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“40 Days and 40 Nights of God’s Word”
DAY 36: AUGUST 27
ROMANS 1 – 1 CORINTHIANS 16:24
We’re now in the final stretch of our 40-day run. If you’ve been with us from the start, you’ll know it’s been quite a marathon. We can see the proverbial light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but the road ahead is still rocky and long. We need to keep our focus now more than ever. It’s tempting to slack off when you think you’re almost at your final destination, but remember that Jesus was tempted by the devil not at the beginning of his 40-day fast, but at the end. So keep going, my friends! This is where your prayers for strength and endurance will kick in.
- Paul’s letter to the Romans makes a clear distinction between those who were born genetic Jews and those who are reborn spiritual Jews by the will and grace of God. This is the context for his teachings on faith. Paul explains that in God’s new covenant with his new people, as expressed in Jesus in the New Testament, you no longer have to be genetically Jewish (that is, children of Israel) to live the promise of God. Since the time of Jesus, the promise of spiritual rebirth and admission to God’s Kingdom is given to all people, whether genetic Jews or not.
- You have to imagine how revolutionary this concept was at the time Paul wrote it. Most genetic Jews were still stuck in the mindset that they were God’s chosen and that gentiles were shut out of the prophesied promise by virtue of their genetics. But Paul had already experienced first-hand that gentiles were being reborn and filled with God’s Spirit, and God also gave him the vision (as we saw in yesterday’s reading) showing him that God put no distinction between “clean” and “unclean” animals, and by extension “clean” (i.e., Jewish) and “unclean” (i.e., gentile) people.
- Faith, then, in this context, was not presented as a contrast to works but to genetics. Paul argued that genetics no longer mattered, as it was through faith (not through genetics) that we become children of God. This was clearly prophesied in the OT, but it was also just as clearly overlooked or misinterpreted by those who stood to lose their exclusivity status with God.
- The theme of justification by faith rather than genetics continues in Paul’s insistence that circumcision needs to be of the spiritual heart (that is, the core of our being), not of other parts of our body. God looks at the hearts of people, not at their outward words and deeds. This, too, is scriptural, and this, too, was clearly overlooked in scripture (and is still overlooked) by those who stand to lose from it.
- Pau’s description of becoming a follower of Jesus compares it to dying and coming back to life. I think we can all agree that death is a major life stage. If spiritual rebirth in a person’s life is as definitive and monumental as death, then it is by far the most significant and defining event we will ever experience on Earth.
- If your spiritual rebirth does not look like Paul’s or like the disciples at Pentecost, you’re not genuinely reborn. This is not an accusation or a judgement; it’s just a spiritual fact. Rebirth comes over you like a spiritual earthquake that is off the Richter scale. There is no “I think I’m reborn” or “my pastor says I’m reborn” or “I was reborn at baptism when I was three weeks old” in genuine spiritual rebirth: It’s as definitive as death and as earth-shattering as a mega-earthquake.
- Also in Romans, Paul assures the Jews that they’re not all entirely cut off from God’s grace, but that they will have to overcome their dependence on “dead works”, that is, keeping the statutes and ordinances of Jewish law, and look instead to making their hearts right before God. What constitutes making one’s heart right before God is described towards the end of the letter and can be summed up as putting God first in everything you do and treating others as you want to be treated.
- The letter to the Romans also includes a long list of the sins of the age. Not much has changed over the centuries. Sadly, Paul could be describing Western culture today.
- Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has a completely different tone than his letter to the Romans. That’s because the Corinthians were facing different issues than the Romans, mainly squabbles and divisions among themselves and spiritual immaturity. Already, believers were forming into camps, adopting this or that doctrine while disputing the validity of others. We suffer from the same issues today. The only way to resolve them is to be in good standing with God and Jesus, know scripture, and apply what you’ve learned to your everyday life, regardless of the circumstances.
