Romans 16: A Beloved Spiritual Family

This final chapter of Romans includes the largest list of people greeted of any of Paul’s letters. It speaks to the family in Christ that Paul treasures and interacts with and Paul’s influence and memory on those that exhibited faith in Christ. His consideration and memory of others shows us how much he valued the relationships and the souls of his friends. The bonds felt through this communication suggest a connection stronger than mere blood relatives; this is a peek into the spiritual family that uplifts one another that we all can enjoy through Jesus Christ.

Following is a breakdown of the people listed, with some having more information than others. There is a total of twenty-six people mentioned, a third of whom are women.

  • Phoebe, benefactress

Phoebe was the traveler that delivered the letter. Her being referred to here as a sister, helper, and servant of the church implies that she was a patron of sorts.

  • Priscilla and Aquila, teachers and tentmakers

We know that Paul had a good and productive relationship with Priscilla and Aquila. Reading in Acts 18:1-3, we see that Paul worked with them as a tentmaker as he preached in the synagogue at Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila were converted Jews who by this time has established a church in their home. They were astute teachers that traveled with Paul and were able to correct and exhort properly with humility and grace: “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts 18:24-26. By the time of this letter, we may assume that Priscilla and Aquila were residing in Rome.

  • Rufus and his mother, Rufus “chosen in the Lord”

This Rufus was quite possibly the same man whose father Simon of Cyrene had helped Jesus carry the cross on the way to Golgotha: “Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.” Mark 15: 21-22

  • Amplias, Urbanus, Stachys, and Apelles

These are all common slave names that have been found in lists of slaves that served in the imperial household. Given the context, it seems likely that  these slaves had been converted to Christianity apart from their masters’ permission or knowledge. Or perhaps their masters cared not about the spiritual beliefs of their slaves.

  • Aristobulus’ and Narcissus’ households

Seemingly along the same lines as the slaves, Aristobolus and Narcissus were masters whose slaves evidently had obeyed the gospel. These slaves must have worshipped with the church in Rome and Paul wanted to reach out to them, likely by way of encouragement. Some have theorized that this Aristobulus mentioned in Romans 16 was the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Agrippa I, but this is not substantiated. Narcissus was a name taken from Greek mythology and others have theorized about this man as well, suggesting that he was the same Narcissus that was put to death by Agrippa after Nero came to power in Rome.

  • Herodion, Andronicus, Junia, countrymen

Herodion being mentioned as a countryman implies that was a Jew, like Paul. We could assume the same for Andronicus and Junia, with the distinction that they had served prison time with Paul. Did Paul convert Andronicus and Junia while he was imprisoned with them? Given Paul’s pedigree and reputation as a teacher and preacher, it seems likely.

  • Mary

There have been a couple of different ideas about the identity of this Mary. Some have thought over the years that she was Mary, the mother of John Mark, while still others have offered the idea that Paul is greeting Mary Magdalene, without adding the formal distinction “of Magdalene”. It is exciting to think that we will know the answer one day.

  • Epaenetus

Although not substantiated biblically, Epaenetus was the name of a man that was a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church and in the Roman Catholic Church. This man is thought of as being the first convert in the Asian province. This Epaenetus being the same as the Epaenetus mentioned in Romans 16 is a statement that we do not have enough information to confirm.  

  • Other assorted brethren: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Tryphena, Tryphosa, fellow workers in the Lord, likely sisters, and Persis, who labored much in the Lord.

These last names in the first section are listed generally and there is not as much context to be found around these brethren. Whatever their exact identities, they held a place in Paul’s heart as valued parts of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.

In verses 17-20, Paul offers an important encouragement to the Romans to be on the lookout for those that would come into the church, seeking to divide the brethren. Paul implies that their obedience to Jesus may have made them targets of people who do not serve Jesus, but rather themselves. These people will deceive the hearts of the less learned “by smooth words and flattering speech.” When we are strong, resisting false truths and standing up for actual truth, Paul tells us that “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Further encouragement can be found in the wisdom of seeking to know much about righteousness, goodness, and faith and to be ignorant of evil things. This is a good message for us anytime in life, but it is especially good for those new in the faith and for our children.

The letter closes with Paul sending greetings from the friends that were with him to the Christians in Rome, and with a prayer. Here is a breakdown of Paul’s friends listed in verses 21-24:

  • Timothy

A young man that worked with Paul, teaching and preaching. I and II Timothy in the New Testament are addressed to this same Timothy.

  • Lucius

This is Luke, apostle and author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts of the apostles.

  • Jason and Sosipater

Jason is named in Acts 17:5-9 and was Paul’s host on his first journey to Thessalonica. Sosipater could possibly be the same individual mentioned in Acts 20:4: “And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia…”

  • Tertius (scribe)

Tertius, as scribe, did not compose the letter as Paul was the author. Paul, as the author, dictated the letter to Tertius, who wrote it down word for word. As an example, see Jeremiah 36:4: “Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the Lord which He had spoken to him.” Accordingly, we are complimented in our faith by II Timothy 3:16-17 that the information in the Holy Bible originates from the source of our great God: “ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  • Gaius

Paul was lodging with Gaius at the time. I Corinthians 1:14 tells us that Paul baptized Gaius.

