In this series of posts I have been looking at some examples of misinterpreted Bible passages.
I have been emphasizing the importance of grasping the clear intended meaning of the Biblical writer. Any meaning in the Biblical text that God has for us today will not be in contradiction to the intent of the original writer.
Here’s a good example of a text often quoted today:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? (Romans 2:4)
This partial text is often used by those who don’t believe that people need to be confronted regarding their sin. “People already know they are sinners. You don’t bring people to God by talking about their sin. You must show them God’s love.” While I agree that people need to truly understand the love of God, I do not think this is really a biblical approach.
Is this what Paul intended for his readers to take home? I say it is not. The emphasis in this section of Scripture is actually NOT God’s kindness, but a warning of taking His kindness, tolerance and patience for granted. And why is this a problem? Because according to Paul, God is about to judge sin. Millions are going to miss the window (“today”) to get right with God and will soon face His holy wrath, and with no Savior to intervene.
It is true that if a person is truly under conviction for her actual sins, she doesn’t need more condemnation heaped on her. What she needs at that point is to understand the wonders of God’s grace. But that’s an important “if”. Most people have little or no understanding of the enormity of their guilt before God. When that understanding starts to grip a man’s heart, conviction increases, and that soul is humbled and undone. He begins to deeply understand his need for forgiveness.
In Romans 2, Paul is clearly NOT saying, “Don’t talk about sin or judgment, just lift up the love of God. It’s only the message of God’s kindness that has the power to bring people to Christ.”
Actually, he is warning people about being hypocritical and pointing out other people’s sins and not realizing that God is going to judge them as well! The passage is a sober warning of impending judgment.
And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. (Romans 2:2)
To Paul, God’s kindness is NOT about the absence of judgment, but about the certainty of it. Any attribute of God, if removed from the others, can become idolatrous in the hands (or mind) of humans.
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. (Romans 2:5)
Yes, this is the same passage of Scripture! And, no, Paul is not schizophrenic. He keeps warning people of the reality of God’s wrath and righteous judgment. This is very clearly the theme of this section of Scripture. Here’s a parable that will help explain it:
If you know that five miles ahead in the road is a huge ravine, and that every car that speeds that way will end up in destruction, you are a fool to continue in the same direction. The fact that you have been made aware of the danger ahead, coupled with the reality that there are several miles in front of you for making a turn around, should compel you to stop the car and do so – BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
For Paul, the kindness of God is wonderfully connected with His other attributes: like patience and wrath. Though we all deserve His wrath and judgment, He is holding back His powerful righteous anger and giving us an undeserved window of time to repent. But if we do not repent, we are spurning His amazingly kind offer and will have nothing but wrath to look forward to.
This is a far cry from the, “Don’t talk about their sins. Don’t warn them about judgment. All they need to know is God’s kindness.”
Paul understood (like Peter did – 2 Peter 3:7-9) very clearly that God’s kindness and patience have almost no value, without the backdrop of His coming righteous judgment.
This is a far cry from the way these verses are commonly misinterpreted. Have you been guilty of over-emphasizing one aspect of God’s nature at the expense of others? In today’s climate, there is much more pressure to erase God’s holiness and judgment than anything else. Everyone on the street will agree that, “God is love.” But few want to meditate on God as the righteous judge who is coming to judge every person.
More next time.