Summary: In this passage the Apostle Paul asks and answers two questions, one dealing with God’s faithfulness, and the second dealing with our sin.
Today we resume our study in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans. My series is titled, Romans: The Good News of God.”
The Apostle Paul wrote this letter, the greatest letter ever written, to explain to the Christians in Rome, and to all Christians, how God brings us into a right relationship with himself.
3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? 4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,
“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.”
5 But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) 6 By no means! For then how could God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? 8 And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just. (Romans 3:3-8)
It is not often that you or I get to witness an exceptional mind at work, particularly in a debate or other confrontational situation.
The presidential debates, which have become a staple of the American election process every four years, should provide it. But they do not. Usually they are only presentations of well-rehearsed positions, with little true interaction, and they are slanted to the media and what we have come to call “image building.”
Law courts, where legal questions are argued and decided, could provide an example, but the discussions are usually humdrum and technical. Besides, few of us have opportunities to witness trials.
Presbytery meetings and General Assemblies sometimes provide opportunities to witness excellent debates. But, usually only elders get to attend Presbytery meetings and General Assemblies.
I have wracked my mind trying to think of where one would see great minds at work, and I cannot think of an example.
The closest example of settings in which most of us could see keen minds at work were on some of those television programs like Ted Koppel’s “Nightline” or William Buckley’s “Firing Line.” But, the current television formats cater to “sound bites” and not to substantial debate.
The Apostle Paul was a keen-thinking individual, perhaps one of the sharpest men who ever lived. But we do not have many places at which to observe his mind in action.
In the book of Acts, which records the progress of his missionary journeys, we are told repeatedly that Paul went into the Jewish synagogues and “reasoned” with the Jews (cf. Acts 9:22; 17:2-3, 17; 18:4, 28; 19:8). But there is almost no record of the form these debates took or of how Paul dealt with the questions his opponents would have been asking.
And so, as I say, there are not many places where we can see Paul’s brilliant mind in action. But here in Romans 3 we get at least a glimpse into the kind of back-and-forth reasoning that must have taken place regularly in Paul’s ministry.
The first two chapters of Romans contain the bedrock teaching of the Apostle Paul regarding the nature and universality of human sin. All that he has said in those chapters is to be summarized in Romans 3.
But Paul seems to have been hearing in his mind the questions that sharp Jewish opponents had thrown up at him over the years, and he is therefore reluctant to move on to his summary without dealing with at least the most important of them.
We have already looked at one of these questions: “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” (Romans 3:1). In following Paul’s logic at this point, we have seen that there are genuine advantages to the possession of spiritual things, even though they in themselves do not guarantee salvation. In particular, it is a great advantage to possess the Word of God.
In Romans 3:3-8 Paul deals with two more questions. In the text there are actually seven question marks as the apostle phrases these questions, no doubt reflecting ways in which they had been voiced to him. But there are really only two basic questions, and it is these two questions that Paul answers before moving on to the great summary of Romans 3:9-20.
So, today, let’s look at the two questions Paul asks and answers in Romans 3:3-8.
I. The First Question: God’s Faithfulness (3:3-4)
The first question has to do with God’s faithfulness.
The question Paul raises in verse 3 grows out of what was being previously discussed. Paul asks: “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?”