  • Erastus

Erastus is mentioned as the City Treasurer here. There was also an Erastus mentioned in Acts 19:22, that was sent by Paul to Macedonia. Again, this may or may not have been the same man.

  • Quartus, a brother in the faith

The concluding prayer of the book of Romans is a thing of beauty. In it, Paul ascribes glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But it is the way that he does it that makes it beautiful. In giving Christ glory, Paul lists out the how, when, why, and who is connected to the substantiation of why Christ deserves glory. One gets the sense that Paul is burdened with the holy desire to lay out the terms of Christ’s glory with exactness. Here are the terms under which Paul ascribes glory to our Holy Savior:

  • Jesus is able to establish you in a holy relationship with God
  • This act is the result of the revealed mystery, which was:
    • Prophesied
    • Known to all nations
    • Executed according to the commandment of Almighty God
  • Your establishment in a sound relationship with God is made for your obedience to the faith
    • Under which God alone is wise
  • Christ deserves this glory and honor forever

One can almost imagine Paul’s prayer echoing through the halls of heaven, meeting approval by God in that it so accurately, respectfully and honorably gives glory to the Son of God. Our Savior Jesus Christ is singular, holy, and mighty. May each of us put Him in the highest places of our hearts forever.

Romans 15: Help One Another

The theme of brotherly love in Romans is strong and continues as we read chapter 15. Putting others first, particularly fellow believers, is a practice to remember in context of these verses. When you add the concept of the weak and the strong to this idea, the burden of assistance naturally falls to the strong. There is a sense of community that Is fostered among God’s people here in the first part of the chapter. We should follow the lead of Christ, who, as the strongest, as our advocate, bears the great burden of our sins. He experiences the reproaches due us and does so willingly, lovingly, and with divine intent. Our place, then, is to seek unity,  and recognize what a great example we have in Christ in terms of how to treat our brothers and sisters in the faith. Patience and love are the keystones here. Praising and glorifying God as we see the result of following Him will be the natural result.

The message in verses 7- 13 are important to behold in the context of Jesus Christ as a gateway to God for both Jews and Gentiles. For the Jews, Jesus confirms the promises made to the fathers. For the Gentiles, He provides a path to God. Passages from II Samuel, Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah are quoted to illustrate the idea that yes, the salvation offered by Jesus is accessible by the Gentiles. It is likely not a coincidence that the admonition of the strong supporting the weak and living together in peace were placed so closely together with this reminder that God offers redemption to both Jews and Gentiles through Christ. There would have likely been many Jews with contempt for Gentiles. The encouragement, motivation, and inspiration from Christ to give one another leeway in things of little consequence would have went a long way towards establishing the healthy, holy, godly community that God has in mind for His kingdom.

Paul continues on and demonstrates confidence in the Roman Christians. After all of the useful (albeit challenging) guidance, Paul builds them up, supplying them with the compliments and confidence they need to accomplish the goals. The people are full of goodness and knowledge and capable of encouraging each other. Paul takes his responsibility to teach and preach very seriously and he feels compelled to say these things, so that “I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Paul has a duty to the Gentiles. Likewise, he is trying to express to the Jews hearing his message that they also have a duty to the Gentiles, one of patience, tolerance, teaching, and understanding.

Paul’s ministry has the bold and appropriate goal of reaching those people that have not yet been preached Jesus Christ. The chapter is concluded with Paul telling them of his plan to visit them in Rome. He has plans to bring the gospel to Spain and wants to visit them in Rome at that time. Also in this section we have the Biblical precedent of one church’s saints helping another group of believers in need: “For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.” Paul describes a very nice transaction with these words. The Jews in Jerusalem were in need, and poor. But they had the knowledge and the ability to educate newly believing Gentiles on the history of God and His interaction with man. In kind, the materially blessed Gentiles were in a position to help the Jews in Jerusalem and both parties benefitted from the relationship, inspired by the love exhibited by Jesus Christ. This example is no doubt just the kind of interaction that God desires among His people of all stripes. It forces us to ask ourselves, how can I follow these examples? How can my family and I be the patient, loving members of God’s kingdom that He would have us to be? It is definitely a matter of effort and of prayer.

Paul, ever the humble servant, concludes this section with requests for prayers on his behalf. These are prayers that his ministry is successful and that he may be able to visit them, eventually.

Romans 14: Laws of Love and Liberty

The ending context of Romans 13 had us ruminating on what it means to cast off darkness and put on light. An importance is put on living for, and as, Christ. We are encouraged not to spend energy on fulfilling the lusts of our flesh, but rather to dwell in the blessings and teachings of Jesus Christ. In doing so, our priorities and the hierarchy of importance will make itself known. Chief within this hierarchy is spiritual things over the physical. Simply because people ascribe spiritual meaning to physical things does not make them spiritual things. Eating food, for example. Just like modern times, people in the first century placed spiritual importance on the things they put into their bodies.

