Stay In [God's] Compassionate Mercy
December 2, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. "You must not become haughty; but rather, be afraid," (verse twenty). [These] are the words that were read during the second reading today. To whom does Paul say, "You must not become haughty?" In verse thirteen the text reads, "I am speaking to you Gentiles." Paul is addressing Gentile Christians [with the message], "You must not become haughty; but rather, be afraid."
You Must Not Become Haughty
2. As you know, Jesus was a Jew. The disciples of Jesus were also Jews. All the members of the first churches were Jews. Even the scriptures which are used in the church are a Jewish book which the Jews have been the first to pass down. Both the hope of the messianic coming and the divine promise of salvation had originally been given by the Jews. But, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, when the mission of the church took off, not many Jews had accepted the message of the gospel which the church was proclaiming. Instead, the ones who had accepted the message of the gospel were the Gentiles, [but] they neither knew the scriptures, nor the hope of the messianic coming, nor the promise of salvation. It was not the Jews but the Gentiles who admitted their sins, accepted the atonement for sins that comes through Jesus Christ, partook of God's forgiveness, and had begun to live with God with joy and thanksgiving. This epistle was a letter addressed to the church at Rome, but in churches in various lands except for the churches in Palestine, it was not the Jews but the Gentiles who made up the bulk of the people.
3. The people, who were Gentiles and had become Christians, looked closely at the Jews, who had rejected the gospel. [The Jews] knew the scriptures well, no doubt. They also kept the commandments written in the scriptures. Yet, they still didn't know either forgiveness of sin that comes from Jesus Christ or the joy of salvation. As the Gentile Christians looked at them in this condition, they said, "They are a broken off branch because of their unbelief. They were broken off, but we Gentiles were grafted in. We have received rich nourishment from the root and have come to yield fruit, however, they are broken off and have just become a dead branch."
4. However, Paul has the following to say to these Gentile Christians. Please look beginning in verse seventeen. "But, though you make the case that a certain branch was broken off, and you the wild olive was grated in its place and have come to receive rich nourishment from the root, do not boast yourself against the broken off branch. You boast but you do not support the root, but the root supports you," (verses seventeen and eighteen).
5. They certainly may be an engrafted branch. It is not any kind of evil to receive rich nourishment from the root. [They] ought to rejoice. But, because of all that, it is definitely a mistake when [they] become boastful and start having condescending ideas against the broken off branch, the branch that is not connected to the root. The engrafted branch does not support the root. It is supported one hundred percent by the root. It ought not to be boastful for anything.
6. Since both my parents are Christians and from the time I was in my mother's belly, I've gone to church. Since I was a little [kid], I have always been familiar with the figure of a Christian, starting with my parents. But to be honest, unfortunately I never once looked at the figure of adult Christians and thought, "Hey, when I get big, I want to be a Christian." Instead, I couldn't help but hate hearing rumors and negative comments of the arrogant attitudes and the condescending towards those without faith and towards other Christians, which zealous Christians, who have long been around the church calendar, sometimes show.
7. [I hated] the figure of adults talking badly about a husband and a wife and their children, who had no faith. [I hated] the cold words of just criticizing other believers and not even praying for them. [I hated] negative comments like, "That person is not pure." Children see perfectly fine; [but then,] they always hear the conversations of the adults. That's how it was for me when I was raised, but somehow, out of the blue, I would think sometimes I might become a Christian, even a pastor. Even though it was not likely for a child to think to that same degree in his heart, I will [eventually] do the same thing unawares, won't I?; that's how I thought about it and still do. I very likely just might [become critical and judgmental]. Therefore, I think that the words of scripture we read today are needed by me and perhaps all of you here as well. "You must not become haughty; but rather, be afraid."
Stay In God's Compassionate Mercy
8. So, Paul continues on by saying the following. "If God did not go easy on and forgive the branch that sprung up naturally, then perhaps he will not go easy on you either. Therefore, consider the compassionate mercy of God and his severity. There was the severity towards the fallen, as long as you remain in God's compassionate mercy, there will be compassion towards you. If you do not remain, you will be cut off as well," (verses twenty-one and twenty-two).
9. Where it says, "Perhaps he will not go easy on you either," means "You will become a cut off branch, too." It means that you will become a branch no longer able to have a share in the rich nourishment from the root. He says that that is possible. Paul says, "Therefore, consider God's compassionate mercy and severity," (verse twenty-two). We need to consider the severity of God. But that does not mean that we are to live filled with trepidation by being afraid of God's judgment upon us. Paul speaks of "the compassionate mercy and severity." How are we supposed to not be haughty but to instead be afraid? We stay, remain, abide in God's compassionate mercy. [The scripture] states, "As long as you remain in God's compassionate mercy, there will be compassion towards you."
