Were you ever “betrayed” by your best friend (or a good friend)? Please notice that the word betrayed in the previous sentence is in quotes. That is, it wasn’t a true betrayal (like Judas towards Jesus), but it felt that way at the time. Such “betrayals” can happen at any point in life, but they are somewhat frequent during our years in school.
Sometimes people simply abuse the information they have in order to hurt someone. But oftentimes, the situation relates to a misunderstanding. Even so, the conflict is real and the pain can be devastating.
The emphasis throughout Romans centers upon what the Romans called lex talionis, Latin for “the law of retribution.” In a sense it describes the basic in the New Testament ethic (apart from grace) —what we do to others we are doing to God, since they are made in his image—and God will turn those deeds back upon our heads. When we perform good deeds, we will receive a reward, and when we do evil, we will be punished, both in accordance with what we have done. (1)
Lex talionis is a message that permeated New Testament times. It is a message that is alive and well today. A part of Paul’s reason for writing the great letter of Romans was to help people know an alternative – the alternative of grace. We see that clearly in Romans 12.19-21.
What is amazing is that if anyone has the right to claim retribution it is God. And as Romans makes clear, God is righteous, and has made His righteousness manifest (Romans 1.17). God will exact punishment on those who are deserving. And, as Paul also makes clear in Romans, we ALL deserve that punishment. But, and this is a huge but, God has made a way, through Jesus to avoid that punishment. It is not that our sins go unpunished, it is that Jesus bore that punishment on our behalf.
Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension – and His purpose in each – is the gospel, the good news. THE GOOD NEWS! And Paul’s intention was to make sure the people of Rome not only knew the good news, but understood, and lived their lives in light of it. And, now, by God’s amazing grace, that news, in this letter, has been preserved for centuries, so we can read it to know, and we can study it to understand, and we can apply it to our lives as well.
So, now that we have completed this 18-month study of Romans, I hope we see it as more than a fountain of rich information. Rather, I hope we have been encouraged and challenged by its words and its meaning to move forward with an assurance that the gospel is true, but because of that truth, we have a responsibility to live our lives accordingly.
As a reminder of that truth, let me share a summary of this series with a brief chapter by chapter review. In the first part of Romans, we find more about the justice that is due (the lex talionis) and for that part of this series, the title was “And Justice for All.”
Romans 1 – The gospel has the power to save anyone and has been made manifest as part of God’s righteousness which many people reject to worship false gods, including themselves, instead.
Romans 2 – God shows no partiality (no favoritism) among people – not even Jew over Gentile. Each one will get what s/he deserves – even judging the secrets we keep in our hearts.
Romans 3 – No one is righteous. We have all sinned and we all deserve judgment. But God, in His goodness (His righteousness) made a way by sacrificing Himself on our behalf. Thus, any hope we have in life is not of our own doing, it is of God.
Romans 4 – We can be righteous before a holy God, but it is not by what we do, it is by our faith in who God is and what He has done/will do. Abraham was made righteous in this way, and thus it is how we can be righteous as well.
Romans 5 – Our faith can bring us peace with God which will lead to hope in the midst of trials and suffering. Sin is the result of Adam, but Jesus has made God’s grace abundant beyond all measure, doing so even when we were sinners and were without any rights to receiving God’s grace.
Romans 6 – If we claim death with Jesus, then we have no right to sin. Instead, we become slaves to righteousness, not to our self, and we should begin to live accordingly.
Romans 7 – Even as we might desire to live for God, we cannot do so under our own power or authority. Our flesh has its own desires and those desire will draw us away from God.
As we now prepare to move to Romans 8, let me remind you that this is where we changed the name of the series to “Life in the Spirit.” As Romans 7 showed, we cannot honor God by living according to the flesh, we must learn to live by His Spirit instead.
A couple of months ago, Susan was getting ready one morning, she was listening to Dr. David Jeremiah. Dr. Jeremiah said something I had never considered before, and I wrote it down for this exact moment. The idea has to do with the word flesh. The word flesh is the word, “self” backwards without the “h.” If we make the “h” stand for him, then flesh is the “self” without Him – without God. Thus, we can either choose to live by the flesh, as our self without Him, or we can choose to live our lives by the Spirit.
And that leads us to Romans 8.
It is my belief that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible, so I am going to spend an extra couple of minutes here. First, let me remind us that “now” means NOW. Verse 1 is clear that those who are in Christ Jesus are free from condemnation – in the present, and always in the present because NOW is never in the past. Therefore, we learn to live by the Spirit who guides us to choose life and peace with God because we are heirs with Christ. That is, we are children of God! In Romans 8.15, we see that God is a God of all people because whether our language is Abba (like the Jew) or Pater (like the Greek) or Father (like the English), etc. we all cry out to the same God, the one true God.
Because that is true, we can endure the sufferings in this life knowing that we await is far greater. In fact, it is not just humans that await the fullness of redemption, all of Creation is groaning and longing to be free from the trappings of sin which began with Adam and continue now through us. So, while we wait, the Spirit intercedes for us with God who is at work in and around us to bring everything into harmony with His will. Even in the midst of trial and suffering, we can know that God is at work, and will use whatever circumstance He can to make us more like His Son, Jesus.
Indeed, God is for us, and if that is true, nothing can ultimately be against us. That is, ultimately, in Christ, we are unstoppable – we are more than conquerors, we are heirs (His children) and nothing – NOTHING – can separate us from the love of God!
What a great chapter of great truths! Let’s move forward.
Romans 9 – God will have mercy on whom He has mercy. The Israelites might feel betrayed by God, but it is the Israelites who have betrayed God.