This concept would have been familiar to both Jews and Gentiles, but especially so to Jews. There were many restrictions against the types of food and food preparation methodology in the Old Testament. Looking at these provisions from a modern perspective, it is easy to conclude that they were in place for health and safety. This includes the regulations against imbibing things such as blood and meat from hoofed animals. This was God’s way of protecting the health of his people.

Compounding these provisions for the Jews would also have been the food offered to foreign idols. Living in Rome, there were innumerable temples receiving animal sacrifices throughout the day. Some of this food would ultimately make it to the markets, where it would be sold indiscriminate of the religion of the buyer. Some Jews and early Christians would call it sin to eat the food offered to foreign idols. Others would see no issue with eating this food as the idols were nonexistent anyway, so what would it matter? Still others might realize that the idols were false but perhaps they had been converted from some pagan practices and now it was just too close for comfort to eat food offered to idols that they once worshipped.

Paul is instructing the Christians in Rome to be tolerant of the views of others and to let them live and eat in a manner that they are comfortable with. If a person violates their conscience by engaging in an activity, it does no good to force them to change just to prove that the activity is not actually sinful. To them, the knowledge that there is no sin in eating food offered to idols is enough. Their faith, just like yours, needs room to grow and understand the true context of how the spiritual interacts with the physical. We know Paul’s opinion on the matter, he feels (and I think this is right), that all things are allowable. In a companion passage to Romans 14, Paul goes into greater detail on this topic in I Corinthians 10. Within that passage, he quotes from Deuteronomy 10:14 and Psalm 24:1 alike to remind us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” I Corinthians 10:23-33 here for a more detailed discussion of eating/not eating to avoid violating conscience:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

This passage makes it apparent that the issue of eating food is far less in importance than the well-being of our brethren. Everything we do should be to glory God, and if that means submitting to another’s provisions, provided they are not sinful, then may it be so. Paul reminds us that the entire goal of life is to bring others closer to Christ.

It is safe to assume that in the time of the New Testament, food safety and hygiene has improved to the point where the archaic provisions from the old law are unnecessary. And by no mistake, the theme of all things’ allowance to be eaten coincides with the idea that God’s salvation is now for all people. Recall the vision that Peter had in Acts 10:9-16. Through this vision, Peter understood that all edible things were allowable by God and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is meant for all men, everywhere. His teaching to and baptism of the Roman Centurion Cornelius’ household supports the theme.

Given all of the history around eating and food in the context of the time, we might wonder, does this bear any meaning today? Yes, it does. In modern times, there are Christians that abstain from certain foods. Primarily these are for reasons of health, but we could also confront our brothers and sisters in the faith that abstain from eating meat for more of a spiritual reason, believing that a diet of red meat is harmful to health, or that it is disingenuous to use living creatures for food. Now is where the point of this chapter should truly come alive for us. Because here Paul does not focus on what is right or wrong in the area of eating. Paul proclaims that the more important thing is to consider spiritual health; the conscience of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

It may be that one stance has deeper Biblical roots than the other. But in the big picture, there is a hierarchy of ideas in terms of our closeness to God and our faith. It is more important to God that we show tolerance to our brothers and sisters in the faith than we split hairs on a topic for which the consequences are not dire.

I must interject here that there remain many sinful ideas and topics for which tolerance should not be exercised, even among brethren. However, in God’s kingdom, in His church, as the brethren grow their faith in the Holy Word of God, these instances recede and abate as faith and knowledge grow. There is another discussion that could be had in this context, which would be to answer the question, besides eating certain foods, what other practices or principles are there whose rightness or wrongness are not as important as recognizing the conscience of our brethren? This might make for a good discussion topic for study with your own family or Bible class.

The main message of Romans 14 is to withhold judgment and “advice” in such inconsequential matters to our fellow brethren and instead to concentrate on building up one another in the faith, creating deep and lasting relationships with them; some things are more important than others. We need to see things in the proper context of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In some matters, considering the feelings of your brothers and sisters is more important than the “rightness” of the matter at hand.

Paul explicitly states such in verses 17-19: “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.”

In the final words of this chapter, Paul urges us to look inside. If we are looking at a brother or sister and judging them, have we also allowed the same thing for ourselves? Or do we play favorites? The most condemning aspect is the exercise of inspecting the source of our condemnation or judgment. Is the judgment of another based on our faith, or is it based on another motive? What are we truly after? Paul’s suggestion is that if we truly think and act in faith, we will not create strife for those of like faith. If our judgment or condemnation is based on a spiritual principle found in the Word of God and we are righting a wrong, we remove sin and we should be happy and give God the glory for such change. But when we openly condemn others for small matters, or, even worse, speak ill of them when they are not present, we are sowing division and hurting ourselves in the process.

