Romans – The Gospel of God

Readings for this week July 23 – 27

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Day 1 – A Slave and an Apostle

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 1:1

How do you define yourself? Identity is a hot topic these days, and it seems that identity politics invade every discussion, no matter how seemingly banal or inconsequential the discussion may be.

Paul opens his most important, most sustained attempt to explain the gospel and the God behind it and the people formed by it, with a definition of himself. But he defines himself in a different way. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that Paul allows someone else to define who he is. He calls himself a servant (also translated slave) of Jesus Christ. Many individual Israelites had been called servants before him: Moses and Joshua for example (‘servants of Yahweh’); God had even called the people of Israel collectively his ‘servant’. To be a servant in Roman society was not a badge of honour at all. Servants were completely dependent upon their master for their life and wellbeing… and so we can see what Paul is saying about himself here. Even the designation ‘apostle’ was one not chosen by Paul, but rather a calling placed upon him by God.

There is much about ourselves that we get to determine. But we are not ultimately our own. We – everyone, whether acknowledging it or not – are God’s. We belong to him, and receive our ultimate validation from him. Much of Paul’s letter to the Romans will be taken up with the identity of God’s people, a people called by God and centred around Jesus.

Questions to Consider
What is significant about Paul calling himself a servant/slave? What does this mean for us?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, I am yours. Thank you for defining me as one of your beloved. May I serve you faithfully, and serve others with love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – It’s All About the Gospel

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 1:2-6

How you begin a letter (or, these days, an email) is important, especially if you want people to keep reading. Saying hello and offering greetings is fairly standard. So is giving a little hint of what the content of the letter or email is. That’s what Paul does here. He says hello and briefly introduces himself. But the most important thing for Paul is not who he is, but the gospel, the ‘good news’, and he manages to squeeze so much about it into this opening greeting.

The gospel is God’s good news – it originates from him, and no one else. The gospel is attested to throughout scripture, through the prophets and their writings in particular. And Jesus Christ is at the centre of the gospel. It is about him, vindicated before the whole world as God’s son: his work, his life, death and resurrection. This message is for the entire world, all peoples and nations, so that they may believe in and obey a loving and gracious God. And it is for the glory of Jesus, for the honour of his name.

That’s a lot of vital information to pack into only six verses, and it sets the template for the rest of the letter: a lot of vital, important, life-changing material densely packed into a fairly small space. The fact that thousands upon thousands of books have been written about the letter to the Romans alone, shows just how important sharing the gospel with others was for Paul.

Questions to Consider
How important is sharing the gospel for you? How would you sum up the key elements of the gospel? How would you tell others?

Prayer
Loving Father, as well as a servant, I am also a messenger, embodying the message of your son in my words, actions and life. May my message – your message – be broadcast loud and clear. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Jew and Gentile

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 1:7-13

Paul had not been to Rome. The church in Rome (that met in several people’s houses) was not founded directly by him. But he does know some of the people there, having met some of them in his travels across Asia Minor and Greece. Some members of the Roman church were Jews who had been forced out of Rome when Claudius expelled the Jews from the city, but who had since returned once the prohibition was lifted (Priscilla and Aquila may have been two such people; see Acts 18:1-2). Romans had always distrusted Jews because of their belief in only one god and their strange cultural and religious ways. The authorities’ view of Christianity was equally dim: a suspicious sub-group within an already maligned community.

In fact, it is possible that there may have been tensions in the Roman church between Gentile Christians who had been able to remain in the city, and the Jewish Christians who had had to leave, but had since returned. Unity was important for both evangelistic purposes (to be united in sharing the gospel with others) and for the purposes of survival (a divided church at the heart of the Roman Empire would not last long). That so much of the letter will be taken up with addressing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles and their newly understood places in the family of God, not to mention their respective views of the law and how it affects their daily relationships with each other, shows how vital Paul saw the message of grace and reconciliation at the heart of the gospel.

Questions to Consider
How does Paul feel about the Roman Christians? What does he long to share with them?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, in these days of renewed tribalism and division, we ask you to help us remain united as one people, your people. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Us and Them No More

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 1:14-16

People are quite good at dividing human beings up into various groups; whether we should or not is another question. The common division is into the categories of ‘us’ – whoever us happens to be and however it is defined – and ‘them’, which is usually just everybody not good enough or right enough to be included in ‘us’. The Greeks (top dogs before the Romans took over) divided the world into ‘Greeks’ and ‘barbarians’. The Jews divided the world into ‘Jews’ and ‘the rest’ – sometimes referring to the rest as ‘the nations’, or ‘Greeks’, or ‘Gentiles’.

Today’s little passage contains the first of many little detonations (and also some large ones) that will be exploded throughout the letter. The gospel is for everyone. No exceptions. Jew, Gentile, Greek, barbarian, however you wish to look at it, the good news of Jesus is for all. No more us and them. This was God’s plan all along, and now it has come to fruition through Jesus. When God created humanity it was so that we could join with him as partners in tending and transforming his creation into its full glory. But we rebelled and turned away from our true calling. So God called Abraham, and entered into a covenant with his family to rescue and restore the cosmos from death and decay. Such rescue is not just for some, it is for all, and Paul is not afraid to say so. The original call for humanity to enter into relational partnership with God still stands. It was for all people then; it is still for all people now.

Questions to Consider
Why is Paul not ashamed of the gospel? Why might we be ashamed of the gospel? How can we avoid this?

Prayer
Loving Lord, help me not be ashamed to speak of you to others. Give me the courage to always speak your truth to a world that often doesn’t want to hear it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Trusting Obedience

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 1:17

This is what the declaration of the gospel shows us: we see how God’s justice and righteousness has been unveiled. We see how he has been faithful to the covenant with Abraham, and we see how he has put the world – and us – right again, through Jesus. But in order to benefit from this new way of the world, we need to believe, to have faith. God has been faithful; we need to be full of faith, to have that obedience Paul first mentioned in verse 5. And through our faithful obedience to allow God, by his Spirit, to begin the transformation within us that will allow us to fulfil that original call he made so long ago.

We have seen that the gospel is for all people. All that is needed is for people to believe, to have faith. (For Paul, the words ‘faith’ and ‘believe’ mean almost the same thing.) They must learn to live by faith. The quote in verse 17 is from Habakkuk 2:4, a prophet who was called to trust in God as a time of great disaster was about to befall the Israelites. Habakkuk needed to put his faith in God no matter what.

And that is what Paul is calling people – all people, but especially his people – to do: to trust in God, to have faith in God’s faithfulness. Through Jesus, God has illustrated his faithfulness to the covenant promises he made to his people, and brought salvation to those who believe this good news of Jesus.

Questions to Consider
What different things have people interpreted ‘a righteousness from God’ to mean? Which ones are more likely to correct? Why?

Prayer
Holy Lord, help me trust you more. Help us as your people trust you and your ways first and foremost in every situation. Everything is in your hands – help us live like we believe it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)