Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans
Paul wrote this letter probably from Corinth conscious that his apostolate in the eastern Mediterranean area was over. He was looking westward to Spain and he planned to visit the Roman church en route. But before heading west he had one last matter to attend to: to carry personally to Jerusalem the collection taken up in gentile churches that he had founded (See Romans 15:25 and 1 Corinthians 16:1) in order to manifest to the Jewish Christian mother church the solidarity existing between the ‘poor’ of that community and the gentile Christians of Galatia, Macedonia and Achaia. Those gentile Christians had contributed to that collection, realising that they had ‘shared in the spiritual blessings’ of the mother church. So before he departed from Corinth for Jerusalem, Paul wrote to the Roman Church to announce his intended visit. At that time he was not to know that it would be three years before he would arrive in Rome and then as a prisoner.
1. The fact that these are ‘letters’ is borne out by the ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ of our present convention being used by Paul but in a much more elaborate fashion adopting the conventions of the day. Paul refers to himself as ‘a servant of Christ Jesus.’ The Greek for the word ‘servant’ can mean a ‘slave’ who belongs to his owner and has no freedom to leave. He refers to himself as ‘apostle’. Though he was not one of the twelve, the fact that he had been appointed missionary to the gentiles by God, constitutes him as an apostle of Christ. Romans 1:1-2.
Jesus Was Raised From the Dead
2. Paul describes God’s Son as, in human nature, having descended from David, but in the context ‘of Spirit and holiness’, and to be the ‘Son of God’, because he was raised from the dead. Romans 1:3‑4.
Grace and Peace.
3. Paul mentions his ‘apostolic mission….…among all the nations’ and continues telling the Romans that they are among those who have been called. Again, conforming to conventions of the day, his letter sends greetings of ‘Grace and peace.’ Romans 1:5‑7.
Thanksgiving and Prayer.
4. Paul had his own convention when writing his letters by often commencing with ‘thanks’ and he does so now giving thanks for the Romans ‘because your faith is talked about all over the world.’ He tells them that the God whom he serves with his spirit - ‘as distinct from the flesh’ – is his witness that he continually prays for them, including in that prayer, that he might be able, ‘at long last,’ to visit them. Romans 1:8-10.
Rome Predominately Gentile.
5. Then Paul shows his humility by declaring that he wants to visit not only to teach but also to learn. By mentioning ‘other gentiles’ or ‘gentiles elsewhere’ Paul gives the impression that the church at Rome was predominately gentile. Paul states that he has an obligation to both Greeks and barbarians (which is derived from a Greek word for ‘foreign’).
Theme: The Power of God to Save.
6. Paul now states the theme of his letter. It is, firstly, the power of God to save all who believe, starting with the Jews then moving to the Greeks (gentiles). Secondly, to reveal God’s righteousness. Romans 1:16-17.
7. Paul commences the theme by stating God’s retribution against the gentiles. Creation itself is enough to know that there is a God so the gentiles had no excuse for not believing and adoring God. They thought they were becoming wise but their stupidity led them to worship worldly things. As they sink further and further into sexual degradation, greed and malice, God abandoned them. (Mention is made of women having exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural practises, and men doing shameful things with men. Leviticus 18:22. If reason is rejected conscience will not be heard either.) Romans 1:18-32.
Whether Jew or Gentile Retribution Will be the Same.
8. In Chapter Two Paul tells of God’s retribution against the Jews, although for the first eleven verses he does not mention Jews but states his case against those who judge others without judging themselves. Paul quotes:
‘He will repay everyone as their deeds deserve.’ Psalm 62:12.
Paul uses the phrase ‘We are well aware’ or ‘We know’ which assumes that those who he is writing to will agree with his statements. Then another quote:
‘There is no favouritism with God.’ Deuteronomy 10:17.
Whether Jew or gentile God’s retribution will be the same. Romans 2:1-11.
God Judges All.
9. Knowing the Commandments but not obeying them will bring retribution. The gentiles, not knowing the commandments but living a good life, demonstrate the law - the ‘commandments’ engraved on their hearts. God judges all. Romans 2:12-16.
Live by the Law.
10. Jews who know the law well enough to teach it must also live by it. If you teach not to steal or not to commit adultery but do these things yourself then you are bringing God into contempt. Paul quotes from Isaiah 52:5:
‘It is your fault that the name of God is held in contempt among the nations.’ Romans 2:17-24.
11. For the Jews circumcision only has a value for those who keep the law. A man who is not circumcised but obeys the law acts as if he were circumcised. To be a Jew circumcision of the heart, of the spirit, of the law, is necessary. Humans may not understand that but God does. Romans 2:25-29.
