Saturday, March 22, 2008

11. Paul’s Letter to the Romans

I am getting ready for tomorrow at the moment. All under control so far. Just time to post this next blog and wish you all a very Happy Easter!

May you know the power of Christ's resurrection!!

11. Paul's Letter to the Romans

Righteousing (justification) involves God forgiving our sins, reconciling us to himself, freeing us from sin’s power, transferring us from the jurisdiction of the Law, and giving us the Holy Spirit as an outpouring of his love in the present as well as a guarantee both of future salvation from the wrath of God and of the gift of eternal life.

The logic of this for Paul is that we cannot go on sinning.

Paul explains all this most fully in letter to the Romans.

As I have referred a lot to Romans in this series. We need perhaps at this point to pause and discuss the structure of Paul’s argument in Romans. Before we can do this, we need to remember the context in which Paul wrote Romans.

Paul wrote Romans from Corinth before he went to Jerusalem to take the money he had collected from Gentile believers for the Church there. It was his intention having delivered the collection then to go to Rome and visit the Church there and then on from Rome to Spain. He had not visited the Roman Church before and his hope was to spend some time at Rome and, perhaps, even use it as a base for future work.

The collection was tremendously important for Paul both because of the money itself and the relief it would provide and also for the way it symbolized fellowship between believing Gentiles and Jews. Paul, however, was worried that the Gentile offering would not be accepted. He closes his argument in Romans with these words:

‘I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.’ (Romans 15:30-32)

He had good cause to be worried whether it would be acceptable! Whether it actually turned out to be acceptable or not, it was as a result of this subsequent trip to Jerusalem that he was arrested and spent the rest of his ministry that we know about in prison, first in Caesarea, and then in Rome itself.

The point is that at the time of writing Romans, Paul has the ‘Jew and Gentile’ issue very much on his mind. His own ministry is under fierce attack in some quarters of the Church. He had been openly challenged in Corinth itself by Jewish believers prior to his writing of Romans. His message had been criticised and there was wide-spread suspicion of him personally.

It was vital to Paul to gain the support and trust of the Roman Church and to do this Paul writes a letter that addresses the issues over which there was controversy and dispute between himself and his opponents. He seeks to explain his message and at the same time to reply to some of the objections that have been raised to it. He also wants to answer certain misrepresentations of what he preaches.

Romans is not a complete statement of everything Paul believes. It is not a summary of the Christian faith. Paul can assume a lot of common ground between himself and the Roman Christians that he does not have to discuss. Romans is rather a careful and considered statement of Paul’s message, what he calls my Gospel (Romans 16:25), that also seeks to address questions that have been raised by it. It would be wonderful to have such a detailed letter from a Jewish believer in Jerusalem who disagreed with Paul, but we don’t. We have to rely on our own ability to understand the position of Paul’s opponents from the way Paul responds to it. Romans is our best chance for understanding what Paul’s message was, a message that caused so much division within the Church. It is also our best chance for understanding what were the beliefs of Paul’s opponents as well. This is precisely because it is such a detailed and considered response. While Galatians is also important for understanding the argument between Paul and his opponents, in Galatians Paul is much more on the attack – understandably so.

It is also worth remembering that if the list of people to whom Paul sends greetings at the end of the letter was originally part of the letter to the Romans – and I personally think it was – then Paul knew and was known by some people at Rome even though he had not been there in person. Indeed, ‘Prisca and Aquila’ (Romans 16:3) had been closely associated with Paul, working with him during his stay in Corinth (Acts 18:2, 18) and then again at Ephesus (Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19). They knew first hand how great the opposition was to him both from Jews AND Jewish believers.

There were also people such as Andronicus and Junia, who Paul describes as:

‘… my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was’. (Romans 16:3).

There are others whom Paul describes as co-workers even in such terms as having been a ‘mother’ to him. Again, all these people would have known the ‘message’ that Paul preached and the trouble that it caused as well as being fully aware of the opposition that Paul had faced and was facing.

Romans, then, was written to a real Church with the hope of winning their support, but against the background of an intense and fierce debate within the Church that centred on him personally. It is surely not without significance that Paul closes Romans with a specific warning against those who cause trouble and oppose his teaching (Romans 16:17).

We have to try to see how the Romans would have understood what Paul writes while, at the same time, remembering the circumstances surrounding the time of it having been written.

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