- God doesn’t expect or even want us to get everything right (“mistakes keep you humble”), but he does expect and want us to keep doing our best to follow the example of Jesus, which is what Paul always strived to do. God rewards half-efforts with a half-reward. But if you give it everything you’ve got, even if you’re wrong in some aspects, you’ll get your full reward. God looks to your heart and to your efforts; not to what you say you’ll do, but to what you actually do. To God, the effort you make to do his will is what counts, not whether you’re right or wrong about this or that doctrine. The direction of your will towards him is all that ultimately matters. Even so, we should rarely be wrong about doctrine if we’re following Jesus as our example and the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
- In 1 Corinthians, Paul also explains the difference between living in the world and living in God’s Kingdom. The wisdom we receive from God as his child and follower of Jesus is “foolishness” to those who haven’t received it. I certainly thought it was foolish before I was reborn. I thought everyone who believed in God was an idiot. Little did I know that I was, in fact, the idiot.
- Make note about Paul’s teaching on lawsuits. Believers can use the threat of a lawsuit as a kind of weapon, but it should never be taken any farther than a show of force, just as a weapon should never be used to kill or wound, but as a show of force to deter violence. Paul says it’s even better to suffer being defrauded than to take someone to court before a worldly judge. Just before I was reborn, I had three lawsuits before the courts. The day of my rebirth, God showed me that I had to drop them all, and I did.
- Scripture is words in a book, but not just words in a book: it’s guidance for a course of action. Use lawsuits as a show of force, just as you would use a weapon as a show of force, but never follow through with lawsuits or violent acts. We don’t do those things anymore. In nearly every case, a show of force is sufficient as a deterrent. If it isn’t, Paul says let yourself be defrauded, and Jesus says give them double what they ask, and turn the other cheek. Again, this looks like foolishness to the world, but it’s God’s economy, and it will all work out to your benefit in the end. Do what’s right in God’s eyes, not the world’s.
- 1 Corinthians also includes two major teachings about caritas (God’s love working through us) and the use of speaking in tongues (that is, in a new holy way or in a foreign language that you haven’t learned). I’ve written here about caritas and here about speaking in tongues. Both gifts are supernaturally given from God; caritas is a selfless love that enables you to love your enemies, and tongues simply means speaking in a language you haven’t learned or speaking with words you haven’t spoken before. TONGUES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BABBLING ON IN INCOMPREHENSIBLE GIBBERISH, unless you think Greek or German is incomprehensible gibberish. Tongues, in scripture, either refers to speaking a foreign language or speaking in a way that radically differs from how you used to speak (which is what happens when you’re born-again and start preaching and teaching the Word). Do not be fooled by people who tell you that speaking demonic utterances is speaking in tongues. They are lying to you, whether purposely or not. Be fools for God, not fools for deceivers.
Like the Gospels, Paul’s letters are dense and difficult to discuss in a read-through approach. Even so, God wants us to grab whatever jumps out at us now and hold onto it, because those are the things we’ll need to put into practice in the weeks and months to come.
What jumped out at you in today’s reading? How do you think you’ll be putting it into practice in the rough and rocky road that lies ahead? Whatever it is, maybe you should start practicing it now, so it will be second nature to you by the time you really need it.
The BIBLE READ-THROUGH schedule is presented in PDF directly below.
When God tells us he’ll never leave us or betray us, we need to pay attention.
Jesus says we’re to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength. If we love God like that, we won’t have any love left over for anything or anyone else. What we’ll have instead is caritas, which is the cup-runneth-over kind of love. Caritas enables you to be kind to everyone, regardless of how they are to you, and to treat others as you want to be treated. In other words, caritas enables us to keep the Commandments, including the one Jesus gave us to love our enemies.
Caritas is the by-product of receiving God’s love in return for loving him. When you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, so much of his love pours back onto you that you can’t contain it. That’s where caritas comes from. This overflow love is then meant for you to pour onto others.
The notion of caritas has been bastardized by the world and by the blind to refer to an obligatory form of giving (charity), but real caritas is God’s love overflowing you. You can give caritas to anyone indiscriminately, regardless of whether you know them or not and regardless of whether they hate you or not. God’s love fills you so much that you don’t require love from other people. If everyone in the world hates you but you know God loves you and you feel his love, you have more than enough love for yourself and to share.
