28 January 2014

Romans 1:8-17

“I am not ashamed of the gospel” (v. 16)


For a long time Paul had had a strong pastoral motivation to visit the Christian congregation in Rome, which was renowned everywhere for its faith. Paul had had nothing to do with the birth or nurture of that community. But he longs to add strength and encouragement in the Christian way to his fellow-Christians in Rome. He looks forward even more to the support that he will receive as they share their spiritual gifts with him. Such a mutually edifying encounter would be essential to Paul fulfilling his vocation, to be God's apostle (messenger) to Gentiles (non Jews) in every part of the world.

Paul is searching for common ground between himself and the Roman church: what binds them together is God's gospel (good news of Christ). So in verses 16-17 he restates in his own words the gospel he has already summarised in traditional phrases in verses 3-4. Paul preaches everywhere that in the life, suffering and death of Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, God with unprompted generosity has laid out an offer of forgiveness for sinful men and women; God has promised to deal mercifully and justly with us (God's 'righteousness' has been revealed). Furthermore God has powerfully opened a door to freedom for human beings ('salvation'). By faith, anyone can take advantage of God's offer and promise, and be delivered from the prison of sin and death, to live a new life of love.

In verse 17 Paul cites Habakkuk 2:4. It is meant to clinch his presentation of the gospel. However it is so cryptically quoted that its meaning is uncertain. This is why many English translations of the verse provide an alternative in a footnote. But this slight confusion does not distract from Paul's description of the gospel.

To Ponder

  • Within your Christian fellowship, where are you most at ease in helping others and receiving spiritual gifts from them? Could more be done in your church to build up one another in faith?
  • How have you experienced a visiting preacher or a new face in your congregation? As someone strange, who unsettles you? Or as someone who brings fresh energy and insight to the Christian life?
  • If you were asked to put into words three things of greatest importance in the Christian message today, what would they be? 

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.