*Washington DC…”Washington” “D.C.” “The Capital”
*Center of the world’s lone super power…”hegemony” (hedge-em-mah-knee)
*Hegemony: Dominance of a single nation over all others…that’s us at this point in history.
*Many people around the world long to be citizens of the US…it confers great privilege and opportunity.
*The capital is home of “POTUS”…the acronym for the most powerful human on the planet…president of the united states.
*His every move is tracked round the clock in command centers, and over watched by military power.
*DC is a place where it would be easy to lose your mind…or never find it, if you had not yet done so.
*DC can create its own reality…unreality
-This is what is most real, most important
-I am important, or I must become important, or I must be known by important people so that I will be important.
*Never mind that there are massive monuments that the world’s most powerful people can see everyday that speak of long dead former most powerful people.
*Lincoln’s statue is larger than life, Washington’s monument is taller still…but the guys they memorialize are long, long gone.
*Just like the folks who are the most powerful now will be.
*Rome was the DC of Paul’s time…but more so…it was not a capital city of a ruling nation…it was a city that ruled the world.
*It was the largest city in the world…a city empire.
*The Roman Empire was the hegemony of its time.
*Being a citizen of Rome, like Paul was, conferred special privileges and protections.
*Paul lived during a period known as the “Roman peace” (Pax Romana)
*Rome ruled the world and there was in the vast Roman empire…
- Relative peace (no major wars)
- Roads (you could travel relatively easily for the first time between regions)
-They were built so the Army could get places quickly and supplies could reach them quickly…not weather dependent…paved
-It also meant more trade and more taxes
-In 4 years (around the time Paul wrote Romans)…1000 miles of paved roads were built.
- A Common Language (you could go anywhere in the empire and find Greek speakers)
*Much like English today
- A Common Culture…not that there weren’t diverse cultures, but the Roman culture had spread to extent that there were points of contact across the empire.
*Today you can go to Africa, Asia, South America…and talk to teens about current American culture…mostly entertainment and sports figures.
*Because of these unique features it was the best possible time for the gospel to spread…Paul traveled around 10,000 miles planting churches…taking advantage of his Roman citizenship…and the peace, the roads, the language, and cultural commonalities.
*And like our DC…Rome was a place where unreality reigned.
*The power brokers there lived largely outside of reality…they were controlling the known world, it was a place of culture, arts, wealth, education, military power…they had it going on.
*All time was now, and there was nowhere more important in the world to be.
*I said last week the emperor Claudius kicked out the Jews in 49.
*It was because the Jews were fighting over some guy named “Chrestos”
*A corruption of the name “Christos”…Christ.
*He kicked them all out…Christian and non-christian…he didn’t have time for that nonsense.
*Claudius was the most important person, in the most important city,…he would have none of their intramural fighting over some unimportant dead Jew named Crestos or Christos…or whatever.
*But five years later…the Jews were back in Rome…but Claudius was non longer in Rome.
*Where was he? He was dead.
*Poisoned…most likely by his wife.
*So Paul is writing to the church…made up of Gentile and Jewish followers of Christ in Rome…in the very heart of the world super power.
*A church made famous both for its location and its diversity…a church that was a miracle of the gospel…but still in need of further understanding of the power of the gospel.
Rom. 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. 11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong — 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. 14 I am obligated both to Greeks and Non-greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.
*Two main ideas mark this section:
- Paul’s thanksgiving for their faith.
-He didn’t start this church, he had never even been there.
-But he was profoundly grateful for the fact that the gospel was thriving in Rome
- His strong desire to visit them
-It was very important to him, that they knew how much he wanted to visit.
-They no doubt felt left out because he never been to see them…it seemed he had been everywhere but there.
- His Thanksgiving for their faith:
Rom. 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
*”First” is not followed by a second…so this is not about sequence “first” “Second”…
*This is about priority…I am “most” grateful to God for your faith being reported all over the known world.
*The gospel has taken root and is growing in the heart of the empire.
*He is not grateful to “them” for doing such a great job of being faithful, of growing a church in Rome.
*His gratitude is rightly directed to God…God is why they have a noteworthy faith.
*He is not diminishing the problems in the church there…by expressing his gratitude for their faith.
*Just because the church had problems did not mean there was no cause for celebration of what God had done.
