A Friends (Quaker) Perspective on Romans and Galatians
Provided several years ago for Illuminate, an adult Sunday School curriculum published by Barclay Press, a Friends publishing house
Romans 12:1-8, 14, 17-21
In Romans 9-11, Paul revisits the comparison between Jews and Gentiles in relation to the faith in God that sets people right with God, each other, and themselves. Most notable is the cautionary example of the Jews, the chosen people through whom came the law, the worship, the promises, and the Messiah (Romans 9:4-5). The Jews, says Paul, look for righteousness based on fulfilling the law and fail, and are thus outside the life of faith and caught in a life of works. We in the church are often in the same place as these folks. It is so human to prefer the known, the law, to the unknown, God’s grace and God’s Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that the wind blows where it chooses and humans do not understand where it comes from or where it goes, and that this is the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).
Romans 12 helps us recognize the Spirit’s work, but it is not a new set of laws. Instead, because of what Jesus has already accomplished through identifying with our humanity, our sin, and our death, and through prefiguring the resurrection we all hope for, we are free to offer our whole selves, body and soul, to the service of God. We don’t have to be pawns of the forces that dominate our social world. As we obey God with our bodies, we worship God in spirit and in truth. God renews our minds so we can see clearly the good, acceptable, complete actions that are the will of God for us.
We use the gifts God gives us, as Jesus illustrated in the parable of the stewards. We treasure and care for the gifts of others. We aren’t tied up in the knots of competitiveness and self-sufficiency. We can lay down our sword and shield and study war no more.
The most important practical faith lesson I’ve learned recently is the importance of having a heart at peace toward those who I believe need to change. This is a spiritual discipline for me and involves praying blessing on them and for God to judge between us. And this prayer is frequent, just as frequent as the thought of conflict arises.
Romans 14:1, 5-17
Underlying Romans 14 is this principle from Romans 13:8-10: all the interpersonal laws are summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself,” just as Jesus said. This means that we live honorably as if under a spotlight, which is where we are (John 3:21).
What about other believers who hold the wrong opinions? Paul says, welcome them, but don’t argue with them. God has welcomed them. It is before God they stand or fall, not before us. Like us, whether they live or die, they are the Lord’s because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is one practical application of the law of love. Surely we can imagine that as we are judging them for wrong opinions, they are returning that judgment on us, unless we obey the law of love.
The advice not to judge repeats Romans 2. After the list of sins in Romans 1, therefore, Paul says, do not judge, since all have sinned. Here he says, do not judge, since you are no one’s boss, and all believers are accountable to God for how they obey. If a person hears from God that some behavior is unholy, that person must obey. The Gentiles and Jews to whom Paul wrote had different boundaries, and all still had to treat others with tenderness and love.
Another practical application of the law of love is that we don’t push people to violate their sense of what God wants from them. We respect the boundaries people believe God has given them. We don’t think we are better because God allows us different boundaries. Romans 12:3 tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought and to respect the fact that not all members of the body of Christ will function exactly like us.
Many times, I think, what causes our brother or sister to stumble is not a freedom in Christ we live into with joy and gratitude but rather the judgment that we pass on that brother and sister who does things differently from us, whether with more or less freedom. When we judge, we place ourselves as superior to the one being judged. Instead, we who are Spirit-led must be humble and obey God ourselves.