romansThe truth can be a very unsettling thing. We humans are some really strange creatures. We mull things over in our head, we manipulate things in our hearts, we dream up ideas that we value, and then we give them the stamp of approval. They become “The truth.” We do this in most every area of our life.

Young girls, captured by ideas of romance and endless love, envision themselves being swept off of their feet one day by Prince Charming only to find out later in life that their Prince is really just like all of the other frogs in the pond. Their truth becomes exposed for the fairy tale that it was.

When we are young we see older people fading in energy and life, we watch as their health begins to fail, yet we convince ourselves that we are somehow different than they are–we think to ourselves, “That will never happen to me.” Our parents warn us by telling us, “Turn down that music!” “Don’t sit so close to the T.V! It will ruin your eyes!” “Don’t abuse your body and your mind with drugs and alcohol!” We roll our eyes and think to ourselves that they don’t know what they are talking about. We will always be able to hear a pin drop and have 20/20 vision. The insanity of it all is that we see countless people every day who wear glasses and hearing aids whose parents told them the very same things when they were young. We’ve heard stories of those who have ruined their lives with alcohol and drugs, we even know friends or family members who have done this, and yet we convince ourselves that it won’t happen to us. Our “truth,” that we are bullet proof, comforts us and allows us to believe that we are not like everyone else. Then we get some years under our belt. We have to hold the morning paper at arms length to even read the headlines, we have to really listen just to hear, we feel our energy level begin to fade and our health begin to deteriorate, and we discover that we were wrong. Our truth betrayed us!

Our self-determined truth betrays us, not just in our life experiences, but also in what we believe. The consensus of society today is that you and I are free to develop our own theology, our own belief system. As a result, most people today believe that you can believe anything you want to believe, as long as you really believe it, and it becomes “Truth.” Maybe not transcendent truth that is true for everyone, but it is your “truth,” and isn’t that all that really matters? As a result of this type of thinking we have millions of Americans who are convinced in their hearts that all you have to do to go to Heaven is live a “good” life. What is “good?” Well, it’s whatever you determine to be good.

There are still others who have convinced themselves that all religions are really worshipping the same God. The Hindu, Buddhist, or Moslem may call his or her gods something different than you call your God, but they are still worshipping God. Some people go through their lives believing these things, but there will come a day when they will learn that their truth has betrayed them. What they believed, what they held as near and dear to their hearts, will prove to be absolutely false.

In the last chapter of Romans, Paul made it very clear that the Jew and the Gentile will all be standing on level ground when the day of God’s judgment arrives. It was unsettling for Paul’s Jewish hearers to learn that their circumcision, the symbol of God’s Covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, was really no circumcision at all if they lived faithless lives. To transpose this truth that Paul set forth into terms that are relevant for us as Christians–our baptism, a sign of our new birth, is really no baptism at all if we live faithless lives. This is unsettling to those who have clung to these things as their get-out-of-hell-free-cards. With that said, let’s read our Scripture for today found in Romans 3:1-8.

1 What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? 2 Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God. 3 What if some did not have faith? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? 4 Not at all! Let God be true, and every man a liar. As it is written: “So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge.” 5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) 6 Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? 7 Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” 8 Why not say– as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say– “Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (Romans 3:1-8 NIV)

After Paul lays out his argument in Romans 2 he anticipates questions from some of his Jewish hearers. These are probably questions that he had already heard during his ministry as he had shared his message, so Paul answers his critics in his letter to the Romans before they have a chance to argue.

The Jewish people saw themselves as the “chosen people of God,” and they were God’s chosen people, but instead of this placing them in a position of privilege it put an even greater responsibility on them than the other nations of the world. In Deuteronomy 4:7-8, Moses reminded the people of how blessed they truly were to have God reveal Himself to them.

7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:7-8 NIV)

In the very next verse we get a sense of the great responsibility that came with their blessings. Moses says,

9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV)

Throughout God’s Word we see that “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48) This is not a thought that originated with the New Testament. Throughout the Old Testament God reminded His people that they carried great responsibility because of the wondrous blessings that God had showered upon them. In Amos 3:2 we read,

2 “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:2 NIV)

In Hosea, the Lord spoke harsh words to His people because they had taken for granted the blessings of God, they had dismissed God’s commands, and they had turned to worship the gods of the surrounding nations. In response to this God spoke and said,

13 I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot,” declares the LORD. (Hosea 2:13 NIV)

You can easily see that the Jews had taken the blessings of God and forgotten the responsibilities that went along with them. They had been chosen by God from all of the nations of the world, God had established an everlasting covenant with His people, He had given them the sign of circumcision as a constant reminder of God’s covenant love, but they had made God’s blessings into something that God never intended. The Jews looked at God’s blessings as reminders that they were different, they were better, than all of the other people of the world. Because of their special relationship with God they viewed everyone else as a lower class of people. With their minds having become so twisted it is no wonder that they heard Paul speaking about the Jews and the Gentiles as facing the same predicament before a holy and righteous God as perplexing.

