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Romans 1:1-17

July 31st, 2011 by Vic

July 31, 2011

“Basic Christianity”

Romans 1:1-17


Paul is writing a letter to some friends he has not met yet.  Every word and phrase seems to be packed with meaning.


Paul was a Pharisee.  He was a scholar and arguably the best writer of the 1st Century.  His vocabulary was larger than any other writer of that time.  In contrast to our common description of salvation, Paul never said he was converted nor did he ever accept Christ.  Many times he said he was called and commissioned by God and he obeyed his calling.


The term Christian has been diluted by our spiritual laws and 12 steps.  Seeker sensitive services and emergent theology have comforted the comfortable, distorted the gospel and ignored its power.  What did it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the NT?  How many church growth programs did they have in their churches?  How many Children’s programs?  How many finance committees?  They had ministries to the poor and widows, but not programs.  As they identified needs and had opportunity, they did good.


At the time Paul was writing there may have been over 800,000 people in Rome.  They were pluralistic.  Their Caesar was one of their gods.  14 of the last 15 emperors were homosexuals.  Several historians point out that homosexuality is the common sign for the downfall of a nation.  Maybe you remember Sodom and Gomorrah.  Rome followed the pattern.

1.  Paul brings a simple message to a decaying nation.  Paul introduces himself in some detail maybe because he was writing to people he did not know personally.  He never used the name Saul.  Saul was an important name for Jews and meant ‘the great requested one’.  The name Paul means ‘little’.


Servant of Christ Jesus.  Jesus Christ is named 4 times in 7 verses.  Jewish worshippers thought of themselves as God’s slaves.  It was an honor to be a servant of God.  Paul could have introduced himself as a servant of God or citizen of Rome.  That would have been a good way to gain credibility.  Instead he is a bond servant of Christ Jesus, a slave by choice.


Called, not ‘converted’ or ‘saved’.  He never “accepted Jesus as his personal savior.”  The word ‘call’ was the word used to invite someone to a meal, and if the person inviting you was a King it became a summons more than an invitation.  Christians are to be the called out ones, those whose life style is determined by the summons of God.  Jesus can be pictured as standing at your heart’s door and knocking, but He is King of Kings.  If you hear a knock, you best open.


Apostle is a messenger, delegate, or one sent on behalf of another.  Paul received an apostleship to the Gentiles and all nations (5).  He was called to be an apostle and separated.


Set apart (off horizon) overlaps in meaning with sanctify, made holy, dedicated to god, commissioned by God.  He felt committed to the gospel.  Pharisee also meant set apart for the Law.  Now he is a Pharisee for the gospel, not the ritual purity.


The gospel of God is now described.  The word ‘gospel’ in Greek culture was usually plural.  It meant good tidings.  When a battle had been won messengers were sent back to tell the gospel, the good news.  For Christian believers a great battle has just been won.  Jesus Christ and God are validating authorities for Paul’s mission.


2. This gospel was promised beforehand.  It is a Jewish gospel to be shared with Gentiles.  The word for ‘promised beforehand’ is in the middle voice, which means the subject was acting upon himself.  God promised Himself on His own behalf through His prophets.  God was personally involved in the promises.  There is complete continuity in Paul’s teaching with the OT.


Holy Scriptures only occurs here in the NT.  It refers to an already established body of writings.


3. Concerning His Son further describes the gospel of God.  The gospel is defined in terms of Jesus Christ.


‘Came into being’ is not the usual word for birth.  Jesus’ Davidic lineage is already taken for granted.  There is no attempt to prove it.  His human nature suggests mortality, weakness, relationships, needs, and desires.


4.  ‘According to the spirit of holiness’ or ‘the spirit which is characterized by holiness’.  The new phase of Christ’s existence and role is now characterized by power, just as the previous phase was characterized by flesh.


Appointed, designated, and declared to be Son of God in power by an act of God in the resurrection.  The resurrection proved that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  Jesus became something He was not before.  He became the physical Son of God in power.  The gospel is about Jesus, Jewish Messiah, Son of God.  He entered into a new Son relationship at the resurrection with the Trinitarian God and man.


Lord is used 230 times by Paul.  Jesus is Lord.  I am servant.  Do I really understand?  Nancy is reading a devotional called “Dear Jesus”.  Where in the Bible do we see that title?  He is Lord!


