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Friday, October 20, 2017

Paul's Heart and God's Righteousness

Introduction

In the last Bible study when we studied Romans 1:1-7, we learned the typical way Paul began his letters to churches and Christians he visited or aimed to visit. He began this letter to the Romans similarly. From the beginning verses of the letter to the Romans, Paul stated to the readers and hearers his authority for teaching and preaching. He told of Jesus making him his apostle. Paul made sure his intended hearers and readers recognized his background and authority for teaching and preaching so they would not doubt his earnestness or the authenticity of the gospel of which he spoke. Besides this, he ensured the people knew the basics of the gospel.

From the end of verse six, Paul told us to whom he wrote this letter, the Roman Christians. He called them saints and used the word hagios, which means to be different as in set apart from other things, holy unlike other things that are unholy. Paul said God made them holy by cleansing them from their sins and setting them apart to be His children through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

After identifying the addressees, Paul greeted the Roman Christians with a prayer of blessing on them. He asked for God’s grace, His favor, to be on them. He asked for God’s peace to be on them, too. This peace for which Paul prayed is greater than the legendary peace of Rome, pax Romana. He understood two types of grace and peace exist-that from God and that found in the world that is not everlasting, but fades.

In this Bible study, we will consider Romans 1:8-17. In these few verses, Paul gave thanks for the Roman Christians, thanks for who they are and what they did, and thanks for what God would do for and to him because of being with them. He told in detail about what he was thankful regarding the Roman Christians. Paul then proclaimed his great desire to be with them and teach them so they would be established and encouraged. Along with his thankfulness for the Romans, he expressed his obligation because of Jesus making him an apostle to preach and teach Greeks and barbarians, and wise and foolish. The Roman Christians would have understood Paul’s heart of care for the salvation of every person no matter their background.

The final element of any Pauline letter was the incorporation of a summary of the main theme of his writing. Paul made sure people understood the purpose of his writing. He more than alluded to it in his opening statements. For the Romans, Paul stated the theme of this letter is the righteousness of God. Let’s now study verses eight through seventeen of Romans chapter one.


Thanksgiving

Another of Paul’s typical inclusions in the opening of his letters to other churches and here in Romans was thanksgiving to God. For what did he thank God regarding the Romans? Let’s consider what he said in verses eight through ten. Paul said,

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. (NASB)

Paul told the Romans two things for which he prayed to God in these three verses. He said he thanked God for the Romans. Why would Paul thank God for them? He said people around the whole world proclaimed their faith (vs. 8). Paul said he thanked God for the faith of the Roman Christians. Remember the history of Jews and Christians in Rome was one of persecution. (See the Bible study titled Romans, the Background.) The Roman Christians began by worshiping with the Jews, God-worshipers, in their synagogues in Rome. They identified with the Jews because they worshiped Yahweh, too. Since the Christians of Rome were a small group, they worshiped alongside the Jews. The leaders of Rome, therefore, considered the Christians of Rome an offshoot of Jews, not a separate faith. When the Emperors of Rome expelled the Jews, the Jewish-background believers in Jesus also had to leave Rome. That left the Gentile-background believers in Rome with no one else with whom to worship Yahweh and nowhere to worship so they began small house churches. When the Emperors who expelled the Jews died or repealed their expulsion, the Jewish-background believers returned to find established Christian churches in Rome. Through the series of these Emperors, the Christians of Rome kept the faith. Their conviction of the truth about Jesus Christ remained firm, and they continued to worship the Lord despite the upheaval. For this, Paul thanked God for the Roman Christians. These Christians, though faced with loss of worship place, home, leadership, and expulsion from Rome, stood strong in their faith in Jesus Christ.

With verse nine, Paul told these believers how big his heart was for them. He said he prayed unceasingly to God, whom he served, for the Roman Christians. Paul noted he served God. He willingly submitted himself as a bondservant for God’s service as an apostle to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Paul, as God’s servant, claimed in verse nine God was his witness how often he prayed for the Romans. Claiming God as his witness was like taking an oath. God witnessed Paul’s unceasing care and prayer for the Roman Christians. No one higher exists and Paul attested to that with this oath emphatically letting the readers and hearers know if he lied, God would judge him. With this statement, the Roman Christians would realize without doubt Paul’s love for them since he prayed for them unceasingly. Paul loved the Roman Christians enough that he prayed for them ceaselessly and thanked God for them.

·         Do you pray unceasingly for anyone? Why or why not?
·         When you pray for someone regularly, do you find your heart grows closer to that person?
·         Why did Paul pray unceasingly for the Roman Christians? Is this why you pray unceasingly?
·         Do you suppress godly love for others and keep yourself from praying unceasingly for other people?
·         Could it be that you have not willingly submitted to God, and that keeps you from praying ceaselessly for other people?

Paul’s Heart

Strengthening Believers

Paul’s love for the Roman Christians went beyond praying for them when he remembered them. He desired to be with them. In Acts 19:21, Paul said, “I must also see Rome.” This “must” comes from the word dei and means what is imperative. Paul said he must absolutely appear in Rome. “Appear” comes from the Greek word hoarao and means to see, look upon, and experience. Paul prayed for the Roman Christians because of what they experienced and their continued faith. He prayed for them to continue to be a testimony to God through their faith to the world. Paul desired to be with the Roman Christians to see them and experience their life with them because of his love for them. He trusted and prayed to God that he would “succeed” in going to the Romans (vs. 10). “Succeed” comes from the Greek word euodoo and means to grant prosperous and expeditious journey. Paul prayed God would grant him permission to go to Rome to see and be with them, and to be His apostle to them proclaiming the gospel there. He wanted to go at once, but he waited for God to make a way for him and send him. Though Paul’s desire was to be in Rome immediately, God’s timing for his visit there was for later.

The latter was truly Paul’s heart. He said in verses eleven and twelve,

For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established, that is that I may be encouraged together while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. (NASB)

Paul desired with his whole being to be with the Roman Christians and to be in Rome. Why he did it comes in the succeeding verses. He wanted to become acquainted with them by experience, not just by hearing about them. Paul wanted to impart something to them. “Impart” comes from the Greek word metadidomi and means to impart, share, or give over. Paul said he wanted to impart a spiritual gift. If we conclude his thought there instead of going through the end of the verse and going through verse twelve, we will make a mistake in understanding. Paul did not mean he wanted to lay hands on the people so they would receive spiritual gifts. This impartation of gifts is tied to the purpose of Paul’s letter. The purpose of Paul’s letter, he said, was to establish them and make them strong, and to encourage them. Verse eleven is emphasized and given its purpose with verse twelve. Paul did not emphasize his laying on of hands to pass supernatural spiritual gifts to people. His passing on of a gift came through his preaching of the gospel. The Romans probably had not received the preaching before by an apostle of Christ. Paul desired to be there to teach them the full truth of the Gospel so they would have a firm foundation and stand strong in their belief as they faced persecution then and in their future, especially since Jews had faced persecution by Emperors in the recent past already.

