Hypocrisy was a real threat, but hypocrisy on one side would do nothing to mitigate the judgment of God upon all others who are guilty before Him. And so, Paul reminds his Jewish kinsmen of something they well knew, that the judgment of God is according to truth against all who commit the terrible sins he has described in the preceding chapter. The emphasis here seems to be, that God’s righteous judgment will be upon all who live in such sins, the hypocritical Jew as well as the flagrantly heathen Gentile. Therefore, he would have the Jews to know that, though they may bitterly denounce the pagan Gentiles, they themselves would fall under God’s righteous judgment if they lived in the commission of the same sins which they despised in the heathen.
This he bears out very plainly in the third verse. He challenges the one he addresses as “O man,” which almost certainly refers to the self-righteous Jew, who engages in hypocritical judgment, though he flatters himself that he should escape the judgment of God. This seems to have been a not uncommon mindset among many of the Jews of that era. John the Baptist inveighed most powerfully against those Israelites who wished to congratulate themselves on their spiritual safety because they had Abraham to their father. “I tell you,” Christ’s forerunner thundered, “that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” He warned them that their ancestry would be no guarantee of security when the axe was laid to the root of the trees, but that every tree (including the Jewish) which does not bear good fruit will be hewn down and cast into the fire.
Paul’s warning here seems to run in a similar vein. He knows that his Jewish brethren will fully agree that the Gentiles are utterly lost, and that the unspeakable depravity which characterizes their lives is a result of their abandonment by God. But the Jews had long held a low opinion of the uncircumcised Gentiles. All too often, however, they had been unwilling to recognize their own faults. This is what Paul warns them against. If they, he tells them, practice the same sins which they deplore in the Gentiles, then they are the greatest fools if they think that they will escape the judgment of God, which is administered without respect to persons upon all who rebel against Him.
Two Witnesses to Christ
Verses 12 through 20 of John 8 are their own section, beginning with Christ’s great claim to be the light of the world, and the Pharisees’ opposition to that claim. They argued that because He only bore witness of Himself there was no reason for them to accept it. In the two verses covered in this sermon, Christ shows that there are indeed two witnesses, Himself, the Son of God, and His heavenly Father. If two earthly witnesses can confirm a fact in a court of law, then how much more ought we to believe the testimony of the Father and the Son concerning Christ! This argument ought not only to have convinced the Pharisees, it ought to convince everyone who ever comes to consider whether Jesus truly is the light of the world.
The Jew would certainly have agreed with the apostle’s assessment of Gentile guilt and depravity. They would have had no quarrel at all with the apostle’s doctrine that God’s wrath was revealed against those peoples who had abandoned Him to serve idols, and had consequently been turned over by God to their own lusts, to work all manner of licentiousness. But having exposed the guilt of the Gentiles, Paul will not permit his Jewish kinsmen to think that they are off the hook. He warns them against judging the Gentiles harshly, when they themselves are guilty of many of the same vices. It is one thing to say that the Gentiles are guilty of great sin, and justly abandoned by God. That much is true. But it is a step too far to puff up ourselves as if we are not like them, and congratulate ourselves that we are alright because we have the law of God and make some effort at observing it.
Their judgment is self-condemnatory, for if history proved anything, it is that the Jews were regularly guilty of the precise same iniquities that characterized the Gentiles. This was the theme of the relentless prophetic judgments we find over and over in the Old Testament. Of course, the apostle is not telling us that it is intrinsically evil to pronounce that another person has committed sin; he himself has just done so against the entire Gentile world. But the issue here is one of pride and hypocrisy. The Jew could recognize that the Gentile world was greatly guilty before God, but it was great sin in them if they used that fact to pride themselves that they were much better than their heathen counterparts. No, the apostle reminds them that they too are guilty of many of those same terrible sins for which he had just castigated the Gentiles. This was true of their fathers, and, if they were honest, must admit was true of them as well.
