Without Excuse 无可推诿Sermon passage: (Romans 2:1-16) Spoken on: May 24, 2015
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Romans
Speaker: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Title: Without Excuse 无可推诿
Sermon on Romans 2:1-16
Today, I want to share the story of how a pastor changed the world. This happened a long time ago, back in the days when paper and ink were expensive, and education was expensive, therefore, a letter was very precious. These days where you get tons of spam in your email inbox, and flyers shoved into your hands and dumped at the nearest bin, you might not appreciate writing and reading so much. But back in those days, letters were precious.  Every letter, especially the New Testament epistles, was carefully crafted and meant to serve a specific task, though without a time machine, it wasn’t always easy to speculate on the exact situation. Now I need you to imagine yourself as Paul, with this precious paper to write and a co-worker willing to make the arduous journey to deliver the letter. If I may speculate on the situation, perhaps there was a conflict between the Jewish and gentile Christians in Rome. The objective of your letter is to resolve the conflict so as to restore a spiritually healthy and strong church, one that would support further missions when you eventually reach Rome. With this letter, what would you do?
Most people I know might have tried this: “Come on guys, no need to be upset with one another. Jesus told us to love one another right? So just forgive and move on. Come on, give me some face, or at least for the sake of my Apostle title, you can surely accept one another right?” That may have worked to pacify both sides for a while. And there are those who tend to deal with church conflicts in this way. “Come on everybody, let’s play nice.” But with a mindset like this, you can imagine the stance you project, the kind of walk and talk that is conveyed. I don’t think such a letter would have any value for us today. Such a pastor with such a letter does not change the world.
But that was not the mindset of Paul, whose letters have gone on to transform the entire Christian faith. He first identified the Roman conflict as a theological problem. What these people needed, whether Jews or Gentiles, was a deeper understanding of the Gospel. They needed more Jesus. That’s the mindset of Paul. And I can’t help but be impressed with this type of believers: Christians who believe Jesus to be the Panacea. Their walk and talk are often so radically different. You have a problem there? Have you tried applying some Jesus? Looks like you are stuck in this scenario. I would recommend the Jesus option. Experiencing pain and anxiety? Take a double dose of Jesus before every meal. Ok, I’m half kidding. But when you read the letters of Paul, you notice that there is not the slightest doubt in his mind that this is going to work, if you read and feel the passion of his words, right? It's one of the characteristics of a spiritual leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he's leading to realize whatever he's dreaming. He sincerely believed Jesus was the answer, and that was the right and best way to solve the situation in Rome.
With his precious letter, Paul set out on an unenviable task: to evangelize his understanding of the gospel to the Roman Church. I call it unenviable because evangelism is always a tough call. If the recipients are friendly and receptive, that’s emboldening. But if they are hostile, then it is often an uphill task. Ironically, evangelism to Christians is often the hardest. Resistance can come in the form of self-righteousness over one’s knowledge, religious experiences, and spiritual authority. But Paul knowingly chose evangelism as his task for the letter. He chose to write such a letter not because it was easy, but because it was hard but transformative. I believe his faith lies in something many of us may have already forgotten: the power of the gospel. He believed in the power of the Gospel. He said earlier in Romans 1: 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. This is the power of the gospel that would unite the Jews and the Gentiles as one in the grace of salvation.
So, what did Paul do? To bash through the resistance of self-righteousness, to destroy the comfort zone of his readers, Paul attacked from the start with a sledgehammer of accusations. His stinging words like the opening notes of Beethoven’s Symphony no 5. Dum, Dum Dum Dum. Paul declared in Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness,19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 So people are without excuse.
Now, if you know your Beethoven’s Symphony no 5 well, just when you think the initial onslaught is over, Dum Dum Dum Dum. Paul struck again, this time with a personal singular ‘you’ in Romans 2: Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things.
Both times, the key repeated phrase is “without excuse”. For both times, imagine Paul hammering away like Thor with his hammer. None shall be free from the wrath of God; there is none that does not need the grace that comes through the righteousness from Jesus. Paul’s entire argument would go on to run through all 16 chapters of his letter, but my job today is just to hammer home the first key point: “people are without excuse”, “you are without excuse, whoever you are”. That is a formidable challenge, because humans are so fond of excuses. We often think we are the exception to the rule; we are the unique case that makes us free from standard judgment. I remember driving pass a car that was road hogging, and I saw the driver on the phone. “See, I knew it. Can you believe this guy? Driving while using the phone!” Then my wife reminded me. “I saw you driving and answering the phone just yesterday.” We are so good with shielding ourselves with excuses. “I can multitask”, “Mine will only take a few seconds”, “This is urgent” etc.
