Summary: Hypocrisy is a struggle for all who are sinners; it brings dishonor to God; and it destroys our witness.
A Sermon on Romans 2:17-24
In his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey tells a story about a Bible study he was teaching on the person of Christ. The class began discussing how the hypocritical legalism of the church turned off non-believers. Then they began to ‘swap war stories,’ and Yancey shared his own tale of Moody Bible Institute in the early 1970’s. They banned all facial hair on the male students, as well as any hair below the ears. Every day the students would file past a large painting of the institute founder, Dwight L. Moody, breaker of all the rules.
As he told his story, all but one man laughed. Greg became angry and spoke up in an indignant rage. "I feel like walking out of this place," he said,… "You criticize others for being Pharisees. I’ll tell you who the real Pharisees are. They’re you [he pointed at me] and the rest of you people in this class. You think you’re so high and mighty and mature. I became a Christian because of Moody Church. You find a group to look down on, to feel more spiritual than, and you talk about them behind their backs. That’s what a Pharisee does. You’re all Pharisees."
Yancey writes: “I glanced at the clock, hoping for a reprieve. No such luck. It showed fifteen minutes of class time remaining. I waited for a flash of inspiration, but none came. The silence grew louder. I felt embarrassed and trapped.”
We’re all guilty of hypocrisy on one level or another. If we look at the hypocrisy of others, we often neglect to see it in ourselves. We’re human and we fail to live up to the standards we set for others.
Today we continue our journey through the book of Romans. If you have your Bibles with you, why don’t you take them out and turn to the second chapter of the Book of Romans.
Here Paul addresses our tendency toward hypocrisy. We’ll begin at verse 17. Paul writes:
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (Romans 2:17-24, NIV)
Preaching to the kids
When we read these words, isn’t it easy to apply them to other people? I mean, as a mom, I can’t tell you how often I’ve wanted to preach this sermon to my children.
Now you, if you call yourself a Blader, and you rely on the rules of this house; if you know Mom’s will – and God’s [and hopefully they’re the same] – and approve of it because you are instructed by these laws and convinced that you are a guide to the blind and a teacher of siblings – you who teach others do you not teach yourself? You who would preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say people should not hit others, do you hit? You who abhor selfish acts of non-sharing, do you hoard your toys?
But one of the hardest things about preaching a sermon like that is that you have to apply it to yourself too. Because the words don’t mean much if they can’t look at my life and at least see a glimpse of it in practice.
My dad used to have a saying when I was growing up. “Do as I say, not as I do.” I remember thinking at an early age there was something terribly wrong with that logic. When I was older, I called him on it once and countered with a proverb of my own: “Practice what you preach, Dad!” - - not that it got me anywhere.
Jew and Gentile
Now as we look at Paul’s letter to the Romans, he was talking to the Jews at this point: he says, “If you call yourself a Jew.”
Paul levels his charge against those who have God’s law. These are the benefits on which they stand:
Pride in their Jewish race.
Reliance on and approval of the law.
Pride in their relationship with God.
Knowledge of God’s will.
Ability to guide and instruct others.
Possession of knowledge and truth.
And Paul’s charge is that though they have all these things, they do not pay attention to what they teach. “You who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” Paul charges. They used the law to show that they had a right relationship with God, and yet that is the law they violated.