This is an exegetical sermon on Romans 1:7-15 titled Romans is for God and looks at the reason Romans was written and who it was written for. This sermon was originally preached by Pastor Duane Smets on April 24th, 2005 at The Resolved Church in San Diego, CA. Audio unavailable.
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The Resolved Church
Pastor Duane Smets
April 24th, 2005
“Romans is for God”
When we approach the Bible we are met with three kinds distances: first, a distance between our historical time period and the one in which it was written. Second, a distance which exists in the reading of all books and that is between what the author intended to mean and our understanding of it. Third, a distance of spiritual battle. There is something wrong in us that resists acknowledging and feeling what can be shown to be true in this book.
We are in an introduction or salutation. Paul is introducing himself and who he is writing to and telling his reason for writing and he drops these theological bombs. There are words and phrases in this passage that reflect a worldview in which Paul will spend three chapters addressing later in the book. So, we have this dilemna that there is a lot wrapped up in these few vereses…we could spend weeks on them if we wanted. So how much time do we spend on the salutation?
The plan today is to approach this passage through three lenses.
1. Expository exegesis & transfer of confidence. Exposing the meaning of the words in a way which results in us having personal confidence of their intended meaning.
2. Theological implications from exegesis. What these words mean and tell us about God and the world we live in.
3. Being spiritually affected by the message of these words.
The first lens requires we understand something about the historical situation and setting. In this part of Paul’s intoduction he tells us who he is writing to, the reason he is writing, and why he personally is qualified to write.
Look at the first verse, “to all those who are in Rome loved of God, called to be holy ones, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The simplest, clearest, and most obvious thing to see is that there must be a group of people who are believers in Rome. I get this because the text says there are “those who loved by God” “called to be saints” (v6 “called of Jesus Christ”) who are in Rome.
In order to get a better picture of who these people are I want you to think with me a little bit about some of the things Justin mentioned the first week about Rome, and Jews, and Gentiles.
Rome is the center of world. Rome is the major world power for 1500 years. Rome built great temples, huge amphitheatres, and held stadium filled games…with thousands in attendance. Rome was a big deal. One popular saying was that, “all roads lead to Rome.” And many other cities tried to mimic its style and culture, making “little Romes.”
The ruler of rome was the Ceasar who was an emperor and consider a god with divine right. Roman law was seen as eternal order of right. In fact, Rome’s legal formulation or definition was Rome’s great pride and strength. “Rome” was almost synoymous with rule. Roman empire and Rome is the center. We don’t have anything quite like this today. The closest similarity would be like Washington DC with all of New York, Tokyo and LA wrapped up in it as one great city.
So we have a big city, which in many ways is the center of the world and the centerpoint of the cutting edge. But what about the people who lived in Rome?
You’ve got all kinds of people: Greeks, nomads, people from every place the Roman empire took over. The strength and success of Rome was that one could become a Roman citizen but keep some of the distinctives of their heritage…even Jews.
Okay, bear with me the next few minutes. What may seem somewhat dry but paints the letter to the Romans in color.
In Acts 18:2 we read about how Rome had taken over Greece. In the ancient book, “The Life of Claudius” we read how Claudius “expelled all the Jews from Rome because they were constantly rioting at the instigation of Christus.” Orosius says this took place at 49 AD, which concides datewise with Acts 18:2. The result is that Jews had to leave in order to keep the peace of Rome, the “pax romana.”
But in 54 AD Claudius dies and the Jews return…some for family, some for business, some just for the better life of Rome. But in 54 AD Nero begins to rule when he is 16 years old. Sometime within the first five years of his rule, he starts to hate christians. In 64 AD he starts a fire and blames it on the Christians. And Romans was written shortly after Nero begins to reign, probably sometime between 56 or 57 AD.
So who is in Rome? Romans with the Romans law and peace and then you also have Jews. Bloodline Jews were the ones with the holy Jewish law called the Torah. Because of their Torah they were circumcised, had long beards, female head coverings, and wore little boxes on their head with Scriptures in ‘em (phylactries). They’re whole goal was showing distinction. And they were very proud of their distinction.
This creates a mess. Romans can’t stand Jews because Jews are weird and treat Romans as outcasts. Jews despise Romans and Roman rule. And they are both together in this church. It’s tensious. We don’t know exactly how they came to faith or what exactly was the state of the church when Romans was written, but it is most likely that this church is not very old. The use of “established” in verse 11 tells us that at minimum they are young, new believers.
So we have a have a big culturally robust city. We have Romans, and we have Jews. And in seeing that you can almost feel some of Paul’s reason for writing building. Which is where he turns in the very next few verses.
Let’s read verses 8-14. It appears to me that Paul lists four reasons for writing.
Reason one for writing: “your faith is proclaimed.”
