23 December 2014

Romans 1:1-17

“Paul ... called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness.” (vv. 1-4)

Psalm: Psalm 25


Paul's letter to the Romans is unusual, in that he is writing to a church which he did not plant and where he may not even have visited. He seems to expect to be known to them by reputation, and his greetings in chapter 16 imply that he knows some of its members. But his opening greeting and thanksgiving suggest that he doesn't take for granted his right to authority in Rome. He longs to visit them, to get to know them and be of service to them (verses 10-11, 13), but he speaks also ofmutualencouragement (verse 12).

Characteristically, in this opening to the letter, Paul identifies himself by relationship to Christ. He is who he is, and writes with the authority that he does, because he is transformed and commissioned by Christ himself. But the largest part of his introduction concerns the identity of the Christ who calls.

For Paul, as for the Gospels, Jesus' status as the Messiah, or Christ, is important. He uses it almost as a title, placing it alongside the name of Jesus: "Jesus Christ". He also goes to some trouble to present Jesus as the subject of the prophetic writings in Scripture (verse 2), as God's own Son (verses 3, 4, 9), and as in the line of David (verse 3), as well as one through whom prayers are offered to God (verse 8). To be the fulfilment of prophecy and in continuity with David is crucial if Jesus is to be seen as messianic. He is, in human terms, descended from David ("according to the flesh"), and in spiritual terms, descended from God ("according to the spirit of holiness"). This divine relationship is shown through the resurrection; an executed messiah should be a nonsense, but Jesus' status is proved by God's power over death. So the human and spiritual descent combine to establish him as 'Jesus Christ, our Lord', through whom we receive grace and are called into faith and, in Paul's case, to apostleship.

To Ponder

  • In Advent, we remember that Christ comes and will come to all peoples, races and nations. We remember that Jesus' birth was waited for, longed for, expected and celebrated by Jews (Anna and Simeon - Luke 2:25-38) and Gentiles (the Magi - Matthew 2:1-12); that people waited a long time or travelled a long distance to glimpse the child whom God had promised. In what ways and to what extent are the Jews and the Greeks, as well as the non-Greek world (the 'Barbarians'), united in faith in this passage? How might our worship today include different groups, languages, races, communities?
  • Paul longs to visit this church community. Rome was the centre of the empire, and very quickly became a key centre in the Early Church. It became a place of pilgrimage, as the claimed site of the martyrdom of both Peter and Paul, and it had prominence as a place of political power. Today, many prominent British churches, within Methodism and beyond, are in London, where political and commercial power are concentrated. Is this helpful or a hindrance? Should we seek to be close to the seats of power, or distance ourselves from them? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.