God’s timing is so perfect. I told my mother on several days ago that I knew this week might be busy, so I was planning to work on our Bible study right away. But the day got away from me and no Bible study was written.
Late Tuesday evening, I received an interesting e-mail. A woman whom I don’t know wrote to ask me some questions about 1 Corinthians 11 and the issue of whether women should wear a headcovering when they pray or worship together with their local congregations. I’ve read that passage and I felt I was familiar with the pro and con arguments, but as I got out my Bible… and my commentaries… and then had to talk to several other mature Christians for their views… I was overwhelmed. The discussions continued throughout the day on Wednesday. It’s been quite the topic in our house.
The issue at hand is the submission of wives to their husbands. You can read more about it if you’d like, since it’s really not the true topic of this Bible study, but Paul was affirming an outward tradition that illustrated a biblical principle and a pure heart of obedience and holiness.
I don’t currently wear a headcovering, nor do most of the women I know. Yet I know of some women (simply as acquaintances) who wear headcoverings yet dishonor and disrespect their husbands. I also know “cover-less” women who are deeply committed to honoring and respecting their husbands.
Therefore, I’m simply amazed at God’s timing in my own life. As I’ve been studying this week’s passage in the book of Romans, I am reminded that while outward traditions have their place in our lives, God is most interested in our hearts. After all, Paul was writing chiefly to Jews, those who were very proud of their heritage, their customs, their laws, and their holiness. While I am not a Jew, I am shocked as I look into the mirror of God’s Word and see myself:
In Romans 2:17, Paul writes:
“Indeed you are called a Jew…”
I am not a Jew, but just as Paul bragged about his spiritual heritage, I could do the same. I am not an unbeliever, a pagan, an idol worshiper, a “typical, ungodly American”, etc. Rather, I claim Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I am a CHRISTIAN (all caps for emphasis, lol).
“and rest on the law…”
I have the divinely inspired, sixty-six books of the inerrant Word of God in my possession. I can quote the books of the Bible faster than a competitive fourth grader, I can find a Scripture passage quickly, I have CONCORDANCES and COMMENTARIES on my shelves. I have my daily devotions, and I memorize Scripture. (Can you see my head beginning to swell?)
“and make your boast in God…”
Yes, I am often literally proud of my own “holiness”. As Paul says in Philippians 3:4-6, “If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” And while I, Anne Elliott, may not boast publicly very often, my own heart often boasts of its relationship to God.
“and know His will…”
Yes, I know the Old Testament and the New Testament. I have been taught God’s plan. I have an understanding of God’s desires and His will. It often makes me smug.
“and approve the things that are excellent…”
My standards are often higher than the world’s. My standards for myself are set high. My standards for my children are high. My standards for my church, my music, my dress, my speech, my pastor… all high.
“being instructed out of the law…”
Yes, I go to church when the church doors are open. I go to Sunday school, and I drill my children in the ways of the Lord as well. And then we could talk about Bible college…
“and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes…”
As I look at the plight of our families, our churches, and our country, my heart devises a plan. How can I guide those who do not know God’s Word? How can I hold forth the light of God’s Word? How can I be a better teacher or instructor? These people are mere babies. They don’t know how to handle the meat of Scripture. They need someone to bottle feed them, or to gently spoon in what God requires.
“having the form [the Greek word is morphosin, meaning “outline, embodiment, semblance”] of knowledge and truth in the law.”
Yup, we Christians have it all, and we’re prouuuuuuud of it!
Then Paul continues talking directly to me (Romans 2:21-24):
“You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written [see Isaiah 52:5].”
And the Spirit of God moves in my own heart and continues the questions.
“Anne, you preach that women should read their Bibles daily. Do you?” (Daily? Well, Lord, you know that sometimes I have a late night and don’t get much sleep. You wouldn’t expect me to read it EVERY morning? That’s not realistic!)
“And, uh, Anne,” He continues, tapping me on the shoulder, “You teach that women should submit to their own husbands. So I suppose that sarcastic tone of voice you used at supper tonight toward Kraig — that was ‘submissive,’ right?” (Well, Lord, he isn’t always very LOVING to me either! He IS supposed to love me as much as his own body. Like THAT happens every day…)
“Oh, and Anne, you teach that you are to always be loving and kind to your children.” (Lord, the day they start showing me
respect is the day they will have earned a little fun out of me. But if I start getting all lovey-dovey on them, well, you never know what might happen! Sometimes Mom just needs to keep on a stiff upper lip!)
Paul continues (Romans 2:25-29),
“For circumcision [or head-covering, as was the topic of discussion in MY house this week] is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that
of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
The moral of the story: God expects not only traditions, although traditions aren’t always wrong. In fact, to a pure heart, traditions and good works done from within, as praise to God, are beautiful and instructive and helpful. But traditions, done out of an evil heart, a heart that looks at the specks in others’ eyes and misses the beam in its own eye, only judge us and point out our faults with a gigantic magnifying glass.
For the Jews, the issue was circumcision. Even in our time (and in our own circles), circumcision is a hotly-debated topic. Some quote the studies that show health benefits or some are proud that their children are circumcised as the Jewish law requires. Others shudder with horror at the “mutilation” of babies and spout other studies that prove its worthlessness.
And all the while, God says that He is looking at our hearts. While circumcision is usually a private decision, nothing is more private than our hearts. Nor can we keep our hearts hidden from the piercing eyes of an almighty God. He sees our outward deeds, and He judges our inward motives. He sees my hypocrisy. He sees where I don’t even begin to measure up to His righteous standard.
Paul takes his scalpel and peels back just a few more layers of these hearts of ours. Ug….