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.

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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Romans (3) Jewish Judger

At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul explains that the Jewish Judger is wrong in his condemnation of people. He is actually putting himself under God’s judgement. Paul's message is consistent with Jesus behaviour. He was happy to dine with ordinary sinful people and he healed their diseases and cast out the demons who were harassing them. Jesus was only really critical of people who used the requirements of the law to condemn people and lay a burden on them. He understood that the law could be a burden for people who had struggled with life, and he got angry with those who did not help them deal with this burden. Paul was copying Jesus when he spoke angrily about the Jewish Judger.

Paul declared that the Judger was guilty of some of the sins that he had put on the list. He was guilty of injustice, deceit, cunning, arrogance, self-importance. He is unfeeling and uncaring. This is the type of behaviour that God really does hate, so Paul was correct in saying that the Jewish Judger was placing himself under God’s judgement.

Paul drives the nail home by saying that he was ignoring the aspects of God’s character that make him right/correct in what he has done.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance (Rom 2:4)?
This is an amazing statement, that cuts right across the Jewish Judger’s rant in Rom 1:18-32. When God thinks about the people of the world, his attitude is kindness, forbearance and patience. Paul repeats the word “kindness” to emphasize its importance. God is not interested in whacking sinful people; he just wants a change of heart. This a massive contrast with the judger, who wants people to see themselves under God’s wrath and subject to serious punishment.

Forbearance is an interesting word to ascribe to God. It means “restraint”. This is the basis for our salvation. God’s immediate response to sin is not to punish, but to restrain himself, and attempt to work out a solution, that will set his people free from the mess that they are in (Rom 3:25). Paul understood this, because he had experienced it himself. Paul was blunt with the Jewish Judger, because he did not want the views he himself held before he encountered Jesus being brought into the church by Jewish Christians who did not understand the radical nature of Jesus revelation of God.

The thing that really upsets Paul is stubbornness and unrepentance that insists on portraying God as harsh and cruel when he is actually kind. Paul has blunt words for him.

But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the right judgment of God (Rom 2:5).
Paul tells the Jewish Judger that he will get what he wants: “wrath in the day of wrath”. I think that Paul is using hyperbole to expose his challenger’s harshness, because he concludes that the day will reveal God’s righteousness, not his wrath, ie “revelation of the right judgment of God”.

The thing that really upsets God is stubbornness and unrepentance that insists on portraying God as harsh and cruel, when he is actually kind (Rom 2:5). Condemning people who are enslaved by sin and evil is what brings judgment. This is was the judger’s mistake, and it really upset Paul, I presume because that is who he was before he encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road.

This is a warning to anyone who attempts to preach from the first few chapters of Romans. Which message are we pushing? If we are saying that God is angry with sinners and that they deserve judgement, we are backing the wrong horse. If we want to be with Paul, we should be proclaiming the kindness and patience of God.

A judgment approach to Paul’s gospel does not work. Paul demolishes the Jewish Judger’s argument. He would demolish the argument of any Christian judger’s argument too. When we start judging, we joining with the Pharisees.

Paul’s gospel is about the rightness of God, not about wrath against those who cannot help it. The message of the epistle is that we are stuck in sin until God recues us. Being wrathful towards people who have been entrapped by sin is mean, as wrath is a mate of satan.

Another Exaggeration
In Rom 2:7-11, Paul gives another exaggeration/contradiction of the Jewish Judger. He first says that people who pursue glory and honour and immortality will get eternal life (v. 7). They will get peace (v.10). This is not true. We are not told in the scriptures to seek glory and honour. Even immortality is a by-product, not something we should be seeking. The law did not promise eternal life. It promised life in the land, in peace and plenty, for those who applied God’s Instructions for Economic Life. Eternal life is a New Testament promise for those who trust the gospel of Jesus.

On the other hand, the Jewish Judger says that when people act out of selfishness and reject the truth (the one that he said earlier that they are supposed to know), they will face “anger, fury, trouble and distress (vv. 8,9). He really lays it on. People who fall into sin are in a really bad place. This is the same old message of wrath that contradicts Paul’s message of God’s rightness being revealed (Rom 1:18).

The one correct thing in these few verses is that God shows no partiality (v.11). This is true. God will always do what is right, so he will treat everyone fairly, without any favouritism.

The correct message is given in Romans 2:12-13. God does not show partiality, so people will be judged on the basis of what they know. People who do not know the law will be judged on the basis of what they know. In contrast, with the judger’s rant, they are not expected to know what God requires. The worst that can happen to them is that they will perish (annihilation). They will not face the torment of God’s wrath as the Jewish Judger had implied.

