Why Romans Matters (Part 1)

Romans 1:1-7

Tom Pennington  •  March 30, 2014
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This morning we begin what I expect to be the greatest and most exciting journey of my ministry. For the next five years or so, most Sunday mornings we will devote to studying what is arguably the greatest of Paul's New Testament letters, the Letter to the Romans. Historians tell us that we have around 14,000 letters that have been preserved from antiquity, but not one of them comes close to rivaling the longest letter that the apostle Paul ever wrote. In fact, even among the New Testament letters Romans stands at the highest place. It's interesting, even in terms of the order of our English Bibles, when they were compiled, the book of Romans comes first among the epistles. Think about that, you have the gospels recording the life of Christ, the book of Acts which is a history of the early church, and then you have the letters that were written. Romans comes first, and yet it doesn't come first chronologically. It was probably the sixth of Paul's 13 letters, and probably the seventh letter, chronologically, that was written, and yet, when it came time to compile the New Testament and to put the epistles together, Romans comes first simply by order of magnitude and importance and priority.

Even among unbelievers this book has been acknowledged to hold a high place. Samuel Coleridge, the English poet and the master of English literature and the classics, described Romans "as the profoundest book in existence." For many years in the past, some of the finest law schools in the world used Romans as a textbook to illustrate how to construct a tight, logical argument that could not undermined. The voices of the church are unanimous in holding up the beauty and the uniqueness of the book of Romans. John Chrysostom of Constantinople was one of the greatest and the most eloquent expositors of the early church. He believed Romans was so unique and so remarkable that he had it actually read to him twice a week so that he could hear it and digest it again in a fresh way. William Tyndale, the father of the English Bible, you hold in your hand, wrote of Romans, "It is the principal and most excellent part of the New Testament. It is the light and way into the whole scripture. No man can read it too often or study too well."

Martin Luther begins the preface to his commentary on Romans with these words, "This epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word by heart, but occupy himself with it every day as the daily bread of the soul. It can never be read or pondered too much, and the more it is dealt with the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes." John Calvin wrote, "If we have gained a true understanding of this epistle, we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of scripture." Philipp Melanchthon called Romans a compendium of Christian doctrine.

In our day, John Stott said, "It is the fullest, plainest, and grandest statement of the gospel in the New Testament. It is absolutely essential in the truths that it contains. In fact, when the church fails to grasp the theology of Romans, at best it grows weak and inefficient," as we unfortunately see in our own day, "and at worst it slips into a dark age as it has before." James Boyce, writing of Romans says, "I used to say that American Christianity, at best, had mastered Romans 1 through 4 and has not even begun to understand Romans 5 through 8, not to mention the remainder of the letter. But today, I'm not sure we have even mastered the first four chapters. How often do we hear the depravity of the race discussed as Paul discusses it in Romans 1? How often do we hear that from God's perspective Man is utterly depraved, as Paul says in Romans 3? How often do we hear messages on propitiation, redemption, justification, or faith, the central doctrines of the great latter half of Romans 3? Or the proof of these truths from the Old Testament, which is the burden of Romans 4?" Now listen to what Boyce wrote, obviously he's been with the Lord now for a number of years, before I came to Countryside, so he was writing of the last part of last century and this is what he said. "Instead, we cling to man-centered, need-oriented teaching, and our churches show it. They are successful in worldly terms, big buildings, big budgets, big everything, but they suffer from a poverty of soul."

When the church fails to understand these truths, its mission is clouded, its vision is lost. On the other hand, when we come to grips with the rich theology of Romans, we lay a foundation for a mighty moving of the Spirit of God. That's true both on an individual level and on the level of the church as a whole. F. Godit wrote, "Every great spiritual revival in the church is connected as effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book." Do you hear what he said? Every great spiritual revival, that ever has been or ever will be, ultimately is connected to a better understanding of this book. At a personal level, F. F. Bruce writes, "There is no saying what may happen when people begin to study the letter to the Romans. Be prepared for the consequences. You have been warned."

