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(Romans 2:4) Choosing Oranges Over Diamonds

(Romans 2:4) Choosing Oranges Over Diamonds

by Stephen Davey Ref: Romans 2:4

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling us to Himself. He doesn't force us to surrender, but He gives us the choice. What will your response be? It has immediate and eternal significance!


“Choosing Oranges Over Diamonds”

Romans 2:4

William Sangster was a well known pastor from England who lived during the disaster of the Titanic.  In one of his sermons, he repeated an interesting story from that tragic accident that illustrates the issue of priorities.

A frightened woman on the Titanic had already found her place in the lifeboat that was about to be dropped into the raging North Atlantic.  She suddenly thought of something she needed in light of death that was breathing down her neck.  She asked to be able to go to her state room.  She was granted just a moment or so, or they would have to lower away without her.  She got out and ran across the deck that was already at a dangerous angle.  She ran through the gambling room that had money piled ankle deep on the floor.  She ignored it all, not even reaching down to grab a few bills.  She came to her stateroom, ran inside to a shelf above her bed.  There her jewelry box sat and in it was her diamond jewelry.  She shoved it aside and it crashed to floor.  Behind that box, sitting on the shelf were three small oranges – she grabbed them and ran back to the life boat and climbed on board.  Sangster wrote, “Death had boarded the Titanic.  One blast of its awful breath had transformed all values.  Instantaneously, priceless things had become worthless.  Worthless things had become priceless.  In that moment of life or death – she preferred oranges to diamonds.

           Quoted in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Charles R. Swindoll;  Word Publishing, Nashville, 1998; p. 469

In the Book of Romans, Paul describes for us the foolishness of man throughout history as he distorts the priorities of life and inverts the value of everything.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 2 and verse 4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” 

Remember, chapter one has explained the guilt and sinfulness of immoral people.  Chapter 2 is in the process of describing the guilt and sinfulness of  moral, upstanding people.  Chapter 3 will chronicle the guilt and sinfulness of religious people.  So that all the world is proven guilty before a holy God.

And what is the root of the problem with the moral people in Romans chapter 2?  In a few words, they are on a sinking boat, but they would rather collect diamonds than oranges.

For the sake of applying the metaphor, let me define it this way.  An orange represents those things that are permanently valuable according to God’s point of view.

A diamond is something that is preferred by mankind, but is only of temporary value.

And what does moral man prefer – oranges or diamonds? 

Paul answers that question by asking a rhetorical question in verse 4, look again,  “Do you think lightly of riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience.” Paul expects them to answer, “Yes, we do that.”

The phrase, “to think lightly” translates the Greek word kataphroneo, (katafronew) which literally means, “to look down on – to underestimate the true value of.  A.T. Robertson, the Greek scholar from a generation ago commented on this phrase in this context, the moral man actually looks down on God.

Have you ever talked to an unbeliever who prided themselves on their own morals and reputation?  Have you noticed the way they will speak of God as revealed in scripture.  “Surely God would not be foolish enough to judge the world. . .I can’t imagine God doing the things you say the Bible says He does . . .if God were really God He certainly wouldn’t say those things or condemn those things or teach those things. . .” 

You see, in his arrogance the moral man is actually better than and wiser than God.  He is, in the words of Paul, looking down on God.

Now Paul here in verse 4 specifically mentions three things that the moral man underestimates.

True riches from the heart of God toward mankind in general.  Yet these things of infinite value are disregarded in man’s pursuit of diamonds which have only temporary value.

1)  The first valuable from the treasure house of God’s heart is the gift of kindness – or the goodness of God.

Paul writes, “Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness (crhstothtoV). . .”

The word is often translated “goodness”.

  • The first acts of God’s goodness appeared at creation in Genesis chapter 1 verse 3.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light,  4.  And God saw that the light was good.” 

“And God saw that it was good.”  Verse 10.  Again in verse 12 “And God

saw that it was good.”

The first appearance of something good related to mankind are observed at creation.

  • But the full effect of God’s goodness is seen by all creation.

Every person who has ever lived has personally experienced the goodness of God in many ways.  We call this the common grace or the common goodness of God.

