Practicing What We Preach
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Rom 2:17-24 GW  You call yourself a Jew, rely on the laws in Moses' Teachings, brag about your God,  (18)  know what he wants, and distinguish right from wrong because you have been taught Moses' Teachings.  (19)  You are confident that you are a guide for the blind, a light to those in the dark,  (20)  an instructor of ignorant people, and a teacher of children because you have the full content of knowledge and truth in Moses' Teachings.  (21)  As you teach others, are you failing to teach yourself? As you preach against stealing, are you stealing?  (22)  As you tell others not to commit adultery, are you committing adultery? As you treat idols with disgust, are you robbing temples?  (23)  As you brag about the laws in Moses' Teachings, are you dishonoring God by ignoring Moses' Teachings?  (24)  As Scripture says, "God's name is cursed among the nations because of you."

Paul has condemned the unrighteous and the self-righteous, now he turns to the self-righteous Jew.  If you have ever read the Gospels, the self-righteous Jew should be no stranger to you. He is the Pharisee, the scribe, and the rabbi. The religious leader of Jesus’ day.  

Armed with the teachings of Moses, these Jewish religious leaders were given privileged inside information into the will of God. They knew the things that God considered to be most excellent. They knew the Law so well that they could distinguish right from wrong to the nth degree, and they took it upon themselves to do so.

They had been given the bold outline of the Law in the 10 Commandments and felt that it was in their power to fill in all the details. For example, God said that man should not labor on the Sabbath Day, and the self-righteous Jews then took it upon themselves to define what constitutes labor on the Sabbath.  Listen to their definition:

The principal categories of work [which are forbidden on the Sabbath] are forty less one [39 categories]: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing, washing, beating or dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying a knot, loosening a knot, sewing two stitches, ripping in order to sow two stitches, hunting a gazelle [or similar beast], slaughtering or flaying or salting it or curing its hide, scraping it or cutting it up, writing two letters [that is, two letters of the alphabet in a row!], erasing in order to write two letters, building, pulling down, putting out a fire, lighting a fire, striking with a hammer and taking anything from one domain to another  These are the principal categories of work: forty less one" (Mishnah Shabbat 7:2).

We laugh, but that’s where self-righteous moralistic legalism  leads. It wasn’t that long ago that Christians were forbidden to play cards, or dance, or go to the movies. Remember, the business of the self-righteous or moralist is the reformation of others through the use of rules.

By placing these restrictions on the Sabbath on the ordinary Jew, the Jewish leaders were confident that they could prevent any Sabbath violations and thereby keep the ordinary Jew and the Jewish nation from experiencing the wrath of God.

And I suppose by forbidding sheepshead, you could prevent the cardinal sin of morrowing. I guess you’d have to play sheepshead to get that one.

These moralists or self-righteous religious leaders are well meaning, after all it is not wise to ignore God’s command to not get a day of rest, and card playing can lead to gambling, and dancing can lead to premature sexual activity, and movies can expose people to many of the sinful ways of the world.

But the truth is, and we will see it developed here in Romans is that rules alone do not reform anybody, it is only the Gospel that reforms and then helps us conform to the rules of God not of men. To rely on rules and the Law to make changes in our behavior is to deny the power of the Gospel to effect the change.

2Ti 3:5 GW  They will appear to have a godly life, (appear to be righteous) but they will not let its power (the gospel)  change them. Stay away from such people.

The learned Pharasaic religious leader has a great advantage. His schooling and special insight into the Word of God more than qualifies him to lead the blind and unenlightened. He is the one who can remove ignorance from adults and guide children to the promised land, by enumerating and explaining all of God’s rules.    

But if that’s all he does, if that’s all we have is a set of rules, then we will become nothing more than a Pharisee factory, and everyone ends up in the ditch.

Mat 15:14,15 GW  Leave them alone! They are blind leaders. When one blind person

leads another, both will fall into the same pit." How horrible it will be for you, scribes

and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You cross land and sea to recruit a single follower, and

when you do, you make that person twice as fit for hell as you are.

Paul continues with a question and a concern that is constantly on my own heart.  

21 “As you teach others, (Pastor Matz) are you failing to teach yourself?”

 God in His mercy and grace has given me a gift of teaching and preaching. And oh, how I pray  that I will not abuse this gift in any way.

How terrible it would be for me  to become a self-righteous moralist, ignoring the cross of Christ and the grace of God. How terrible it would be for me to turn my lone confirmand this year into a self-righteous Pharisee who is unfamiliar with the cross or God’s grace.

How terrible it would be for me to slowly turn you all into self- righteous  Pharisees. How terrible for me if I play the hypocrite and tell you one thing while I do another.  

Mat 23:2-3 GW  "The scribes and the Pharisees teach with Moses' authority.  (3)  So be careful to do everything they tell you. But don't follow their example, because they don't practice what they preach.

No wonder James says,

Jam 3:1 GW  Brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers. You know

that we who teach will be judged more severely.

Now, in what ways were the self-righteous Jews demonstrating hypocrisy?

“As you preach against stealing, are you stealing?  (22)  As you tell others not to commit adultery, are you committing adultery? As you treat idols with disgust, are you robbing temples?

Hey, self-righteous Pharisee! Great job on teaching others, but how about yourself? How about practicing what you preach? You preach against stealing and then you pull off stunts like these.

Mar 12:40 GW  They rob widows by taking their houses and then say long prayers to

make themselves look good. The scribes will receive the most severe punishment."

Here’s what Kretzmann’s Commentary has to say about this verse.

“By promising prayers to widows, and then pompously delivering such intercessions for their welfare, they obtained money. For these prayers, purposely long and pompous, were only a blind to hide their real aim, namely, that of getting money, thus devouring the property, the houses of widows. This special form of avarice seems to be rampant in many parts of Christendom to this very hour, for the masses for the dead in the Roman church certainly come under this heading, and the many prayers in the various cults are not one whit better.”

Sometimes I turn on the TV and I see these slick prosperity preachers who make a great pretense over their spirituality and long and loud prayers over individuals, and then they proceed to bilk the TV audience out of everything they have.

What disturbs me even more is how eager the people are to be duped. Oh that there would be such hunger and eagerness for the truth of God’s Word. Oh that there would be such hunger and eagerness for the cross!

And how I need to guard against such covetousness in my own life. How tempting it can be to fawn all over those with means and ignore those without.  

Next on the list is adultery. Every commentary I read in preparation for this message indicated that the Jewish religious leaders of the day regularly engaged in this practice. They preached against it, they railed against it, but they practiced it on the side.

I heard Dr. Tony Evans go so far as to say that when the woman was caught in the act of adultery, Jesus wrote the names of the women the religious leaders had adulterous affairs with in the sand...and one by one they dropped their stones as Jesus challenged them, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.”

That’s speculation on Dr. Evan’s part, but if what Paul wrote here in Romans is true, it certainly would be a possibility.

Today’s “religious leader”  is subject to the same charge. We have read of the fallen pastors who have committed adultery. We have read of the sexual sins of spiritual leaders in the Catholic and Protestant churches.

Then there’s the matter of pornography. Pastors sit in front of their computers all day and many have fallen to the temptation of viewing Internet pornography. Is this not adultery?

Mat 5:27-28 GW  "You have heard that it was said, 'Never commit adultery.'  (28)  But I can guarantee that whoever looks with lust at a woman has already committed adultery in his heart.
For this reason, pastors need to take precautions when it comes to counseling and visiting others. He must always guard against being in a compromising position with ANYONE. It is vital that a pastor have someone to be accountable to in these matters.

But even more vital is that the pastor keep His relationship with Christ vibrant and alive. Again, it’s not rules that reform, but Christ in us that reforms. The rules just tell us how we are doing. Adultery would be unthinkable for one who is rightly related and surrendered to Christ.

We need more pastors like Joseph, who was so full of God, that when tempted to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife he refused , saying, “

Gen 39:9b GW   How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"  He didn’t say how could I break this rule, rather he took it to a personal level. He took it to the relationship he had with God.

The third item on the list is treating idols with disgust, and then turning around and robbing temples. This one is rather difficult to get a handle on.  There is no doubt that the Jewish religious leaders had a special abhorrence for idols. They remembered all too well from their history the judgements against them for participating in the worship of idols.