The “being established” Paul spoke of at the end of verse eleven means to place firmly, fix, strengthen, and make constant. Paul’s gift of teaching and preaching the gospel in Rome would help the Christians there to hear the whole truth of the gospel so they would stand firm and constantly fixed in their faith with the hope God gives through their salvation by Jesus Christ. He recognized a difference between standing firm through one’s own strength and personal fortitude and that given by God through salvation and the Holy Spirit. Paul loved the Roman Christians because God put His own love for them in his heart. Because Paul loved them, he wanted to make sure they understood well so they could stay strong through their faith in God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Paul continued his thought from verse eleven. The first thought was he longed to be with the Roman Christians so he could impart a gift for their establishment. The second thought is he longed to be with them so he would be encouraged with them by their mutual faith. The word “encouraged” comes from the Greek word sumparakaleo and means to call upon, invite, or exhort at the same time together or to strengthen with others. Paul wanted to be together with other believers to strengthen them and gain strength from them. Remember, the Roman Christians knew about persecution or knew it from firsthand experience. Paul experienced persecution, too, throughout his ministry as an apostle of Jesus. He mentioned it often in his writings and spoke of his “thorn in the flesh.” Paul did not want to go to Rome just to give encouragement. He wanted to receive it, too. Christians who gather together find this happens as they associate, teach, strengthen, and pray for each other. These are some of the reasons God calls His children to worship Him in His temples, synagogues, and churches. Each Christian can bless others through the blessings with which God blessed him or her. They reciprocally and mutually encourage each other by their faith.

·         Do you attend church regularly? Why or why not?
·         What does Paul’s spoken need for encouragement make you feel or think?
·         Consider finding an evangelical Christian church near you, attending, interacting with the people there, and praying for God to bless you and the people there with whom you meet.

Proclaiming the Gospel

Paul’s first love was God. Circumcised on the eighth day, and trained as most Jewish boys in the Talmud, Paul studied under Rabbi Gamaliel strictly according to the law of the fathers of Israel. He was zealous for God and persecuted the Way, Jesus-followers (Acts 22:3-4) (NASB). Even while Paul was a Pharisee, he loved God, though some might say he loved the law more. While on his way to Damascus to persecute and take Jewish Jesus-followers from there to Jerusalem for punishment (Acts 22:5), Jesus met him in a very bright light. From that day, Paul loved Jesus and the God of salvation more than he did the law. At the moment Jesus met him, he became blind. Jesus told Paul to go to Damascus where He would reveal His appointed purpose for him. Paul entered Damascus and the priest, Ananias, told Paul, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” [Acts 22:14-15 (NASB)]. From that moment, his heart for God leaped to its greatest height. Paul’s love for the unsaved grew because of God’s heart within him.
This heart of God within Paul compelled him to preach and teach the gospel. It gave him the desire to go to Rome. In Romans 1:13-15, Paul said,

And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you, and have been prevented thus far, in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (NASB)

As he said in Romans 1:13, he “often planned” to go to them and God prevented it so far. Before we sail past this point to understand why Paul said he planned to go to Rome, let’s consider what he meant when he said he “had been prevented” from going earlier. The word “prevented” comes from the Greek word koluo and means to hinder, prevent, or forbid. During Paul’s three first missionary journeys, God forbade him to go to Rome. He gave Paul the task to preach to the unsaved in the east (Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, and Israel) and to encourage and strengthen them. Once churches started and Paul trained and left men behind to help them grow, God opened the door for Paul to go to Rome.

Paul’s going to Rome, he said, was like going to Macedonia, Ephesus, Corinth or any of the other places he visited. He wanted to preach the gospel so people would come to saving faith in Jesus the Christ. Though Paul had learned about Christians living in Rome, he realized there were many other people among the masses who lived or visited the metropolitan trade center who did not believe in Jesus and had not heard of Him.  For these people, Paul desired to preach the gospel so all people would receive salvation (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul, having freedom to travel easily within the Roman empire since he was a Roman citizen, used that freedom to take the gospel farther than any other apostle. He desired to go as far as Rome and Spain (Romans 15:24 & 28). He expressed his desire for the people in Rome in Romans 1:13 when he said he planned to go there so he “may obtain some fruit among you also even as among the rest of the Gentile.” Paul heard about the Christians in Rome, but understood there were thousands more who worshiped gods from the pantheon worshiped by Roman citizens and people who visited there.

The love Paul felt for God and for other people compelled him, obliged him, to preach to the people in Rome. He expressed this compelling in verse fourteen when he said he was under obligation to the Greeks and barbarians. This word “obligation” comes from the Greek word opheiletes and means one who owes another or is bound by a duty. Paul, the man who persecuted and ordered the deaths of Jesus-followers in Israel, felt obliged to God for saving him and for calling him as an apostle. He felt compelled to declare God’s gospel so other people, people like himself whom God created and loved, would know Jesus and receive salvation and eternal life. That shows Paul’s love of God and humankind. He did not decide Jesus could only save the Jews could and so kept himself within Israel. Likewise, Paul did not decide only wise and socially acceptable people should hear the gospel. He determined each person he met, whether Greek or barbarian, wise or foolish must hear the gospel of salvation and receive the opportunity to accept Jesus as his or her Savior.

After making this point to the Roman Christians, Paul said it was because of this, his love for God and every person, and God’s calling on His life to preach and teach that he was ready to go to Rome. He said he was “eager” to preach the gospel. For Paul and for us, this means he was ready and willing. Often God asks a person do to something for Him, but that person is not willing. He/she knows God made him/her ready to do what He called him/her to do, but he/she is unwilling to do it. Paul stated in verse fifteen, he was ready (prepared by God) and willing (personally accepting and doing) to do what God asked of him. Eagerness implies God preparing you for a task and you being willing, consenting, and then doing what God called you to do. Paul did not preach grudgingly. He preached with a great desire to see all people come to know Jesus, receive salvation from their sins and gain eternal life with Him in heaven. To have this intense desire required him to love the Lord totally and to love his fellow man and woman enough to go anywhere to reach them and preach to them. Paul’s response to Jesus’ love for him, was love for God. God’s love for Paul and each person pierced Paul’s heart so he had the heart of God. Paul was ready. He expressed his willingness. Paul was eager.

·         God trains each of us for His service. He uses accountants, nurses, presidents, teachers, students, etc. to share the gospel and tell of His love.
·         You are trained. If you have accepted the love of God shared through His gospel and are a Christian, He made you ready.
·         Are you willing to do what God tells you to do? Eagerness comes from being ready and willing?
·         What will it take for you to be willing? What stops you from willingly giving up mastery of your life to the Master and Lord of all life?

Main Theme of Romans

Paul received God’s love for all people within himself, recognized it and his love for God, and acted upon his debt to God by willingly doing what God appointed him to do. God appointed him to preach the gospel. Paul recognized this calling and eagerly acted upon it for the rest of his life.
The main message of Paul’s preaching and teaching is what he primarily addressed in the letter to the Romans. He proclaimed his testimony in verses sixteen and seventeen. Paul said,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (NASB)

The righteousness of God was Paul’s main theme in this letter and in other letters. First, though, Paul attested he was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not embarrassed or afraid of his association with God and His gospel that came through the death of Jesus Christ, His Son. Paul expressed this conviction in 2 Timothy 1:12 when he said, “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (NASB) His conviction of God’s mercy, love, and provision of salvation drove him to tell as many people as he could about the gospel.

