In Romans 3:10b-14, Paul collects a bunch of lines from the Old Testament—ranging from Psalms to Ecclesiastes. He may not have been the first to gather these lines. Regardless, he presents them, and the effect is a bit humbling and very discouraging:
There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.
‘Their throats are opened graves; they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of vipers is under their lips.’ ‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’
Six times in this English translation “no” or “not” is used, giving it a negative tone. (I have a degree in English; I can’t help it.) Words like “worthless,” “graves,” “deceive,” “venom,” “vipers,” and “bitterness” enlarge this negative tone to one of doom, danger, and death.
What are we to do with this? How can these words inform who I am and how I live?
They help me be gracious with others by reminding me of my own unrighteousness, ignorance, worthlessness, and capacity to be mean.
I have a friend who sinned—there’s a shocker. All sins have consequences; this is one of those sins with significant physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences. Some sit in judgment of her. Many gossip about her, some under the name of “prayer request.” Would Paul call her worthless? Absolutely. But Paul would call me worthless, too.
Hopefully I can prove Paul wrong and show her kindness while others are attacking her with the venom of vipers. Paul challenges me not to sit in judgment of those vipers either, because I’ve also injured many with my words.