Today we will begin our study of the tenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Paul begins the chapter with a prayer for his own people, people who are passionate, incredibly passionate, but misguided. Paul says that the problem is not a lack of zeal, but it is misdirected zeal. The problem is not a lack of belief, or conviction, but it is belief and passion that is misplaced. If this was a problem in Paul’s day then it is an epidemic in our own day.
Several years ago, back in 2009, when I was studying these verses, I heard that the most recognized abortion doctor at the time, George Tiller, had been shot and killed while he was in church. Dr. Tiller was probably the most notorious abortion doctor in the nation. His clinic was the target of many protests throughout the years because he was one of the few doctors in the nation who performed late term abortions. George Tiller was a calloused, money hungry doctor, who preyed on the crisis of young women, but nobody should have been excited about the way in which he died.
On Sunday morning Dr. Tiller was at church when Scott Roeder walked up to him and shot him. Scott Roeder was been charged with first degree murder for killing Dr. Tiller. None of us had ever heard of Scott Roeder until he was arrested for Dr. Tiller’s murder. In the weeks that followed we learned more and more about Mr. Roeder’s story. His ex-wife said that he had been very anti-government until he became a follower of Jesus. She also said, “He became adamant about his Old Testament beliefs and observed the Sabbath from Friday night through Saturday. Nothing could get in the way of that. Not soccer games when his son was younger. Nothing.” Time Magazine reported that he had a red rose, a symbol of the pro-life movement, painted on his car along with a “Jesus fish.”
I want to make it clear this morning that the man who killed George Tiller was not a follower of Jesus, he was a misguided zealot. Someone might say, “Well, he said he was a follower of Jesus so who are you to judge?” My answer would be, “Have you forgotten Jesus’ words?” Jesus said,
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
Would the Savior who rebuked Simon Peter for cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant when Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, not also rebuke Scott Roeder for killing George Tiller? Mr. Roeder was zealous alright, but his zeal was misguided.
The problem that we have in our country today is not a lack of belief or zeal, but it is the zeal that we exhibit for everything under the sun except what is most important. Just stop and think with me for a minute about all of the things that people feel passionate about: People are spending zillions of dollars to try and achieve the right look. Folks will compromise their integrity in a minute for the almighty dollar. You can listen to the talking heads on television speaking about politics and easily recognize their zeal for Democratic or Republican causes. Men and women, boys and girls get all worked up over their favorite team. If you were an alien and you visited a ballpark, arena, or stadium on game day you would swear you were witnessing a worship service, and for many, that is exactly what it is. People from all kinds of backgrounds have their pet projects that they pour their heart and soul into—animal rights, the environment or “green” movement, and other social causes have captured our hearts.
Even among Christians I find this same misguided passion present in our day. Instead of focusing on the foundation of our faith, well-meaning followers of Jesus get off on tangents and become misguided zealots. It is my prayer that we can learn from the misguided zeal of the Jewish people today and not make the same mistake. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 10:1-4.
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:1-4 NIV)
Did the first verse of chapter ten strike you with the force that it struck me as I read it this past week? Paul said that it was his “heart’s desire and prayer to God” for the Israelites that they might be saved. Paul’s statement struck me with such force and power this past week because there was nobody in the world who opposed Paul and the message of the Gospel more than his fellow Israelites. It would have been so easy for Paul to have hated his antagonists and simply written them off. Isn’t that the way we normally respond to people who are antagonistic towards what is most important to us? This wasn’t the first time in his letter to the Romans that Paul expressed his deep desire for his own people to come to know the love and salvation that is found in Jesus alone. At the beginning of the last chapter we studied we read,
2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel…(Romans 9:2-4 NIV)
Even with the great opposition that he faced from his own people on a continual basis, Paul says that if it were possible he would be cut off from Christ if they would only come to know Christ. Now there is a lesson that we need to stop and consider for a good long while. From Paul’s vantage point, those who were opposing him weren’t opposing him; they were opposing the cause and message of Jesus. Paul was merely the mouthpiece, the messenger, but it was Jesus that was the real source of their anxiety and anger.
If people antagonize us, get aggravated with us, and call us names because of our love and devotion for Jesus, we must remember that we are not the source of their troubles. How we respond to them is of great importance and we can learn much from the Apostle Paul. We don’t need to get defensive and argue, we don’t need to write them off, we need to pray, and never stop praying for God to open their eyes. We also need to make sure that we don’t become the issue because of our behavior towards those who oppose us.
