In this passage Paul is directly addressing the Jews. The connection of thought is this. In the foregoing passage Paul had painted a grim and terrible picture of the heathen world, a world which was under the condemnation of God. With every word of that condemnation the Jew thoroughly agreed. But he never for a moment dreamed that he was under a like condemnation. He thought that he occupied a privileged position. God might be the judge of the heathen, but he was the special protector of the Jews. Here Paul is pointing out forcibly to the Jew that he is just as much a sinner as the Gentile is and that when he is condemning the Gentile he is condemning himself. He will be judged, not on his racial heritage, but by the kind of life that he lives.
The Jews always considered themselves in a specially privileged position with God. “God,” they said, “loves Israel alone of all the nations of the earth.” “God will judge the Gentiles with one measure and the Jews with another.” “All Israelites will have part in the world to come.” “Abraham sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go through.” When Justin Martyr was arguing with the Jew about the position of the Jews in the Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew said, “They who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh shall in any case, even if they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God, share in the eternal Kingdom.” The writer of the Book of Wisdom comparing God’s attitude to Jews and Gentiles said: “These as a father, admonishing them, thou didst prove; but those as a stern king, condemning them, thou didst search out” (Wis 11:9). “While therefore thou dost chasten us, thou scourgest our enemies a thousand times more” (Wis 12:22). The Jew believed that everyone was destined for judgment except himself. It would not be any special goodness which kept him immune from the wrath of God, but simply the fact that he was a Jew.
It would not be an easy task to find the Jews guilty, since disobedience to God was one sin they did not want to confess. The Old Testament prophets were persecuted for indicting Israel for her sins, and Jesus was crucified for the same reason. Paul summoned four witnesses to prove the guilt of the Jewish nation.
The Gentiles (vv. 1-3). Certainly the Jews would applaud Paul’s condemnation of the Gentiles in Romans 1:18-32. In fact, Jewish national and religious pride encouraged them to despise the “Gentile dogs” and have nothing to do with them. Paul used this judgmental attitude to prove the guilt of the Jews; for the very things they condemned in the Gentiles, they themselves were practicing! They thought that they were free from judgment because they were God’s chosen people. But Paul affirmed that God’s election of the Jews made their responsibility and accountability even greater.
God’s judgment is according to truth. He does not have one standard for the Jews and another for the Gentiles. One who reads the list of sins in Romans 1:29-32 cannot escape the fact that each person is guilty of at least one of them. There are “sins of the flesh and of the spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1); there are “prodigal sons” and “elder brothers” (Luke 15:11-32). In condemning the Gentiles for their sins, the Jews were really condemning themselves. As the old saying puts it, “When you point your finger at somebody else, the other three are pointing at you.”
2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment.NIV Paul’s style, as mentioned above, is diatribal—words are placed in the mouth of an imagined person who asks questions or raises objections, only to be refuted.
The critic here is Jewish, for Paul is focusing primarily on Jews in his words you . . . have no excuse (see 2:17). Paul had criticized the horrible evil of the Gentiles, their sins of idolatry and homosexuality and their general lifestyle. This Jewish critic nodded in agreement as Paul exclaimed that “those who do such things deserve death” (1:32), because the critic assumes that he is free from such vices, and thus free from their well-deserved judgment. But then Paul says that he has no right to pass judgment, because he is just as guilty.
In whatever you judge another you condemn yourself.NKJV A person may feel self-righteous because he is not guilty of the sins for which he judges others. But no one is guiltless—all have sinned. By our very capacity to judge others we demonstrate that we are responsible to judge ourselves. To judge another is to presume that you have nothing to be judged in yourself—that attitude reveals a sinful and hardened heart (see 2:5).
You, the judge, are doing the very same things.NRSV The critic, and Jews in general, were not guiltless. They were doing the same things but needed to be reminded or made aware of it (as is often the case with the examples given of greed, gossip, and arrogance). Their attitude condemns others’ sins but somehow overlooks those sins in themselves (see Matthew 7:2-3).
The verb for “do” is the same one used in 1:32—Paul’s accusation cannot be missed. Whenever we find ourselves feeling justifiably angry about someone’s sin, we should be careful. We need to speak out against sin, but we must do so with a spirit of humility. Often the sins we notice most clearly in others are the ones that have taken root in us. If we look closely at ourselves, we may find that we are committing the same sin. The unrighteous excuse themselves while condemning others. The truly righteous overlook faults in others but try to see their own faults.
