Text: Romans 2.17-24
Introduction: This morning I’m in two texts: Isaiah and Romans. Turn to Isaiah 50 and mark your place there. Then, turn to Romans 2, beginning in v 17.
Last week we looked the first part of Romans where Paul pulled the ole’ bait and switch. He took a page from Amos and got the Jews riled up and excited against the Gentiles. In Chapter one of Romans, Paul confronts the Gentiles for their gross immorality and their vile idolatry. And the Jews are just lovin’ it. They think they’re safe because they’re Jews. They’re God’s people. They have the law and they have circumcision. They have the Temple of God.
After Paul has pulled them in and got them acting all Pentecostal with Praise the Lord and Amen and Hallelujah! Paul then turns on them and says, Hold on, now, you’re not any different. And then, Paul unloads on them. And yes, he’s pretty harsh.
A Word of Caution:
I think this would be a good time for us to talk about anti-Semitism. These passages and others like them have often times throughout history led people to act hatefully toward the Jewish people. That isn’t Paul’s point. That isn’t his goal.
You’re probably most familiar with the holocaust, but there have many times throughout history where God’s chosen people were targeted and attacked with the attempts to wipe them off the face of the earth. We hear that cry coming from Iran and other Muslim groups today.
But Paul is Jewish. He himself says later on in this letter: 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Jesus is Jewish – our Messiah! So, don’t misinterpret what Paul is doing here.
So, what is Paul doing here? Where is he going? At the moment, Paul’s point is that even though the Jews have the Law of God and the Ceremony of Circumcision, they are not exempt from needing the Gospel. He’s already made the point that the Gentiles need the gospel, but so do the Jews. Paul is pointing out the fact that we all need the gospel. And, yes, he’s being harsh, but that is the goal – a shock, effect if you will.
The Goal: The Unyielding Glory of God!
So the one point of this passage is the honor and the glory of God. And the way we see God dishonored and not glorified is through the bad behavior of our lives.
If you go back to Romans 1.21, you’ll see that Gentiles dishonor God through their behavior; rd 1.24, 26; And last week we looked at this Chiasm presented in 2.7-10, those who honor and glorify God and those who don’t. Paul’s referring to the Jews, who here in 2.23, dishonor God through their behavior. Rd 2.23; 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
Evil, wicked behavior dishonors God. It does not glorify him. And we’re so quick to amen the 1st section about those who through idolatry and immorality dishonor God. We hear about the homosexual, the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender persons in chapter one and we stand behind Paul and shout, Amen!
But he gets our attention when he says such things as, God’s Righteous Judgment is:
- Unexpected for those who think their religion makes them exceptional.
- Rendered according to each one’s works.
- Perfectly impartial.
Application: Bringing it home
For me, this passage hits closer to home than the previous passages. I say closer to home because I’m standing behind Paul eggin’ him on, shoutin’ “amen’s” and “praise the Lord’s”. The offense of chapter one is blatant and in your face. Many today don’t care if their immorality offends. Gay marriage, Cohabitation, Adultery, Fornication…all of these are flaunted today and even encouraged in our society. But for most of us here this morning, we don’t struggle with these very public sins. I didn’t say all of us, but rather, most of us. In reality, we would be classified more in this 2nd group, the Jews (even though most of us here this morning are not Jewish) because it is the principle that is applied.
So Paul has unloaded on the Jews. Let’s read that text together: 17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
I’m going to take this passage out of context – for just a moment. I want you to see this like they see it. I want you to read this like they read it. Maybe even to feel a little bit like they’re possibly feeling. See what happens if I read it this way (I’m going to put it up on the screen, follow me in 2.17ff):
17 But if you call yourself a Christian and rely on the bible and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the bible; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the bible dishonor God by breaking its teaching.
Paul’s message is relevant for the Church today. We’re being bombarded by messages of moral relativism. The cry is for tolerance – that is we should be tolerating the sinful behavior of people. And, we should tolerate it in our lives, too. And the one argument the world has against us is precisely what Paul accuses the Jews of here: You talk a good game about the Bible, but you don’t live it!
