Or, Ambition, (Affliction), and Accurate Accounts
November 14, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
When I was a new Kuyperian I was a naïve Kuyperian. By Kuyperian I mean someone who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord of all and that Jesus is interested in it all. This means that sermons and reading Scripture aren’t the only spiritual or significant things. God can be served and glorified by any lawful activity, by every good work done by faith. All vocations, and side projects and leisure time, has meaning before the Lord, not just so-called vocational ministry.
I was naïve to think that every Christian would be relieved, even excited, about this reality. What I thought would open skylights for sun and windows for fresh breeze became a weight of glory too burdensome. Some Christians prefer a more manageable guilt over not reading their Bibles as much as they could so long as they could consider the rest of the day their own. It was better for the rest of the day to be mundane than to think of it with eternal meaning, as something that the Lord cared about. “Can’t I just listen to country music on my commute without all this pressure?” You might be able to keep the radio on, but you can’t turn the reality off; God minds (see Proverbs 15:3).
Whether or not we want God’s attention, He sees, and unlike men, He sees the heart of man. Google may have a record of every place on the internet you’ve visited (and every place your mobile device has gone), but God has a record of that PLUS every word you’ve ever spoken (see Matthew 12:36-37).
I’ve been reading about digital data in a couple places, about how words such as exponential and logarithmic aren’t really sufficient to cover the explosive expansion of data day over day. I’ve been reading about the blockchain as a way to capture and even certify accuracy, for financial transactions and for events. It’s referred to as the “ledger of record,” with Who-What-When fixed (see here), and it’s expanded my imaginative boundaries. Mostly, these thoughts have increased my awe at God’s omniscience. Algorithms/AI/Big Tech will always be impersonal, finite, and always only be a program dependent on a programmer. AI will never offer glory to those who serve it. God is not the Great Server in the Sky, He is Lord in heaven and of the Cloud. He does not miss anything; “God will judge the righteous and the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 3:17).
The fact that men can’t help themselves from judging incriminates them, yes, but it connects to the greater reality that we all know judgment is inevitable. The fact that men keep doing what they condemn, that they keep disobeying the truth, is an investment in their coming judgment.
In verse 4 Paul referred to the riches of God’s kindness. God has a treasury of responses to draw from, an arsenal of patience and mercy and minutes. Here is another treasury, where man heaps up a pile with daily deposits.
But you are treasuring up wrath to yourself according to your stubbornness and hardness of heart on the day of wrath and revelation of righteous-judgment of God.
The key word is wrath, and the main idea is storing up to realize later. God’s wrath has actually been the key word since Romans 1:18, but in most of chapter 1 it referred to God’s abandoning wrath, an expression of judgment where God gives men over to their lusts (1:24-32). He also lets men loose in their litigiousness, as they compare and condemn one another (2:1-4). That they dispute with each other and make all their petty decrees demonstrates that they know judgment is deserved. Though they know better, they keep doing the things that deserve judgment.
It’s their stubbornness (σκληρότης, only found here in the NT, so we diagnose arteriosclerosis, “hardening of the arteries,” which derives from this word, so Paul describes a sort of “spiritual sclerosis”, the “hardening of the spiritual arteries” from Leon Morris), their un-teachability, that goes along with virtuous self-certainty. There is also unrepentant heart (also only found here in the NT), he is impenitent, which makes a man impervious to outside input. It is as helpful as a doctor’s badly-written prescription for a blind pharmacist; there’s no way get it right.
As he keeps disobeying truth (verse 8), he puts more wrath on lay-away. The verb refers to storing up (ESV, NASB), saving for later, and often applies to treasure (as the KJV connects). Our word thesaurus derives from it (θησαυρίζεις): a treasury of words.
What the judging, hypocriticizing men do is add to their pile of deserved wrath. We know it is a later, on the day of wrath and revelation of righteous-judgment of God. This is more than abandoning (get what you want) or consequential (reap what you sow) wrath, it is final judgment, the eschatological payback of wages earned (see also Revelation 22:12).
Verses 6-8 are dependent on verse 5, and modify God. There is the statement, and then two cases that cover all the bases.
God…who will repay each (sinning/judging man) according to his works
The Bible is full of this. Verse 6 is in fact likely a quotation from Psalm 62:12. Here’s the doctrine: 1) God is the one with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13), 2) Everyone will give an account to God (Romans 14:10, Hebrews 9:27), 3) the evidence will be what has been done.
There are lesser judges along the way, and we do often face collective consequences, and not everything wrong we’ve done (or thought) is visible. But here Paul refers to standing before the ultimate Bench.
There are two hands only, but necessarily one or the other. There is no third leg to stand on.
on the one hand, (He will give) eternal life to the ones seeking glory and honor and immortality according to the endurance of work of good
The most amazing part about verse 7 is that we truth-lovers have a knee-jerk need to “fix” this truth. The truth here is supposed to provoke more awe and more ambition than argument.
