ROMANS – Righteousness
Offered to Mankind As Necessary Salvation
Before beginning any long journey it's always good to get your bearings. Our study of Paul's letter to the Romans will take us the better part of a year. This isn't bad when you consider some pastors have been known to take between three (Donald Grey) and THIRTEEN YEARS (Martin Lloyd) to preach through this book! So, I want to lay out the landscape of lies ahead of us.
We begin by answering six important questions that will give help us in our journey through the book: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
I. Who? – Paul, to the church in Rome.
We know Paul from our study of the book of Acts. Saul was Paul's Hebrew name; Paul was his Greek name. He was born in Tarsus (in the Roman province of Cilicia – modern day Turkey) about the same time as Christ's birth (Acts 9:11). Paul was a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5), but was also a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37; 22:25). Paul's father was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6); a member of the strictest Jewish sect. He grew up to follow in his father's footsteps and spend most of his young life in Jerusalem under the teaching of a famous rabbi named Gamaliel (Acts 22:3; Phil. 3:5). As a Pharisee, Paul developed a zealous hatred for a new sect that was rapidly growing who claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, the Christ of Israel. Paul opposed the church by savagely persecuting them wherever they met and worshiped; until the road to Damascus, where he encountered the risen Christ at sometime between A.D. 33-34 (Acts 9:20).
Paul was transformed by the grace of God and was called to carry the gospel to the gentiles (Acts 9:15). After barely escaping Damascus with his life (Acts 9:23-25; 2 Cor. 11:32-33), Paul spent three years in Nabatean Arabia (Gal. 1:17&18). During this time, Paul received much of his doctrinal training through direct revelation from God (Gal. 1:11&12). Paul returned and lived in his hometown of Tarsus until he was located by Barnabas and asked to come and serve the church in Antioch around A.D. 44 (Acts 11:22-26) While serving in Antioch, Paul, was called by the Holy Spirit to take his first of three missionary journeys (Acts 13:2&3). These three missionary journeys carried Paul through Greece and Asia Minor. It is near the beginning of Paul's third missionary journey that he writes his letter to the church in Rome, ROMANS. While Paul desperately wanted to visit the church in Rome, he was prevented from doing so until he eventually arrived in chains around A.D. 62.
B. The church in Rome
Unlike most of the churches we encounter in the New Testament, the church in Rome was not founded by an apostle. As we discussed while studying Acts, the church was founded by those who were converted on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). At the time of Paul's writing, the population of Rome exceeded one million inhabitants, nearly half of whom were bond-servants and recently freed slaves. Like many metropolitan cities, Rome was a wonderful place to live for the rich elite, but challenging for everyone else. The great divide between the rich and poor kept the city officials on edge as the lower class was never far from rioting. The contrast between the picturesque villas, the impressive Ampitheater, the Roman forum, the Circus Maximus and the poverty that most Romans lived in was stark to say the least. There was rampant crime, racial warfare, and moral depravity throughout the city.
Even though Rome was the hub of the Roman Empire, and considered the most powerful city on earth at that time, it was: divided racially, and politically, and declining morally. Sound familiar? In fact, life in Rome at the time of Paul's writing would have been a lot like life in New York or any other major city today.
Life for Christians in Rome was difficult. For both Jewish and Gentile Christians, the price of following Christ meant the loss of family and friends, including the safety they provided. During the reign of Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54), the Roman government - normally tolerant of other religions – began to prohibit proselytizing. Claudius likely expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2) because Jewish Christians had been evangelizing their neighbors. But within a few years, Claudius was poisoned and his adopted heir, Nero, took his place on the throne. Nero allowed the Jews and the Christians to return and all remained quiet for about three years. It was during this time that Paul wrote to his brothers and sisters in Rome. In A.D. 64 Nero went mad and began to brutally persecute Christians in Rome. He blamed them for burning part of the city and had them arrested, tortured, and used them for sport in his blood-stained Coliseum. The church in Rome was fortified by Paul's letter of God's grace just before Nero's terror was unleashed upon them.