10. It is important how it is being expressed here as to "remain in God's compassionate mercy." Since the words "if you do not remain in unbelief" are found in the text afterwards in verse twenty-three, in this text what should be written, you'd expect, is "As long as you remain in the faith there will be mercy for you." But, Paul didn't say, "remain in the faith," he said, "remain in God's compassionate mercy." We must consider why [he said] that.
11. We are the wild olives and our being engrafted in now comes solely because of the compassionate mercy of God. We have been living in rebellion against God, but our being forgiven of sin, being permitted to pray unto God, being able to live with God comes solely because of God's compassionate mercy. We do not deserve to be here the way we are, but the reason we can now be here comes solely because of God's compassionate mercy. All the while as we think how everything comes from just God's mercy, as we think how we are so totally unable to stand in the presence of God without God's mercy, we do live within that mercy of God. That's what it means to remain in God's compassionate mercy.
12. To be specific, that's what it means to live while we continuously have a share in the body and the blood of Jesus Christ the highest manifestation of God's compassionate mercy. Baptism comes only by the compassionate mercy of God. The Lord's Supper comes only by the compassionate mercy of God. Even today, the Lord's Supper will be observed. This comes from God's compassionate mercy. The placing of ourselves around the table of the holy communion supper comes only by the compassionate mercy of God. Therefore, we are not to go away from the grace of baptism. We are not to separate from the true dinner table of the Lord; because it all comes from the compassionate mercy of God. When we make the distinction in our minds that everything comes from the mercy of God, it is unlikely that there will be any room for pride to come in, not even for one particle of [haughty pride]. A mistaken pride will enter a spiritual lifestyle where one does not understand that we are to "remain in God's compassionate mercy." Haughtiness enters right in.
To Arouse Jealousy
13. Well, to begin with, why did Paul even give this line of reasoning? Why did the haughty pride of persons who already believed in Christ become a problem? -- It is because it had a deep connection to God's plan of salvation.
14. Like I said before, the gospel of Jesus Christ was proclaimed not just to Jews but also to Gentiles. And the Gentiles joyfully accepted the message of salvation more than the Jews did. Paul was the one who did a great work at the time of the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles. In verse thirteen Paul states of himself that "I am an apostle for the Gentiles." He felt it the highest privilege that he was being used for the salvation of the Gentiles.
15. Nevertheless, Paul knew that his work did not stop with Gentiles becoming Christians. Paul's desire, above all else, was the salvation of the Jews, his countrymen and women. Indeed, Paul knew that God wanted it more than anything else, even more than Paul did. Therefore, he says, "One way or another I will provoke my own countrymen to envy and I want to save [them] even if just a few." In order for his countrymen the Jews to be saved, first he would have to stir up jealousy among them! That is Paul's earnest desire.
16. It may be thought of as strange that the altogether quite human word of "envy, jealousy" is being used here to talk about salvation. But, if you give it some thought, the motives by which a person is led to faith are not always on the highest levels. [Could] not God even use human jealousy at times? Jealousy could be defined as an emotional activity. God uses emotional activities. In this instance we could re-word it to "becoming jealous." Paul looks at Gentile Christians and hopes that the Jews would feel envious, that they would become jealous. As he sees the Gentiles having a part in the grace of salvation that was originally supposed to have been promised to the Jews, he hopes that the Jews will feel jealous, that they will feel envious.
17. For that very reason then, in this instance, the figure which the Gentile Christians are actually living, the way they really are, becomes monumental because this thing called "envy" will not take place through mere words, but through the way they are in the real world visible to the eyes. So, the monumental thing is neither that they are merely becoming righteous people nor that they are becoming pure people. Regardless of how dedicated and righteous one may be, if a person looks down and judges others thinking as if "with my faith I have gone up a few notches above others," will a person see that and become jealous? Would [someone] feel jealous over that? Would I want to become like that person? No, I wouldn't.
18. The critical thing is that we rejoice in having been forgiven of sin through the cross of Christ, that we rejoice in being loved by God, and that we live with praise and thanksgiving unto God. As Paul says, we are "to remain in [God's] compassionate mercy." We are to live mindfully of how everything comes from God's compassionate mercy. "[I] don't condemn the unbelieving Jews as if they are forsaken by God, but instead I want to incite jealousy within them through your lifestyles in which you rejoice in God's compassionate mercy!" Don't you get the feeling of how this heart cry of Paul sounded? Because these thoughts of his, as we read earlier, the words of Paul continue next with "You must not become haughty."
19. After this, we will observe the Lord's Supper. As for those along the way of seeking the truth, please recall that we are invited by God's compassionate mercy to baptism and to the Lord's Supper. As for those who have already received baptism, please approach the Lord's Supper table with the mindset that everything we get comes from God's compassionate mercy. Let us remain in God's compassionate mercy.