The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
Romans 1:18-32 is often used as a bludgeon against people who are struggling with a variety of sins. This isn’t really a fair use of the passage. After all, it follows immediately on the heels of a statement that God’s Gospel is his power to save. What’s the point of this passage, then?
I’m going to be brief. After all, this is “just a note.” There are plenty of fuller discussions. Here’s what the apostle is saying. He takes as a given that God has a very particular will, and that God’s will includes what is good. The good is in harmony with the way God created and sustained the world. At heart and center, we can say that all which is genuinely good is pleasing to God and beneficial to all of creation.
The good has many societal and interpersonal dynamics. It is rooted in a trust in the God of the Bible as the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all. Paul’s argument here is that when people reject God they replace him. The replacement god is normally something we find within, whether our pleasure, our ideas of what is right without reference to God, or some other such thing. Whatever becomes the ultimate arbiter is the replacement god.
In God’s displeasure with our replacement gods, we are turned over to follow the falsehood we have chosen. This, Paul says, leads ultimately to our destruction. He uses the example of people who have exalted their sexual pleasure in a rather utilitarian manner. This was a situation which was not at all unfamiliar to Roman society. It was normally looked down upon. Paul’s example, then, is that of a negative situation which everyone knew about. He explains it in theological terms, rather than in societal terms.
What do we use as a replacement god? The Bible says that it will not turn out well. Rather, we are directed to turn our hearts and minds to the true Gospel and know that the God who is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all is also the one who has loved us and purchased our redemption. It is by trusting him, not anything else, that we find safety in this life and the next.
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