Introduction to The Book of Romans
Acts 19 & 20
And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus.
Verse 10: He continued there by the space of two years; so that all they that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
Verse 21: After these things were ended, Paul purposed in his spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.
Chapter 20, verse 1: And after the uproar at Ephesus was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed to go into Macedonia. And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece, and there he stayed for three months. And when the Jews laid in wait for him, as he was about to sail to Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia. And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before tarried for us at Troas.
The Book of Romans has been called by some “the greatest book in all the Scripture.” If it is not that, then it may very well be the greatest work of the New Testament. While I am not sure that I completely hold to that assessment, I do know that the Epistle to the Roman Church is a very important and powerful letter.
When you survey the last 2,000 years of Christian history, it seems that the Book of Romans has been used by God on a number of occasions to bring about new birth, revival and great awakenings. This teaching, given by the Apostle Paul, for lack of a better word, is epic. It is one of the most powerful discuses ever given.
The book is intriguing for so many different reasons, one of which is that it was written to a group of people whom, although the Apostle had never visited, he seemed well acquainted with. Unlike most of the churches that Paul wrote to, the Roman church was not planted by him. Rome was certainly the most well known city of the day, but at the time that this letter was written, it’s author had not had the privilege of walking it’s famous streets.
The capital of the empire was feared by just about every nation, both in and out of the empire. It was a city of grandeur and mystique. In the midst of the sprawling metropolis was a seed of the gospel and a growing church. Over the years there has been much discussion among Bible teachers as to how there came to be an—apparently—well known church. Some have speculated that the first seeds of the gospel were planted in the city by the first Jewish converts to Christianity, that had come to faith at the birth of the church on Pentecost, in Acts 2. Perhaps it is true that Jews from the regions around Rome were present at Pentecost, and carried the good news home in their hearts. It very well could be that wealthy Jewish business men and women had come to faith in their travels, and saw a church birthed by their faith. Anything is possible, but as I have journeyed through the New Testament time and time again, following the path of the gospel through Acts and the early Christian epistles, I think that there may be another, more intentional reason as to why a thriving and well known church existed there.
For nearly a half decade I had the privilege of leading my church, Cross Connection, through the Book of Acts in a rather unique way. My goal was to follow the historical timeline of the early church with the Book of Acts as our roadmap, and to detour through each of the New Testament Epistles chronologically where they would fall in the narrative of Acts. The advantage of studying the New Testament in this manner cannot be understated. As a student of the Bible does so, they begin to see important connections that are not completely clear when you jump from book to book or study them as they appear in the disjointed manner they are laid out in the Bible (i.e. longest to shortest for the Epistles).
Viewing the New Testament through the lens of the chronology given in the Book of Acts is revolutionary to one’s understanding of the early church. Walking this path—albeit rather challenging and somewhat long—brought some within our fellowship to say things like, “I feel as though I know the Apostle Paul now,” and “I had no idea that these things were actual events until we looked at them this way.”
And one of the great advantages of studying the New Testament in the format that we have been going through it since November of 2008, is that we’re able to see important connections that are not completely clear if you just jump from book to book, and you just look at them, even in the order that they’re given to us in the New Testament, that sometimes it can be confusing to just read through the books in that way, and see, they don’t seem to connect. But when you look at them in the context of history, and the book of Acts is a historical book, it’s a history book of the early church, and so when you look at the New Testament through the lens of the chronology that’s given to us in the book of Acts, things become more clear. In fact just in the last couple of months, I’ve had a couple of different people tell me, “I feel as though I know the apostle Paul now, better than I did before.” And that might be one of the best compliments I’ve received about my teaching going through the scriptures before, as we are going through just looking at the New Testament chronologically you begin to understand that these things are connected events, they’re not just kind of out on their own somewhere, that you begin to see where Paul was when he wrote the book of Galatians, and why he wrote it. Or where he was when he was writing the books of 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and just what was happening in his life and in the life of the church during that time, it makes it more clear.
And so we have been going through the book of Acts since November of 2008, and my goal is to finish it before 2020, and, seriously, no, it’ll be sooner, I hope. But, as we’re going through the book of Acts, when we got to chapter 15, we took a detour and looked at the book of James, and then as we continued on, we’ve gone through Galatians, and 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, and then 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and now we’re coming to the book of Romans, and we’re looking at it in it’s context, of where and when it was written. And so, I’m convinced, as we’ve been looking at the scriptures in this way, that there is an explanation about how the church at Rome came to be.
