is an incredibly modern passage – when you look at it through the eyes of
Perils of Zeal
Romans 10:1-4 NIV Brothers,
my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be
saved. (2) For I can testify about them that
they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (3) Since they did not know the righteousness that comes
from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's
righteousness. (4) Christ is the end of the
law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
for its own sake
for a moment, that artifact of American civilization, the Wisconsin Cheese head:
seen here, it goes nicely with the basic black cocktail dress. It is also the quintessential
headgear for the Green Bay Packers fan. May I suggest that it serves two
defines “us” and “them.” No Minnesota Vikings fan would be caught dead in
also demonstrates what the Bible calls zeal – that enthusiasm that means
you are so caught up in what you are doing that you take no thought for
how ridiculous it looks.
does not mean that zeal is an evil thing. On the contrary; it is necessary for
human progress in practically anything. As Solomon tells us,
Ecclesiastes 9:10 NIV
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave,  where you are going, there is neither
working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
necessary – but often misguided.
must be based on knowledge
be clear: zeal is often mistaken for knowing what you’re talking about. It
shouldn’t be. Zeal is no guarantee that you do know what you’re talking
about. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are prime religious examples; you might
be able to summon up some political variants on this too.
course, knowledge without zeal is worse than useless. One former priest, asked
why he left the priesthood, said that it started in seminary, where “they laid
God out on the dissecting table, and by the time I left he was dead.” C. S.
Lewis’s Screwtape noted that of all people academics are the least effective
for God – they want to study, not act.
is zeal with knowledge that is effective; the two feed on each other. It’s
just that it’s not fashionable in our world today.
based on righteousness
happens when zeal is based on righteousness?
it is based on “my righteousness” we have a serious problem. It comes
down to “I’m right, you’re wrong – and I’m going to do something about
it.” Our liberal opponents know this. It’s why kindergarten students in
California are studying lesbianism, gay rights, bisexuality and
transsexual lifestyles. Kindergarten students.
if it’s based on Christ’s righteousness, we cannot claim the right to ram
it down anyone’s throat. If it’s Christ’s righteousness, we must use
Christ’s methods. We are at his command – and he woos his people with
love, not force.
is the end of the law – and by implication any method depending upon my
righteousness, not his.
have an interlude of familiar theology:
Romans 10:5-10 NIV Moses
describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who
does these things will live by them."
(6) But the righteousness that is by faith
says: "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) (7) "or 'Who will descend into the deep?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the
dead). (8) But what does it say? "The
word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart," that is, the word of faith we are
proclaiming: (9) That if you confess with
your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God
raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (10)
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with
your mouth that you confess and are saved.
NIV oozes footnotes here. That’s because Paul has gone to the “string of
pearls” method of argument – one in which he strings together references to the
Scripture and lets the reader fill in the steps of the argument.
Christianity is radically new
in Paul’s logic is an argument he does not state. It says that Christianity
must be false because it is such a radical change from Judaism. If Judaism is
God-given, Christianity cannot be.
center of this argument is in the supposed contradiction of Old Testament and
New Testament. In the Old Testament, the argument goes, everything depends
upon strict obedience, to the letter, of the Mosaic Law. The New Testament
presents the radically new idea of justification by faith. Thus one of the two
must be false. As Christianity claims that Judaism was God-given, it follows
that Judaism is OK; Christianity must be false. Got the argument?
Old Testament speaks of faith
obvious counter is to point out that the division – faith versus legal
obedience – is not nearly as clear cut as that. How do we do that? Look into
the Old Testament and see those places where faith is obviously shown. Paul
did this earlier with Abraham.
argument here is similar: at the giving of the Law there is no sense that rote
obedience is the key; rather, it is the belief in the heart giving rise to
obedience which is required.
must be careful. This is not an argument for “no obedience, but feel-good
emotion towards God.” Paul – nor anyone else in the New Testament – advocates
this. On the contrary, James tells us that faith without works is dead. The
idea of an “intellectual only” faith is what gave us the dissected God.
then with the faith which is one of commitment, not just intellectual assent,
we have Paul’s simple steps which shows us just how this fits together. If you
believe (faith), then you put your mouth where your heart is: you confess that
faith publicly. Belief permits the justification by Christ to apply to you;
confession and commitment thus yield salvation.
interesting detail given is this: just what set of facts are we supposed to
believe? Only one is mentioned: the resurrection of Christ. All else follows
Romans 10:11-15 NIV As the
Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to
shame." (12) For there is no difference between Jew and
Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, (13) for, "Everyone who calls on the name of
the Lord will be saved." (14) How, then, can they call on the one they have
not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not
heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (15) And how can they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good
Sayers gives us the imagined history of St. Lukewarm the Tolerator:
St. Lukewarm was a magistrate in the city
of Laodicea under Claudius (Emp. A.D. 41-54). He was so broadminded as to
offer asylum and patronage to every kind of religious cult, however unorthodox
or repulsive, saying in answer to all remonstrances: “There is always some
truth in everything.” This liberality earned for him the surname of “The
Tolerator.” At length he fell into the hands of a sect of the Anthropophagi
(for whom he had erected a sacred kitchen and cooking stove at public expense),
and was duly set on to stew with the appropriate ceremonies. By miraculous
intervention, however, the water continually went off the boil; and when he was
finally served up, his flesh was found to be so tough and tasteless that the
Chief Anthropophagus spat out the unpalatable morsel, exclaiming, “Tolerator
(A garbled Christian version of this legend is preserved in Revelation 3:16).
St. Lukewarm is the patron saint of railway
caterers, and is usually depicted holding a cooking pot.
it’s rather silly. But it brings to mind for us two questions:
why do we feel that we have to be “broad minded” in matters where there
should be no doubt about right and wrong? Cannibalism seems to be a
fairly obvious example.
is it that those who are most “tolerant” in our world are so completely
intolerant of those who don’t agree with them?
should note here the difference between tolerance and love. Tolerance forms no
judgment as to right and wrong (and the tolerant are proud of that fact). Love
knows the difference – and seeks the redemption of the sinners. We may now
examine the intolerance of the tolerant in that light.
gives us an insight here. In explaining that when someone’s self-worth and
identity depend upon their political cause (or race, or whatever else),
We must despise and demonize the
opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status,
then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If
you are profoundly proud
of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward
people you think are bigots.
put, if I am better than you because (I’m white, I’m rich, or I’m not filthy
rich, or I’m enlightened in my politics, or … any number of other reasons) then
I have to either sacrifice my pride or look down on you. Pride, our society
teaches, is a virtue. So of course if you are proud of your tolerance, you
must look down on those who don’t agree with you.
how can a real Christian do this? That’s pride, the deadliest of sins. It is
forbidden to us.
problem of the ancient Jew was precisely that: he was proud that he was
Jewish, and he despised the Gentile as fit only for fodder for the fires of
hell. But what of the modern Christian? Is it not the case that our “claim to
fame” is not in ourselves, but in the righteousness of Christ, the hope of the
resurrection and the practice of the Gospel?
struggle is between pride and love; being intolerant of the tolerant is not the
answer. We have it here that there is no difference – all of us are one in
Christ Jesus. So that means there are two kinds of people out there:
who are our fellow Christians, whom we see here cannot be looked down on.
whom Christ wants us to bring.
objective is to make “them” into “us.” How then can we look down on them?
Christ died for us – and for them too.