Bible Study with Jairus – Romans 3
When we first read Romans 3, we felt that there was some confusion in the logic. For example, Paul asked a question in the first verse: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?” (Romans 3:1, NIV). Then he answered this question in the second verse. He said: “Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” Logically speaking, we would then expect Paul to say: “second or third” later, but we couldn’t find the second or third in chapter 3, nor in chapters 4 or 5. When I searched online, I saw that it’s not until Romans 9:4-5 before Paul talked about other advantages of the Jews. So it’s not that Paul’s logic is unclear. It’s just that we don’t understand his reasoning, making it difficult to properly interpret this chapter.
Our understanding of the Bible is often influenced by the teaching we receive. Witness Lee, a leader in the Local Church Movement where I was saved, taught that Romans, chapters 9-11 were inserted to teach about the Jews’ election. This teaching deeply influenced me, so I didn’t see Paul’s logic here differently. I’m sure Witness Lee had reasons for teaching this. Paul’s question about the advantages of the Jews began in chapter 3, was touched on in chapter 8, and continued in chapter 9. As Paul said in Romans 9:4-5 (ESV), “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.”
Witness Lee may have talked about the other advantages of the Jews in Romans 9, but I rarely heard anyone talk about this during my thirteen years of attending there. Instead, the statement about Romans 9-11 being inserted to speak about the Jews election left a deep impression on me. So the thought came to me that maybe Romans chapters 3-8 in total were added for that purpose. I am not criticizing others here. I am just discussing how we can learn from our predecessors without limitations.
In addition to praying for God’s revelation, it’s important to look at and incorporate teaching from other Bible scholars who have gone on before us. There are two parts to the process of studying other people’s interpretations of the Bible. One part is to understand the light that others have received; the other part is to unlearn some of the teachings we have received. We often get some of our understanding of the Scriptures from various Bible teachers. Many of these teachings are rooted in our memories and even our souls. On the one hand, these teachings help us to understand the Bible. On the other hand, they sometimes become concepts, preventing us from further understanding the Bible.
When I was in the Local Church Movement, I often encountered Christians from other churches, especially Chinese churches, who condemned the Local Church Movement and Witness Lee of teaching heresy.
I left the Local Church Movement and was led to learn the truths and pursue gifts in the Pentecostal Movement. My understanding of the Bible and some of its truths gradually differed from the teaching of the Local Church Movement, but to this day, I still disagree with the Chinese churches that condemned it. There are many things in this movement worth learning by the body of Christ. I do have a problem with some of the Local Church Movement’s teaching. They stay ingrained in their own beliefs and teachings unwilling to grow and learn from other traditions or denominations. Witness Lee’s understanding of the Bible in some areas isn’t correct. For example, his note on “the word of knowledge,” in 1 Corinthians 12 says: “The word of knowledge is the word that imparts a general knowledge of things concerning God and the Lord (8:1-7). The word of knowledge is mainly of our understanding through teaching.” (Notes of the Recovery Version). This explains why I didn’t understand what the word of knowledge was when I first came into contact with the Pentecostal Movement.
In the Pentecostal Movement, the miraculous message God has given to some pastors is called “the word of knowledge.” I heard that Derek Prince mentioned at a healing meeting that his wife felt that God wanted to heal someone’s leg. He called this the “word of knowledge.” When Prophet Shawn Bolz, who is very gifted in words of knowledge, uses his gift of prophecy, many times he was able to tell the other party’s bank account number, birthday, name, social security number, and other information impossible to know. His gift shocks people into believing that God exists, and often they even get saved. I’ve attended Shawn’s meetings several times and witnessed him using words of knowledge.
The Lord Jesus miraculously knew the history of the Samaritan woman’s five husbands. He had never seen Zacchaeus but knew his name (Luke 19:5). He saw Nathanael while he was still under the fig tree (John 1:48). In the Pentecostal Movement, these are generally called “words of knowledge.” Witness Lee also had this experience. For example, he mentioned that under no prior knowledge, he pointed out that a person stole chalk and drew circles on the floor, causing the person to repent and be saved (Witness Lee: “Life-Study of Romans”), and during a sermon, he miraculously pointed out that a woman allowed her husband to work overtime to buy high-heeled shoes for her, which led to the woman’s repentance and salvation (Witness Lee: “The Fullness of God”). He also said in another message that John Sung pointed to a woman and said that she was a mistress under unknown circumstances, causing the woman to repent after being inspired by the Holy Spirit (Witness Lee: “Practice Being One Spirit with the Lord”). According to the Pentecostal Movement, this phenomenon is called the “word of knowledge.”