II. What? – The gospel of God's grace.
The purpose of Paul's letter was to teach the great truths of the gospel of grace to believers who had never received apostolic instruction. It also served to introduce him to a church where he was not know personally, but hoped to soon visit for several reasons: to encourage the believers (1:11), to preach the gospel (1:15), and to get to know the Romans Christians, so they could encourage him (1:12; 15:32), better pray for him (15:30), and help him with his planned ministry in Spain (financial support 15:28).
First, the apostle Paul confirmed their understanding of the gospel and then clarified what might have been confusing to this isolated and often persecuted church. Persecution and isolation are the principle tools used in the task of mind control. Prisoners of war report that after several hours of torture, the human mind will accept any absurdity as absolute truth in order to end suffering.
Using Paul's formal training and extensive experience, the Holy Spirit delivers a complete, doctrinal essay of Christian Truth. Romans, besides the gospels this is the founding document of the church age. When I speak of the Apostles Doctrine this is the primary source of that teaching.
The overarching theme of Romans is that righteousness comes from God: the glorious truth that GOD JUSTIFIES GUILTY, CONDEMNED SINNERS BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE. Chapters 1-11 present the theological truths of that doctrine, while chapters 12-16 detail its practical outworking in the lives of individual believers and the life of the church as a whole.
Second, the letter affirmed the authenticity of the Roman Christian's faith and commended them for their obedience. Paul essentially says to them, "Keep on doing what you've been doing! You're right on target! Be encouraged!"
Third, Paul's letter cast a vision for the future and asked the church to partner with him in accomplishing it. Paul challenged the believers in Rome to join him in evangelizing the newly expanded empire to the west; a landmass greater than any the apostle had covered in all three of his missionary journeys (and not nearly as civilized).
III. When? – Most likely A.D. 56
ROMANS, was written approximately a year and a half into Paul's third missionary journey.
IV. Where? – Written from Corinth.
The apostle Paul was visiting the church at Corinth when his letter to the Romans was written. We deduce from Paul's mention of key individuals such as: Phoebe (16:1), Gaius (16:23), and Erastus (16:23) that he wrote Romans from Corinth. All of these people are associated with the church in Corinth and we also know that Cenchrea was Corinth's port (16:1). The church at Corinth was established by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1).
The city of Corinth was as immoral a city as you can imagine. The most prominent structure in Corinth at that time was a temple to Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Some, 1,000 priestesses, who were "temple" prostitutes, lived and worked there and came down into the city to offer their services to male citizens and foreign visitors. Even by pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. For a modern-day comparison think Las Vegas, New Orleans and San Francisco all rolled into one. It's not hard to envision the apostle Paul, moved by the Holy Spirit, looking out over "sin city" describing man's lost condition in Romans 1:24-32.
V. Why? –introduction, doctrine and evangelism.
We've already mentioned that the primary purpose of Paul's letter was to instruct Roman believers on the great truths of the gospel of grace (1:16). The secondary purpose was to introduce himself to them as an apostle of God (1:1). The third purpose was to ask that they support him on his mission to carry the gospel beyond them to the rest of the known world.
We must recognize, however, that ultimately it was God who inspired Paul's letter to the Romans not only for their immediate benefit but also for all churches in all ages. Every word is for our instruction and inspiration (2 Tim. 3:16&17).
VI. How? – Inspired by the Holy Spirit through Paul, written by Tertius, in the home of Gaius,
delivered by Phoebe.
We know from chapter 16 verse 23 that, Gaius, hosted the apostle Paul during his 3 or 4 month stay in Corinth. We also know that while Paul dictated the epistle (inspired by God), a man named Tertius actually wrote down Paul's words (16:22). We know nothing else about Tertius except that he served as Paul's secretary on this occasion. The letter was delivered from Corinth to Rome by a sister in Christ named, Phoebe (16:1&2).
Questions for discussion:
1. Why is Romans such an important book for the church?
2. What are some similarities between the city of Rome, in Paul's day, and modern day America?
3. What is doctrine (a principle or creed of principles presented for acceptance or belief; a system of beliefs) and how does it affect our lives as believers?
4. How did God's prevention of Paul going to Rome during his missionary journeys ultimately benefit the church?
5. How can God's providence in our own lives be seen in everyday developments (see Rom. 8:38)?