosmosdominator called Death (Rom 5:12-14). Together with a spirit called Destruction, he wrought terrible troubles on earth. The giving of the law with penalties for crimes increased the power of the Satan the accuser, and he was able to regain top spot.

Paul explains that the spirit called Death even reigned over people who had not broken a command (because they did have the law). The spiritual powers of evil were able to control them, even when they did not realise that they had sinned (Rom 5:14). This contrasts with the ranting of the Jewish Judger in Romans 1:18-32, who said that everyone knew that they had disobeyed God and therefore deserved to be punished.

In Romans 4:15, Paul had explained that the giving of the law also stirs up an evil spirit called Wrath.

The law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression.
The law empowered Satan, because it gave him a basis for accusing people of transgression. When Satan was able to accuse someone, Wrath was able to have a go at them. The law provided spiritual protection for the children of Israel, but those who wandered away left themselves vulnerable to attack by Satan and Wrath.

The same point is made in Romans 5:9.

Much more then, having now been made right by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
Once Jesus had come and died on the cross for our failure, Satan could no longer accuse us of breaking the law. This mean that Wrath has right to attack us.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Romans (6) Dik- Words

In the book of Romans, three words based on the same root are common (adjective: dikaios, noun: dikaiosune, verb dikaio). These words link to a similar word in the Hebrew Old Testament (tsedk). The dik- words can be made negative by adding a suffix “a-“; righteous becomes unrighteous.

The dik- words are hard to translate because they do not have obvious English counterparts. Many translations of Romans use justice-based words for the dik- words, ie justify, justification, justice, just. There are several problems with this approach.

  • Using justice-related words adds a judicial/forensic emphasis to Romans that is not fully justified by the text. This makes English translations of Paul’s message misleading.

  • The dik- words are used ten times in Romans 4. This passage describes Abraham’s relationship with God, four hundred years before the law was given. In this context, a judicial/forensic translation makes no sense, because there was no law for him to be judged against. Translation of the dik- words based on the word “right” makes more sense, because Abraham was right with God. He was right in God’s eyes.

    If justice-based words do not fit in chapter 4, they probably do not belong in the earlier chapters of Romans either.

  • The meaning of the word justify has changed over time. In the modern world, a justification is an excuse for doing something we should not have done. A driver caught speeding will try to justify himself by claiming that all the other travellers on the road were going the same speed. Or he will just his speeding by saying that he was late for dinner. However, making excuses was not what Paul had in mind he used the dik- words.

    These days, being justified means that I have an excuse for what I did, even if other people consider it to be unacceptable. If tell say to a person who is not religious that we are justified by faith, they could assume that faith provides an excuse for bad behaviour; but that is not the message of gospel.

  • In a law court, a judge has two options when a person is charged with committing a crime.
    • Acquit the person, if the judge considers that they are innocent.
    • Convict the person of a crime, if the judge considers them to be guilty.
    Paul did not have either of these options in mind in his letter to the Romans. He was not saying that humans are innocent, so “acquit” is not the right word. Paul was actually saying that humans are guilty of sin, but that does not matter, because God is not surprised by this outcome. He wants to rescue his people, rather than punish them, so no penalty has to be paid. Translating the dik- words with words from the law court distorts Paul’s meaning.

  • Satan is an accuser, who loves to accuse humans of crimes and demand that they are punished. He likes a forensic approach to the problems of life because it allows him to make accusations. He likes a courtroom situation because he is an expert prosecutor. Using justice words for the dik- works in Romans plays into his hand because it enables him to make accusations and demand that humans pay a penalty for sin. Choosing a translation of the dik- words that work in his favour is unwise.

  • The Jewish Judger that Paul is challenging is the one who is obsessed with judgment and accusing people. The summary of ranting in Romans 1:18-32 portrays the way that he sees the world. Paul does not just accept his view, but challenges it because it is wrong. The Jewish Judger believes that God is angry with humans because they have rejected his ways and deserve death. If this were true, all humans would need to be justified before God; but that is not true. God still loves the people of the world and wants to rescue them. That means they need to be put right with God, not released from condemnation.

    Judgement and accusation have come against humans, but it is the accuser who brings it not God. Paul is trying to correct this false understanding, so we should not put the Jewish Judger’s spin on the translation of Paul’s words, because it will undermine his message. Therefore, when translating the dik- words, we should avoid judgment/justification related translations and instead focus on our being “put right” by God.

  • I think we should keep our translation of the dik- words simple. Some translators try an insert a whole lot of theology into their translation of the dik- words, eg “covenantal faithfulness”. This might be technically correct, but it goes beyond what Paul was saying, by adding a theological slant to it.

