Monday, June 23, 2014

Beginning of the Book of Romans

This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach His Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures. The Good News is about His Son, Jesus. In His earthly life He (Jesus Christ) was born into King David’s family line, and He was shown to be (designated) the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord. Through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority (grace) as apostles to tell Gentiles (non-Jews) everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey Him, bringing glory to His Name. And you are included among those Gentiles who have been called to belong to Jesus Christ. I am writing to all of you in Rome who are loved by God and are called to be His own holy people. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Romans 1:1-7 (NLT)

The New Testament Book of Romans has been called Paul’s masterpiece and one of the greatest of Christian writings! No other book of the Holy Bible so completely sets forth the great doctrines of the Christian faith and the great truths of God. This book is fundamentally about God and Paul’s preoccupation with God. God is the most important word in Romans. Everything Paul touches in this book relates to God. The Book of Romans has rightly been called “the Constitution of Christianity,” “the Christian Manifesto,” “the Cathedral of the Christian Faith.” Even more, this great book provides teaching on justification, sanctification, divine election, condemnation, the perseverance of the saints, total depravity of humanity, the last judgment, the fall of humans, the revelation of God in nature, the final restoration of the Jews, and much more. Martin Luther called Romans “the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest Gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it (the Book of Romans) word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.” Martin Luther (1522) in Luther’s Works (1960), vol. 35, p. 365.

The author of the book of Romans is Paul. The apostle Paul was smart, well-spoken, and dedicated to His calling to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He enthusiastically presented his case for the Gospel in his letter to the church in Rome. Rome was the capital of the Roman Empire and this Empire had spread over most of Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. Paul had heard of the Roman church, but he had never been there, nor had any of the other apostles. The church in Rome was not founded by Paul. Neither Paul nor the other church leaders, James and Peter, had yet been to Rome. Thus, Paul had never met most of the believers there. Nevertheless, the people must have known Paul personally, since Paul personally greets them in the final chapter, Romans 16. Paul planned to visit and preach in Rome and hoped to continue to take the Gospel message of Jesus Christ farther west -- even to Spain. In fact, Paul was anxious to go to Spain with the message of Christ (Romans 15:28).

We do not know how or when the church began in Rome. Most likely, the Roman church had been begun by Jews who had come to faith in Jerusalem during Pentecost (Acts 2:10). These faithful Jewish believers spread their faith on their return to Rome and established the assemblies in Rome. There were probably several assemblies of believers in Roman houses and not just one church. In Romans 16, Paul greets a number of house churches as small groups of believers met all over the city (Romans 16:5, 10-11, 14). In the Roman church, there were both Jews and Gentiles because Paul addresses both groups in his Roman letter (see Romans 1:13; Romans 2:17-29; Romans 4:1; Romans 7:1; Romans 11:13-24; Romans 15:15-21).

The apostle Paul wrote the Roman letter about the year A.D. 56. This letter was written during Paul’s ministry in Corinth at the end of his third missionary journey just before his return to Jerusalem (Acts 20:3, 22; Romans 15:25). In Romans 15:25, 30–32, Paul anticipated his departure for Jerusalem. Following his trip to Jerusalem to deliver the collection for the Jerusalem saints, Paul enthusiastically planned to make a fourth missionary journey to the western extremity of the Roman Empire – Spain (Romans 15:24). Paul wanted the Roman church to help him with making that journey and wrote this letter to the Roman church to establish contact in preparation for the anticipated visit.

This letter was written by Paul to both Jewish and Gentiles believers to encourage them in the Christian faith and to express his desire to visit. Although many barriers separated Paul and the Roman church, Paul felt a bond with these Romans and he longed to see them face to face. The letter was probably carried to the Christians at Rome by one of the deaconesses of the church at Cenchrea, Sister Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

In the opening verses of the letter, Paul introduces himself to the believers in Rome. First of all, Paul calls himself a “servant of Christ Jesus” or more accurately a slave of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1; see also Galatians 1:10; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1). As Christians used the term “servant” conveys the idea of complete and utter devotion and total loyalty. The Greek word for servant is “doulos”. In his mind, Paul was not just a servant to the Lord but a slave that completely belonged to his Master (see also I Corinthians 4:1–4). In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Jesus Christ and chose to be completely dependent on and obedient to God as his beloved Master. In other words, Paul is affirming that he belongs to Christ without reservation. The term is applied to Abraham (Genesis 26:24), Moses (Joshua 1:2), and to the prophets from the time of Amos (Amos 3:7; Isaiah 20:3).  

Second, Paul calls himself an apostle (Romans 1:1). In fact, Paul opened his New Testament letters by introducing himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1; Titus 1:1). Paul’s apostleship was a calling (Romans 1:1). Paul was “not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead” (Galatians 1:1, NLT). Thus, human authority had nothing to do with Paul’s apostleship, for his commission came through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1:1), through the “commandment of God our Savior” (1 Timothy 1:1). Paul presented his credentials at the very outset of Romans because some people in the Roman church may have questioned his authority as an apostle.

