Wrath of God
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Rom. 1:18,19 - NKJV)
"Wrath [is] the personal manifestation of God's holy, moral character in judgment against sin. Wrath is neither an impersonal process nor is it irrational and fitful like anger. It is in no way vindictive or malicious. It is holy indignation - God's anger directed against sin." (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986 ed., p.1108.)
Wrath (or anger) ascribed to man can be dangerous when it has no cause, is taken to excess, or held for an extended period of time (Mt. 5:22; Col. 3:8; Eph. 4:26). But when wrath is ascribed to God it is sinless and a true example of righteous indignation. The Psalmist has this to say, "God judges the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day." (Ps.7:11 - MKJV)
Towards What Has God Directed His Wrath?
According to our text God's wrath is against two things: all ungodliness of men and all unrighteousness of men. Ungodliness represents sins directed against God (failure in one's duties toward God), while unrighteousness represents sins directed against God's precepts (failure in one's duties towards ourselves and our fellow man). Taken together these terms express God's anger towards those that practice the entire catalogue of sin.
Towards Whom Has God Directed His Wrath?
In the context at hand God has directed His wrath towards "...men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." These men were the Gentiles who had in times past received God's will via direct revelation, angels, or inspired men, but since those times had through their traditions (or pure ignorance) watered down the truth (or ignored) until it was unrecognizable in their lives. So these unrighteous men were "holding down the truth" either purposefully or through their own ignorance.
A claim of ignorance would be no excuse "because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them." Paul will use the remainder of Romans chapter 1 to prove these facts.
What Specific Sins Had Been Committed?
Romans 1:22-25 shows that the Gentiles had become idolaters and had practiced all the lusts of the flesh that attend such worship. This was their ungodliness. Romans 1:26-32 shows that the Gentiles, because of their ungodliness, began to practice unrighteousness as they sinned with and against one another.
Note the list contains sins such as: idolatry; disrespect of one's own body, which includes but is not limited to: lesbianism and homosexuality (sodomy); those filled with injustice, a greedy desire, ill will, a vicious disposition, discontent at another's good fortune, intent to commit murder, a quarrelsome attitude, treachery; attributing the worst motives to the actions of others; those practicing cowardly or open slander, gross disrespect, empty pretensions, a mind to disobey their parents, purposeful ignorance; covenant breakers; and the unmerciful. (See also Col. 3:5-7.)
Verse 32 tells us that not only are the perpetrators of these sins guilty, but also those that would approve of their practice.
How Could These Sinners Avoid God's Wrath?
"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.'" (Rom. 1:16-17 - NKJV)
Paul has already explained how salvation is obtained - through the Gospel. "The Gospel is God's power for salvation to those who believe it, for a way for sinners to become righteous is revealed in it, as an inducement for men to believe it so as to escape the penalty of a violated law." (R.L. Whiteside, Commentary on Romans, p. 22)
What About Today?
Would practitioners of the things in Paul's list be guilty of sin today? Would they be in danger of the wrath of God?
In the minds of the world today, Paul has concocted a disjointed list of behaviors ranging from outright wrongdoing (murder) to some things that are probably wrong (contract breaking, slander) to activities that are nobody's business except the consenting adults who are practicing it (homosexuality). These are the very empty words that Paul told the Ephesians that would come from the disobedient (Eph. 5:6).
Unfortunately for the world they are not in tune with God. Just as the world of Paul's time had disregarded God and His laws concerning these matters, our world has done the same. What our world (along with the world of the first century) does not understand is that God's wrath is a demonstration of His love.
"God's wrath is a demonstration of His holy love. If God is not a God of wrath, His love is no more than frail, worthless sentimentality; the concept of mercy is meaningless; and the Cross was a cruel and unnecessary experience for his Son." (Nelson, ibid, p.1108.)
Rom. 3:23: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,..."
Rom. 5:12: ...death spread to all men, because all sinned..."
The Blessed Gospel is for All, because all men need salvation!
By Carey Dillinger
From Expository Files 13.9; September 2006