It wasn't until I started making some strong friendships with people outside of my narrow contexts that I began to learn how off par I was. This is not a pessimistic conclusion… just a relative perception developed as I noticed non-Christians being nicer than me, non-Americans being better citizens of the planet than me, and non-KenCastor-people being just plain more amazing than me in almost everything. Compared to the beautiful approach shots offered by others, my divoted hacks at life are put into a proper perspective. Oh, yes, those long putts and mulligans will humble a person.
Just don't look when I discreetly kick the ball out of the rough and back into play…
I am not better. Even if I am a "good" person… I am not better. Even if I am relatively talented (huh), relatively wise (compared to some I suppose), or relatively clean (I usually take showers), or relatively handsome (my words), or relatively innocent (question)… I must also recognize that I am relatively mean, relatively inappropriate, relatively wrong (no I'm not), relatively short-sighted, relatively forgetful, relatively inconsistent in character, relatively short-tempered, relatively arrogant, relatively short, and relatively guilty.
So even when I compare myself with humans in the world, I am relatively over for the front nine.
So please let's not even start comparing me to God's par. God's total for 18 holes is 18. Such a comparison reveals me to be not just relatively bad… but absolutely awfully incomprehensibly completely messed up.
This is Paul's point in this section of Romans: Every single person ever is not better than others. (Yep, read that sentence again. I had to read it several times myself.) Compared to others I am a triple bogey at least. But especially when compared to God's pattern, every single person ever is not even good at all. A withdrawal from the tournament is the only recourse.
In these verses Paul shows this two-fold reality: 1) Relatively people are messed up; 2) Truthfully people are messed up. And Paul backs it up with Scripture. Here we go:
Romans 3:9-18 (NLT) "Well then, are we Jews better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say,
"No one is good– not even one.
"No one has real understanding; no one is seeking God.
"All have turned away from God; all have gone wrong.
"No one does good, not even one.
"Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their speech is filled with lies.
"The poison of a deadly snake drips from their lips.
"Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.
"They are quick to commit murder.
"Wherever they go, destruction and misery follow them.
"They do not know what true peace is.
"They have no fear of God to restrain them."
Note: The way Paul uses Scripture here is interesting. He's not quoting a direct portion of the Old Testament… he's mashing a whole bunch of quotes together. It's as if Paul was so steeped in Scripture that it just flowed out in an organized conversation. I'm sure Paul would have an impressive answer if you were to ask him, "Where does Scripture say that?" He might say "Well, verses 10-12 are from Psalms 14 and 53, verse 13 is from Psalm 5 and 140, verse 14 is from Psalm 10, verses 15-17 are from Isaiah 59 and verse 18 is from Psalm 36. I can explain each of these further if you'd like."
Uh, I think I just sliced my scripture memorization into the woods.
Each of the contexts of these Old Testament references is worth a look if you have the time. Psalm 14 puts people in their place. Psalm 53 echoes this refrain. Psalm 5 and 140 are simple observations in the midst of pleas for help. Psalm 10 is a chilling question of faith. Isaiah 59 is sobering and yet ends undeservingly. Psalm 36 is a Third Day song.
Scripture just pours out of Paul's thoughts… this is an inspirational challenge for me. Each quotation drips with profound depth in the context of a living Word… a masterful approach shot.