18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
1901 ASV Translation:
18 and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
There are no textual variations between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 in verse 2:18.
I. With this set of verses (2:18-20), Paul begins to zero in on the "Jewish" mindset that is focused upon that aspect of their "self-defense" that he called "resting upon the Law".
A. He begins in 2:18 to write of their "being instructed out of the law" and then in 2:20 he refers to their "having the form of knowledge and of the truth in the Law". This, being pretty much the "same thing", indicates that the issue is still in the forefront of his thought.
B. That he also focuses upon the "attitude of superiority" inherent in their "resting" is an indicator that their "boasting" is arising out of their "resting".
1. Every "descriptor" of the "Jew" is a sought-after characteristic [a knowledgeable road-shower to the blind; a light to those in the dark; a child-trainer of the foolish; and a teacher of babes].
2. Every "descriptor" of the folks they are supposedly "helping" is a denigration of those folks [blind; in the dark; fools; and babies].
C. When the "soul" is "at rest", the gloating spills over into the "spirit" and it immediately begins to "take credit" for having generated the "rest"...thus, the boasting.
1. There is really nothing wrong with "gloating" over being "at rest".
2. The "wrong" is in the spirit's attempt to "take the credit" for creating the "restful conditions".
a. It is one thing to "gloat" (exult, feel emotionally sated) because one's situation is so satisfying to the soul that feelings of great joy bubble to the surface.
b. It is altogether another thing to "take credit" for being in such a situation.
1) God has always intended that man be an emotionally satisfied creature.
2) He has taken great pains to address this intention in the light of man's propensity for being in emotionally excruciating states.
3) For man to "take the credit" for accomplishing what God has only accomplished through great and painful labors is a level of arrogance that borders on the unforgivable.
II. "Knowing the Will of God".
A. The first issue that Paul raises is what he calls "knowing the will".
B. His choice of words is enlightening...
1. For "knowing" he uses a fairly intimate word, but shies away from the intensive form of it that he uses to describe a believer's "knowledge" of significant reality.
a. His word is ginosko.
b. The intensive form that he refrains from using is epiginosko.
c. The use of "knowing" indicates a degree of true knowledge that stops short of deep understanding. A person can "know" how his car gets him places if he "knows" how to activate the ignition, engage the transmission, and push on the gas peddle while correctly handling the steering wheel. But, he "knows" with deep understanding if he can explain the inner function of the various parts and the physical laws that enable them. "Knowledge" is always a matter of "relative degrees" that run from the most abjectly basic "fact" all the way to omniscience. One philosopher once attempted to "begin" his philosophical system with the most abjectly basic fact he could conceive of, and he decided that the fact that he could "think" was that basic fact. From thence he attempted to "prove" his "omniscience inclusive" system. "I think; therefore I am." "I am, therefore ..." He failed for one particular reason: his brain was too small for omniscience. The point, though, is that Paul had no problem describing the self-proclaimed "Jew's" attitude of superiority as the consequence of his limited "knowledge" of "the will".
2. His second choice of words was "the will".
a. The translators want to call it "His will" because it is beyond "likely" that Paul had God's will in mind.
b. So, why didn't Paul write "God's will" instead of "the will"?
1) The likely reason is that Paul was accommodating the Jew's "boast in God". If a person has the "right" God in mind, "the will" is a way of making it clear that there is no real "other will". I am not writing here of the theological issue of "monergism"; a position that eliminates "will" from the creation by making everything an effect of the single "will" of the deity. I am, rather, writing of the idea that "the will" is the only valid expression of the divine desire as it arises out of His true character. The Jew's "knew" that people were exercising their "wills" to pursue objectives that ran contrary to God's expressed desires. They attempted to "step into the fray" with their "knowledge of God's desires" so as to persuade men to forsake the pursuit of their own wills in favor of "the will". They did this for two reasons...
a) They were "resting" in their belief that they (alone) "knew" God's true heart.
b) They were intensely interested in getting others to yield to their belief. This intensity of interest was driven, for the "Jew", by the hyper-desire to ascend the pedestal of the "esteemed". To get others to yield on "the will" was to take a step up that ascent [see Galatians 6: 12-13].
