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Some background information which you can ignore if you would rather!!
This letter was composed by the apostle Paul about 27 years after the crucifixion and contains three great themes as well as several minor ones. It was penned by Tertius in the Greek city of Corinth and then carried by Phoebe to Rome in 58ad.
During his stay at Corinth, Paul found time to look forward to new and wider fields of service. He had finished in the east and now his contemplated journey to Rome occupied his thoughts. A church had already been established in the greatest city of the then known world, and the apostle desired to secure the co-operation of the believers there in the work to be accomplished in Italy and in other western countries. To see the Christian faith enlarged in the city of opposition was also one of his dearest hopes and most cherished plans. He prepared the way for his labours among these folk, many of whom were as yet strangers to him, by sending them a letter announcing his purpose of visiting Rome and his hope of planting the truth of the living Saviour in Spain.
In this letter, Paul first set forth the great principles of the gospel so that they could see his position on these important points. While doing this he emphasized the removal and replacement of the old nature which brings about the creation of the Christian. Then he stated his position on the question which at that time was agitating both the Jewish and the Gentile (or non-Jewish) Christian churches, the keeping of ceremonies and rituals. In this he showed that the hopes and promises which had once belonged especially to the Jews were now being offered to the Gentiles also. Finally, he commented on the place of political authority in Christianity.
No 1. Justification by faith alone
With great clearness and power the apostle presented the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ, which is also called "the grace of God". He hoped that other groups also might be helped by the instruction sent to the Christians at Rome, but how dimly could he have foreseen the far-reaching influence of his words!
Through all the ages since, this great truth of justification by faith, (being made right with God by faith in Jesus work without any attempt at self-righteousness or works), has stood as a mighty beacon to guide repentant sinners into the way of life.
Ever since it was written this communication has led thousands of sin-burdened souls to the true Source of pardon and peace. It was this light that scattered the darkness which clouded Martin Luther's mind fifteen hundred years later, revealing to him the ability of the sacrifice of Christ to cleanse from the compelling power of sin. Two hundred years after that John Wesley also found the knowledge of the free-pardoning Saviour by reading Luthers preface to the book of Romans.
For the letter to the church at Rome, every Christian has reason to thank God.
A secondary effect of the light received by Martin Luther and his friends was the rise of the Protest-ant church. This "protest" against the tendency to place a man or an institution between the repentant sinner and God is now due to be revived, so we would do well to reconsider this question.
No 2. The place of the Jews in "Christ"-ianity
In his letter Paul also gave free expression to his burden in behalf of the Jews. Ever since his conversion, he had longed to help his Jewish brothers and sisters to gain a clear understanding of the gospel message. "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is," he declared, "that they might be saved". He felt this way because there was an undercurrent among the Christians who had a pagan background that the Jews must be totally lost because they had rejected and crucified Christ.
It was no ordinary desire that the apostle felt.
Constantly he had petitioned God to be allowed to work in behalf of the Israelites who had failed to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah, and as a result he came to an understanding which few have seen. He summarizes his position with the words,
"For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon Him. For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved".
In these words he states that there is no one at all who cannot be saved unless they totally reject again and again the offer of freedom from a loving Saviour. Only the death of the individual can stop Jesus Christ from actively working to save them.
See "The Future of the Jews" for more on this subject.
No 3. The position of worldly authorities
The third and final eternal truth to be seen in this letter is the rightful position of earthly authorities.
The people of Rome were pagans, which meant that the majority of them were patriots - for the state. To them the state was the church and they were only opposing what they saw as an attempt by the Christians to undermine their society by setting forth the doctrine of freedom in religion. Paul was not against normal government, but as a Christian he was against government which is religious as well as secular, therefore he tried to set out the Christian position clearly. Politicians, policemen and all those who exercise lawful control over the physical bodies of their nations are shown as ministers established by God for that very purpose, but nothing else.
"The powers that be are ordained of God", he wrote, "whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God".
Rulers have the right to demand physical obedience from their subjects, and Christians, as lawkeepers, will always choose to be in subjection to that right. However, when the demands of earthly rulers, whether secular or religious, step over the line into a spiritual or conscience area then they are to be reminded firmly that this is beyond their jurisdiction. They may control our bodies but not our minds.
Like Daniel in the lions den, the followers of the true God may expect to be delivered from such situations when they rely upon their Saviour, for they are sure to come. He said,
"It shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what you shall answer [at that time], for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries will not be able to gainsay [or contradict] nor resist". Luke 21:13-15.
These three eternal verities are the main messages of the letter to the Roman Christians.
One of Pauls friends wrote:
"Wherefore, beloved, seeing that you look for such things, be diligent that you may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless. And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is [or for your] salvation. Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given to him has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things. In which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
You therefore, beloved, seeing you know these things before, beware lest you also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen". 2 Peter 3.14-18.
If we keep in mind the fact that some of Pauls words are hard to understand and realise that we will need heavenly illumination through the Holy Spirit then we may look at some of the minor points which are difficult.
Paul admitted that he had a problem with understanding the hardening of pharaohs heart. He ended up by saying that we as creatures cannot argue with our Creator. But Jesus said He wants to be our Friend as well as a Parent and for us to know how He works, so we are invited to dig deeper into this subject.
