Meditations in Romans : 31 : A Question of Reputation
Rom 2:22-24 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
One of the tragic things about the tidal wave of attacks from crusading atheists in the latter part of the first decade of the twenty-first century in the West, is that although they purport to attack the existence of God, their ability to attack Him on the basis of Biblical doctrine is virtually non-existence. Instead their attacks are based on the behaviour and activities of those who purport to be the Christian Church, past and present. We give them a great deal of ammunition! It should not be! It seems that the history of Judaism and of Christianity both simply go to confirm the Bible’s teaching that man is sinful and gets it wrong – even when they are supposed to have a relationship with God!
Paul is challenging the Jews of Rome who rely upon their knowing the Law and apparently having some sort of relationship with the Lord. He has been saying that it is not sufficient to know the Law in your head; you need to be obeying it, living it out. Here he now gives two examples: “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s all very well to proclaim the Ten Commandments (e.g. “You shall not commit adultery” – Ex 20:14) but actually if you commit adultery you are dishonouring God and are breaking the commandment. Simply knowing about the command is not enough! Stealing from Pagan temples was obviously a common occurrence. Believers might have justified such behaviour that it was only pagan temples they were taking from. Certainly later in history that happened and one assumes from Paul’s comment that it had probably already happened.
In these two things we see Paul’s charges against these almost-believing Jews to be summarised as a) you fail to keep the commandments of the Law, and b) your general behaviour in the world is questionable! i.e. it’s not only your failure to keep the Law, it’s also your failure to live decently anyway. As he goes on to say, the result of this is that they dishonour God. They purport to be followers of God but their behaviour is just as bad as anyone else and so this demeans God in the eyes of the world.
In fact he then goes on to quote the Septuagint version of Isaiah: “As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Our version of Isaiah 52:5 reads, “And now what do I have here?” declares the LORD. “For my people have been taken away for nothing, and those who rule them mock,” declares the LORD. “And all day long my name is constantly blasphemed.” A similar accusation was found in Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22)
In both cases, Israel’s behaviour was less that would be expected from those who claimed to follow a holy God. In both cases the world was mocking the Jews and deriding the name of the Lord because of the behaviour of the Jews. Such a thing should not have happened but it did.
Thus we say again, today the Christian community worldwide should not be providing fuel for the world to mock. We more than any others should be living ethically correct lives; we should be showing an example of goodness, kindness, gentleness and love to all around us. We more than others should be peacemakers: those who bring reconciliation, who speak only truth, who refrain from gossip, slander and speaking badly about others. We, surely, should be those who shy away from dubious business practices, away from greed and covetousness and taking advantage of others. We in our churches should, surely, seek to be simple in our worship and adoration of our Lord and avoid charges of excesses.
We, surely, should be bringers of the love of God with respect and gentleness and with honesty and integrity. We, surely, should be lights to the world, doing good things that bring glory to our Father in heaven (Mt 5:14-16). We, surely, should not be argumentative but gently persuasive. In us, surely, should be seen patience and perseverance. But how often do we fail! How often does the name of the church or the image of the church be derided on TV?
How often is the image of men of the church portrayed in weakness and silliness? How often are people of the church portrayed as weird? We are different but that shouldn’t mean weird! We, more than any others, should be seen as ordinarily good, not freaky but good to be around! Aren’t we called to be salt and doesn’t salt bring out flavour? Aren’t we those who should enhance the quality of the lives of our communities? Or do we hide away in religious ghettos? These are questions that leaders of the Church, and we who form the Church, need to face and be honest about otherwise, like the Jews Paul was speaking about, we will continue to let the name of the Lord down! May it not be!