The Gentiles had their excuses. Maybe they plead ignorance. Paul could not accept any of that. Bad excuse. God is revealed since Creation. So you do know, yet you refuse to acknowledge God as God. 1: 32 Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them. You can almost hear the Jews clapping along as Paul rebuked the Gentiles. But from chapter 2 onwards, Paul turned the accusations on them as well. The Jews had their excuses: “Oh we are safe since we know the law already. We were condemning the gentiles too, you know”. They thought they were on God’s side already. They were the accusers, judging the gentiles with their laws. But Paul accused them instead. 3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Having the Laws of Moses means nothing if they are not obeyed. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous.
But the excuses continued, the Jews now claimed a privileged status. Otherwise, how could they have survived all this while despite the fall of Judah and the exile? What about Psalm 103: 8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful; he is patient and demonstrates great loyal love. 9 He does not always accuse, and does not stay angry. 10 He does not deal with us as our sins deserve; he does not repay us as our misdeeds deserve. If God is forgiving in the past, perhaps he can equally condone whatever we’re doing now? This is a lame excuse. Paul retorted, the forbearance of God is for the sake of repentance. If the kindness does not result in repentance, then it shall end up in wrath.
Whatever excuses the Jews and gentiles can cook up, Paul refuted them all. Ultimately there is just one consistent principle in God’s judgment: 6 He will reward each one according to his works. Since the Jews had the law but did not obey the law, they shall be judged by the law. What about the gentiles? It is true that they did not receive the written law by Moses. But by their actions you can tell that they also knew morality. 15 They showed that the work of the law was written in their hearts, as their conscience bore witness and their conflicting thoughts accused or else defended them. Not having the actual written law is no excuse. They too can be judged by their works. And in the end, when everybody’s work is laid bare before God, none can be counted worthy. I’ll finish up that part of the argument in my next sermon.
This is the story of the pastor who changed the world. He is Paul, and today we witness the first strike of Paul: a call to both Jews and gentiles into obedience. No exceptions, no excuses. To resolve the conflict, he didn’t cajole them or appease them to be nice to one another. He had a vision: to transform them with the Gospel once again. Do you know why his message is so disarming? Because he believed in the power of the Gospel. For every accusation that he used upon his listeners, he was first convicted of it upon himself. If he, the Jewish Pharisee per excellence was convicted without excuse, then the power of the Gospel is one and for all. Paul knew and experienced it for himself: He went from Christian-persecuting to Christian-self-sacrificing. This is a gospel that will transform the world. I believe this is why Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in this way. It was not the nice and non-confrontational way. In fact, it starts off in a brutally honest, but directly engaging way. It is relentless, so that the truth of the gospel may eventually sink in even deeper.
More than two centuries ago, the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley recollected in his memoir: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (John Wesley Journal for May 24th, 1738) Probably no book in the New Testament has been so influential in the history of the Christian church as the Letter to the Romans. Autobiographical accounts tell us how it was decisive in the initial conversion of, or the renewal of living faith in, such significant figures as Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and Karl Barth, and through them in the lives of many more.”  This letter from Paul has changed the world.
Brothers and sisters, is this the gospel you know? Is it powerful in your experience? Has it transformed your being, and continues to do so today? Or have you been repelling all its advances with tons of excuses? “I’m busy right now, maybe another time.” “I know this already, maybe you mean somebody else.” “Can’t you see that I’m serving God so much already?” “You know, my ah Gong or my ah Grandma used to be an Elder, you know?” “The problem is the Church, or the problem is this Christian I know, that’s why I don’t want to get involved.” Brothers and sisters, whoever you are, whatever excuses you think you have, however unique or legitimate you think you are, in the end, you are still accountable to God. The Gospel is for you.
Brothers and sisters, you have a shy introverted guy speaking with passion to you today, because I too believe in the power of the Gospel. And I wish constantly, that this gospel which has transformed me and is challenging me daily, will also transform you. This is what we are going to do. For this entire Romans sermon series, we are going to listen to the Gospel anew. And we are going to challenge ourselves. In the cell groups, you can discuss and help one another. If it is really difficult for you to commit to a cell group, you can also download the materials or ask your zone pastors for a copy. But this is our Jubilee dream. No matter what background you have, long time Christians or new believers, we shall all gain a deeper understanding of the Gospel. And with understanding comes submission. With submission comes transformation. I want you to imagine the day where the Gospel becomes the motivation of your life, it becomes the language of the Church. It is the way we resolve conflict and unite one another. It is the way we worship and the way we evangelize. I do not doubt for one moment that we can surely achieve this. It is not because it is easy, but because that is the power of the Gospel. We just have to preach it and really listen, one step at a time. When we all come to know God and his will, the church shall truly become the church in all its glory.
 In fact, much writing was lost out of the need to reuse paper. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palimpsest
 Marshall, Travis and Paul, Exploring the NT vol. 2, p 105