Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
In this final section of his list of the characteristics of the man or the nation without God, Paul lists five things that they do not have.
In the Greek, this verse is five words, all beginning with the prefix a-. The prefix a- in the Greek means without or the opposite, similar to un- in English. For example, someone who believes in God is a theist. Someone who believes there is NO God is an a-theist.
Let’s examine these five words and see exactly what someone who has reached the bottom of the death spiral is doing without:
asynetos – without understanding, intelligence, wisdom and education. This is what happens when you reach the bottom of the death spiral. You start to lose intelligence.
A society that reaches the bottom of the death spiral becomes a society without intelligence. The government often prefers the people to be without intelligence and without education as they are easier to manipulate.
Look at education in the UK at the moment: every year the examination results increase and statistically the students are smarter. Then we look at the examination papers and the mark schemes and find out that the examinations are continually being “dumbed down” (for just a small example of this, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/6244942.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/1507358.stm). More and more students are going to universities, but then we find out that these universities are jumped up polytechnic colleges offering what are pejoratively called Mickey Mouse degrees!
It also means that they cannot draw parallels or make inferences. Their logic skills are completely flawed. So many young people cannot use logic to make an argument or formulate a decision. People are passion led, not intelligence led. Intelligence is not always the right answer, but someone who follows reason will be healthier, wealthier and happier than someone who lives on passion.
Jesus only uses this word once (read through Matthew 15.1-21, it is in v.16 Jesus uses the word and the KJV translates it as “without understanding”) when Peter fails to understand a parable that He told the disciples. People without understanding cannot grasp a parable or analogy – especially a spiritual one, it is simply beyond them.
This phrase does not just mean without an education or without intelligence, but it also means without understanding morality.
People at this level of the death spiral commit sins and then are genuinely surprised at the consequences. It is no longer a case that they do not want to walk in holiness, they honestly do not know what is pure and what is impure any more.
They exalt things that the Bible calls sins such as homosexuality and the murder of unborn children, and reject and mock things that the Bible calls pure such as humility, walking in forgiveness and having an absolute standard of truth.
asynthetos – This word means without agreement or without a joining together. It is only used here in the Bible because you absolutely have to be reprobate to be in this place.
It means that no-one agrees with you and you agree with no-one. The Jews would use this word to describe someone with no faith in God at all.
Someone without agreement is someone that is always contrary. If you say “black”, they say “white”. They could not even explain why they say white, they just have to disagree.
Obviously someone with a mind this disturbed cannot follow God. Whatever God says, they say and do the opposite.
These are people that enjoy and relish rubbing others up the wrong way, take pleasure in arguments and disagreements. They will deliberately try and start arguments and fights.
One of the greatest things about being a Christian for me is that when you find another Christian, you know there are so many things you agree on. There is so much you have in common. It is wonderful. Just today I went to see a friend who is part of our church, I was only in his house for 10-15 minutes on the way back from a bit of shopping.
But it was wonderful. There was just so much harmony and agreement. I had just had some non-Christians disagree with me and were rather rude to me, and it was lovely just to be with a Christian and be in harmony with someone.
We all like walking in harmony with people. But, imagine having no harmony, no agreement with anyone. That is what this word reveals about people at the bottom of the death spiral.
astorgos – Storge is one of the four Greek words for love. It means affection: the love you have for things you are accustomed to.
Just as a quick reminder: phileo love is the love you have for your family and your friends. It can often be translated in the Bible as brotherly love.
Eros love is the love you have for someone that you are romantically and sexually linked with. For Christians this should only be your marriage partner! Eros is not a sinful lust, but a true romantic and sexual attraction that is God-given.
Storge love is the love you have for something you are familiar with. If you say that you love a particular song, it is storge – it is the song that you know and hear and love. You love your slippers – that is storge, they are your slippers and you know them and you love being in them. Brand new slippers would be worse than your pair of slippers even though they are old and tatty. Why? Storge. We are designed to be affectionate to things that have been in our life.
This word is often used for the love a mother has for a baby: the mother does not have a friendship with the child in the same way sisters or good friends do – there is no reciprocal relationship. It certainly is not eros love, but the infant child is cherished. Why? Because it is a major part of your life and you could not ever imagine being without that baby.
Agape love is the highest kind of love: it is the love for something that is not lovely. It is compassion and love that manifests in action. The other three loves are conditional (phileo: you have to still be my friend; storge: you have to still be in my life; eros: you have to stay sexually attractive) but agape is completely unconditional. You love because you are loving, not because the other person is lovable!
Now, as soon as you start to descend down the death cycle, agape goes. You stop unconditionally loving anyone and everyone who you love must fit certain conditions.
As you continue down the death cycle, eros dies and all your are left with is lust. You cannot love someone as a partner. All your relationships are casual, immoral sex or vile passions.
As you continue further down the death cycle, phileo dies. You cannot form friends any more, you do not hesitate to backstab the people you used to call friends. You are so prideful that you consider these people to be worth nothing so what is the problem of abandoning them.
But, storge only goes when someone is at the very bottom of this cycle. When someone has no natural affection they are certainly someone with a reprobate mind. We are talking about someone who could never even treat a pet properly. Even criminals look after their pets. Even the Mafia treat babies well.
Only someone with a reprobate mind could hurt a baby, or an innocent little animal. I mean hurt them just for cruelty. They simply have no natural affection. If you know someone and you think they could easily murder a kitten, that is someone without storge.
In addition, possessions mean nothing to them. They would smash their own bed and house into pieces in a fit of rage and not care.
They are not even nice when being nice costs nothing. A “hello” at the shop, or a thank you if someone moves out of their way.
