Ready When Homosexuality Devastates

1 Corinthians

The Point:  Share the hope and new life all can have in Christ.

The Wrath of God Revealed:  Romans 1:18-27.

[18]  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19]  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20]  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21]  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. [22]  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, [23]  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. [24]  Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, [25]  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. [26]  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; [27]  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.  [ESV]

“In verses 18-23 Paul argues that God’s wrath is righteously revealed because people suppress the truth about the one true God and turn to idolatry. Then in verses 24-32 he specifies the consequences of idolatry in terms of the moral disintegration of human society. [18-23]  Their Rejection of God. Even though Paul never specifically uses the word ‘righteousness’ to refer to God here, the main thought is that God is righteous in inflicting His wrath on human beings. A complementary way of making the same point it to say that human beings are without excuse [20b] before God. That people are without excuse is the middle term of the argument. In both cases human beings are culpable before God because they know God [19,21]. Verses 19-20 play a unique role in the train of thought insofar as they explain how all people know God, that is, through observing the created order. Verses 21-23 explain in more detail what was only hinted at regarding the unrighteousness and ungodliness of people in verse 18, namely, people are unrighteous and ungodly in the sense that they forsake the worship of the one true God and turn toward idolatry. The coming of the gospel reveals that the moral deterioration of human society is a result of God’s judgment. For those who do not repent this wrath will culminate on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed [2:5]. God’s judgments in history, then, anticipate the culmination of His wrath on the day of judgment. The knowledge of God described in verses 19 and 21 is hardly a saving knowledge. Paul’s purpose is to show that the knowledge of God that all people have through observing the created order is suppressed [18] and distorted [21-23], so that all without exception have no excuse [20]. The nature of the knowledge of God should also be noted. People perceive His eternal power and divine nature through observing the created world. Such knowledge of God probably includes knowing Him as creator since the power and divinity of God are known through the world He has made. Nonetheless, the limitations of one’s knowledge of God through natural revelation should be acknowledged. Nothing is said here about God’s mercy and love. All people come to a knowledge of God though the created world because God has shown it to them [19]. This knowledge is mediated through observation of the created world. His attributes of power and divinity have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made [20]. To understand that Paul does not refer to a long process of reasoning by which people come to a knowledge of God’s existence and power is critical. God has stitched into the fabric of the human mind His existence and power, so that they are instinctively recognized when one views the created world. Further, Paul is not exploring human consciousness so that people upon reading this text should attempt to detect when they rejected this knowledge of God in their personal history. The rejection of God is concurrent with the knowledge of Him, with the result that it is impossible to excavate one’s past and find a point in which there was saving knowledge of the true God through natural revelation. Nonetheless, we can rightly conclude that all people possess knowledge of God, even though it has been repressed and is not saving. The root sin that dominates human beings and unleashes God’s wrath is specified in verses 21-23. These verses describe the same reality in various ways, but the fundamental sin is the failure to glorify God and give Him thanks. Those who cease glorifying God are darkened in their understanding, even though they believe that they are wise [22]. Paul restates in verses 21-22 the corruption of human reasoning in three different ways: they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened and they became fools. Verse 23 shows that their foolishness consists in their abandoning the true God for idolatry when they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images. We need to reflect further on the main thesis that Paul advances. Failing to glorify God is the root sin. Indeed, glorifying God is virtually equivalent with rendering Him proper worship since Paul describes [25] the same reality as surrendering the truth of God for worship of the creature. We saw in 1:17 that the righteousness of God is rooted in His desire for the glory and honor of His name. He saves His people because it will bring glory to His name. It is hardly surprising to see, then, that the essence of sin is a rejection of God’s glory and honor. Sin does not consist first and foremost in acts that transgress God’s law, although verses 24-32 indicate that sin is the transgression of the law. These particular acts are all rooted in a rejection of God as God, a failure to give Him honor and glory. This also helps shed light on verse 18. What truth have people suppressed so unrighteously? The truth that people have unrighteously suppressed and rejected is that the one true God should be honored and worshiped and esteemed as God. Human unrighteousness most fundamentally consists in a refusal to worship God and a desire to worship that which is in the created order. Unrighteousness involves the refusal to give God His proper sovereignty in one’s life. Since refusal to honor and glorify God is described in terms of unrighteousness, we have a clue here that both the saving and judging righteousness of God are rooted in a