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Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Pauline Letter Structure and the Letter to the Romans


Introduction

Most of Paul’s letters to Christians of different cities and towns begin with three things. He opened them by identifying the sender (himself) and the addressee and gave a greeting. Next, Paul prayed over the people to whom he wrote offering thanks to God for them (except for Galatians and Timothy). Finally, he wrote a summation of the main theme of the letter. After the typical Pauline opening to his letter, within the remaining parts of the letter, Paul delved into the purpose of his writing to the city, village, or town, the body of the letter. He ended with a final greeting and prayer over the people to whom he wrote.  Paul kept to this structure in his letter to the Romans.

In this Bible study, we will consider the first of the three parts that make up the beginning of the letter to the Romans. The three parts that make up the beginning of Romans include the opening, thanksgiving, and summation of the main theme. Verses one through seven are the opening. The thanksgiving for the Romans is in verses eight through fifteen. Verses sixteen and seventeen include the summary of the main theme of the letter to the Romans. The Bible study after this one will include the remaining two parts of the beginning of the letter to the Romans.


The Opening

Paul’s opening to any of his letters was not what we consider as an opening today. Considering Paul’s training in the Jewish laws-a Pharisee-and his calling by Christ to be His apostle, he insured people recognized his background and authority for teaching and preaching so no one would doubt his earnestness and the authenticity of the gospel of which he spoke. Added to this, in his opening statement, Paul made sure the people heard the basics of the gospel. To his mind, his identity was tied in to the story of the gospel. The next part of the opening tells the reader to whom Paul addressed this letter. In the process of telling to whom he wrote the letter, Paul reminded them of who they are through Christ. The final part of the opening is Paul’s greeting to the addressees, his blessing of them. Let’s now consider the different parts of the opening of the letter to the Romans.

Paul’s Identity

In the first verses of chapter one, Paul told the readers and hearers who he was and his authority to preach and teach, and summarized the gospel. Consider now what he said in verses one through six,
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of the faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ. [Romans 1:1-6 (NASB)]

Paul quickly identified himself as the writer (originator) of the letter with his first word in this letter. He then declared who he was. Paul declared himself a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. The term bond-servant comes from the Greek word doulos and means a person who gave him or herself up to another person’s will. A bond-servant devotes him or herself to another person and his or her will with disregard to his or her own interests. Paul voluntarily gave away his rights to his life and will to serve Christ and advance His cause among all people of the world. He made himself a permanent servant of Christ and gave away his rights to do what Christ wanted of him. We need to understand the significance of this action by Paul. Roman citizens by birth, such as Paul was, would never make themselves a slave to another person. Romans prided themselves on their freedom. Paul voluntarily and willingly gave up such freedom. He chose to give his life to Christ to serve Him. Paul chose to be a bond-servant to Christ to be used for whatever His purposes would be and to die for Him if asked. He devoted himself totally to Jesus Christ. Paul used the term bond-servant to describe himself in the letters to the Romans and the Philippians.

The next term we must notice is what Paul called Jesus. He called Him the Christ. The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, which means anointed. Christ was the Greek term for the Hebrew word Messiah. For Paul to call Jesus the Christ meant he recognized and acted upon that recognition that the Messiah of whom the prophets foretold would come from Yahweh had come in the form of a man and His name was Jesus. Jesus the carpenter’s son, the one whose preaching career lasted about three years, whom people followed, whom the Jewish leaders persecuted and crucified, and against whose followers Saul (Paul before salvation) persecuted, is the Messiah, the Christ sent from Yahweh. Paul, no longer Saul the Pharisee and persecutor, proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the awaited Savior of the Jews, when he called him Christ Jesus.

Saul sided with Christ Jesus and accepted His forgiveness and salvation. In Antioch of Syria, he began going by the Greek version of his name, Paul. He accepted Jesus’ calling on his life as an apostle. The word “called” comes from the Greek word kletos. It means invited by God to have eternal salvation and to do something for God as divinely selected and appointed by Him. Paul accepted that Jesus is the Christ. He tuned his heart to God and understood His calling to him to receive salvation and appointment. Paul accepted and took upon himself the role to which God called him, the role of apostle.