C. The Point: Paul says that he understands the "Jew" to be convinced that he "knows" what God is really "about" -- what "will" He is interested in...what "will" He will pursue.
1. This is quite a claim: in view of the coming "Day of Wrath", there are few things more necessary for a good outcome on that "Day" than "knowing" what the Judge "wished for".
2. That the "Jew" made this claim is a "sleeper" issue for Paul that he plans to "awaken" in 2:21: there is one thing more important than "knowing" the Judge's desires -- pursuing them.
3. Knowledge of what the Judge wants that is divorced from what one actually chooses to do is a revelation of the fact that the "Jew" is operating according to the fallacy of 2:1-3 -- the idea that "knowledge" is what is important; not "doing". To be certain, knowledge does precede performance, but knowledge that is divorced from performance will be accounted as nothing in that "Day" when "performance" is the bottom line [note again 2:6].
III. "Approving the Things That are Excellent".
A. The word "approvest" is a widely used word to describe the process of subjecting a matter to scrutiny for the purpose of comparing it to a "standard" to see if it will measure up or not.
1. Paul first used this term in Romans in his comment in 1:28 where he described man's distaste for "retaining God in his knowledge". Man, having subjected God to his "standard" of self-interestedness, did not like what he discovered about Him, so he "rejected" Him as "suitable" to serve his wishes.
2. Now, he says the "Jew" subjected God's expressed "will" to scrutiny and found it to be "excellent". This is a far better attitude than that of the ordinary man of 1:28.
B. The phrase "things that are excellent" is an interesting translation of a single word.
1. This word is used in the New Testament to characterize something that is "worth carrying".
2. It is used to describe people and things that have no ability to move from one place to another on their own, but who/which "need" to be in another "place", so that "need" is met by someone or something that both has the ability to "carry" and the recognition of the legitimacy of the "need".
3. It is used metaphorically in connection to the physical reality to present a person who has needs that he cannot meet for himself and needs to be "carried through" his circumstance by another.
4. From that, it moved to the meaning Paul had in this verse: a matter that was of sufficient value to be embraced in terms of what it would take to fulfill its reason for being. If, for example, a person found a principle that he considered to be "excellent", he would do whatever he needed to do in order to implement it. If a person did that to something God established as a "truth", he would be said to "approve the excellence of the matter".
5. Paul prayed for the Philippians that they would acquire this "ability" to "approve the things that are 'worth carrying'. Thus, what he describes as "true" of the "Jew" in Romans 2, he seeks to establish as true of the believer in Philippians 1:9-10.
C. The fact is, according to Romans 7:15, it is a far cry from what is actually desired by God for a man to "approve the things that are excellent". For God to be satisfied, man must move beyond "approval" to actual "practice".
1. In Romans 2:1-3 Paul clearly established a breakdown in man's thinking about what constitutes real "righteousness". For those he addressed in that text, real righteousness stopped at the ability to criticize others for their flawed behavior. It did not go to the actual performance of the righteousness by the critic. Paul considered this a huge breakdown in logic (2:3) and pressed determinedly to the fact that anyone who simply criticized others for what he himself would actually also do was not just "foolish", but "determinedly impenitent of heart".
2. That the "Jew" would "approve the things that are excellent" was no compliment; it was "stage-setting" so that Paul could cut off the pride of their hearts. He was writing of their "attitude" of self-established superiority over others.
IV. "Being Instructed Out of the Law".
A. The concept of "instruction" is built off of the idea of "sound" that is placed within a person's hearing. That the "sound" contains information for the person's brain to process is assumed. Also, it is assumed that the information is legitimate.
B. The "Jew's" attitude toward the Law made whatever was "sounded" from it a form of legitimate information. This was the origin of their "rest" (according to 1:17); "rest" being a highly desired commodity in the face of 2:16.