The Chaos of Passion
A sermon on Romans 1:24-27
We are talking about the flesh this morning, about physical passion. And that sort of makes me nervous. It probably makes my wife even more nervous. ("He isn't going to tell one of those jokes, is he?") Maybe some of the deacons and elders are a bit nervous also. Maybe I'll tell one of those jokes and declare who told it to me.
But you can relax. I won't tell one of those jokes. Nevertheless, one must admit that passion has some very funny moments. Even when we are speaking of legitimate passion, of obedient passion, there is a kind of helplessness and foolishness to the whole matter.
I have been reading a book about Stonewall Jackson, a famous general from the Civil War. Now, there was man who seems to have been in control of his emotions. He was brave, disciplined, intelligent, pious. But he met this girl and after visiting her family off and on, he appeared at the door of a friend and declared:
I am becoming more and more agitated by the sight of her. I don't know what's the matter with me. I look at her and experience a certain giddiness. Could the sight of her face do this to me? I know her face to be plain, but I now think I see great sweetness there, too. How could this be? How could she change so?
Can you imagine that happening to Thomas Jackson who in the face of a withering volley held his troops like a stonewall on the high ground at Manassas?
Even in a world which was not broken by sin, the whole matter of the relationship between a man and a woman would seem strange, humbling, hilarious.
Indeed, I can imagine in a world without sin that the matter of a man and a woman would elicit great HO HO-ing from the trees, persistent HEE HEE-ing from the grass of the fields, and, at the very least, bewilderment from the angels.
But in today's scripture lesson, alas, Paul tells us that, because sin has entered the world, because men and women everywhere have rejected the living God and chosen instead to worship a false god of their own - because this has happened, God has given us up to degrading passion. The RSV puts it this way: "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity... ," and "for this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passion..." (What a wonderful Savior we have, beloved, who has, who is, who will rescue us from the darkness created by our own rebellion.)
Unbridled, uncontrollable passion - that is one of the results of sin. Paul tells us that God gave them up to dishonorable passion. He gave them up-- what does that mean? It means, for one thing, that God said yes to the sinners request that God leave him alone. And with God out of the picture, chaos reigned. What has happened is that idolatrous man has reaped moral chaos.
What happened is very similar to what happened during the great flood at the time of Noah. When God created the world He gave everything, by His great mercy, its proper place. Only in this way could the world be safe for man to live in. God shut up the waters of chaos and kept them shut up by His divine command. But mankind rejected God. And filled the earth with violence. And God said OK to their rejection. And He withdrew His presence, His protection, His divine command. And so the waters of chaos were no longer restrained. They filled the world and destroyed it.
In his picture of sinful man, Paul makes a similar description. God withdraws His divine protection and the chaos of sexual passion overwhelms mankind, resulting in sexual license of every kind.
Look, its like this. God has filled this world with a kind of divine frenzy for the procreation of life. You see it every spring in the riot of colors, smells and blossoms, in the nesting of birds, and so forth. And in the spring of our lives we also sense this frenzy as our sexuality begins to course our veins.
But we are made in the image of God, and unlike the animal world, God made us not just for procreation, but first and foremost to serve Him. And so God by divine plan and word made us to rule our passions, and not to be ruled by them. God by His divine word has taught us when and with whom the blessing of sexual activity is permitted, even commanded.
This activity is quite simply to be celebrated between a husband and wife. All other sexual activity is sin.
But sin has entered the world. And idolatry, the worship of self, has gripped us. And Paul tells us that, because of this, God has given us up to degrading passions. By this he means that the gift of sexual activity, something which is intended by God to be used with gratitude at the right time and with the right person has ceased to be a gift. Instead it has swept over us, possessed us, disgraced us. What was once a pure and beautiful gift of God has become dark, a tyrant, a destroyer of body and soul.
This passion, once ordered and blessed by God, Paul now describes in terms of chaos. What was filled with light and laughter has now lost its light and become a tomb of seduction, a path that leads to slavery and eternal death. (What a wonderful Savior we have, beloved, who has, who is , who will rescue us from the darkness created by our own rebellion.)
Paul describes the crowning image of this chaos in terms of homosexuality. And he means it. This activity is consistently described in scripture as sin. What is also true is this: immorality of any sort is sin. Pornography is also sin. Fornication (that is sex before marriage) is also sin. Adultery (that is, sex with someone besides your spouse) is also sin. All of these are examples of the work of sexual passion outside of the will of God. All are examples of what happens to men and women when their lives have been shaped not by the will of God, but first by idolatry and finally by the dark chaos of passion. (What a wonderful Savior we have, beloved, who has, who is, who will rescue us from the darkness created by our rebellion.)
Paul says that to be possessed by the chaos of passion is degrading, ugly. How is that?
Perhaps it works like this. We are degraded when we fail to be what God made us to be. We lose our God-given dignity and glory.
For instance, if I should say "the danger unmanned me" I would be referring to losing my dignity as a man. I would be saying that I degraded myself by being a coward. When MacBeth tells Lady MacBeth that she should have been a man that is a backhanded way of describing a woman who has been unwomaned, so to speak. MacBeth is describing his wife as one who does not know the meaning of gentleness or kindness. And as God made man to be courageous, so he made woman for kindness and gentleness. For a man not to possess the virtue of courage is degrading. For a woman not to possess the virtues of gentleness or kindness is also degrading, because in our lack of them we are not what God has intended us to be.
In the same way, to be overwhelmed by passion is also degrading.
Man and woman were made for each other. And so homosexuality is degrading. Man and woman were made to treat each other with modesty. And so pornography is degrading, both for the leering male and the woman who allows herself to become an object of lust. Man and woman were made to serve God with disciplined wills, and so fornication is degrading. And we were all made to keep promises, and so adultery is degrading, ugly. What a sorry kettle of fish we find ourselves in!!!
But thanks be to God. For this situation is not the final word. Jesus Christ is. The gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul tells us, is the power of God unto salvation. And so it is. I know of those who, by the power of Jesus Christ and the loving support of Christian brethren, have put behind them an obsession with pornography.
I know of those who, their strength of will shattered by fornication, have, by the power of Jesus Christ and the love of Christian brethren, learned to love one person in Christian marriage according to the will of God.
I know of those whose marriage has foundered on the rock of adultery and yet, by the power of Jesus Christ and the love Christian brethren, have learned to love each other steadfastly.
I know of those who, caught up in homosexual practices, have, by the power of Jesus Christ and the love of Christian brethren, put all this behind them and learned to love a member of the opposite sex.
What a Savior we have!!
Like Paul, we have no reason to be ashamed of Him. For us, for those about us, He is the power of God unto salvation. In Him is the forgiveness of sin, in Him is healing for all those habits and attitudes which can lead only to death. For His righteousness is our righteousness, given to us as a gift.
What a Savior we have!!
Mike Frank © 2-94
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