Christ Comes to All the World

Romans 15:13-21

Apostle to Nations who’ve Never Heard of Jesus
Paul knew that he was called to a special role, as one saturated in the Law, a Roman citizen, a Greek-speaker, confronted by the resurrected Jesus, sent especially to cities/people across a pagan Roman empire. He worked in Syria, Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece, now Rome, Spain. Paul has a strong sense of Advent. God is always breaking in, coming to new peoples new lives. He’s seen it. Participated. That’s the particular calling he received. Rome’s empire was tied to its own throng of gods. The Jews’ story seemed superstition. – A crucified Jew as Lord? Paul was the instrument of Advent in regions beyond what’s known in Acts – Illyricum.

Christ Opens God’s Welcome

Romans 15:7-13

Advent – Story of the Event that Shapes Us
Advent means “Coming.” The coming of Jesus as Messiah. All that that event means. No one knows Jesus’ birthday, but Advent/Christmas is about structuring life around the events of God’s promises of grace and salvation flowing from his love: Powerful, continuing Drama: One man (Abram) –> a Nation (Israel) –> One man (Messiah Jesus) –> the Whole World.... Paul comes to the climactic end of the main body of Romans: A way of life and relationships that flows from the whole story. The heart of Christian life & ethics – not general morality. Welcome – As the Messiah welcomed You – God’s Glory. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we learn as the permanent heart of God, we learn to practice toward others.

A Harmony that Sings of Jesus

Romans 15:1-7

True Strength -- Loving My Neighbor -- Jesus
A diverse community means that people are at many stages on their journey of faith. Some with long experience, others new, some struggling, others confident, hiding problems. Paul nears the end of Romans, brings together the impact of God's Good News of his Son (1:1-5). 
Here Paul starts with (1) strength contrasted to weakness, lifting up weaknesses, something he's often thought about. (2) He sets that next to pleasing the neighbor, directed love. (3)This flows from focus on Jesus--coming among us, dying for us-- (4) climaxing the long story of scripture. (5) He prays for all the diverse community to shape life by the event of Jesus (6) so that all delight in God's grace for their journey and unite in worship. (7) Do it! 
Paul starts with "we who have strength." Strength is real here, confident faith. But it's easily coopted as power to control, please self. This strength is love, obligated to support others.

Justice, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:14-23

The Importance of What's Not Important
Paul wants us to see that the profound event that God has brought about in Jesus (Gospel) comes to embodied fulfillment in transformation of life through a renewed mind -- a way of seeing ourselves, others, and God through the lens of Jesus -- his life, cross, & resurrection.
This section is marked by confident assertions: "nothing is unclean," "the kingdom of God is...," "everything is clean," "faith." But something happens. The idea of clean/unclean, holy/ common used to be objective, as in so much of the Torah: God is separate from the world. Paul's statements are heretical to Paul's own past. But Jesus happened! Now God has placed at the center of his holiness and love a cross, a scandal, horror, God dying for us. God is different from the world -- his self-giving, serving love is weakness and foolishness to our world, but embodies his power to overcome death's grip on us and give us real life now.

Being Right and Being Right

Romans 14:7-16

Jesus as Lord and the Love that Shapes Life (7-9)
Paul wants the Romans to see the nature of a community that includes people not only diverse in background but in spiritual growth and understanding. He’s used issues of food and of special days, both with long histories and deep emotions, to highlight fundamentals. Everything flows from the heart of the Gospel: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection that puts him at the heart of human existence as Lord – the Lord who conquers death and creates life. Jesus’ cross opens a relationship deeper and more defining than any human structure. Human power stratifications are rendered obsolete by the one relationship of every person in life and death to Jesus/God as loving and saving Lord. That new, direct tie has deep power to shape life because it embodies God’s love for us in our weakness and hostility. Each individual has a distinct relation to Christ, as a loved creature for whom Christ died. Each is called into “a walk” according to that Love seen in Jesus, empowered by God’s Spirit.