  • Some of the words frequently used to translate the dik- words are religious words that are not used in everyday life. For example, words like justification, justify, righteous, righteousness are words that religious people use, but if they are used by ordinary people, they tend to have a negative meaning, like “self-righteous”. They are not helpful for explaining the gospel, which is what Paul is doing in the first few chapters of Romans.

The core meaning of the dik- words refers to being “right” or “correct”. The adjective means being “right” or doing things correctly. With regard to us, it means having done God’s will. It can be translated “just”, but that is a special narrow sense, and is not the basic meaning. The noun refers to the status of having done things right or done things correctly. For us, it means we have done things the way God wants them to be done, ie, correctly. The verb means to be considered “right”. In contract law, it means having access to a property that is unassailable. In the passive form of the verb, which Paul uses frequently, it means “being put right” or “being made right”.

When I edited a document in which I had inserted Romans 1-4, replacing the existing translations with these words, it made a whole lot more sense.

When Paul says that the “righteousness of God” has been revealed, he was saying that God has been correct in everything he has done. He has always done things right. The “rightness of God” has been revealed.

When Paul says that we have been “put right”, he means that God any barrier between us and him is gone. His Holy Spirit is content to come and live in us.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Romans (5) Real Problem

In Romans 3:9-18, Paul explains the real problem faced by the people of the world. The problem is the same for Jew and for Gentile (v.9). Everyone is under the power of sin; literally “under sin”. This is the problem on earth. Due to sin, the spiritual powers of evil are able to dominate everyone who lives on earth. This is the issue that Jesus came to deal with. The world did not need God’s wrath. It needed the deliverance and healing of the salvation that God provided through Jesus.

Paul describes the consequences of being under sin with a series of quotes from the Old Testament (vv.10-18). There is a lot of nasty stuff listed, but the basis is different from the rant in Romans 1:18-32. There the evil was supposedly done by people who knew what God wanted, but deliberately chose to do the opposite. Here, evil occurs because people are under the power of sin. There is futility, deception, bitterness and disaster, because these are the things that the spiritual powers of evil like to inflict on humans. They lead people astray, and when they have a hold on their lives, they work evil to destroy them. The solution to this problem is not condemnation. They need to be rescued. Paul describes how that happens in Romans 3:21-26, which is the heart of his gospel.

We are reminded of our need for rescue in Rom 3:23.

All have sinned and lack the glory of God.
We need to be clear about this verse. It should not be translated like another condemnation by the Jewish Judger, who would like to say that we are the problem because we have fallen short. We have sinned, but the problem is that this shuts us off from God’s glory, which then gives the spiritual powers of evil access into our lives, which allows them to hurt and harm us (for Israel, God’s glory was the cloud by night and the fire by day, that went in front of them to protect them from evil). That is the problem that Jesus had to rescue us from. Without God’s presence, which is glorious, we are vulnerable to spiritual attack. Jesus rescues us from this problem so that we can walk in the shadow and protection of the glory of God again.

“Wrath” is not a revelation of God’s character, it is an evil spiritual power who has dominated the world for long period of time. He has worked with another powerful spirit called destruction to work terrible evil on earth. God sent Jesus to deliver us from his power.

God’s Rescue
God accomplishes his rescue “apart from the law”, although the law and the prophets gave testimony to it (v.21). The law was given to help people live in relative peace with each other, and to obtain safety from the spiritual powers of evil, prior to the cross. But it was not a perfect solution, as sin gives the evil powers a way to get back in and destroy peace. Jesus bought a more permanent and effective solution, a solution that confirmed God’s rightness.

God’s rightness is displayed (v.21). This is where Paul began. The gospel displays the rightness of God. God is right in what he does, and Jesus is faithful to him, so he willingly dies for our rescue.

All are put right by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
We are put right by grace. It is a gift and it comes by Jesus our messiah. The gift that we receive is not the declaration of a judge, it is redemption by a deliver. Redemption is the payment of the ransom to someone who holds us captive. We are held captive by sin and evil, but the death of Jesus rescues us and sets us free.

Paul then explains what God did through Jesus.

God placed Jesus as a mercy seat through his faithfulness by means of his blood. He did this to demonstrate his rightness (Rom 3:25).
The mercy seat was the part of the covenant box in the tabernacle where God dwelt. Blood was sprinkled on it to symbolise peace with God. Jesus death and shedding on blood rescues those who believe from the power of the spiritual powers of evil and opens the way to God. Paul is emphatic that God does this to demonstrate his righteousness, not to appease his wrath. It is the spiritual powers of evil who demanded blood and who have to be appeased (One was named Wrath).

