The Sins of the Gentiles
In Romans 1:18-27 Paul showed the moral decay of the Gentile nations. They had begun by knowing God but they suppressed the truth in order to do as they pleased. Their knowledge turned to willing ignorance as they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened about God. Once they had exchanged the truth of God for a lie, immorality and indulgence were logically the next step. They turned to the vile and unnatural which caused God to give them up (1:24,26); that is, God permitted them to reap the consequences of their own sins. They received the "due penalty of their own error" (1:27). The wrath of God had been revealed from heaven (1: 18), not in the judgment of the second coming, but God abandoned men to their lustful ways. But their was one more step, impenitence. You would think that when men begin to feel the consequences of their sins (sexual disease, addiction, broken homes, extreme poverty, loneliness, etc.), they would repent and humbly seek God for restoration. But just the opposite is true. They did not even want to retain God in their knowledge (1:28), so God gave them over to a depraved mind. That is, they were given a mind that could no longer form right judgments. As a result they went further into sin.
Paul lists twenty-one specific sins which resulted from their depraved minds. There are no sexual sins listed. These have already been dealt with in previous verses. Sexual sins usually occur before men fall as low as the sins in this text. Sexual sins are against a man's own body (1 Cor. 6:18), and when he does not even love his own body, he is open to the most depraved heart possible.
Let's study the sins of the last few verses of Romans one. What is frightening is that some of these sins are sometimes seen among the saints. If any of these sins are in our life, it is later than we think. We must immediately mourn, turn to God, and seek his forgiveness before our callousness becomes seared as with a hot iron and we can find no place for repentance.
Romans 1:28-32 (NIV)
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness1, evil2, greed3 and depravity4. They are full of envy5, murder6, strife7, deceit8 and malice9. They are gossips, slanderers10, God-haters11, insolent12, arrogant13 and boastful14; they invent ways of doing evil15, they disobey their parents16; they are senseless17, faithless18, heartless19, ruthless20. Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Note: The footnote numbers are keyed to the discussion below.)
1. Adikia: NASV & KJV - "unrighteousness." Vines says it is the retributive and permanent effect of a persistent course of unrighteous doing. It is the antonym for the Greek dikaiosune which means justice. The evil man is the one who robs both man and God of their rights, he is unjust. He worships himself while he disregards the rights of God and others.
2. Poneria: NASV & KJV - "Wickedness." It is the desire to do harm to others, to deliberately corrupt or inflict injury. The most common title for Satan among the Greeks was hoponeros, "the evil one" (Matt. 13:38; Eph. 6:16; 1 Jn. 2:13-14; 3:12; 5:18). While it is likely that we will occasionally wrong another person in our family or in the church, it is the most depraved heart who will purposely do so. Yet James talked about Christians who waged war with fights and quarrels (Jas. 4:1-3). This kind of deliberate attack on brethren has been witnessed countless times in our century and decade. It is sad enough that this sin is in the world, but even sadder that it is named among the saints. "You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the law, do you dishonor God?" (Rom. 2:23)
3. Pleonexia: KJV - "covetousness." It is the lust to get. The Greek is a compound word meaning "to have more." The "love of having" will lead a person to run over the basic rights of others. It will grasp money and goods without regard to honor and honesty. This sin allows ambition to trample on those in the way of a goal. It is unbridled lust that takes its pleasure where it has no right to take it. Again, James talked about those who "lust and do not have" and who "commit murder" (Jas. 2:2). Their selfish ambition leads them to destroy the souls of men who get in the way of their profit, power, or prestige.
4. Kakia: KJV - "maliciousness"; NASV - "malice." This word is the anonym of arete (excellence). It simply means badness in quality, a vicious character in general. It was defined by some Greek writers as "the turn of the soul to the worse." It describes a person whose life is getting "more" wicked instead of growing to be more like God.
5. Phthonos: KJV - "envy." There is a godly attitude which allows a man who sees his own weakness and inadequacy to eagerly copy some great example he admires in another (see I Cor. 12:31). But this sin looks at the good in another and is not moved to copy that fineness, but to resent it. It is a feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of another. Christians must not only learn to weep with those that weep, but learn to rejoice with those that rejoice (Rom. 12:15).
