I don't know about you, but ever since I became a Christian (way back in 1972), I've heard Romans 1 used as an escalator of the increasing sinfulness of a culture. The problem with that viewpoint, is that they have to stop at Romans 1:28. But, Paul doesn't stop! He keeps going, making sure that nothing and no one escapes.
I was reading this chapter on my iPad, and the line breaks at the verse ending of 29, making gossips stand out. Recently,Ted had a good post that mentioned gossip in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Tolle! Lege! (That means you should read it, from Augustine's Confessions)
Anyway, what jumped out at me especially was the last indictment, “they have...no mercy.” The Greek is ἀνελεήμονας, an adjective formed from the Greek word for mercy by adding what is called an alpha privative. Huh? Let's see if I can define it...OK, here's what my computer dictionary says “(of an action or state) marked by the absence, removal, or loss of some quality or attribute that is normally present.” Think deprived and you get the idea.
So? What's the big deal about that? Well, the Greek word for mercy (ἔλεος) is the word that the Septuagint uses to translate the Hebrew word חסד (ḥesed), the word for God's faithfulness/mercy/love; most translations translate it as “loving kindness.” Paul, being steeped in the Hebrew Bible would probably be thinking in those terms when he dictated this section. The word is used in one of my favorite summations of the law in Micah 6:8:
This post is getting a bit long, so I'll cut to the chase...As Christians, we have been shown mercy by God. We are called to show mercy to others in the same way, forgiving them for offenses (real and imagined!. In fact, James says “...judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (2:13b).
He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
The question of the hour is, how often are we quick to judge others? How little do we show mercy? How often do we justify our own actions and give them a pass, all the while pointing an unmerciful finger at others?
I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone else. Sure, I could list a whole bunch of sects/people who come to mind—but doesn't that prove the very point I'm making?!