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August 5 lesson: God’s Justice

July 23, 2018
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God’s Justice

Summer Quarter: Justice in the New Testament
Unit 3:  Paul Teaches About New Life in Christ

Sunday school lesson for the week of August 5, 2018
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell

Purpose: To commit to leading a nonjudgmental and repentant life.  

Scripture Lesson: Romans 2:1-12 (CEB)

Background Scripture: Romans 2:1-16

“Every single one of you who judge others is without any excuse. You condemn yourself when you judge another person because the one who is judging is doing the same things. We know that God’s judgment agrees with the truth, and his judgment is against those who do these kinds of things. If you judge those who do these kinds of things while you do the same things yourself, think about this: Do you believe that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the riches of God’s generosity, tolerance, and patience? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart and life? You are storing up wrath for yourself because of your stubbornness and your heart that refuses to change. God’s just judgment will be revealed on the day of wrath. God will repay everyone based on their works. On the one hand, he will give eternal life to those who look for glory, honor, and immortality based on their patient good work. But on the other hand, there will be wrath and anger for those who obey wickedness instead of the truth because they are acting out of selfishness and disobedience. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. God does not have favorites.”

Key Verses: “But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does what is good, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. God does not have favorites.” (Romans 2:10-11)

Hearing the Word

Paul’s Epistle to Rome

The Adult Bible Studies Summer 2018 Series’ author begins this week’s lesson by introducing us to a brief history of Christian theology. It begins with the vital role that the Romans played in the formation of theologians or their movements, and by providing information about the power of Romans’ influence on those such as Augustine and Martin Luther. Augustine’s writing of hearing a voice in a Milan garden saying, “take up and read,” is used here as an example of the Roman influence of Paul’s epistle to Rome, Chapter 13: “Dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires” (verse 14). Martin Luther is used as an example because of his writing in a commentary about the Romans’ influence. Luther’s writing had a significant impact on John Wesley as well. Furthermore, the Protestant doctrines of justification and sanctification were formed from Luther’s understanding of Paul’s theology.

According to some scholars, Paul is credited with writing between seven and 13 of the letters in the New Testament. Some theologian scholars believe that seven of the letters – Romans, Philemon, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and 2 Corinthians – are undisputed as his writings, and are classified as authentic Pauline letters. However, the letters that are in dispute are the epistles of Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. 

What is the Book of Romans about?

The author believes that Romans is the most popular of Paul’s letter across centuries. It is a lengthy letter – his longest, in fact – and considered to be the most complex. He addressed the specific issues that had arisen in the church. Even though he was not the church planter, nor did he visit the church in Rome in the beginning, he was straightforward in addressing the issues that needed to be corrected. The author also deems that “Romans is about as close as Paul comes to a systematic explanation of the gospel from his point of view,” and that Romans serves as Paul’s main “theological or doctrinal” understanding of the gospel. His letter to Rome included ethical faith practices that could be applied to those issues he was addressing with the congregation. Moreover, the writer characterizes Romans 12–15 as an “academics section ‘paranesis,’” which means that it gives “advice of a moral, ethical, or religious nature,” and that this practice is demonstrated in his other letters as well.

Additionally, one of Paul’s missions in writing the letter was to collect offerings from the Gentile churches and give to the poor in Jerusalem. The author uses Romans 15:26 to this point: “Macedonia and Achaia have been happy to make a contribution for the poor among God’s people in Jerusalem.” Similarly, he would also have planned to eventually visit the more wealthy church in Rome to collect an offering as well.  Despite his desire to collect offerings, the author expresses that Paul’s primary purpose in writing Romans was to communicate the gospel. 

The Text in Context

Paul begins with a greeting to those members of the Roman church (Romans 1:1-7).  After this salutation, he gives thanks for them. The writer says that Paul’s reason for using this style of salutation was two-fold: to establish a good rapport before addressing their issues (which would come with a sharp rebuke) and laying the foundation to ask for an offering.

Furthermore, the author conveys that the first chapter of Romans served as an introduction to people that he did not know. In Chapter 2, Paul addressed issues of those that are judgmental towards others but are guilty of the same sins. “God will repay everyone based on their works” (Romans 2:6). Paul’s message to these Gentile and Jewish believers was that they were in danger of God’s righteous judgment. 

