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Romans 2.2-3

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But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

Religious people often think that they are immune from laws that apply to everyone else, as if their religious rituals and rites make them immune.

If you read 2 Chronicles 26.1-15 you will the story of Uzziah, and it is a wonderful story of a brilliant king. He was a man of vision, a man who sought the Lord, a man who built many wonderful things. You could preach many sermons on these verses about the need to have a vision, the need to seek the Lord, the need to be bold and build great things for God and do great things for God.

But I want to focus on what happens next because we need to know what to do when we prosper. We need to know how to avoid the pitfalls of success. God wants us to succeed, and God will heal you, bless you, prosper you and make you a success. If you spend time in his Word you will be a good success and everything you do will prosper. Look at what happens next to Uzziah:

But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. Azariah the priest with eighty other courageous priests of the LORD followed him in. They confronted him and said “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honoured by the LORD God.

Uzziah, who had a censer in his hand ready to burn incense, became angry. While he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the LORD’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead. When Azariah the chief priest and all the other priests looked at him, they saw that he had leprosy on his forehead so they hurried him out. Indeed he himself was eager to leave, because the LORD had afflicted him. King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house where he was relieved of responsibilities, leprous and excluded from the temple of the LORD. Jotham his son had charge of the palace and governed the people of the land. Uzziah rested with his fathers and was buried near them in a field for burial that belonged to the kings, for people said, “He had leprosy.” – 2 Chronicles 26.16ff

The Bible said as long as Uzziah sought the Lord he prospered. But at the height of his success, he went wrong. We have had in the charismatic church far too many people go wrong at the height of their success. And one of the reasons why some people go wrong is religious pride.

Now I am only writing this to people who are seeking the Lord and increasing in success because if you do not really care about the things of God, this problem will never happen to you. If you read 2 Chronicles 26.16 you find that when Uzziah got pride into his life he went to the temple of God. His pride led him to the temple of God – not to the world. This is not worldly pride; most Christians would be too smart to fall for worldly pride. This is religious pride – it goes to church, it prays and it wraps itself up in the pretence of being Biblical.

And one of the greatest problems of religious pride is that it makes you think that the rules that apply to every one do not apply to you. That what you judge and condemn other people for doing you will have no consequences for.

Uzziah knew his history – as a king he would have had to have known the history of his nation. In his case, it was even more important because the history of Israel is the history of a God who makes and keeps promises to people. Uzziah knew the stories of Abraham, Moses, Saul and David probably better than most Christians do today. Uzziah must have known that Saul offered a sacrifice he was not supposed to and stepped into a calling that was not his – and Uzziah must have known that this action cost Saul the kingdom. (The story is found in 1 Samuel 13, and contains one of the most important statements that will prevent religious pride: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”)

Uzziah knew that Saul tried to fulfil a priestly role and it cost him the kingdom. Yet Uzziah thought he could repeat Saul’s sin and not have Saul’s consequences. Why? Religious Pride!

When I was a teenager I remember reading in the newspaper about the Bishop of Gallaway who mysteriously vanished. When he was found again, it transpired that he had run away with a married woman. When he was interviewed in the newspaper, I remember he actually said that because he had spent 20 years sacrificing and serving God he was entitled to a weekend off. This was a blatant example of religious pride: the bishop saw the source of his serving God and sacrifice as himself, not the grace of God. He thought that he was above the rules that applied to other people because of his great service to God.

Now I am sure that most people reading this would never assume because they have twenty years good service they are entitled to a dirty weekend! However, we do act at times like we are exempt from rules that apply to other people. More recently in a discussion with a pastor he told me that he never tithed or gave offerings because he was in full time ministry and had given his life to Jesus. This is an example of making yourself exempt from rules that apply to others, because of his “great” sacrifice. It is religious pride.

I think sometimes we treat our religious services like a Tesco Clubcard. If we do enough religious works, we get enough points and we can trade them in for something we like. I can watch this rubbish on TV because I prayed this morning. I can be rude to that person because I lead worship at church and it is hard work.

