Romans 1:1-32
"Idol Worship [Is Common Even In Modern Technological Society:  Why?]"

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In October 1999

1.  At the beginning of verse eighteen the text says, "The wrath of God is revealed1 against every form of human impiety and immorality which hinders the work of the truth by unrighteousness."  We could say that impiety is sin against God and immorality or unrighteousness is sin against humankind.  Last time we began to consider "the wrath of God" recorded here and also in particular what it said about that "impiety" [as mentioned] in the "impiety and immorality" which are the recipients of that anger.  It is quite possible to render [the Greek word] as "impiety," but as we touched on last time, this word could be translated as "arrogance or disrespect" as well.  Our own situation is recorded here about how we are living in pride and arrogance against God.  This quality of puffed up pride appears taking on a definite form.  The biblical record we read today tells about that.  Please look at verse two.


"While announcing among themselves that they were wise they became foolish, they exchanged the glory of the imperishable God with statues that have been copied from perishable humans, birds, beasts, creeping things and so on," (Romans 1:22).
3.  It says arrogance towards God appears taking on the form of idol worship.  What in the world is Paul trying to say in this text?

What Is Idol Worship?

4.  After reading this text we understand immediately that the two words are being used in contrast.  The words in contrast are "imperishable" and "perishable."  The one is being used for "the glory of God," and the other for "humans, birds, and creeping things."  The one is used for the creator; the other is used for the creatures [of creation].  And it is the disparity in their true natures that these two words show forth.  It means that the creator and creation are markedly different from each other.  Paul declares they "have exchanged the imperishable glory of God for statues copied from things that will utterly die off such as humans, beasts, creeping things and etceteras."  What is the real problem here?  They are mixing together the essential differences of the [two] true natures.  He says that is foolish.  The text says, "while announcing among themselves that they were wise."  What the text is telling us here is [their] claim that "we know how to behave right and we are endowed with the faculty to use [that know-how]."  That is the meaning of the words "[we] are wise."  People, to an extent, think like that.  It wasn't only the philosophers of the Greek world at that time.  But, even though they are making such a claim [to intelligence] both publicly and [privately] in their hearts, [Paul] says aren't they actually turning into fools?  In not being able to tell the difference at all between the differences, and in not being able to make a distinction between creator and creation, he says, "Aren't they fools!"

5.  They will probably say, "No, I have never worshipped anything like an idol of [some] person, bird or beast."  Yet, the problem is not really the very worshipping of the idol.  Paul is telling us here that this is a situation which we just can't treat as somebody else's problem.  In the first place, please try to consider why a person even starts worshipping the perishable images of humans, birds and beasts, statues of creatures seen by the eye.  We all live in a world of creation.  As long as we and everything around us are part of creation we will decay away before too long and perish.  Our daily lives in this present world are deeply mixed up in those decaying and perishing things.  Both our fears and troubles and our wants and wishes are linked2 to the existence of these deteriorating things.  They are linked to matters visible to the eyes of this passing world.  And meanwhile, we often times will seek for God only in association with our troubles and desires.  We end up combining "believing in God" and "worshipping God" with all our troubles, wishes, and wants.  Consequently, God is easily combined with this world so visible to the eye and its rotting and perishable things.  Of course, God is specifically involved in this world.  He is surely involved in the reality of our every day lives in his mercy and compassion.  But, the problem lies in this: when a person can see God only in association with his troubles and desires in this temporary world, he or she winds up forgetting the important part.  It is that God is God and we are no more than creatures of creation.  It is that both [God and creation] are absolutely different.  It means that God is holy and he is eternal and we are flesh and beings that perish.  It means that regardless of our understanding or experiences as beings no more than flesh and regardless of what God has done for us, God is eternally God and he is worthy to be praised eternally.  That is, it means that because God is not part of creation but the [Pantokrator] Lord God Creator, he is worthy to be praised for all eternity.  We wind up forgetting that.  That's the place where human arrogance lies and where our foolishness is.  One of the specific manifestations of that is the act of beginning to worship the image of a creature of creation.

6.  In other words, idol worship talks of worship with a focus on humanity that is unable to discern that God is God.  Since God is not being feared as the eternal and holy One, idols of every hopeless shape are being made by human hands and worshipped; for, people are only concerned about what the idols will do for them and do not care about the eternal glory of God.  But, the worshipping of an idol is no more than one of the materializations [of thinking only about what you want to get and forgetting God's glory.]  The nature of this problem is not unrelated to us; [we all tend to worship the creator as a means to get what we want].  Isn't this same situation quite visible even in this country, too?  We cannot play ignorant saying, "I don't worship the image of a beast or any creature."  Even worse, this is not just something we hear outside the church.  Please reflect [with me on this].  Whenever we can think only of "What advantage is there for me in believing in God?" and "What can I get by attending worship on Sundays?," then what we are doing should be called nothing but idol worship.  Whenever the fact that since he is creator he is worthy to be praised eternally is forgotten, it isn't very much different from worshipping the selfishly built image of a bird or the image of a crawling thing, is it?