Romans 2:1-3

Before expounding on the interpretation of these verses, the writer examines the previous chapter on Paul’s chastisement of the Gentiles, thus introducing the concept of “natural theology,” which is God revealed in nature or through reason. Paul’s point was that the Gentiles knew God and for support used this statement: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank Him” (Romans 1:20-21). Paul’s rebuke of the Gentile parallels his rebuke of the Jews. “Every single one of you is without excuse” (Chapter 2). It also proclaims that those who judge and are doing the same thing that they accused others of will be subject to God’s judgment, for God judges those who judge others.

Verses 4-6

The author’s interpretation of these verses of Paul’s writing suggests judgment by others as a reflection of the Wisdom Literature reading. “God is kind, patient, and long-suffering… toward Israel.” This perspective suggests that the sins of Israel were not as awful as the sins of others. However, Paul warned that God’s patience and mercy were granted to give them the opportunity to correct their hearts and their behavior. If those corrections did not occur, God’s leniency and mercy would eventually turn to wrath. To support this point, the writer uses Psalm 62:12 that reads, “God’s just judgment according to works as an expression of God’s power and mercy.”

Teacher, ask: In what ways has or does society provoke God’s wrath because of disobedience and sinful ways? What have been the consequences or what may be some inevitable consequences?

Verses 7-12

Here again, Paul rebukes those believers because of their callous actions and reminds those who do their good works to the honor and glory of God that they will be rewarded. Those that act wickedly in this life, however, will be punished. Additionally, persons who wait patiently for the rewards of their labor will be blessed, whereas those who are wicked and non-truth-tellers will be judged harshly as they will receive God’s wrath.  Paul makes it clear that these persons act because of their selfish interests, which serve only them. The author further conveys that Paul was intentional in not providing a list of dos and don’ts because he was conscious not to “endorse the merit-measuring schemes that, despite not being at the covenantal heart of Judaism, nevertheless played some role in discussions of final judgment.” Contrarily, Paul’s writing is direct and clear in its message: “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, for the Jew first and also the Greek” (verse 9). It is important to note that the word “Greek” in the Scripture is occasionally used synonymously with the word “Gentile.” The meaning is the same. 

Teacher, ask: Why do you think Paul felt it necessary to address the people in Rome with a direct rebuke along with dire consequences of their evil actions and the judgments of others? Do you believe that it was effective? Is it effective today? If so, in what ways?

In essence, Paul was expressing that God is the only judge of people and He is ever righteous.  The text conveys his explicit distinction between the righteousness of God’s judgment and of those that judge others. More so, the writer communicates that the Law was principal to the Jewish community, but it was not effective, or only marginally so, for both communities, as it did not provide a “closure” for the Jews and Gentiles’ faith.  Through history, these first-century people understood that the Law did not bring what they desired. 

Teacher, ask: Why is God the only one that can judge? How did Paul view the Law’s purpose?

The writer says the Law (nomos) was important according to Paul’s writing in four distinct ways: figuratively, as a “principle;” generically, as a “statute;” as a reference to the entire Old Testament; and as a reference specifically to the Mosaic law, the Torah. Regardless of the Law and its importance, it could not bring about faith and could not bring the people into the salvation of Christ; it only served as governance in people’s lives and the community. Paul writes, “The righteous person will live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

As we conclude this week’s lesson, it is vital that we remember from Paul’s writing to the church in Rome that judgment belongs to God, the righteous One. We must commit ourselves to live a life that demonstrates faith and acts of Christian principles and doctrines. Furthermore, we must strive to do our work patiently and to the glory of God, and to live a life of repentance so that we may be pleasing in God’s sight. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Closing prayer

Father, we know you alone have the authority to judge. We pray for your mercy and grace in the many ways that we err and are disobedient to your will. May our unrighteous self-interests be removed from our hearts and minds and our good works be magnified for your glory. Amen.

Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at earnestine@sgaumc.com.  

The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Summer 2018, Justice in the New Testament” is used for the content of this lesson.

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