I've seen the power of this book and its message in my own life and ministry. One specific instance comes to mind. Several years ago after I came to Countryside as pastor, I was called by a family in our church and asked if I would visit a relative of theirs who was dying in the hospital with cancer, just had weeks at the most, possibly days, to live, didn't know the Lord. I remember on my way to the hospital just praying and asking for God's wisdom as to what to do and what to say to this man, and I walked into this darkened hospital room. Every light was off. He was sitting there on his bed awake, and I began for the next hour and a half to walk him through the early chapters of the book of Romans. And it was really an amazing thing to see the light come on. The Spirit opened his eyes and that day he came to genuine faith in Christ, just a week before he died. It was my joy to do his funeral knowing that he was with our Lord, having just become a believer days before.

Some of the greatest men in church history have been saved through the contents of this letter. It was in 386 AD there was a brilliant young teacher of literature and rhetoric who served in Milan, Italy. He was a man with great potential, but a young man overcome by sexual lust and passion. But he had a mother named Monica who was a believer who faithfully prayed for him. One day this young man sought solitude in the garden near where he lodged, and he was suddenly converted when he picked up a Bible, as we might say, at random, there it was open and there was a verse, and this is what he read from Romans 13 verses 13 and 14,

13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

That young man's name was Augustine, who became the great father of the church. Later Augustine would simply exposit the book or Romans and in so doing would absolutely demolish the heresies of a young British monk named Pelagius. It was almost a thousand years later in 1515, there was another professor, a young theology professor at the University of Wittenberg, a man named Martin Luther, who was saved as he began to teach through the book of Romans and he came to Romans 1 verses 16 and 17 where he learned for the first time of the true saving gospel. We'll look more at how the Lord used that passage when we get to it in our study together.

It was on May 24, 1738 that a young man attended a Moravian meeting in London and at that meeting someone simply read Luther's preface to the book of Romans. Later John Wesley would write this in his journal about that day, "About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation. And an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death." This is a powerful letter because it contains the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation.

Lord willing, next week we will begin our verse by verse study of this great letter, but today we need to begin with a bit of an overview. We need to step back and consider today some introductory issues that will lay the groundwork for our careful verse by verse study of this letter of Paul's. So some introductory issues. First of all, and this one's very basic, but Paul is the author if this letter. Chapter 1 verse 1, "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel." This letter claims to have been written by the apostle Paul. And almost no serious scholar has questioned Paul's authorship of Romans, and so there are other arguments that can be made for this being written by Paul, other than verse 1, but I won't take you through that since almost no one argues it.

There is something interesting, though, about Paul's writing of this letter. We learn a little bit about the process. Turn to chapter 16. Romans 16 tells us that Paul didn't actually write down the contents of this letter with his own hand. He dictated this letter to his friend and amanuenses, Tertius. Notice Romans 16:22, remembering now that we began the letter with Paul as the source of this letter, we read here in verse 22, "I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord." He was the one to whom Paul dictated the letter and at the very end Paul gave him permission to greet them in his own name and so he does that and we learn then how Paul normally dealt with his letters. He would dictate them to someone, they would write the letter down, and usually Paul would then end the letter with some expression in his own hand so that it was his signature in a sense, showing that it was, in fact, from him.

Now when you weave together the timeline of Paul's life, it's likely that he wrote Romans during a three month stay in Greece at the very end of his third missionary journey. Turn with me to Acts 20. You're aware that the book of Acts is an historical account of the early church and it provides a grid against which many of the New Testament letters can be placed. You can see the historical background unfolded here in the book of Acts. That's true with the book of Romans as well. Now, just to get a running start, look back at chapter 19 of Acts. This is at the very end of Paul's third missionary journey. And at the end of that journey, he spent three years in Ephesus. The beginning of chapter 19 describes that. He spoke there for some months but then the Jews were hardened against him; verse 9, he had to withdraw from the synagogue. He took away the disciples and he began to teach daily in the school of Tyrannous, which was nearby, and He did this for two years. So altogether, the time he spent in Ephesus was almost three years time. This is the very end of his third missionary journey.