This role as apostle comes from the Greek word apostolos meaning to be a delegate or messenger. God made Paul a messenger of His good news of the gospel of salvation for each person who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. This role of God’s apostle came with two parts. These two parts came from God, the setting apart of Paul and the purpose, to share the gospel. God set apart apostles for His service. The verb “set apart” comes from the Greek verb aphorizo meaning to mark off from others by boundaries or to appoint and set apart for a specific purpose. Previously Paul, being from the tribe of Levi, was set apart in the Old Testament by God to be part of the priesthood in Israel. Now, with the Messiah having come, God set Paul apart for a new purpose. This purpose is the second part of God’s calling of Paul to be His apostle. Paul’s set apart-ness was for the purpose of sharing the gospel. The gospel (euanggellion) is the good news of the kingdom of God soon being set up and His Son, Jesus, coming to be the Messiah, the Savior of all people.

The Basics of the Gospel

Paul made sure the people knew the basis of this gospel for which God set him apart to be His messenger. He wrote of this with the next three-and-a-half verses, 2-5a. In these three-and-a half verses, Paul gave at least ten statements about the gospel. The first is God promised this gospel. The word “promise” comes from the Greek word proepaggellomai and means to announce or say ahead of time as a promise. Paul stated God announced this gospel would happen before it occurred. He prophesied about this gospel through the priests and prophets of the Old Testament. Paul again spoke of this promise by God to Titus in Titus 1:2. Luke said this, too, in Acts 3:18 when he said, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He has thus fulfilled.” (NASB) God promised, He announced ahead of time, His plan to send the Messiah.

How did God promise this gospel? How did human ears hear of this promise of God for the gospel? Paul (and Luke) said God sent prophets beforehand. These prophets were people moved by the Spirit of God as His spokesmen declaring solemnly to people what God said to him or her by divine inspiration relating to the cause and kingdom of God and human salvation. A prophet tells of God’s plans for salvation for humanity and tells about God’s kingdom. God promised His gospel. He promised it before it happened and let people know about it through His prophets.

Besides this, Jews and other God-followers would know of God’s promises of the gospel through the written Scriptures. These Scriptures tell what the prophets of God said to people. Holy Scripture verifies prophets divinely inspired by God foretold what occurred, God’s gospel (vs. 2). This shows God’s plan was to provide salvation for people. Scripture is not just a history book, but a testament to who God is and His plans for humanity-to love and bring them back into relationship with Himself.
These holy Scriptures tell of the what God promised beforehand. The prophets of God spoke about the Son of God, the Messiah. This Son of God was born as a descendant of David according to the flesh (vs. 3). John confirmed the Son of God became human in John 1:14 when he said, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (NASB) The Son of God came into the history of man, born as a man, so He could live as a man tempted, but never sinning. This Son came as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that his reign would never end. Jesus was a descendant of David and is eternal. God kept His promise to David through Jesus.

The gospel declared the fulfillment of God’s promise to David through the birth of God’s Son in human form in the historical timeline of humanity through the seed of David, as his descendant (vs. 4). Added to this, the gospel declared the Son of God with power. Satan recognized Jesus’ power as the Son of God and tempted Him to use His power and prove it in Matthew 4:3. This inherent power as the Son of God, this dunamis (the word from which we get our word dynamite), gave Him power over death with His resurrection from the dead.

On top of this, this Son of God, Jesus the Christ, is holy. He came with the Spirit of holiness. This “holiness” comes from the Greek word hagiosune meaning majesty, holiness, and moral purity. The Son of God intersected the human historical timeline as the Son of man coming with power, majesty, moral purity, and holiness. He was the fulfillment of the promise God made to the prophets and Israel.

