Romans 1:24-32 (ESV Strong’s)
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
The end of Chapter 1. What we need to remember is that the chapter divisions and verses within them are somewhat artificial as it allows us to navigate ourselves through the bible which otherwise would be nigh on impossible to find what we are looking for. So Chapter 2 continues the narrative through to the end of the book. After all Romans is an Epistle, that is just an old fashioned word for letter with an emphasis on religion instruction. So in a sense like a letter that you might write to a friend or a loved one it should be read through (everyone should read through the epistles from start to end on occasion just to get a feel for the intentions of the writer if noting else), but in this post we will be looking at the last few verses of this chapter and to say the least they are potentially the most challenging verses in the chapter.
Lets remind ourselves of some basic things here. Paul was writing to both Jewish converts and Gentile converts to The Way (The name given to Christians in the early days of the Church). Paul is developing his arguments in these opening verses. He has been making the argument that no one is without excuse for at least not recognising that there is a creative person behind why we are here at all. He is making an argument that mankind has chosen to replace the living creator with things of mankind’s own making, graven and carved images and even worshiping the creation as opposed to the creator, itself (sun and moon worship are well know forms of paganism).
Through this rejection of the creator we see Gods eventual reaction and God gives mankind exactly what he wants.
There is a phrase “be careful what you ask for” that in some sense sums up these last few verses of Romans 1 but I am getting ahead of myself.
From verse 24 Paul moves onto the unrighteousness of men. The verse discussed in the earlier post are largely about ungodliness. Immediately Paul delves into sexual sin that mankind fell into through his rejection of Creator God by the worship of the creation. And this sexual sin is referenced through the “dishonouring of their bodies”. The first thing that this teaches us is that there is an innate dignity in our bodies. This puts to bed any theology that makes the material world unimportant. If there was no innate value in our material bodies then there would be no worries about dishonouring them. But what we see here in Pauls line of reasoning is that there is a dishonouring and it was as a result of mankind turning his back on his Creator.
Idolatry, that is worshiping graven images, these kind of things, may, especially to our western minds, seem like trivial things, unimportant things, but Paul shows us that it was exactly these things that led mankind into states of depravity. What we have to remember is that idolatry in the modern world takes on many different forms, money, fame, success, sex, these can all become idols in our lives and so many other things. In simple eras anything that takes the place of God in our lives has become an idol.
But back to our text, Paul then expands on the result of this idolatry and in essence talks about lesbianism and homosexuality. Note the assumption here is that the natural relationship is a man and a woman. This assumption by Paul comes form his earlier assumption in the passage that the cosmos in its entirety was created with purpose and thus certain things go “naturally” together whilst other things do not.
Note, Pauls conclusion here is not one of explicit condemnation but one of acknowledging that God in His sovereignty “gave men up” to their passions. The image here is one of a parent repeatedly telling their child not to touch the hot fire, why? Because the parent knows better, the parent knows that if the child touches the hot fire they will get burned and hurt and it will cause injury and pain and suffering. And this is where such pictures or metaphors have their limitation. Imagine if that parent “gave up” that child to allow it to do what it wanted? The result would be pain, injury and suffering. All parents eventually have to give their children up to allow them to make their own decisions. It is maybe one of the hardest thing we have to do as parents, and whilst this is not the reason God gave up man to his own desires, (we do it as parents because our children do need move into adulthood, God did it to mankind because basically mankind kinda “nagged” him to by his constant disobedience and rejection).
The discussion that is needed however is how should we as Christians react to homosexuals especially in this modern society where the LBGTQ community is making huge headway’s into the concept of normalising same sex relationships.
I think back to Jesus reaction, and after all he is our role model, to the woman caught in adultery brought to him by the men for his judgement on her actions. I have written about his elsewhere and so won’t labour the point but even though Jesus, God incarnate was the only person present in that entire situation that could have pronounced just and righteous judgement on that woman he instead decided to exercise grace.
In the account it is recorded that Jesus was writing in the dust of the ground, and I have heard many commentators and preachers suggest that this was the practice in the times of jesus of a judge writing the judgement in the dust when cases were presented to them. I think this is a fantastic image of the Judge of mankind righteously writing the legal result of her actions in the dust, but instead of exercising that judgement Jesus rather showed grace to teach us all a powerful lesson.
In all areas of our evangelism we need to build relationships with people in order that they begin to trust what we have to say. We have to love them, and show them the Love of Jesus through our actions and attitudes towards them. I am not advocating that we endorse their lifestyle choices just as we would not endorse the lifestyle choices of a persistent thief or liar or that of a serial adulterer. But we do have to meet with people of all walks of life and, as we ‘do life’ with them, God will give the opportunity to share the gospel with them.
I am not trying to over simplify this but an attitude of condemnation, an attitude of ‘hell fire’ and damnation will, I fear, in todays society loose more souls than it will win. Let’s considered others better than ourselves, lets consider the needs of others before ours whilst at the same time not compromising on the truth of the Gospel which after all is the power of Salvation.
Paul then gives us an extensive list of sins. We had a little bit of fun with these in our study group and took time out to put them in a chart ranging from something like “not very serious” to Hell Bound”. What was interesting from this activity was that amongst the group, most of the sins found themselves at least once in one of the columns ranging from nor very serious to Hell Bound. And whilst there were no right answers or wrong answers they were in a sense all right and in a sense all wrong. To read through to the end of the chapter Paul concludes that these sins all deserved death. Further he concludes that the people who practised them knew that they deserved death, the unspoken conclusion being that even knowing this they continued in them.
So how do we reconcile this? After all being disobedient to ones parents surely is not as serious as murder?
We have to remember Paul here is giving us his reasoned arguments as to how mankind found itself in the sorry state of sinfulness. But, and this is not to say that there are not a myriad of other lessons that we can learn from this passage, Paul here is talking to us about the sate of mankind apart form the saving work of Jesus Christ. He moves onto Gods plan of salvation later, but here is a description of, if you like, the world before Jesus. And we will, in later discussions, go on to all about our reaction to these sins following our salvation, but for now we leave Paul describing the sorry state of affairs where, because of our disobedience as a species, we deserve death. We have been disobedient as a species and so God has given us up to those desires and wants and the result is basically a mess. But, and we who are believers know this, God had a plan and God always retained fro Himself a remnant of faithful people so we can pause here at the end of Chapter 1 knowing that there is yes, more to come, but also that there is hope. And who could not do with a little hope in their lives?