Now, you remember at the very end of those three years in Ephesus a riot breaks out. The silversmiths are upset because Paul's ministry is affecting the trade of the idols that they are making, so a riot breaks out. They chant for two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians," and as a result of that Paul has to leave. Look at 20:1. After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had exhorted them, and taken his leave of them, after almost three years with them, he left to go to Macedonia. When he had gone through these districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. This is essentially the last stop on his third missionary journey. And notice verse 3 says, "There he spent three months." It was during those three months, there in Corinth, because he was in Greece we know that Paul had a relationship with the church in Corinth. We know that Corinth was the capital of the province. And so it's likely that those three months in Greece were spent in Corinth, and that is likely also where he wrote the letter of Romans from.

Now there are several pieces of evidence in Romans itself that confirm his historical context. Turn to chapter 16. Chapter 16 verse 1, as Paul gives his final greetings he says, "I commend to you our sister Phoebe." He's introducing the churches in Rome to this woman, Phoebe, who is a servant of the Church which is at Senchria, that you receive her in the Lord, so she is coming along with this letter, likely she is delivering the letter, so she is where Paul is, and she is going to bring this letter and he's commending her to them. He says receive her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you. For she herself has also been a helper of many and of myself as well.

Phoebe is likely the one who delivered the letter to Rome, and notice verse 1, Paul tells us that she lived in Cenchrea. Cenchrea was one of Corinth's seaport cities, part of the larger metroplex of Corinth, and so she was from Corinth, which leads us to believe that Paul was writing this letter from Corinth. Also, notice verse 23 of chapter 16, he says, "Gaius, host to me and to the whole church," so wherever Paul was writing from, the church met in Gaius's house and Gaius was his host. Paul was staying in Gaius's home. Now keep your finger there and turn over one page to 1 Corinthians 1:14 and we meet Gaius in the Corinthian church. Paul says, "I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius." So Gaius was a member of the Corinthian church. He had come to faith under the ministry of the apostle Paul, the church met in his home, and now Paul was staying in his home there in Corinth during those three months as he brings his third missionary journey to a close.

Back in 16:23 there's one more little clue to this. It says, "Erastus," you know it's interesting, no Christians ever name their children that, probably not going to start today either, "Erastus, the city treasurer greets you." Now again, this man is wherever Paul is and he sends his greetings to the Romans. We learn in 2 Corinthians 4:20 that Erastus remained at Corinth. So again, all the clues come together. Based on the timeline in Acts we can say that it was near the end of Paul's third missionary journey. After his three years of stay in Ephesus, and he was run out, he spent three months in Greece, and while he was in Greece, particularly in Corinth, he wrote this letter to the Romans. Again, putting the timeline of Paul's life together with the book of Acts, it was likely in the late winter or early spring of the year 56, or probably 57 AD.

Now there's another important thing we need to deal with in just the introductory matters, and that is we need to ask ourselves, what is the primary theme of the book of Romans? What is this letter about? I used to think the theme of this letter was the righteousness from God, and clearly that is the crucial theme in the first five chapters of this letter, but that theme doesn't directly tie to the rest of the book, so I think to include all the contents that are a part of the book of Romans, we need to step back and find a larger theme. Is there a theme that ties together all the contents of this letter? I have become increasingly convinced that there is. It is the gospel of God. The gospel of God. Let me show you how Paul begins this book with that theme and concludes this book with that theme.

Turn with me to Romans 1:1. "Paul," he introduces the letter as was typical in a first century letter, and then he gives his credentials, "a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God." He says part of my credential, the reason you should listen to me, is because I have been set apart for the gospel. Now we're going to talk about that term much more, but essentially it is the good news that God has announced, and he goes on to say let me tell you about that gospel, in verses 2 through 4. So he introduces this letter talking about the gospel which finds its source in God. Verse 9, he says "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you." But most importantly, when Paul gets to the formal statement of the theme of this book, this is what he tells us is the theme. Notice 1:16,

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it, [that is, the gospel,] is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness from God is revealed [a righteousness that is] from faith to faith; [that is, it's from faith, it's of faith, from beginning to end] as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith."

