Monday, May 14, 2018

Reading Through the Letter to the Romans #4 (12-16)

Romans KeenerThis post concludes my reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans accompanied by Romans, New Covenant Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. In the final section of the letter Paul explains how the church, based on a common salvation by grace through faith, lives together in unity. I do recommend this commentary for pastors as a good resource for sermon preparation and teaching. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

In chapter 12 Paul turns to practical behavior that will demonstrate to the world that, because of Christ, believers of different cultures and backgrounds can live in peace, unity and love. This is only possible when the basis of life is viewed as relationship with God empowered by the Spirit. First, the believer must be willing to sacrifice self (one's own body and desires) for the greater body, the body of Christ. Each one must be willing to humbly use the gifts God has given to love and serve each other and God's kingdom mission. This means that each one must honor the other more than oneself. In response to government this means that Christians should be model citizens, though with a higher allegiance to God. The proper response to persecution is love and service to the persecutor. Within the body, freedoms should be used to "build up one another" and we should be sensitive and tolerant of differences in custom and perspective in non-essential areas. The bottom line is that loyalty to Christ, love for His body and commitment to His kingdom should overrule any other allegiance. When the church models this kind of unity its witness is very powerful. 

Paul will show that believers can choose in their minds to present their bodies for the service of a greater “body,” the body of Christ with whom they have been united (12:4–5). When believers offer themselves as sacrifices, they imitate Jesus, whose death Paul has already presented as a bloody sacrifice (3:25; 5:9; 8:3). Nevertheless, believers offer themselves not only by sometimes being martyred (cf. 8:36), but while alive (“living”). Romans 12, 143

Paul cooperated with the Jerusalem church’s identification with their culture (which was also his culture, Acts 21:20–26), but not to the extent of honoring such nationalism above his commitment to the Gentile mission (Acts 22:21–22). When Christians are more loyal to our ethnicity or nation than to Christ’s body, when nationalism or racism corrupts our love for fellow believers, we have gone beyond giving Caesar what is Caesar’s to giving Caesar what is God’s. Romans 13, 157

For Paul, then, sin is not only a matter of behaviors, but of motives. A weak conscience with weak faith would be healthier if it were strong, but such maturation must come by persuasion regarding what is God’s will, not by simply changing behavior without regard for motives. By appealing to the larger principle that “anything not ‘from faith’ is sin,” Paul also returns to his emphasis on faith as a relationship with God in contrast to mere regulations. Romans 14, 168–169

Paul concludes the body of the letter with a summary encouragement to not just tolerate each other across cultural lines, but to serve one another and demonstrate the unity that their common salvation brings in practical ways. This is why Paul was returning to Jerusalem to bring the monetary gift from the Gentile churches to serve the poor in the Jewish church in Jerusalem. Another way this unity would be shown was by the churches providing the support for Paul's mission to bring the gospel to Spain. Paul closes the letter with greetings to the church in Rome from Paul and his fellow believers in Corinth. Significantly, most of Paul's commendations go to women who served prominently in the Gentile churches. Paul concludes the letter with a blessing that the church would continue to go out and bring the gospel, which brings both Jews and Gentiles together into relationship with God, to all the world.

Believers should again follow Jesus’s example by accepting one another as he accepted all of them (15:7). This expectation climaxes the section’s opening exhortation to accept one another (14:1) because of God’s acceptance (14:3). That Christ accepted believers to the Father’s “glory” (15:7) fits the exhortation to “glorify” God together (15:6), a model relevant for Gentile believers (15:9). Romans 15.1-13, 171–172

Paul’s mission of laying foundations for the unevangelized (15:20) coheres with his mission of keeping the new Diaspora churches in spiritual unity with the Jerusalem church despite all their differences. It also provides a model for the unity of the culturally different Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. Romans 15.14-33, 178

Paul’s frequent concern for God’s honor and name in this letter climaxes in a final praise to God for the wise way he has arranged history so that Gentiles as well as Jews may come to obey Israel’s God through faith in Jesus the Messiah. Romans 16, 193

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