Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, Iowa on 9/3/2017
Open your Bible to Romans 1. Today we begin a 2 year journey through the book of Romans. Yes, you heard me correctly, 2 years. It may take more, it may take less. It is my goal not to rush, but to savor every word in this wonderful book. As we begin, I want to start by providing you some quotes from some well-known Christian men about the book of Romans.
Martin Luther said, “This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.”
John Calvin said about Romans, “When one gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”
Williams Tyndale said, “It is the principle and most excellent part of the New Testament... No man can read it too oft, or study it too well; for the more it is studied, the easier it is; the more it is chewed, the pleasanter it is. . . the more it is searched, the preciouser things are found….”
John Piper simply calls the book of Romans, “The greatest letter ever written.”
My hope is that over the next two years, each of you will come to revere Romans as much as these men did before you; that you will be consumed by, delight in, cling to, and store up the glorious words of God as found in this letter. If you have long desired to memorize Scripture, now would be a great time to begin as we work through the Book of Romans, verse by verse. Pick a verse from every chapter, or perhaps memorize large portions, such as Romans 8.
Before we begin, I want to spend some time explaining why we do what we do here at Cornerstone Church, so as to remind our regular attenders and to educate those who are new to our fellowship. 90% of the time at Cornerstone you will find that on Sunday morning we are working through an entire book of the Bible verse by verse. This is called expositional preaching through an entire book.
This is different than topical preaching. Topical preaching is picking a topic and using numerous text throughout the Bible. An example of this could be a preaching series on marriage, or money, or sex, etc. I am not totally against topical, but it must be used in small moderations. Too often Pastors who only preach topically cherry pick, and they never teach their congregation the full counsel of God. And this is why so many Christians are Armenians, for pastor’s never preach on Romans 9, Ephesians 1, or John 10. Or so many churches are egalitarian for pastors never preach Ephesians 5, Colossians 2, or 1 Peter 3. So on and so forth. Only preaching topically, produces out of balance, weak, and unequipped Christians.
I believe the best way to sanctify the people of God is by working through each book little by little. We must remember that Christlikeness is not a sprint, it is a marathon. And I guarantee that if you commit yourself to a church for your entire life that faithfully commits to expositional preaching through Books, you will be substantially better off for it. So with that said, let us read our text for this morning.
When you begin the study of any book, it is important that you start with what is called the context. The context are the circumstances surrounding the writing of the book. Why is the context of a book important? Understanding the context protects you from mishandling the Word of God. Which is one of the responsibilities of a Pastor. The Apostle Paul wrote to young Timothy, a pastor in training, in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Understanding the context of a writing, helps protect us from false interpretation and it illumines certain passages in a way that they otherwise wouldn’t have been.
So many people read the Bible with the heretical idea that it is fluid; that it is relevant; that the bible can mean one thing to you and another thing to me. This is the idea that embraces the post modern philosophy of “To each his own.” This is ridiculous and it is straight from Satan. The Bible does not have multiple meanings, it has one absolute unchanging meaning. It is God’s revelation and therefore it is God’s unchanging truth, and we desire to know what God means by his Word, not what we mean. No offense, but I could care less what you think the Bible means, and you should likewise care less about what I think it means. What we must care about is what God means. Understanding the context helps us with doing that.
So to begin, let us start by understanding what type of writing the book of Romans is. Just by looking at the first seven verses we can easily tell that Romans is some sort of letter. Paul is the author, and the recipients of this letter are, according to verse 7, “ all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”
A letter is different than other types of writings that we might find in the Bible. For example, the book of Genesis is a historical narrative. The book of Leviticus is a book of law. The book of Psalms is poetry. The book of Isaiah is prophecy. The book of Matthew is gospel narrative which contains subgenres such as prophecy, historical narrative, and parables. And the book of Revelation is apocalyptic prophecy.
It is important to understand the genre because it reorients you brain in how to receive the words you are reading. For example, if you know you are reading poetry, then you are not surprised when metaphors are used, and you likewise do not take a metaphor literally. Another example is our study on the Book of Revelation in Sunday School. The book of revelation is written in a very unique style called apocalyptic, which is a way to write that uses grand symbols to point to a greater truth. In Revelation we have read about a dragon, a beast, a great harlot, war, plagues, the 144,000 and a Lamb who saves the day. Each of these description are symbols that point to a greater reality and are not to be taken 100% literally.
So as I said, the book of Romans is a letter, so what does this tell us. It tells us that it was written by a particular person, in this event Paul, to a particular audience, in this case the saints in Rome, at a particular point in time, in this case around 57 A.D., with a particular purpose, which we will cover next week. Therefore, as we mine the word of God verse by verse we can never arrive at an interpretation that undermines those realities. If our understanding of the meaning of a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter couldn't have been the meaning during Paul's day, then our interpretation is flat out wrong.
A Tractate Letter
As many of you know the New Testament is full of letters. Many of them have in fact been written by the Apostle Paul. In total, Paul wrote 13 letters that are a part of our New Testament cannon. Every letter is unique. For example, the First letter to the 1 Corinthians deals with specific issues that the Church was having trouble with: male/female relationships, the gifts of the Spirit, the Lord's supper, etc. The letter to the Galatians on the other hand is about combating the false teaching of a works based salvation. The letter to Philemon on the other hand is a letter to one person regarding the freedom of his runaway slave, Onesimus. The letters to Timothy and Titus are pastoral letters, helping them to understand the inner workings of the local body of Christ. Each letter is unique.
