Letters written to the Gentile churches by Paul, the appointed apostle by means of Christ’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus, were generally to churches he had established and spent time developing and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He spent extended periods of time at these churches giving instruction.
The exception to this was the book of Romans. This letter was written to a church Paul did not found. Part of his purpose was to gain aid in helping pay for a mission he was planning for Spain, but he also wanted each of the Gentile churches to donate towards a gift to the church in Jerusalem of believing Christians. Paul’s efforts were to bring this struggling church in Jerusalem much needed funds and hopefully bring the predominately Jewish members in good relationship with the Gentile members of his church, thus creating unity. Unity, Paul taught a message of the power of unity through Jesus Christ.
Being a new believer in Christ, presented many challenges, both socially and economically. Much of trade and gatherings at the time took place in settings where the practice of false gods was taking place. This had definite ramifications on believers as they separated themselves from false god worship. Another challenging issue Paul addressed was that in Rome there were both Jews and Gentiles practicing this new faith. Paul was always stressing the importance of the gospel for both.
The first part of Romans, Paul is addressing the importance and priority for Jews who believe in Christ, that they deserve respect from non-Jews, in that they came first. But that at the same time, new members included into God’s family, the Gentiles, share in the same spiritual blessings, given to all members in Jesus Christ. Paul points out that God is the God of both Gentile and Jew and that faith in Jesus justifies believers to God. Gentiles should remain Gentiles not being made to convert to Jewish practices.
Simply put, Jewish Christians were in relation with God first, but that Gentiles are made chosen through the gift of Jesus, his blood, death, and resurrection. A gift from God to all. There were divides to bridge and Paul took them on as a servant of God.
New believers in Rome lived among the most powerful people in the world. Christians and this new kingdom Jesus had spoken about, threatened the life of many believers. One could be viewed as agents against the regime. Life was anything but simple. Rome was the world power in Paul’s time.
The challenges presented to Paul in the early church have a reflection of what is happening in society today. Just yesterday the news projected the divisions of political leaders in the United States. Divided by differing views on how to see this world and effect policy. Seeking to expand their own agenda and scrutinizing who they see as the opposition.
There is a lot of mudslinging and not much happening to bridge the divide. Just as Rome stood for strength and prosperity in Paul’s time, the United States has represented the world strength of today. A recent news article, Why the EU lacks Military Might, gives an eye-opening synopsis of the power through military strength the United States has provided to other countries throughout its young history.
Basically, the EU has not developed over the past several decades much military strength and has relied heavily on the United States. Why haven’t they? There are two reasons, The first is that Europe suffered the loss of so many people in WWII. Their response, “War, never again.” This thinking, added to a treaty, The North Atlantic Treaty, which meant Europeans could be protected under U.S. military power, left the EU in a weak position defending themselves. European democracy chose to spend their money on hospitals and schools, a noble effort, viewing themselves as ‘peacekeepers’ and ‘a giant of soft power,” meaning leaders of economic cooperation and cultural outreach. The only problem, there is a country threatening war again in Europe.
Sadly, as I am working on this writing, war has broken out in Europe. Russia has attacked Ukraine. The challenges ahead for this turbulent world has just multiplied. It has been reported that people in Ukraine have been seen on their knees in the snow praying. My prayer, “Lord, heavenly Father, please help us all. Move in the hearts of leaders and people around the world to have mercy and compassion on one another. Amen.”
The view, how does a believer in Christ Jesus navigate these murky waters? The feeling of distrust and lack of unity is a worldly view. One that does not bring a person much in the way of peace. Is there a bridge that can be built today? Is unity a thing of the past? In Paul’s time, he preached a view that turned one’s head in the direction of Jesus. He spoke and wrote of a different way to view things. in Ephesians 2:14, Paul states Jesus, himself, is our peace and that through him the dividing wall of hostility has been destroyed by the death and resurrection of that same man, Jesus. He taught the Gentile and the Jew the way to peace and unity. Not just with each other, but with God himself. This hurting world needs this message now.
In Romans chapter 12 Paul gives instruction to believers that is not only a personal message to each individual, but a message of unity with one another. He begins with a warning, Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Paul knew that taking on the world view would not bring any peace to a person. It would actually draw a person in the wrong direction of what God desires. He called believers to see things from God’s view. Paul echoes the message given to him, that by the gift of grace we are brought near to God and that we should not think too highly of ourselves.
Romans 12:4-6 V 4) For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5) so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6) We have different gifts… This new idea, that we were meant to function with others, not separately, has unifying power for both the early believers and Christians today. It changes an old pattern of thinking, seeking to satisfy self. It is a ‘renewing of the mind.’ Paul even addresses the vast differences among people and how those differences add to the flavor of a united body of believers or church.