But Paul would not have us to think that universal human sinfulness precludes ever making a judgment about sin. What he is concerned is not with our minds being informed, or even our tongues making an accusation, of sin against others. He is concerned with the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves to be righteous, while despising others; in particular, Jews who prided themselves on being right with God because they had the law, as opposed to the heathen Gentiles who lived in blindness and idolatry, and were under wrath and condemnation.
The text of the original is appropriately divided here to begin a new chapter, as the apostle enters into a new phase of his argument to prove that the Gospel is absolutely necessary if either Jew or Gentile would be saved. It is not very easy to deduce precisely to whom he is speaking, as he address “O man,” and says that he is inexcusable for his hypocritical judging of others. One may think that he is still talking to the generality of mankind, or to the heathen Gentiles whom he has so scorchingly excoriated in the previous verses. Certainly, the application may justly be made to any person who holds others to a standard by which he does not himself abide. But it appears to me that the generally given interpretation for this second chapter is correct; namely, that the apostle, having proven that the Gentiles are utterly depraved, as proved by their estrangement from God, now is turning to the Jews to convince them that they are not secure in their own righteousness, as they may wish to think, but that they too are guilty and condemned before God. As we proceed throughout the chapter, it will become apparent that Paul is speaking to those who are conversant with the law of God, and fancy that they themselves honor it. He will go to great lengths to prove that in reality, they are no better than the Gentiles who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, because even they have not kept the holy oracles which were given them.
But Paul will not permit us to think that men descend so low because their conscience has been so thoroughly defiled that they can no longer tell right from wrong. No, the true horror of their wickedness is seen in that they know right from wrong, but willfully choose the evil. More than that, they know the judgment God has pronounced against the wicked lifestyles they have chosen. Sodomites can bray all they wish about their rights, about the morality of their ideas of “equality,” and even attempt to tell people that they are Christians who love God, and that they serve Jesus. It will not sell on the Day of Judgment. They know the judgment of God, Who has declared that the man who lieth with mankind as with womankind shall surely be put to death. They know that even the New Testament scriptures plainly proclaim that those who live in such sins shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The same may be said for these many others; fornicators, murderers, wicked, cruel, deceitful, unmerciful men. They know that they deserve the judgment of God: that their thoughts, their actions, their philosophies, their lifestyles, are contrary to the will of their Creator. But they have convinced themselves not to care. If there is a hell, they are ready to risk it, in order to do just whatever it is that they want to do. Man who has departed from God becomes so hard, so wicked in his spirit, that he is willing to defy heaven and earth to pursue his idols, and spit in the face of the judgment of God.
But not only do they live these wicked lifestyles the apostle has denounced, they even take pleasure in those who do them. They are like those spoken of in the Proverbs, who sleep not except they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall. It is sad but true that the wicked are often better evangelists for their wicked philosophies and practices than the righteous are for the kingdom of God. Sodomites, who are starkly portrayed in this passage, we well know to be aggressive evangelists for their degraded lifestyle. The common whoremonger in the workplace normally is not satisfied to quietly live his own life, but would persuade others to be as filthy and unclean as himself. They are delighted when they can get others to be lecherous, foul, brutal, and wicked. O dreadful condition of mankind, from which only the grace of the everlasting God revealed in the gospel can deliver us!
The terms implacable and unmerciful follow on in much the same vein, and again paint a very ugly but very accurate picture of what man becomes apart from God. He becomes so hard, so cruel, so vindictive in his spirit, that he is impossible to reconcile. He lashes out at everyone that does not satisfy his whims, often resorting to violence to make the point that he is the one around which the world should revolve.
Of course, the idea of being unmerciful would go hand in hand with what we said about the horrors of abortion and euthanasia in the previous post. What sort of mother could have such little pity upon the fruit of her womb that she would hire a doctor to pierce its head and extract the brain from her living child? What kind of inhuman doctor would agree to participate in such a beastly procedure? Truly does the scripture say, “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Those who promote such astounding forms of brutality as abortion and euthanasia always clothe their practices in the guise of humanity and compassion, while in reality they are revealing just how cold, hard, wicked, and unmerciful men become when estranged from the God Who gave them life and breath and all things.