The End to Ignorance
Romans 1: 17 – 32
The End to Ignorance
Much glory! Big problem!
You may recall in November last year, American TV host and hunter Melissa Bachman posted a photo on the internet, of her posing, with an enormous lion, which she had just shot and killed.
There was an outcry on social media, with thousands and thousands of comments about how could she possibly kill such a glorious animal, a majestic beast, etc, etc.
If I, kill a mosquito, no one really objects do they?
The goldfish I have in my office. If, for some reason I thought I needed to euthanise one, in the white porcelain euthanasia device, that might raise some eyebrows, but no one would launch a hate campaign!
If I, killed a dog or a cat though, that would be different again, wouldn’t it? We’re not quite so willing for that kind of animal to treated in that way.
And by the time we get up to something like a lion, well, I lost count of the number of death threats against Melissa Bachman that I read. Killing a lion, it seems, is entirely unacceptable.
The reason, as far as I can tell, for the difference in our response to the killing of those animals, is that the greater the majesty and glory of the animal, the more seriously, we take the offence against it.
Mosquito. No glory. No problem.
Lion. Much glory! Big problem!
In this second half of Romans chapter 1, the Apostle Paul explains that the greatest problem faced by humanity, is a problem of glory,
Specifically of rejecting God’s glory,
That is, not giving God the honour that is due to him,
Putting other things in the place of God,
When we refuse to acknowledge God, we reject his glory.
God’s anger at sin is being revealed (v 18 – 20)
And if the consequences for offending a lion’s glory, are orders of magnitude greater than offending a mosquito’s glory,
Then the due consequences for offending the glory of the creator God who rules from heaven are infinitely greater again!
Paul writes, The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
Some people don’t like the idea of a God who gets angry, a God who would judge sin.
There was a man called Marcion who lived in the 2nd century, who just deleted these words out of his Bible!
But God’s anger is not like human anger;
Polluted by other emotions,
Unreasonable or unjustified.
God’s wrath is his settled opposition, to sin and rebellion, his entirely justified response to godlessness and wickedness.
It is his just judgment on those who do evil.
And despite what we think at times,
We like judgment,
We depend on it!
We demand it!
You students, the next time you hand up an assignment for marking, your counting on just judgment!
When you play sport, and the referee makes a call, or when you’re watching sport, and you’re yelling at the TV, you’re demanding just judgement.
If you’ve ever sat in court, before a judge, you’re depending on, praying for, just judgment.
And Paul says here, God’s just judgment, his settled anger at sin, is being revealed.
Strictly speaking godlessness reflects sin against God, and wickedness, sin against other humans. But Paul’s probably more interested in just capturing the full spectrum of sin and evil that evolves, when people refuse to give God the honour due to him.
God’s anger is revealed at all sin.
He doesn’t tolerate some sin, and overlook other sin.
That’s much more like us, isn’t it?
We’re much more keen to condemn some sin, and tolerate other sin, aren’t we?
But not God.
God’s anger is being revealed at all sin.
And it’s not obvious in our NIV Bibles, but verse 18 starts with the word , “for”, which links back to verse 17.
Look at it there if you have your Bible open, In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, for, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people.
It is because of human sinfulness and wickedness, the deliberate rejection of God’s glory and honour, that we need God to make known his own righteousness in the gospel.
“But,” you say, “Doesn’t God’s anger get poured out in the future? On judgment day? In chapter 2, Paul speaks about the future day of God’s wrath.
Which one is it?
Does God judge sin now, or later?
Well, perhaps we expect the later judgment, but Paul says here, there is a present experience of God’s judgement, too.
There was a German poet and philosopher in the 1700s whose name was Friedrich Schiller. He’s perhaps most famous for writing William Tell, you know, shooting the apple of his son’s head! But Schiller once observed, “the history of the world, is the judgment of the world.”
The patterns of human behaviour, as sin is indulged and rejoiced over, show us God’s anger.
The truth about God can be known, but is rejected (v 19 – 20)
And Paul says all of humanity deserves to face God’s anger, because the truth about who God is can be known, but we reject it.
Although God as made himself known, we treat other things as if they were God, as if they were capable of giving us, what only God can give us.
Verse 19, the wrath of God is being revealed, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it, plain to them
There is something that can be known about God, verse 20, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature
So , Bertrand Russell, atheist philosopher, was once asked, what he would say to God, about why he didn’t believe.