Romans 13: Clarification of Hierarchy and Echoes of Christ

Paul, now one chapter into his inspired instruction to the Romans on how to live, explores the origin of earthly authority as we begin chapter thirteen. He makes it clear that the source of all authority is God. Any power that ruling bodies have on earth has been given to them by God, and it is therefore our duty to submit to them.

Not only does submitting to government demonstrate our capacity for obedience (a quality that God seeks in each of us), but it also helps to maintain order in civil culture. Submitting to the government is an idea that would have been difficult for many Christians at the time. You may know that the Roman government looked down on the Jews as a people and as a nation. As a minority, the Jews were seen by the Romans as a small group of religious people that needed to be managed and to a degree, controlled. In the dramatic scene played out by Pilate where Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion, elements of this attitude can be seen (John 18:28 – 19:22).

Even though some Christians at the time may have resented the Roman government and its subsequent representatives, they are encouraged to obey them in alignment with the commandments of God. For the same authority that calls upon them to believe in Jesus Christ calls on them to obey the ruling bodies on earth. And the same rewards and consequences are to follow for disobedience to these bodies, as seen in Romans 13:4-7: “For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” If this last phrase in Romans 13:7 sounds familiar to you, that is likely because it echoes the same concept as spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22:21: “Render therefore Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

The conclusion in Romans 13 is simple. We honor God by obeying the government, paying taxes, and being responsible citizens. Governing bodies such as Nebuchadnezzar’s, where the authorities sought to find fault with the Jews, namely Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, and Daniel (Daniel 3:8-18 and 6:1-9), are exceptions to this rule as they attempt to supersede the authority of God.

This guidance leaves little to no room for what is today common protest against governing bodies. God calls upon us to be obedient, which includes receiving punishment for lack of obedience and reward for obedience. This is a simple and clear concept, easily explained and very accessible to readers of all ages, cultures, and timelines. It applies to all people, at all times, everywhere. God is our Creator and source of all authority and power. Christ, as part of the three persons of the Godhead, identifies Himself as an authoritative benefactor as well in Matthew 28:18: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth.” In the sense that God gave Jesus the authority mentioned in this verse, God has also given it to our local and national governing bodies.

The final portions of the chapter provide gentle and righteous encouragement to love your neighbor. This includes being good, honest, and kind to your fellow man, showing them love and honor in your dealings with them. The fact that Paul mentions that love is the fulfillment of the law bridges the gap yet again from old law to new, showing that Christ was part of God’s extended plan from the beginning.

Romans 13 concludes with the encouragement to be like Christ because the end is nearer now than it was at the first. This statement likely had a bigger impact on the readers of the time than it does on us. Their proximity in timer to Christ was much closer and reading the warning from Paul that “The night is far spent, the day is at hand” would have persuaded the Christians at that time that Christ was coming back very soon. This would have been very easy for them to believe because many of them would have remembered the time not long before when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Paul’s expression about the night being far spent suggests that the waiting for Christ to come back was nearly over but of course we know now that the waiting was only beginning. In fact, where we are now, in this moment, is a place where our salvation is “nearer than when we first believed.” This is something we very much have in common with first century Christians.

It behooves us then to also obey the strongly encouraged words of Paul to imitate Christ in all we do: “…let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

These words encourage us, much like the words in Romans chapters 6, 8, and 12, to walk and live in the spirit. Where do we think we are going? Do we think we are heading towards college, family life, or retirement? Of course, many of us are heading towards these things. But God’s Word in Romans asks us to think deeper, to reach higher. Because we are definitely heading towards one of two places: heaven or hell, and with this ultimate and finite fact, our prime efforts in life are best spent preparing for eternity rather than making plans and expending energy that have their ends in the physical world and with our mortal bodies. Our bodies, our homes, our earthly possessions after all are wasting away further and further each day.

Let us conclude this study with the words of Jesus on the matter: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Romans 12: How to Live

The three previous chapters in Romans have been educational for believing and unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. The information went a long way towards explaining Christ in the context of the old law. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul spoke to Israelites using figures and examples that were meaningful to Jews, while also helping Gentiles by explaining the history of the relationship between God and His chosen people. These explanations were leading up to the climax at the end of chapter eleven, where Paul recognizes God’s divinity, sanctity of judgment, and glory. Having arrived at the conclusion, chapter twelve is a “therefore statement,” enlightening believers in Christ on the best ways to conduct themselves as children of God under the new gospel. There is both spiritual and practical guidance. There is direction on how to interact with believers and unbelievers. The wise, profound one-liners in this chapter present a paradigm, a philosophy on how to live as a Christian, ancient or modern, it makes no difference. One could even make the leap to say that Paul, as an apostle, is elaborating on the teaching of Christ, boiling the platitudes of God’s Son down to advice that is at once applicable, accessible. The encouragement and advice given in Romans chapter twelve is simple and in agreement with the Words of Jesus Christ.