Let’s move on to the second verse of Romans 10. Paul stands up for the zeal of the Jews concerning their devotion to God, but he makes it clear that their zeal is misguided. Read along with me.
2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2 NIV)
Paul was a Jew by birth. He had been trained by the best as he sat under the teaching of the famous rabbi, Gamaliel. Paul knew from firsthand experience that the Jewish people loved God and were passionate about God. Paul made no bones about it—he said that his fellow Jews were “zealous” for God. “Zealous” is an intense word. It is used 17 times in the New Testament. Paul uses the word to describe how committed he was to the traditions of the Jewish faith before he came to know Jesus. His passion for his beliefs was so intense that it led to his persecution of the followers of Jesus. In Galatians 1:13-14 Paul writes,
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:13-14 NIV)
After Paul became a follower of Jesus, the very people that he used to study with, pray with, and worship with, turned against him, and tried with all of their might to silence him. Later in life, Paul was on trial at Caesarea and had the opportunity to speak to King Agrippa. Paul said,
9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them. (Acts 26:9-11 NIV)
Paul was convinced that he was right in what he was doing as he was going about persecuting the followers of Jesus. Paul says that he had them put in jail, he was in total agreement when the followers of Jesus were executed because of their commitment, and he went from synagogue to synagogue finding Jesus’ people so that he could try and force them to blaspheme Jesus’ name. Paul’s passion was an obsession.
It was on one of Paul’s “persecution tours” that he came to find out that he was wrong. Paul was on his way to Damascus to round up the followers of Jesus when Jesus Himself appeared to him and Paul’s life was forever changed. What changed? How did the persecutor of the Church become the greatest advocate of the cause of Jesus? Well, it was quite simple really. Jesus came to Paul and showed Himself to him. He opened Paul’s eyes. He overwhelmed Paul with the truth.
Truth really is the issue isn’t it? What is truth? That is the burning question of our day isn’t it? What is truth? Most people in our country have come to the conclusion that truth is relative; truth is whatever you deem “truth” to be. You have your truth and I have my truth and they are equally true—that is the predominant belief of most people today. I believe 2+2=4. You believe 2+2=5. Someone else may believe that 2+2=111. There is no need to get bent out of shape. We can all be right because we each have our own truth. Oh, and let’s not forget, we feel deeply about what we hold as truth. That is important to throw in there. You have to “feel deeply” about whatever it is that you believe to give it credibility.
Our approach to truth reminds me of Pilate. When Jesus was on trial for His life he stood before Pilate. Listen in on their conversation.
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked… (John 18:37-38 NIV)
Jesus came to be a witness to the truth of God and Pilate’s response was “what is truth?” I want to urge you this morning to reject the popular notion that truth is relative. I urge you not because I want you to agree with me, but because truth is available to you and me this very morning. Paul said the Jews were zealous, but their zeal was not based on knowledge. I want us to take a look at “knowledge” for a moment.
The Greek word that Paul uses for “knowledge” is the word, “?????????” (epignosis) and it means, “precise and correct knowledge.” In the New Testament it is used to describe full and complete knowledge. Not “full and complete knowledge” about everything pertaining to life, but about the most important topic in life—God, His righteous ways, and His will for our lives. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says, “The compound epignosis can take on almost a technical sense for conversion to Christianity” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 121 [one volume edition]).
Paul uses this important word for “knowledge” many times in his letters. I want to give you a sampling so that you can come to understand that the kind of knowledge Paul is speaking about is the truth that we desperately need for life. Let’s begin with Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Take a look at Ephesians 1:17 with me.
17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17 NIV)
The knowledge that Paul is referring to can’t be gained from attending college, studying to get your Ph.D. or signing up for one of Oprah’s online classes. Paul prays for God to give His Spirit to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus “so that you may know him better.”
In Paul’s letter to the folks in Colosse, he states his purpose as a messenger of Jesus. Paul writes,
2 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3 NIV)
What does Paul want them to know? It is there in black and white. He wants them to have complete understanding so that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ. In Jesus we find hidden all of the wisdom and knowledge of God.
In the next Scripture that I want us to take a look at Paul sends a letter to a young preacher named Timothy. As he writes to Timothy he tells him that he wants everyone to pray for those in authority. Then he goes on to tell the folks what’s on God’s heart. Read along with me from 1 Timothy 2:1-6.