Paul expressed why the gospel was important and essential for all to hear and accept. He said, “It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” People have difficulty trusting in what they cannot see. This regularly gave an excuse for denying this gift God gives. Paul explained the gospel of God is not powerless and is real and vibrant. He said the gospel is the power of God. This “power” comes from the Greek word dunamis. Dunamis is the word from which we get our English words dynamite and dynamo. Dunamis is the power, strength, and ability inherent in God by virtue of His nature. God is the One who created the universe-rocks, land, seas, animals, plants, sun, stars, moon, wind, gravity, oxygen, and humankind-by His will, hands, and breath. He created everything out of nothing-ex nihilo, meaning “creation from nothing.” This powerful and creative God provided a way for people, people who have sinned and are unholy, to return to a right relationship with Him, the holy God. This way is the gospel Paul and all Christians proclaim. It came through the birth of Jesus, His Son, in human form to live as people live, in a sinful world, yet to be without sin. This Son then died though He did not sin, so that by His death, we sinful people could receive salvation from the death penalty of sin we deserve and wipe us clean from the stains of our sins. This cleansing from sins makes a person who believes in Jesus holy so he or she can be in God’s presence and have a relationship with Him. This gospel that proclaims God’s love and mercy toward us came through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the power of God to save people if they repent and trust in Jesus Christ. 


Paul meant this when he wrote verse sixteen. God made His righteousness available to people through His power to save so each person who believes will become righteous-made right with God-and be in His presence from that day and forever. This gospel, Paul preached is for the Jews, Greeks and barbarians, as his heart told him. He said in verse sixteen God’s powerful gospel of salvation is for everyone, “to the Jews first and also to the Greeks.” God wants everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Him.

With verse seventeen, Paul explained only by the righteousness of God will His people live. From their first steps in the faith through growth in their faith until the end of time, people will see God’s righteousness and hear His people testify about Him. Righteousness is the virtue of being right without tarnish of sin in thought, feeling, or action. God’s character defines righteousness and rightness. He is the epitome and definition of righteousness.  The salvation He gives people who repent and believe in Jesus makes them righteous by Jesus’ cleansing of their sins. Jesus Christ and the faith of believers reveal God’s righteousness. From the first encounter of salvation through to the end of a believer’s earthly life, God’s righteousness is revealed. From justification through sanctification to glorification, the righteousness of God shows through the person because of what God did through Jesus Christ.

Justification occurs when a person receives Christ as his or her Savior and received the cleansing from sins His sacrificial death made possible. Christ’s righteousness is credited to believers so they are made right with God and can have a relationship with Him. Paul said in Romans 3:21-22, “But now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.” (NASB)

“Sanctification” and “saint” come from the same root Greek word, hagios. They each relate to holiness. “Saint” means to be holy as set apart from something that is unholy. To sanctify something is to set it apart for special use. So, to sanctify a person, a saint/believer, is to make him or her holy for God’s use. Jesus spoke about sanctifying His disciples in John 17:17. Sanctification is being made separate for God’s use. All believers enter this state of sanctification when they receive new life through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, believers receive sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30). God is the One who sanctifies a person. We cannot sanctify ourselves since we are not holy. Only one who is holy, who is clean from sin, can make something clean, holy, that was full of sin and separate it from the unholy. Sanctification is a progressive experience. As a person becomes more obedient to God that person becomes more holy. We set aside ourselves for God’s service, for His holy work, and grow in holiness through our obedience to Him. Peter called this “growing in the Lord” when he said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [2 Peter 3:18 (NASB)] Paul spoke of it in Philippians 1:6 when he said, “For I am confident of this very that, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NASB) This progressive sanctification carries the idea that God sets apart to do the His purposes in the world just as Jesus set Himself apart for God’s purposes as John said in John 10:37. Jesus acknowledged God intended His children to go into the world to tell about Him in John 17:18-19. He said, “As Thou did send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.” Sanctification comes through Christ, through a relationship with Him. Peter said believers were to seek holiness. In 1 Peter 1:15, he said, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in your behavior.” (NASB) Finally, Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” (NASB)

Sanctification is a process from the point of justification to the time when God’s kingdom comes on earth and He resurrects believers to live with Him eternally. When Paul said in Romans 1:17, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” he understood and taught that a Christian’s faith grows from its first baby steps at profession of faith through the person’s glorification. Going from faith to faith means following God’s leading and growing closer to Him with daily prayer, Bible study, and meditation. A believers reveals the righteousness of God more and more as his or her faith grows from its first aspiration and spoken words of acceptance throughout his or her life in love and obedience to God. Just as God is revealed through creation, conscience, Christ, and the Bible, so He and His righteousness is revealed through a believer’s life of faith. Paul meant this when he wrote in Romans 1:17, “The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” Paul’s faith revealed God’s righteousness so that he declared in verse seventeen he is “not ashamed of the gospel.”

·         Do you recognize the reality of God in His creation, in your conscience, in the lives of your Christian friends, and/or the Bible, but still push His gift of righteousness and salvation away? Why?
·         If you are a Christian, do you take time with God each day so that your faith grows along with your holiness? If not, why not?
·         Do you deny the power of God in your life even though you believed in Jesus Christ and received His salvation? Why do you refuse to grow with God and allow His Holy Spirit to guide and guard you each day?
·         Now is the time to consider each of these and decide if you will recognize God and accept His forgiveness, salvation, and power.


Recap

What is important about these ten verses to our lives today? Why should we pay attention and act upon them? First and foremost, the gospel is important. As Paul and other Bible authors stated, God’s love for humanity is paramount. Because of His love, He provided a way for each person to be in a right relationship with Him. This right relationship requires righteousness on both sides, but we humans do not have it because of the wrong things we have done, said, or considered. Through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, God wipes away the sins of humankind when a person believes in Him as the Son of God and repents of his or her sins. Because Jesus took the death penalty we each deserve for our wrongdoings, we do not owe for our sins. When Jesus allowed the Romans to crucify Him, He took the judgment for sinners. By His death, He gave us righteousness, God’s righteousness. When we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who took our sins away, God makes us righteous and able to be in His presence, in a relationship with Him. That is most important for us in these verses.

Because of Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul believed in Jesus as his Savior and has a love for God and humanity deeper than he ever had. His desire is to go where God tells him and to preach and teach the gospel. This desire, this love for the souls of other people, comes from the heart of God He put in him when Jesus saved him. Paul’s love for other people allows him to pray with thanks for them and to pray ceaselessly. In praying ceaselessly, Paul gains a greater heart and love for the people, comes to understand them better, and knows better how to pray for them. This back and forth dynamic occurs anytime we pray to God. As we pray, we know God more and we pray better. When we pray, we recognize God’s heart for people more and know the people better so we love deeper and better.