The Psalmist wrote, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”

Everyone benefits from the goodness of God, whether they realize it or not.  In Matthew chapter 5 we read that God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  That’s common goodness.

One author wrote, “He gives both the righteous and the unrighetous food to eat, fire to keep warm, water to quench thirst.  He gives us [all] blue sky, a warm sun, green grass, and beautiful mountains.”

If you were God it would be different wouldn’t it?!  If your neighbor made fun of you for going to church, you’d make sure that the rainstorm that came that afternoon dropped water on every lawn except his.  In fact, you’d probably see to it that he can’t grow any grass at all.

But God doesn’t do that.  You neighbor’s lawn might look better than yours.

In fact, his children might be healthier than yours.  He might even get promoted instead of you.  It’s your refrigerator that breaks down, and your lawnmower that doesn’t work.   

One of the amazing things about God’s goodness is that it extends to unbelievers! 

He allows them relationships that bring love and happiness – He gives them the ability to thrill with excitement over the birth of their child or the accomplishment of some life-long project.  He gives them a sense of personal worth and an intuitive knowledge of right and wrong. 

Unbelievers can paint and sing and create and innovate and invent.  They write symphonies and build skyscrapers and invent medical cures and computer programs and cable networks . . . I’m not giving out any names.

The unbeliever can, to a point much greater than we’d probably allow, we’re we God, to enjoy life.  This is the common grace of a good God.

David lamented in Psalm 107:8  “Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness.”

But they don’t – do they?  They ignore His goodness – they take it for granted. 

The moral man looks down his nose at the goodness of God – he is just like the immoral man in chapter 1 where we read, “And even though they knew about God, they did not honor him or give thanks.” (Romans 1:21)

Listen, my children are being taught to say “Thank you.”  If they don’t, I might lean in and say, “What’s that, I didn’t hear you?”

Dad’s do that, right?

If I were God I’d make people say “Thank you.” Thank you for the rain or you don’t get any more.  “Thank you for the sunshine” or you’re house will freeze like an ice cube.  “Thank you for that promotion or personal health . . .”   If we were God we’d be running around to everyone saying, “What’s that?  I didn’t hear you!”

“Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness.”

Maybe you have in fact experienced some of the suffering of Christ as He wept over Jerusalem who would not love Him.  You’ve know the pain of giving good gifts to your children or your parents over the years and they will not respond with love.  Maybe it’s your spouse or friend or coworker and you do everything you can and nothing is enough – and they look down on your attempts.  Perhaps even ridiculing you for who you are.

You are personally knowing through experience the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.  (Philippians 3:10)


When Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived, nearly a century ago, she wrote poems that were read by millions of people.  And yet, there is a side of her story that is not as well known.  She lived with her parents and siblings in England where she would write many of her romantic poems.  When Elizabeth met Robert Browning, they soon planned to marry, but secretly because Elizabeth feared her dominating, possessive father.  Even as an older women, she was barely able to get out of his sight.  And so, they were so afraid that they actually married and, for several weeks after their marriage, Elizabeth continued to live at home until, finally, the secret was discovered.  And her parents responded to Elizabeth by disowning her.  Now, as an outcast, she began to write letters to her parents.  And she wrote letters every week for a period of ten years.  Explaining why she did what she did – even apologizing for secretly marrying – asking for their forgiveness – expressing to them her undying love.  Finally, after ten years of writing letters, she received, in the mail, a box from her mother and father.  She was so excited.  Perhaps now there would be understanding and reconciliation.  She opened the box and, to her dismay, she discovered inside the box all of the letters that she had written them.  And not one of them had been opened.

Paul’s point in Romans 2:4 is this – the immoral unbeliever and the moral unbeliever are really just the same at heart – they both couldn’t care less about having a personal relationship with God.  Yet, God sends them the gift of falling snow; He writes them letters of love on the petals of flowers and sends His kindness to them at the dawn of every new day.

And yet, according to Paul, God is the scorned One.  He is the ignored lover of men’s souls; He is the lovely One who is stepped upon and stepped around and His gifts are trampled underfoot.

Who needs God?!

