Romans is written, as you might expect, to Romans. Specifically Roman believers in Jesus.
Paul lays out his master thesis on the Gospel. Most of what we turn to in order to establish our theology of salvation, justification, regeneration, and adoption is found in the book of Romans.
It’s easy to gloss over who the audience was. But you get a sense for it if you read the list of names of people Paul greets in the last chapter:
Epenetus, Andronicus, Junia, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, Aristobulus, Herodion, Narcissus, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus, Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas
Strong Hellenistic (Greek culture) names – Romans by birth and culture.
“The fullness of time” – God sent Jesus at the exact right moment for a spiritual revolution to sweep from little old Israel across the known world. Key factors:
Alexander the Great, “Hellinization”
Gave the world a common language – Greek
Roman Road – transportation system
System of roads to connect the known world
The whole comprised more than 400,000 km of roads
The long period of relative peace and minimal expansion by military force experienced by the Roman Empire in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. Since it was established by Augustus, it is sometimes called Pax Augusta. Its span was approximately 206 years (27 BC to 180 AD).
War is not a good environment for spiritual re-birth.
Paul writes to the Romans, who are:
In the center of culture for the known world
Still strangers and exiles spiritually and culturally
He ends with admonitions to live a counterculture life. What is a counterculture?
A counterculture (also written counter-culture) is a subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.
When oppositional forces reach critical mass, countercultures can trigger dramatic cultural changes.
This is exactly what happened with Christianity over the next few centuries. The message of Jesus leads to complete cultural and social revolution, though this change is won through many periods of intense persecution. In the 300s, Constantine legalizes Christian worship, beginning a whole other phase – the politicization and institutionalization of Christianity.
Back to Romans. Chapters 12-15 specifically.
Live counter to culture.
12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
HOW? What did they do that changed the world? March with signs? Get involved in politics? Go to war?
Humility12:3. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Use your abilities to serve others6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Put love into action– Hate evil, cling to good- Be devoted to one another in love
Practice putting others first
Care deeply about people – rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn
Be willing to associate with those of low position, don’t be proud or conceited
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Love your enemies
Overcome evil with good.
Bless your enemies – do not curse
Do not take revenge. Help your enemies
Have only one debt
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
13:8-10 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Live in harmony with one another
Be a good citizen
Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. (MSG)
If you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Be spiritually awake
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
13:12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Know the time: 13:11 11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!”
Don’t waste a moment on destructive behavior
13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.
11-14 Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!
Accept and love each other, even when you disagree, so God’s goodness is seen.
14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. 19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you?
15:5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Will this really work? Is living like this enough to counter the powerful message of modern American culture? Shouldn’t we focus on media or politics or some other avenue?
In the list on your table, what is hardest for you to do? What do you see the church in America struggling with the most?
Circle two things on the list you believe you need to have more of in your life and interaction with others. Share with your table.
One More Thing
You can tell a lot about people by how they fight. The World Vision debate is a great example.
We might well be witnessing the end of the Church as a legal entity, millennia after Constantine. That may not be the worst thing that could happen…
In the meantime, somehow, we have to find a way to show the world how much we love each other. Best comment I have seen on the subject” : I respect your views, your right to express them, the way you have expressed them, and I completely disagree with them.”