Rambling through Romans (12): 2:1-11
2 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?
Jesus warns against “judging” in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt.7:1ff). There he means that we should not presume to “condemn” another, that is, decide whether they are acceptable to God or not. Here Paul counsels us against “judgment on someone else” (v.1) but for a different reason. The accuser is guilty of the very same offense he or she accuses another of and stands guilty before God (v.3)!
Paul has already scored the Gentiles as guilty of a great many things. Yet “You” (v.1) who might condemn them stand in no better position. Yet driven by self-righteousness they presume to stand in God’s stead and offer judgment on these Gentiles. Presumably these are Jews Paul addresses (vv.9-10) but he addresses them simply as human beings at this point. He will soon enough indict them as Jews.
Judgmentalism, which rests secure in its own rectitude, is actually the vile fruit of a “stubborn and . . . unrepentant heart” (v.5). Judgmental people, the apostle claims, are “self-seeking and . . . reject the truth” (v.8). Shades of Romans 1 and the Gentiles who pursue their own desires and suppress the truth with injustice! Those who condemn such Gentiles are doing the very same thing! And stand under the very same judgment!
“For God does not show favoritism” (v.11). The issue with God is not primarily morality but idolatry, as we have seen. And that’s what’s at work here. Paul gets at the “self-seeking” (i.e. idolatrous) through their morality (judgmentalism here). If one does “good,” Jew or Gentile, that shows he or she has lived in gratitude to the grace they have received. If instead one does “evil,” this shows their self-seeking idolatry and liability to God’s judgment.
Paul here partially springs the trap he has laid for the Jews. In ch.1 he indulges a searing, typically Jewish critique of the pagan Gentile world and their idolatries. The Jews are cheering him on! Here he begins to turn the tables on their ethnic pride and self-righteousness – they are no better than the Gentiles and in some cases worse! Some Gentiles respond properly to the grace they have received, while the Jews, blessed with a panoply of divine gifts (Rom.9:4-5), have perverted them into tools of self-promotion and privilege. This will become the focus of Paul’s concern when he introduces the Law into the discussion at v.12.
All judgmentalism is perverted because it is based on partial, provincial criteria driven by a need to be “better than” others. God’s judgment is impartial because he asks only one question to which he alone knows the answer: who do you worship. All self-made people worship their makers! All who do “good” worship God. Not by their doing good, to be sure, but because their doing good shows the bent of their heart toward the grace of God given to them.