And Russell’s reply, was to say, “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence.”
“No,” Paul says,
God has made himself known.
There is no one who can say, “I didn’t know. Not enough evidence, God”
It’s why Israel’s king David wrote in the Psalm that we read,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge
Johannes Kepler, the 17th Century mathematician and astronomer.
He’s been called the first astrophysicist, one of the bright lights of the Scientific Revolution. He once wrote, “The undevout astronomer, is mad”
The created order reveals something of who God is.
Therefore, there is no excuse, for rejecting God.
Here is the reason that so many of the early scientists, like Kepler, were Christians, or theists at the very least.
The reason that the scientific method could be employed, that you could conduct an experiment, or repeat a set of observations, and expect to get the same results, was because of belief in a creator, what had established an order.
Early scientific exploration was considered to be a study of , “the maker’s methods”, the created order reflects something of who God is. That’s the message of Romans 1.
Even Professor Anthony Flew, one of the leading atheists of the 20th century, abandoned his atheism, and came to believe in the existence of a creator God, because of the evidence he saw in the natural world.
Notice, that Paul’s not saying that you can go out and find God in creation, as if what was important, is what we do.
No, God reveals , himself.
And it’s not hidden, like some great existential Easter egg hunt!
We hide Easter eggs for our kids, and they go round and find them. And each year we’re discovering Easter eggs for weeks afterwards, because they’re so hidden that the kids miss them!
No, God hasn’t hidden this knowledge of himself in creation for people to find.
The problem isn’t finding.
The problem is rejecting.
But you can’t find out everything about God from nature.
But let’s be clear. You can’t find everything there is to know about God, from the creation.
Paul speaks specifically of his eternal power and his divine nature,
If you like, God’s unparalleled power, and his god-ness.
In creation we are shown a God who is other,
Who is more powerful than us,
Who exists in a plane above us,
But we do not get the full picture of God in creation.
Sure, we’re shown God’s power and god-ness,
But creation doesn’t speak particularly of his love,
And so on.
A couple of years ago, we started a Theology Reading Group here, and a number of us were reading through the Institutes by John Calvin the Protestant Reformer.
And Calvin goes to great lengths to point out that we can’t come to a saving knowledge of God through creation.
And so the person who says, “Everything I need to know about God I can see in the sunset, or in the spider web glistening with dew drops” or something, that is simply not true!
The sunset does not speak of your rebellion against God.
The sunset doesn’t tell you the punishment that is due to you, for living in God’s world, but living as is he doesn’t exist.
The spider web doesn’t explain that even though you rejected God, still he sent his Son, to stand in your place, and take the punishment you deserved.
The dew drops cannot speak to you, of the enormous price God paid, so that you could be spared his righteous anger at your sin.
Creation doesn’t reveal everything we can know about God, but it reveals enough, to say to us, “you are deserving of God’s anger, if you start replacing God with other things.”
Idolatry flows from a deliberate rejection of God’s glory (v 21 – 23)
See, here’s the fundamental problem faced by humanity, the deliberate rejection of God’s glory.
Verse 21, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him,
Verse 23, they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images
Humanity has been shown enough about God, to know that God deserves glory, honour, recognition,
And yet instead, we’ve devised a multitude of other religious expressions, exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being, and birds, and animals, and reptiles, that is, we put idols, in God’s place.
Our idols today are a bit more sophisticated, aren’t they?
John Calvin, who I mentioned, he once said that the human heart is an idol factory.
This week the Messenger newspaper in the North East ran a story about an Adelaide bride, who had her wedding photos taken in a local shopping centre, because the 2 things she loved more than anything else, were here new husband, and shopping.
You can make anything an idol,
Even ministry, our church, or our family,
Any of these things can take the place of God, when we give them the honour, that is due to him.
In our culture, a huge one, is family. The one thing for which we’d give up , everything.
Even , church,
Even , obedience to God,
Even , meeting with God’s people,
And notice that the religious expressions, philosophies, any spiritual practice we come up with, Paul says, these aren’t the result of human attempts to find God,
They’re the result of human attempts to reject God!
So God gave people over to slavery to sin (v 24 – 27)
Because people choose to reject God as he had made himself known, God gives them over to slavery to sin, and here we see exactly how Gods’ anger is revealed in the present.
Verse 24, Therefore, God gave them over, in the sinful desires of their hearts, to sexual impurity, for the degrading of their bodies with one another.
