By Mike Willis
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).
In our first article in this series, we emphasized that the Bible reveals the wrath of God just as certainly as it reveals his love. We need to learn what is revealed about God’s wrath just as certainly as we learn about his love. In the second article, we emphasized that the wrath of God is revealed against ungodliness. Ungodliness (asebeia) is that impiety that refuses to have God in its knowledge, becomes vain in its opinion about itself, and, while professing itself to be wise, becomes a fool. In the third article, we showed that God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness by his giving men up to the development of unrighteous conduct. We studied the specific ex-ample of this in homosexuality, as shown by Paul.
In this lesson, we intend to demonstrate that the ungodliness of men who refuse to have God in their knowledge leads to a society full of every form of unrighteous conduct. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against this unrighteousness. Paul described the society in which this has developed by listing the vices common to it. Consider these with me:
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Rom. 1:28-32).
We will profit from a closer examination of each specific vice mentioned.
1. Unrighteousness (adikia). Adikia is the precise opposite of dikaiosune (justice). The Greeks defined justice as “giving to God and man their due” (Barclay 26). The man who is adikia is the man who deprives God and other men of their rights. It is general expression of wickedness that is broad enough to include many forms of injustice. It manifests itself when men steal from one another, abuse each other, or otherwise treat each other in unjust ways.
2. Fornication (porneia). This word does not appear in the better manuscripts, although it is in the KJV. The word refers to all forms of sexual immorality, including fornication, pedophilia, bestiality, adultery, etc. Sensuality has developed in our society to such a degree that being a “virgin” is judged to be bad for our teenagers. Fornication is used in movies to entertain us. Explicit bedroom scenes is the daily fare of soap operas. The message that fornication is an acceptable form of behavior has been passed down to our children to such a degree that a large number of our children are conceived outside of wedlock.
3. Wickedness (poneria). This is a general word for sin but it is used in a more specific sense in this passage to describe a malicious attitude. Barclay explained the meaning of this word as follows: “There is a kind of badness which, in the main, hurts only the person concerned. It is not essentially an outgoing badness. When it hurts others, as all badness must, the hurt is not deliberate. It may be thoughtlessly cruel, but it is not callously cruel. But the Greek defined poneria as the desire of doing harm. It is the active, deliberate will to corrupt and to inflict injury” (26-27). This is the word used to describe Satan as “the evil one.” Moses E. Lard described the word as the “deep-seated hatred accompanied by the wish and will to do others personal injury” (63). This is the spirit manifested when a man takes a brick and slams it against the head of another man for the sole purpose of inflicting pain on him because he has the wrong color of skin.
4. Covetousness (pleonexia). This word basically de-scribes the desire to have more. Barclay described it as “the spirit which will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity” (Barclay 27). In a material sphere, it is the grasping at money and goods, regardless of honor and honesty; in an ethical sphere, it is an ambition which tramples on others to gain something which is not properly meant for it; in a moral sphere, it is the unbridled lust which takes its pleasures where it has no right to take them. It is a greedy desire that honors no law. This is the spirit reflected when an athlete wishes to win so much that he would inflict injury on his opponent to gain an advantage.
5. Maliciousness (kakos). Kakos is another very general word for badness. It describes a person who is destitute of every quality that makes a man good. He has a general bent in his character towards wickedness.
6. Full of envy (mestous phthonos). A person can see the good in another and emulate it. When this occurs good is accomplished. However, a person can see the good in another and begrudge him of it. It resents in another what is fine. When this happens, envy represents a warped and twisted human emotion. This emotion can poison a character until it bursts out in violence.
7. Murder (phonos). Murder can take many forms, ranging from abortion to euthanasia. It can occur in a drive-by random shooting, family violence, robberies, killings by hit men, gang retaliation, killings related to drug deals, etc. Rarely a night passes in any major city in our country when there is not a murder to report in the morning news.
