Romans 1:8-15 would be classified as the thanksgiving section of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In the first seven verses of his letter, Paul laid out a general framework of the gospel. What we saw in the last lesson was the gospel was promised through God’s prophets in the holy scriptures. This message concerned the reconciliation of Israel to God, God dwelling with his people, and return from exile. Paul further develops the gospel concept by pointing out that Jesus is the fulfillment of the gospel’s promise. Jesus is Israel’s messiah. Jesus in the way Israel would be reconciled to God. Jesus is the way people are restored to God. But Jesus is not simply Israel’s messiah. The resurrection declared Jesus to be the Son of God in power and is, therefore, Lord of the universe. Paul is preaching this good news to the Gentiles that they also can come into a covenant relationship to God through obedience of faith. Paul continues to discuss the gospel in his thanksgiving about the Christians in Rome.
1:8 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 want you to know, 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. (ESV)
Faith Is Proclaimed In All The World (1:8)
Paul begins his thanksgiving by paying a great compliment to the Christians in Rome. Paul thanks God for the faith of these disciples. Their faith has been proclaimed in all the world. This is very similar to the compliment paid to the Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:8). One can only imagine the powerful encouragement to hear about the faith of Christians who are living in Rome. This letter is written around 57 AD. The emperor at this time is Nero. To live in Rome in the first century as a Christian would be extremely difficult. Under Emperor Claudius, Jews (and so Christians likely also) were expelled from Rome. Nero took the throne in 54 AD, which would have allowed for Jews and Christians to return and settle in Rome again. So the faith of these Christians who are living in the city of Rome is being heard about in the churches throughout the Roman Empire.
They had a reputation worth having. They had a reputation for faith. Paul reiterates this point at the end of his letter. “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you…” (Romans 16:19). We should want to be a local church that Paul could say the same thing. We want to be a group of Christians that Paul could thank God for because our faith is being proclaimed in this area and the impact is catching the attention of Christians in other locations.
We also learn our need to be more expressive about our thankfulness for one another. There is nothing wrong with expressing our thanks to each other for their faithfulness and encouragement. There is nothing wrong with thanking God for the faithfulness and encouragement of one another. Paul did such repeatedly and we see such here. Paul thanks God for the resounding faith of the Christians in Rome. We should thank God for each other. We should be more expressive of our thankfulness for each other. I am very thankful to God for this group of Christians in Palm Beach county. The knowledge and faith of this church is very high. I love the zeal for the word of God and the desire to get down to the truth of God’s message even when that truth may be controversial or different than previously learned or taught. I am very thankful for our shepherds. They work hard and are thinking about you. They do a great job making it easier for me to remain devoted to word of God so that we can grow together into maturity as the family of God. There are men and women here who do so much work behind the scenes that I am very grateful for. You know your work and you know your faithfulness to God in your work. Your work is appreciated and observed by many.
Serving In The Gospel (1:9-13)
Paul continues his letter by noting his desire to go to Rome and visit with these Christians. Paul wants to serve them in the gospel. Paul makes mention of the Christians in Rome in his prayers constantly. Consider that Paul did not personally know these Roman Christians, yet he prays constantly on their behalf. His knowledge of them and their faith are enough to keep them in his prayers.
It seems that Paul has a two fold desire in Rome. First, he wants to come to these Christians and impart to them a spiritual gift to strengthen them (v. 11). There is much discussion about if this spiritual gift is referring to the miraculous spiritual gifts which were received by the laying on of the apostles’ hands or if the spiritual gift is referring to preaching and teaching to the Romans more about the gospel. I believe that this is referring to imparting miraculous spiritual gifts to the Christians in Rome for a couple of reasons. One, Paul is already strengthening the Christians with his letter. It appears that Paul wants to do more than simply teach them more about this gospel, but that he needs to be in their presence to give this spiritual gift. Also, we must consider the very strong likelihood that the church in Rome was not established by any apostles. We read about Peter being in Jerusalem and Antioch, even into Acts 15. Paul indicates that he had not come to Rome yet, as the book of Acts also reveals. Historical evidence suggests that the church in Rome may have been established by the late 30s or early 40s (Schreiner; Baker Exegetical Commentary). Paul’s fervent desire to go to Rome may also be because he wants to impart to the majority of the congregation the spiritual gifts that we read about in 1 Corinthians 12-14. I am not suggesting that no one had any gifts there. Perhaps Christians with gifts like Apollos or Titus or the like were there and had taught them important things concerning the faith. However, no one but an apostle could pass miraculous spiritual gifts to another. The lack of such miraculous spiritual wisdom and knowledge may also explain Paul’s compulsion to write this letter to Christians about the gospel. Perhaps these Christians in Rome know the basics, but they need more knowledge to grow their faith appropriately. In this, mutual encouragement would be the goal. Paul would come to these Christians and they were going to build one another up.
