by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 1 Paragraph # 2 Study # 1 July 12, 2015 Dayton, Texas
3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
1901 ASV Translation:
3 We are bound to give thanks to God always to you, brethren, even as it is meet, for that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of each one of you all toward one another aboundeth;
4 so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure;
I. Obligation Under Grace.
A. It is a consistent truth of the New Testament that "grace" cannot be compelled by "leverage", or "obligation". Grace is a freely given benefit that is not rooted in any form of reciprocation issues. In other words, it cannot be "constrained" by the recipient through any intention or action on his/her part. Grace is freely given. That does not mean that it is not "constrained" by something in the one extending it. Love, mercy, compassion, kindness; these all have the ability to compel the extension of grace to another, but they do not constrain against reluctance. Grace defines the one extending it as one who is heavily predisposed to making "Life" happen for all "others". In other words, "grace" can only be legitimately extended by someone who "is love" to the degree that the "loving" desires to bring good into the lives of those who are within the realm of His reach.
B. But, that does not mean that it does not impose a kind of "obligation" upon its recipients. This is a sticky wicket because the imposition of obligation tends to reassert "law". However, there is no connection between grace and law and any obligation that arises in the grace arena is not a "legal" obligation. In other words, there can be "obligation" that is not "legally" penalized if it goes unmet.
1. In Romans 1:14 Paul calls himself "a debtor" (using the noun form of the word in our text). This is rooted in 1:5 where he "received grace and apostleship". In Romans 8:12 he says that we all, who have been "quickened by His Spirit", are "debtors", but not to the flesh. In Romans 15:27 he goes on to say that those who are in Macedonia are "debtors" to the Jewish brethren in Jerusalem because they have been made partakers of their "spiritual things". And, in our letter, in the later text of 2:13 Paul claims another "debt", but his reason is completely "out there": the reason is that the Thessalonians were chosen of God for salvation.
2. Legal penalties are "Justice" issues and require the "eye for an eye" kind of reciprocation.
3. Obligation can have a consequence without that consequence being "just". Fatherly discipline is not "Justice", nor is it rooted in Law. It is rooted in Love and it is dispensed according to the need for correction and according to the Father's knowledge of what will bring that correction to pass. Unmet obligation under love and wisdom can often be addressed with far less serious consequences than Law would demand. Alternatively, sometimes unmet obligation is driven by a kind of depravity that requires a Fatherly discipline that would go beyond what the Law would require.
a. At issue is whether "grace" is really "grace" in the sense of "freely given favor". If there is a consequent "obligation" after the fact, is the "grace" really "freely given"? Jesus taught a parable about a lord who had a servant who owed him a great debt which he forgave out of compassion and then rescinded the forgiveness when the forgiven servant refused to forgive a lesser debt of one who owed him (Matthew 18:21-35). Is this an example of "rescinded grace"? The text says not; "grace" is not in the picture, but "compassion" is. The lord's exercise of "compassion" created a moral obligation upon the recipient which he did not honor. It cost him dearly, and Jesus said the same cost would come upon those who did not forgive "from your hearts" everyone his brother.
b. When "grace" is at the root, there is no back door "demand", otherwise grace is no more grace. But, this does not mean that being a recipient of grace creates no "obligation". It is simply not based upon "Law". It is based, rather, upon the very nature of God's moral creation: grace extended "binds" one to, at least, "gratitude".
C. The "kind of obligation" that grace imposes is caught up in the word in our text translated "meet" by both Authorized Version and ASV translators.
1. "Meet" is the translation of a word that means that something is "of equal weight, or worth". In other words, "grace" sets up a standard that touches what it touches with a "weight" or "worth". In order for something to meet the standard of that "weight/worth", it has to be "equal".
2. Equivalence in "weight/worth" is a difficult issue for one reason: how does a person decide the original "weight/worth" and how does a person decide that something is of equivalent "weight/ worth"?
3. For Paul, the issue is not precise equivalence, but it is at least a "ball park" equivalence. In his writings, he uses "giving thanks" as a kind of equivalence to grace extended. In fact the roots of the verb "to give thanks" actually means "to respond to grace extended". So, it is automatic to him that when "grace" is extended, there is a moral "obligation" to, at the very least, show gratitude. There are other, heavier, issues that go far beyond being thankful, but gratitude is at least "in the ball park" of moral equivalence. An ungrateful person is an immoral person.
4. Thus, the "kind of obligation" is "moral equivalence". It does not have to be "exact" (as Law demands), but it has to be a positive quality that "suits" the situation.
D. So, what happens to those who do not "suit" their moral obligation?
1. As we said above, the Father is committed to the discipline of His own for their own growth.
2. Whatever form the discipline takes, it is rooted in God's desire that His children begin to see their "moral" debts and meet them with something "suitable".