An unwillingness to accept and believe the truth can start an individual or a society on a dangerous downward spiral. But the rejection of God is not done in ignorance. Romans 1 tells us that creation alone provides each of us with enough knowledge to know there is a God. It’s not a lack of truth. Instead, men and women suppress the truth because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to respect God’s authority in their lives. The consequences are evident in our world today.
Many of those who reject the truth most vehemently are the most educated in our society. Our schools, colleges, universities, and professions are full of people who think they are wise with all their science, business acumen, and knowledge. But God says they’re fools!
Nehemiah 12 & 13
Well, here we are finishing up the book of Nehemiah. Do you realize we have finished well over half of the Old Testament, 16 books in total and a good part of Psalms and Proverbs? We’ve finished the four gospels and the book of Acts, the historical books of the New Testament.
Now we are starting the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, beginning with the book of Romans and tomorrow we’ll start the book of Esther in the Old Testament. It’s exciting to see the progress we’re making.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Well, on to the word …
As we start the book of Romans, it might be helpful to consider a couple of things. Romans is primarily a book of doctrine, but don’t be put off by that. It doesn’t mean it’s a dry book with no relevance to our lives, quite the contrary! This epistle (letter) has some of the most important truths for us to understand in our Christian lives. In his Study Bible, John MacArthur says:
“The overarching theme of Romans is the righteousness that comes from God: the glorious truth that God justifies guilty, condemned sinners by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.”
That is the foundation of our faith. If you are a newcomer to reading through the Bible or you’re new here, you might find it confusing that at the end of Acts, Paul is in Rome and here in Romans he is expressing his desire to go to Rome. It’s important to remember that the books of the Bible are not always arranged in chronological order.
In the New Testament the first four books are the Gospels, the four accounts of Christ’s life and ministry. Acts is the historical overview of the first three decades of the Church, ending its account in about 60-62 A.D.
The rest of the New Testament, except for the book of Revelation is a series of letters written by various church leaders to churches and individuals meant to be circulated to others within the church. They’re not in chronological order, but are grouped by author. Romans through Philemon, and possibly Hebrews, were written by the Apostle Paul. Romans was written about 56 A.D. before his imprisonment and journey to Rome.
The Joy of Christian Fellowship
So here we are in chapter one and there’s so much in this chapter. I love verses 11-12 where Paul is expressing his desire to visit Rome:
“For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established—that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.”
What a picture of the joy of Christian fellowship and one anothering (Rom. 15.14; Gal. 6.2; Col. 3.16; 1 Thess. 4.18, 5.11; Heb. 10.24-25; Jas. 5.16; 1 Pet. 4.9).
Then verses 16-17:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”
Are you tempted to be ashamed of the gospel? In the workplace? Or with your unsaved family? Are you afraid to share the truth because someone might make fun of you or think you’re simple-minded? Even after being beaten, stoned, ridiculed, and all the rest, Paul was “not ashamed of the Gospel”!
Claiming to Be Wise
Then beginning in verse 18, we have what can be called “the downward spiral of sin.”
This passage explains how an unwillingness to accept and believe the truth can start an individual or a society on a downward spiral. But this rejection of God is not done in ignorance. Paul tells us that creation alone provides each of us with enough knowledge to know there is a God.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
It’s not a lack of truth. Instead, men and women suppress the truth because they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to respect God’s authority in their lives. The result and its consequences are evident in our world today.
And sadly, many of those who reject the truth most vehemently are the most educated in our society. Our schools, colleges, universities, and professions are full of people who think they are wise with all their science, business acumen, and knowledge. But God says they’re fools!
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools.
How scientists can study the intricacies of the human body and the wonders of the earth and deny the existence of God is beyond me. It takes more “faith” to believe a lie than to believe the truth! But they are putting their faith in the wrong things. You have to wonder what the Day of Judgment will be like for some of them, when their utter foolishness has been totally exposed and “every knee bows” to the God of the universe—too late for them to accept Him personally.
