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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + July 6, 2016

Romans 8:2-13
Matthew 10:16-22

Romans 8:2-13 (NKJV)
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Matthew 10:16-22 (NKJV)
The Lord said, "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved."

Commentary 

The Torah, or the Law, of Moses makes up the first five books of the Holy Scriptures, and is the basis, the groundwork, not only for all that was believed and the way of life lived by those under the Old Covenant, but for the Scriptures as a whole, both Old and New Testaments. As Israel's history unfolds in the rest of the Old Testament, it unfolds along familiar lines based on an understanding of those five books, patterns repeating themselves, disobedience followed by curse and exile, and forgiveness and restoration by God. When Jesus comes as the Christ to break that repeating cycle, He explains Himself to the people, and His Apostles explain who He is and what He has done in terms of the Torah. Whether St. Paul is teaching us concerning sin, concerning sacrifice, concerning repentance, concerning the path that leads to salvation, he constantly speaks in terms of the Law. There is a certain shallow understanding of the Law that the New Testament seeks to refute, and which was unfortunately popular throughout the history of God's people, right up to this very day, and this is the idea that, in this life, God issues rewards and punishments based on sin or righteousness.

This idea is so pervasive that it is in large part the subject of what is likely the oldest part of the Scriptures, the book of Job. Job suffers catastrophic loss in his life, the loss of all of his wealth, his land and home, his children, his health and as he sat destitute he was forced to endure his 'friends' and his wife telling him that it was his fault, that he had been cursed by God for some sin he had committed, and that he was being stubborn and prideful by insisting that He had dealt righteously and repented of his sins. For them, and for many in Israel and later Judah and Judea, if someone did what was right and kept the commandments, they would receive blessings on this earth, and if someone did what was wicked, they would be cursed by God on this earth. Part of what makes this point of view attractive is that it is not entirely false.

When we sin, and especially when we do not repent of our sin and it becomes a pattern and takes control of our lives, it robs us of our peace of mind and spirit and will ultimately destroy us. Likewise when we draw close to God, and He draws close to us, we experience a greater sense of His love, and the joy and peace that flow from that experience. This truth is expressed, for example, in Psalm 1:

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish."

The righteous spiritually prosper while the wicked perish. However, this is not the whole story. Likewise from the beginning, God's people have had the experience that all too often in this sinful world, those who practice wickedness prosper, at least for the time of their lives on this earth, and all too often those who seek to do what is right are trod under foot by the wicked.

This experience is reflected immediately following the meditation above, in Psalm 2: "Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, "Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us" (Psalm 2:1-3). Here, the rulers and the most powerful on earth are also the most wicked and opposed to the Lord and to Christ. This dilemma, that the wicked who ought to be cursed find this world's blessings while the righteous suffer oppression, is resolved in Jesus Christ, and the remainder of Psalm 2 prophesies how this will take place: "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, 'You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; you shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'" (Psalm 2:7-9) The very Word of God, God Himself, came down from heaven in humility and was incarnate on this earth as one of us. But not just as any one of us, but as one of the lowest. He was made a peasant under and imperial power that did not recognize Him as a human person. He was made homeless, wandering from place to place in unimaginable poverty. Though He was righteous is everything that He ever did or said, He was hated, rejected, mocked, and ultimately executed as a criminal for no crime of His own. This, however, was not the end of the story, and God raised Him from the dead, vindicating Him and giving Him all power in heaven and on earth to rule over it. Christ's Resurrection is the beginning of a New Creation, the world to come spoken of in the Creed.

If we have been Baptized into Christ, we have been Baptized into His death, and our old self that belongs to this world has died, we being resurrected with Him to begin a new life, and we have received the Holy Spirit as the first fruits of that new world to which we now belong, and in which we shall someday live forever. We therefore no longer belong to this world, but to the next, and this incongruence, this incompatibility between who we are becoming in Christ and this sinful, perishing world, is the source of the suffering we experience living this present life, as we see in today's readings from Holy Scripture. In today's Gospel reading, our Lord Jesus Christ does not say it is possible that we will suffer rejection for following Him, He states it as a matter of fact, that 'all' will hate us for His sake. Throughout Christian history our Lord's Word has been proven true as Christians have been persecuted and killed for their faith. It is not only that Christians don't fit with this world and its philosophies and values, Christianity is so abrasive to the ways of this world that those immersed in this dying world can only respond to Christianity with anger and hate. Christianity is the one form of diversity that cannot be tolerated. The rulers of this world hate the Lord and His Christ all the more because they know that on the great and terrible Day of Judgment, they will be smashed to pieces like so much pottery.

Not only do we as Christians face an external struggle with the spirit of this age and those who have imbibed it, but we also face an internal struggle. As St. Paul tells us in his Epistle to the Romans, despite our Baptism, the flesh, the person we used to be, still clings to life as long as we live in this world, though the Spirit who indwells us is bringing our new nature to life in Christ, working for the world that is to come. The part of us that still belongs to this world seeks to drag us back into bondage to sin and corruption, even as we strive to follow Christ through death into His Kingdom. Later in Romans 8, St. Paul describes this struggle as a deep groaning within us, and says that the whole Creation groans with us, awaiting liberation and freedom from sin in the new heavens and the new earth. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Christian Life is not one of ease but one of struggle. If we are not struggling, this is a sign that our souls are in deadly danger, as the Devil wants nothing more than for us to be at ease and quickly and quietly perish before we have time to take stock of our lives and repent. If we are struggling, then we must who endures to the end shall be saved."

In conclusion, a story of Elder Paisios: There was at one time a monk on Mt. Athos whose job was to great pilgrims coming to visit the monastery. This monk seemed to always be drunk, and this caused a great scandal and a lot of gossip among the pilgrims and his fellow monks. One day that monk died, and several pilgrims and monks went to Elder Paisios to inform him. Elder Paisios said that he already knew, because he had seen the flights of angels coming to escort the monk's soul to heaven. The pilgrims and monks all assumed that Elder Paisios was confused and talking about someone else, but the Elder explained that when that monk had come to the monastery, he was already an alcoholic, drinking twenty hard drinks a day. He prayed every day, and every year during the fast of the Dormition, he gave up one drink. When the monk died, he had worked his way down to six glasses a day, but that was still enough to make him drunk. While all the visitors and his fellow monks could see was his sinfulness, the Lord sent his angels in force for that monk's soul to honor his bravery and his commitment to struggle every moment of every day against the sin that beset him.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's Epistle reading, St. Paul reminds us that any life we have lived apart from Christ is over for us as Christians, and life exists now only in our communion with the Lord. To return to that way of life and those actions means death for us still. Do you find yourself returning again and again to old patterns of sinful behavior that you have confessed and wanted to end? When you think about times in your past when you were living in a way that you know is sinful, do you feel nostalgic for them, or for some sense of 'freedom'?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Christ warns us that if we are living as Christians and communicating the Gospel to those around us, we will encounter resistance, even violent resistance. Is this something that you have experienced in your life from family members and co-workers? If not, is it because you do not talk about or express your faith openly, in order to 'get along'? If Christianity were made illegal tomorrow, would you be convicted based on your words and actions today?
  3. St. Paul today tells us that those who are of the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, while those who are of the Spirit and belong to Christ set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Proverbs 23:7 says, "As a man thinks in his soul, so is he." When you consider the things that you spend your time thinking and fantasizing about, are they earthly things, like money, wealth, success, sex, food, etc.? Or do you spend your thought time in prayer and consideration and meditation on spiritual things? The Scriptures tell us that we are what we think.

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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