We have already seen in the first chapter that the unbelieving Gentile world is without excuse in their rebellion against God. We have also seen (in this second chapter of Romans) that believing Gentiles are not in the same position. And here in this passage, we come to the point of emphasis, which is that the Jews are also under sin, and in need of a Savior.
“Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? /Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?/ Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written” (Rom. 2:17-24).
Summary of the Text
Paul begins by naming the Jew explicitly—you are called a Jew (v. 17). Not only does he call himself a Jew, but he also rests in the law (v. 17), and makes his boast in God (v. 17). What is this but the great Reformation principle of soli Deo gloria? The Pharisee who insulted the publican in his Temple prayer did the same—”I thank thee, God . . .” Not only so, but this Jew knows the will of God, and knows it because he is instructed by God from the law. As a result, he approves excellent things (v. 18). As a result, this Jew is confident that he has the ability to teach—he is a guide to the blind (v. 19), a light for those in the dark (v. 19), an instructor of the foolish (v. 20), a teacher of babies (v. 20), as someone who has the right form of knowledge and truth in the law (v. 20). Very good, Paul says, but let’s start somewhere else.
Those who teach must first teach themselves, and moreover, those who expect others to learn the lessons must learn the lessons themselves first (v. 21). It doesn’t count if you teach yourself first, but the pupil is stupid. If you preach against stealing, do you steal (v. 21)? If you say not to commit adultery, how’s it going in your life (v. 22)? If you abhor idols, and good for you, do you commit sacrilege yourself (v. 22)? The word literally here is temple-robber, and Paul is exonerated of a similar charge at Ephesus (Acts 19:37). There had apparently been some shenanighans that the Roman Christians would have known about. You boast in the law but you in fact dishonor God through your breaking of the law (v. 23). Because of you Jews, Paul says, the Gentiles blaspheme the name of God (v. 24). Not only so, but you have been doing this for a long time—long enough for both Isaiah and Ezekiel to have noticed it (Is. 52:5; Ez. 36;22).
Look at the Verbs First
The orthodoxy is heavy on teaching. knowing, and approving. But notice how Paul then uses the verbs—teach, preach, say, abhor, and boast. You teach the right, you preach the right, you say the right, you abhor God’s rivals, and you boast in Him alone. Yes, but what do you do? Don’t hide behind the creeds and confessions.
What Does Hypocrisy Accomplish?
Paul objects to the fact that the hypocrisy of the Jews has providedunbelieving Gentiles with some cheap entertainment. But there is a common mistake here that we make, and Paul shows us how to avoid it. The hypocrisy of God’s people does not create a valid excuse or defense for the unbeliever. Take the most obnoxious televangelist you can construct in your imagination, the randiest pope in church history, and the smarmiest Scripture-twister ever, and everything they ever said or did is shouted down by one sunrise, one midnight at sea, or five minutes of contemplating the complexities of a single cell. The unbeliever is always without excuse (Rom. 1:20).
The plain fact is that God hates hypocrisy, and He will judge it at the last day (Is. 9:17; Matt. 6:2; 22:18). What sense does it make to oppose the living God, who alone will judge the hypocrites, and to do so because you disapprove of hypocrites? If you hate the behavior of certain people on a particular team, then why do you go join that team. Blasphemers “because of hypocrisy” and the hypocrites themselves will both be thrown into the lake of fire, and if God goes in alphabetical order, those who pretended to hate hypocrisy in their blasphemies will have to go first.
The Snare of Hypocrisy
When we get to the point of denunciation, it is not hard to condemn hypocrisy as Paul does here, and to use a canoe paddle on it. But why and how is hypocrisy a snare that works so easily? It is among the most contemptible of sins—we all hate it—so why do so many fall into it? What contributes to the “set up”? Remember that Paul expects the Gentiles Christians to learn the lessons that the unbelieving Jews failed to learn (Rom. 11:20).
Rain doesn’t fall from a clear, blue sky, and hypocrisy doesn’t “come from nowhere” either.
We are pious and unwilling to mock holy things . . . the way God does (Jer. 7 );
We bask in the reflected glory of things that God actually praises (Rom. 2:18);
We are afraid of blowback (Jn. 7:13; 9:22);
We are careless of the fact that big hypocrises grow from little hypocrisies (Ps. 19: 12-13);
We refuse to make our own deep motivations an object of serious contemplation (2 Cor. 13: 5);
We don’t understand the mimetic nature of human motivation and behavioral contagion (Jas. 4:5-6);
We judge others by their actions, but we want to be judged by our intentions ( );
We say that we need to protect the reputation and feelings of others ( );
We say that mere possession of the truth works as a talisman (Jas. 2:14);
We rest in external privileges, instead of improving them (Rom. 11:22);
We stare at Scripture as though it were a mural, instead of through Scripture as a window (Jn. 5: 39);
And we don’t understand what God is actually like (Ps. 16:11)