1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men–the testimony given in its proper time. (1 Timothy 2:1-6 NIV)
Paul says that God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. What is the “truth” that Paul wants known? There is but one mediator between God and us. His name is not Gautama Buddha. His name is not Muhammad. You can say what you will about those religious leaders, but you cannot say that they are the “one” mediator between God and us. His name is Jesus. That is the truth that we should pray for all people to come to know.
There is one more Scripture concerning this topic of knowledge that we must look at. Turn with me to 2 Peter 1:2-3 and let’s see what we can learn.
2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:2-3 NIV)
Everything that you and I need to live this life and to live a life focused on the things of God rather than the things of this world are available to us. I know many folks who are trying to figure this life out, trying to make sense of the seeming madness that life can be at times, trying to make good decisions about their life. Where do we find the answers to the questions? Where do we find the strength? Where do we find the wisdom that we need to live abundantly in the midst of tragedy, trials, and troubles? Paul gives us the answer. Everything we need is available to us through God’s power as we come to know “Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”
Now, can you see more clearly the knowledge that we need to pursue in life? There is nothing wrong with gaining knowledge about other aspects of life. There are so many fascinating fields of study that we should learn all that we can, but never at the expense of constantly growing in our knowledge of God’s glorious Son.
We have to remember that Paul’s comments about being misguided were concerning his own people, the Jews. They gave themselves to religion. They studied and studied. They developed all kinds of interpretative tools, namely, the Talmud and the rabbinical writings. These writings sought to help explain the Torah, but what happened is that these other books became more read than the Torah, or the five books of Moses. What the Jewish teachers did was to become so engrossed in interpreting the “letter of the law” that they missed God’s intent. If you will read Matthew 5 you can get a very clear example of what I am talking about.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave the greatest sermon ever preached. In reading it you will find the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I say…” over and over again. Look at Matthew 5:27-28 and we can see an example.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28 NIV)
Instead of going through all of the circumstances and situations that could or could not be deemed as “adultery,” Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter and says, “If you’ve even looked upon a woman with lust then you have already committed adultery with her in your heart.” Did you recognize what Jesus just did? Those who may not have committed the physical act of adultery or those who might have been looking for a loophole to justify themselves were all found guilty when Jesus redefined adultery. Is there any of us here today who has never looked upon another with lust in their heart? We are all guilty. What Jesus just did with the sin of adultery He did with all of the other sins as well. This is important for us to understand because it leads us back to Romans 10. In Romans 10:3-4 we read,
3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3-4 NIV)
The Jews sought to establish their own righteousness. They sought to make themselves right with God by doing right, by fulfilling the law. We have already learned that there is “no one righteous” (Romans 3:10) and that no one will be declared righteous by observing the law (Romans 3:20) because the law makes us aware that we are sinners. None of us have lived a life in perfect accordance of the law. It is impossible. The law was not given as an “exam” to show us that we are worthy of being God’s people. The law was given to show us that we are unable, incapable, of living a righteous life. When we come to the knowledge of our destitute state then we are ready for the message of the righteousness of Jesus, our Savior. Paul says as much in Galatians 3:22-25.
22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. 23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:22-25 NIV)
The law was given to us to “lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith.” Works just don’t work. Your “good” is not good enough. My “good” is not good enough. We need the goodness, the righteousness, of Jesus.
The problem of the ancient Jews is still with us today as we modern-day people seek to establish our own “righteousness.” We will do anything to try and find something about us that separates us from the rest of “them.” We need to stop deceiving ourselves and realize that our most righteous deeds are as filthy rags in God’s sight. We continue with this madness for the same reason that the Jews of Jesus’ day sought to establish their own righteousness—we don’t know the Scriptures. Jesus said,
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. (Matthew 22:29 NIV)
God knows that we are flawed to the bone and unable to save ourselves, that is why He has sent His Son to be our righteousness. The more we come to know the Word of God the more clearly we will see our continual need for Jesus. How about you? Are you misguided this morning? Have you come to see your zeal this morning as misplaced? Are you most passionate about things other than growing in your knowledge and love for the Lord? I want to invite you this very morning to turn your heart towards the Lord and begin to learn about Him in all of His grace and glory. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 22, 2014