As we approach Summer 2020, we are experiencing growing hostilities between different groups of people. Battle lines are being drawn (or have been drawn) over social-distancing, wearing masks, reopening the economy, etc.
Churches and Christians are having their own battles related to whether or not to meet, how best to meet, and so on. You have likely had some sort of conversation with someone else about these very matters.
We would not discuss (argue) such matters if we did not care. But the problem for all of us is – our understanding is limited. We make our decision based upon what we know (or think we know), but our understanding is incomplete – always!
That is one reason why Paul wrote to the Romans. Two different groups of Christians were arguing with one another over their understanding of how to relate to God. Again, and this is critical to understand, both groups were Christian. But they each had a different idea of relating to God, and it was affecting their relationship with each other.
Today, we begin a lengthy look at Paul’s letter to the Romans. The series title is called And Justice for All. I recently sent a text to several people asking which of three titles they liked best. The result was a tie, so I asked my son-in-law to break the tie. The chosen title, and the second choice – Living Wrong, Made Right – will both be made clear in the weeks and months to come, but for now, just realize that we will all get justice – God’s perfect justice – which is based upon all of the facts, and is carried out equally for all people. As Romans 2.11 says, “For God shows no partiality.”
Ultimately, the solution to the issue facing the Romans is the same solution for Christians (and really all humans) today. We must realize that we are not in position to make perfect decision, to execute perfect judgement, to consider people (ourselves included) innocent or guilty. Only God can do that.
So, why should we study Romans? The painful answer is that none of us have perfect relationships. Our relationship with God is not perfect, nor is our relationship with people perfect. And thankfully, Paul’s letter to the Romans provides us not only with a better understanding of how to relate to God, but also how to relate to one another.
When beginning a new series, I often like to dive deep into the background. It is helpful to have the setting for the book or, in this case, letter. For instance, when I began Ephesians, that Ephesus was a city which had great buildings and thus we find many terms related to building and measuring. I would love to share more about Rome today, but with the abbreviated time we have, I am going to focus on the text. But the daily videos I do will focus on providing a great deal of context this week. Specifically, I will answer the Who, the What, the When, the Where, the Why, and the How of Romans. I will be doubling up on a couple of those each day, but I encourage you to watch so you can get a better feel. For instance, I will share some information about the Who (tomorrow) which might not be apparent at first.
But for today, lets look at these first seven verses.
These verses serve as Paul’s introduction to Rome. This is more important in this letter than his other letters because Paul has never been to Rome (see 1.13). But the introductory part of this letter is only partially about Paul – it is mainly about Jesus. And, of course, it is a little about the Roman church as well. (Rick will talk more about the specific nature of this introduction in this coming Thursday’s video. For those of you who remember the Teaching Moments we had in the past, the daily videos will essentially become like those teaching moments, with Thursdays being about the culture of the day, or potentially about Rome specifically).
Let’s quickly review what Paul says about each of these three parties in this introduction.
A Slave (Romans 1.1)
Paul introduces himself as a slave. The ESV uses servant, but the Greek word here is doulos, which means bondservant or slave. What a strange way to introduce yourself to someone you have never met – particularly, if you are trying to speak from a position of authority. But we must understand that not all slaves in the first century were what we may think of as slaves. A slave might be an accountant or be the manager of their owner’s business. They were still bound to the owner (for a variety of reasons), but some achieved a high status otherwise.
An Apostle (Romans 1.1, 5)
Paul immediately establishes his authority as one who was called to be an apostle (see also verse 5). The word apostle means one who is sent, and indeed, God called Paul to be sent (see Acts 13.1-4). Specifically, Paul’s purpose was to proclaim the gospel, and primarily in places it had not been proclaimed (Romans 15.20). We know that the church in Rome existed, but we do not know who started it, but most likely it was not another apostle (based upon 15.20), so Paul intended to help the church at Rome.
A Recipient of Grace (Romans 1.5)
Verse 5 says that Paul received grace (and became an apostle) in order to help all nations become obedient to faith in Christ. I believe this was Paul’s primary aim. He states something very similar in Colossians 1.28-29. He wants people to know about God, to live for God, and to then help others to do the same. As Colossians 1 says, He wants to present them “complete” to His Lord. That is the mark of a tremendous servant – to fully honor their master, and that is what Paul intended to do.
