This is Paul’s longest letter and maybe his most important one. In modern days, we type and can quickly edit what we’ve written. But try to picture Paul writing with pen and ink on an scroll using materials that would have been expensive and challenging to get from one person to another. It was quite a process and it is amazing how his words have been preserved for all these years. In his conclusion to his letter to the Romans, Paul lets them know that he wants to visit them when he takes a trip to Spain. But his immediate destination is Jerusalem because the Gentile believers in the Macedonian area have collected money to help the poor in Jerusalem and Paul would personally deliver it. Talking about the offering Paul adds, “For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.”
Mankind has spiritual needs, physical needs and relational needs. God is the One who designed us, and He is very aware of our needs. Jesus, during His Sermon on the Mount, taught His followers how to pray, and it is interesting that these three distinct areas come up in that model prayer. Our daily bread represents our physical needs. The need we have for two-way forgiveness reminds us that we depend on God for our relationship needs, to get along in healthy ways with people. Our spiritual needs are explained by the request for protection from temptation and the evil one. As we live and communicate with God in prayer, our ability to rely on His goodness grows. We become less egocentric and we can stop seeking to have our needs met in lesser ways. God filled Paul and used him to help provide what was lacking in the lives of many; may we be open and obedient to be filled and then used as well. Let’s be thankful to God for our blessings and pray, as we pay it forward, so others too will know His goodness.
Romans 15:27-29 ESV
You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. This advice from Paul requires us to be mature as we relate to God and other believers. Paul is not giving a blank slate go-ahead to do whatever feels good, but instead he reminds us that God – not you or me, is the Judge of us and of others. It is best for us to take the time that is needed to know why we do (or don’t do) what we do. Going forward with our thoughts and activities, being thankful to God for them, and not hurting others along the way, is a good indication that we have made a decent decision. A clean conscience is a wonderful blessing.
Romans 14:22 NLT
Some concepts in God’s Story are difficult to understand. Other concepts however are difficult to really do. I think that Romans 12:14 is not so much hard to comprehend, but very challenging to actually put into action. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Not only are we to pour out happiness on those who harass us and treat us unjustly, but Paul tells us to talk to God about these people, asking Him to show them favor too. When we can do this, we get a better grasp on the forgiveness He has extended to us. So here are some ideas for practicing this good principle. When road rage strikes, try praying out loud in your car for the other driver instead of motioning a curse. If your boss or a co-worker or a teacher is demanding, take their names before God’s throne as you walk into work or school, and especially before any specific meeting. Rudeness may be on the rise, but we as God’s children do not need to swim in that same easy current. By staying close to God we can overcome and respond with sincere kindness.
When I was learning the Thai language, my first school closed down so I needed to switch schools. I found the new school’s director very challenging to connect with and condescending toward my language goals and progress. I wanted to avoid him, so during my breaks, I walked laps around the block and would sometimes cry. While feeling sorry for myself in my less than supportive environment, God prompted me to pray for the school’s administration and for its teachers. This simple act of obedience increased my closeness to God, and He helped me to see that there was more going on at the school that needed my prayer. Day-by-day, I began building deeper relationships with the Thai teachers, getting to better know them as individuals and I continued to pray for the director. Learning Thai was my main objective, but God did not want me to curse those who were making it extra difficult, but to bless them by praying and by caring. There are lots of ways we can put into practice Paul’s admonishment to pray rather than to curse. People need changing and we are all people. God is the One who changes people best; let Him start with us and see how He opens up the opportunities for us to then compassionately love others, even those who persecute us.
Romans 12:14 NLT
Good communicators use relevant and relatable illustrations to better emphasize and clarify the concept they are trying to express. To get his next point across, Paul chose to paint the picture of tree grafting. The stem of one plant would be cut and then another cut stem would be bound to it so that the two sets may be joined to grow together from one root system. He wanted both Jews and Gentiles to know that every person could receive the blessings of God. But some of these branches from Abraham’s tree—some of the people of Israel—have been broken off. And you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree.
