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Romans (day 1047-1062)

Romans 1 (day 1047) 12 November 2012

          There are 22 books remaining in the Bible, and 21 of them are letters (though a couple of them read more like sermons). The majority of scholars accept the traditional designation of Romans as a genuine letter of Paul’s. It is dictated by Paul to a companion serving as his secretary whose name is Tertius (see 16:22), which means that it is not carefully composed but dictated. William Barclay pictured Paul pacing back and forth talking animatedly and Tertius trying furiously to keep up with his train of thought. This picture may or not be accurate but it certainly explains the rambling nature of the text.

1-7: One reason the letter seems genuinely to be from Paul is that the opening paragraph melds comfortably with Paul’s closing speech in Acts (Acts 28:23-29). Paul is convinced that the coming of Jesus, including his death and resurrection, was foretold by the prophets, and convinced as well that his particular calling is to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles. He found followers of the Way in Rome and in some of the nearby towns (Forum of Appius and Three Taverns are mentioned at Acts 28:14-15) when he first arrived there, and this letter purports to be for them. It was circulated widely throughout the Mediterranean world pretty quickly, though. We have seen how groups of Christians seem to have sprung up nearly everywhere Paul has traveled, and I have marveled at the mobility of the population throughout the Roman world. Verse 4 is the first time in the Bible the name “Jesus Christ our Lord” is used, and verse 7 is the first occurrence in the Bible of “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is clear that in Paul we meet the premiere theologian of the apostolic Church.

8-15: Paul gives thanks for them and tells them about his longing to come and visit them, and from that most scholars conclude that the letter is being written from Corinth or nearby just before Paul makes his final trip to Jerusalem. But his statement that he has thus far been “prevented” from traveling to Rome leads me to imagine that this letter may have been written from Caesarea where he has been held as a prisoner for a couple of years. Perhaps the reason Paul appealed his case to Caesar was for the purpose of finally getting to Rome.

16-17: The good news of Jesus Christ reveals the righteousness of God through faith, he says. In other words, the rightness of God’s plan to use the Jews to reach the rest of the world can only be discerned through faith.

18-23: Those who do not have faith have no excuse, he says, because the very existence of creation is evidence enough of God’s power. Those who deny it are fools regardless of how wise they seem to be in the ways of the world. He takes a jab at idol worship. How can a carved image of an animal replace the immortal, invisible God who created the universe?

24-25: It is this mistaken direction of worship toward idols instead of toward God that causes people to behave in ways that degrade the human spirit.

26-31: God’s reaction to their worship of no-gods is to simply give them up to their passions and allow them to give up the gift of eternal life. It is not so much that God condemns sinners; God simply allows us to choose life or death, and if we choose death he honors our choice. Paul provides a long list of the kinds of behaviors practiced by those who do not submit to God’s rule, illustrating how godlessness spreads through the whole community as those who have no morals corrupt others by encouraging them in the same sinful behaviors.

 

Romans 2 (day 1048) 13 November 2012

It is important to remember to whom Paul is writing and about whom he is writing. He is writing to Gentile believers (1:13) about Gentile unbelievers who form the culture in which believers must live. These unbelievers are those who worship idols (1:23), engage in all kinds of debased behaviors – sexual, financial, self-centered, antiauthoritarian, etc. Hmm … sounds strangely familiar. These people have no excuse because everyone should know something about God from the things God created (1:20).

1-11: He addresses these unbelievers as “whoever you are,” and says that they also have no integrity by which to judge others. In other words, their entire system of laws and their understanding of ethical behavior are flawed from the core, and they will suffer God’s wrath because of the evil they do. Notice that Paul does not claim eternal life only for Christians, but for all those who do good, both “Jew and Greek” (a common phrase intended to include everybody). Eternal life, it would seem, depends on one’s behavior, not on one’s belief. There will be much remaining in Paul’s and others’ letters that will call that interpretation into question – such as the insistence on faith in Christ (like 3:22-24 for instance) – but we’ll worry about those when we get there.

