The next several verses of Romans explains Pauls longing to visit the church established in Rome:
Romans 1:8-15 (ESV)
Longing to Go to Rome
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
So what can we learn form this. On face value it is the desires of the Apostle simply been expressed to make a visit to the church in Rome. A church, which unlike most of the other Epistles penned by Paul to church’s is one that he had no role in helping to establish.
It is not known how the church in Rome was established, maybe from visitors to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost seeing the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and being one of the 3000 added to the embryonic churches numbers at that time, who knows it is mere speculation.
What we do know is that there were both Jewish converts to Christ and Gentile converts to Christ. And it would appear from Pauls opening words in this section that they were quite active because their faith was been proclaimed in all the world. Just as a side note, we know that there is a degree of hyperbole in such statements. Critics would at times try to impose a literal translation on such phrases as “in all the world” and say either this was impossible as the Americas and Australia were not yet discovered. Of course Paul means the “known world” and even then he probably didn’t literally mean every town, village and hamlet, every valley and mountain top, every continental area and every island, rather, it is a figure of speech meaning, as I am sure you already know, the Rome church had a reputation. This may be obvious, but this is an easy example to use to show such literature devices that are used in the Bible. Been forewarned is been forearmed, as the saying goes.
So the church in Rome was active. This in itself tells us something of the power of the Gospel. At this time Christianity, or “The Way” as the faith was known was a sect, a minority religion and certainly one that worried the authorities. The Romans worshipped an pantheon of Gods and even so, they were moving towards ceased worship and so anything that undermined his authority was frowned upon and usually dealt a fatal blow very early on.
The message of the Gospel was counter-cultural because it placed Jesus on the throne of peoples lives, not Caesar. Oh how things have changed! Caesar has a salad dressing named after him, Jesus is the head of the largest single people movement the world has ever known, the church!
So what does this passage tell us about what our attitude should be? “that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” In these few words we see that Paul has no jealousy regarding the Church in Rome. Remember Paul is a Roman Citizen and considered to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, arguably he could have tried to claim that the church in Rome should be under his oversight. But here we see Paul praying for them and not just praying for them, but praying for them continuously. “Without ceasing” “always in my prayers” what an example for us to follow. I have to confess that all too often I speak to someone and end the conversation with ‘of course I will pray for you’. Then what do I do? Move on to the next thing be it work, shopping, cleaning, cooking almost anything but actually doing what I said that I would do. Paul here shows us an example of how our attitude should be one of constant prayer.
And paul was praying for something that he cannot himself take the glory for.
Pauls desire is to impart some gift to them what we don’t know exactly, a blessing, teaching, encouragement, a revelation who knows. But here is a demonstration of putting the welfare of others before your own. Paul wants to impart a gift to them. By extension the lesson for us here is to fulfil the second great commandment considering the welfare of others before our own, “Love Others as Yourself”.
But Paul also recognises that there may be mutual benefit, he is not lording it over them, he is not so arrogant so as to consider that they cannot minister to him, it is not a one way street.
Our relationships need to be based on this. Those we have regular contact with, our friends, family and brothers and sister in Christ all have gifts and things to impart, no one is higher then the next, we are all equal in Gods sight. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, the one “abnormally born” looked forward to meeting with his fellow believers in Rome not only to give to them, but also to receive from them.
Also we need to note here that the word used in the original Greek translated Brothers in this passage, in this context also means bothers and sisters. All too often people have twisted the evidence of the biblical narrative to place women into a second place, but if the gospel accounts are read and studied carefully Jesus’ interaction with women is radical and empowering. Just some brief examples:
- The Samaritan woman at the well – according to the culture of the day this encounter was wrong on several levels; first she was a woman, second a Samaritan, third had a dubious past, and fourth had a dubious present. Jesus however treated her with dignity, respect and grace
- The woman brought to Jesus caught in the act of adultery – Again Jesus treated this women with respect and grace and did not judge her even though He, the creator of the world was the one person present who had the authority to judge and righteously so. What is telling about this story is how the man who she was caught with in the act of adultery, was notable by his absence. The Jews dragged the woman to be judged by Jesus but somehow the man involved escaped their judgement! In spite of their best efforts she received forgiveness and grace in abundance from Jesus rather than judgement.
- The first people Jesus appeared to and allowed to “discover” His resurrection were women go check out the gospels they all tell the story of that first resurrection Sunday morning.
I could go on, but the reality is that Jesus treated women with respect and equally as he treated the men. There may even be a case for arguing that He treated them better, but that would have been on the basis that by virtue of the society they lived in women could not be priests or teachers in the Temple or Synagogue. There are, as far as I am aware no female priests or rabbi’s. Therefore they by definition, women can not have been in the positions of responsibility that allowed them to be criticised for their hypocrisy that Jesus so often pointed out to the Pharisees and Saducceces of the day,
What strikes me in the final verse that this post is looking at is Pauls obligation. In the original Greek this is quite a strong word in that it can also be translated sinner depending on the context. That is not to say that Paul was committing any form of sin in relation to the church at Rome, but what is does demonstrate is the profundity with which Paul took his responsibilities seriously. I ask myself and by extension you the reader, how obligated do I feel to share the Good News of the Grace of Jesus Christ with people? All to often not obligated enough, yet when you think about the debt of gratitude we owe Jesus for what he did on the cross my apathy towards it is all too pathetic!
Another lesson we get form this verse is to learn who Paul and by extension every believer since, is obligated to? Paul talks about Greeks and Barbarians, the wise and the foolish. Elsewhere Paul talks about there being no such thing as Jews and Gentiles, male and female, free and slave, in simple terms Paul is saying we are obligated to everyone to share the Gospel with them. Barbarians here is not a derogatory term as we would understand it, is simple referees to less educated people when contrasted with Greeks who were the epitome of the educated.
So, we too must not distinguish who we share the Gospel with. God loves everyone we must too, even the unlovely.