Tuesday 18 April 2017

Romans Chapter One and Two - John Stevens

(Scripture references are from NKJV unless stated otherwise)

Paul sits at a desk. He has 20 years of apostolic experience to draw upon in Christ. He either writes or starts to dictate to Tertius (16 v 22) this epistle.

We know something of knowledge of the believers in Rome through:

his friendship with Priscilla and Aquila (16v3 & Acts 18v2)
hints at some causing division (16v17)
his estimation that they are well taught and needing only some things emphasised (15 v 14,15)
his stated intention to visit before but now, at last, he sees an opportunity (15 v 22,23)
his confidence that they would want to support his plans to take the gospel to Spain from Rome (15 v24)
It becomes clear, as proposed in the introduction that as the epistle develops, that the main division threatening the truth of the gospel in Rome was the deteriorating relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers; threatened, at root, by arrogance. We will tackle this head on as we follow Paul’s argument.

But now Paul, out of his communion with the Spirit of Christ, writes the first few verses and sets the scene for the whole letter.

Paul, a servant (slave) of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which he promised before through the His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead

Instantly Paul expects the Gentiles in the church to have a coherent grip on the Jewish foundations of the gospel – the words Christ, His prophets, Holy Scriptures, and David are not stated by accident. Today we have largely distanced ourselves from this foundation and so we find this epistle speaking once more into our ears – can we hear?

Paul takes us back into the past in order, in time, to join him in the present and the future.

Paul directs us to consider the Holy Scriptures – which we know as the Old Testament – and how the various writers had become prophets looking for the arrival of the Messiah (Aramaic for anointed one and ‘Christ’ in Greek). In Old Testament days three offices were anointed by the Spirit: prophets, priests and kings and the prophets foretold that God would raise up the Messiah, the Christ, a Davidic King (e.g. Is 11v10; Rom 15 v12). Paul is preaching that Jesus is this promised Messiah.

It is vital that we recapture the realisation that, whilst it is true that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, He is also the rightful King of Israel. The Israel of Paul’s day, ruled by Rome, largely did not recognise this and the rulers, of course, revealed their true colours in their complicity in the arrest and crucifixion of their Messiah. The political Israel of today also does not recognise the legitimacy of Jesus’ kingdom. Those Jews that do and have submitted themselves to His rule constitute the true Israel, the Israel of God. Some of them were in the congregations in Rome. Paul himself is, of course, both a Jewish believer and a Roman citizen

Paul underlines Jesus’ legitimate claim to the throne of David by appealing to his lineage ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh’. Then he pounds in the declaration that, marvellous though that is, Jesus is more than just the Son of David for the Jews. Having been raised back to life He is also the Son of God.

At the end of these opening four verses Paul’s readers have been reminded that they are bending their knees to the Messiah, the Davidic King and Son of God; he will continue at pace now to declare that this news is as relevant for all the nations as it is for the Jews.

In the space of these opening four verses Paul has shown that the gospel is for all, form the Jews and for all nations i.e. gentiles. He continues in verse 5:

‘…through whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name’

Paul summarises this by stating ‘…you also are the called of Jesus Christ. To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints’

(We will return to that phrase ‘…called saints…’ later in relation to the concept of sanctification and propose a shift in understanding of the word).

By the time we reach v16 Paul introduces a ministerial conviction and theme:

‘I am not ashamed of the gospel…it is for everyone who believes…for the Jew first and also for the Greek’

This theme – for the Jew first then Gentiles – Paul will use in coming chapters.

The righteousness of God

It is not the purpose of this study to enter fully into the debate about the righteousness of God and the cognates of the Greek word. Please refer to commentaries.

Paul says at least two things about God’s righteousness

(1) Jews and Gentiles are all sinners and therefore justifiably under the wrath of God

(2) God’s is righteous in justifying sinners

Jews have all failed to keep the Law and are therefore guilty. Gentiles, equally, have not only broken the Law that they had scant if any knowledge of, but also any moral code that they require of others and yet fail to keep themselves. So we are all guilty.

‘Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself for you who judge practice the same things’

And so Paul, writing to Jews and Gentile believers in Rome, reminds them, that no amount of effort will overcome the real problem that all are under the justifiable wrath of God. And therefore wouldn’t God’s righteousness be upheld if he poured out His wrath on all who sin? The righteousness of God would surely be revealed by His wrath?

But the genius of Paul is that he sees past the justifiable wrath of God as the parameter of righteousness. Like Habakkuk, Paul’s argument has its foundation in the other dimension of righteousness; mercy. In wrath remember mercy cries the prophet. And again the Spirit at work in Habakkuk finds its fulfilment in Christ and so Paul quotes the prophet in an earlier verse ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Hab 2v4; Rom 1v17).

Like many verses in Paul’s opening chapters they are portrayed as windows through which we will eventually see a wider and fuller picture.

But at least here, in verses 16 and 17 we see Paul’s perception that God’s righteousness is not challenged by justifying law breakers but upheld and revealed. And that, unlikely though it may have seemed to Paul the Pharisee, this salvation is unlocked, not by attempts to keep the Law, but in giving up this pursuit and the placing of one’s faith in…? Well that’s to come.

The work of the Spirit

The last two verses of chapter 2:

‘…he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise (play on the word Jew/praise) is not from men but from God’

Here again Paul states the radical truth that the true Israel, is not populated by the descendants of Jacob that have been circumcised and attempt to obey the Law, but those descendants of Jacob that have been circumcised in the Spirit, in the heart.

Paul doesn’t expand on this at this point but he does return to the work of the Spirit in later chapters.

(A note at this stage: When Paul speaks of the Jews or Israel he is talking about Jews and Israel, when he is talking about Gentiles he is talking about all people that are not Jews and when he is talking about the church he is not referring to Israel but all believers in Christ; Jew or gentile. It’s worth bearing in mind at this point that Paul does not confuse these terms)

And so we will also have to wait.

In summary, after the foundation dug in the opening four verses of chapter one there are two pairs of verses, 1v16,17 and 2v28/29, that catch the eye, designed to keep the believers in Rome needing to read more.

If that was the hors d’oeuvres…

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