In taking on the inconsistencies of Jews who claimed to be God’s people, but who had actually broken covenant with Him, Paul asks this question:
You who find idols an abomination, do you rob temples? Romans 2:21
“I’ve read that before, but it doesn’t seem to make any sense. What is this ‘robbing temples’ all about anyway?”
Good question. Are you sure you don’t understand?
“Absolutely. I know what a temple is and what robbing is, but can’t seem to put the two together.”
Well, Paul is pointing out that those who were so concerned to be religiously correct in one area—if they thought more carefully about themselves—might discover that they weren’t so righteous after all, and needed the saving grace of Jesus Christ to cover their sins and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. In Romans 1 he laid out the reasons why Gentiles were sinful in God’s sight and needed to be saved. Here, he mentions ways in which the same is true of Jews. And, then, in Chapter Three concludes that “all [Jews and Gentiles alike] have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“All very helpful, I’m sure. Thanks for the exposition. But what about robbing temples?”
Oh I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Sorry.
“You did. So ‘mention’ it!”
OK, OK. You see, temples—both those in heathen lands, and also the temple at Jerusalem, in addition to being the center of worship for a people, served additional purposes. In addition . . . “
“In addition, what?—tell me please!”
My, my. Patience, please. As I was saying, in addition, temples were used as banks. To rob a temple is to be a bank robber!
“At last. Thank you.”
Welcome. One can be all fired up about one aspect of what his religion teaches, and scrupulously keep all sorts of regulations appertaining thereto, but at the same time, perform some other heinous sin without compunction. Presumably, Paul had in mind some well-known instances to which he hoped his readers would respond.
“Don’t expect there are any temple robbers around today.”
Possibly are in some of the heathen lands where temples surely still exist, but we’d probably never hear about it. Yet, the principle is still applicable—even to Christians.
Well, it’s easy to be quite careful about certain observances while neglecting some (perhaps, even weightier) items.
“Give me a for-instance.”
During the early days of the Reformation, there were Lutherans who zealously contended for the bodily presence of Jesus at the Lord’s table. Over this issue, they followed Luther’s lead when he refused to take Zwingli’s offered hand. So, later, when some persecuted Reformed people fleeing for their lives during severe storms sought a haven for their ships in the ports of the towns held by high Lutherans, they turned them down. Seems a good example of this sort of inconsistency.
But, now, the thing to do is to bring temple robbery from the days of the apostles, and the Reformation rigidity of some, down to our day. The question is, How do you carry out your biblical beliefs in ways that are consistent with other aspects of your Christian life? The question is important for us all to ask ourselves from time to time.
“Any suggestions? About what to explore?”
No. you’ll have to look after your own temples—I have enough of my own to care for!