God is More Kind Than We Think

Romans 2:1-4

June 4, 2006 | Brian Bill

Harry Ironside tells the story about Bishop Potter who was sailing for Europe on an ocean liner many years ago.  When he boarded he found out that he had to share his cabin with another man and after meeting his roommate he went up to the purser’s desk and asked if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe.  He explained that he ordinarily wouldn’t do this but after meeting the man who was to occupy his room, he could just tell from his appearance that he was not a very trustworthy person.  The purser accepted the responsibility for the valuables and remarked, “It’s all right, Bishop, I’ll be very glad to take care of them for you.  Your bunkmate has already been here and left his valuables for the same reason!”

Why is it that we tend to be harder on others than we are on ourselves?  Why are we inclined to exaggerate the faults of others while excusing our own foibles?  In short, why do we look down on people who sin differently than we do?  We all tend to divide sins into two categories: my sins and your sins, and of course, your sins are worse than mine.

This morning we’re picking up Paul’s letter to the Romans again as we camp in the first four verses of chapter 2.  If you remember just one thing, remember this: Romans chapter two is for those of us who liked Romans chapter one a little too much.  Before I explain, let’s review what we learned in chapter one.  Since Paul is building his case section by section, it’s a bit difficult to just jump into chapter two without some context.  

We learned three truths about obedience in 1:1-7:

  • Who you are determines what you do
  • Who Jesus is determines the gospel you give
  • What you believe determines how you behave

In verses 8-17, we discovered some principles to help us find our purpose and concluded with the challenge that we must never be ashamed of the gospel “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Greek.” 

 Let’s go back to the closing verses of chapter one and notice the use of “they” and “them” in verses 28-32: “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

I can just imagine Paul’s readers saying “Give it to them because their sins are dramatic and deviant.  Those guys are keeping us up all night with their bad behavior.”  They’re ready to take their cots outside so the good guys can get some sleep.  We too are often horrified by the unholy behavior that takes place in our culture, but ultimately we are in the same fundamental predicament.  Notice how the pronouns change in 2:1-4: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

In 1:20, Paul says that men are without excuse.  In 2:1, he personalizes this by saying, You have no excuse.”  The “they” becomes “us.”  We could say it this way: In chapter one Paul is telling the ‘immoral’ pagans that judgment awaits; in chapter two, he includes the ‘moral’ pagans in on the bad news.  Chapter one references the outwardly immoral while chapter two describes the inwardly sinful.  Or we could say it like this: Everything that is recorded in Romans one took place last night in Livingston County and all that is in Romans two is taking place among people listening to my voice right now, including yours truly.

Bob Deffinbaugh uses this illustration: “When I was growing up our family had a dog that did not attack from the front.  His practice was to come up from behind, very quietly, without giving any notice.  The first indication of his presence was the painful sensation of his teeth, sinking into your backside…in the first two chapters of Romans…Paul prepares to attack, but without letting his readers know what’s coming.  Suddenly, in the first verses of chapter two, the “teeth” of Paul’s indictment sink into the reader, catching him completely unprepared.”

I see three ways that these verses take a bite out of us:

1. Our judging is inexcusable (1). 

Romans 2:1 tells us that we have no excuse for our attitude and actions because “good” people are not that much different from “bad” people: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” If you’ve never judged anyone else, you’re welcome to leave right now because I’d like to talk to those of us who have passed judgment on others.  The word “judge” is a legal term that means to find a person guilty; it’s the idea of setting oneself over another.  I like how Eugene Peterson paraphrases this verse: “Those people are on a dark spiral downward.  But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again.  Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself.  It takes one to know one.”

It’s easier to work on the faults of others than our own, isn’t it?

Jesus cautions us however to stop criticizing and condemning and finding fault in Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” In other words, we are to stop playing God or we will be judged by the same standards.  Paul picks up on this thought taught in Matthew 7:2: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Jesus then proceeds to point out that we must first remove the log in our own eyes before we can help someone get the speck out of their own.  It’s easier to work on the faults of others than our own, isn’t it?  Many of us are like the prodigal’s older brother, who never left home but who harbored hatred and rebellion in his heart.

Let’s just admit that we enjoy judging others and we tend to judge them most severely for the same things we’re guilty of.  That reminds me of the elderly couple who had stopped at a restaurant while they were on a road trip.  After finishing their meal, they jumped back in the car.  After about twenty minutes the wife told her husband that she had unknowingly left her glasses back at the restaurant.  The husband blew his top because there was no place to turn around.  When they finally headed back, he groused and complained the whole way, scolding his wife for being so forgetful.  He reminded her that this was ruining their day and they were now going to be late for their next stop.  When they finally arrived at the restaurant, the wife opened the door quickly and hurried across the parking lot.  The husband rolled down his window and yelled, “While you’re in there, you might as well get my hat and credit card.”

Paul is saying that if we think we can judge everybody else, then we will be judged by the same standard we set up.  Ray Stedman points out that most of us are prone to accuse others while excusing ourselves.  He mentions three ways that we do this.

  • We are blind toward many of our own faults.  I didn’t know I snored but everyone else did.  We all have blind spots and according to Jeremiah 17:9 even our hearts can be deceived: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” 
  • We tend to forget the wrong that we have done.  We might recognize our sin at the time we commit it but then we just assume that God and others will just forget about it.  Hebrews 4:13: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.   Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” 
  • We often rename our sins.  Other people lie and cheat; we simply stretch the truth.  Others blow up in anger; we just blow off steam.  Others have prejudices; we just have convictions.  We need to remember the biting words found in Matthew 5:21-22 whenever we think our sins don’t smell as bad as other people’s: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

When it comes to judging, we have no excuse.  We’re all busted.  The second bite ambushes us just as much as the first one…

2. Our judgment is inescapable (2-3). 

Verses 2-3 state that our judgment is inescapable: “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” None of us has the knowledge, impartiality or objectivity to judge anyone.  Jesus hammered this truth home in John 7:24: “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”  God is able to see what’s in the heart according to 1 Samuel 16:7: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

God judges justly on the basis of what really exists, not what merely appears to be.  He sees all the facts, the multiple motives, each action and every attitude.  It was F. B. Meyer who said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin.  And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her.  We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances. 

Why are we so critical and caustic with others?  Think of it this way.  Every time we are judgmental toward another person, we are in essence displaying our distrust or lack of faith in God to take care of His kingdom.  Remember that He is God and we are not.  And when He passes judgment, we have no basis to object or ask for a retrial.  Psalm 96:10: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns.’  The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity” and verse 13: “…He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”  Here’s a news flash: God doesn’t need any help in judging others.  

Now, some of you may wonder why then the church speaks out against sin or confronts people who go astray.  One of the two charges I hear leveled against the church is that it’s filled with judgmental people.  The other claim is that it’s heaping with hypocrites.  While it’s true that sometimes people are hypocritical and judgmental, this church is a place of grace.  At the same time, one of our guiding values is to make sure grace is not taken advantage of, and that we provide accountability for our members’ attitudes and actions.  When we do confront, our desire according to Ephesians 4:15 is as we speak “the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”  

When we talk to you about something, when we warn you about the path you’re on, or share wisdom from Scripture, it’s because of love, not judgment.  After all, Paul made a strong moral judgment in chapter one that certain attitudes and actions are wrong.  Love calls us to speak up.  To sit back and say nothing is not loving either.  Listen to the words of James 5:19-20: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

We must speak to people when we see them sliding down a wrong path but we must also be careful to not be judgmental or prideful.  Take these words from Galatians 6:1 to heart: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”  Go with gentleness, keeping restoration as your goal, and don’t be proud.  Here’s a principle to keep in mind: It should always be difficult to confront someone when they’re straying.  If you enjoy doing it, you’re probably being judgmental.

Be careful about passing judgment on others.  Look back to verse 3 where we read: “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”  Commentator Donald Barnhouse points out that the intensity of this verse is lost in the English and provides this translation: “You dummy, do you really figure that you have doped out an angle that will let you go up against God and get away with it?  You don’t have a ghost of a chance.  There’s no escape.  Do you understand that?  No escape, that means you, the respectable person sitting in judgment on others and remaining unrepentant yourself to the evil in your heart.  You dummy.”

The first two bites sneak up on us: Our judging is inexcusable and our judgment is inescapable.  The third attack is much more pleasant, provided we respond in repentance…

3. Our journey is irresistible (4). 

God’s goal is for our good.  He rebukes us so that we will respond with repentance and His kindness should lead us to becoming contrite.  Look at verse 4: “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”  The word “contempt” is very strong.  The King James uses “despisest.”  It means “to grossly underestimate the significance of something” or to “think down upon and scorn.”  Some of us struggle to think of God as kind while others of us consider His kindness as a justification for living any way we want to.  Matthew Henry once said: “There is in every willful sin a contempt of the goodness of God.”   It’s easy to enjoy the goodness of God without living for God.  This is dangerous.  God’s goodness toward you is not a stamp of approval for how you are living.  Paul addresses this in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”

This is illustrated in the Book of Hosea where we read of God’s love for His wayward people.  Listen to Hosea 11:1, 4: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son…I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them.”  What a graphic description of His goodness and kindness!  Listen to how His people responded in verses 2 and 7: “But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me…My people are determined to turn from me.” 

Don’t you love that God is not stingy with His goodness toward us?  The word “riches” implies wealth and abundance as used in Ephesians 2:7: “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”  Let’s look a bit more closely at the three ways God opens up His treasure chest:

  • The riches of His kindness.   Psalm 145:17: “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made.” Psalm 33:5 says: “The earth is full of his unfailing love.” God is generous with His grace.
  • The riches of His tolerance.  This word means to “hold back” and was used of a truce between two warring parties.  Psalm 130:3: “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” Just because He has shown you tolerance does not mean you are at peace with Him or that He is pleased with you.
  • The riches of His patience.  We are in a grace period right now.  God’s patience has a purpose.  As Jonah stated in Jonah 4:2, God is “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Aren’t you glad that God is good, that he holds back what we deserve and that He is patient?  John MacArthur says that “the goodness of God is nowhere more clearly seen than that when man commits a sin he doesn’t fall over dead on the spot.  God had every reason at the Fall to wipe out the human race…every reason.  And He has the same reason every single time you and I commit one sin.  And it is only His goodness and His forbearance and His longsuffering that lets us take another breath.”  Ray Stedman adds, “Why didn’t He judge me yesterday when I said that sharp, caustic word that plunged like an arrow into a loved one’s heart?  Why didn’t he shrivel my hand when I took a pencil and cheated on my income tax?  Why didn’t he strike me dumb when I was gossiping on the phone this morning, sharing a tidbit that made someone look bad in someone else’s eyes?”  Are you grateful for God’s goodness or do you take it for granted?

his mercy should melt us because it is overwhelming and undeserved

The problem is that some of us presume upon His kindness and end up living the way we want to.  Paul reminds us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us toward repentance.  In other words, his mercy should melt us because it is overwhelming and undeserved.  The word “lead” means “to drive” or “to induce” us to repent.  If He is leading you to turn back to Him He will never turn you away once you turn to Him.  God takes no pleasure in pronouncing judgment because His purpose is to produce repentance.  We see this in Ezekiel 18:23, 32: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD.  Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!” 

To repent means to forsake and turn from sin and turn toward God.  Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just wipe out the world right now?  Let me bring it closer to home.  Have you ever asked why God doesn’t vaporize you when you sin?  The answer is found in 2 Peter 3:9, 15: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance…Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation…”

I read that a year or two before Mr. Rogers died; someone in Philadelphia stole his car.  The news media broadcast the story and before long the thief who took the car realized that it belonged to Mr. Rogers.  Because Mr. Rogers was such a kind man the criminal did something he had never done before – he returned the car.  It’s hard to be cantankerous when you’re around kindness, isn’t it?  Because God is kind to us, we should respond in repentance.

Our judgmental attitudes are ultimately destructive while God’s judgment is meant to be constructive.  The purpose behind God’s condemnation and His kindness is redemptive: He is waiting for us to repent…before it’s too late.

  • Our Judging is Inexcusable
  • Our Judgment is Inescapable
  • Our Journey is Irresistible 

Action Steps

1. Stop judging.

How many times a day do you talk about other people and look down your nose at them?  Do you disdain people who sin differently than you do?  Stop it.  Instead of judging, realize that when you judge, you come under judgment.  Remember that others are on a journey, just like you are.

2. Change your pronouns.

Stop using “them” and “they;” and “he” or “she.”  If we want to grow in this area, we must personalize the problem because it really involves three people: me, myself and I.  Too many of us talk about ourselves only when we’re bragging.  Here’s an idea.  Brag on others instead of blasting them; when you talk about yourself, mention something you’ve done wrong.  It will keep you humble.  Plus, you’ll be much easier to be around.

3. Give God is job back.

Ask the Lord to help you be perfectly content to allow Him to judge people instead of trying to do his job for Him. 

4. Be positive.

When you catch yourself talking negatively about someone else, immediately say something positive.  And, when you hear someone else judging or gossiping, insert a constructive comment into the conversation.

