Romans 2:21


Tuesday, 12 February 2013

You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? Romans 2:21

Based on his statement in verses 17-20 Paul now asks a series of questions in Verses 21-23. The questions however begin with “therefore” and thus imply an answer opposite to what would normally be expected. By using a question in this manner, it makes the answer all the more forceful and undeniable.

Beginning with the concept of an instructor passing on instruction, he asks, “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” The answer will be “no.” The Jews who have the law have been shown to not live by the law which they possess.

To show this, his first indictment is concerning theft – “You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?” Obviously not every person reading his words are implicated in theft, but Paul is making a general observation based on the society in which he lived and which both rejected Christ and then nailed Him to the cross. The oral and possibly written testimony at that time by those who bore witness to Him showed this.

Jesus’ accusation against the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:2, 3 is one instance we can verify it. These are the very people who possessed the law and instructed out of it, and yet Jesus showed that they did not live by the standards which they taught –

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.”

On another occasion, Jesus explicitly called those who controlled the temple grounds thieves –

“And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” Matthew 21:13

The exact things which the law forbade are the things they practiced, not just in secret, but out in the open. Their actions became a festering wound within the society because the actions of the leaders were seen by all. When this happens, even the commoners begin to act in the same manner.

A perfect example of this is our nation today. Theft in Washington is so open and brazen – transferring money from those who earn it to those who don’t – that society sees this as normal and acceptable. The open wound cannot be healed with leaders who are no more than bully thugs.

Favors are bought and sold and exemptions are made for some but not for others. This leads to societal breakdown and “every man for himself.” The same was true in Israel at Jesus’ time as is evidenced by the gospel record. Again we turn to Matthew to see open theft by the instructors of the law –

“He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” Matthew 15:3-6

The practice of corban was a way of getting around taking care of one’s own parents. By devoting assets or money to God, these things could no longer be used for anything else. By making something so devoted, the gift could not be used to help the parents and yet it wasn’t actually bound to the temple treasury either. It was somewhat in a state of limbo – it could only be given to the temple or used by the giver. By agreeing to this precept, the leaders in Israel were committing theft against the people who needed it most, the parents who had raised the person and now needed the same care in their old age.

The moral responsibility of those who have the law increases. It doesn’t decrease, nor is there an exemption because of the knowledge they possess. Knowledge in no way negates right action. Instead it calls for it and even demands it.

Life application: Here we are studying the Bible and looking deeply into its precepts. We are gaining knowledge and thus much more will be expected of us as we walk through life. The eyes of others are watching us and anticipate that we will set the example for right conduct. Today as you go about your business, reflect on the areas where you may need to correct your habits so that they align with the Name you bear – the Lord Jesus.

Lord, I love Your word and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to read it and learn it. Now Lord, help me to live out what I have learned and to act in a manner which is in accord with its precepts. May those who see my life and actions have nothing bad to say about the title of “Christian.” Amen.

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