And once again the charge against people, 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things, rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
It’s really a terrible picture, of God’s judgment being seen in the way he allows people to indulge in sin.
Sometimes when we’re trying to get out of the house to go somewhere, we are simultaneously, trying to get our kids to eat. But sometimes one of them might be being silly,
Or being disobedient, I’ve told you before, they take after their , father!
And so Kathy and I say to them, “If you don’t eat now, you will miss out. You’ll go hungry.”
And occasionally, that’s what happens. One of the kids, because of their disobedience, misses out, has to get in the car without eating,
Has to endure the consequences of their actions.
But this is more than that isn’t it?
Paul doesn’t just say that God lets people reap the natural consequences of their actions. Although that is true.
No, God is more deliberately involved. God punishes sin, in part, by handing people over into ever-increasing sin.
There’s an ancient Jewish writing, in which the author says, “One is punished by the very things by which he sins.”
When humans decide to turn away from God, to exchange his glory, for idols, God’s response, is to commit people, to the very consequences of their actions.
It’s probably worth noting that Paul doesn’t seem to be thinking particularly of individuals being given over to slavery to sin, because of that individual’s own personal rejection of God, but what we see in the broad sweep of humanity;
Slavery to sin, because of wholesale rejection of God’s glory.
Is there anyone who could say, that our society is not enslaved to sin? To this sexual impurity particularly?
It seems to describe our society perfectly, doesn’t it?
Permissiveness and tolerance of, almost every kind of sexual practice is celebrated in our society, isn’t it?
And yet, here we find that that permisssiveness, is not the greatest achievement of a mature society. It’s the judgment of God on a people who have rejected their creator.
God punishes sin,
The rejection of him,
The substitution of other gods for him, by consigning people to the sin they embrace.
God gave people over to the violation of the natural order (v 26 – 27)
And again, having restated his point that people have deliberately turned their backs on the glory of God, exchanging the truth about God for a lie, Paul gives a specific example of the kind of sexual impurity to which God hands people over, Shameful lusts, verse 26, in which women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.
One of the scholars I read recently calls Paul’s words here “surprisingly egalitarian.” It was pretty much unheard of, for a writer in the ancient world, to hold women accountable for their behaviour, to the same degree as he would hold men.
But that is God’s perspective.
God’s giving over of people to shameful lusts, is seen in both men and women, exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones.
And as Paul goes on to explain, the exchange of natural for unnatural, is the exchange of heterosexual practice for homosexual practice.
The Bible is clear. The context for a sexual relationship is between a man and a woman in marriage.
Somewhat surprisingly, Paul doesn’t use the typical words for men and women here, he uses the words “male” and “female”, that are used in the Old Testament, in Genesis 1, to describe God’s creating of humanity in his own image.
Paul wants to remind us of that picture, male and female together, reflecting the image of God.
God created man, and then said Genesis 2:18, it is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him, literally “like opposite” him.
When Paul speaks of natural, that is what he means.
He’s not saying that if someone feels that they are gay , naturally, then they’re obligated to act in accordance with that.
And if you think that naturally you’re heterosexual, then you need to act according to that.
That’s what some people try and argue that this passage means. So they say, for a homosexual person to engage in heterosexual sex, that would be for them, unnatural.
And similarly, according to that argument, for someone who thinks they are heterosexual , naturally, to engage in homosexual sex, that would be unnatural, and that is what Paul is forbidding, so the argument goes.
But those very deliberate echoes of Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Jesus’ own teaching on marriage, make it clear that natural means, according to God’s intention for humanity,
Not according to what, someone might understand is “my own nature.”
Or some people argue, that in the ancient world, there was no concept of people who identified in their very person as homosexual.
Today we probably all know people who identify as being born gay, or would say they identified that way from a young age.
But, the argument goes, in the ancient world, they didn’t know about people being born gay, the so-called gay gene, and so Paul wasn’t thinking about people who were convinced of their own homosexual orientation, what he’s more interested in, and what he wants to prohibit, is heterosexual people, engaging from time to time, in homosexual practice.
Do you understand that argument? It says gay sex is OK for gay people, but straight people shouldn’t have gay sex.
That’s the argument.
The problem is, the premise is entirely untrue!
We only need to turn to a document like Plato’s “Symposium”, a famous piece of writing from about 400 years before Paul, to see that the concept of someone who identified as a homosexual, if you like, in their very being, was absolutely known, and common place.
