Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before we begin our reading, let’s take a quick look at the history of this book.
Paul, as we all know, was an extraordinarily active apostle of the Lord. Many hold that he is the true replacement for Judas Iscariot as the twelfth apostle, as unlike Matthias he was directly contacted by Jesus on at least one occasion (the road to Damascus, which led to Paul’s conversion). He traveled to more cities and planted more churches than perhaps any other apostle.
At the time this book was written, Paul had not yet been taken to Rome and imprisoned, so he had never met the church there. However, they knew of Paul and he knew of them. This letter was written primarily as a concise treatise on the Christian faith for a people who might not have received the whole story. As a bonus for most of us, the book is targeted at a Greco-Roman philosophy which the Roman church had received, so its logic and patterns make sense to those of us who inherited this same philosophical background.
1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
First of all, let’s look at that seven-verse long address header Paul wrote down. In ancient times, much like in modern emails, the author, subject, and recipients were detailed very clearly at the start. That way, you didn’t have to look through it or scroll down to the end just to find out who sent it, or who was supposed to read it, or what it was supposed to be about. Honestly, it’s a great system, and if anybody writes letters anymore it’s a good way to go.
So, who is the author of this piece? Paul, of course, but because Paul was largely unknown to the Roman church he needed to pull out some credentials. Chiefly, he calls himself an apostle of Jesus Christ (apostle being reserved in the Scripture for those 11 disciples set apart by Christ in his earthly ministry – Judas was among the 12 but died before he could be a disciple), called to deliver the Gospel promised to the Jews since the beginning of the Old Testament. It’s a heavy title, and its weight of responsibility is equally heavy.
Second, what does the letter concern? This letter, according to Paul, is about Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the living God, born a descendant of King David. We know from his lineage that he was a son of David, but it he proved he was the Son of God in three ways: he possessed great power on this earth, he was anointed and announced by the spirit of God, and he rose from the dead (quite a feat, considering how many saw him die). Furthermore, this letter is not just about Jesus but his people, who have been called among all nations in His name.
Finally, for whom is the letter meant? This is almost clearer than the rest – the letter is for the Church at Rome. To all called to be saints (that is not the Catholic or Orthodox canonization of saints, but those who are saved and sanctified in Christ), Paul offers a blessing of peace and grace that I try to include in all my writings.
Paul and the Romans
Paul has never been to Rome as an apostle at this point, but that doesn’t mean he knows nothing of them. Paul claims that, at least at the time of writing, their faith is known throughout the entire world. Paul wanted to see them and worship God with them in person, but as God had not answered his prayers to make that happen (yet) Paul prayed for them from afar.
Verse 11 has confused many over the years. Some seem to think that if your church isn’t richly blessed with spiritual gifts (usually the flashy gift of tongues) you aren’t an established church. Others think that a Gentile church that lacked Paul’s blessing and hand couldn’t be considered established, and still more think Paul was given some special dispensation to grant spiritual gifts. Where they fall down is that verse 12 explains everything – Paul wanted to be with them and worship and rejoice with them, communing together in Christ.
Paul does explain further to the Romans that he’s tried to go visit them before, but God has not let those journeys come to fruition for one reason or another. He’s preached to and worshipped with all kinds of people before, and he wanted to do the same with the Romans, but because he could not he simply wrote this letter.
There’s a lot to unpack in these verses. Paul first says that he is not ashamed of the gospel, but why should he be ashamed? Admittedly, it sounds like nonsense to those who do not have the Holy Spirit, because it kind of is nonsense. God uses preaching (which is perhaps the least persuasive way to communicate) to persuade; he used sinful and flawed men to do His will; he stuck with the Jews even though they spent more time fighting Him than serving Him. He even sent his Son to be born fully God and fully man, born to a virgin, raised up like a lamb for the slaughter, just to satisfy his own law to save us. Atheists and anti-Christians love to mock the gospel, but Paul was unashamed.
What power lies in the Gospel! It is the power of salvation in God to all who believe it. It reveals the righteousness of God to us, gives us faith, and begins the work of sanctifying us. Indeed, we are unjust and wicked creatures, but we are given faith and live by that faith. And it is written, “The just shall live by faith” – we are not just and therefore live by faith, but we live in that faith given to us and are also justified. For without the Gospel and faith, we would have nothing but our own unrighteousness. We would be unjust, and God would be just and right to cast us into the fires of hell at any instant.