Relevance and Conclusion

What is the “take away” for this lesson? How is this relevant to us now? Paul’s love for God and submission to Him as a bondservant is most important here. He went when God told him to go. Paul went where God opened doors. God gave him a heart for Himself and the people, especially Gentiles. Because of Paul’s love for God, he willingly submitted to God as His Lord and Master. Paul said he was eager to preach the gospel. Using the Greek definition of eager, he was ready and willing. God made Paul ready. He put His heart for Himself and other people in Paul. God trained Paul in the Jewish laws for which he had been fiercely protective. He instilled in him the need for intent of the heart in worship, not mere ritual. God taught him how to preach when He had Paul train with Gamaliel. He prepared him to defend the gospel when he trained to be a Pharisee. God made Paul ready for the task to which He would call him. When Paul received the love of God through his salvation and expressed his love back to Him, it resulted in willingness to do the tasks to which God called/appointed him.

Our love of God shows in our obedience to what He asks of is. Paul’s voluntary submission to the Lord’s appointing him an apostle showed the depth of his love for Him. Our love for God shows in how we relate to other people. Do we love them like God loves them? Paul loved the Roman Christians enough that he prayed for God’s grace and peace on them and gave thanks to God for them though he had never met them or visited their city.

Our challenge, our calling by God, is to love Him and to love the people whom He loves. That would be all people. Both Moses and Jesus taught what loving God means. It means loving Him with your whole being, heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Mark 12:30). To get to this depth of love, we must recognize, realize within ourselves, and choose to live out the love God gives us through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, for our salvation just so we can have a right relationship with Him and live eternally with Him. When we truly understand the magnitude of His gift of love through the death of His Son, our whole being will compel us to express our great gratitude and love to Him. We will reach deep within ourselves and give from the depths of our being from all parts of ourselves to try to express the depths of our gratitude and love back to Him. This means our love will show, will shine out, in gratitude and obedience to Him to do willing whatever He asks of us. We will scratch the depths of our being to find the last ounce of ourselves to express our love to God. This depth of love is most likely from where Paul loved and served God and from where His love of all people came.

If you are already a believer in Jesus Christ, you now must decide if you love God to the very last ounce of your being and are giving Him everything you are to serve Him willingly in the task for which he has made you ready and to which He called you. Are you eager to do what God asks of you? If not, what keeps you from loving God with absolute obedience? What keeps you from loving people with the love God put in your heart for them? God waits for you to love Him willingly and join Him in sharing the gospel of His righteousness so each person will hear and receive salvation.

If you are not a believer, what in yourself keeps you from accepting God’s gift of salvation from your sins, the power of sin, and the power of death? What is keeping you from accepting the full degree of His love? Today you heard the basics of the Gospel from Paul. The gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. Right now, as an unbeliever, you live under the weight of your wrongdoings. Those wrongdoings separate you from God. He won’t be in your presence because He is holy and you are not. When you confess and believe in Jesus, He makes you holy so you can be with God now and forever. Without His salvation, you live powerless against temptation and death. The only strength you have is your own fortitude, and that is feeble. Sometimes you fail yourself. We all do. But, with the strength of God’s power, His dunamis, you would no longer have to struggle. God would give you the power of Himself through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit if you claim it, hold onto it, and walk through life with it. As a Christian, you would have power over sin. He gives you power over death. That means your soul would not die, be separated permanently from God, but will be with Him in His presence for eternity.

We each must decide what we will do about and with God’s love given through the sacrificial death of His Son, Jesus. Will you accept it? Will you stand in the power He offers? Will you show your love and gratitude to God by obeying His calling? Or, will you hold back and not accept His righteousness or not accept His calling?

Are you eager, ready and willing, to answer the call of God’s righteousness?


“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in this flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me, and I do not know which to choose.” [Philippians 1:21-22 (NASB)]


Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Pauline Letter Structure and the Letter to the Romans


Introduction

Most of Paul’s letters to Christians of different cities and towns begin with three things. He opened them by identifying the sender (himself) and the addressee and gave a greeting. Next, Paul prayed over the people to whom he wrote offering thanks to God for them (except for Galatians and Timothy). Finally, he wrote a summation of the main theme of the letter. After the typical Pauline opening to his letter, within the remaining parts of the letter, Paul delved into the purpose of his writing to the city, village, or town, the body of the letter. He ended with a final greeting and prayer over the people to whom he wrote.  Paul kept to this structure in his letter to the Romans.

In this Bible study, we will consider the first of the three parts that make up the beginning of the letter to the Romans. The three parts that make up the beginning of Romans include the opening, thanksgiving, and summation of the main theme. Verses one through seven are the opening. The thanksgiving for the Romans is in verses eight through fifteen. Verses sixteen and seventeen include the summary of the main theme of the letter to the Romans. The Bible study after this one will include the remaining two parts of the beginning of the letter to the Romans.


The Opening

Paul’s opening to any of his letters was not what we consider as an opening today. Considering Paul’s training in the Jewish laws-a Pharisee-and his calling by Christ to be His apostle, he insured people recognized his background and authority for teaching and preaching so no one would doubt his earnestness and the authenticity of the gospel of which he spoke. Added to this, in his opening statement, Paul made sure the people heard the basics of the gospel. To his mind, his identity was tied in to the story of the gospel. The next part of the opening tells the reader to whom Paul addressed this letter. In the process of telling to whom he wrote the letter, Paul reminded them of who they are through Christ. The final part of the opening is Paul’s greeting to the addressees, his blessing of them. Let’s now consider the different parts of the opening of the letter to the Romans.

Paul’s Identity

In the first verses of chapter one, Paul told the readers and hearers who he was and his authority to preach and teach, and summarized the gospel. Consider now what he said in verses one through six,
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of the faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. [Romans 1:1-6 (NASB)]

Paul quickly identified himself as the writer (originator) of the letter with his first word in this letter. He then declared who he was. Paul declared himself a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. The term bond-servant comes from the Greek word doulos and means a person who gave him or herself up to another person’s will. A bond-servant devotes him or herself to another person and his or her will with disregard to his or her own interests. Paul voluntarily gave away his rights to his life and will to serve Christ and advance His cause among all people of the world. He made himself a permanent servant of Christ and gave away his rights to do what Christ wanted of him. We need to understand the significance of this action by Paul. Roman citizens by birth, such as Paul was, would never make themselves a slave to another person. Romans prided themselves on their freedom. Paul voluntarily and willingly gave up such freedom. He chose to give his life to Christ to serve Him. Paul chose to be a bond-servant to Christ to be used for whatever His purposes would be and to die for Him if asked. He devoted himself totally to Jesus Christ. Paul used the term bond-servant to describe himself in the letters to the Romans and the Philippians.

The next term we must notice is what Paul called Jesus. He called Him the Christ. The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, which means anointed. Christ was the Greek term for the Hebrew word Messiah. For Paul to call Jesus the Christ meant he recognized and acted upon that recognition that the Messiah of whom the prophets foretold would come from Yahweh had come in the form of a man and His name was Jesus. Jesus the carpenter’s son, the one whose preaching career lasted about three years, whom people followed, whom the Jewish leaders persecuted and crucified, and against whose followers Saul (Paul before salvation) persecuted, is the Messiah, the Christ sent from Yahweh. Paul, no longer Saul the Pharisee and persecutor, proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the awaited Savior of the Jews, when he called him Christ Jesus.

