What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
Works and faith, that is what is being compared in these verses. At least that was my initial thought when I made a note to myself to write something about these verses. But the more I contemplated the words written by Paul, I realized what Paul is writing about.
Now I am a firm believer that your works, your actions, define who you are. Talk is cheap, we all know that, and we all have issues with doing what we say and saying what we do. At first I thought Paul was saying your works really aren’t important, that they are of little consequence. But as I re-read these verses in preparation for writing this piece, I realized what Paul is trying to teach us.
but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
Israel was pursuing righteousness as an ends, as a reward for their worldly works. Faith and righteousness were something to be found at the end of the line.
Righteousness is something you have to continually work at, it’s not something that is handed to you at the end of a race or contest for staying within the lines and obeying the laws. This is why Paul writes in reference to why Israel did not succeed:
Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone
Israel thought their works were a means to faith. They were putting the cart before the horse.
I guess the best way to describe what Paul is teaching me is like this. If you were to pick a profession based solely on the rewards you expected to receive from that work, well you would never see those reward.
You want to be a doctor because you know they make good money, they help people, they get to play a lot of golf, live a comfortable lifestyle and are respected and looked up to in the community. Pretty nice rewards for their chosen profession. Or better yet, let’s say you want to be a musician. The ones you see make or appear to make a lot of money, they have fame, get to see the world and hang out all day and make music.
Now with either of those scenarios, and really any endeavor in life, if you start out doing something solely for the rewards you expect at the end, you’ll never get there. Why? Because as soon as the hard work and bullshit that comes along with any successful endeavor starts to hit, you’ll lose your drive and move onto something else.
You fail because as Paul writes in the first part of verse 32:
Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith,
You didn’t have a passion for what it was you were doing to achieve the perceived rewards. Doing something without passion will insure you never see the rewards of your works. Your works are inspired by faith and passion.
What is faith?
“…a firm belief in something for which there is no proof…”
What is passion?
“…intense, driving or overmastering feeling or conviction…”
“…a strong like or desire for, or devotion to some activity, object or concept…”
Israel followed the laws because they thought by doing this they would gain their faith and passion for righteousness and God. They were searching for an ends that really has to be there in the beginning.
This is what Christ taught in Matthew 22:37-38:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
You must have faith in God, and you must have a passion for God and righteousness, in order to pursue and find God and righteousness through your works. Like all pursuits in life, and this is the greatest pursuit, if you want it, if you are passionate and have faith, you will find it.
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