Romans 2:21 NASB
“you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?”
Here comes the gut punch! The Apostle Paul says to them, “you, therefore” this is now bringing his argument of the Jew who held the oracles of the Lord back to face them head on. In all that they have been given, he now says you who have taught and preached all these laws of God and His ordinances do you now break them yourself? This is a gut punch because up till now, the listener is being puffed up by Paul’s admonition of their instruction of the Law, their being a guide to the blind, a corrector of the foolish, being the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, teachers and preachers of the Law….and they have been found guilty of breaching the covenant with God. Paul says, “You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?” Paul is showing them that out of their pride and reliance of righteousness of the Law, they have been found to be guilty of the very things they have preached against!
Paul’s heritage and up bringing is orthodox Judaism. He was a Pharisee of Pharisee’s and a rising star of the teachers of the Law. Who is more qualified to speak to the listeners of this letter then the one who WAS the chief of hypocrites? Paul admits as much in 1 Timothy 1:15 “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” Paul understands the conflicting emotions and rationalization a Jew might have towards Paul’s argument. He was more zealous and adhering of the Law then any of his readers and because of that he acknowledges sincerely how grievous his sins were against God and His Law. It is our pride that prevents us from seeing just how ugly and sinister our hearts our. We preach truth and righteousness and in secret defile our hearts thinking we are holy and adhering to God’s commands. It is out of this pride that the Jews suffered from that Paul so strongly speaks. His love for them and their condition before God was eternally damming if they weren’t in a place of humility, repentance and faith in the work of Jesus and His righteousness.
It isn’t by chance that Paul addresses theft in this passage. This passage and its specific reference to theft is tying into Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-3, 14
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”
“[Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]”
Jesus addressed this hypocrisy extensively and they killed him for it. Paul is addressing it following in the footsteps of his Master knowing all too well that he was in their shoes not too long ago. In fact some of the Pharisees would even steal estates from wealthy widows through their power as jurists in the courts. They shoved the Law down there throats of everyone around them and condemned them if they didn’t toe the line, and yet they themselves fell short of the very things they burdened upon others. Paul is done with this pride, he is done with the hypocrisy and his listeners must adhere to the teachings of Jesus or suffer the same fate as the Pharisees who killed the very Messiah they preached they were waiting for.