26 June 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Having described himself (both his apostleship and his gospel), Paul now addresses himself to his readers: *To all in Rome who are beloved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ* (7). It is hard for us to imagine the sensations which the mere mention of the word ‘Rome’ would arouse in first century people who lived far away in one of the provinces. For ‘she was the eternal city which had given them peace,’ wrote Bishop Stephen Neill, ‘the fount of law, the centre of civilisation, the Mecca of poets, and orators and artists’, while being at the same time ‘a home of every kind of idolatrous worship’. Yet God had his people there, who the apostle describes in three ways.
First, they are loved by God, his own dear children. Secondly, they are *called to be saints*, as also they are ‘called to belong to Jesus Christ’ (6). ‘The saints’ or ‘the holy people’ was a regular Old Testament designation of Israel. Now, however, the Gentile Christians in Rome were also ‘saints’. For all Christians without exception are called by God to belong to Christ and to his holy people.
Thirdly, the Roman Christians are the recipients of God’s *grace and peace*. The Aaronic blessing in the Old Testament was a prayer that Yahweh would both ‘be gracious’ to his people and give them ‘peace’ (Nu. 6:25f.). As used by Paul, one could almost claim that these words epitomize two of his major purposes in writing this letter, ‘grace’ emphasizing the freeness of God’s justification of sinners, and ‘peace’ the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ. Although he does not use the word ‘church’ (perhaps because the Roman Christians met in several house groups), he nevertheless sends his greetings to them *all* (7) and gives thanks for them *all* (8), irrespective of their ethnic origin. Since ‘beloved’, ‘called’ and ‘saints’ were all Old Testament epithets for Israel, it seems probable that Paul deliberately uses them here to indicate that all believers in Christ, Gentiles as well as Jews, now belong to the covenant people of God (cf. Rom. 9:24f.).
After this introduction the apostle tells his Roman readers frankly of his feelings towards them. He makes four points.
1). He thanks God for them all (8).
Allowing for a degree of legitimate hyperbole, it is still true that wherever the church has spread, the news that there were Christians in the capital had spread also. And although Paul had not been responsible for bringing the gospel to them, this did not inhibit him from giving thanks that Rome had been evangelized.
2). He prays for them. (9-10).
In Paul’s apostolic ministry, preaching and praying go together. He assures them that, even though most of them are unknown to him personally, he yet intercedes for them *constantly* (9) and *at all times* (10a). This is no pious platitude. He is telling the truth, and calls on God to witness his statement. In particular, he prays that *now at last by God’s will*, that is, if it is his will, *the way may be opened* for him to come to them (10b). It is a humble, tentative petition. He presumes neither to impose his will on God, nor claim to know what God’s will may be. Instead, he submits his will to God’s. When we reach chapter 15, we will consider how his prayer was answered.
3). He longs to see them and tells them why. (11-12).
His first reason is this: *so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift (charisma) to make you strong* (11). At first sight it seems natural to interpret such a gift as one of those *charismata* which Paul listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and will list later in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. There seems to be a fatal objection to this, however; namely that in those other passages the gifts are bestowed by the sovereign decision of God (Rom. 12:6), Christ (Eph. 4:11) or the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11). So the apostle could hardly claim to be able to ‘impart’ a *charisma* himself. He appears therefore to be using the word in a more general sense. Perhaps he is referring to his own teaching or exhortation, which he hopes to give them when he arrives, although there is ‘an intentional indefiniteness’ about his statement, perhaps because at this stage he does not know what their main spiritual needs will be.
No sooner has he dictated these words than he seems to sense their inappropriate one-sidedness, as if he has everything to give and nothing to receive. So he immediately explains (even corrects) himself: *that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith* (12). He knows about the reciprocal blessings of Christian fellowship and, although he is an apostle, he is not too proud to acknowledge his need of it. Happy is the modern missionary who goes to another country and culture in the same spirit of receptivity, anxious to receive as well as give, to learn as well as teach, to be encouraged as well as to encourage! And happy is the congregation who have a pastor of the same humble mind!.
4). He has often planned to visit them. (13).
Exactly what has foiled him he does not say. Perhaps the most likely explanation is the one he will mention towards the end of his letter, namely that his evangelistic work in and around Greece had not yet been completed (15:22ff.). Why had he tried to visit them? He now gives a third reason: *in order that I might have (RSV ‘reap’) a harvest among you*. ‘Harvest’ is literally ‘fruit’, and John Murray rightly comments: ‘The idea expressed is that of gathering fruit, not that of bearing it.’ In other words he hopes to win some converts in Rome, *just as…among other Gentiles* (13). It would surely be appropriate that the apostle to the Gentiles should engage in evangelistic reaping in the capital city of the Gentile world.