Through the Bible in a Year: Romans 12-16

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Monday, April 30: Romans 1-6
Tuesday, May 1: Romans 7-11
Wednesday, May 2: Romans 12-16
Thursday, May 3: James 1-5
Friday, May 4: Galatians 1-6

Next week we will go back over Romans chapter by chapter, comparing James and Galatians (and the Gospels).

The overall year’s plan is here.

Romans 12

With Romans 12 we leave Paul’s defense and explanation of his Gospel, and we move on to exhortations and teachings.

Romans 12:1-8

I’ve heard it said before that only some Christians are disciples. The rest are not called to the kind of commitment to which Jesus called disciples.

In the book of Acts, Christians are almost exclusively called disciples. "Christian" occurs only twice in Acts; "disciples" is found 30 times. Further, when "Christian" is used, it is used by outsiders, not by the saints themselves (11:26; 26:28).

Passages like Romans 12:1-8 make it clear that there are not disciples and non-disciples in the church except in the same sense that there are Christians and non-Christians in the church. The apostle expects all of us to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, to have the Holy Spirit, and to exercise spiritual gifts.

As a note, contrary to popular belief, spiritual gifts are primarily for every day life, except perhaps prophecy, which is beneficial for the saints and may be exercised particularly often in the assembly of the disciples (1 Cor. 14).

Romans 12:9-21

This passage speaks for itself. I want to encourage you to read through sections like this slowly, considering how each command applies to your life. This is a powerful section of Scripture, addressing issues that most of us, by nature, struggle with.

Romans 13:1-7

It seems clear to me that most Christians don’t believe this passage. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, both George Bushes, Maggie Thatcher, Vladimir Putin, and even Adolf Hitler were set in place by God.

That may be shocking, but Jesus told Pontius Pilate, who was about to order the crucifixion of the Son of God, that he would have no authority over him if it were not given to him by God (Jn. 19:10-11).

Not only that, but it is very likely that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans while the wicked emperor Nero was in power. Nero reigned from A.D. 54 to 68, and Paul likely wrote Romans around 56-57.

Perhaps evil rulers are a judgment upon a wicked people. Whatever the reason, Paul said what he said, and he calls us to pay taxes and show respect.

We can vote, but the best thing we can do if we want to make an impact on our nation is to pray (1 Tim. 2:1-2; 2 Chr. 7:14).

Romans 13:8-14

I’ve listened to Christians argue back and forth over verse 8 and whether it forbids all debt or whether it’s just a command to make sure you’re not late on your debt payments. Personally, I don’t think debt is the focus of that verse, and if it were, I find either interpretation possible.

I see no precedent, however, in Scripture or church history, that the church ever forbade borrowing money. In fact, it would be hard to argue that the practice of "micro loans" is not an act of great charity and love. (Heaven’s Family also provides grants rather than loans in the case of widows. They also have a web page discussing Jesus’ command to loan money.)

Grameen Bank is a bank that only does micro loans for the poor which began in Bangladesh (and so, of course, was begun by Muslims), and they’ve opened micro loan funds even in the United States that have been remarkably successful. Their story is very interesting Cand linked in the ad to the right). They were originally brought here by Bill Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas. Kiva.org takes donations for their worldwide micro loan program.

It does appear to me that the early churches forbade the charging of interest. Canon 17 of the Council of Nicea accuses clergy who charge interest of "covetousness and lust of gain."

Verse 10: Paul emphasizes love as the fullness of the Law just as Jesus did (Matt. 22:37-40).

Verse 14: This is a command I memorized long ago. Don’t make provisions for the flesh. Don’t put yourself in tempting situations. Don’t plan on allowing yourself to be enticed by bad situations, greed, etc.

Romans 14

Are we able to remain in fellowship with one another, without condemning one another or giving one another a cold shoulder, when we disagree on things that are not major? Or is disobedience to Romans 14 right at the heart of our practice of denominationalism?

Galatians 5:19-21 calls "selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions" (NET Bible) works of the flesh that will keep us out of the kingdom of heaven.

Note, though, that this is about food laws and other questionable doctrines. This is not about sins like adultery and greed. About those things, Paul says, "Put that wicked one out from among you" (1 Cor. 5:13).

Food Laws

Food laws were questionable then; they’re not really questionable now that we have the apostles’ writings. The Gospels and the letters are very clear on this subject. For example, see Mark 7:18-23 and 1 Cor. 6:13.

I’m not saying we should make food laws a major issue, but I am saying it’s not accurate to treat them as a questionable issue. Even here in Romans 14, it is the weak brother who eats only vegetables.

Verse 14: When Paul says nothing is unclean of itself, he is talking about food. Again, Jesus told us what is unclean of itself in Mark 7:18-23. Selfishness, anger, sexual immorality, jealousy can all defile us.

Verse 17: Such a great verse and worth memorizing:

For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (NASB)

Romans 15:1-13

This passage is a continuation of chapter 14. Don’t be fooled by the chapter divisions. That’s why it’s good to read through an entire letter at once. You get the whole thing in context.

If you had stopped at the end of chapter 14, you’d have thought you were reading something brand new here!

Romans 15:14-33

Paul says he’s hoping to go to Spain. The writers in the early churches after the time of the apostles seemed to all believe that he made it there and perhaps even to England.

It’s interesting to me that Paul doesn’t want to work where others have already labored. It’s not his gift. He’s a builder of the church, the building of God. He doesn’t remodel. I’ve known men like that, with real power from God. I, on the other hand, much prefer to work where someone has already laid a foundation.

Romans 16

An introduction to the book of Romans I read mentioned that the extensive greetings at the end of Romans are only found in his letters to cities he had not been to! The other is Colossae (see ch. 4).

They suggested this was to build repoire. He was establishing that though he hadn’t been there, he was on intimate terms with some who were there. He didn’t need that with churches like the Philippians and Ephesians.

The five house churches that introduction claims he is addressing are:

  • Prisca and Aquila’s: vv. 3-5
  • Aristobulus’: v. 10
  • Narcissus’: v. 11
  • Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and those with them: v. 14
  • Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, Olympas, and the saints with them: v. 15

Verses 17-18: Paul has very harsh words for those who would divide the body of Christ. It is easy to assume that he is talking about Judaizers, those who preached circumcision, because he has battled with them so much (all of Galatians, Php. 3:2-3). It also fits in the context of the entire letter. So that conclusion is very likely, but can’t be certain.

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