This Son of God is Jesus Christ our Lord, Paul said (vs. 4). The word “Lord” comes from the Greek word kurios meaning master and lord, and deserving respect and reverence. Jesus is the Messiah. Through Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Paul said each believer received grace. The gospel is about the grace of God given to humanity through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This grace from God comes through Jesus. The word “grace” comes from the Greek word charis, which is undeserved favor from God that brings joy and delight. Grace comes through Jesus Christ’s mediation for each person on the cross. Through this same grace, Paul said he received his calling to be an apostle (vs. 1 & 5a). He did not deserve to receive God’s favor, no one does. God blessed Paul with it through Jesus’ mediation for him on the cross. Christ’s sacrificial death for the sins of humanity provided the cleansing from wrongdoings against God and other people. Jesus, on the cross, took the penalty-the judgment and punishment-each person deserves for his or her sins, so each person could receive God’s gracious cleansing of his or her sins.

Through this same grace, Paul received God’s call to apostleship. Grace is the gift from God no one deserves or can earn, but which God gives because of His love for each person. Through God’s grace, He sets apart each believer to be His child. God makes each believer holy by Jesus’ sacrificial death when the person believes in Him as Savior and repents of his or her sins. That is God’s grace; people cannot earn it. Paul said God calls every believer-people who receive His grace-to apostleship. He calls each believer  to tell others the gospel. God sends them out-grants them apostleship-to tell other people the gospel. Jesus said this, too, in Matthew 28:18-20 when He gave His great commission to every believer. Jesus said in this verse,

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)]

The gospel God promised beforehand and proclaimed through His prophets came through His Son, born into the human timeline as a descendant of David. This fulfilled God’s promise to David of an unending kingdom over Israel. This Son is also the Son of God who came with power and holiness and is Lord. Through this Son of God, we each have access to receive God’s grace through belief in His Son, Jesus Christ, and received His calling of apostleship. After this explanation of the gospel of truth by Paul, he returned to explaining his personal calling by God.

Paul’s Identity-Redux

Once Paul explained the gospel, its foretelling and promise by God, and its power and the grace by which God gives it, he returned to his identity because of Christ. He said in verse 5b what the purpose of his apostleship was. His apostleship was “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul’s duties as a called apostle of God were to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. In verse five, he said this meant his duties as a messenger for God of the gospel was to preach persuasively and teach rightly so the hearers who were not believers would obey the conviction of God on their hearts and by faith accept the grace, forgiveness, and salvation He offers them. Paul said he was to teach persuasively so believers would be convicted to obey God in each area of their lives.

Paul continued by saying his apostleship to God, his calling by God to be His messenger, was to go to the Gentiles, people of non-Jewish background. When Paul spoke of Gentiles in this letter and others, he meant Gentile Christians most often, though he wanted to persuade non-believers to accept God’s grace, forgiveness, and salvation, too.  Paul did not want to receive praise for his teaching and preaching. His identity remained in God and he wanted Him to receive the thanks and glory. Paul preached and taught for the “sake of Jesus Christ” so all people could hear of God’s gospel.

Finally, Paul stated God calls each believer. He meant God divinely appoints each believer in Jesus Christ to be a messenger, a bearer, of the good news of the gospel. Paul heard aurally from the Lord to go be His apostle. In Matthew 28:18-20, Christ also commanded each believer to go tell the good news making disciples and baptizing them. Paul made sure each person who read or listened to the reading of his letter knew God called them to share the gospel, to be His messenger, too.

The Identity of the Addressee

From the end of verse six, Paul led us to know to whom he wrote this letter. To the “called of Jesus Christ” from verse 6a, he said in verse seven,
To all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 1:7 (NASB)]

No doubt arises for whom Paul dictated this letter. He wrote to Roman Christians. Paul used two terms to describe the Romans. He said God called them beloved-dear, precious, and loved. God esteemed-valued-them. Paul said these precious and valued ones of Rome God called saints. To our minds, saints are people who are sin-free and holy. Yet, how can that we call human holy, people who are fallible and sinful? The Greek word Paul used for “saints” is hagios. Hagios means to be different as in set apart from other things, holy unlike other things that are unholy. God set the Israelites apart for Himself and called them holy. This did not mean they were sinless, but that God made them holy for Himself, just like His temple was holy, a place different from other places and set apart for Him and His worship. For Paul, saints were holy, different from other people because of what Jesus Christ did in and to them. He cleansed them with his atoning sacrifice, His death on the cross for their sins. This means each believer in Jesus Christ is a saint, cleansed by Him and set apart as different from non-believing people of the world. They are saints to God because He called them and made them holy. Paul called the Roman believers saints because of God’s cleansing and calling on their lives.

The Greeting

After Paul addressed the believers in Rome, he greeted them with blessings. Paul greeted them by saying three things in verse seven. Let’s consider the greeting closely. The greeting is in the form of a prayer for the Romans. Paul asked for God’s grace over them. This grace once again comes from the Greek word charis and means the joy and unmerited favor of God. Paul asked for God’s peace on the Romans. The Romans understood peace from a worldly view. The Romans valued pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Their world was chaos and disturbance free. The peace Paul prayed over them comes from the Greek word eirene. It means tranquility, harmony, security, prosperity, and the peace the Messiah gives of an assurance of salvation that fears nothing on earth.

 When Paul prayed these two things over them, he prayed to God the Father and Jesus the Lord. He knew the grace and peace of the Trinity is everlasting and abundant. Paul prayed for the Roman Christians to have abundant and overflowing joy and peace. This kind of peace can only come from God. Paul recognized this and emphasized it for the Roman believers who expected joy from their ways of life and worship, and peace from their government. Paul emphasized true joy and tranquility comes from God through Jesus Christ. Paul remembered the Aaronic prayer over the Nazirites, the person set apart from birth as God’s anointed. In Numbers 6:24-26, Aaron said, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you and give you peace.” (NASB) Just as Aaron asked a blessing of God’s grace and peace on the Nazirite, Paul prayed a blessing over the Roman Christians in his greeting.

Paul greeted the Romans with a blessing for God’s grace and favor, and His joy and peace. He recognized two types of favor, joy, and peace exists, and prayed the eternal blessing of grace, joy, and peace be upon them. Such a wonderful way to introduce one’s self to others and to begin a relationship. Paul desired to be with the Romans. His heart already leaned toward them. Paul’s first contact with the Romans should be a model for us today. Pray for God’s peace and grace on the people you will meet and who you may not yet have met. What greater blessing could there be other than God’s blessing of Himself and salvation?


Conclusion

Paul packed a large amount of information into the opening of his letter to the Romans. He introduced himself, his background, and his authority to the Romans before he spoke to them about what God put on His heart for them. Paul explained the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s power, and the grace God gives through it. He continued by declaring all believers are saints, holy, through God’s making, His calling them to Himself. Finally, he stated for whom his letter to address.

As we go through this power theological letter and treatise to the Romans, we will learn and understand major components of the theology of faith in Jesus Christ, like justification, salvation, and sanctification. We will understand more about God and his righteousness and wrath, and love and mercy. More than anything, if we each obey the conviction God puts within our hearts while studying this letter, we will grow into a deeper relationship with God and become more like Him.

Today, we each must walk away with these questions:
1.      Do I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
2.      Have I repented and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior?
3.      Am  I living out God’s calling on my life to be His bond-servant by going and telling people about His gospel?

We must understand, ever person has sinned and will continue to sin. We are sinners. Yet, we can be justified, made just and in right relationship with God, by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Every person sins and deserves the penalty for sins-death, which is eternal separation from God. But God, great in His love and wisdom, gives grace to all who believe.

So what are you going to do about it?

* Believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and be made holy by God’s grace
* Tell other people about the gospel because God set you apart to do that and Jesus commanded it of all believers, made you holy, and put His heart of love in you to love people as He does.

It’s always your choice.