October 23, 2011

God Loves a Paradox - Oct 23, 2011

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Throughout this summer and into the fall we’ve been using our sermon time to study through the book of Romans. Today we’ll be examining chapter thirteen. But to begin with, I’d like to turn back a few chapters and read something from the end of Romans 11. There Paul writes…
“33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 NIV).
One of the great mistakes that we human beings make, is to think that God is like us, just more powerful. Somehow we lose sight of the fact that God is SO far above us in every way. We construct an image of God in our minds that barely resembles the truth because it’s based on how WE think and how WE respond to different situations.

And then when God actually speaks to us through the Bible, what He says seems ridiculous. Not because it actually IS ridiculous, but because it doesn’t match up with the little skewed version of God we’ve constructed in our heads.

It seems that God likes to surprise us with His wisdom. He likes to take something that seems silly, and show us how it’s really the truth. God loves a paradox.

For example, when the giant warrior Goliath stood and made fun of God and His people, God used an adolescent shepherd boy to take him out. With a single little rock flung from a sling.

When God’s eternal Son became human to save the world of sinners and set up His eternal Kingdom, He was born to a poor couple that nobody considered important.

When God wanted the world to hear the precious message that our sins are forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross, God entrusted that message to a rag-tag bunch of blue collar fishermen, tax-collectors and assorted nobodies.

And when we read through the New Testament, we find even more paradoxes. God says that when Christians are weak, that is when we are strongest. He says that many who are first, will be last, and the last first. He says that the evil things that happen in a Christian’s life, will actually cause good to result.

In Acts 17 we hear about how an anti-Christian mob got hold of some Christ followers and dragged them in front of the local authorities. And when they had done this they said something very interesting. They said…
“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6 NIV).
And that’s exactly what God does. He turns our whole way of thinking upside down. He shows us how our thinking falls SO short of His truth.

Today as we read through Romans 13, we’re going to see a number of things that seem like they don’t make sense. May God open our eyes to see His wisdom. May He teach us to see the world as it truly is.

Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Honoring God-less secular authorities brings honor our Almighty Creator.

To fully understand the crazy nature of what Paul says here, you have to remember, he’s talking to Christians living in Rome when the Roman empire was a super-power.

The Roman government wasn’t exactly nice, and it wasn’t exactly nice to Christians. At one point, Caesar made all the Christians leave the city of Rome. Another Caesar to come would set fire to the city and then blamed the Christians for it. In the decades to come Christians would endure all sorts of persecution from Rome. They’d be thrown to lions in the arena, they’ve be tortured and burned. There had already been times when Caesar claimed to be a god that the people must worship.

And Paul says that rulers like these were put in power by God? How does that make sense?

But that was the same thing that Jesus had told Pilate wasn’t it? When Jesus was arrested and brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, Pilate tried to get Jesus to talk by saying…
“10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11 NIV).
And we find the same truth echoed in the Old Testament. Daniel wrote…
“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others” (Daniel 2:20-21 NIV).
Here’s the solution to this paradox. Just because God puts a person in office, doesn’t mean God approves of the decisions that person makes.

And here’s how this affects followers of Christ. Because we know God is the one who gives authority, we will try to honor God through honoring them. We won’t be able to agree with their policies, but we can respect God by respecting them.

What Paul says here is really practical. It impacts how we drive on our streets, and how we carry out our daily business. By seeking to live as obedient citizens of our government, we have the opportunity to give God the glory in even the littlest of things.

Instead of taking the common approach of, “I’ll obey the little laws I happen to agree with and skip the rest” instead of that we’ll say, “As long as it doesn’t conflict with God’s Word, I’ll do my best to do what the law of the land says.”

Paul moves on into another paradox in verses 8-10.

Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

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,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

Here Paul says, Don’t remain in debt and always be in debt.

The Bible has quite a bit to say about being in debt. Proverbs 22:7 says…
“7 The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7 NIV).
Credit card debt are handcuffs. Bank loans, a ball and chain. In Proverbs 6:1-5 Solomon says…
“1 My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, 2 you have been trapped by what you said,ensnared by the words of your mouth. 3 So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—
and give your neighbor no rest! 4 Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. 5 Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler” (Proverbs 6:1-5 NIV).
When it comes to money, God wants us to keep our promises. He want us to pay off our debt. Debt enslaves us and limits what we can do in service to God’s Kingdom.

You can’t go on that mission trip if you’ve got bill collectors waiting at your door. You can’t give your time to serve if your time is already tied up at work.