Romans 10 – God’s message of salvation is for all people. It is about belief (heart) and confession (mouth). And the confession is important because faith comes by hearing, and others cannot come to faith unless people are confessing that faith with others.
Romans 11 – God has a plan for Israel, but now is the time of the Gentiles. The exact nature of that plan is debated by many today, but God’s knowledge and wisdom is far beyond human comprehension, so we must simply trust that His plan is perfect.
Romans 12 – We are to present our bodies, our lives, to God. He has given Himself for us, so we must give ourselves for Him. He has given us gifts to serve – members one of another (v. 5) – His church for His glory. And ultimately we are to do so in love.
Romans 13 – God is ultimate authority, but He has created government to carry out His intentions. As such, we are to follow authority as it aligns with God’s authority, ultimately again, living a life of love for the benefit of others.
Romans 14 – We are to welcome other brothers and sisters even when we are in disagreement. Some may be more correct than others, but we must not tear down what God is building through us over petty disagreements.
Romans 15 – Just as Christ welcomed us despite our being at odds with Him, we are to welcome our brothers and sisters who are at odds with us. Paul is pleased with what He knows of the church at Rome and plans to visit after taking a collection of offering back to the saints of Jerusalem first.
Romans 16 – Paul exhorts the church in Rome to greet one another and gives warnings to watch for those who would be divisive within the church. He closes this letter giving praise to God for revealing what had been a mystery for ages – the coming of Jesus as Messiah, for the Jew first, and then the Gentile – making the righteousness of God truly manifest.
So, that is Romans in a nutshell. I have certainly left out some important points. But to summarize 16 chapters in two pages of notes requires extreme brevity. And that is why we spent so much time in this letter (18 months), so as to give it the careful consideration it deserves.
But now let me address the question of What’s Next? I do so from two perspectives – the perspective of Paul and the perspective of Fairfax Baptist Church.
Of course, for Paul the answer to what’s next is in the past. Usually when we say, “What’s next?” we are referencing something in the future – as in What is next? But technically, “What’s next?” could be “What was next?” That will be our approach for Paul.
What’s next for Paul?
I have shared a few times during this series that Paul was writing from Corinth. A couple of weeks ago, I shared how we know that. In Romans 16.23, Gaius is mentioned. This Gaius is almost certainly the same man from 1 Corinthians 1.14. Furthermore, references to Phoebe who was from a town a few miles from Corinth, as well as the mention of Aquila and Prisca (Priscilla) who had a home in Corinth (as well as in Rome, see 1 Corinthians 16.19), provide supporting evidence for Paul’s location. Archeologists have also uncovered writings that mention Erastus (1 Corinthians 16.23) in Corinth as well.
In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth. He then travels to Antioch, Ephesus, Greece, and eventually to Jerusalem, where he delivered the collection to the saints he had mentioned in Romans 15.25. His plans were then to travel to Rome as he expressed multiple times in his letter to the church there (Romans 1.10,13; 16.22-24). However, in Jerusalem, he was captured, and spent time in prison before various trials ultimately led him to Rome to stand trial before Caesar (see Acts 21-28).
So, Paul did make it to Rome albeit not as he expected. But Paul also mentioned his intention to travel to Spain (Romans 15.24). Did he make it? (2)
Well, the Bible does not say that He did. However, writers from the 1st century give some indication that he did. And Christian historians, such as Eusebius (writing in the 3rd and 4th centuries) indicated that Paul did travel to Spain. Assuming Paul wrote Romans in about 58 AD, his trip to Spain would have been about 62-64 AD.
Then, he traveled to Crete where he left Titus as his representative of the church. By 66 AD, he traveled to Colossae (Philemon 22), Ephesus (1 Timothy 1.3), Philippi (Philippians 2.23-24; 1 Timothy 1.3) and then Nicopolis in 66-67 AD (Titus 3.12), which is his final known stop before he wrote 2 Timothy from a prison in Rome in 67-68 AD, where he is believed to have been executed by beheading.
So, Paul likely did make it to Spain. He did so having fulfilled his self-appointed responsibilities to go to Jerusalem. But he made it to Spain after being imprisoned and a threatened assassination (Acts 23). In other words, despite all of the beatings, imprisonments, a shipwreck, etc., Paul never quit. He kept going, kept encouraging, kept sharing about the grace of God and the love of Christ.
You may remember that at the beginning of this message, I mentioned lex talionis, the law of retribution. Few people in this world have had as much reason as Paul did for responding in vengeance to what has been done to them. We know he was capable from his days as a Pharisee (Acts 8.1), but as he wrote in Romans 12.19-21, he left it to God, and instead continued to share a message of hope and love.
So, what’s next for us?
We need to be active – until the end. Like people did to Paul, people may mock us, hate on us, or any number of other things, but our purpose is to share about the grace of God and the love of Christ in order that others may have hope. Just as Paul didn’t quit, we can’t quit. More importantly, just as Jesus didn’t quit on us, we can’t quit on Him.
Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. The question now is, what will we do because of His great love for us?
One way we have been working to spread a little hope is through preparing these Christmas cards for the residents and staff at the nursing homes in Tarkio and Rock Port. We will continue that today.
As you sign, I do encourage you to say a short prayer for each recipient. Ask that God prepares their heart to receive this as a special gift from Him, so they might know or remember the greatest Gift this year.
(1) Osborne, G. R. (2004). Romans (pp. 63–64). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
(2) This historical look at Paul can be found in on page 352 or Marvin C. Pate’s commentary on Romans. Pate, Marvin C., Romans. Teach the Text Commentary Series. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013.