5 April 2016

Romans 1:1-7

“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 7)

Psalm: Psalm 65


Gentle words from Paul.

Paul is so often looked on as erudite, if not obscure. He is the one author from the past that I would really like to quiz. A New Testament tutor, having spent some time reading a passage from Romans said, "Now let's work out what Paul meant to say!" To begin with we only ever have one side of a conversation. Paul has written a letter and we can only guess what challenges he was facing, or what errors he was trying to correct, from what he wrote. And we never hear the response.

In Romans we have what feels like a theological lecture, but I feel it was addressed to real people in a real situation who were willing to listen and trying to learn. Paul begins to organise what he and other Christians were coming to believe. This was a time of exploration, recollection and experimentation.

Jesus, they had heard about. People had handed down something of his teaching by word of mouth. But what do you make of these stories with little else to go on? The Roman readers were trying to be like Jesus and a lot of this meant trying to translate what had happened in and around Jerusalem into a new situation. Rome was not Jerusalem. A lot of it came down to relationships, how we live with each other. Following Jesus in the centre of the Roman Empire was going to be different from what it had been by Galilee, but some of the tensions were the same.

They needed a patient teacher who would point them in the right direction - they were going to be saints. No pressure there then! But to be a saint is really to be useful to God.

Paul sets the goal and then uses words that a retired Methodist district chair always used to use to sign off his letters. No 'yours faithfully', or 'yours sincerely' but simply 'Grace and Peace' - grace from God and peace between us. He meant it. So did Paul, I believe, and it's a very good place to start.

To Ponder

  • When you feel sure about what Jesus would do in a particular situation how can you share this graciously with someone who disagrees with you?
  • Jesus lived out his life in Palestine. How would his life be different if he lived where you do?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.