And when I come to a book like the book of Romans, which like I said, is an epic book – 16 chapters filled with all kinds of great, heavy doctrine. When I approach a book like this, I begin to ask myself some questions, before I ever get into passages like the Romans Road, before I ever consider things like justification by faith, or sanctification, or predestination, or election, which are topics or themes, doctrinal themes that are mentioned in the book of Romans, in fact have a lot of their foundation in the book, before we ever even get in to that sort of stuff, I begin to ask some questions like: how did an influential and well-known church come to be established in this great city of Rome at that time? How is it that there was a thriving and influential church there? Because in Acts, I’m sorry, Romans, chapter 1, Paul says, “Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” So the church in Rome had come to have a reputation, and it was a good reputation, in a very evil city. A city that was filled with every kind of vice that we can imagine, and probably some that we can’t. And so, in that city, was an influential church. A church that had people that were in the house of the emperor even; serving the body of Christ, but at the same time, serving the nation, serving the empire. And so they were well spoken of throughout the whole world. How did a church like that come to be in that great city?
Secondly, another question I begin to ask is, why did Paul write one of the most powerful and dynamic books of scripture to a church that he apparently had little interaction with? What was the purpose of sending this letter ahead? We just saw, in Acts, chapter 19, that it was Paul’s purpose, in his heart, “I must see Rome.” How many of you today have some place in your mind, that’s on your bucket list, where you say, “I must see”…fill in the blank…whatever it is. Probably many of you do. For Paul, it was Rome. He was a Roman citizen, he was born in Tarsus, grew up in Jerusalem, but he had in his heart that he wanted to see Rome, and the reason he wanted to get to Rome was not just so that he could see the sights, that are now ruins today, it wasn’t so that he could experience the existential epicureanism of Rome, not at all. The reason he wanted to get to Rome is because, and he tells us this in chapter 1 of Romans, “I want to preach the gospel in Rome.” Paul considered it advantageous to go to Rome to declare the gospel of Christ. And he knew, because of his calling, that he was called to be an apostle, and he was called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, this Jewish Pharisee who converted to Christianity was called to be an ambassador of Jesus Christ, an ambassador of the kingdom of God, to people outside of his culture, in a place that he’d never been to before. And that was what he was passionate about. He wanted to make sure that he had an opportunity in his life to carry the gospel to Rome.
Now, that wasn’t the place he wanted to end, as we’re going to see as we continue through the scriptures. His goal was ultimately to get to Spain, I mean, how many of you would say, “Yeah, I kinda want to finish up in Spain”? Maybe not right now, economically not so good, but it’s not a bad place. I have a friend who pastors a church in Mallorca, not a bad place…looks pretty nice. So, apparently Paul was no fool, he knew that would be a good place to end up. He didn’t get to Spain, because ultimately, we’re going to see as we continue through the book of Acts, his life ended in a prison in Rome. Ultimately he was beheaded by the government of Nero, the emperor at that time, who was a complete and utter lunatic, as many of the emperors were. And I’m sure sometimes we think some of our leaders might fall into the same class; and yet, just as we’re in an election season here, Paul didn’t speak against them. Interesting. Just a side note to consider.
And so, how did this church come about? And why did Paul write to them? Well, if you would, open your Bibles to Romans, chapter 16, the last chapter of the book. Now I realize you might think it a little bit odd to start in the last chapter of a book that we’re going to be starting, but there are some, I believe, important keys that answer some of those setting questions for us, in Romans, chapter 16. Romans, chapter 16, of course, is Paul’s close of this letter, and it divides very, very well into 4 sections.
The first section, verses 1-16, is Paul’s salutation, Paul’s salutation. He’s saluting all of those who are in the city of Rome. Sixteen verses, he names names of individuals who make up the church of Rome, and seem to make up the leadership of the church of Rome. Then in verses 17-20, Paul gives his final exhortation, his final exhortation to the church. And then in verses 21-23, he gives a greeting on behalf of those who are with him when he wrote this letter. And then in verses 24-27, he gives his final benediction, his final blessing to the church there. So, you have a salutation, an exhortation, a greeting, and a benediction.
