Some say Romans is the most influential letter every written. When in Christian circles, I often feel like it is certainly the most quoted. Some of the names which Gorman mentions as being inspired by it include Martin Luther, Augustine and John Wesley (founder of Methodism). “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.” (Gorman, pg. 339) It is easy when people begin to look at Jews and Gentiles to become divided, to see the separateness and differentness as one being superior but it is important to remember that Paul’s ministry was pastoral and particularly in Romans, the goal was to emphasize God’s grace. Romans 1:11-12 “For I long to see you, that I may share with you some spiritual gift so that you may be strengthened, that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine.” I particularly enjoy this verse, even though Gorman doesn’t focus much on it, because it emphasizes the community aspect of Christianity and the encouragement that can be found within that community and with God.
Paul, a self-identified Jew, identifies himself as a doulos, a slave of Christ whom God graced with the call to be an apostle. While this call to apostleship sets him apart, identifying himself as a slave to Christ quickly brings a posture of humility to someone who could easily be prideful either in their heritage or their calling. “Paul clearly views God’s gospel and salvation as oriented to all, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (1:16).” (Gorman, pg. 349) There is an emphasis that this is for everyone and therefore there is no place for pride. Paul reminds people to be humble yet again in another passage, warning people to beware of pride and hypocrisy and that the law cannot be the means of justification. Romans 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that what the law says is addressed to those under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world stand accountable to God, since no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law; for through the law comes consciousness of sin.” Although there is not justification found through the law, there is awareness of sin, which is discovered through the law but not created by it. A great amount of Romans is spent on sin and freedom from the law, but then we shift to our adoption and receipt of glory. The undeniable love of God witnessed through Christ Jesus.
Another verse that particularly pulls my attention is Romans 1:20 “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” This is part of the argument that those who do not acknowledge God are without excuse because they witnessed God in creation and didn’t honor or thank him. This does not, however, negate the necessity of God and Christ, as we see later in Romans 8:35-39 “What will separate us from the love of Christ? What anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus or Lord.” So when we ask ourselves what God has done for us in order to maintain relationship with us, in order to save us, in order to keep promises with a people who break their promises… when we reflect on that, our only response if we agree with Paul is to respond in kind; to let nothing separate God’s love from us.
The final Romans verse I wanted to reflect on was Romans 14:1-3 “Welcome anyone who is weak in faith, but not for disputes over opinions. One person believes that one may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. The one who eats must not despise the one who abstains, and the one who abstains must not pass judgment on the one who eats; for God has welcomed him.” Although he touches on a lot of amazing things before this and after this, this echoes on what I wrote earlier from Corinthians and I speaks to something that I resonates with our society even today. While, as Gorman said, Paul wrote this about judgmentalism and accountability, today we see it modeled within the Church as those who are look or act “more” Christian than others. This could look like a lot of different things. For some, it may mean that there’s no drinking or dancing, others it means that your always in church on Wednesdays for the extra Spirit-filling, or that you are going door to door spreading the Word. Perhaps it means that your clothing, hair and makeup meets certain expectations. Anyone doing these things in the community could arguably be considered those who eat only vegetables. Ones within their community who do not conform to these standards but have relationship with the triune and believe in a Christ who fulfilled the Law would be the person who believes they may eat anything. You can see the risk involved here, where pride and judgement could easily creep into the hearts of either. As Paul goes on to point out, he would abstain from meat if it would avoid putting a weak person’s relationship with God at risk. This is because it models Christ’s servant attitude towards others. We must know when truth is needed and when it is best not to quibble over opinions that do not risk a persons faith.