8. Debate (eris). The English word “debate” is used in several senses, one of which is an orderly discussion of differences. Debates are conducted as a means of arriving at truth and are honorable. Our Congress uses them daily to consider all sides of a particular legislation. They have served the cause of truth well in religious discussions when honorable men calmly discuss whether or not a particular practice is authorized by the word of God. This is not the kind of “debate” that is condemned in this passage.
The word eris describes a “contention which is born of envy, ambition, the desire for prestige, and place, and office and prominence” (Barclay 28). Lard described it as “the disposition to be contentious and quarrelsome. It is the standing violation of the law of peace” (64). The action condemned here is the constant fussing and quarrelling that some discussions degenerate into.
9. Deceit (dolos). There are many forms of deceit ranging from lying and stealing to using underhanded methods to get one’s way. Many church controversies have been caused by clever manipulation to leave the wrong impression. For example, a man might be opposed to some truth that is taught from the pulpit because it condemns his practice. Rather than forthrightly disagreeing with the doctrine taught, he might start a campaign against the preacher saying, “I agree with what he says, but I don’t like the manner he says it.” He then paints the man as rude, boorish, and unnecessarily offensive in what he preaches until he persuades members of the congregation to align with him in calling for a change in the pulpit (i.e., to fire the preacher). This is one form of deceit.
10. Malignity (kakoetheias). Barclay translates this Greek word as “the spirit which puts the worst construction on everything” (29). He then comments, “If there are two possible constructions to be put upon the action of any man, human nature will choose the worse. It is terrifying to think how many reputations have been murdered in gossip over teacups, when people maliciously put a wrong interpretation upon a completely innocent action.”
11 and 12. Whisperers (psithuristas) and Backbiters (katalalos). Both of these words refer to the slandering of another’s character but the two words distinguish two different manners in which it is done. The whisperer spreads his malice in secret. He works underhandedly. As he visits from place to place, he destroys the reputation of his brother over the kitchen table, although he may never publicly say a word in opposition to him. Worse yet, he may even publicly talk about what a good man the brother is. A backbiter is more public in his slander. Both words describe the malicious spirit which destroys the good reputation of others.
13. Haters of God (theostugos). Thayer describes this vice as meaning “exceptionally impious and wicked.” I think of the conduct of Madelyn O’ Hair as a good example of what a person who hates God is like. She spews her poison everywhere she goes, trying to destroy men’s faith in God. There is nothing sacred that she would not belittle.
14. Despiteful (hubristes). Hubris is that pride that defies God. Thayer defined the word to describe “an insolent man, one who, uplifted with pride, either heaps insulting language upon others or does them some shameful act of wrong” (Thayer 633-634). Barclay says there are two elements to it: (a) he defies God; (b) he is cruel and insulting. It is the sadism that hurts others just to witness their pain. We speak of someone doing something just to “spite” him. He has no good coming to himself from his action except the pleasure he takes in seeing the other man wince in pain.
15. Proud (huperephanos): “showing one’s self above others. . . with an over-weening estimate of one’s means or merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt, haughty” (Thayer 641). This man feels con-tempt for his fellow and delights in making him feel small.
16. Boasters (alazonas): “an empty pretender, boaster.” He is the pretentious man, the snob. Barclay commented, “He is the kind of man who boasts of trade deals which exist only in his imagination, of connections with influential people which do not exist at all, of gifts to charities and public services which he never gave or rendered. He says about the house he lives in it is really too small for him, and that he must buy a bigger one. The braggart is out to impress others and the world is still full of such people” (31).
17. Inventors of evil things (epheuretas kakon). This wickedness has been described in the Proverbs (cf. Prov. 6:18 “a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations” and Prov. 24:8 “he that deviseth to do evil”). It describes that spirit that is plotting and planning some mischief (see Prov. 1:10-16 where some youths planned a robbery).
