What’s good in the world? If we try to keep the law, are we good? If we try to live good lives according to our God-given instincts, are we good? No one manages either of these feats. Paul talks about it in Romans 3:1-18. Here’s my paraphrase:
So then, what is the advantage of being a Jew? What is the profit of the covenant (signified by circumcision)? It’s huge in every way! The Jews were entrusted with the spoken words of God (and if some distrusted, does that make this trust given them by God void?) Never! Let God be shown to be true even though every person be false!
Even as it is written:
. . . that You might be declared righteous in your words, and prevail when You sit to give judgment.” (Ps 51:4)
But if our unrighteousness by contrast makes God’s righteousness look even better, what can we say? Surely that doesn’t mean that God is wrong to show His anger at the bad things we do. (I speak as a man.)
God forbid! Otherwise how could God judge the world?
“But if my lie makes God’s truth shine brighter, thus revealing His glory all the more, then why does He judge me to be a sinner?”
“And why not let us do the bad things that the good may result from them?” (Some people injuriously accuse us of teaching this and saying this. Their condemnation is deserved!)
What then? Do we, as Jews, make ourselves out to be better? Not at all — as we said before, both Jews and Greeks are under sin. Even as it is written:
There is none righteous . . . not even one! (Ps 14:1-3)
There is none that discerns — none that seeks out God. (Ps 53:2)
All have left the path and have become useless together. (Ps 14:3)
There is none that does kindness . . . not even one! (Ps 53:1)
An open grave is their throat.
Deceit is the tool of their tongues. (Ps 5:9)
The poison of asps is under their lips! (Ps 140:3)
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (Ps 10:7)
Swift are their feet to shed blood (Pr 1:16)
Destruction and misery are in their ways,
And the Way of Peace have they not known (Is 59:7-8)
There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Ps 36:1)
Eh — that does not sound good. God gave the Jews every advantage: His written and spoken word, His commission to them to be a blessing to all the nations, His signs and mighty works to prove His God creds. Yet they were false to Him while He remains true. That makes Him look even better by contrast, you say? Um yeah. He’s not buyin’ that. I mean, sure — it does make Him shine, but that doesn’t let us off for our bad behavior. If that were the case, how could He ever judge the world?
(And I might interject that the Jews frequently implored God to judge between them and their oppressors. Judging is making things right. Human judges are limited in the ability to do that, but not God.)
To say that because our bad makes Him look GOOD, we might as well carry on being bad, is worthy of condemnation, according to Paul. None of us — Jew or non-Jew have ever been successful in meeting God’s requirements: to be righteous (what does that mean?), to discern Him and seek Him out, to walk in the right way and be useful, to be kind and do kindness, to be holy and wholesome, truthful, grateful, speaking words of healing, to run swiftly to save, not to shed blood, to build up and bless, to walk in the way of peace, to keep the fear of God always before our eyes.
But instead of the loving and obedient children God desires us to be, we are unkind to one another and to Him, we neglect His presence, wandering around uselessly, treating one another shamefully, with mouths like an open grave filled with cursing, bitterness, and the poison of asps is under our lips. Ouch! Yet we have to admit that if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s the cutting clever words of sarcasm. Our feet are swift to shed blood (whether literally or metaphorically). We cause harm and bring pain and in that, boast about our cleverness. It doesn’t occur to us to think, “What would my Father say about this?”
While God brings good out of the evil, He is nevertheless angry with us for our unrighteousness. Still, He remains faithful though we are all false and faithless. He takes our words seriously; He wants us to use them to heal and help, but we have made them tools of destruction and despair. Our relationships with one another MATTER to God. None of us is better than any others, but that’s because we’re all in the same miserable mess.
Paul spends so much time on this topic because it matters. The Jews think they’re good because they’re Jews — better than the Gentiles by far. Today, we can shine this light on ourselves as Christians. Ask yourself next time you’re out about town, whether your behavior toward others glorifies your Father in heaven. Even if no one knows you (or perhaps even hears your curses for their BAD driving!), it matters. Father hears.
On our own we haven’t the ability to live righteous lives, but we as Christ followers don’t have that excuse. We have the grace of God enabling us. Let’s yield to that grace and bring beauty out of the ashes of this damaged and hurting world.