by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 4 Paragraph # 3 Study # 4 December 6, 2005 Lincolnton, N.C.
(180)Thesis:The conflict of faith is progressively more effective.
Introduction:Last week we looked into the issues of Abraham's faith in respect to how it came into existence. We saw that it came by reason of two elements. The first was the active "presence" of the hope-speaking God (One who makes "promises") Who must always be "on hand" if man is to become believing (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The other was the rational foundation of the omnipotence of the present God. It is interesting that Sarah's "faith" was developed by God as He not only spoke in her hearing, but challenged her anemic concept of Yahweh's power (Genesis 18). We are told by Hebrews 11:11 that He was effective on her behalf. And this is on the heels of Genesis 17:17 where Abraham "laughed" in light of the very issues Paul has raised in this text. He was given three months to think about it.
Now we have actually come in Romans 4 to Paul's reference to the Genesis 17:17 text. What we are going to see this evening is that the triumph of "faith unto fulfillment" is invariably the final straw in the incremental process to which God is adamantly committed.
I. God Promised Abraham What He Made Faith-Dependent.
A. This is a rather significant tension: God promises something that is dependent upon the faith of the recipient of the promise, but cannot make the promise without becoming a liar if it does not come to pass.
1. Logically, this can only mean one thing: God is going to confront the person and develop the faith that is necessary for fulfillment.
2. Historically, this was developed by several stages in which God confronted Abraham with specific revelation and provided the oversight necessary to build the strength of faith.
B. In our text, Paul deliberately uses a highly suggestive metaphor to give us a way to understand his point.
1. The "metaphor" is in his statement "without becoming weak in faith".
2. The "metaphor" is that of physical illness.
a. In that metaphor the issue of "weakness" is expressed by a verb that typically indicates physical infirmity and is used metaphorically here in respect to the non-physical realm of heart/mind conviction.
1) The use is instructive. The term signals a condition of the body in which the conflict over which will exercise dominion (the forces of life, or the invading forces of death) is being won by the invaders. The body is "weak" -- i.e., it cannot throw off the illness while it is having to spend its energy and resources doing other things. But, the body is efficiently self-protective: it will take energy away from the components of the body which have little to do with helping to destroy the invaders and divert it to the marshalling of the forces of defense. But, this is a death process if the invaders get the upper hand as the body will continue to rob the energy from its components until one or more of them collapse and the body cannot function any longer.
2) The use in describing Abraham spills this meaning into the picture: Abraham was being invaded by "destroyers" who marched under the banner of "unbelief". Paul's declaration was that Abraham was unaffected by the invasion: he was not weak "in the realm of faith". The "immunity" to "unbelief" had been created over time as his "faith" was built through earlier invasions of unbelief to the point where such an invasion was overwhelmed pretty much as soon as it was launched.
a) The "invaders" are identified.
i. The first is Abraham's age: Genesis 17:17.
ii. The second is Sarah's age.
b) There are other issues that remain unidentified by Paul, but were a part of the context of Genesis 17. One is the "Ishmael factor": the driving force behind Abraham's longing for a son was highlyreduced...even to the point that he didn't really want another son. This is highly suggestive of this notion: Abraham was self-satisfied with his own "production" and really did not want God to "mess" with it.
b. Paul's use of this metaphor reveals that he has the "locative" force of the dative in mind: Abraham was not weak in the realm of faith.