Wednesday of Trinity 9 – Romans 2:17-29

| July 26, 2016 | 1 Comment More

Teaching the Word of GodRomans 2:17-29

Paul makes an interesting contrast in Romans 2, a contrast that would have been not only interesting but also shocking to 1st century Jews.  His contrast is between true Jews and false Jews, in essence, but those he counts as “true” Jews are not necessarily the religious or ethnic Jews.  Paul’s shocking contrast can be categorized something like the list below:

Jew (regardless of ethnicity)                non-Jews (regardless of ethnicity)

circumcised heart                                 circumcised heart, irrespective of physical circumcision

Spirit                                                    letter

praise from God                                  praise from men

obeys God                                           disobeys God (even if they teach obedience to God)

A number of surprising and revelatory things catapult themselves out of this passage to me, in addition to the radical statement Paul makes that, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly.”  In fact, this statement, taken with its companion, “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly” gets to the heart of the matter (literally, the heart).

Paul speaks to me today as well, because I am a Jew by his definition.  And what he says, regarding the outer and inner man applies to me, for exactly the same thing could be said about being a Christian.  “For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, but he is a Christian who is one inwardly.”

Let me say at the outset that I don’t believe you can truly separate the inner from the outer man any more than you can separate the body from the soul without causing death.  In other words, I don’t think Paul’s saying, “I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious (i.e. I won’t go to church, and I won’t submit to any spiritual authority).  To such Christians who claim to be spiritual but separate themselves from the Body of Christ, James would surely say, “Show me your faith by your works!”  This kind of Christian who thinks he can be entirely an inner Christian is really just another flavor of selfish people.

But the other real danger, to which Paul is speaking, is the outer Christian, the person who says he’s a Christian because of x, y, or z but whose heart is not a heart for God in all things.

Do you go to church?  Great!  It’s much better in every way to go to a good church than to not go to church.  But what do you mean by “going to church”?  If you mean just “going” and then coming back unchanged, unwilling to relinquish the other 167 hours of the week to the Lord, then woe to you!

Are you a moral person?  Bully for you!  But do you keep all of God’s commandments, or are you the rich young ruler, whose secret and favorite sin will be exposed?  And whose morality are you following – God’s or man’s, and are you following God’s morality selectively?  You realize, of course, that your morality, will not save you.

But like the writer of Hebrews, and knowing many of you personally, I am persuaded of better things for you.  So I want to ask the question, “What would an inner Christian look like?”  What kinds of things does Paul think a true Jew would be doing?  Let’s look at verses 17-23, for I think they are an excellent guide to the kinds of things we would be doing if our hearts were truly after God, keeping in mind that what Paul is criticizing is the failure to do these things while teaching them, and not the faithful doing of them.

  1. “make your boast in God” – What if you truly boasted in nothing but God? Gone are all your boastings in your own petty accomplishments and even your pride in spiritual accomplishments that could never have been done without God. Gone, too, are all your frustrations and discouragements because it’s no longer about you.  Instead of, “Look at me – I played an excellent game!” it’s “Thank you, God, for giving me the grace to be faithful in prayer.”
  2. “know His will” – How much time, effort, energy, and thought has gone into your latest schemes – the project at work, the person I want to impress, the vacation I’m about to take, what my house will look like? Imagine what life would be if you sought the will of the Lord with such passion and commitment?
  3. “approve the things that are excellent” – What are those things which are most excellent? The things of God.  His will, His Kingdom, His power and glory.  And that most excellent thing of all: God!
  4. “a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness” – “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Isn’t it cool to think of yourself not as a mere cipher in the snow but as a luminous, fiery, glowing star, a sun, created by God to attract others to God by your light and to show them the way in a dark and void world?

  1. “an instructor of the foolish” – Are any of you parents? Then you’ll know exactly what Paul is talking about!  But there are also many foolish people who are adults – they just look different than foolish children.  They, too, need to be instructed, although the way you might do it will be different from the ways we teach children.
  2. “having the form of knowledge and truth in the law” – Paul has a heightened view of the importance of teaching – shouldn’t we? Look at what care Paul takes in his letters to instruct his flocks!  Look at what sharp words he was for false teachers and hypocrites – those who teach one thing but practice another.  This is at least the third phrase Paul uses that involves teaching others the truth.

We should take care that what we teach, not only with our lips but with our lives, is what God desires.  We should take care that when we teach the things of God, as we should, that we have first done them ourselves.

In this way, we will be pleasing to the Lord.  Our inner and outer men will be harmonized, and God will be made known to others.

How hellish it is when men teach and practice lies, and how tragic it is when they teach the truth and yet practice selfishness.  But how bright and glorious and joyful it is when the people of God both teach and practice Him who is Truth!

Prayer:  O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; grant us in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what Thou wouldst have us do; that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in Thy light we may see light, and in Thy straight path may not stumble, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (William Bright)

Point for Meditation: 

  1. In what ways have your behaviors not matched your words?
  2. Who has God put in your life to whom He has called you to be light? (Hint: If He’s placed someone close to you, then you are obligated to love him, and he is affected by you!)

Resolution:  I resolve to listen today to how my Lord is asking me to be light and truth. 

Jew, True Jew, circumcised heart, obedience, knowing God’s will, instruction, going to church, spiritual but not religious

© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson

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  1. Rich Lee says:

    Under non-Jews did you not intend “uncircumcised heart, irrespective of physical circumcision”?

    Sorry, too analytical and too many years proofreading legal documents.

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