What makes a good teacher? Is a good teacher one who has mastered the content being taught? Or is a good teacher one who engages the students and keeps them eager and attentive? Or is a good teacher one who makes the learning process fun and enjoyable? Or is a good teacher all of these things? Certainly, a good teacher is and does all these things I’ve mentioned, and more. But having been both a student for many years now (I think I’m currently in the 24th grade) and having been a professor for a little bit as well, it’s been my experience that one thing usually separates good teachers from great teachers. What’s that one thing? The awareness or the ability to anticipate and answer questions their students have.

By the time Paul writes this letter to the Romans he has been preaching the gospel for over 20 years. And from all that time preaching and teaching Paul knows his teaching on some subjects will spark certain questions, certain objections, and might even cause some of his listeners to misunderstand and arrive at wrong conclusions. And so, many times throughout his letters to the churches we see Paul pausing the main argument to deal with common objections/questions, to address them and answer them. This very thing is what Paul is doing in our passage this morning.[1]

So as the master teacher he is, Paul knows that chapter 2 contains many hard truths and may have provoked some unhealthy responses. So right here from the get-go it’s good for us to see what Paul is doing in 3:1-8. In giving space and ink to deal with them, in pausing and thinking about what he’s said, Paul’s shows great care and respect for his readers as he does the hard work of stepping into their shoes to see how they might be reacting to what he’s teaching.[2] In this we can learn something right off the bat. That Romans 3:1-8 is even here in Romans at all shows us something of Paul’s heart. He didn’t desire to just be heard and remain off at a distance from the Romans, no. He truly desired to serve these Romans, to meet them where they are, to clarify his teaching, to work hard at ensuring they understand what he’s truly saying. Seeing such a caring teacher willing to pause and handle objections and questions and misunderstandings is quite refreshing in our day isn’t it? We don’t usually see this on the news or on social media. When objections come on those platforms people just seem to talk louder or talk more heatedly so as to be heard above all the noise. Paul does no such thing.

Q&A #1 (v1-2)

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

The question posed in v1 is understandable. Jews really were the chosen people of God. They could trace their lineage back to Abraham, they received the covenants, the promises, they were the circumcised ones, and they received God’s Law on Sinai. They knew the Old Testament Scriptures, they were the one nation in covenant with God, and they knew God even calls Israel the apple of His eye in Deut. 32:10. Yet, Paul has leveled the Jewish identity in chapter 2 by rebuking their proud boasts of having the Law and being those who are circumcised. By the end of chapter 2 the Jew reading this letter would’ve been a simply disoriented, as if their whole worldview was coming crumbling down around them. Naturally then, the Jew would’ve been wondering, ‘Wait a minute Paul. I think you’ve gone a bit too far, don’t you think? You got carried away and finished chapter 2 seemingly saying that there’s no difference between Jew and Gentile. Are you really teaching that? Are you really teaching that when God called Abram and turned him into Abraham, into a great nation, and then gave promises to him and then sealed those promises in giving circumcision and then confirmed all of this later by waging war on Egypt to redeem Israel from slavery to bring them out into the wilderness and give them His very Law, Paul, are you really saying this was all a waste of time? It seems you’re saying that, are you?’[3]

Now if we stopped at v1 and went no further, we might expect Paul to answer, ‘You’re right, you’ve understood me correctly, The Jew has no advantage over the Gentile, none at all!’[4] But in v2 Paul’ surprisingly says the opposite. If they truly understood what he has been saying they wouldn’t arrive at such a conclusion. Rather he says the Jew certainly does have an advantage, as v2 says, “Much in every way.” So, if Paul does believe there are advantages to being a Jew, a new question comes up: what are those advantages? Will Paul give us a list like he will later on in 9:4-5? Where he says to the Israelites belongs, “…the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” No, Paul won’t give such a list here in our passage. To the objection in v1 his answer in v2 is simple and short. “To begin with (or chiefly), the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”

