The second half of chapter one dealt with humanity in general, mostly referring to Gentiles. The Jews who heard Paul’s condemnation would've likely pumped their fists and proclaimed “Amen, brother!” But then Paul turned to the religious man, specifically the observant Jew. It was common for Jewish people to think they were righteous before God because 1) They were descended from Abraham, and 2) They had the Law of Moses. 3) They were circumcised. Adherence to the Law was symbolized by circumcision, which is why Paul’s legalistic opponents made such a big deal over it. In fact, the very idea that one could be declared righteous before God without being circumcised would be literally unthinkable to them.
Now, we need to look at this realistically. Quite frankly, the Jews of Paul’s day tended to take the Scriptures a lot more seriously than they do today. I’m fairly certain I know the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures, if you prefer) a lot better than just about 90% of the Jewish population in America. I certainly take the Scriptures a lot more seriously.
Therefore, the idea that the main issue confronting Jews today is legalism, like it was in Paul’s day, just isn’t so. There are some Orthodox and Conservative Jewish people, but they’re the minority.
So I’d like to take some of the things which Paul addresses in today’s passage and apply it as much as possible to a group of people who supposedly do take the Bible seriously. I’m talking about Bible-believing Christians, otherwise known as Evangelicals.
Does it apply?
Paul accused the self-righteous Jews of his day—trying to convince them that they need a Savior—by showing that their self-image was completely unjustified. They really did see themselves as “a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children.” They saw themselves as vastly superior to those filthy Gentiles who routinely indulged in idolatry, sexual immorality, violence, etc.
How’s your self-image? Do you see yourself as superior to the non-Christians around you? Do you look at their behavior and say “Wow, thank God I’m not like that!”?
Paul has some harsh and piercing questions for you, really for all of us: “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” And if you aren’t committing the exact same sins that others do, do you look in pride upon them because of that? I promise, if you let the Holy Spirit examine you, if you cry out Psalm 139:23-24 to him, he’ll point out something that needs attention. We all tend to be harsher towards people who indulge in sins to which we're not particularly attracted. And that can lead us to somehow act as if we somehow needed the blood of Jesus less than they do, that our sins aren't quite as serious as theirs.
Remember, Jeremiah told us that our hearts incline towards wickedness, that we’re masters of self-deception. I can’t count how many times I’ve ranted and raved against someone who’s committed a traffic “sin” against me (like not paying attention when the light changes at a red light), and then catch myself later doing the exact same thing or worse. As the old saying goes, sins are like headlights: Yours are a whole lot more glaring than mine.
And what’s the result of this? Among other things, Paul mentions something that should chill the heart of every Jesus-loving believer. By his grace, may this never be said of me or you: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you!” Nothing bolsters the antagonism towards Christianity--both among honest seekers and enemies of the Message—than Christians who are caught in an egregious sin, especially while they're displaying a self-righteous attitude like we see here. My friend, there’s nothing that turns people away from following Christ faster than this sort of thing.
The world is watching, and the Devil laughs while we hand him more ammunition. Let’s not, shall we?
Please Lord Jesus, please please please. Don’t let the Enemy use me to turn someone away from you.