You decide to take a trip by aeroplane. You check out the prices on a comparison site and plump for a mix of convenience and price – after all who wants to save £20 by flying at 2am? Finally the day approaches and you get through security, the scrum of duty free (why on earth do people buy goods that are more expensive, thinking they are saving by paying no VAT?!) and finally settle in the seat. You pull down the tray table to rest your book and snacks and there’s a coffee stain. It’s gross! If they don’t check that and clean up are they checking the engines? Are they checking the wings won’t fall off? Your perception of that airline’s safety is ruined by a coffee stain. The principle is called the ‘Coffee Stain theory’, coined in the 80’s by Jan Carlzon who turned SAS airline around by insisting on that kind of detail!
In today’s reading Paul is about to tell Jewish background Christians that their Jewishness is covered in coffee stains. He’s dealt with Gentile immorality in 1:18-32 and moralism in 2:1-16. Now he turns to Jews and tells them they need God’s gift of righteousness as much as everyone else. They have much to boast about – the Scriptures, circumcision as a sign, their history. But none of that has the power to save them. They are just as sin stained as everyone else and in need of the Saviour.
Having the Bible doesn’t save you, v.17-24. Obedience matters and none of us have that nailed! In v.25-29 he shows that circumcision doesn’t save either – that’s a relief! Circumcision was only an outward sign (Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4) of inward commitment and obedience. So some of the Gentile Christians are more circumcised than they are. The inward reality is the Spirit in us.
They need to stop bragging about being Jews and face up to the fact that they are dirty rotten stinking sinners as much as any Gentile. They need Jesus – he’s the one that makes us saints.
We cannot rely on being a Jew, or on Christian externals – going to Church, small group or any other ritual. None of that can save us, we need Jesus!
Grateful to Phil Moore’s Straight to the heart of Romans for the coffee stain idea and for http://www.dtrio.com/blog1/2014/04/the-coffee-stain-theory-and-branding/ for the way they tell it!