30 January 2014Romans 2:1-16
“Do you despise the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience?” (v. 4)
A brief guide to Paul's main ideas in this difficult passage ...
Everything God has made, being an expression of God's holy love, has the capacity to reveal something of God's beauty, truth and goodness. God is present in and through everything that exists, though largely hidden.
Every human being, in every circumstance of life, has some capacity for spiritual discernment. By careful attention to each person we meet, to every relationship and group in which we play a part and to our varied experiences, every one of us can see something of God's presence, God's intention for human existence and God's way of dealing with us for our eternal benefit.
Being moral beings, for example, we can discern a moral norm that stands outside and beyond our actual behaviour. Everyone without exception comes under its verdict on our wrongdoing and selfishness. Consequently, none of us has the moral right to judge others. The holy God, however, must condemn us. However God stays the execution of that judgement as long as possible.
We can also discern God's "kindness and forbearance and patience". This is of far greater significance than our habitual moral failures. God wants us to repent, to restore fellowship with us, and to guide and support us in "patiently doing good" (v. 7). This is the door to God's gift of eternal life ("glory and honour and peace" (v. 10) with God in heaven).
Only if we insist on refusing God's love, so that we stay firmly in the realm of evil, must God judge us.
Jews know these themes well enough: they are clearly described in the law (the first five books of the Old Testament). Gentiles may find hints of them in their hearts. Hidden in every heart, however, there are conflicting desires, instincts and intentions. Some are of God and some ignore or offend God. It is conscience that witnesses to the truth and claims of God.
- What examples can you think of where an encounter with someone who was not a Christian helped you to deepen your Christian faith or clarify your Christian values?
- Reflect on unbelieving people, professional activities and secular organisations whose values largely overlap with the Church's. Where in the Church's life are you encouraged to thank God for them?
- Christians are sometimes accused of 'holier than thou' attitudes to blatant wrongdoing or unwise lifestyle choices. How do you reduce the prospect of being seen as a hypocrite?