Reading Romans 2
Hey there church! Welcome back to the book of Romans. Today we will cover the second chapter and save our final chapter for this week for Friday. Before we jump into the scripture I want to take moment of encouragement to say that I hope you don't feel discouraged at any time during your reading of this book. Romans is a dense book and Paul is (in)famous for long run on sentences with poor transitions between thoughts. Romans is a book that is mind straining for trained theologians so we don't anticipate or even expect you to get everything you read. We just want to expose you to one of the most important books in the canon and we'll try our best on Sunday's to fill in the gaps on questions that you might have. With that said....it's super helpful if you let us know what questions you have about the text. Even simple things like "what did Paul mean by verse so and so in chapter this or that?"
If Romans 1 was all about humility in the face of our sin, Romans 2 doubles down on the imperative to not judge one another despite our differences. Let's go a little deeper into that reflection now.
Scripture to Read
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.
I know John 3:16 is often quoted as "the entire Bible in one verse" but I mean...this is kind of a close second. It's powerful, challenging, and humbling all in one quick verse. In the often turbulent times of politics it seems as if daily we have something to judge one of our elected leaders over. Yesterday, I caught myself being critical of President Biden for preparing to arm troops over Ukraine. (I'm not Pro-Russia but I am anti war. I recognize this is a grey area.) Today, I was listening to The Daily and they were reporting how the labor parties in UK were critical of PM Boris Johnson for hosting Garden Parties throughout COVID lockdowns. When President Trump was in office I couldn't go more than 10 minutes without wanting to smash my phone against a wall over something he said. I judge conservatives, liberals, and everything in between every day and this scripture helped me become aware of that more. Further, I have lately been listening to President Obama's audiobook "Promised Land" again. One of the things that I really enjoy about his book (and other past presidents books) is the revealing of just how much stuff these people have to manage in a day. Global terror activities, economic disasters, global health crises, pandering to their own party and trying to reach consensus with the opposing one, and so much more. Every hour of everyday they are being bombarded with decisions that need made with a watchful nation who will get the news 5 seconds after it leaves the leaders mouth. It's fertile ground for criticism as we all have lengthened time to process if the decision was wise or not without the consideration that these leaders do not have that luxury. His book, those podcasts, and this reading are making me more aware of my own desires to contribute the conversations when I should be taking more time to pray for wise counsel and give gratitude that they were even willing to put themselves through the burden of leadership, even if I immensely disagree with them. I love how Paul phrases this..."whoever you are" there is "no excuse." This includes the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the democrat and republican, the faithful and the faithless. No matter what. Be considerate, be loving, be free of judgement. It's so hard. But we can do it.
Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
You know the popular expression "Kill em with kindness"? This makes me think of that. I think of the times as a teen when I would be unkind to my parents. Sometimes I would ignore them in public or say some passive aggressive comment or whatever. But, then I'd wake up the next morning to a note from my mom telling me that she loved me and hoped I had a wonderful day. My mom had a practice of leaving my sister and I notes by our bedside every morning before she would go to work. This started when we were young and continued all the way until we left the house for college. I would wake up that morning and feel awful that her kindness was still present even when I was so harsh. It would lead me to offer my repentance, and like God, she was all too generous with her mercies. Moms can be like that, right? Just too good to us. How have you experienced kindness leading you to repentance?
For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.
This is a section of scripture that I both affirm and struggle with all at once. I am not sure if I ever believe that a God who is considered merciful, graceful, and loving would ever subject someone to wrath and fury despite how awful they were in life. Granted, this doesn't say "eternal" wrath and fury, just wrath and fury, so I suppose it could be a temporary purgatory for the facing of ones sins, but I don't know. I recently talked with someone in our church about this topic as we both struggle with the idea of hell, but they had read a book that for some people they need to believe in a hell in order to process their own grief. For example, the victims of Jeffery Epstein might want to believe that he is eternally melting away in brain splitting agony every second of every day for the rest of time itself. For the families in Africa that have had horrible people come through and take children away for sex trafficking and child soldiers, the families might need to believe that hell exists so there is some closure to their actions. I've been fortunate enough to not experience such trauma, and I hope you have too, but for others Paul's words here are healing. I felt humbled by that conversation and once more learned to be quiet rather than to always talk about my interpretation on a divisive topic.
On the other hand, I also believe in the theology of atonement that suggests that Jesus Christ's death on the cross paid for our collective sins and that GOD is the one that can choose how God spends that payment. In other words, if God wants to forgive all of humanity than thats not my place to say otherwise. If God wants to offer heaven to the atheist who loved his family but hated God, to the Buddhist who was selfless, or the child who died before they could accept Jesus Christ for themselves than so be it. That's God's "Money" to spend how God wants to spend it. So, I'm conflicted with this scripture. What do you think?
When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Alright, I spoke a little too soon. I think what Paul is saying here is that if Gentiles (ie - atheist, buddhist, children, etc.) do what God wants them to do even though they never formally heard it from a church before then they are also 'saved' from the wrath and torment of God. Again, still conflicted on the wrath aspect but I really like this part of scripture. I wonder how Paul reconciles this with the gospels that suggest "one cannot come to the father except through me?" It's certainly a scripture I've had to stare down a few times in my ministry.
23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Oh boy does this one sting and feel all too relatable in today's culture. A few days back I wrote a blog that a number of you mentioned you really enjoyed about the difference between religion and spirituality. (thanks for that, by the way) In that blog I mentioned that one of the chief complains from the spirituals of the world is that they hear the message of Christ from Christians but they don't see the message of Christ from Christians. They have been burned and judged the by the church, they have seen crazy evangelicals say crazy things on the news, and have watched those that call themselves Christian be the most selfish people they've ever met. Paul writes to the Jewish Christians who were struggling with accepting Gentile Christians into their homes that all their traditions, laws, sayings, prayers, and rituals mean nothing if they aren't living like Jesus wants them to live. I know for myself I have to catch myself from letting my anger get the best of me, or letting my instincts cloud my interactions with strangers. I know I have much to work on. I wonder if the same is true for you?
Romans 2 is a short chapter but there is so much good in it. This is why we're doing this series! We truly believe this is an incredible epistle for our times. What sticks out to you? What questions are you left with? What challenges are you facing? Share em in the comments below!
Praying the Hymns
Today we will sing a relatively unknown hymn called "Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know" as it's inspired by Romans 2. While you might not quite the melody for the first verse or two hopefully by the end you can hum or sing along for a moment of praise before we begin our days again. Be blessed! See you Friday!
Ask ye what great thing I know that delights and stirs me so? What the high reward I win? Whose the name I glory in? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
2 Who defeats my fiercest foes? Who consoles my saddest woes? Who revives my waiting heart, healing all its hidden smart? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
3 Who is life in life to me? Who the death of death will be? Who will place me on His right with the countless hosts of light? Jesus Christ, the Crucified.
4 This is that great thing I know; this delights and stirs me so: faith in Him who died to save, Him who triumphed o'er the grave, Jesus Christ, the Crucified.