Romans 2:8 meaning

God’s judgment comes for both the good and the bad things we do on this earth. For the believer, this is not a judgment related to heaven and hell, but concerns our place in heaven based on how we lived and pursued righteousness on earth.

It is interesting here to contrast self-interest with selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is clearly not in our self-interest as it leads to indignation and wrath. 2:7 makes clear that the opposite of selfish ambition is patiently continuing to do good. In chapters 12-16 Paul will make clear that the reason doing good requires patience is because doing good means we should serve others with the gifts and opportunities God allows. Serving others is tedious and often we get little thanks or even are reviled for doing so in this life. If we continue to do good, we gain enormous benefits – in God’s timing.

Often, people who live in poverty lack the ability to make investments of time or money that have a time delay in the return. For instance, people may pay a huge interest rate, and therefore give up much of their salary for a “payday loan” rather than defer spending until their actual payday. Wealthy people become wealthy because they have the ability to invest and wait for a return.

The notion in 2:7-11 is that the ultimate investment we make in life is how we invest our time and energy and that investment matures at our judgment day. Just as patient continuance in doing good will result in glory, honor, and a lasting remembrance from the Creator of all things, selfish ambition also produces a reward, but not a happy one.

Here, “selfish ambition” is translated from the Greek word eritheia and according to one resource is found in extra-biblical sources primarily in the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who used the word to describe a politician seeking office through unscrupulous means—making “selfish ambition” an excellent translation. In Philippians 2:3, eritheia is also translated “selfish ambition” and is contrasted with “lowliness of mind” and esteeming others above ourselves. Wealth beyond our wildest dreams is promised if we are willing to make an investment in other people, esteeming their needs above our own.

In the New Heaven and Earth, God comes to earth, all tears are wiped away and there is no more sorrow or pain (Rev 21:1-4). Prior to this, several things must be sorted out, among them the final vanquishing of death and Hades, both of which are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Another is the judgment of all men (verses 5-6). Even though believers and unbelievers have different destinies, every person has his deeds evaluated, and selfish ambition will be judged very harshly. So rather than getting the immense benefits from investing wisely in other people, if we instead simply invest in ourselves, there will be a time where things will not be so pleasant prior to all sorrow vanishing.

The Greek word, translated “wrath” here, is orge, the same one in Romans 13:4, where human government is said to execute the wrath of God upon someone who breaks the law. This wrath is a discipline to bring a citizen or resident back into line.

The Greek word translated “indignation” is thymos, which also appears in Acts 19 to describe the reaction of the silver artisans in Ephesus who derived their livelihood from fashioning images of the goddess Diana, when a silversmith named Demetrius gave a speech declaring that if people follow the Apostle Paul’s teaching they will no longer revere Diana and will cease purchasing their wares. They were incensed—”How dare this man!” They were agitated at Paul for abusing something they gave great value to. It seems clear that God gives great value to His creation and to the people He creates, so perhaps here it indicates the severe displeasure God will have for anyone who receives the wonderful gifts He gives them only to have them squandered on selfish ambition.

This passage does not elaborate on what form the chastisement of God might take. Similarly, the passage does not specifically describe what is meant by “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”But it seems abundantly clear that the displeasure of God at self-seeking behavior makes choosing such a course of action a very bad path to choose, with very severe adverse consequences.

Biblical Text

8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

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