Sunday, February 22
Romans 15:1-13: From dealing with the possible conflicts of conscience among Christians in chapter 14, Paul goes on to enunciate the guiding principle for the resolution of such conflicts, namely, the example of Jesus, and more specifically the example that Jesus demonstrated in His suffering and death (verse 3.)
In other words, the sufferings and death of Jesus, in addition to being the efficient cause of our redemption and reconciliation to God, also provide the exemplary type of the Christian moral life (verse 7). Some years earlier Paul had made such a case when treating of congregational problems in Macedonia (Philippians 2:5-10).
The ChristianŐs moral life, then, is not merely personal and private. It is social (verses 1-2,5-7). Paul knows nothing about personal holiness apart from life and responsibilities in the Church. (For this Christian thesis we may see a pagan adumbration in the traditional Spartan theory of education, in which virtue, arete, is invariably social and unselfish.) The exercise of freedom is never a goal or final purpose in the Christian life; it is, rather, the proper ambience and atmosphere of the Christian life. Freedom for freedomŐs sake is unknown in the Holy Scriptures. Christian freedom is ever at the service of Christian charity.
Divine charity was the motive of JesusŐ assumption of our sins in His self-offering upon the cross (verse 3; 8:32-35). In support of this thesis Paul invokes the authority of Psalms 69 (68):10, a verse descriptive (as is the whole psalm) of JesusŐ sufferings.
Then, having appealed to the Old Testament in order to throw light on a specific Christian theme, Paul enunciates the principle on which such an appeal is based, namely, the Christocentricity of the Hebrew Scriptures. Since the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ, and thereby finds its full doctrinal meaning in Christ, its proper moral application is in the lives of Christians (verse 4). This application is what Christian theology calls the moral or tropological sense of Holy Scripture (cf. P. H. Reardon,
"Scripture Saturation," Christian History 22/4 [Winter 2003-04], pp. 30-34).
Finally, the joining of the Gentiles with the Jews is not only a doctrinal fact (verses 8-12), it is a principle of moral behavior for those so joined (verses 7,13).
We observe that the imitation of Jesus is a basic behavior pattern throughout this section, as in the whole New Testament (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6; Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Mark 8:34; 1 Peter 2:21; John 13:15).
Monday, February 23
Romans 15:14-21: Paul now proceeds to introduce himself more completely to the congregation at Rome, a city that he plans to visit in the near future for the first time. In the present verses he says a bit about himself and his ministry, evidently feeling that such information is necessary, given the strong and authoritative tone that he has adopted in this epistle (verses 15-16).
Paul commences these remarks with a polite and positive sentiment about the congregation at Rome (verse 14), an approach that he employs elsewhere in his letters (2 Corinthians 8:7; 9:2-3; Philippians 4:15). In the present case such an approach is particularly appropriate, because is conscious of writing to a church that he had no hand in founding (1:5,13). Because of this latter circumstance, Paul does not enjoy the advantage of immediate paternity and familiarity that he enjoys in the churches of Syria, Asia, Macedonia, and Greece.
He feels compelled to write to the Romans, however, because he senses a responsibility that he has toward all the Gentile Christians (verse 16 [Note the Trinitarian structure]; 1:5; 12:3; 1 Corinthians 4:6; Galatians 2:7-8).
Like Jesus preaching in Galilee (Mark 6:6), Paul has maintained a preaching "circuit" (kyklo, the Greek root of "cycle"Ńverse 19), first centered in Antioch and later in Ephesus. (Observe that the churches of Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Colossae form a sort of semi-hub around Ephesus.) We note here that the bishops of these large metropolitan areas in due course became known as archbishops and metropolitans. This was a natural development, since the outlying cities had been evangelized by missionaries from the larger ones. This historical circumstance is what accounts for the immense authority of the bishops of Ephesus, Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome in early church history.
Up to this point in his ministry, the extreme limits of PaulŐs evangelizing have been Jerusalem in the southeast and Illyricum, or Dalmatia (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo), in the northwest. It has ever been PaulŐs goal to preach Christ where He has not been hitherto preached (verse 20; 2 Corinthians 10:15-16; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
Miracles and wonders have frequently attended PaulŐs preaching (Acts 12:22; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4).
Paul describes his ministry with a liturgical and sacerdotal term, hierogounta to Evangelion tou Theou, "serving the Gospel of God as a priest," or even "priesting the Gospel of God" (cf. Isaiah 66:20). This is one of our first instances of a specifically priestly term used to describe the ordained Christian ministry.
Tuesday, February 24
Psalm 26 (Greek & Latin 25): "I shall wash my hands among the innocent," says the psalmist, "and make procession about Your altar, O Lord, that I may listen to the sound of Your praise, and recount all Your wonders."