Second, he wants to evangelize in Rome (vs. 13). He also wants to participate in preaching to the Gentiles in Rome this good news announcement about Jesus as the true Lord of heaven and earth. Paul wants to fulfill his apostolic obligation and servant obligation of announcing the good news to the Gentiles in Rome. This is part of Paul’s longing as he wants to “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.” In Romans 15:22-24 Paul says that he has been hindered from coming to them often. He has longed for many years to come to them. He has completed his work in other regions, so Italy is now the place where Paul wants to spend his time preaching, as well as Spain.
Debtor To The Gospel (1:14-15)
Paul’s motivation for preaching and teaching is the realization that he is a debtor. We see the great debt that he owes as the motivation for his serving in the gospel. But we need to be careful in understanding this debt. Paul does not sense his obligation as some sort of coercion or duty. Rather his obligation and debt comes from the grace of God. Back in verse 5 Paul pointed out that it is through Jesus Christ our Lord that we have received grace. God’s grace creates the debt. It is important that we try to fully appreciate the grace that has been granted to us through Jesus. I know that getting our arms and minds around the extent of God’s graciousness is quite difficult. But we need to come to an understanding that we are wretched, depraved, and sinful individuals who are deserving of God’s eternal wrath and punishment. Wrath is what we deserve. But, by God’s goodness and graciousness, God has extended deliverance, mercy, and love.
But to whom Paul says that this obligation or debt is toward. While we certainly know that Paul is in debt to the Lord for his graciousness, notice that this is not the only debt. Paul is under obligation to both Greeks and barbarians, both wise and foolish. What is Paul’s obligation toward Greeks, barbarians, wise and foolish? His obligation and debt is to preach this good news. Paul considers himself in debt to the world. God’s grace motivates Paul to preach to every person on the earth, regardless of their status, race, or level of knowledge.
If we always saw ourselves in the light of God’s grace, it would change how we deal with people. Once we accept the truth of grace, we would not be self-righteous, arrogant people. We would realize that we are who we are only by the grace of God. We would recognize that we are nothing and not worthy of boasting. The grace of God should motivate us to humility and gentleness. The grace of God should move us to kind and gracious to others.
Further, the grace of God should compel us to reach lost souls. God has been gracious to you and me. How can we sit silently on the good news? How can we not open our mouths and tell others the good news of the announcement of Jesus, enthroned as king of heaven and earth. Evangelism and teaching flows from a recognition of the grace we have received. It is not profitable to beat each of you over the head about the need to be more evangelistic. This preaching of the good news was not something that Paul needed someone to tell him that he needed to more under his duty as a Christian. Rather, in recognition of God’s grace he felt that obligation to reach more and more people. Paul had to continue to move throughout out the empire and perhaps past its reaches to announce the good news to more people.
This is why we need to be excited about inviting our neighbors to services. Not out of sense of duty and drudgery. Rather, because we see God’s grace. We are partakers in his goodness. When we appreciate his grace and goodness, then we will be naturally motivated to speak the good news to others. Let grace be the motivating tool to prompt us to speak, invite, and teach. Look at what God has done for us. How can we not try to increase in his grace? How can we not try to improve in the gifts he has given us? How can we not try to become teachers, encouragers, hospitable, servers, helpers, and so forth? How can we not grow when we fully see his grace at work in our lives?
The gospel is a message of grace. We do not deserve a relationship with God. We do not deserve for God to dwell with us. Israel did not deserve a new covenant being offered. We do not deserve God’s blessings being poured out on us. Do we see that the message of the gospel is a message of grace? God is doing what he promised, even though we broke our end of the covenant! God is restoring and repair all that we have broken through our sins with the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son, Jesus our Lord.
Paul will say this a little later in this letter:
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2)
Let grace, the message of the God’s gospel motivate us to have great faith, to serve in the gospel, and teach the gospel to the lost sheep around us.