12-16: There will be a day of judgment, Paul says, when God will judge not only the deeds but also the secret thoughts of everyone. Jews have the benefit of God’s law to guide them, but Gentiles also instinctively know the difference between right and wrong, and when they follow their inclination to do right, they are justified just as Jews who keep the law. In verse 15 Paul is remembering what Jeremiah had written centuries before: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

17-24: Practice what you preach.

25-29: The prevailing public opinion among Jews of Paul’s day was that circumcision (combined with an Abrahamic ancestry) made one part of God’s people. Paul says that keeping God’s law – doing the right thing – is what makes one part of God’s people. After the resurrection, therefore, God’s people are known by faith and practice.

 

Romans 3 (day 1049) 14 November 2012

1-8: Paul is arguing here with an imaginary opponent who, based on what Paul has just said, wants to conclude that there is nothing special about being Jewish or about being circumcised. Paul counters by asserting that the people of Israel are the people whom God chose to receive his word. Just because some of them were not faithful does not mean that God is going to turn his back on the covenant he made with them. So, if their unfaithfulness or injustice serves to prove God’s faithfulness and justice, God ought to reward them, not punish them, right? We might as well sin, then, so God will do even more good. Well, no, that argument has no weight because God is just, and the wicked will ultimately be punished for their wickedness.

9-18: Still, the Jews are no better off than Gentiles because both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and broken God’s laws, an assertion that Paul backs up with multiple paraphrasesfrom the Psalms and the prophet Isaiah (Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 5:9, Psalm 140:3, Psalm 10:7, Isaiah 59:7 and Psalm 36:1).

19-20: Here is one of the major points Paul makes in a number of places: the law cannot save; the law can only condemn.

21-26: However, everything has changed with the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ, with the shedding of his blood, made atonement for the sins of all so that all who have faith in Jesus Christ are justified – that is to say, God has dropped all charges against those who believe.

27-31: Therefore none of us have any reason or right to brag about how good we are because all of us fall short, but all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are justified by God through faith in Jesus and his atoning blood. Still, God’s law, which is known instinctively even by Gentiles (see 2:14), is not thereby diminished.

 

Romans 4 (day 1050) 15 November 201

          1-8: Quoting Psalm 106:31, Paul moves on to Abraham, the one with whom the covenant of circumcision was made (see Genesis 17:10), as an example of some who was justified by faith, not by works. Adding a couple of verses from one of David’s psalms (Psalm 32:1-2), he makes a strong case that God does indeed justify people because of their faith, not because they are blameless in keeping the law.

9-12: He argues further that God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham because he was reckoned as righteous by God, not in order to reckon him as righteous. He then asserts that Abraham is thus the spiritual father of all believers, circumcised and uncircumcised.

13-15: Follow closely, now: The promise of God to Abraham’s descendants (all of us who believe) is therefore not based on adherence to the law; it is based on righteousness by faith – what we call justification.

16-24: Paul continues to build on his “proof” that Abraham was justified by faith, not by adherence to the law (works), asserting that Abraham believed that he would be the “father of many nations” in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, thus proving his faith.

Romans 5 (day 1051) 16 November 2012

1-5: Continuing with the theme of justification by faith (God overlooks our sins because of our faith, not our works), Paul calls it grace and attributes it to Jesus Christ. We can boast, he says, not in our works but in our hope of sharing God’s glory and in our suffering because of that hope. Suffering results in endurance (“no pain, no gain”), endurance in character (“when the going gets tough, the tough get going”), and character in that hope which is grounded in God’s love for us.

6-11: The death of Christ was the avenue for our justification; the resurrection is the avenue for our salvation.

12-14: Because of the transgression of Adam all people became sinners and wereseparated from God. Because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ all people became reconciled to God (compare 1 Corinthians 15:21).