But Paul delivers the charge - “Do you think lightly of the riches of his kindness?”  Moral man answers, “Yes, the goodness of God is a small orange and we prefer diamonds in our pockets.

That’s not all.  Paul goes on to mention in verse 4 that that moral man thinks lightly of the . . . forbearance [of God].

2)  Another gift from the heart of God towards all mankind is the gift of forbearance.

That noun only appears twice in the New Testament and both times in the letter of Paul to the Romans. 

That Greek word, anochV,  comes from the root which means, “to hold back.”  So here it suggests a “delay in punishment.”  In fact, in classical Greek writing the word referred to a truce of arms.

In other words, God could judge man immediately for his sin, but He has called a temporary truce with sinful man – judgment is coming, but He graciously holds it in reserve until that final day.  In fact, notice verse 5 of Romans 2.  But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.  6.  Who will render to every man according to his deeds.

One of the gifts of God to unbelieving mankind is that God doesn’t strike him dead at the first word of blasphemy.  He doesn’t judge man immediately.  He could – in fact He has.

The Old Testament is filled with illustration after illustration of God’s immediate judgment upon sinful mankind.

But what about now?

According to the Apostle Paul there is a truce between God and man, and God, in general, allows evil man to go without judgment while alive. 

  • You have the ultimate expression of God’s forbearance toward evil man at the cross of Calvary. 

The act of hatred unleashed upon Savior could have called for the armies of God’s angelic hosts to come sweeping down and destroy everyone that dared lift a hand against His Son.

  • What’s more, secondly, you have the ongoing extension of God’s forbearance over these last 2,000 years of blasphemy and wickedness and unbelief.

Man has mistaken this truce with inability.  They think God can’t judge them.  And He won’t judge them. 

In 2 Peter, the Apostle specifically pointed this out as he wrote in chapter 3,  “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,  4.  And saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

In other words they are saying, “Yea, yea, yea, we keep hearing that God’s going to judge us – but nothing has happened for centuries – God isn’t going to do anything – in fact, there must not really be a God after all.

5.  [But] when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water,  6.  Through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  7.  But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

In other words, one day the truce will end.  Judgment is being withheld by the kindness and forbearance of God, but one day that will change.  The truce will end and judgment will come.

In the meantime, immoral man and moral unbelieving man benefit from one more rich gift from the heart of a kind and forbearing God.

Finally, Paul tells us in the last part of verse 4 of the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance – now notice, His patience.

The Greek word is the compound word, macrothumias (makrothrumiaV).  The first part of the word is macro, which we use today in our English language to speak of something that is big or great.   

God’s patience is great – it’s long – thus this word is often translated, “long-suffering.”

In Genesis chapter 6 that first judgment by water was about to come upon the whole earth.  The flood waters would drown every human being on planet earth except those who accepted the invitation to board the Ark.  And Noah preached and delivered his invitation – but they wouldn’t listen.  They mocked him and derided him and refused his prophecy of coming judgment.  Yet Noah invited them over and over again. 

How long would you invite someone to your home before you finally stopped?   2 days?  20 days?  120 days? 

God did not stop inviting them through Noah after 2 days or 20 days or 120 days, but after 120 years. 

There was a standing invitation 120 years from God who is rich in patience.

Bob Ingersoll went around in the early 1900 hundreds.  He was an atheist and he would challenge men to debate the existence of God.  He was a gifted speaker and in those days when people didn’t watch television, they would go and listen to a man like him hold rallies and give speeches against religion.  It was shocking in those days and he usually gathered quite a crowd. He would stand on a stage, before hundreds and even thousands of people and take out his pocket watch and say, “If there is a God, let Him strike me dead in 30 seconds.”  And he’d hold it up and he’d count down the seconds.   29, 28, 27, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,. . . people would gasp at such audacity.  But at the end of 30 seconds, he was still standing.  And he’d say, “See, I told you, there’s no God . . .there is no God . . . there is no God.” 

If I were God, at the last second of that countdown you’d hear a “POOF!” and Ingersoll would be a little pile of ashes.  And then a booming voice from above, “Yes there is.”