Now this is important, I believe, because this reveals something about Paul’s connection to the church at Rome. Because, when you look at the 16 verses that make up the salutation that Paul gives, where he mentions people like Phebe, and Priscilla, and Aquila, and Epaenetus, and Mary, and Andronicus, and Junia, and Julia, and Apelles, and Aristobulus, and all these different people as he mentions these names, 29 names and then a group of people, a couple groups, the saints and the brethren, he mentions 29 people by name, and each one of these individuals that he mentions are people that he knew personally, people that co-labored with him, people that he counted as disciples of his, under his care. And so when you look at that, when you look at those 16 verses, in Romans, chapter 16, you see that Paul had a very tight relationship and close connection with the leaders of the church at Rome. Which leads me to believe that the church in Rome was planted by people who Paul trained to plant churches. Paul trained a team of individuals that he sent out to plant churches. When did he do this? Just prior to his writing of this great letter, the letter to the church at Rome.
You see, we looked at Acts, chapter 19, a few minutes ago, when we stood and read the scriptures this morning together, and there in that passage, we see that Paul, on his 3rd missionary journey, he landed in a city called Ephesus. A city that he had endeavored to go into on his 2nd missionary journey, and God did not allow him. The Holy Spirit forbade Paul from going into Asia, which the chief city of Asia at the time was Ephesus. And so instead, Paul crossed over the Aegean Sea, I believe it was, the Adriatic or the Aegean, I sometimes get my geography mixed up, and he went into Macedonia. He planted churches in Philippi and Thessalonica and Berea, and then he went down into Greece, and he went into Athens. He didn’t really have much fruit in the city of Athens. And then he went to Corinth, and he stayed for 2 years in Corinth, planting a church there. He met 2 individuals that came out of Rome, who were expelled from the city of Rome, by the name of Aquila and Priscilla, a husband and a wife that came from the city. And they were kicked out of Rome, in AD 49, because of their Jewish heritage, when Claudius Caesar said, “I don’t want any more Jews in the city of Rome. So, get out of here.” And so Priscilla and Aquila, they landed in Corinth, right about the time that Paul came to Corinth. And it just so happened that these Jewish people had the same trade that Paul did; they were tentmakers. And so he connected with them when they were in the marketplace. And it seems that they were Jews that did not know Christ, they did not know Jesus as Messiah, and so Paul shared his faith with them, and they became believers. And they became co-laborers with him in the ministry. And over the next 18 months, as Paul served in Corinth, seeing a church planted there, they were side-by-side with him in the midst of that. And Paul even says, in Romans, chapter 16, verse 3, I believe it is, that these two characters, Priscilla and Aquila, “they risked their lives on my behalf,” because during that time, there were people seeking to kill the apostle Paul.
And so when Paul left Corinth, at the end of that 2nd church planting journey, Priscilla and Aquila, they boarded the boat with him, from the seacoast there on the east coast of Corinth, and Cenchrea. And they went to Ephesus with Paul, but he couldn’t go into the city because he had made it his aim to get to Jerusalem. So he left behind, in Ephesus, two people that he had been discipling for the last two years, Priscilla and Aquila. And when they went into Ephesus, they went into the synagogue and they met a guy there who was preaching, and he was preaching very similar words to things that they had heard Paul preach, he was preaching like John the Baptist, saying people need to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, but this guy didn’t know about Jesus the Messiah. And so they pulled him aside, Priscilla and Aquila said, “Hey, come here, we need to talk to you.” And so one Sabbath, at the end of the synagogue service, they pulled Apollos close and they said, “Listen, we need to explain you some things you don’t know about the gospel.” And so they shared Christ with Apollos, and he became a believer, and he went to Corinth, with letters from Priscilla and Aquila saying, “Hey, receive this guy, he’s a brother.” And he had great impact in the city of Corinth preaching the gospel.
