- Author: Paul, the apostle.
- Date written: About AD57.
- Purpose: Paul writes this letter to the congregation in Rome to give them a sample of his message before he journeys there. The first 11 chapters contain a carefully compiled statement of the Christian faith.
- Place from where written: From Corinth as Paul was preparing for his visit to Jerusalem.
- Key verses: 3:23,24: “… for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:…”
B. THE WRITER, THE ADDRESSEE AND THE TOPIC (1:1-17)
Paul first introduces himself. He is a servant of Jesus Christ and he is an apostle – that is, a special messenger, set apart to proclaim the Gospel.
Secondly he speaks about the Gospel. This Gospel was promised long ago by the prophets of God as recorded in the Holy scriptures. These stated that that God would send His Son as a human being to this world. As to His humanity, He would be a descendant of David. As to His spirit being, He would come in power as the Son of God and would prove it by His resurrection from the dead.
God’s grace was upon Paul to preach this message. No one is to be ashamed of the Gospel message because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone that would believe it; for the Jew as well as the Gentile. It reveals a righteousness given to mankind by faith all the way from it’s beginning until it’s end.
Thirdly Paul speaks about the people to whom this letter is addressed. It is intended for the Christian congregation in Rome that is loved by God and called to be saints. Their faith has come to be known throughout the whole world. Paul had been desiring for a very long time to visit them and often planned to do so, but there had been obstacles in his way so that he could not accomplish his purpose. He is obliged to preach the Gospel to all of mankind – that is to Greeks as well as non-Greeks; to the wise as well as the foolish.
The reason for his desire to visit them, was that he might impart some spiritual gift or blessing to them. That would probably be by giving them a deeper insight into the mysteries of the Gospel. This would help them to grow to spiritual maturity. Another reason for wanting to be with them, was to procure from them material gifts which he would distribute amongst the needy congregations.
C. SINFULNESS OF THE HEATHEN AND GOD’S WRATH AGAINST THEM (1:18-32)
In order to understand the Gospel of salvation, one first has to understand the sinful condition of mankind and consequently God’s wrath against them.
Mankind’s sinfulness is a result of its not honouring, acknowledging and worshiping God as its Creator. This, in turn, is not a result of the fact that they did not know any better, since what can be known of God, He has made plain to them in and by His creation, for creation shows clearly that Someone of utmost majesty and power created it all and that man, being part of His creation was to seek, thank and worship Him so that man has no excuse for not doing so.
This means that although they knew that there was a God, they neither glorified Him as such or thanked Him for the blessings He bestowed upon them. As they continued in this attitude, their understanding gradually became more and more darkened. They considered themselves to be wise and devised their own gods in the form of images, thereby exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images in the form of mortal man, birds, animals and reptiles.
Because they ignored God and the spiritual understanding He gave them, He allowed their natural sinful desires to dominate them. This resulted in their characters being perverted. Inflamed by lust, men had sex with men and women with women and every conceivable kind of wickedness as mentioned in these verses, manifested in their lives to the point where they invented new kinds of sin and came to hate God. Knowing full well that they were transgressing God’s Law they not only continued doing so, but approved of this behaviour in others, thereby actively promoting sin in their communities.
(God is the embodiment of all that is holy and the further man drifts from Him the more will sin lay hold of him very much like moving away from a lamp in a large room, the further you move away the deeper you will move into darkness.)
D. THE SINFULNESS OF ALL OF MANKIND AND GOD’S JUDGMENT UPON THEM (2:1-16)
When this letter was read to the congregation, many members might have nodded their heads in agreement or may even have shouted “Amen,” when sins such as worshipping of idols and other heinous sins were so pertinently mentioned. But then suddenly Paul turns around to the one’s shouting “Amen” and speaks directly to them, saying: “You, mere man, how can you appoint yourself to be a judge and judge other people while you, yourself are doing the same things,” and then continues to mention some of these. Suddenly the congregation turns quiet, each member conscious of his own sinfulness.
The second argument which he puts forward: “By judging others, you are despising the riches of God’s kindness, His tolerance and His patience which have lead you to repentance. Instead of being grateful for God’s kindness, you are overlooking it. You want Him to judge others, but when it comes to you, you want Him to patiently lead you to repentance every time you go astray.”
And then in verse 11, Paul says: “For God does not show favouritism”. He does not say: “This is a church member and that man is a heathen, so I will excuse this one and judge that one.” God judges in truth according to the light a person received. On judgement day those that have humbly admitted their need of God’s pardon and of His strength to enable them to overcome the sin in their lives, will be judged by grace. But those who have harshly judged others, yet have done the same, will be judged harshly. Those that received the Law of Moses, received a great revelation of God’s will and will be judged under that Law. But even the heathen, the gentiles had some light, some revelation. They had the Law of God written in their hearts and their own consciences will declare them guilty.
Everyone will be judged according to the Gospel of Christ Jesus that says that a person who’s sins have not been covered by the blood of the Lamb will be lost forever.
E. THE SINFULNESS OF THE JEWS AND THE TRUE CIRCUMCISION (2:17-29)
Paul now turns specifically to the Jews and chides them for their spiritual pride in the following areas:
1. Being God’s chosen people.
2. Having a superior knowledge of God’s will because of the privilege of having His written Law.
3. Being a guide of the spiritual blind; a light for those in spiritual darkness.
4. An instructor of the foolish.
5. A teacher of infants.
He then takes them to task for their shortcomings namely:
1. Though teaching others, they do not follow their own teaching.
2. They teach not to steal, yet they themselves do steal.
3. They teach not to commit adultery yet do it themselves.
4. They abhor idols yet rob temples (steal)
5. They brag about having the Law, yet break the law.
6. They are the cause for God’s Name to be held in disrespect amongst the heathen.
They especially boast about being circumcised as a sign that they as Jews belong to God. But what is the significance of circumcision? Yes it is a sign of being born as one of God’s people after the flesh but it also is a reminder that, to become a spiritual child of God, the spiritual flesh, the old nature needs to be cut away by surrendering yourself to God.
When a Jewish boy was born, on the eighth day he was handed over to a person adept at cutting away the foreskin. This caused the child great pain. Only after it had been done, was he seen to be a real child of Abraham and part of God’s people, Israel. (An uncircumcised Jew was, in fact to be put to death because he was not considered to be a Jew.)
This ritual bore great spiritual significance. When the child grew up and became aware of his “uncircumcised” sinful fleshly nature and surrendered himself to the Holy Spirit, the Latter would cut away the “flesh” of his nature and he would thereby become a son of God. (In the New Testament this act which God performs for a person, is called the new birth whereby God imparts His nature to a person.) He would then begin to live like His Heavenly Father.
This, then was the real circumcision; the circumcision of the heart and only a small percentage of Israel were spiritually circumcised and that is why they lived such ungodly lives. So Paul makes the point that a heathen person will resemble a circumcised person to the extent to which he is keeping the Law and receive praise from God for that, rather than a person, circumcised in the flesh, that is not keeping the Law which implies that mere circumcision in the flesh was nothing to boast about.
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