Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Payoff (Romans 6:23)

For the wages of sin is _____.” Death (Romans 6:23)

In Romans 6, Paul addresses an obvious distortion of the Christian message: “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” (Romans 6:15 NASB; cf. Romans 6:1). The apostle vehemently answers in the negative asserting that the assurance of grace does not promote sin (Romans 6:15-23). The chapter concludes with a triumphant summation shrouded by a solemn warning (Romans 6:23).

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NASB)
Romans 6:23 restates the chapter’s central theme and returns to its imagery of bondage (Romans 6:6, 12, 16-17). Sin, personified as a wicked slave master, is naturally juxtaposed with God. Paul’s supposition is that all are slaves, either to sin or God. Each human faces a binary choice of master. Paul evaluates that decision by relaying the inevitable consequences of each option: death and eternal life (Romans 6:23).

Justifiably Romans 6:23 has become a well known verse in Christian circles as it cuts to the core of the gospel. It is a featured stop on the famed “Romans Road to Salvation” (Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:13, 10:9-10).

Robert J. Morgan (b. 1952) applauds:

With the possible exception of John 3:16, no other text in Scripture better sums up all sixty-six books and thirty-one thousand verses of the Bible. This is the ultimate Reader’s Digest version of God’s Word. (Morgan, 100 Bible Verses Everyone Should Know by Heart, 57)

Romans 6:23 draws upon two analogies. C.E.B. Cranfield (b. 1915) relays:

Sin is...personified, and is here represented as either a general who pays wages to his soldiers or – and this suits better the prominence of the idea of slavery in the preceding verses – as a slave-owner who pays his slaves an allowance or pocket-money (among the Romans this was normal practice.) The wage which the slave of sin has to expect is death. God, by contrast, does not pay wages, since no man can put Him in his debt; but the free gift which He gives is nothing less than eternal life. (Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, 146)
In contrasting the inevitable outcomes of serving Sin and following God, Paul states that the wages of sin is death. The “wages of sin” deliberately builds upon a previous passage in Romans: “his wage is not credited as a favor” (Romans 4:4 NASB). Due in part to the verse’s popularity, the Greek opsonian is consistently translated “wages” (ASV, ESV, HCSB, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). The Message paraphrases the thought as Death being Sin’s “pension”.

Opsonian is derived from two words meaning “cooked food” and “to buy”. It is used only four times in the New Testament (Luke 3:14; Romans 6:23; I Corinthians 9:7; II Corinthians 11:8). The term originally referred to ration money paid to soldiers; all three times the word is used in the Septuagint refer to a soldier’s salary (I Esdras 4:56; I Maccabees 3:28, 14:32). Though the word eventually took the broader meaning of payment for labor, its most frequent use remained the pay of soldiers. It connotes a pittance, a soldier’s wage.

James R. Edwards (b. 1945) examines:

The imagery of here abandoned for the military imagery of Romans 6:13. Sin and God are depicted as warlords, the one paying the wages of death, the other offering release and freedom of life. There is a telling contrast between the wages of sin and the gift of God. Hans Heidland [1912-1992] notes that opsōnia, “wages,” were subsistence payments to soldiers. Thus, in the present context, sin promises to pay subsistence wages, to provide for our needs, but that is an illusion, for in reality it pays death. Again, opsōnia were not a flat sum but installments paid over the duration of a soldier’s service. If Paul is true to the metaphor, the death he refers to would not be death as a “lump sum,” i.e., physical death, but the shadow and consequences of death already in life. Most importantly, wages and gift are two entirely different things. In Heidland’s words, “Man has rights only in relation to sin, and these rights become his judgment” (TDNT, volume 5, p.592). (Edwards, Romans (New International Biblical Commentary), 175-76)
The wages Sin pays are valued at literally less than nothing, a negative on one’s ledger. And that wage is a flat rate. No matter how hard or little one works for Sin, the result is the same: death. Most, however, work diligently towards this end. In a tragic irony, Sin’s servants slave for death.

