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The Shape and Opening of the Letter

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 28, 2023 12:01 am

The Shape and Opening of the Letter

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 28, 2023 12:01 am

As cherished as the book of Romans is, sometimes it can be hard to understand. Knowing the structure of Paul's letter can help us. Today, W. Robert Godfrey provides an outline of Romans and highlights the major themes in its opening verses.

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The Line of Fire
Dr. Michael Brown

The opening of the letter is quite striking. In Greek, the first two words are paulos doulos, Paul the slave of Jesus Christ. Paul is saying right at the beginning, I am a man under authority. I am a man who belongs to another. I am a man who takes orders, and the orders I take come from Jesus Christ. I am the servant, the slave of Jesus Christ. It can be easy when reading a letter in the New Testament to speed through the opening lines, charging ahead to get to the meat of the letter.

But the details matter, and they help us understand the book's purpose and intent. I'm glad you're with us for this Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind as we spend a week carefully considering portions of Paul's letter to the Romans. This week's messages come from a new overview of Romans taught by Ligonier's chairman, W. Robert Godfrey.

You can request this 23-part series for yourself at with a donation of any amount. The Apostle Paul's opening of Romans isn't merely a formality, but there is intention behind every word, even him stating that he is a slave of Christ. Here's Dr. Godfrey from his brand new series, Not Ashamed. Last time we tried to get oriented to the letter of Romans, tried to see what Paul was setting out to do, that he wasn't writing a systematic theology covering every point, but he was focused on particular problems, particular issues that critics had apparently raised against him, and he's trying to make clear his response to those criticisms. The criticisms seem to have been guarded enough and perhaps vague enough that he doesn't come on gangbusters against the Romans the way he did against the Galatians. He's much subtler.

He's much more careful. But I think as we read between the lines, we see very clearly what those critics were saying. They were saying that Paul in his ministry seems to be afraid of facing his critics and seems somewhat unreliable in his message. And in particular, the message is unreliable in terms of the role of Jews in the history of redemption, in terms of the importance of the law for salvation, and in terms of the true meaning of grace and faith in salvation.

Now, these are very important issues, aren't they? They're very important subjects, and Paul's clarity but also gentleness most of the time dealing with them shows that he thinks the Romans need an adjustment, not a confrontation, and that's in a lot of ways what the book of Romans is, and that's his strategy. He wants to pursue a pastoral strategy of correction and clarification as he goes along, and he adopts a style of writing that fits with that. And I think one of the issues that sometimes comes to us when we read the book of Romans is the issue, well, isn't Paul kind of unclear here at a given point? Isn't Paul unnecessarily difficult at a given point? Doesn't Paul say some things that seem exaggerated, what stylists would call hyperbole, deliberative exaggeration to make a point? Isn't Paul strangely repetitive at points?

Doesn't Paul have abrupt transitions from one topic to another where it's sometimes difficult to see what he means by the transition? And if you read any of those really big commentaries on Romans, you'll see lengthy discussions of a lot of these subjects as to what does he mean, why does he say it that way, where is he going? And I think the answer is, partly, you Romans think you're so smart. Okay, let me explain things in a sophisticated way, and you follow it, okay? That's part of it, maybe. But certainly what he's doing is saying to the Romans, these are big issues.

These are complicated issues. The basics of the gospel are crystal clear and simple, and that's true in Romans, isn't it? If we were to, at the end of this course of study, want to write one paragraph as to what Paul thinks about the gospel as he teaches it in Romans, we could do that with great simplicity and clarity out of the book.

The book is clear as to the basic points Paul is making. But he elaborates those points, but he elaborates those points sometimes in considerable detail and with some complexity, I think precisely to slow the reader down, to remind the reader these are not simple subjects all the time, to make the reader read and reread. You know, people who are on Google all the time learn to just, you know, speed read because there's so much junk there.

