NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part III)
Perhaps you’ve heard the well-known saying that goes: “It may be bitter medicine, but it is good for your health.” In fact, there is a homeopathic supplement on the market called, “The Bitters.” Nutritionists and dietitians will tell you that from the wines that are infused with herbal concoctions used by Ancient Egyptians up to 16th-century prescriptions written by the famous physician Paracelsus and beyond, elixirs brewed from carefully selected bitter herbs have been treasured as cure-all remedies across the ages. Studies have confirmed, that getting an adequate amount of bitter flavor is important for digestive balance and linked with many related health benefits. Eating bitters regularly has been shown to do the following: Curb sugar cravings; Soothe gas and bloating; Relieve occasional heartburn; Promote digestive enzymes, bile & HCL production; Calm upset stomach and nausea; Increase absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K; Help maintain healthy blood sugar levels; Balance appetite; Ease constipation and regulate bowel movements; and support liver function and healthy skin.
So it is with the “bitters” in God’s Word. These are truths that are sometimes hard to swallow, but they have excellent spiritual-medicinal qualities. They can cure cravings, lower pride levels, relieve anxiety, promote understanding, calm doubts and fears, increase the perception of truth and honesty, help keep a healthy attitude; balance desires, ease selfishness, and support a fit lifestyle and outlook on life. Thousands of believers have learned this to be true. Jesus said it Himself: “If you continue to accept and obey my teaching, you are really my followers. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”1
Early church scholars have several things to point out in what Paul says here: Ambrosiaster writes: “This means that we are not unaware that God will judge these people in truth, for we judge them ourselves. If what they do is displeasing to us, how much more will it be so to God, who is truly just and efficient in carrying out His work.… Paul is instilling fear, so that although the ungodly say that God does not care, in fact, He will judge the wicked and most severely render to each one according to what they deserve, not sparing any.”2 It is important to see that Ambrosiaster believes that when it comes to how people judge us or others, we are free to test their words and actions according to what we know as Biblical truth. So, if they do not pass our examination, how much less of a chance do they have of qualifying under God’s scrutiny?
Chrysostom adds to this by saying: “Paul shows that the ungodly had fallen even with a knowledge of God. Such knowledge that they possessed even from their conception.”3 In other words, even without God saying anything, as our Creator, He built into our hearts and minds enough consciousness of right and wrong that we can already perceive bad behavior before God or anyone else says anything. That is why early church Bishop Mopsuestia felt that God’s judgment, in this case, refers to the final judgment seat of God. He goes on to say: “And as if to make the condemnation of the wicked certain, Paul added, ‘His judgment is right.’”4
Then early church writer Pelagius talks about how foolish it is to think that God doesn’t mind such attitudes and actions. He writes: “If you, as a sinner, pass judgment upon another sinner like yourself, how much more will God, who is just, condemn you as being unjust? If He did not do so, it might appear that evil is pleasing to Him while good is not. But God has no favorites, and He spared neither His friends (the patriarchs) nor His angels when they sinned! Human judgment, on the other hand, is imperfect in many ways. The integrity of judges is often compromised by love, hate, fear, and greed, and occasionally mercy is allowed to overturn the rule of justice.”5
Bible scholar Charles Hodge makes this valid observation: “This verse contains the second general principle of justice, according to which all men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are to be judged. The whole hope of the Jews was founded on the assumption that the judgment of God regarding them would be guided by some other rule than truth. He was not to judge them according to their real merits, but according to their national and ecclesiastical relations, just as men now hope to be saved because they belong to the true Church.”6
Verses 3b-4a: Let me ask you this, do you think that God will judge and condemn others for doing what they do, but overlook it when you do the same thing? Don’t you realize how patient He is with you? Or don’t you care?
Apparently, Paul became aware of some possible nasty attitudes among the believers in Rome. It only takes one rotten apple to spoil the whole basket. Paul asks a very sobering question. It’s almost like a judge who says to a police officer caught speeding, “Just because you arrest others for speeding, did you think you could get away with it just by being a cop?” Why is it that some believers think that when they do something a sinner does, it’s different because they are Christians? They believe that they shouldn’t be punished as harshly because they are a respectable person most of the time.
Solomon composes it in a somewhat crass way when he said: “A beautiful woman without good sense is like a gold ring in a pig’s nose.”7 We could rephrase that to say: “A beautiful Christian without any morals is like a gold ring in a pig’s nose.” In English, we have the term, “double-cross.” It comes from a genetic process for producing hybrid-stock. In other words, you tell a pet shop owner you want to buy a Cocker Spaniel. But to breed a pedigreed Cocker Spaniel is very expensive, so he cross-breeds the one he has with a look-alike Springer Spaniel. So what you get is not what you asked for. In a way, you have been double-crossed. Paul was basically saying, you may act like a Christian, look like a Christian, but you are not a real Christian. And by doing so, you have betrayed the One you say is your Savior, and you have deceived the ones who accept you as a real brother or sister in Christ. No wonder when Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” He said more that what we may have realized.