God – Father, Son, Spirit
Christ Jesus (Romans 1.1, 6, 7), Son (1.3, 4), Lord (1.4)
Paul is writing to a group who knows the meaning of authority. As citizens within Rome, they know full well the power of the emperor. Of course, Jesus is not the emperor, but He is the Christ (the Anointed One) and is the one in ultimate authority because of His heritage (Son of God, and descendent of David (a king, v 3). Thus, just as a king (or emperor) might pass down his authority to a son, God has done that for Jesus, and It is by the authority of resurrected Jesus (v4) that Paul is writing to this church. Paul wants the church to know that and he wants the church to know that he knows that is true as well.
God (Romans 1.1, 4, 7, and various pronouns such as he and his as in verses 2, 3)
Jesus was not an accident. God had long promised Jesus through the prophets (v2). It has always been God’s plan for His Son to be the source of Good News (the gospel, v1), and to call others to share that gospel with others. As I mentioned last week, the word gospel was a specific type of good news. It meant victory. When a battle had been won, the “good news” was sent to the leaders who would then tell the people that they were triumphant. The people of Rome would have understood this idea well. The Christians of Rome, however, would have had an even greater news – that Jesus had defeated the enemy of sin and death. That was better than any gospel of the emperor, it was the Gospel of God!
Spirit (Romans 1.4)
The Spirit of holiness (or Holy Spirit as we call Him) is how we know that Jesus is truly the Son of God. It is the Spirit of holiness that speaks to us about the resurrection of Jesus, that confirms it in our hearts (Romans 10.9-10), and allows us to have a glimpse of understanding of what Jesus truly did for us.
Those in Rome/Loved By God/Saints (Romans 1.7 and the plural pronoun “you” in verses 6 and 7)
I will have more to say about the true recipients of the letter in tomorrow’s video. Suffice it to say that the church in Rome was the intended beneficiary, but Paul’s choice of words here make this interesting.
For today, let me just say that Paul ends his introduction with a very common greeting – “Grace and Peace to you.” It is because of God’s grace that we can have peace. But interestingly, Paul often used these terms because of the way certain people would have received the meanings. Jews wanted peace. Gentiles wanted grace. In the context of Romans, those are the two primary groups Paul is addressing – two groups of Christians who were at odds with one another even though they were a part of the same church.
Paul wants to establish his authority early in this letter. As we see at the end of the letter, he has many acquaintances (and perhaps some close friends) who are in Rome and can vouch for him. But this opening (which is all one sentence by the way!) established Paul as an authority not of his own doing, but as one who had been called, and was sent, by God. Again, in that culture, the people understood authority in a very particular way, so Paul was using their understanding to establish himself in order to have them listen to the letter, learn from it, and thus show their love for their neighbor as they proclaimed the love for God.
We will explore those aspects further in the months ahead, but that is one of the key themes – the unity of the church in Rome between two groups of believers that did not get along – at all. Thus,…
Our JOURNEY letter for today is U – UNITE.
Other major themes exist – such as justification, divine election, the role of the Holy Spirit, etc., but unity in the church is certainly a major reason, if not the underlying reason, for this letter.
Daily Videos This Week – 5 Ws (M-W), Cultural History (Th), Sunday Preview (F)
As I mentioned earlier, the daily videos are now opportunities to expand on the teaching. This week, I will dive deeper into introducing Romans by covering the 5Ws – the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Romans. I will cover these on Monday-Wednesday this week. Then on Thursday, Rick will share more about the typical introduction to a letter and why Paul used the approach he did. On Friday, I will provide a look ahead to next week’s message.
Overview of Romans Video – YouTube
Additionally, if you are interested in an overview of Romans, I had Susan repurpose a video I created for the pastors overseas. It was uploaded last Friday, and covers the whole book in about 78 minutes (which was tough!)
Wednesday Night Q&A on YouTube on Romans 1.1-7
On Wednesday, I am hopeful for questions related to this week’s message as we continue our study on Wednesday nights – 6:30 pm on YouTube Live. So, the next step this week, is all about opportunities to LEARN more about Romans so you will be ready to study this great letter more in depth.