Day 329: Romans 11-13; In View of God's Mercies

Paul closes out the the second section of his letter to the church in Rome continuing his discussion on salvation and how the people of Israel and the Gentile fit into it.  One of the things that he points out is that through God’s work in Jesus Christ, God has not rejected His chosen people of Israel and neither has He turned from them to try some sort of “plan B” for the salvation of the world.  Paul reveals to us that this has always been a part of God’s plan.  God has been working for the salvation of the world since the time of the fall and He always knew that there was no way that humanity could do it for themselves.  Paul has talked about this throughout the book of Romans, how the Law was never intended to save and neither was living in a particular way something that was supposed to bring about salvation or perfection.  In fact, all of what God did in the Old Testament, all the law and the prophets, all of God’s self revelation were preparation for the coming of Jesus that God’s people would recognize their savior and that all believers would have a context for understanding Jesus’ work to bring about our salvation.  It would be much more difficult for us to understand and recognize Jesus’ sacrifice if we didn’t have, say, the Hebrew sacrificial system.  In the same way there are a great deal of Jesus’ teachings that don’t make too much outside of the context of the Old Testament Scriptures.

So this is all well and good… actually this is great!  God, in Christ has reached down to us and lifted us out of our misery, out of the sin that has enslaved us since the very first sinful act back in the garden.  It is by grace alone that this has taken place, because of God’s great love for us.  Certainly it is not because of anything that we have done to show ourselves as worthy and, I think, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand this because we know that the deepest desires of our heart and they are selfish, self honoring, and self absorbed.  If this is the case though, that there is nothing we can do to bring ourselves closer to God, and there is nothing that we can do to make ourselves righteous, do we even have to try to do anything good?  Paul would say “absolutely!”  This is what we come to as we open chapter 12.

Paul opens chapter 12 with the word “therefore” which is a key word for us to pick up on.  It means that Paul isn’t starting something new here but saying “because of all that I have just said, now…”  This is exactly what He is getting at here.  He writes, “by the mercies of God…”  Other translations right “in view of God’s mercies…”  What Paul is getting at here is that what He is about to say is completely dependent on what he has just said.  What is to come should happen because of what has already taken place.  That is the truth of our lives as people of God too isn’t it?  What is to come in our lives, our whole lives, is to be lived out in light of all that God has already done for us.  James Brownson, in his book The Promise of Baptism, writes, “In the Bible, our identity is not found in our past, but in Christ’s past, which is our future.  Our truest and deepest self is defined not by what we have experienced in the past, but by what Christ experience and accomplished for us.”  I think this is a very good way of restating what Paul is saying here, we are “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Paul is saying here that what has been given to us requires a response, and that response, one again, is that “Shema style” of living in which we are loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength.

He then says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It isn’t simply that we are supposed to love God while we just do whatever we want.  God also calls us to be set apart for Him, to live lives that are honoring and pleasing to Him.  To do this, we need to be continually following after God, continually being that “living sacrifice,” not because we are trying to make ourselves more righteous, but out of gratitude for all that Christ has done for us.  All that follows, from Chapter 12 onward is written in this light, talking about how we are to live.  Again though, this is not in the restriction style that the law was interpreted as, but in freedom from sin that we have been given in Christ, through which we are called to live in GRATEFUL obedience to Jesus Christ.

Day 192: Ecclesiastes 1-4; Meaningless? Meaningless?

We have come to the book of Ecclesiastes, the second of three books attributed to king Solomon.  Ecclesiastes is also a book about wisdom, however it is written from the other side of life.  The book of Proverbs is a book written by a wise king at the beginning of his reign.  Solomon was visited by God, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 1, and upon Solomon’s request God granted him all the wisdom of the world.  One of the results of that was the book of proverbs, a sort of collection of all the wise sayings of the king throughout his reign.  The book of Ecclesiastes comes from the opposite side of his reign, the waning years of his life when he evaluates all that he did.  It is almost like two books written by one person about being a particular career.  One he wrote fresh out of college with all the theory and book knowledge that his education had given him and the other after 40 years of working and toiling, a reflection on all that has happened.  You will notice that the thesis is the same, having to do with honoring and fearing the Lord, yet the perspective is notably different, which indicates a great deal of growth on Solomon’s part.

When you begin to read this book, you’ll probably notice that it seems as though the book is taking a decidedly negative tone.  Everything is vanity, or meaningless, and nothing really matters is the presumed theme that we encounter here.  However, I think that this gloomy outlook on life needs some perspective of its own so that we can better understand what Solomon is saying in this book.  You see, Solomon, those wiser than anyone ever, did not necessarily follow his own advice.  As we read in the beginning of 2 Chronicles, Solomon had extraordinary wealth and power, but was drawn to women so much so that he had hundreds of wives.  One would think that a man that can talk so well about wisdom and wives would have been rather wary of women, but instead Solomon allowed them to lead him astray.  At the time of this writing, Solomon was likely an old man and was looking back on his life and seeing what a fool he actually was.

The Theme and Purpose of Ecclesiastes Photo Credit:

The Theme and Purpose of Ecclesiastes
Photo Credit:

Ultimately though, what Solomon writes here also falls under Wisdom’s thesis statement in Proverbs 1, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  He comes back to this time and again in this book, pointing out that everything under the sun is meaningless unless it is done for the Lord to please him.  There is wisdom in the toil that we do here, even if it is left to another when we die.  Solomon realizes that no amount of wisdom or hard work will spare him the death that eventually comes to all, both wise and foolish.  So what’s the point then?  It seems like Solomon is on a mission to destroy our hope… actually some people ask this question a lot in Christian circles, just with a different spin on it.  “If we are saved, and our sins are forgiven, then why does it matter how I live my life?”  I think that question and the idea that Solomon is trying to destroy our hope is a misrepresentation of what is happening here.  Solomon is actually working to direct our hopes to the only One who can truly fulfill them.  He affirms the value of wisdom, knowledge, work, relationships, and even pleasure, but he affirms them only in their proper place.  Alone they are indeed meaningless, temporal things that will eventually fade into history.  However, we have hope in something greater than ourselves and our experience, and when these things are seen in light of the eternal, they find their true place in our lives and gain meaning beyond all that we could ever give on our own.

One final thought: Ecclesiastes is a book that build on itself.  One could be tempted to jump ahead to chapter 12 and just see Solomon’s summary and conclusions, but let me encourage you to read through the whole book… for it is not at all meaningless.