5. ‘through whom’ means that Jesus was an active agent in us being able to receive grace.  The phrases ‘for the sake of His name’ and ‘through whom’ suggests Christ is holding both the prophets and our apostleship together.


we have received’ means that Paul includes us!  Every Christian has received grace from God.  Paul was speaking in 1st person singular and now he changes to the plural.


‘grace and apostleship’ could be understood to mean ‘grace manifested in apostleship’.  As you dispense grace, you receive grace.  By a generous act of God we have received so we can be dispensers.


Paul was called and commissioned by God to obey.  Now he says we are being called to the obedience that comes by faith.  Literally it reads, ‘with a view to the (response) obedience of faith’.  This has the sense of both the response that is faith and the obedience which stems from or springs from faith.  Faithing is not believing in a Discipline or Manual.  It is not just a head thing, but a feet thing.  Christians were first called people of the Way, not people of the school.  Faith as a noun occurs 40 times in Romans.  Faith as a verb (believe) occurs 21 times.  Obedience is our faith response from our relationship with God.


Gentiles literally means among ‘all the nations’ (foreigners).  The gospel was never intended to be exclusive and dead end with Israel, but was to be proclaimed through Israel to the world.



6. ‘among whom you also are ‘called to be Jesus Christ’s’ not by Jesus Christ.  It is God who issues the invitation to be part of the body of Christ.


7. ‘to all who are in Rome’  He does not call them the ‘church’ in Rome.  There were many churches in Rome and Paul was sending this letter as a circular.  We are the Church that meets at Liberal.


Paul does not know us personally, but he calls us the ‘beloved of God’.  If you are reading this letter, Paul knows God has a plan for you.  This is a very warm greeting.


You are ‘called saints.’  You are not called to be saints.  It is not something you earn or work toward.  It is not some disciplined learning process that makes you a saint.  The word saint or holy suggested set apart from everyday use, dedicated to God.  It was a Jewish term.  How could Gentiles be saints with no sacrifices, no priests, and no circumcision?  It’s a new covenant.  You are a saint by faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and priesthood.  If you are a Christian, you are a saint.


peace’ suggests well-being, not just spiritual, but material.  And the focus is on the group you are part of rather than you as an individual.  It is the outflow of ‘grace’.


‘from God our Father’  God relates to us as Father.  Usually God was ‘Father of the world’ or ‘Father of all humanity’.  Christians are now included in God’s fatherly care which was previously seen to be the God of the Jews.  The grace of Christ our Lord and the peace of God are bound up with each other.  They are a package deal.


8. As was common in Greek letters, Paul includes a thanksgiving and prayer on behalf of his readers.  Thanksgiving comes first.  In everything give thanks.  Why?  Out of a thankful heart God’s blessing flows.


I give thanks to my God for all of you.’  This is a contrast to 1:21 when thanks is not given.  If you do not have a thankful heart, all hell breaks loose.  Without thanksgiving your thinking becomes distorted, your heart becomes dark, and you become a fool without knowing it.  That is the danger of entitlements, welfare programs, and a focus on my ‘rights’.  The early sellers that came to Oregon did not complain.  Their personal letters and other writings reflect a thankful heart.


Thanksgiving is not rendered to Christ, but ‘through Jesus Christ’, just as the call to be Christ’s comes from God, not from Christ.


because your faith is spoken of in all the world.’  How did the church start in Rome?  What reports would Paul have heard from Rome?  Can any good thing come out of Portland?


9. ‘For God is my witness’ is common in both Greek and Jewish literature.  A conversational phrase like an oath but not regarded as an oath that Jesus taught against in Matt 5:33-37.


whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son’  This is a rare occurrence where spirit refers to the human spirit.  So it is through the human spirit that the Spirit of God acts upon and communicates with us.  Our apostleship is a spiritual calling and ministry.


‘how constantly I mention you, in my prayers, always asking’.  He was praying for them and had not met them yet.


10. ‘whether somehow now at last’   He was not telling God what to do.  He knows God has called him to preach in Rome, but did not know when or how.  He did not ‘name it and claim it.’  He did not tell God what color of truck he wanted.  Several adverbs indicate that Paul does not want to be misunderstood.  He is saying whatever God has planned, I’ll follow.


‘the way may be opened’ literally means ‘be led along a good road.’  He was praying like Jesus, “Not my will but Thine.”  “I know Your road is a good road for me.”


