The Romans

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I recently read a couple of letters that form part of a collection of letters written by a Jewish man in Poland to his nephew in the United States during the Holocaust. They were quite moving and contained details of economic hardship, and eventual imprisonment by the Nazis. Clearly I didn’t know either the sender of the letters or the recipient, but I was still able to build up a picture in my mind of what was going on. And from what I know of the history of that time, and from what I learnt from reading the letters, I got a good insight into the situation.

The book of Romans in the New Testament is also a letter. It is a letter from the apostle Paul to Christians in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Empire. This morning we are looking at verses 7 to 10 of chapter 1.

As we work our way through these verses, we will learn more about the Christians in Rome, about Paul’s relationship to them, and to some extent in the process gain a better understanding of our status as Christians, and our relationship to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So my three main headings this morning are 1) The Christians in Rome, 2) Paul’s relationship to the Romans, and 3) Some encouragements for us today. So number 1, the Christians in Rome.


Firstly, THE CHRISTIANS IN ROME

They are loved by God and called to be saints

The first thing we learn (from verse 7) about the Christians in Rome is that they are loved by God and called to be saints. Take a look please at what Paul writes in verse 7. His letter is addressed:

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7)

Paul is not writing to every single person in Rome, rather he is writing specifically to the Christian believers in that city. Paul is making a distinction between the inhabitants of Rome in general and Christian believers in particular. It is Old Testament language used to describe God’s chosen people Israel. Paul is indicating that these people to whom he is writing are now the chosen people of God. They are loved by him. They have been called by him. They are different in some way to the inhabitants around them.

Of course we learn elsewhere in the Bible of God’s love for the whole world. In fact the gospel message as announced in John’s gospel is that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It was God’s love for the whole world, his love for all that he had created that caused him to send his one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

But while it is true that God loves every person, including every person living in Rome at that time, what Paul is identifying is the distinction between being one of God’s chosen people and being an ordinary inhabitant of Rome. There is something different and unique about being a believer who is loved by God.

It would be a bit like, if a Christian in Bolivia for instance, wrote a letter addressed to ‘all in Newcastle who are loved by God’. It wouldn’t be a letter that was intended to be read out at a Newcastle City Council meeting, rather it would be a letter for the Christians in Newcastle to read. Christian believers can be identified as those who are loved and called by God.

Paul is going to talk more in his letter about God’s love for us, but one of the remarkable things about his use of this title here is that he applies it to both Jews and gentiles. The Jews of Paul’s day knew themselves to be special. They thought of themselves as privileged in relation to God. But Paul is saying that in Christ the distinction between Jew and gentile is abolished. In Christ, Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in Rome are now the one chosen people of God.

One of the things that I appreciate about our congregation here at JPC is that it is made up of people from lots of different countries and ethnic backgrounds. As you look around you see people from Britain, from China, Nigeria, India, France, South Africa and many other countries. In a world that is often divided by race, the church is a body that testifies to the unifying power of the gospel.

In a similar way, the church in Rome that Paul is addressing, even though it is made up of Jews and gentiles, is now the one people of God – loved and called by him, God’s special possession.

And just as God chose Israel for himself out of all the other nations, Paul is saying that God has chosen these believers in Rome. Their status as God’s special people, is completely dependent on God’s love and God’s call – not on their own achievements.

Even in these few words of greeting Paul is setting out his theology. He will talk more about God’s sovereign choice, about predestination, in the coming chapters. The believers in Rome have not earned God’s love, rather they have been chosen by God to be recipients of his love. They have not become saints by their own efforts, rather they have been called or invited by God to be saints.

The end goal of God’s invitation or calling is to transform these believers into saints – into holy people. Paul in Romans 8 explains that these believers have been “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of [God’s] Son” (Rom 8:29), the Lord Jesus Christ.

They have been chosen, and they are to be a holy priesthood, a people belonging to God (Ex 19:1-8, 1 Peter 2:4-10). It is a status rather than a description of current behaviour. Paul is not saying that these Christians in Rome are already holy, are already saints in terms of their behaviour. There is plenty wrong in how they live and he will go on to challenge a number of their practices, but as far as their status is concerned they have been called by God to be saints.

So that is the first thing: The Christians in Rome are loved by God and called to be saints

Their faith is being reported all over the world

But the second thing we learn about the Christians in Rome is that their faith is being reported all over the world. Take a look with me at what Paul writes in verse 8. He says:

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. (Rom 1:8)

These Christians in Rome have in some way become famous in Christian circles. Perhaps like a particular Christian music group today, or a particular speaker, a well know person who becomes a Christian, and it gets reported in the Christian news network. But Paul is not being cynical about this. He is gladly reporting that their faith has become known all over the Christian world.

