Sermon: Romans 1:1 – 7 (ESV)
1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, 7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Modern Christianity in the New Zealand context is slowly becoming the small voice in society. As post-modernism and atheism spreads through our country so do its tentacles throughout our culture. More and more decisions are being made in social policies based upon the new modern values of individualism, private-ism, materialistic meritocracy and corporate influence through the media.
Everywhere you look the new world order of globalism, capitalism and secular humanism is establishing its rule through entertainment, technology, media, corporate monopoly and social engineering. Slowly we start believing that what we now see is our normal was always normal, and that we are living lives defined by our own choices. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth.
The media and those in control define what we see, how we see it and eventually what we think about it. New Zealand, like most of the western world, is nothing more than a corporation embedded into the global economy meeting the new global powers and corporate elite.
Policies are defined by lobby groups, morality by the influential and truth painted by the agendas we are often unaware of.
Why do I say this?
Simple, this is the reality for the Church in Rome. They were besieged by paganism on every side. False gods, morality defined by the elite, economic forces requiring slavery and poverty to work effectively, constant threats from without that generated fear and therefore dependence on the state to protect the civil community.
In a documentary I recently heard on You tube about North Korea one of the people sneaking movies and TV shows into North Korea stated why he did it “Popular culture has the power to change people’s thinking, and society.” If it can be used to undermined a tyrant do you not also think it can be used to alter morality, human greed and how we see each other?
If you want evidence on this just check out how Googles search engine uses programming to influence what you see in your searches that favour its social policies. Such is its power that professional researches now recognise how this alone can affect election in democracy.
In so many ways this first century church found itself in a similar state – besieged by paganism and anti-Christian sentiment, and also similar social conditions growing in our own country.
Many of those who lived in Rome belonged to the poorer classes who would struggle day to day to make enough to feed their families. Like many New Zealanders it takes two incomes to advance financially in our country. It was common for the poorer families to put their children on the streets in hope that someone might pick it up and take it to be a slave or servant, we abort our children because of financial concerns and stresses.
But, they also had other issues to contend with. Theirs was the work of toil to survive with no real social services but only family or friend to have their back.
Disease and sickness were always close by to take life, along with the uncertainty that rose at times with political issues with in the city itself. Take Emperor Nero who in AD 64 set the poorer part of Rome on fire where many poorer people were killed.
Of course, Rome had many slaves – someone forcibly brought from foreign country, for example, to serve the wealthy or civic authorities till your death. Around 30% of people in Rome were slaves forced to serve the elite.
From where many lived, if they were of the working class, they might live in an upstairs small apartment where they could just work out from a window the hills where the rich live far from the smell and noise of inner city life.
Here they made their way through life struggling to make their “dollar” and buy all their family needs. Certainly, the individualism of our day would not be useful – each person dependant on their family and friends to get by when things got hard.
Imagine you working day in and day out to then find time to meet together and hear from the Word of God – in amongst the harshness of life where hopelessness was common food for the soul you could hear a hope that spoke greater than your suffering. To bring what food you could and share it together as an extended family, to take a moment from the drudgery of life to enjoy those you shared much in common with – keeping in mind that if the political forces choose to they could bring their full power down on you and take everything from you, imprison you or even just execute you.
In to this environment a church of Jesus Christ would feel besieged. This Rome was no soft place for the less fortunate, for those brought from other land to work there or the common roman citizen. For many it was the lights of the big city bringing hope of a new life, wealth and maybe importance. For others a prison.
The joy you would have was when, late after work had been done and you had been able to wipe away the days drudgery, you would make your way to a small room with people who shared the same beliefs, same hopes and the same Lord as you.
At times there would be pagan ceremonies and rituals you would have to attend. As a slave you might be forced to participate under the master of the house gaze, and yet one unwilling to believe and truly submit to their paganism you remain an outsider.
This is a taste of the Christian living in Rome at the time of Paul’s letter.
They were besieged by paganism wherever they turned, and so I see them as a group who felt insignificant at times, wearied by the constant paganism and worldliness around them. Making constant choices about what is good or evil in regards to their faith – should they go to this butcher or that one who sacrifices to a specific god. Do they participate with their family early in the morning when an offering is made to their family god and in memory of their ancestors?
Into this Paul speaks – he writes a letter to give instruction in doctrine and ethics. The what we believe, the way we believe it and the how we live it out. And it starts with a greeting…
Point one: How Paul saw himself.
(ESV) 1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
There is something so simple, and yet so profound in how Paul introduces himself in this letter. Now, remember Paul is an important person to the Church – someone of influence, and considered an important teacher. Even Peter talks about Paul in his own letter:
2 Peter 3: (ESV) And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
Known as a teacher, one who influenced the 1st Century church and how it expressed its doctrines through 2000 years. But how did Paul see himself, and how ought that effect our own view?
(AGNT) Παῦλος δοῦλος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
Our Paul, this great theologian and apostle to the gentiles. This man who endured much hardship for the church and saw many miracles would see himself as merely a “slave”. One who voluntarily submits to another as his master, one who seeks the will of another above himself.