As the Church, we’re doing a pitiful job of preaching the Bible and living it out what we’re preaching. Countless pastors caught in sin; The Catholic Church and the story of its priests and their abuse of children; Pentecostals and their abuse of finances and/or women. Our purpose is to live out the honor and glory of God before a lost and dying world. But that is precisely Paul’s point. This will lead us in turn, as we see is Paul’s goal in chapter three, to rely on the righteousness that comes from Grace.
Yes, Grace is so important, but so is the behavior of those who live in God’s Grace. Evil, wicked behavior dishonors God.
And Paul drives this home with a quote from the Old Testament. The quote comes from Isaiah 52.5. Understanding this verse in the context of it’s original use will allow us to understand more of what Paul is trying to drive home for us.
23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Context: to gain context for this verse, we have to that portion of Scripture in Isaiah. The people of Israel were not in exile, yet. But Isaiah is talking to them of future events as if they were currently taking place…in the present tense of future events (i.e.: like it has already happened). He speaks to them this way because he sees it that way. And, they do eventually go into exile. And of course, his prophecy of them comes to pass. In Isaiah 50, 51, and 52, Isaiah has been telling them of their salvation. It sounds in the present tense, but that is to say for them what will be has already happened. For them, they are experiencing the wrath of God as a cup being poured out on them. But, one day – on that day – salvation would come to them. The wrath would end and salvation would be eternal, salvation would be everlasting. That is the hope they have for the exile they will endure. But that isn’t the way it is in that moment of exile.
Rd Isaiah 52.3-6: 3 For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” 4 For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. 5 Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their exile displeases God. He doesn’t like at all. Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised.
God is displeased because the Gentiles hold God with no regard. There is no honor. There is no glory. The actions and behaviors of the Jews have sent them into exile. God has kept his promise to do so if they rejected and rebelled against him. They did and so God did exactly what he has always told them he would do: vomit them out of the land! This isn’t God’s fault – No! It is the fault of the Jews who have lived their lives worshipping idols and committing immorality (which if you remember, is the very thing Paul has been accusing the Gentiles of in Romans 1). And it breaks God’s heart that his people are in this position: that their behavior has caused the Gentiles to dishonor Him.
Looking at the Jews in their pitiful state, who would want to worship their God? He can’t take care of them. He can’t protect them. He can’t provide for them. And so God’s Name is despised. God’s Name is blasphemed by the Gentiles.
And really, the Jews are to blame. Their behavior, their actions have resulted in all of this. That’s Paul’s point – and quoting from this passage, Paul brings it all home. Not only have the Gentiles exchanged the glory of God for idolatry and immorality, but so have the Jews. They are no different in their behavior and action. And Paul will conclude in 3.10 – none is righteous, no not one. And in 3.23, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God exchanging it for idols and immorality.
God’s Unyielding Glory!
Isaiah 42.8: 8 I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. God isn’t going to share his glory with anyone or anything. Period.
The context of Isaiah 52.5 is so fitting because Isaiah is telling the Jews how bad it is going to be, but there is hope because they have salvation eternal. But, how – how is this possible? How in the world will God get them there? Turn with me back to Isaiah.
How is this possible? Isaiah 52.13-53.12;
Here’s the thing: where you and I have failed, Christ has been victorious. You and I have reflected the image of God poorly. You and I are sinners and our sin plagues us. But Christ, however, reflects the image of God perfectly. He has restored honor and glory to the Father.
As Paul works his way through this letter entitle Romans, listen to his conclusion in this matter: (Begin Reading in v 4: 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Romans 15.8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
Christ came to restore God’s glory and honor among the Jews and the Gentiles because that is what He is most interested in: His Glory.
Application – take-a-ways:
- Nothing is more important to God than His Glory. That’s a bold statement, but I believe it is accurate. Nothing is more important to God than His Glory. And my guess would be that no one here puts God’s glory on the same level of importance that God does. So, let me ask you a question that might help you be honest with yourself: Am I glorifying God with my life and my actions? Let me ask it another way: Do the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart honor and glorify God?
- If you’re like me, then you’ll answer no to that question. At some point you recognize your utter failure to glorify God and honor him as you should. Do you know why? Romans 3.23 tells us: Because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is why Christ came! Remember Romans 15.8? Romans 5.8 tells us that Christ died for us – the ungodly. Isaiah said in our passage this morning: we all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – everyone – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Do you understand that is why Christ came? God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us – so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.
- Invitation –