So when Paul is ready to announce the formal theme of this letter, he says, it's the gospel. The concept and the word gospel occurs through this letter but Paul comes back to it in the end.

Turn to Romans 16 again. As he concludes his letter he comes back to the theme where he began. In 1:1, I'm "set apart for the gospel of God." I preach the gospel. This letter is about the gospel of which I'm not ashamed. And then in chapter 16, notice verse 25, "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel," the gospel that I've written about in this letter, and of course the central theme of that gospel being the preaching of the person of Jesus Christ. So then, the preliminary theme, we'll say, of this letter is the gospel of God, or the gospel of justification by faith alone. As Douglas Moo in his excellent commentary puts it, "Romans is Paul's summary of the gospel he preaches."

Now with that in mind, understanding that as the theme, what I want to do in most of the time that remains is work through sort of an outline and analysis of the entire book. The book can be organized into six basic movements. It's important for you to have this overview so that as we begin to look at the individual pieces you know what to do with them. Six movements. The first movement is simply the opening to the letter, in chapter 1 verses 1 to 17. This section consists of three very simple paragraphs. There are, in verses 1 through 7, there's the simple greetings from Paul. He acknowledges himself as the author, then he gives his credentials, and then beginning with this statement about the gospel of God, he introduces us to the theme of this letter. And he, eventually, in verse 7, gets to the recipients, the "beloved of God in Rome."

The second paragraph in this first movement is in verses 8 to 15, and here Paul gives thanksgiving and prayer for the Romans, a very personal section with powerful theological truths contained. But then when he gets to verses 16 to 17, we have the formal statement of the letter's theme, as we looked at just a moment ago. That's the first movement. It's basically introductory. Once he's introduced the letter's theme then, he begins to unfold it in the second movement, the gospel explained, justification by faith alone.

Beginning in 1:18, running all the way through the end of chapter 4, Paul explains that gospel. He lays out what it is he preaches. And of course, to really appreciate the good news, which is the gospel, you have to understand the bad news, and so that's where he begins. In 1:18, through 3:20, Paul explains why we need righteousness from God. And the reason for that is we have no righteousness of our own. He begins in 1:18, "For the wrath of God," God's righteous anger "is revealed," is being revealed literally, right now, it's being revealed "from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." And then he launches into an indictment of one category of fallen humanity, and that is, pagans. He says listen, God has displayed Himself and His creation, He's put Himself on display. You can see His eternal power, His divine nature, in what He's made, and yet what did pagan humanity do with that revelation? He gives two great indictments, they neither glorified God, nor were they thankful. And as a result of that, God turns them over to spiral of judgment as chapter 1 unfolds. These are pagans, who have rejected general revelation. And by the way, borrowing from chapter 2, he says in chapter 2 that those pagans, although they may not have the scripture in their hands, they have the substance of the law written on every heart. There isn't one person who will ever stand before God and have an excuse, because the substance of the law is written on his heart. And so, Paul ends chapter 1 saying, so what did pagans do with all of this? Well, they not only committed these sins, but they found pleasure and they gave hearty approval to those who committed them.

You come to 2:1, and running through 3:9, and Paul turns his guns away from the pagan to the religious moralist, the person who believes that he's better than that. After all, I'm a moral person, I'm basically a good person, I try to do good things, and Paul unleashes his attack to say you aren't good. In chapters 2 and 3 he talks about this religious moralist, including the Jews, and he says listen, you have God's law, this is a great thing, but you don't live by it. You accuse others, you do the same things you accuse others of. God's standard of judgment is impartial, it's perfect, and you don't measure up. No one does. In 3:10-20, he brings both of those groups together. As he finishes up his indictment of mankind, he brings the pagan and the moralist, and the spiritually minded person "together" into one group. And he indicts them all. Romans 3:10,

"There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;"

You say wait a minute, what about all those people involved in religion around the world, aren't they seeking for God? No, Paul's going to tell us that, in fact, exactly the opposite is true. In their idolatry they are running away from the true God. They are not seeking Him at all. And he goes on to say "There is none who does good, not even one." He ends this section of indictment in verses 19 and 20 of chapter 3 by saying, listen, there won't be one person who can stand before God with an excuse. Every person will stand before God and when it comes time to give their defense they'll have to cover their mouth with their hand with nothing to say. And he ends that section by saying every human being, essentially right now, is living on death row waiting execution. That's the bad news and that's why the good news is so good.

