Wednesday

13 April 2016

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v. 1)

Psalm: Psalm 71:1-14


Background

Unless he was gifted with the most remarkable foresight, Paul did not write his Epistle to Rome with the intention that two millennia later people would read it in the privacy of their homes (or even on mobile devices on their way to work). He would have anticipated that the letter would have been read aloud to the assembly. The reader would have taken the congregation through the careful logical argument of the first four chapters; Paul now summarises the point that he has reached and asks what it means for the Christian.

And what it means is that the Christian has a great deal to celebrate (or literally to boast about - verse 3). What God has done in Christ has set us in a new position in which we can look forward to sharing God's glory. That is the first cause for boasting.

The second cause for boasting might have surprised the listeners. Paul talks about suffering as something to be celebrated. It is not clear what Paul means by sufferings - is it the persecution that the early Christians would have known or a more general experience of pain and affliction? To those who are in pain, the idea of boasting about it will seem very odd if not offensive. But what Paul seems to argue is that suffering can enable us to become stronger people through the patience that it engenders and that this increases our capacity to hope in God. This is not some counterintuitive stoicism that denies the reality of pain; rather it is that pain is either insignificant or is a pointer to something much more significant because we already have a sense of what hope in God means. That we are now in a loving relationship with God has been confirmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives (verse 5).

Paul reflects on the wonder of God's love in that Christ died for those who were living as God's enemies. This has achieved reconciliation; God took all the initiative in healing the breach. Paul also believes that what we now experience in reconciliation will be fulfilled in our salvation: this new relationship is for now and for the future. The final cause for boasting of this passage is simply that God who in Jesus has done all this for us.


To Ponder

  • Paul uses the rules and methods of rhetoric in an age when speeches and public readings could last for hours to make his points in a memorable fashion. Try to summarise what God has done in Jesus in a tweet (no more than 140 characters).
  • Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to boast about their experience of God. How would you 'boast' about being a Christian?
  • The difficult part of this passage is the section in which Paul talks about 'boasting about suffering'; we note that he says "our sufferings" not 'your sufferings' (v. 3). Is it ever acceptable to suggest that suffering is a cause for joy? Why, or why not?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

 

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