6. Phonos. Murder is a physical act, but God sees the intent and attitude of the heart. A man can be guilty of murder without any physical violence (Matt. 5:21-23).
7. Eris: KJV - "debate." Its meaning is contention that is born of envy, ambition, and the desire for prestige. If a heart is cleansed of jealousy, he has gone far in being cleansed of all that arouses contention and strife. It is a God-given gift to be able to take as much pleasure in the success of others as we do in our own. The KJV's rendering "debate" is unfortunate. Many false teachers have dishonestly hidden their error by saying the Bible says it is a sin to debate. Members of denominational churches are told it is a sin to "argue" with the Scriptures. Certainly, some who discuss Scriptures might have the motive of envy and ambition, but it is not wrong to reason and make arguments with Scripture. Christians are to "to contend earnestly for the faith" (Jude 3). Jesus participated in religious discussions with the answering and asking of questions (Matt. 22:15-46). Paul "reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence" (Acts 17:2-3). Even among brethren, Paul had "great dissension and debate" concerning the question of circumcision (Acts 15:2,7).
8. Dolos: KJV - "deceit." This word was primarily used for "a snare or bait." It means to be crafty, subtle, and full of guile. The deceptive person cannot walk in honesty; he stoops to devious and underhanded methods to get his own way. He never does anything without an ulterior motive. Our good works must be done with a pure heart, without sounding a trumpet so as to be seen of men. Our compliments that encourage must not turn into flattery to secure a higher standing. Our going from house to house and practicing hospitality should be to serve, not to exalt ourselves and build a following.
9. Kakoetheia: KJV - "malignity." The compound word literally meant ill-natured. This is the evil disposition that tends to put the worst construction on everything. It is a very common sin. If there are two constructions to put on another's actions we invariably tend to choose the worst. There is a tendency to make judgment and gossip about our evil conclusions. Love, Paul said, "believes all things," that is, it believes the best unless proven wrong. Have we been guilty of this lately? Remember that this sin is committed by those who have depraved minds who do not acknowledge God any longer (1:28). We as Christians who teach others, will we not teach ourselves (Rom. 2:21)?
10. Psithuristes and katalalos: KJV - "whisperers and backbiters." Both of these words describe people with slanderous tongues; the first does it secretly, the second does it openly. The latter does not mind trumpeting his accusations, the former does his damage in a corner. Both are bad, but the whisperer or gossip adds the sin of cowardness to his list. Paul was afraid he would find both of these sins in the church at Corinth when he returned (2 Cor. 12:20). Katalalos literally means to speak against and is sometimes translated speaking evil or slander. One way to get rid of slander and gossip is to long for the milk of the word like a new born babe (1 Pet. 2:1-2). James says that when we ,'speak against" (katalalos) a brother we have become a judge and not a doer of the law (Jas. 4:12).
11. Theostugeis: KJV - "haters of God." This man hates God because he knows he is defying him. He knows that God exists and is a barrier between him and his pleasures. He hates rules and would gladly do away with God and his claims of authority over our lives. To him a godless world would give him the license he wants so much. Some "Christians " have to be dragged to church, they resent encouragement to be more steadfast, they long for their boat rides and trips to the mountains on Sunday. It almost seems like they wished there was no God to interfere with their pleasure. Paul said there would be those who would be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." In fact they fill a pew about every other Sunday, or all winter and not in the summer, or Sunday morning but never Sunday night. "Haters of God" in the world? Yes. But what a shame it is that there are those who hate him right in our church buildings.
12. Hubristes: KJV - "despiteful." Hubris was the Greek vice which supremely courted destruction at the hands of their gods. It describes the spirit of the man who is so proud he defies the gods. It is the spirit of a man who is so confident in his wealth, strength, and power that he can live life alone. It also described a man who is wantonly and sadistically cruel and insulting. It describes a violent man who finds delight in hurting others. Paul referred to himself with the Greek word hubristes,- "I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor (NASV, 1 Tim. 1:13). The KJV has injurious. People are insolent or despiteful or a violent aggressor when in their haughtiness they look down upon others with contempt and so treat them and speak to them as to assassinate their character and wound their feelings.
