One of my commentaries made a reference which might also come to some of your minds. This commentary prepared by the three Presbyterian divines: Jamieson, Fausset and Brown says: “The practices here referred to, though too abundantly attested by classic authors, cannot be further illustrated, without trenching on things which ‘ought not to be named among us as become the saints.'” I both agree and disagree with that assessment – in two regards. First, there is the aspect to which I referred this morning – some of this is wretched sin, is so contrary to human nature, so bestial, that young children should not only not be exposed to it, but they cannot even conceive of it. That means that to condemn it requires considerable care.
But then there is that commentary’s reference to “ought not to be named among us as becometh saints.” This is a reference to Ephesians 5:3 – “Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” Just as I sometimes do, that commentary quoted this verse out of context, and yet with a good intent. In Ephesians, Paul was saying that fornication, uncleanness and covetousness are so odious, so wicked, so ungodly, that no Christian should even appear to be guilty of them, let alone actually guilty. There are sins so terrible that they shouldn’t come up in the same sentence with our name. He was not saying that fornication is a sin, and so we shouldn’t warn our kids against it or preach against it. If that was the case, then Paul shouldn’t have brought the subject up himself. Ephesians 5:3 isn’t condemning condemning sin, it is condemning the guilty and the guilt of those sins.
So as respectfully as I can, we proceed through Paul’s righteous list of unrighteous deeds. But how should we proceed? I struggled thinking about ways in which to develop this as orderly as possible, making it into a sermon. Although we are basically only going to have a brief expository Bible study, I did hit on a simple outline. We’re going to look at these verses forward and then backwards. So technically, we have a two point sermon tonight.
What happens to man after God withdraws His gracious, restraining hand?
Verse 24 – “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves.” Although there are similarities between the body of a man and the bodies of different kinds of animals, the differences between them clearly set man apart from the animal world. Some animals can communicate between themselves, but none as skillfully as human beings. Some animals can grasp things in their hands and between their fingers, but none as skillfully as us. Many animals can think, but not one of them can think through problems as well as people can. That isn’t to say that all human adults can speak, work or think as well as the average ape, but generally speaking that is the case. Yet when man chooses sin and God withdraws His grace, man quickly chooses to abuse the gift of his body. The most obvious application of this verse, at least to me, is with homosexuality. And until I began meditating on this verse, that is all that I even considered. But aren’t there a great many other ways that man dishonors his body?
I used to look at my parent’s old “National Geographic Magazines,” at pictures of African natives, with horribly stretched necks and earlobes with holes in them large enough through which to drive cattle. I would look at people who cut themselves to ribbons in the worship of their false gods… I saw pictures of people who would cover their bodies in grotesque tattoos… and I would be amazed that people would do that to themselves. Believe me, I’m not here to condemn you if you had tattoos cut into your body before you were saved, but it would greatly grieve me, to hear that you were going to have a new one done tomorrow. I sincerely doubt that there is such a thing as a “Christian tattoo.” I would inwardly weep if you came in next week with a cross dangling from your eyebrow. These are things that Godless people do; they are not Christian activities. Christianity should strive to put a stamp of holiness on the body that the Lord has temporarily given us.
Verses 26-27 – “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” Again this is a condemnation of homosexuality. This is a behaviour which can only be found in god-forsaken people. It is indicative of a god-forsaken society. There is no such thing as a Christian homosexual, a Christian gay or a Christian lesbian. Those really are words that cannot logically be mentioned together in the same breath. Homosexual affections are called “vile” and “unseemly” by the apostle of God. “Vile” speaks about something shameful, despicable and ignominious. “Unseemly” means shameful and ugly. And it doesn’t take a prophet of God to see the unseemly nature of these kinds of sins. Even the better heathen philosophers condemned it just as vocally as the prophets of God. Socrates, Plato, Zeno all condemned these sins in their generation.
“And receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” This is a particularly large and bitter pill for the liberals and homosexuals to swallow. But there is no way to misinterpret what God says in this statement. Fornication and homosexuality brings its own very special recompense – compensation or reward. The wickedness of Sodom called for a very special judgment from God. Can you think of another city or community to which God poured out His wrath in the same way? There are others in history which had similar judgments – like perhaps wicked Pompeii. But in the pages of the Word of God there was only Sodom and her neighboring sister communities. And isn’t it interesting that the various kinds of fornication have their own specially related diseases? Sexual sins bring with them unique diseases which are rarely spread any other way. When someone has one of these diseases, it is obvious to world that they have committed these sins. And when man’s science has come up with ways to treat, and now to prevent some of these SDTs, the Lord has raised the stakes and created new diseases to physically punish the guilty. First their were diseases like syphilis – blinding babies and eating out men’s brains. And now we have AIDS. Let the world call me terrible names for saying so, but only the wilfully blind can say that AIDS is not punishment for some of the wicked ways of these last days. Billions of dollars are being poured into finding a cure for HIV and AIDS. This may sound cruel, but I hope that is wasted money, because if science succeeds, it will only force the Lord to come up with a punishment that is even more severe.
