|Volume 18 Number 11 November 2016||
Charles C. Pugh III
In His book, Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith contrasted the worldview that believes God is the ultimate reality with the view of secular materialism that believes there is no reality (no God) beyond the physical universe – the physical laws of nature and the chemical properties of matter.
Truly serious minded people – those concerned about evidence – will recognize the importance of thinking about the implications of these two major worldviews. The opening chapter of The Epistle of Paul to the Romans not only answers the question concerning what is at stake regarding the implications of these two worldviews, but this chapter (Romans 1:18-32) is as great a statement about this issue that is available to humans.
The late Dr. Thomas B. Warren summarized the content of these powerful verses (Romans 1:18ff) in his 1978 debate on the existence of God with philosophy professor Wallace Matson of the University of California (Berkeley). Warren said, “In Romans 1:18 and following, after Paul made clear that the evidence of God is right before the eyes of everyone… [he] then showed, in regard to those who turned away from God, three times in that chapter… God gave them up” in giving a list of the terrible and heinous crimes that were committed (Warren-Matson Debate 310, 312). In the loss of God from the mind of man, “…they refused to have God in their knowledge…” (Romans 1:28), which results in “the loss of God in the life of man” (Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, Vol. 4, 331).
Paul wrote, “…their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21). “Foolish” is the Greek word asunetos – an adjective derived from the verb, suniemi. The noun sunesis refers to “putting together the facts and information and drawing conclusions and seeing relationships” (Rogers and Rogers, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament 460). Robertson says they were “not able to put together the manifest evidence about God” (329). Lard states that they either argued from false premises or “conducted the process amiss” (i.e., invalid argumentation), and either or both results in “unwarrantable conclusions. …[T]hey became foolish. This could not have happened had their reasonings been sound” (Romans 54).
Some today claim that the belief that God is the ultimate Creator of all things is detrimental to human society and the advance of science. Former NASA scientist, Dr. Nobie Stone, disagrees. Stone, who serves as deacon and Bible class teacher with Mayfair Church of Christ, Huntsville, AL, argues in a recent book that this is really not about science. It is about this battle between faith in science (scientism) and faith in God (theism). He says, “The difference is critical. It is the difference between a Christian society and a godless society. It is the difference between a life of purpose and hope, and a life of emptiness and despair.”
Stone, whose experimental research with certain aspects of orbiting space crafts is internationally recognized, writes:
Those who embrace a materialistic worldview claim… this understanding somehow liberates us and enriches our lives. Yet, ironically, the very claims they make undermine any purpose or value of life. …[I]f man was not created on purpose, then he has no purpose. If we are here as the result of a grand and complex accident then, by definition, we are not here on purpose and life has no inherent value or meaning. This is the ultimate conclusion if materialism is true, and this distorted view is having a tragic effect on society. It is ironic, but telling, that in such an affluent and free society that offers almost unlimited opportunity, one of the highest causes of death among its young people is suicide. (Genesis 1 and Lessons from Space: Faith, Reason, and Nature xiii-xiv emphasis added)
Yes, the stakes are very high. Romans 1:18-32 makes this obvious. The present effect that materialism is having on society just makes it more obvious. Moral collapse follows spiritual collapse.
Two of Four Hundred Thirty-Seven
The King James Version of 1 Corinthians records 437 verses in sixteen chapters of the book. For the first fifteen chapters, Paul wrote about problems that needed remedied, questions that needed answered, and errors that needed corrected with the Truth. The tone of the book is a corrective voice tempered with a loving spirit. As Paul closed his letter, he gave five imperative instructions that would put the Corinthian brethren on a positive course of Christian service (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
Let us study these two verses and the five commands contained within. Number 1: “Watch ye.” From the Greek word behind this command, we derive our English name “Gregory,” which means “watchful.” The imperative means to watch, to be alert, to be vigilant. Physically, it means to be awake instead of asleep. Figuratively, it means to have our spiritual senses on the highest alert. We need to constantly and continually evaluate and be aware of our enemy as well as our manner of life and how it affects both our brethren and the world of observers surrounding us. Study through the first fifteen chapters and note how many times Paul asked them “know ye not” or “do you not know” as a reminder that they had let things slip that he had taught them. It is easy to become “spiritually sleepy.” Furthermore, it can lead to spiritual death.
Number 2: “Stand fast.” The imperative means to stand firm, remain anchored, to be without wavering, uncertainty or doubt. “We are to stand fast in the faith.” “The faith” is the content of God’s revelation. It is the Word of God, the Truth, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed and inspired by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-13). The Corinthians were deceiving themselves with the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 3:18) instead of remaining anchored in the wisdom of God that Paul had taught them. How easily we are disillusioned when we wander from the Truth.
Number 3: “Quit ye like men.” This phrase was an often heard expression in English speaking countries a few generations back. It means to “play the man” or “act the man.” The Corinthians were still “babes” because of their carnality (1 Corinthians 3:1). They needed to grow up and mature in their thinking (1 Corinthians 14:20) and living. They needed to develop a “mature manly courage” that would put an end to their squabbles, sibling rivalry and self-aggrandizement.
Number 4: “Be strong.” We need to be strong. The word means to be empowered, especially in a way that manifests itself. We are to be spiritually invigorated and show that we are. To be spiritually strengthened does not mean we are spiritual supermen or showoffs. It means we know the Word and Will of God and how to execute it with precision and self-discipline in our lives (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Number 5: “Let all your things be done with charity.” “Charity” here means love. This is the love Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a. It is the “more excellent way” Paul desired to show the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:31). No matter how vigilant, faithful, courageously mature and spiritually invigorated we may be, Paul taught that no matter what one does without love as the operating motive, it means nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Though these are only two of four hundred thirty-seven verses in 1 Corinthians, they summarize five great practical instructions to help us spiritually grow and fight the spiritual battles of the Christian life in a most positive way. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us in our application of these truths as Paul desired it to be with the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 16:23).