For an introduction to this series, click here.
July 3, 2007
This chapter continues the theme of the righteousness of God, but in a different way. This chapter has to do with how we view ourselves in light of God's righteousness and judgment: "We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who do such things. Do you suppose, O man - you who judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself - that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed." (2:2-5)
It's easy (and fun!) to judge other people for their sin. It's harder for us to look into our own sinful hearts and judge ourselves. But "God shows no partiality" (2:11), and He will judge everyone equally. He will judge others for their obvious sins and He will judge us for our sins as well.
The rest of this chapter has to do with the difference between Jews and Gentiles with respect to the Law. Apparently this was a point of controversy in the early church. The Jews were rightfully proud of their heritage as the people of God and the descendants of Abraham. But that pride caused them to look down on their fellow Christian Gentiles. This was a problem Paul attacked directly: "For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law." (2:13-14)
These Jews were proud of themselves because they had Moses' law. But Paul says having the law is no great trick. The great trick is keeping the law. Lots of people who have never heard of the 10 Commandments live them out every day. So which is better: somebody who knows the law and doesn't practice it, or somebody who does not know the law, yet they naturally do the things found in the law? This was something most of the Jews had never thought of before, I'm sure.
Next Paul confronts hypocrisy directly: "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.'" (2:17-24)
Here Paul mocks the pride of the Jews who considered themselves superior to the Gentiles. Yes, they were the instructors, they were the wise people. But those who put themselves above others have to be extra careful. They are just as liable to sin as anyone, yet they put themselves on a pedestal. When they fall off the pedestal, they will land a lot harder than those who don't put themselves on the pedestal.
Finally Paul goes after the ultimate symbol of Judaism: circumcision: "Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." (2:27-29, ESV)
Here Paul uses the term "Jew" to refer to children of God. The one who is a true child of God is not the one who has a bloodline traceable to Abraham. The true child of God is the one who does God's will. Circumcision and other outward shows of righteousness do not impress God. It is possible to have all the outward things right and have a heart full of envy and pride and bitterness. Believe me, I have been there.