What Do You Think of the Gospel?

Explore the Bible Series

September 4, 2005

 

Background Passage: Romans 1:1-17

Lesson Passage: Romans 1:1-5; 8-17

 

Introduction: How could anyone measure the historical and spiritual influence of the Epistle to the Romans?  Perhaps no book in the Bible has played so significant a role in the lives of God’s people as this letter. 

 

The Church at Rome:  Scholars know little about the founding of the church in Rome.  Acts 2:10 records the presence of visitors from Rome at Pentecost, both Jew and Gentile.  Perhaps these sojourners in Jerusalem returned to preach the gospel in the capital of the empire.  Some Bible students surmise that early Christians, as they scattered over the trade routes of the Roman Empire, carried the good news of Christ to the preeminent city of Italy.  Whatever the case, a vibrant Christian witness thrived in the city by the mid-first century.  The church, it appears, was comprised of both Jewish and Gentile converts.  Paul’s references to the Old Testament indicate that many of the Roman believers possessed an impressive familiarity with the Jewish Scriptures.  The preponderance of proper names, in Romans 16, are Gentile in origin.

 

The Authorship and Date: The Apostle Paul wrote this book, in all probability, at the end of his Third Missionary Journey (late 50s A.D.).  The first few verses of Chapter One indicate that Paul had never traveled to Rome (See 1:10 and 15:23-24). Of course, Paul eventually was constrained to go, in bonds, to the Imperial City; so, the Epistle to the Romans predated Paul’s imprisonment (See Acts 28:11-31) by a few years.  Romans 15:24-25 reveals that Paul intended to travel to Jerusalem with an offering to bring famine relief to the Judean believers.   At the beginning of Romans Sixteen Paul commended a woman named Phoebe who lived in Cenchrea, the nearby seaport of Corinth. Curtis Vaughn and Bruce Corley deduce that Paul commissioned Phoebe to transport this letter to the church at Rome, and they conclude that the Epistle to the Romans was composed in Corinth.

 

Occasion and Purpose: Perhaps three views deserve consideration.

  1. Paul may have written Romans as preparation for a future visit to Rome.  As stated earlier, Paul clearly intended to travel to Spain, and, on his way, to invest time with the believers in Rome.  The Apostle would have understood the importance of Rome to the advancement of Christianity.  It was the political, social, and economic epicenter of the Mediterranean, and a vital Christian witness would prove strategic for the entire region.  This letter, Paul’s great theological treatise, would help ensure the doctrinal soundness of this important church.
  2. Paul certainly had concerns about the “Jewish question”, and he may have written this epistle, in part, to answer the criticisms of Paul’s Jewish antagonists. The book, again and again, addresses issues related to God’s dealings with the Jewish people. Perhaps Judaizers troubled the believers in Rome in much the same way they stirred problems in several other places where the gospel thrived.
  3. The Apostle Paul may have written the Book of Romans as a great summary of the gospel he preached.  Perhaps he anticipated that his ministry was drawing to an end.  His enemies had plagued him from the time of his conversion in Damascus (See Acts 9:23-25), and, on at least one occasion, the apostle was stoned by a riotous mob and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20).  Three missionary journeys, no doubt, took their toll on Paul, and he may have foreseen the possibility that he would not survive much longer.  As he approached his later years, Paul may have wanted to record a systematic, orderly summary of his theology.  Of course, Paul wrote this book because the Holy Spirit moved him to do so, and the timing and content of the epistle rest in the sovereign purposes of the Almighty.

 

Outline of the Passage:

 

I.       Salutation (1:1-7)

A.     Paul introduction of himself (v. 1)

1.      “a bondservant of Jesus Christ”: Paul’s identity, as he saw it, grew from his relationship with Christ.  Above all, Paul was a bondservant (“doulos”: the lowest of menial servants) of Christ.  This designation exalts Jesus as Lord and centered Paul’s self-awareness in his own recognition of the Lord’s sovereignty over the servant’s life and conduct. 

2.      “called to be an apostle”: An apostle is one whom God has sent with a clear, authoritative message.  The “sent one” has no authority of his own, and the message he brings is not of his own invention.  He comes as a representative and in the authority of another. Of course, the New Testament often used this term to refer to a particular office entrusted to a small group of men who were authoritative eyewitnesses of the life and resurrection of Jesus. 