12. To the question: ‘Is there any benefit in being a Jew?’ Paul replies “Yes!” The fact that God has entrusted them with his revelation. Will God go back on his promises? No. God still keeps his word, but promises will not save them. Wrongdoing seems to serve a good end, since it highlights God’s goodness. So, why not ‘do evil that good may come’ of it? Because God is a just Judge and the end does not justify the means. Are the Jews any better off than other people? No. Everyone is in the grip of sin. The law makes people know they have sinned: it makes the Jews accountable. Romans 3:1‑ 20.
Salvation Through Faith in Christ
13. Having shown that both Jews and gentiles are unrighteous Paul now shows that God has provided a righteousness for mankind. To explain God’s divine uprightness this chapter takes us through seven stages: Verse 3:21 its relation to the law, Verse 3:22 its destination, Verse 3:23 its necessity, Verse 3:24 its nature and gratuity, Verse 3:24/25 its mode and manifestation, Verse 3:25/26 its finality, Verse 3:27-31 its controversial theological consequences. These verses are the most important part of the letter to the Romans. Romans 3:21-31.
Abraham Justified by Faith.
14. In chapter 4 Paul gives the example of Abraham who ‘put his faith in God and this was reckoned to him as uprightness.’ Genesis 15:6. God accepted Abraham not because of his good life but because of his faith, the covenant of circumcision came later. So God’s people are not only the
Jews, through circumcision, but gentiles also share Abraham’s faith as their birthright. Abraham is the father of the Jews and gentiles. ‘I have made you the father of all nations.’ Genesis 17:5. Romans 4:1-17.
Christ’s Death Assures Us of Hope and Peace.
15. Abraham’s faith is a model of Christian faith. Though Sarah was beyond the age of childbearing Abraham believed, fully convinced that whatever God promised he had the power to perform. Romans 4:18-25. Our souls were in a state of ‘spiritual death’ and Jesus’ passion and death were required to redeem us. Jesus’ act of redemption took place when we were in a state of sin. How much more then can we rely on God’s love now that our sin has been forgiven? Romans 4:18-25 & 5:1-21.
Set Free From Sin.
16. In baptism we are buried with Christ and, coming out of the water, partake in his resurrection. Death cancels legal proceedings. In the same way we have died to sin and so are freed from its slavery. The wages of sin is death. Romans 6:1-23.
Set Free From the Law.
17. There is nothing wrong with ‘the law’ (the commandments) but by its very existence it creates an awareness of sin. (The natural tendency in man is to desire the forbidden thing.) Paul describes his own situation, his continual fight between man’s sensual nature and the higher aspirations of the soul. He found deliverance from sin through the grace of God merited by Jesus Christ. ‘I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on
doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it’. Romans 7:1-25.
Set Free From Death.
18. God, through his Son Jesus Christ, enables us to live according to the Spirit no longer controlled by our human nature. Even our bodies, which will still die, will be raised to life by God’s Spirit. We may suffer here on earth but however much we suffer is as nothing to the destiny which awaits us. The Holy Spirit turns our inarticulate longings into prayer. (Paul insists on the necessity of constant prayer.) Romans 8:1-27.
Unshakeable Hope in God.
19. God calls us to share in his glory. It is God’s intention that every one of us should be like Christ. Every little circumstance of life is worked into this great overall purpose. We have Christ in heaven to plead our cause. No power in heaven or earth can cut us off from his love. Nothing can shake it off. Whatever life may bring we can win through. Romans 8:28-39.
Paul Grieves for the Jews.
20. Paul’s grief goes so far as to being prepared to sacrifice his own soul to have had the Jews recognise and accept Jesus as the Messiah. The gentiles have accepted Jesus, the Jews have not. Why? Because the Jews did not achieve a righteousness based on faith but on deeds (the six hundred and thirteen precepts which they had to ‘religiously’ follow. During his three year ministry Jesus was repeatedly castigating the Jews for their determined adherence to the precepts.) The gentiles accepted Jesus through faith which the Jews lacked. Romans 9:1-33.
Ignorance of the Justice of God.
21. Paul accepts that, like the Jews, his fervour for God had been misguided. (His miraculous conversion had changed his life. But it must have been frustrating that, despite all his efforts, the Jews would not listen to him.) Paul’s task, given to him by God, is to make sure that everyone hears. Israel had heard yet still refused to believe. (From Verse 6 to 10 Paul is speaking in the style of Jewish teachers of his day, giving a running commentary on Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30:11-14.) Romans 10:1 ‑21.
