Introduction:As we began our studies in Romans 10 last week, we focused our attention upon Paul's return to his "attitude" toward his kinsmen according to the flesh. Anyone who really did have a willingness to be the sacrifice required for the justification of another would be able to say what Paul did in 10:1. The major significance of this return to by Paul to the attitude of his heart is to set the tone for the other things he had to say.
This evening we are going to begin to look into those "other things". The first of them is Paul's reference to the Jews' ignorant zeal "of God" as the rationale for Paul's attitude toward them.
I. The Problem in Paul's Terminology.
A. The translators seem to have some difficulty.
1. The translators of the Authorized Version stuck to the way Paul expressed himself but their translation requires some careful thought.
2. The translators of the ASV and the NASB decided to attempt to express it another way in order to help our thinking process, but even their attempt requires some care.
B. The "problem" has to do with just what it was that Paul was attributing to them.
1. We do not have a significant doubt as to Paul's secondary sense because he tells us that the "zeal" is misguided by ignorance.
2. However, the construction Paul used lends itself to a variety of interpretations as to the primary sense.
a. The primary sense has to do with Paul's viewofhumanity apart from the grace of God.
b. Misunderstanding of the Gospel itself can result from a person's "view of humanity".
3. Paul's view of humanity has been made extremely clear by his words in the early parts of Romans, but, just as 10:1 is a re-statement of 9:1-3 because of the human tendency to forget, or ignore, pertinent facts, so also we must return to those early parts if we are going to understand Paul here.
a. The issues of "confusion".
1) Paul uses the connector "for" in a typical way: it addresses the rationale for his expressed attitude.
a) We expect, therefore, to have an explanation for why Paul is so heart-bound to his kinsmen.
b) This expectation has certain prejudices behind it.
i. Generally people's attitudes of great mercy toward people who are being seriously wicked are conditioned by a kind of "victimization" thesis (i.e. "we feel mercy for them because they are really victims here, not perps").
ii. If we transfer this normal (fallen) prejudice into Paul's words, we will end up thinking that Paul is somehow "excusing" his kinsmen for their evil.
2) Paul wrote a very similar idea to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:13.
a) The question Paul raises in 1 Timothy 1:3 is how he can argue that he "obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief" in the face of his proximity to the Gospel before he believed it.
i. Judas was probably the only unbeliever in that generation who had more information about Jesus than Saul of Tarsus.
ii. He, himself, argued before Festus that "none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner" (Acts 26:26).
b) However, Paul has a meaning for "ignorance" that does not derive from the amount of information available.
i. When he says "ignorantly in unbelief", he is saying that "unbelief" creates a kind of misunderstanding that makes "ignorance" inevitable.
ii. This is automatic to all understanding: a false premise skews everything that follows it.
c) But, if Paul was "ignorant in unbelief" and he obtained mercy because of it, why not everyone else who is "unbelieving"?
i. There is no "answer" for this: God's freedom to "show mercy to whom He will show mercy" (Romans 9:15) means that Paul was not really shown mercy because of his ignorance in the sense that most of us take it.
ii. He was really shown mercy because God decided to show it to him for His own reasons.
iii. Ignorance, in the theology of 'mercy', is simply a declaration of the fact that his unbelief had not yet reached the "point of no return" so he was at the very least a possible candidate for mercy.
iv. It was in this sense that he was shown mercy "because" he was unbelievingly ignorant -- he was a possible candidate because he had not yet stepped over the line of final depravity.
3) It is this comparison of Romans 10:2 and 1 Timothy 1:13 that actually reveals the answer to Paul's "for".
a) In the first place, Paul was a recipient of the love of God in the sense of 1John 4:11.
b) In the second place, Paul had been in precisely the condition of his kinsmen.
i. Their persecutorial attitudes and actions were a mirror of his own previous condition.
ii. Their "hubris" was a mirror of his own former "hubris".
c) The meaning of Paul's "for" is, therefore, simply an expression of his recognition that his kinsmen were no different than he had been, so they were not, by that, automatically disqualified from his God-love for them.
4. Thus the "problem" is solved when we understand that Paul is not "excusing them" but, rather, simply identifying with them.
a. This solution keeps the Gospel clear: it is all of grace; it has nothing to do with any kind of human qualification for salvation.
1) If the notion that people somehow "deserve" mercy takes hold, the Gospel has been distorted.
2) If we understand clearly that mercy is extended by grace apart from merit, the Gospel remains pure.
b. This solution also brings us up short in any, or every, attitude we take that smacks of human capacity -- including any that are rooted in a self-righteous "they could do better if they would" mentality.