A Living Sacrifice: Studies in Romans (2:17-24)

Romans 2:17-24

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Now Paul pulls out his trusty sharpened stick of sarcasm to puncture the pride of the Judaizers. You call yourself a Jew. You rely on the law. You boast in God and claim to know His will. You, the judge of all that is right and wrong, approve what is excellent and claim you are qualified to disqualify others because you are instructed from the law. You are quite sure that you are a benevolent guide to those poor, poor blind folks, “a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.”

This is strong stuff! Paul knows this sort of pride so well because he once lived it to its fullest. He was the epitome of this proud persona. And now, he is using his familiarity with it to ridicule its rank hypocrisy.

Paul goes on: “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” One wonders if Paul had specific names and instances in mind. Inquiring minds would like to know! Regardless, he seems to know very well that those who preach the law the hardest are usually trying desperately to conceal the fact that they measure up to it the least.

Remember, Paul himself was “blameless” in law-keeping—at least, he thought so until he found out on the road to Damascus that he was the chiefest of sinners. He knows this self-righteous crew very well, and he will not tolerate for a moment their blatant attempt to sequester the gospel and shut the Gentiles out. No, not for a moment!

Furthermore, Paul does not merely use his own personal experience to drive home the point. He quotes Scripture: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” It is not enough to remind the Judaizers that he personally knows of their perfidy, but Paul is careful to show that their condemnation is from the Judge of all living and dead.

Paul quotes loosely from the Septuagint’s rendering of Isaiah 52:5 (and possibly with Ezekiel 36:20-23 in mind), but he also seems to have in mind the story of David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite. This will come into clearer focus in Romans 3 when Paul quotes directly from Psalm 51, David’s famous prayer of repentance. But even now we can hear echoes of Nathan’s rebuke to David: “Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (II Samuel 12:14 KJV).

Moreover, we cannot escape the comparison of Paul to Nathan, the Judaizers to David, and Paul’s Gentile converts standing in a direct line with righteous Uriah, the Hittite, a Gentile, who was more righteous than the Jew who had him killed. What a powerful parallel!

About Steve Pixler

Steve Pixler is lead pastor of Freedom Life Church in Mansfield, TX (coming September 2017). Steve lives in Mansfield with his wife, Jeana, and their six children.
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