All this is going on while Paul and Silas are down in Jerusalem, and then back in their home church in Antioch of Syria. And Priscilla and Aquila are laying the groundwork in Ephesus for Paul to come back and to preach the gospel. And so on his 3rd missionary journey, after he had visited the churches that he planted in Galatia, he comes down into Asia, into Ephesus. He goes into the synagogue, he begins to preach the gospel, and for about 3 weeks people are giving him a hearing, listening to what he has to say, and then about the time that he said, “Listen, Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, He raised from the dead after the Jewish council killed Him in Jerusalem.” The people said, “You need to go!” And they kicked him out of the synagogue. He didn’t go too far, he went next door. And he got a place in a school called the School of Tyrannus. And everyday, during the midday, Paul would teach and preach the gospel there in the School of Tyrannus, for about 2 years. And it was during that time that he was discipling and raising up individuals, people with names, names like those that you read in Romans, chapter 16, verses 1-16. He was investing into this group of disciples, sharing with them the gospel of Christ, the doctrine of the apostles. It was during that 2 year time, it’s believed that the churches of Asia were being planted, not by Paul personally, because he stayed in Ephesus, but almost as a practicum, if you will, for those individuals that he was training and raising up. They were going to cities like Smyrna, and Philadelphia, and Sardis, and they were seeing churches planted in places like Laodicea. Now ultimately the enemy was combating and coming against that work as well, because many years later when you get to the book of Revelation, you find that many of those churches that they planted were, in a lot of ways, suffering some grave problems of sin within their ranks. But it was during that time that Paul was ministering in Ephesus, I believe, that the churches of Asia were being planted because we’re told there in Acts, chapter 19, verse 10, that ALL in Asia heard the gospel. How awesome is that? Would to God that everybody in San Diego County would hear the gospel. Do you realize there are people in our own county who have not truly heard the gospel? They’ve heard the name of Jesus, they’ve heard things on TV that might sound like gospel, but in fact are false gospel. But they have not heard the true saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so Paul was there in the School of Tyrannus for 2 years training and raising up both men and women, and it was during that time, in 54 AD, that Claudius Caesar died. And Paul was in the city of Ephesus from about fall of 54 until the fall of 57, for 3 total years. And so when Claudius Caesar died, his edict, his counsel that no Jews could live in Rome, kind of died with him. And slowly, Jewish individuals began to go back to the city of Rome. And as they did, it seems that Paul was dispatching some of his church planters to go back to the city of Rome as well; to carry the gospel. And I believe that the church at Rome was planted by these individuals that were a team of church planters that Paul had raised up to send out for this purpose. And it wasn’t just to plant the church at Rome, that was just the first place that they would start, because as you go through the rest of the New Testament, and you read books like Timothy and Titus, you see that these guys, Timothy and Titus and Andronicus and Trophimus and Tychicus, these guys, they ultimately landed in cities like Miletus and on the island of Cyprus and Crete, and they were in Ephesus, and they were all throughout Asia. These guys were scattered everywhere, because I believe Paul came to the recognition one day that, “If I’m just by myself, planting churches, there’s only so much that I can do, and there’s coming a day that I’m not going to be here any longer.” And so he invested in everyone that he possibly could and he sent them out as church planters like as he was. And 2,000 years later, we’re the better for it. Amen? That God was working in the apostle Paul to do that…to send out, as he was sent out.
And so, at the end of Paul’s time in Ephesus, Paul generally knew when his time was up, when a riot would come because of his ministry. And so, there was a riot in the city of Ephesus, because of the ministry of the apostle Paul. And we’ve studied this before, in Acts, chapter 19, you can listen to the audio on our website, it’s pretty awesome. There was, in the city of Ephesus, a great temple to the goddess Diana. And there was some rock in that temple that fell from heaven, a meteor, and they said that is image that Zeus had cast down of Diana, and they worshipped this rock, very similar to what takes place in Mecca today, in Saudi Arabia. These things are not new, they’ve been going on for a long time. And so, you know, there were some pretty smart merchants during the time, there in Ephesus, that figured, “We can capitalize on this.” And so there were the silversmiths, and the coppersmiths, these guilds there in Ephesus, and they were run by various guys, like Alexander the coppersmith, and so forth, and they were making images, for hundreds of years, they were making these little images, they were pornographic looking images of Diana. And people would come from all around the world to go to Ephesus to worship at the temple of Diana, and they would practice their worship in very immoral ways, and when they left, they would leave with a little token idol from that place. And as Paul was preaching the gospel throughout Asia, and as people were being converted to faith in Christ Jesus, they departed from their pagan ways, and the trade of the silversmiths was in danger of falling apart. That would be as if God was doing such a great work here in Escondido, that F Street Bookstore just went out of business because it has no business. And so the silversmiths weren’t happy, and they had a union meeting, and they decided that the problem was Paul. And so they wanted to destroy him. And ultimately, they gathered a group of people, and they end up down in the theatre at Ephesus, that can hold 20,000 people, and they’re chanting for the space of 2 hours at the top of their lungs, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” And they want Paul to come in there, they basically want to tear him limb-from-limb, and Paul was no slouch, he says, “I’m going to go in there and get my guys that they took in there”, they took Paul’s disciples in there and roughed them up a bit, and Paul’s ready to go in and get them. And he had to be withstood by some of them, “You can’t go in there, they’re going to kill you.”