Before moving back to the US, I went to the Sunday Walking Market in Chiang Mai for the last time. It was the summer of 2011. Scented candles, fresh roasting meat, the sound of ancient instruments and displays of creative art were some of the things I knew I would miss, so I walked slowly, taking it all in. I found the lady who had sold me colorful stone braided necklaces in the past, and I purchased six more. This blessed her. And it began my prayer to God to please give me new friends. I was about to move to a big city that I had never lived in before and our new nest would be empty, like in our first year of marriage.
I was in a reflective mood and thought back to years earlier when our young family moved to a village on the edge of a Chinese town; we felt like outsiders. Over time though, relationships were formed and we began to be invited to festivals, marriages and funerals. We were grafted into their community, and eventually praise songs were written by villagers who became grafted into God’s family through faith in Jesus. God had been faithful then to provide community (and He had done that for us with several moves) but would He provide for us in Houston too? Christmas came around for the second time after leaving our life in Asia, and I excitedly shared the story of God’s goodness as I gave those necklaces to five women rejoicing with each how God had answered my prayers through them. The sixth necklace I wear as a reminder of God’s blessings. May we never forget that God does not want there to be outsiders, but for everyone to be brought into His family, to be grafted in and share in the blessings of His rooted love!
Romans 11:17 NLT
The “grace vs. law” debate continued and like all good lawyers, Paul did not ask a question that he didn’t already have an answer to. Paul followed up his line of reasoning about the Israelites trusting in self rather than God, by asking, “Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.” The world is in for a great blessing when everyone accepts the goodness of God’s offer of salvation. Just picture what it could be like if everyone loved God and loved people. If that is not our present reality, let’s not give up hope! Instead, let’s do our part by sharing and showing how we have been blessed and by repeatedly saying, “yes” to God’s invitation to work with Him for the good of the world.
Romans 11:11-12 NLT
A lawyerly tone is used by Paul in the middle of his letter to the people he hopes to meet in Rome. He doesn’t argue for law or for deeds but for everyone to embrace God’s grace. Passages from Deuteronomy, Isaiah and the Psalms give weight to his position. Paul built his case to show the history of the hard-heartedness of human beings and included a quote from King David: “Let their bountiful table become a snare, a trap that makes them think all is well. Let their blessings cause them to stumble, and let them get what they deserve. Let their eyes go blind so they cannot see, and let their backs be bent forever.” Paul didn’t bring this up to condemn the people who were still stuck in a trap regarding their thinking about the law and grace, but he wrote to offer hope and deliverance. May we never lose sight of the truth that every blessing is a gift from God. If we think our plenty comes from what we have earned, we too are like a snared animal. Instead, let’s live in the freedom that comes freely to us from the One who paid a great price.
Romans 11:9-10 NLT
One of my favorite T-shirts from Thailand says “same-same” on the front and “but different” on the back, a phrase that can often be heard by Thais as they describe something that is similar but not really the same. Paul could have used “different-different, but same” when he wanted to get his point across about people. There are differences between languages, cultures, customs, preferences, social status and physical appearance. But when it comes down to who we are as people created in the image of God, we are very much the same. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Paul quoted what prophets of old had written.
Each one of us has the same need and that is to call out for Jesus to rescue us. This need was throughout history and this need is throughout our world today. It is beyond understanding to know the depths of just how richly He blesses everyone who relies on Him for redemption. Here’s the deal: if you are saved you are blessed. A drowning man would take that deal, so how much more blessed is it to be rescued from the everlasting penalty of our sins? Jesus, You are our Rescuer, our Redeemer, and our Savior. We have a great need to be reconciled with God the Father and it is through You that we can have this peace that goes beyond all understanding. Nothing we have done is too bad for Your grace to cover, and nothing we will ever do is good enough to earn our way into a relationship with You. What must we do to be saved? Call on the One God has provided. Thank You Jesus for answering that call. Amen.
