Exposition of Romans 2:21-23, Talk the talk; walk the walk

Whether true or not, one common charge made by non-Christians is that Christians are hypocrites those who say one thing and do another. While this charge is often a flimsy excuse for not dealing with God, there is, sad to say, some truth in it. How does our failure to match faith and practice reflect on God?

(ESV) Romans 2:21-23

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.

The previous lesson (on Romans 2:17-20) looked at the positive advantages the Jews had received due to their possession of the Law of Moses and the covenants. In the Scripture for today, Paul shows how these advantages transform into a profound problem when the Jews are judged against the standards they so proudly proclaim.

In relation to the four questions posed by 2:21-22, Douglas Moo observes: “They expose the Jew who has made the lofty claims of vv. 17-20 as inconsistent and hypocritical, as failing to practice what he preaches. . . . All the privileges, distinctions, and gifts that the Jew may claim are meaningless if they are not responded to with a sincere and consistent obedience.”[1] This is exactly what Jesus said as well: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matt. 23:2-3).

Those who consider themselves teachers of the law must first learn from the law themselves (2:21a). But Paul alleges they fail in three areas, of which the first is stealing (2:21b). These sentences are constructed in a jarring Greek word order: “preach not to steal [you-singular] steal.” The two verbs meaning steal are placed side-by-side in Greek for rhetorical punch.

In effect, Paul says there should be a difference between those who possess the law of God and those who do not. Yet when he looks among the Jews he sees the same types of sins he sees among the Gentiles. These same accusations against the Jews were also being made by Jewish teachers in Paul’s time.

Paul wraps up his point in 2:23 by saying that those Jews who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking it. The italicized word is the same one Paul used in 1:24 for those who dishonored their bodies when driven by various lusts.

Humility is warranted!

For every Christian who shielded a Jew from the Nazis, there was another who handed a Jew over for death. We who claim to love the living God through Jesus Christ must remember to do so humbly in light of our failings. While Paul is dealing with the Jews in this lesson’s Bible passage, he could just as well have spoken about us!

1. In speaking of the failings of others, we must always show grace and mercy in light of our own failings (Matt. 7:15). Can you recall recent examples when you did not show mercy in this way? What might you do to better honor the Lord? Personal judgments are regularly required (e.g. discipline of children, choosing a babysitter or doctor), and Jesus did not forbid those (Matt. 7:6 includes some). What experience do you have at getting it right?

2. If you took a searching look at yourself  similar to what Paul did with the Jews  what would you find about how your behavior honors God?

Making judgments is never easy, but the only way we can make sure that our lives honor Jesus Christ is to examine ourselves in relation to biblical teaching and listen to counsel from mature believers. Then we can walk the walk and talk the talk — all for Jesus!

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 163.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 4:9–12

Genesis 4:9–12
9 Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he replied, “I don’t know! Am I my brother’s guardian?”  10 But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!  11 So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
(NET Bible)

Crime and God’s Punishment

In the Bible one often sees that the punishment fits the crime. Paul said: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). Jesus said, “The measure you use will be the measure you receive” (Matt. 7:2b).

If we care for no one except ourselves, then who will care for us? On the other hand, what will be the result of a life characterized by love and generosity? How will God intervene to see that this measure-for-measure approach is maintained?

Just as Adam and his wife were not free from God’s knowledge of their actions (Genesis 3:9–13), so Cain is forced to deal with God’s sudden arrival and penetrating question (Gen. 3:9, ESV): “Where is Abel your brother?”

Gordon Wenham offers insight into Cain’s defiant reply:

When Adam was challenged, he at least told the truth if not the whole truth (3:10), but Cain tells a bare-faced lie, “I do not know,” and follows it with an impertinent witticism, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Since Abel kept sheep and [“keeper”] is a term for shepherds (cf. Exod. 22:6, 9; 1 Sam. 17:20), Cain’s reply could be paraphrased “Am I the shepherd’s shepherd?”[1]

What can we say about Cain’s response to God’s question? It is clearly self-justifying. The response has the shameless audacity that characterizes those who have no grasp of the difference between an all-powerful God and a mortal man. Cain’s attitude can be found in many people throughout the pages of the Bible and in contemporary society. For this reason Jesus said, “If someone who is blind leads another who is blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). For Cain the pit comes swiftly.

Genesis 4:10  But the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”

In saying “What have you done?” Victor Hamilton says, “God is making an accusation, not seeking information.”[2] The blood defiles the God-created ground, and the blood figuratively cries out to God for relief.

Genesis 4:10 contains a world of implicit theology: God monitors all human activity; God judges human actions; human acts have consequences; human life is sacred; bloodguilt cannot be ignored.

