Review of 1-7:
Last week we saw that Paul gave a brief take on:
- His apostleship – he was called and set apart by the risen Jesus Christ.
- The Gospel – it was promised beforehand, related to David’s kingly line, and was grounded in Jesus’ resurrection.
And importantly, we hit on a very important aspect of Pauline theology.
- Paul said Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God”.
This is incredibly important.
- This means, in some way, that Jesus has replaced Israel as the Son of God.
- Paul “designates Jesus as the true Israel” – Tom Schreiner
- “If Jesus is God’s true Son, then membership in the people of God depends on being rightly related to Jesus” – Tom Schreiner.
Tom Schreiner hits on all these together…
“The resurrection of Jesus indicates…that God has begun to fulfill his promises to Israel. The saving promises made to the nation have become a reality in and through the true Israel, Jesus the Messiah” – Tom Schreiner.
Romans 1:8–15 (ESV) — 8 First [Let me begin (NEB)], I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
Paul moves on from his introduction and gives thanks for the faith of the Roman church.
- He no doubt hyperbolizes this faith – in a complimentary way – by saying it is “proclaimed in all the world” (vs. 8).
- But note that he rightly gives thanks to “my God through Jesus Christ” (vs. 8) for their faith.
N.T. Wright fleshes out the “thanks” of Paul.
Paul is “thanking the maker of heaven and earth that there is a community in Rome, under Caesar’s nose, who give allegiance to Jesus as Lord, who have been grasped by the vision of a different kingdom, a different hope, and who share a different faith” – N.T. Wright.
Wright’s visual here reminds me of something Jesus said.
- The church in Rome – perhaps only a 100, scholars say – demonstrates beautifully Jesus’ words about the “already” or “now” Kingdom of God.
- Matthew 13:31–32 (ESV) — 31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field [the now kingdom]. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree [the not yet kingdom], so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
- The church at Rome was one of the mustard seeds – right underneath the emperor’s nose.
Back to their faith in verse 8:
- The idea here might be that their faith is evidence of the “gospel of his Son” (vs.9) at work.
- “The faith of the saints is the evidence of God’s grace and the first reaction must therefore be thanksgiving to God” – John Murray.
- In other words, the Roman church testifies to what Paul is about to speak on – the Gospel as “the power of God for salvation” (vs. 16).
- In light of the fact that we don’t know who planted the church at Rome, it certainly highlights the true source of faith of the Roman church.
In fact, Paul’s testimony to the Jerusalem church about Gentile conversions agrees:
- Acts 14:27 (ESV) — 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
BTW – How did Paul know what was going on in Rome?
- That there was something to be thankful for?
- He knew a great many people there.
- From Romans 16 we see that he knew…
- Prisca, Aquila, Epaenetus, Mary, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Appelles, family of Aristobulus, Herodion, family of Narcissus, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, and many more.
What does Paul mean when he uses the word “faith” in the context of verse 8?
- It is important to know this for later in our lesson.
- Paul is referring to their “firm commitment” and “genuine devotion” to Jesus Christ – BDAG.
- Remember, this “firm commitment” is held at great risk!
- The Roman Gentile is affirming Jesus’ Lordship over Caesar’s.
- The Jew is affirming Jesus (not Israel) as the “Son of God” and the Lordship of Jesus.
Paul goes on to declare, as “God is my witness” (vs. 9), that he prayers for them “without ceasing” (vs. 9).
- Specifically, his prayer is that he may “succeed in coming to you” (vs. 10).
- For he longs to see them (vs. 11).
- More about this prayer at the end.
It is very important to Paul that they know his desire to be with them.
- He also says, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you” (vs. 13).
Why was Paul so eager to visit Rome?
- There are a number of reasons.
It will be helpful here to revisit Acts for a bit to see one of them.
- Acts 23:11 (ESV) — 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
- So reason one – It was Jesus’ will for him.
Paul must have known this even before Jesus’ words in Acts 23.