*The church is always to be a mixed bag this side of eternity…we should be about more than just nitpicking problems…we should be amazed that it exists at all.
*Sure there were problems…but a church comprised of Jewish and non-Jewish background believers was alive and well in Rome…that was amazing, noteworthy…thanks to God “worthy”
*Our church can look, at first glance very similar in make-up…we have some different ethnicities but overall we can look very similar.
*And the majority common ethnicity can hide the fact that our differences are vast…personality types(in my home, let alone my church are very different), backgrounds, socio-economic differences, health, experience, education, family…the fact that we get along and love each other is not something we can take credit for…or something we should take for granted.
*I thank God for our church…and the love we share with each other…it is because of him that this is true.
*We have normal problems…but we have abnormal love and unity…this love is cause for thanks to God…we take no credit for it.
- His Desire to Visit.
*Paul calls on God as his witness that he has been praying diligently for them…and specifically that he has been praying that he would be able to visit them in Rome.
9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
*He is not being profane using God as his witness like someone saying “I swear to God”…he is emphasizing how important this is…how he has taken this request to God over and over.
*God literally is my witness how often I have asked him to let me come see you.
*Why did he want to go see them so badly?
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong — 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
*This is not about Paul thinking he can distribute gifts of the Spirit…this is singular(gift not gifts) and Paul knows that the Holy Spirit gives gifts…not him.
*He is referring to his desire to use his gift to serve them…to strengthen them in their faith.
*But he quickly adds something to his purpose… he is looking forward to mutual encouragement…this is not going to be a one-sided visit when he does get to come.
*He is not promoting himself as the great spiritual guru…coming to distribute his great gifts and wisdom…he believes that they will encourage him in his faith even as he encourages them in theirs.
*It’s unlikely that anyone at Rome was as advanced in their faith, and experience with God as Paul was at this time.
*Yet his desire and expectation was that they would share their stories and experience of God’s work in their lives and be mutually encouraged.
*There are many ways to fall off the wall in terms of how we perceive those who are either “behind” or “ahead” of us spiritually.
- I am more experienced, more knowledgable than you…so you have nothing to offer me.
-The truth is…we all can learn from one another
-We are not the originator or finisher of our faith…Jesus is.
-What he is doing in all of our lives…is his doing.
*We can be encouraged when we see and hear what he is doing in each other’s lives…a child’s faith can challenge an old man’s faith.
*The other extreme is…
- To understand that God is the one changing us…and wrongly conclude…”I don’t need any help from others.”
*You may have experience, age, knowledge…but we have the same God…so you have nothing to teach me that I can’t get without you.
-This of course is foolish
-Paul one time said “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
-Of course we can learn from those who have had more time to experience God.
-God most often intends to teach us through others…blowing off his teachers in our lives is the equivalent of blowing him off.
*Finally a third position that is not either extreme but needs to be addressed.
- If you feel inadequate, unable to contribute because you do not feel at all advanced in your faith…you feel behind all those around you…the humility is good and a realistic self-estimate is good as well.
*However don’t let your lack of experience or knowledge keep you from encouraging others with what God is doing in your life.
*Paul told Timothy…
* 1Tim. 4:12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
*Young could be biological age, or it could be spiritual age…a young Christian.
*So after telling them some of why he wants to come…he returns to the theme of convincing them that this is not just talk…he really does want to come…in fact he has made plans to come, many times.
13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now)
*He doesn’t tell us the reasons he has been prevented but likely because of the many opportunities for church planting in the East…and the ongoing demands to care for those churches once they had been established.
*Another reason may have been he was often recovering from having been severely injured during one of his many brushes with death.
*But either way…he really, really wanted to go to Rome…and he continues to tell them why…
in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. 14 I am obligated both to Greeks and Non-greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.
*He wants to see a harvest in Rome like he has seen in other places.
*Clearly this is not about Paul building his resume…”I’ve planted churches all over the place…Rome is on my bucket list.”
*This is not about that at all…this is about his heart.
*in v.9 he said “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son.”
*FF Bruce was a renowned British Scholar who died in 1990… he spent his adult life studying Paul and put his thoughts into a great book with a great title…”Paul Apostle of the Heart Set Free.”