I think that the Pentecostal Movement’s interpretation of the “word of knowledge” is correct because, generally speaking, the nine gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 are miraculous gifts. These miraculous gifts are given by God to help evangelists, prophets, and ordinary Christians influence others to repent and come to Christ. However, Witness Lee believed that the “word of knowledge” came through our understanding and teaching. This differs from the interpretation of the Pentecostal Movement, which believes that the “word of knowledge” does not come from understanding but is a miraculous message from God.
I think that although Witness Lee studied speaking in tongues in the early days, he distanced himself from it and the Pentecostal Movement. He might have lacked the experiences or manifestations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and did not understand what speaking in tongues meant to us today.
He criticized the Pentecostal Movement for not focusing on the growth of an individual’s spiritual life. Although he was correct in this, he misunderstood the gifts of the Holy Spirit due to his lack of spiritual experience. Leaving the Local Church Movement after thirteen years to learn more about the Pentecostal Movement was difficult. It was a painful process to expand my mind to receive the truths that God was teaching me, but it was well worth it. The process of understanding the Bible is similar. We must pray that God will give us revelation, yet still be willing to learn from others who see things differently. I’m grateful for the teaching and training I received in the Local Church Movement. After leaving, I studied a variety of church movements and realize that many of the things I learned in my former church are true Biblical teachings that I highly recommend other believers to search out and glean from. Through my journey of discovery in other churches and ministries, I’ve examined my views and conflicting thoughts concerning several teachings that I now disagree with in the Local Church Movement.
Each time I lead our Bible study, I go through a process of sorting out the beneficial things I learned from the Local Church Movement and promote them without reservation. I then present the views that I’ve studied in other churches hoping to influence Christians in the Local Church Movement. I maintain an attitude of gratefulness for what I’ve learned there while hoping to break through the traditional restrictions that I was taught. This allows the Holy Spirit freedom to lead us to a deeper understanding of God’s Word.
This process applies to every Christian group looking to break through the restrictions of their particular denomination. Each of us inherits spiritual wealth as well as restrictions from our spiritual founders. My heart is to help people see that when reading the Bible, we should be open to the Holy Spirit and be willing to learn from our predecessors and the body of Christ. We need to learn to put the teaching to practical use and not allow it to be a hindrance to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
When I read Romans 3 this time, I applied this principle. I tried to incorporate the understanding I learned from my predecessors, and look up to the renewing of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s recap our discussion in Romans 1 and 2, which was the historical record of the conflict between Jews and Gentiles in early Rome. This conflict may have been severe enough that Claudius commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. It was after this incident that the Jews from the Roman Church, Priscilla, and Aquila, came to Corinth and met Paul (Acts 18:2). At this point, Paul had the burden to go and visit Rome (Acts 19:21). Paul wrote the book of Romans in Corinth because he wasn’t sure if he could go to Jerusalem or reach Rome safely (Romans 1:10). It’s possible that this conflict may have been extended to the church – Jewish believers had to live according to the law and even required the Gentiles to obey the law. While the Gentiles boasted of their culture, this induced conflicts. But Paul does not shy away from this. In Romans 2:24 (NIV), he quoted the Old Testament to accuse the Jewish believers, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of them.”
After Paul greeted and praised the faith of the Roman church in chapter 1 verses 1-17, he began to point out the sins of the Gentiles in verses 18-32. Romans, chapter 2, criticized the Jews. Chapter 3 continued this criticism, but its target audience was the Gentiles. Why am I saying this?
The Holy Spirit showed me that the conflict between the Jewish and Gentile believers could have been caused by erroneous Jewish teaching that led the Gentile believers to backslide. Paul tried to correct this teaching by immersing himself in the Gentile’s lives and teaching them the truth.
At this point, we could speculate that Paul asked the Gentiles whether they believed the Jews had more advantages. There are some, including the fact that they were entrusted with the words of God. We had to wait until chapter 9 for him to identify other advantages. Paul seemed to act like an elder trying to stop people from arguing with one another. He spoke of the Jew’s shortcomings as well as pointed out that they had a purpose in God’s kingdom. Chapters 9-11 follow this train of thought as Paul talks about how God elected the Jews and the burden he had for them. From this point of view, we can see that Romans, chapters 9-11, were not inserted as Witness Lee described. It can be traced back to the beginning of chapter 3. Paul interjected his spiritual experiences and the topic of justification by faith between chapters 3-8. He shared his spiritual experiences to help the Gentiles overcome sin and the Jews to overcome the law.
