“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” is the first line of a speech by Mark Antony in the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. Mark Antony, as we recall from reading the play in high school, came to bury Caesar, not to praise him. Mark Antony was Caesar’s enemy! Occurring in Act III, scene II, it is one of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s works. The speech is a famous example of the use of emotionally charged rhetoric.
However, you cannot compare this work to the passionate work of Paul, a prisoner for Christ. Paul’s letter writing to churches, formed under his care and calling from God, have become the epistles from which the Christian church still refers to for how to live life following Jesus. After our journey with Paul through Acts, we continue our journey with his letter to the Romans, which is why the quote above came to mind! (Smiling and snickering.) Paul is still a prisoner for Jesus but is free to write while being chained to a Roman soldier.
The late Eugene Peterson, “The Message”, gives us a wonderful introduction to this first epistle. “The event that split history into ‘before’ and ‘after’ and changed the world took place about thirty years before Paul wrote this letter. The event—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—took place in a remote corner of the extensive Roman Empire: the province of Judea in Palestine. Hardly anyone noticed, certainly no one in busy and powerful Rome.”
“And when this letter arrived in Rome, hardly anyone read it, certainly no one of influence. There was much to read in Rome—imperial decrees, exquisite poetry, finely crafted moral philosophy—and much of it was world-class. And yet in no time, as such things go, this letter left all those other writings in the dust. Paul’s letter to the Romans has had a far larger impact on its reader than the volumes of all those Roman writers put together.”
“The quick rise of this letter to a peak of influence is extraordinary, written as it was by an obscure Roman citizen without connections. But when we read it for ourselves, we begin to realize that it is the letter itself that is truly extraordinary, and that no obscurity in writer or readers could have kept it obscure for long.”
“The letter to the Romans is a piece of exuberant and passionate thinking. This is the glorious life of the mind enlisted in the service of God. Paul takes the well-witnessed and devoutly believed fact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and thinks through its implications. How does it happen that in the death and resurrection fo Jesus, world history took a new direction, and at the same moment the life of every man, woman, and child on the planet was eternally affected?”
“What is God up to? What does it mean that Jesus ‘saves’? What’s behind all this, and where is it going?”
“These are the questions that drive Paul’s thinking. Paul’s mind is supple and capacious. He takes logic and argument, poetry and imagination, Scripture and prayer, creation and history and experience, and weaves them into this letter that has become the premier document of Christian theology.”
What I have learned from reading and studying Paul’s letters to the churches is this basic component…the word “therefore”. All of Paul’s letters/epistles carry this similarity. Therefore, is there, for a reason. Paul begins each letter with telling us who we are in the beginning chapters. In the middle of it all, Paul then shifts with the word therefore; continuing to explain how to live for Christ. I love that Paul, a learned man, breaks it down for commoners such as myself.
Let’s begin with Romans 1:1-17, The Message
I, Paul, am a devoted slave of Jesus Christ on assignment, authorized as an apostle to proclaim God’s words and acts. I write this letter to all the believers in Rome, God’s friends.
2-7 The sacred writings contain preliminary reports by the prophets on God’s Son. His descent from David roots him in history; his unique identity as Son of God was shown by the Spirit when Jesus was raised from the dead, setting him apart as the Messiah, our Master. Through him we received both the generous gift of his life and the urgent task of passing it on to others who receive it by entering into obedient trust in Jesus. You are who you are through this gift and call of Jesus Christ! And I greet you now with all the generosity of God our Father and our Master Jesus, the Messiah.
8-12 I thank God through Jesus for every one of you. That’s first. People everywhere keep telling me about your lives of faith, and every time I hear them, I thank him. And God, whom I so love to worship and serve by spreading the good news of his Son—the Message!—knows that every time I think of you in my prayers, which is practically all the time, I ask him to clear the way for me to come and see you. The longer this waiting goes on, the deeper the ache. I so want to be there to deliver God’s gift in person and watch you grow stronger right before my eyes! But don’t think I’m not expecting to get something out of this, too! You have as much to give me as I do to you.
13-15 Please don’t misinterpret my failure to visit you, friends. You have no idea how many times I’ve made plans for Rome. I’ve been determined to get some personal enjoyment out of God’s work among you, as I have in so many other non-Jewish towns and communities. But something has always come up and prevented it. Everyone I meet—it matters little whether they’re mannered or rude, smart or simple—deepens my sense of interdependence and obligation. And that’s why I can’t wait to get to you in Rome, preaching this wonderful good news of God.
16-17 It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: “The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.”
WHO WE ARE
Redeemed and rescued by Jesus Christ, Messiah, Savior and Lord.
We trust in Jesus. We know Jesus is for everyone.
Jesus is God’s way of putting everyone right with Him.
The person in right standing before God through Jesus, trusting Him, has real life.
Thank you for the writings of Paul after your life, death and resurrection, to remind us who we are and how we should behave to help others know you. Help us to continue to love others like you love us.
In Jesus Name, Amen