Community of Many Minds

Romans 14:1-9

Welcoming When It Matters

Paul is helping the Romans see a basic vision for the new communities that include Jew, Gentile, Roman, foreigner, slave, free, prosperous, poor. At the same time they transform the life and actions of all by the renewing of mind. The center is what happened in Jesus – living in a world created and sustained by the one God seen in Jesus’ self-giving love. This creates a living body with a great diversity of body parts: gifts, cultures, weaknesses. Welcome/accept/take to yourself is the basic theme, tested when serious differences arise. We sense distance: “weak in faith”– eating vegetables? Faith to eat everything? To us “weak in faith” means doubt. We might reverse the terms. For Paul “stronger faith” is seeing the meaning of Jesus’ story to define a relationship to God by real transformation by Grace, Faith, and Love, rather than various religious practices. But Paul knows those practices carry great weight and are a powerful language for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Dawning Light of the Future

Romans 13:8-14

Unfolding the Renewed Life

This is the final section of Paul’s foundational call to a life transformed by renewing the mind, before he begins applying it to problems in the community in Rome. He began by calling them to give themselves – “bodies as a living sacrifice” – not formed by this age but thinking soberly and with faith. Each person is different – parts of one body in Christ. Each has distinct gifts of grace to be used diligently: prophecy, encouraging, mercy...

He unfolds the character of a community shaped by Jesus’ teaching: a peaceable kingdom. Genuine love, honoring others, celebrating in hope, persevering in suffering, serving. Blessing even persecutors. Focusing on the event of Jesus, his humility, self-giving love. Never taking revenge. Living with beauty, excellence, peace. Conquering evil with good. They live under overarching authorities, seeing them as servants responsible to God. Expect them to do their job. Act for the good of others. Deal honestly with imposed obligations.

Living within a Society

Romans 12:17 - 13:10

Looking At Authority from Below and Above

Rom 13:1-7 are verses that have been used and misused in many different ways across the centuries. After Constantine, the church was attracted to the power of the state to enforce conformity (unity). Luther, Zwingli, Calvin all wanted civil authorities to enforce doctrine. King James I of England (KJV) believed in the divine right of kings and made sure the KJV translation supported his view: ‘He is the minister of God’/‘It is a servant responsible to God.’

Paul writes from Corinth to Rome in the time of Nero. Jews had been expelled from Rome. Paul has suffered Roman imprisonment and beatings (Act 16). The emperor cult was flourishing. Paul looks at Roman authority as a citizen/Jew/Christian and as a victim of Roman hostility. Rome’s overarching authority is real and dangerous but Paul knows that it is not ultimate. Paul is reflecting on the worlds the believers live in. The challenge not to let this age mold the believer but to experience the renewal of the mind to live embodying God’s rule in Christ. Peaceable Kingdom and Avenging Authority

A Peaceable Kingdom

Romans 12:9-21

Renewing the Mind in a World of Conquering Evil

Paul writes to a highly diverse church (Jew, Roman, Greek, Slave, Free, etc.) in the imperial capital. People from different worlds of thought. All challenged by Jesus. In eight years many would die under Nero’s persecution. Should they arm themselves? Form a militia? Split up.

Renewing the mind: How to be a community really shaped by Jesus. Learning to think in a new way, with a shared focus (16). Not conquered by evil calling us into its way (21) The danger is not suffering/persecution, but being shaped by the lure or threat of the world’s ways .

Paul starts looking at the diversity of people, of gifts of grace, of ministry (4-8). That sets the challenge of a community that can embody and experience God’s kingdom coming “on earth as in heaven.” He calls them to that reality (9-16), always aware of how things can go wrong. He helps them to think about a hostile world around them (17-20) to resist the strong urge to respond with defensive exclusion and hostility even when it seems justified.

Living Sacrifice – Gift of Life

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Romans 12:1-13

A Living Sacrifice in a World of Sacrifices

Think of Paul implementing Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in the Greco-Roman world. The world around is very religious – sacrifices continually in temples – trying to manage or fend off the evil of the world. Jesus insists on not managing evil but going deep into God’s heart and purpose, really living in God’s reality – simplicity, solid rock, joy, love.

The cities smelled with burning sacrifices. Paul points to a new vision of living sacrifice, the whole person, not just “spiritual” but body, a whole life offering to God, a vision of worship that is logikos, fitting the message (logos), the Word of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection.