Romans - The Gospel of God The Hypocrisy of the Self-righteous P1 - Chap 2 vs 1-16 Inexcusable Hypocrisy - vs 1-5
Paul then begins addressing his opponent – ‘Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judgest.’ By the use of ‘therefore’ Paul is making clear in light of God’s revealed wrath and righteous judgment upon those who practice and promote the sins listed in Romans 1 vs 28-32 which characterize the abandoned and base lifestyle described in Romans 1 vs 18-27, that those who do ‘the same things’ can most certainly expect the same outcome – God’s judgment. The position of the ‘man’ addressed by Paul is in a sense more serious because behind a veneer of respectability he is doing the very same things, yet assuming because he’s a privileged Jew he’s exempt from God’s judgment! Paul challenges this ‘man’ and therefore those he represents as to their hypocritical judging v 1, irrational thinking v 3, wilful despising v 4, finally warning them that they are treasuring up wrath for themselves v 5.
Their Self-Condemnation vs 1-2
Their Shared Guilt v 1 It is a trait of the deceptiveness of human nature that we will condemn in others what we are guilty of ourselves. Those like the privileged Jew or sophisticated Greek with a veneer of respectability and professed adherence to religious precepts and moral values actually consider themselves better than people whose sinful lifestyle is blatant and obvious and so they freely point the finger of scorn, yet all the while are equally as guilty because under the cloak of professed righteousness they practice the ‘same things.’ This is all part of how the ‘deceitfulness of sin’ operates in our hearts (Heb 3 vs 13; Jer 17 v 9). The Lord Jesus once told a parable ‘to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others’:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself – ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18 vs 10-14).
The Pharisee was a prime example of a self-righteous unrepentant hypocrite whom Paul is addressing here in Romans 2. Another story that illustrates this truth is when King David heard the Prophet Nathan’s parable about the rich farmer with his abundant livestock who took his poor neighbour’s one cherished lamb to serve it as a meat dish to his travelling guest; David’s immediate response to such injustice was: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” Nathan quickly reminded David: “You are the man!” (2 Sam 12 vs 1-15). David had taken another man’s wife, caused the death of her husband and deliberately covered his sin. Yet, he would unreservedly judge another for what he was guilty of himself. Paul says – ‘for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things’ (v 1). But what are we to understand by this expression – ‘the same things’? (Vs 1 & 3). Clearly they point us back to the vice list of chapter 1 vs 29-31. Note the corresponding references that make the link – chap 1 v 32 ‘such things,’ chap 2 v 1 ‘same things,’ chap 2 v 3 ‘such things’ and ‘do the same.’ It is though important to observe that the specific sins listed in chapter 1 vs 29-31 are what characterize those of a reprobate mind, a state reached by the wilful abandonment of God the process of which Paul describes in chapter 1 vs 18-28. Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that the ‘same things’ not only include sins from the list of vs 29-31, but also embrace the same attitude of rebellion, ingratitude, and self-will which marked the Gentiles. It is not that the Jews were guilty of the same external lifestyle as the Gentiles. Jewish rebellion, ingratitude and self-will was in a different context with a different manifestation, but while the Jews were not exactly guilty, Paul’s point is that they were equally guilty. This then is to suggest that they did the same things not only from the vices listed (vs 29-31), but also with the same rebellious attitude toward God. The heart of the self-righteous Jew was too hard toward God, their worship was vain and their lives hypocritically sinful.
The Jew in his prideful heart rebelled against his knowledge of God received through covenant revelation. Yes, an outward veneer of acknowledgement remained accompanied with a self-righteousness, but within was the reality of an uncircumcised heart of which Stephen charged his killers before his stoning: You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it (Acts 7 vs 51-53).
And the Lord Jesus said of the Jews of His day:
“Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘Thesepeopledraw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (Matt 15 vs 7-9)
Moreover, Ingratitude marked the Jew despite God’s goodness – v 4 just as ingratitude marked the Gentiles chap 1 v 21 and the self-will of the Jews is well summed up by Paul in Romans 10 v 3 – ‘For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.’ The climax of their wicked arrogance was the rejection and crucifixion of their Messiah as Stephen stated. Also, while Jewish Old Testament history abundantly demonstrates how they abandoned God for idolatry and immorality, Paul addresses them as he knew them and focuses on three examples of their law breaking – stealing, adultery and sacrilege – vs 21-22. These and other violations characterized the first century Jew to the extent that through breaking the law they, like their fathers, continued to blaspheme the name of God among the Gentiles (vs 23-24). Therefore, just as the Gentiles were guilty of debasing God by exchanging the truth of God for the falsehood of idolatry (Rom 1 v 25) the Jews were guilty of blaspheming God by breaking the law they claimed to uphold (vs 23-24). The result was that false worship characterized both. Idolatry along with unnatural immorality characterized the Gentiles while vain religion along with covenant unfaithfulness characterized the Jews.
Their Deserved Judgment v 2 As we have already observed, Paul’s first concern in chapter 2 is to confront the Jew with his hypocrisy in light of the impartial judgment of God (vs 1-16). Here at v 2 he inserts a reminder that ‘God’s judgment is according to truth,’ that is to say that God judges neither arbitrarily or unfairly, but according to the facts. His judgment is based on the evidence. Their own actions will convict them in the court of God – man’s ultimate judge – and merit them God’s just punishment. There are four principles stated in vs 1-16 concerning the nature or manner of God’s judgement; in v 2 it is according to truth, v 6 it is according to deeds, v 11 it is impartial, and v 16 it will be administered through Jesus Christ.
Their Wrong Thinking vs 3-4
A Challenge to Faulty Reasoning v 3 So such people are without excuse and hypocritical because of their own guilt. Self-righteous though they think themselves, they stand self-deceived, self-accused and self-condemned and because of this they will share with those they despise the same deserved judgment. Paul asks: ‘And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?’ – Not a chance.
