Signpost for Sunday 16th July, 2017: Genesis 25:19-34; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
In the Tyndale series of commentaries there is one on the letter to the church in Rome which was written by F. F. Bruce: it was published when I was an engineering undergraduate in the University of Manchester and he was the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis. In his own introduction to the letter he quotes a small part of Tyndale’s introduction. I would like to quote a portion of what Bruce quotes, which was itself a small portion of what Tyndale wrote and published in 1526. (I may have quoted this before in a Signpost, I have certainly quoted it elsewhere.)
Forasmuch as this epistle is the principal and most excellent part of the New Testament, and most pure Euangelion, that is to say glad tidings and that we call gospel, and also a light and a way unto the whole Scripture, I think it meet that every Christian man not only know it by rote and without the book, but also exercise himself therein evermore continually, as with the daily bread of the soul.
Tyndale goes on to say that the letter is an introduction to the Old Testament.
While Tyndale’s suggestion that every Christian should know the whole of the epistle by rote might not fit with modern ideas about learning it does seem to fit with modern ideas about acting: without knowing exactly what the author wrote it is not possible to produce a proper interpretation, in action or the tone of voice, of the character that is to be portrayed. Similarly, with this letter: unless we can grasp it as a whole and discern what is behind it we will be unable to communicate it. Here I am admitting that I have not grasped everything in the letter, and so cannot properly express it. There is something that does tend to confuse me, and within the commentary I found something that helps. There is a use of the word law which differs from the usual meaning of instructions on how to behave. In some places the word law is used to mean principle. The distinction seems to found by context, so that law of may be read as principle of. The second verse of the reading would then become:
For the principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the principle of sin and of death.
Being set free brings us into the astonishing situation where we have an affectionate, familial relationship in which we can address God as Abba.
The process that follows from this membership of a family is a change in the way of thinking and acting, very much like the habituation process which Aristotle proposed, but with a significant difference. There is the gift of a life within which can change our being: the resurrection life of Jesus, with the Holy Spirit living within.