Unity In Times of DisagreementGod is love. Yes He is. Those three little words, “God is love,” have come to mean something in our day that is far, far from the biblical understanding of God’s love. In our day “God’s love” has come to mean that God turns a blind eye to our sin, He pats us on the head and says, “It’s alright, don’t worry about it.” regardless of what we do, who we hurt, or how we view our sin or indiscretions. Our view of God has radically changed since the days of the apostles.

The followers of Jesus in the early Church had a theocentric worldview–God was the center of everything. They understood that God was the holy, righteous, Sovereign King of the Universe. As a result of their understanding of the character and nature of God they believed that all people needed to adjust their lives to God’s standards and adjust their lives to God’s purposes for their lives. They believed that all things that took place in one’s life, or in the life of the larger community, could be traced to God.

Today, our view is humanistic. We are the center of the universe. Everything revolves around us and what we think about life, particularly “my” life. As a result of this we have adjusted our concepts and view of God to fit, not what God says about Himself in His Word, but what we subjectively believe about God based on our experience and feelings. Where has this alteration, this modification, gotten us? Well, look at the mess we are in.

Part of the beauty of a theocentric worldview is that it always holds before us a standard of holiness and righteousness that is pure, untainted, and unchanging. God’s standard of righteousness holds out for us hope for something better than what we are presently experiencing. We who read God’s Word, who seek God’s will and purposes for our lives, know that we are not right, that things are out of order, and the very reason we know this is because we have a standard, a model, of how things should be. We serve a God who is holy and righteous.

When you remove God from the throne, throw away your theocentric worldview, and set a humanistic worldview in its place then you are in big trouble because anything goes. Who is to say what is “right” and what is “wrong?” Who is to say that you can’t do this or that? Who are you to tell me how to live? Right? Absolutely! And yet, there is that “still, small voice” that echoes throughout God’s creation that we cannot escape. That “still, small voice” that speaks in the depths of our heart and soul and says, “That’s not the way don’t walk in it.” That “still, small voice” that makes us discontent with our present situation and stirs our hearts to yearn for something, even though we may not know what, but something more. And yet we have rejected that voice that continues to cry out.

We want to believe in God, but we want to believe in the God of our own making. Tony Campolo once said, “The Bible tells us that God created us in His own image, and we have returned the favor.” We want to believe in God, but the God we want to believe in is a smorgasbord God. Let me explain to you what I mean. We like the Bible’s teaching about God’s love, grace, and mercy. We like verses like John 3:16 that tells us how much God loves us. We like verses like Philippians 4:13 that reassure us that we can do all things through Christ. We like those “self-help,” self-esteem building kind of passages from God’s Word. At the same time there are aspects of God’s character, and passages from God’s Word, that we do not like. We don’t like to hear that we are sinners. We do not like to hear that we are accountable to God for our actions. We don’t like to hear about God’s wrath. As a result we shop around to try and find a preacher or a church that will tell us what we want to hear. This is not a new phenomenon. Paul wrote to a young pastor in his day and told him,

2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:2-3 NIV)

Based on my observations I would have to say that this is where we are today. Our motto is, “Don’t tell me the truth, tell me what I want to hear.” This may be what we desire. We may find teachers and preachers who are willing to cater to our desires, but God will not lower His standard, He will not alter His character and integrity to accommodate our desires. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is holy, He is righteous, He is loving and gracious, He is merciful and wrathful, and He invites us to turn from our ways, the way of destruction, so that we might walk in His ways. If we choose to reject that invitation then there are consequences. This is Paul’s message for us today. Let’s take a look at Romans 1:18-20.

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities– his eternal power and divine nature– have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20 NIV)

Last week we learned about the good news of God, the “gospel of God” which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. This week, and for the next few weeks, we will learn about why this gospel is so needed. It is because the whole world is guilty of sin. The Scripture that we will begin to study today is part of a larger section of Scripture that runs from Romans 1:18-3:20. The section divides into three different sections: In Romans 1:18-32 we will learn about the sinfulness of the Gentiles. In Romans 2:1-3:8 we will learn about the sinfulness of the Jews. In Romans 3:9-20 we will hear Paul address the sinfulness that has gripped the entire Universe.

In this first section Paul explains about the sinfulness of the Gentiles. Paul tells the people in Rome that the “wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” The “wrath of God” gives many modern-day people big problems. People who do not know God’s Word reject the notion outright because they want to see God as a big get-out-of-jail-free card. God is there to help us, forgive us, and let us live our lives. Many Christians, who attend Bible study and church, struggle with the idea of the wrath of God because it is an embarrassment to them as they try to relate to those outside of the church. They view the wrath of God as a poor marketing move on God’s part. God’s love and grace are good “selling points” to those in the world that we are trying to share our faith with, but God’s wrath causes those same people to wince and take a step back because most people know in their hearts that they are guilty as charged. For others, God’s wrath is a hard concept to understand because we equate God’s anger with our own outbursts, something we would not describe as “godly.” John MacArthur writes,

God’s anger is not capricious, irrational rage but is the only response that a holy God could have toward evil. God could not be holy and not be angry at evil. Holiness cannot tolerate unholiness. “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor,” Habakkuk says of the Lord (Hab. 1:13). And as Paul declares, neither can love tolerate unholiness, refusing to “rejoice in unrighteousness” (1 Cor. 13:6). (MacArthur, John. MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, Moody Press, Chicago, IL.)