And when homosexual practice was discussed, it was exactly those people, whose practice was on view.
No, it is absolutely clear, that when Paul says, men and women have exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones he means that homosexual practice is contrary to Gods’ will,
It’s contrary to his design for the created order,
And is yet another indication that humanity has rejected the knowledge of God that he has made plain.
Those who lived like this received in themselves the due penalty for their error. That is, Paul’s just emphasising what he’s already said! God handed people over to the tyranny and consequences of their sinful habits. Being a sinner, is part of the punishment for sin!
What makes this hard to hear?
But, some of this, is hard for us to hear, isn’t it?
Or hard for some of us to hear.
We’re looking at this passage today, because our general pattern in our Sunday teaching is to work our way through books of the Bible, and so we deal with topics as they come up.
If the preacher just chose the parts of the Bible that he wanted to preach on, I imagine that we’d spend most of our time in those parts of the Bible, that talk about churches paying their pastors!
You know, that comes up a number of times. My personal favourite is where the Apostle Paul, quotes from the Old Testament, and likens the preacher to a dumb ox, and says he shouldn’t be muzzled!
Those kinds of metaphors always have a kind of humility-inducing effect, don’t they?!
Now, I’m being a little silly, but you get my point, don’t you?
Teaching the Bible like we do, means we don’t just get out the preacher’s hobby horse every week, but it also means that we deal the difficult parts of the Bible, as they come up. We don’t get to avoid bits that we find hard, or that teach what is countercultural or unpopular in our society.
This is one of those ideas.
To hear the Bible describe homosexual practice as shameful, or unnatural, can be, to some people, difficult to hear.
Difficult to hear, I think for 3 reasons. One is because our culture has no interest in hearing God speak about sexuality, or homosexuality in particular.
This section runs entirely counter to our culture’s creed, that I am entirely free to do with my body, whatever I like.
If ever there was an issue where orthodox Christianity was so at odds, with our culture, this issue of homosexual practice is it.
And so this can be hard for us as Christian people to hear, when we long for the gospel to be welcomed and accepted in our society.
And equally, it might be hard for some of us to hear, because your picture of God, isn’t a God who has something to say about sexual ethics generally, or homosexual practice , particularly.
I know lots of people who say, “I don’t believe in a God like that. I don’t want to!”
But if we say that, we’ve done this.
We’ve replaced God,
We’ve created an idol,
We’ve exchanged God’s glory for a lie,
We’ve said, “What’s important is my concept of God, the kind of God I like to imagine, rather than the God who made himself known,
The God who speaks in his Word,
The God who is Creator, verse 25, and therefore it stands to perfectly good reason, that the God who created sexuality, might have something to say about how it ought to be expressed!
I don’t expect people who don’t acknowledge the reality of God accept this, not at all!
But as those who believe in God, we acknowledge that every day in creation we’re confronted with the reminder that he knows more than us,
That he is God and we are not!
And so we need to ensure that we haven’t replaced God, with an image of God, less wise, less powerful, less loving,
But this passage can also be hard to hear, if we ourselves are struggling with the patterns of behaviour that are discussed here.
And of course that applies to the more general statements of sexual impurity here, as well as the discussion of homosexual behaviour specifically.
And so I want to bust 3 myths, that we might come across, about the Bible and homosexual practice,
Myth – homosexual practice is an especially sinful sin
There are people in our congregations who battle with same sex attraction. There are people in our congregations with a history, or a present, in homosexual behaviour.
Same sex attraction is an issue for people inside our church.
And so I want to say very clearly, the Bible does not present homosexual sin as some kind of separate category of sin. It is not an especially sinful sin.
Our society, and the media, have put homosexual practice in a category all of its own, and there are some Christians, unfortunately, who talk about homosexuality, as if it is a class of sin, all by itself. But clearly that’s not how the Bible presents it, it?
It’s bundled in here with, heterosexual sin,
And my favourite, with people who disobey their parents!
When I urge children to obey their parents, I have never been called “disobey-parents-o-phobic.”
And yet, to speak against homosexuality is another story altogether.
Paul does say in 1 Corinthians, that sexual sins are different, because there’s a sense of sinning against your own body.
But here we find homosexual practice, listed as one expression among many, of humanity’s rejection of God, and the permissiveness which God allows to run its course.
Myth – The Bible only condemns abusive homosexual practice
So let’s bust another myth, the argument advanced by some people, that Paul here only condemns, abusive homosexual practices.