Romans 10:12-13 NIV
Life is complicated. The Bible, God’s Story from the beginning of life and His guidelines for how to live a blessed life, is complex but simple. Think about all the lives that have lived through the Old Testament up to the New Testament and every generation that has lived since. Mankind needs help. Right after he wrote a huge assurance that nothing at all can separate us from the love of God that is in Jesus, Paul shared something personal. Professional religious people, like Paul used to be, gave him great anguish. They didn’t yet trust in Jesus as the Giver of the help they needed. Paul spoke to the people of Israel and said, “To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.” Thanks be to God for His mercy that allows any of us to be adopted by Him. May the people of Israel not reject but wholeheartedly embrace God’s provision through His Son Jesus. May all who have breath acknowledge that He will be blessed forever. In the complexity of life, how good it is to reflect on the simple, yet profound, truth that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you.
Romans 9:5 ESV
It is true that there is forgiveness of sins through Jesus, and Paul writes more about this in his letter aimed at both the Greeks and the Jews who made up the church in Rome. Paul explained that even those who do not share the same genealogical heritage as the Israelites were included in this great blessing that God offers to everyone. Blessed and happy and to be envied are those whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered up and completely buried. Blessed and happy and to be envied is the person of whose sin the Lord will take no account nor reckon it against him. Is this blessing (happiness) then meant only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? Good question, and the answer is found in the truth that this blessedness comes through faith alone. How do we achieve God’s standards of righteousness? By faith. By faith like Abraham’s. Righteousness is gained by faith.
Abraham was the father of the promise that God would bless all nations when those nations placed their faith, trust, belief in Him. Today, we are part of the “all nations”. Do we trust Him today? Relationship is so much more than a one-time belief that took place at some point in the past. A relationship with God is a growing process where joy and blessing increase as we place our confidence in God in each new situation. Paul experienced the joy that his sins were forgiven. He knew God’s Story when he quoted these passages from what David wrote in Psalm 32:1-2. He is excited and wants everyone to know this extremely good good news! There are a lot of pages to read between the Book of Psalms and Paul’s letter to the Romans, and God’s theme of blessing shows up over and over again. His invitation is extended to all generations and all nationalities. God’s Story of blessings is the best!
Romans 4:7-10 AMP
Paul wrote about the great joy and delight that awaits those who have been rescued – those who have received forgiveness of their sins, and he wanted to make it clear that the redemption that takes place is by faith and not by works. As he made his point to his readers in Rome, he brought up the fact that King David celebrated this same truth. “Likewise, David also speaks of the blessing of the man God credits righteousness to apart from works: How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven and whose sins are covered!” All who have asked for forgiveness from God the Father through Jesus are blessed! We are then free to work, serve, and live in joy trusting that our sins are covered. Jesus covered all our sins with his blood – shed for mankind at Calvary, a real place outside of Jerusalem where His crucifixion occurred. Every blessing beyond what Jesus did for us on the cross is blessing upon blessing.
When the first SD believer understood the goodness of a loving, forgiving, holy God, he was amazed at God’s generosity. But he could not fathom that redemption was a gift. Instead he wanted to do something to pay God back. He asked us, “What does God like? Does He want fruit? Rice? Meat?” Grace, apart from works, was explained with more clarity. God does not want or need food from us; He is the One who blesses His children with all that we need. Greater awe, joy and gratitude flowed from a forgiven heart that humbly accepted God’s blessings. May we never lose our admiration of God who is worthy of all our praise. Are we joyful today because our lawless acts are forgiven? We who trust in Jesus have our sins covered! May joy and praise abound.
Romans 4:6-7 HCSB
While Paul was visiting his friends in Corinth he wrote to the loved-by-God ones in Rome and introduced himself and explained more of the gospel. He had hopes to visit them in person so he wasted no time and declared that since the beginning of time, God has made His divine nature known so that there is no excuse for rejecting God. The godlessness and wickedness of mankind will be judged. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Erroneous thinking that exchanges the truth about God for a lie goes as far back as the Garden of Eden. From that lie, mankind has added many other lies that have become even more distorted, and in doing so have turned away from God to worship His creation. When we come to the point when we really believe that God will be blessed forever, our thinking and our actions change. God will remain. In this world we have choices to make. Choosing to live outside of God’s truth has consequences both now and into eternity. It has always been that way. Heeding Paul’s warning is a good choice. Please do not trade the truth for a lie.
Romans 1:24-25 ESV