Paul addresses his letter to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints. He does not address it to all those who love God or who are currently in a church group. So, later, when he mentions that he wants to come to them to preach the gospel and see evangelistic fruit among them (v. 13), we see Paul’s theology come out. Those who come to love God are first beloved of God—even before their conversion. Those who become saints are first called as saints—even before their conversion. Instead of complaining about those who are not yet of the faith or are infants in the faith, Paul blesses them and greets them with grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.
He thanks God because the faith of the Romans is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. Paul, himself, makes mention of them unceasingly on his missionary journey—he is currently on his third. There are many gentiles in Rome hearing about Jesus and believing or becoming interested, which is worth celebrating even though they are likely rough around the edges and not yet established.
Paul prays that he may be able to go to Rome in order to impart some spiritual gift to the people there—spiritual gifts that would establish them. Spiritual gifts are called such because they are given by the Spirit, not Paul. People often need training, and Paul can provide that. Why would spiritual gifts establish the people in Rome, called as saints, as a local church? Paul answers, “…that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” It is by their spiritual gifts people come together to serve and edify one-another. Without the proper use of spiritual gifts, there is no local church. This means a local church is not a concert hall or event center where we go to hear music and preaching. A local church is a group of people who come together to use their spiritual gifts to edify the others who have covenanted with them for such a purpose—which includes music and preaching but is not a spectator event.
Paul yearns for the people in Rome to know that he often planned to come to them but has been prevented. He planned to go to Rome so that he may obtain some fruit among them like he has the rest of the Gentiles on his missionary journeys. Such is the purpose of this letter—that some gospel fruit would be won among the Romans and a local church be established in Rome by Paul’s hand even though he cannot travel there on this final missionary journey.
Paul is obligated to all people, Jews and Greeks, barbarians, wise and foolish. I think all Christians would do well to realize that this obligation is for every Christian. Instead of considering ourselves entitled because we are in the kingdom of God, our status as saints actually leads us to be obligated to all people from every walk of life—no matter how ignorant they are. Though I am conservative, I am obligated to liberals. Though I am poor, I am obligated to the rich. Though I am a gentile, I am obligated to the Jew. Though I am a Christian, I am obligated to the others. Though I am reformed, I am obligated to my yet unreformed brothers and sisters in the faith.
Because Paul is obligated to all people, he is eager to preach the gospel to them in Rome. He cannot wait. He must write this letter. He is not ashamed of the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The Jew received the gospel first. Then, the gospel went out to the whole world—to the gentiles or Greeks. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. From the outset, the gospel reveals the righteousness of God, not people. The gospel is set against works-based righteousness. The righteousness of God, not people, is revealed from faith to faith. When the Old Testament prophets, particularly Habakkuk 2:4), claim that the righteous will live by faith rather than the Law, they are pointing to the fact that God saves His people through faith alone, not through adherence to the Law. Paul will spend the rest of his letter explaining what he means in verses 16-17.
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