Romans chapter 3 begins with the topic of justification by faith (3:28), and chapter 4 explains Abraham’s experience of justification by faith in detail. Romans chapter 5 continues talking about justification by faith but brings in the viewpoint that the law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (Romans 5:20, NIV). Romans chapter 6 explains how our old man is crucified with Christ so that we may now live with Him. In Romans chapter 7, Paul describes being bound by the law of sin, and chapter 8 talks about Christ’s resurrection, releasing us from the law of sin and death. Paul combines his own experience plus the truth of justification by faith, and then in chapter 9 continues his thoughts that he began in chapter 3 that the Jews were worthy of the Gentiles appreciation and acceptance. The Gentiles should be grateful that the Jews helped to pass on the Word of God, providing us with the Old Testament. In addition, Romans 9:4-5 (ESV) says, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” This all ties into Paul’s previous train of thought.
After Paul finished talking about the Jews, he continued to say in Romans 12 that the people of the Roman Church must “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10, NIV), submit to the authorities (Romans 13:1, NIV), and accept one other (Romans 14:1, NIV). In Chapter 15, Paul specifically mentions that he would bring the Gentile’s offering to Jerusalem and bring the blessings of the Gentile churches into Jerusalem. From this, not only can we see Paul’s logic, but we can also understand why Paul had to go to Jerusalem. Because of the constant conflict between Jewish believers and Gentile believers at that time, Paul was really burdened. He hoped that they could increase communication and reconcile with each other. This has a lot of spiritual significance for the United States today as the country is currently facing racial conflict.
A man in our study asked why Romans 3:8 (NIV) says, “Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—”Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is just!” Previously in verse 5, Paul said, “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say?” There is no record in the Bible of who slandered Paul for saying “do evil that good may result,” but I’m sure Paul had a reason for saying this. Although Paul had not been to Rome before and may not have communicated with the Roman Church, some leaders and believers in this church, including Priscilla and Aquila, etc., communicated with Paul, so he may have indirectly heard the slanderous claims from them.
Paul is talking about justification by faith and not because of our works. Of course, this includes good works or bad works. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul quoted the words of the Old Testament to prove that no one is righteous. In verses 19-20, he said that it is through the law that we become conscious of our sin. Only after becoming aware of our sin, can we gain righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.
Another man asked why verse 31 in chapter 3 (NIV) says, “Do we nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” I answered him by saying that Paul was still talking about his spiritual experience in preparation for what he would say in chapter 8 about being free from the law of sin and death.
The Local Church Movement taught that the woman in Chapter 7 represents the law, and the dead husband represents the old man. When the old man dies, the new husband will be Christ. The law is not a source of trouble; the old man is.
Whether we are talking about the Old Testament Law or New Testament grace, the requirement is to love God and love others as you love yourself. The problem is when the old man is in control rather than the new man in Christ. Living according to the old man will always bring condemnation. For example, if you are trying to love your wife through the old man and can’t do it, you’ll be condemned for not loving her. This is how the law works. However, if you are alive in Christ, you can love your wife to the point of even laying down your life. You won’t violate the law; instead, you’ll perfect and strengthen the requirements of the law, which is to love your neighbor as yourself.
The strength of the Local Church Movement is to teach Christians to experience spiritual growth and the renewal of the soul so that the life of Christ can be fuller in us. This teaching would benefit everyone and is worth learning.
I also shared my spiritual experience. I talked about the hardship of ten years of infertility, the difficulties it caused in our marriage, as well as how to overcome these difficulties and achieve spiritual breakthroughs in faith and prayer. The result was having a miracle baby. My own experience also proves that not only do we have to be saved by faith, but every step of our spiritual breakthrough is also through faith. I shared how, with the help of God, I had step by step internalized into my own spiritual experience (that is ruling my life) what the law had required me from the outside. Initially, my wife asked me from the outside to love and care for her, but I couldn’t do it. But with this change, I had slowly developed love and sympathy for my wife inside.
My own experience and what Paul said here are all described in Jeremiah 31:33 (ESV): “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
In other words, the law restricts and rules us from the outside. This is because we are still children, and we need the law as our guardian to discipline us. But its purpose is to bring us to Christ so that we can be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). The law must go from the outside to the inside of our hearts. In the Old Testament, the Jews only had the law outside while the law in the New Testament was to be established in our hearts. But the Jews had a veil over their hearts (2 Corinthians 3:14). Likewise, Christians today can also have a veil over their hearts. God’s law, whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament, is not wrong. It is because people’s hearts have a veil, and their hearts are distorted, which led them to distort the law. Here Paul is trying to help the believers remove the veil from their hearts because he knows that when our hearts turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away (NIV, 2 Corinthians 3:16).
This statement applies not only to the Jews or Jewish believers in the early church but also to anyone in Christianity today. Is there a veil over our hearts that prevents us from further understanding the richness of God and His Word? Even the biblical knowledge and truths we learn from our Christian tradition can sometimes become veils that prevent us from further understanding God. May God have mercy on us, illuminate us, and help remove all our veils!