Saul sided with Christ Jesus and accepted His forgiveness and salvation. In Antioch of Syria, he began going by the Greek version of his name, Paul. He accepted Jesus’ calling on his life as an apostle. The word “called” comes from the Greek word kletos. It means invited by God to have eternal salvation and to do something for God as divinely selected and appointed by Him. Paul accepted that Jesus is the Christ. He tuned his heart to God and understood His calling to him to receive salvation and appointment. Paul accepted and took upon himself the role to which God called him, the role of apostle.

This role as apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos meaning to be a delegate or messenger. God made Paul a messenger of His good news of the gospel of salvation for each person who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. This role of God’s apostle came with two parts. These two parts came from God, the setting apart of Paul and the purpose, to share the gospel. God set apart apostles for His service. The verb “set apart” comes from the Greek verb aphorizo meaning to mark off from others by boundaries or to appoint and set apart for a specific purpose. Previously Paul, being from the tribe of Levi, was set apart in the Old Testament by God to be part of the priesthood in Israel. Now, with the Messiah having come, God set Paul apart for a new purpose. This purpose is the second part of God’s calling of Paul to be His apostle. Paul’s set apart-ness was for the purpose of sharing the gospel. The gospel (euanggellion) is the good news of the kingdom of God soon being set up and His Son, Jesus, coming to be the Messiah, the Savior of all people.

The Basics of the Gospel

Paul made sure the people knew the basis of this gospel for which God set him apart to be His messenger. He wrote of this with the next three-and-a-half verses, 2-5a. In these three-and-a half verses, Paul gave at least ten statements about the gospel. The first is God promised this gospel. The word “promise” comes from the Greek word proepaggellomai and means to announce or say ahead of time as a promise. Paul stated God announced this gospel would happen before it occurred. He prophesied about this gospel through the priests and prophets of the Old Testament. Paul again spoke of this promise by God to Titus in Titus 1:2. Luke said this, too, in Acts 3:18 when he said, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” (NASB) God promised, He announced ahead of time, His plan to send the Messiah.

How did God promise this gospel? How did human ears hear of this promise of God for the gospel? Paul (and Luke) said God sent prophets beforehand. These prophets were people moved by the Spirit of God as His spokesmen declaring solemnly to people what God said to him or her by divine inspiration relating to the cause and kingdom of God and human salvation. A prophet tells of God’s plans for salvation for humanity and tells about God’s kingdom. God promised His gospel. He promised it before it happened and let people know about it through His prophets.

Besides this, Jews and other God-followers would know of God’s promises of the gospel through the written Scriptures. These Scriptures tell what the prophets of God said to people. Holy Scripture verifies prophets divinely inspired by God foretold what occurred, God’s gospel (vs. 2). This shows God’s plan was to provide salvation for people. Scripture is not just a history book, but a testament to who God is and His plans for humanity-to love and bring them back into relationship with Himself.
These holy Scriptures tell of the what God promised beforehand. The prophets of God spoke about the Son of God, the Messiah. This Son of God was born as a descendant of David according to the flesh (vs. 3). John confirmed the Son of God became human in John 1:14 when he said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NASB) The Son of God came into the history of man, born as a man, so He could live as a man tempted, but never sinning. This Son came as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that his reign would never end. Jesus was a descendant of David and is eternal. God kept His promise to David through Jesus.

The gospel declared the fulfillment of God’s promise to David through the birth of God’s Son in human form in the historical timeline of humanity through the seed of David, as his descendant (vs. 4). Added to this, the gospel declared the Son of God with power. Satan recognized Jesus’ power as the Son of God and tempted Him to use His power and prove it in Matthew 4:3. This inherent power as the Son of God, this dunamis (the word from which we get our word dynamite), gave Him power over death with His resurrection from the dead.

On top of this, this Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is holy. He came with the Spirit of holiness. This “holiness” comes from the Greek word hagiosune meaning majesty, holiness, and moral purity. The Son of God intersected the human historical timeline as the Son of man coming with power, majesty, moral purity, and holiness. He was the fulfillment of the promise God made to the prophets and Israel.

This Son of God is Jesus Christ our Lord, Paul said (vs. 4). The word “Lord” comes from the Greek word kurios meaning master and lord, and deserving respect and reverence. Jesus is the Messiah. Through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Paul said each believer received grace. The gospel is about the grace of God given to humanity through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This grace from God comes through Jesus. The word “grace” comes from the Greek word charis, which is undeserved favor from God that brings joy and delight. Grace comes through Jesus Christ’s mediation for each person on the cross. Through this same grace, Paul said he received his calling to be an apostle (vs. 1 & 5a). He did not deserve to receive God’s favor, no one does. God blessed Paul with it through Jesus’ mediation for him on the cross. Christ’s sacrificial death for the sins of humanity provided the cleansing from wrongdoings against God and other people. Jesus, on the cross, took the penalty-the judgment and punishment-each person deserves for his or her sins, so each person could receive God’s gracious cleansing of his or her sins.

Through this same grace, Paul received God’s call to apostleship. Grace is the gift from God no one deserves or can earn, but which God gives because of His love for each person. Through God’s grace, He sets apart each believer to be His child. God makes each believer holy by Jesus’ sacrificial death when the person believes in Him as Savior and repents of his or her sins. That is God’s grace; people cannot earn it. Paul said God calls every believer-people who receive His grace-to apostleship. He calls each believer  to tell others the gospel. God sends them out-grants them apostleship-to tell other people the gospel. Jesus said this, too, in Matthew 28:18-20 when He gave His great commission to every believer. Jesus said in this verse,

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)]

The gospel God promised beforehand and proclaimed through His prophets came through His Son, born into the human timeline as a descendant of David. This fulfilled God’s promise to David of an unending kingdom over Israel. This Son is also the Son of God who came with power and holiness and is Lord. Through this Son of God, we each have access to receive God’s grace through belief in His Son, Jesus Christ, and received His calling of apostleship. After this explanation of the gospel of truth by Paul, he returned to explaining his personal calling by God.

Paul’s Identity-Redux

Once Paul explained the gospel, its foretelling and promise by God, and its power and the grace by which God gives it, he returned to his identity because of Christ. He said in verse 5b what the purpose of his apostleship was. His apostleship was “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul’s duties as a called apostle of God were to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In verse five, he said this meant his duties as a messenger for God of the gospel was to preach persuasively and teach rightly so the hearers who were not believers would obey the conviction of God on their hearts and by faith accept the grace, forgiveness, and salvation He offers them. Paul said he was to teach persuasively so believers would be convicted to obey God in each area of their lives.