Let us review these statements, along with their lessons and implications:

  • Present your bodies as living sacrifices (v. 1)
    • Where physical animal sacrifices were once what God desired, now we are called to sacrifice ourselves on the altar of God. This spiritual sacrifice involves us daily foregoing those things that we want for ourselves in exchange for what God would have us do for Him. 
  • Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed (v. 2)
    • Do not align yourself with worldly values, but heeding the Words of Christ and the commandments of God, allow yourself to live in conflict with the worldly standards, principles, and morals, which are very often opposite to the holy statues of God.
  • Do not think of yourself more highly than you should (v. 3)
    • Humility is key. When we are convinced of our own greatness, our sense of morality is warped as we tend to base our judgment on our internal standards instead of practicing the divine teachings of God. 
  • Understand your function in God’s kingdom (v. 4-5)
    • Know yourself. Understand what your talents are and use them with purpose in service of the Kingdom of God. 
  • Use your talents appropriately (v. 6-8)
    • Apply your abilities in the proper context, not forsaking their benefit to others, seeking opportunities to increase and abound in God’s work with excellence.  
  • Love one another sincerely (v. 9)
    • Treat fellow believers with authentic love, relenting from showy displays that lack honesty.
  • Reject evil and embrace goodness (v. 9)
    • Be purposeful about recognizing goodness and evil. Actively value good and reject evil. This can be both an internal exercise done privately as well as one that is done publicly in the presence of believers and unbelievers.
  • Serve the Lord by tirelessly serving others in affection and love (v. 10-11)
    • Have a happy spirit when serving others in the faith. Do not tire of it and serve them as if doing service to the Lord, which you are.
  • React to life’s situations appropriately (v. 12)
    • When there is hope, rejoice
    • When there are trials, be patient
    • Pray continually
    • Live so that you automatically have the right reactions to life’s challenges. This requires patience, practice and prayer.
  • Give and be hospitable to needy believers (v. 13)
    • Be aware of the needs of others in the body of Christ. Be ready to give them what they need out of your abundance and share your belongings, your wealth, your blessings, and your home.
  • Conduct yourself and your relationships appropriately (v. 14-21)
    • Do not be evil to those that are evil to you
    • Visibly value the good things in life
    • Endeavor to live in peace with all men
    • Do not take revenge, for it is the dominion of God
    • Be kind and have mercy on your enemies
    • When evil intrudes, react with goodness
    • We are often called to react opposite to what our natural reactions would be. God desires for us to rise above our sinful and selfish natures. We should understand that God’s place in our lives and in the lives of others supersedes our desire to take revenge and exact harsh judgment (active or mental) on those that have caused us pain, worry, or insult. We need to practice the reflex of goodness when we are hurt by others. Our default setting as children of God is to trust in the Lord to manage our relationships and ourselves. 

When we follow the guidance of these eleven statements, we are doing the hard work on the ground where God has already established the perfect pathways and methods that will give us the best version of our lives, and the best version of ourselves.

Romans 11: The Effects of Grace

In this chapter, Paul delves into the nuances of salvation being now available for all people, instead of just the Israelites as has been the case for generations. Some Jews may have supposed that since God is now offering salvation to Gentiles through Jesus, that the Jews had lost their chance since they neglected countless opportunities to have the right relationship with God. To help make and support his points, he pulls from as many as five different old testament passages, starting with Elijah from I Kings 19. In verses 14 and 18, Elijah and God have an exchange where the disobedience of Israel is recognized, yet God makes it clear that there is still a faithful remnant preserved to honor and glorify God.

Paul makes this point easily and obviously for a couple of reasons. For one, a story about the major prophet Elijah to incredulous Jews would have increased the credibility of the idea that God has not forsaken the faithful of Israel. A second reason is that the Jews referenced in I Kings 19:18 (who had not worshipped the false god Baal) represent a commonality in the faithful of God’s original people. For there were still a number of Jews that worshipped and honored God properly and without all of the self-effacing and hypocritical methods we read about in the gospels. Paul is appealing to those believing Jews (aka the remnant) whose hearts were fertile for news of the great Messiah that was prophesied. These believing Jews can rightly and easily access God’s grace through His Son. This grace is precious, and would have been a new concept to the Jews, who have been obeying God on the basis of works alone for generations. By invoking the example of the revered prophet Elijah and also using himself as an example (“For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin”), Paul is attempting to persuade faithful Jews to Christ.

To help support his point, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29, Deuteronomy 29, and Psalm 69 in verses 8 and 9 of Romans 11. These passages describe the state of those Jews that lost their way. The passage in Isaiah describes the Jews’ departure from God, that both God and Israel played a part:

“For the Lord has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers…“Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”” Isaiah 29:10, 13

Then, in Psalm 69:22-23, he uses the words of David to show the result of their estrangement from God, as is the case for us all: “Let their table become a snare before them, and their well-being a trap. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; and make their loins shake continually.”

