Exposition of Romans 2:6-11, God does not play any favorites

When the kids chose up teams in your school, did they choose you first? In my school it was always the favorites who were chosen first, and certain people got left for last every time. If you were one of the fastest, smartest, best looking, and most sociable, life was good. The alternative was painful — a lesson learned from a distance.

Playing favorites is also common among adults. How about with God? Does he play that way too?

(ESV) Romans 2:6-11

He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

Keep in mind that Paul is still in the midst of addressing the argument of the Jews that their special status as children of Abraham and recipients of the Law ensures the salvation of every Jew. Paul is tearing away that illusion. In the passage of Scripture above, he does so using a literary arrangement known as chiasm, as shown below:

A God will judge everyone equitably {verse 6

B Those who do good will attain eternal life {verse 7

C Those who do evil will suffer wrath {verse 8

C Wrath for those to do evil {verse 9

B Glory for those who do good {verse 10

A God judges impartially {verse 11[1]

Grant Osborne points out that Paul is trying to demonstrate divine justice by showing how God judges fairly with both Gentiles and Jews.[2] This accounts for the phrase “the Jew first and also the Greek” (2:10), which overtly shows that both Jew and Gentile stand in the same relationship of responsibility to God.

In short, verses 7 and 10 refer to those who are justified by faith and prove it through a life of obedient works before God. C. E. B. Cranfield says, “Paul was probably actually thinking only of Christians; but there is little doubt that, had he been asked whether what he was saying also applied to OT believers, his answer would have been affirmative.”[3] There is more than one way to reach this conclusion. Douglas Moo holds that Paul is teaching here (2:6-11) that God will impartially judge all men by their works; later, Paul will show that no one can reach a positive verdict in that way (3:9; 3:19-20); later still, Paul will show that faith in Christ enables the believer to have good works as the fruit of faith.[4] So, Moo effectively arrives at a similar conclusion by a different thought process.

Verses 8 and 9 refer to those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (1:18) and prove it by doing those evil deeds outlined in Romans 1:18-32. The nature of the works depends upon the human heart behind them; the works provide an image of the heart. Be sure to notice the chilling vocabulary of Romans 2:8-9. God’s wrath is bad enough; his fury is worse than unthinkable!

Critical to Paul’s argument is the fact that God impartially judges the works — and thus the heart behind them —without regard to whether a person is a Jew or a Gentile. God does not play any favorites.

The verb used in 2:11 confirms what has been said above about God showing no partiality in judging the works of Christians. That is exactly how the same verb is used in Eph. 6:9, Col. 3:25, and James 2:1.

Only one name to know: Jesus

Think carefully about Gods impartiality! This means that the rich have no advantage over the poor; the powerful have no edge on the weak, and the socially-connected have no insider pull. Jesus said the same thing in these words: “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10:31).

1. Read Matt. 7:1-2. How do these commands guide you in the same direction as Paul's words in Rom. 2:6-11?

2. Since every human is judged on the same basis before God, how does this influence the way you make choices and behave?

During Prohibition the only way to get into many private clubs was to know the right name to give at the door. Heaven is the most exclusive club of them all, and the only name to know at that door is Jesus. If Jesus knows you, you enter without question. If not, there is another door — you do not want to see what goes on in there!

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


[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 135, citing K. Grobel.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 63.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 152.

[4] Moo, Romans, 142.

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

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