In 3:21, down through the end of the chapter, Paul explains God's gift of righteousness. You see now why God's gift of righteousness is such a wonderful thing? Because you have none. I have none. And so God, in an amazing act of mercy, gives righteousness to the believing sinner. Look at verse 21 of chapter 3,

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness which God gives through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe; 23 for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, 24 but we are justified [we are declared right with God] as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

You say, how could God declare unrighteous people to be righteous? And the answer is at the end of verse 24, "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Verse 25, "whom God made a public spectacle of as a propitiation." Great word. Propitiation simply means the satisfaction of His wrath. God satisfied His wrath against your sin in Christ, and therefore He can not only credit your sin to Christ on the cross, He can credit Christ's perfect righteousness, that 33 years of law-keeping, to you. The gift of righteousness. Paul describes here what the reformers love to call an alien righteousness. It's not something that's your own personal righteousness, it's a righteousness outside of you that is simply credited to your account. It's the righteousness of Christ that is received as a gift from God by faith alone, accomplished through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Now in chapter 4, Paul continues to unfold justification by faith alone, but here he wants us to know that this has always been the way God has saved people. There was never any difference. And he takes us back to two Old Testament figures, back to Abraham and back to David, and he says this is exactly how they were made right with God as well. So it's nothing new. This has always been God's way.

Now that brings us to the third movement of Romans. We've seen the gospel explained. The third movement is the gospel experienced, the effects of justification. This is chapters 5 through 8. Now there are those who think that Paul moves in chapters 6 and 7 and 8, specifically, from justification to sanctification. And it is true that he does deal with sanctification in this section, and we'll look at that, but I think Lloyd-Jones is right. I don't think Paul is changing his themes here. He's still talking about the gospel and specifically about the effects of justification. Lloyd-Jones writes, "He is showing and demonstrating the certainty, fullness, and finality, of this great salvation. He is giving us a picture of the absolute security of the Christian man." I think he's right. I think that's the point of chapters 5 through 8. In spite of the struggle with sin, in spite of the issues that are on-going in our lives, when we are in Christ, when we have been justified, the effects are monumental.

He begins in chapter 5 by saying, "Therefore, having been justified by faith." Here are the practical results. Here are the benefits of your justification. And he unfolds those immediate benefits in verses 1 through 11. Beginning in the middle of 5:12 and running down through the end of chapter 6, Paul reminds us that we have been connected to Christ. He is our representative. As well, we are united to Him. We are in Him, as Paul likes to say. We are spiritually united to Him, and as a result of that, we have new life, we have new righteousness.

In chapter 7 Paul wants us to know that justification frees us from trying to gain a right standing before God by keeping God's law. We love God's law, however, we still sin, we struggle, and the second half of Romans 7 documents the struggle that was even there in the mature heart of the apostle Paul. Oh "Wretched man that I am!" And yet, because of justification, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." And in 8:1-17, as a result of our justification we are now able to obey God, able to please God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we looked at a couple of weeks ago. And he ends this section in 8:18-39 with that hymn of security, every justified sinner will be glorified, and nothing can "separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

That brings us to the fourth movement in Romans, and it's the gospel defended: election, Israel, and God's promises. This is chapters 9 through 11. He defends the gospel. Now, there are people, sadly, who believe that these chapters are merely a parenthesis in Paul's thought. But, in fact, there's an obvious logical connection. Think about this, stay with me here, Paul has just been arguing that the believer is secure. That his future glorification is certain, because he's been justified. But if that's true, and it is, what happened to God's Old Testament chosen people, the Jewish people? Why did most of them reject their Messiah and His gospel? This invites this troubling question, is it possible that it's because God broke His covenant with them and rejected them? And, if God did that, then how can we be sure of our security and our justification? And so Paul explains divine election. He explains the reality that God did not choose to save all of the ethnic descendants of Abraham. "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." And he uses that to remind us that God has not somehow forsaken His covenant.