15-17: The term “free gift” is important to this paragraph, but only occurs 6 times in the Bible; 5 of them here and once in the next chapter where the free gift is identified as eternal life (6:23). Paul contrasts the free gift with the trespass of Adam. His point is that the blood of Jesus is more powerful than the transgression of Adam.

18-21: Verse 18 seems to confirm the idea of universal salvation – “justification and salvation for all.” Verse 19 hedges on it – “the many will be made righteous.” Verses 20-21 say the same thing, substituting law and grace for justification and condemnation in verses 18-19. We can summarize this paragraph thusly:

18:    The trespass of one (Adam) led to condemnation.

The righteous act of one (Jesus) leads to justification and life.

19:    The disobedience of one led to the many becoming sinners.

The obedience of one leads to the many becoming righteous.

20:    When the law entered sin increased but so did grace.

21:    Sin leads to death(so Adam) but grace leads to life (so Jesus).

It would appear, then, that we have a choice to make.

 

Romans 6 (day 1052) 17 November 2012

1-5: None of this means, however, that our sin causes grace to abound: Grace abounded in Jesus Christ because of God, not because of sin. To be baptized into Christ means that we participated in his death. To Paul it therefore stands to reason that we shall participate in his resurrection as well.

6-11: By “our old self” Paul means our unjustified self. The crucifixion brought justification to the believer. Therefore the believer is dead to sin. And because Christ was raised from the dead, we too are alive to God.

12-14: So we do not have to give in to sin. In Christ sin has been conquered, and the law does not condemn those who live in him.

15-19: This is the first time Paul has mentioned any specific curriculum for the Christian (verse 17 – “… the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”). Being obedient to these teachings, which we must assume must have the sayings of Jesus at its core, has the benefit of freeing one from sin. Paul uses the terminology of slavery to illustrate the change of allegiance that takes place in the heart of the follower of Jesus; we cease being slaves to sin and become slaves to righteousness.

20-23: Being “slaves of sin” is Paul’s way of referring to those who believe salvation consists of obedience to the law; but he has repeatedly made the point that the law can only condemn, and thus the only possible outcome is death. Being enslaved to God, however, places one in line to receive the gift of eternal life.

 

Romans 7 (day 1053) 18 November 2012

1-3: Forgive him, girls – please take into consideration the culture in which Paul lives and moves and has his being. Yes, there was a time when husbands “ruled” their wives (although there is evidence to suggest that this arrangement was mostly in the minds of the husbands). So, starting with that acknowledgement we can understand the point Paul is making: earthly allegiances do not survive death.

4-6: The law exists to manage this earthly life, but since being baptized into Christ means we are partners in his resurrection, we are therefore dead to the law because we are already living in that new life of faith in Christ. The law no longer holds any power to condemn us. Frankly, I’m pretty happy about that.

7-12: Of course, the law is holy because it came from God, and thus it has its place, but primarily it merely defines sin. Once we become participants in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the law no longer serves any purpose for us.

13: Paul tends to over-explain things. Okay, sin is the bad thing, not the law. But because the law reveals sin it has the effect of emphasizing our sinfulness which makes us bad.

14-20: There is, however, another primary difference between us and the law: the law is spiritual; we are flesh. For Paul, sin is of the flesh, and in the flesh we cannot but sin. Try as he might, he confesses that his physical existence causes him to do things he knows are not right even while he is in the very act of doing them. On the other hand, he realizes in his mind that what he is doing is not right, and that realization is his spiritual self. So there is within us both a principle of sin and a principle of holiness, but because we live in the flesh we cannot completely overcome the flesh, and thus sin is ever a part of our earthly lives. How can we be saved from such a calamity? We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, which faith allows us to live in the resurrection while we are still living in the flesh.

 

Romans 8 (day 1054) 19 November 2012

          1-8: The terms “flesh” and “spirit” are central to Paul’s understanding of the faith. “Flesh,” in the broad sense, is human nature, not just the physical body. “Spirit” is the presence of God within us, directing us toward the fullness of life. He argues here that the law could not overcome human nature. The law can only condemn sinful behavior. Since human nature cannot submit to God’s law, we must strive to live according to the spirit.