When we love God the way scripture invites us to love him, we have no need to look for love in anyone or anything else. People who don’t love God are constantly looking for God-love substitutes, usually in other people, though sometimes also in material things or pursuits. But God made us to love him; we’re hardwired to love him; so if we try to rewire ourselves or override the wiring, we fail. We were built to fail if we try to find love in anything or anyone other than God. This is the failsafe that both drives us toward and brings us back to God, even if we don’t believe he exists.
As an atheist, I believed in love and I believed in truth, but I didn’t believe in God. I thought if I kept looking for love and truth, someday I would find them, though not necessarily in the same place. What I didn’t realize as an atheist is that God is Love and God is Truth, so the desire that drove me to find love and truth was actually the inborn desire for God that was hardwired into me by God himself.
God will never leave us or betray us. These are huge promises. No-one and nothing on Earth can give us these promises and keep them. Only God can. People will always leave you and betray you, just as you will always leave and betray them. You may look the other way and pretend they’re not leaving or betraying you, but you’re only fooling yourself.
Women are very good at this, fooling themselves. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of women I know who haven’t looked the other way while their significant other betrayed them. Most women would rather be betrayed and look the other way than lose their man, and that is just sad.
God will never betray us. HE WILL NEVER BETRAY US. He will neither leave us nor betray us. Imagine the enormity of such promises, and yet you don’t have to imagine, because these promises are real and unbreakable. God cannot break his promise to us. When he says he’ll never leave us or betray us, he won’t. When he invites us to love him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, we should. The rewards of loving God are infinite and nothing on Earth compares to them.
God is standing there with his heart on his sleeve saying “I love you, and I’ve made you to love me.” He’s not begging you; he’s reminding you that he loves you and that he’s made you to want to love him. The desire you feel to give and receive love is at heart the desire to love God and receive his love in return. You have been hardwired to love God and to receive his love.
In loving God and only in loving God can you find your peace and fulfillment. You’ll have no desire to look for love in others or to expect love from others.
In loving God and only in loving God can you truly give caritas.
On his last night as a human, Jesus spoke in depth to his followers who were gathered with him to celebrate the Passover meal. At some point during the proceedings, he gave us another Commandment – to love as he loved. This was the handing on of the torch from teacher to students, envisioning that they themselves would one day be handing on the torch to their own students, and they to theirs, and so on and so on, all the way down to us.
We now stand with that same torch in our hands, lit by Jesus. And just like those who were gathered around Jesus on his last night as a human, we too are commanded to love as he loved.
But how did Jesus love? (more…)
When we were little kids, we learned simple songs. The songs had at most a dozen notes in an easy-to-reach range, a simple and catchy tune, and lyrics that didn’t always make sense but were easy to remember. Think “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. We sang these songs at daycare or at school or with our mother at home. Sometimes we’d sing them quietly to ourselves if we were sad or scared, as a way to recall happier times and comfort ourselves. They were as much a part of our lives as play time, snack time, and bedtime. They became part of us and still are part of us today.
I mention these childhood songs because, as born-again believers, we need to learn a new song. We’re old enough now to choose the notes ourselves, but the lyrics should go like this: (more…)
As born-agains, the spiritual tools we value the most, use the most, and need the most have no place in Heaven.
The Ten Commandments are obsolete.
The directives God gave us through Jesus don’t apply.
We don’t have to pray.
And there aren’t even any Bibles (King James or otherwise).
Faith, hope and charity have value only in this life.
We don’t need faith in Heaven because, as Paul told us, we’ll see and know God fully as he is.
We won’t need hope, either, because we’ll have everything we want and there won’t be any adversities to overcome.
And we won’t need charity, the self-less love that’s expressed by obedience to God’s will. There won’t be any need for charity in Heaven because we’ll all have the mind of God, so we’ll all be doing God’s will automatically.
