Romans 14-15: Christian Liberty

Daily Scripture readings for August, set #22:

Deuteronomy, chapters 27-28
Psalm 69:1-18
Matthew 27:45-56
Romans 14

The long chapter of Deuteronomy 28 is a collection of blessings and curses for the people of Israel, and I couldn’t help but notice that the curse list is WAY longer than the blessing list. One of the overarching themes surfacing (for me, at least) as I read the whole Bible in a year is that of truly understanding the way the Bible portrays God and his character. What I mean is this: we all know that the Bible says God is love. But the Bible says many other things about who GOd is and what he is like, and some are hard to swallow. For instance, verse 63 of this chapter: “And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” This is one of the curses for Israel if they fail to keep God’s covenant with them… and God will TAKE DELIGHT in executing the curse.  The Bible says this about God. Wow… does my perception of who God is have room for this? Does yours? A better question: SHOULD my/your perception of what God is like have room for Deut 28:63?

I shy away from any concrete eschatological (i.e. “end times” stuff) positions, and one of the reasons is the hazy and strange way that certain prophecies are fulfilled in Scripture. Psalm 69:9 is a great example of this: “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” In John 2 the disciples associate this verse with Jesus regarding his overturning the tables of the money-changers in the temple. Really? This Psalm is messianic? I would NEVER have connected this Psalm with Jesus. It seems like David is merely lamenting to God about his situation.

Speaking of eschatology, Matthew 27:52-53 is another one of those passages that, prior to seeing it during my readings last year, I didn’t even know existed. “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” How does that square with what you always thought happened to a Christian when they die? My mind was, and still is, totally blown by these verses.

A friend of mine reference Romans 14:23 constantly in his decision-making and evaluation of whether something is “right” or “wrong” in God’s sight (given the New Covenant era that we are in now). I’ve also found this verse to be very helpful in discerning sin in my heart: “But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In fact, the whole chapter is a good reminder that the Christian life is not about rules, but about the Spirit.

Daily Scripture readings for August, set #23:

Deuteronomy, chapters 29-31
Psalm 69:19-36
Matthew 27:57-66
Romans 15:1-13

Moses wraps up his long speech to Israel in Deuteronomy 29-31, and he charges them openly and directly to not rebel against the Lord. I love hw straight-forward he is on the “if” part of the covenant in verses 15-20 of chapter 30. But I noticed for the first time today that the Lord is just as direct in the next chapter, telling Moses that the people WILL choose wrongly: “And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them” (31:16). How interesting that Moses spends all his breath on “if” statements to exhort and encourage the people, but the Lord just flat out tells him what will happen.

Psalm 69:28 references a “book of the living” that somehow functions as a log or list of the righteous: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” This book is mentioned a few times in Scripture, but I think this is the first time it’s come up in this year’s readings (I might be wrong about that).

Matthew 27:65 is a noteworthy statement from Pilate regarding man’s capability: “Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.’” If Pilate knew anything about how the situation would unfold over the next 3 days (which, presumably, he didn’t), then this sentence would almost sound snide. Go ahead, try as hard as you can to stop the SON OF GOD from getting out of this tomb.

Paul follows his outlining of Christian liberty in chapter 14 with an important hinge verse to transition to chapter 15: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (vs 1). This verse seems essential to chapter 14’s argument for freedom in the Spirit. So, following the logic, we could summarize Paul’s thoughts on permissibility like this: We are free to do whatever our faith and conscience allows us to do, but we must not serve our own desires. Instead, like Christ, we must sacrificially lay down our will and plans in order to serve God’s purposes. Does that sound like a fair paraphrase?

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