Paul continued by saying his apostleship to God, his calling by God to be His messenger, was to go to the Gentiles, people of non-Jewish background. When Paul spoke of Gentiles in this letter and others, he meant Gentile Christians most often, though he wanted to persuade non-believers to accept God’s grace, forgiveness, and salvation, too.  Paul did not want to receive praise for his teaching and preaching. His identity remained in God and he wanted Him to receive the thanks and glory. Paul preached and taught for the “sake of Jesus Christ” so all people could hear of God’s gospel.

Finally, Paul stated God calls each believer. He meant God divinely appoints each believer in Jesus Christ to be a messenger, a bearer, of the good news of the gospel. Paul heard aurally from the Lord to go be His apostle. In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ also commanded each believer to go tell the good news making disciples and baptizing them. Paul made sure each person who read or listened to the reading of his letter knew God called them to share the gospel, to be His messenger, too.

The Identity of the Addressee

From the end of verse six, Paul led us to know to whom he wrote this letter. To the “called of Jesus Christ” from verse 6a, he said in verse seven,
To all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 1:7 (NASB)]

No doubt arises for whom Paul dictated this letter. He wrote to Roman Christians. Paul used two terms to describe the Romans. He said God called them beloved-dear, precious, and loved. God esteemed-valued-them. Paul said these precious and valued ones of Rome God called saints. To our minds, saints are people who are sin-free and holy. Yet, how can that we call human holy, people who are fallible and sinful? The Greek word Paul used for “saints” is hagios. Hagios means to be different as in set apart from other things, holy unlike other things that are unholy. God set the Israelites apart for Himself and called them holy. This did not mean they were sinless, but that God made them holy for Himself, just like His temple was holy, a place different from other places and set apart for Him and His worship. For Paul, saints were holy, different from other people because of what Jesus Christ did in and to them. He cleansed them with his atoning sacrifice, His death on the cross for their sins. This means each believer in Jesus Christ is a saint, cleansed by Him and set apart as different from non-believing people of the world. They are saints to God because He called them and made them holy. Paul called the Roman believers saints because of God’s cleansing and calling on their lives.

The Greeting

After Paul addressed the believers in Rome, he greeted them with blessings. Paul greeted them by saying three things in verse seven. Let’s consider the greeting closely. The greeting is in the form of a prayer for the Romans. Paul asked for God’s grace over them. This grace once again comes from the Greek word charis and means the joy and unmerited favor of God. Paul asked for God’s peace on the Romans. The Romans understood peace from a worldly view. The Romans valued pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Their world was chaos and disturbance free. The peace Paul prayed over them comes from the Greek word eirene. It means tranquility, harmony, security, prosperity, and the peace the Messiah gives of an assurance of salvation that fears nothing on earth.

 When Paul prayed these two things over them, he prayed to God the Father and Jesus the Lord. He knew the grace and peace of the Trinity is everlasting and abundant. Paul prayed for the Roman Christians to have abundant and overflowing joy and peace. This kind of peace can only come from God. Paul recognized this and emphasized it for the Roman believers who expected joy from their ways of life and worship, and peace from their government. Paul emphasized true joy and tranquility comes from God through Jesus Christ. Paul remembered the Aaronic prayer over the Nazirites, the person set apart from birth as God’s anointed. In Numbers 6:24-26, Aaron said, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.” (NASB) Just as Aaron asked a blessing of God’s grace and peace on the Nazirite, Paul prayed a blessing over the Roman Christians in his greeting.

Paul greeted the Romans with a blessing for God’s grace and favor, and His joy and peace. He recognized two types of favor, joy, and peace exists, and prayed the eternal blessing of grace, joy, and peace be upon them. Such a wonderful way to introduce one’s self to others and to begin a relationship. Paul desired to be with the Romans. His heart already leaned toward them. Paul’s first contact with the Romans should be a model for us today. Pray for God’s peace and grace on the people you will meet and who you may not yet have met. What greater blessing could there be other than God’s blessing of Himself and salvation?


Conclusion

Paul packed a large amount of information into the opening of his letter to the Romans. He introduced himself, his background, and his authority to the Romans before he spoke to them about what God put on His heart for them. Paul explained the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s power, and the grace God gives through it. He continued by declaring all believers are saints, holy, through God’s making, His calling them to Himself. Finally, he stated for whom his letter to address.

As we go through this power theological letter and treatise to the Romans, we will learn and understand major components of the theology of faith in Jesus Christ, like justification, salvation, and sanctification. We will understand more about God and his righteousness and wrath, and love and mercy. More than anything, if we each obey the conviction God puts within our hearts while studying this letter, we will grow into a deeper relationship with God and become more like Him.

Today, we each must walk away with these questions:
1.      Do I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2.      Have I repented and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior?
3.      Am  I living out God’s calling on my life to be His bond-servant by going and telling people about His gospel?

We must understand, ever person has sinned and will continue to sin. We are sinners. Yet, we can be justified, made just and in right relationship with God, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Every person sins and deserves the penalty for sins-death, which is eternal separation from God. But God, great in His love and wisdom, gives grace to all who believe.

So what are you going to do about it?

* Believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and be made holy by God’s grace
* Tell other people about the gospel because God set you apart to do that and Jesus commanded it of all believers, made you holy, and put His heart of love in you to love people as He does.

It’s always your choice.




Friday, September 29, 2017

Romans, the Background



Introduction

Over the centuries, many theologians have written much about the book of Romans. No doubt has arisen over the originator of the letter. Exact determination of the time of the letter’s writing is not available, though we can make close estimations. The audience for the letter is evident from the beginning. Equally, the purpose of the letter appears obvious. Though theologians have determined each of these almost without a doubt, we should study them more and understand the historical and cultural setting of this letter before studying the letter itself. This will allow us to understand the lives of the people to whom Paul wrote, the political and religious climate in which they lived, and then grasp what Paul wrote and his intentions so we can apply it to our circumstances today.

The Author of Romans

The authorship of the letter to the Romans is unarguable. Paul identified himself immediately in Romans 1:1 as the author. The style of the letter shows the reader Paul authored it. Paul had a particular style of correspondence as readers notice in his other letters. He began with identifying himself and his calling, then gave a greeting, a prayer, thanksgiving, and finally a quick statement of purpose for the letter. Besides these things identifying Paul as the author, he often ended his letters with personal greetings to people in the area to whom he wrote the letter and from people who traveled with him. Notice in Romans 16:22, someone other than Paul wrote the letter. Paul dictated to Tertius his letter to the Romans. Tertius was a scribe made available to Paul while Gaius hosted him in his home.

As to which Gaius this letter mentioned, he could be the one who lived in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14) in whose house Paul later stayed during his third missionary journey. Other than the Corinthian Gaius, a Gaius who lived in Ephesus (Asia) interacted with Paul, too. He traveled with Paul during his third missionary journey. Authorities seized Gaius in Ephesus (Acts 19:29, 35-41). Theologians wonder if this Gaius mentioned in Romans was from Corinth or Ephesus. Both men had homes in places where Paul ministered and could have hosted him.