“The oracles of God.” What does that mean? Remember the movie The Matrix? The characters in it are guided by a wise woman named ‘the Oracle.’ Only she makes prophecy and only she could direct others how to interpret those prophecies and by carrying such authority most of the characters in the movie hold her up as a divine figure. I think we get the gist of what the word oracle means in that example. But biblically there’s a different meaning to an ‘oracle.’ An oracle isn’t just a divine figure, an oracle is a divine utterance. And for Paul using the word oracles, he means one thing and one thing only, the Scriptures. In fact, the expression ‘the oracles of God’ is used three other times in the New Testament and each time the author uses it to describe one thing, the Word of God.[5] But come back to v2 here. Paul believes the greatest, the chief advantage of the Jew is the fact that God has spoken to them and that by speaking to them in words God has entered into a special relationship with them.[6] So naturally, the Word of God given in the Law, is the defining document to all Israel. This is why he puts it like he does in v2, that Israel was “entrusted” with the oracles of God. God gave His very Word to them and His Word was to govern and direct them in all of life. God’s Word isn’t just His opinion on certain matters that they could debate about, it was ‘thus saith the LORD.’[7] When it speaks, God speaks.

Ok Paul, but why? Why out of all the things you could point to, why do you say ‘the oracles of God’ are the one, great, and chief advantage of the Jews? Or let’s make it closer to home and ask why is it our great and chief advantage to have the Word of God? Don’t miss it Church. Martyn Lloyd-Jones answered this question best when he said, “…there is no higher privilege that can come to any human being than to be spoken to directly by God.”[8] Do we realize this? That the Bible is God’s very Word to us, hot-breathed from His mouth to us? Do our lives show that we realize how great a gift this is? Does the Word receive our attention, our careful thought, our study, and our time? Does the Word and what it teaches shape and mold us more than the talking heads of our day? Or do our habits reveal that our Twitter feed, that new Netflix show, or the latest political news is more worthy of our time? Church, having the Scriptures is a high privilege and a great advantage for us. Do we take advantage of this great advantage God has given us? Perhaps if we put v2 like this we’ll get what Paul is saying to the Jew: just as there is great advantage to children being raised in the Church and in a godly family so near the Word of God, so too the Jew is greatly advantaged, having never known a time when they were far from the oracles of God. Yet, Paul’s whole point is that while these privileges are great, truly, they can’t be relied on as a guarantee that they’ll be fine on the judgment day.

So objection 1 has been addressed and answered. But the advantage of having been entrusted with the oracles of God leads to another question.

Q&A #2 (v3-4)

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged.”

This second question in v3 is as understandable as the one before. Follow the train of thought here, ‘Ok Paul, I agree there is great advantage to the Jew by having the very oracles of God. But haven’t you already said that they’ve been unfaithful to God, that they’ve rebelled against Him time and time again, and are just as sinful as Gentiles? So how can you say we Jews have completely failed in our privileged position and still say we are a privileged people? If we have failed, perhaps those oracles of God aren’t as powerful as you say they are.’[9] This question seems to put God on trial, in the dock if you will, as if God hasn’t kept up His end of the bargain, or didn’t bring His great promises to pass for His people. Paul’s answer in v4 is clear and emphatic, “By no means!” Not only is God ever true and ever faithful even if some Jews are unfaithful, God is ever true and ever faithful if every person proves unfaithful.[10] Or maybe we can put it like this.[11]‘Yes, God gave promises to the Jews, great and precious promises, but the some of the Jews (perhaps most) didn’t receive those promises and didn’t live in light of them. That’s true. But, the refusal to live in light of those promises doesn’t make the slightest difference to those promises! No, God remains true, even if every man were a liar!’ What a truth is presented to us in this! God’s faithfulness is based on no man, not at all. If His faithfulness were based on man His promises would never have come to pass at all! Is this not the story of the whole Bible? That God blesses His people, that God in mercy gives grace to His people not because of His people, but despite His people? Indeed it is.

Now, to prove this Paul reaches back and quotes David in Psalm 51:4. Remember the context of Psalm 51? David had sinned, adultery with Bathsheba, lying to cover it up, murder to cover his tracks, and on and on? We know the human tendency in regard to sin is to rationalize of sin, minimizing our guilt, thinking up all kinds of excuses, or justifying why we did what we did. David doesn’t do that at all here.[12] In Psalm 51 David repents and turns back to God. And in Psalm 51:4 (the part of the verse Paul quotes) David acknowledges not only that judgment from God against himself for his sin is just, but that God would be blameless to do so. Do you now see why Paul quotes this verse here in Romans 3:4? David’s sin was David’s fault. And David’s sin didn’t make God’s promises void or God untrue, no. So too, the sin of the Jews is their fault, and their sins don’t make God’s promises void or God untrue. In fact, it was David’s sin that revealed to David how just and righteous God truly was. And if the Jews had eyes to see, they would understand how God has even used their own sin to bring about His good purposes. So God is true and ever faithful to His people, faithful when He disciplines His people for disobedience as well as faithful when He rewards His people for obedience.