Instead of pointing a finger because someone is different, he points out their difference can be seen as a blessing, ready to be used for God’s good purpose. Believers in Christ today are just as challenged as ever before to live out their life of faith.
Paul preached the most important way to live out your purpose for God. It involves love. Romans 12:9-13 and 18 9) Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10) Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11) Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12) Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13) Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Paul preached a message of harmony with others. V18) “…live at peace with everyone.”
This is an important message needed for a struggling world today.
Being faithful in prayer, Paul writes this along with many more instructions. It would be easy to glide over this one and want to get going on serving the Lord. You can see a need and therefore feel the drive to get going! Did you ever think that when you sit down and start talking with God, this is prayer, he might tell you, “Here is the one little thing I want you to do for me today.” It becomes personal, it becomes relational, it becomes easier to serve God. Now you are not overwhelmed with the world’s worry, you are focused on the one little thing God wants you to do for him today. Being faithful in prayer is talking to God all day about what is happening in daily life. Asking him what you should do in the current situation. What you as a believer, can bring forth from him to others. When something comes up, ask him, “What should I do?”
Last Friday, February 18, 2022, I went with my daughter and two-year-old grandson to the beach. We had a wonderful day. My grandson, Brooks, played in the sand with his dinosaurs, touched sea creatures at the aquarium, and ate chicken strips for lunch. There is such delight in the blessing of a grandchild! I thanked God for all of it. We went into a couple of favorite shops and made some purchases.
We were ready to head for home when my daughter Rachael said, “Let’s go in and play Fascination, mom” This is a game I grew up playing and passed on to my kids. There are approximately twenty seats each, on two sides of the room. You sit and roll a rubber ball when the bell rings. It bounces to a spot where there are holes for it to drop into. When it drops, it lights up the corresponding place on the board you are playing. It looks like BINGO. You want to get five in a row before anyone else, to win. The winner receives a ticket to be redeemed for prizes at ones choosing. It is a real challenge because you do not have much control over where the ball drops. You aim, but it bounces so much! The room was full of players and some of the games ended quickly, which meant someone was really good at playing. We call them sharks.
A group of people got up to leave and the girl running the game announced, “We are having a special now, twelve games for a dollar.” Everyone sat back down. Usually, the special is ten games for a dollar. The other change was the girl in charge put stipulations on each game. First, she announced that the winner of the next game would receive a ticket and the person to the right of them would get one as well. She called it a pity ticket. Usually, the game is played quickly. The bell rings, you roll, someone wins, the bell rings right after, and starts another game. That way the most money is being taken in, but this girl had her own agenda.
Before the third game she stated, the person who wins this one, can either answer a trivia question or sing a song for three tickets. Of course, I won. In a split second I asked, “What should I do?” “Sing a song,” was the answer I heard. The girl told me to come up where she was, I needed to sing into her microphone, seriously? The girl told me to climb up into her chair, which was on a pedestal, where she could see out at everyone playing, really? Then I started to sing, “Doe a deer”, then something amazing happened, everyone in the room started singing. What I heard coming back at me sounded beautiful, like perfected voices from the movie, even angelic. I felt peace. I felt joy. I felt love. I felt unity. For the verse of a song, it was as if it were heaven on earth, the veil had been dropped. I did the one little thing, look at what God did in response.
Imagine all of God’s children stepping out and just doing the one little thing. Yes, we might look or feel silly, but God will help us get there, if that is what he is asking for. God is the One who brings unity, he did it through Christ and his example. In Ephesians 4:2-6 Paul writes, 2) Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4) There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called--. That one hope is God, himself. He puts it in my heart each day and then wants me to share it with others. It came out in a song that day, and no one was more surprised by His response than I!
I really appreciate the perspective of the Lutheran church in striving to bring people into relation with the Triune God. In seeking out a statement that encompasses its view, I found an article from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A Social Statement: The Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective. It proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a witness, “Faith is active in love; love calls for justice in the relationships and structures of society.” In part, this article states the struggles of this world and our response as believers to it. One heading, The Church ‘In’ But Not ‘From’ the World, mirrors Paul’s writings. The Lutheran church seeks to help give understanding and application of The Word or Bible, studying the contexts of when it was written, who it was written for at the time and how it is valuable today. Giving a more comprehensive way to understand the Scriptures, considering the translation from one language to another and what was lost in meaning.
The Lutheran approach points out the importance of women in leadership roles in Scripture, showing the inclusion of all people. I really am stuck on the statement, ‘Faith active in love.’ It makes me want to give some of God’s love away in a small act of kindness. “What can I do for you today, Lord?” United in Christ, ready to serve. ·
I write short essays for the church I attend, St. Paul. My motivation is for the building of faith. I feel called to do this, so I cannot help but end with a Scripture. ·
For the building of faith: Philippians 3:12-21