ROMANS AND THE SIMPLICITY OF GOOD NEWS – INTRODUCTION
Good News: Church attendance rose significantly the last three weeks.
Bad News: The Pastor was on vacation.
Good News: The Church Board accepted my job description the way I wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it, they also formed a search committee to find somebody capable of filling the position.
I love these Good news bad news jokes. Obviously, you do need to be careful with jokes from the pulpit so allow me to apply two jokes to the pastor. A bit of self-reflection doesn’t hurt. We have all heard these types of jokes. Some are really funny, while others you just pretended you didn’t understand or hear.
Good News. What is good news? The jokes I just told you show that Good News can only be good if it is measured up to bad news as well. If not, it’s just news, not good or bad.
The coming weeks I’d like to explore the letter of the Romans. I invite you to come on a journey with me. This first blog is just the intro to chapter 1 and it will set the stage for what’s to come.
The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Rome which was in that time the capital city of the world. All roads lead to Rome. So, for the coming weeks we’ll be going into depth about this beautiful letter, but before we do we need to do our homework first.
Let me lay out a few basic ‘rules’ that will help us when we read the letter more closely.
RULE #1 the letter to the Romans is a letter so let’s treat it that way…
In order to be understood correctly, we need read in context. Originally, the letter was one unity. No chapters and verses. In fact, that was later added in the bible for readability. But it can be misleading if we are not careful. A letter is one stream of thought with a Jewish way of asking questions and answering them immediately to make a point.
RULE #2 Context is KING
This is really important to know. One can easily read through the hard parts of Romans and for example on Wednesday read in Romans 6 that he is free from sin, only to find out on Thursday while reading Romans 7 that he’s bound by it again. A chapter a day…it can be confusing. So, first: context is king. ALWAYS!
With these two simple rules in mind, lets look at some basics about Romans.
OK, so, why did Paul write Romans anyway?
For that again we need to know a few things. First, the church in Rome was not planted by Paul, but as a well-known apostle, Paul had great authority in the Christian world. Perhaps a fellow worker planted the church and this way Paul was indirectly involved in spreading the Good News now to the capital city of the world: Rome.
Back to the why. Why Romans? What is this letter about? Before we can even answer this question, we need to know the history a bit better. A quick history lesson. I will make it brief…
The church in Rome was originally made up of Jews who converted to Christianity. Obviously, there were gentiles present as well, but they were a minority. Until one Roman emperor had the bright idea to kick all Jews out. Jews were expelled and that changed the make-up of the church in Rome overnight. It’s like Dianella. It used to be Aussies primarily, but look what happened now. We are an international family. And that changes things!
After a few years the Jews were allowed back in Rome and now the Jewish Christians came back only to find a church that is so different from what they were used to. Very understandable. But with changes in church, people often get a bit uncomfortable. The Jewish part of the church still had some ideas of what it meant to live lives pleasing God. It was first based on the work of Jesus on the cross, but the law of Moses was very much in the back of their minds still. Keeping the Sabbath, food regulations, circumcision etc. Why throw the baby with the bathwater away? These were still good things, they thought.
Now, the Christians that came from the world – gentiles we call them, simply because they are non-Jewish Christians – received the Good News a bit differently. They did not grow up with the Law of Moses and didn’t need to deal with that baggage. They embraced Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and experienced a freedom in Him. It made the Jewish minority jealous at best and proud and judgmental at worst. So, backbiting, not understanding each other was the order of the day unfortunately. Yes, the church had a great testimony and people all around the world spoke well of this faith community. But with any church, once you looked a bit closer, you also start seeing the ‘issues’. Churches are made up of ‘imperfect people’ that are on a journey together, so this should hardly surprise us. The final 5 chapters of Romans deal with the practical part of what it means as a redeemed people of God to live in unity, love sharing the same hope in Christ. Chapter 1-11 are the preparation to that where Paul lays out the foundations of salvation.
In the opening of a letter Paul usually says hi folks it’s me a servant of God. Greetings to all of you. My very free paraphrase…not so in the letter to the Romans. It is as if Paul already plays his hand and shows what it is all about for Him. His intro reads like a mini bible study in itself where he claims that the good news is not new, but that it is actually ‘old’ in the sense that it was already promised in the OT. There is nothing ‘new’ about the gospel because it was God’s plan all along. [read Romans 1:1-7 right now for context]
Paul wrote Romans to give a strong foundation of the gospel, or the good news as we also call it. What is it? What is it not? This letter was his magnum opus, his greatest work, where the mature apostle put his beliefs to the test. The Gospel is the key to everything else that Paul believed. Paul saw his theology, what He believed about God, Himself, salvation, the church and the end of times through the lens of the Gospel. For Him it was a matter of perspective.
One final observation we need to make about Romans is this. Paul was on a missionary journey. He most likely wrote the letter from the city of Corinth somewhere in 57 AD. He was on his way to Jerusalem to help the big Christian community that was in dire need out with a generous offering of several churches all around the Roman empire. He knew that his message of salvation, or good news, was embraced by some, but again, rejected, scorned and sometimes violently opposed by Jews. It was as if the impostor Paul (that’s how they saw him) turned his back to the Law of Moses. How could he? Talking of freedom all the time? Jesus the Messiah? He was a fraud! Now some Jews were not resistant to the gospel, but they mixed it still with Law. Do this, do that…we know them also as Judaizers. We see the influence of this group of people a lot in the Bible. Another letter of Paul, this time to the churches in Galatia, deals extensively with this group. Paul is so opposed to their teachings because it assaults the very heart of the gospel. We are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. We can’t add anything to earn our righteousness or get into the good graces of God.
This is probably a lot of information to digest, but it is important stuff to remember once you start reading. Now, let’s get back to the good news. I started out telling the good news bad news jokes. Good news is only good when there is also bad news. I will cover that part more in the second half of chapter 1 of Romans (as well as chapter 2).
Ready for the journey?