In the places to which the gospel has come, believers have heard and been encouraged by the report that the Christian message has also reached Rome. The fact that some in that great city have accepted the message and responded in faith is itself good news – it is an encouragement in the outlying districts.

Rome would of course have been a place of relative sophistication – the centre of the empire. There were many religions on offer, and even the worship of the emperor was promoted. Yet even in this unlikely place the gospel had taken hold and it was an encouragement to the whole Christian world.

It is a bit like today when we hear the news of the gospel having an impact in unlikely places. It is very encouraging to read stories of lives transformed in sophisticated European cities, or the church growing in China, or people becoming Christians in the Muslim strong holds of North Africa. It is encouraging for the world wide church when we see evidence of the power of the gospel, and the fact that it takes hold even in unlikely places. It is further proof of Gods love and God’s call on people from every nation.

So Paul genuinely and gladly tells the Christians in Rome that their faith is being reported all over the world.


Secondly, PAUL’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE ROMANS

But what do we learn in these first few verses about Paul’s relationship to these Christians. How well does Paul know them? Is he writing to just a few of them? Has he an ongoing interest and concern for them? Well those are the sort of questions we can ask as we consider Paul’s relationship to the Romans. And that is my second main heading this morning. Paul’s relationship to the Romans.

Paul does not in fact know all of them. Even in these first few verses there are some indicators that suggest that Paul doesn’t know the Christians in Rome very well. The way he describes his longing to visit them for instance suggests that he has not been to Rome already. This is not a church that Paul has founded and therefore not a church that comes directly under Paul’s apostolic authority.

In fact as we read through the letter we build up a picture that suggests that Paul is introducing himself to this church. He is setting forth the gospel that he preaches. He is presenting himself and his message, wanting them to see that he is genuine, to be trusted. He hopes that this will open up the way for future relationship.

It is a bit like when we meet someone for the first time and it takes a while to get to know them and what they believe.

Paul greets all of them

Yet, if Paul does not know them all personally, he is not however reluctant to greet all of them in Christ. In fact he does just that. He greets all of them. His letter, as we have already seen, is addressed “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”. And it is on all of the believers in Rome that Paul pronounces his greeting or blessing in verse 7. Take a look again at what he says. He writes, verse 7:

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7)

Paul is able to greet all of these believers, even though he doesn’t know them very well, because they have a common bond in Christ Jesus. The people he is writing to are fellow brothers and sisters. They share with him the gospel. They are members of God’s family. God is also their Father. Jesus is also their Lord.

And he greets them by asking that they might know God’s grace and God’s peace. In other words he wants them to experience the full benefits of the gospel. Paul is saying that Christians have experience God’s grace and now have peace with God and with one another. They have been forgiven rather than punished. They have a restored relationship with God rather than a broken one. Grace and peace are the heart of the gospel message and it is a marvellous blessing to ask that people know it more and more.

Sometimes in our letters or our greetings we might say, ‘all the best’, or ‘I wish you well’. Yet that is really rather weak in comparison to Paul’s blessing on these believers. He is reminding them that Christians are people who are loved by God and chosen by him, they are people who have experienced his grace and know his peace.

Paul has been praying for them

Another thing we learn from these verses about Paul’s relationship to the Romans is that Paul has been praying for them. He has been thanking God for their faith, and he has been praying for them, faithfully, regularly, persistently. Take a look at verses 9 & 10. Paul writes:

9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times . . . (Rom 1:9-10)

Paul calls upon God as his witness, that he has been constantly praying for them. This is no half-hearted interest. Paul has a genuine concern and love for these people. His prayer has been persistent and faithful.

There was a man called Brother Lawrence who lived during the 17th century. He wrote a book out of his experience on the subject of constant prayer. In it he encourages us to practice the presence of God in our daily lives and allow an awareness of God’s presence to shape our thinking. It becomes possible for every thought and concern to be a constant remembrance before God.

Paul doesn’t pray literally every second for the Christians in Rome, but he does have them in his thoughts, and regularly brings them before the Lord in prayer.

Paul desires to come to them

But as well as praying for the Christians in Rome, Paul has also been praying for himself in relation to them. Paul desires to come to them, and that is what he has been praying. He desires to come to them. We read verse 10 that Paul prays,

. . . that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Ro 1:10)

Paul explains in the verses that follow that he longs to come to Rome so that he might encourage them in the faith and they him. We read at the end of the letter that Paul is planning to visit Jerusalem before coming to see them in Rome. And it seems that he is concerned about the difficulties that await him in Jerusalem, the unbelievers who will oppose him, the believers who might not accept him. In fact much of Paul’s ministry seems to have been characterised by hardship and managing difficult churches.