Well, after that whole thing is wrapped up, we find in Acts, chapter 20, he decides he’s going to leave Asia. He says, “I’m going to go from Asia into Macedonia”, where the churches of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea are, and he’s going to minister there in that area. And then he was going to go down to Greece, it was during this whole period of time, while Paul was in Ephesus, that he wrote 1st and 2nd Corinthians, that we’ve just gone through. Second Corinthians was written from Philippi, when Paul was there in Macedonia, after he left Asia. And while he’s going around through the churches of Asia, through the churches of Galatia, and now Macedonia and Greece, he’s receiving an offering, a financial offering from the churches of that region that he had planted, to take back to Jerusalem, to bless the church of Jerusalem that was going through a great time of poverty.
And so we find there, in Acts, chapter 20, that Paul spent a little bit of time in Philippi; he writes 2 Corinthians, and then he goes and visits the city of Corinth one last time, and he’s there for about the space of 3 months, we’re told. Which probably took place in the winter, the fall and winter of 57 and 58 AD, coming into 58 AD. And it was during that time that Paul was in Corinth, that he wrote this letter called Romans. And he writes it to a group of people that he sent out, that were planting churches, an ekklesia, a fellowship, there in the city of Rome. And already, over the course of the last 3 years, as people have been being dispatched there and starting this church, already it had a reputation; their faith was being spoken of throughout the whole world. This is why it was strategic for God, through the apostle Paul, to plant a church in Rome, because God knew, because God knows all things, something that, I believe, He revealed to Paul, that if a church is planted there, a good, strong, thriving church, then it is going to send out throughout the entire empire the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their faith is going to be well spoken of throughout the whole world. And that’s exactly what was happening only 3 years into the ministry there in Rome.
And the church in Rome, because of the fact that Claudius had expelled the Jews from the city, it likely was predominately made up of Gentile believers. And at this point in Christian history, 57 AD, the church had an interesting divide. There was a cultural divide through the church. There was a Jewish presence in the church, primarily in Jerusalem, in and around Judea, and then there was a Gentile presence that looked quite a bit different than the Jewish presence. Let me kind of illustrate it like this: How many of you have parents and grandparents who are believers in Christ? How many of you grew up in church? Say, you have kind of a religious background. You’re one of those “Jewish Christians,” if you will. You’ve got a heritage in Christ. So you kind of know how to speak the Christian language; you kind of know how to fit in in a church. How many of you came to faith within the last 10 years, having no one in your family who were believers? Anybody? Some of you, a few of you. You might look a little bit different. And you may not understand all the things about how you’re supposed to be as a Christian. Which is not a bad thing. Right? A lot of the “supposed to be” sort of things that we carry are not biblical at all. And so the church, the Gentile Christian church looked different than the Jewish Christian church. And there was a very clear cultural divide between the two. And that cultural divide was causing problems.
One of the problems was a letter that apostle Paul had written called Galatians, that some, back in Jerusalem, were passing around, it seems, and saying, taking things out of context, that Paul had written, and saying, “Paul preaches that you need to depart from the Law of Moses.” And so there was a group of people, and we just saw this in Acts, chapter 20, who, they took it upon themselves, that they were going to take a vow that they were going to kill the apostle Paul. They’re called in the scriptures, the Dagger Men, or the Sicarii. You can research these guys in history, they were a group of assassins, Jewish assassins, who, they counted it as their job to purify the Jewish religion. And so any time someone would rise up to power, preaching anything that was aside from their form of Judaism, these individuals, this was their common practice, in a large crowded area, like a bazaar or a marketplace, they would carry daggers under their cloaks, and they would walk up secretly, and they would stab to death the individual, and they would walk away and leave them for dead. They’re assassins. And now they have set their sights on Paul. They said, “This guy’s got to go, he’s got to be killed, because he is preaching against the Law of Moses.” Now, that’s not what he was doing, he was declaring that the Law of Moses points people to Christ, and the Law of Moses does not save us, but reveals to us our need for salvation in Jesus Christ alone. And Gentiles would receive this, and Paul would not place upon them the burden of the Roman, or the Mosaic Law, and say, “You need to be circumcised and follow all the Jewish traditions.” And so, as a result, Paul had some real critics that were coming against his ministry, seeking to destroy what he did. We already saw, they sought to destroy him in Galatia, they sought to destroy him in Corinth. Wherever Paul went they were seeking to destroy the work that God was doing through him. And there were people who were saying, “The Gentile church is not the real church. You’re not really a part of the church unless you become more Jewish,” is basically what they were saying. So, the Jews were saying that of the Gentile Christians. Now, Gentile Christians were saying some other things. They were talking about their great fellowship that they have in Christ; their great freedom and liberty they have in Christ. They were saying, “These Hebrew Christians, these Jewish cultured Christians, they don’t understand the greatness of the liberty that we have in Christ.” In some ways they were right, but in some ways they carried it to an extreme. And in their carrying it to an extreme, there was this either/or sort of situation in the body of Christ, and we recognize “A house divided against itself will not stand.” There is a level of unity in Christ that must be there for the church to exist, and very early on, the enemy was seeking to destroy the work of God through division. It’s happened like this for thousands of years. This is why division is so dangerous, and needs to be dealt with. And so Paul is seeking to bring together these two groups of people within Christ so that they would recognize, we are one in Christ.