We should never turn to Google to really find the truth. But Paul, even before the day of Google, knew that people read too fast sometimes, read too facilely, think they know what they've understood when they haven't understood it. And I think Paul writes very deliberately in this letter to slow us all down, to make us all read and reread, to be sure that we've understood what's going on, to be sure that we get it.

And so, we will go deliberately, we'll go carefully. We'll note some of the stylistic ways in which Paul is slowing us down and how that contributes to the meaning that he is seeking to communicate to Christians. And I think we'll find that it really helps us to find that the letter is much clearer than a lot of people have thought it is, even at those points that have been so controversial. And just by way of anticipation, so you can be relieved, we'll discover that the Reformed have always been right in the way that they read Romans. So, how is this book organized? I think the book is organized into seven sections, and I won't write them all on the board right now because that would be sort of tedious. But I'll write the first section that we're going to look at, which is Romans 1 through 17, and we can cleverly call it the introduction. And in this introduction, Paul is talking about himself and himself and the Romans and salvation. So, it's an introduction to the whole book.

It's an introduction to how Paul sees himself, how Paul sees his relationship to the Romans. And we'll want to look at this introductory section with some care. And then we'll go on to the remaining sections. The seventh section, you'll be surprised to learn, is the conclusion, which we come to at Romans 15, 14, and beyond.

You don't necessarily need to write all this down, but I'll be putting it on the board as we get to it. But just as a kind of anticipation as to how Paul is going to be teaching, the second section, Romans 1, 18 through 3, 20, is salvation needed. He's going to talk about salvation in the introduction, and then he's going to really make clear how necessary salvation is, how much it is needed, because unless we understand our need, we can't really understand the greatness of the provision for our need. And so, he'll look at our need of salvation. And then in Romans 3, 21 through 5, 21, the third section of the epistle, we'll look at salvation provided.

How has God provided salvation for a needy people? And then the center of the book, and we'll come back and talk about whether the whole book might be a chiasm. You Greek scholars all remember what a chiasm is.

It's a literary device named after the Greek letter chi, which is a big X. And the point is that aspects of a chiasm relate to one another through a center. I prefer to call it a pyramid. You go up one side and down the other.

If you have a step pyramid, it goes up like this. But the point is it's a very common ancient literary device that relates parts to one another and focuses the whole towards the center. So, where a chiasm appears in ancient literature, there's always a point pointing to the center.

That was elegantly expressed. A point pointing to the center. And the outside of the chiasm relates in some ways to each other, but also relates to the center. And I think Paul's letter is a bit of a chiasm as a whole.

We'll come back to look at that more. And we'll see several chiasms in the letter. Since I think particularly the fifth section, Romans 9, 10, and 11 is a chiasm, I think there may be other chiasms that I've missed, so that'll be your homework to look for chiasms that I missed.

But I'll tell you the ones I've found as we go along. So, section 3 is salvation provided. Section 4 is the center, salvation experienced. And that's Romans 6, 7, and 8. And I think that's important because in a lot of ways, Romans 6, 7, and 8 come to the very heart of what Paul's doing in this letter. It may not be the part of the letter we're always the most fascinated by, but he's really talking about how salvation is lived or how salvation is experienced. And that brings very much Paul to this question, do we sin that grace may abound? How do we who are saved now live in relation to sin and the struggle against sin? That's kind of at the heart of the letter in some ways.

We'll come back to that. Then, as I said, the fifth section, Romans 9, 10, and 11 is on salvation assured. There's a great certainty for us that God will accomplish his purpose in salvation. And then Romans 12 through 15, verse 13 is salvation lived out.

So, here's kind of the shape of the letter. It's all about salvation. It's about salvation in various perspectives and in various relationships. And Paul is laboring then to show these Romans he is an apostle who knows all about salvation. And he teaches it correctly.

He teaches it in the proper balanced form. And they don't need to worry about him. And if they're worried, they should worry about themselves is kind of the subtext as we go along. He's writing as a pastor to help them.