The Manifestation Of The God Of Judgment

7.  This is a manifestation of human disrespect or arrogance towards God.  Humans are stubbornly and thoroughly proud.  And it is not unrelated to this arrogance against God and to the sin between one person and another.  In verse eighteen the text puts them side by side as "impiety and immorality."  How may we say they are related?  In verse twenty-four and following the text reads like this:


"With that then, God has turned them over to do unclean things according to the lusts of their heart, for that reason, they have put their bodies to shame with each other.  They have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and have worshipped created things instead of the creator, and they have served them.  The creator alone is worthy to be praised for eternity.  Amen.  So, God turned them over to sexual passions that should have been shameful.  A woman changes her natural relationship for the taking even of her own nature, and in the same way a man also throws away a natural relationship with a woman and burns with passion for another man, and commits shameful acts for a man to do; a person will receive to his or her body and being an appropriate punishment for his or her lost behaviors," (verses twenty-four through twenty-seven).
9.  The first thing we notice here is the repeated use of the word "turn them over to."  I will read you verse twenty-eight again next time, but the word that appears in the text is "hand over, deliver."  This is the same word in the original text.

10.  We must hear in our minds the dreadful sound in this word because this is truly nothing but a judgment of God.  God has allowed persons who don't worship him as God to go on just as they feel like.  God has delivered them over exactly to their proud human lusts.  By not worshipping God as God, persons have lost sight of the self in them which has been fashioned in the image of God.  God has even gone so far as to permit a person who has lost sight of his or her sacredness as a being made in the image of God to live driven about by those passions and lusts.  Many persons are happy in satisfying their lusts, but the truth is that that is exactly where the judgment of God is.

11.  Nowadays as movies and television shows with adultery as a theme get more popular, it has become more common to hear the message that "we should live true to ourselves [vulgarized to mean doing whatever we please]."  Yet this expression is not a new message at all.  In all periods of history there were persons to trumpet [adultery] as if it were such a wonderful way of living.  Whenever society has said "Live true to yourself," often times this saying was no more than merely living true to one's passions and lusts.  Therefore, because a human being is equipped with an intellect and a will and he or she is not merely an animal with passions and cravings, living only by passions and cravings is hardly in a true sense to be "living true to oneself."  At any rate, though claiming, "I'm free," and "I'm true to myself," one must know, in the final analysis, that there is the judgment of God inside that very reality wherein one is lead about by one's passion and lust.  And actually, no matter who you are, sooner or later you come to know it is the judgment of God.  Because a person will reap the things he or she has sown.  Because there is no true happiness whenever a human being continues to do what he or she has lusted for and when a person keeps seeking to satisfy that lust.  Worse still, the path where one lives being drawn along by passion and lust is indubitably a path that continues right to destruction.3

12.  "Therefore, God delivered them to do unclean acts according to the cravings of their heart, and for that reason they have shamed each other with their bodies," (verse twenty-four).  Paul said, "Therefore, God handed them over to their shameful passions," (verse twenty-five).  Well, when he talks about the words "the cravings of their heart" or "passions" here, what is on his mind is clear from what he says later on that it is about human sexual desires in particular.  Why does Paul intentionally touch upon the issue of human sexuality here in this text?  We should devote some thought to this matter.

13.  What we should make no mistake about is that Paul is not taking this up because human sexual desire and sexual relations in and of themselves are impure or shameful.  Although it seems Paul himself was a bachelor, yet in the other epistles he would fight against persons who had forbidden marriage, (First Timothy 4:3).  The Bible declares human sexual relations as a creation of God.  The Old Testament book of Genesis has written in it that "God modeled man in his own image and created him.  Modeling him after the form of God he created [him].  He created man and woman," (Genesis 1:27) and it declares about the mystery of that relationship that "Because of that, a man will leave his parents and be joined to his woman and the two persons will become one body," (Genesis 2:24).  This passage is frequently read at weddings.  According to these passages, both human sexual desire and sexual relations were originally not a dirtied thing at all, but a priceless, noble, and holy thing.  It is a link to the work of God's creation.

14.  However, while this matter of sexual relations is an exceedingly precious mystery in every day human life, we know it is also an area that frequently casts extremely dark shadows.  We know it brings the deepest happiness but at the same time it brings deep infernal troubles.  What separates that light and darkness?  It is clear.  It depends on one thing, whether a person understands sexual relationships while in a bond with the creator.  That's why the wedding is celebrated in the presence of God the creator.  Upon having recognized that the relationship of the couple comes from God the creator, their sexual relationship first acquires meaning as a precious work of God's creation.  When it is separated from the creator and the order of the creator, the original sacredness loses its sacredness and its light turns to darkness.