Paul anticipates the question, “If what you are saying is true Paul, then what advantage is there in being a Jew?” After all that Paul has said in Romans 2 that is a fair question and Paul answers it by saying, “Much in every way!” There was a great advantage in being a Jew. Paul says, “First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” (Romans 3:2 NIV) The Greek word translated, “words,” is ?logion? and it means, “a brief utterance or a divine oracle.” The word occurs four times in the Greek New Testament. Let me show you a couple of other places where we find the word.

In Acts 7:37-38, Stephen was standing before the Sanhedrin who wanted to see his ministry come to an end. Stephen, instead of pleading for his life, gave them a one chapter synopsis of God’s relationship with Israel. In the middle of the chapter, Stephen says,

37 “This is that Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will send you a prophet like me from your own people.’ 38 He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. (Acts 7:37-38 NIV)

In 1 Peter 4, Simon Peter instructs the members of the church in how to use their gifts so as to bless the entire assembly. Peter says,

11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11 NIV)

There is no question, but that those who used this word considered all of the Old Testament as the “oracles of God.” John Murray says,

Scripture is no less the speech or sayings of God than were the divine utterances which prophets received directly from the mouth of God. Scripture itself is a ‘thus saith the Lord.’ This is Paul’s concept of the Scripture with which the Jew had been entrusted. For Paul the written Word is God’s speech, and God’s speech is conceived of as existing in the form of a “trust” to Israel; divine oracles have fixed and abiding form. It is when viewed in this light that we can appreciate Paul’s characterization of this privilege as the first or chief. (John Murray, The Epistle To The Romans, pg. 93.)

Paul says that the greatest advantage that the Jews possessed was that they had been entrusted with the Word of God. Oh, what a wondrous trust! To have the very words of God to give us guidance for living, to give us hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless situations, and to lead us to the worship of Almighty God.

There is much discussion in our day about the Word of God. There are those who view the Word of God as really the words of people. I was reading a blog this past week by a guy who said that the Bible is really the words of men who sought to share their understanding of God. That is preposterous! There are others who look for the “word of God” in the Bible. By that they mean that not everything in the Bible is authoritative, not every word in the Word of God is actually God’s words. If that is true then it poses a huge problem for us. There is no debating that you and I are flawed. Our ability to comprehend, to think, to understand, is flawed wouldn’t you say? For those of you who are questioning what I am saying, don’t you remember how we began this study? Our truth betrays us. If we are so easily misled by our own thoughts and minds then how in the world would we be able to decipher which parts of the Bible are actually God’s Words and which are the words of men? Can’t you already see what we would conclude? We would put everything we like in the column “God’s Word” and we would put all of those things that make us uncomfortable about God’s Word in the column, “The Words of Men.”

God has given us His Word and we are to humble ourselves before it. Many years ago I was given the best advice of my life by my friend Dr. David Darnell. David said, “Mike, any time you begin to read and study the Word of God you need to humble yourself before the text. Don’t read into God’s Word what you want it to say, you let God say to you what He wants you to hear.” You ought to write that down.

There are those who hold that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is merely people recording their experiences with God as they understood them. They label people like me and others who hold the that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. They say that our view of the Bible is bibliolatry–making an idol out of the Bible and worshiping it instead of God. Are we imposing a value and authority on the Bible that it does not deserve? That’s a great question. Simon Peter certainly wouldn’t think so. Turn to 1 Peter 1:24-25 with me and let’s read together.

24 For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:24-25 NIV)

You and I are here today and gone tomorrow, but the Word of God stands forever. Is that really true? Throughout history there have been societies, dictators, and antagonists of God and His Word that have tried to eliminate God’s Word from society. How successful have they been? They are now gone, but the Word of God is still being used by God to change ordinary human lives like yours and mine. Voltaire, the French Enlightenment writer and philosopher who died in 1778, once said, “In 100 years the Bible will be dead and gone.” Today, if you go to France you will find that one of Voltaire’s homes belongs to the French Bible Society.