All of the ethnic descendants of Abraham have never been saved. All of them have never been saved. All of them will never be saved. But, he concludes chapter 11 by saying that there's coming a time when, at the end, all Israel, that is the largest number of those who are alive at the time, will be saved. God still has a plan for Abraham's ethnic descendants.

The fifth movement is the gospel applied. Chapter 12 verse 1 through the middle of chapter 15 he talks about the transforming power of the gospel of grace. As Paul does in all his letters, he ends by applying the truth, and here applies the truth of the gospel very practically. He devotes three and a half chapters to saying listen, if you have come to understand the gospel, if you have experienced the effects of the gospel, you will be personally and practically into applying the gospel to your life. If you have been justified, then the Spirit of God will be sanctifying you. You will be obedient to the gospel.

The final movement of this letter, the sixth and final movement, is the conclusion of the letter. The second half of chapter 15, beginning in verse 14 through the end of the chapter, Paul details his future plans. The next step for him is to go to Jerusalem to take the gift that the believers there in Macedonia and Greece have collected, to take that to Jerusalem. After he delivers that gift he plans to go to Rome and to have a short visit with them, and then from Rome he wants to go to Spain to begin his new ministry. In chapter 16 Paul gives his final greetings. It's a warm, wonderful chapter because you see the heart of the apostle for individuals. You also see the heart of God for individuals as He details these wonderful people, that are only named in passing, and yet God knows. He knows their service.

Now I want to finish this morning, very briefly, by asking one final question. And that is, why did Paul write this letter? Why did Paul write the book of Romans, or the letter of Romans? And why is it more like a theological treatise in content and length than the rest of his letters? You see, Paul's thirteen letters average about 1,300 words each. Romans has over 7,000 words. So not only is it much longer, unlike the other letters that have a lot of personal information included throughout them, Paul's letter to the Romans reads far more like a theological treatise. So why?

Through the centuries scholars and students of this book have proposed a number of different reasons Paul may have written it, and written it the way he did. One commentator lists 12 different options. But three, I think, really seem to stand out. Here's why Paul wrote Romans. And this is very important to understand. Number one, Paul wanted Rome to become his base of operations for his new ministry. Now to appreciate this you have to have just a little insight into Paul's life. Paul was probably converted in the early 30's AD, shortly after the resurrection. By the time he wrote this letter, in about 57 AD, he had been a follower of Christ, had been involved in ministry, the missionary ministry of outreach, for about 25 years. He was near the end of his third missionary journey. His entire ministry so far had been concentrated on the same basic territory, Asia Minor, that area that we would call Turkey, Macedonia, and Greece. In other words, eastern Europe. But Paul felt at this point that he had exhausted the potential for new people to reach with the gospel in that region, and it had always been Paul's goal to preach where Christ had not been known. And so he found himself, as he wrote this letter, at a major crossroads in his ministry. An important chapter was closing, and he was looking for the new door, the new chapter. He'd been thinking for several years about what would be next and it became apparent to him that the Romans would be an important part in his new ministry direction.

Turn to Romans chapter 15. Romans 15:20, "And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation." Paul said I want to be a missionary on virgin soil, where the gospel has never been proclaimed. Where no one knows. This is a true evangelist. "But as it is written, 'They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'" He quotes from Isaiah 52, and said this is the path that I want to take. "For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you." Why? For what reason? Because he was covering new territory. He was sharing the gospel where it had not been known, in eastern Europe. Now notice verse 23, "but now," after this 25 years of ministry, "with no further place for me in these regions," there's no new territory, there are no people groups that don't have the gospel, in these regions.

and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you 24 whenever I go to Spain [He had already told them earlier in the book that his intention was after visiting them to go to Spain. Now watch this, this is key.] – I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while.

