Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, ‘We know that God’s judgement on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.’ Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgement of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgement will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour 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. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 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. 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 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Following what amounts to a rant in Chapter 1, Paul now addresses the practical implications of living according to God’s revelation through Christ. When I was invited to be a magistrate I had to wrestle with St Luke 6.37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” Like many others I needed to distinguish between my role as a citizen and my personal dealings with others, and trust that, under God’s guidance, I would make the right decisions. Putting it another way, I realised that God is not particularly interested in how many sermons I preach, but whether I practise what I preach. Here Paul makes this point so very clearly but in doing so seems to offer a religion of works, not of faith alone: “For he will repay according to each one’s deeds.” Paul was heavily influenced by his Pharisaic background and is explaining how the system of Law was meant to work, even if it did not. However in the context of the whole of the Letter to the Romans it becomes very clear that it is through God’s grace that we are justified by faith alone; as we shall read in 3.20, “For ‘no human being will be justified in his sight’ by deeds prescribed by the Law, for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” But it remains the case, does it not, that others do judge us by our actions and our words? This puts a great responsibility on us as followers of Jesus Christ. This passage emphasises that “God shows no partiality” – a radical, revolutionary revelation to Paul, the Pharisee, brought up to draw such a clear distinction between Jew and Gentile. In our complex society how readily do we reflect God’s love and lack of partiality?
Gracious God: guide us, we pray, that in all our dealings with others we may not rush to judgment but seek to understand all who are born to be your children. In our lives may we give a clear example of what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ: trusting in his power Amen.
The Rev’d Julian Macro, retired Minister, Member of Verwood United Reformed Church
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