Mankind, the Wicked
What have we apart from the Gospel? God has made himself known to all men, even without the gospel or a blinding incarnation on the road to Damascus. The absurd complexity of the universe, from the grandest galaxies to the invisible forces that hold it together, from the irreducible complexity and extremely high information of DNA to the mechanisms that employ it, from the marvels of the human mind to the properties of physics and chemistry necessary to simulate it in manmade technology, God’s handiwork is clear to us. Even without the wonders of the natural world, there is some aspect to humanity that seems to crave God – even the atheists simply put reason or chance or government in his rightful place of power and authority.
In our wicked and depraved states, we reject God and in our hearts and minds cast Him from His rightful place. We don’t give him the praise he deserves; we spit on him and his works. We worship nature, or spirits, or our own outrageous perceptions of ourselves and our wisdom.
We wicked people claim to be wise, but we make ourselves fools.
God was sickened by our degeneracy, so he left us to sink deeper into it. He let us corrupt our minds and hearts further, so that our very lusts (emotions designed to give us guidance for survival) were twisted to bring us our punishment. Because we worship the creation more than our Creator, we are given over to all manner of depraved and self-destructive lusts, and verses 26 and 27 make it abundantly clear that chief of these lusts is unnatural and degenerate sexual acts (primarily homosexuality and bestiality). This sin is not only against God but against ourselves, and we receive a punishment in our bodies as punishment (that is, STD’s, which are most common in homosexual men).
So many sins
Paul then goes on to list all the reprobate (that is, sinful and disgusting) things that our twisted and corrupted minds conceive to do. These things are not only sins because they violate God’s commands to us and His nature, but also because they tend to have so many negative repercussions for us. Worse, still, there is a part of us that still knows that these things are wicked and justly deserve death, but we not only condone but celebrate those who do these wicked things. Let’s look at a few categories of these wicked and less-than-good-for-us sins:
- Sins of the mind – being filled with sinful thoughts, including envy, desire to harm others who don’t justly deserve it, desire to fight, desire to lie and steal, desire to destroy something
- Sins of discord – spreading dissent among brethren, gossiping not to provide benefit but harm, slander, hating God, stirring up spite and hatred
- Sins of hubris – pride, boasting (that is, being outwardly proud instead of inwardly proud)
- Sins against men – inventing evil things (that is, things that bring great harm but little to no benefit), disobedient to parents and other just authorities
- Sins against society – lacking understanding (and the desire for the same), breaking promises and oaths, lacking affection and empathy, lacking mercy or compassion
(Reflecting on this, I see many of these among the Left, especially the violent Left that has become the subject of much news of late. They seem to lack empathy and mercy, for those who do not believe exactly as they are not well-meaning but ill-informed fellow citizens, but enemies who must be destroyed totally – this can be seen in the recent riots at Berkeley and more. They corrupt love to mean any desire of the flesh and remove all other meanings and values to the word. They drive a wedge between one race and another, between man and woman, between the coasts and the central states, between children and their parents. They stir up spite so that violence breaks out between those who would otherwise live in relative peace (for example, they stir up Blacks to attack cops and whites, and they stir up college kids to disrupt activity in major metropolitan areas). They boast, steal, fight, and hate God and all authority. Honestly, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Paul has been paying attention to the civil situation over the past few years).
This chapter is taking us into the depths of our own wickedness and depravity. We know that we are saved because we have the free gift of Jesus Christ, but unless we know how much we needed it we can never appreciate the true value of God’s mercy and grace to us.
O most merciful and gracious Lord, God our Heavenly Father and creator of all worlds, we come before you in awe and fear of your wonder. We know that no man may look upon you and live, so great is your majesty, yet you have come to us through your only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. We give you all thanks and honor for the wonders you have done and continue to do.
We are a sinful people, O Lord, and righteously deserving of all manner of punishment. We are born in sin, and we live in bodies of sin and death. Yet, Lord, not only have you shown mercy by allowing us to continue to sin in spite of your words, you have sent your Son to satisfy the requirements of the law so that we may not die for our sins and transgressions. Moreover, you have given to us a new spirit, that we might seek after and love You as You have loved us.
Forgive us all transgressions for Your Son’s sake, Lord, and bestow on us all understanding and wisdom as You will.
In the name of God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
Please feel free to discuss and ask your own questions below.