The Remnant of Israel will be Saved.
22. Has God rejected his people? No, Paul himself is a Jew, one of the few who are true to God, as in the days of the prophet Elijah. The nation’s blindness is partial and temporary. It has given the gentiles their opportunity. They owe the Jews a great debt and should never disparage them. In due course their own faith will lead to a great turning to God among the Jews. God’s ways are beyond our understanding, but his purpose is ‘to show mercy to all mankind.’ Romans 11:1 ‑32.
A Hymn to God’s Mercy and Wisdom.
23. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgements how unsearchable his ways! For ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor? (Isaiah 40:13). Or who has first given to him, that recompense should be made him? For from him and through him and unto him are all things. To him be the glory forever, Amen. Romans 11:33:36.
The Duties of Christians.
24. In Chapters 12, 13, 14 and part of 15 Paul exhorts the Romans Christians to greater sacrifices by increasing their Spiritual Worship, Humility and also their Charity to everyone, including enemies. The transformation begins as individuals take their place in the new ‘family’ of Christ. Our own stock must go down: our opinion of others up. The gifts God gives are to be used for the good of the whole Christian Community. Love is the hallmark. We are to serve God without flagging. Old attitudes must change – not only towards fellow Christians but towards the outside world. Instead of giving tit-for-tat when we are wronged, we treat the enemy as our best friend, and leave God to do the judging. Romans 12:1‑21.
Obedience to the Authorities.
25. Because the authorities are given their power by God, for the public good. Christians are required to ‘submit’ to them. Taxes are to be paid, and laws observed. The Christian has a duty to meet all ‘Caesar’s’ lawful demands. But submitting does not mean that every command must be obeyed. There are times when these demands directly conflict with the commands of God. Then it is right to say ‘No’ and suffer the consequences. Romans 13:1-7.
Charity a Social Duty.
26. There is a permanent obligation to love – and not wrong – others. Paul is conscious of living in a time of crisis ‘….now is the hour for us to rise from sleep…..’ Salvation is nearer than when they first believed. So his call to live as God requires has a note of urgency about it. Romans 13:8-14.
27. There were some matters of conscience over which Christians disagree. (Paul instances the eating of meat and observance of Jewish feast days.) It is not helpful to argue over these doubtful points. Those who are strong in the faith may feel free to do things that would give others a bad conscience. That is no reason to despise them. Neither side should pass judgement on the other. All of us, Paul says, are answerable, not to one another, but to Christ. It is better to limit our own freedom than exercise it at a fellow Christian’s expense. (There was the problem that meat sold in the market had been sacrificed to pagan gods: also the Jews had strict laws about ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ animals and the method of slaughter If Jewish Christians insisted on the letter of the law, and gentile Christians
stuck out for freedom, the two sections would never share a meal together.) Romans 14:1-23.
Make Jesus Your Model.
28. There is nothing Christian about pleasing ourselves. Good relations between Christians are far more important that ‘my rights’. With Christ as our role-model, we must do all we can to promote real oneness, no matter what background we come from. Romans 15:1-13.
Apostle of the Gentiles.
29. Paul’s Ministry. In closing Paul speaks personally. For more than twenty years he has been an apostle to the non-Jewish world. He has seen churches established all over Cyprus, Syria, Turkey and Greece (to use their modern names.) Romans 15:14‑21.
30. Now he has completed this work and discharged his responsibilities. Once the business of delivering the money given by the gentile churches to Jerusalem is over, he can look west to Spain, calling at Rome on the way. Romans 15:22-33.
Commendation of Phoebe and Greetings to Individuals.
31. Towards the end of his letter Paul names several people. Phoebe is probably the person who is delivering the letter. Prisca and Auqila may have helped Paul during the riot in Ephesus (See Acts 19:23) or when he was imprisoned there. Epaenetus may have been the first convert in the province of Asia. Rufus is thought to be the son of Simon of Cyrene. Paul is effusive in his words to the Christians in Rome showing the special respect he had for them. Romans 16:1‑16.
Warning to Troublemakers.
32. First postscript. A warning against people who stir up problems against Christian teaching. Paul knows their disruptive influence. Romans 16:17:20.
Greetings and Doxology.
33. Second postscript. The letter finishes with greetings from disciples who are with Paul with a special greeting from Paul’s scribe ‘I, Tertius, who am writing this letter.….’ The letter finishes with a doxology – a liturgical formula of praise to God. Romans 16:21-27.