Ahh, the nostalgia I get just typing the word "Reading" when doing a blog here reminds me of the fond memories of our daily readings together. Thankful to all of you for joining me on that journey and helping me discover the joy of blogging.
As we go through this Romans worship series for the next 6 weeks I thought it would be appropriate to shift our blogs in that direction as well. Each week Rev. Joyce and I will be assigning "homework" to the congregation to read through the whole book of Romans by the end of the series. This week will take us through Romans 1-3, therefore, each blog this week will cover one chapter of Romans. These are just my thoughts on Romans and meant to jump start your own thinking or provide framework for Biblical study. As always I cherish your thoughts and hope you'll contribute the conversation in the comments below.
Final little note - I'll be referencing the New Standard Revised Version (NRSV) as that is standard for Biblical study and thus is widely considered the most "accurate" of the translations. Additionally, it is the version we use on Sunday and this will provide some continuity. However, I encourage you to read your own translations or even cross reference translations to see what changes exist and theorize why.
Scripture to Read
"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures"
Last week I preached a message about the wedding at Cana and invited us to consider how different things might be if we take on a position of servitude from God rather than declaration of God's actions. Paul describes himself as a servant here, but, I have a feeling Paul doesn't have a humble approach the term servant but rather a shameful approach. This is entirely speculation, of course, but my reasoning for this comes from other translations where Paul calls himself a "slave of Jesus Christ" instead. What's the difference between a slave and a servant? A servant is someone that is hired to do something. A slave is someone that is owned by someone in order to do something. There's a big difference in these two words. So why would Paul consider himself a slave? My guess is that Paul feels guilty for the time he persecuted the church and believes he is paying off a debt that he knows he can never truly pay off and thus calls himself that as both a statement of humility and shame. However, I don't think it's healthy or even accurate for us to consider ourselves "slaves" of Jesus. We have free will by nature to either follow or ignore God's callings in our lives and thus we're much more similar to servants when we decide to follow Jesus.
Paul also makes a pretty bold claim in calling himself an apostle of Jesus as he is never given that title by Jesus or by the other apostles. That is one of the points of contention between Paul and the inner 12 is whether or not to view him as equal to their status since they actually followed Jesus and learned from him directly. Clearly, Jesus saw promise in Saul/Paul, and for that I am thankful because that means Jesus sees promise in me despite my own failings...but I am skeptical to call Paul an apostle. I consider Paul, like myself, a student of Jesus. But an apostle I reserve for the inner 12. That's just a personal preference though - please don't follow that just because I say it haha.
For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers, asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.
This is a really important part of Romans because it might be tempting to believe that Paul was in Rome when he wrote this letter but that is not the case. The only time Paul ever visited Rome was when he was in prison and before he was executed. I think there is a good word in there for us who find ourselves living in a time that we would all like to go away. Paul writes with optimism, hope, and gratitude even though he isn't where he would like to be right now. Each of us has a thing we would like to change or improve upon. The difference that Paul teaches us is too fall into the trap of believing happiness can only be found once you achieve that goal...instead Paul teaches us to find happiness in the process of achieving that goal. Love yourself for who you are today and that love will propel you to be the person you long to be tomorrow.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The flow from verse 15 to verse 16 is jarring as Paul proclaims that he is not ashamed of the gospel from seemingly out of nowhere. If I had to guess, Paul was hearing mumblings from his followers who were feeling discouraged about being Christian because of the oppressions the church was experiencing. Perhaps some of the people might say "I wonder if Paul regrets any of this? Look what has happened to him!" Perhaps Paul is snuffing out those rumors here. The reality is we must also face the mirror each morning and ask whether or not we are ashamed of the gospel. My hope is you will find affirmation in your choice each day, but, I would naive to believe that everyday that choice is easy. Being Christian is not simply a ticket to paradise...it's a life of sacrifice prior to paradise. Being Christian calls us to be bold about our faith in a culture that is increasingly non-religious. Being Christian calls us to give of our time, talents, and treasures. Being Christian calls us to seek the ways of the kingdom of God not the ways of humankind or ourselves. What culture deems successful, we call temptations. To be a citizen of heaven while living on earth is a difficult decision to make in every interaction we are faced with. What we buy, who we vote for, how we live, what we eat, how we speak, and more are all theological statements. Sometimes it's easy to be affirmed of our faith...and sometimes Christians doing or saying stupid stuff makes it a little harder to be proud of our faith. But at the end of each day I hope you can find some reason to be proud of your faith. If not, take time to meet with a pastor or be in meditation with God to find that love again.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
I really just want to echo Joyce's thoughts from her sermon here as I've never thought of this section in the way that she described in her message. She suggests that Paul is using exaggeration to prove a point rather than being accusatory to a singular group of people. To try to cover a wide breadth of small and large examples of sin to prove how every single person is guilty of such things. Therefore instead of finger pointing at one another we can extend a hand to help pull one another out of our pits of sin.
You can view the rest of her message here!
These are the thoughts that come to mind for me. What about Romans 1 sticks out to you? What confuses you? I'm here to help process it with you!
Praying With Hymns
I want to share the same hymn as yesterday's worship service as well. I think it is perfect for Romans 1! Also, this is a Charles Wesley hymn which is appropriate as Romans 1 is what John Wesley was studying when he had the famous "heart warming experience" where he came to realize that God's love is greater than his sins and failures. This would inspire the lyrics of this song.
1 Depth of mercy! Can there be
mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
2 I have long withstood His grace:
long provoked Him to His face;
would not hearken to His calls;
grieved Him by a thousand falls.
3 I my Master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
oft profaned His hallowed name,
put Him to an open shame.
4 There for me the Savior stands,
shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still!
5 Now incline me to repent! Let me now my fall lament! Now my foul revolt deplore! Weep, believe, and sin no more.