Not intended to be anything even resembling a comprehensive exegesis, but only an effort to share some things I learned:
1:1-4 – The authenticity of Jesus:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
Verses 1 & 2: The prophets held in high regard and whose words are considered breathed from God and called “Holy Scriptures” testify to the authenticity of the gospel for which Paul has been set apart and called by God to be an apostle.
Verse 3: Jesus’ natural descent from David testifies to his authenticity.
Verse 4: The resurrection of Jesus testifies to his authenticity not only as Messiah, but also as the Son of God.
1:5-6 – Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
Paul groups his readers with those he calls from among the Gentiles. He says the Gentiles are called “to the obedience that comes from faith” and his readers are also “called to belong to Jesus Christ.” Therefore, being called to “obedience that comes from faith” must be synonymous with belonging to Jesus Christ.
1:19 – since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
This verse does not say what may be known about God is “easy to comprehend”. It does not say that all the evidence is available and merely needs to be assembled and considered. Rather it says what may be known about God is “plain to them”. It is staring them in the face, requires no special wisdom or intellect, but rather has already been perceived.
In addition, what may be known about God has been made plain by God. He has revealed himself.
1:20 – For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
Again, there is no requirement for analyzing the evidence. God’s invisible qualities, not only can be understood, but they “have been clearly seen” and have already been understood. This is why there is no excuse.
What may be known about God has already been understood “from what has been made”. And yet our pagans endeavor to ‘disprove’ the existence of God by lying about “what has been made”, the very thing because of which God denies us any excuse for not being certain of his existence and his nature.
1:21-32 – The conduct of those who have no excuse for not knowing God or for behaving as if they don’t:
Three times this passage says they exchanged something from God for something worthless. They exchanged “the glory of the immortal God for images”, “the truth of God for a lie”, and “natural relations for unnatural ones”.
Each statement is followed by two repeated elements. First, “therefore”, “because of this”, or “since they”. Second, God “gave them over”.
But there seem to be two sections (divided perhaps by “Furthermore”, which seems to imply “As if this weren’t bad enough…”). In the first, because of their idolatry, God “gave them over” to sexual impurity and to shameful lusts. Idolatry is punished by rampant, unbridled lust. The punishment is not one I would have expected for the crime. While having in mind what I am able to understand about the proper sexual relationship God designed, I can comprehend that a gross distortion of it is torturous, but the connection between sexual perversion and graven images worshipped as gods is not immediately obvious. But because of the apparent connection here, I have to suspect that in verse 27b, “Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversions”, the due penalty may not be some unnamed punishment for the indecent acts, but rather the due penalty may actually be the “indecent acts with other men” as punishment for the previously mentioned sexual impurity and shameful lusts.
In the second section, verse 28 says that, “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done”. In this section, the crime is different than in the first and the punishment is different.
Verses 29-31 go into detail about what “ought not to be done”. These activities are not of a sexually perverse nature as are the activities to which God “gave them over” as punishment for their idolatry. Rather they consist of just about everything else you could think of and, surprisingly, includes disobedience to parents right in the mix with greed, depravity, murder, and hating God.
This is a long list and, as a result, easy to skim over. But it is eminently valuable to ponder each sin mentioned, not only as an individual sin, but also as another violation of righteousness piled on top of those that precede it. These people are truly horrid and despicable.
Of course, in chapter 2, Paul goes on to point out that these people are, in fact, us. Although we refrain to whatever extent from “what ought not to be done”, we are no better than these people and no less in need of a savior. Nevertheless, these behaviors all necessarily result from denying God. He forced these people into nothing. He only “gave them over” to their own devices. It is amazing to me how twisted, tormented, and dark even the saintliest of us can become if left to ourselves. How depraved we truly are.
1:31 – “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they…continue to do these very things.”