People under the law will be judged according to the law (v.12). If they obey the law they will be put right. This is true. The sacrifices described in the Torah actually worked, because they were intended to appease the spiritual powers of evil and prevent them from attacking the people of God. If the Jews implemented the requirements of the law, they would have spiritual protection.

The aim of the law was not to make people righteous before God. Only Jesus could do that. The law had a different purpose: spiritual protection. As long as the people trusted God, and implemented these sacrifices, they lived in peace and safety in the land. They believed the law and they were kept right (v.13).

The truth of the gospel is that people will be judged on the basis of their response to Jesus, not on their good deeds. Those who have given allegiance to him will receive eternal life. Their names are written in the book of life. Those who have rejected the gospel will perish (John 3:16).

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Romans (2) Intrusion

The statement in Rom 1:18-32 comes as a jarring intrusion against Paul’s message of God’s grace and rightness. It has a strong emphasis on judgment. All people on earth are condemned for rejecting God. This is just the kind of statement that would be made by the Critical Judger that Paul is challenging in the first part of his letter. There are several things about the condemnation passage that distinguish it from Paul’s message.

  • Paul is writing about God’s rightness being revealed in verse 17. God’s response to the human condition is grace and mercy. He wants to rescue his people from the mess they have got into. In contrast, the Jewish Judger claims that God’s wrath is being revealed (verse 18). He sees humans as being under the wrath and condemnation of God and wants to ram that home. This is a harsh message compared to Paul’s message of grace and salvation. Paul focusses on God being right in everything he does, whereas the judge claims that God is angry and hostile to the people of the world. That is a distortion of the gospel.

  • The judge says that everyone in the world knows about God, and knows what he requires of them (Rom 1:19-20).

    What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Rom 1:19-20).
    These verses have been popular, as a basis for natural theology, but they are simply not correct. Beliefs about god are common amongst people who have not received Jewish or Christian teaching about him, but they hold a huge variety of understandings about god. Many think that there are multiple gods. And they certainly do not know what God requires of people.

    God’s nature is not evident from the physical world. Many people who have not been taught otherwise, assume that he is harsh and cruel. The creation may give a sense of his omnipotence, but it does not reveal his love and his grace.

    The statement in Romans 1:19-20 is simply not true. This means that it was not Paul speaking. He had grown up with Jewish teaching, but he had such a distorted view of reality, that he went about killing God’s people. He could not say that he fully understood the nature of God before he received a revelation of Jesus. Like many who have not had that experience, he had a warped view of God. However, the statement is exactly what a person like the Jewish Judger would say.

    The situation reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The pharisee made himself feel righteous, by pointing out the sins of the tax collector. This is what the Jewish Judger does in Romans 1:18-32.

  • Although he tries to condemn humans, the Jewish Judger also tries to blame the sins of the world on God. Three times he says,

    God delivered them over to...
    before adding more sins to the list. The implication is that God is responsible for the worst human sins, because he pushed people into them. This is a direct contradiction to Paul’s message that God is right in what he does. He did not deliver people to sin. The spiritual powers of evil entrapped them and gained authority over them, forcing them to do more sin. God is not the cause of sin, as the Jewish Judger implies.

  • The Jewish Judger also condemns all humans (except the Jews). They knew what God required, so they are without fault.

    People are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
    They are stuck in sin without hope. This contradicts with Paul’s message of grace and salvation.

  • In Romans 1:27, the Jewish Judger says that people who commit sexual sins, receive in themselves the “appropriate penalty for their error”. But he is not satisfied with that. He also claims that they are under God’s wrath. They have been punished, which is true, but God still needs to punish them, which is false. This contradiction confirms that this passage is not Paul’s view.

  • The Jewish Judger declares that everyone is full of every sin.

    They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (Rom 1:29).
    Again, this is not quite true, but an extreme exaggeration. Most humans have committed some sins. But it is not correct to say that everyone is full of wickedness of every kind. Many people who do not know God have done a huge amount of good, while living under terrible conditions. The entire population of the world is not depraved as the Jewish Judger claims. This is another contradiction that identifies his arguments.

  • The Jewish Judger claims that God has rightly decreed that people who do the things listed deserve death. Again, this is not true, but is an exaggeration. God told Adam and Eve that they would die death, if they ate from the wrong tree in the garden, but they did not actually die physically. They excluded themselves from God’s presence and left themselves vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil who controlled life on earth from that time on. However, God did not say that they deserved death.

