Imagine if you like, a sponge. Soaked with water and that as you rest it in your hand, some of the water drains out over your hand as a simple result of the weight of the sponge and water combination resting in your hand.
The Bible can be a bit like this, it can rest in our hand and we can be blessed as the truths and challenges and blessings it contains naturally flow from it simply because it is the living word of God.
Now think of that same sponge and the effect that tightening your grip has on it. Now the water that was previously content to stay within the sponge is forced out and your hand and most probably your wrest and lower arm are likely to be soaked as the water flows freely from that sponge but more than that, the floor beneath you hand will also be soaked wet as the excessive quantity of water that was previously in the sponge now pours down and rains onto the ground below it.
In a similar way we can “squeeze” the Word of God and the truths and blessings and promises will flow out from its pages in an abundance that we would not have thought possible and very much like the sponge, other parts of us and our surroundings will benefit from the blessings that such study and understanding of Gods Word can bring, and even more than the water in this analogy Gods Word is Living! It will if allowed to, produce a crop of blessings and even souls into Jesus kingdom. So as I write these notes on the book of Romans it is my intention to squeeze the Word and my prayer and hope is that the blessings that are unearthed will overflow and “splash” onto your life giving you a portion of the blessing that these studies have given me.
Of course, analogies and pictures when compared to the eternal truths that are Gods Words all eventually breakdown and in this case this analogy breaks down as soon as the sponge is squeezed so tightly and so completely that it ends up been a dried out, primitive, sedentary, aquatic, invertebrate. Whereas in contrast the Living Word of God is never “dried out”. You can go back to it time and time again and always find something new, fresh or refreshed that you have not noticed before or that hits you with a new and deeper understanding.
A word of caution is also relevant here, our analogy does not allow a twisting of the scripture it is simply one that seeks to extract, at this moment in time, as much meaning and understanding as is possible (which I know is ultimately impossible), but to realise that there is meaning and reason in every word sentence and phrase in God written revelation to us. I will venture into the realms of “what ifs” but hope that I catch these and make sure they are clearly my own thoughts and not necessarily those of established Christendom and likewise there will be times of conjecture which again I hope to capture and clarify. But the primary aim is to feed whoever reads these words and bring all of us into a deeper understanding and relationship with Jesus as a result.
Let’s begin in Chapter 1:
The introduction to the Book of Romans (verses 1-7), ought to be read in its entirety but for the purposes of these notes I shall break them down into the verses that are in use today. Therefore we will be dealing with incomplete sentences and phrases but hopefully if you have the chapter open for you to refer to in reading these notes it won’t be too disjointed
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle set apart for the gospel of God
It is clear from the outset that we realise who the author of this epistle is, it is Paul, formerly known as Saul, the former Pharisee who had stood and watched the martyring of Stephen (Acts Chp 8 v1). At the time of writing, Paul a Jewish convert, but Roman citizen had not managed to visit the church in Rome, even though as we find out in this chapter that he had tried but had been prevented from doing so. Paul had not planted the church in Rome, in fact we do not know who was responsible for its planting but as the capitol of the Roman Empire it is perhaps understandable why Paul would wish to visit apart form his desire to use the visit as a launchpad to take the gospel further afield even to Spain.
Immediately we get into the verse we get a hint of Paul’s character he describes himself as a “servant of Christ Jesus.” Some translations will have to word slave or bondservant which can help us to understand Paul’s relationship to Christ and the example that it sets us in living our lives.
Jesus was and always will, of course, be the ultimate example of the way we should live our lives, and he lived his life as a servant king. He demonstrated His Love for us by serving those around Him whilst at the same time demonstrating amazing authority such that even the wind and waves obeyed him. This brings me to another analogy. Society, in particular western society would have us live our lives in a manner that means we must get to the top, or as close to the top of the pyramid in order to be successful, fulfilled and content. Jesus economy however is quite the opposite, he famously calls that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and teaches us in so many ways to be humble and innocent preferring the needs of others to ourselves, teaching us that the second greatest commandment is to love others as ourselves, showing us through the way he lived His life that we should consider others needs before our own. In order to do this we too must become servants or slaves if you will to Christ we should bond our lives to his in such a way that His attitude to others becomes our attitude to others, that the love He expressed for the lost, the lonely, the hungry, the sick, the infirm, the widow, the orphan becomes ours. This is what it means to be a servant of Jesus Christ. The pyramid is turned upside down and those at the top should be the ones we serve and we, as His bondservants should be at the bottom.