And I think we'll find it's a beautiful thing. Well, we're going to start then this first section, the introduction, Paul, Romans, and salvation. And Paul begins the Romans letter as he begins all of his letters with a self-identification. Who wrote? Who's writing this letter? Paul.

Who's Paul? He will identify himself. And then, as in all the other letters, he specifies to whom he's writing. So, the author, the addressee, and then an apostolic blessing. That's the way he begins all of his letters.

But Romans has a unique feature. In most of his letters, this kind of self-identification and then identification of the people he's writing to and then the blessing takes two verses. It's brief. Eight of his letters, the introductory material is only two verses. In four others of his letters, the introductory material is three to five verses. Only in Romans is it as long as we find here, seven verses. Now, you may not be wowed by my statistical genius here, but I think it really does highlight the fact that Paul spends a lot of time identifying who he is. The word to the addressee isn't longer. The apostolic blessing isn't longer. It's his self-identification that is longer in this epistle because his character has been challenged.

His work has been questioned. And so, Paul, as he so often does in his letters, lays down the foundation early on in which he will build theologically later. And we see that here in Romans 1 as he identifies himself. And the opening of the letter is quite striking. In Greek, the first two words are paulos doulos.

They even sound alike. Paulos doulos. Paul, paulos doulos. Paul, a slave. Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ. And Paul, in two other letters, identifies himself that way, but it's not his typical way of identifying himself. Most of the time, he says, Paul, an apostle. Now, he will soon get to identifying himself as an apostle here.

But I think it's striking, and this is why it's useful to have this sort of background of criticism in our minds. It's useful to see what Paul is saying. He is saying, I am a man who understands obedience. That's the essential character of a slave. A slave's life is lived in obedience to the one who owns him. And Paul, to these people who wonder if Paul really cares about obedience, really understands holiness, Paul is saying right at the beginning, I am a man under authority. I am a man who belongs to another.

I am a man who takes orders, and the orders I take come from Jesus Christ. I am the servant, the slave of Jesus Christ. Somehow, in our modern translations, it's more typically translated servant. It seems to me that word is pretty clearly slave. You know, a servant is paid wages and can change jobs.

A doulos isn't someone who can go out and just find a new master. He belongs to the one who owns him, and that's what Paul is saying here about himself. So, here's a critical introduction of the apostle at the beginning as he introduces himself and makes clear who he is. And he's a slave who is called to be an apostle. In other words, he hasn't made himself an apostle. The apostolic office isn't something he has grabbed or taken on himself.

It's something he's been given by his master. So, he's a slave first in obedience, and because he's an obedient slave, he takes the calling to be an apostle. And as an apostle, he is set apart for the gospel. It's hard not to conclude that Paul has chosen almost every one of these words carefully because in the Old Testament, set apart is a word characteristically used of instruments in the temple for holy worship. So, you're set apart for a holy task.

You're set apart for a holy usage. These people who think Paul doesn't know enough about holiness are being told right at the outset, I am set apart as a holy vessel for the service of God, and that's who God has made me to be. Set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Now here again, you see the immediate claim Paul is making, the immediate answer he's giving to his critics is that I know exactly what the Old Testament is all about. The Old Testament is primarily about pointing us to the coming of the Christ. The Old Testament is a preparation. The Old Testament is an anticipation. The Old Testament is not the fulfillment or end in itself.

It never thought it was. It always looked forward, and that was the great work of the prophets. And of course, prophets as Paul is using it here is not just the latter part of the Old Testament, but Moses was regarded as a prophet, and the histories were regarded as prophecies in Israel. So, the whole Old Testament here is being described as the prophecy that looks forward to the coming of the Son, the Son of God, who is also the Son of David. Now it's interesting, right here in this self-identification of Paul, we're talking about David. What does David have to do with Paul? Well, Paul is showing he really understands the Old Testament.