Why is Paul going against the Jews here? He is anticipating the Jewish argument. Even though the Jews were probably a minority in the Roman church, they were growing. In addition, the Gentiles had heard of Paul and no doubt were wondering where he stood on this issue.
2:2 God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on the truth.NKJV Paul assumes that all his readers will agree with him regarding God’s judgment. Human judgment is based on prejudice and partial perception; God’s judgment is based on the truth—he judges on the basis of the facts about what we do. We only know in part, but God knows fully. Whereas our judgment of others is imperfect and partial, his is perfect and impartial.
The truth of God’s judgment was clearly demonstrated in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 31:15-22; Psalms 75:2-8; Isaiah 1:2-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18) and often reflected in the New Testament (see Matthew 12:36; John 12:44-50; 2 Corinthians 5:10; James 2:13; 2 Peter 3:3-9; Revelation 14:6-7). Not only is God capable of judging rightly; eventually he will judge the entire human race at the Day of Judgment (Matthew 11:24).
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS
It is God who passes judgment on righteousness and wickedness, not people. The book of Proverbs often compares the lifestyles of the wicked and the righteous and makes a strong case for living by God’s pattern.
|Outlook on life||Hopeful||Fearful||10:24|
|Response to life||Covered with blessings||Covered with violence||10:6|
|How they are seen by others||Conduct is upright||Conduct is devious||21:8|
|Quality of life||Stand firm||Swept away||10:25|
|Short-term results||Walk securely||Will be found out||10:9|
|Long-term results||God protects them||God destroys them||10:29|
|Eternal expectations||Attain life||Go to death||11:19|
|God’s opinion of them||Delights in the good||Detests the perverse||11:20|
2:3 Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?NIV Seven times in the first three verses, Paul used various forms of the Greek word for judgment (krima). Though human beings pass judgments, their judgments are judged by God. When we stand condemned before God, we have no higher court of appeal.
This is the first of two rhetorical questions. Paul ridicules the idea that a person might escape God’s judgment by correctly analyzing the wrong in others. The very fact that we can see the sins in others leaves us with no excuse before God. Those Jews, who were guilty of the same sins for which God was condemning the Gentiles, would not escape God’s judgment. Their national heritage could do nothing to save them, even though many Jews thought their privilege of birth ensured entrance into God’s kingdom (Matthew 3:8-9). All people, Jews and Gentiles, have sinned, and all stand condemned before God. Paul repeats this theme over and over.
HOW CAN WE ESCAPE?
|We cannot escape God’s righteous judgment by avoiding or resisting it. We find our only hope in submitting to his verdict. If God says we have sinned, we must agree. When we agree with his judgment, we obtain his mercy. When we agree that we are lost, we find a savior. We escape God’s judgment by accepting it and claiming God’s mercy and grace that wait for us. As a result, those who have experienced God’s forgiveness overlook the faults in others while they recognize their own faults. On the other hand, those who have not yet received forgiveness are prone to excuse themselves while condemning and blaming others. This last group of people have not escaped God’s judgment.|
God’s blessing (vv. 4-11). Instead of giving the Jews special treatment from God, the blessings they received from Him gave them greater responsibility to obey Him and glorify Him. In His goodness, God had given Israel great material and spiritual riches: a wonderful land, a righteous Law, a temple and priesthood, God’s providential care, and many more blessings. God had patiently endured Israel’s many sins and rebellions, and had even sent them His Son to be their Messiah. Even after Israel crucified Christ, God gave the nation nearly forty more years of grace and withheld His judgment. It is not the judgment of God that leads men to repentance, but the goodness of God; but Israel did not repent.
In Romans 2:6-11, Paul was not teaching salvation by character or good deeds. He was explaining another basic principle of God’s judgment: God judges according to deeds, just as He judges according to truth. Paul was dealing here with the consistent actions of a person’s life, the total impact of his character and conduct. For example, David committed some terrible sins; but the total emphasis of his life was obedience to God. Judas confessed his sin and supplied the money for buying a cemetery for strangers; yet the total emphasis of his life was disobedience and unbelief.
True saving faith results in obedience and godly living, even though there may be occasional falls. When God measured the deeds of the Jews, He found them to be as wicked as those of the Gentiles. The fact that the Jews occasionally celebrated a feast or even regularly honored the Sabbath Day did not change the fact that their consistent daily life was one of disobedience to God. God’s blessings did not lead them to repentance.