Paul then goes onto describe himself further as one “called to be an apostle” this raises the spectre of an interesting debate that no doubt these notes and our studies in Romans will inevitable come to the fore that of what appears to be two opposing doctrines that of predestination and that of total free will. But for now we can accept that Paul when he was Saul was called by Jesus at his Road to Damascus experience in Acts chapter 9. But what was he called to? Well according to this verse he was called to be an apostle. Many mainstream Christian denominations do not “recognise” the office of apostle in the modern church structure. This is because in the main it was accepted that there were 12 apostles and they were apostles because they had a personal encounter with the Risen Lord Jesus. Clearly Judas was not an Apostle because he had killed himself prior to the burial and resurrection of Jesus. But the remaining 11 all had encounters with Jesus after His resurrection from the dead. Early in the Book of Acts the story is recorded of the Apostles (who as far as I am aware were not called Apostles until after the resurrection), and they drew lots for Judas’s replacement in Chapter 1 we read Matthias was selected to be the twelfth Apostle:
Acts 1:15-26 (ESV)
15 In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, 16 “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. 17 For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms,
“‘May his camp become desolate,
and let there be no one to dwell in it’;
“‘Let another take his office.’
21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” 23 And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Now in reading this text we have Peter, the disciple whom Jesus said was to be called the rock and upon whom he would build his church (which is a whole separate study in its own right), perhaps for the first time taking the “bull by the horns” and doing something sensible, reasoned and well thought out. Notice in the above reading how Peter even relies on OT scripture in the justification of his suggestion. Peter was not just going to let any upstart from Jerusalem take the 12 disciple slot he insisted that the replacement had to be one of the people who he’d walked, fellowshipped and lived with them since the baptism of Jesus and had witnessed Jesus resurrection. So good so far. The casting of lots to help in decision making was not a new concept to the Jewish mind and again there is a whole study that is possible on this, and reference in such a study would be made no doubt to the Urimm and Thurrim stones of Aaron’s breastplate, but I digress, and to top off all this sensibleness surrounding the choosing of the replacement 12th disciple they even pray.
It seems like all the pieces are in place a working partnership with God, sensible decisions, based on scripture and covered in prayer.
The upshot however is that in this they were wrong. Not that they were dramatically and fatally wrong, but they did not understand Gods plan for who would replace Judas, and indeed, how could they humanly speaking. The evidence in all of this? Matthias is never spoken of again in the NT. (that is not to say that Matthias didn’t go on to do wonderful and amazing works for Jesus and that when we meet him in eternity, I am sure he will be able to fill us in, but in Gods overall scheme of things Matthias was not going to play much of a role that would be handed down through the ages).
Rather Gods plan was that Saul the most feared and possibly hated Pharisee of the day would meet with Jesus on his journey to Damascus and come into that relationship with Jesus the one he was persecuting. He fulfilled therefore the essential requirement of apostleship in that he saw the resurrected Jesus albeit in a manner that causes him to describe himself as one “untimely born”.
1 Corinthians 15:8-9 (ESV )
8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Gods plan brought into the Kingdom the man who was ultimately to wrote the lions share of the NT outside fo the Gospels who would have thought it? Who would have dreamed it? No one but God.
Next we move onto Pauls claim that he was “set apart” this brings us to the concept of holiness and the word holy.
What is the image that pops into your mind when you hear the word holy? Is of men in dresses, smells, bells and holy water? Or maybe it is a devout person who seems to be in a constant state of prayer. Maybe a church building, the magnificent York Minster, or Beverly Minster or Westminster Abbey? I could go on, but is this what the word holy really mens in a Biblical context? I would say no, and it never was meant to men that. It simply means set apart, separate.
God intentions for Israel were that they were to be a holy nation, He wanted the to be different from the surrounding nations, set apart if you like in their customs and practices, different and thus by demonstrating this separation and difference they would be a light to the nations.
Similarly we are called to be holy. But not in some pious, “smells and bells” kind of way, but by the way we live our daily lives. Its good to have your head in your Bible regularly don’t get me wrong, but if we don’t look up and see the world around us and be moved to respond there is something wrong. To be set apart, to be holy, means that we are a part of the world we interact with it and we act, live and behave differently. To be holy therefore is not something that is unattainable, but something that is in a sense within our control. Yes of course God by His grace will help us, The Holy Spirt will prompt us to do things that are good and wholesome, to not do things that are damaging to us and others, the Word of God will guide us and be our moral compass and the fellowship of believers (church in its widest sense) will be our support and encouragement.
And the word gospel simply means good news. What is interesting here is that the gospel is considered to be “Gods” gospel, in other places it is clearly referred to as the “gospel of Jesus Christ”. But this is where we can begin to get a glimpse of the complexity of God, (and again this is something we will return to time and time again in our studies). God or the Father clearly had a plan for the salvation of mankind. Jesus was the ‘executor’ of that plan in that He emptied Himself of all but love and died for yours and my sins. The Holy Spirit is the guarantor, the deposit made within us of the plans completeness. I short the Gospel of God is the good news that we can come into right relationship with Him we can be saved from our sinful natures and be sons and daughters of God Almighty. No wonder there are times when Paul, in his writings to the various churches and individuals moves into a stream of praise and worship written down for our benefit praising God for his mercies, Hie blessings and the marvellousness of his salvation. Words really cannot express the joy, peace and wisdom of God all we can do is try.