9-11: Of course we are in the flesh, but Paul’s point is that if we belong to Christ Jesus, the indwelling Spirit helps us overcome our sinful human nature to the end that we will have eternal life.

12-17: Paul introduces the concept of adoption into his understanding of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. In Roman law an adoption resulted in the cancellation of all previous debts and responsibilities and the acquisition of all familial rights within the new family including the right of inheritance. In terms of Christian teaching this equates to the forgiveness of sins (cancellation of prior debts) and entry into eternal life with Christ as joint heirs.

18-25: There have been persecutions of Christians throughout the early history of the church, and that is probably what Paul is alluding to here, but it is also true that life in this “present time” is filled with disease and dis-ease. The Jews had long believed that the “present age” would one day be replaced with the “age to come,” and Paul builds on this belief with a description of the process by which God will bring it about, comparing it to childbirth. He acknowledges that it is a future that has no precedence – it cannot be “seen.” Therefore we await the glorious day and our final “adoption” with patient hope.

26-27: Since our adoption is not yet complete we still struggle with the weakness of our human nature. But while we struggle the counterbalance of our spiritual nature maintains our connection to God.

28-30: Verse 28 is one of the most quoted verses from Paul’s writings. John Calvin latched onto verses 29-30 to uphold his doctrine of predestination – that some were chosen for salvation from the beginning. That is clear enough, but Calvin went on to insist that everybody else will go to hell. We Methodists (along with the vast majority of Christians) simply point out that the word “only” does not appear here. In other words, the text does NOT say, “For only those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … and only those whom he predestined he also called; and only those whom he called he also justified; and only those whom he justified he also glorified.” So, we give Jesus’ word (“For God so loved the world … that whosoever believes …”) more weight than Paul’s in the matter. All of these arguments aside, it is clear that what Paul primarily means here is simply that God never intended for Christ to remain forever his only child, but rather that he should simply “be the firstborn within a large family.”

31-39: Paul ends this section with an eloquent depiction of the unfailing love of God for all who acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

Romans 9 (day 1055) 20 November 2012

1-5: Paul is in anguish, however, over his own people, the people of Israel, and goes so far as to say that he would forfeit his own adoption if it would result in all of them embracing Jesus as the Messiah.

6-18: He traces Israel’s history from Abraham, acknowledging that from time to time God seemed to favor one branch of Abraham’s family tree over another. This, he says, is not because God is capricious, but because God is, well, sort of capricious. God picks and chooses as God sees fit.

19-29: And we have no ground on which to argue with the choices God has made. God is, after all, God. Paul’s point is that God isn’t calling people based on whether they are Jew or Gentile but rather on their faith in Christ. He accepts the witness of Hosea and Isaiah that only a remnant of Israel will embrace the faith.

30-33: The problem with the Jews, he says, is that they thought the law could be obeyed by works, when God’s requirement is that they have faith. He quotes the prophets (Isaiah 28:16) to show that God does not regard the law as the sole basis on which salvation is given.

 

Romans 10 (day 1056) 21 November 2012

1-4: Paul grieves that many of his own people still cling to the hope of righteousness through the law.

5-13: He quotes Leviticus 18:5 (”You shall keep my statutes and my ordinances; by doing so one shall live.”), which appears to completely contradict what he has said so far until we remember that Paul has claimed that no one has ever been able to keep the law (see 3:10-11). He then paraphrases some passages from Deuteronomy 30 (especially verses 12-13) to bolster his argument that faith is the guarantor of salvation, not the law. It seems a weak argument – the quotes he has chosen, not his argument that we are saved through faith. Verse 11 is a quote from Isaiah 28:16, and is perhaps more appropriate to our modern minds, although Paul makes a leap in asserting that the “him” in that verse is a reference to Jesus. The final quote in verse 13 (“all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” from Joel 2:32) would have been adequate.

