NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part VI)
The earliest of church scholars, Irenaeus, see this portion of Paul’s letter as a warning to those who fear no punishment from God for their actions, thinking their sins have been overlooked or ignored by Him out of benevolence. But Irenaeus says: “Those who depart from God and despise His precepts, and by their deeds bring dishonor to Him who made them, and by their opinions blaspheme Him who nourishes them, heap upon themselves the most righteous of judgments.”1 And, another commentator of that same era adds: “The one who hopes he can get away with his sins not only remains unconverted and intractable but will continue to sin more seriously, sure that there will be no future judgment. He has an impenitent heart, unaware that he is storing up punish for himself on the day of judgment.”2
Several other early church scholars add their thoughts. For instance, Chrysostom says: “When a man is neither softened by goodness nor turned back by fear, what can be harder than he is?… The true originator of wrath is the one who has stored it up, not the one who judged, as Paul makes plain. For he says ‘you are storing up wrath for yourself,’ not ‘God is storing up wrath for you.’”3 Then, Gennadius of Constantinople remarks: “God’s patience toward you gives you the opportunity for every kind of wickedness. Realize clearly therefore that you are storing up wrath for yourself because of your hardness.”4 Also, another early church writer who wrote under the name Constantius said: “Before the revelation of God’s righteous judgment comes to you, that day says to everyone: ‘Behold the man and behold his works.’ We must be converted to Christ all the more quickly, therefore, lest we are deprived of our body by a hard heart and found naked, without the faith of Christ which was promised to us by the Law and the Prophets.”5
This storing away of self-inflicted punishment reminds me of the story of radical Islamic terrorists in a northern Iraqi town a few years ago, who were digging underground bunkers to hide from American bombing raids. They kept piling the excavated dirt in rooms inside the house so it wouldn’t be seen by spy drones flying above. The only problem was after they filled up all the rooms with dirt they were in danger of blocking their way of getting outside for food and water. In other words, while they were hiding from the wrath of opposition forces, they were storing up some wrath of their own making.
Another early church scholar commented on Paul’s words about such folly by saying: “Unaware that you are sick, you use the only cure in order to sustain even greater wounds.… Rejected kindness leads in the end to severer judgment, so that the man who refused to be touched by mercy is afflicted with punishment.”6 And Caesarius of Arles writes: “If a person sins once or even twice and then without excuses has recourse to the healing of repentance, he will recover his former good condition without any delay. But if he begins to add sin upon sin and prefers to acquire an infection by concealing or defending the wounds of his soul rather than cure them by confession and repentance, it is certain that these words of the apostle will be fulfilled in him.”7
Reformist John Calvin gives this advice: “This is a remarkable passage: we may, therefore, learn what I have already referred to — that the ungodly not only accumulate for themselves daily a heavier weight of God’s judgments, as long as they live here, but that the gifts of God also, which they continually enjoy, will increase their condemnation; for an account of them all will be required: and it will then be discovered, that it will be justly imputed to them as an extreme wickedness, that they had been made worse through God’s bounty, by which they ought surely to have been improved. Let us then take heed, lest by unlawful use of blessings we lay up for ourselves this cursed treasure.”8
John Bengel hears Paul saying: “Listen, O man, you think you are treasuring up all this blessedness. How much can a man layup, in the many hours of his life, in either direction (Matthew 18:24; 1 Timothy 6:18). This implies that the sentences of divine wrath are stored up little by little; to be brought forth in full.”
Adam Clarke makes this point: “The treasure of wrath, in this verse, is opposed to the riches of goodness, in the preceding [verse]. As surely as you despise, or neglect to improve the Riches of God‘s Goodness, so surely you will share in the Treasures of his Wrath. The punishment will be proportioned to the mercy you have abused.”9 And the great orator Charles Spurgeon expressed it this way: “See yonder men and women; they are dancing merrily. Though all overhead are black [clouds], not a drop of rain has fallen yet. Mark how they are marrying and giving in marriage, for not a lightning bolt has yet been launched. Who are these? Alas! Poor wretches, these are the men for whom the Judge is treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. For them, He is reserving fire and brimstone, hot coals of juniper, and terrible destruction. They look over at yonder pilgrims made slightly wet by the storm; they make a mock of yonder poor converted ones, trembling as they hear the rolling thunder. They say, ‘We hear no tempest; it is all a delusion, there is no storm.’”10
H. A. Ironside shares this: “A recognition of the evil is not necessarily power to overcome the evil. Culture does not cleanse the heart nor education alter the nature; and it is against the doer of evil that the judgment of God according to the truth will be rendered. To praise virtue while practicing vice may enable one to get by with his fellow man, but it will not deceive him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity… Men are inclined to consider that God is condoning their ways, if ‘sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily,’ whereas He waits in long-suffering mercy that men may have the opportunity to face their sins and own their guilt, thus finding mercy.”11 Ironside then tells the story of an elderly lady who was laughed at because of her belief in the lake of fire and brimstone because her critic said, there wasn’t that much brimstone to be found in any one place. Without hesitation, the wise lady responded, “Everyone will be bringing their own brimstone with them!”