David L. Bartlett (b. 1941) sees a modern parallel:

Have you noticed how hard the tobacco industry has to work as its death-dealing subservience? The industry employs highly paid lobbyists and pseudo-scientists. It pays for ads enticing younger and younger people to take up the habit their elders are beginning to let go. It establishes international networks to sell abroad the stuff that is not selling as well at home as it used to. The enterprise is frantic. Corporations deal biological death to stave off economic death. Every paycheck has a price tag. Sin will do that to you, wear you out in its service and then send you out to die...Paul says that if you go chasing sin you will get paid in the end. You will get what you work for, and what you are working for is death. (Bartlett, Romans (Westminster Bible Companion), 65-66)
The Death in question is not limited to the cessation of one’s physical life; it also evokes a spiritual death. Millard J. Erickson (b. 1932) diagnoses:
Spiritual death is both connected with physical death and distinguished from it. It is the separation of the entire person from God...The essence of spiritual death can be seen in the case of Adam and Eve. “For when you eat of it [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] you will surely die” [Genesis 2:17] did not mean that they wold experience immediate physical death. It did mean...their potential mortality would become actual. It also meant spiritual death, separation between them and God...Sin results in alienation from God. This is the wages of sin of which Paul speaks in Romans 6:23. (Erickson, Christian Theology, 631)
Even those who are not oblivious to the oblivion resulting from sin often choose it. Paul J. Achtemeier (b. 1927) explains this calamity:
Sin uses the law to make us think we do not need to rely on mercy but can, somehow, make it under our own power, as it were. It lets us think we can, somehow, establish our worth in such a way that we do not need God’s mercy. We want that “boast before God” that not even Abraham could muster [Romans 4:1-2]. We want our salvation as wages, not mercy. In short, we want to do what only God can do: Furnish the grounds for our being declared righteous and hence acceptable to God. (Achtemeier, Romans (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 79-80)
As such Sin not only results in death but carries the additional byproduct of a compulsion to choose it and with it Death.

Sin is intentionally juxtaposed with God; what is the opposite of God? Do you perceive yourself as a slave (to either sin or God)? What is the connection between Sin and Death? Do you consider the consequences of a decision before you act? What is the alternative to serving Sin?

Unlike Sin, God does not pay wages, but instead offers a gift, charisma. This word is universally translated “gift” (CEV, HCSB, KJV, NIV, MSG, NKJV) but some translations accent the term by rendering it as “free gift” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, RSV). God’s gift is the polar opposite of Death: Eternal life.

Eternal life is given as a gift because it cannot be earned. While the believer’s actions are consequential (Revelation 20:12-14) one cannot merit eternal life on the basis of her works (Romans 3:20, 27-28, 4:2-5, 14; Ephesians 2:8-9; II Timothy 1:9; Titus 3:5). The believer’s salvation is fully attributable to grace.

Brendan Byrne (b 1939) clarifies:

To clinch the matter in a final supportive comment (Romans 6:23) Paul ironically points to death as the “wages” (opsōnia) paid by the slave master “Sin.” On the positive side, there is no talk of “wages” at all. That might suggest some kind of reward for righteous behavior and, while Paul may not have been as nervous about this as many of his later interpreters (cf. II Corinthians 5:5; also I Corinthians 3:14-15), his theological tendency is always to preserve the initiative of God. Hence he reaches for one of his favorite words—charisma (cf. already Romans 5:15, 16). The ultimate concrete expression of grace for the faithful “slave” will be the “gracious gift” of “eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Byrne, Romans (Sacra Pagina), 204)

Ben Witherington III (b. 1951) testifies:

Eternal not something earned by the believer, even if he or she behaves in a holy manner, for holiness is obligatory, not optional, for the Christian. Eternal life is a grace gift. Even if Christian persons managed to live an entirely sanctified life, this would not oblige God to reward them with eternal life, for they will have done no more than what was required of them. Thus Paul does not see eternal life as some sort of quid pro quo for holy living in this lifetime. Salvation is indeed a matter of grace, received through faith, from start to finish. (Withertington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, 174)
Paul presents the full trajectories of serving both Sin and God. As when shooting a bow and arrow, a small adjustment in aiming leads to a wide variance at the target, in this case from death to life.

John Murray (1898-1975) summarizes:

In the clause, “the wages of sin is death”, there are two thoughts: (1) that the death with which we are inflicted is no more and no less than what we have earned; (2) that death is the inevitable consequence of sin. Rectitude governs the payment of wages and we therefore receive exactly and inevitably what we owe. In the clause, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” the governing idea is that of God’s free grace in contrast with the notion of remuneration, and the magnitude of this free grace is emphasized by the nature of the gift bestowed. The thought is not that the free grace of God issues in eternal life for us, though this is in itself true. But the precise thought is that the free gift consists in eternal life. When wages are in operation our lot is death, inescapably and in its ultimate expression. When the free gift of God is in operation our lot is life, eternal and indestructible. How totally alien to such contrasts is the importation of merit in any form or degree into the method of salvation. (Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 238)
Sin gives no gifts but instead pays and pays horribly at that. God, the giver of life, counters Sin’s offer of Death, dispensing far better than wages: the free gift of eternal life. Despite having death as its enticement, Sin is well served. Given God’s much more appealing provision, God should be served all the more diligently.