God’s attitude was different from the harsh view projected by the Jewish Judge.

In his forbearance, God passed over sins committed beforehand—he did it to demonstrate his rightness at the current time, so as to be right and the one who puts those who trust in Jesus (Rom 3:27).
This is a mind-blowing statement by Paul. I wish as many sermons had been preached on it, as on the misleading version of Romans 2:20.

The starting place for Paul is God’s “forbearance” (anoche). This word means “tolerance” or “restraint”. Contrary to the Jewish Judger, God is not full of wrath and anger, and eager to punish humans have made a mistake. He is tolerant and holds back, waiting until he has worked out his plans to rescue his people.

He passes over sins that were committed beforehand, ie before he died on the cross. This is amazing. God passed over all the sins that occurred before the cross go and decided that they did not matter. I presume that he saw people being manipulated and controlled by the powers of evil, so was not surprised or offended by their sin. He realised they needed to be rescued, not punished, so he focussed on doing that.

God took this action to demonstrate his rightness for all the world to see. He proved his rightness, by putting right those who trusted in Jesus. God did not need to demonstrate justice or wrath, because the situation that humans had got themselves into was unfair. The powers of evil were manipulating them and making it look like humans were at fault. They even tried to enlarge the barrier between God and the people he created by making it look like he was angry with them.

God and his people come out of the cross looking good. Jesus death and resurrection demonstrated that God has been right/correct all along. Humans who trust in Jesus are put right by his death and resurrection. Only the powers of evil are left looking bad.

Law of Faith
Paul then deals with the Jewish Judger's failure to understand the role of the Jews and the law. Mimicking the Judger, he asks what is the basis for boasting, and responds, there is none. Mimicking again, he asks about the law and responds that we are saved by the “law of faith”. I find this expression interesting because the Mosaic law requires faith. The spiritual protection that it provided pointed to Jesus, so the people offering sacrifices were not earning righteousness, they were being kept safe by faith in God. This is why Paul is able to say in Romans 3:31, that “faith establishes the law”.

Paul then goes on to explain in the remainder of Romans 3 that we are made right in God’s eyes by faith (Rom 3:28-30). This promise applies to the Jews and the Gentiles. We are united by receiving salvation in the same way.

Science and Politics

Our Prime Minister, like other national leaders, has said that all the decisions made about managing the coronavirus were based on the best scientific advice by medical experts. This is a little misleading. There are several problems with relying on science in a situation like this.

  • The scientific process is slow, so science does not provide instant answers. Science works by independent checks by peer reviews and confirmation of results by other researchers. This process takes time.

  • This means that early results will often be exposed as incorrect. With regard to coronavirus, researchers are publishing results without waiting for peer review. Some have had to be withdrawn when peer review by independent experts has exposed flaws. When more repeat studies are completed by other independent researchers, some early results that have been published will be proven wrong. There is nothing wrong with this, because it is the way that science works. However, it is a problem when decisions have to be made quickly.

  • Testing medical hypotheses is difficult. Scientists like to do double-blind experiments where a potential treatment is applied to a sample of people and a randomly selected control group are left without treatment, as this is a good way to test if a treatment is effective. This type of experiment is often not possible with medicine, as it is immoral to exclude treatments from people who might benefit.

  • Medical studies often used statistical methods to assess treatments. These methods can identify correlations between outcomes and personal characteristics or practices, but establishing a causal relationship is much more difficult. And because many characteristics and events are not always well defined or recorded accurately, statistical studies can produce misleading results. These problems will often be exposed by peer review or more thorough repeat studies, but that will take time.

  • Robust experiments are difficult to design. Even when samples are selected carefully, bias can creep in if the results were affected by factors that the designers of the study missed, and therefore failed to control. These problems will be gradually ironed out by effective peer review and repetition of studies, but that takes time, so it is not surprising that the first results to be released are later proven to be wrong.

  • Each epidemic is different. Therefore, relying on what was effective during the previous epidemics can lead to mistakes.

  • There are no perfect models (except on the catwalk), so modelling always bring in uncertainty. The models used by epidemiologists to estimate death rates when the coronavirus first emerged were flawed. Subsequent expert reviews revealed that faulty assumptions and inappropriate parameters were used. There was no allowance for the effect of the virus on people in aged care facilities. These flaws resulted in estimates that were unreliable. They have now quietly been forgotten.