Roman roads and military presence had a lot to do with keeping and creating the “pax romana” (peace of Rome). But this made for the ease and safety of travel and thus the circulation and communication between of churches. Chapters 15-16 of Romans reveal there was much interchange going on. So Paul has obviously heard about the church there in Rome.
Reason two for writing: because he has heard about them Paul feels a burden for them.
Listen to verse 9-13, “without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers…I long to impart to you some spiritual gift…I want you to know…I have often intended to come to you.” Do you feel it? “Without ceasing” “I long” “I want” …these are not just duties but feelings. Paul undoubtedly feels a responsibility for the church in Rome as an apostle. But it is not just duty here. He feels a deep concern for them.
Reason three for writing: the Romans have a need.
They are in need of Paul imparting a spiritual gift. Look at verses 11-13 (read). Here is where we run into a point where we must make an interpretive decision. It is not for us to decide according to what we like most, our opinions don’t matter. Our goal is what the author intended!
So here we go. Let’s do some interpreting according to what the author intended. What is this spiritual gift?
1. Is it charismatic? Some special or supernatural thing Paul wants to impart?
2. Is it just general spiritual encouragement? Nothing in particular or especially significant…but just encouragement
3. Is it a specific revelation Paul has been given directly by God, which the Romans need in order to be established?
The emphasis or mood in the text is that Paul feels something about his communication to them is very significant or important. In verse 11, he prays desperately that he might go there. In verse 12, he longs to impart. In verse 13 he says he has inteded to come. In verse 14 he even says, he is under obligation.
If you just follow Paul’s use of “I” you see that Paul sees something significant about himself (in verse 8 God is his witness, whom he serves with his spirit in the gospel). I believe Paul sees himself as a special revelator of written words given to him by God. I think hearing Ephesians 3:1-11 will help us here.
Ephesians 3:1-11 “3:1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So revelation is a technical term for being a writer of Scripture. That means we shouldn’t pray and ask God to reveal stuff to us unless you’re wanting to write a book of the Bible. Paul is an apostle “by the grace of God.” As such, God has given Paul is given a specific insight into the gospel which is foundational to understanding what it means to be a Christian.
Perhaps most revealing Paul’s open declaration that God told him to write Romans. In verse 14 he says he was “obilgated” to write. What’s that mean? Romans 16:25-26 at the end of the book give us a strong clue. Romans 16:25-26 “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God.”
So those are the three main positions: charismatic gift, encouragement, revelation. My goal here is to share the fruit of our study and then replace ourselves so that your confidence might be in the text and not in us. With that said, I will tell you I believe that the third position best accounts for the text.
Charismatic gifts are totally outside the scope of what Paul is saying here. There is no reference to them here whatsoever and in other passages where he does name them his emphasis is always on the Holy Spirit not himself.
Simple encouragement ignores Paul’s emphasis on himself. So we must either conclude that he had an unhealthy pre-occupation with how great he was and thus was a lunatic or in fact there was something that had to be communicated throuugh him.
As we study Romans more and more we will see more and more the nature of the letter as specifically structured argument clearly intended to give a foundation for Christian faith, which could not be known simply through the natural ways God has revealed himself in creation since the garden of eden.
Reason four for writing: the “fruit” of verses 13-14.
Fruit or harvest is a metaphor for the gathering of people. Some have said fruit is money becaue there are other passage in Scripture where finacial offering given were called fruit. Yet this does not fit with his contextual designation here of fruit as a harvest of people, Greeks and non-Greeks. Plus, that would make out Paul’s letter to seem cheap. A reference to money here would just seem very out of place. When Paul does petition for money, like in Philippians, he does so at the end of his letters.
Paul’s desire for fruit demonstrates that Paul has unbelievers in view here in his letter as well as believers. His hope is that he might preach and people be converted. If you’re brain is starting to hurt, I get that. There is a danger in rigourously dealing with the text of scripture. It can start to seem like it’s just academics but there is an intellectual element to real faith. Christianity is not a religion based on feeling or experience but on some objective, something that is true outside of ourselves and i want to give that to you so that when the winds of uncertainity and suffering come there might be something of substance under your feet.
With that said I want to summarize what has been covered so far and then turn to some the theology here in these verses.
So summary. We have a letter to Rome. A big city. Lots of stuff going on. Lots of different people. Particularly a distinction between Jews and Gentiles. We have four reasons this letter was written: it is a big thing that there is a church in Rome and all the rest of the church has heard about it, this new church needs some foundation, in particular the gift of the revelation of God given through Paul, who is has a deep concern and obligation to the church to impart this revelation for the strengthening of the believers faith and for the communication of the faith to non-believers. But none of these are the real reason Romans was written.