So some people say that Paul is only opposed to the idea of men engaging in homosexual acts with boys. These were called pederastic relationships, quite common among the Greeks and Romans; Boys would be used for sex by more powerful men.
But there’s nothing at all to suggest that Paul is limiting his thinking that way. And even that unusual language I mentioned, males and males, clearly includes male persons of any age.
But the other argument that we might hear, is that Paul is only addressing those who engage as the active partner in homosexual sex, and that he has nothing to say to those who acted as the passive partner.
The pattern in ancient Greek sexual thinking, was that the passive role in a sexual encounter, was reserved for someone of inferior status;, a boy, a slave, someone who wasn’t a citizen.
And so, the argument goes, Paul is only addressing the person in the more powerful position in the relationship.
But again, Paul’s words don’t let us limit his thinking like that.
The fact that he includes women pretty much demolishes this entirely,
The active versus passive argument doesn’t work in female homosexual sex, And those pederastic relationships between men and boys, didn’t even occur among females.
But of course the language of desires,
Being inflamed, doesn’t allow for any distinction between the roles in sex, doesn’t differentiate based on age. Paul is unequivocal, that those who engage in homosexual sex of any kind, are acting contrary to God’s intention for sexual relationships, that he established at the creation of the world, and which was reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament; a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, A husband and wife in committed, permanent marriage.
Myth – Those who struggle with homosexual sin are unwelcome at TMB.
Now, as I said, there are people in our community, who struggle with same-sex attraction,
Or with homosexual temptation.
And so I want to be very clear, although we’ve considered it in some length this morning, It would be absolutely untrue to say that those who struggle with homosexual sin, are unwelcome here at Trinity.
For one thing, as with any kind of sin, the Bible teaches that there is a world of difference between temptation to sin, and engaging in sin.
To be homosexual in orientation, is not a sin.
To be attracted to people of the same gender, is not a sin,
To feel tempted to engage in homosexual practice, is not a sin,
Any more than to be tempted to be greedy, or boastful, or disobedient to your parents, is not a sin.
Are these practices completely out of step with God’s pattern for life, and therefore unacceptable for those who seek to live in a way that gives God the glory that is due to him.
Yes, they are.
The Bible is unequivocal.
And so those who struggle with same-sex attraction, or homosexual temptation, this passage calls upon those people not to reject God and his pattern for life, but to resist the temptation they face.
That sounds hard, doesn’t it?
It will be hard.
But it’s no different, for the hetero-sexual person, who struggles with sexual temptation; The married person who is tempted to engage in sexual activity outside their marriage,
The single person who is tempted to sleep with their boyfriend or girlfriend,
What this passage calls for is exactly the same
See when it comes to sin, even sexual sin, none of us are unstained. W
e don’t all struggle in the same areas,
We don’t all fall into sin the same way, and yet there is not one here this morning, who hasn’t fallen short in this area of sexual sin, let alone in one of those other expressions of the rejection of God; greed, envy, deceit, arrogance, and so on.
Also worth noting, is that when that language of God “giving people over” is used in the Old Testament, very often there’s the anticipation that because of the giving over, people might realise the seriousness of their sin, their rejection of God’s glory, and ultimately repent.
It’s definitely not always the case, but the idea is there.
Whoever is caught in this sin, or any sin, the good news of the gospel, is that God saves people from sin,
Forgiveness is available,
And we all stand together, as broken people, whom God has called to himself and made whole.
When I go to Foodland near the office to buy my lunch, I stand in the checkout queue, I see all the gossip magazines, some celebrity’s scandal splashed across the cover.
The people who study these things tell us that part of the reason these magazines fly off the shelves, is because as we delve into the depths of the sordid lives of others, we can feel better about ourselves.
And even right then, as I’m speaking about people who buy gossip magazines so they can compare themselves, and feel better about themselves, all of us who don’t buy gossip magazines, we’re comparing ourselves with the people who do buy them, and we’re feeling better about ourselves, aren’t we?!
The danger here, is to pick a sin,
One expression of the rampant permissiveness we see when God gives people what they really want,
And we focus on that sin, blind to our own failing in some other area.
The warning for all of us, to hold a firm grip, on God’s glory, to let nothing take its place,
Because to exchange God’s glory, for something else,
Has devastating consequences.
To substitute something other than God for God, is to become its slave, and be led to destruction.