So, as we look through the book of Romans, you need to keep that in mind, that one of the purposes that Paul wrote this letter for, is to bring together Jews and Gentiles in Christ. And from chapter 1 through chapter 16 Paul is making very clear that we are one in Christ. There are not different kinds of Christians, some Jewish, some Gentile; some more spiritual, and some that have liberty. And so he says in chapter 1, “I want to preach the gospel to you because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, both Jew and Greek. And then he begins to explain how those who are religious will not save themselves by their religion. Those who are super-, hyper-religious, like the Pharisees, who Paul himself was formerly a Pharisee, he says, “They will not be able to save themselves.” Chapter 1 of Romans says, “Those who are pagans, they can’t do anything in their pagan temples to save themselves”…”because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” Romans, chapter 3. And, “the wages of sin is death,” Romans, chapter 6. Everyone needs the free gift of grace in Jesus Christ. That “He demonstrated His love towards us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” Romans, chapter 5, verse 8. That “there is no hope apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ, and then after being saved, we do not perfect ourselves, through our own righteousness,” chapter 6, chapter 7, chapter 8. But, indeed, God, by His Spirit works a sanctifying work in us, giving us the ability to will and to do His good pleasure. It doesn’t do away with obedience, but He enables us to obey Him in a way, to lay down our lives as living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to Him, which is our reasonable service. These are the themes of the book of Romans.
You see, the book of Romans, I believe, was written to a new church that was beginning to thrive, as a doctrinal primer, as a discipleship manual, if you will, to show them: This is what you are to believe, and this is how you’re to live. Because, see, chapters 12, 11, 13, and 14 have 45 exhortations to the church: This is how you’re to live. This is what you’re to do. You’re to honor those that are in authority over you; you’re to pay your taxes. Ouch! You’re to live at peace with all men, as much as it relies upon you. So, 45 exhortations, at least that’s what I counted, 45 exhortations in chapters 12-14 of Romans. Because the book of Romans, the first half, gives us: This is what you need to believe; the second half says, “This is what you need to do.”
Chapters 9, 10, and 11 talk a lot about Jews. Why? Because Paul’s writing to a Gentile church, and he’s saying, “Listen, don’t be ignorant of the fact that God still has a plan for the Jewish nation. Don’t be ignorant of the fact that He is still working through those people who came as the seed of Abraham. Don’t look down upon them because they have missed recognizing Jesus as Messiah,” because Paul says, “I would give my very salvation that they would be saved.” Can you imagine that? He says, “I would rather be accursed that my whole people, the nation of Israel, would be saved.” Can anyone here today say, “I would give up my eternal salvation to see America saved?” I have to honest with you, I don’t know that I could say that.
So the book of Romans is written as a doctrinal primer of what the church should believe and what the church should do. The book of Romans is written to a Gentile church in a pagan city, saying, “Listen, don’t forgo the fact that God has a plan for the nation of Israel. Don’t take a superior view of yourself in Christ because of the liberty that you have. Don’t look down upon those who hold to these laws culturally, and say they’re weak in their faith, thinking that you are strong in yours.” All of these sort of things are contained in this great book. An important book.
