Having reminded the Jews of their advantages, both real and those they presumed, the apostle now sticks a pin into their balloon of pride with a direct accusation of hypocrisy.  He has said that the Jew, being knowledgeable in the law of God, considers himself an instructor of the foolish and a teacher of babes.  But he pointedly demands, “Are you not teaching yourself as well?”  It is no good to teach students how to conduct themselves, if we are living the exact opposite way.  Such hypocrisy is quickly realized, and a bad example will prove more influential than the most brilliantly composed and delivered lesson.  Consistently throughout scripture, and in particular in those pastoral sections of the epistles, it is insisted that those who are positioned as leaders and teachers of the Lord’s people, must vindicate their doctrine by a blameless life.  Paul is here to tell the Jew that, while he rightly propounds the law of God as the highest form of morality to his ignorant hearers, he himself is a violator of that very law, and therefore just as much subject to its sanctions as the ignorant heathen.

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He provides a few instances to back up his point.  He says that the Jew teaches the 8th commandment, that a man should not steal.  That is all very good, of course.  But what if the teacher is himself a thief?  We know that such glaring hypocrisy has often been common.  Teachers of religion and morality have often found to be plying their trade for no other reason than to fleece the people.  Such a man is a robber not only of the goods of his fellow men, but also of the glory of God.

 

Knowing Christ and His Father

This is the final message from the section that began with Christ’s great proclamation that He is the light of the world.  Primarily, it emphasizes that to know Christ is to know the Father, and that without this knowledge of the one true God there is no salvation for needy sinners.

Coming now to verse 17, we have a key to the interpretation of the passage.  At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul speaks only to a hypothetical individual he calls “O man,” not identifying whom he is addressing.  But now that little mystery, if such there was, is cleared up, for he plainly says, “Behold, thou art called a Jew…”  This argument, then, is directed against the Jew, who would have agreed with the apostle’s dim assessment of the heathen Gentiles, while fancying himself to be in much better shape because of his noble heritage and diligent observation of the law of God.

Paul is pleased to give his brethren their due, but also intends to blast away all the ramparts of their self-righteousness with a shot from the Gospel cannon.  He begins by describing the Jew, and his claims.  He is called a Jew, which involves the mighty privilege of coming from the family chosen and blessed by God, possessing the oracles of God, and counting many mighty men of faith among their kin.  But when Paul says that he rests in the law, it is no compliment, though the Jew may ignorantly have taken it so.  As we will find by proceeding throughout this epistle, nothing is more destructive to the soul than to lean our confidence upon our own doings.  To rest in the law is to vainly imagine that the executioner waiting to behead us will somehow become the friend that delivers us from every peril. 

The Jew made his boast in God, which undoubtedly means he prided himself on the knowledge he had of God from the reading of the scriptures and the teachings of the Rabbis.  Doubtless these were tremendous advantages, but they should have been a matter of humble thankfulness rather than boasting.  The Jew knew the will of God, being familiar with His law.  He knew what God expects from men, the things He approved, and those things He forbids.  Once more, these things are all very well to know, but such knowledge should lead to humble thankfulness to the great God Who revealed these things to us.  Because he knew the law of God, and what it required of men, and paid some degree of homage to it, the Jew could justly be said to approve the things that are more excellent.  Truly, the Jew had a knowledge more excellent and more helpful than all of the wisdom of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle combined.  He delighted in the knowledge he had of God’s law, and immersed himself in the study of it.  As he embraced this excellent knowledge, he came to a proud confidence that he himself could be a guide to the blind, bringing proselytes out of heathen darkness and shining the light of God’s law into their minds.  Thus, he became a guide of the blind, a light to them who sat in darkness.  He became an instructor of babes, teaching even the wise men of the heathen world a better knowledge than their mightiest philosophers had ever developed.  In short, Paul says that the Jew had “the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.”  These, unquestionably, were mighty privileges, and Paul by no means wishes to demean them.  However, he is going to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that, great as these privileges were, none of these things by themselves gave the Jew an advantage over the heathen Gentiles to whom they considered themselves guides and lights.

 

The Office of Deacon Instituted

Because our church is in the process of choosing out deacons, I am preaching a series of three messages on the office of deacon.  The first is from Acts 6:1-6, where the office of deacon is instituted, because the apostles were overburdened with the duties of preaching the word and handling the charity of the church.  Certain qualifications are sketched out, and the passage also plainly sets out that these officers are chosen by the congregation, rather than being unilaterally appointed by the elders.

There is one mistake in the message.  Speaking of Stephen, who was one of the first deacons, I stated that there was no evidence in the scripture that he worked miracles, which statement is refuted by verse 8.  I take responsibility for the mistake, and hope it will be overlooked and forgiven by the listeners.

But obeying the precepts of the law was not possible only for the Jews who had the tables of stone.  The Gentiles did not have that law, but Paul shows now that they did have a law, to which if they gave heed they could be commended by God.  Though they had not the law, Paul reminds his readers that oftentimes even the heathens did the things contained in the law.  Going back even before Moses, we find that heathen peoples had laws and customs against many of the same things forbidden by the Ten Commandments.  Gentile nations had statutes against stealing, lying, murdering, and so forth.  They honored some of the same virtues which God enjoins in his law.  Many Gentile nations at that time had good family principles, which encouraged wifely submission to the husband, or children honoring their ancestors.  Paul would have us to understand that this is the light of conscience, which is found in all nations.  This law of conscience, though not nearly so bright and clear a light as that which was delivered to Israel at Mount Sinai, was nevertheless a law unto the Gentiles, to which if they gave heed they deserved to be honored.

