Fear of condemnation births poor judgement. We are free from condemnation in Messiah Yeshua: from this freedom the Ruach (Spirit) in us births love, power and sound judgement.
An examination of Romans 12
Rabbi Shaul/Paul begins the final section of Romans (12-15) with a, “therefore,” that not only refers to what is directly before but also encompasses the entire letter up to this point (1-11). This concluding exhortation begins with the same rhythm he has followed throughout the letter, “to the Jew first and also to the Goyim.” Based on the absolute and immutable security of G-d’s plan, he first offers comfort and then practical advice. In comfort we see shamor (observance), in practical advice we see a zakhor (remembrance) of the Temple worship, applied to both the individual and the community of Messiah followers.
In comfort we find the suffering Messiah, in chesed (mercy) we find a living sacrifice and in service we are being made Holy (set apart) unto HaShem.
“For by one sacrifice He has made perfect (complete) forever, those who are being made Holy (set apart).” –Hebrews 10:14
12:1 I offer you comfort, therefore, Ami (My people, Jewish brothers and sisters) in view of G-d’s chesed (mercies); so offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, set apart for G-d. This will please Him; it is the logical “Temple service/worship” (avodah) for you. (See Romans 9:4)
At the time of the writing of this letter to the Roman ecclesia (approx. 57 C.E.), the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem continued to be offered three times a day. Jews from all over the known world—including Messianic Jews and Shaul/Paul himself—continued to make Aliyah (going up) for the three pilgrimage festivals of Israel. The graphic and sobering sight of the sacrifices, the purchasing of undefiled animals, the representation of atonement (covering) and the awe of the Temple service, is all implicit in Shaul’s meaning. He is echoing the words of Messiah, “Take up your cross.” (Matthew 16:24-26)
The avodah (Temple service) is a reference to Romans 9:4 and therefore denotes the levitical worship framework.
2 Moreover, do not be conformed to the standards of the Olam hazeh (present world). Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your consciousness; so that you may prove, discern and examine the good and pleasing, perfect goal of the will of G-d.
In Hebrew thought the Olam ha-zeh (present world) always stands in contrast to the Olam ha-ba (world to come). We cannot read this phrase without making that connection.
While the Greek, “nous,” does refer to the mind or intellect and although the Greek understanding of consciousness is seated in the mind/brain/intellect: I believe it is worthwhile to consider that as a Jew Shaul/Paul may well be using this word as a representation of consciousness itself.
The Hebrew consciousness is not located in the mind alone, in fact it is located—if that can be said—at the core of the being where all aspects of the being converge. It is for this reason that we read, “Write them on the tablets of your heart.” (Deuteronomy 11:18) The Hebrew, “Levav,” (heart) refers to the centre of all aspects of the human being rather than the seat of emotion. The Hebrew, “Nefesh,” (soul) encompasses the being, whereas the Hebrew, “Levav,” (Heart) is the point at which all aspects of the being converge.
This means that it is the renewing of our entire being that Shaul/Paul is alluding to here and not simply our intellect. For this reason I have rendered the Greek, “nous,” as, “consciousness,” and I intend it to be understood as the centre of a Hebrew consciousness.
I have given several of the meanings for the Greek word, “dokimazō,” because I believe them to convey a fuller understanding of Shaul’s meaning. We don’t, “test,” G-d’s will because we are commanded not to. (Deuteronomy 6:16) We prove it, discern it and examine it, by the Ruach ha-Kodesh; so that we might reach the goal/perfection of G-d’s will, in Messiah.
In keeping with the theme of Shaul’s dialogue, I have rendered the Greek, “teleios,” as, “perfect goal,” keeping the similar word, “telos,” in mind and the previous reference in Romans 10:4 regarding the fact that Messiah is the goal of the Torah.
3 For through the chesed (grace) given to me I say to everyone among you, don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to;
It is at this juncture that Shaul/Paul, using the word, “everyone,” begins to speak again to the entire Roman ecclesia, both Jewish and Gentile Messiah followers.
The warning that was previously given to the Goyim (Nations/Gentiles) in Romans 11, is now extended to include the Messianic Jewish believers. All Messiah followers are to be humble, without humility no one can receive G-d’s gift.
But think so as to have sound judgment/consciousness (Sober assessment of the mind/heart), according to the emunah (trust) which G-d has measured out and allotted to each one of you.
“For G-d has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of sound judgement (assessment/discernment).”
–2 Timothy 1:7
Fear of condemnation births poor judgement. We are free from condemnation in Messiah Yeshua: from this freedom the Ruach (Spirit) in us births love, power and sound judgement. We are not able to, “stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgement (assessment/discernment),”—as Yeshua commands—from a place of fear. Right judgement (assessment/discernment) is born in a place of chesed (grace) and absolute, immutable security.
4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members one of another.
