Previously, in Romans: Paul’s half way through a greeting to the faith communities in Rome, a greeting that doubles as an introduction for his letter’s major themes.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world. 9 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, 10 asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish 15 —hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
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. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
Points of Interest:
- ‘I thank my God… for all of you’ – The greeting morphs into a love letter for a while. Paul thanks God for these people, prays for them all the time, calls them his family, and can’t wait to come see them soon. What’s so special about them? Their faith is famous throughout the world. That sounds like an exaggeration, but Rome was the center of their known world, and it’s likely these home gatherings were talked about throughout the Empire. It’s the significance of a small business that can proudly say, “Did you realize we have a branch office in Manhattan?”
- ‘reap some harvest’ – Things take an unusual turn when Paul says he wants to visit to reap some harvest among them, as he does everywhere else he goes. What does Paul hope to get out of them? Either this is an especially vivid way of referring to his end of their relationship of mutual encouragement (v. 12), or it hints at some other form of support he hopes to get from them, which we’ll find out later is support for a mission to Spain, on the far Western reaches of the Empire. Either way, Paul asserts familiarity and even intimacy to people he’s never met, highlighting the depth of connection he assumes among followers of Jesus.
- ‘both to Greeks and barbarians’ – As Paul finishes his introduction, he drops a bomb. To a Roman resident, Greeks are “us” – “the wise”, the honorable, the educated, the cultured. Barbarians are “them” – “the foolish”, the shameful, the idiots, the barely human people who lived beyond their society. Paul says he’s not only connected to them all, but he owes them all. Presumably he feels he owes them all this “gospel,” this good news about Jesus.It’s hard to capture just how radical this sounds, but let’s try an analogy. You get an email from someone you admire, saying he plans to visit you soon. It’s all love and warmth, until he says, “I can’t wait to visit your latte-sipping, liberal elite, sophisticated friends. Because then I’m going to Appalachia to find my gun-toting, meth-smoking, buddies living in a shack as well. Because we’re all in this together. I owe you all the news that Jesus loves all of us. And by the way, I’m hoping you’ll lend me some cash for that leg of my trip.” It’s radical. And now that I’ve offended my entire reading audience, I’ll move to my final comment.
- ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel’ – Paul ends his greeting with what reads like a thesis statement. He’s not ashamed of Jesus’ good news, even though it puts him into contact with “foolish barbarians” – people considered shameful. Why? It offers everything that Rome claims to, but better, and for all people.
Rome’s good news promise is its “Pax Romana” – peace, order, salvation from an unworthy life. One Roman ambassador wrote that the emperor was “a savior who put an end to war and will restore order everywhere”, calling that emperor “the god” whose birthday was “the beginning of the gospel he brought.” By calling Jesus’ good news “the power of God for salvation”, Paul implies that the civic religion of Rome is counterfeit, and that Jesus is the one making all things right, for all people who have faith.
- ‘in it the righteousness of God is revealed’ – One more part of the story – this is good news for God too. Jesus’ story shows God is righteous, which means something like just and dependably good rolled together. This is the God who all along, first for the Jews and then for the whole world, had promised to make all things right. Now, Paul says, it’s happening.
Taking It Home:
For you – As you start out this season, pray that your faith in the “power of God for salvation” would deepen, that you would trust that God is just and good and will prove himself to be that in your life.
For your city and church – A hallmark of the Jesus movement is radical inclusion and equalizing of all people. Pray that our church would be widely known for its good news in our city to people of high and low status alike, and for a community in which both are at home.