5. Get to know God.

Start viewing God as kind, tolerant and patient and strive to be so yourself.  In addition, see Him as holy, faithful, just, sovereign, and all-powerful.

6. Respond with repentance.

Allow God’s kindness to lead you to repentance.  What do you need to turn from right now?  Don’t be like Felix who said to Paul in Acts 24:25: “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”  It’s dangerous to wait and it’s foolish to presume upon God’s patience because it will not last forever.  We see this in Acts 17:30: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”

I love how the great preacher Charles Spurgeon communicated the urgency of repentance: “It seems to me that every morning when a man wakes up still impenitent, and finds himself out of hell, the sunlight seems to say, ‘I shine on thee yet another day, as that in this day thou mayest repent.’  When your bed receives you at night I think it seems to say, ‘I will give you another night’s rest, that you may live to turn from your sins and trust in Jesus…do not life and death, and heaven and hell, call upon you to do so?  Thus you have in God’s goodness space for repentance…”  

Communion: Where Kindness and Condemnation Meet

The riches of God’s kindness and the complexities of God’s judgment are difficult to fully comprehend.  This passage teaches that God is kind and He condemns; He is love and He has laws; He is just and He is the justifier of the unjust.

John MacArthur shares the following story about a time when tribes roamed Russia.  One particular tribe stood out because of their great leader’s wisdom and fair laws.  Among his expectations were that parents must be loved and honored.  He also declared that murder was punishable by death and stealing was never to be tolerated. The tribe was prospering greatly when suddenly a disturbing thing began to happen.  It was reported to the great leader that someone was stealing and he sent out the proclamation that if the thief was caught he would receive ten lashes from the tribal whip master.  The stealing continued despite the warnings, so he raised it to 20 lashes.  It went on so he raised it to 30 lashes.  And finally he raised it to 40 lashes.

At last the thief was caught.  To the horror of everyone it turned out to be the chief’s own mother. The tribe was in shock.  What was the leader going to do?  His law was that parents were to be loved and honored.  But thieves were to be whipped.  Great arguments arose as the Day of Judgment approached.  Was he going to satisfy his love and save his mother or was he going to satisfy his law and have her whipped to death?  Soon tribal members were divided and even made wagers on what he would do.  And finally the judgment day came.  The tribe was gathered around the great compound in the center of which a large post was driven into the ground.  The leader’s great throne sat in the place of prominence and with great pomp and ceremony the leader entered, and took his place on the throne.  The silence was deafening. 

Soon his frail little mother was brought in by two towering warriors.  They tied her to the post.  The crowd continued to debate: Will he satisfy his love at the expense of law? Or, would he satisfy his law at the expense of his love?  The tribal whip master entered, a powerful man with bulging muscles, a great leather whip in his hand.  Everyone gasped.  Was the leader really going to let her die? The leader sat staring without moving.  Every eye was darting from him to the whip master and back again. The whip master took his stance; his great arm cracked the whip as he prepared to bring the first lash upon her.  In every heart was the question: Would he allow his love to be violated or his law? 

Just as the whip master started to bring his powerful arm forward with the first cutting stroke on that frail little back, the leader held up his hand to halt the punishment.  A great sigh went up from the tribe.  His love was going to be satisfied.  But what about his law?  They watched him rise from his throne and he strode toward his mother.  As he walked he removed his own shirt.  He threw it aside and proceeded to wrap his great arms around his little mother, exposing his huge muscular back to the whip master.  Breaking the heavy silence, he commanded, “Proceed with the punishment.”   Thus both his law and his love were satisfied. 

The Bible says that the wages of sin is death.  And the Bible says Jesus died for our sins.  He satisfied His love by dying in our place.  He satisfied His law by taking the punishment for our sin.  As we come to communion, let’s come with a brokenness of heart over our propensity to judge others and let’s come with a sense of our sin that has caused a dreadful breach between us and God.  During Passover the Jews made a diligent search for leaven, even lighting candles to search every corner of their homes.  They then cast it out of their houses, even cursing themselves if they should willingly keep any of it around.  Fellow sinner, take this time to do a search for sin in your life and when you find it, confess it, forsake it, and turn from it.  

And let’s be thankful that in the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, He made a way for us to be reconciled through the substitionary sacrifice of His beloved Son, for He is more kind than we think.  What a gift for both snorers and sinners alike!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?