That said, it is sort of out of place. The bad news in Romans started in Romans 1:18 and goes through 3:20. This word of glory doesn’t exactly fit. The reason Paul brings it up is because God judges according to works, the bad and the good.
“But, but, but!” we say. Paul, as we read here, offers no buts or qualifications here himself. We know, from Paul himself actually, that no one can be saved by their works. True. But each person is rewarded according to his works.
Eternal life is the reward for the ones seeking glory and honor and immortality. Maybe we could feel like better Kantians (following Immanuel Kant who basically said you have a moral duty to do what is right, but any delight you get from doing it taints it. You should have a reason, but you must not do it to receive a reward) if we took verse 7 as a way of seeking to worship God. Does this mean that if we seek God’s glory and honor and immortality, then we can have eternal life? Except, what does it mean to seek God’s immortality? He is immortal (Romans 1:22).
As God’s revelation teaches, we are made for glory. We seek glory because we were made for it (see John 5:44). Verse 7 doesn’t dig up the roots, it is looking at the fruits. These seekers want glory (from God), honor (rather than the dishonor among the impure, Romans 1:24), and immortality (not the mortal idols of our lusts).
They seek these ends persisting in proper practice; “through the endurance of work of good.” What a fantastic phrase. The ESV has “by patience in well-doing,” and okay. The NAS has “by perseverance in doing good.” The KJV has “by patient continuance in well-doing.” The words, translated woodenly, are through endurance of work of good. Endurance is holding out amidst difficulty, bearing up under burden. The singular, non-articular work stresses his habit, a slight edge way of life (see also Galatians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:58).
What are good works? A widow could have a “reputation for good works” such as raising children and showing hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10). You don’t have to build a grand institution or get an audience with the President. Find something good to do and keep gooding.
This is not salvation by works, this is saved by grace through faith for good works which God prepared beforehand for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:8-10). Listen to Jesus! He says to treasure up (same word as in Romans 2:5) treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
Now the second case.
but on the other hand (He will give) wrath and fury to those disobeying the truth from selfish-ambition and [believing] unrighteousness.
Truth is not subjective, though the subjective are allergic to truth. Truth might not affirm them, truth might constrain their lusts, truth might lower their self-esteem. So they must walk away from truth.
Unrighteousness fills the void left by leaving truth; unrighteousness convinces them, it wins them over that they would obey or follow it. What such investment earns is God’s wrath and fury, His anger (boiling over) and anger (swelling to burst). His judgment is not arbitrary, but it is hot.
Most of the previous points are repeated with application for everyone, period. Two cases, four possibilities, and one God (see also James 4:12).
There will be affliction and distress for every soul of man-the one committing evil
Affliction is a pressing, distress is a constricting. The affliction for every stubborn self-seeker belongs to today and tomorrow and the telos. Distress hangs over him every day, during the last days, and through eternity; it comes here on earth and in the lake of fire. Doing evil, no matter who you are, will get its judgment. Because you can’t see rain doesn’t mean the clouds aren’t coming.
That’s not it.
There will be glory and honor and peace to the one working the good.
Peace is switched in for immortality. It is a gift to the good-workers.
Note the repeated, to the Jew first and also the Greek. This is enough to make the Jew mad twice. That the Jew was mentioned in getting affliction wouldn’t fly with those Jews who believed that by fact of being in a Jewish family mean that they were beyond God’s judgment. Of course, their whole history shows how often they received God’s judgment. That the Greek was mentioned as a glory-getter wouldn’t fly with those who believed that idolators weren’t worth being saved. Of course, again, the OT stores show again and again that Nineveh repented, Ruth was redeemed.
Verse 11 relates to the cause of God’s righteous judgment (from verse 5).
for there is no partiality with God.
Partiality seems to be a new word, a Christian word, “to receive the face,” as in, to judge according to some perceived privilege rather than practice. God can’t be bribed by a pretty face, by ethnic popularity. Good looks can’t make up for a lack of good works.
There will be accounting; men’s accounting incriminates them, God’s accounts are always accurate. There will be ambition; men seeking glory without God or from God. There will be affliction; one that comes now to those living from faith to faith, one that comes later to those living without faith.
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12 ESV)
Christian, may your conscience be awakened, and your character forged, and your good works done loaf by baked loaf, mile by driven mile, screw by tightened screw, paper by graded paper, word by written word, sacrifice by costly sacrifice, death by loving death, from one degree of glory to another.
Beloved, build a bunker, and then throw your little-faith (ὀλιγόπιστος) into it. Pick up the shield of faith, stand firm in the evil day, and go do something good.
[M]ay our God make you worthy of his calling and fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:11–12, ESV)