    The Torah prescribes death (exclusion from the community) for some of the sins listed, but not for all. The penalty for stealing is restitution (Exodus 22:1-4). Many of the sins listed, such as greed, deceit, arrogance, boasting, unfeeling, uncaring, unwise, are not specified as crimes in the Torah, so no penalty is specified for them. Therefore, it was a gross exaggeration to say that God has said that people who have done these things deserve death. That is not God’s view. He is gracious towards people who have sinned, and wants to rescue them. God is not angry and full of wrath; this was the view of the Jewish Judger, who wanted to point the finger at people who had failed.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Reading Romans (1)

I worked out a long time ago that God did not need to be appeased for human sin. It was the spiritual powers of evil that needed to propitiated.

My favourite epistle when I first became a Christian was Ephesians, which given that I am a Gentile, was the right place to start. I got from this letter a strong sense that I had been rescued from the spiritual powers of evil by Jesus death on the cross. This was confirmed in the letter to the Colossians.

When you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him (Col 21:3-15).
He made us alive. He destroyed the power of the spiritual powers of evil by paying the ransom that they demanded for our freedom. There is nothing here about us needing to appease God’s wrath.

I have never studied the first few chapters of Romans in detail. For some reason, I have always tended to focus on chapters 8 to 16 in the latter part of the book, which deals with the status of the Jews and political issues. Recently, I began to look at the first few chapters in more detail. They are quite difficult to interpret.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges a teacher who had been spreading false teaching amongst the Roman house churches. His opponent is unnamed, but he was probably a Jewish Christian arguing that gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the sabbath in accordance with the Torah. He has a very harsh view of God’s actions on earth.

Paul presents his arguments in the form of a dialogue, in which he summarises what the Jewish Judger is saying, and then refutes it by expounding his own gospel. There are no quote marks or italics in the Greek text to delineate the two views, so the main challenge for interpreting the first few chapters Romans is discerning when the Jewish Judger’s voice is being summarised and when Paul is speaking his own view.

The letter was intended to be read aloud to church meetings by the person who delivered it; probably a businesswoman named Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2). Paul would have explained the contents to her, so she would have emphasized the different voices to her listeners during her reading of the letter. We do not have that advantage, so we have to discern the different voices from the text itself.

The people in Rome that Paul wrote to had heard the Jewish Judger speaking, so they would have recognised his words when Paul quoted them. They had probably written to Paul asking how to counter his claims. They did not need Paul to highlight the Jewish Judgers word’s, because they would have stood out to them like a sore thumb. The Jewish Judger would probably be listening when the letter was read out in Roman church he was active in, so his response would confirm that Paul was challenging him.

Paul’s understanding of God was changed dramatically when he had an encounter with Jesus. Meeting Jesus revealed Gods rightness and goodness to him. Jesus saw sinners as needing a doctor, not condemnation. Paul realised that his previous understanding of God as angry and vengeful was wrong. His gospel was a message about God’s mercy, kindness and long-suffering love; the mercy and love that enabled God to rescue him when he was angrily killing Christians. The person that Paul was confronting was stuck with the view of God that Paul had before he met with Jesus. He was stuck with a God who is full of anger and wrath. Therefore, any parts of the letter that are obsessed with anger and wrath are most like the message of the Jewish Judger that Paul was opposing.

I believe the main indication of the Jewish Judger is that Paul states his arguments in a way that exposes contradictions. The arguments that are not Paul’s are full of contradictions that any reader with a logical mind would recognise as contradictory, and therefore not Paul’s view. Sometimes a statement is made in contradiction with the Torah, something that the Jewish Judger wants to push. The obvious contradictions expose the parts of the letter that are stating the position of the Jewish Judger, and do not represent Paul’s views. They are actually exposing views that Paul considers to be wrong.

I will note all these contradictions as I go through, but an obvious one is in Romans 3:19-20. This statement begins by saying that the law applies to those who are "under the law". It then concludes that the purpose of this is to silence every mouth and bring the entire world before the bar of God’s judgment. This does not make sense. Laws that only apply to those who are “in the law”, the Jews, cannot be used to indict people who are not under the law. That would be unjust, so this passage contains a huge contradiction. It says the law applies only to the Jews, but then uses it to condemn the people of the world. God would not do that. It is the Jewish Judger who seems to do that, so these verses are not the message of Paul.

The second issue that an interpreter of the letter to the Romans has to decide is where the dialogue begins. I think the clue is in Romans 2:1-3.

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
In these verses, Paul vigorously challenges his opponent. He refers to him as “O Man, whoever you are who judge”, which was a bit of put down. Paul criticises him for judging, but at first glance, it is not obvious who or what he is judging. By judging others, this Jewish Judger is putting himself under the judgment of God.

