Forming Faith Blog

Paul’s Introduction (May 19, 2019)

A woman writing a letter. Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans as an introduction of who he is and what he believes.

This week we move from reading about what Paul did in the Book of Acts to reading some things that Paul wrote. We’re reading a sample of what Paul wrote in a letter to the people of God who lived in Rome. Paul, like Barnabas and Peter, felt the call to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

A Break from Stories

For the most part, Paul doesn’t write stories. It can be a bit jarring when we come off eight months of tracing the story of God through the Bible. Instead, Paul writes to churches (mostly) from his position in church leadership (as an apostle). He is most often dealing with church problems that have come up, both how people are acting, and what they are believing about Jesus (and other “God stuff”).

The Letter to the Romans is a bit different, in that he’s not writing to a church he started, but a church he just wants to visit. I’ve heard this is basically how Paul is introducing himself to the Roman church with a summary of who he is and what his message is.

Theological Writing

This all means that Paul’s letters (or epistles if you want to be all fancy) spend a lot of time talking about the things of God. That’s what theology is. I might very well be mistaken (and comment if you disagree), but the Epistles are really the only direct theological writings in the Bible. All of the Bible teaches about God and the things of God, but most of the writings do it through stories, songs, and prophecies.

The problem is that God is really big (rather, infinite) and it’s hard to get our heads around God stuff. And, Paul is trying to be thorough, not necessarily simple (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). When you start reading from Paul in church, you can practically see everyone’s eyes glazing over. I like to think of myself as theologically competent and biblically literate, but I really need to dig into Paul to get anything out of him.

Translating Paul

One thing I find helpful is to try to rewrite a passage from Paul in my own words, inspired by the quote attributed to (but probably not said by) Albert Einstein “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” So, below is my attempt.

My Really Rough, Probably Inaccurate Paraphrase

From: Paul

Who am I?

I’m a person who serves Jesus, the Messiah. God told me to be an apostle, which means I go out and tell people about God’s good news.

What is this good news?

  • It’s a message, a promise, that goes way back. God told it to the Hebrew prophets a long time ago, and they wrote it down (in what we now call our Holy Bible).
  • The message is about Jesus.

Who is Jesus?

  • Jesus is God’s Son.
  • Jesus is a descendent of David, like God promised the Messiah would be.
  • The biggest sign that Jesus is God’s Son is the fact that he was raised from the dead.
  • Jesus is the one in charge, whom we call Lord.

It’s through Jesus that God has given us unconditional love and forgiveness, and who sent us out in a special role to the non-Jews, including you. God sent us out to represent Jesus and help you all build a relationship of trust with God and to live God’s way. You belong to Jesus!

To: The people in the church at Rome (God loves you and calls you holy, to be set apart to do God’s work).

Hello! God’s love and peace be with you!

[Greg: Can you believe that Paul did all of this in one, long sentence!!!]

Now, on to the letter. First, I thank God for you all since your faith is famous, everyone knows about it. The God I serve (I serve by telling people the good news about Jesus) knows that I’m always praying for you. I keep asking God that I can finally come visit you. I really want to see you, so that I can help you in some way, well actually so we can help each other grow in our trusting relationship with God. Believe me, I’ve often wanted to visit you so I can see your faith in full bloom, like I do among the other non-Jews I visit, but things keep getting in the way. I owe it to the Greeks and non-Greeks to tell them about the good news, which is why I’m so eager to visit you in Rome!

I’m not embarrassed by this good news. Why should I be? This message is powerful, it’s how God saves us, everyone (no matter who you are or where you’re from, Jew or non-Jew) who trusts God. It is through trusting this message that we can see that God’s actions are right and just,* which helps us to trust God more. Scripture says that the person who lives God’s way will live in a trusting relationship with God.**

*The biblical concept of righteousness is essential to Paul’s message but can be hard to understand. I have found N.T. Wright’s explanation to be very helpful in thinking about this.

**If you want to use my paraphrase here in your teaching or preaching, great! But, please find a way to cite me, and leave me a message so I can know how you’ve used it!

In Summary

Paul can be hard to understand for anyone. But, to make Paul more accessible to everyone, it might be helpful to use this technique in preaching and teaching. Our free activity this week “Paul’s Introduction” asks participants to look at Romans 1:1-17 as Paul’s introduction to the Roman church, breaking it down in pieces. Active engagement with the passage is always helpful. This Learning the Story activity is the central focus of this lesson, which is from our Living the Word: Youth curriculum and is probably best used by youth and older.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

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