Genesis 4:11–12  So now, you are banished from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  12 When you try to cultivate the ground it will no longer yield its best for you. You will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”

Just as sin had waited to devour Cain, the ground swallowed Abel’s blood. The striking series of questions and statements, each two words long in Hebrew, tells a simple story:

Genesis 4:9          “Where is Abel” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:10        “What have you done” (literal translation)

Genesis 4:11        “Cursed are you” (literal translation)

Hamilton clarifies the idea of being banished or banned from the soil by saying that it “obviously means not that he is barred from contact with the soil but from enjoyment of its productivity.”[3]

Wenham says, “In Gen. 3 man is not cursed, only the ground and the serpent, so cursing Cain is a serious development.”[4]

The text of Genesis 4:12 is hard to translate. While NET says the land “will no longer yield its best,” the ESV says “it shall no longer yield to you its strength,” and the NIV 1984 and 2011 say “it will no longer yield its crops” (emphasis added in all cases). There is a big difference between the land yielding its best and yielding any crops at all! The NIV is more likely correct because Cain is condemned to be a “homeless wanderer on the earth” (Gen. 4:12, NET), a condition that prevents cultivation of crops, and he soon complains of being driven off the land (Gen. 4:14).

So, if Cain cannot enjoy the productivity of the soil, how will he live? The irony is that this man who killed his brother and denied any responsibility to care for him will now have to depend on his brothers for sustenance. Will they treat him with the selfishness of Cain or the generosity of dead Abel?

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 106.

[2] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 231.

[3] Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, 232.

[4] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 107.

Preparing to judge others, Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:3-5

Matthew 7:3-5

Why do you see the speck in your brothers eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, Let me remove the speck from your eye, while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brothers eye.
(NET Bible)

Laughing at ourselves

Many years ago I met weekly with a colleague for lunch at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. In time I came to regret that standing lunch because my friend, who was intelligent enough to discuss many things, chose to spend his part of the conversation by running down people we both knew. My attempts to introduce other topics generally failed. Another salient fact is that my friend never acknowledged any weakness or shortcoming on his own part; in his view, he was perpetually blameless.

What does Jesus think about disciples who judge others without any regard for their own faults and failings? They will not be pleased to find out.

Some people think that God lacks a sense of humor. Those folks would have been shocked to hear members of Jesus audience laugh at some of his exaggerated metaphors. Jesus was known to be a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and the son of a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). What we have in 7:3-5 is carpenter-shop humor with a sharp lesson about judging other disciples fairly.

Imagine the absurdity of a disciple with a roof beam sticking out of his eye who is trying to see a small object such as a chip, splinter or piece of straw in his brothers eye (7:3). Jesus abruptly sets the hook with that potent sentence: You hypocrite! (6:5a). Is Jesus saying this to the disciples? What does he mean?

The previous uses of the Greek noun hypocrites (6:2, 5, 16) were consistent with its general meaning actor, in the sense pretender, dissembler.[1] We have learned that such people were pretending to worship God when in fact they wanted to be seen by people and considered pious. Since Jesus most frequently uses this negative term to describe the scribes and Pharisees (23:13, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29), it seems that here (6:5a) he is saying that any of his disciples who judge others harshly in order to seem pious are no better than those pretending to love God while seeking popular admiration. In this, such a misguided disciple is following the Pharisees rather than Jesus!

How must the disciple repent of making harsh judgments? Jesus says, First remove the beam from your own eye (7:5), but he does not explicitly say how to do so. To answer this question we should consider all that Jesus has said to this point. The first thing to realize is that Jesus has spoken to his disciples as their teacher and even their Lord. When Jesus finished teaching, the crowd was astonished that he had spoken with complete authority (7:28-29). That had never happened!

The first step toward clearing ones vision is to listen to Jesus and no other; that would mean rejecting the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees. The second step would be to develop the character traits Christ wants in his disciples (5:1-16). Next, the disciple should adopt the understanding taught by Jesus of how the law must be fulfilled (5:17-48). Finally, the disciple must learn from Jesus how to view his religious duties and to put seeking God above seeking money (6:1-34). Following Jesus in all things is the way to see clearly and to make sound judgments.

Craig Blomberg skillfully summarizes: But verse 5 makes clear that verses 34 do not absolve us of responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather, once we have dealt with our own sins, we are then in a position gently and lovingly to confront and try to restore others who have erred (cf. Gal. 6:1).[2]

Judgment is not a laughing matter

Unless we are laughing at our own faults as disciples, judgments about others are no laughing matter!

Jesus had great concern about unity among his followers. He knew that harsh, loveless judgments could sour that unity and hurt the gospel of the kingdom. Judge we must, but let us do so with an eye to our own limitations and the priority of Jesus mission over our personal concerns.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] BDAG-3, hypocrites, actor, q.v.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992) 128.