Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul reminds us in Romans 1 that God is just. Therefore, when peoples spurn Him and reject His moral law, He eventually hands them over to a debased mind. And this debased mind bears numerous bitter fruits. Paul lists no fewer than twenty three such fruits. Today we consider the fifth of these: maliciousness. Paul writes that unbelieving societies are “filled with… maliciousness.”

So what is maliciousness? The Greek word is kakia and is translated as wickedness or maliciousness or just malice. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines it as “extreme enmity of heart, or malevolence; a disposition to injure others without cause, from mere personal gratification or from a spirit of revenge; unprovoked malignity or spite.” Maliciousness, therefore, is an attitude of the heart – enmity, malevolence, malignity, spite – that then reveals itself in actions – injuring others, taking revenge.

Maliciousness is endemic to unconverted peoples. Paul writes to Titus, “For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice [kakia] and envy, hateful and hating one another” (3:3). A people who lack peace with God, who are at enmity with God, are inevitably at enmity with one another. Flouting the just God who rules in the affairs of men, they think it permissible to treat others maliciously, especially when others have mistreated them but often even absent such mistreatment.

Tragically, such maliciousness also invades the church. After Simon Magus was baptized, he endeavored to buy the Holy Spirit, thinking thereby to garner for himself great power and influence. But Peter rebuked him, “Repent therefore of this your maliciousness [kakia], and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). How dare Simon imagine that the gift of the Spirit was a pathway to exalt himself over the Church of God? To imagine that God’s people were mere stepping stones for his ambition?

Because maliciousness is so destructive, the Scriptures repeatedly command us to put it away by the grace of God. “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice(Eph 4:31). “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth” (Col 3:8). Malice has no place among the people of God. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor, including our enemy, as ourselves. “Therefore, laying aside all malice… as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet 2:1-3).

So what of you? Have you harbored malice in your heart against your brethren? Have you endeavored to exalt yourself at others’ expense? Have you reckoned someone guilty of wrongdoing just because you don’t like them? Have you gossiped about someone in order to tarnish their reputation or ruin their friendships? Children, have you mistreated your brother or sister? Or sought revenge against your brother or sister when they mistreated you? This is the type of maliciousness that the Scriptures summon us to put away.

Reminded that maliciousness is a grievous sin and that God calls us to put it away from ourselves, let us confess that we are often filled with malice. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.