This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on December 18th, 2016.
In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, we have the gospel he has developed over his twenty years as an apostle. This is the gospel he has been preaching and teaching as he has planted churches on three missionary journeys throughout the eastern Mediterranean world. This is the gospel that he crafts especially for the Christians in Rome. This is the gospel that he hopes to take to the western Mediterranean world, including Spain.
Paul begins his longest letter with the longest greeting in any of his letters. It is longer because he did not start, nor had he visited, the Christians in Rome. He describes himself with three phrases: 1) “a servant of Jesus Christ;” 2) “called to be an apostle;” and 3) “set apart for the gospel of God.”
He then begins to describe this gospel he has been preaching and is now writing down in this letter. This gospel comes right out of the “holy scriptures.” It has a lived history. It has been experienced by real people through the centuries. It is consistent with the preaching of the prophets. It is the fulfillment of God’s promises through God’s revelation and God’s action among God’s people through the centuries. And, it’s singular focus is “the gospel concerning God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Next, Paul provides a specific and succinct description of who God’s Son is. He links Jesus with Israel’s King David. The invisible God became the visible Messiah. The promise became a person. He states that Jesus was named “Son of God” in people’s encounters with Jesus. This declaration was strong and stout. He attributes it to the “spirit of holiness.” He describes it “by resurrection from the dead.” He names him, “Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
Then, he describes the benefits Christians, and the Christians in Rome in particular, have received from “Jesus Christ, our Lord.” It is through Jesus that we have received grace and apostleship. Grace describes our standing with God. Apostleship describes our leadership role in the Gospel.
The result of what we have received from Jesus Christ our Lord is “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” It is about bringing this gospel and bringing salvation through Christ to the Gentiles, all the Gentiles, including the Gentiles in the church in Rome.
After identifying himself and introducing his gospel, Paul addresses his audience—“to all God’s beloved in Rome” and describes them with the phrase “called to be saints.” Then, he offers his blessing of “grace” and “peace” which come from “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” His blessing is inclusive of both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians who make up this church, with the Jewish Christians coming to Rome from Jerusalem following the diaspora which began with the persecution of Stephen.
Regarding Paul’s description of himself in this text, the preacher might see two layers. One layer is to focus on Paul and how he saw himself and described himself as an apostle and follower of Jesus. A second layer is to think about one’s own identity as a Christ-follower and role as a preacher and pastor. Who am I as a Christian, a pastor, and a preacher? How do the words and phrases that Paul uses (servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God) describe my understanding of myself as a Christian, pastor, and preacher?
Regarding Paul’s brief introductory description of the gospel which he will explain in detail in the rest of the letter, the preacher might attempt the following: 1) translate Paul’s wording here for the preacher’s audience; 2) develop one’s own succinct summary of the gospel as Paul describes it in this letter; and 3) reflect on the “gospel” that you have been developing through your years of preaching, teaching, conversing, and ministering. What is your gospel, and how would you put it into an introductory summary, and into a letter to the congregation you serve?
Regarding Paul’s direct words to his audience, the preacher might reflect on who makes up “all God’s beloved” in his or her congregation. And, what does it mean to call them, view them, and lead them to be saints?
Finally, the preacher might help his or her congregation to understand what it looks like to experience real grace and true peace and how they are given by “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.”
As one reads through these first verses, one may ask: 1) who is Paul and what is his gospel; 2) who am I and what is my gospel, and 3) who are the people I have been called by God to serve and how might I be a channel of grace and peace in their lives?
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas, Little Rock, Arkansas
Tags: scriptures, harmony; welcome; joy; peace; hope