13. Huperephanos: KJV - "proud." This word is from a compound word meaning to "make known above" and suggest a person trying to show himself above others. This is the same word used when the Bible says that God resists the proud (Jas. 4:6). One Greek writer defined it as "a certain contempt for everyone except oneself." The proud delights in making others small, putting them down in an attempt to build himself up. Those who are poor in spirit and who mourn for their sins should be free of this sin. It ought to be a "sin" that is known only in the world but not in the church. But Paul warned Christians "to not be haughty in mind" and "do not be wise in your own estimation" (Rom. 12:16). He told the Philippians, one of the best congregations in the New Testament, "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself" (Phil. 2:34). We realize as Christians that Christ is to be formed in us. But when we see pride raise its ugly head in our lives it is a reminder that we are still more like the Gentiles, who refused to know God, than we are like Christ. These thoughts should make it easier for all of us to be more like the publican than the Pharisee (Lk. 18:9-14).
14. Alazon: "boastful." This word actually referred to someone who "wandered around." It came to refer to quacks who "boasted" of their cures they were trying to sell or salesman who "boasted" things about their products which were not true. The word came to mean "the spirit which pretends to have what it does not." A man may pretend to be richer or braver than he really is in order to get gain. He may boast about business deals, connections with influential people, charity which he has given, etc., in order to impress others. Ananias and Sapphira boasted about a gift they did not give (Acts 5:1-5). Some preachers in Paul's day boasted about "their" work when actually others had done the watering and planting (2 Cor. 10: 12-15). This should be a warning to preachers who write reports or tell about how the work is going.
15. Epheuretes kakon: KJV - "inventors of evil things," NASV - "inventors of evil." This man is not content with ordinary ways of sinning, so he seeks out new vices. His old sins don't provide the thrills they used to, so he invents new ones. This vividly describes our drug dependent, sex crazy, pleasure driven nation. It also describes apostate churches who are constantly dreaming up new reasons for Christ to spew them out of his mouth.
16. Goneusin apeitheis: "disobedient to parents." One of ten commandments concerned the honor of parents. Those who disobeyed parents in the nation of Israel were to be stoned to death. Why such severe punishment? Once disrespect for parents and the breaking of the family bond occurs in a nation it opens the door for wholesale degeneracy. Upheaval in the American family has caused tremendous disorder. However, the dishonor of parents is not limited to the non-religious. The Pharisees were guilty during the days of Jesus (Matt. 15:1-9).
17. Asunetos: KJV & NASV - "without understanding." This man is senseless, a fool who will not learn through experience. It saddens me today to even see Christians that have difficult times and will not listen to the wisdom of elders and mature Christians. They continue in the "school of hard knocks" without learning a thing.
18. Asunthetos: KJV - "covenant breakers," NASV untrustworthy. " The positive form of the word means to make agreement. Breaking a promise or a covenant is a sin. Some maintain that non-Christians don't sin when they break a marriage vow, but Gentiles who did not have the law of Moses were guilty of breaking covenants. Christians need to pay their debts, do the work they promise, and keep appointments they make.
19. Astorgos: KJV - "without natural affection"; NASV - "unloving." Storge was the Greek word for family love. It is the love that ought to come naturally because they are kin in the flesh. The Roman Empire fell because the family unit fell apart. It will also be true of our own nation. With child abuse, abortion, divorce, and abandonment of aged parents on the rise our nation is doomed to failure. Jesus was able to say as a general rule in his life time that even the Gentiles love those who love them. This is a very basic love and, if we do not possess it, we are further away from God than we think, for Christians are even to love their enemies. It ought to be natural to love our mates, our children and parents, and our brethren.
20. Aneleemon: KJV & NASV - "unmerciful." While they know that they are guilty before God and worthy of death (1:32), they have no mercy on those who are guilty of the same things. Notice how strongly the parables of Jesus condemn the unmerciful (Matt. 18:21-35). We would do well to read this parable every time we are offended by a brother.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 5, pp. 144-146