Mighty God, destroy the evil that is within me, and incline my heart anew towards You, so I may please You in all things.
Read Romans 1:18-32
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“Paul constructs his letter to illustrate that the righteous anger of God is entirely enclosed in his love and mercy. His wrath is his steady, unwavering, purposeful opposition to sin” (Fleming Rutledge).
There is a noticeable change of style as Paul begins his magisterial exposition of the gospel. In today’s reading we have a polemic, an attack against evil practices. We should notice at the outset that in this letter he is addressing the Jew first, then the Gentile (16), but his attack here seems addressed primarily to the Gentiles.
The first thing to note is that most of this is not original. Paul draws heavily on the apocryphal book, the Wisdom of Solomon, which was written shortly before the birth of Christ. There we read (chs. 12-15) how God can be known through his creation, leaving humankind with no excuse, and how readily people turn to worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, thus falling into idolatry. Idolatry is the root cause of all sorts of evil, with sexual immorality explicitly mentioned. All this is in the Wisdom of Solomon and would probably have been familiar to his Jewish audience, who would read it as an indictment of the Gentiles.
But, second, not all Gentiles lived with such abandon. In Rome, there were educated and thoughtful Gentiles who were serious about living a good life. Paul’s words would resonate with them, especially the Stoics, who aimed to live in harmony with the created world. Among them was Seneca, brother to the proconsul Gallio and an adviser at the imperial court. He had dealt wisely with Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:12-15). One would love to know whether Paul ever met Seneca. Speaking at the Areopagus, he had quoted a Stoic philosopher (Acts 17:28). I suspect that this was carefully written to appeal to the Gentiles as well.
Why do you think idolatry is at the root of all these other sins? Ask God to show you if you have unintentionally fallen into any idolatry.
Gracious Lord, persevere with me until my sins, which are many, lose their appeal to me before the power of Your holiness.
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