It grinds our souls inwardly when we hear of a terrible injustice that goes unresolved without a solution and the apprehension and punishment of the perpetrator. That is just so wrong!
I remember during the summer after my high school graduation that in my rather sedate small town environment there was a terrible murder. A woman was shopping at the local mall, driving a camper and getting groceries for a family vacation with her husband and three children. When she returned to her camper, there were reportedly two men inside. They drove it a short distance, beating the woman to death and dumping her body on the roadside … ultimately returning the camper to the mall parking lot.
Though several years later an individual was charged with the crime, the evidence was very scant and he was dismissed. To my knowledge now almost 44 years later, this case has never been solved. A reason it remains in my mind is that the woman’s body was discarded at the driveway entrance to the church where I would a decade later begin to serve for 11 years as a pastor.
So, did this murderer(s) get away with the crime? It looks like it. But if we know the larger truth about TRUTH and justice, we know that there will be a day of judgment. And that is the primary idea of our passage today – the certainty of God’s righteous judgment.
This section begins an argument that Paul is having with an imaginary disputer – one who might see himself in a rather positive light. This would be the perspective of the Jewish person in particular during the time of Paul’s writing. Indeed, the Gentile world was filled with horrid things related to idolatry and moral debauchery. The typical Jew at the time could rightly say that he was were very, very far from being as bad as so many people in the ancient world.
The problem of course is that no person possesses any sort of definitive moral high ground. As we’ll see later, this is because no one is perfect (righteous). But it is natural for a person who lives an above average life in terms of morality and human goodness to have some measure of a sense of moral security.
Let me seek to illustrate it this way: Say that you have a much nicer home than your immediate neighbor in every way. You have a mortgage balance of $25,000, whereas the neighbor owes over $400,000 and never makes his payments. Could you justly say to your lender, “My neighbor owes 16 times more than me on his house, so I don’t see any reason why I should be responsible for my smaller debt, and I’m not going to pay it!” How would that work out?
Yet that is how many people see their standing before God. They know they aren’t entirely perfect, but they think (if they allow themselves to think about it at all) that they are probably OK with God since most people are far worse.
In the third paragraph of the passage today, the imaginary disputants felt good about themselves because they had the Law and sought as best they could to obey it. But Paul says it is more than just hearing the Law that makes a person righteous, it is obeying it fully (which no person could truthfully claim they did in every detail for all of life). And the Gentile, not having the Law, did have the residual element of being created in God’s image – a conscience. And this was therefore a law for them that condemned them for their lack of perfection.
So whether you have the Law of Moses as a guide for life, or have the human conscience, you will be judged in accordance with it. This is a certainty, and you will be found guilty. This is grim, but there is better news ahead; but not until Paul knocks down a few more straw men in the upcoming paragraphs.
2:1 – You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6 God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”[a] 7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.