The selection can be read in context here.
First let me say that Paul is writing to the Jewish converts to Christ. He is not addressing the Gentiles among them. We Gentiles however can take away a lesson from what is being said, when we also fall into the same trap that the erring Jewish believer found himself at the time of this writing. And what is the trap? Being a boastful know-it-all who stumbles in their walk and falls short of the mark.
Let me write about those who are Jews by birth. This can also relate to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. The foundation of the Jew and the Gentile convert is the law. Not just the law as passed down to them by Moses but also all of the modified/expanded/added refinements and expressions made to that law by the leaders. These refinements and expressions were the work of those who "Sit in Moses' Seat." It is the work given to them by God. Jesus himself said that these leaders should be obeyed, but we should not follow their example.
At the beginning of the church all of the believers were Jewish. There was no doubt that these believers should follow the laws of their nation. However the customs added to the law need not be followed by the Nazarenes. Nazarenes? It was the name given to the early church by the Jewish leaders of the nation. The customs of the Jews were always a point of controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees/lawyers. Jesus did not want these customs to migrate and become a part of the church. But what of the law? That too could become a snare. And it did trap some of the believers in Christ.
The Jew rested their relationship with God and their salvation upon the law and their obedience to it. Knowing the law gave them an edge that no other people had. When the nation obeyed the law they were a light unto the Gentiles. God would be exalted in the eyes of the world. Their law would be acclaimed by those nations that would hear of it.
The Jew would boast of their relationship with God.. About his love, his care and his protection that he extended to all those who would obey his law. They would boast about their law. About how God's wisdom and character were revealed in the written word. And this law was dynamic. True blessings would come down from heaven to meet the needs of the people. God is great, his law is good and we are his special people. All this was true if... they obeyed the word that was given to them by the hand of Moses.
They boasted about their special place in the world. They were proud of their special arrangement with God. They were "guides to the blind." They were "a light to those who lived in darkness." They were "an instructor of the foolish." They were "a teacher of babes." Through the law they had a form of knowledge and the truth.
The scripture says that pride goes before a fall. They had the law of God. They thought they had it all. However, they did not have it all. The law is a framework. Upon it all of the activities of man could hang on. But they did not use wisdom when they made the additions. Truth became a thing too hard to hold on to. We will read later that their minds were darkened because their minds were carnal in nature. Only the Spirit of God can give insight. They reasoned their way out of the blessing. They could not grasp the simplicity of the law. They could not hold onto the law. They compromised the word they received from Moses. In the end they walked in darkness. How so? They taught for doctrine the commandments of men. They robbed God of his tithes. They dishonoured their parents. They encouraged false witness. All according to their twisted version of the law. They became hypocrites. Did they teach the true law... to themselves? Did they follow that true law... themselves? The question arises... "Then why didn't they follow that law?"
There are some examples given in this chapter. Don't steal, but some stole. Don't commit adultery, but some did. You hate idols? They committed sacrilege! They broke the law and in doing so they dishonoured the God they said they served. Paul points his finger at the Jew who came to Jesus and lays this charge at their feet; "For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you." This is being said of the Jew in Christ. That they are hypocrites when it comes to the law. "Do as I say and not as I do" is a saying we could attribute to their words and actions. Their use of the law was becoming a snare to them and was becoming a snare to the Gentile believers among them.
How did this come about? They took the clean code that God had given to them and they have corrupted it with their carnal thinking. Is it any surprise? Even the Devil quoted scripture when he confronted Jesus in the desert. Is it any surprise that humans can also twist things to meet their own needs. The law shows the wisdom of God but Satan and our own desires corrupted that life sustaining word.
This was the sad state of affairs for them, and for us today, if we too only have a form of "knowledge and truth" but do not have the understanding that is given by God's Spirit. Knowledge without understanding can and will bring down any church, nation or people. Only through the application of God given wisdom can a people thrive.
Until you have a right heart and the wisdom that comes from God, whether Jew or Gentile, you should not judge.
administrator: Joseph A Raymond
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada