Text for the Week: Kindness Leads to Repentance

Romans 2:1-11

 Therefore you are without 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. We know that God’s judgment 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 judgment 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 judgment will be revealed. 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 injustice, there will be wrath and fury. There will be affliction and distress for everyone who does evil, both the Jew first and the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, both the Jew first and the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Reflection

“Love is kind”

St. Paul

The opening chapter of Romans is sometimes used as a battle ground because in this chapter Paul lays out one of the most detailed sin lists in the Bible. There is a natural and right impulse as Christians to want to know what activities and attitudes are sinful. The desire to love God should push us to want to leave the paths of sin and to do that we need to know what sin is. But too often Christians debating the gravity of sins mentioned in Romans 1 fail to recognize the fact that Romans 1 is not a complete argument. Rather, Paul fills out his argument in Romans 2, in other words Paul’s point in Romans 1 is not whether or not certain activities are sins (he knows his Jewish Christian audience will accept these concepts as sin), his point is to get people to recognize how they use that information. Right from the start Paul addresses “you”. Each of us (especially those who were in strongest agreement with chapter 1) should perk up at this. Read Romans long enough and you will recognize that one theme Paul is addressing is that the Jewish Christians are at odds with the Gentile Christians. Paul has just given a list of sins that Jewish Christians would take pride in not committing but now he says, “you” and the person he is addressing with that comment is the person who agreed with everything he has just said. Specifically he is establishing himself as the teacher of those Jewish Christians who are criticizing Gentiles for the sinful practices in their community.

What does Paul say to those of us who agree with his sin list in chapter 1? “Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?” (2:3). But wait I don’t commit any of those sins listed in chapter 1, no go down to 2:17-24 where Paul points out that those who boast in not having committed the sins of chapter 1 are supposed to follow the law, but of course in chapter 3 we find out all have sinned and even those who are supposed to follow the law must rely on God’s grace.

Now circling back to the passage at hand these Jewish Christians who would have celebrated Paul’s use of the Old Testament Law in Romans 1 are also sinners who are reliant on God’s grace, sinners who have failed to be perfect lights to the world. Once we recognize that we are also sinners in need of grace we are in a better position to hear Paul’s words in 2:3-5:

We know that God’s judgment 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 judgment 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?

Paul is very brash here saying that if you recognize you are a sinner saved by grace then you are not to condemn others, even those who have committed the sins on the list in chapter 1. Why? Because you dependent on the same character and grace of God. And the reality is that God is demonstrating grace and kindness to sinners (including us) so those sinners will discover love and want to repent. Repentance is about changing direction, or within a religious context changing a lifestyle. So what Paul is saying is that how God gets us to change our lifestyles to reflect love of God is to show us kindness. Now, this word “kindness” has a few interlocking concepts:

  1. Gentleness- the idea of being easy on a person or treating that person with sympathy
  2. Virtue- the idea of treating a person honorably or beneficially.
  3. Goodness- This is a Hebrew concept of treating someone in a way that shows what an ideal world looks like.

Taken as a whole “kindness” is showing a person a witness to the ideal world that God wants where people are treated with sympathy and gentleness. And Paul wants us to understand that this is the character God displays to draw us toward change, we are given this grace to motivate us to change. God is showing us an example of grace and kindness that is meant to make us realize we want to be like God and change. Now if God uses the tactic of kindness to lead us to repentance we are to ask how are we supposed to respond to people we want to see repent? We understand there are people who lives do not reflect the love and goodness of God; we understand that many are committed to lifestyles that we might call sinful. But we also know that we are in some ways those people, we know we are called to change and be like God, and Paul wants us to see that if we do not reflect the kindness of God to those who live in sin we are despising God’s grace.

There will be people who are quick to point our that there are times when God is shown as fierce or angry in the Bible. Yes, and each of those times is toward people who claim to be in a loving committed relationship with God and the anger follows after abused kindness. The consistent theme of Scripture is that God is kind to everyone but at some point we see the kindness run thin to those who are supposed to be loving God. The relationship is the key, God shows the greatest kindness to those furthest from the covenant relationship, offering forgiveness and relationship. We are to echo this character showing kindness to others who need to repent of their sins against God or us, reserving our anger for only the most difficult times. We do this for at least two reasons, the less important is that people respond better to kindness than fear, but the second reason is that kindness reflects God’s character of goodness and that is our goal in Christian maturity. We are to be kind as a reflection of God’s transformational work going on in us, and so it might be tempting to call out the sins of this world (and there are numerous) what we need to recognize is that how we call them out is every bit as vital to our relationship with God as the fact we do call them out.

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