14-17: Of course, before you can call on the Lord you have to believe in the Lord, and before you believe in the Lord you have to have heard of the Lord, and in order for that to happen somebody has to tell you, and that somebody has to be sent by the Lord. Even so, the good news they bring is not always believed.

18-21: The people of Israel have indeed heard the good news, he says. Verse 18 is a paraphrase of Psalm 19:4. Verse 19 is from Deuteronomy 32:21. Verse 20 quotes Isaiah 65:1, more or less, and verse 21 is Isaiah 65:2. They have heard, but have been “disobedient and contrary.”

 

Romans 11 (day 1057) 22 November 2012

1-6: Still, God has not rejected Israel although he has made it perfectly clear that Israel, or certainly many Israelites, rejected God. Verse 2 must present problems for Calvinists because it declares that God “foreknew” the Jews, which would mean that under Calvin’s doctrine of predestination, all Jews are saved. Perhaps they are, but that is not what Paul intends to say, nor do I think that’s what John Calvin intended to prove. (John Wesley would say all of them canbe saved.) He goes on to reference a story about Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-18) in which God refers to a remnant of Israelites who had not bowed down to Baal, and using that tale surmises that there is still a remnant in Israel whom God has not rejected, but he insists that God’s acceptance of them is an act of grace, not works.

7-10: Again quoting from the Old Testament (Isaiah 29:10 and Psalm 69:22-23) Paul “proves” that God knew some in Israel would persist in rejecting him.

11-12: Still, Israel is not doomed, he says. Instead, their failure has made salvation available to the Gentiles as well. Somehow I don’t think this argument went over well with his Jewish readers.

13-16: Paul declares that he is trying to make his own people jealous so some of them might be saved. Interesting approach: I can hear Dr. Phil saying, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” He reasons that if Israel’s rejection of God (Christ) has resulted in Gentiles now being reconciled to God, then if anyone in Israel accepts God (Christ) all Israel will reap the benefits.

17-24: Gentiles, however, have no right or reason to brag that they have been saved in place of those in Israel who have rejected the message. He uses the olive tree as a metaphor for God’s people. Those Israelites who reject Jesus are pruned from the tree, and those Gentiles who accept Jesus are grafted onto the branches in their place, but the fallen ones from the house of Israel are not forever lost; they can still be grafted in; and the Gentiles who have been grafted in can still be pruned away. The attitude the Christian is supposed to have, then, is not an attitude of boasting, but of gratitude.

25-32: In spite of rejecting the law, Paul is really hung up on it and keeps using legal terms – obedience and disobedience – to describe how God has worked through Christ to bring about salvation for all.

33-36: Quoting Isaiah 40:13 and Job 35:7, the wonder of God’s providence is extoled.

 

Romans 12 (day 1058) 23 November 2012

1-2: In other words, beware of human nature and submit to the Spirit of Christ within you, for that is the only sure way to discern God’s will.

3-8: Don’t try to do everything. Accept the gift and responsibility given you for the good of the body regardless of how unimportant it may seem to you, whether it is prophecy, administration, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, or caring for those in need.

9-21: The ideal Christian congregation is described. These verses ought to be memorized by every church member.

 

Romans 13 (day 1059) 24 November 2012

1-7: From the vantage point of the 21st century we have pretty strong evidence that not every governing authority can be said to have been instituted by God. Given the context of Paul’s letters, however, especially the fact that he is sending this one to the capital of the Roman Empire, it makes sense to caution his readers to obey the governing authorities.

8-10: Since love (Christian love, not romantic love) can do no wrong, learning to practice love is the fulfillment of the law, both divine and human.

11-14: All of Paul’s advice is tempered by his belief that the day of salvation is close at hand. Suffer, then – it can’t be long. Patience, then – a new day is about to dawn. Endure, then – there is a light shining and the end of the tunnel approaches. Rejoice, then – we are already children of God.

