Sermon 27 Sept. 1998
Text: Romans 15:14-19
"Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you are also
full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to admonish one another." v. 14
This is an extraordinary thing. How can Paul say this to the believers in Rome? Can he be serious? Well, it is a safe thing to assume that something in scripture is serious—unless, of course, we are instructed otherwise—we should take verses as meaning what they say. This verse says a lot.
The first thing it says is that Paul is fully convinced of what follows. He has grounds for saying what follows. And what follows is a descriptive comment about the state, or spiritual standing of the believers at Rome. Paul offers that descriptive comment by prefacing it with the word "brethren"—brethren means that someone has come out from sin’s dominion. In this world, you are either under sin’s dominion, or you are a Christian. So, the grounds for Paul’s confidence have to do with Paul’s own knowledge of what it means to be a Christian. . . and of what it means, correspondingly, to be "human."
For, who is a human being, in the fullest sense of the word, except a person rightly related to God? A human being must not be reduced to a biological entity, a mere animal. Those who do that commit violence against our true nature, they suppress our spiritual dimension. And that rightness of relationship comes to us through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian is, in this light, entrance into the humanity God envisioned for us from the beginning. . . a movement from possibility into actuality.
Outside of that spiritual relationship, a humanity restored through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, we are in a significant manner, "sub-human." We are less human as long as we live in captivity to sin. Perhaps you have heard the familiar expression:
"To err is human, to forgive divine." (It’s from Alexander Pope’s An Essay on
Criticism II –it’s not biblical. Furthermore, the word is err, not sin.)
I mention this because there are a number in our popular and political culture who would claim that sin actually humanizes a person. They say, with intended sympathy, to a notorious sinner, "Well, she’s only human." They even misquote the above quotation as: to sin is human, to forgive divine. In this case, misquotation is terrible theology. To sin is to dehumanize and to be dehumanized in a profound sense! Why? Because sinning is to run contrary to the plan and purpose of God. The whole intention of creation is, and was for man to live humanly, without, or apart from sinning. The whole purpose of redemption is that we should come out of darkness to light, out of hate to love, out of fear to holy confidence. Again, to sin both dehumanizes the agent of the sin and taints those sinned against.
In precious contrast to the state of unredeemed man , who is alienated from God and the rest of mankind through sin, we have the state of the believers in Rome: full of goodness and all knowledge. They have come out from the bondage to sin which encompasses many things: freedom from the fear of death, freedom from all bondage. These things are another way of saying "full of goodness and all knowledge."
But the best news about all this is that we don’t have to treat Paul’s confidence as something limited to a congregation of the deceased, who lived long ago and several cultures away from us. You, the people of East Winthrop Baptist Church, are also worthy of such confidence. You are all, from Carol to Elwin and everyone in-between are by virtue of your faith in Jesus Christ "full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to admonish one another."
Be encouraged. You are not uninstructed in the doctrines and duties of your Christian profession, so your goodness is not restricted to kindness—although kindness is surely in evident abundance. Rather it is goodness built upon being born of God, Who is good, and have been made new creatures. It is your spirit controlled disposition which daily increases your grace and goodness. It is the emerging "workmanship" of the Lord that grants us the label of goodness. It is the inward man made visible in obedience to God.
Be encouraged. You excel in the knowledge of divine things, having been faithful and attentive to the preaching of the word. And some have persevered in bible studies so as to increase an already praiseworthy knowledge.
Be encouraged because you are instructible. Just as our limitations as moral beings cannot prevent us from offering correction where correction iscalled for, just so our limitation of knowledge is no excuse to holding back from needed instruction. No, what happens is this: we offer correction and instruction with humility, knowing that we who teach and guide have much to learn ourselves. Indeed, much of what we do as a body by necessity bears repetition so that even though a teaching is not completely new to us, the reminder is helpful.
So, as your pastor, I find much in you that is to be commended. You are as fine and fit a flock as one could wish to have, for the most part (you must allow me that). It is both a pleasure and a benefit to myself that I have been privileged to labor in this vineyard these many years. May we continue to grow in confidence in our Lord and each other as we journey on.