There is a bigger reason Romans was written and it has to do with us. So let’s talk about ourselves for a minute. If we are honest I think there is something in us that should feel a little weird about all this…like we are reading a letter to these people who are so different. Most of them wore sandles and robes…lived in adobe houses, lived in a lot of dirt, got their water from wells. It should feel weird because it is like in some ways we are reading a letter that was for someone different than us a long long time ago.
Next week I will discuss this issue more about what why and how this book may be connected to us. But there are some immediate things we can learn here by the way that Paul refers to God and the way that he sees the situation with Rome in light of God. Whether or not they were intended for us (which I believe they are) these things challenge our worldviews and our ways of thinking and will hopefully stirr our emotional relation to God.
The Real Reason Romans was Written
The real reason Romans was written has to do with God’s glory shown in his sovereign intention of the message of the gospel. What does the word sovereign or sovereignty mean?
The word sovereignty isn’t here. I use it simply because it is a word that encapsulates the picture of God that is shown. Sovereign means free (sov) reign (rule). Where I see this in this text is in two places, in verse 8 and verse 10 (read).
Look at verse 8. It seems obvious that the faith is proclaimed through the actions of men. So why give thanks to God? They are the ones who did it. Why does God get any credit? It is men who have been shedding their blood. Going to jail. Getting beaten up. Have been preaching, traveling, performing miracles, ministering to the poor, gathering together for meals and sharing about Christ. So why should God get credit for that?
Thanks is something we give for honoring someone for what they deserve for what they do. It is a response to action. That Paul thanks God is not a flippant thing. There is a huge God-centerness to the book of Romans. Leon Morris, a commentator says that Romans is first and foremost a book about God.
God is mentioned 153 times in it, every 46 words. Romans is pre-occupied with God. There are more references to God in Romans than any other New Testament book. In verse 5 Paul says Romans is for “the sake of his name.” I believe that what Paul is getting at is something that everything in our culture and much in popular Christianity, and much in the depth of the rebellion of our souls wants to deny. And that is that everything about this world is about God and His glory. It is his world and we are his and he can do what he wants with it because he rules it with an unchanging and righteous fist and conforms everything for his glory. It is what it is for him to be God.
Paul thanks God because he recognizes that Rome would not exist and the gospel would not be being proclaimed there if God had not been making that happen. He gives God the credit and rejoices because God has chosen to glorify himself by bringing the gospel to Rome and making converts. Every step of the way God has been working.
Throughout all of Scripture God is pictured as having a unique ability to govern the decisions and actions of men. Yes, man makes decisions but his will is one that is compatable with the sovereign will of God so that it only wills things that God wills. It seems to me that God does this two ways. He does this externally through the ordering of certain circumstances and he does this internally through he moving of our hearts.
Now perhaps you are thinking that I am reading way too much into the word “thanks.” That may be so. But look at verse 10. Paul recognizes that he will not make it too Rome unless GOD WILLS it. Paul recognizes that God controls the physical elements of nature. In Acts and in 1 Corinthians we read of all the natural catastrophes Paul faces in trying to get to Rome…but it is God’s will which enables or disenables him to get there. Look at verse 10. Paul says his jouney will only occur if God wills it. God must set up the circumstances to allow it. And on top of it, Paul recognizes it isn’t just physical elements of nature God orders but that it is also God who orders the hearts of men or why else would Paul pray for people as he does here!
This is the root of Romans. God. Romans is a book that will show us an infinitely holy God. It’s not about us, it’s about God. God is everything. And there is only hope in Christ and in God’s will to reveal his glorious nature to us. Romans is for God. It is for the sake of his name. To make him look great! If any one of us thinks we are something the intent of Romans is to crush us and cause us to fall on our knees in mercy and see the righteousness and wonder of God.
Yes, Romans was written because the Roman church’s faith was being proclaimed, because Paul heard of them and was burdened, because they had a real need, and because there were more people to be reached there who needed this book to be reached. Yes. Those things are all true, but none of them are the real reason Romans was written. The real reason Romans was written was for God…for his glory, chiefly shown through the work of his Son Jesus.
My hope and prayer is that you may see this. That we would become undone as a people, with no confidence in ourselves but only a desire to see and know God through the blood of His son, Jesus Christ.
I believe that if we open up ourselves we will see a dirtiness and emptiness that continually forgets God…that doesn’t easily give him honor and thanks…that is more concerned about our will than His.
That is who I am. I am a needy soul. Romans was written to a group of people in Rome. A big city with lots of different. it was written because the people there needed the gospel.
Like them we despertely need the gospel. The gospel is our only hope. And it is a great hope and a great message…That God is greater and more glorious than anything or anyone and that he has done something in Jesus to rescue us and thereby enabling us to see and delight in God’s great name.