Exposition of Romans 2:4–5 Do not waste God’s patient forbearance

There is little that is worse than self-deception. I know that from bitter, personal experience!

Imagine the shock when a Jew who thinks that relationship with Abraham has sealed heaven finds out he can expect God’s wrath. Nor should Christians take a complacent attitude about their salvation either!

(ESV) Romans 2:4–5 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of 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.

While Paul is still talking to his opponents of Jewish background, the principles he cites apply to all of us. Every human being has received abundant “kindness and forbearance and patience” (2:4) from God, who would have been fully justified in putting us to death the first time we rebelled against him and many times afterward!

If we offered a starving beggar $50 for food only to find our money thrown back in our faces with a demand for $100 instead, there is little doubt that the outcome would not be pretty. Yet Paul’s rhetorical question in 2:4 implies the Jews have done far worse. By denying that their own sin deserves God’s judgment, they are scorning his “kindness and forbearance and patience.” Instead, the appropriate response would be “repentance” (2:4).

Note that we who have trusted in Christ did roughly the same thing as the Jews up to the moment we surrendered our lives to the Lord. We too abused God’s kindness, though we did not hide behind Abraham or possession of the Law of Moses.

The Greek verb kataphrone? here (2:4) means “to look down on someone or something with contempt or aversion, with implication that one considers the object of little value, look down on, despise, scorn, treat with contempt.[1] ESV says, “presume on”; NET and NIV say, “have contempt for”; NLT paraphrases with “Does this mean nothing to you?” The idea — deeply flawed — is that if I already have salvation by being a descendant of Abraham, then I do not need God’s kindness!

Grant Osborne clarifies “forbearance and patience” (2:4):

The second area of abundance is God’s tolerance, referring to God’s postponing his judgment and giving people time to repent (so also 3:26). The third area is quite similar, God’s patience or “longsuffering” as he puts up with sinners, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).[2]

In a letter devoted to explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must face the fact that repentance occurs only in 2:4. Douglas Moo observes, “Repentance plays a surprisingly small part in Paul’s teaching, considering its importance in contemporary Judaism.”[3] C.E.B. Cranfield speculates that the reason for this low level of usage may be that Paul considers repentance to be an integral element of faith.[4] Perhaps, but our task is to understand Romans rather than to bring Paul’s theology nearer to our own thoughts.

It is difficult to select a favorite translation for Romans 2:5. Each of the following two has a small flaw:

(NET) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

(ESV) But because of 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.

NET correctly translates “your stubbornness” and thus preserves the emphatic, singular personal pronoun; Paul is still in his argument-with-single-opponent mode. But ESV does better with “storing up wrath for yourself because it has preserved the Greek singular while NET has employed the English plural “yourselves.”[5]

Instead of storing up merit and waiting for assured salvation, Jewish stubbornness is simply storing up wrath, a very ironic use of this verb! Moo refers to biblical references (Ps. 110:5; Zeph. 1:14–15; Rev. 6:17) in adding, “’Day of wrath’ is quasi-technical biblical language for the time of final judgment.”[6]

What are you storing up?

God’s patience has a limit; his forbearance will not last forever. Paul told the philosophers of Athens that God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).

1. Like the Jews of Paul’s day, it is easy for someone with Christian parents or who attends church to think they have it made with God. What is the flaw in their thinking?

2. Even if we have trusted in Christ, we may still squander our opportunity to store up something positive for the day of judgment. Read Eph. 2:8–9 and Phil. 2:12–13 and then write down what God expects of you as a Christian.

Our opportunity to live for Christ is brief, and we must make the most of it. Give praise to our gracious God who allows us to serve in his kingdom.

Copyright © 2012 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

 

[1] BDAG-3, kataphrone?, treat with contempt, q.v.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 61.

[3] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 133-134.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 144, footnote 2, extending to page 145.

[5] HCSB probably has the most accurate overall translation of Romans 2:5.

[6] Moo, Romans, 134.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!