Teaching Ourselves First

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24, ESV)

“Hypocrite!” As someone who leads Bible studies, this is one of the worst things I can think of hearing someone say to me. No one respects teachers who tell you to do something but who fail to do it themselves. No one wants to work with an overweight and out of shape fitness coach, or receive marriage counseling from someone who cheats on his wife, or on her husband. We recognize the differences between what a leader, counselor, or coach says and what they do, and we dismiss them as having nothing worthwhile to offer. None of us want to be hypocrites, but we can easily fool ourselves and fail to recognize when it is happening.

Here in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul develops the argument that all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are made righteous before God through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. It is not enough merely to have the Law, to understand it, and even be able to teach it to others. What ultimately matters is our response to it, and since none of us keeps the law perfectly, we all need a Savior. In Romans 3:10, Paul concludes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” But in the very next verse, he shares the good news of the gospel, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law … the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:21-22a). This was wonderful news, and critical to the unity of the church, as it continued to receive both Jewish and Gentile converts. It is wonderful news for us today as well!

This passage haunts me as Paul begins talking about those who think they know enough about the Scriptures to become teachers. They believe the Scriptures to be “the embodiment of knowledge and truth,” and because they have grown to understand, to some degree, they think they are:

  • A guide to the blind (I can see more than you can)

  • A light to those in darkness (I know more truth than you)

  • An instructor of the foolish (I am wiser than you are)

  • A teacher of children (I am more mature than you are)

Paul’s rebuke of them has nothing to do with the level of their knowledge or understanding of the Scriptures, but in their own lack of obedience to its directives. They have substituted knowing for doing, and God is not interested in what we know, but in how we respond. For this reason, Jews and Gentiles alike will face the same judgment, both discovering their need for repentance and forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ.

God asks me, as a Bible study leader, the same basic question. As someone who believes and teaches God’s Word, do I dishonor Him by disobeying it? Have I substituted knowledge and understanding for obedience? Do I really believe in the truth and goodness of God’s instructions in Scripture, and am I willing to seek God’s help to obey it more completely? Or, am I content merely to know the right way to go, to tell others to follow God, but to wander on my own path? Is my own lack of obedience hindering the growth of those I teach? Am I blaspheming God’s name through my hypocrisy?

Here is where honesty, transparency, and humility become so important as a Bible study leader. Paul concludes that none of us fully lives up to the Law, or our own consciences—we all need God’s grace. I must remind myself of this message, to keep it front and center as I teach. I must teach what God desires of us, the challenges of obedience, and my own need for forgiveness and grace from God. In this way, I offer hope to others rather than despair. I point to the amazing grace of God, His steadfast love, and His power to work within us where we need His help. By humbling myself in this way, recognizing my own need for obedience, I can glorify God before others as I teach, rather than blaspheming Him.

This passage challenges all who lead Bible studies, reminding us of God’s grace for all through faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that as you teach, you would grow in your own obedience, not merely in understanding the text. Pray that He would help you to lead and teach others through what He has been teaching you. Finally, pray that He will help you to recognize your continuing need for growing in grace. May the label “hypocrite” never fit you!

Father, as one whom you have called to teach others, please be at work, first in my own heart, helping me know and understand your Scriptures well, and to be responsive to your Spirit as you reveal my own areas of needed growth and obedience. Then, as I teach others, help me not to be a hypocrite, but rather, a humble example of someone growing both in obedience and gratefulness for your grace where I still fail. In this way, may I glorify, rather than blaspheme, Your name in my community. I truly need your help to do this well. Thank you for your patient love. Amen.

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