This is a concise summary of Shaul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12-14). It builds on the platform set in verse 3. There are many colours in the rainbow, all merge into one another and the rainbow itself is a single entity. Each colour within the rainbow is in turn made up of thousands of water droplets which are reflect and refract the sunlight.
The Hebrew consciousness, in HaShem, sees separate entities within a unity. One way to explain this is with colour: blue and red are entirely separate colours, however, when mixed together they form a unity which we call purple. It’s the same with Hebrew theological concepts—although these concepts are invalid on their own, they must be acted upon in order to become one with our entire being: this is why, before the Hellenization of the Jewish people there was no Hebrew word for, “Theology.” In fact it is true to say that for the Jew there is no theology, there is only trust, the unity of hagadah (our story) and halakhah (the way we walk).
6 But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the chesed (grace) that has been given to us.
If we are gifted, we are gifted according to chesed (grace) and are therefore caretakers of the gifts G-d has imparted to us. They are not to become a source of pride—which leads to rebellion.
If your gift is prophecy, use it to the extent of your trust; 7 if it is serving, use it to serve; if you are a teacher, use your gift in teaching;
“The world is upheld by three things: Torah, temple service and acts of mercy.” –Avot 1:2
8 if you are a comforter, use your gift to comfort and inspire; if you are someone who gives, do it simply and generously; if you are in a position of leadership, lead with diligence and zeal; if you are one who does acts of chesed (mercy), do them cheerfully.
“A person should share in the distress of the community.” –Taanit 11a
9 Don’t misrepresent love by pretending. Be utterly disgusted at what is evil, and cling to what is good. 10 Love each other devotedly and with familial love; and set examples for each other in showing respect. 11 Don’t be lazy when hard work is needed, but serve HaShem with spiritual fervour. 12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in your troubles, and continue steadfastly in prayer. 13 Share what you have with G-d’s people, and practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you — bless and do not curse!
“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” –Luke 6:28 (Yeshua)
“And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who]curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” –Genesis/Bereshit 12:3
Let’s be clear, those who curse the children of G-d will be cursed, but not by the children of G-d. G-d will curse those who curse you, for the purpose of drawing them to Himself.
“For the wrath of G-d is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.” –Romans 1:18
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
What is the halakhah/practical outworking of this? It means, don’t begrudge another person’s success and don’t offer trite spiritualized solutions to another person when they are troubled or distressed. This is an instruction to come alongside another person in all things, for better or worse.
16 Be sensitive to each other’s needs — don’t reach selfishly for higher things, but make humble people your friends. Don’t be conceited.
Pride born of rebellion leads to death, therefore Shaul/Paul repeats the admonition. “Don’t be conceited, surround yourself with people who are humble.” Why? Because, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but be seen to be honest in the sight of others.18 If possible, and to the extent that it depends on you, live in peace with all people.
“One should be guiltless before other people as well as before G-d, for it says, ‘You shall be guiltless before G-d and before Israel,’ (Bamidbar/Numbers 32:22)” –Shekalim 3:2
This is not a call to pacifism but an instruction to do everything possible to avoid an escalation to violence.
19 Never seek revenge, my friends; instead, leave room for G-d’s wrath (Romans 1:18); for it is written in the Torah,
“‘Vengeance is mine,’ says HaShem, ‘I will repay.’” (Deuteronomy 32:35, 41, 43)
This is a promise to the children of G-d, an affirmation of His just nature. Those who walk in hatred should not think they will escape G-d’s vengeance, He is jealous for His people. Believers are warned against vengeance because our understanding of any given situation is limited, whereas G-d sees the full picture and is thus able to act with absolute justice.
The Song of Moses
32:1 “Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak;
And let the earth hear the words of my mouth.
2 “Let my teaching drop as the rain,
My speech distil as the dew,
As the droplets on the fresh grass
And as the showers on the herb.
3 “For I proclaim the name of HaShem;
Ascribe greatness to our G-d!
4 “The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
A G-d of faithfulness and without injustice,
Righteous and upright is He.
5 “They have acted corruptly toward Him,
They are not His children, because of their defect;
But are a perverse and crooked generation.
6 “Do you thus repay HaShem,
O foolish and unwise people?
Is not He your Father who has bought you?
He has made you and established you.
7 “Remember the days of old,
Consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father, and he will inform you,
Your elders, and they will tell you.
8 “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance,
When He separated the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples
According to the number of the sons of Israel.
9 “For Hashem’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.
10 “He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
11 “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
12 “HaShem alone guided him,
And there was no foreign god with him.
13 “He made him ride on the high places of the earth,
And he ate the produce of the field;
And He made him suck honey from the rock,
And oil from the flinty rock,
14 Curds of cows, and milk of the flock,
With fat of lambs,
And rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats,
With the finest of the wheat--
And of the blood of grapes you drank wine.
