How do you respond when someone gives you a valuable gift? My hope is that you treasure that gift. My hope is that you respect the giver enough to take care of it and appreciate it. Can you think right now of a gift that you treasure because of the person who gave it to you or because of its value? I have a railway pocket watch that Debra gave me for Christmas one year. It belonged to a friend’s father who had inherited it but had to sell it. Debra knew I would like it and wanted to help out this friend so she bought it for me. I treasure it. How would you feel if you gave someone a valuable gift or a gift that was very personal and the receiver didn’t take care of it or didn’t treasure it or didn’t appreciate it? What if they even showed contempt for it? I’ve seen this happen, and maybe you have too. I remember arranging for a boy to receive a really nice bicycle. It wasn’t new, but a certain gentleman I know had put much effort into fixing it up and shining it up. He wanted it to go to someone who would appreciate it. He asked if Zach would want it but Zach already had a nice bike. However, I knew a boy who needed a bike and I arranged for this boy to receive it. However, it wasn’t long after he received it that this boy turned that bike into a piece of junk. He rammed it into curbs and walls and before long the front wheel was bent and he couldn’t use it anymore. Even though I wasn’t the one who put the effort into fixing the bike, I was upset that this boy had taken this gift so lightly and treated it with contempt.
I thought of this as I meditated on our Scripture reading this morning. The verses I am going to focus on today are Romans 2:1-4
1 ¶ You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, 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 man, 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, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
This mention of God’s kindness is verse 4 is significant here because Paul had just finished talking about the wrath of God in Romans chapter 1. He had just finished detailing God’s anger at the sin of mankind. Paul’s goal in these first three chapters of Romans is to convince everyone that they are sinners who deserve God’s punishment. In chapter 1 he talks about hedonists who don’t care about what God says. In our reading today he addresses hypocrites or those who say that they agree with God’s standards, judge those who don’t keep those standards but who don’t keep those standards them themselves. In the last part of chapter 2 and the first part of chapter 3 he specifically addresses Jews who were relying on keeping God’s law for righteousness. He tries to convince people in all three groups that they deserve eternal damnation. However, he only does that to show them that EVERYONE needs God’s grace in order to be saved. The pleasure seeking hedonist, the hypocritical judgementalist and the self-righteous law keeper all need the forgiveness and grace of God available through Jesus Christ because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. All people need to rely upon God’s kindness.
And the Bible teaches that God is kind.
23 ¶ This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9)
It is because of His kindness that He is patient with sinners. In fact, Peter tells people that the reason Christ has not come back to judge the world is not that He is powerless to do so, but that He is being PATIENT.
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
God is Kind. Blogger Amanda Bowers puts it this way:
What other god patiently tolerates rebellion, idol worship of other gods, and complete rejection in order to give you time to be drawn by His kindness? Do you know how convicting that is? Do you have that kind of patience? I don't, at least not apart from the Spirit of Christ that is working in me to change me into Himself. Does the Muslim god tolerate the worship of other gods in order to give you time to come to him? As I understand it, he commands that all infidels be murdered. Jesus tells me to pray for, plead in gentleness, and love those who are on the outside in the hopes that through my absurd love of those that oppose me they might recognize His quality of love and patience.
No doubt, our God is patient and tolerant and kind.
I. But our Scripture this morning shows that it is possible to hold God’s patience and kindness and love in CONTEMPT. Let me read verse 3 and 4 again:
3 So when you, a mere man, 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, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?
Before I go on, I need to mention that Paul is speaking specifically here to Jewish people who think that just because they are Jews that God will overlook the sins he judges in everyone else. This was a widespread belief among the Jews at the time Paul wrote Romans. One Jewish Rabbi even said said, “Abraham sits beside the gates of hell and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go through.” I am not mentioning this to be anti-Jewish here and neither is Paul. There is no doubt that God had chosen the Jews to be His special people and in chapter 3 Paul outlines the advantages the Jews had over the Gentiles in getting to know God. But Paul takes great pains here to get people to understand that a guarantee of eternal life was NOT one of the privileges accorded to the Jews.
When Paul confronts these hypocritical Jews – people who judged the Gentiles for the same sins they did, he says that either they are INGORANT or they are holding the kindness of God in CONTEMPT. He accuses them of IGNORANCE because they think that pointing an accusing finger at the sins of others will somehow divert God’s attention from THEIR sins. If they are, they have to be ignorant of the truth that God can see right through that. People hate that kind of hypocrisy and God hates it even more. Much of the teaching of Jesus was directed at people who claimed to follow God’s commandments but in reality were full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
But Paul then gives them another choice. If they aren’t being ignorant, then maybe they are showing CONTEMPT for God’s grace and kindness. When I am talking about contempt as a response to God’s kindness, I am not talking about contempt not in the sense of hating God’s kindness, but contempt in the sense of not appreciating its value or its cost.
Some years ago, the town I lived in suffered a rash of break-ins at the hands of one individual. A certain lady I knew was a victim. The thief had taken some of her irreplaceable antique Jewellery that she had inherited from her grandmother. The thief was eventually caught and placed on trial. She attended the trial and after the thief was found guilty, she went up to him and asked him what had happened to her jewellery. The thief responded contemptuously. “That stuff was garbage. I got $20.00 and a case of beer when I sold it on the streets.” Keeping her voice calm, the lady said, “The joke’s on you, then. That jewellery was appraised at $5000.00.” He held her jewellery in contempt, and missed out on a substantial payoff for his ill gotten gains.
And so when Paul talks about showing contempt for God’s kindness and tolerance and patience, he is saying that those who do the same things they condemn in others do not appreciate the value of the patience, kindness, tolerance and grace of God. If they believe that God will overlook their own sins just because they are pointing the finger at others or, as in this case, just because they are Jews, they are holding God’s grace in contempt. In other words, they are treating God’s grace as something CHEAP.
The grace of the Gospel is COSTLY. Notice how Paul speaks of the “RICHES” of God’s kindness, tolerance and patience. At first glance, we might think that Paul is talking about abundance here – that God has abundant grace. And it IS true that God’s grace is ABUNDANT. When we think of “rich” we might think of Scrooge McDuck with his great big huge money bin where he could swan dive and bath himself in his money and be surrounded by his riches. When we think of rich, we think of millions and billions. We think of great abundance.
God’s grace is abundant. There is plenty of God’s grace to go around. Indeed, the whole world could take part in it.
1 ¶ My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense— Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2)
And so the riches of God’s grace means that everyone in the whole world can experience God’s grace.
But something can happen when we have lots of something available; – we can start taking it for granted and we can even start to abuse it. Because water is cheap and abundant, people often abuse water.
If we think God’s grace is cheap, we will be more inclined to abuse it too. But when Paul refers to the riches of God’s grace he is not only implying that there is lots of it, he is also suggesting GREAT VALUE. In other words, God’s patience and tolerance and kindness are not something to be taken lightly, even if it is abundant.
Jesus illustrated this in the parable of the unmerciful servant, didn’t he? In this parable a king decided to settle accounts with his debtors and found a man who owed him a ridiculous, astronomical amount of money that could never be paid back. The king ordered that this man be put in prison, his possessions be seized, his family sold into slavery to pay the debt. The man fell on his knees before the king pleading for more time to pay it back. We read that the king took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. The story should end there, but it didn’t. For we read that when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount of money and grabbed him and choked him and demanded. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ This other servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. Well, the king found out about that and said: ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
The first servant took the patience of the king lightly and showed contempt for it. The point of that parable is that because God shows us patience in forgiving our sin, we should forgive others. That is how we show that we value the forgiveness we have received. Otherwise we are showing contempt for his patience.
THE RICHES OF GOD’S GRACE ARE VERY VALUABLE.
It is difficult to believe that people would show contempt for something as valuable as God’s patience and grace. Yet the Jewish hypocrites Paul was addressing were doing it and it still happens today. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” talks much about this.
i. In Bonhoeffer’s day, there was a teaching going around that since God is so loving that he forgives people, people can sin all they want and still expect God to forgive their sins and not call them to account. Bonhoeffer called this idea CHEAP GRACE.
Cheap grace ... means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins.... In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. [45-46]
Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession.... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
God’s kindness is not permission to sin all we want. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. It is mean to lead us into real life change.
And that is the second response people can have to God’s kindness. It is the response he wants: REPENTANCE. Repentance is a change in the way that we think and we act so that it is in line with God. If Jesus had continued the parable of the prodigal son, I doubt that the younger brother would have, the next day, asked his father for more money so that he could go back to the city to resume his prodigal living. I strongly suspect that Jesus would have had the young man moved to wondering gratitude for the kindness and free forgiveness he has received and spending his life trying to be worthy of it. That is the proper response to God’s kindness. When we truly understand the Kindness of God, we won’t see it as an opportunity for a free ride but an opportunity to have a changed life – a life where we turn from sin to follow God.
What do I want you to take from this message? Simply that the grace of God, offered to us in kindness through Jesus Christ, is a valuable gift. It is too valuable to hold in contempt by taking it lightly by either ignoring it or taking advantage of it by sinning all we want because we know God will forgive us anyway. Such is the root of hypocrisy. If you know Jesus as your Saviour, I would encourage you away from holding God’s Grace as cheap. Jesus did not die to forgive your sins simply so you could sin all you want without the consequences. He died to free you from the penalty of sin, yes, but also from its power. He died to change your life. Don’t show contempt for God’s grace by viewing it only as a fire escape. Hold that gift to be precious.
If you have yet to place your trust in Christ for salvation – if you don’t know yet if you have received the gift of God’s grace, Let me encourage you to realize the Kindness and Grace that God wants to lavish on you. Realize that the Love of Christ and the Kindness of a Holy God who created everything calls you. Realize that in His kindness the One who stepped from Heaven and flung the stars into space is waiting to lead you. Realize that the One who knew you before you were born and knit you together in your mother's womb is, in kindness reaching for your hand. Realize that His love calls out to you from an empty cross where he gave his life and his heart broke to replace yours which was corrupted, corroded, and corpulent with sin.
"How great is the love that the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God" 1 John 3:1
I cannot command you to come to Christ to receive His kindness and grace. , I can only point the way. I cannot drag you there, only encourage you. God’s kindness and grace is an incredible gift. I urge you to turn from your sins and accept it and after you have accepted it, to live the new life that Christ wants to give you.
C. 2011 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.