Romans 2:17-3:8- What Advantage Has the Jew?
Explanation- As Paul furthers his argument that all men are under the just condemnation of the law, he specifically mentions the Jew. There was a common belief during this time that because one came from a Jewish lineage and had genealogical ties to Abraham, he was automatically granted special favor with God. Yet many of those who claimed this favor were the same ones who were practicing that which His law forbids. They sought to teach others of truths that they themselves did not believe or practice. It is for this reason that the Gentile nations blaspheme the name of God. Consider the plight of Israel’s history in the Old Testament. This was the nation that had been delivered from bondage by the miraculous works of God; they were supernaturally protected and provided for; they triumphed over their enemies’ time and time again; yet they lived in rampant idolatry, sexual immorality, social injustice, and greed. They claimed righteousness that they did not possess, and the Gentile nations were witness to their hypocrisy. With this in mind, how then is the circumcision of any more benefit than the uncircumcision? Or in other words, what benefit does an unrighteous Jew have over an unrighteous Gentile? The answer is none at all! At least in terms of saving faith and righteousness. Paul will go on to speak of the advantage that the Jew has in terms of being exposed to truth and righteousness, but what good does it do for those Jews who practice, enjoy, and promote unrighteousness?
This leads to Paul’s statement that a Jew is not a Jew because he is one outwardly (i.e., of national descent) or because he has received the circumcision of Abraham, but a true Jew is one who has been regenerated and granted the gift of faith. Paul continually stresses the law’s utter inability to save an individual. The law is the standard by which the sinfulness of man is revealed. It is by the inner working of the Spirit that the heart of man is changed, not by the letter of the law.
Paul then presents a rhetorical question. ‘What advantage has the Jew?’ Certainly, there is some advantage in the sense that the Jew was the first to learn of God and His ways. It was the nation of Israel who experienced God’s presence, word, and blessing almost exclusively for thousands of years. It was also to the Jewish people that Christ was first revealed, and He performed His earthly ministry almost entirely to these people. The reality is that an advantage only produces benefit if it is taken. The Jews rejected the promised Messiah and, therefore, have forfeited their blessing and inheritance. Some may say that because of this, God has been unfaithful to His word. Paul argues that the faithlessness of some does not negate the faithfulness of God. Or in other words, God remains faithful even though there are those of His chosen people who have neglected His precious gift. The Abrahamic covenant was made to Abraham’s ‘Seed,’ not ‘seeds.’ It was Christ who would be the benefactor of the promise and then, in turn, all those who would believe in Him. Those who have rejected Christ have also rejected the promise made to Abraham. There is no inheritance left for the unbelieving Jew, but only judgment.
The final point to examine in this section is Paul’s comments on the unrighteousness of man displaying the righteousness of God. In context, it would seem that Paul is emphasizing the notion that the Jewish people have rejected the Messiah, and in turn, salvation has come to the world. The question could then be posed that the Jew’s unrighteous deeds and unbelief are validated as being part of God’s sovereign plan. This could not be further from the truth! Although God has a plan for every sin committed by man, it does not excuse the man from sin’s wages. If God’s purposes find furtherance and success through the unrighteousness of man, then it only further displays God’s righteousness and dominion. Or in the words of Christ,’…offences must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh’ (Mt. 18:7 KJV).
Application- It is important to be mindful of the reality that none of us has received any special favor with God based on anything except free grace. It is God who grants salvation to each individual He chooses according to the purpose of His own will. Just as the Jew did not find favor with God based upon his lineage, neither should we count our own favor with God to be derived from any inherent worth or value in ourselves. It was not because of our own morality, pious behavior, church attendance, charitableness, or any other ‘good’ quality that God saved, but simply because He chose to do so. Claiming higher ground than the next man based on any perceived quality in ourselves that led to our being saved is an erroneous stab at God’s means of salvation. As it has been said, there is equal footing at the cross. There may be a man with a higher calling or greater responsibility than the next, but this, too, is by God’s choice and design and in no way proves that the one is loved or more highly favored than the next.