It is not entirely clear whom Paul is addressing in this section of his letter. In the previous section he has described the Gentiles of his day and in subsequent passages he definitely addresses Jews. Some scholars argue that in this passage he also speaks to Jews whereas others suggest he is describing a Gentile who lived a different type of life from those described in 1:18-32. There were such Gentiles, including some famous philosophers, who lamented the lifestyle that Paul had described and who criticised it in their own ways.
It is obvious, however, from Paul’s description of the individual in 2:1-11 that he does not live up to his own standards, whether he is a Jew or a Gentile. It is possible that Paul has literal judges in mind, those who passed sentence on people for wrong actions while being guilty of practising the same things. So whether they are government officials, opinionated Gentiles or legalistic Jews, they did not practice what they knew was right. What does God’s messenger have to say to such a person?
The first point that Paul makes is an obvious one (vv. 1-3). It is not acceptable merely to know what is right or even to say what is right and then not practice it. The appropriate word for such people is hypocrisy. And God despises hypocrites and he will ensure that they receive his punishment.
The second detail on which Paul focuses is the goodness of God. Paul mentions three features of God’s goodness – his kindness, his forbearance and his patience. The kindness of God here refers to the benefits he gives to people as their Creator. He provides them with life, with natural talents, with food and clothing.
The second feature of God’s goodness is his forbearance, which refers to his response to their wrongdoing. It does not mean that he does nothing in response because, as we have seen, he does act in judgement even now by giving people up to their desires. But he does not deal with people in this life with the degree of punishment that their sins deserve.
The third feature of his goodness is his patience or his longsuffering. How long does God show forbearance with some people? There are individuals who live in the manner described by Paul for eighty or ninety years and for as long as they are alive God does not deal with them the way their sins deserve.
So we should be thankful for the many ways in which God shows his goodness. We will think more about it tomorrow.