God’s wrath is not at all like our anger. I want to spend our time this morning focusing our study on verse 18 and taking a good, long look at the wrath of God. The Greek word that is translated “wrath” in Romans 1:18 is the word, “????” (or-gay’) means, “anger, temper, character, wrath, or indignation.” The word appears 36 times in the Greek New Testament and it is used to describe both people and God. In Ephesians 4, Paul tells the brothers and sisters in the church how to relate to one another in a godly way. He says,

1 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31 NIV)

In James 1:19-20 we see another example of the use of the word in relation to our anger. James writes,

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)

These are two examples of how the Greek word for “anger” is used in relation to human anger. Let’s talk about God’s anger, God’s wrath. The same Greek word is used in reference to God’s anger. Romans 1:18 tells us that God’s wrath is being revealed because of “godlessness” and “wickedness.” This has been true throughout history. Let me give you an illustration.

I want to take you on a trip to show you what I’m talking about. Let’s go back, way back to the days of Moses and the Children of Israel. The time that I want us to focus on happened after their deliverance from Egypt. The place was Mount Sinai. Moses was on the mountain for forty days. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the law from God, the mass of people who had come out of Egypt were at the base of the mountain growing restless. The people grew tired of waiting on Moses and they convinced Aaron, Moses’ brother, to help them make a god for themselves. The people gave Aaron their gold earrings; Aaron melted them down, and made the golden calf.

At the moment that God was instructing Moses that His people should “have no gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol,” the people were breaking God’s commandment. God stopped what He was doing with Moses and told him to go back down the mountain to them. In Exodus 32:7-10 we read,

7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’ 9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10 NIV)

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, we find the exact same word that is used in Romans 1:18 used here in Exodus 32:10. The Greek word, “????” (or-gay’), translates the Hebrew word, “???” (af), and literally it means, “nostril, nose, or anger.” The word appears 276 times in the Hebrew Bible. I love the biblical languages because they are so descriptive, they paint such vivid pictures for us. Think about this word we are looking at in Exodus 32. When I first learned about this word I thought, “What does ‘nostrils’ have to do with anger?” Then it dawned on me. What happens when you get angry? Your heart starts racing, you get hot, and your nostrils flare. Right?

God’s nostrils flared when the people turned away from Him and began to worship the golden calf. He told Moses that He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded on their behalf. Moses asked God,

11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:11 NIV)

God relented from His plan. The guilty were punished with death. 3,000 people died. In Exodus 32:30-32 we read,

30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin– but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.” (Exodus 32:30-32 NIV)

Moses was willing to trade his life for the future of the people of Israel. That is the mark of a truly great leader. The people had substituted God for godlessness and wickedness. They had turned away from the God who had freed them from Pharaoh’s grip and set them free. They had turned away from the God who was leading them through the wilderness. God had every right to turn away from them, but in Exodus 33:14 we read, after a long discussion between Moses and God. “The LORD replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” (Exodus 33:14 NIV)

God punished His people, He sent a plague upon His people, He judged the guilty, and then He went before Moses and the rest of those who remained, into the Promised Land. God is stirred because of sin, because we turn away from Him to destroy ourselves in what we think we need more than God. God punishes our sin, but when we repent He forgives. Deuteronomy 7:9-11 says,

9 Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him. 11 Therefore, take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws I give you today. (Deuteronomy 7:9-11 NIV)

Remember, God’s “nostrils” are flared; His anger is stirred because of godlessness and wickedness. Let me give you a couple more examples of this before we leave our study for today. Once again, the same words used for “anger” are used in these passages. In Jeremiah 7:17-20 we read,

17 Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods to provoke me to anger. 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the LORD. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame? 20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: My anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground, and it will burn and not be quenched. (Jeremiah 7:17-20 NIV)

“Godlessness.” Turning away from God to what we make out to be gods of our own choosing will stir the wrath of God. Please don’t miss what God says about this habit, this inclination of ours. He says, “But am I the one they are provoking? Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?” Do you think that setting our idols or ideologies in the place of God changes who God is at all? If so, you are sorely mistaken my friend, but it will change us. Any time we replace God with whatever we make out to be most important in life it will eventually destroy us. Let me give you one more example.