A closer examination reveals that Paul did expose the nature of the judgment that the Judger is making. Paul says twice that this Judger “practice(s) the same things”, or that he is “practicing such things”. This refers back to the last verse of the previous chapter, which condemns people who approve of people who “practice such things.” The things that are being judged are the practices that are listed in Romans 1:18-32. The use of the same expression (practising such things) links the two chapters, so the obvious conclusion is that the Jewish Judger that Paul is criticising is the one who is pronounced the judgment summarised in Romans 1:18-32.

This link is highlighted by the first word of chapter 2. The word “Therefore” indicates that Romans 2:1-4 is directly connected to the judgment in the previous chapter. There should not be a chapter break at the word “therefore”. This word confirms that the dialogue begins at Romans 1:18.

In Romans 1:17, Paul had just made the statement that God’s rightness has been revealed through his grace towards people receiving salvation through faith, both Jew and Greek. God’s rightness being revealed is an important theme in the letter. Everything that God does is right. He proves his rightness by “bringing salvation to everyone who trusts in Jesus”.

Salvation is a strong, positive word. Its meaning includes deliverance and restoration. Everything that was wrong is put right.

The statement in Rom 1:18-32 comes as a jarring intrusion against Paul’s message of God’s grace and rightness.

Friday, June 12, 2020

God's Plans

There is a huge difference between what God would like to do, and what God will be able to do.

Many Christian prophets proclaim what is on God’s heart; what he wants to do. But they miss the contingency that goes with it.

God is only able to do what his people will allow him to do. He cannot do most of what he would like to do, because his people will not change enough to make it possible.

So when a prophet declares what God plans to do, we should not just wait for it to happen, and grumble when it does not. We should ask God how we need to change to allow him to do what he wants to do.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Racism and Community

Racism will continue to exist as long as fear, anger and hatred continue to be part of the condition. It can only be resolved by love and community.

Racism is an attitudinal problem that comes out of people hearts, so the following potential solutions will not work.

  • Preaching sermons about racism will not change much.

  • Posting pictures of policemen wearing riot gear talking to children makes people feel good, but it does not change much.

  • Walking on protest marches makes people feel good, but very little will change .

  • Governments cannot resolve racism either by passing laws or dishing out money.

However, followers of Jesus believe that all people are created in the image of God, so they should resist all forms of racism.

The solution is for the people of God to go and live amongst people who are disadvantaged and live amongst them and get to know them by serving them.

Before Jesus ascended into his disciples to go.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations... And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matt 28:19-20).
Jesus wants his disciples to go in pairs or small groups to live amongst all the people of the world who are different and disadvantaged. In contrast, most Christians in the western world have left the dark places and moved to live in the safety of the leafy suburbs. This is not quite what Jesus meant when he said we should go.

Going to live amongst people who are different and disadvantaged can be quite costly, but it is God’s pattern for salvation.

  • Jesus left his place at the right hand of God was born as a man in a hostile world. He chose to live amongst people who hated him and wanted to kill him. They were eventually successful.

  • Jesus dined with tax collectors and other sinners. He did not go to the nice people, but went to those who were in need.

  • Paul did not stay in places where he would be safe and comfortable. He went to live and share the gospel with people of a different race. He began his ministry preaching in Arabia in the region beyond Damascus (Gal 1:17). The people there were not just Gentiles, they were people were racially different from Paul. He went and lived amongst those who were racially different.

  • Paul continued to do to live and work amongst people who were racially different throughout his ministry. He travelled through Asia Minor, which is modern Turkey, establishing churches. He moved into the area which is modern Greece. He travelled as far as Illyricum, which is in modern Croatia (Rom 15:19). His partners in his work were often racially different. Paul obeyed Jesus and went to live an proclaim the gospel amongst people who were different.

  • The Good Samaritan risked his life by going to the assistance of an injured Jew.

The most effective way to break down racial barriers is for followers of Jesus to go and live in the areas of town where the racial minorities in the poor areas of town. This could be costly. Some might lose their lives, but that is what Jesus called his disciples to do).

I witness with prophetic word shared by Ron Cantor.

“The key to the revival that you in the ‘white church’ seek, is the white church reach out to the black community with my love, healing power and practical help…” (such as listening and serving, and if possible, mentoring and tutoring)—”I am calling you to share your lives with them.