But then comes the other side of this paradox. God doesn’t want us to remain in debt, but there’s an exception. When it comes to loving each other, we should keep on giving.

Martin Luther put it like this. He said, “A Christian is a free lord, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all” (On the Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther).

This way of thinking is not natural. The human default when it comes to love is something more like this. I should be nice, to those who are nice to me. But if someone’s a jerk, I’ll repay the favor. I will give, but only when I have first been given to. I will clean up, but only the part of the mess that I have made. I will love, but only when I have been loved first.

But God teaches us that true love is higher than this. True love goes first, and looks for no favor in return. The greatest example of this is what our Savior did. He lived His life, and died His death - for people who had given Him nothing. He gave us full forgiveness out of pure love, and a desire to save us from hell.

We’ve failed to love each other as much as we love ourselves. But Jesus didn’t. And through faith in Christ, our failed attempts at love are swallowed up in forgiveness.

Paul moves on to yet another paradox in verses 11-13.

Romans 13:11–13 (NIV)

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.

The temptations that faces first century Christians living in Rome, are the same temptations that face twenty-first century Christians.

When we study the Bible we often have to overcome gaps. We have to over come the language gap. The things we’ve been reading today were originally written in Koine Greek, a two-thousand year old language that is no longer spoken. Sometimes our English translations sound odd and unnatural to our way of speaking.

We have to overcome cultural gaps too. The ways that Paul thought are not always easy for us to get a handle on. He was a Jewish born rabbi living in a first century culture that was heavily influenced by Greek ways of thinking and doing.

When we study the Bible we also have to overcome geographical gaps. These things were written to people living in a very different place than we live.

And yet, when it comes down to the daily spiritual struggles that these Christians were facing, we find the gap isn’t so huge. We too are tempted to view the return of Christ Jesus as something coming off in the distant future. Nothing to be concerned about right now.

When it comes to the daily temptations these Christians were facing, we find they’re exactly the same temptations we face today.

That word “carousing”? That just means excessive partying. Drunkeness, we know what that is. Sexual immorality? The word there is literally, “beds”. We get the picture. Debauchery? That just means unrestrained sexuality. We can’t even drive down the road without seeing examples of that can we? Let alone turning on the TV, the radio, or the computer. Dissension? That’s just quarrelling and fighting. Jealousy? No definition needed there either.

We get these things! As crazy as it sounds, the same sins tempt us today that have always tempted followers of God.

In Luke 21:24 Jesus warns…
“34 Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36 NIV).
Sinful desires wage war against the soul. They try to lull us to sleep. They try to draw us away from our God and Savior, and into replacing following Him with embracing sin as our on-going way of life.

That’s always been the devil’s way of getting to Christians. If he can get us to stop struggling against our sinful nature. If he can get us to stop turning away from our sins in repentance, and going to Jesus for forgiveness. If the devil can do that, then he’s got us, and the day of Jesus return will become a day of horror instead of a day of salvation.

God help us to continue to hate sin. To continue to bring our sins to Jesus in humble confession. God help us to cling to Christ Jesus as our only hope and life.

That leads us to our last paradox.

Romans 13:14 (NIV)

14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

This chapter of Romans has a lot of directions for Christians. A lot of “law” teachings. Do this. Don’t do that. And when we hear these things we can’t help but see that we haven’t done what’s right. And our natural instinct is to think, I better get it right tomorrow, before Jesus gets here! I’ve got to clean up my life or He won’t accept me on the last day!

But here is the greatest paradox God presents to us. He says that in Christ Jesus, through simple trust in Him as our great Savior, we are CLOTHED in Him. Our every sin, covered. In Christ we are not naked. In Christ we are not guilty.

Our actions don’t produce a connection to Christ, our faith connection to Christ produces a new way action.

In Galatians 3, Paul told his fellow Christians…
“…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV).
As forgiven sinners in Christ, we now continue to put Him on every day with an attitude of humble repentance to God. As sinners forgiven through His gift, we begin to learn to see the world from a different perspective.

How crazy is this! God gives us the victory in Christ, and then we put on the armor for a battle that has already been won!

God loves a paradox.

Prayer: Father in heaven, thank you for reaching into my life, and making unworthy me, into your child through all that Your Son has done for me. Help me to approach Your Word with an open mind, always remembering that You ways are not my ways. Your mind is beyond me. In my daily life, help me to more closely walk in step with your will, so that everything I do sings honor to Your Name. And when I fail to live up to Your standards, which I often fail to do, turn my eyes once again to You Son’s cross, and His empty tomb. I pray this in my Savior’s name, Amen.

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