Croutons – Your daily bread in small pieces

CroutonsInBowlWe are practicing the art of meditation on the scriptures (Psalm 1) by taking the passage found in Romans 12:9-21 and breading it into small pieces, or “croutons” for the month of October. This is the content of the Adult Class at Bethany this month, but you are welcome to joint in by downloading the Croutons worksheet – CROUTONS.book

Romans 12 is a passage of application after the previous 11 chapters of Romans has presented the Gospel of Jesus from a variety of angles.  The chapter begins by saying “I appeal to you, by the mercies of God [Romans 1-11] to present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”  And so we present our minds and hearts to the Lord by taking care each day to listen to, to chew over (the biblical meaning of the word “meditate”) and follow the Lord’s instructions.

At the rapid pace of 13 verses in 31 days, we will take a crouton a day to think on.

Here is my suggestion on how to proceed (excerpted from the worksheet).

Daily Crouton: 

  • Read just the portion listed for that day.  Go somewhere where you can say it out loud a few times.
  • Think about each word in turn, for example, on day 1, “Love” what is it?  “Must” – this is not a suggestion.  “Be” as opposed to pretending.  “Sincere” means real and not mere outward correctness.
  • Ask yourself some questions: Who can I love?  With whom is my love not sincere?
  • Pray from the words, “Lord, forgive me for falling short.  Give me a more sincere love, especially for ____________  who is so annoying…..”
  • Be silent and see if the Spirit of God brings something to your mind as you think about the words.
  • Make notes to remember what you heard from the Lord.

Two Approaches to Romans 12:9-21

logoRomans 12 from verses 9 to 21 contains a large number of short admonitions.  The challenge is how to present these without getting lost in the details.  This past week I presented them by summarizing the first portion as advice for how to treat each other inside the circle of the fellowship.  There was a second sentence for the verses that had to do with treating outsiders.

That is one approach.  The next one would be to divide the section into daily phrases.  Perhaps this could be meditated on a phrase a day – it divides nicely into 31 distinct phrases.  I’d hate to only ever lean the summary.  Both appraches have merit.

Here is the text.  The backslashes (/) indicated daily reflection portions.

Romans 12:9-21 NIV

Love must be sincere./ Hate what is evil;/ cling to what is good. /10 Be devoted to one another in love/. Honor one another above yourselves./ 11 Never be lacking in zeal, /but keep your spiritual fervor,/ serving the Lord./ 12 Be joyful in hope, /patient in affliction,/ faithful in prayer./ 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need./ Practice hospitality./

14 Bless those who persecute you; /bless and do not curse. /15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; /mourn with those who mourn./ 16 Live in harmony with one another./ Do not be proud,/ but be willing to associate with people of low position./ Do not be conceited./

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil./ Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone./18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone./ 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,/ for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord./ 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;/
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink./
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”/

21 Do not be overcome by evil,/ but overcome evil with good./

Here are the summary Sentences

     Inner Circle – v.9-13

Choose what is good

    •             by clinging to the love of God,
    •             by praying through trouble and
    •             by sharing what you have.

Outer Circle – v. 14-21

 Bless others

    •             by living at peace with everyone
    •             by fighting evil with goodness and
    •             by trusting the justice to God.

 

 

About dividing things up and Romans 12

Professor Carol Thomas, who taught ancient History at the U of Washington, back in the mid 70s warned us budding historians of a constant danger:  “Beware the hardening of the categories.”  Popular history tends to speak of ages (e. g. The Gilded Age) and identifiable reasons for events (e.g. Slavery did nor did not cause the American Civil War.)  Life is more complex than that.  It is hard to divide out one cause, but many things work together.  History is more like an ecosystem than a syllogism.

We often tend to divide things that may best be seen together.  In Romans 12:2 some commentators want to talk about this verse in the Platonic categories of “internal” and “external” forms.  (i.e. Do not be conformed to the changeable fashions of the age, but be changed in your inner life.)  Yet it is a comprehensive system of thinking and acting that makes up this “world” or “age”.  The “world” is both inside of us and attempting to shape us from the outside.

It is for this reason that the vision of Romans 12:1-2 is not accomplished in a day with a single decision.

Exiting Warp Speed – textually speaking

Sometimes we read or teach at a rapid pace.  In Narrative we need to keep the story’s internal momentum intact, so excessive discussion of the meaning of seven stones or the weight of Goliath’s spear only encumbers the drama in data.  However, some passages deserve a reflective slow read.

I was switching gears from Advent/Christmas to Romans 12 for 2012.  This was inspired by New Years day being on a Sunday.  Now it was possible to bust up that chapter into 5 or 6 weeks. Or it was possible to take Chapters 12 to 15 in that same time frame.  But as I was reading the text, it became obvious that I was hurrying it and missing the details.

Romans 1-11 is the doctrinal/theological foundation of the book, and chapters 12 to 15 are the application passages – though one has to be careful with those distinctions.  One can apply all along the way in Romans 1-8 in particular.  And the application has to be clearly connected to the doctrinal.  (see “Therefore” in Romans 12:1).

It will be a good time for us to take a new year, and a new phase of the churches ministry (having tied up a major building project) and ask what it is we ought to be doing with this gift of righteousness discussed in the earlier chapters.

Romans 12 is as close as Paul comes to Wisdom Literature – the verses have a proverbial quality, a number of phrases are rich for reflection and connection to life.  Consider “Love must be sincere” and “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

John Stott pointed out in his book on Romans the many allusions in this chapter to the teachings of Jesus. (Romans; God’s Good News for the World, IVP, p. 317-319)  This is interesting for those who say Paul took Jesus and turned him into Christ (i.e. he dogmatized a spiritually fluid tradition.)

So this is what we will be Freshly Reading for the next two months.

Show me the Love – Malachi 1:1-5

There are two interesting points in this passage. One grammatical and one theological.

“I have loved you.” says the LORD.

This is in the perfect tense – which is the default setting of the verb in Hebrew.  the Perfect tense generally indicates when an action occurs in the past that has lingering consequences in the present.  In English it is different to say “I ate.” and “I have eaten.”  In the simple past, “I ate”, the eating could have happened days ago so you are hungry now.  In the perfect, “I have eaten” the eating was recent enough so you are in the state of being full now.  However, one has to be carefull not to make too much of this, because the Hebrew verb form more or less starts in perfect (meaning completed action). It is really only significant if the verb form changes to something else.  At any rate the meaning is the same – the Lord said that he has loved Israel and that love is a present reality.  The translation can be “I have loved you” or “I love you.”   Preserving the perfect tense force places an emphasis on the historic and enduring nature of God’s love – it is not just that at this moment.

“I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” 

In context this is really talking about Judea and Edom, nations that descended from Jacob and Esau.  God chose to pass his blessing down the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The idiom of “love/hate” in this context really means something like “I have loved/not loved” or “I have chosen/not chosen.”  Because despite his status outside of the line of promise, Esau was not disregarded or cast aside by the Lord.   The blessing of one family was not to be just for Abraham’s line only, but for all people. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Now when this is quoted in Romans 9:13, it is taken by some interpreters as referring to individual election for salvation.  However, what is forgotten in the discussion is that the verse about Jacob and Esau is that its primary reference is to two Nations not two Individuals.  In the context of Romans 9-11, Paul is discussing the role of Israel vis a vis the Gentiles.  That is to say, it is primarily a discussion of two communities, not two individuals.

If you like the doctrine of Election or if you hate it, this passage in Romans 9 and Malachi 1 needs careful handling.