  • On medical issues, there will always be disagreement. Put three specialists in a room, and they will often disagree on the cause of the problem, the best treatment, and the possible outcome for the patient. This disagreement is normal in medical science. The best way to resolve this problem when big decisions have to be made is to gather as many experts as possible and thoroughly debate the issues. These debates will not always produce an agreement, but it will at least expose the flawed arguments.

  • Sometimes science has not answered the questions that are most important for policymakers. There is no science that indicates that a lockdown of an entire economy is more effective for dealing with an epidemic than quarantine of people who are sick. Quarantines have been applied in the past, so they have a known track record, but that evidence is not always applicable to other viruses. The lockdown solution has not really been used in the past, so there is very little evidence about the economic costs and the effectiveness of such a remedy. The outcome will only be evident when annual excess death statistics are released in a year's time, but even then, there will still be debate.

  • Science cannot answer spiritual questions. If the coronavirus had a spiritual cause, science has to ignore it, because it can only assess physical cause and effect.

  • Six months after the coronavirus was first discovered, it is fair to say that more is not known about the way it behaves than is known. That is not a failure. It is the normal situation when something new has been discovered. Most of the uncertainties will be resolved as the scientific process continues, but we should not expect medical science to have all the answers straight away. We should not be surprised if hypotheses are to be proved, or if later studies expose flaws in earlier ones. This is the normal scientific process at work. However, it does mean that we should not expect immediate answers to all questions when a new disease emerges. Assuming that you can know things that can't be known is dangerous.

Because the medical science is at best uncertain, and at worst, non-existent, may of the decisions about responding to the coronavirus mostly had to be political decisions. This is right because the ultimate responsibility for the outcome rests with them. Of course, the politicians like to claim that were relying on medical and scientific advice, but they are really just propagating an untruth to give their decisions more credibility with the wider population.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Romans (4) Perfect Judge

Another Contradiction
Another false teaching of the Jewish Judger is exposed in Romans 2:14-15. This is another crack at the bluster of Rom 1:18-32. The judger tries to say in a different way that people who do not know the law, actually do know it, because it was written on their hearts. This was not true. Gentiles possibly know a little about what God requires, but they do not have the law on their hearts.

Jeremiah and Ezekiel had both promised that God would eventually write the law on his people’s hearts (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:27). However, this promise would be fulfilled by the Holy Spirit after people were born again under the new covenant. It does not apply to people who do not know God, as the Jewish Judge implies.

Response
Paul responds by saying more about the Jewish Judger (Rom 2:17-20). This man is a Jew. His hope is in the law. He uses the law to make moral distinctions. He believes that he can be a teacher of people living in darkness; those who are foolish and blind. He claims to be able to do this because he has an outline of knowledge of truth.

Paul responds by saying that the Jewish claim that they can teach the nations is invalid because they were not applying it himself (Rom 2:21-24). He cites some events that had actually happened in Rome, where Jewish teachers had dishonoured God and put his people at risk, by stealing and committing adultery. God had given the Jews his wisdom for how the people of the community could live at peace with each other (Rom 3:2), but they had failed to do that. That unfaithfulness does not undermine God’s rightness (Rom 3:4). Instead, they had undermined their testimony by disobeying the good laws that God had given to them.

The remainder of the chapter deals with the Jewish Judger’s claim that Gentile Christians need to be circumcised. The purpose of circumcision was to keep God’s people separate from the rest of the world. This was an important aspect of their protection from the spiritual powers of evil. It was a sign that they belonged to God and that these evil powers could not attack them.

Following Jesus defeat of the spiritual powers of evil on the cross, our spiritual protection is different, so circumcision is no longer so important. It reminds Jews that they are Jews, but has no value for those who are not.

Paul then playfully suggests that some who are not circumcised can fulfil the law. This is a consequence of the Judger’s false claim that the Gentiles have the law written on their heart. It would mean that some Gentiles would fulfil the law they supposedly have written on their hearts. This gives the odd result, that people who are not circumcised can fulfil the law, while those who are don’t. This contradiction undermines the Jewish Judger’s arguments about the circumcision and the law.

God is Unjust
The Jewish Judger’s argument about God’s wrath comes up again in Rom 3:5-8. He suggests that if God is wrong to judge, he should not be the judge at the end of the age. This is foolish. The problem is not with God being judge, but declaring that his attitude is one of wrath. Paul undermines this argument, by treating it as foolish. He says that it is as stupid as saying that “we should do evil so that good may come”. Paul calls this blasphemy and says that people who think like that deserve what they will get (v.8). God is right in everything he does, so he is the perfect judge.