God’s Righteous Judgment (2:1-16)
1 Paul here gives a great warning to all men: do not judge others. How eager we are to judge others! We suppose that we ourselves are righteous, and that we are therefore qualified to judge. We see the sins and errors of others, but we do not see our own. All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2). We ought to be so busy concentrating on our own sins that we have no time left over to look at other people’s sins!
We must confess to our shame that even among Christians this habit of judging one another is very common. Let us remember the words of Jesus: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (see Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:10 and comments).
Even though the warning in verse 1 is for all men, Paul is here speaking especially to his own people, the Jews. More than other races, the Jews had the habit of judging other people; they especially judged non-Jews, that is, Gentiles. The Jews were proud; they considered themselves righteous. Why was this?
To understand the answer to this question, it is necessary to look at the Jews’ history. In the beginning, all men worshiped idols and lived in sin. God desired to establish a nation of people who would honor and obey Him. Therefore, about two thousand years before Christ’s time, God called a man named Abraham (or Abram) to found a new nation, the Jewish nation (Genesis 12:1-3). God chose the Jews to be His own people. After that, God gave the Jews His law, the main part of which was the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).
Then, because they had been especially chosen by God and had received His law, the Jews began to think that they must be more righteous than other people. Therefore, they began to despise all Gentiles (non-Jews). They considered the Gentiles to be godless and sinful.
But Paul here tells the Jews that, even though they are God’s chosen people and have received His law, they do not obey God’s law inwardly in their hearts. Instead, they obey it only outwardly. Their hearts are just as sinful as the hearts of the Gentiles. In a way, the Jews were more guilty of sin than the Gentiles, because the Jews knew exactly what God’s commandments were. Nevertheless, they didn’t recognize their own sin.
2 In this verse, the words such things refer to the various sins listed in Romans 1:29-31. God will render JUDGMENT against all those who do such things. God’s judgment will be based on truth. He will judge fairly and without partiality. He will judge us not only according to our deeds but also according to what is in our hearts (Ecclesi-astes 12:14; Revelation 2:23).
3 Those people (in particular, the Jews) who consider themselves righteous but continue to do these sins will not escape the judgment of God. Even though the Jews were God’s chosen people, and even though they appeared outwardly more “righteous” than the Gentiles, they will still have to bear the full punishment for their sins.
4 The Jews thought that God would not count their sins, and that therefore they didn’t need to repent. But they were mistaken. God had indeed shown great kindness, tolerance, and patience to the Jews, but they had been ungrateful; they had shown contempt for these blessings. They didn’t realize that God had shown mercy to them, in order that they might repent of their sins. Whether for Jew or Gentile, the first step in coming to God is REPENTANCE. But if we remain proud and refuse to confess our sins, we shall certainly not find God.
What is repentance? First of all, it is recognizing and confessing our sin. Second, it is turning away from that sin. To only confess our sin is not enough; only when we have turned from that sin and given it up can we say we have fully repented (Proverbs 28:13).
When we truly repent, we change our desires and thoughts; we forsake evil and turn to God. Repentance is a change of mind and heart. Without repenting, no one can come to God.
Notice what kind of God our God is. He doesn’t rebuke us; He doesn’t despise us; He doesn’t force us to do His will; He doesn’t give us unnecessary trouble or hardship. Rather, out of kindness, He leads [us] toward repentance. Just as a loving human father calls his children, so God calls all men and women. He is extremely patient; He wants to give everyone the chance to repent (see 2 Peter 3:9). How can we not repent and come to such a loving God?
5 That God is our loving and mercif ul Father is completely true. But it is also equally true that God punishes men for their sin. His anger against sin is great and terrible (Hebrews 10:30-31; 12:29). If we do not repent, we will not obtain God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. Rather, we will obtain His wrath. The choice is ours.
6 God will judge all men on the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed (verse 5). How will He judge us? Or by what measurement will He reward us? The answer is this: God will give to each man according to what he has done (see Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; 32:19; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 22:12 and comments).
We must keep two truths in mind here. First, we are saved by faith. Second, we will be judged according to our works.
Only by faith in Christ can we obtain salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cannot be saved by good works. No matter how many good works we do, we shall not be saved unless we have faith.
True faith in Christ, however, always results in good works. If our work and behavior is not good, then our “faith” is not true faith (see James 2:14-17 and comment). A man can do good works without having faith, but he can’t have faith without doing good works. Good works are the visible proof of our faith, just as good fruit is the proof of a good tree (Matthew 7:17,20). Therefore, by looking at our works, God can tell if our faith is true or not. When God judges us according to our works, He is also judging our faith. But remember, it is only by faith, not by works, that we obtain salvation. Faith comes before works. After faith, then salvation; after salvation, then works.11
Many people do good works only to earn some religious merit or to receive some spiritual blessing. Such good works, then, arise out of selfishness. In contrast to these selfish “good works,” the good works that arise out of faith are unselfish. The works that result from faith are always done for the glory of God and for the benefit of others.12
7 It is necessary to have persistence in doing good. Our good works must be continuous, because they arise out of a continuing faith.
The glory, honor, and immortality that Paul says we should seek for are not earthly but heavenly. We must put our eyes on heavenly things (Colossians 3:1). God will give glory, honor, and immortality in heaven to all those who repent and believe in Christ.
8-9 The wrath and anger mentioned here (verse 8) signifies God’s final judgment. God’s judgment will be first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.13 Because the Jews have been given the greatest favor and greatest knowledge, they will also be given the greatest punishment for their sins. We will be punished not only according to our evil deeds, but also according to our knowledge of God’s will. We give little children less punishment because their knowledge of right and wrong is less. But for those whose knowledge is great, their punishment will also be great (see Luke 12:47-48 and comment).
10-11 The rewards of God will also be first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. The Jews will be first to receive their reward, because they are God’s chosen people. But both Jew and Gentile will be rewarded or punished according to their works and according to their knowledge. God will judge both Jew and Gentile by the same principle. God does not play favorites (Colossians 3:25). The Jews thought that they would escape punishment. But they will not.
12 The LAW mentioned here is the Jewish law, that is, the law God gave to the Jews. This law is found in the first five books of the Old Testament, particularly in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. When Paul talks here about those who sin apart from the law, he is referring to the Gentiles.
Both Jews and Gentiles will receive punishment for their sins. Gentiles, who sin apart from the law, will be punished according to the righteous judgment of God; the Jews, who sin under the law, will be punished according to the Jewish law. Indeed, the law will give the Jews no advantage. Rather, it will give them a disadvantage, because it is impossible to obey the law in every detail. Therefore, instead of protecting them, the law will actually condemn them (see Galatians 3:10; James 2:10 and comments).
Here a question arises: if the Gentiles have no law, how can they be punished? The answer is: They do have a law. It’s not the Jewish law—it’s a natural law. This goes back to Paul’s discussion in Chapter 1, where he says that all men can see God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1:20). All men naturally know the difference between right and wrong. All men naturally can recognize sin. All men have a conscience. Therefore, we can say that for all men there is a natural law, which is written on their hearts (verse 15). It is according to this law that the Gentiles will be punished.
13 Paul tells the Jews that it is no advantage to only hear the law if they don’t follow it (James 1:22). Only by following the law completely will one be declared RIGHTEOUS—that is, obtain salvation.
14-15 Many Gentiles, even though they don’t know the Jewish law, do by nature what the law says (verse 14). They obey a “natural” law. For example, the Jewish law says: You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13). You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15). But the Gentiles also know that to murder and steal is wrong, even though they have never read the book of Exodus! The Jewish law says that a man must show mercy to his neighbor, he must respect his elders, he must help the sick. But the Gentiles also do all these things. Gentiles know the difference between right and wrong, because their consciences (verse 15) show them the difference. When they do evil, their consciences start accusing them; and when they do good, their consciences start defending them.
In fact, in important matters there is not much difference between the Jewish law and the natural law of the Gentiles.14 The main difference is this: The Jewish law was written by God on two tablets of stone (Exodus 24:12), but the natural law of the Gentiles was written on their hearts (verse 15).
16 The day when God will judge is the day of the last judgment (see verse 5). God will judge men not only according to their outward works; He will also judge them according to their secrets, that is, their inner thoughts and motives. God knows every one of our “secrets.” He sees everything.
God will judge through Jesus Christ. That is, all those who accept Christ will be saved, and all those who reject Christ will perish. In effect, Christ will be our judge (see John 5:22; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 5:10 and comments).
The Jews and the Law (2:17-29)
17-20 Here in this section, Paul sarcastically rebukes the Jews for their spiritual pride. His method is to ask a series of rhetorical questions.
The typical Jew would brag about [his] relationship to God (verse 17). He relied on himself. The Jew considered himself a guide, a light, an instructor. He considered others to be blind, to be foolish, to be infants (verses 19-20). The Jews had in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth (verse 20), and this should have made them godly. But they had only the outward form of godliness (righteousness); they did not have true godliness. Paul described such people to Timothy as having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).
21-23 Here Paul points out the faults of the Jews. Paul calls them hypocrites. What they teach others to do, they do not do themselves. On one side, they brag about the law; but on the other side, they keep breaking the law (verse 23). In Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus also called such Jews hypocrites (Matthew 23:13,25,27).
You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? Paul asks (verse 22). Yes, is the answer. Some Jews did break into Gentile temples and steal the idols (in order to sell them).
24 Paul here quotes from Isaiah 52:5. Just as a son’s bad behavior brings dishonor upon his father, so did the Jews’ bad behavior bring dishonor upon God. We Christians also must remember that whenever we sin we bring dishonor on God’s name.
25 CIRCUMCISION is the cutting away of the excess skin at the tip of the penis. God had commanded that all Jewish male infants be circumcised on the eighth day of life. Circumcision was an outward bodily sign that a man was a Jew, a member of God’s chosen nation (Genesis 17:9-14).
In actuality, there was no advantage to circumcision in itself. It was only an outward sign identif ying a person as a Jew. If a Jew broke the law, he lost his special relationship with God, of which circumcision was the sign. Then, for that Jew, it would be as if he had never been circumcised. He would be, in effect, “uncircumcised” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
God does not look at the outer man; rather, He looks at the inner man, man’s heart. The most important thing to God is that we obey Him from our heart. If our heart is right, our outward actions will be right also (Jeremiah 17:10).
26 Paul here asks another rhetorical question. If those who are not circumcised (that is, the Gentiles) were to follow the Jewish law, wouldn’t they be regarded as though they were circumcised? The answer is yes. Paul’s point is that a Gentile who follows the law will have the same standing with God as a Jew has.
27 Not only that, the one who is not circumcised physically (the Gentile) who obeys God’s law will condemn the circumcised Jew who breaks the law.
28-29 Therefore, to be a Jew only outwardly is of no advantage; it has no meaning. A man is a true Jew only when he is a Jew inwardly in his heart.
By the same reasoning, true circumcision is not just a physical or outward thing; rather, true circumcision is an inward thing. True circumcision is a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit (verse 29). True circumcision is a cutting away of the sin and evil in our hearts.15
Just as a man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly (verse 28), so a man is not a Christian if he is only one outwardly. The Jews sought praise from men, who see only outward things (Matthew 23:5-7). It is much better to seek the praise that comes from God, who sees everything. That is the praise that counts!