Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” - Acts 19:21
The Apostle Paul spoke these words in Ephesus, after helping to plant churches throughout Asia Minor and Greece and in a few years his desire will be fulfilled. Though under house arrest, awaiting a hearing before Caesar, we find him in Rome welcoming all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
This letter might have been written as Paul was nearing his goal, as he is praying that “at last” he might “succeed in coming to [them].” The intended audience is believers: “to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” he writes in the opening chapter. His purposes for wanting to visit, and presumptively to now write, are to “impart some spiritual gift to strengthen” them, and to “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
These statements of audience and purpose are important. While this epistle could be, and would be, circulated generally among churches and even read by unbelievers, there are original hearers who sit in the front of Paul’s mind. Their situation, victories, trials, and temperament, flavor Paul’s letters just as any other correspondence. We’ll treat these letters in the same way we’ve treated the rest of the Bible: as documents designed for listeners who occupied a place and time, by authors who highlight their concerns through style and emphasis.
After a personal introduction and recounting of the gospel of God, in the middle of chapter 1 Paul unfolds humanity’s descent into evil. His opening observation: “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him” leads to futility in their thinking, “and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Each unraveling is launched with “so God gave them up…” “to impurity”…”dishonorable passions”… and “a debased mind.”
In chapter 2 this observation turns personal, as Paul switches to the second person in pronouncing God’s verdict: “Do you suppose, O man…that you will escape the judgment of God?... He will render to each one according to his works.” The justice of such judgment, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, is the theme of the final two chapters, leading to the conclusive, “but now…”
These first three chapters are among the most intense you will read in the Bible. Paul’s style here is not subtle. Remember the intended audience and context from which, and into which, Paul writes. And follow the line of logic – each “since” and “therefore” and “but now” indicates the direction of the argument.
Our verse for this week is Revelation 22:5: And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Romans 1 through 3. Now let’s read it!
And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.