My notes on Romans 1 and the supplementary information in Tim Keller’s Romans For You.
v 1-7: Greetings
v 1-6: A massive sentence with a huge scope:
- to tell who Paul is and where his authority comes from
- to describe the gospel of Christ and its origins
- to tell who Christ is and what he is doing through apostles like Paul, and
- to “bring it home” by explicitly making the Roman church a part of what Christ is doing
v 7: Greetings! “[you] who are loved by God” is a pretty important phrase that I have almost always glossed over. God’s love is at the heart of the gospel, but growing up I did not understand or believe it.
One thing that’s interesting to me is the phrase “obedience of faith,” which I think is a good, concise description of the faith-vs-works conundrum. True faith brings about obedience; Paul’s mission is to develop the church’s faith to the point where its authenticity is obvious by the church’s obedience.
Keller expounds on the meaning of the words “gospel” and “evangeloi.” They mean basically the same thing: “Angeloi” were heralds, and the “ev” prefix makes the gospel mean “good herald.” Heralds were royal messengers that spread news to the people. Thus, the “good news” of the Gospel.
v 8-15: Purpose of the letter – encouragement
The church in Rome is famous throughout the world for its faith. Paul is encouraged by this, and always prays for these believers. However, this mutually-beneficial relationship is distant; Paul wants to come in person so that they could mutually encourage each other directly, by the giving of a strengthening spiritual gift (Keller says that this “gift” merely means Paul wishes to strengthen their faith) to the Romans and by receiving in the same way. He also wishes to be encouraged in the same way. Keller sees the lesson for Christians here as this: be obedient in humility to both give and receive from each other because this is how the Lord wants his body to function.
Paul often wanted to come to Rome in person, but had never had the opportunity. The letter was a substitute. (Aren’t you glad that Paul was prevented from coming to Rome? If he had not been, we would not have the letter of Romans.)
Finally, Paul states that he wanted to come to Rome in order to preach to the unbelievers there. He feels an obligation from God to share the gospel with all people, which includes the people of Rome (Keller explains that this is an obligation not from owing the people directly, but as a messenger owes it to a recipient to deliver mail from a sender). This is the perfect transition point for Paul to start explaining the gospel from the very beginning.
Actually, not the very beginning. A good point was made during a discussion that the gospel in Romans begins with several presuppositions: that the Jewish God does exist, that we are his creatures, that he is the supreme judge of morality, etc. Thus, the gospel in Romans is being explained to a Jewish audience, or to a group that understands Judaism. To explain the gospel from the very beginning to an unbeliever, additional foundation needs to be laid first. For that, see Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live.