 

Romans 14 (day 1060) 25 November 2012

1-4: He cautions his readers not to allow their (perhaps supposed) maturity in the faith to make them have a superior attitude toward others who are struggling.

5-9: If we all will simply dedicate our lives and our actions to the Lord, then we can live together in harmony even when we disagree on the details. Life and death don’t matter, for Christ is Lord of both.

10-12: Paraphrasing Isaiah 45:23, Paul makes the point that passing judgment on each other is a meaningless exercise because all of us are under the authority of the Lord.

13-23: There was a great deal of debate in the early church about dietary restrictions. Early on the decision was made not to require Gentiles to follow the Jewish kosher laws (see Acts 15:28-29), but they were to abstain from food sacrificed to idols. Since that practice was widespread throughout the empire, and since there still was a strong element of Judaism in practices of fasting and abstinence it was surely quite confusing, especially to new converts. Paul simply tells them to lighten up. If you follow a certain diet for spiritual reasons, that doesn’t mean you should impose your diet on others. In our culture, some say a blessing before each meal, some after, some out loud, some silently, some not at all. None of them is “the” right way. Just do your thing to the glory of God.

 

Romans 15 (day 1061) 26 November 2012

1-6: Don’t show off to others even if you are super holy. Christ’s people are to be about the task of building one another up.

7-13: Paul’s point is that Christ came that all might be saved, both Jews and Gentiles. Beginning at verse 9 he paraphrases Psalm 18:49, Psalm 67:3-4, Psalm 117:1, and Isaiah 11:1 and 10.

14-21: Paul begins now to summarize his letter, saying that he is confident in their understanding of the faith. He emphasizes again that his primary mission is to go where no one has gone before, taking the good news to Gentiles in places where it has not yet been preached. He says he has taken the gospel as far as Illyricum, a territory on the Adriatic Sea northwest of Greece. However, there is no mention of Illyricum elsewhere in the Bible. He quotes Isaiah 52:15 as his rallying cry.

22-29: Paul tells his readers in Rome that he plans to visit them on his way to Spain, a journey of which we have no record and which may or may not have been made. For now, though, he is on his way to Jerusalem to deliver an offering for the poor from followers in Macedonia and Achaia. It is likely that this is a reference to his last trip to Jerusalem. I had speculated in the comment on 1:8-15 that this letter may have been written from Caesarea while Paul awaited his trial, but verse 25 would seem to negate that supposition.

30-33: If Paul is writing on the eve of his last trip to Jerusalem, these verses are ironic. He asks them to pray for his mission to Jerusalem, but we know it was disastrous for him. On the other hand, the ending of Acts does indeed indicate that Paul was able to stay in Rome for some time with the freedom to be in contact with the Christian community there.

 

Romans 16 (day 1062) 27 November 2012

1-2: Paul begins a long list of salutations to end his letter. Phoebe is not mentioned elsewhere, but Cenchreae is on the coast of Syria, and Paul made one brief stop there (Acts 18:18).

3-16: A long list of names is given, most of which are mentioned nowhere else. There was obviously a thriving Christian community in Rome long before Paul ever got there.

17-20: He casts out a final warning against “those who cause dissentions,” etc. The mention of Satan comes as somewhat of a surprise, appearing here for the first and only time in the letter. “The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet,” seems to be a figure of speech which means that if they continue to live in peace with one another the opposition of “those who cause dissentions” will be overcome. The phrase about crushing Satan “under your feet” seems to be an allusion to Genesis 3:15, or perhaps Psalm 91:13 (see also Luke 10:18-19).

21: Timothy we have met and of whom we will come to learn a great deal before we are done. Lucius may have been mentioned at Acts 13:1, although it is impossible to know if that was the same person. Jason and Sosipater are otherwise unknown.

22: Tertius is unmentioned elsewhere as well, but we learn from this verse that Paul used secretaries to pen his letters (see the opening comments from Chapter 1 above), and this letter has been dictated to one Tertius.

 

 

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