Paul is telling those Jews that would believe in Jesus that their state and also their fate is part of a larger plan of God over generations. There is a fear and hopelessness that comes when we live apart from God, particularly after we have already come to know and obey Him. But God singled out and punished the Jews, leaving them in darkness and fear. Some Jews were faithful, but these verses in Psalms call out those Jews that forsook God and all of His statues and commandments.

With knowledge comes power, and Paul is attempting to empower those Jews that still believe in God and tend towards faith in Christ. Through understanding their faith-heritage in the written context of respected men like Elijah and David, the Jews reading the letter to the Romans would have been enlightened. By quoting these verses to them, Paul is revealing the permission space to believe the words of Jesus.

Ending the first ten verses of this chapter, let us consider that all of the context of the history of the Jews’ disobedience to God and the penalties it incurred would also have been very enlightening to newly converted Gentiles. Understanding these themes would have helped them to understand the plight of the Jews and could have created compassion towards them. In essence, Paul is explaining the equal playing field of salvation that God has created through Jesus Christ, with a particular concentration on the Jews.

Verse 11 suggests that beyond the strong and simple desire to be saved, the Israelites have other motivations to be saved as well. The Gentiles’ access to salvation provokes jealousy in the hearts of the Jews, and Paul insinuates that the jealousy could spur them on to belief in the true Savior.

In verse 13, Paul pivots a bit to speak directly to the Gentiles on the subject of their now having access to God. To illustrate the condition, he uses the olive tree and the ideas of grafting on and breaking off branches. It is a simple but effective device. The newly grafted on branches are the Gentiles, whose belief in Christ saves them. The broken branches are those Jews that eschew Christ. The roots are the same, always having been God, from whom all blessings, truth, and goodness flow. Paul concentrates on the attitude and behavior of the Gentiles in respect to the Jews in verse 18: “do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” Boasting is off limits here no matter the case; the idea of boasting against God is anathema. The resulting condition of the newly believing convert ought to be gratitude and fear, not pride and haughtiness.

Reading on, we see that even those Jews that had left God can return to Him through Christ in verse 24: “For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”

Paul begins the conclusion of chapter 11 by quoting from Isaiah 59:20-21, making the point that the Gentiles have all obtained mercy through the disobedience of Israel. Indeed, the sins of Israel are taken away through Jesus, but their disobedience opens up the door for mercy; such is the nature of God. If Israel had accepted Christ absolutely, there would not have been the need for mercy. But, since many rejected Him, God’s mercy is needed for reconciliation and those at first disbelieving Jews can access God through Christ by the same mercy that blesses the Gentiles.

These are not simple concepts, the deep things of God rarely are. The conclusion, then, is fitting. As Paul quotes from both Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11, he makes it clear that God’s mind is unknowable. The mystery of Christ was unknown for generations, and no one could have predicted it. God’s decisions to bless and punish then, too, are righteous and appropriate, but still can remain mysterious to those that experience them. No one is in the place to predict or to aid or to charge God. He is everything, and our gratitude and fear should follow:

“”For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” “Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.”

Romans 10: The Righteousness of God

The discussion of Israel’s salvation continues as we move through Romans chapter 10. Paul acknowledges that Israel has a passion and desire to serve God. They err, however, because they desire righteousness according to their definition and not according to God’s. Paul indicates that when they seek God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ, they will find it. Christ is the fulfillment of the law established by Moses. The Israelites that make this connection through faith in God’s Son will access God’s righteousness and the path to salvation.

The concepts that follow in verses 5-13 are intricately woven together to demonstrate that:

  • The old law of Moses attempted to establish righteousness through works, but could not absolve sin
  • The righteousness established through faith starts in the heart, then is confessed by the mouth
  • Faith and confession play major roles in the salvation of man: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Jesus Christ is the object of this faith, of course, and there are no preferences, distinctions, or differences in the one that calls on Him. From verses 12 and 13: “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

In the relationship between righteousness, works, and faith, there are many mysteries. Men attempt to confirm the nuances of these relationships, and reach limited success due to the limit of their reach. I will not attempt to codify righteousness, works and faith in the context of our salvation and relationship with God. I will quickly point out, however, that the righteousness produced by faith and strengthened by confession receives a premium in these verses. Reading verses 5-13, one tends to conclude that the relationship of righteousness produced by faith is a great deal closer to the state of salvation than is the righteousness produced by works. But we must resolve these statements with others in God’s Word, such as found in James chapter 2 and Romans 2:13, where the effect of works cannot be denied. What is our conclusion – what is more important or has a greater bearing on our salvation – faith or works? The answer is that there must be a balance of both. The righteousness that we attain through faith in Jesus Christ spurs us on to good works, which glorify God. It is a delicate and encouraging cycle of hearing, believing, submitting, and acting. Faith is made perfect in works.

