Romans 1:16-32                “Not Ashamed”



            If you have a copy of the Good News Bible or Eugene Petersen’s “The Message” you may see that the word “ashamed” does not appear at all in the first line of our Scripture. The editors of those versions apparently believe that today we do not understand the concept of shame, so they leave the word out as well as the negative “I am not.” Those translations will approximate the meaning by saying instead “I’m most proud to proclaim” (Eugene Petersen).

            To be sure, most other versions of the Bible will report Paul writing “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” I think we still know what “shame” is here on Kauai. I remember our brother Mike Vidinha, God rest his soul, telling me that when he sent his kids off to school, he told them that one thing: “Don’t shame your name!”  Because we still show honor to one another, we still have a sense of what it means to shame that honor. Am I right?

            You will all recall that my wife and I were missionaries in Thailand. The Thai culture is one of honor in how one addresses another and all aspects of interrelations between people. The word that the Thai Bible uses here is ละอาย “la’ aay.” That has to be seen as losing points on the scale of honor. We say in English “be brought down a few rungs.”

            I believe Paul is expressing the idea that he will not allow himself to be put down because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He will not be ashamed in other words. He is writing this to the audience in Rome, the church in Rome at the time. Why? Well, because others have been putting down the church, dishonoring God, shaming the name of Jesus. That still happens today, by the way.

            The Apostle Paul is talking about Rome in his day two thousand years ago. It had become a place, a society, living in almost complete degradation. Not only is it a degraded society, but as it is pointed out in verse 32, the last line of chapter one, people were even applauding this ungodliness. They were cheering the horrific games that were taking place in the Coliseum. They were cheering the wretched religious observances of the pagans. The more edgy it was, the louder was the applause from the citizenry of Rome.


            The last line that was read this morning, verse 25, says that the people had decided to stop listening to the Truth (that is Jesus Christ of course) and had accepted the lie (that is the word of Satan over their lives and that they had forsaken the Creator and now worship the Creation. In Verse 21 we read that their minds had become darkened. We just had a total eclipse of the Sun this last week. Just imagine that the Sun is like the glory of God, that enlightenment of Christ, but that has been eclipsed by the evil of the day. And, everybody is so excited that this is happening! Look, it is dark!

            Verse 23 says that they exchanged the glory of God for worshiping images resembling human beings, birds, four-footed animals, or reptiles. Paul is not just pulling random idols here. This needs to be explained. The Romans would have understood this to be: The image of the human is Caesar. Everybody in Rome was required by law to worship the emperor. His image was everywhere, even on the money. One could hardly escape the practice of idolatry in Rome. The worship of the image of the bird, was of course the Roman imperial eagle. This idol was everywhere to be seen as well. The four-footed animals may be the she-wolf that fed Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome, or the golden calf that the Jews worshiped in the time of Moses. And, lastly the reptile is in fact the snake, the symbol of Satan himself–the creature rather than the Creator!


            This last week I learned that my brother-in-law, married to my sister in Los Angeles, bought his dream car that he had wanted his whole life. It is a red corvette, brand new. Pictures of it appeared on social media. So, my brother-in-law had been driving an old truck for forever. The truck had over 250k miles on it. It is perfectly alright if he wants to buy a new car. One could even argue that at this point in his life, he deserves it. But, this reminded me of a story from about ten years ago: a woman found it necessary to divorce her husband because her husband had fallen in love--with his new car. This has really happened! A woman has sued for divorce on the grounds that her husband loves the new car more than he loves her. He spends more time with it. He maintains it with a love that seems absent from the marriage. Now, there was a fellow recently who wanted to get a marriage license to marry his car. His point was that he should be able to marry his car because he really, really loves it. I believe it was a Corvette that he wanted to marry. Again that is why I remembered this story.

            These are the absurd circumstances that come about when one worships the creation rather than the Creator in heaven. Paul mentions that we have made false idols to creatures with human forms, or four-legged ones. All of this is a lie. Recently there was  movie about a man who seemingly falls in love with a computer voice on his smart phone.  Back then, we worshiped statues, today we worship technology. A lie is a lie.

            While in Thailand my wife was admonished by her teacher friends for not showing respect to her husband every night before going to sleep. In the tradition of the Thais, the woman is supposed to get down on her knees and “wai” her husband. The term that is used for this in Thai is the same that is used to worship God. So, just to have fun with me, Helen did get down on her knees one night and she worshipped me in the Thai fashion. It was so strange. We both laughed aloud. We could not take it seriously. It was too funny. Yet, in reality there are people worshiping other people all the time now. It is truly laughable.

            How can anybody worship anybody or anything other than God?


            I do not want to be judgmental. Paul does not want to be judgmental. That is not my point in this sermon, and is not Paul’s point in his writing to the Romans.  The first word in the Greek of verse eighteen tells us what this really about. That first word is “apocalypsete.” When everything is revealed in the Revelation which is to come, then humanity is going to have some “explaining” to do!  That is not my judgment. That is not Paul’s judgment. That is the Creator’s judgment on that Judgment Day. I am just pointing out what is coming. According to the Book of Revelation, 20:11 and on, Jesus is going to be making some choices about how we lived. So, the Apostle Paul is not laying down judgment at all, he is just warning the world that a judgment is to be made. That is a big difference.

            In the Scripture for today Paul says three times that God gave some over to the evils that are listed there. That is hard to understand. Why would God give some over to this evil? As every mother or father knows, you cannot hold onto the child in your house forever. Eventually, you have to let them go. They will always be your children, but they have to lead their own lives. They have to be given the chance to be free and to live and love as they will. So, in the same sense, mothers give their children over. They have no choice. Without free will, we cannot know the grace of redemption. We are free to love God, or to turn away and live in degradation and shame.

            Mother Mary in the Bible would have to give her own child over to the evils of this world so that the evils of this world could be overcome. Remember when Jesus is twelve years old and is lost in the temple. Mary and Joseph come back to find him there. He tells them, “didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

            Jesus himself tells the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11. The son asks for his inheritance early. He spends it all. He returns home. Rather than being angry, the household welcomes him back with a big feast. Yes, God lets us go. He gives us over to this degraded world. Yet, we make the choice to return to Him. He welcomes us back. That is our hope for final judgment in this world, too.


            Yet again, if we choose not to return to God, if we decide to remain in our own degradation, if we even go so far as to applaud others who make the decision not to return to God, then it will not go well for us in the time of revelation.

            Let us hold the applause for the things of this world until that time when Jesus is with us again. Let us seek out what is good and natural according to God. If we applaud, let it be for God and for what we know is good.