18. Disobedient to parents (goneusin apeitheis). This characterization of the wicked is only understood when one understands that parents have authority over their children. Children are to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1-3). There are many things that parents have to make judgment decisions on. Their years of experience better qualify them to make those decisions than the inexperienced children. In order for harmony and peace to exist in the home the authority of the parents must be recognized. When children refuse to honor their parents’ oversight in such matters as the time to be home from a date, style of one’s haircut, not wearing a ring in one’s ear, dress codes, etc. they manifest a sinful spirit before God as well.
19. Without understanding (asunetos). The Hebrew described a man as a fool (nabal) who refused to have God in his knowledge. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). Those who have refused to have God in their knowledge become vain in their reasoning and their senseless heart is darkened. Hence, they are without understanding. Even the simple moral decisions that our children can make are impossible for those without under-standing to know with certainty. Think of the moral ambivalence the worldly wise men have about such issues as homosexuality, abortion, etc.
20. Covenant breakers (asunthethous). Men enter covenants with each other in many spheres of life, but especially in business. There was a time when huge agreements could be sealed with a handshake and every person involved honored his word. Things are different today. Every party so distrusts the other that he feels the necessity of hiring an expensive lawyer to so write a contract that the other party cannot break his word without severe legal and monetary repercussions. Despite this, after the agreements are signed, frequently one party will hire an expensive lawyer to figure out how to break the covenant without suffering the consequences.
The covenants between two people are nowhere more disregarded than in marriage. A man and woman vow to each other to “forsake all others and cling to you, and you only, until death do us part.” They promise to do this “in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, and in circumstances favorable and unfavorable.” Yet, their words frequently mean nothing to them. If someone else catches his eye, he walks away from the covenant he made with the wife of his youth in hot pursuit of someone else.
21. Without natural affection (astorgos). Storge refers to family love. The natural affection that should exist between family members is not always present. Barclay commented about Roman society, “Never was the life of a child so precarious as at this time. Children were considered a misfortune. When a child was born, the child was taken and laid at the father’s feet. If the father lifted up the child that meant that he acknowledged it. If he turned away and left it the child was literally thrown out. There was never a night when there were not thirty or forty abandoned children left in the Roman forum. Every night in life children were literally thrown away” (32). Barclay’s comments are somewhat dated, for the life of a child is probably more threatened today than it was in Roman times. The most dangerous place for a child to be is, not playing in the middle of an interstate, but in the womb of his mother. American mothers kill 1.6 million of their offspring every year.
Abortion is one example of being without natural affection. But, this is not the only example of it. Our society shows it absence of natural affection in such things as euthanasia, desertion through divorce, refusal to pay child support, desertion in nursing homes, child abuse, and wife abuse.
22. Implacable (aspondos). This word is absent in the better manuscripts; hence, implacable does not appear in the later translations. The word literally means “without a libation, i.e. without a truce, as a libation accompanied truces; then, one who cannot be persuaded to enter a covenant” (Vine). The word describes that kind of character that cannot be placated, appeased, mollified, and calmed. There are some men who, once crossed, can never be appeased. They are unforgiving.
23. Unmerciful (aneleemonas). Lard describes this as “to be merciless or unforgiving to those who err. The pitiless man shows no leniency to those who are out of the way, but cruelly exacts the last farthing” (66). Godet cited as an example of the Gentiles being unmerciful, their flocking to the cities to witness the fights of the gladiators, crying for the blood of their victims and shouting at their death.
These sins, the products of reprobate minds, are the result of refusing to have God in one’s knowledge. God’s judgment against ungodliness is to withdraw his restraining hand in order that sin might become so fully developed that the cup of his wrath is filled to the brim. As a nation, our leaders have made a conscious choice to throw aside Christian ethical principles. We can, therefore, expect to witness the very sins enumerated in Romans 1 to grow in number. Perhaps the depravity which comes from the blackness of sin will remind people of the light of the gospel and a spirit of revival will occur. If not, God’s judgment will fall on this nation (Jer. 18:7-10).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 10, p. 2
May 19, 1994