This is the message of Romans 2: God does not work on a points system. It is all grace. So stop condemning other people. Stop pointing out how other people are unclean and unworthy – of course they are and so are you. Let’s realize we all need the grace of God and start showing that grace to the church and the world.

To serve God fully, we need a vision of God. We will never have a commissioning to bring the Word of God to this nation; we will never have a revelation of God’s holiness and goodness until we deal with the attitude of Uzziah – the attitude of religious pride – and eradicate it from our lives:

In the year king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim: each one had six wings, with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet and with two he flew.

And one cried to another and said:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Selah.

Run Through Romans (chapter 3:1-21)

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In Romans 1, Paul tells us two rather alarming truths: firstly, that all the nations of the world are involved in a spiral of increasing unrighteousness.  Secondly, that the justice of God means that God must punish all unrighteousness.

In Romans 2, Paul destroys any hope that religion or religious ritual might protect us from the wrath of God.  Everyone has done unrighteous deeds therefore everyone is unrighteous, therefore everyone must be judged by God as guilty and sentenced accordingly.

In Romans 3, Paul now shows that both Jew (religious people) and Gentile (unreligious people) are unrighteous.  He further nails down anyone who might be trying to say “I am not that bad” by looking at every single person on the earth and pointing out: “Yes, you are that bad.”

But also in Romans 3, Paul lets us see the light at the end of the tunnel.  He lets us see that although no human being can stand before God innocent and be acquited because of their perfect lifestyle, maybe there is an alternative route to being righteous.  Let’s run through the text:

1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?

 2Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God. #

Because Paul in Romans 2 is so scathing of the ineffectiveness of religion, and in particular the Jewish religion, that he feels he must say that there is benefit in being religious.  There is a benefit in being part of the Jewish nation, and the benefit is this: the Jewish people were trusted with the oracles (the words) of God.  The Jewish people were trusted to receive the Word of God and preserve it.   Here Paul is talking about the Old Testament, more specifically the law of God.  The Jewish people were told the whole law of God – all 613 commandments. 

None of the other nations knew about God’s laws, although we know from Romans 1 that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for being unrighteous due to the conscience and creation.  However, the Jews were trusted with all of God’s law.  Psalm 19 tells us that the law of the Lord is perfect.  The Jews were given something perfect: a perfect standard of how to live a perfect live. 

 3For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Now Paul is saying that just because people did not receive or accept the law, and because the Jewish people many times rejected the law, that doesn’t actually matter.  God had faith in them, God gave them the law, God’s law is still the perfect standard.

This lie seems to have permeated our society.  That if we reject God’s law and decide it is not real or not for today or whatever, that we think that the law doesn’t apply.  But crimes against the law of God are statutory crimes – whether you know the law or not, it still exists.  You would have a better chance of assuming that gravity is not for today or not real and jumping off the top of Canary Wharf and flying around London than assuming that God’s laws are not for today or not real and expecting to survive the judgment day of the Lord.

Sean McDowell used an excellent illustration of this in a sermon I heard recently.  He said that society treats God’s law and God’s revelation like ice cream flavours – you have your favourite flavour and I have mine, and it doesn’t really matter.  However, he says that God’s law and God’s revelation are more like a medical prescription.  You cannot just choose which medicine you like – you have to take the medicine prescribed or you will not recover.  God’s law is real and relevant – just because the laws of the nation have changed does not mean God’s law has changed.

 4God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.

Or more simply put: if you disagree with God about the standard to be righteous, then you are wrong and God is right.  Here Paul quotes Psalm 51.4, which in the NLT reads: “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.” You have to realize that one day you will stand before God and he will declare you righteous or unrighteous.  If you try and stand based on your good deeds, you will be found unrighteous because you have sinned.  You have done the things listed in Romans 1.  You have broken the Ten Commandments: you have told lies, you have stolen things which are not yours, you have used the Lord’s name as a swear word. 

Now if you say that these standards for whatever reason do not apply to you, then God is telling the truth and you are lying.  God will win the court case and you will be sentenced to hell.

