God’s Equipoise — Steve Vice

In 1978 John Conlee released a song called Rose Colored Glasses.  The chorus says, But these rose colored glasses/That I’m looking through/Show only the beauty/’Cause they hide all the truth.”  John Conlee’s choice of words is very interesting.  Instead of saying that the rose colored glasses hide all the bad, he chose to say that it hides all the truth.

Some choose to see God through artificially tinted glasses and fail to see the complete picture of God.  The belief that God will save everyone and condemn no one (universalism) is one example.  This is an incomplete (and unscriptural) view of God.  Others have had glasses tinted with gray or blue or black (despair, depression, or hatred) that give a skewed view of God. 

Romans 11:22 reveals a more complete view of God:  “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”  This shows God’s equipoise.

Equipoise is defined as “the balance of forces or interests” and “counterbalance.”  The Chinese call it “yin and yang.”  One article describes it this way: “a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang). 

“Goodness” (chrestotes) means “usefulness, moral excellence, gentleness, goodness, and kindness.”   Paul describes this in Romans 2:4:  “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” 

“Severity” (apotomia) is defined by Thayer as, “severity, roughness, rigour (sic).”  This is the only time that this particular form of this word is used in the New Testament.  Its base word (apotomos) means “sharply.”  In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul resisted using “sharpness” to correct his brethren in Corinth.  In Titus 1:13, Paul instructed Titus to rebuke sharply those “unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” (KJV).

In Romans 11:22 the equipoise of God is declared: “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God.”  The KJV says, “Behold.”  This passage asks its readers to open their eyes to a more complete picture of God.  There is a tale of a man who grew up in Nebraska.  All his life he wanted to see the ocean.  He had heard many tales of how big it was, and how much power its waves possessed.  He had heard of turquoise green and its deep, deep blue.  His curiosity had been aroused by tales of massive whales, huge turtles, great white sharks, and giant cephalopods.  As his life began to see its sunset, his children decided to carry him to South Carolina and give him a glimpse of what he had desired to see for so long.  As they walked out on the beach it was a calm day, hardly any waves at all.  Some high clouds blocked the sun, diminishing the bright colors.  He stood for several minutes, looking out over the calm, somewhat grayish waters, straining his eyes to see as far as his eye could see.  Then, as he turned away, he said, “Humph!  Thought it’d be bigger than that.”  This man went away with an incomplete picture of the ocean. 

Romans chapters 10 and 11 give the discerning reader a more complete picture of God.  These two chapters are a tract on God’s equipoise, His balance and counterbalance.

Romans 10:10-12 focuses on the fact that God wants both Jew and Gentile to be saved.  In verses 13-17, Paul emphasized that God has provided only one gospel to save both Jew and Gentile. A person’s outward appearance or nationality has no bearing whatsoever on a person’s ability to obey from the heart that form of doctrine. 

Chapter 11 begins by drawing a parallel between a remnant of Jews being faithful in Elijah’s day to a remnant (of Jews) being saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul presents this as an inspired “proof-texting” that God has in no way rejected the Jews for salvation in Christ (Rom. 10:12-17).  Paul writes, “I say then, has God cast away His people?  Certainly not!” (Rom. 11:1.)  In verse 5 he draws the logical conclusion that God, “at this present time,” has reserved for Himself a remnant of the Jews for salvation through Jesus Christ.

The juxtaposition was that many of the Jews were broken off and cast away because of their unbelief (apistia, unbelief or unfaithfulness; cf. Heb. 3:18-19).  It was Paul’s sincere desire to “save some” of the Jews, implying that others would not be saved (v. 14).  He prayed that they might be saved, but that could only be accomplished through obedience to the gospel (Rom. 10:1-4; 6:17).  Although Paul desired that his brethren in the flesh be saved, they had become his mortal enemies because of their unbelief in the prophecies fulfilled by Jesus (Rom. 15:30-32; Acts 21:31).

In Romans 11:11-12, we learn that God’s severity had a twofold purpose.  First, to provoke the Jews to jealousy that they might be saved.  They were broken off because of unbelief (v. 20).  In their place, the Gentiles were “grafted in.”  Although salvation for the Gentiles had been foretold by the prophets (Ps. 22:27; Isa. 60:2-3; Dan. 7:24; Hos. 2:23), the Jews refused to believe that such was possible.  When Jesus taught about God’s blessings being given to the Gentiles, the people of Nazareth were filled with wrath and set about to throw Jesus off a cliff (Lk. 4:16-30).  The woman of Samaria was taken aback when Jesus initiated a conversation with her (John 4:5ff).  Peter himself was repulsed by the thought of eating a pig in the vision in Acts 10.  He had no idea what he was missing.  Such prejudice was not uncommon among the Jews.  God knew that His sending salvation to the Gentiles would shake some of the Jews out of their lofty seats of complacency. 

Second, “salvation had come to the Gentiles.”  God foresaw this when he promised Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3).  Hosea spoke of this in Hosea 2:23:  “Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” God’s severity toward Israel turned into a blessing for Gentiles.  One event could have a profound impact in more than one place.  Thus, the goodness and severity of God.

God’s goodness is seen in the “grafting in” of the Gentiles.  God’s goodness (love) is super-abundantly demonstrated in His sending His only begotten Son Jesus to save His enemies (Rom. 5:6-10).  Romans 5:7-8 describes this goodness in a way that is worthy of our meditation.  It says, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  God in the flesh, perfect and without sin, paid the price for my sin that I might live with Him.  That is goodness taken to its deepest depth and its highest height. 

God’s goodness is also seen in His forgiving mercy.  The branches that had been broken off from the olive tree could be grafted in again.  Romans 11:30-31 says, “For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy.” 

“Goodness” and “severity” are joined by the coordinating conjunction “and” (kai).  Each of these seemingly opposite characteristics is “of God.”  It is not some obscure “We don’t know where it comes from” action.  Both these actions are “of God.”  Yes, God is the God of love and compassion.  He is also the God of roughness and rigor.  To take away one in favor of the other would leave one group of people out.  If you leave out severity then that means that the Jews would not be cut off.  But then, how could the Gentiles be grafted in? (See verse 19.) 

God’s equipoise is seen in the fact that those who were God’s people were cut off so that those who were not God’s people might be grafted in.  The cutting off and the grafting in are done with the same knife by the same gardener (John 15:1).  This same gardener is also able to graft in again those branches that were cut off and cut off those that had been grafted in.

Verse 22 ends with words that every Christian should take to heart:  “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.”  It is a sobering thought that God’s cutting shears may come to some who had previously enjoyed God’s goodness.

If a person focuses only on God’s goodness, grace and love to the diminishing or exclusion of God’s severity, justice and wrath, then that person is seeing through glasses that hide the truth of who God is.  The opposite is also true.  The Bible provides a balanced view of God. svicesv@yahoo.com

Steve preaches at the Forest Park congregation in Lake City, GA.

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