Romans 3:1-20                “None Righteous”

 

In our Friday afternoon Bible Club at the Ed Center, the youth have been watching the television series “The Chosen.” This is a series that talks about the stories behind the story of the Gospel. For instance, you might recall that there is a slight mention of Peter’s mother-in-law in the Gospels as Jesus stayed in her house in Capernaum once. “The Chosen” series expands the story of the mother-in-law and her relationship as she is healed by Jesus. The series may seem a little “extra biblical” to some, but it really helps to know more of the backstory as it may be imagined. Yes, the Twelve Disciples did have families and familial histories before signing on to the ministry of Christ.

It is interesting to note in the bible that Paul mentions his father. He mentions his sister and her son. He even mentions his teacher, Gamaliel. However, Paul never mentions his mother. She might have even died in childbirth as there is such a lack of reference to her. So, others have imagined her and what she might have been like as a person to have raised Saint Paul. Did Paul’s mother even know what he was up to? Did she know she had raised a murderous butcher, but that God had another plan for his life?

I believe that what we have read today from Romans needs to be understood from another viewpoint that Paul is a man with an evil past. He has done terrible and horrific things. In the Book of Acts, we can read about some of these things. Paul, when he was still called Saul, before his conversion, helped to stone Saint Stephen. He has real blood of the martyrs on his hands.

            In Acts 8:1 and on we read “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Saint Stephen and made loud lamentations over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging out both men and women, he committed them to prison.”

            In Acts 9:1 and on, “Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

            So, Paul was the kind of a zealot that if you saw him coming down the street, you might just run back inside and lock the door good and tight to make sure he would not be able to get in. This was his life’s history before he met Jesus. Was his mother proud of him? I would think not. Maybe that is why he does not ever make mention of her.

 

            Keeping this in mind, we begin to understand his words in the first part of our Scripture for today: He says in verse 3 of Romans 3: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” He is really taking this out of his own life! He was the most miserable anti-Christian persecutor of his day!  Yet, God came to him. Jesus appears to him on the road to Damascus. Even though he was killing Christians, Jesus had faith in him, changed his life around, and made Paul one of the most important Christians who ever lived.

            I remember having a conversation with our exchange student from Russia shortly after she arrived almost two years ago now. This was Nelli, of course. Most of you will remember her. She was very inquisitive. She always was asking questions. She was inquisitive about what a pastor does, why we prayed all the time, why people would come to church and put their hard-earned money into a dish.

            I told her that I could answer her questions to a certain point, but that we were told by the US State Department that we were not to proselytize under any means. We are supposed to send her back to Russia in the exact same religious mode as she had come to us. So, if she were a Muslim, then she would have to go back home as a Muslim. If she were an orthodox Christian, then she would have to go home as an orthodox Christian. She understood what I was telling her and agreed with the State Department’s policy, but then she said, “I have never had any faith at all, so why can’t I choose to have your faith? I was not anything before!”

            My response to her was very much like Paul’s: I told her that whether she felt that she had a faith or not, God certainly had faith in her. God believes in all of God’s children. This is a point that we try to tell all of our youth—no matter if the entire world gives up faith in them, God never will!

            This notion is so important to those early Christians who are coming from that same sense of never having had any faith at all. They are not considered lesser in any way by God. That is why we sing, or will sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” God’s faithfulness outweighs our own faithlessness a trillion times over. Our faithfulness is so limited by our own humanness compared to God’s faithfulness over us.

            Who else on this planet always keeps faith in us? I think that my dear mother always somehow kept faith in her children. That is why we sing “Faith of Our Mothers,” too! Mothers just never give up on their children. In this way God is very much like the mother in heaven that always has faith in her children.

 

            Honestly, I do not recall ever fearing my mother. I certainly remember fearing my father however. He was to be feared for good reason, too. Saint Paul mentions in our scripture the idea of fearing God.

 Our bibles do not put in the footnotes because there are many biblical references that are strung together by Paul. However, the last thing he points out in this is that people seem no longer to fear God. This quote certainly comes from Psalm 36:14, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts, there is no fear of God before their eyes. . . .”

            Are we then to fear God? That is not a popular thing today. The word in the Greek for “fear” here is φοβος. This is the same word as “phobia” in English. According to Paul and the Bible, we are all supposed to have a little bit of that “God phobia” going in our souls.

            I do like to always point out that the Greek idea of “fear” is reflexive in nature. The verb in Greek makes that abundantly clear. It should be best translated as “to fear for one’s self.” That is to say, I should not fear God so much as to fear for myself before God! The difference in meaning is subtle but important. To be honest I do not in my own life actually have what I would call a “fear of God.” This is because I know God through Jesus. I have a personal relationship with him. But, I do fear myself, that I will do something wrong or stupid in the presence of my Lord and Savior. Do you catch the difference?

            As an example of this notion, I will tell you of the time when Helen, my first daughter Carolyn and I had returned from being missionaries in Thailand and were seeking a new call to ministry locally in the Los Angeles area. I had practice-preaching before some search committee members from a particular church. Afterwards, they invited me out to lunch. I was driving and had three of the members in my car with me. I was nervous and distracted as I drove to a major intersection thinking that the light was green, but it had in fact turned red. As I was not slowing down for the stop, one of the search committee members called out “You better stop; it is a red light.” Wow! I hit the brakes and screeched to a halt. I had been so nervous that I almost killed the search committee members of a church to which I had applied. After that, I did not fear the search committee members, I feared myself before them. I did not get that position, by the way.  In the same way, I am afraid for myself before God. I think I may run a few red lights with God without noticing.

`           The reason of course is that I am not a totally righteous person. I know that I am a pastor, and I do try to model a righteous life, but I know my attempts come up short. I have many faults and flaws. I could not even begin to tell them all to you. Since we have a brunch after worship, if you want, you can stay after and listen. Ha ha.

            Paul says that none are righteous. We have to take that to heart. We should all fear ourselves standing before God. Recently my wife Helen started reading the manuscript of a book I am finishing. She said kindly, “You know, Olaf, there are a few mistakes in your writing. I responded, “There are more than just a few! I am the one who wrote it, so I should know!” Everything and everyone is fallible.

 

            Remember two weeks ago I had you hold up your bibles over your heads to show how we are all under the law? This week I thought it would be cool if we all held up our bibles but then accidentally let them slip out of our hands and bonk ourselves on our heads to show that we are all fallible. We all live under sin. As much as we are under the law of God.

            In learning this about ourselves, Paul says that every mouth should be silenced (verse 19). This again comes from Paul’s own experience before Jesus. Remember when Paul met Christ on the road? What did Paul say when he learned that this was Jesus before him? The bible says that all were speechless. There is nothing to say.

            When you are standing before God, and God has the Book of Life open to your page, there is nothing you can say. No excuse will do. It is like when you are caught in a lie, and the other person already knows the truth! Paul tells us that the whole world is going to be silenced on that day! Why? Because, none are righteous. So, we are all called to be silent before God at the moment. Next week, our silence can be broken as Paul tells us more about righteousness through faith in Jesus. This week we are just left dumbfounded by the truth of our own lives.

 

Amen.