Now what's going on here? During the many years of Paul's ministry in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, the church in Antioch was his home church, his sending church. Now in the same way, Paul wanted the Roman churches to become his new base as he anticipated ministering no longer in eastern Europe but in western Europe. And if that was going to happen, the Romans needed to understand the gospel that Paul preached. Paul did not found the church in Rome. He had not visited the church in Rome. He was unknown largely to them except by name and reputation. And so, they needed to understand the gospel he preached so that they would embrace him, embrace his ministry, and his new missionary plan for western Europe.

Leon Morris writes, "He clearly regarded it as important that the Roman church support him on his Spanish mission. If they were to support Him it was not unreasonable that they should know what he preached. Accordingly, he sets forth a clear but profound statement of the essential message of Christianity as he proclaimed it. This will show the Romans where he stands. The result is one of the most important Christian documents ever written." Paul was saying, I'm coming to meet you, I really want you to be my home church as I begin this new ministry on the western frontier, and here is the gospel I preach.

But there was a second reason Paul wrote this letter. A more personal one to them, and to us. Paul wanted to minister to the saints in Rome. He wanted to minister to them. Look at Romans chapter 1. Romans 1:11. He says, "For I long to see you," here's why he wanted to visit them, "so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established." He was concerned for their spiritual growth, their spiritual stability. That's why he wanted to come. And it's why he wrote this letter as well. Turn over to chapter 15. Chapter 15 verse 15, he says, "But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again." His was a spiritual concern for them and that's why he wrote them this magnificent letter. Chapter 16 verse 25, "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to the gospel" that I have written about in this letter. That was his concern, to establish them in their faith. Listen folks, this is why studying the book of Romans is so important for us as well. Paul longed through this letter to give these people spiritual stability, to establish them in their faith, and that's what our studying of it will do as well. That's what your studying of it will do.

There's a third reason Paul had and that was, he wanted most of all to bring glory to God through the proclamation of the gospel. Keep your finger here in Romans 16, but glance back in Romans 1. Romans 1:5, Paul says I have this "grace and apostleship" that God has given to me "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles." Now what you would expect Paul to say next in verse 5 is so they can be saved, so they can miss Hell, but he doesn't say that. He says, "for His name's sake." You see this is what drove the apostle. What drove him in his evangelistic effort was so that Christ would be glorified. Flip over to the very end of the book, he comes back to this same theme. Chapter 16 verse 25, we just read "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel," and at the center of that gospel is the preaching of Jesus Christ. Notice the end of verse 26. This gospel "has been made known to all the nations." That is, where he served, where the other apostles served, "leading to the obedience of faith."

But that wasn't the end result Paul was after. What was the end result? Verse 27, so that "the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, might receive the glory forever." That's what drove Paul. What motivated him in preaching the gospel was not to simply keep people from eternal destruction, although certainly he loved people, but it was to see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ glorified through the proclamation of the gospel to all peoples. That's the goal of God for evangelism. That's why you and I should be sharing the gospel with our family and friends, not simply, not exclusively so that they will miss Hell and make Heaven, but because God, their creator, deserves their praise. He deserves their glory. They were made for that. And that's why we should be sharing the gospel, so that all peoples, even our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers and fellow students might bring glory to the God who made them and who sustains them. That's what the gospel of God is all about. Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are with great anticipation looking forward to our study of this wonderful letter. Thank you for giving it to us. Thank you for inspiring the apostle Paul to write it. Thank you for preserving it so that we can study it together. I pray over the coming months and years that you would do the very thing that Paul prayed for the Romans through this letter, that you would establish us according to his gospel as you have given it to him, and through him to us. Father, make us eager and diligent students. Give us open hearts and minds, and may we obey and embrace what we learn. We pray in Jesus's name. Amen.