 5But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man)

This is a powerful argument Paul is making.  Many people have shyed away from hell, and mocked hellfire preachers.  Now Jesus said more about hell than anyone else in the Scripture, so are people who are not talking about hell being Christ-like?  No.  However, I will qualify this: Jesus spoke about hell to his disciples, not when preaching the gospel.  When he preached the gospel, Jesus Christ healed the sick and preached about the kingdom of God.  He preached the gospel, which means good news.  At this stage in our study of Romans, we have not actually gone through what the gospel is fully, though we have spent time on it while looking at Romans 1.16-17.  All that needs to be said is that you don’t evangelise by telling people: you are going to hell.

Why? Because telling people that they are going to hell makes no sense to them.  They don’t know the law of God mostly.  They don’t know that they are unrighteous.  Telling someone who is not aware they are guilty that they are going to receive a sentencing is nonsensical and they will not listen. 

If however, you explain to someone the way Paul has done through Romans 1-3 that they are unrighteous because they have broken the perfect law of God and that religious acts and good deeds cannot make them innocent, then they are likely to listen to you.  Their own conscience will start to remind them of the times they have done things that they did not want to do, and the Holy Spirit will be hovering over them and convincing them of sin, and then they are open to the gospel.

What Paul is essentially saying in this verse is that because we are unrighteous, because we are guilty – then for God to judge us on judgment day shows that God is righteous, that God is innocent.  If a judge just let criminals off, that judge would be as guilty as the criminals.  Those people who expect mercy from God simply because He is good are mistaken: God is not going to show you mercy and the reason why He will not show you mercy is because He is good.  His goodness means that He must punish all unrighteousness.

 6God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world?

 7For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

The more we reject God’s judgment and act unrighteousness, the more truthful God will be when He judges us for being unrighteous.

 8And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

Paul is saying here: if our sin makes God act in a good way, the answer is not to sin as much as you can.  When we reach Romans 6, we will deal with this fully.

 9What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

In Romans 1, Paul shows us the Gentiles are all unrighteous.  In Romans 2, Paul shows us the Jews are all unrighteous.  Just in case you have missed the point, Paul is about to show that everyone is unrighteous:

 10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

 11There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

 12They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

 13Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

 14Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

 15Their feet are swift to shed blood:

 16Destruction and misery are in their ways:

 17And the way of peace have they not known:

 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.

The above description applies to every human being on the earth.  It applies to you and it applies to me.  Verse 10 sums up Romans 3 – there is none righteous, no, not one.  This is the key message of this chapter: if you think you are righteous, if you think on judgment day you will be found innocent before God, you are completely wrong.  I will not go through vv. 11-18, but if you have any shred of self-righteousness – if you believe you could be worthy before God on the basis of your goodness – I suggest you read it, meditate on it and study it until you know that there is nothing in you that could please or impress God.

 19Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

Now Paul is telling us something very important.  The whole purpose of holding your life up to the law of God and showing you that you are unrighteous, that you do not fear God, that you do not live right, that you will be judged on the day of judgment is for one reason only: so that you will have your mouth stopped and be guilty before God.

The law was not given to you because God knew that if He only gave you enough strict instructions you would be able to obey them all and please Him.  The law was given to you because God knew that you can not obey it and that the law would shut your mouth and show you that you are guilty before God.

Before the law of God was revealed through Moses, people did not shut their mouth and did not think they were guilty before God.  Cain was protected by God after he murdered Abel, and Cain’s descendent felt that meant he could murder who he liked.  And in today’s society, generally a lawless society, people do not shut their mouths – they say things that are so inappropriate, so disrespectful to God.  They do not know they are guilty.

This is such a key point.  Many Christians still feel that they impress God with their actions.  No – the law was not given so you could impress God by keeping it.   The law was given so that you know that you could never impress God by keeping it.  You could never do all the things in it.  You could never even keep the Ten Commandments.

 20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Can you see Paul’s point?  By doing good things no flesh – not you, not me, not Mother Theresa, not anyone shall be justified.  The word justified simply means “made righteous” or “declared innocent”.  Can you see the purpose of the law – it is not for you to obey and for God to give you brownie points for obeying it so well.  It is to show you beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are not innocent before God at all.  You are guilty.  You are unrighteous.  You are damned to hell by God’s goodness and justice and righteousness because you are unrighteous.