desire to see His name glorified. His wrath is inflicted upon the world because He is not prized, esteemed, and glorified. [24-27]  In verses 24-32 Paul details the consequences of failing to worship and honor God. Verse 25 functions as the middle term of the argument between verses 24 and 26, for verse 25 basically reiterates the content of verses 21-23. The therefore connecting verses 23 and 24 already shows that God handed people over to sexual sin because they refused to glorify God and turned to idols. The restatement of this same theme in verse 25 and the function of this verse as the ground of both verses 24 and 26-27 shows that it is the central and decisive connection between verses 18-23 and verses 24-32. Sexual sin is a consequence, or outworking, of the rejection of God and a failure to honor Him. The fundamental sin is a failure to worship Him. All other sin is a consequence of this one. The fundamental truth of the universe is that God exists and that He should be worshiped and served and His name should be praised [25]. The addition of the doxology in verse 25 is charged with meaning. Those who worship, serve, and glorify God bring praise to Him. The fundamental task of the creature is to bless the name of God. This same theme informs verses 28-32. God handed over to a debased mind those who did not see fit to acknowledge God. The handing over to all the various sins specified in verses 29-32 is rooted in a rejection of the glory of God. Because people did not honor God by glorifying Him, He gave their bodies over to be dishonored and they had dishonorable passions [26]. The disgrace that has invaded human sexual relations is a consequence of rejecting God. The same connection is forged with another word linkage. Those who exchanged His truth exchanged natural sexual relations for that which is unnatural. Once again sexual immorality is evidently a consequence of human idolatry. Finally, those who did not see fit to acknowledge God have been handed over to a debased mind [28].Three times [24,26,28] it is repeated that God gave them up to impurity … to dishonorable passions … to a debased mind. Sexual sin is the first consequence of being handed over that Paul mentions [24,26-27]. Romans 1:24 speaks of being handed over to impurity. Paul often uses impurity [2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:7] to refer to sexual sin. Paul is perhaps simply describing sexual sin in general terms in verse 24, although his more specific words in verses 26-27 suggest that homosexual relations may be in his mind in verse 24 as well. Why does Paul focus on homosexual relations, especially since it receives little attention elsewhere in his writings [1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10]? Probably because it functions as the best illustration of that which is unnatural in the sexual sphere. Idolatry is unnatural in the sense that it is contrary to God’s intention for human beings. To worship corruptible animals and human beings instead of the incorruptible God is to turn the created order upside down. In the sexual sphere the mirror image of this unnatural choice of idolatry is homosexuality. Human beings were intended to have sexual relations with those of the opposite sex. Just as idolatry is a violation and perversion of what God intended, so too homosexual relations are contrary to what God planned when He created man and woman. Although verse 26 is ambiguous regarding the precise sense in which women acted contrary to nature, verse 27 clarifies that what is unnatural is same-sex relations. That homosexual relations are contrary to nature, in the sense that they violate what God intended, is communicated in saying that women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature [26], and in saying that men gave up natural relations with women [27]. Verse 27 specifies in three ways what constitutes the unnatural activity for men: (1) in forsaking sexual relations with women; (2) in burning in desire for other men; and (3) in doing that which was shameful with other men. Verse 27 gives no indication that only specific kinds of homosexual activity are prohibited. Instead, homosexual relations in general are indicted. The last clause in verse 27 has engendered some controversy. What is the penalty that people receive in themselves? The context suggest that the penalty is not something in addition to homosexuality. The penalty is rather being handed over to the sin of homosexuality itself. The words for their error point in this direction. People had to be handed over to punishment precisely because they had scorned God’s glory. Once again, the main theme of the text is driven home. The foundational sin of refusing to thank and glorify God leads to other sins. The connection between rejecting God and human sin is forged again with the vice list appearing in verses 29-31. Vice lists are common in Paul [1 Cor. 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:31; 5:3-5; Col. 3:5,8; 1 Tim. 1:9-10; 6:4-5; 2 Tim. 3:2-4; Titus 3:3], and some of the vices are occasionally included because of problems in the church addressed. The list here, though, does not reflect ethical problems in the church in Rome. The list is a general and wide-ranging depiction of human sin. The depth and full weight of human sin is communicated with verse 32. Not only do they continue to practice evil that they know deserves God’s sentence of death, but they also give approval to those who practice them. The full extent of the rejection of God becomes evident in such an attitude. His judgment is known, yet people are encouraged to pursue evil anyway. Those who encourage others to pursue evil commit a greater evil in that they encourage the spread of evil and are complicit in the destruction of others. The hatred of God is so entrenched that people are willing to risk future judgment in order to carry out their evil desires. Once again the text hints that the fundamental sin that informs all others is a refusal to delight in or submit to God’s lordship. God’s wrath is rightly inflicted on those who not only practice evil but find their greatest delight in it.”  [Schreiner, pp. 81-100].

