Monday, November 13, 2006

Romans 3:1-2

What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

This has been said to be one of the most difficult texts in all of Scripture. I am grateful for the preachers and commentators who have led me to a sound and solid understanding of it.

The advantage of being a Jew. Remember that Paul has addressed both Jews and Gentiles who did not think they needed to hear the gospel. Paul showed the judgment of sin in openly pagan people in chapter one. Paul removed 4 obstacles (misunderstandings of the purpose of the law, their national election (Deuteronomy 7), their calling to serve God by revealing the light to the Gentiles (Genesis 12:1-3), and the outward sign of circumcision) that were keeping the Jews from Christ, all the while giving them a false security, in chapter 2. Paul knocked these legs out from under the Jews in order to drive them to despair so that they would flee to Christ. Later in chapter 3, Paul will sum up the reasons that all people everywhere need the gospel (SIN). But for now, Paul takes a detour. Keep in mind that Paul ended chapter 2 with a refutation of circumcision as a key to assurance. This was so offensive to the Jews that Paul foresaw four objections to what he was suggesting. Remember, he basically said that some Jews are not really Jews and some Gentiles can really be Jews, even if they are not circumcised. The problem is that this seems to call into question the special position of Israel as God’s chosen people. And that means it would call into question the whole Old Testament. And if Paul’s gospel does that, it will not stand. So these four concerns are important to refute. They are problems that folks point to even today when denying the gospel, and it’s neat to see that Paul is sharing the gospel will all people and overcoming the objections of all people. What an example Paul sets for us as we share the gospel throughout the world!

First, the Jews will say, “If physical circumcision is meaningless apart from spiritual circumcision, then you’re saying it’s worthless to be a Jew, you’re saying it’s unimportant to be part of the covenant people, and you would ultimately be saying that the God Who instituted the covenant and the covenant sign is silly.” The Jews are asking, “What’s the purpose of physical circumcision and being a Jew, if all that matters is the spiritual, inward circumcision?” And Paul says, “There are many advantages!” Then he gives just one: the Jews have been entrusted with the Holy Scriptures. God has entrusted the knowledge of Himself uniquely revealed in the Bible.

Everybody in the world has God’s image written on their very being. They bear the image of God. Everybody in the world knows the law of God, and they know that God ought to be worshiped. But because of sin they suppress that, and God has revealed Himself uniquely to Israel. Notice that Paul gives no other benefits, despite his use of “First of all…” Actually, Paul does come back in Romans 9:4-5 to give several more benefits of being a Jew. “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ.” So Paul is just bringing up this objection as a preview to this whole problem of whether God is being faithful to His covenant with Israel in the work of Christ.

Now, Paul is pointing out that the promise God gives to Abraham is of ultimate value, and the sign of the promise is not. But for the promise to be embraced there must be an inward reality, and the outward sign is supposed to be a sign of embracing the promise inwardly. So, as Paul presupposes the importance of Scripture’s existence, he shows the Jews that they have been entrusted to have the revelation of God.

Here’s an analogy: Assume that there was one school in the world that could teach you the secret of knowing God. Entrance into that school was by invitation of God only. But the children of those who had been first invited were automatically invited and enrolled to enter that school as well. That school was located in one nation, not in many, but in one nation. Those who go through that school are uniquely exposed to the knowledge of God and how to live with Him, relate to Him, worship and serve Him forever. However, going to that school does not necessarily guarantee that you will, in fact, worship and serve Him forever. Here’s the question: Is it an advantage to be invited to that school? Is it an advantage to be a child of someone who has been invited to that school? You’d better believe it! Of course, it’s an advantage, an incredible one! There’s nothing like it in the world. That’s what Paul says first. And we'll look at what Paul has to say next tomorrow.

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