 21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;

Romans 1-3 is a serious message, and it needs to be understood.  You are not righteous because of your actions.  You are not righteous because of your religious rituals.  You are certainly not righteous because of your attempts to obey God’s law.  You are unrighteous because of your actions.  Your religious rituals cannot change the fact that your actions have made you unrighteous and guilty.  Your attempts to follow God’s law cannot undo your unrighteous actions and besides you fail to follow the law again and again.  The purpose of the law was not to show you a way to be good, but to show you that you are not good.

When you truly understand that, and only when you understand that, are you ready for the good news of the New Testament.  And this is the good news of the New Testament in one sentence: But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.  Paul spends three chapters stripping every human being – religious or not, Jew or Gentile – of any form of self-righteousness.  Self-righteousness is your attempt to stand before God and presumptiously declare yourself good enough for God based on your actions.  If you can read Romans 1-3 and still feel you can stand before God and declare yourself good enough for God based on your actions, you must be spiritually blind and have a very hard heart.

But once you realize that there is nothing you can do to make yourself good enough for God and that you are unrighteous and deserve hell on earth and hell when you die, Paul then decides you are ready for the good news: there is another way to be right with God that has nothing at all to do with the law of God.  In fact, it has nothing to do with anything you can do or have ever done or ever will do. 

And tomorrow, we will examine what this way is.

As always any questions or comments are more than welcome.

Every blessing,

Ben

Run Through Romans (chapter 2)

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If you have to sum up Romans 2 in one sentence it would be this: religious people are filled with unrighteousness. We operate in the misconception that religious acts and rituals make us better than everyone else. Let’s look at the text and examine it:

1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

At the end of Romans 1 we find out that all nations have fallen to some degree or another into a spiral of unrighteousness, their minds becoming darker and darker.  The natural response of a religious person when they see the nations and their communities acting unrighteously is to judge them

Paul is saying here something very powerful: he is saying that religious people who judge the unrighteousness of others are just as unrighteous and do the same sinful acts.  Why do religious people judge others then?  They think that their religious acts and deeds make them righteous even though they have committed unrighteous acts.  Even though they have been selfish, ungrateful, they have lied, they have stolen, they have lusted after women and men in their hearts, they actually believe – and many people believe this today – that performing religious rituals makes them righteous!

We need to realize that righteous and unrighteous are legal terms.  We could replace them with innocent and guilty.  Do we honestly think that a man in a court of law who has brutally murdered a child could be found innocent because he has read a nice poem?  That because he goes to church every week he should be innocent?  No – we know that a court of law is not based on ritual but on actions.  Paul is saying that the court of heaven is the same: merely being religious and going to church and reading your Bible is not going to make you righteous.  If you have done unrighteous deeds, you are unrighteous, and God declared you guilty.  You will endure hell on earth and go to hell when you die, and religious can not and will not save you.

2But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

3And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

Paul is saying that God judges fairly – according to truth.  You do not become God’s buddy because you read your chapter today and therefore God will let you off from your actions that have made you guilty.  God is not a corrupt judge but a pure, honest and truthful judge.  If you are guilty of breaking God’s law on even a single point, you are guilty.  You are unrighteous.  And a religious ritual cannot mean you can avoid God’s judgment. Let me say this unequivocally: there is NO religious ceremony that can make you innocent before God.  In fact, there is no action you can take, religious or otherwise, that can make you innocent before God.

4Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

I love reading Paul’s writings.  He is a man with such a passion for the Lord.  Paul is trying to make a logical argument.  This step of the argument involves Paul teaching us that religious ritual cannot make you righteous before God.  But two whole chapters before he introduces the solution, Paul cannot help but blurt out: “the answer is in the goodness of God.  That makes us change.”  It is wonderful to know that God, in His goodness, has provided a solution for man’s unrighteousness.  We shall examine that solution in Romans 4 and 5, but for now just know: the solution to the universal, inescapable unrighteousness of mankind is found in the goodness of God.

