Despising The Goodness Of God:
Spiritual Apathy Will Be Judged

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 9c of 83


1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. 2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? 4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? 5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:1-5).

[This is the Third instalment of our study of Romans 2:1-5. Very briefly Paul is seeking to show that all men are guilty before God regardless whether we are gentile, Jewish or Christian. We considered in our first instalment how, even as believers, we are guilty and inexcusable because we do the same things as the gentiles whom we condemn. But why? Paul gives two reasons. We saw the first reason in our second instalment, namely that it is a result of wrong thinking (vv. 2-3). In this final part, we shall be considering the second reason as it is given in verses 4-5. But Paul does not simply state it as a reason, rather, he warns us against it by reminding us that those who are spiritually apathetic will be judged together with all who are clearly unrepentant.]

3. Spiritual Apathy
Will be Judged

a. Paul says:

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (v. 4)

This is part of Paul’s second reason why some of us will continue to do those things, which we condemn in others.

We must always read this verse in context. There are many who take this verse out of context. They say that this verse shows that God loves all men, and desires all men to be saved. But this is not what Paul is saying. We must not twist the Word of God. What is Paul saying? What is the Holy Spirit teaching us?

In the first place, let us understand what the goodness of God is generally. Let us be clear that God is good. God is intrinsically good. All that God does to all His creatures is good. Nothing that He does to anything or anyone is ever bad. God’s goodness is not determined by our perception of whether we like what He is doing to us or not. God does good when He blesses the righteous. God does good also when He curses the wicked. He does good when He rewards a righteous deed. He does good when He punishes a wicked deed. If He were to punish the righteous for His righteous deed, He would not be doing good. So too, He would not be doing good if He blesses the wicked for his wicked deed. God is always good. He is the fountain of all good.

But in the second place, understand that there is a sense in which the goodness of God is directed only to His children. This is the goodness that the apostle Paul is referring in our text.

Now, take note that the two ‘goodness’ in verse 4 are different words in the Greek. The first ‘goodness’ (χρηστότης) is usually translated elsewhere as ‘kindness’ or ‘gentleness’ (2 Cor 6:6; Eph 2:7; Col 3:12; Tit 3:4; Gal 5:22). It is a specific kind of ‘goodness’ that has to do with a disposition of kindness. The second ‘goodness’ (χρηστός) is a related but different word. Paul is using it to summarise the first three terms: “goodness” (or more specifically “kindness”), “forbearance” and “longsuffering.” In this verse, kindness, forbearance and longsuffering are all manifestations of God’s goodness towards His children.

  • Kindness is God’s gentleness and love, which He demonstrates towards His children. This loving-kindness or goodness-kindness of God toward us is the basis for all that God does for us in our redemption. It is His kindness towards us that makes it possible that we who are creatures of dust can have a relationship with him though He is our infinite Creator. It is on account of Christ’s living and dying for us that God is kind and good towards us. The Holy Spirit is given to us because God is kind and good to us. We are adopted as His children and can call Him “Abba, Father,” because He has shown us His kindness and goodness.
  • Longsuffering, on the other hand, speaks of the patience and perseverance of God. It speaks of God desiring to deliver His people out of their suffering and sorrows, but patiently waiting until the time is ripe. Suppose my daughter is carrying a glass of water, and she trips and falls. And she comes to me with her hands covered with blood and glass pieces. She is crying, and as I try to take out the pieces, she struggles and screams and begs me to stop; but I persevere on until every piece is taken out—that is longsuffering. God is longsuffering towards us in persevering to prepare us for heaven despite the pain we have to experience. But most of all, God is longsuffering towards us in that Christ His only begotten Son had to suffer on our behalf that we may have life.
  • Forbearance is slightly different from longsuffering. It speaks of toleration. It speaks of God bearing with the sin of His elect before they come to repentance. It speaks also of His bearing with their sin as He prepares them for life in heaven. Suppose I am teaching my son how to read. But he is not very keen, and not only so but he keeps getting distracted and keeps grumbling and playing with everything he can reach. It is frustrating, but if I persist to train him despite his protests and rebellion, I am exercising forbearance. God is exercising forbearance towards his ungrateful children as He prepares us for heaven.