“If you want revival, then you will have to leave your neighborhoods and gated communities. You will need to share your riches and experience with a people not your own. Are you willing? What is your life to you? You were bought with a price. (1 Cor. 6:20)
“You want me to remove the agitators, so you can continue in comfort. Hear me, ‘I have not called you to a life of comfort, but comforting others—and in that you will find true comfort.’ The agitators are my servants, sent to wake you up to the need. If you respond to the need, I will deal with the agitators and send winds of refreshing—the ones you have longed for.

“No, this is not the revival ‘package’ you were looking for, but it is the one I am sending. I need you to be ME to them; not to make excuses why they deserve what they are getting.

“You fight for biblical values, but I am calling you to live them out. For all your fighting what has it gotten you? You are losing ground daily. Why? Because you have the cart before the horse.

“Is the New Covenant commission to fight for biblical values in the public square? Or to preach the Message of the Gospel that changes lives. ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!’ 1 Cor. 5:17)

Preaching biblical values to unbelievers is like driving a car without oil. It will not work. (And has not worked.)

“However, the oil is the Power of the My Spirit. When you preach the gospel in both power and love; in word and deed, when you truly represent my heart to a broken world, then you will see fruit. And then, they will gladly embrace my values.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


The roots of racism are in us all. We feel comfortable with people who are like us. We feel uncomfortable with people who are different from us. This means we tend to be uncomfortable with people of a different race because on the surface they seem to be different to us. I presume this unease developed because we trust our families and our families are like us. We extend the same feeling of trust to other people that we know well, and they are mostly like us.

Discomfort with people who are different, often develops into fear of them. That fear is mostly unfounded; it is produced by uncertainty about people that we do not know. We don’t know them, so we don’t know how they will respond when we encounter them.

The problem with fear, is that it can often develop into suspicion about the behaviour of those that we fear. Suspicion gives us a distorted view of their words and actions. If we misunderstand people that we do not know, we can easily start thinking they are a threat, even if they have done nothing to harm us. We easily belive untruths that we hear about them. Unfounded fear can easily progress into hatred and anger if we do not guard against it.

Personal fears are bad enough, but they are worse when an entire community develops the same false understanding and fears. When suspicion and hatred toward people who are different permeates an entire community, it becomes structural racism. People choose leaders who will keep them safe by protecting them from those who are different. This often produces structural racism.

The best way to resolve the discomfort that we feel around people who are not like us is to get to know them. The more we relate to them, the less they will seem like a threat to us. When we get to know people who are different, we will realise that they are more like us than we realised. When we have a deeper involvement with people who had seemed to be different, we will find that we like some and dislike others, but that is just the same as the situation with people who look us.

As we move with a diverse range of people, the outcome will be that we have common interests with some of them who are different from us. We will also find that we have nothing in common with some people who look like us. When we get to know people who are different, we can apply a deeper discernment to them. Our assessments of them will be based on who they are, not on their race, or their physical appearance. We will discover that people are different, but understand that those differences are rooted in their character and personality, not their race.
We will discover that intra-group differences are often greater than inter-group differences. Some people who look like us, will have very different character or personality. Some people of a different race will have a similar personality and character.

I grew up in a rural community where all the people were white. The only Maori person that I knew about was a “rabbiter” who was employed by farmers in the region to hunt the rabbits which had become a pest. We only ever saw him in the distance with his shotgun and his dogs, so I did not know him, even though he was a neighbour. When I was older and left home, I was suspicious and fearful of people of different races, because I did not know any.

When I became a manager of large division within the government agency, many of my staff were of different races and nationalities. A large group of analysts were Chinese. When I worked with people who were different from me, I found that many were just like me. I found that some who were different had similar interests as me, whereas others who looked like me didn’t. I found that some who looked different were very effective analysts, whereas some who of those who looked like me were not so good. My worst analyst ever was a white Christian. That was a good lesson.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020


A recent dream shared by Lana Vawser indicates that God wants to release justice on the earth. I am sure that this is his heart, but he cannot magically produce justice for all people who have experienced injustice.

True justice will have to be established locally by God’s people applying God’s Instructions for Economic Life.

  • Judges who emerge in local communities that can identify injustice.

  • These judges will specify restitution for the victims of injustice.

  • The elders will pay restitution to the victims who do not receive anything from perpetrators of the injustice.

  • Rich people who come to faith will acknowledge their unrighteous wealth and commit to giving it away in obedience to Jesus.

  • Deacons will use the unrighteous wealth that has been given away to assist victims of injustice.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Capitalism Alone (5) Outsourcing Morality

In his book called Capitalism Alone, Branko Milanovic says that economic success made more acute the discrepancy between the ability to live better and longer lives and the lack of a commensurate increase in morality, or even happiness.

