Connections 03.05.2017: So Much More

Romans 5:12-19

Back when the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was all the rage, Saturday Night Live presented a parody of it (of course they did). Darrell Hammond portrayed host Regis Philbin, and Will Farrell played a contestant named Rich Preylant.

As you may recall, Regis would ask a contestant a series of questions. The million dollar grand prize awaited someone who answered fifteen questions correctly. Contestants had three “lifelines,” which were ways to get some help. The first question, which was worth one hundred dollars, was intended to be a softball.

Rich took his place in the chair opposite Regis, who posed the question: “According to American folklore, what kind of tree did George Washington chop down?” The four answer choices were:

A: orange tree,
B: cherry tree,
C: fig tree,
D: pizza tree.

After cracking a little joke (“If a pizza tree existed, I’d probably weigh three hundred pounds”), Rich correctly answered, “B: cherry tree.”

That was his final answer.

When Regis said that the next question was worth two hundred dollars, Rich said, “Actually, Regis, I’m good. I think I’m gonna fold up the shop.” When Regis responded, “I’m sorry?”, Rich said, “I think I’ll fold up the shop, take my hundred dollars, go back to West Virginia, and plan my family’s future.” When Regis asked him if he was aware they’re talking about a hundred dollars, Rich said, “Yep, I am. That’s why I don’t want to risk it.” It wasn’t even a struggle for him. He was happy to have a hundred dollars.

And everybody laughed.

It’s funny because nobody would do that. Nobody would walk away from a potentially huge reward for the sake of holding onto a measly one hundred dollars. I mean, it’s good to have a hundred dollars, but not when so much more is available (and the questions usually didn’t become difficult until the first few rounds had passed).

Yet we do such things all the time. We think we have it good, when God has made it so we can have it so much better.

This week’s first lectionary reading is the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7). They evidently could resist anything except temptation. When their “eyes… were opened” (3:7), they invented and donned fig-leaf loincloths, which sound like they’d be scratchy (and the way their day was going, I wouldn’t be surprised if a little poison ivy was mixed in with the fig leaves). Later, when God created a line of animal skin clothes for them, they didn’t turn them down. They had to be much more comfortable. God’s grace was much greater than their sad efforts.

Jesus, on the other hand, could resist everything, including temptation—even when resisting required him to follow a hard and deadly path (Mt 4:1-11, the lectionary Gospel reading). But because he remained true to his identity and his calling, Jesus was the means through which we come to know God’s great grace.

Look at what Paul says in this week’s lesson text.

“For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (v. 15).

“If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (v. 17).

We should learn to live in God’s “much more.”

God’s “much more” is God’s grace. It’s not just barely enough to deal with our sins; it is much more than enough. It abounds! Sometimes we settle for being saved by the skin of our teeth, when we could be reveling in God’s amazing, abundant grace.

That’s a good thing to remember on this first Sunday in Lent. During this season, we tend to focus on our mortality and our sinfulness, which is appropriate. Repentance is necessary and healthy, and awareness, acknowledgement, and confession are vital to genuine repentance. But if we’re not careful, we’ll settle for fig leaf loincloths of our own design rather than for the amazing, abundant grace of God that is ours through Jesus Christ.

So let’s not allow God’s abounding grace ever to slip from our thoughts. In fact, let’s make sure God’s abounding grace is always uppermost in them.

Do you know the hymn “Grace Greater Than Our Sin”? Had I written it, it would say, “Grace that is far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far (ad finitum) greater than our sin.” It would be a song without end, amen. It would be an abounding celebration of God’s abounding grace. It would say much more about God’s much more.

God’s grace is so much more that we can never sing enough about it. We can never think enough about. We can never say enough about it. And we can never do enough about it.

But we can do much more….

Discussion

1. What is “sin”? Why do we need to be made aware of our sinfulness? Why does our sin need to be addressed?
2. What is “grace”? Why is God’s grace greater than our sin? How does God make that grace known to us?
3. Why does Paul emphasize that God’s grace is for “the many”? Why should we remember that it is?
4. How will it affect our spiritual life if we continually settle for less than God’s abundant grace? What are we tempted to settle for?

Reference Shelf

In Paul’s view, Adam was more than one in a series. As the first human, he had a representative role, so that what happened to him was of decisive and defining importance for all those following him. For Paul’s comparison and contrast to make sense, I think we need to take seriously how he viewed Jesus’ resurrection as a fundamentally new beginning for humanity. In 4:17, we saw how Paul put God’s capacity to “give life to the dead” in the same line as “calling into being that which did not exist.” Creation and resurrection are variations of the same theme. And Paul unequivocally regarded Jesus’ resurrection as a new creation: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:45-50, Paul contrasts the two representatives of humanity in terms of the first creation and the resurrection: “thus it is written, ‘the first man Adam became a living being’ [Gen 2:7]. The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” Once this is granted, then a comparison to the first human in the old creation makes sense as a way of dramatically illustrating the radical character of what has happened through Jesus (see K. Barth, Christ and Adam [New York: Collier Books, 1962]). In the present case, the contrast is between sin and grace and the power exercised over humanity by each.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 92-93.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly