I was going to say “babes,” as many translations have it, but that just sounded . . . well, wrong. You know?
Romans 2:17-24 takes aim specifically at self-righteous Jews, but in our own era, it has application to anyone who considers himself or herself to be spiritually wise and is in fact spiritually immature. Is that you? Is it me? No doubt we’re all immature in many ways, so perhaps the best attitude is one of teachable (though not gullible) humility. Always be ready to receive truth, no matter who it might come through. The Holy Spirit and the scriptures will confirm truth for you, if you’re willing to listen.
Here’s my paraphrase of this passage:
If you call yourself a Jew and:
- Rest yourself on the law
- Boast in God
- Take note of His will
- Test things that differ from it when hearing the law taught and read
. . . and what’s more, are persuaded that you yourself are:
- A guide to the blind
- A light to those in darkness
- A trainer of the simple
- A teacher of babes
- Having the forming of knowledge and truth in the law
- You teach others; don’t you teach yourself?
- You proclaim: Do not steal!; do you steal?
- You say: Do not commit adultery!; do you commit adultery?
- You abhor sacrilege; are you temple robbers?
You who in the law do boast, through transgressing the law, do you dishonor God? Just as it is written, because of you God’s name is defamed among the nations.
It isn’t good enough to trust in the law, Paul says. You have to actually obey the law. Having it as the foundation of your very culture doesn’t cut it. Knowing the law back to front and teaching it to others means nothing in a person who doesn’t keep the precepts. As I pointed out, this applies to us as Christians. Knowledge is good, but knowledge alone isn’t king. Knowing this stuff doesn’t make us righteous. Even knowing that it’s all about relationship doesn’t put us in right standing with God.
We must BE and DO. Our transgressions of God’s law (in our case the law of love) cause our Father to be dishonored among the unbelievers. What we owe one another is not a perfect exegesis of scripture. It is love — from the Father. Judging and criticizing one another comes easily, but when we point the finger we are too often uncovering our own character flaws. You who hate boasting and hogging the spotlight; Do you desire to do the same? You who demand scrupulous honesty in others; Do you steal office supplies from your employer? I’m sure every one of us could craft such a couplet that would implicate our own persons in this form of hypocrisy, whether present or past. If we’re honest and perceptive, most of us would have to go with present tense on at least a few things.
Giving lip service to righteousness doesn’t honor our Father; only true obedience can keep the world from disdaining Him because of our own behavior. Looking good is not enough. We must be genuine through and through. Otherwise we cause seekers to stumble. They see our lives and say, “I want nothing to do with that pack of actors.” And if the hypocrisy has its home in a leader of the church, how much worse is that?
Until we ourselves are walking in humility and in the leading of the Holy Spirit, we have no business attempting to instruct others — as though we were icons of wisdom and maturity. None of us will be perfectly perfect in this life, but if we know and acknowledge that fact, it will go a long ways toward being genuine. We are His ambassadors. Let’s keep it real.