So what makes Romans unique. What type of letter is it? Romans is a general letter, meaning that it is not written for a specific issue or problem, and it is also what is seen as a tractate letter. A tractate letter is treatise. I would guess that many of you have heard the word treatise before. A treatise according to Merriam Webster is “a systematic exposition or argument in writing including a methodical discussion of the facts and principles involved and conclusions reached.” And as we read through Romans we will see this. This letter is Paul's systematic exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In this letter there will be facts and principles that Paul methodically discusses so as to reach a good sound theological conclusions. And understanding that this letter is a treatise helps us in finding, and connecting, and examining those facts and principals and reaching the same conclusions as the Apostle Paul.
In this day and age, people like to say that Christianity is a blind leap of faith, that it involves ignorant, uneducated, intellectually weak individuals that are just drinking the kool-aid. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The book of Romans, and many other books have deep, well thought out, verifiable arguments that point to the greatest truths in the Universe. And you will see this as we walk through the verses of this treatise.
Now after hearing that this letter is a treatise involving systematic exposition and argument, some of you might be thinking, “I am no scholar, this is going to be a long two years.” And you have already checked out in your mind. This is the other end of the spectrum of what I just spoke about, instead of thinking that Christianity is for the ignorant, you think Christianity is too academic. And because you have not gone to seminary, or you don't consider yourself a scholar, the book of Romans just isn’t for you. If that is your thinking, then I want to remind you who Paul was writing to.
Verse 7 says, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.” This letter, this treatise is for all those in Rome who were loved by God; All those in Rome who were called to be saints. All means all. This letter is for men and women. This letter is for the young and old. This letter is for the rich and poor. This letter is for the white collar and blue caller. This letter is for the fisherman and the Pharisee.
And because the letter to the Romans is God's Word and is therefore timeless, it is not only for all those in Rome. It is for all of us who are loved by God and all of us who are called to be saints. Therefore, if you can say that God loves you then God wrote this letter to you, and you would be a fool not to read it, to delight in it, to meditate on it, and to obey it.
Now as we go through this book, there may be parts that are difficult to understand. You may walk out of here on some Sunday's scratching your heads. There may be pieces that you cannot connect. You may walk out with more questions than answers. But that is ok. Even Peter states in 2 Peter 3:16 that somethings that Paul writes are hard to understand, so you are not alone.
In fact, not only are you not alone in thinking that some of Paul's writing is hard, but you are also not alone in that the Holy Spirit is your helper as you read the Scriptures, that is if you are a true Christian. If you are not a Christian, then this book will be foolishness to you. But if you are a Christian, you have the mind of Christ. You have the Holy Spirit, a helper in knowing the things of God.
Therefore, as we walk through this book we must be like the Psalmist in Psalm 119. Verse 12, “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!” verse 18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law.” Verse 27, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.” Verse 34, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” Verse 135, “Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” The bottom line is that without the help of the Lord, we have no hope in understanding anything, let alone his living an active Word.
Which leads us with a final contextual question for this morning. Who is the author of this letter? Is it God or is it Paul? To that question, the answer is yes. It is both of them. Paul, the man was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write these words for us today.
As we can see in our opening verse, Paul identifies himself right out of the gate as the writer or this letter. However, he does not only give his name, he also gives his title when he says “called to be an apostle.” The apostleship that Paul is talking about in verse 1 is a formal title that only a few men have.
Today, there are no more apostles. There only exists a handful of them. These were the men who God called to take the baton from Jesus and establish the Church age. Ephesians 2:19 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,d but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”
One of the requirements to be an apostle was to see the resurrected Jesus face to face. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 15:8, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.9For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
Many of you are familiar with what Paul is alluding to in 1 Corinthians 15:8, it is Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus found in Acts 9. Paul was on his way to arrest and eventually kill Christians, and it was on that Journey that he had an encounter with the resurrected Christ. And Paul was told by Ananias that, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; 15for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.” God had handpicked Paul to know God's will, to hear the voice of Jesus, and to be a witness. This is what Paul was doing in the writing of Romans. Hearing and proclaiming the word of God.
Once again, even Peter recognized that the writing of Paul was Scripture. If we go back to 2 Peter 3:16, Peter states this about Paul's writing “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.” For Peter to say “other Scriptures” he was saying that Paul's writing was Scripture. Therefore, the Church has always recognized the writings of Paul as the Word of God.
On top of this, we know that Paul's writing is scripture not just because of the Damascus Road, and not just because the earlier Church believed his writings were Scripture, but also because Paul displayed the marks of an apostle. In referring to himself, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” What were some of these signs and wonders and mighty works? Acts 19:11-12, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.” In Acts 20 it is recorded that he even raised Eutychus from the dead.
So the author of the book of Romans is Paul and it is God's. And if it is God we know that it is bread for our soul, and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” So for the next two years, this is what we will be doing, teaching, reproving, correcting, training, completing, and equipping to be like the apostle Paul and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.