NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWO (Part VIII)
The Apostle Paul wanted to make sure that the believers in Rome did not get the idea that they were trying to please God and thereby make themselves look good. He did not want them to be applauded for all that was accomplished in the name of Christ. Just like he told the Corinthians: “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.”1 He repeated this same refrain to the Colossians: “Everything you say and everything you do should be done for Jesus your Lord. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus.”2 The benefits of doing all things for the glory and honor of God are not temporal, but eternal. That’s why Paul told young Timothy: “Now it has been shown to us in the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus when He destroyed death and showed us the way to have life. Yes, through the Good News Jesus showed us the way to have life that cannot be destroyed.”3
Several early church scholars add their comments to this verse. For instance, Origen points out: “In saying this, Paul indicates that those who desire to do good will have to struggle and will suffer for it.… Therefore patience is necessary.”4 Also, Pelagius remarks: “The reward for well-doing is awaited with patience because it is not given in this life.5 The glory is that with which the saints will shine like the sun.6 Nothing is greater than the honor of the children of God, on account of which they will judge even the angels.”7 Then, Theodoret wrote: “Well-doing is for a time, but the reward is eternal. Moreover, eternity applies not only to life but to honor, glory and immortality as well. Paul wanted to show that there are many rewards for those who are good.”8
John Calvin, the Reformist, gives his view: “For it is perseverance when one is not wearied in constantly doing good; but patience also is required in the saints, by which they may continue firm, though oppressed with various trials. For Satan is not in favor of them coming to the Lord unhindered. Rather, he strives by numberless hindrances to obstruct them and to turn them aside from the right way. And when he says, that the faithful, by continuing in good works, seek glory and honor, he does not mean that they aspire after any thing else but the favor of God, or that they strive to attain any thing higher, or more excellent: but they can not seek Him, without striving, at the same time, for the blessedness of His kingdom.”9
John Bengel makes the point that the rewarding factor in the believer living for God’s honor, is not the mere fact that they continue to do good, but that they are patient and through endurance keep up their good work for the glory of God the Father.10 In such cases, God is more interested in commitment and faithfulness than success by human standards. Henry Alford also agrees with Bengel on the emphasis of endurance in the text. He points out that the term “well-doing” is singular. This indicates moral character, on the whole, the general course of life and action.11 The importance here is that while many may be able to go around performing good deeds, some may do so for selfish reasons, others for publicity, and yet others as a cover-up for bad behavior. God is only impressed by those who do so out of their love for Him and in gratitude for His graciousness.
H. A. Ironside has this to say: “Mankind will be judged by the light they have had, not by the light they never knew. Eternal life is offered to all who ‘by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility.’ (Observe it is not immortality, but incorruptibility. The distinction is of great importance, though the two terms are often confounded in the Authorized Version.) If any were so characterized, it would prove that there was a divine work in the soul; but where is the natural man who so lives? Well then, ‘unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness,’ there can but be meted out in the day of judgment ‘indignation and wrath, tribulation, and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil,’ whether privileged Jew or ignorant Gentile.”12
F. F. Bruce has this comment: “Paul is not teaching salvation by works here, but emphasizing God’s impartiality as between Jew and Gentile. Cf. Peter’s surprised confession in Acts 10:34–35: ‘Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.’ God showed His acceptance of the Gentile Cornelius, to whom these words were spoken, by sending Peter to him with a message by which he and his household would be saved (Acts 11:14).”13
Verse 8: But others are selfish and refuse to follow truth, even if it causes discord. God will show His indignation through retribution.
Paul was not as worried about the influences from the outside on these believers, as much as he was concerned about the friction from inside the body of believers. These were the ones who did everything to please those around them rather that the One above them. He was speaking about those filled with selfish ambition only to accomplish what made them look good, even if it meant going against what they knew to be true. Solomon described them as those whose pride causes arguments and strife.14
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he mentioned that he had received word that some members were arguing over whether a man who prophesies or prays while wearing a shawl on his head is being disrespectful to God, while at the same time criticizing a woman who prophesies or prays without any covering on her head. Then, they got into the matter of hairstyles, and no doubt many other issues. Paul finally told them: “Decide this for yourselves… However, if anyone wants to argue about it, the fact remains that we have no such custom, nor do the Messianic communities of God.”15
But Paul saw a bigger picture than minor things such as covering one’s head during prayer. He wrote to Timothy: “Some people will teach what is false and will not agree with the true teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. They will not accept the teaching that produces a life of devotion to God. They are proud of what they know, but they understand nothing. They are sick with love for arguing and fighting about words. And that brings jealousy, quarrels, insults, and evil mistrust. They are always making trouble because they are people whose thinking has been confused. They have lost their understanding of the truth. They think that devotion to God is a way to get rich.”16 Paul also warned Titus: “Stay away from those who have foolish arguments, who talk about useless family histories, or who make trouble and fight about what the Law of Moses teaches. These things are useless and will not help anyone.”17
It isn’t so much that such people do not know the truth or the right way, it’s that they believe they are above such authority and want everyone to do things their way, regardless of what the Word of God has to say about it. Was that a new thing? No! Job spoke about it in his day: “Some people rebel against the light. They don’t care to find out what God wants. That’s why they don’t live the way He wants.”18 On the other hand, Isaiah has this to say: “People who respect the Lord also listen to His servant. That servant lives completely trusting in God without knowing what will happen. He really trusts in the Lord’s name and depends on His God.”19
You may have heard it often said: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”20 But in this case, it is not a matter of not knowing the law, but refusing to obey the laws that are known. In writing to the believers in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul says that when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in a flame of fire, parceling out [full and complete] vengeance to those who do not [seek to] know God and to those who ignore and refuse to obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus [by choosing not to respond to Him].21
After the incident where Nicodemus came to Jesus by night,22 John goes on the say: “People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. But people who do not believe are already judged because they have not believed in God’s only Son. They are judged by this fact: The light has come into the world. But they did not want light. They wanted darkness because they were doing evil things. Everyone who does evil hates the light. They will not come to the light because the light will show all the bad things they have done. But anyone who follows the true way comes to the light.”23 It’s like people today who know there is a Bible; they know there are churches where the Bible is taught and preached, but they refuse to read or listen because they don’t like what it says.
In writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul gives this warning: “When that Man of Evil comes, it will be the work of Satan. He will come with great power, and he will do all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders. The Man of Evil will use every kind of evil to fool those who are lost. They are lost because they refused to love the truth and be saved… They will all be condemned because they did not believe the truth and because they enjoyed doing evil.”24 And the letter to the Hebrews contains this insight: “Brothers and sisters, be careful that none of you has the evil thoughts that cause so much doubt that you stop following the living God.”25 You could say, it’s like giving someone a compass to keep them from getting lost, but they refuse to accept what the compass says, so they go in the direction they think is best for them.
1 1 Corinthians 10:31
2 Colossians 3:17
3 2 Timothy 1:10
4 Origen: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 See Matthew 24:13; 1 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 5:7
6 Matthew 13:43
7 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 224
11 Henry Alford: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 17
12 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 F. F. Bruce: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., Vol. 6, p. 96
14 Proverbs 13:10
15 1 Corinthians 11:13, 16 – Complete Jewish Bible
16 1 Timothy 6:3-5
17 Titus 3:9
18 Job 24:13
19 Isaiah 50:10
20 Black’s Law Dictionary, “Ignorance,” p. 572-573
21 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 – The Amplified Bible
22 See John 3:1ff
23 Ibid. 3:18-21
24 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10, 12
25 Hebrews 3:12