Today, Bob Ingersolls walk the streets of this world by the millions.  They teach in your classrooms – they live in your neighborhood – they work at your job.  “There is no God like the Bible says – we can live our lives the way we want – we can sin and blaspheme and curse and kill and adulterate and manipulate and pontificate!   There is no God!”

Besides, Mr. Moral man says, “What do I need God for – I’m in control of my life and I’m getting along just fine – God is not necessary.”

And he is left standing.

Why?  Because God has given them an incredible gift called patience.  The point is, God doesn’t lose his patience in 30 seconds – or for that matter, the length of a man’s life – or better yet, the last 2,000 years.

That judgment does not come from God is not proof of His powerlessness; it is proof of His patience . . . [the incredible riches of His patience].

William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1975, p. 42

Now what should the response of man’s heart be to the heart of God?

1)  Well, the wrong response is defiance

That’s like a person clinging to a heavy bag of diamonds – those temporary valuables – even while they are drowning.

We will not give up our diamonds!

2)  The second response is repentance.

I’ve come up with a new definition of repentance.   Repentance is changing your mind about oranges! 

You might not want to write that down – somebody might find it and then have the evidence they need to prove Colonial is a cult.

Repentance comes from a word that means, to change your mind. 

You change your mind about life – about sin – about priorities – ultimately you change your mind about God.

You no longer look down your nose at Him, you love Him and you follow Him.

Now you need to understand that there are 2 kinds of repentance:

Worldly sorrow and godly sorrow.

Worldly sorrow is simply remorse – it’s an emotional feeling that feels sorry about being caught or sorry for the mess their in, but it’s short lived – it doesn’t produce godliness.

The opposite of worldly sorrow is godly sorrow.  It isn’t just remorse – it is reorientation of the mind and heart and will. 

Remorse is being sorry you got caught in sin; repentance is being sorry you sinned.

Paul writes to the Corinthians and says, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  10.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

(2 Corinthians 7:9-11)

And how does God bring an unbeliever to repentance?  By the riches of His kindness.

Notice again verse 4.  Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

An old translation renders it, “The goodness of God is gently drawing you”

God draws you in, He doesn’t drive you in.  He does not use a club . . . He has chosen to use a cross.

Adapted from Roy L. Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids; 1988, p. 64.

 And the arms of the Savior stretch outward on that cross as if to say, “Whosoever will, may come.”

My friend, do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience?

Unbeliever – the kindness of God has been extended to you today – once again, you have heard the truth of God’s love through Jesus Christ.  Will you defy Him and look down at His gifts, or accept Him and repent.

Christian friend – it’s possible to be caught up in circumstances and decide that God isn’t so kind after all – He isn’t necessarily good all the time.

Our problem is that we tend to define God’s goodness in light of weeks and months and years rather than in the light of a lifetime and beyond.

I read a story recently about a Christian who had given up in despair, believing that God was not kind and good.  Yes, a Christian who had given up on the kindness of God.

His name was David Flood.  In 1921 he and his young wife, Svea,  left Sweden for the heart of Africa.   They were soon joined by another young missionary couple and together they decided on a remote village.  When they arrived however, the chief rejected them and would not let them enter his village for fear of displeasing the local gods.  The two couples had no choice but to go up a hillside and on a slope of land build their own mud huts. They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but none came.  Their only contact as a young boy who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week.   Svea Flood, decided that is this was the only African villager she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Christ.  Soon, he did indeed accept the free gift of salvation through faith in Christ’s death alone on the cross.  Beyond that, there were no other encouragements.

In the meantime, malaria began to hunt them down.  Soon the other couple decided they’d had enough and left for another location nearby.  David and Svea Flood were alone.  In the midst of these trying times, Svea found herself pregnant and when the time came the village chief softened just enough to allow a midwife to help her.  A little girl was born.  

But it was too much for Svea – she was exhausted and weak from malaria.  She lived only another 17 days and died.  Something inside David Flood snapped.  He dug a crude grave, buried his 27 year old wife, and took his children down the mountain to the mission station.  He handed missionaries his daughter and snarled, “I’m going back to Sweden.  I’ve lost my wife – I obviously can’t take of a baby – God is not good – He is not faithful – He has, in fact, ruined my life.”  With that he turned his back on his calling, and on God Himself.