So objection 2 has been addressed and answered. But that, very quickly, creates a new question. So move on to v5-6 where we see…

Q&A #3 (v5-6)

“But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?”

In other words, if the sin of the Jews has brought about something good, the revealing of God’s righteousness, wouldn’t God be happy about that? And if God is happy with that wouldn’t God be wrong, or unjust, or unrighteous to punish the Jews for their sin? In answering this question Paul is clear. If God did not punish sin because sin reveals His justice and righteousness, God would not be able to judge anyone at all. That’s ridiculous, and Paul wants its ridiculousness known, so he responds with “By no means!” now for the second time. More so, Paul adds on the phrase “I speak in a human way” in v6, I think, to show how only man could come up with such a foolish way of thinking about God, judgment, sin, and righteousness. It’s like that question Christians sometimes get ‘Can God make a rock so big He can’t move it?’ Whatever way you answer this question leaves God weak and lacking which reveals the person asking the question knows near to nothing about the nature of God (of course if a child asked this question I wouldn’t speak so harshly). All in all, Paul desires to distance himself from any view that’s so far removed from reality.

So objection 3 has been addressed and answered. But that, again very quickly, creates a new question. So move on to v7-8 where we see…

Q&A #4 (v7-8)

“But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to His glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come? — as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.”

If the questions present in v5-6 were absurd, we reach a whole new level of absurdity in v7-8. The gist of the question is this: if my sin leads to God being glorified and seen as righteous, why does God still condemn me as a sinner? And more, if my sin leads to God being glorified and seen as righteous why should I not just do all kinds of sin so that all kinds of good will come about because of it? Or more simply put, ‘…if being bad makes God look so good, let’s be really bad so God looks really good!’[13] Could there not be a more outrageous question? But such is the heart of sinful man. If there is any person in Scripture that this question could apply to, I think Judas might fit the bill. So imagine Judas telling God on the day of judgment, ‘Why are you judging me God? Isn’t the cross the best thing that happened in the history of the world? If it weren’t for me, it never would’ve happened. If it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t be an atonement. You shouldn’t judge me as a sinner, no, You should thank me for fulfilling the Scriptures and selling out Christ to line my pockets.’[14]

My oh my. I know teachers, in great kindness, once told all of us that there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but I think this verse puts that to the test. Apparently Paul thought so too. He mentions that others have slandered him and the other apostles before with teaching this very thing and he wants nothing of it. But don’t miss it, before in each of these Q&A moments Paul answered the objection clearly. Here he doesn’t even attempt to answer at all. Instead he just responds by saying, “Their condemnation is just.”

Conclusion:

So what has Paul done here in v1-8? As the master teacher he is he pauses to address and answer certain questions/objections that many of his Jewish readers would’ve had. And in pausing and taking time out to do this he is kind to his readers. But even here in his kindness he drives the main point of chapter 2 home again. Jews aren’t saved by God just because they’re Jewish, or because of any privileges they’ve been given by God.

Church, such abuse of religious privilege isn’t confined to Jews of old. It’s thick and present in us still today. Do you feel it in you? We’ve been given the very Word of God, we’ve been bought by the Son of God, we’ve been given the Spirit of God, and by faith in the gospel of God we’ve been declared sons and daughters of God! Of all people on this planet it’s you and me, it’s Christians, who ought to be the most grateful, the most happy, the most humble, the most holy, and the most compassionate. Why? Because we know the reason we are what we are now, is not in us, but only in Christ.


[1] Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 102.

[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2014), 65.

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 163–64.

[4] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 190–91.

[5] Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 60.

[6] Moo, Romans, 2018, 192.

[7] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 93.

[8] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 168.

[9] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 70.

[10] Moo, Romans, 2018, 195.

[11] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 177.

[12] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 82.

[13] Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, 70.

[14] Sproul, Romans, 84.

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