A theology book
Romans 1: I write this letter to all the Christians in Rome, God’s friends.
No one knows who it was who took the Gospel message to Rome. Some think Peter, but that’s due to a particular theological agenda that isn’t supported by the historical commentary of the book of Acts. I do have the idea that some who heard Peter’s great message on the Day of Pentecost were from Rome and were among the 3000 who became believers. Perhaps they returned home and established Christianity in Rome. If I understand the chronology right, as Paul writes this letter he’s about three years from the events recorded in the closing chapters of Acts that will bring him to Rome. In his other letters, he deals with specific concerns because he’s had personal contact with the churches. When he writes to the church at Rome he takes a different approach. The result is the finest book of theology ever written. I don’t know what the original readers thought of this letter but can only guess that they were as blown away by its depth and complexity as I am. Happily for me, I’m not committed to write a commentary on Romans, just some devotionals. Humanity, Paul says, has ignored God resulting in a sort of downward spiral into more and more outrageous and destructive sin. This book of theology describes how it is God has acted to remedy that situation.
Take Away: If you like to read theology you can do no better than to commit yourself to becoming an expert on the book of Romans.
The theology of the tee-shirt
Malachi 1: God said, “I love you.”
I saw a shirt with this message on it: “Jesus loves you…but then again, he loves everybody.” The Lord’s first word to Israel through Malachi is “I love you.” His second word, contrary to the wisdom of the tee-shirt, is that the Lord hates Esau (speaking of the nation made up of Esau’s descendants, Edom). Both of these concepts ought to get our attention. God loves people to the point that he pays an enormous price to reconcile people back to himself. At the same time, those who oppose God’s people are hated by God. Through the years, Edom has been the enemy of Israel. When possible, Edom opposed it’s “brother-nation” openly. Otherwise, Edom cheered when Israel fell on hard times. Because they insisted on being enemies of God’s people they made themselves into enemies of God. The Lord’s love for Israel is, therefore, not a warm, fuzzy kind of “God loves everybody.” Instead, it’s love with an edge on it; love that says to Israel, “Because I love you I make demands on you.” It’s love that also says to the enemies of Israel, “If you mess with Israel you mess with me.” Today, through his Son, Jesus, the Lord invites outsiders to join his family and thereby become heirs to all the benefits of being a part of the people God loves. It’s a terrific invitation and one every person can, and should, accept. As you consider responding to that offer, it might be wise to read these opening declarations from Malachi and be reminded that there’s more to the “Jesus loves you” message than is stated on the theology of the tee-shirt.
Take Away: We’re wise to remember that this “God is love” theology is theology with an edge on it.
Lamentations 2: They didn’t face you with your sin so that you could repent.
As Jeremiah deconstructs the fall of Judah for us he describes the failure of the preachers of his day. Even as Jeremiah faithfully proclaimed God’s word of condemnation on the nation, his competition described coming divine rescue. Jeremiah’s message called for a radical change of attitude and lifestyle. Their message was that everything was going to be just fine, that they were children of Abraham, and therefore, God had to keep his promises to him no matter what they did. Because of their success in convincing people of their mistaken theology, Jeremiah’s message was rejected and those who needed to repent never did so. I’m not writing today to put down some radio or TV preacher. To tell the truth I don’t listen to any of them enough to even know their core message. I do believe this, though: we preachers have a responsibility before God to call sinners to repentance. If all we do is share principles for a happy marriage, or tell parents how to raise well-adjusted kids, or outline how to get along with the boss we’re failing people. I’m not saying that there’s never a time and place for such sermons, but Jeremiah says the preachers of his day didn’t confront people with their sin and therefore, they never realized their need for repentance. Does this translate over to today?
Take Away: We have a responsibility before God to call sinners to repentance.
Talking about God
Isaiah 46: Can you picture me without reducing me?
The topic is handmade idols. God challenges his people to consider their tendency to create idols, not only of pagan gods, but those intended to “assist” them in worship of him, the true God. He tells them that when they whittle an idol of him they insult him, and diminish him in their sight. Now, I haven’t been making any idols, of Nebo or Baal or even of God Almighty, so I’m safe from breaking this commandment on the first level. However, I might come up short here in some other ways. It might be that in trying to understand God that I shrink him down so I can get my mind around him. Or, I might enjoy a good discussion on theology and forget that the One I am talking about is part of the conversation. If I do that, I may come off as less respectful of him than I should. To some extent, even in my finest hour, I struggle to comprehend God. I don’t want to add disrespect or irreverence to my own human limitations.
Take Away: We’re wise to be careful and respectful in how to talk about the Almighty.