15.  Paul boldly takes up in this passage [the topic] of homosexual love.  The practice of homosexual love goes back to ancient times, and we can see it in Old Testament descriptions as well.  In the Greco-Roman world as well, for example, there were even known to be persons that corresponded to catamites [boys who prostituted themselves to gay men].  But, we shouldn't think Paul was only taking issue with the practice of homosexuality.  What Paul was taking issue went deeper than just the problem of sinful morals.  It was about the fact that because a person does not live in a relationship of worshipping the creator and he or she is out of place in the order of creation, what should have originally been sacred becomes impure and turns into shameful passions.  Wouldn't this have been altogether apparent to us, even if hadn't been in the obvious form of the homosexual act as is recorded in this text?  And thus Paul states that the judgment of God is already apparent whenever one is living pulled around by perverted passion and lust.  We must take this practical truth seriously.

16.  Paul is openly and without misrepresentation talking about the impiety and immorality of humanity and also the wrath and judgment of God which are directed against them.  We usually lie and don't want to turn our attention [here] but we have no choice but to turn our attention onto our sins.  [Examining our selves for sin] is not pleasant at all.  But, through such a [process] we start to understand why Paul stated that "In the gospel the righteousness of God is being revealed."  It becomes clear to us why we need the creative work of God's salvation.  Because the person who has come to know that human sin is a dreadfully serious problem comes to the realization that what is truly a necessity is not some kind of commandment or teaching that makes the behavior of a human being good and proper.  It doesn't even come close to being a matter of "After having good instructions and keeping them, soon one becomes a good person."  What Paul was trying to relate was not that kind of message but the gospel message, which is "The power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes."  And it indeed is the gospel which we are given, and it is the message too which is entrusted to the church.

End Notes

1 The Japanese uses an interplay of the word I am translating as "manifest, reveal, appearance, materialization."  When we don't recognize the revelation of God given to us, then other things begin to be revealed through our lives.  When we don't observe God, then the signs of sin appear in our conduct.  All kinds of sin appear when God does not appear in our life or even if we worship God only on a quid pro quo basis.  This is a very serious sermon and no class of people is being singled out as more wicked than others.  All have sinned; all sinful expressions are derived from the same source.  We all must truly worship God as God or some type of "idol" or idolatrous mentality will find expression through our daily living.

2 Musubi, being linked to nature, is an interesting Japanese concept which has been part of the national consciousness particularly during the indoctrination period of emperor worship.  Kenneth G. Henshall, professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Waikato in New Zealand defines musubi in his book A History Of Japan: From Stone Age To Superpower, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999 as "bonding with nature, natural purity" p. 231. This worldview is embodied, for example, in The Imperial Rescript On Education issued in October 1890, which was a message largely believed by society up to World War II and memorized by all students, pp. 81, 141.

Know ye, Our subjects,
    Our Imperial Ancestors have founded Our Empire on a basis broad and everlasting, and have deeply and firmly implanted virtue; Our subjects ever united in loyalty and filial piety have from generation to generation illustrated the beauty thereof.  This is the glory of the fundamental character of Our Empire, and herein also lies the source of Our education.  Ye, Our subjects, be filial to your parents, affectionate to your brothers and sisters; as husbands and wives be harmonious, as friends be true; bear yourselves in modesty and moderation; extend your benevolence to all; pursue learning and cultivate arts, and thereby develop intellectual faculties and perfect moral powers; furthermore, advance public good and promote common interests; always respect the Constitution and observe the laws; should emergency arise, offer yourselves courageously to the State; and thus guard and maintain the prosperity of Our Imperial Throne coeval with heaven and earth.  So shall ye not only be Our good and faithful subjects, but render illustrious the best traditions of your forefathers.
    The Way here set forth is indeed the teaching bequeathed by Our Imperial Ancestors, to be observed alike by Their Descendants and the subjects, infallible for all ages and true in all places.  It is Our wish to lay it to heart in all reverence, in common with you, Our subjects, that we may all attain to the same virtue.

The concept of musubi can readily be seen in the above citation.  The word "Japan" means "source of the sun."  In Japanese mythology, the Japanese are direct descendants of the Sun goddess Amaterasu ('Light of Heaven') so that every Japanese is theoretically linked to Amaterasu, whose great-great-grandson is Jimmu the first ruler of Japan.  So, in a sense, musubi refers to this link to nature.  During the times when the emperor was considered divine, this concept help support obedience to the emperor and to the national identity.  The Japanese felt they were a superior race of people ordained by the heavens and by their pure nature.  All this is part of the understanding of musubi and this word is used in the Japanese text of the book of Romans.  Therefore, the phrase in Romans "persons united in Christ (or linked, joined as in Kirisuto ni yotte musubarete ita mono)" takes on a rich meaning in Japanese.  A Christian, linked to the divine Christ, is a person with a new nature and in a higher kingdom.

3 Or hell.

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