In the latter portion of the chapter in verses 14-21, Israel is the subject again, and once more unfavorably. But through Paul’s explanation of why much of Israel is lost, he walks through some of the plan of salvation. Firstly, there is the need to be exposed to the teaching and the preaching so that people have the opportunity to believe. Then, hearing the good news is necessary so that the seed will be planted. Once the truth is heard, people will either believe or they will not. Once belief resides in the heart, the action of repentance from those sins forbidden by God follows, after which confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God takes place. Completing the salvation plan under Christ is the obedient act of baptism, shown in Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, and I Peter 3:21.

The lament of Israel continues to the end of this chapter, as Paul pulls verses from Nahum, Isaiah and Deuteronomy to demonstrate how Israel has had opportunities aplenty to cling to God. The Word of God and the prophecies of Jesus Christ have been proclaimed at large for all to hear for a sustained period of time, leaving no Israelite an excuse. Indeed, the passages invoked by Paul here have an ironic feeling to them because many of God’s people, the very ones that heard the teaching and preaching over the years, deny Christ. But the Gentiles prove themselves believers of God’s Son and will have the salvation that so many erroneous and proud Israelites forsake.

The conclusion of the chapter, then is that salvation is available for all, despite the nation of Israel having been God’s chosen nation prior to the dispensation of Jesus Christ. But when thinking of the personal value that this chapter can have for us today, we may find a more useful meditation in the concepts of faith, works, righteousness, and confession.

Romans 9: Israel’s Rejection of Jesus Christ and God’s Supreme Judgment

Paul has great sorrow in his heart. Why? Because the Israelites are partakers of the blessings of Christ, but they do not all recognize it. The opening five verses of chapter nine confirm that God has given all of the blessings in Jesus Christ to the nation of Israel, “to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.”

Paul is greatly grieved that the Israelites seem to be excluded from the blessings of Christ, although in truth he knows that God’s chosen people have access to Christ and are actually closer to Him than other peoples of the time. Paul knows that Christ’s origin was divine, but that His path to earth as a man was afforded by the Jews.

In truth, the majority of the Jews simply do not accept Jesus as their Savior, as the One spoken of in the Old Testament as the Messiah. This saddens Paul to such an extent that he would be separated from Jesus if it meant that his people, the Israelites, would be united to Christ. His statement to this effect in verse three, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,” echoes a similar statement from his forefather in faith Moses, that was made in Exodus 32:32: “Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.”

Whether Paul’s declaration was made in conscious knowledge of the parallel sentiment expressed by Moses is unclear but it suggests that Paul’s faith and sense of self-sacrifice for the benefit of his fellow countrymen was at least as great as that of Moses, a giant of faith in the Old Law.

Paul is quick to appropriately divide the blame for this situation. He clarifies that it is not due to the lack of power in God’s Word or lack of power of Christ that results in the Israelites’ alienation from the blessings of the Savior. Not all children of Israel are left out of the blessings of Christ; some have recognized God’s plan and accepted Christ. But for others, even though they are God’s people and have a heritage of being cared for by God, their physical lineage does not secure them a relationship with God under the new covenant. To help make this point, Paul uses Abraham as an example. Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac inherited the promises and not Ishmael, even though Ishmael was firstborn. Another example Paul provides is that of Jacob and Esau. Even before they were born, God had purposed that Jacob would be the prominent son. This election by God is referenced as “not of works but of Him who calls,” suggesting that our destiny is bound up not only in the choices we make but also by the foreknowledge of God. God’s election in this sense is a mystery to us; we know that our free will determines our destiny, but God’s sovereign will plays a part in the tendency of belief and obedience. We will not truly understand the nuance of God’s election and our free will this side of eternity, but we should be amazed by God’s power and ability to see all from His divine perspective. His living outside of time and other factors must play a part in His purpose for creation.

The chapter continues in verse fourteen to affirm that it is up to God to determine who receives mercy, compassion, and salvation. The fact that God defines true justice is a given; we know there is no partiality and therefore our faith prompts confidence in His judgment, as well as some healthy fear. The point of verses fourteen through eighteen is that God decides our fate based on His righteous judgment of each of us, but that there is still a bit of mystery in the process. “Him who calls,” in respect to His divine perspective and perfect wisdom and judgment, considers many things unknowable to us when He weighs our hearts and executes His judgment.

Verses nineteen through twenty-four have a humbling affect in the midst of this complex discourse on judgment and God’s perspective on mankind. We need to count it a blessing simply that we have the knowledge of God and Christ that saves us. To question God’s judgment, methods, or rationale is absurd. To drive the point home, Paul uses the simple illustration in verses twenty through twenty-four: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”

Paul attempts to explain the unknowable complexities of God’s plan by submitting the ideas of vessels made to demonstrate God’s wrath and vessels made to demonstrate God’s mercy (vessels = people). It is important to note here that Paul is not saying that God designs some for punishment, but He is making that point that if God decided to do this, who are we to question? We are His creation, completely under His control and at His mercy. Gratitude, not contempt or insolence, should be our response to His blessings and judgements alike.