Kindness, forbearance and longsuffering are the manifestations of the goodness of God towards His children, and to them alone.

b.   Paul speaks of the goodness of God leading to repentance. He does not say: “The goodness of God seeks to lead you to repentance.” Or “the goodness of God ought to lead you to repentance.” Or “the goodness of God MAY lead you to repentance.” He says “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” Fire burns. Water drenches. The goodness of God leads to repentance. If you touch fire, it burns you—there is no maybe. If water is poured on you, it drenched you—there is no maybe. So if the goodness of God touches you, it leads you to repentance—there is no maybe.

Now think for a moment about what Paul is saying. He is speaking to those who are doing the very things they condemn as sinful. He is musing on the reason why they do so. The first reason is wrong thinking. They perhaps think that they can escape the wrath of God. The second reason is given in verses 4 and 5:

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

To despise something is to consider it and then think lightly of it. It is to judge it worthless. But in order to despise something you must first have knowledge of it. You cannot despise something you do not know about. Where do you get knowledge of God’s goodness that leads to repentance? I am not talking about God’s general goodness. That you can see in nature. I am talking about God’s special goodness to His children. Where can you learn about this goodness? Is it not in the church?

It is in the church, rather than in the world that there are people who despise the riches of God’s goodness, forbearance and longsuffering—that leads to repentance. Why then does Paul charge his reader for not knowing that the goodness of God leads him to repentance?

Does not his reader know? Yes, he surely knows it intellectually.

  • It is God’s forbearance that withheld punishment and gives time for His children to repent.
  • It is by God’s longsuffering that Christ lived and died for His elect. It is His longsuffering that caused His children to feel and sorrow for their sin, in order that they might repent. 
  • It is God’s kindness or goodness that changes the heart of his children and leads them to repentance.

Every Christian should know these facts very well. It is God’s goodness that leads to repentance. But the question is: Does the Christian know it experimentally?  Does he know it in his heart? Has he experienced the goodness of God in his life? If he has, he would have repented, for the goodness of God leadeth to repentance. If he has, he would not despise the goodness of God.

Paul is therefore saying that there may be some in the church, who know the goodness of God intellectually, but despise it. These have never experienced the goodness of God in their life. These, in other words, have been living as spiritually apathetic hypocrites.

This is the reason why they have no qualms about breaking God’s laws despite knowing that lawlessness incurs God’s wrath.

These hear the preaching of the Gospel. They hear about the goodness of God towards His children. They hear about how God in His goodness sent Christ to rescue sinners out of sin. But they think nothing of it. Their hearts are hardened. They despise the goodness of God. So they remain impenitent. The goodness of God does not touch their hearts, they remain outside grace.

What will happen to them? Paul makes it clear (v. 5)—

“But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (v. 5).

They are laying up the wrath of God. In the day when God will reveal His judgement, He will pour His wrath upon him. The man who despises the goodness of God and therefore continues to live lawlessly is in a very dangerous situation.

My wife was describing to me the other day about a device in an indoor playground that she brought the children to. There is a big basket suspended at a certain height. The children would collect rubber balls to put into the basket. They will fill up the basket until the basket is full, and then suddenly the basket tips over and empty its content—on whichever poor child is standing below.

Those who despise the goodness of God are doing just that: Except that they are not laying up soft balls. They are laying up fire and brimstone.

c. Oh brethren, do you despise the goodness of God? If you truly know the goodness of God, you cannot despise the goodness of God or remain apathetic.

But if you know the goodness of God only intellectually, and despise it, you are in grave danger of the judgement to come.

Are you despising the goodness of God? If your life is a life of disobedience, it is very likely that you are despising the goodness of God. O take heed lest the day of God’s wrath comes upon you suddenly. Do not despise the goodness of God! God will judge all who despise His goodness including those who are apathetic towards it. If God has been good to you, live for God! Do not choose to live for Satan by living a disobedient life.

Conclusion

Remember these 3 things:

  • Remember that we deserve God’s wrath like the heathen. We are inexcusable.
  • Remember to live according to the truth. Make sure that your thinking is right. Make sure you are thinking according to how God would have you think.     Wrong thinking leads to wrong attitude and wrong living.
  • Remember that the goodness of God leads you to repentance. If your heart is hardened and impenitent, you know not the goodness of God. Oh despise not the goodness of God, but repent of your sin, and flee to Christ today. He is the fountain of all good. Amen.

JJ Lim