Within 8 months those adoptive parents of Aina died of malaria and the baby girl was given to another missionary couple who brought her and raised her in the United States.  Aina, now known as Aggie, grew up in South Dakota.  She attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis and married a man who entered the ministry.

Years went by.  Aggie knew nothing of her past, apart from her parents names and her own birth in Africa and the death of her mother – she had never seen her father.  She enjoyed with her husband and family a fruitful ministry; Dewey had become the president of a Bible College in Seattle, Washington.

Then one day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in her mailbox.  She had no idea who had sent it, and of course she couldn’t read the words.  But as she turned the pages, all of a sudden a photo stopped her cold.  There in a jungle setting was a grave with a white cross- and on the cross were the words, Svea Flood.

She rushed to the office of a college faculty member who could translate the magazine article – he summarized, “It was about missionaries who had come long ago . . . the birth of a baby . . . the death of the young mother . . . the one little African boy who had been led to Christ  . . . how after the missionaries had left, the boy had grown up and persuaded the chief to let him build a school . . . he won all his students to Christ . . . the children led their parents to Christ . . . the chief himself became a Christian . . . today there were 600 believers in that one village.

All because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.

For their 25th wedding anniversary, the Bible College gave the Hursts a vacation in Sweden, where, among other things, Aggie could search for her father.  It wasn’t difficult to find his family – David Flood had remarried, had 4 children, but in bitterness had slowly wasted away and had only recently suffered a stroke. 

After an emotional reunion with her half brothers and sister, Aggie brought up the subject of seeing her father.  They replied, you can talk to him, even though he’s very ill, but you need to know that he’s had one rule in his family – “Never mention the name of God – because God is not good – He took everything away from me.”

Aggie was undeterred.  She went in to his room and approached him, he was now He was 73 years old.  He turned toward her and immediately began to cry, “Aina,” her called her, “Aina, I didn’t mean to give you away.”  “It’s all right, Papa,” she replied, “God took care of me.”

The old man instantly stiffened and  the tears stopped.  “God?  God forgot all of us . . . God forgot us.”  He turned away toward the wall.  “Papa, I want to tell you a true story.  You didn’t go to Africa in vain.  Mama didn’t die in vain.  The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ.  Today there are 600 African people serving the Lord because you followed the call of God in your life. . . Papa, God had a plan all along . . . He didn’t forget you.”

He turned back from facing the wall . . . the tears returned . . . he began to talk.  By the end of that afternoon, the kindness of God had brought him back, not to the repentance that brings salvation; but to the repentance that brings restoration and fellowship.

Aggie and her husband eventually had to return to America . . . a few weeks later, David Flood went home to heaven.

A few years later, Aggie and her husband were attending an evangelism conference in London.  A report was given from the nation of Zaire by the superintendent of the national church, representing 110,000 baptized believers.

He spoke eloquently about the spread of the gospel in his country.  Afterwards Aggie couldn’t help but go up and ask him if he’d ever heard of David and Svea Flood.  “Yes madam,” he replied, “As a little boy, I used to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week.  It was Svea Flood who led me to Christ.”  They embraced for a long time.  He then said, “You must come to Africa – your mother is the most famous person in our church history.”  And in time, Aggie did come – she was welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers.  Eventually she was taken to her mother’s grave – with that white cross and the words, “Svea Flood” written there. She knelt in the soil to pray and give thanks to a good and patient and kind God.  That national church leader read from scripture, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

                   Adapted from Fresh Power, Jim Cymbala, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids; 2001, p. 115

“Do you think lightly of the riches of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience?”  The world says, “Yes, we do not care for that.”

But the believer says, “Oh no – may I never think lightly or underestimate the riches of God’s grace!”  And he brushes every diamond off the shelf and reaches as it were for three oranges.  The world laughs at his values, but he grasps in his hand treasures that truly matter; as he takes his seat in the life boat and faces the churning dangerous storms of life.  He holds in his hands and in his heart those three precious things; the patience, the forbearance, and the kindness of our good and faithful God.

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