August 21, 2011

Monday after the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, 1 Sam. 16:1-13, Lk. 17:20
Evening - Ps.4, 8, Esther 5, Rom. 1:1-17

Commentary
Romans 1:1-7

Though our evening readings continue in Esther through Wednesday, the commentary is going to turn to Romans, where we will remain for the next four weeks. Written by the Apostle Paul from Corinth around the year 58 A.D., Romans contains the Bible's fullest exposition of the meaning of the life and death of Christ. It is so crucial to understanding the Bible that it may truly be said to understand Romans is to understand Scripture. And the heart of Romans is found in chapter one verse seventeen, "the just shall live by faith." This is the theme of Romans. In academic language we might say it is the thesis statement, for the rest of the book is support for and application of this one, central truth.

In the first 16 verses, Paul explains why he has not yet come to Rome to preach and teach. There has been correspondence between him and the Romans, and he even knows some of the by name. They have probably invited him several times to come and help them understand the Bible, and establish the church in that city. Romans is a promise to come to Rome very soon (1:15), and it is also a short summary of the doctrines and teachings of Scripture. This is what the Church believes. This is what the Church believes about God, about man, and about how the two are able to span the incredible gulf that currently separates them. Romans refutes the generally held supposition that Man is able to span the gulf by doing things of which God approves, generally called, "good works." It is not good works, Romans asserts, that spans the gulf. The gulf is spanned not by Man, but by God, who, in His grace decrees, "the just shall live by faith."

Though our reading officially ends at Romans 1:17, I urge you to read on to the end of chapter one, for immediately after stating that the just shall live by faith, the Apostle begins to show why faith is the only possible way for any human being to be considered just in the eyes of God. Paul assumes that no one is just by his own works. This is crucially important. It would have been silly for God to become a Man, and suffer a horrible death, and rise again and return to Heaven if there were some other way for us to be justified and reconciled to God. In other words, why would Jesus bother to span the gulf in such a horrific way, if we could easily span it ourselves? But, if we are unable to span it, and if not having it spanned consigns us to eternal separation from the source of Life and Joy and Peace, then God, if He is willing to save any of us from that separation, must span it for us. He spanned it for us in Christ.

The cause of the great gulf, the great divide between us and God, is sin. That is the point Paul makes in the rest of chapter one. The wrath of God is revealed "against all ungodliness and unrighteousness." The essence of ungodliness is that men know the truth, but suppress it in unrighteousness. Much of what can be known of God is available for all to see (1:19-20) but they turn away from that knowledge and make their own gods instead of obeying Him (1:26). This is important because it shows that it is people who turn away from God, not God who turns away from people. And they do so knowing what they do is wrong and worthy of the wrath of God which the Bible calls "death" in verse 32. Thus, God simply allows them to follow their own desires.

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