The lesson is strikingly simple: serve God, not Sin. Choose life, not death. And yet most of us frequently choose poorly.

If the results are so disparate, why do people choose sin? Will you take the wage or grace? Do these life and death results cast shadows into the present or are they only eschatological? Are you experiencing God’s gift of eternal life? If you have accepted the gift, do you still appreciate it? Who are you serving, God or Sin?

You have a choice. Live or die.
Every breath is a choice.
Every minute is a choice.
To be or not to be. - Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962), Survivor, p. 161

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

No Pain, No Gain? (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Complete: “The Lord reproves ___________________________________________________________.” Him whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:12)

Proverbs 3:1-12 is a poem composed of six two-couplet (four-line) stanzas (Proverbs 3:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12). It is the fourth section in Proverbs that adds the tender address of a parent instructing a child (Proverbs 1:8-9, 10-19, 2:1-22, 3:1-12). In fact, the unit is framed by paternal allusions (Proverbs 3:1, 11)

The passage progresses from general exhortations to the challenge of facing life’s struggles. After connecting righteousness with prosperity (Proverbs 3:9-10), the sage anticipates the natural question of suffering and answers it with the poem’s final instructions (Proverbs 3:11-12).

My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord
Or loathe His reproof,
For whom the Lord loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12, NASB)
It is an appropriate ending as Proverbs 3:11-12 is an exemplar of a concluding proverb. Structurally, both the verse’s command and reason are expressed artistically as a chiasm.

The aphorism draws upon its own analogy of fatherly advice when it instructs that one should not reject discipline; it is evidence of paternal love. Proverbs 3:12 is the only proverb to envision God as a father figure. The author of Hebrews will later quote Proverbs 3:11-12 to demonstrate that suffering is no less than a sign of sonship (Hebrews 12:5-6). In invoking this parental imagery, the verse conveys a counter-intuitive truth: Suffering does not necessarily imply divine disfavor.

Instead, Proverbs argues that suffering may be divine chastening. Affliction might convey discipline, not punishment. The Hebrew yakach is translated “reprove” (ASV, ESV, NASB, NRSV, RSV), “correct” (CEV, KJV, NKJV, NLT) and “discipline” (HCSB, MSG, NIV). This word conveys instruction that may not only be verbal but also corporal (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13).

Duane A. Garrett (b. 1953) defines:

While the idea of punishment is certainly present (cf. Job 5:17-18 and II Samuel 7:14), “discipline” primarily involves teaching or training rather than punishment for wrongdoing. It is analogous to military training, in which, although the threat of punishment is present, even stern discipline is not necessarily retribution for offenses. Hardship and correction are involved, however, which are always hard to accept. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary),81)
Harold S. Kushner (b. 1935) paraphrases:
We are told...God treats us the way a wise and caring parent treats a naive child, keeping us from hurting ourselves, withholding something we may think we want, punishing us occasionally to make sure we understand that we have done something seriously wrong, and patiently enduring our temper tantrums at His “unfairness” in the confidence that we will one day mature and understand that it was all for our own good. “For whom the Lord loves, He chastises, even as a father does to the son he loves.” (Proverbs 3:12) (Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 29-30)
The theme of growth through discipline in not unique in Proverbs (Proverbs 3:11-12, 10:17, 12:1, 13:18, 24, 14:9, 15:5, 10, 12, 32, 19:18, 20:30, 22:6, 15, 23:13-14, 28:4, 7, 9, 12, 29:15, 17-19, 21). This concept is also seen in Deuteronomy 8:5 (which uses the same root word for discipline), Eliphaz’s rebuke of Job (Job 5:17-20) and Hosea 11:1-4. It also parallels Egyptian wisdom found in the Insinger Papyrus: “Whatever hardship comes, place yourself in the hand of God in it” (Insinger Papyrus 20.12).

