Not Ashamed

By David Baumann

A Reading from Romans 1:16-25

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is God’s saving power for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those who by their injustice suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been seen and understood through the things God has made. So they are without excuse, 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Meditation

After his rich, confident, and humble introduction, Paul launches into the body of his letter. Verse 16 may be considered the summary of the entire epistle: “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” In this declaration alone, Paul teaches that salvation is available to anyone, and that faith is the means for receiving it. He emphasizes that the first target audience is Jews, with Greeks brought in afterward (this teaching is often overlooked).

Of special significance, he starts his declaration by affirming that the gospel “is the power of God,” and that he is not ashamed of it. What would try to shame him? Ridicule, opposition, persecution. After this august beginning, he spends the rest of this passage denouncing those who are ungodly and wicked. He makes it clear that although such persons may not have had the gospel preached to them yet, nonetheless they have access to “natural religion” — those things that people can discern of God through daily life experience, including moral law, that are accessible to all people everywhere.

Paul’s description of the ungodly and the wicked as candidates for “the wrath of God” is perhaps unpleasant for us to read and hear today. What are we to make of this uncompromising teaching? Do we criticize Paul for being narrow-minded and judgmental? Do we back off from being as clear in our own standards as he is? If so, are we, unlike Paul, “ashamed of the gospel”? How do we hold firm to the gospel and its demands without becoming arrogant?

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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