But this external polish was achieved at the cost of people being increasingly driven by self-interest alone, even in many ordinary and personal affairs. The capitalist spirit, a testimony to the generalized success of capitalism, penetrated deeply into people’s individual lives. Since extending capitalism to family and intimate life was antithetical to centuries-old views about sacrifice, hospitality, friendship, family ties, and the like, it was not easy to openly accept that all such norms had become superseded by self-interest. This unease created a huge area where hypocrisy reigned. Thus, ultimately, the material success of capitalism came to be associated with a reign of half-truths in our private lives (p. 197).

An alternative that would preserve the acquisitive spirit needed for the of commercialized societies but would keep that spirit in check was to internalize certain forms of acceptable behavior through religion... The internalization of desirable behavior, was possible thanks to the constraints of religion and the tacit social contract. It is not clear if societies so dedicated to the acquisition of wealth, by practically any means, would not explode into chaos were it not for these constraints.

Milanovic explains that neither of these two constraints (religion and a tacit social contract) holds in today’s globalized capitalism. Part of the problem is the decline of Christians churches. The other problem is that people have lost connection with each other and are unmoored from their social settings.
Actions are no longer “monitored” by the people among whom they live. Adam Smith’s baker’s immoral business actions would have been observed by his neighbors. But the immoral actions of people who work in one place and live in an entirely different one—with the world of coworkers and that of neighbors and friends never interacting—are inobservable... The doctor can be seen as an upstanding member of the community, quite rightly, from what his neighbors know of him, while in reality he is a criminal.

As the internal mechanisms of constraint have atrophied or died or do not work in a globalized setting, they have been replaced by external constraints, in the form of rules and laws. I do not mean that laws did not exist before. But while internalized constraints on behavior mattered, both laws and self-imposed limits affected people’s behavior. The present situation is characterized by the disappearance of the latter. In cases where we cannot expect the rich to behave ethically or with sufficient discretion so as not to inflame the passions in those who have less, reinforcement of laws is obviously a good thing. The problem is that instead of two handrails to help keep the actions of the rich (or anyone, for that matter) on the right path, we now have only one—laws. Morality, gutted out internally, has become fully externalized. It has been outsourced from ourselves to society at large.

The drawback of outsourcing morality is that it exacerbates the original problem of the absence of internal inhibitions or constraints. Everyone either will try to walk the fine line between legality and illegality (doing things that are unethical but technically legal) or will break the law while trying not to be caught. Breaking the law is not unique to today’s commercialized societies. But what is unique is for people to claim that they have done everything in the most ethical manner possible if they have remained just on the right side of the law, or, if they have strayed into illegality, that it is the business of others to catch them and prove they have broken the law. Internal checks, stemming from one’s own belief in what is moral and what is not, seem to play no role whatsoever.

Outsourcing morality through reliance solely on the law or on rule enforcers means that everyone tries to game the system. Any laws that are introduced to punish new forms of unethical or amoral behavior will always stay one step behind those who are able to find ways around them. Financial deregulation and tax evasion provide excellent examples. There is no internal moral rule, as we have amply seen, that would check the behavior of top banks and hedge funds. Their objective is to play the game as close to the rules as possible, and if the rules need to be bent or ignored, to try to avoid being caught. And if caught, to try, by using a phalanx of lawyers, to find the most recondite and specious nations for this behavior. And if that fails, then to settle (p. 183).

Criticizing the rich or the banks for what they are doing is futile and naïve. Futile because they will not change their behavior, since doing so would risk losing their wealth. Naïve because the origin of the problem is systemic and not individual. A bank might become a most ethical and careful actor, but it would then lose the commercial race with its competitors (p 184).

People who write about the need for more leisure do not realize that societies the world over are structured in such a way as to glorify success and power, that success and power in a commercialized society are expressed in money only, and that money is obtained through work, owner of assets, and, not least, corruption. This is also why corruption is an integral component of globalized capitalism (p. 187).

Laws and regulations cannot make up for lack of morality. In my book God's Economy, I explain how Gods Instructions for Economic Life internalise economic morality to each Kingdom Community.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Capitalism Alone (4) Economic Calculators

In his book called Capitalism Alone, Branko Milanovic says that we have all become economic calculating machines.