While this ideology is common in Proverbs, tackling suffering is not and when it does the book often takes the more traditional approach of connecting suffering and sin. Roland Murphy (1917-2002) notes:

Only here in Proverbs is the problem of suffering directly touched upon. The application of human discipline (as the sages understood, quite physical) to the Lord is a bold move..The book of Proverbs remains resolute in its assurance of material well-being for the wise and virtuous, despite the fact that adversity and suffering bore witness to the contrary. (Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary))
Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (1954) add:
Ths is the idea of yisurim shel ahavah (chastisements of love), which became an element of traditional theodicy. Undeserved suffering was viewed as a test of the sufferer. By embracing the suffering without questioning, the sufferers demonstrate their love for God. Just as children mature, they might come to understand past acts of parental discipline as manifestations of parental love—however unpleasant and unwelcome at the time such acts were administered—so a mature person would ultimately realize that suffering brings such insight is a manifestation of divine love. (Kravitz and Otlizky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 30)
Interpreting every tragedy as divine correction, however, is dangerous. This is not the Bible’s only explanation of suffering and Bart D. Ehrman (b. 1955) expresses concerns in viewing it as a universal rationale:
One of the most common explanations [for suffering] that we have to understand that God is like a good parent, a heavenly father, and that he allows suffering into ours lives as a way of building our character or teaching us lessons on how we should live...I don’t think it’s one of the most common explanations found in the Bible, but it is there on occasion...In the book of Amos, for example, when God punishes the people for their sin, it is precisely as a kind of discipline, to teach them a lesson: they need to return to him and his ways. That is why, according to Amos, the nation has experienced famine, drought, pestilence, war, and death: God was trying to get his people to “return to me” (Amos 4:6-11)...This view would make sense to me if the punishment were not so severe, the discipline so harsh. Are we really to believe that God starves people to death in order to teach them a lesson? That he sends epidemics that destroy the body, mental diseases that destroy the mind, wars that destroy the nation, in order to teach people a lesson in theology? What kind of father is he if he maims, wounds, dismembers, tortures, torments, and kills his children—all in the interest of keeping discipline? What would we think of a human father who starved a child to death because she did something wrong, or who flogged a child nearly to death to help him see the error of his ways? Is the heavenly father that much worse than the worst human father we can imagine? I don’t find this view very convincing. (Ehrman, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer, 264)
While chastening is not the Bible’s only explanation for suffering, Proverbs 3:11-12 reminds that the problem of pain goes far deeper than simple divine wrath.

Can you think of any examples where suffering led to personal growth? Are there any instances from your own life? What does Proverbs 3:11-12 say about God? Who does God discipline? Why does God discipline? How does the Lord reprove people? What does this say about God’s educational policies? Have you ever felt you were being chastened by God? Who has corrected you? Who do you correct? Is correction always evidence of caring?

Though every instance of suffering may not be chastening, suffering does not mean that God has ceased to care. The proverb asserts just the opposite: suffering is indicative of love. Though we do not tend to like correction, it is a hallmark of affection. Only someone who did not care would allow another to continue to live in error. Given this rationale, our suffering might be purposeful.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) compares:

Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble; he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great pictures of his life...he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scrapped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less. (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 42-43)
Bruce K. Waltke (b. 1930) explains:
The argument introduced by because () to accept the strict discipline can be summarized in the oxymoron that discipline is “a severe mercy”. Although the reproof may be harsh, it is actually a sign of the LORD’s love, not his wrath, for it concerns those whom the LORD loves...This is “one of the deepest sayings in the Bible,” says Claude Goldsmid Montefiore [1858-1938]...When we complain of our sufferings we are not asking for more love, but for less. We are asking God not to take us so seriously (cf. Job 7:17-19, 10:20). (Waltke, The Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 249-50)
Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. (b. 1949) encourages:
When we suffer, it isn’t God angrily taking from us; it is God lovingly reinvesting in us. Suffering feels like anger. It feels like loss. It feels like God has abandoned us. But the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 suffered. Theirs was no country club religion. They trusted God with all their hearts, and some were tortured, killed, mistreated. Was God mad at them? No; he commended them (Hebrews 11:2, 6, 39). That is why it says, “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16). He was proud of them. To use the language of Proverbs 3:12, he delighted in them. When you are suffering, here is what you must remember. Your sufferings are not evidence against you, nor are they evidence against God. It is the opposite. Your sufferings are proof that God your Father cherishes you. As Hebrews 12:7 says, quoting these verses, “God is treating you as sons.” Or as William Cowper [1731-1800] wrote, “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” (Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works (Preaching the Word), 71)
When things go wrong, do you immediately infer that someone up there hates you? When you suffer do you realize that God still loves you? Do you perceive discipline as a sign of love? What are the dangers in viewing every setback as a sign from God? How do you discern between discipline and punishment? Is suffering necessary for growth?

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” - C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), The Problem of Pain, p. 91