Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Romans 1:8-15

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. 13 I want you to know, brothers, [3] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, [4] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

The translation above is from the ESV which I found to be a very good one after working with the text and reviewing C.K. Barrett’s translation.

Paul observes the general letter writing conventions of his day, however, his use serves the purposes of what he wants to communicate. For example, in Romans 1:1-7, which serves as “the greeting,” Paul does not just give his name like he does with churches he knows well, but he actually gives a clear explanation of who he is, and the content of the message he proclaims. So also, in Romans 1:8-15 Paul utilizes the conventional “thanksgiving” part of the letter, as usual expressing his identification with the recipients of the letter. But, he also uses this thanksgiving to overcome any misgivings of the Romans about why he has never come to see them in person (explaining how he remembers them and has wanted to come to them), and to clarify once again what his message is all about by writing: “I am a debtor to both Greek and barbarian; both to the wise, and to the foolish.” 1:14.

At times Paul gives explanations to other churches about why he has been delayed in visiting them, but here Paul is explaining two things: why he has never visited them; and why he has the authority to write to them and instruct them since he has never preached the Gospel among them. Because he has not “become their father” in the Gospel as he had by preaching at the founding of the church as he had among the Galatians and Corinthians, he has “to step a little more lightly” in this opening section. So, after he says: “that I might impart some gift of the Spirit for your strengthening,” (v. 11) he backs up a little, and clarifies: “rather, that we might be mutually encouraged by our faith, yours and mine.” (v. 12). But, then, instead of backing up in vv. 14-15, he steps out boldly in referring once again to the foundation of his authority, hearkening back to the opening verses: “called an apostle . . . in the service of the Gospel of God’s Son . . .” and now in these verses he says: “as one obligated to preach this Gospel among all the Gentiles, both civilized and barbarian (Roman citizens and non-citizens). That is why I am also eager to preach to you in Rome.” It is this calling of God arising out of God’s saving action in Christ - this is why he presumes to come and preach among the Romans.

Later on, he also explains that he wants to then advance beyond Rome to preach to the West, even to Spain. (15:24). And, he mentions the collection he is taking up to bring for relief of the poor of the churches of Judea. (15:31). He probably waits to mention these things until later in the letter, so that they have a real sense of who he is and what he preaches before making hints that he would appreciate some hospitality and support for the missions – to Spain and to Jerusalem.

At this point in the letter what Paul wants to make clear is this: it is God, not the Church or some Apostolic council, that sets the limits to his mission. It is the God and the living Gospel in which Paul serves that defines where he goes and to whom he is to preach.

Before we leave this section, I want to say a word or two about the meaning of “The Gospel” in Paul’s letters. The Gospel is a force, the living power unleashed by God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. The Gospel does have a particular content (Jesus as the Christ of God, as the saving presence of God, as the head of humanity), but it is not simply a spoken message; it is a living redeeming power on earth that gives rise to the spoken message. Paul does not control or present the Gospel; it controls Paul, and he “serves in it.” It would not be too much to say that the Gospel as Paul uses the term refers to the living, saving presence of God in Jesus Christ on earth. It is a present reality, arising out of the past creative, saving actions of God in Jesus Christ. But, it is a present reality, a moving presence, in which Paul serves as a witness. Paul is like Moses, holding up the staff, while God parts the waters of the Red Sea. Moses is telling them to come across on dry ground, declaring God’s saving presence, but God is the one who is acting to save. The Gospel is the active presence of God like that. The message or proclamation arises out of the saving action of God in the present time. A good example is how the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentiles to whom Peter is preaching – God’s redemptive power is at work and its human messengers are trying to keep up with it. As Paul says to the Corinthians in his second letter: “Today is the day of salvation.”

In contrast to Paul’s view of the Gospel, much of Protestant preaching seems to be about a past event that, if received, has present and future results. For much Protestant preaching, the Gospel is not a present living power, but a past event, which is explained by preachers, and, if understood by hearers, guarantees salvation in the future. For Paul, the Gospel is a living power on the earth – the very saving presence of God – and, as Paul points to this presence, people awaken to it, and are overcome by its gracious saving power in the present which assures of a full redemption in the future life. Now, I may not be getting through here. Let me try one last way of explaining it: For most contemporary preaching, the Gospel seems to be an eternally important message that is controlled by preachers, whereas in Paul’s preaching the Gospel is understood as the saving presence of Jesus Christ that is controlled solely by God. What preachers like Paul do is bear witness to this saving presence and thus awaken people to see and hear and know and love the God who is active in working for their salvation both in this world and the next.

It is important to note that the term “Gospel” as used by Paul is very similar to the term “Spirit” as used in Acts by Luke. In Acts when it speaks of the apostles and other preachers serving in the “Gospel,” it speaks of being in the “Spirit,” being spoken to and guided by the “Spirit.” For Paul, “Gospel” means both that active, guiding presence of the Spirit of God, together with the message about God’s redeeming acts through Jesus, the Christ. Theology and experience of the Spirit are absolutely united for Paul.


  1. My comment is that I can't get this comment part to work!


  3. ur welcome...

    I am interested this week in how two interested people can focus on such different things in a text. I found your comments to be on track and sound, but it had nothing to do with the questions this text raised for me.

    Just for starters...

    I find it amazing that Paul has little concern about which Church is following Christ better or "growing" faster... or who is defining best the mystery of Christ for themselves and those with whom they share the Gospel. Paul remarks instead of how he is encouraged with the Roman Church because their faith (and works I suspect) is being talked about around the world (or at least the world he knows). Paul gives thanks for them and prays for them and encourages them to continue being faithful.

    Unfortunately, in today's climate, Churches and their leadership are too jealous of other faith groups to celebrate their acts of faith and to pray for them. Far too often we point out the faults and failures of our brothers and sisters in the faith instead of praising God for their "presence" in the community to which we have been called.

    This fractured Church in which we live could do worse than to return to Paul's emphasis upon prayer for all those called by God into His family of faith.

    These opening sentences remind me of a favorite saying of my mother's... "Be careful what you pray for, you might just get it!"

    Paul admits his continued desire to visit Rome and the Church there... and he confesses to praying that God will one day send him in that direction... perhaps while on his way to Spain. And I suspect we all have such prayer requests that we lift to God. We seem to have very little problem letting God know how we want the future to unfold... how we want to live our lives and who we want to share our lives with.

    Paul ultimately has his prayer answered and he goes to Rome. But he doesn't go to Rome a "free" man either in a physical or spiritual sense. Paul goes to Rome in chains (or at least under guard) and he ultimately dies there for the sake of the Gospel.

    The Church at Rome may have had time to get to know him... or he may have been too dangerous to let into the community in a complete sense. In any case, there is no evidence that Paul ever made it to Spain.

    I don't recall Paul ever complaining about how his prayer was answered and the price he had to pay to preach Christ crucified... and perhaps that is the lesson we might take from this text. Whether God leads us to Knoxville or Rome... be it in chains or in charge... God is both the author of our prayers and the power we need to complete our mission.

    Perhaps that is at least a part of what he wishes to share with the faithful at Rome and in the 21st century?

    Hesed ve shalom,