- Acts 19:21 (ESV) — 21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”
Did Paul finally make it to Rome?
What is remarkable is how he finally got there.
- Acts 25:8–12 (ESV) — 8 Paul argued in his defense, “Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.” 9 But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and there be tried on these charges before me?” 10 But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well. 11 If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar.” 12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.”
Many scholars suggest that Paul could have legally maneuvered to be free at this point.
- And yet he purposely chose to take his case to Rome.
This was certainly not how he initially expected to go to Rome.
- Romans 15:24 (ESV) — 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.
In our text today, Paul gives us a couple of more specific reasons why he wanted to go to Rome.
- (1) “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you” (vs. 11).
- (2) “that I may reap some harvest among you” (vs. 13).
- We need to talk about these for a moment.
Paul says he wants to strengthen the Roman church.
- Something he will do, as he puts it, by imparting “some spiritual gift” (vs. 11).
- What does Paul mean when he says, “that I may impart…some spiritual gift”?
He gives us the answer in verse 12.
- “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (vs. 12).
- This is a huge endorsement for the fellowship of believers – church.
- Learning, teaching, doubting, questioning, sharing and suffering together brings comfort and encouragement.
- It strengthens our faith.
Tom Schreiner puts it as follows:
“What inspires and fortifies other believers is when they perceive faith in other Christians. Seeing other believers trust God in the course of everyday life reminds us that God is indeed faithful and encourages us to trust him as well” – Tom Schreiner.
- Who hasn’t known a dying believer whose “firm commitment” to Jesus brings encouragement to loved ones?
Paul speaks of this same concept elsewhere:
- 1 Thessalonians 3:7–8 (ESV) — 7 for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. 8 For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.
And notice here, like in our text, there is a link between the idea of “firm commitment”/“standing fast in the Lord” and giving strength, comfort and encouragement.
- This is why I mentioned it earlier – faith as “firm commitment” to Christ.
- A demonstrated firm commitment to Christ encourages other believers.
- And all this takes place in context of “each other” (vs. 12) – the Church.
Paul then says he wants to “reap some harvest” (vs. 13) in the Roman church.
- What does he mean by this?
It means at least three things, and certainly many more.
- One is simply that he was called by Jesus to speak the Gospel to the Gentiles.
- As we saw last week, his obligation as an apostle was to the Gentiles.
- And he says this again in our text today.
- “I am under obligation both to Greeks and barbarians” (vs. 14).
- Therefore he is “eager to preach the gospel”.
BTW – Why would he want to preach the Gospel to a church?
- Remember, he is after the obedience of faith and…
- “Paul’s intention in Rome was not merely to win converts but to strengthen and edify those who were already believers in Rome” – Tom Schreiner.
- Evangelism and Strengthening.
The second reason is that when Paul speaks the Gospel, he knows two things are in play.
- (1) He knows that God has called out some to respond.
- Acts 18:9–10 (ESV) — 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”
- (2) And he knows that when Jesus’ “people” hear the Gospel they will respond, for as he says later, “the gospel…is the power of God for salvation” (vs. 16).
Did Paul preach the Gospel simply hoping for belief or also knowing belief would occur?
The third reason is that Paul knows he is participating in something very special OT fulfillments.
- (1) “Fulfilling the promises made to Abraham” – Tom Schreiner.
- Genesis 12:3 (ESV) — 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
- (2) And the reversal of the Babel curse where the nations were scattered.
- The Gospel is uniting the nations together in Christ!
- Pentecost, btw, is an even clearer picture of this reversal.
So let’s look back to Paul’s prayers.
- As we said, he prayed for them “without ceasing” (vs. 9).
- Specifically, his prayer is that he may “succeed in coming to you” (vs. 10).
What does this tell us about things to pray for?
- I think we can see that the content of his prayers wasn’t simply a “be with the people of Rome” prayer.
- His prayer centered on a deep desire to preach the Gospel to them and grow their faith.
- His prayer for them was fueled by his desire to preach the gospel to them!
- Do we pray like that?