“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.” (Rom.2:4)
The Greek word for “presume” literally means “to look down on something or someone,” or “to underestimate the true value of something” – to sneer at something, to despise it.
When a self-righteous hypocrite thinks there is nothing of which he needs to repent, he is presuming on and despising God’s kindness, God’s restraint towards him and His patience with him. Why does he do this? Because he does not think he needs God’s kindness. Feeling morally superior is an illusion based on hypocrisy. This results in two misapprehensions:
1. We underestimate the value of God’s kindness. We need to see that this is what we are doing. We have to stop miscalculating how badly we need mercy, grace, kindness – even pity.
2. We misunderstand the meaning of His kindness.
Here is what typically happens. An individual feels he or she is a basically a good person. Her/his life is going quite well – they feel blessed. Their kids are basically good kids. Their job or career is going well. Their marriage is holding together – not like those busted up people who are getting divorced. They have friends – and good ones at that. Their retirement account is growing, as it should. All of that, they reason, is the kindness of God. And they tell themselves, “I give God the glory for all of that.”
When all is going well, we attribute this to His kindness, but here is the ‘spin’ we put on it: we think that God is kind to us because He approves of our moral behavior.
Is this true? Let me give you an easy example. Imagine the person who is sleeping with his girlfriend. No thunderbolt from heaven has stopped him. Everything is OK – or so he presumes. God has not punished him, so it must be okay. The same mistake is made by the greedy person, or the person who assassinates another person’s character or reputation, or the person who is disobedient to her parents, or the person who is heartless to the needy. They all mistake his kindness for approval.
But the Bible says that God is kind because He is giving us time to repent. His kindness is an invitation to repentance. His kindness is to give us hope that mercy might be available!
In Romans 2:4 Paul uses three words: kindness, forbearance and patience to describe God.
Kindness simply refers to the benefits that God bestows in our lives – both in the good and the bad that happens to us. Kindness is not always expressed as ‘things going well’ for us. God may express his kindness through a tragedy – for that tragedy might give us an insight into our lives.
What is forbearance? In fact, it is not just “tolerance” as we might assume. The original Greek word anoche means “to hold back.” So, in other words, God is bearing us, or putting up with us, so to speak, to give us time to repent.
The problem I have with the word “tolerance” is in the way we understand it today. In Canadian society, ‘tolerance’ means we accept any form of behaviour without making judgment on it. In this sense we should know that God is not tolerant at all. He makes a radical judgment on all our behaviour.
He did not tolerate the ancient world when He destroyed it with a flood. He did not tolerate the pride of Pharaoh when He devastated Egypt through a series of 10 plagues and then drowned his entire army in the Red Sea. He makes a radical judgment on all our behaviour.
That is why forbearance is a better word. God is bearing our sins – not tolerating them – He is holding up under them for the sake of His mercy. That’s what’s going on in your life – even as everything seems fine!
The third word is patience. The fact that God has not destroyed us means that He is right now practicing both kindness and forbearance. Why is He doing this? He is giving you time to wake up, come to your senses and repent.
APPLICATION: Have you pondered the kindness of God in your life? Perhaps you need to spend a few moments thanking Him and repenting of your sins. Let us make this a daily habit!
BUT THE BIBLE SAYS THAT GOD IS KIND BECAUSE HE IS GIVING US TIME TO REPENT.
Dr. John Neufeld
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