He really gets what's going on. The Old Testament, even when it comes to the greatest figures of the Old Testament, like David, God's King, the man after God's own heart, the sweet singer of Israel, that David was pointing forward because it's David's greater son that the whole Old Testament really anticipates. So, if you want to know about the role of Jews in redemptive history, never forget this most basic fact Paul is saying. They're part of the preparation for the coming of the Son.

They're part of the preparation so that when the Son comes, we'll know him. And of course, almost everything we say about Jesus, are Old Testament words applied to him, aren't they? If he's king, if he's prophet, if he's priest, if he's shepherd, if he's Christ anointed, those are all words that have meaning for us because we have an Old Testament context for the understanding of those words. The prophets looked forward to the coming of this Son, descended from David according to the flesh, and 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. So, he's son of David. The prophets bear witness to that.

David anticipated that. Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of the prophets and of David, but he's more than the Son of David. He's the Son of God. And because he's the Son of God implicitly, he's the Son of God for the whole world, not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles as well.

And so, the glory of Christ is being exalted in a way universal beyond simply a narrow Jewish application of who the Messiah is. And he is demonstrated to be the Son of God in his resurrection where the power of God was displayed in him through the spirit of holiness. Paul's not forgetting holiness for a minute. Paul's not soft on holiness. Holiness is here right at the beginning of how Paul identifies himself and his gospel and what he is teaching. And it is this living Christ then who has given to Paul grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith. Now here again, I think, and I hope I'm not reading too much into these things, I think this is a brilliant move on Paul's part that has confused a lot of scholars.

Scholars are relatively easy to confuse, it turns out. The obedience of faith, what does that phrase mean? What does the phrase, the obedience of faith mean? You can read pages and pages and pages of scholars debating about what that phrase means. And I think here it's used with a kind of deliberate ambiguity by Paul. The obedience of faith, well, it shows I'm really concerned about obedience and about faith. And I'll explain as I go along exactly how they're related to one another.

And there could be interesting ways of approaching that. Is faith an act of obedience? Is obedience the fulfillment of faith?

Are the two synonyms for one another? It strikes me a little bit like what Jesus said when he was asked in John 6, what must we do to be doing the works of God? And Jesus said, this is the work of God that you believe.

You see, they thought it was by working they would get their act right with God. And Jesus turns their words on their head and says, the real work that you need to do is to believe in the one whom God has sent. And I think Paul is doing a little of that here too, being a little ambiguous, but right at the beginning telling them that both obedience and faith are important. And later he'll show the exact relationship of obedience and faith to encourage them and to direct them, that he's an apostle to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all nations. And there's the Gentiles, there's the reaching out.

Gentiles, but maybe also Jews, all nations includes the Jews as well. And then, marvelously, he says to those Romans, including you, don't forget who you are. You're one of the nations that I'm sent to minister to. You're one of the nations for whom I'm meant to be an apostle. So, Paul has marvelously introduced himself here and has already begun the process of speaking to his critics.

And we'll come back next time to look at that some more. That was W. Robert Godfrey on this Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind, introducing us to Paul's beloved epistle, his letter to the Christians in Rome. Today's message is one of 23 as Dr. Godfrey moves quickly through Romans, providing a very helpful overview of its purpose, structure, main themes and applications. This could be a wonderful study to undertake a loan or as a family while you have time off over Christmas and into the new year, or perhaps you'll schedule it for a Bible study next summer or fall. Request this DVD set and lifetime digital access with your donation of any amount at Renewing Your Mind dot org or by calling us at 800-435-4343. Your generosity today helps fuel the development of other new series and study tools. So give today at Renewing Your Mind dot org. There are many famous verses in Romans. Perhaps you've memorized some. One would be Romans 1 16, for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. That's one of the verses that Dr. Godfrey will consider tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-28 07:42:49 / 2023-11-28 07:51:37 / 9

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