Jan 15 2023 Romans 1-2 The Downward Spiral of Humanity
15th January 2023
Thank You, Lord, for the opportunity to worship You and give You our hearts. You love us and we are going to live together with You in Your New Creation – we will reign with You. We look forward to that day. We know this world and we are broken – and You are the great healer – the one who restores all things – You give us health and wholeness. Help us to focus our attention on what You have done and to live out of that.
Today, I have the privilege, or not so, of discussing a passage in our world that is controversial and difficult to discuss. I will do the best I can. This topic requires further discussion.
As we are reading through Romans – we ask – what is Paul doing? What is His purpose in this section? The first thing – Paul is giving us a theological description of the fall and downward spiral of humanity.
In this – what we have – He is giving us his interpretation of Genesis 1-11. He moves through Genesis 1,2,3 in so many verses. This theme is laid out in Genesis 1-11 – the downward spiral of humanity – but it comes up throughout the Bible and continues through History.
Cindy and I are watching this series that relates to WWII Germany – and boy, do you see the downward spiral.
Second – to address and correct mostly Jewish Christians’ stereotypes of Gentiles – correcting attitudes of superiority held by certain people in the church.
In the Church in Rome – there was a group who maintained, that for a Gentile to become a real Christian, he needs to follow the Jewish Law – to be circumcised, follow the purity and food laws, and follow the Sabbath days – they would look at the Gentiles and say – “Not real Christians” because they were not doing these things.
Remember Romans was written to Christians, not to the world. We must view it from this understanding.
If we read this through that lens of those two purposes, I believe the meaning will become clear – and I believe Christians could find agreement if they believed those first two things.
Understanding what Paul is saying in his context is not that hard – but in our interpretation today, there is much disagreement – and I believe that requires discussion – not just a sermon. I don’t think we can do it all on a Sunday morning.
I am going to give you a brain dump – sorry – but to get through it…
One thing I forgot to mention last week.
Starting in Romans 1:18 – Paul does this interesting grammatical thing – he uses THEY language – THOSE PEOPLE – and it is critical to understand what he is doing.
They… exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
They exchanged the glory of God for creatures (we talked about this last week) and they exchanged the truth of God with a lie. The downward spiral of humanity began with that exchange – and the result is idolatry – worshiping things other than God.
They/them – occurs at least 20 times!
We’ll see in a little bit why it is so important.
What He does now – He lists at least 20 sins that ‘they’ those people’ do.
Idolatry is the source of all sin.
It is the first domino. When you push that domino down – every other domino falls.
Romans 1: 24 Therefore God gave them over (he repeats this three times in succession – it means to remove all constraints – let them have what they want) (here is what it looks like to live a life without God – he permitted and allowed, did not encourage or force them to…) in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason (why? idolatry) God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another,
He let them go through the result of a life without God. This must be read in light of the two purposes – the downward spiral and the prejudices against Gentile Christians.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
In the first one, it was general, then he gets specific regarding same gender sexual relationships or homosexuality. That is where we go, right? But stop! There is a lot more going on here.
First – he is showing them the downward spiral of humanity from Genesis 1-11.
Look at the verse – women/women – men/men – that is not what it should say. We have an English problem – instead of woman – it should say female. They are different words in Paul’s language. Men – it should say ‘male’ – but are all men male? Yes, but are all males men? No. (not adult).
Male/female He created them. In the Septuagint – Paul’s Bible/Jesus’ Bible – these are the same words.
The thing with that – there is only one other place in all of the New Testament – Male/female are used ever (well, two, but one doesn’t count). Galatians 3:28 – Neither Jew/Greek, male/female, Slave/master
What is the point? What Paul is doing? Taking us back to the original design for humanity – and purpose – and what is that? To have a relationship with Him – to be creatures in His image, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and reign over and steward over creation.
What Paul is saying – He is giving a description of the downward spiral of humanity – and because of that, humanity has lost its purpose for what it was created for. Life without God – we don’t understand how much life without Him has broken us, ruined us – and all of creation having been ruined – we see this throughout scripture.
This is not about individuals or a group of people, but about the whole of humanity – and he brings in one aspect of it.
What Paul is saying about same sex relationships – and this topic requires a lot more discussion in today’s world – in ancient Judaism, same sex relationships were forbidden. There is a lot in the Bible about sexual immorality. There is a little said about homosexuality – 2 or 3 in the Old (Leviticus 18) and 2 or 3 in the New Testament – and whenever it is spoken of, it is forbidden. This was Paul’s view – what he would have communicated in his understanding of scripture. But he is writing this to correct views against Gentile Christians.
Our world is very different from the one Paul is writing to – and that is why it requires much more discussion and understanding.
In the Roman world, when it talks about this issue – the majority of sexual relationships – same gender – was nonconsensual. There were sex slaves – a lot of it had to do with children/boys – and cultic prostitution – so it was part of their faith.
We have sex trafficking and molestation in our world – but for them, it was legal and part of their culture.
I am going to go on with the purpose of what Paul is doing in this section and other discussions can be held later.
Verse 29 – He goes right back to idolatry
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer (idolatry), God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,
And he went through ‘the big one’ – but he continues and talks about me and all of us:
29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful;
32 and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
I am confident of this one thing – that we can ALL look at this list and recognize that the shoe fits – and that I’m wearing that shoe! We are ALL wearing the shoe!
Now, for certain Christians – someone came with this letter – most likely Phoebe – but as it was read, some might have said, you go, Paul! On the next page is a jarring change in grammar, from THEM to…
Romans 2:1 Therefore (in light of everything I just said) you (the entire church) are without excuse (we go back – because they did not acknowledge God, they are without excuse…), every one of you who passes judgment, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself;
Romans has a lot of theology and a lot of practical stuff – and this might be one of the most practical lessons. Do you believe that when you judge another, you judge yourselves. I don’t think he just meant this part for them!
for you who judge practice the same things.
Sexual sin is sexual sin. All of it – Jesus said if you look after a woman to lust after her – you have committed heart adultery – all of it.
2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
The Jewish Christians in Rome had their acceptable and unacceptable sins – the unacceptable ones were the ones the Gentiles did!
They had attitudes of superiority – and he is saying – THAT is every bit as bad as the sins you think are the worst. That is exactly what he is saying.
Think about Jesus telling the story of the Pharisee and tax collector who go to the temple to pray – the Pharisees followed those laws and tax collectors were miserable sinners! But Jesus turns it on its head – and there is so much of that throughout the Bible.
I will say this – the Jewish people were unable to recognize their own idolatry – it was easy to look at the Gentiles and see the idolatry – they had statues! It was weird – but that is easy – but the Jews had a hard time seeing theirs. But look at the Old Testament and God comes after them for their idolatry.
Let me say this – WE have a hard time seeing OUR idolatries.
But we have our own statues and altars. We really do.
If you put the -ism after anything – it has the potential of being a statue or altar.
That is the domino that keeps falling.
Probably the biggest one for us to think about – Syncretism – when it comes to faith things – the mixing of our faith with the things of the world. Anytime we mix the world things- environmentalism, socialism, capitalism, patriotism – any time we mix those with faith, we are entering into idolatry. God demands what part of our allegiance? 70%?
30% is really good for a batter. 90% for a free throw shooter…
3 And do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment upon those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 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?
You see – we are all in the downward spiral. But God, in His kindness, sent Jesus to die for our sins and that is the only thing we can stand on. Nothing else. That is the only thing that lifts you above anyone – and when it lifts you above someone because you have Jesus, you know what Jesus does? He sticks you underneath.
But all of us – the ones to whom God has been merciful and kind – have no business judging others.