What Divides Us From Others?
The verses in focus for this session are Romans 2:1-11, however, I encourage you to read Romans 1:28-3:20 for the colour and the context.
Paul jumps around in this letter speaking to both the Jewish group and the Gentile group in the church. It is not always explicit when he's talking to or about each group, but there is clearly a dynamic at play in the early church of Rome. We have explored previously that the demographic of the church has shifted, with many of the Jews having been expelled from Rome 7-8 years before this letter is written, and while some have since returned, the church has moved from being heavily influenced by the converted Jews from the Synagogues to the pagan influenced Gentiles that now make up most of the assembly.
In the previous chapter, we saw Paul present how exchanging God (i.e. Idolatry) leads to sin. He demonstrated this using the prevalent practice in the Greco-Roman world of homosexuality. But he also broadens sin to include the length and breadth of sin, telling us that gossip, arrogance and boastfulness are also sins. Sins that perhaps we can more readily associate with our own lives.
Speaking predominately of the Gentile Christians, Paul uses "they" meaning the world - the Gentile culture around them, and now, as we read these verses, we see that it could be that some of these sins had been brought into the church. The Gentiles didn't have the Word, God's Law as their anchor, unlike the Jews did. On top of this, they perhaps see grace as the opportunity to sin without consequences. Now, while chapter 1 ends with a warning of sin, chapter 2 sees the focus of the letter change. Instead of "they, we now read "you".
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Romans 2:1 emphasis added)
Paul now seemingly addresses the Jews of the group, saying that you boast and judge others (the Gentiles), yet you do the same things! The Jews are God's Holy people and they are special in the eyes of God, but if there is a divide between the Jews and the Gentiles in this church, Paul is having it divide not on whether they are worthy of God's wrath or His reward because they are not. Both groups are equal. As Paul will get to later on in this letter. Paul is saying that in God's eyes we all sin. Where Paul will get to is that this is the bad news and we need to understand the bad news before we are able to receive and accept the good news.
Verse 6 is (if taken out of context) a challenge: "God “will repay each person according to what they have done.", quoting Psalm 62:12 and Prov. 24:12. However, we know from Paul's other letters that his theology is grace through faith. This verse sounds like salvation by works, which we know from other letters in the New Testament that is an issue because of the legalistic nature of the Jews. The idea that you are rewarded because of your good works regardless of faith can't be Paul's point here. So, we must look at the wider context. Paul is building a case. Taking a verse or small passage of scripture out of the larger story can be damaging to the truth. Paul's point here is in fact that, doing good things is the benchmark of salvation. People who do evil works will suffer God's wrath and people who persist in doing good will gain eternal life. The issue is (that he will later get to) is that the power of sin prevents us from doing good, and therefore no one can be saved by doing good.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)
We must understand the bad news before we understand our need for the good news!
Looking at the pattern found in Romans 2:6-11 we can see the focus of Paul's thinking.
A. v6 and v11 God's judgement is for everyone and is impartial
B. v7 and v10 Doing good brings eternal life and glory
C. v8 and v9 Doing evil brings wrath and distress
With this, we can visualise the Jews boasting over the Gentiles who are trying to break away from the pagan world, with the Jews believing in their special place in God's redemptive story, but are now confronted by the truth that God's judgement is for all, and while good things will be rewarded, bad things will result in God's wrath. This highlights that Jew and Gentile are in the same position. This is a truth for both groups.
In verse 5 we see where Paul is trying to get this group (the audience) to. He knows they have unrepenting hearts and are stubborn. But in order to receive the good news of Christ, we must have a heart that is repentant. Not to be stiff-necked, but see and know the need we have of the Gospel, the good news of Jesus!
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5)
While we don't have the divide of Jew and Gentile in our church, we have many people from various backgrounds and while these wide-ranging backgrounds could be a dividing factor among the assembly, what is more of a divide is actually where your own heart is.
Do you judge others?
Have you repented?
Just after the verses we use for communion, we see this verse:
Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:28)
Have you reflected on your own life? We're to be doing this daily.