(i) He told them bluntly that they were trading on the mercy of God. In Rom 2:4 he uses three great words. He asks them: “Are you treating with contempt the wealth of his kindness, and forbearance and patience?” Let us look at these three great words.
(a) Kindness (chrestotes, <G5544>). Of this Trench says: “It is a beautiful word, as it is the expression of a beautiful idea.” There are two words for good in Greek; there is agathos (<G18>) and there is chrestos (<G5543>). The difference between them is this. The goodness of a man who is agathos (<G18>) may well issue in rebuke and discipline and punishment; but the goodness of a man who is chrestos (<G5543>) is always essentially kind. Jesus was agathos (<G18>) when he drove the moneychangers and the sellers of doves from the Temple in the white heat of his anger. He was chrestos (<G5543>) when he treated with loving gentleness the sinning woman who anointed his feet and the woman taken in adultery. So Paul says, in effect, “You Jews are simply trying to take advantage of the great kindness of God.”
(b) Forbearance (anoche, <G463>). Anoche is the word for a truce. True, it means a cessation of hostility, but it is a cessation that has a limit. Paul, in effect, is saying to the Jews, “You think that you are safe because God’s judgment has not yet descended upon you. But what God is giving you is not carte blanche to sin; he is giving you the opportunity to repent and to amend your ways.” A man cannot sin forever with impunity.
(c) Patience (makrothumia, <G3115>). Makrothumia is characteristically a word which expresses patience with people. Chrysostom defined it as the characteristic of the man who has it in his power to avenge himself and deliberately does not use it. Paul is, in effect, saying to the Jews: “Do not think that the fact that God does not punish you is a sign that he cannot punish you. The fact that his punishment does not immediately follow sin is not a proof of his powerlessness; it is a proof of his patience. You owe your lives to the patience of God.”
One commentator has said that almost everyone has “a vague and undefined hope of impunity,” a kind of feeling that “this cannot happen to me.” The Jews went further than that; “they openly claimed exemption from the judgment of God.” They traded on his mercy, and there are many who to this day seek to do the same.
2:4 Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience?NIV Paul immediately follows his first rhetorical question with a second. While the first one emphasizes the unavoidability of God’s judgment, the next one emphasizes the vast spiritual benefits a person gives up by judging others. Paul wants his readers to understand that judging others shows contempt for God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. God demonstrates his kindness in giving us life and its fullness to enjoy; he is tolerant and patient as he bears our ingratitude and sin. He postpones punishment in order that his kindness will lead people to repentance (see 2 Peter 3:15). But Paul was concerned that these Jews, overconfident in their special status with God and unwilling to repent of sin, were showing contempt for God’s blessings. So Paul reminds them that God’s kindness is also meant to lead them to repentance, because all people need to repent!
|It is easy to mistake God’s patience for approval of wrong living. self-evaluation is difficult, and it is even more difficult for us to expose our conduct to God and let him point out where we need to change, But as Christians we must pray constantly that God will show us our sins, so that he can remove them and heal us. Unfortunately we are more likely to be amazed at God’s patience with others than humbled at his patience with us.|
2:5 Hard and impenitent heart.NRSV This kind of person has sat in self-righteous judgment of others for too long and has lived as described in verse 4—by showing contempt for all God has given (see also Deuteronomy 10:16 and Jeremiah 4:4). People receive blessings but stubbornly continue in sin, refusing to repent. It is difficult for self-righteous people to repent. Proverbs 26:12 says, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (niv).
Storing up wrath for yourself.NRSV Paul’s readers who boasted of their faith yet continued to sin were inviting retribution and ironically were contributing not to their benefit but to their own judgment when God’s wrath would be poured out upon them.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
|We tend to expect punishment and consequences to follow immediately or closely behind sin. So we usually suspect that suffering is the result of some sin recently committed. Suffering is not always a consequence—see John 9 for a vivid example from Christ’s ministry. Passages like this make it clear that immediate punishment for sin would mean that humans would rarely live long enough to repent. Consequences occur frequently enough and intensely enough to work alongside God’s patience to bring us to repentance. It may be a popular lifestyle to “play now and pay later,” but when it comes to God’s judgment, the price is too high: eternal punishment. When we repent, we are given life, now and forever.|
The day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.NIV Though we do not know the date of the day of God wrath, we do know that no one will escape that final encounter with our Creator, and that we are called to live with this day in mind. A summary of the biblical counsel on what our attitude ought to be is “the day of the Lord is near” (see Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3; Acts 2:20; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Though some are quick to point out that thousands of years have passed since these warnings were given, believers maintain that the warnings are valid. In the end, what matters most is not exactly when in history the day of God’s wrath arrives, but that the clock is ticking. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27 niv). We do not know the day of the Lord, nor the day of our own death. We will treat both days with more respect if we call them “near.” On this day, the wicked will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.