Their Hard Heartedness v 5 This ignorance toward God’s goodness was inexcusable because it was not the result of any lack of knowledge, but the outcome of a stubborn and unrepentant heart (v 5). Chapter 1 v 18 states that God’s wrath is being revealed, here Paul points to a future Day of Judgment when it will be revealed very distinctly and specifically as men, Jew and Gentile, are held to account for all their sins. God’s wrath abides on the disobedient presently – Jn 3 v 36 and will be revealed in that day when unrepentant sinners stand in the court of God’s judgment where His displeasure will be revealed and His sentence of judgment rendered. Men commit sin which violates all that God is, but He waits. The wrath that builds up is His, He is the source of it. The reason it builds or is stored up is the actions of men – they are the cause of it. That God waits shows His patience. He is in control. Time passes even thousands of years, but eventually the sins of men will ‘catch up’ with them and for them they will be judged. Thus wrath has to do with God’s anger or attitude at men because of their sin. His judgment is the sentence of condemnation He will render upon the offender both to express His wrath and for the offender to experience it.
Notice that v 5 has reference particularly to the unrepentant sinner while v 6 states the general principle relevant to the believer as well as the unbeliever as vs 7-11 show. It is probably safest to see v 5 as Paul warning the unrepentant of what is ahead for them, there will be a day of wrath and revelation of God’s righteous judgment with v 6 stating the broad principle of how God judges focusing on the fact that He is the one who dispenses recompense for good or ill. What follows in vs 7-10 establishes the central truth of Paul’s argument which he states at v 11.
Still, we may ask: when is the ‘day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’? While ‘day of wrath’ here at v 5 and ‘day when God will judge’ (v 16) lack an article in the Greek text, day is still to be considered definite or specific. It is from other scriptures we learn that there is more than one occasion of judgment. Paul does not detail them here, instead he deals with the broad principle of how God will judge. However, considering Paul’s eschatological focus in his epistles, his reference to the ‘day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ probably refers to ultimate judgment ushered in at the second coming of Christ as described in 2 Thess 1 vs 5-10 and at Revelation 19 vs 11-21. Considering that Paul is most likely addressing the Jew it also makes sense to understand ‘the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ to be the second coming of Christ for the coming of the Messianic kingdom was and remains the expectation of the Jew. The Jews anticipated what the Lord Jesus called ‘the last day’ (John 6 vs 39, 40, 44, 54; 11 v 24; 12 v 48) when saints and sinners would be resurrected for reward and judgment (Dan 12 v 2; Jn 5 vs 28-29; 12 v 48). Paul spoke of the ‘resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust’ – Acts 24 v 15 when before the Roman governor Festus (See also 23 v 6; 26 vs 6-8).
According to scripture there is more than one occasion of judgment when people will stand before Him in the person of His Son the Lord Jesus. Ezekiel 20 vs 33-38 prophesies how those of Israel alive at Christ’s second coming will be brought into ‘the wilderness of the people’ to ‘pass under the rod’ of discipline and the rebels and transgressors ‘purged’ from among them. Paul spoke of the Day God has appointed to judge the world when preaching at Athens – Acts 17 v 31. Revelation 6 v 17 speaks of the ‘the great day of His wrath’ that will be realized on the world during the tribulation while Matt 25 vs 31-46 records the Lord Jesus telling of the Judgment of the Living Nations when He returns in glory and Rev 11 v 18 speaks of the Judgment of the dead and reward of the faithful at Christ’s return, a judgment which must include Old Testament servants and saints as well as the tribulation servants and saints. In 2 Timothy 4 v 1 Paul reminds Timothy that the Lord Jesus ‘will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom.’ The saints of the Church age, living and dead shall meet the Lord together and will be judged at the ‘Bema’ – 1 Thes 4 vs 13-18; 2 Cor 5 v 10 while the judgment of the ungodly dead of the ages will be at the Great White Throne – Rev 20 vs 11-15.
As already quoted, Paul’s summary statement in 2 Timothy 4 v 1 concerning ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom’ indicates to us an important point to consider and that is, all of these judgments unfold in relation to the Lord’s second coming and establishment of His kingdom on earth. It is the pivotal event that ushers in final judgment and will bring to pass the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God in the way and on the occasions that the scriptures detail. The saints of the Church age just before His manifestation and in preparation for His kingdom, the living nations at His Return to earth along with living Israel as well as the dead saints of the Old Testament and of the tribulation. Then finally, the ungodly dead at the conclusion of Christ’s 1000 year kingdom reign and the end of earth. Therefore in light of all of this, it is fair to conclude ‘the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds” ’ relates to the second coming of Christ, the great event that will be the catalyst for all judgments just before, at and after it.
The fundamental issue in Paul’s statements in vs 5-11 is that all people will be held accountable before almighty God for how they have lived and will be judged and recompensed accordingly. The unchanging principle by which God judges all men is – ‘according to their deeds’ (v 6 - Psa 62 v 12; Prov 24 v 12). Also, the scriptures solemnly remind us that at death, if we die unrepentant, God’s wrath will be an immediate experience. The Lord Jesus said of the rich man that he ‘died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes’ – Luke 16 vs 22-23. In light of such truth I would remind the listener or reader – make sure you are on God’s side. The world laughs at the idea of judgment and scorns any notion of accountability for sins. Allow for a moment that they are right. A believer in such a scenario would lose their hope in Christ, but nothing else. If they are wrong, and they are, then they lose absolutely everything (Mark 8 vs 36-37). ‘There is no God’ - Psalm 14 v 1 really is the expression of fools. AJC