A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 1:8-17
Paul longed to go to Rome. He planned to visit Rome, but in case he would never get there, he wrote them a letter that was so comprehensive, that it would contain the entire gospel message – everything he could possibly tell them, as if he were there himself.
The book of Romans is different from most of Paul’s other letters because many of his letters were written to churches Paul had founded. The church in Rome seems to have somewhat formed spontaneously, as Christians migrated to the great city of the Roman Empire. Acts 2:10 describes how there were people from Rome among the Jews present at the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and other followers of Christ. So, when they returned home, Christian communities began to pop up in Rome.
Paul Longs to Visit Rome
Beginning in verse 8, we see that Paul was thankful for the good reputation of the church in Rome. These Christians had to be strong, because Christians in Rome were unpopular and even called ‘the enemies of the human race’. It’s the persecution of the Christians under Nero that set the stage for Paul’s ministry and the traditional view that he was martyred for his faith. He was also thankful because of its great location – the church had a special visibility and opportunity to glorify Jesus throughout the Roman Empire.
In verses 9-10, Paul wanted the Roman Christians to know that he prayed for them, as well as prayed for an opportunity to visit them. Paul emphasizes that ‘God knows how often he prayed for them‘ (the NIV & KJV use the phrase that ‘God is his witness’). Why would Paul feel the need to verify, by witness, that he prayed for them? Perhaps Paul knew how easy it was to say that we will pray for someone and then fail to do it. He wanted them to know that he really did pray for them.
In verse 11-12, Paul shares that his desire to visit the church in Rome was not just to give to them (as he says ‘so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord‘), but so that he can receive from them as well. Likely, Paul wanted to exercise his spiritual gifts of evangelism and teaching to help them be stronger in Christ. But Paul also realized that, in their mutual faith, they had something to give to him. He acknowledges that he knows that the encouragement will be mutual – they would both be encouraged by each other’s faith.
Christians Are Called to Live in Community
Trusting God can sometimes feel like a hard and lonely road. But it is not meant to be walked alone. God intends for us to live our lives in community with other Christians. Seeing how others trust God both encourages and challenges us. It reconfirms what we know to be true and helps to renew our commitment to continue in our faith. Hebrews 10: 24-25 reminds us that we must motivate and encourage one another, rather than neglect one another.
In verse 13, Paul continues to emphasize how serious he was about visiting Rome and that, up until this point, circumstances have prevented him from going. He says that he wants to work among them to see more spiritual fruit (the NIV & KJV use the phrase ‘that I might have a harvest among you’), which he uses as a metaphor to mean he wants to see more people put their faith in Christ.
In verse 14, Paul describes his obligation (the KJV uses the word debt). He has an obligation to Christ, who bore the debt of sin for all mankind, but he also has an obligation to the people Christ has sent him to reach with the gospel. Paul then tells us who Christ has sent him to reach: all people – the civilized and uncivilized, and the educated and uneducated.
In those days, people that adopted the sophisticated and educated culture of the Greeks were thought of as civilized, and all other cultures were thought of as uncivilized and even barbaric. Paul was declaring to be obligated to all people. In Romans 1:7 Paul reminds us that all are ‘loved by God and called to be his holy people’.
In verse 16-17, Paul now introduces the theme of his letter, his thesis statement.
Christians are Called to be Bold for Christ
In the beginning of verse 16, Paul boldly declares that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps he sensed that some of the Christians in Rome were tempted to be ashamed or afraid. Christians were looked down upon in Rome and Christians everywhere were being persecuted. But Paul wanted none of that. He wrote that the gospel message was nothing less than the power of God for everyone who believed it to be saved. Paul staked his life on this, and it was nothing to be ashamed of.
Verse 16 also mentions that the gospel of salvation is for the Jews first an then to the Gentiles (some translations use the term ‘Greeks’). We won’t get into to this until a later chapter, as Paul spends a lot of time on this topic, but essentially Paul is referring to how God prioritized the Jews first by revealing the gospel message to them first even though as a nation they had rejected it. But not all Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah; many Jews became converts starting with the twelve disciples.
Christians are Saved by Faith Alone
In verse 17, Paul describes what the gospel does. The NLT gets straight to the point and tells us that the Good News is about God making us right with him. But it leaves out an important phrase.
The NIV & KJV both use the phrase, ‘the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel‘. The righteousness of God, God’s righteousness, is revealed – meaning that it is given to mankind when they put their faith in Jesus Christ. We are not righteous, or at least not yet, but God gives us his righteousness.
Our salvation, being declared righteous, is accomplished from start to finish by faith – faith in Jesus Christ – and it is only by faith that we can be declared righteous, or right with God. Nothing else can justify us: not the law, and not good works. It is by faith alone that we can have life.
3 Ways God Calls Us to be Different
- We aren’t meant to walk alone in our faith. Yes, God is always with us and promises to never leave or forsake us, but we are also meant to live out our Christian lives in community to encourage one another. Finding a church community, a Christian family, to grow with is so important no matter the stage of our Christian walk. Early on we find strength in other more mature Christians; later on, we become that much needed source of encouragement and strength for others.
- It’s easier said than done sometimes to not be ashamed or afraid to identify ourselves as Christians. It’s easy to boldly speak about God around other believers but can be a totally different story in our non-Christian circles. Sometimes it just feels easier to quietly fit in. Let these verses encourage us today to be bold like Paul! The gospel message is all about God’s power bringing us salvation. He is at work changing lives. May he use our lives to bring others to Christ and give Him the glory!
- We are made right in God’s eyes through faith, and faith alone. Many people look to Christians and have an expectation that we should always be perfectly walking the walk; and while God does hold us to a higher standard, we are saved by faith alone. We aren’t and won’t be perfect. By believing that Jesus Christ’s death has paid the ultimate price for our sin: our records have been wiped clean; we are forgiven past, present, and future; and we are made pure and righteous in the sight of God. All we need is faith, even if that faith walk is a little messy at times. God has done all the work. This is amazing news!
What stood out to you in today’s verses? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments!
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