I’m working on Romans 15 for this week’s sermon. I’m struck both by the audacity of Paul’s invitation and the difficulty of following along. The theology is so self-giving, so cruciform, so strenuous.
I’m also struck at how deeply moralism skews our reading of the Bible. The product of my hearing the Bible through this filter is devastating. It poisons the climax of Scripture into some small, twisted, lifeless goal of just making sure we color inbetween the lines. The goal of coloring is beauty, not austerity. Precision itself serves beauty.
Fear energizes moralism, desire energizes the gospel.
All of our sacrificial services for one another comes from the joy of the impending resurrection. The example of this cruciform love is of course Christ himself, but what motivated him? The same thing. He saw through the cross and out through the opening of the tomb into the age to come and so that path that passed through the ordeal he ran with serious joy. Now on the other side he like a father having gone down the big slide before his timid child beckons to take courage, climb the ladder and join him on the other side.
We know that the way was made for us by Christ, and the power to pass through the ordeal also comes from Christ, but the energy required to endure all that the age of decay takes from us in the process comes via Christ from the joy of the resurrection and the age to come.
In Romans 15:1, we who are able ought to support/carry (Gal 6) the weakness of those who are not able.
When seen through the lens of moralism this language produces in me a sinful pride built on what I imagine to be my capacity or strength and looking down upon those who cannot. This is death, not generosity. It is isolation, not fellowship. It is poison for the church, not the welcoming into my group of the other commanded in Rom. 15:7.
Paul describes this self-denial, this refusal to please myself, again pointing to Christ who didn’t please himself but worked for our pleasure. All of this then points to the fulfillment of the passages that follow in the the section with the welcoming of the nations.
At first glance the “ruling” of the ethne seems imperialistic unless we also know the ruler. 1 Samuel has been such a wonderful study in God’s desire that Israel NOT do kingship just like the other nations. The kingship David is prepared for is submissive servanthood which again we see perfectly in Christ and with which this passage drips.
The relational polarity of the age of decay is “my wellbeing at your expense.” This is kingship like the ethne. The relational polarity of the age to come, of the Father, of the Kingdom of Heaven/God is “your wellbeing at my expense”.
The challenge I see is preaching in a way that doesn’t reinforce the determined moralism and fear that energizes so much church work. I want rather (like Paul’s prayer in Ephesians) that they would have such a clear and compelling vision of the resurrection that joy energizes them to willingly and joyfully live in a way that is dramatically irresponsible according to the rules of the age of decay.