Two verses are then quoted from the minor prophet Hosea to show that God had purposed to call both Jews and Gentiles to Him. The passages quoted from Isaiah that follow affirm Israel’s place in God’s plan through Jesus Christ. Christ was the seed that came through Israel, but that does not mean that all of Israel will be saved; Jews and Gentiles alike will be saved through Jesus, dependent on their belief, strength of faith, and obedience.

The final three verses of this important chapter sum up the discourse through the lens of law versus faith. The Israelites, who sought to serve God through the law as commanded, were not justified through the law but now have their chance to be justified by faith in Jesus. If the Israelites deny Christ and continue in the law, they are not justified. Likewise, the Gentiles, having access to God through faith in Jesus, also have the opportunity to be justified by faith in Jesus.

Where does that leave us? Most of us are not Jews practicing the Old law. If we were, it would behoove us to recognize the law in its proper place and instead turn to Christ. But as Gentiles, we are today faced with the very personal question: “Do I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” If we do, we are bound to listen, study, and obey the Words of the Son of God.

What do you believe?

Romans 8: Walking in the Spirit

This chapter contains a masterful treatise on mankind’s prime conflict of the flesh vs. the spirit. We have delved into this subject in previous chapters in Romans, and Paul goes even deeper here, explaining aspects of walking according to the flesh vs. walking according to the spirit.

Verses. 1-17: Flesh vs. Spirit

In addition to the obvious dichotomy of the flesh vs. the spirit, Paul also makes mention of how the old Mosaic law depended more on the flesh and physical things compared with the new law under Christ, which is spiritual in nature. In clear yet deep discourse, we are shown the negative results of walking in the flesh compared with the abundant blessings received when we endeavor to live spiritually.

Flesh

  • Law of sin and death
  • Weak
  • Set your mind on worldly things
  • Antagonism towards God, cannot please God
  • Body is dead due to sin
  • Living according to the flesh brings death
  • Bondage

Spirit

  • Life in Christ brings freedom
  • Righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled
  • Set your mind on heavenly things
  • The Spirit of God dwells in you
  • Spirit is life due to righteousness
  • If led by the Spirit of God, you are children of God
  • Adoption by God

Verse 12 sums the deepest takeaway up very well: “we are debtors—not to the flesh…” We are indebted to God because we live in the flesh but according to the Spirit. In other words, God has given us a way to live in harmony with Him while we are still in the flesh. We maintain this harmony by walking in the Spirit, meaning that we seek to fulfill the needs of the spirit over the needs of the flesh. We incorporate Christ’s example, His teachings, and His ways into our lives. We sacrifice what we want for what He would want for us. We seek God in study, prayer, through serving others, and in so doing we deny ourselves and glorify God. And “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” God makes the impossible possible through the Spirit.

Verses 18-39: More Than Conquerors

We are all waiting for the next thing. It is part of being human. We crave news and the next new thing. People are at once scared and fascinated by the afterlife. What is coming next? Where is this all leading? For Christians, we know that Christ died for us and that we are promised “heaven,” but we do not know exactly what that means. We will be in the presence of God, awash in His glory, but what will that be like for all eternity? We can surmise, we can daydream, but the truth is that no one of us has concrete answers. Alternatively, we can rest in the confidence given to us by the inspired Word of God: “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

No matter how bad life is or how bad it seems, it is not even worthy to compare with the glory that awaits us in the afterlife. Verses 18-25 has Paul zooming far out on the creation story, describing that God created us in the hope that we would love and cling to Him, but that we would eventually require the most precious sacrifice for redemption. From God’s side, He sacrificed His son because He loved us so. But from our side, we are left waiting on a deity we cannot see, which increases the importance of His return.

In the confusing challenge of life, we pray and we seek God’s help, sometimes not even knowing what it is that we desperately need. Enter the Holy Spirit, who communicates to God on our behalf the deepest yearnings of our heart. When our desires overlap the will of God and He desires to answer our requests (made with and without our knowledge), God grants us our deepest desires. What a mysterious and alluring comfort that is.

When we love and serve God, sacrificing our fleshly lives to serve Him in spirit, He blesses, justifies, and glorifies us. When we have a God that so lovingly created us, forgave us when we sinned against Him, and accepted us when we repented, the only sensible, logical option is to serve and love Him. What foolishness it is to turn our backs on Him and surmise that a future (here and in the afterlife) would be worth living without Him. In Him we are protected, in Him we are justified, and in Him we find the only purpose we have that has real consequence. When we are in the face of such power and obvious superiority, it is foolish to deny Him. Then, consider the love He shows, and the effort He expelled to reconcile us, and the result is to create in each of us a devotion to God that is unending. In the latter part of this chapter, a verse is taken from Psalm 44: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

This poetic willingness to suffer for the One that has given us everything is a balm to the tortured soul. It is the answer to life’s questions and it invigorates us towards the right priorities over the trivialities of the flesh.

Put simply, God has made us conquerors of a malady of our own making. And nothing can erase our success except the proclivity to satisfy our own weak and foolish flesh.