Verses 28-32 – “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, covenantbreakers, 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.” The word “reprobate” which we find here, is often used, and seldom defined. The English dictionary calls a “reprobate” a “morally unprincipled person.” But the Greek dictionary calls him “someone who has been cast aside by God – someone unsalvable.”
From here Paul gives us a list of about two dozen sins. These sins are not the cause of God’s abandonment, but the result of it. “Unrighteousness” refers generally to anything contrary to the holy nature of God – ie. sin. People whom God has abandoned to themselves are characterized by sin – of all varieties. “Fornication” – sexual immorality, which includes homosexuality, adultery, pre-marital adultery, and even pornography. “Wickedness” – general evil, malicious behavior. “Covetousness” – a lust for the things of others; a lack of satisfaction with blessings that God has given. “Maliciousness” – a desire to hurt and injure other people – physically, emotionally, financially – whatever. “Envy” and “murder” mean exactly what you’d think that they mean. “Debate” – refers to a general contrary attitude, a constant rebellion and strife. “Deceit” speaks about the obvious – lying. “Malignity” – a negative, evil-wishing attitude. “Whisperers” and “backbiters” – refer to slanderers and trouble-makers. “Haters of God” are those who despise the Lord, the Lord’s church and the Lord’s Word. “Despiteful” – people who are so filled with themselves that they are insolent and disrespectful. “Proud” and “boasters” should be well-understood. “Inventors of evil things” – these are people who think up, think on and practice sinful things. They don’t even have to carry them out to be guilty of this sin. “Disobedient to parents” is a sin in the same list with “haters of God” and “fornication.”
Is a person who is “without understanding” guilty of anything? Absolutely. This takes us back to what Paul has been teaching us earlier in this chapter. When we don’t know what we should know about the Lord and His law, it is usually because we have chosen to be willfully ignorant. “Covenantbreakers” – this is the man who agrees to something and then doesn’t come through. He is a promise-breaker; he is a liar; he is not trustworthy; he is not honest. For example, this is a husband who deserts his wife, emotionally, physically, financially or in other ways. “Without natural affection” – Strong says that this is someone who is unsociable, uncaring, unloving and inhuman. This is a child who doesn’t love his parents who have poured out their love, energy and lives on him. This is a husband or wife who turns against the one to whom he promised himself. This is a parent who forsakes his child. “Implacable” – refers to someone who refuses to accept another person’s apology or covenant. “Unmerciful” means that here is someone who knows nothing of the mercy of God. And lastly, Paul speaks about the this reprobate’s love for the people in this list.
So here is a terrible catalogue of wickedness. But I almost guarantee, if we broke all of these apart, and had a single paragraph on each one, that it would be hard for some people to think too badly about some of these. By that I mean that some of these might seem insignificant if they weren’t a part of the larger group. For example, what’s wrong with a little pride, and doesn’t everyone boast now and then? Someone e-mailed me a short video of a man who professed to be a Christian preacher. This 24-year-old Australian was born without arms or legs, but overcame his depression about what he lacks and appears to be a genuine child of God. But in his interview he mentioned some of his recent meetings in India at which he spoke to crowds of over a 100,000 people at a time. What’s wrong with a little pride for the glory of God? – Well, it doesn’t bring glory to God. As I say, some of these sins appear to be horrible while other appear to be small, but once again, notice that they are all made equal by the Apostle Paul. Not one of them is insignificant.
These are things that take place in people when God gives them up.
We proceeded through these verses in a forward fashion; now, let’s briefly go back again.
How? By going from ourselves back to the things mentioned and making the right kind of application. If these are the characteristics of people whom the Lord has left to their own wicked hearts, then what does it mean if we find these things in US? If I am an implacable person, someone who refuses to be reconciled to an apologizing neighbor, what sort of person does that prove me to be? If I lack natural affection, or if I display unnatural affection, what kind of person am I? If I am unmerciful or if I’m filled with malice, whose child am I? If I am disobedient to my parents, no matter how old I am, or how I justify myself, who am I really?
My point is this: If you full are of lies and deceit; if you are a contrary, despiteful, arguing sort of person; if you are unmerciful… then doesn’t the evidence suggest that you lack the Lord in your life? Don’t rationalize things and justify your wickedness – you are wicked – you are a wild, untamed dog. Don’t expect the Lord to come and rescue you while you go on loving one or more of these sins. You don’t deserve anything but God’s wrath. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
If any of these dirty two-dozen characterize your heart, then you need to throw yourself down before the Lord and humbly plead for His mercy. If these things characterize you, you are a lost soul and in need of God’s salvation. Repent of your sin and look to the Saviour for deliverance.