Romans 1:18-32 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.They know God’s decree, that those who practise such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practise them.
This passage of the text has often been used to condemn same sex relationships. On its face it seems cut and dried. "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error." Taking the text out of context makes the exhortation in this passage problematic in its typical application. Remember whenever we are reading biblical texts they are written in a certain time to a specific audience. So when we look at this passage through 21st century eyes we have to recognize that same sex relationships as we know them.
When Paul writes to a church in Rome he is writing to a community with a spiritual landscape that included temple prostitution. When we look at this text its important to notice the words 'exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.' What I believe we see in this text is a call mutuality and a condemnation of 'using' others for the sake of personal gratification, be it physical or spiritual.
This is not the first, nor will it be the last time that we encounter words from Paul that we might find vexing should we only read it on a superficial level. Remember we view and understand the holy scriptures as living and dynamic that reveal their gifts to each generation and those who have the patient and prayerful commitment to receive the wisdom they hold.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish --hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome. The Power of the Gospel For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith.’
Here we have a continuation of Paul's introduction to the letter to this 'church' (ecclesia in Greek). Paul is also explaining his purpose for writing the letter and issuing an invitation to the fledgling church in Rome to look at God's purpose and posture as one of radical inclusion and built upon the rock of grace and an emphasis on God's longing for relationship rather than God's command that we 'keep the rules' of the law as a means of entering into this relationship.
In claiming to be a 'debtor to both Greeks and barbarians' Paul is making it clear that God is at work in all people and being a member of the 'chosen people' is an inclusive rather than an exclusive reality. In other words it is God's intention, in fact it is the reality, that we are all chosen by God and that our membership in the family of God depends not on our behavior but is a given state of all persons due to the operation of grace (God's unmerited favor) available and promised to everyone.
One of the early wishes of Paul in the letter is that the church will be a place where "we are mutually encouraged by each other's faith." It is in this spirit that I pray we will read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this letter during the coming days as we travel through its pages.
THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THERomans Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today's reading is typical of Paul's introductions to the letters he wrote to communities that he helped found and form. The difference here is that the church in Rome is not a community that Paul had actually visited or helped to found.
Paul believed that the radical claim of "Jesus is Lord" was a direct and necessary challenge to the Roman claim that "Caesar is Lord". This is critical to Paul in claiming that Jesus was indeed equal and co-eternal with the God of the Jews. For Paul it logically follows that every power and principality is subject to the kingship of Jesus and that the coming of the Kingdom of God is the central and ultimate truth to which all of creation toward which the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus points.
Paul begins laying the groundwork for his project of full inclusion of all people in the mission of God or missio Dei represented by Jesus ongoing work in the world through the witness and struggles of the fulfillment of God's plan for the world proclaimed in the person of Jesus and his ongoing ministry in and to the world.