You can maybe imagine then Paul, as he stands dictating this letter, concerned about his upcoming visit to Jerusalem, and genuinely looking forward to his visit to Rome. In contrast to Jerusalem he expects his time in Rome to be an encouraging one. As he writes in verse 12 of chapter 1, he fully expects that he and the Christians in Rome will be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.

And Paul hopes that the believers in Rome will fully support him and get behind him in his ministry and mission. After visiting Rome, Paul plans to go to Spain and he hopes that they will send him on his way, and thereby enable the gospel message to spread throughout Europe. It is a bit like the way we support mission partners around the world.

So Paul doesn’t know all of the believers in Rome, but he has been able to greet them all because of his union with them in Christ. He has been praying for them and longs to come to them that he and they might be mutually encouraged and partner together in the gospel.


Thirdly, SOME ENCOURAGEMENTS FOR US TODAY

But what encouragements are there then for us today? We have learnt a bit about the Christians in Rome and Paul’s relationship to them. But what can we learn? What are some of the encouragements for us?

There are of course a number of things that we could highlight. We could consider Paul’s example of prayer or of gospel ministry, we could think more about the encouragement to the world wide church of Christians being found in unlikely places, we could dwell on the mutual encouragement that we receive from fellow Christians, or the unity of the church worldwide.

But instead I just want to bring us back to verses 7 in this my final section this morning and point out some of the encouragements contained simply in that verse. Sometimes we just skim over these things without taking them to heart. We think we know it, but take a look with me again at what Paul writes. He says, verse 7:

7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 1:7)

Just as was the case for the believers in Rome, you and I today as Christians are loved by God. We are loved by God in a special way, and I want to remind you of that this morning. Perhaps you are feeling a bit fragile, or a bit insecure. Perhaps you feel distant from God, or are unsure whether he can be trusted. Well Paul could just as easily have written to you or to me and addressed us by the title ‘loved by God’.

We have a unique relationship with God as Christians. It has been made possible through the death of Christ on the cross. Our sins are forgiven. The dividing wall has been removed and we are now members of his family. If you are here this morning and you are just at the stage of considering becoming a Christian then its worth knowing that God loves his children – he loves those of us who are Christians in a special way.

The Old Testament reminds us that God abounds in love (Ex 34:6), his love is unfailing (Ps 48:9), it endures forever (Ps 136:2). Paul is going to go on and talk more about the love of God in the rest of this letter. In Romans 8 he will boldly proclaim that

“. . . neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Rom 8:38-39).

Because of Christ, you are loved by God. But not only that, you and I have also been called to be saints. Again there is great encouragement in being reminded of that this morning. Just as was true of the Roman Christians, you and I today are people who have been chosen and called. It has not been about our own effort. Rather God has given us the status of saints, identified as one of his holy people.

Even if we don’t feel particularly holy, and even though the transformation has yet to be completed, we can be absolutely certain that God will accomplish his purpose in our life. We have been “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son (Rom 8:29) – and we will be. You and I as Christians are members of God’s chosen people – holy and dearly loved.

It is also encouraging to be reminded from verse 7 that we are recipients of God’s grace and peace. Paul is able to pronounce a blessing on the believers in Rome because of their common experience of Christ Jesus. Again he could have pronounced exactly the same blessing on us. You and I today as Christians are still recipients of the grace and peace that come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace because we are not treated as our sins deserve. An ongoing experience of forgiveness, restored relationship with God, that continues to be possible because of the cross, even though we keep falling into sin. We are people who are not only saved by grace but people who live by grace. We experience God’s grace on a daily basis. And we increasingly demonstrate that grace to one another as we live as the one united people of God.

Perhaps you came to church this morning feeling somewhat unlovable, maybe because your self esteem has taken a bit of a hammering this past week, or perhaps because of sin in your life – you have let God down, you are not feeling very holy. Then take encouragement from these verses. Remember that the Christian life is not about your own effort. Rather, because of Christ, you are loved by God and have the status of a saint.

Similarly, the peace that comes from God is incredibly mind enriching. In our busy lives we would often love to be able to stop and be still. Well peace is the perfect experience of tranquillity and calm in our relationship to God and to one another. Peace with God is possible because we are no longer objects of his wrath. The hostility ended at the cross. Believers now have peace with God and increasingly demonstrate that in their relationship to others.

Paul writes in chapter 5:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Rom 5:1-2)

Whatever you and I face in this coming week, whether it is relatively easy, or whether it is hard and difficult, we enter this week knowing that we are loved and chosen by God, we have experienced his grace, we are secure in him. That is the basis of our hope and joy. That is the reason that we have peace as we confront the pressures of tomorrow. Paul, in another of his letters writes that the peace of God surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7).

Just like the Christians in Rome, you and I are loved by God, called by him; we are recipients of his grace and receivers of his peace.


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