A little more than 50 years ago (1968), Jeannie Riley released a song that was number one on the country and pop singles charts, spawned a movie (a decade later), and eventually a TV show (in 1981).
The song is about the hypocrisy of the PTA. Many of you may remember the song, but take a few moments to listen the words.
Haven’t we all been there? Been hypocrites, I mean. I know I have. We all justify our own actions. We all think we are better that someone else, or perhaps many others. And therefore, we hold ourselves a little higher – not to a higher standard, but to a higher place – out of pride.
But the Bible is clear about pride. It is one of the six things God hates (Proverbs 6.17) and comes before the fall (Proverbs 16.18, 1 Corinthians 10.12). We teach others what is right and wrong, but do not live by the same standards we teach. That is certainly a part of what it means to sin.
Paul addresses that very issue in our topic today in the latter part of Romans 2.
It is also why we are not good judges. We are partial to ourselves (and some others), but true justice for all people should be based on a unified standard.
We all make mistakes, but when we choose to live in disobedience to God, we not only hurt ourselves, we also keep others from knowing God, and bringing glory to Him, as He desires.
If we are incapable of living up to our own teaching, how can we possibly live up to Jesus command to make disciples? (Answered in JOURNEY, be real and authentic)
First, we must understand that not being able to fully live according to what we teach does not excuse us from the need to teach.
In Romans 2.17-29, Paul chastises the Jew who teaches the Law. Paul does not chastise because of the teaching, but because the teacher believes that something else is more important. We will get to that something in a few moments. Look at verses 17-20. In these verses Paul shares several reasons the Jew should boast in God and, as a part of that, teach others.
- The person is a Jew.
- The person relies on the law. (The word rely could make this statement good or bad, but the Law itself was not meant to be bad (Romans 7.10 – it promised life), so we are treating this word as a positive in this case).
- The person could know God’s will.
- The person could approve (test) God’s will (cf. Romans 12.2).
- The person learns from the law.
Because of this, the person has responsibilities. We see these in verses 19-20.
- The person is to help others (guide the blind – those ignorant of the Law, i.e. Gentiles).
- The person is to be a light to those in darkness.
- The person is to instruct the foolish.
- The person is to teach those who are children (particularly in the faith).
So, the person has the Law and is to teach the Law. But even as they teach others, they are not following the teachings!
If we go back to Romans 2.12-13 – they have the Law, they have heard the Law, but they are not keeping (doing) the Law. Thus, when they (the Jew) are judged, it will be according to the Law.
In particular, Paul mentions a few commandments that are being broken – stealing, committing adultery, and robbing the temple (which is stealing in one sense, but likely relates to idolatry here).
What is the result? God is blasphemed by the very people who should be learning from this person.
Again, none of us is perfect. But like this Jew, anyone who knows anything about the Bible has a responsibility to teach. You are obligated by Jesus. I may be more obligated in one way because I have been especially called and have a degree, but all of us are teaching in some way each day. That is, people are watching. And how we live says as much as what we believe as anything.
So, do our lives bring glory to God? Or do we cause others to not believe? Our words are important, but so are our actions.
The second thing we must know is that the crux of this passage relates to circumcision. Yes, the teaching is important. But Paul wants to ensure the Jew knows what they must do. This argument has been clear throughout the chapter. Romans 2.6, 13, and 16 are specifically geared to this idea.
But the Jew thought that circumcision was the safeguard. I am circumcised so I am fine. Baptists have a similar idea. I walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and was baptized, so I am going to heaven.
For Baptists, the idea is “once saved, always saved.”
For the Jew, the idea was “once circumcised, always circumcised.”
Paul says, “Not so fast!”
At the end of this chapter, Paul makes it very clear that being circumcised IS important for the Jew (v. 25), but only if you keep the Law. Otherwise, Paul says, the uncircumcised Gentile is actually better off if they are keeping whatever they might know of the Law (or even if they do not know it, see Romans 2.13-16).
Such a statement would have been tremendously offensive to the Jew. However, it was not enough to show someone you are a Jew based upon a mark of your skin. The true nature of someone chosen by God was to show them the effect God has had upon your heart. That is, the true mark of a follower of God is not about the outward expression, as important as that is, it is about the inward change.
What was true of circumcision for the Jew is true of baptism for the people who call themselves Christians today. It is not about whether or not you were dunked (or even sprinkled); it is about following Christ. Yes, baptism is important. We are to follow the example of Christ (Matthew 3). We are to fulfill the commission of Christ (Matthew 28.19). Baptism is important. But it is obedience to Christ, actually heeding His call to “Follow Me,” that truly matters.
When we choose to follow Jesus, some people will praise us, and some will criticize us. That’s a reality. But the thoughts of others should not be what concerns us here, which Paul makes quite clear in the last verse of chapter 2. Read Romans 2.29.
By the 1st Century, the word Jew was synonymous with any person who was a part of God’s chosen people because of the covenant God made through Moses (i.e. the Law of Moses, or simply the Law). But originally “Jew” was a nickname of the tribe of Judah (particularly before the Babylonian Exile). And the word Judah means “praised.”
Thus, the Jewish people were “praising” themselves simply because they were Jews. They expected others to do the same. But man can only praise what they see on the outside. God will praise according to what is on the inside. Romans 2.29 suggest that many Jews were satisfied. But the last sentence shows that the praise for simply being a Jew because of circumcision does not mean that God is praising them.
Circumcision and baptism are outward expressions that can be seen by anyone, but God judges the secret things of man (Romans 2.16), those things that are on the inside. As I have been saying for months, this does not mean that good intentions are enough. Why? Because God does not only look inside, He also sees the fruit of the outside. Thus, we must be intentional to do what we know to do.
In other words, if I were to summarize this, I would say:
You need to be choosing what you are doing. And you need to be doing what you are choosing. And it should all be for the glory of God.
At the beginning of this post, I had you listen to the words from the song Harper Valley PTA. The PTA was concerned with the upkeep of an image rather than a change in lives. If they had been concerned with changing lives, they would have looked within their own ranks first – as is evidenced by the final verse of the song. Their concern was ultimately about title and status (that is, prestige) rather than helping others.
Sure, their words to the mother may have covered some concepts they thought were important. But was the goal of the PTA for their benefit (and exertion of power)? Was their goal to make other people feel worse, or to help live better?
The reality is that much of the judgment in our world today is to put others down. We may be able to fool others and even ourselves into thinking we are good. But we cannot fool God.
So, as we seek justice, let us ensure that we are first seeking God. Let us make sure we are following God. Certainly, we will not do this perfectly, but if we think that our salvation is secure without any effort to learn, follow, and teach others what He has asked (commanded) us to do, then I am not sure that we are any better than the Jews of yesteryear.
And if that’s the case, we are only foolin’ ourselves.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is O – OBEY.
I have said many times, and I will surely say it many more times, as God allows: We do not work for salvation. Paul is not arguing for a works-based salvation, and neither am I. But we must work because of salvation. That is, if we are truly saved by grace, through faith, our work for the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Spirit, will show itself to be real and authentic – even if it is not perfect.
LIVE. You need to be choosing what you are doing. And you need to be doing what you are choosing. And it should all be for the glory of God.
We learn, we live, we love, and we lead – all because of the grace of God. So let us live for the glory of God.