11. ‘I long’ to meet together in Jesus name so we can be mutually blessed.  ‘in order that I may share some received spiritual grace with you through which you will be strengthened’  No true spiritual gift is for oneself, but for sharing for the common good.  What I have received is the medium through which God’s grace flows to others.  Our purpose is to establish and strengthen others.  We are grace dispensers (1 Peter 4:10).


12. ‘that is, that there may be mutual encouragement among you through each other’s faith, both yours and mine.’  Mutual interdependence in the farming community has been replaced by pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.  There are no solo ministries for Paul.  Following Jesus involves ministry together.  It involves talking together.  Now that’s radical a radical idea.


13. ‘I do not want you to be unaware, brothers.’  God knows how to open and close doors.  Opportunities for doing good are not invented by us.  Paul was not the master of his plans.  Paul wanted to fulfill his calling by sharing the gospel in Rome as he has been doing in many other cities.


14. ‘obligated’ by virtue of his call.  Paul did not have a mission plan or strategy.  He had a mission heart that was expecting God to direct his steps.  He was committed to obey and preach the gospel ‘to both Greeks and barbarians, wise and foolish’ a standard phrase to include all races and classes in the non-Greek world.


15. ‘my eagerness to preach the gospel’  Paul is going to be honest about the motivation of his heart.  He is not trying to be popular.  He is not trying to raise funds for an orphanage.  He is not trying to support his TV program.  He simply wants to declare the gospel.


16. ‘for I am not ashamed of the gospel’  Shame is the consequence of being shown to have acted on a false assumption or misplaced confidence.  Critics were saying that Christians were barbarian and lacking in wisdom.  They should be ashamed of their ministry to the poor and outcasts.  The kind of people that they attracted were not the proper and the respectable.


‘for it is the power of God’  Paul has in mind a force or source of energy that transforms life.  The truth of God has power to change lives.  We have created many false powers to supplement or replace the gospel.  We have all kinds of programs and self-helps.


‘God’s power has ‘the effect of bringing about salvation.’  The word salvation included the sense of health, preservation, safety, deliverance from peril and restoration to wholeness.  ‘To all who believe and go on believing’ (present tense)!  Faith (believing) is a continuing orientation of life.


‘to the Jew first, but also to Greek’  The 1st does not imply a 2nd, but the 1st among many.  The gospel was to flow through the Jews to bless the whole world.


17. ‘for the righteousness of God’  In Hebrew thought ‘righteousness’ always has the aspect of relation.  Righteousness is not something which an individual has on his own, independently of anyone else; it is something which one has precisely in one’s relationships as a social being.  People are righteous when they meet the claims which others have on them by virtue of their relationship.
The child has some claims on the parent.  So when is the parent righteous?  The covenant gave God’s people some claims on Him.  So when is He righteous?  When He fulfills the covenant.  When He blesses the obedient and punishes the disobedient.


God is righteous when He fulfills the obligations He took upon Himself to be Israel’s God.  Righteousness and salvation become virtually synonymous.  So is the righteousness of God an attitude of God or something He does?  Both.  It is God’s righteousness which enables man’s righteousness.  For Paul a righteous man has total trust in God, lives by faith in the strength that God provides, and is righteous in his relationships.


‘in it is being revealed’ (present tense)!  A divine disclosure of God’s righteousness.  Not merely the content or transfer of information, but the ongoing relationship under God’s authority.


‘from faith to faith’ not from faith to works.  Faith from first to last.  From God’s faithfulness to man’s faith.  Paul’s charge against Israel will be that the definition of faithfulness as observance of the law amounts to a serious misunderstanding of faith.  Faith means unconditional trust in God rather than rituals, definitions, and boxes so it is possible for Gentiles too.  We are people of the Way.  We grow from faith to faith.


The righteous man will live by faith.  He will keep all his obligations and promises by faith.  What he says and what he does will be the same.  Not because it is profitable.  Not because it makes him look good.  Not because he has to legally.  But because life is about relationships.  Righteousness is about relationships.  A righteous man keeps his promises.  A righteous God keeps His promises.


Paul is trying to say that we can experience the fullness of life which God intended for all mankind if we live in the dependence of faith on the continuing faithfulness of God.


Be righteous and faithing in the routines.  In everything give thanks.


You can’t please God by taking a magic pill or saying the right words.  But you can hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Come follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”   Hear the call, obey the call, confess your sin, trust God completely and do good.  Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor.




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