MMXX 6th September Romans xiij 8 – 14

OT Ezekiel 33 : 7 – 11

 

 

Dox. Praise God

From all that dwell below the skies  Lasst uns erfeuen

God is our strength and refuge

Love Divine  Hyfrydol

How sweet the name  St Peter

Jesus lover of my soul Hollingside

 

Ezekiel 33

7 “Son of Adam, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for[a] his sin, but I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, though you yourself will be saved.

10 “Son of Adam, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Indeed, Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of[b] them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

 

 

Romans 13

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.[c]

Introduction

 

Between 1642 and 1651 England and Scotland were ravage by civil war. The opposing parties were King Charles I and the parliament. It was a time when government collapsed. And it was during this time, 1647, when the Westminster Confession of Faith, the founding document of the Presbyterian Church was written. 

 

The parliament under Oliver Cromwell won the wars and Charles was tried and executed as King in 1649. Charles the first’s son, now Charles the second of Scotland did not give up in defeat until 1651. And in 1651, an English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote a book about the necessity of having a government, having experienced years of misgovernment and civil war.

 

He described human life without proper government as in these words: 
The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

 

Nearly 10 years of civil war provided the basis of this observation.

He argued in his book that government of some sort was essential, with power to enforce laws and keep people safe.

 

We see that same necessity in the pandemic, and how some nations lack civil authorities to enforce safety regulations with disastrous results; and even in Australia there are some foolish people who try to evade the safety regulations laid down.

 

Here, though, we have both civil authority, in the form of the police, and moral and spiritual authority in the bible

 

Nasty, brutish and short certainly describes life in ancient Rome and in ancient Israel during the period of our two readings.

 

Civil and religious authorities existed, but they were not good or efficient. Most people in authority were cruel and corrupt.

 

God is not a God of chaos and he is always concerned for his people, so he sent prophets, and written scriptures to act as a standard for both civil and religious order. God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, his desire is that they should repent and turn back to him and to life.

 

We have the privilege of being able to read those scriptures as a guide to our behaviour and faith.

 

But the scriptures are not like a legal document. They are framed to describe what God has done and the promises he makes to us. There are all different sorts of literary styles and each should be read in its proper way as well as in its proper context.

 

Our first question when we are reading a passage is about the purpose of the passage: is it a passage that prescribes some action for us to take or is it a description of some event?

 

If we decide that the passage is prescriptive, we should then ask is it specific to some particular event or is it a general instruction that might be varied by circumstances or is it a universal command.

 

The style can vary between exhortation, to wise advice, to specific instruction.

 

Any passage may involve an obligation of some kind and again these can vary from moral obligation, to personal obligation to a monetary obligation.

 

Paul

 

What we have, in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, is an exhortation to an obligation.

 

Paul was writing this letter for a number of reasons and one of them is to set out his credentials as an apostle, since many of the people in the church at Rome did not know him personally, and he did not know them.

 

He doesn’t know us either, so we are in much the same position as they were. We can read Paul’s letter as if it were, in some sense, written to us.

 

Paul starts off the letter by reminding his readers that his message comes from God.

 

In chapter 3, Paul agrees with Hobbes, when he says, everyone has done something wrong at some stage, that is, all have sinned.

 

In chapter 4, Paul establishes that faith is what puts us right with God and then that faith brings with it spiritual life through God’s decision.

 

Paul talks about the Law as a means of shoeing us what is right, but also that we are not able to obey it. Even Paul knows that he cannot consistently do what is right.[1]

 

In chapter 8 we have the declaration that God is on our side in spite of our failings and noöne can contradict him.

 

At the beginning of chapter 12, just before today’s reading, Paul exhorts us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice as the consequence of God mercy and grace to us.

 

And here, Paul is giving practical advice on how we should live as God’s people

 

Rule of Law

 

We can see from all the reports of riots and wars and protests and violent events in today’s world, that the uproar of civil war in England was mild. And yet it inspired Hobbes to write about the need for Government of some kind.

 

When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt under God’s direction, God gave the Ten Commandments as a general rule of behaviour, a form of civil and religious government. 

 

There were other commandments as well, including the two great commandments about loving God and loving one’s neighbour. Jesus identifies these two great commandments as the lens through which all scripture should be read.

 

Paul adds general instructions about how to behave so that we are part of the solution to the world’s problems and no longer part of the problem itself.

 

We can see, even in Australia, how the restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid pandemic have stretched the behaviour of some people beyond their usual limit.

 

 

 

Application  

 

So we can see that we need to have some sort of regulation. Otherwise, competing desires and inclinations will begin to cause strife and difficulties.

 

These regulations will also need to be explained and have reasons with them, because reasons which are obvious to one person may not be obvious to another: explanations are necessary.

 

We tend to use appearances as a basis for our consideration, and this is reasonable, because appearances are all that we have. When reasons are given, however, these may explain what is not available in appearance.

 

What we can be sure of, though, is God’s free gift of reconciliation and forgiveness for the times when we have rebelled against his wishes. One of the purposes of Jesus life on earth was to buy us back for God from the nasty, short and brutish life that humans made for themselves. 

 

Remember that God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners, but that they should repent and turn back to Him and life.

 

It was Jesus’ voluntary sacrifice of an undeserved death that has overcome the hold that evil had on us.

 

We access this redemption and reconciliation through the gift of faith. We accept intellectually that Jesus is who he says he is, that he has done what he said he has done, that we are not alone in a friendless world but that through his resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives we have help to govern our own behaviour. 

 

When we believe this beyond mere intellectual agreement, we have received the gift of faith

 

We show our acceptance of God’s gifts and our love for Him in our obedience to his wishes: to love our neighbours as ourselves.

 

Love is a decision. We must decide to be kind, to be patient, not to force our own way and so on.

 

Jesus loves us and gives us grace and we return that love with thanksgiving.

 

[1] Romans 7: 15 – 20