15 “But Yeshurun (My pleasant, upright one) grew fat and kicked--
You are grown fat, thick, and sleek--
Then he forsook G-d who made him,
And scorned the Rock of his salvation.
16 “They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
17 “They sacrificed to demons who were not G-d,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.
18 “You neglected the Rock who begot you,
And forgot the G-d who gave you birth.
19 “HaShem saw this, and spurned them
Because of the provocation of His sons and daughters.
20 “Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them,
I will see what their end shall be;
For they are a perverse generation,
Sons in whom is no faithfulness.
21 ‘They have made Me jealous with what is not G-d;
They have provoked Me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people;
I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation,
22 For a fire is kindled in My anger,
And burns to the lowest part of Sheol (place of the dead),
And consumes the earth with its yield,
And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
23 ‘I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
24 ‘They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague
And bitter destruction;
And the teeth of beasts I will send upon them,
With the venom of crawling things of the dust.
25 ‘Outside the sword will bereave,
And inside terror--
Both young man and virgin,
The nursling with the man of grey hair.
26 ‘I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces,
I will remove the memory of them from men,”
27 Had I not feared the provocation by the enemy,
That their adversaries would misjudge,
That they would say, “Our hand is triumphant,
And HaShem has not done all this.”’
28 “For they are a nation lacking in counsel,
And there is no understanding in them.
29 “Would that they were wise, that they understood this,
That they would discern their future!
30 “How could one chase a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
And HaShem had given them up?
31 “Indeed their rock is not like our Rock,
Even our enemies themselves judge this.
32 “For their vine is from the vine of Sodom,
And from the fields of Gomorrah;
Their grapes are grapes of poison,
Their clusters, bitter.
33 “Their wine is the venom of serpents,
And the deadly poison of cobras.
34 ‘Is it not laid up in store with Me,
Sealed up in My treasuries?
35 ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.’
36 “For HaShem will vindicate His people,
And will have compassion on His servants,
When He sees that their strength is gone,
And there is none remaining, bond or free.
37 “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods,
The rock in which they sought refuge?
38 ‘Who ate the fat of their sacrifices,
And drank the wine of their drink offering?
Let them rise up and help you,
Let them be your hiding place!
39 ‘See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
40 ‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven,
And say, as I live forever,
41 If I sharpen My flashing sword,
And My hand takes hold on justice,
I will render vengeance on My adversaries,
And I will repay those who hate Me.
42 ‘I will make My arrows drunk with blood,
And My sword will devour flesh,
With the blood of the slain and the captives,
From the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’
43 “Rejoice, O nations, with His people;
For He will avenge the blood of His servants,
And will render vengeance on His adversaries,
And will atone for His land and His people.”
44 Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun. 45 When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this Instruction. 47 For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.”
48 HaShem spoke to Moses that very same day, saying, 49 “Go up to this mountain of the Abarim, Mount Nebo, which is in the land of Moab opposite Jericho, and look at the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the sons of Israel for a possession. 50 Then die on the mountain where you ascend, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, 51 because you broke faith with Me in the midst of the sons of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, because you did not treat Me as holy in the midst of the sons of Israel. 52 For you shall see the land at a distance, but you shall not go there, into the land which I am giving the sons of Israel.”
20 On the contrary,
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For by doing this, you will heap
fiery coals [of shame] on his head.” (Proverbs 25:21-22)
When we act righteously toward those who sin against us, they are overwhelmed by embarrassment. Fiery coals (a Hebrew idiom referring to shame or embarrassment) are the revelation of the judgement of HaShem, because our enemies are His enemies and He seeks the reconciliation of His enemies. However, reconciliation is a gift that must be accepted, those that refuse it will receive wrath.
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Many have misused this text to promote unequivocal pacifism in the name of G-d. This is not what is being taught here. The man who protects an innocent child by violently opposing an attacker seeking to harm that child, is overcoming evil with good. When Corrie ten Boom’s father lied to the Gestapo concerning the Jews he was hiding in his basement during WW2, he was overcoming evil with good. When an Israeli soldier shoots a would-be suicide bomber before they can murder innocent Israeli citizens, he or she is overcoming evil with good.
“Do not be overcome by evil,” means, do not allow hatred to consume you, and don’t allow your actions to be motivated by rebellion, “Submit yourselves to G-d, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (Yaakov/James 4:7)
“But overcome evil with good,” means, recognise the Kingship of Messiah in your inner being and rely on His Spirit to be the motivator of your every action. Act righteously in mercy toward others.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Nice view on good overcoming evil. Pacifism itself could be seen as an evil if it leads to apathetic injustice.
Shalom Joseph, thanks for your enlightening comments and encouragement. Your point regarding inactivity is more than valid. Shavuah tov.
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,