Bread – Interpretation

May 8, 2015


Readings for Friday, May 8, 2015, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: **; Rom. 14:13-23; Luke 8:40-56; Psalm 106

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I hate Romans (the book written by Paul, not the people). Whenever I hit a wall of failing to understand, it is generally somehow related to Romans. Romans makes me think and forces me to dig deeper into Scripture and my own preconceptions. In other words, I read something with my interpretation of plain meaning and, rather than being able to disappear in the sunset with my own wonderful thoughts, I then confront something in Romans which is jarringly different, which causes me to test my preconceptions. It causes me to think and that is work and time consuming. What a pain Romans is.

Today there is a sentence in our reading from Romans which made no sense to me initially: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Rom. 14:23b. As soon as I read this, I flipped it mentally and then reached this conclusion – “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” And then I thought to myself, surely Paul is not saying that if we believe in something strong enough, then what we do with that belief is not sin? For example, my faith in God is so complete that I am pleased to kill another person for God. Is Paul saying that murder is not a s in when it proceeds from faith?

Now I know that can’t be right because elsewhere in Scripture, asserted faith in God to cover deliberate sin is condemned. The sin is in the action forbidden by God. The worship of idols is sinful whether I am worshiping them out of denial of God or faith in God.

So, anyway, when I read this sentence I hit the proverbial intellectual brick wall, where Paul is saying something in Scripture which flat has to be wrong.

I have found that, where my interpretation hits a wall against God’s truth, it is time to test my interpretation and not God’s truth. Our tendency is to say that Paul was just wrong, or that his words were not written down correctly, or that this is a proof text for continuing to sin after you have faith in Christ. This is a tendency at best to be lazy and at worse to place our judgment above God’s Word, to raise ourselves as judges of the truthfulness of God or His revealed Word.

So, maybe Paul is not wrong. What?

There are two things going on here, one is context and the other is assumption. First, in context Paul is talking about the practice of Christianity as opposed to Judaism and discussing whether the Mosaic law pertaining to foods has to be followed by Christians. Today, that may seem to be trivial, but back then it wasn’t. So the context is not talking about how Christians should treat everyone, but how they should treat each other. That matters because no one would argue that Paul here is talking about murder; instead, he is talking about the social commandments, not the moral commandments.

But even more important, I think, is that the second thing going on is assumption (on my part). Paul says “For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin.” I assumed that “whatever” means “whatever,” from the lesser (food) to the greater (murder). Why should I assume that? If the context is food, why not just leave it there – what is so important that I extend it to murder, except to put myself in judgment over God’s Word.

But there is a second assumption going on, a more critical one. This is the assumption I made about the nature of faith. What is “faith” in the context of what Paul is talking about. It is not a trivial belief in the benefits of non-kosher hotdogs; it is the transformative faith of total reliance upon Jesus Christ as our Lord. Who, in their transformed heart, would deliberately act to offend God? Paul is essentially saying that, if your brother is bought by Christ, who are we to deliberately offend our brother?

I think too often I (and here I am joined by many people) trivialize saving faith. Part of that trivialization is our emphasis on saying magic words to come to Christ. Part of it is our de-emphasis of sin. Part of it is in the failure to adequately contemplate Christ’s horrible death on the cross for me (and you). It is the faith of which Paul talks which results in a transformed life, full of good works, in full relationship with God, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Who has that faith who also deliberately sins? No, what proceeds from the faith Paul has in mind is good works pleasing to God, not insults to God. Part of these good works is kindness to our brothers.

if one side of coin is true then the other side of the coin must also be true (the inverse), but why? What gives me the rights to take what Paul says and reverse it and then call my reversal truth? If Paul had also wanted to call the inverse of what he said the truth, he could have done so like this – For whatever proceeds from faith is not sin and for whatever proceeds

And sure enough, when I look “faith” up in my Greek dictionary, I find this meaning of faith listed first: “Being persuaded, faith, belief in general; it implies such a knowledge of, assent to, and confidence in certain divine truths, especially those of the Gospels, as produces good works.”

Oh, the kind of faith Paul is talking about is the kind of faith which can only produce good works. That is why he can say with confidence that what proceeds from faith is not sin.

And that is why I need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions, and to read from God’s Word and not into it. The only interpretation worth hearing is the one which God gives us and not the one we give God.

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© 2015 GBF

**The Book of Common Prayer lesson omitted today is from the book of Wisdom, which is from a group of writings which some churches do not consider valid at all and others consider useful for teaching but not for doctrine. Because these books are disputed by many in the church, I choose not to include them in Bread.

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