Jesus, more or less, accuses the Pharisees of the same thing. He tells them: “People look at you and think you are godly. But on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and evil… You prove that you are descendants of those who killed the prophets… You are snakes! You are from a family of poisonous vipers! You will not escape God. You will all be judged guilty and have a fiery end!”8 I’m sure that Paul did not want the community of believers in Rome to deteriorate into such a muddy quagmire of pretension and artificiality.
So Paul calls on them to examine themselves morally, mentally, and spiritually. In other words, he did not want them dumping the baby out with the bathwater. There was more to be kept than what must be thrown away. The worst thing that could happen in Rome was if the believers started thinking like the pagans around them: “They say to themselves, ‘God is not interested. He is not watching. He won’t pay any attention to what we are doing’.”9 This attitude develops when the conditions that Solomon describes exists: “Sometimes people are not immediately punished for the bad things they do. Their punishment is slow to come, and that makes other people want to do bad things too.”10
But such thinking was foolish. God expressed how much He despised these ideas: “If you commit sins, do you think that you can stand before Me in this Temple that is called by My name? Do you think you can stand before Me and say, ‘We are saved,’ just so you can continue to do such terrible things?”11 Not only that, but conditions like that produced doubt in God’s ability to carry our His Word and His will. In fact, the LORD told the prophet Ezekiel: “Son of man, isn’t there a proverb in the land of Israel that goes [like this]: ‘Time keeps passing by, and yet none of the prophesied visions are ever fulfilled?’ Well, tell them this: Adonai Elohim says, ‘I will put an end to that proverb; never again will they use it as a proverb in Israel.’ Tell them, ‘The time has come for the fulfillment of every vision.’”12
Also, several apostles found out that doubt had begun to creep in among some in the community of believers scattered around the world. The apostle Peter addressed this in his second letter: “It is important for you to understand what will happen in the last days. People will laugh at you. They will live while following the evil they want to do. They will say, ‘Jesus promised to come again. Where is He? Our fathers have died, but the world continues the way it has been since it was made’.”13 No doubt this was based on the words of Christ Himself who also warned: “There will be so much more evil in the world that the love of most believers will grow cold. But the one who remains faithful to the end will be saved.”14
Paul’s intent here is to remind the believers in Rome of all that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do to fulfill His promise of salvation by grace through His Son Jesus. So he cautions them not dismiss or overlook God’s patience in waiting for them to come to their senses. Paul made the same inference in his letter to the Ephesians: “We have forgiveness of sins because of God’s rich grace. God gave us that grace, fully and freely. With full wisdom and understanding, He let us know His secret plan… I pray that God will open your minds to see His truth. Then you will know the hope that He has chosen us to have.”15 Paul goes on to tell them: “God did this so that His kindness to us who belong to Christ Jesus would clearly show throughout time yet to come the amazing richness of His grace.”16
Paul also encouraged the Philippians to remain grateful for what they had already received: “My God will use His glorious riches to give you everything you need. He will do this through Christ Jesus.”17 And to the Colossians Paul wrote: “God decided to let His people know just how rich and glorious that truth is. That hidden truth, which is for all people, is that Christ lives in you, His people. He is our hope for glory.”18 Paul also saw what effect such oscillation in commitment to the truth was having on another community of believers, so he wrote to Bishop Titus: “The kindness and love of God our Savior were made known. He saved us because of His mercy, not because of any good things we did.”19 Why is it so hard for some believers to trust God to do the right thing, even though they have to wait for Him to act? After all, if they could see the world the way God does, and see all the things down the road that they will face, then their attitude would be different. But since we can’t see and know all that God sees and knows, we are left with a decision: Either keep trusting Him, or keep testing Him.
1 John 8:31-32
2 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, loc. cit.
4 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, loc. cit.
5 Pelagius’s on Romans, loc. cit.
6 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Proverbs 11:22
8 Matthew 23:28-29, 33
9 Psalm 10:11
10 Ecclesiastes 8:11
11 Jeremiah 7:10
12 Ezekiel 12:21-23
13 2 Peter 3:3-4
14 Matthew 24:12-13
15 Ephesians 1:7-9, 18
16 Ibid. 2:7
17 Philippians 4:19
18 Colossians 1:27
19 Titus 3:4-5