And so Paul writes this book, and he says, “Listen, I’m on my way to the city of Jerusalem.” He says this in Romans, chapter 15. “I’m going to Jerusalem to carry a gift from the churches of Asia, and the churches of Greece. I have a financial gift.” We don’t know how much, but we can imagine that it was great, because Paul says of the Philippian church, that their wealth that they gave out of their poverty, was huge, and then he says that the Corinthians outdid the Macedonians, in what they gave. And so Paul, with 7 guys who are listed there in Acts, chapter 20, and one guy who’s not mentioned, Titus, for some reason, Luke never mentions Titus; there’s a lot of people that believe that Titus was the brother of Luke, and perhaps that’s why he never mentioned him in the book of Acts. But we can deduce, by looking at the other passages of scripture, that Titus was with this group of guys, and Luke was with them. So Paul has 9 traveling companions as he’s on his way back to Jerusalem. And his goal is to be there for the Feast of Pentecost, the celebration, in the church, the celebration of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and the birth of the church. And so he says, “I’m going to Jerusalem.” And every single place that Paul stops on his way to Jerusalem, in Ephesus, in Miletus, in Troas, all throughout Syria and Tyre, as he comes into Caesarea by the Sea, and the nation of Israel, everywhere he stops, the church says, “Don’t go to Jerusalem, because bad things are waiting for you in Jerusalem.” And Paul says, “I have to go to Jerusalem.” When he’s there in Caesarea, a prophet comes in, and he kneels down, a very dramatic, prophetic sort of thing, he kneels down on the ground in front of Paul, takes off Paul’s sash, his belt, binds his hands and his feet, and says, “Whoever owns this sash, this is what’s going to happen to him at Jerusalem.” He gets up and he leaves. That’s very dramatic, prophetic work, isn’t it? And so everybody in the church says, “Paul, you can’t go to Jerusalem.” And he’s actually starting to wonder. So he seeks the Lord that night, and the Lord says, “Listen, you will preach the gospel at Rome.” Now Paul didn’t know exactly how that was going to come to pass, God had a plan, a plan that probably wasn’t entirely in line with what he had planned. You ever experience that?
And so Paul goes to Jerusalem. He gets there, he goes and meets with James, the brother of the Lord, he meets with the apostles that are still there, present. He gives to them a gift, now this gift was very, very important; just as important was the letter that went to Rome, telling the Gentile Christians in Rome not to despise the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. Paul now brings a gift to Jewish Christians from Gentile Christians, saying, “Listen, we love you; here’s a practical demonstration of our love for you.” And it spoke, I believe, very loudly to the church at Jerusalem that, “Listen, we are one in Christ.” This is important because less than 13 years later, those Jewish Christians that lived in Jerusalem would be expelled from the city, and they ended up all throughout the empire. They ended up in Christian churches in Berea, in Thessalonica, in Derbe, in Lystra, in Iconium, in Miletus, in Troas. They ended up in churches in Rome and when they came, instead of joining the Jewish synagogue, they likely joined the Christian ekklesia. They recognized that they were one in Christ. So Paul delivers this gift to the leaders there in Jerusalem, and they said, “Alright Paul, we appreciate this, we love what God is doing through among the Gentiles, but you need to understand there’s a problem. There’s a group of guys here that have taken an oath, and they have said that they’re going to fast, they’re not going to eat until you’re dead. And so they’re looking for you. And so we’re going to give you some advice, because what they’re saying s that you have departed from the Law of Moses, and so just, culturally speaking, you need to do something for the culture of Jerusalem.” This has nothing to do with his faith in Christ, this had to do with being culturally relevant. They said, “We want you to shave your head, and take a vow, and go into the temple with 4 guys, we have 4 guys here that can’t afford to take this vow, and so as proof that you still hold to the culture of our nation, you’re going to pay for them to take this vow. You’re all going to go to the temple and partake in this vow.” Paul says, “Alright.” Why did he do that? He’s free in Christ, he doesn’t need to do that. I mean, so many people would say, “Stand up for your liberty in Christ!!” Why did he do that? “…because to the Jews, I became a Jew.” Why? “…that I might win the more.” So to be culturally sensitive and relevant, he shaves his head bald, he goes into the temple, seeking, in some way, to set at ease the minds of some people that were saying, “This guy is preaching against Moses.” Now, just a little heads up, we’re going to be in this passage, hopefully, next summer, I plan that we’re going to be in the book of Romans, until June; you can all laugh at me when we get to August and we’re still there; but when we come back to the book of Acts, we’re going to see that that plan doesn’t necessarily work. Paul ends up as a captive of the Romans; he spends a couple of years in jail in Caesarea, there in the land of Israel, Caesarea by the Sea. He appeals his case to Caesar, because he’s a Roman citizen, and he has the right to do that. Ultimately that appeal meant that he couldn’t be let go when the magistrates of the region there said, “Well if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar, we would have let the guy go.” But since he’s appealed to Caesar, now on Rome’s dime, he gets shipped to Rome to go meet with Nero. And that comprises Paul 4th journey, which we’ll be looking at in the book of Acts, as we finish it, hopefully next year. There’s some other letters we’re going to hit as we go through this, but the book of Acts, anyway.