It did not take the written law for men to have a sense of right and wrong.  The heathen potentates with whom Abraham dealt knew that adultery was a vile crime.  The most remote and backward culture on earth has its own codes of honor, laws of consanguinity, and some basic knowledge of right and wrong.  The further a people departs from God, the more He withdraws the light of His countenance, the more dim and debased that light of conscience will become.  Nevertheless, in all peoples there is, in some degree, the work of the law written on their hearts.  They believe some things are right, and that some things are wrong.  In all too many cases the sense of right and wrong is turned upside down, as conscience is defiled.  Nevertheless, no people has ever been able entirely to escape the voice of reason and conscience.  When a man commits a grisly murder, even peoples who never heard of the sixth commandment know that there is something inherently evil in what he has done.  When someone steals from us, our conscience accuses them as evildoers, even if we never heard of the eight commandment.  Even atheists profess to abhor lying politicians.  This is the voice of conscience, the law written in their hearts, their thoughts accusing or excusing one another.  When men sin against this knowledge of right and wrong, they expose themselves to condemnation, and shall perish without the law.  Doubtless their judgment will not be so heavy as those who had the law, and willfully defied it.  Nevertheless, to sin against conscience is a dangerous thing, even for a heathen.

But who even among the most honorable pagans was not guilty in some degree?  Their wisest and greatest men were often their greatest sinners.  Greece’s wise philosophers were commonly pederasts, and their great kings were generally murderers and tyrants.  Still, Paul would have the Jews to be reminded, that a Gentile who strove to live according to the measure of light he enjoyed was really in no worse case than the Jew who came up short of the greater light that he enjoyed.

 

We must now take time to explain the parenthetical statement, which is absolutely crucial in undermining all false hopes and all excuses which men may offer to exculpate themselves before God.  He has just, in verse 12, made the statement that every person who is guilty of sin will be judged and condemned righteously; those who have sinned without law will perish without law, and those who have sinned in the law will be judged by the law.  But here he anticipates an objection, which he feels pressed to address without finishing his sentence (this he does in verse 16, which we have already considered).  But he must once and for all dispose of the objection, that if men do not know the law of God, then they cannot be condemned.  These important 3 verses, 13-15, show that even those who have never heard the law of God, nevertheless may be justly condemned by a righteous God, even if on somewhat of a different ground than the hearer of the law.

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He begins by establishing an extremely important principle, one which the Jews had sadly forgotten: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”  Of course, the apostle is not here undermining his doctrine of justification by free grace alone, for he is in the process of showing that at the most fundamental level, no person can be justified by the works of the law.  This statement is delivered to remind the Jews that their possession of the divine oracles did not automatically equate to their acceptance before God.  This was a lesson stressed from the earliest moments of the preaching of the kingdom of God.  John the Baptist inveighed against the religious hypocrites, “Think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father’!”  Christ also, in John 8, while on the one hand acknowledging His enemies were sons of Abraham, on the other hand told them, “Ye are of your father the devil.”  It was a lesson the Jews should have learned from Moses and the prophets.  The book of Deuteronomy is filled with warnings of doom and destruction both for individuals and the corporate body of the nation, if they forsook the law of God to serve idols.  Though the scriptures highly extol the grace of God in the favor He gratuitously bestowed upon Israel so lavishly, they never ceased to warn the people of Israel not to presume upon their status as sons of Abraham, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God.  If the law, the history, and the prophecies of the Old Testament showed anything, it is that God did not give the Jews a pass on their sin because they were Jews.  Their hearing of the law did nothing to draw down the smile of heaven.  Only when they performed the words of the law did they find favor with God.

 

Paul is fully aware of the fact that not all nations enjoyed the privilege of having God’s law, as did the children of Israel.  But he wants all to know that both those who never heard it, along with those who have, will surely perish apart from believing this glorious message he is presenting to them.  Those who have sinned without the law, he says ,will perish without the law.  Of course, this begs the question, “How can one sin if there is no law?”  The parenthetical statement running from verses 13-15 will answer that question which has puzzled many over the ages.  For the present, the apostle adds that those who have sinned in the law will be judged by the law.  This cut away all ground of boasting for the Jew, because, as their own Solomon had told them, “There is no man that sinneth not.”  This broad statement includes Jew as well as Gentile.  Therefore, those who have violated any one of the precepts of the law, must be judged by it.  The holiest man ever born of woman (save Christ Himself) cannot measure up to this standard.  Therefore, if we may skip down to verse 16 and finish the sentence before returning to the parenthetical thought, in that dreadful day when God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, there is not a man who will be able to stand before His blazing throne of justice and be accepted in his own works and person.  Those who never heard the law, and those who lived their life in the study of it, will be arraigned as sinners.  The only question will be, Was anything done about those sins to remove them from the equation?  Just how that may be done is the great theme of the apostle in these early chapters of Romans.

Before returning to the important parentheses, a word should be added about this phrase with which Paul ends verse 16, “according to my gospel.”  Usually when we define the gospel, we speak of it as the good news of salvation for the perishing.  This is true as far as it goes, but the apostle often used this word in a much broader sense.  In certain places, this being one of them, he uses the term “gospel” to describe the entire message he was commissioned by Christ to preach.  This would include, not only the blessed theme of justification for the guilty, but every accompanying truth, including the threats.  Part of the message Paul was commissioned to preach was that God had raised Jesus from the grave in order to make Him the judge of all.  He declared this grand truth to the Athenians on Mars Hill, and will state it again in 14:9 of this epistle.  So, we see that Paul often includes his entire message under the name of “gospel,” as if his message would be incomplete if it did not incorporate every truth God had revealed to him.  And here we find that part of the truth revealed to him from heaven was that the resurrected Christ Himself shall be the great judge of all at the end of time, both of those who had the law, and of those who did not.