Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 1:8a “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ
for you all,”
Luther often referred to Christianity as the religion of possessive pronouns. Anyone can say “God,” but only a Christian can say, “My God.”
Romans 1:8b “That your faith is spoken of throughout
the whole world.”
Even in the midst of a den of sin, the saints at Rome were living cleanly. They had established a worldwide reputation.
The purity of this struggling band, not founded or fathered (yet) by an apostle, was known throughout the world. News had spread without conventions, telephones, radios, mass media, annual reports to the association, weekly mailouts, etc. God sees to it that a genuine work of His Spirit is well-publicized. Whenever and wherever there is real revival, the word gets around.
When real revival arrives, no one has to wonder if revival has come. History teaches that Heaven-sent revival shakes everything and everyone within reach. Not everyone gets saved, but all know that something unusual is taking place.
The Roman church continued as a model to Christendom for generations. It stayed Orthodox and true for centuries. Heresies assailed from many quarters, but Rome, where both Peter and Paul eventually labored, stayed true. In fight after fight, the Roman leadership stood doctrinally true. Hence, its Bishops became stronger and stronger.
Rome became the premier church of the faith. It was the unrivalled and unquestioned leader. But along with esteem, there came pride and apostasy. And the rest of the story is sad.
The great church at Rome lost its lustre. The gold tarnished. They had a reputation of faith, but lost it. Even the strongest light can fade, and the strongest faith wither.
It is sad to look upon the ruins of a fallen civilization, and even sadder to consider the ruins of a great church. Many are the examples of churches whose glory is past tense. The church at Rome is the classic example.
The spirit of a living Church in Rome is not found at the cathedrals there, but rather in the catacombs. Though the smell is musty, and the scene dark, one can sense there the spirit of what was a living faith. The church of Rome is now large and rich, but they were much better off when small and poor, for then they had a vibrant faith.
The Roman church became the center of a faith that oppressed men and suppressed the Scriptures. It became the heart of the system Luther had to topple.
Paul’s epistle to the Romans eventually became Paul’s epistle against the Romans. It was this very book that Luther used to rend Rome’s regime.
Romans 1:9 “For God is my witness, whom I serve
with my spirit in the gospel of his Son,
that without ceasing I make mention of
you always in my prayers.”
The church at Rome had a friend praying for them. Though separated by a great distance, Paul and the Roman church could meet together at the throne of God. They both had immediate access to that common ground. This form of long-distance communication has been around for a long time.
Romans 1:10 “Making request, if by any means now at
length I might have a prosperous journey
by the will of God to come unto you.”
Paul’s prayer all along had been that he might be able to come to Rome. But something always happened to obstruct the fulfillment of his plan. We should be thankful Paul was prevented from traveling sooner to Rome. It is to this delay we owe this wonderful letter. The Lord’s way and the Lord’s time are always best.
Romans 1:11a “For I long to see you, that I may impart
unto you some spiritual gift. . .”
It would happen three years later. His desire to see them was matched by theirs to see him. The church at Rome “came to meet” (AC 28:15) Paul. This Greek word “was almost a technical term for the official welcome of a visiting dignitary by a deputation which went out from the city to greet him and escort him for the last part of his journey” (Bruce, Acts, p. 527).
Paul walked a total of 132 miles on the Appian Way. A delegation met him at Appii Forum, 43 miles south of Rome. Others met him at Three Taverns, 33 miles south of Rome. When Paul saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage” (AC 28:15).
Though in chains as a prisoner, Paul was welcomed into Rome as a dignitary by the Christians. While Rome’s government amassed armies to keep invaders away, their downfall was walking through the gate in chains. All his traveling expenses were even paid by Rome.
Romans 1:11b “. . .to the end ye may be established;”
Paul wanted to share his understanding of the Gospel. He wanted to help them gain a better, firmer grip on their relationship to Christ. Paul not only wanted them to flourish and grow upward in many branches; he wanted them also to grow downward in the root.
We all need help in this area. We all at times share the songwriter’s lament:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
And the most effective tool for establishing ourselves is the Word of God.
IP 2:12 “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby.”
The Word is the food by which the Holy Spirit helps us grow. Paul complimented the Christians at Berea because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily” (AC 17:11).
Romans 1:12 “That is, that I may be comforted together
with you by the mutual faith both of you
Lest the Romans mistake Paul’s attitude and view him as haughty, he adds this verse to verify that he himself is also in need. Paul was going to give to them, but he needed to receive from them in return. They were to be pipes, not sponges. Each side would have to give and receive.
The word “comforted” refers to the strengthening of faith and consolation that we find in fellowship with one another. Paul was hoping for “concurrent encouragement.” He, as well as they, needed strength and courage to banish weakness and depression.
Congregations and ministers need one another. The listeners need the spiritual feeding provided through the speaker; the minister’s encouragement is in the conversion, growth, and response of the listeners.
The conscientious pastor has few opportunities to hear others speak. He is called as Pastor-Teacher and must devote his life to that task. That means he does not sit under someone else’s teaching regularly.
Who is to be the pastor’s pastor? Who will minister unto him? The people to whom he ministers and is pastor. When Jesus had won the Samaritan woman, the disciples offered Him food. He was not interested, however, and said, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (JN 4:32). He had been refreshed by the response of a listener.
The pastor’s encouragement lies, at least partially, in seeing what God has done for the listeners. Are you closer to God than you once were? Are you closer to one another? Has your faith grown? Can you say the teaching of your pastor has helped you know the Lord better? If so, then you are seeing illustrated what Paul meant by saying, “that I may be comforted together with you.”
Romans 1:13 “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren,
that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you,
(but was let hitherto,) that I might have
some fruit among you also, even as among
Paul wants to win men in Rome as he has elsewhere. The Lord is ready to save men everywhere. Rome, like most cities, was characterized by:
A. PRIDE: Rome was the capital of the world. It was the Empire city. Militarism was their pride and joy. Great triumphal marches filled the streets often.
It was a city of wealth. All kinds of tourism, commerce, and business flowed in and out of it. It had a population approaching one million and was as cosmopolitan as New York or London. Truly, all roads led to Rome.
B. POVERTY: The population was increased daily by poor drifters who came to Rome to join the dole-fed urban mob. The city leaders were constantly building huge tenements to house the indigents. These places became wretched slums, islands of overcrowding and squalor.
The city was plagued with the perils of fire, traffic, violent crime, and unsafe buildings. It was better to be a slave, than a free man in the slums of Rome.
These slums played a key role in church history. A fire broke out among them in July 64 A.D. and destroyed half of Rome. Nero had been wanting to get rid of those slums to make way for his huge building plans. He was immediately blamed by the people and needed a scapegoat. He blamed it on the Christians, and persecution of the church by the Roman government officially began.
C. VICE: The Roman historian, Tacitus, described Rome as a city into which “flow all things that are vile and abominable, and where they are encouraged.” Lust, vulgarity, and immorality thrived. Fourteen of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were openly and unashamedly homosexuals. Julius Caesar was known as every woman’s husband and every man’s wife. Nero married young men in public. One of the Emperors had a wife who worked at night as a prostitute for the sake of pure lust.
D. SECULARISM: The average Roman was concerned mainly about his job, his security, and his pleasure. Entertainment was provided in abundant measure to satisfy the masses. The average Roman cared little for speculation about life after death. His universe was wrapped up in this life. He would have been very comfortable with the slogan, “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can.”
Rome was the epitome of carnal, organized paganism. It had everything which was opposed to the nature and character of Christianity, but Paul wanted a shot at it. Paul was not afraid of Rome, and nothing could keep him from going there. The next verses tell us why.