3.      “separated to the gospel of God”:  God had set Paul apart for a holy and specific purpose, the preaching of the gospel. 

B.     The gospel Paul preached (vv. 2-6)

1.      “which he promised before through the prophets in his Holy Scriptures”: As we will see again and again in the Epistle to the Romans, Paul saw the gospel as the fulfillment of promises made in the Old Testament.  Indeed, the Old Testament served as a kind of signpost pointing to the revelation of the Son God.

2.      “concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born according to the seed of David…”: The promises that God made to King David centered on the coming of the Lord Jesus. The Davidic Covenant (II Samuel 7) is fulfilled in Jesus Christ; thus, Jesus is the King, not only of the Jews, but his royal prerogative extends to the whole world.

3.      “declared to be the Son of God…by the resurrection from the dead”: The resurrection did not make Jesus the Son of God; rather, it declared him to be the Son of God. This declaration came to the world in the power (“dunamis”: might) of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection, viewed properly, served as an authoritative declaration of the glorious character and office of the only begotten Son of God.

4.      “Through him we have received…”: The blessings of God come to man mediated through the person of Christ.  No saving mercy proceeds from the Father that does not come through the mediation of the Son.  He alone mediates these blessings to God’s people.  Among these wonderful bestowments are grace, apostleship, obedience of faith (this could refer to the obedience which consists of faith or it could means the obedience that faith produces), and effectual calling.

 

II.     Paul’s Pastoral Concern for the Church at Rome (vv.8-15)

A.     Paul’s appreciation for the Roman church (v. 8): The apostle thanked God for the influence of the Roman church in “the whole world.”  This church made her presence felt.  It was, so to speak, a conspicuous congregation. 

B.     Paul’s prayer for the Roman church (vv. 9-10): Paul did not reveal the content of his prayers for the Roman believers (as he did in other epistles).  The only detail he provided focused on his desire to come to Rome.

C.     Paul’s desire to minister among the Roman believers (vv. 11-15)

1.      That he might impart some spiritual gift (vv. 11-12): This gift may refer to spiritual gifts (Paul focuses on this theme in Romans 12:3-8), but it probably means that Paul desired to encourage and strengthen the believers in Rome. In return, the Romans would bring encouragement to Paul as well. 

2.      that he might satisfy a long-held desire to visit Rome (vv. 13-14): Paul longed to have some fruit in Rome, and he had an obligation to preach to the cultured and the unrefined, to the educated and the uneducated (v. 14).  He was ready and eager to preach the gospel in Rome (v. 15).

 

 

 

 

III.  The Theme of the Book of Romans (1:16-17): Paul mentioned his readiness to preach the gospel in Rome, but what did he mean by the term gospel?

A.     Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (v. 16):  The apostle used a figure of speech called litotes to make his point.  He was not ashamed of the gospel, on the contrary, he felt honored to serve God as a preacher of the gospel.

B.     “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation” (v. 16): “Salvation” translates a term that denotes the broad scope of God’s mercy toward sinners. It reflects Paul’s convictions concerning the Lord’s deliverance and preservation from spiritual danger.  The power of salvation rests in the gospel itself; that is, the efficacy of the gospel does not rest in human invention or ingenuity.  The dynamic force of the gospel centers in the good news of Jesus Christ. This salvation comes powerfully to all who believe, without ethnic distinction.

C.     “The righteousness of God…”  (v. 17): This term practically serves a synonym for “salvation” (See Corley and Vaughn. A Study Guide Commentary, p. 22). It refers to the believer’s status as a result of the saving work of God.  “Faith to Faith” may mean, “from beginning to end, salvation is of faith.”  The Apostle Paul ended this section by quoting from Habakkuk 2:4, “The just shall live by faith.”

 

 

Discussion Questions:

 

1.      What is the gospel?  Examine this passage for indications of the content of the good news.  Compare Paul’s introduction to the Book of Romans to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36). What common themes can you identify?

2.      Examine Paul’s description of his prayer for the church at Rome.  How did he pray?  How should his prayer inform us in praying for our home church?