The Unrighteous will not Inherit the Kingdom of God:  1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

[9]  Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10]  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11]  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.  [ESV]

[9-11]  “The phrase will not inherit the kingdom of God brackets the catalog of sins inventoried in verses 9-10. The kingdom of God refers to the future and ultimate manifestation of God as king. Paul assumes that since God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, the unrighteous can have no part in it. God’s rule brings with it moral conditions that require a radical transformation of values and behavior for believers. Those who practice the sins listed cut themselves off from that rule and from any hope of a divine inheritance. The Corinthians seemed to imagine that their religious knowledge and Christian talk would suffice to open heaven to them, whatever their conduct otherwise might be. Humans are particularly prone to deceive themselves in such matters by persuading themselves that God cannot mean His moral demands seriously. The people of God frequently have trouble recognizing that injustice is as serious a sin as incest and other sexual misconduct and that it warrants the very same punishment [see Jer. 7:8-15]. The ten sins in this list reflect the behavior of those outside the church, the unrighteous who are guilty of open rebellion against God and destined for judgment. [Note: Garland has ten sins while English translations have nine because there are two Greek words used for homosexuality indicating both the passive and active partners in the homosexual act. English translations combine the two words into one English word. See footnote in the ESV bible.] Paul repeats six vices from the list in 5:11, beginning again with the sexually immoral and adding four new evils: adulterers, men who practice homosexuality (both the active and passive participants in the sexual act), and thieves. Adulterers refers to those guilty of sexual relations outside of marriage. The gravity of this sin should not be diminished simply because of its prevalence. Though homosexual acts were generally accepted in the ancient world, Hellenistic Jewish texts are unanimous in condemning them and treat them and idolatry as the most obvious examples of Gentile moral depravity. Not surprisingly, Paul shares this Jewish aversion to idolatry and homosexual acts. The next vice in the list, greedy, has long since ceased to be regarded as a shameful sin that merits banishment from the kingdom of God. The greedy tend to be defined as those who have more than we do, and we tend to project on them a greater, and unacceptable, avarice. Yet, greed afflicts rich and poor. The greedy are those who treat others only as objects for their gratification. Greed is related to insatiability and can express itself in multiple ways. The greedy include those who believe that their sexuality is a right, not a responsibility, and that they can express it in any way they choose with anybody they choose. Paul continues to poke holes in the Corinthians’ pride by reminding them that before their conversion some of them were guilty of these very sins that would exclude them from the kingdom of God. Paul insists that had they remained like these persons, they would have had no share in the kingdom of God. But he most wants to emphasize the present effects of their conversion by showing a clear break with their past. In the Greek the word for but is repeated before each verb which adds emphasis to their break with the past. The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners. The order of the verbs, washed … sanctified … justified, has no theological significance. Paul does not conceive of Christians being placed on a divine assembly line and having each of these things done to them in a certain order. For Paul, they are all of a piece. The same nouns appear in reverse order in 1:30: righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Paul’s Christian assurance is based on four main points: (1) the act of God in Christ; (2) the initial response or conversion of the believer, marked by baptism; (3) the continuing Christian life, with its duties and the expectation of growth in holiness, love, and knowledge; (4) the final judgment and salvation. For Paul, these stages adhere closely together and cannot be separated from one another. They do not stand alone. Moral obligation comes as consequence of the Christian’s status in Christ. Paul understands them to have been sanctified – claimed by God, joined to a holy people, and set apart for godly living. They were acquitted, justified – a legal metaphor. All this was done in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, which refers to the authority [1:10; 5:4] of Christ, and by the Spirit, which accomplishes the new birth in the heart of the person baptized, and thus separates him from the pollutions of his past life. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is the objective cause and by the Spirit of our God is the subjective cause. To argue that one need not be changed from a life of moral pollution disregards the objective of Christ’s death. To argue that one cannot be changed from these pollutions casts doubt on the power of the Spirit. Even if Christians face temptations to continue in these past sins, the Spirit can empower them to resist. Only God can untwist twisted perversions.”  [Garland, pp. 211-217].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why are all people without excuse before God [20]? What kind of knowledge do all people have of God [19-20]? How does Paul describe the essence of sin in verses 21-23?

2.         What is God’s reaction to people’s refusal to honor Him (God gave them up [24,26,28])? What are the consequences of failing to worship and honor God [24-32]? It is important for us to recognize that the disgrace that has invaded human sexual relations today is a consequence of rejecting God.

3.         Why does Paul focus on homosexual relations in verses 26-27, especially since it receives little attention elsewhere in his writings [1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10]?

4.         Look at Paul’s list of vices in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Note that Paul’s focus is not just on sexual sins. All types of sin disqualify people from inheriting the kingdom of God. What does God do for all believers that moves them out of a sinful lifestyle and qualifies them as inhabitants of His Kingdom [11]? Note that this (the Gospel message) is the only solution for overcoming and rejecting the sinful lifestyle described in verses 9-10.


The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, Thomas Schreiner, Baker.

1 Corinthians, David Garland, Baker.

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