*I have always loved that title…what a great description of Paul and his vision for the Romans…and God’s vision for us.
*”Apostle of the heart set free.”
*God wants our hearts set free by the gospel.
*Paul’s desire to share the gospel flowed from his “heart set free”.
*He said he was obligated to Greeks and non-greeks (non-greeks is translated from a word we get “barbarian” from).
*These two terms together are likely his way of referring to all Gentile humanity.
*Educated Greeks called those who could not pronounce the Greek language well (Greek was the common language)…”Barbarians”
*Paul wants to see all people…urban and rural…insiders and outsiders…educated and uneducated…experience Christ.
*He was also likely referring to the territory beyond Rome to West, where he hoped to go…Spain.
*Part of Paul’s plan was to use Rome as a jumping off place to take the gospel to Spain…maybe that is what he is saying here as well…
*Greeks (those in Rome)
*Barbarians…non-Greeks (those to the West, in Spain)
*At any rate…he wants to see Jesus magnified among all people.
*Paul uses two words to describe his desire to go to Rome
*Obligation is a word that means to be in debt.
*Eager means just what it sounds like…”I really want to do it”
*So is he obligated or does he really want to? “yes”
*They are not mutually exclusive.
*Rom. 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
*There Paul is giving two truths about two kinds of debt that are important to maintain good relationships in communities.
- Pay off all financial debts owed…when people do not follow through on their commitments to repay debts, relationships break down…this is a form of lying…stealing.
*This is a practical example that he uses to set up his larger point…
- Realize there is a debt that will never be paid…love for one another.
*We don’t keep score…”I’ve served you 19 times, you have served me 17…your down 2″
*We cannot pay off the debt of love we owe to each other.
*This is a figure of speech…we are not to treat love as an obligation but rather an opportunity.
*”We get to spend our lives loving each other.”
*But it is how people thrive in relationships…not seeing others as owing them, but seeing themselves as living in continual debt to love others.
*In marriage for instance…when “he” puts her first and “she” puts him first…they both maximize their joy…both in giving and receiving love.
*The same is true in all kinds of relationships…not just in marriage.
*Paul’s obligation is not because he believes he must or even could “repay” God…he knows better.
*Paul is both obligated and he wants to make the gospel known in Rome because his heart has been free…his obligation is a joy to him…his obligation flows from love not guilt.
*Last week I saw a book where the author, a soldier, in the preface said he attributed his survival during a combat deployment to the fact that he “claimed the promises of Ps 91”
*I’m happy he survived and that he leaned on God but his approach to scriptures is shaky at best.
*Its really important that we both understand what the Bible meant and then we can understand what it means.
*The first is the task of good interpretation…the second is the task of good application.
*Romans was a personal letter written by a man named Paul in the first century to a specific situation…it was meant to be distributed among various house churches in Rome and beyond and it was.
*The timeless truths we have in Romans were written in a historical context.
*My point of all this is that if we are to take the Bible seriously as God’s revealed word…then we must take interpretation and application seriously as well.
*We must not make it say what we want it to say…it can’t mean what it never meant.
*So Paul’s introduction here to the church (actually there were probably many smaller house churches) has specific historical and personal context…we are not Paul, we are not in the Roman setting…but this is God’s word to us as well.
*So…let’s look at two applications that we can, I believe, legitimately take from this passage…there are others.
*These two come from Paul’s main points of emphasis.
- We must nurture gratitude to God for our faith and the community he has formed by faith, the Church.
*God has given us the gift of faith and he has given us the community formed by faith…the church.
*I have, sadly, over the years been interested in reading of, hearing of and speaking of church problems…in other churches
*You might say “what’s wrong with being interested?”
*Everything is wrong with being more interested than sad…or more interested than praying for unity.
*There is a cottage industry in the Christian book business of pointing out how messed up the church is…I’ve read a handful of books with that theme.
*I get it, The church is as messed up as the people who make it up are…and yet the church is a thing of beauty on the earth…and increasingly so as the people who form the church become more like Jesus.
2 Cor. 3:18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
*I love the church, I love this church.
*I heard a story of a young boy in store…indirectly begging his dad for discipline…finally the dad took the child out of the store and applied some love to the boy’s bottom…a passerby noticed what was happening and threatened him with “If you don’t stop I’m going to call the police.”