2:6 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”NIV God’s judgment will be impartial, and it will be according to what people have done. Final judgment will be based upon character. All people will be held accountable for the truth that was available to them and what they did with it. (See also Job 34:11; Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12; 22:12.)
The moment when all doubt is removed will coincide with the moment when faith is no longer possible. What we have actually done in life will be the basis of God’s judgment. There will be no last-minute negotiations. See Ezekiel 33:30-33 for a prophecy against people who hedge at religion. When we know what God desires, we are responsible for how well we obey.
2:7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality.NIV This doing good is a result of new life in Christ. Real faith generates good works in a believer’s life. Persistence is a characteristic of the growing and progressing Christian (see Luke 8:15; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:3). We must persist in doing good and in believing in Christ (see John 6:28-29). Again Paul is emphasizing God’s impartial treatment of all his creatures. He is not contradicting his previous statement that salvation comes by faith alone (1:16-17). The gospel simply informs us about the proper sequence for doing good as a response to God’s grace rather than as a way of gaining God’s grace. Paul told the Ephesians, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” (Ephesians 2:8-10 niv).
LIVING OUR FAITH
|We are not saved by good works, but when we commit our lives fully to God, we want to please him and do his will. As such, our good works are a grateful response to what God has done, not a prerequisite to earning his grace (see also 3:20). Think of what God has done for you. Then respond to God’s loving acts by trusting and obeying him fully, living out your faith.|
He will give eternal life.NRSV Persistence and hope in God are rewarded by meeting the goal—glory, honor, and immortality in eternal life. In the end, people will receive what they really want. If we desire to be with God, he will gladly fulfill our wish; but if our inmost desire is to keep God at arm’s length, the distance will be preserved forever. Many people want it both ways: They think that eternal life might be nice as long as God doesn’t interfere with their present life. But we must choose. Will we persist in wanting our own way, or in wanting God’s way? Jesus himself defined the nature of eternal life in his prayer for believers: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3 niv).
2:8 For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil.NIV Paul still has in mind the self-confident, self-righteous person, who through his own self-seeking has actually turned away from the truth and who resisted the gospel, and is following his own evil path. This attitude of self-seeking can be illustrated in the actions of the worker who is adamantly insistent and protective of his own rights and benefits as an employee, while at the same time he has no concern for the welfare of the company for which he works or the quality of the product he makes. He sees no farther than his own well-being. Selfish interests frequently do lead to a rejection of the truth and a pattern of doing evil.
Wrath and fury.NRSV In the previous verse, eternal life is promised to those doing good. Here, God’s wrath and anger are promised to those who have turned from him, yet are claiming to have a special place with him. They will receive the wrath and anger that they thought would fall on others.
2:9 Anguish and distress for everyone who does evil.NRSV God’s impartiality and our behavior ensure the final res
ults. There will be suffering and affliction for those who reject God. In simple terms, Jews or Gentiles who do evil, even if they don’t perceive it that way, will receive the consequences of final judgment. We must recognize the absolutes of the human condition apart from God before we will take seriously God’s offer of salvation.
First for the Jew, then for the Gentile.NIV Just as the gospel and salvation came first for the Jew and then for the Gentile (1:16), so will judgment by God. Those self-righteous Jews who thought they were somehow protected from judgment because of their heritage will not only find that they will be judged; they will be first in line!
2:10 Glory, honor and peace to everyone who works what is good.NKJV In contrast to verse 9, Jews or Gentiles who do good (those who fulfill the law in Christ), no matter how ‘incomplete they may feel that goodness to be, will receive a reward. As with the consequences of evil, there may be immediate benefits of a right relationship with God, but the full measure of glory, honor and peace is for the future.
We might misread a phrase like who works what is good so that it becomes “who does the best he or she can.” But Paul was not comparing various human behaviors and creating a scale of good and evil. This passage describes God’s righteous judgment on those who have done what is good or evil. God’s perception penetrates what we perceive as gray areas. His view of us is crystal clear.
Some have suggested that Paul might have had a broader group in mind here than those whose faith in Christ generates good works. Added possibilities have been: (1) those faithful Jews and moral Gentiles who did good before Christ came; (2) those non-Christians who responded to the limited light given them; and (3) those who actually did good by their own will and effort (a group Paul will shortly prove has no members). Within the context, however, these possibilities seem secondary. Paul’s main point is that God’s judgment is based on truth and results, not on who we are, where we came from, our upbringing, or our intentions. The final question will be, What did you do with what you knew?
God’s Law (vv. 12-24). Paul’s statement in Romans 2:11, “For there is no respect of persons with God” would shock the Jew, for he considered himself deserving of special treatment because he was chosen by God. But Paul explained that the Jewish Law only made the guilt of Israel that much greater! God did not give the Law to the Gentiles, so they would not be judged by the Law. Actually, the Gentiles had “the work of the Law written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). Wherever you go, you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong; and this inner judge, the Bible calls “conscience.” You find among all cultures a sense of sin, a fear of judgment, and an attempt to atone for sins and appease whatever gods are feared.
The Jew boasted in the Law. He was different from his pagan neighbors who worshiped idols! But Paul made it clear that it was not the possession of the Law that counted, but the practice of the Law. The Jews looked on the Gentiles as blind, in the dark, foolish, immature, and ignorant! But if God found the “deprived” Gentiles guilty, how much more guilty were the “privileged” Jews! God not only judges according to truth (Rom. 2:2), and according to men’s deeds (Rom. 2:6); but He also judges “the secrets of men” (Rom. 2:16). He sees what is in the heart!
The Jewish people had a religion of outward action, not inward attitude. They may have been moral on the outside, but what about the heart? Our Lord’s indictment of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 illustrates the principle perfectly. God not only sees the deeds but He also sees the “thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is possible for a Jew to be guilty of theft, adultery, and idolatry (Rom. 2:21-22) even if no one saw him commit these sins outwardly. In the Sermon on the Mount we are told that such sins can be committed in the heart.
Instead of glorifying God among the Gentiles, the Jews were dishonoring God; and Paul quoted Isaiah 52:5 to prove his point. The pagan Gentiles had daily contact with the Jews in business and other activities, and they were not fooled by the Jews’ devotion to the Law. The very Law that the Jews claimed to obey only indicted them!
Circumcision (vv. 25-29). This was the great mark of the covenant, and it had its beginning with Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation (Gen. 17). To the Jews, the Gentiles were “uncircumcised dogs.” The tragedy is that the Jews depended on this physical mark instead of the spiritual reality it represented (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 9:26; Ezek. 44:9). A true Jew is one who has had an inward spiritual experience in the heart, and not merely an outward physical operation. People today make this same mistake with reference to baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or even church membership.
God judges according to “the secrets of the heart” (Rom. 2:16), so that He is not impressed with mere outward formalities. An obedient Gentile with no circumcision would be more acceptable than a disobedient Jew with circumcision. In fact, a disobedient Jew turns his circumcision into uncircumcision in God’s sight, for God looks at the heart. The Jews praised each other for their obedience to the Law, but the important thing is the “praise of God” and not the praise of men (Rom. 2:29). When you recall that the name “Jew” comes from “Judah” which means “praise,” this statement takes on new meaning (Gen. 29:35; 49:8).
2:11 God does not show favoritism.NIV God shows no favoritism for Jew over Gentile when it comes to judgment for sin, no matter what the Jews had come to assume or expect. This personally addresses those who adopt Israel’s mind-set that religious heritage guarantees salvation. This verse answers the most common perception on how God will judge. God is usually pictured as the deity who grades on the curve. In this scenario, everyone gets a goodness grade in comparison with everyone else. Somewhere in the middle of the system is the passing line. Everyone below the line fails, while everyone above passes.
Those holding this idea almost always express the hope that they are somehow just above the passing line, but they have no way of really knowing. They blatantly hope that God will show favoritism. Romans 2:11 obliterates that hope. There is no passing line. Instead, sin has created a moral chasm over which no one can leap. The gospel gives us a way to reach the other side. God offers us something far better than favoritism. He offers grace. Having Christian parents or attending the church of our ancestors does not guarantee one’s salvation. Salvation is given to individuals on the basis of personal faith in Jesus Christ.