Tag Archives: faith

Should You Keep Your Convictions Secret? (Romans 14:22)

[Editorial comments added Nov. 5, 2014.]

While reading through Romans in the NIV this morning I came across chapter 14, verse 22:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. (NIV)

(This verse is part of an extended passage where Paul instructs the believers at Rome on how to handle their disagreements about whether they should observe Jewish holy days and dietary laws.)

What does it mean to keep something between yourself and God? It would be fun to stop and poll you on this question. When I hear that sentence, I hear Paul encouraging us to keep our own convictions secret between us and God, without telling others what we believe.  Several other translations make this idea explicit:

 You should keep your beliefs about these things a secret between yourself and God. (ERV)

Your beliefs about these things should be kept secret between you and God. (EXB)

Your beliefs about these things should be kept secret between you and God. (NCV)

Several other translations soften the “secret” language but still lean in the same direction:

Keep the belief that you have to yourself—it’s between you and God. (CEB)

You may know that there is nothing wrong with what you do, even from God’s point of view, but keep it to yourself; don’t flaunt your faith in front of others who might be hurt by it. (TLB)

You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. (NLT)

What does it mean to “keep” something? As I read the NIV this morning, I realized the word “keep” has a range of meanings. To give only two examples: Keep can mean “to refrain from divulging.” But it can also mean “to be faithful to; fulfill.” To keep a promise and to keep a secret involve two different kinds of keeping.

So is Paul saying we should “refrain from divulging” our personal convictions? Or is he saying we should “be faithful to and fulfill” our personal convictions? The two will look very different at times. (Or is he saying something else?) [Edit: I’m committing an interpretive error here, importing ideas into Greek from an English word, without demonstrating from other examples that the Greek word itself sometimes carries the idea. See the comments below where I refine my conclusions in this post a little and consider other interpretive possibilities.]

When we examine the Greek, we discover that the word translated “keep” in the NIV actually occurs two times in this sentence. You’d never guess it from the NIV:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. (NIV)

You might guess it from the ESV, but it’s still unclear:

 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. (ESV)

The KJV, though it turns the first phrase into a question, shows the repeated word clearly:

Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. (KJV)

In the Greek we find two different forms of the same verb: ἔχω (echō), translated in the KJV both times as “have.”  This verb is extremely common, occurring 708 times in the New Testament. The basic gloss or core definition (according to Mounce) is “to have, hold, keep.”

Words like ἔχω have a range of meanings in various contexts. But when the same word appears within the same context–indeed, within the same sentence–it normally carries the same meaning. I can’t see any good reason to translate ἔχω two different ways here. Can you? [Edit: I’m on the verge of another interpretive error here, for the immediate phrase in which the second ἔχω is found does indeed open the door to some variation in meaning. I should at least consider this possibility. See below.]

I think the NASB communicates Paul’s probable intent quite clearly here:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. (NASB)

The NRSV also does well here–better than it’s younger, conservative ESV sister:

The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. (NRSV)

Several other translations also express this idea well:

As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God. (ISV)

The faith that you have, have with respect to yourself before God. (LEB)

Phillip’s translation strangely turns a command into a statement of fact without telling us what to do about it. Otherwise, it’s pretty good:

Your personal convictions are a matter of faith between yourself and God. (Phillips)

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase isn’t very literal but, given the context of the entire passage, it expresses Paul’s desire well:

Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. (The Message)

Here’s what I think Paul is saying in this verse: I think he is returning to an idea he emphasized earlier in the chapter, when he said that each of us lives to the Lord (Rom. 14:8). Whatever conviction we hold on disputable matters, we should be faithful to that conviction and live it in honor of the Lord (Rom. 8:6). We should not judge or despise each other as we do this, for “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10). Paul is urging us to turn our critical eye inward, away from others, focusing instead on our own accountability before God. Here’s how Paul continues the thought that he began in our key sentence: “Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever had doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Rom. 14:22). Rather than destroying the work of God in your brother’s life (Rom. 14:20), Paul says, be sure you are honoring God in your own life. [Edit: Despite my oversights above, I still think this is a likely understanding of Paul’s intent. See Kruze in my comments below.]

Here’s what I don’t think Paul is saying in this verse: I don’t think he is saying that we should never voice our convictions on disputable matters. First, this seems to be stretching the meaning of the word ἔχω in this passage, which, I believe, probably means “have” or “observe” rather than “keep hidden.” [Edit: Again, see comments below for more nuance.] Second, Paul himself expresses his belief about disputable matters very clearly in this passage: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself” (Rom. 14:14). In case we missed it, he repeats his conviction later: “Everything is indeed clean” (14:15). Paul is less concerned that everyone agree with his conviction on this point than that they learn to live together in love. But he does think it is helpful to state what he believes. Why would he turn about and command us not to do what he has just done?

No, we should not try to force others to live according to our own beliefs. Nor should we speak or live in any way that will “offend” our brother–that is, cause him to violate his own beliefs. Nor should we be known for harshly announcing our opinions every time a disputable matter arises. But there is a time to lovingly explain our convictions when we disagree with each other, to teach the things that we are fully convinced of in our own minds. [Edit: I still fully agree with my conclusions here!]

What do you think? Tell us what you believe in the comments below!

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If You’re Not a Berean, Who Might You Be?

Be a Berean! This is a common encouragement among Bible-loving Christians. But what does this mean? Why is it important to be a Berean? And what is the alternative to being a Berean?