But what does it mean to rob temples? They were not in such a position to rob or desecrate heathen temples. Something else must be meant here than the literal robbing of temples. The King James says that they “abhorred idols and committed sacrilege.”

Ah, now we are talking about something we can understand. Sacrilege. Sacrilege is defined as one who steals sacred things. Stealing something sacred is the lowest form of irreverence.

So on one hand you have religious leaders blasting everything connected with idols and idolatry and on the other hand they treat the things of God with no respect at all. They are irreverent, thereby giving the things of God the same status as a worthless idol. They are in effect stealing from God and robbing temples.

To the Jewish religious leader this sacrilege could be summed up in one word. Roteness. When religious leaders fall into the trap of doing things rotely and according to formulas, when ministry is nothing more than a job,  they have profaned God, they have brought the sacred down to the level of an idol which is nothing.

1Co 8:4b GW  We know that the false gods in this world don't really exist and that no god exists except the one God.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here. Liturgies are great, they serve a wonderful purpose, they keep us from getting too far off track in our worship, but if they become rote and irreverent, they are as meaningless as idols.

And if I ever view this position that you have called me to at Living Word as a job, Lord have mercy on me!
To me, robbing temples speaks of irreverence. and the biggest infraction that I see in the church today is in the administering of the Sacrament of the Altar or Lord’s Supper. To say and believe that the bread and the wine merely REPRESENT the body and blood of Christ is a great sacrilege, and in a sense it is idolatry.   

People getting all emotional and serious and “religious” over a “lifeless representation?” Is that not idolatry?

Paul continues:

(23)  As you brag about the laws in Moses' Teachings, are you dishonoring God by ignoring Moses' Teachings?

Again the charge of not practicing what one preaches. To put it in the modern church’s terms, to put it within the bounds of Living Word. I would paraphrase the passage this way.

Pastor Matz, Living Word, you brag about the truth of God’s Word. You say over and over again that it is inerrant, that it is to be trusted and believed. You say that Living Word is a place where people can come and hear the truth.

But when the Holy Spirit prompts you to obey this truth,  the Law that God has written on your heart and put in black and white in this come you ignore His prompting?

I confess to you that I am a sinner. I confess that many times I fail to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and ignore His call to obedience. It’s bad enough when I do that privately, but when my violation is public, I blaspheme the name of the God who loves me so much that He sent His only Son to die for my sins.

 (24)  As Scripture says, "God's name is cursed among the nations (unbelievers) because of you."

God’s name was blasphemed among the unbelievers as they observed the irreverent behavior of the Jewish religious leaders. They saw them stealing from the widows, and they knew of their adulterous affairs. They saw through the roteness, the irreverence, the acting.  They saw how they mocked the very rules they wanted to shove down everyone else’s throat.

By the grace of God and through the cross of Christ, let us be different. Let us realize that we cannot reform ourselves much less others through a set of rules. Let us stop living by the rules and start living for the Ruler, the maker of the rules.

Let us surrender to the Rulemaker anew today. He will never lead us to break His own rules. Joseph was so surrendered to God that He was able to say no to adultery!

The Rulemaker  will empower us to live and love as He did. And when we fail, as we most surely will do, He will be there to forgive us, to pick us back up, dust us off, and encourage us to try the rules again? No! To try surrender again!  

Ask yourself this question. “What would such a church look like to the outside world. A church that actually practiced what they preached. Right now the church in America for the most part looks no different than the world.

Our divorce rate is the same or even higher, we embrace birth control, abortion, fornication, (having sex outside the bounds of marriage) and homosexuality. The poor in our midst are left unattended and uncared for as we go into debt for our own material things.

The world looks at us and the only difference they see is that we have rules. Rules that have had no effect in changing us and yet we want to use them to change them. What the world desperately needs to see when they look at the church is Jesus.

But they won’t see Him until we come back to the cross. They won’t see Him until we crucify our self, daily! They won’t see Him until we surrender to Him and allow Him to call the shots. Not one of us can practice what we preach without Jesus ...we all need Jesus.