*The boy stopped his wailing looked at his father and asked “What’s her problem dad?”
*There was a need for correction…but it was a family problem…the lady didn’t understand what was happening.
*I know the church needs correction…but those who do not love the church are not the ones with credible correction…they will simply not understand what it is that needs to be corrected.
*Paul is going after their hearts…this is where all real change begins…this is what God alone can do.
*This being so Paul starts with gratitude for their faith…gratitude that is directed to God and is intended to direct their attention to God as well.
*I am not saying we shouldn’t pay some attention to culture’s critique…
*But I’ve heard it said many times the world around us will be more likely to believe when we look more like Jesus…I know that this is always so.
*Culture will stop complaining about the church not when the church becomes more like Jesus but when it becomes more like culture.
*Paul was going to give correction to the Romans but it was coming from the heart of a man who loved the church…he was one of them.
*Nuture gratitude for the family of faith, it is a gift of God…it will impact how you live within that family.
*Let someone else handle griping and complain…you…move towards gratitude…learn to marvel at what God has done in birthing the church in the world.
*Paul, writing to a church with problems was able to say…without exaggeration, or dishonesty…”I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you.
- Nurture a sense of obligation and eagerness to share the gospel.
*Remember what I said about obligation…this is not about paying God back…that cannot be done.
*It should not be tried.
*Obligation is way of talking about a debt of love that we cannot repay…but we joyfully get to make payments on it throughout our lives.
*Calling it an obligation is a way of saying…nurture love for others…the debt of love we will not pay off…we don’t want too…we aren’t even trying to track the balance…it untrackable.
*I Cor. 13…”love keeps no record of wrongs”…it also doesn’t keep record of our “rights”…we just keep on paying on the debt called love.
*Unfortunately Evangelism “good newsing people” is often presented as a pure obligation…
“Look at what Jesus did for you…now get out there and do something for him.”
*Sort of like “Merry Christmas…here’s your gift…now get out there and shovel the driveway and earn it.”
-Sounds more like a wage than gift.
*The only wages in the NT are death…what Jesus did is pure gift.
*The wages of sin is death…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:23)
*So when I say nurture a sense of obligation I’m not talking about trying to pay God back or operating out of guilt…I am talking about a heart that has responded to God’s love and is growing in love for others.
*Paul said “God who I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son.”
*He shared his faith because his heart was given to God…it was not guilt or even the needs of others that energized him.
*He was the “Apostle of the heart set free.”
*He was captured by a vision of God’s greatness and he wanted more people to worship God.
*Knowing and loving God…making God’s love known.
*That is the proper order…and the second is a result of the first.
*Then the second feeds the first.
Philemon 1:6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
*One more thought on this second point…
*Paul is not just talking about sharing the gospel with unbelievers…but believers as well.
*V. 15…”I am eager to preach the gospel to you at Rome”
*He is talking to believers there…
*We need to continually remind each other of the good news…not as in reciting historically data.
- Jesus was born
- Jesus was crucified
- Jesus rose
- Jesus reigns
- Jesus will return…these things are factually true.
*But they are practically true as well.
*The outcomes of the historical gospel are…you are free, you don’t have to earn his love or pay for your sins, you can have relationship with others that is not based on earning.
*You don’t have to live consumed with worry, or performance, or competition.
*You can forgive and love each other…you can never pay off the debt of love you owe…this is opportunity not burden.
*On and on the implications go…life altering implications…if we remember them and if we will embrace them as true.
*In Rome…in AD 50 the church was insignificant…the Leaders of the empire had no real interest in what was happening in these homes where they were reading copies of Paul’s letter…same one we are reading here.
*The emperor Claudius was likely oblivious to the fact that that most important thing in the world was the gospel and the church that formed in his city because of the power of the gospel.
*But as he was choking on the poison…it has been said he took several days to die…he came to understand as all people do…they are not self-important, meaning is not derived from the temporary but from the eternal.
*Rome…was largely illusion, a passing thing…the Church was permanent.
*Paul wrote a description of a life lived in line with what is real, true, permanent, and therefore ultimately meaningful and important.
“God whom I serve with my whole heart in proclaiming the gospel of his son…”
*Knowing God…making God known.