Last week millions of Americans came together to celebrate Thanksgiving. One of the things that has made America a special nation is because it has been thankful. People can say what they like about some negative qualities that they see in Americans, but a thankful attitude is a virtue that no one could put down.
In the past few generations it seems that people have had more extravagant Thanksgiving celebrations, but have become a lot less thankful. Think of your own celebration last week. How much time was actually spent on reflecting on the things that you have to be thankful for? How much time is spent in actually giving thanks?
This is concerning for a number of reasons, but at the top of the list is the warning in Romans 1:20-32. In this text, Paul is explaining the need that the gentiles have for the gospel, but he also is tracing the path of destruction for any given society.
Towards the end of the text he talks about symptoms of a society headed for destruction. These same symptoms can be seen clearly in our culture. In verses 29-32 he says:
“being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them.”
Looking around we would have to be blind to not see these sins being accepted and overlooked. Every day I see some new degree of vulgarity that I haven’t seen before. When America falls, it will not be because our economy fails, or because of a pandemic, or because of communism. It will be because of sin. This country moves closer to it every day.
One of the key identifiers of this society is that people will begin to do the very things that the LGBTQ group celebrates (1:26-27). The apostle calls these things “unnatural”. The celebration of homosexuality is a statement of our cultures sinful state. But even this is a symptom of the deeper problem.
There are three mains things that can be identified in this chapter that are the root of the problem.
First, people refuse to have God in their knowledge (Rom 1:26). Do American’s refuse to have God in their knowledge? The majority certainly do. Church attendance by and large is on the decline. People who claim to believe in God is on the decline. People go to their places of “worship” on Sundays, but it is not to hear what God wants. It is so they can go hear something that makes them feel good. I mean this point isn’t illustrated any better than looking at the fact that denominations are showing movies on Sundays.
People are not interested in studying to align their life with the knowledge of God. Instead they want to have someone get up and give a few verses that make them feel good about themselves and convince them that they care about God. Unfortunately these people can find people who cater to that desire.
Second, Paul says that “they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks” (1:21). There is an interesting point to consider in the fact that Paul doesn’t say "they didn’t glorify God”, but rather they “they glorified him not as God”. There is a difference. I can glorify God by saying something like “God is great” and that would be true. But I could be saying that while living a life completely devoid of obedience to God’s will. I would not be glorifying him as God.
This point is illustrated when Saul disobeyed the wishes of God but still thought he would be pleasing by offering up something that he deemed ok. Samuel told the King,“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam 15:22). God is glorified as God when you obey what he has said. God is glorified as God when you worship him in the way that he wants. God is glorified as God when you choose to follow his will rather than your own.
The second part of that verse is being thankful to God. Thankful is an attitude that involves a number or contrasting thoughts. It involves realization of who God is, who we are, our shortcomings, God’s grace, our sins, his blessings and those things all bubbling up together in reflection. And then it involves expression of that emotion. Thanksgiving was a nice time set up by the founders of this country to actually take time to be thankful. But today, thanksgiving is a a day to eat a huge meal, be with family, and then make a post about how thankful you are. But what about the time of actually giving God thanks?
Our society looks more and more like Romans 1, but the good news is, Romans was written for a society that was entrenched in this attitude. That means it is not a hopeless situation for this country or region. Every day that God gives us is another opportunity for us to choose to have a knowledge of him, glorify him as God, and be thankful.