Let me confess that I am avoiding working through these first chapter of Romans. They’re hard!! (insert whining sound).
I realize the reason I wanted to talk about Romans was because of the later chapter, but in my neurotic, methodical way, I have to start at the beginning. So, reading the first part of Chapter 3 in the New Revised Standard Version has done nothing for me, so I have gone to The Message.
Paul is continuing to lay the foundation that whether a person was born Jew or Gentle (really there are only two categories in his mind – neither a Jew or NOT), they are in the same boat when it comes to a relationship with God. In this first section of Chapter 3, Paul does say that the Jews have more responsibilities.
3 1-2 So what difference does it make who’s a Jew and who isn’t, who has been trained in God’s ways and who hasn’t? As it turns out, it makes a lot of difference—but not the difference so many have assumed.
2-6 First, there’s the matter of being put in charge of writing down and caring for God’s revelation, these Holy Scriptures. So, what if, in the course of doing that, some of those Jews abandoned their post? God didn’t abandon them. Do you think their faithlessness cancels out his faithfulness? Not on your life! Depend on it: God keeps his word even when the whole world is lying through its teeth. Scripture says the same:
Your words stand fast and true;
Rejection doesn’t faze you.
But if our wrongdoing only underlines and confirms God’s rightdoing, shouldn’t we be commended for helping out? Since our bad words don’t even make a dent in his good words, isn’t it wrong of God to back us to the wall and hold us to our word? These questions come up. The answer to such questions is no, a most emphatic No! How else would things ever get straightened out if God didn’t do the straightening?
7-8 It’s simply perverse to say, “If my lies serve to show off God’s truth all the more gloriously, why blame me? I’m doing God a favor.” Some people are actually trying to put such words in our mouths, claiming that we go around saying, “The more evil we do, the more good God does, so let’s just do it!” That’s pure slander, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
9-20 So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:
There’s nobody living right, not even one,
nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
I can’t find a single one.
Their throats are gaping graves,
their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
They never give God the time of day.
This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place! And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.
The parts of scripture that Paul is quoting are from six different Psalms and a couple of verses from Isaiah. Talk about proof texting. However, I think that we can agree with Paul’s point. No one on this planet can call themselves righteous and if we ever met someone who did, we probably wouldn’t want to hang out with them.
The bottom line is that Paul is talking to a group of people who believe that they are “closer” to God because of the group they were born into. We still have people who believe this, or just believe they are better than anyone else because of their skin color, mating choice, wealth, intelligence, beauty, etc. Why do you think you are better than or neighbor, or the strange person you encounter today? I believe that no one person is better than another within the scope of God’s realm. I think that’s why we have quoted John Bradford (1510-1555) over the centuries, “There, but for the grace of God go I’