Paul opens this letter affirming his apostleship, as was his custom with letters to churches that were not so familiar with him. He reinforces that in verses 4-6 by stating that, through Jesus, he and the other apostles “received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…” The long introduction also affirms that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he was descended from David, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy (verse 4); and he declares the mission to the Gentiles (verse 13). He also expresses, at some length, his eagerness to go to Rome for fellowship and sharing the gospel with them.
Not much is known for certain about the church at Rome. But by virtue of it being in Rome, its fame would have been considerable and, like the other churches, it was composed of both Jews and Gentiles. The remainder of this chapter focuses on the need for righteousness on the part of the Gentiles, and Paul does not mince words in pointing out the history of unrighteousness on their part.
Though verses 18-24 are here specifically directed at those Gentiles, they contain some of the most profound (and certainly definitive) statements applicable to all people everywhere concerning God’s existence, and thus they provide the very basis of sound apologetics. The “wrath of God” in verse 18 represents his holiness, judgment, and yet loving response to the unrighteousness of mankind. When Paul says that all mankind knows God, he is not speaking of the concept of a god or of deity in general. Man knows the one true and living God because the evidence abounds in everything He created, yet he suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. His attributes, including His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived since the creation of the world, so that everyone is without excuse.
Man has always tended to be full of himself because of the material knowledge he acquires, only made possible by God; and “claiming to be wise, they became fools…” Man’s desire for sin and all that is an abomination to his Creator moves him to exchange the truth about God for a lie (verse 25) and worship the creature rather than the Creator even to this day. People who deny Him do so by conscious choice in a futile attempt to justify their own unrighteousness. The “shameful acts” Paul lists as driving this begins with unnatural relations of men and women with others of the same gender, and in verse 29 runs from liars to murderers and “all manner of evil” in between – as God makes no distinction between what man considers “small” or large sins.
In chapter 2, Paul addresses the Jews of the church at Rome, as their self-righteousness threatens the unity of the church – just as it did in Galatia and elsewhere. But here again, the applications to all people are clear. He again states that the Gentiles are without excuse, for just as the evidence for God abounds, he also says “the law is written on their hearts.” So even though they did not have prophets who wrote the law as the Jews knew it, the Gentiles knew enough “to do what the law requires” (verses 14-15).
But the Jews, who had the law and were circumcised, were warned that they who pass judgment on others are not without sin themselves. So they should not boast and be judgmental because if they know the law and additionally are circumcised, but still live in sin they are just as guilty – for God shows no partiality. They are not favored of God for their knowledge of the law or for their circumcision. Though it is still admirable that they keep the law of circumcision, it is no longer required anyway, and it is of no value to them in their sin.
Christians today would do well to remember this when it comes to others. Being “raised in the church,” knowing and even reading their Bible, and even having been baptized are all of no value if they live in sin anyway. In that case, they will be just as lost as those who never obeyed the gospel.
Bible Reading Schedule for this month
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All of my comments in this blog are solely my responsibility. When reading any commentary, you should always refer first to the scripture, which is God’s unchanging and unfailing word.