Charles Hodge sees this part of Paul’s admonition as being directed at a faction in the congregation of believers in Rome. He writes: “The goodness of God, so far from being a ground of reasonable expectation that we shall ultimately escape punishment, becomes, when abused, an aggravation of our guilt. This principle the apostle here applies to the Jews, who, through their abuse of the peculiar mercy of God, were treasuring up wrath for themselves.”12
Verses 5b-6: You will be punished on the day when God reveals how He deals with people. He will repay everyone what they have earned for their deeds.
Over the centuries there have been numerous occasions when God’s faithful have shaken their heads in astonishment when they see the wicked go unpunished for their evil deeds, and their wayward brothers and sisters continue to prosper even though they have forsaken the highway of holiness. But Paul wanted everyone in Rome to know that judgment day was coming and no one would escape punishment. The wise man Job said it the best: “God will never do anything to be mean! God All-Powerful will never do something unjust. He pays us back for what we have done. He gives us what we deserve.”13 David put it this way in his psalm: “All authority belongs to God. Mercy belongs to you, O LORD. You reward everyone based on what they have done.”14
Solomon cautioned everyone: “Do not envy evil people or wish you were with them.”15 That would be like seeing people partying on a luxury cruise ship that is headed for an iceberg and wishing that you were onboard. And Isaiah wanted this message to be spread everywhere: “Tell the righteous that blessings will come to them. They will taste the fruit of their labor. How horrible it will be for the wicked! Disaster will strike them. What they have done will be done to them.”16 God told Jeremiah: “I, the Lord, search minds and test hearts. I will reward each person for what he has done. I will reward him for the results of his actions.”17 That’s why this word came to the prophet Ezekiel when some in Israel were saying that God’s way of treating people was unfair: “I will judge each of you by what you have done.”18
So when Jesus came with the Good News, He reinforced what all the prophets had said: He told His disciples: “The Son of Man will come with His angels in His Father’s glory. Then He will pay back each person based on what that person has done.”19 That’s why the Apostle Paul spread the word among the Corinthians, who were quarreling over who should get the credit for what was being done among them, by saying: “The one who plants and the one who waters have the same goal, and each will receive a reward for his own work.”20 Then he tells the church leaders not be in a hurry to set the record straight. Paul wrote: “Don’t judge anything before the appointed time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will also bring to light what is hidden in the dark and reveal people’s motives. Then each person will receive praise from God.”21
Later, Paul wrote to the Corinthians again and told them: “All of us must appear in front of Christ’s judgment seat. Then all people will receive what they deserve for the good or evil they have done while living in their bodies.”22 Paul was even more adamant when he wrote to the Galatians: “Make no mistake about this: You can never make a fool out of God. Whatever you plant is what you’ll harvest. If you plant in the soil of your corrupt nature, you will harvest destruction. But if you plant in the soil of your spiritual nature, you will harvest everlasting life.”23 So now we can see why Paul was passing on this same message to the believers in Rome.
1 Irenaeus: Against Heresies Bk. 4. Ch. 33.15
2 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, loc. cit.
4 Gennadius of Constantinople: Pauline Commentary from Greek Church, loc. cit.
5 Pseudo-Constantius: On Romans, loc. cit.
6 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Caesarius of Arles: Sermon 65.1
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. city., loc. cit.
13 Job 34:10-11
14 Psalm 62:12-13
15 Proverbs 24:1
16 Isaiah 3:10-11
17 Jeremiah 17:10-11
18 Ezekiel 18:30
19 Matthew 16:27
20 1 Corinthians 3:8
21 Ibid. 4:5
22 2 Corinthians 5:10
23 Galatians 6:6-8