But before we get into justification by faith, before we talk about sanctification, before we talk about predestination, and election, before we talk about any of those things that we find in the book of Romans, it’s super important that we recognize that Paul was writing to a church that, by proxy, he was involved in the planting of that church. Because he raised up the church planting team that started it. And he’s writing to them to give them a declaration of the gospel that was preached, a doctrinal primer, if you will, to be able to teach and train, to disciple these new believers that were coming to faith within the Roman context there. To give them an understanding that although they are Gentile believers in Christ, there is another segment of believers in Christ that are equal with you in Christ, Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith. To share with them that there are certain things you, as a Christian, need to believe and hold in your heart and in your mind, and teach and there are certain ways that a Christian needs to live. And the book of Romans lays all these important truths out. And it’s so dangerous, I read recently that a well-known Bible teacher in our nation spent 9 years going through Romans chapters 1-9. Nine years. He’s not the only one who’s done stuff like that, there are volumes of books written by single authors on the first 9 chapters. And if you know anything of what we would call “modern Christian history,” the last 500 years of Christian history, you know that the Reformed Movement has grown, Protestant Reformation and the Reformed doctrines, have grown out of the book of Romans. So, you can get really bogged down in, and lose sight of overarching theme of what’s taking place in this book, and the importance of it, by looking at these things and getting so technically aware of the minutest detail of it; you can lose the forest for the trees. It was a book written to Gentile believers to help them understand the doctrine of Christ, what it looks like to be a Christian, to believe in Christ. It was a book seeking, in many ways, to diminish the cultural divide that was taking place in the church. And it was something of an advanced notice to the church in Rome that Paul himself would soon be with them to fill in the blanks to the details that he may not be able to get to in a 16-chapter letter.
So my encouragement to you this week, would be to read these 16 chapters of Romans. Familiarize yourself a little bit with the passage. It is a dynamic book. And very many of the revivals that have happened in the church, and the awakenings that have happened in the church, have happened as a result of the book of Romans. One of my favorite, again, modern Christian history individuals is John Wesley. If you know anything of John Wesley, John Wesley was, or is counted as the founder of the Methodist movement. And when he was alive, Methodist was not exactly a good term, it actually was something that he was labeled, along with being called a Bible bigot, because he wanted to have a biblical reference for just about everything he did or said. And he lived with such a strict order of life, a method of life, that people began to call him a “methodist.” He came to America seeking to be a missionary to bring the gospel here to America, and the colonies kicked him out. And as he was on his way to America, he was on this ship with a group of Moravians, Moravians were a group of amazing missionaries, you want to read some amazing Christian history, read about the Moravians. And they were in the midst of a great storm, and John Wesley was scared to death. He thought he was going to die. And he looked, and he beheld this group of Moravian missionaries, and they had peace in the midst of the storm, and it bothered him. The entire time he’s in America, it bothered him. Well, he gets kicked out of the colonies, he goes back to England, and he has a crisis in his life, and he comes to the recognition that he is actually not saved. Preaching the gospel, living biblically, at least as he thought it was, but not really knowledgeable of the truth of the gospel. And one night he went to a Bible study on Aldersgate Street, in London. And the individual leading the Bible study read the preface of Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans, and John Wesley says that his heart was strangely warm, as he came to the knowledge of the truth of justification by faith. He was radically saved. And God did some amazing things through his life. He wasn’t the first. Martin Luther, counted the founder of the Lutheran denomination, which if he were alive today, he would have a heart attack if saw what was happening to it. Same thing, he was a Catholic monk, he went to Rome, he scaled the stairs on his knees, like all the others, doing penance, there in Rome, he saw all the paganism that was Rome during that time, in the 1500s. He goes back to his home in Germany, as a monk, and he also has a crisis of life, as a monk, trying to save himself through his own efforts. And there he reads, “from faith to faith, the just shall live by faith,” Romans, chapter 1. Radically transformed. And he’s not the only one during that period of time, but the Reformation began, and it flew throughout all Western Europe as a result of a wonderful thing that God did in imparting a great mind to an inventor named Gutenberg, just before that. And the gospel has gone throughout the whole world. We’re a product of that. The book of Romans is a powerful and important book. And I am so excited to study through it. I’ve taught through it twice at the Bible college, and I had 16 weeks to do it there. So, I’m thinking 8 months, we’re good. And that was with a translator, so…we’re trusting God to do great thing. And I’m asking the Lord that He would work in our lives, that we would see the very things that Paul describes in the book of Romans, come to pass. And that it would be evident to our community. Amen?