The ultimate success of capitalism is to have transformed human nature such that everyone has become an excellent calculator of pain and pleasure, gain and loss—so much so that even if capitalist factory production were to disappear today we would still be selling each other services for money; eventually we shall become companies ourselves. Imagine an economy (similar externally to a very primitive one) where all production was conducted at home or within the extended family. This would seem to be a perfect nonmarket economy. But if we had such an economy today, it would be fully capitalistic because we would be selling all these goods and services to each other: a neighbor will not keep an eye on your children for free, no one will share food with you without payment, you will make your spouse pay for sex, and so forth. This is the world we are moving toward, and the field of capitalistic operations is thus likely to become unlimited because it will include each of us and our mostly mundane daily activities.
He claims that commodification was not imposed on us by companies that want to find new sources of profits. He suggests that we have chosen this change for the perceived benefits.
The truth is that we are willingly, even eagerly, participating in commodification because, through long socialization in capitalism, people have become capitalistic calculating machines. We have each become a small center of capitalist production, assigning implicit prices to our time, our emotions, and our family relations (p.194).

Commodification “all the way down” is a commodification process in which individuals participate freely, and, moreover, it is something that they often find liberating and meaningful. Some may see this as shallow (Does the ability to drive your own car for profit or to deliver pizza at any hour that suits you give meaning to your life?), but it dovetails perfectly with the system of values that sustains hypercommercialized capitalism and that individuals have internalized. This system, as I mentioned before, places the acquisition of money on a pedestal. The ability to trade one’s own personal space and time for profit is thus seen both as a form of empowerment and as a step toward the ultimate objective of acquiring wealth. It therefore represents the triumph of capitalism.

Commodification of the private sphere is the apogee of hypercommercialised capitalism. It does not presage a crisis of capitalism. A crisis would result only if the commodification of the private sphere were seen as intruding into areas that individuals wanted to protect from commercialization, and as putting pressure on them to engage in activities in which they did not want to participate. But most people perceive it as the opposite: a step toward enrichment and freedom.

We can make the following conclusions. First, on a purely factual side, there is no serious argument disputing that as societies grow richer, the sphere of commodification expands.

Second, while greater commodification has made our lives better in many cases and responds to a definite choice by people, it has also often weakened personal ties and sometimes made us more callous, because our knowledge that any pesky little problem can be solved by throwing money at it has made us less concerned about our neighbors and family.

Therefore, as we live in an increasingly commodified environment where interactions are transitory and discrete, the space where we can exercise “nice” cooperative behavior shrinks. When we get to the point where we have all become just agents in one-off deals, there will no longer be any place for freely given niceness. That end point would be both a Utopia of wealth and a dystopia of personal relations.

Capitalism has successfully transformed humans into calculating machines endowed with limitless needs.

To live in capitalism, we do not need the capitalist mode of production in factories if we have all become capitalistic centers ourselves (p. 196).

In my book Government of God, I describe how the structure of society can be transformed by the gospel and Jesus' command that we love one another.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Capitalism Alone (3) Flexibilisation

In his book Capitalism Alone, Branko Milanocvic says that running parallel to commodification is the flexibilization of employment relations.

The commodification of what had previously been noncommercial to tends make every person do many jobs and even, as in the renting of apartments, to transform them into daily capitalists. But saying that workers do many jobs is the same thing as saying that workers do not hold durably individual jobs and that the labor market is fully “flexible,” with people getting in and out of jobs at a very high rate... The type of work that is likely to exist in the twenty-first century is not viewed as desirable because it lacks a sense of call or dedication to a profession (p. 191).

Thus workers indeed become, from the point of view of the employers, fully interchangeable “agents”. Each one stays in a job for a few weeks or months: everyone is about as good or bad as everyone else. We are coming close to the dream world of neoclassical economics where individuals, with their unique characteristics, no longer exist; they have been replaced by agents—interchangeable avatars that might at most differ in terms of some general characteristic like educational level, age, or sex. Once these characteristics are taken into account, individuals, lacking any personal features, are fully interchangeable.

It thus becomes apparent that these three developments (i) the change in family formation (atomization), (ii) the expansion of commodification to new activities, and (iii) the emergence of fully flexible labor markets with temporary jobs. If we have one, we cannot but have all three.

The problem with this kind of commodification and “flexibilization” is that it undermines the human relations and trust that are needed for the market economy to function smoothly. If people stay in the same job for a long period, they try to establish relationships of trust with the people they interact with frequently. That is, they engage in what economists call “repeated games”. But if everyone moves from one place to another with high frequency and changes jobs every couple of months, then there are no repeated games because everyone is always interacting with different people. If there are no repeated games, people adjust their behaviour to reflect the expectation that they will play just a single game, have a single interaction. And this new behavior is very different (p.192).