Another statement in the letter to the Romans lends credence to the theory Paul wrote from Corinth. Paul mentioned Phoebe of Cenchrea in Romans 16:1-2. Because Cenchrea was a close neighbor to Corinth, some theologians believe Paul wrote from there. Yet, when reading Acts 19, no clarity exists about from which city Paul wrote this letter. No matter from where Paul dictated this letter, Tertius wrote it for Paul while he was on his third missionary journey (Acts 19).

The Date of the Writing of Romans

What would have been the time period Paul wrote the letter to the Romans? If we look in Acts 19:21-22, we note Paul stated he intended to go to Rome after visiting Jerusalem. This occurred during his third missionary journey when he journeyed around Asia and Greece. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia had given him money and other things to take to the believers in Jerusalem who suffered during a severe famine. Most theologians believe the timing of the writing of the letter to the Romans occurred about the time Paul stated he desired to go to Rome after going to Jerusalem in Acts 19:21-22. Determining an approximate year that would have been takes a thorough reading of Acts and the letters Paul wrote.

When we understand Paul wrote to the Romans after he stated his desire to visit them in Acts 19, we realize the timing of the Paul’s composing the letter is between 52 and 59 A.D. We read in Acts 18:12 Gallio was the proconsul of Achaia. Based on historical records, Gallio was proconsul from the spring of 51 A.D. to the spring of 52 A.D. We know from historical records and Acts 22:1-21, Paul was in Jerusalem in 58 A.D. when Roman soldiers took him before the Governor in Caesarea. This means Paul dictated Romans between 52 A.D. and 58 A.D.

If we look closer at Paul’s travels between Achaia (southern Greece) and Jerusalem, we get a better idea of the time period he could have written the letter. In Acts 18, Luke wrote that Paul left Athens then traveled to Corinth (18:1). In Acts 18:11, he stated Paul stayed there eighteen months. During his time in Corinth of Achaia (southern Greece), the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, presided over Paul’s case in which the Jews accused him of proselytizing. After this, Paul traveled toward Syria (18:18).

During Paul’s travels toward Syria, he stopped in Cenchrea (18:18) then headed to Ephesus (18:19). He traveled to Caesarea then Antioch of Pisidia (Asia) (18:22). After he left Antioch, Paul traveled through the Galatian region and Phrygia (18:23) and met Apollos in Ephesus (18:24). He stayed in Ephesus for about two years (19:10). During Paul’s time in Ephesus this time, idol-making and selling merchants dragged Gaius and Aristarchus into the theater (19:29). After Paul’s two-year stay in Ephesus, he returned to Macedonia (northern Greece) for about three months (20:3). Paul and his traveling companions left Macedonia and returned to Corinth for a third time about 57-58 A.D. (1 Corinthians 16:5-8). They traveled back to Macedonia and sailed from Philippi and to Troas where they stayed seven days (20:6). After these stops, Paul made haste to get to Jerusalem. He desired to be there before Pentecost (20:16). On his way to Jerusalem, he went through Assos, Mitylene, Chios, Samos, Trogylium, Miletus, Cos, Rhodes, Patara, Tyre, Prolemais, and Caesarea of Israel (Acts 20-21).

Looking at this timeline of the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, we recognize Paul wrote to the Romans after Gallio’s time ended in 52 A.D. since Luke recorded Gallio’s political position in Acts 18:12 and before Acts 19:21-22. We realize he wrote the letter before he arrived back in Jerusalem in Spring 58 or 59 A.D. (Acts 21). The time of his extended stay in Ephesus was before his stay in Corinth during the winter of 57-58 A.D. (1 Corinthians 16:5-8 and Acts 19:22). Acts 19:22 says Paul sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia from Ephesus and then he stayed in Asia for a while. Since Corinth was in southern Greece and Ephesus was in western Asia, it appears Paul wrote the letter to the Romans during his two-year stay in Ephesus. That would put the timing for its writing around 57 A.D. Paul visited Ephesus and Corinth multiple times during this journey and often one immediately after the other.  His third missionary journey was about strengthening the Christian churches of the east so that’s why he visited them several times.
Because Paul roamed between Ephesus and Corinth several times during this missionary journey, readers cannot ascertain the letter’s definitive place of writing. Some dates went unrecorded for Paul’s visits to the towns, cities, and villages of his third missionary journey, so no definitive date for the writing of the letters to the Romans can occur. The general idea Paul wrote the letter in 57 A.D. fits with the historical events surrounding the Roman Christians and the intent of Paul’s message. Paul wanted to ensure the believers in the west understood the complete gospel message of God’s righteousness and love.

The Content of Romans

The big question is: why did Paul write this letter to Rome? He wanted to prepare them for his visit, explain the reason for his visit, and give them a full statement of the gospel he understood and preached. As with most Pauline letters, he stated the overarching theme of this letter at the end of his greeting and offering of thanks in chapter one. His thematic statement is in Romans 1:16-17. In these verses, Paul said,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and, also, to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith.’ [NASB]

From this thematic statement, Paul taught about man’s knowledge of God. He spoke of God’s righteousness and wrath, and His love and mercy. With this understanding, Paul informed the readers and hearers about God’s plan of reconciling humanity with Himself. He taught about justification, salvation, and sanctification in Romans, some of the hallmarks of this letter. 

Because the believers in Rome at the time of Paul’s writing were largely Gentile-background and not Jewish-background, Paul ensured through this letter and his later visit to the country that the believers understood completely about God, the Christ and His life, crucifixion, and resurrection, and the sinfulness and need of each person to be saved from their sins and be reconciled to God. Paul spent his first three missionary journeys preaching to, establishing, and teaching churches in the east. He yearned to go to unbelievers in the west so every person would know the Savior. His timing for the letter to the Roman Christians was appropriate. The political and religious leaders of their country had persecuted them there. Jews bickered and fought with the Christians. The emperors allowed people to persecute them. Later, Nero targeted the Christians for persecution. Paul understood persecution well since he had endured and realized he would continue to live through persecution as most believers do.

The Audience of Romans

Paul stated in Romans 1:7 to whom he addressed the letter. He addressed this letter to the “saints” of Rome. Who were these “saints” (holy ones), these people who accepted Christ as their Savior and through whom they received righteousness and one-ness with God? They were not idol-worshipers. As we study this letter, we must remember the people of Rome typically worshiped idols. As citizens of Rome, they had to worship their Emperor as a god. They worshiped other gods, too. They had a pantheon of gods, many whose names we recall today such as Janus, Venus, Aphrodite, Mars, Saturn, Fortuna, Terminus, Maia, and Quirinus. The Romans worshiped foreign gods from Babylon, Persia, and Egypt such as Mithras, Isis, Demeter, and Cybele. For many Romans, religion was a duty. Devotion to their gods and morality were not very important to them. They enjoyed the festivals, cults, rituals, and sacrifices. The debauchery of Rome remains well-known to this day.

Besides being polytheistic (worshiping more than one god), people recognize the Romans as being orderly, peaceful, and practical. They built a highly efficient road system throughout their empire. The peace of Rome (pax Romana) is well-known. The Roman government allowed each province to rule itself. If unrest occurred instead of peace, then Roman authorities would intervene to adjudicate the problem and establish and enforce a solution to bring about peace. The justice system worked well. If people broke the law, took away peace, and did not abide by the court ruling, stiff penalties and punishments occurred. It was to this Rome and the people of Rome that Paul wrote his letter.