From these 4 Greek words we see a scriptural principal worth holding on to. Later on, in his letter he would call the church to:
“(NIV) Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (12:3)
The skill of healthy self-criticism is a lost art. To judge yourself wisely is too know where you are weak and strong, what your real agenda is and challenge the assumptions you hold. It is to realise you are part of the community, and not your own king or god, but one part of a greater whole.
He develops this when he talks of himself as a servant called to be an apostle – one sent to others for a special task. There is no self-importance, but rather one who knows who sent him and to whom he must go. In being sent as a servant he naturally becomes a helper to those whom he goes to – but not one under their control, their opinion or their whims. He goes to do the task of his Lord - the gospel.
He does not come with his words, not his agenda or his popularity – it is the good news and all this meant to the world and the church. For that and that alone would be the message he would bring and not be side-tracked by any other news of other gods.
How do you we see ourselves?
Are we self-important?
Are we driven by arrogance?
Are we someone who avoids the will of God?
Are we only interested in our own opinion?
Are we selfish and small minded?
Are we courageous enough to be self-critical and soberly judge exactly who we are?
Point two: How Paul saw Jesus Christ.
“(ESV)…which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord…”
For Paul, only Jesus Christ could be his focus. Why?
He was the one promised by the prophets of old. History held its breath for him, God worked through people and the Nation of Israel to bring him to the world. His name was embedded into the old testament in promises and covenants – Jesus was the historical point all nature and history called for.
He was of the royal line of David, and so the one who had right to be called King of Kings – here the hope of the returning Lord reminds us that this Jesus, this simple carpenter who became our Lord and Saviour will return as our King and our Judge.
In verse 4 where it says “… and was declared to be…” could be translated as “evidenced to be” the Son of God. And why? Something happened on that third day, something that changed history – to us it is that sacred moment where Jesus rose from the dead and ascended back to his Father. Only God can give life, and only the son of God raise himself back to life.
With all this in mind Paul declares Jesus as:
Christ. The anointed one promised by the Old Testament and realised in Jesus.
Our Lord. The one deserving of our loyalty and or service. The one we would call our boss in life, the one who we defer our worship and loyalty above all others too.
Who is Jesus too you?
To Paul this is the Lord who would change the Christian hater and killer into its best theologian. He was the one who took his life, shook it and then made it into something completely new. He was not the body stolen by his deluded believers, he was the very real Lord of creation who ruined a perfectly good day so Paul could become His servant, and a better man for it. This Jesus he calls his lord is:
Romans 1:16 (ESV) “…the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…”
Point Three: How Paul saw the Church.
(ESV) “… through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And how would Paul see the ones he was sent too – this Church. Originally, they were his to hunt, kill or imprison. Now they were something different, special and worth suffering for. To Paul this group of poor, politically weak and over looked people were anything but that:
The Lord had sent him, and the other disciples, to do a special work. Paul was given grace, the ability to achieve the task they were called too – and his focus was them.
Paul was sent to bring a real faith that would turn people lives into something special, living respectfully to their God. But not as we see the Islamic or the extremist who declares hatred and elitism. No, ours is a respect built on love to the God who loved us first. Ours is not the obedience demanded by a tyrant or a “fear monger”, ours is to the Lord who would give up his own life for us.
To a diverse group who were called to belong. Imagine these five house churches are the people who belong to the creator and king of the universe – God almighty. They belong as family not as slaves, they belong as children and not possessions like the gods of the pagans demanded.
They are those “loved by God”, not merely any love but agape love. The love that is selfless and seeks what is best for the other. The love that holds some one dear and special – always wanting the best, and always selfless in action.
So, with all this Paul declares the common little home or apartment church member as a saint – set aside and enjoyed by God himself.
These Roman house churches were important to God, and therefore to Paul, and they were a focus of good things and peace with God.
When you stop and look around you here don’t you see what Paul saw:
People called to belong to God.
Special people set aside for God’s purposes.
People who your Lord died for, so you ought to serve and love.
People who are worth your serving and loving also?
Can’t you see these are people God loved?
If we cannot believe in this thing called the church then it is all futile, and an invention of humans playing religious games.
Can see the church as Paul did as something special here on planet earth – something that Jesus believes is worth returning for. Something we might consider is more important than selfish agendas, a community worthy serving – or is it self-serving we were called too?
Point Four:How do you see yourself?
So, how do you see ourselves as part of the church. Let me reflect some thoughts to you for you to consider:
It is not all about us individually – that is part of the faulty thinking of the modern age, it’s about the ‘church’ the whole lot of those who place their lives into Jesus as Lord.
It’s not about our need to be important – as we remain no more or less important to all who Jesus calls into his church.
It’s not about us proving ourselves – God’s love does not demand proof, it is simply given.
It’s not about the message I want to create – it is always about the message God gives through Jesus Christ.
As we become more the besieged church in an atheistic sensualistic society it remains important that we see ourselves realistically and through the eyes of our Lord, see the Lord in the correct way lest we reduce him to a commodity to use and see the church in a healthy realistic way – a people called to belong and set aside for greater things than the mere here and now.