It is hard to teach God’s people. So many want entertainment, the big screen, slick visuals, crisp audios. In many churches good preaching means looking at a video of a preacher in some other building. Less and less personal. The music is electronic and loud. And God’s people seem to want it that way.
The best medicine, or best diet, for any church anywhere is a clear and careful and deep verse by verse exposition of the revelation that was given to the apostles. Those who build on any other foundation are endangering, sickening, the people of God. We don’t get our views from someone else’s theology books, current religious trends, TV preachers. We must simply open the book and see what the text says. Many will find this hopelessly boring and irrelevant. But may God’s men ignore the goats and keep feeding the sheep.
That’s what I hope to do, by beginning an intense look at the letter of Paul to the church at Rome.
I am going to take the scenic view of the letter to Rome. I will use the letter in fact as a starting point to many Biblical teachings, using words and verses that are topics of teachings that can be found elsewhere in Scripture. We won’t just study Romans, but anything Romans suggests.
So let's begin. Who was it that said, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. [Do not hold this sin against them].” ?
Who was that? This is the prayer of Stephen, the Spirit-filled deacon who gave his life for Jesus. This is recorded in Acts 7:60, and the prayer came from the heart and the Holy Spirit. The prayer was heard in Heaven and experienced on earth.
It was experienced by the man in charge of this stoning, one named Saul. Saul truly was forgiven of the awful sin of slaughtering a believer in Jesus. Stephen’s prayer was answered.
Now move ahead in time more than 20 years, and we are in a home in Corinth, where Paul is staying during one of his missionary trips. He will be in this city for a year and a half, which for him was an unusually long time and in an unusually wicked city. But the Lord has many in that city who are about to be converted. Still he finds time to reach out from Corinth by letter, to a church and city where he has never been, but where he somehow knows he will visit one day, Rome.
It is the winter of 57. Paul is about to depart to Jerusalem with an offering for the poor saints there (Romans 15:22-27). A woman who works in that Corinthian church, named Phoebe, is on her way to Rome, so he sends this letter by her (Romans 16:1-2).
All of this takes place before God told him He would indeed be going to Rome, confirming that vague notion in His head (Acts 23:11) that he would be going.
So that’s why Rome, and the why of the book of Romans. Why, in the natural, anyway. God had a lot of reasons for this letter. But Paul had never been to Rome. But they knew of him and he knew of them. He writes to let them know he is on the way. That he wants to meet them.
He wants to edify believers (Romans 1:11), to preach the Gospel (Romans 1:15), the good news that he received because of that prayer of Stephen, to receive encouragement from them (Romans 1:12, 15:32), even to receive support for his planned trip to Spain (Romans 15:28).
Paul will arrive in Rome three years after this epistle, but as a prisoner. Our own plans look like this sometimes…
He writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon while in a Roman jail, believing that release is coming. The Book of Acts ends upbeat, with Paul seeing visitors in his long period of house arrest.
He is indeed released, most believe, but then imprisoned again, and he writes second Timothy from Rome, knowing no release is in the offing this time. 2 Timothy 4:6-8:
“I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure [many of us? Do we have the same testimony?] is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith…” The positive confession people of our day would have cringed to hear this come out of his mouth [remember Peter trying to detract Jesus] , and even blamed his death on those negative words. There is a difference between negativism and realism. Paul had a revelation from God. And what is negative about leaving this planet to be with the Lord of glory?
Remember we are not promised, in this New Testament age, a particular number of years. Long life is not necessarily a prize for us. Eternal life is what we strive for.
This final moment was five years after he first arrived in Rome.
On this night in Corinth in 57, he knows none of this. He simply wants to communicate a clear description of the message of Jesus to these folks in Rome, because they are going to need it. Oh that the church of Rome had stayed grounded in Paul’s words!
Now, this letter, like so many of his letters, is not written to correct doctrine or life-style, for the church, though young, was sound in what it knew [though it did not know much], though with some dangerous tendencies. All churches can swerve to right or left if not given godly counsel. We need someone to teach us more and more from the Scriptures.
Anyway, here are some of the issues of this letter:
1. What is the nature of the Gospel of Christ? Of Grace? Of forgiveness?
2. Is the Mosaic law final and authoritative?
3. How does God justify the guilty through grace, before they have had a chance to perform good works to prove their worthiness?
4. Should Gentiles become Jewish before they become Christian?
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