Week of May 22

Making Proper Moral Measurements

Read: 1Kings 7; 2 Chronicles 4; Psalm 98; Romans 2
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
Romans 2:1, ESV


Henry Ward Beecher once said, “Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.” Compassion certainly seems to be in short supply if one reads social media these days. How are we to live good and right lives and judge bad and wrong, yet remain free from becoming judgmental? Paul helps to position us rightly so that we may live genuinely as salt and light in a sinful age. Let’s look carefully at our focal passage today.

Understanding the Bible Context

We first need to ask “from where” has the “wherefore” come in verse one? We may translate Paul’s powerful relative conjunction as “because of which thing.” The “which thing” is “without excuse” (cf. 1:21-26). Uh oh! How may I use my imagination to describe the point? In my mind, Paul just lumped the Jews into the same sour dough that once popped into the oven would fail to rise to righteousness.

This entire section provides us with the parallel to chapter 1:18-32 because he now turns his focus to the Jews who failed to attain “the God-kind of righteousness” (see 2:1-3:20). I bet you could have heard a “tassel” drop in that synagogue! (Get my point? See Numbers 15:38-39; Deuteronomy 22:12; Matthew 23:2-5.) You and I have felt this sort of moment in our lives when we recognized that the sin in our lives was our sin. We owned it.
Being accountable for our sin
Let’s reflect first upon Paul’s conclusion to his argument in this chapter. He lays bare the hearts of the Jews when he states that they are totally guilty of breaking the very law in which they boast (cf. 2:5). In fact, they have broken it so severely that even Gentiles notice it (2:24). Paul cites a passage from Isaiah 52:5 as support for this claim. God had disciplined Israel and allowed them to be taken into captivity for being disobedient. Their captors mocked God as being weak and incapable of preventing their abduction and slavery.

Here in this passage, and there in Isaiah, the fault did not lie with God, but with Israel. They refused to take His law seriously in their own lives. Evangelist D. L. Moody once said, “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man.” His words not only ring true in my mind, but they also play a symphony throughout my being. I believe that most of us would bow a head in agreement, knowing that we ourselves were utterly consumed in our own sin (cf. 1 Timothy 1 :15). Now, let’s zero in on our focal verse.

Paul gets quite serious here because he states in a very formal manner, “Whosoever you are that judges.” Literally, he states, “every one that judges.” The real blow to the heart was felt when the Jews who judged the Gentiles recognized that Paul was claiming the Gentiles, in like manner, condemn the Jews. Not “Whoa!” but “Woe is me!” Paul is saying that the critic habitually practices the same things that he or she condemns. In other words, we must not become moralizers who base our superiority upon our national identity and believe that such uniqueness is sufficient to provide us with right standing before God (Jewish then, or “Christian” America now; cf. NAC).

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

I held various jobs earlier in my life prior to becoming a pastor and then professor. I burned trash for a fabric store, had a paper route, worked as a telemarketer (where I was tasked with selling tickets to a Porter Wagner concert), was employed as a summer hire for the telephone company, worked in a rough mill at a lumber yard, served as a shop person for a building supplies company, and even cut, baled, and hauled hay!

I recall my interview for the job at the lumber yard. I was asked to measure the length of a piece of wood. I gave the supervisor my measurement to which he replied, “You are 1/32 inch off.” Now, I was a novice, so I replied something like, “What is 1/32 of an inch among friends?” I learned quickly that employment was based on the company’s standards and not mine. The boss assured me that the measurements had to be exact and that there was no room for a blind error on my part. That was severe, I thought, until I realized how much of the process was thrown off by an improper measurement!

Here is the point. Counselors term the sort of moral blindness that we see in Romans 2 as “projection.” Some of us have turned this type of judgmental attitude into an art form. We too often condemn in others that which we ourselves are guilty. True disciples of Christ heed His words and demonstrate His love when looking at the sinful brokenness around them (Matthew 7:1).

Keep in mind, Paul is not condemning people who adjudge (evaluate) between right and wrong. He is proscribing the attitude that usurps God’s rightful role as Judge when they condemn people for their sins. We all know the Roman road that Paul is leading us to take (3:23; 6:23; 5:8; and 10:10). We, in fact, should be gloriously thankful that God is the rightful one to pass judgment on sin because He does it based upon truth. We are not equipped for such judgment. He alone is utterly impartial and wonderfully merciful.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Look again at your attitudes through the lens of this verse today. Does the Holy Spirit challenge your heart regarding a judgmental spirit? If so, then confess that sin and seek the infilling of the Spirit’s love and grace.

2. For Families: I know that we have entered the age of laser measurements, and rulers and yardsticks are not always the first choice when we need precision. Nevertheless, play a fun game with the children and have them measure various lengths in your home. Have them write down their answers and see how accurate their work has been. You will likely find one or two measurements that “fall short” of total accuracy. Read Romans 3:23. You may explain to your child(ren) that all lives fall short of God’s moral measurement. We are not to judge our family members or friends as to their worthiness for salvation. God is the rightful judge on matters of salvation, so we must leave that responsibility up to Him. He has provided Jesus as a sacrifice to save us (Romans 5:8).

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock