Romans Bible Guide – Day Five
February 19, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has wrapped up a comprehensive critique of the Roman elite and all of humanity, saying people have tended to ignore God and create our own small objects of worship, so God lets us become the small and broken people we will be without him.
2 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” 3 Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: 7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Points of Interest:
- ‘Therefore…’ – Paul goes after judging others, as if this is the natural conclusion to his own 21-point statement about everything that is wrong with humanity. This is a surprising direction in his reasoning. Again and again, we’re seeing that Romans is taking us somewhere we don’t expect. Paul isn’t summing up some obvious religious truisms, but doing something novel, something revolutionary.
- ‘you have no excuse… when you judge’ – Paul seems to take his attention away from all Romans and the world at large and direct it specifically to Roman Christians, or even more specifically Roman Jews who are part of the Jesus communities. He may be saying, “You too are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, etc.” (1:29) More likely, or in addition to that, he’s saying that they may not do some of the offensive things irreligious Romans do, but their moral superiority and judgment are equally noxious to God.
- ‘you say…” – In verse 2, Paul begins a form of rhetoric known as diatribe. Common in his time, this is developing a point by arguing with an imaginary opponent. Paul’s imaginary debater is a fellow Jew with a keen sense of personal morality and cultural superiority. Of course religious people are right to judge outsiders, the logic goes, because God judges them as well. Paul says this is a badly mistaken way of thinking. God is the judge of all people, Jew or Gentile, religious and irreligious, and the experience of God’s kindness is meant to help us turn our own lives closer to God, not to elevate us above other people.
- ‘the day of wrath, when God’s judgment will be revealed’ – A very common mode of thinking and writing in Paul’s period of Judaism was apocalyptic: the hope that God would intervene in history and change things dramatically, fulfilling his promises and setting things right. Judgment was part of this expectation. Paul mixes traditional language of wrath and judgment with what some of us think of as nearly opposite words – kindness and patience. The point again is that all people are on the same footing with God – accountable for our thoughts and actions, and recipients of God’s love and kindness that’s meant for our own connection to God and betterment, not for making us better than others.
- ‘he will repay according to each one’s deeds’ – as original as Paul’s thinking often was, he’s also constantly quoting the Old Testament, sometimes making minor changes to suit his purposes. Here he’s quoting both Proverbs 24:12 and Psalm 62:12, about how a just God sees what we do in this world and responds justly in time.
- ‘to those who by patiently doing good…’ – Verses 7-11 talk about those who do good and those who do evil in a format called chiasm – talking about the first group, then the second group, then reversing the order the second time through. It’s poetic repetition for emphasis and elaboration. Here it seems God gives people what they want in the end. Regardless of religion or status, people who do good because they want life and peace will get that from God. People who do bad because they only care about themselves will only get the sour taste of themselves and their bad living.
- ‘the Jew first and also the Greek’ – Paul is speaking to both Jews and Gentiles, inside and outside of the Roman churches. It’s hard to overstate how divided these groups were generally, and how much this divide was part of a host of social divisions in the Roman Empire. Jews in Jerusalem at this time were deeply resentful of Roman rule and fomenting revolution, which would end in crushingly tragic defeat a decade later. In Rome, Jews were expelled from the city now and then, including 10-15 years before the writing of Romans, only to be welcomed back a few years later. God is not like us, Paul says. He doesn’t divide people into social or religious or racial or cultural groupings and treat or rank accordingly. God is the perfect judge we could never find in a person, free from bias or prejudice of any kind.
Taking It Home:
For you – During the 40 Days of Faith, we’re looking to connect with God’s kindness and love and provision. Take a moment now to ask to reflect on any judgment or smugness in you or in any groups you are part of. Ask God to restore you, or your group, to humility, so that you can be a recipient of God’s kindness, not God’s judgment.
For your six – God as judge sounds like a frightening concept to some, but most of the world for most of history has greeted God’s judgment as good news. That God will set things right in time, and will be impartial with humans, sounds like good news. Thank God that he sees each of your six honestly and fairly, and ask that they would be the recipient of God’s kindness today.