5But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;

Even your rituals cannot save you if your heart is hard.

6Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

God is not judging you by your rituals or your religiosity but by your actions.  If you have committed one unrighteous act, you are unrighteous and you will be found unrighteous.

7To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

8But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

9Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

10But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

11For there is no respect of persons with God.

God rewards good and punishes evil.  He does not play favourite.  Being Jewish will not make you righteous.  Going to church will not make you righteous.  Only consistent good actions will make the grade, and no-one has ever lived according to that standard – even religious people.

12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

14For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

15Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

16In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

If you have never been told about God’s law, will God be fair in judging you according to it on the day of Judgment?  The answer is yes because God has put a law in your hearts and will judge you according to that.  Every time you do something you know in your heart is wrong, you are unrighteous and will be judged by God on judgment day and no amount of religious ritual will count for you.

God does not have a giant set of scales in heaven and He weighs all your good deeds against your bad deeds.  That is heresy.  Muslims believe that, some Christians believe that, but it is the exact opposite of the Biblical teaching.

One act of unrighteousness makes you unrighteous, and no amount of religius ritual can change that.

17Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

18And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

19And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

20An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

And those that have heard the law of God will be judged according to the law.  If you have the law of God and think it makes you better than other people, actually all you are admitting is that you had more knowledge of right and wrong than other people and yet you still acted wrong.

21Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

22Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

23Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

In fact, doing religious acts while being unrighteous simply makes you a hypocrite.  You steal and then go to church.  You lust and then pray, you make idols and worship them and then worship God.  Not only that, but your hypocrisy blasphemes God’s name because everyone realizes that religious people are just as bad as anyone else.

25For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

Here Paul is specifically dealing with circumcision and saying it is worthless if you have ever broken the law of God.  But his argument could apply to any religious ritual.  You understand if you are unrighteous, and you go to church, going to church is worth nothing.

Think about it: if someone picks up something you have dropped and is kind to you, that will mean something to you.  If you later find out that the person who was kind to you is a serial killer and worse, their act of kindness is meaningless to you.  It is the same when someone who lies or steals goes to church to worship God, it is meaningless.

26Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

I am not going to engage the question what is a real Jew because I want to run through Romans not crawl!  If you want to discuss that issue, leave a comment and we can do it there.  However, let me say this: Paul concludes this chapter by saying the single most important religious ceremony of the Jewish faith is of no value at all if you are unrighteous.

And we know from Romans 1 that every human is unrighteous.  Soon we will find out the solution of God, but like Paul does in Romans, we need to realize how precious that solution is.  The only way we can realize how great our salvation is, is to realize how great our unrighteousness is and how futile religion is at dealing with unrighteous.  Too many Christians have failed to realize that it is essential that we know that we by our actions are unrighteousness and that religion is no solution to the problem of unrighteousness.  Therefore their salvation is shallow and their lives are unfruitful.  So many Christians who love Romans 5 and Romans 8, but don’t know how Paul logically took the Romans to those chapters.  By going through the book like this, we are forced to follow Paul’s argument.  It will make us stronger Christians, and more effective witnesses.  It will also make us more peaceful and more joyous.

There will be many people on Judgment Day expecting their rituals, their rites, their religious acts to weigh against their bad deeds.  They are so wrong.  There are many people judging themselves against other people, saying they are so bad, but I am not so bad.  But Paul’s words are as true today as they have every been: you do the same things.

James says it like this: For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2.10).

Imagine that: you break one law and you are unrighteous, as guilty as if you had broken them all.  That is the truth of the Bible.  God will judge you on Judgment Day and your punishment will be eternal hell unless you know the answer to the question: how can a man be made righteous.  Unless you realize that Romans 1-3 shows that conclusively there is none righteous no not one, then the righteousness that you will see in Romans 4-5 wil be meaningless to you.

In the next couple of studies we are going to examine this in detail.  You will not ever be able to say you do not know how to be made righteous.  And you will not ever be able to say you did not know how unrighteous you were.

Every blessing,

Ben

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