The Historical Context of Romans

Into the Roman context, Judaism and Christianity inserted itself. Jews immigrated to Rome because of the commercial possibilities between Rome and other leading cities of the Mediterranean region like Alexandria. Praetor Hispanus ejected the Jews from Rome in 139 B.C. if they were not Roman citizens. After the Hasmonean war with Caesar, the Jewish community in Rome grew quickly because Rome took many as prisoners. Eventually the Roman masters set them free or ransomed them. The Jews settled by the Tiber River. 

The Jews experienced several expulsions from Rome by its Emperors. Tiberius was the first emperor to expel Jews from Rome. In 19 A.D., when Tiberius expelled the Isis cult from Rome, he expelled the Jews because Jewish customs were becoming too attractive to Roman citizens. The Gentile God-worshipers from Rome worshiped Yahweh in the synagogues with other believers and Jews. They followed most of the Jewish religious customs, but would not become circumcised because it was disfiguring. Greeks had great respect and admiration for the body and hesitated to disfigure it. Because of this, when the Jewish-like religion of Jesus-followers occurred later, the Gentiles of Rome more easily accepted the Gospel than Judaism. These differences in Jews and God-worshipers caused dissension in the synagogues and caused Tiberius to have the Jews expelled from Rome. In 31 A.D., emperor Tiberius allowed them to return.

After the Jews returned to Rome in 31 A.D., they found the small group of God-worshipers, who used to attach themselves to their worship, had grown and become independent of them. They were no longer too small to notice or care about. Emperor Claudius was not against the Jews, but sometime during his reign, probably in 41 A.D., dissensions arose among the Jews and God-worshipers. Because the dissension among them was big enough to catch Claudius’ attention, the number of God-worshipers in Rome must have been big. Claudius forbade the Jews and God-worshipers to have religious services. This dissension continued, so sometime in 49-50 A.D., Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. 

Before the time of Claudius’ expulsion of the Jews, most Messiah-followers were probably Jewish-background believers. [Historians and theologians believe Christianity made its way to Rome through traveling merchants. Some speculate Peter might have traveled there and preached.] After the Jews’ (both non-Christian and Christian) expulsion from Rome and their return after Claudius’ death, most of the Christians in Rome were probably Gentile-background believers. With the return of the Jews to Rome after Claudius’ death, friction ran high between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the house churches. The Jewish-background believers could not worship in the synagogues anymore because of the dispute with the Jews. They wanted to worship with the Gentile Christians when they returned. The Gentile Christians had well-established house churches by then. This may be the reason Paul felt the need to warn the Gentile Christians not to act superior to the Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christians might have felt vulnerable because of the feelings of superiority of the Gentile-background believers. We can find the writings of Paul speaking to the Gentile Christians in Romans 11:17-21 and 14:1-15:6. Paul wrote continually throughout this letter to Gentiles and Jews separately and to them together about their unifying relationship in Christ.

After Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, people in Rome complained to Emperor Nero that the Jews, and the Christians by association, evaded paying taxes. The Jews did not have to pay tax on temple tax and people thought it unfair. During this time, Rome had independent men collect taxes for them. These men knew the amount Rome would require them to hand over and so charged an additional amount besides the mandated tax. The tax collectors were corrupt. The Jews and Christians did not want the corrupt tax collectors to take more than Rome required, which was another reason they balked at paying taxes. Still, they feared if they made a fuss about that corruption, the Roman leaders would imprison or expel them from Rome again. Nero had connections with Jews and so looked favorably upon then. He is the one who divided the two religions-Jews and Christians-when before Romans considered Christianity an offshoot of Judaism. The Christians refused to bow to Nero and worship him as a god, so he persecuted them.  This is why when the great fire of Rome occurred in 18-23 July 64 A.D., Christians became the scapegoats for Nero.

Paul’s Arrival in Rome

Did Paul get to Rome? Yes, he did, but in a way none of us wants to visit a new city. He arrived as a prisoner under guard. He arrived there about three years after he wrote the letter to the Romans. While he was in Jerusalem, the Jews undertook to condemn and kill Paul (Acts 21:27). The tumult they produced in their attempt to stir up dissension caused the Roman guard to intervene. Before this persecution of Paul was over, Paul had spoken before two governors of the region and their council, King Agrippa, and eventually Caesar. The Jews who spoke before governors Felix and Festus said Paul was a pest and tried to desecrate the temple (Acts 24:5-6). Eventually, when King Agrippa heard from Paul of what charges he was being held, explained his calling from Jesus, and told him he was a Roman citizen who requested Caesar be his judge, the King conceded and sent him to Rome.

Paul’s journey to Rome was eventful. His boat left harbor during winter and came upon winter storms that shipwrecked them (Acts 27:41). A snake bit Paul and villagers saw it as a sign of his guilt, but he did not die (Acts 28:3-6). When spring arrived, the crew sailed on toward Italy. Paul arrived in Rome about 61 A.D. and rented a house while there (Acts 28:30). He wrote a letter to the Ephesians while in prison there (Ephesians 3:1, 4:1, & 6:20). In about 62 A. D., Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians (Philippians 1:7) and then wrote Colossians (Colossians 4:18). In 63 A.D., while in prison, he wrote Philemon (Philemon 1:1).

Paul’s imprisonment did not lead to his death, as the Jewish leaders hoped. Instead, Paul’s desire to go to Rome, preach and teach there, and witness to the Emperor occurred. What some people counted on to hold the gospel back, God used for His good and glory to spread the gospel. After Paul’s release from Roman imprisonment, he wrote Titus, and first and second Timothy. He continued to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to more unbelievers and helped strengthen churches.

Conclusion

From the first century, people recognized Paul as the most missionary-minded of Jesus’ apostles, though he never saw Jesus while he was alive as His other disciples did. Paul could not settle down to live life as an armchair Christian. He carried a burden in his heart to share the gospel with all people so no one would die without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ-God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. He lived life with a “thorn in the flesh” while expecting persecution at any time. His life was Christ’s. Paul surrendered everything to Him. Who better could preach to the Roman believers-Jew and Gentile-about suffering, unity, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life? The Roman Christians began small, had growing pains, experienced persecution, and sought more-to know Christ and grow more like Him. Paul’s heart, attuned to God’s heart, compelled him to go to people he did not know, but whom he already loved. He thanked God for them before he ever met them. He was “under obligation” to Greeks and Jews, and wise and foolish people. Paul was eager to preach the gospel to everyone (Romans 1:14-15). In this letter, he was eager to preach to Romans.

May our heart’s cry be as Paul’s was when he wrote Romans and when he penned Philippians. PAul said in Philippians 1:21-26,

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But, if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me, and I do not know which to choose. But, I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. (Philippians 1:21-26 [NASB])

May we each want to know the Lord and to have a love for all people so our heart cries out to the lost and they not die before hearing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.