In his epistle to the Romans, Paul sets forth the inspired argument that justification is by faith. In the third chapter he “conclude[s] that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (v. 28). In the meantime, however, he marvels that unregenerate men can so greatly misunderstand and misuse God’s grace. In so doing, he asks a trenchant question: “Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (2:4).
The richness of God’s kindness. What the AV translators call the “goodness” of God, we would call “kindness” and refers to God’s general kindness in bestowing favors on men. Such is its abundance from God that Paul feels compelled to refer to it as the “riches of his goodness.” Every day of life bestowed by God, every moment He preserves, and every benefit He provides are testimonials to the richness of His kindness. But the wealth of God’s kindness does not end there. As Paul explains, God is also rich in forbearance, or patience. That He does not immediately strike dead a sinner bespeaks His kind patience. But the wealth of God’s kindness does not end there. Even though sinners despise His patience day after day, God remains longsuffering toward them: He is slow to inflict the punishment they deserve. He waits and waits as they continue in sin while ignoring His kindness. We often think of the goodness of God as being manifested in the blessings that He bestows currently and promises as yet future for believers. Paul here explains that one aspect of God’s kindness involves the mercy He shows to rebellious sinners who take for granted His favors while rejecting His offer of salvation.
The purpose of God’s kindness. What those who live in such a fashion fail to realize is that the purpose of God’s kindness in preserving men’s lives day after day and providing daily blessings is not in order that they may live selfishly and in sin unto themselves. The purpose of the goodness of God is to lead individuals to repentance. A blind, selfish, rebellious heart uses the grace of God for “an occasion to the flesh” (Gal. 5:13), an opportunity to satisfy fleshly desires; whereas God offers His kindness that men, recognizing the grace of God, might have “space to repent” of their sins and be saved. To the blinded sinner, time is opportunity for aggrandizement of wealth, adulation, or some other form of self-pleasing. But God intends that the time and the goodness He bestows would lead men to repent and turn to Him for salvation.
The despising of God’s kindness. Without mincing words, Paul suggests that those who ignore God’s kindness, in reality, despise it. Modern English has a slang term that bears an apt correspondence to the term Paul uses: “dis.” In common parlance, to “dis” someone is to “disesteem” him. Such is the character of sinners who lap up God’s daily kindness and continue on their proud and sinful ways, unrepentant and unredeemed. Sadly, however, it is not only lost sinners who are guilty of disesteeming God’s kindness. Far too many believers live life as though God had bestowed His kindness on them for the purpose of enabling them to get ahead in this life or to do what pleases them. But the truth is that God’s kindness, which is intended for our benefit, is always bestowed with a higher purpose, namely, that we might be delivered from sin and live lives that glorify Him. The consequences for the sinner who despises God’s kindness are more dire, but the attitude manifested by a believer who has been the recipient of God’s saving grace yet insists upon living for himself are more shameful. God has poured out His riches on His own (“No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—Psa. 84:11). Should not the beneficiaries of such grace live for Him?
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