I’ve been taping the Bible study lectures for the book of Romans. Even after all these months of study, I read a verse that I know I have read a dozen times and learned something new. That is the miracle of God’s word.
As Scripture says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).
If God’s word ever grows boring or stale to you, it isn’t his word that is the issue! How can one book hold perfect wisdom for every human life? Yet, the Bible is that book.
I was teaching Romans 11 to the camera. That is considered one of the most difficult chapters to interpret in the entire New Testament. I would add my “amen” to that statement. What was Paul trying to tell the people in Rome, people he had never met—but somehow knew?
Last week, I taught a passage and had a thought I don’t remember ever learning before. When that happens, I pay attention because it probably wasn’t my thought. So, I will share it with all of you, praying God can use it in your life as well.
PAUL’S UNDERSTANDING OF HUMILITY
Chapters 9 through 11 are sometimes referred to in commentaries as Paul’s parenthesis. These three chapters come out of the blue, mostly for the purpose of speaking to the Jewish Christians in the church. These Christians had grown up knowing about God, learning his word, and following his ways. When these Jewish people realized Jesus was the promised Messiah, they continued to walk with God in his New Covenant promises.
Enter the pagans, a.k.a. the Gentiles, who knew almost nothing, but wanted to learn and wanted to belong.
Every church Paul helped to establish and raise up struggled with the problems that arose because of the superior attitudes of the Jewish people toward their Gentile brothers and sisters. They thought they were better because they knew better. And Paul, over and over again, taught them they only thought they knew better. Their attitude was damaging their witness and the witness of the church.
Paul’s parenthesis is directed toward that way of thinking. The Jewish nation grew up believing they were a blessed, educated, devoted group of people. They were—until they became an arrogant, self-righteous, pious group of people. They did know more about God, but they needed to remember what had always been the downfall of their people.
The Jewish people believed themselves to be “blessed” and therefore superior to others. They made their sacrifices, paid their offerings, and left the temple feeling like all was well. And God, through his prophets, told them they were not right with God. Paul, through his “parenthesis” in Romans, tries to do the same.
Paul understood humility more than most. He learned it on the road to Damascus and throughout his work as a missionary. But, chapter 7 of the book of Romans is Paul’s confession. He wrote about knowing what to do and then not doing it. Paul understood that, regardless of knowledge, pedigree, or success, he was a “wretched” man. He was hopelessly a sinner, apart from the saving grace of God.
So Paul praised God and continued to try.
MY “WORD” FROM GOD’S WORD
Paul closes his “parenthesis” in Romans with a doxology. I had always read those words as Paul’s words of praise. For the first time, as I got ready to teach, I came to a new understanding of those verses. Paul was quoting Job and Isaiah in his doxology when he said:
“Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
‘For who has known the mind of the Lord,
Or who has been his counselor?’
‘Or who has given a gift to him
That he might be repaid?’
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.”
I considered Paul’s words, and then I considered where Paul had learned those words. Job is considered by most to be the most ancient book in the Bible. Isaiah is listed first among the Major Prophets and contains the best description of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament.
Paul used the best examples from the Jewish faith he knew to make his point. Most of God’s people have always thought more highly of themselves than they should. Most of God’s prophets understood that was their biggest problem with the Lord.
My word from God was simple and straightforward. If Job, Isaiah, and Paul had to address the issue with their people, preachers and teachers today need to do the same. If you sign up to watch the Bible studies this fall, you will probably notice I struggled at the end of that taping. I’m struggling now as I type.
DO WE THINK TOO HIGHLY OF OURSELVES?
God’s people have always felt a sense of “superiority” in the world. Doesn’t it stand to reason we would struggle with that same sin?
But, how do we seek to live a holy life and avoid the “holier than thou” condemnation of others?
If you are like me, it is simply to act a little “less holy” on occasion. We usually would rather be part of the crowd than left out of it.
All the while, we know God’s message has always been the same: “Be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Moses taught those words, and so did the Apostle Peter and many others. That fact alone means it is truth for all generations.
WHAT IS PAUL’S SOLUTION FOR ARROGANCE?
Paul’s solution is found in his words to the church in Rome: compare yourself to God.
- When did you last think God’s word “got it wrong”?
- When did you last think God was too hard on someone?
- When did you last wish for a sinner’s punishment rather than his or her salvation?
- When did you last pray and tell God what you thought needed to happen?
- When did you last feel like something shouldn’t have happened because you didn’t deserve it?
- When did you last think you were more important to the church than someone else?
IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN TRUE, AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE
The prophets, the apostles, and even Jesus called out the greatest sin among God’s people. It’s always been arrogance. If something in Scripture has always been true, it is still true today. If we humble ourselves today, we will still need to humble ourselves tomorrow. How do we do that?
Consider who God is and who we never will be, this side of heaven. Consider Paul’s struggle to do better but still fail. Consider the Pharisees’ knowledge and dedication, then consider their sins.
Give yourself a break because, in Scripture, we sinners are in some great company. But, let’s not give ourselves permission to sin the next time.
I don’t know most of you but, on the truth of God’s word, I can say that most of you, like me, struggle with arrogance. If it is Satan’s sharpest tool in his box of temptations, why would he get rid of it?
Let’s allow God to cast his unsearchable shadow over our lives so we never forget just how small we are in comparison to him. Let’s pray for his humility to fill our lives and our attitudes. When you blow it, remember that his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23). Pray for his forgiveness and the wisdom and strength to do better next time.
Because, when we are better, we will do better.
That is how Christians will change the world.