The term “Berean” comes, of course, from Acts 17:11-12, which records what happened when Paul and his band arrived in Berea on his second missionary journey:

11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (ESV)

The most common way that I recall hearing these verses used goes something like this: “Be a Berean! Test what you hear by the Scriptures. Don’t believe everything you hear from every radio preacher. Don’t base your theology on what you read online. Don’t let commentaries determine what you believe. In fact, even when your own pastor teaches you something, don’t believe it without testing it first. Don’t be gullible! Test everything by the Scriptures!

While I heartily agree with this exhortation, I don’t think it’s the most direct implication of what Luke (the author of Acts) records in our passage. Let’s reconsider these verse by examining their literary context.

According to Luke, whom were the Bereans more noble than? The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians. More precisely, the Jews in Berea were more noble than the Jews in Thessalonica.

So, in this situation, what was the alternative to being a Berean? What was the problem with the Jews in Thessalonica? We find the answer in the preceeding passage. The problem with the majority of the Thessalonican Jews is that they refused to believe Paul’s proclamation about Christ. Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead” (17:2-3). He did this over “three Sabbath days” (17:2). What was the response of the Jews? “Some of them were persuaded” (17:4). But the majority of them “were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob” (17:5). They dragged Paul’s converts before the city authorities and shouted denunciations against Paul and his coworkers: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (17:6).

In short, the problem with the Thessalonian Jews was not gullibility, but unbelief. Despite Paul’s careful exposition of Scripture–reasoning, explaining and proving everything he claimed based on the Jew’s own Scriptures, the Jews still refused to believe.

Why didn’t these Thessalonian Jews believe? I think we find an answer in verse 5: “the Jews were jealous.” They didn’t like how Paul was turning their world upside down. They refused to believe for the same reason the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem refused to believe Jesus (see 1 Thess. 2:14-16)–because believing would have meant loss of prestige and power.

So, what about us? What implications might this passage have for us today? Here are several I’d like to suggest–two exhortations and three theological truths.

Two exhortations:

  1. Don’t be a Thessalonian. Don’t reject gospel truth without giving Scripture a fair hearing. Don’t let a desire to preserve prestige and power keep you from believing the Good News. Don’t prevent the gospel from turning your world upside down! What about the truth that good works are the fruit and not the root of our salvation; have we let this good news shake our world? What about the truth that God the Holy Spirit dwells in his people, empowering victorious living and manifesting himself in a multitude of “natural” and “supernatural” gifts; have we examined the Scriptures and let our hearts believe? (What gospel truths do you think we might be in danger of rejecting?)
  2. Do be a Berean. When you hear someone proclaim good news, take time to examine it by Scripture. Don’t be surprised or alarmed if the gospel sounds like good news. Examine the Scriptures “daily.” If what you hear passes the Scripture test–that is, it is “necessary” according to Scripture (and certainly not everything does pass this test), then accept it “not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13). Believe it and let it turn your world upside down, even if it means rejection and “suffer[ing]… things from your own countrymen” (1 Thess. 2:14).

Three theological truths:

  1. Faith and reason are friends. Christian faith is rooted in reasoned, Scriptural evidence. True faith is not opposed to reason. It is not opposed to explanation and proof. It is not opposed to diligent Scriptural study. Notice the cause-and-effect link in our passage: The Bereans examined the Scriptures daily, and “therefore” many of them believed (17:12). Rational investigation is encouraged in Scripture and can lead to a strengthened faith. (In this case the rational investigation was of Scripture; in other places investigation of historical evidence is also encouraged.)
  2. Trust in Scripture is a friend to trust in Jesus. If the Bereans had not taken time to examine Scripture, they would not have accepted the gospel message Paul was proclaiming. But when they saw that Paul’s message was “necessary” (17:3) according to Scriptural evidence (that is, what Paul said had happened to Jesus was the perfect and necessary unfolding of the prophecies and typologies found in Scripture), they believed. It was the Berean’s prior trust in Scripture that prepared them to trust in Jesus. Those today who erode trust in Scripture are, by intention or not, also eroding trust in Jesus–even if the results of such erosion are not always evident for a generation or two.
  3. Heart condition determines our response to gospel truth. This observation opens difficult questions related to the order of salvation. (Which comes first? Our faith in Christ, or God’s work of regenerating our hearts?) But laying aside such discussions for the moment, notice the evidence in our passage. Both the Thessalonians and the Bereans possessed the Scriptures. They both heard the Scriptures explained by Paul. But one group was “jealous” (17:5) while the other “received the word with all eagerness” (17:11). And so, in the first group “some of them were persuaded” (17:4), while in the second group “many of them… believed” (17:12). Some versus many. Only hearts delivered from jealousy and self-preservation are prepared to believe the fullness of the Good News.

So, let’s be Bereans! Let’s be “gullible” enough to let Scriptural evidence convince us that all the riches of the gospel are true. Then let’s go out and imitate those who have willingly suffered for the sake of the word of God.

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Decision-making with God in the picture

(Old Facebook Post)

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and Confidence Buy on Amazon Good words from a good book–Jerry Sittser writing in The Will of God as a Way of Life:

“I think decision-making is inherently messy, especially when God enters the picture. It is hard enough to make a decision on one’s own; it is even harder when we consider God’s mysterious purposes.”

On the other hand:

“What counts most is that God is working in my life, writing a redemptive story. I can trust him and do his will wherever I am, whether or not I made the ‘right’ choices, whether or not those ‘right’ choices had a good outcome.”

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