Because of their sin and rejection, three times it says, God “gave them over” or “gave them up” (Rom. 1.24, 26, 28). You can see in this passage how lives and societies spiral downward. The more they turn away from God, the more they turn toward sexual immorality and other sins, eventually reaching the point where it’s commonplace. At the bottom of the spiral we see these verses:
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Debased minds, sexual immorality, maliciousness, murder, hatred toward God, pride, disobedient children … doesn’t that describe our world today?
And at the very bottom we see this phrase “but also approve of those who practice them.” That is what so many in the LGBTQ movement want, not just the freedom to do as they please, but universal approval. And if you disagree they want to be able to attack you, call you “intolerant,” charge you with discrimination, or worse.
As you read today’s passage in Nehemiah, imagine how he would respond if he visited our nation today? When he returned to Jerusalem and found people buying and selling on the Sabbath and ignoring other clear commandments of God, it says, “So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God …” (Neh. 13.25).
We can’t stop standing for the truth either. I’m not advocating that we act unloving. In fact, 2 Timothy 2 says:
24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.
Instead, we must continue to pray for those who are caught in a web of sin and speak the truth in love at every opportunity (Eph. 4.15).
Today’s Other Readings:
Nehemiah 12 & 13:
Business as Usual
Nehemiah had returned to Babylon for a period of time and, after he left, many of the leaders went back to business as usual:
4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah. 5 And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests. 6 But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king, 7 and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. 8 And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. 9 Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
Tobiah was one of the men who was trying to undermine the rebuilding of the wall. Yet, Eliashib had allied himself with him.
When he returned, Nehemiah didn’t hesitate to confront this wickedness. I can see him going into that storehouse in the temple and throwing out Tobiah’s household goods!
Can you imagine? Allowing Tobiah to be there would be like allowing a Buddhist to set up housekeeping in one of the rooms in your church!—worse yet, a Buddhist whose goal it was to bring down the work of God!
Others were conducting commerce on the Sabbath, some had married pagan women, and their children hadn’t been taught the language of Judah, so they couldn’t even understand what was being taught or read in the temple. One of the High Priest’s grandsons had even married Sanballat’s daughter. Sanballat was the ringleader of the opposition.
“So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.’”
I’m not advocating pulling people’s hair in church, but we need to be willing to speak the truth in love, as I said above, when people we know, especially those who claim to be followers of Christ, are caught up in some pattern of sin: living together without being married, abusing drugs or alcohol, planning to marry an unbeliever, etc.
We, also, need to be willing to take a stand on the moral issues of our day, just as Nehemiah was.
Just as important, we need to have a teachable attitude when we are confronted with truth in some area of our own lives?
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.” (Heb. 12.5-6).
Often God’s chastening comes through the people He has placed in our lives.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (Prov. 27.6).
And even when others are unfairly critical God can and does use it for our good.
Verses 33-34, “Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.”
Even when we fall short of God’s best and he allows us to suffer the consequences of our actions, He doesn’t utterly forsake us! Wow! What an awesome God we serve!
Wisdom & Humility
Verse 3 talks about the wise man and how wisdom can keep us from so much unnecessary trouble. As the old saying goes, “Fools rush in …,” in this case, where wise men fear to tread. Verse 4 talks about the humble man, he is the one who ends up with riches, honor and life as God intended. What a combination for us to seek after—wisdom and humility!
In the next few days, we’ll look at how we tend to expect certain guarantees from God in our parenting, what the Bible has to say about debt, what we mean when we talk about the fear of God, and what it means to be an uncommon friend. Be sure to sign up so you won’t miss any of these upcoming posts.
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It’s an all-in-one spiritual library that contains Dr. MacArthur’s personal study notes below the full-length Bible text. Virtually every Scripture has a matching study note with detailed information, explanation, and helpful insights. The notes are based on Dr. MacArthur’s verse-by-verse approach to the Bible and nearly forty years of careful study. His goal is to let the Bible speak for itself—nothing more, nothing less. And now it’s available in the ESV, as well as, NKJV and NASB.
Romans 1-7 For You by Dr. Timothy Keller
I think Dr. Keller is one of the best Bible teachers today. This study tool which covers the first half of the book of Romans, can help us understand its meaning and allow it to transform our hearts and lives.