An apostle means “one who is sent by authority with a commission” or “one who is sent with a commission.” Essentially, an apostle means messenger, missionary, or ambassador. While Jesus Christ ministered on earth, He had many disciples (“learners” or “followers”), and from these He selected twelve apostles, called “the Twelve” (Mark 3:13-19; see also Matthew 10:2-4; Luke 14-16; Acts 1:13). One of the requirements for an apostle in the early church was the experience of seeing the risen or resurrected Jesus Christ – the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15). According to the book of Acts, an apostle was one who had witnessed Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry “from the time He was baptized by John until the day He was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22, NLT). Thus, qualifications for an apostle were clear: participation in Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry beginning with His baptism and an official witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). The resurrection is the central affirmation of the Christian faith (Acts 17:18; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Peter 1:3).

Paul was neither a disciple nor an apostle during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Thus, Paul’s enemies said that he was not a true apostle for this reason. But, Paul said he had seen the risen Christ and been specifically commissioned by Him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-18; 1 Corinthians 9:1). Paul claimed his apostleship on at least four grounds: (1) he was a chosen vessel of God (Acts 9:15); (2) he was personally commissioned by Jesus Christ (Acts 9:6); (3) he had visible seen the risen Christ (I Corinthians 9:1–2); and (4) he was the recipient of divine revelation (Galatians 1:10–12, 16–17). Paul's personal encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus revolutionized his entire way of thinking and living and established him as an apostle. He saw that God has been active in Jesus Christ and that through Christ’s death He had brought salvation to humankind. Indeed, Paul had seen the risen Christ and the writer of Acts mentioned Paul’s personal encounter with the risen Christ on three different occasions (Acts 9:1-9; see also Acts 22:3-16; Acts 26:9-18). After seeing the resurrected Christ, Jesus Christ personally called Paul to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Thus, Paul was careful to point out that he had been made an apostle by Jesus Christ just as much as the original Twelve. His apostleship was not from human selection and approval, but by Jesus Christ’s appointment. Therefore, he had the authority to teach and preach in the Gospel of Jesus Christ because he had seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:22; Acts 2:32; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Paul has been “sent,” “called” and manifested the signs “that mark an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me (Paul). Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 (NLT)

Moreover, Paul was a preacher of the Gospel (Acts 9:15) and specially “set apart for the Gospel of God” (Romans 1:1, NIV). He was set apart for the ministry of the Gospel long before his Damascus road experience (Galatians 1:15). Paul was very religious person and trained under Gamaliel, a famous first century Jewish teacher (Acts 22:3). Paul has been brought up an orthodox Jew, a loyal Pharisee, a fanatical to the point of persecuting the Christians before his conversion. Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews (Philippians 3:5–6). Even more, Paul was a good Pharisee and he knew the Bible. When Paul was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded his life to Jesus Christ, Paul was separated to the Gospel and its ministry. By quoting sixty-one times from the Old Testament, Paul revealed to both the Jews and the Gentiles that the Holy Scriptures were really speaking of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Paul’s ministry bridged the gap between the Jews and Gentiles of the first-century church

At Romans 1:3-4, Paul summarizes the Good News about Jesus Christ. The Good News means “Gospel” (Greek euangelion). The central figure of the Gospel is Jesus Christ, in and through whom the history and the promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled. Some of the Old Testament prophecies predicting the Good News regarding Jesus Christ are Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 40:6-10; Psalms 118:22; Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 9:9-11; Zechariah 12:10; Malachi 4:1-6. The Good News is the message that Jesus Christ (1) came as a real human by natural origin, (2) conceived by the Holy Spirit, (3) was part of the Jewish royal line through King David, (4) lived and walked the earth reflecting God’s glory – e.g., God’s love, goodness, mercy, light, compassion, etc. (5) wrongly accused, crucified (died), and was raised from complete death, (6) opened the door to God's grace and kindness to all people – both Jews and Gentiles, and (7) Jesus Christ is able to save all who trust and believe in Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; see also John 1:1-18; Romans 1:9, 16; Philippians 2:5-8). Essentially, the Good News states everyone (Jews and Gentiles) can be forgiven and go to heaven because of what Jesus Christ did on the Calvary’s Cross. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul dedicated his adult life spreading the Good News of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the most important message in the world.

Jesus gave His life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Galatians 1:4-5 (NLT)

Moreover, Paul stated that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah (Christ), and the resurrected Lord as well as a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3-4). That the Messiah would be a descendant of David is taught in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-24, etc.) As a descendant (seed) of King David, this emphasizes the humanity of Jesus Christ and His human lineage (see 2 Samuel 7:13; Jeremiah 33:17). With this statement of faith, Paul declares his agreement with the teaching of all Scripture and of the apostles. Paul declared that those who became wholehearted followers of Jesus Christ are invited by Him to become part of God's family, and be holy people (“to be saints,” set apart, dedicated for Christ’s service) (Romans 1:6-7). Paul wanted to bring all people, both Jew and Gentile, into obedience to the faith of Jesus Christ and the book of Romans helps Paul accomplish this mission.

King James Version Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1988.
KJV Bible Commentary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1994.
Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.
Butler, Trent. Holman Bible Dictionary. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1991.
Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Pub., 2012.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary. Victor Books, 1989.

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