Esau is also mentioned in the discussion, It is said that God "hated" him while He loved Jacob. "Hatred" or "wrath" are the words used in the Scripture to describe the attitude of Jesus when He is rejected as LORD Protector and School Master, but they do not have the same meaning in the Bible as when men use them. To interfere after a positive rejection would be to use "force" which is totally against the character of Jesus. He taught and practised only love towards those who made themselves His "enemies", for "love is the fulfilling of the law".
The repentance of Esau is explained later in Hebrews where it is stated,
"He found no place of repentance [or way to change his mind, margin], though he sought it carefully with tears". Hebrews 12:17
Here we are being told that there was nothing further that Jesus could show him which would cause him to change his mind. Esau was sorry for the result his actions brought upon himself, but not for the pain which Jesus would have to bear if He was to be his Saviour. If the result was removed or delayed then Esau would continue in the same behaviour even if he later died from it.
Thus we are shown two different repentances.
A false one which allows the sinner to continue in the sin while hoping and praying to stop, and a true one which calls upon him to stop immediately by using the power of his Saviour. It is written,
"For godly sorrow works [or produces] repentance to salvation not to be repented of, but the sorrow of the world works [or results in] death". 2 Corinthians 7.10.
One day when His disciples suggested calling "fire to come down from heaven... as Elijah did..." on some who opposed them, Jesus was shocked at their attitude and "turned and rebuked [or corrected] them", for He understood the story while they did not. Luke 9:54. It was the LACK of protection that caused the deaths of the first two "fifties" and their leaders. When they wanted to attack the man of God, he was protected against the destructive power they were invoking while they were exposed to it. This is embodied in the principle that "all they who take the sword shall perish with the sword". Matthew 26:52.
The third leader, understanding this, showed a different spirit and pleaded with Elijah to come and "save" him from the effects of this principle and so Elijah was told he could go safely with him.
God destroys no one in the way human beings destroy each other.
Although it is often written in the Scripture as though He does, when men and women destroy they mean to do it, usually with passion, but Gods "strange act" is something He cannot prevent. It is normally His power being used in the opposite way in which it should be and therefore instead of life it brings death.
Consider the case of king Saul. It is written of him that
"Saul died for his transgression which he committed against the LORD... and inquired not of the LORD; therefore He slew him..." 1 Chronicles 10:13.
But the actual record of his death says,
"So Saul took a sword and fell upon it". 1 Samuel 31:4.
He exercised the choice which God gave him and ended his own life, but God says He "destroyed" him by giving him the right of choice!
Another illustration of what often happens is recorded for us in the following Scripture.
When "Zedekiah [the last king of Judah]... did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD his God... and hardened his heart from turning to the LORD God of Israel... till there was no remedy... He gave them all into his [the king of the Chaldeans] hand". See 2 Chronicles 36:11-17.
But at the same time Jesus was saying,
"My people are bent on backsliding from Me... How shall I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you as Admah? How can I set you as Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred". Hosea 11:8.
The LORD God (Jesus) speaks to us as though He chooses to do what He cannot prevent, but that is because He does not want to blame any one else. He is not an accuser.
It is often necessary to think in opposites to
understand the truth of the Bible. For instance, Jesus said one
day, "He who loves his life shall lose it, and he who
hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal".
We need the Spirit to explain this to us. Unfortunately for many, we are told that not until the second coming will this be clear to them, for of that time it is said, "We shall see Him as He is." 1 John 3:2.
How did Jesus come from the grave?
Similarly, the question of which God raised Jesus from the tomb is not set forth clearly in the body of the letter. In fact, Paul apparently contradicts himself when he says that God did it. But Jesus is also God and He used His own power, which of course, is the power of God, to produce the resurrection as Paul rightly states.
Jesus explained this for us when He said,
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd. Therefore does My Father love Me, because I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father". John 10:16-18.
Holy days and food habits
Paul incidently mentions the problem of various ceremonial holy days which had been part of the Jewish law, but were no longer binding on Christians. His advice was to keep or not keep them as each one saw fit, because they were not important now that the reason for them had ceased. But they were not to enforce the observance of them on each other. In this connection also, he refers to the different ways Jews and Greeks had of eating. Those who had been brought up in one culture often found it difficult to harmonise with the other, so he suggested that they give up temporarily those habits which offended a brother (or sister) eating at the same table. He gave the same advice to the Corinthians when he wrote to them.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Now as touching things offered to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but charity [love] edifies [or cares for]. And if any man think that he knows any thing, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of Him.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For though there be [to some people] that [which] are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him.
However there is not in every man that knowledge: for some [Christians] with conscience of [or belief in] the idol to this hour eat it as a thing offered to an idol [as if it was blessed by the idol]; and their conscience [or understanding] being weak is defiled [or upset]. But [we know that] meat [or food] commends us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty [or understanding] of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see you which have [this] knowledge sitting at meat [having dinner] in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols [and thereby sin in his mind]; and through your knowledge shall [you cause] the weak brother [to] perish, for whom Christ died?
But when you sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world stands, lest I make my brother to offend.
An idols temple today could be a restaurant where one might eat food that another thinks is unhealthy. Then if a young Christian sees an older Christian eating certain foods he or she might well think it is OK for them to eat it too. The advice is to watch what we do in case it upsets some else.
On to an important point
The Letter to the Christians at Rome
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