The consequence of flexibilization and commodification is that human relations are weakened.
Investing in being nice is costly, the effort it takes is justified by the expectation that this niceness will be reciprocated. But if the person with whom you interact will not be there in a month, what is the point of being nice? It is just a waste of effort. The same reasoning of course, is made by the other side: why should that person care about you if they are already eyeing their next gig.

The numerous reviews now available of both providers and users of services are a way to try to ensure “niceness” despite the lack of durable relationships. This is indeed an improvement compared to not having any review system. But the system can be gamed. And the point is that in a globalized world with a flexible labor force, durable business relations would be very rare; personal knowledge of the other and responsibility toward that person are replaced by a points system, which, although in some ways providing more information, is impersonal.

Since commodification has entered our personal sphere, we can think of hardly anything that exists and that is beyond or outside it.

The spread of commodification does away with alienation. In order to be alienated, we need to be aware of a dichotomy between ourselves as ontological beings and ourselves as economic agents. But when economic agency is within ourselves, the order of things is internalized in such a way that there is nothing jarring anymore (p. 193).

The increasing commodification of many activities along with the rise of the gig economy and of a radically flexible labor market are all part of the same evolution; they should be seen as movements toward a more rational, but ultimately more depersonalized, economy where most interactions will be one-off contacts… The shortness of interactions makes investing in cooperative behavior prohibitively expensive.

Christians are being caught up in these changes, but they are the opposite of what Jesus wanted for his people.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Capitalism Alone (2) Commodification

In his book called Capitalism Alone, Branko Milanovic says that the reverse side of atomization is commodification.

In atomization, we become alone because all of our needs can be satisfied by what we buy from others, in the market. In a state of full commodification, we become that other, we satisfy the needs of people through maximum commodification of our assets, including our free time.

What capitalism does is to give us, as consumers, the ability to purchase activities that used to be provided in kind by family, friends, or community. But to us as producers, it also offers a wide field of activities (precisely the same ones) that we can supply to others.

The most obvious case is the commodification of activities that used to be conducted within extended families and then, as people became richer, within nuclear families. Cooking has now become outsourced, and families often do not eat meals together. Cleaning, repairs, gardening, and child-rearing have become more commercialized than before or perhaps than ever. Writing homework essays, which used to be “outsourced” to parents, can now be outsourced to commercial companies.

The growth of the gig economy commercializes our free time and things that we own but have not used for commercial purposes before. Uber was created precisely on the idea of making better use of free time. Limousine drivers used to have extra time between jobs; instead of wasting that time, they began to drive people around to make money. Now anybody who has some free time can “sell” it by working for a ride-share company or delivering pizza. A portion of leisure time that we could not commercialize (simply because jobs were “lumpy” has become marketable. Likewise, a private car that was “dead capital” becomes real capital if used, to drive for Lyft or Uber. Keeping the car idle in a garage or parking lot has a clear opportunity cost. Similarly, homes that in the past might have been lent out for a week without compensation to family and friends have now become assets that are rented out to travellers for a fee. As soon as this happens, such goods become commodities; they acquire a market price. Not using them is a clear waste of resources. Whereas in the past their opportunity cost was zero, now it is positive (p.190).

This does not mean that everyone will use every free moment to do a gig, or will rent out their home every day that it is empty. Similarly, we do not use every minute of our lives to try to earn money. However, once the opportunity cost of the hitherto free activities becomes positive, we are ultimately led to think of these activities as commercial goods or services. It then requires greater effort of the will to let opportunities go and not succumb to benefiting from them.

Just as there is a logic in the way hypercommercialized capitalism obliterates the divide between the production and family spheres, so is there a certain historical logic in the progression of what becomes commodified. First, agriculture was commodified through the commercialization of surplus production, that is, through a movement out of subsistence agriculture. Then came the commodification of manufacturing activities, especially clothing production. New markets emerged as the goods that had traditionally been produced by households started to be produced commercially. At the origin of the Industrial (and industrious) Revolution in Europe was wage work outside the home and, together with it, the practice of using the wages thus earned to purchase commodities that had previously been produced within the household by these same workers (with productivity much higher under the new system). This is exactly the same that we observe today with respect to services. The commodification of services, and ultimately of free time, is just an additional logical on the road to development.

Personal services are more difficult to commodify because productivity increases are slower than in the production of goods (so the advantages of commodification are less obvious), and the gains from the division of labor are less: the advantage of a delivered meal compared with a home-cooked one is not as clear as the advantage of buying mass-produced shoes compared with making them at home.

The commodification of our economy is easy to get sucked into.