As for praying, we won’t need to do that any more because we won’t have to talk to God and Jesus in faith, trusting they hear us; we’ll be able to talk to them face-to-face.
So you see, there’s no ‘faith, hope and charity’ or praying in Heaven because there’s no need for them.
And there’s no free will, either (to which I say: THANK GOD FOR THAT!).
I’m glad God gave me free will, but I’ll be even gladder to kiss that double-edged mother good-bye.
It’s caused me a lot of problems.
Bye-bye, free will!
Bye-bye, faith hope and charity!
Bye-bye, loving your enemies!
Bye-bye to everything but God’s will and God’s goodness, because that’s all we’ll need when we arrive in Heaven. God will provide us with everything else, just like he provides for us on Earth.
And the last thing we’ll say good-bye to is good-bye itself, because there are never any partings in Heaven. Everything and everyone are there to stay.
When I was in university, I had to read excerpts from the Bible for a comparative literature assignment. I was an atheist at the time and hated the Bible or anything that spoke of God in a positive way. I thought believers were idiots and I had zero patience for them.
The assignment specifically required me to read passages from Paul’s letter about faith, hope and charity. As an atheist, I had a difficult time reading the New Testament because all the words ran together and I couldn’t make head or tails of what was being said. Trying to read the New Testament for this assignment was no different; none of the words made any sense to me. It was as if they were written in a foreign language that I had no knowledge of.
In discussing the assignment in class, my professor talked about “caritas”, or charity, as a type of love that was distinct from other forms of love. He was a kind man and a diligent instructor, and I can still see him struggling to convey a meaning that can only be understood by people who are born again. I doubt whether he, at the time, was born again, or even if anyone in the class believed in God. I certainly didn’t understand what my professor meant by “caritas”, but I dutifully picked up enough of his explanation to regurgitate it on the exam and get a pass for the course.
Caritas is often translated as “charity”. It means self-less love, the kind that God gives us. God loves us selflessly, even arrogant university students who spit venom at the sound of his name. He gives of himself without expecting anything in return. As an atheist, I could not fathom a type of love that wasn’t feelings-based and wasn’t meant to be reciprocated on some level; to me, love without palpitations and weak knees just wasn’t love. Sure, I understood that my parents and grandparents loved me without palpitations and weak knees, but that was different. I was expected at least to show my respect to them, so in this they got something in return for their love.
But to love expecting nothing in return – what kind of fool would do that? My atheistic mindset had no place for such as concept. To me, the notion of caritas made the idea of God all the more far-fetched.
Muddying the waters even more was my personal experience of the charity industry. I saw charities as seedy organizations whose sole purpose was to separate people from their time, energy, and money. How could these organizations truly be called ‘charities’ if they gave tax receipts for monetary expressions of love? Wasn’t real charity supposed to be done selflessly and without expecting anything in return?
Despite his best efforts, my professor could not bring me to an understanding of Paul’s concept of charity, nor make me grasp why Paul considered charity to be the highest virtue. It was only after I was born again and able to read the New Testament that I started to get a feeling for what Paul meant.
Jesus said to give freely without expecting anything in return, to love your enemies, and to treat other people as you want to be treated. He also tells us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. This is the caritas that Paul was talking about – being kind to people without expecting to be treated kindly in return, and giving freely to those in need without expecting anything in return (including a tax receipt or even a thank-you). And to do it all sincerely, and with a smile in your heart.
To Jesus and Paul, charity simply meant to love as God loves. No palpitations or weak knees are required. Caritas is initiated in us by an act of our will, not a feeling. It is an act that is done for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do; no personal gain is involved. This is the selflessness that my professor struggled to convey all those years ago.
When we say “yes” to caritas, God loves through us. The simple nod of our will gives God permission to work through us so that we can, in fact, love as God loves: fully and selflessly. In saying “yes”, we feel God’s love flow through us, and we know there is no greater love.
HAPPY CARITAS DAY, EVERYONE!