Introducing Paul to the Romans

Romans contains quite a long letter opening.  Though it’s a bit artificial, we can say that the opening consists of 1:1-15, since Paul transitions abruptly into what appears to be the first major section of his letter in 1:16.  It’s tempting to regard a letter opening as relatively less important than the letter itself, and this is especially the case with Romans.  Some feel that this is just the fluffy stuff at the beginning—let’s move on and get to the meat, the theology of the letter!  That’s a poor reading strategy, however, and misses quite a lot.

Paul writes to a church he has never visited, so his pastoral approach is diplomatic.  He rhetorically establishes a relationship of mutuality with the Roman Christians.  He is not an imperious apostle talking down to them, issuing commands and edicts.  His carefully crafted rhetoric sets him alongside them, putting him in a position to bless them and be blessed by them.  He creates this mutuality in at least two ways.

First, Paul and the Romans share in the call of God.  Paul is not an apostle because of his credentials or his giftedness or because of anything else special about him.  He was “called” (v. 1), just as those in Rome were “called to be saints” (v. 7).

Second, Paul expresses his longing to come to Rome to bless and be blessed.

I really want to see you to pass along some spiritual gift to you so that you can be strengthened. What I mean is that we can mutually encourage each other while I am with you. We can be encouraged by the faithfulness we find in each other, both your faithfulness and mine (Rom. 1:11-12, CEB).

This is not a one-way relationship with Paul the instructor and the Romans the clueless ones in need of being set right.  This is not a lopsided power arrangement.  Paul’s ministry posture is one of mutuality. 

This is Trinitarian-shaped ministry, the sort of relational dynamic that flows from the gospel that aims to restore what was corrupted at the Fall.

Human relationships were designed to imitate the perichoretic dynamics within the Godhead—Father, Son, and Spirit forming an eternal community of mutual delight.  Humans were created for this very same mutuality—to be known and to know, to delight in others and be delighted in by others.

God’s original design for humanity shapes Paul’s approach to ministry.  He encounters the Romans as a servant (v. 1), as one who longs to bless and be blessed.

This is, of course, the very same mutuality that Paul wants to see effected in the Roman fellowships.  He wants to see rival groups in Rome come to regard each other genuinely as siblings in God’s new family in Christ.

What are the implications for contemporary ministry?

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5 responses to “Introducing Paul to the Romans

  • athanasius96

    Shared leadership and the full honoring of the diversity of gifts held by all people.

  • Jon Mcgill

    I think this idea would cultivate an environment in which we actually listen to one another with a faith-filled expectation that God is working in and through us (the community of saints) to bring salvation rather than what often happens where we simply listen for that language we’ve always heard in order to give a head-nod to those who, in our eyes, “get it” and affirm the status quo. Too much of our communication is wrapped up in simply maintaining a particular way of articulating truth rather than a mutual, faith-filled exercise of blessing the other.

    Does this make sense?

    • timgombis

      Does it ever!! Such an easy (mal)practice to fall into, isn’t it?

      Seems that what you’re saying is that mutual exchanges make possible the opening of vistas on the truth that allow us to receive it and enter it more fully, faithfully, and fruitfully. Sad that some see this as a threat…

  • Elsewhere (07.27.2011) | Near Emmaus

    [...] – Tim Gombis asks if Paul was a doctrinal watch-dog. Also, he takes a look at Paul’s introduction to the Romans. [...]

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