God’s Word is not like any other book you might pick up at Barnes and Noble. The writer of Hebrews has written.

12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

The Word of God is alive, a powerful change agent of God, and God had entrusted the Jews with His Word to learn, meditate upon, follow, and then share with the world so that they might come to know and worship the living God.

In Isaiah’s day, the LORD spoke through Isaiah to reassure His people that His Word is not empty, that is not merely the ramblings of God, but it is effective to accomplish what God intends. Read along with me in Isaiah 55:10-11.

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11 NIV)

The Jews were to value God’s Word, to heed God’s Word, because God’s Word is of great importance to God. I’m curious what we would learn if each of us left here today and asked five people each, “What does God value most?” If, when we got back together next Sunday, we shared what we learned do you think it would align with what God does value more than anything else? I don’t know, but I would guess that we would get all kinds of answers, but that few of them would align with Psalm 138:2. Turn there with me and you can find out for yourself what God values.

2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Psalm 138:2 NIV)

God values, above all else, His Name and His Word. Because God so greatly values His Word, we are to value His Word. We are to treat God’s Word for what it is–it is God’s heart for His people. My question for you this morning is this: If God held His chosen people, the Jews, accountable for the way in which they treated lightly the Word of God, the Old Testament, what will we who have the entire Word of God in the Old and New Testaments be responsible for today?

I met with a pastor here in town this past week who shared some startling statistics with me. Do you know what percentage of the people of our country are in church on any given Sunday? 50%? 60? Maybe? What do you think? How about 17% of the people of our country are in a Christian church on Sunday? This makes The United States the fourth largest mission field on the planet behind China, Indonesia, and India. You’re thinking, “That maybe true for the nation, but Oklahoma is the buckle of the Bible belt. The percentage has to be larger for Oklahoma.” You would be right my friend. On Sunday, 21% of Oklahomans are in a Christian church. Isn’t that amazing! You don’t have to go to the mission field, you are in the mission field this very morning. How can this be when we have been so blessed?

You and I have been entrusted with the Word of God. Paul said that he was entrusted with the responsibility of preaching the Good News to the Gentiles just as Peter was entrusted with preaching the Good News to the Jews. (Galatians 2:7) That word, “entrusted,” carries a lot of weight for those of us who are followers of Jesus. Let me show you some of the places where it appears so that we might get a better understanding of just what God is entrusting us with. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and said,

1 You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure. 2 We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition. 3 For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. 4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 NIV)

Did you hear that? Paul and his companions weren’t in the least concerned with pleasing people. Why is that? It is because they had been entrusted with the responsibility of the gospel.

Paul was a mentor to a young preacher named, Timothy. Timothy must have been a bit on the timid side so Paul wrote to him two letters and encouraged him to stand up for what he believed and not back down. Paul also told Timothy,

20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, 21 which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Timothy 6:20-21 NIV)

Last of all, in the little, rarely read letter of Jude, we read about being entrusted once again. Read along with in verse 3.

3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. (Jude 1:3 NIV)

Does this idea of being entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the Word of God apply also to us? Of course it does! This is not a command for preachers, but for all of the followers of Jesus. This is why the statistics that were presented to me this past week were so unnerving. There are more Bibles in our country than any other country of the world. We have entire stores that do nothing more than sale Christian items, yet what affect have they had on our society? None! Christian bookstores are not supposed to have an affect on society–we are. We are called to be “salt and light!” We are commanded to go. We are commanded to love. With all of the wondrous blessings of our King what have we done with them? We huddle up like a covey of quail and never mention our glorious Savior until the next time we get together.

We can shrug our shoulders and say, “I don’t feel comfortable talking to others about Jesus. I don’t know enough about the Bible to teach anyone else. My faith is a personal thing.” God will hold us accountable my friends because of the great and glorious blessings we have so freely received. If Paul were standing before us this morning he would say, “What advantage is there in being a Christian? Much in every way! You have been entrusted with the very Words of God!” Our level of responsibility is great because God has opened our eyes and shown us His mercy and grace.

I want to ask you this morning to allow the Lord to search your hearts. Have you ever truly surrendered your life to Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life? Have you really or are you simply attending church like you attend the Kiwanis Club or the Bridge Club? Don’t answer me, but allow the Lord to search your heart. If you have not surrendered your heart to the Lord then won’t you do that this morning and allow Him to transform your life so that He might use you to spread the Good News of His glory and grace?

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 9, 2013

The Responsibility of the Advantaged
Romans 3:1-2
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