There are people at this stage in our nation. I praise the Lord the whole nation is not like this. I believe that everyone in the time of Noah was like this: how else could it be that not one single person joined him in the ark? Not one person even thought: I will just sit in the ark on the day Noah said it was going to rain and then if it does not rain I will get out and have a laugh at Noah.
No people at the time of Noah were completely without understanding, without agreement and without natural affection. Noah must have lived in a dreadful world.
aspondos – The KJV translates this word as implacable, the NKJV goes with the more understandable word “unforgiving”. The NIV and most modern translations follow the NU-manuscript and do not have this word in their Bible translation.
I am not going to spend any time discussing the merits of the different Greek manuscripts or textual criticism, I am just going to state that I believe that aspondos is in the original text and that I believe I have good reasons for believing that. If you do not believe that, fine – just go straight onto the final word and do not read any more of what I say about this word!
Aspondos means without an offering. Spondos is the Greek word for a drink offering (see Php. 2.17 and 2 Tim. 4.6 for the word spondos). Aspondos means without a drink offering (In theology, libation is the technical term for a drink offering)
The drink offering is first found in Genesis 35.14 where Jacob pours a bottle of oil onto the ground to thank God for speaking to Him. Jacob is now at a place where his hardship has ended and God is moving powerfully in his life, so Jacob offers a drink offering.
Drink offerings had to be from pure wine (Numbers 28.7). Wine is often in the Bible a symbol of joy (Psalm 104.15) and gladness. When a Nazarite had finished his season of separation and could return to living normally he had to make a drink offering (Numbers 6.1-21). Finally, every feast day had to have a drink offering (Lev. 23.13, 18, 37).
Drink offerings in the Old Testament are a pouring out of wine onto the ground to represent the joy and gratitude of having God work in our life. In the New Testament, Paul refers to his life as a drink offering (2 Tim. 4.7) – in other words, Paul says that his life was wine given over to the ground as a sign of joy of having God work in his life. No wonder Paul could say “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Php. 4.4) – his whole life was full of joy because he was living for Jesus, being poured out for Jesus. Every day for Paul was a day of destiny, of adventure, of joy – for me to live is Christ (Php. 1.21) he told us.
Now, people at the bottom of the death spiral are completely without joy. They know nothing of living for a cause, they know nothing of living for another person. They do not know the joy of having God work in their life. Nothing in their life ever feels finished, feels right, feels complete. They are without a drink offering.
The drink offering is the moment when God delivers you and you say thank you. It is the moment you stand in front of your church and tell them God delivered you and people are delivered and encouraged and inspired.
People at the end of the death spiral know nothing of the joy of being set free by God or setting anyone else free. They do not even know how to encourage someone or bless someone.
They live a life without joy. No wonder so many of them turn to drinking wine as a cheap substitute for the wine of the drink offering. No wonder so many of them live life from one moment to the next using chemicals to either dull the edge (Prozac) or take them to a new high (cocaine).
aneleēmōn – without mercy. In Matthew 5.7 Jesus said “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”. Mercy is the ability to withhold judgment and not treat someone according to their sins. It means the ability to let offenses pass.
People at the bottom of the death spiral cannot do this. If you look at them the wrong way, they might kill you. If you say something they do not understand, they might hit you. If you believe in a God they hate, they may try and destroy your life and humiliate you. The NIV translates aneleemon as ruthless, and that is an excellent translation. If you cross someone in this state, they will do anything to get you back. They will not be upset spending time in jail because they know they had to get you back.
Any crime against them will result in their judgment, their fury and their rage being thrown in your direction. They cannot forgive, they are eaten up inside day after day replaying the offenses they have received from people over the years.
A nation that is without mercy is a terrifying prospect especially in the day of nuclear weapons. Yet, there are nations in this place on the planet today.
This is the last item in Paul’s 22 item description of someone who is reprobate. I believe it is last because it is the worst place to be. To be unmerciful is a horrible thing to be for three reasons.
1. You cannot ever have internal peace. You are always imagining the hurts other people have caused you, you are always thinking about and imagining ways to hurt the people who have slighted you.
If you have ever seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Gollum is someone who could be described as someone who is aneleemon. If you remember the scenes where he is muttering to himself about Bilbo stealing from him, or some other slight against him. His lack of mercy drove him insane, leading him to have some form of split personality. There are people just like that in the world: insane simply because they refused to let an offense go!
2. You cannot form relationships. Listen – every single relationship (your marriage, your employment, your church, your family, your friends, your cell group, your neighbourhood – EVERYONE!!!) will cause you grief at some point or another. No-one is perfect, therefore someone at some point is going to say something you did not like, do something you did not want them to do, or have an opinion you do not appreciate.
Most people are able to look past people’s imperfections and still love them and fellowship with them. Mature people realize that they are imperfect themselves and give a little because they would appreciate people giving a little with them!
People without mercy cannot do this. If the wife burns the dinner, she must be punished. If the pastor attacks your pet doctrine, not only must you leave the church but do so in the most hurtful and disruptive way possible. If the family let you down, leave them.
It must be horrible to never be able to form long term relationships. The saddest thing is that because someone is astorgos as well, they do not even care that they are alienating everyone around them. This is indeed hell on earth.
3. You cannot receive mercy. Jesus was quite clear: the merciful are blessed because they receive mercy (Matthew 5.7). He also told us more than once that if we did not forgive, then we could not be forgiven.
Merciless people end up in hell. The same justice they have ruthlessly put on others is the same measure God will use on them. Like Haman, merciless people build the gallows that they will be hung on.
Read through Matthew 18.21-35 and see a perfect picture of aneleemon. The unforgiving servant will punish anyone that crosses him, which is the only reason he ended up being punished.
Make sure today that you are merciful. If people sin against you, forgive them seven times seventy times. Yes for them so that they are free, but also for you because an unmerciful person is never free and will never be free until they forgive.
Glory and freedom,