If you will remember, the wrath of God is being revealed against “godlessness” and “wickedness,” or “unrighteousness” as the New American Standard and King James Version translate the word, “??????” (adikia). The word means, “Injustice, unrighteousness of heart and life, or a deed violating law and justice.” Many Bible teachers believe that the word “godlessness” is in reference to our relationship with God and that this word, “unrighteousness,” has to do not only with our relationship with God, but with our relationship with people. I don’t think it is any coincidence that the words “godlessness” and “wickedness,” or “unrighteousness,” fall in this order.

If you or I rebel against God, if we turn away from Him, then the way that we relate to others will be changed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with folks who’ve had relationship problems that they were struggling with. I’m no counselor, but I prayerfully try to point people to God’s Word and what he has to say about our lives. If those I’m counseling heed God’s Word then it affects their strained or broken relationships. I didn’t say that it “fixes” their relationships, but it certainly does affect their part in the relationship. If they don’t hold God’s Word as the rule and authority over their life then they do whatever they want to do.

How we treat people is a reflection of our relationship with God. That stings doesn’t it? It sure stings me. It is so easy for me to relate to others based on how I feel or what I want. When we set God aside, we make “me” and what “I” want the most important thing in the world. As a result of this we will use people to get what we want. God warns us over and over again in Scripture not to do this. You can get a glimpse of this in Exodus 22:22-24 where the Hebrew word for “anger” that we’ve been studying is used in the context of how God will respond if we mistreat others. Read along with me.

21 “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. 22 “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. 24 My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:21-24 NIV)

God cares how we treat His people…all of His people. We are nice to those we like. We show mercy to those we want to show mercy to, but we judge, condemn, and castigate those that we deem unworthy. We use and abuse people like they are tools in a toolbox to get what we want. God sees what we are doing and it causes His anger to flare. The Scripture we just read in Exodus 22 is not an isolated warning from God. Throughout God’s Word we read about the consequences He will bring upon us if we relate to others in an ungodly, unrighteous way. In Isaiah 5, God announces to His people that the time has come for His wrath. What has sparked it? We get a glimpse of the cause in verse 7 where Isaiah says, “And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:7 NIV)

What a sad commentary. God looked for justice. He looked for people to treat others the same way that He treats people, but instead of finding justice, He saw bloodshed. He looked for right relationships, but heard the cries of distress. As a result of these ungodly things the wrath of God was poured out upon His people.

We started this study by talking about God’s love. I want you to know that God’s wrath is an expression of His love. Scripture teaches us that God is a God of purpose and He has a purpose for His wrath in our lives. In Hebrews 12:5-11 we read,

5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 NIV)

I want to urge you today to seek God with all of your heart, follow in His footsteps, not deviating to the right or the left. When you get off track and God disciplines you, He visits you with His wrath, heed the lesson and turn back to Him in repentance and sorrow.

I was taking a break on Thursday from writing. Connie and I were eating lunch and I was sharing with her the things that I was learning about God’s wrath. We were talking about the reasons for God’s wrath, namely, “godlessness” and “wickedness,” when Connie said, “I think the reason we are godless and wicked is because we do not fear God. The Bible teaches that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge.” Connie went on to tell me about a time when she went to court with a young friend of ours. She said that as they were driving to the courtroom the girl was talking big about what the judge “better not” do and what she was going to tell him. Connie tried to talk some sense to the young girl, but she was determined that she was going to set the judge straight about how stupid it was for her to even have to appear in court.

They arrived at the courtroom and took their place. The judge began to call others to the bench. It was a traffic court and he was taking kid’s driving license away like they were going out of style. The girl with Connie leaned over after witnessing several kids lose their license, and with a humble and quiet spirit said, “I hope he doesn’t take my license away.”

What brought about the change of heart? I can tell you what changed her thinking–she witnessed the power of the judge, she realized that the judge was unlike those she was accustomed to dealing with in everyday life, and she trembled in fear over what he might do.

Because we have changed God into our image we have diminished our understanding of His power and authority over our lives. Our making God out to be some easy to persuade grandfather type doesn’t mean that He doesn’t possess power and authority any longer, it simply means that we’ve lost touch with His power and authority. We live however we want to live because we don’t fear God. I want to urge you this morning, in the quietness of this sanctuary, to think about the power, majesty, and glory of Almighty God. Allow the holiness and righteousness of the Father to shine its light into the darkest corners of your heart so that you might come to terms with your own sin. Realize that the Judge of all judges has every right, is perfectly justified, in His condemnation of your sin and mine. Our guilty sentence has been earned my friends, our judgment is justified. We are all sinners who have earned our sentence of death and eternal separation from God. Yet, we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:9,

9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:9 NIV)

God did not create you for His wrath. He has given you life so that you might come to accept His forgiveness, forgiveness that was achieved through the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus, our glorious Savior. Don’t refuse the gift. Turn to the Lord this morning in brokenness and repentance and allow Him to draw you into His gracious arms.

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 16, 2013

God of Wrath? God of Love?
Romans 1:18
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