In the measure that the voice of this psalm is the voice of innocence, it is a psalm most properly heard from the lips of Christ our Lord, Who alone is truly innocent. The deepest sense of Psalm 28 is Christological.
Nonetheless, there is also a moral sense to this psalm, for we Christians too are called to live in some measure of innocence, in contrast to the world around us. Thus, St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless (amempti) and harmless, faultless (amoma) children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world" (2:14f).
In this context, Christian "blamelessness" is not an abstract or general ideal. It has to do, rather, with the avoidance of antipathy and unnecessary strife within the local church. Earlier in the same chapter the Apostle had exhorted that Macedonian parish to do nothing from ambition or conceit, but always to regard the interests of others, with fellowship, affection, and mercy (2:1-4), and later he will remind two women in that church of their specific duty with respect to such things (4:2).
In Psalm 26 as well, the innocence at issue is related to oneŐs relationship to the Church, particularly in the context of worship: "I have loved, O Lord, the splendor of Your house, and the dwelling place of Your glory. . . . My foot stands firm in integrity; in the churches will I bless You, O Lord."
The aspired-to innocence of the Christian has chiefly to do, then, with his relationship to those with whom he worships in communion. It is to be determined by evangelical love. Thus, St. Paul prayed for another Macedonian congregation: "And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you, that He may establish your hearts blameless (amemptous) in holiness before our God and Father" (1 Thessalonians 3:12f). Paul himself had given them the proper example: "You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly (amemptos) we behaved ourselves among you who believe" (2:10). Once again, this innocence has to do with the behavior of Christians to one another.
In yet a deeper sense, however, Christian blamelessness is to be understood as far more than simply a moral quality. It is also a blamelessness before God, manifestly a state that none of us can attain on his own. Such innocence is the fruit of cleansing redemption, of which the LordŐs washing of the ApostlesŐ feet is perhaps the BibleŐs most striking symbol: "If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me" (John 13:8).
This Christian innocence is not simply a forensic verdict. We are more than merely declared innocent. We are made innocent. Christian blamelessness is not simply imputed; it is effected. Something actually happens to us. The righteousness of Christ truly make us clean. The blood of Christ really washes us from our sins (Revelation 1:5). St. Paul wrote thus to the Colossians: "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless (amomous) and above reproach in His sight" (Colossians 1:21f).
But none of this is our doing. Even as we say to God (twice in this psalm), "I have walked in my innocence," it is still necessary to add, "Redeem me and have mercy on me." Innocence is not to be claimed except through repentance: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Ash Wednesday, February 25
Matthew 6:16-24: This section of the Sermon on the Mount begins with a treatment of the third component of MatthewŐs ascetical triad, fasting (verses 16-16). It should first be noted that Christians are given no discretion on whether or not to fast. It is when you fast, not if you fast, and the early Christian would have been astounded at any notion that he was expected to fast less frequently than did the devout Jew. The Jew at that time, as we know, fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Not to be mistaken for Jews, but certainly to fast no less often, the Christians changed those days to Wednesday, the day the Lord was sold for thirty pieces of silver, and Friday, the day that the Bridegroom was taken away. This discipline was common and in place well before the year 100 and possible several decades earlier. In addition, Christians fasted at other times, such as during the period before baptisms in the congregation. Gradually, these became the standard seasons of fasting in the Christian calendar, the major one being Lent.
The absolution of the apostles from the duty of fasting (9:14-15) pertained only to the period prior to the LordŐs Passion.
Dominating the early part of Matthew 6 (the triad of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting) was the warning not to work for an earthly reward. These next verses (verses 19-24) maintain that theme, exhorting us not to burden our hearts with divided loyalties.
The sustained exhortation to purity of intention with respect to almsgiving, fasting, and prayer is not to be used (as it often has been used) to justify the neglect of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. Indeed, done for the glory of God, and with the intention of pleasing the Father who sees in secret, these three things seem to be the content of what is called "treasure in heaven" (verses 20-21). The biblical caution against "works righteousness" must not be interpreted to preclude the reward (misthos) that GodŐs children may expect from their Father in heaven (verses 4,6,18; cf. 10:41-42).
The image of the "evil eye" in verse 23 seems to be a reference to envy (cf 20:15; Mark 7:22; 1 John 2:16). The metaphor of the eye as a lamp, found in the biblical Wisdom tradition (Proverbs 15:30; Sirach 23:19), also appears in Tobit 10:5).
Thursday, February 26
Romans 15:22-33: Paul now discloses his further plans.
First, he will travel with some companions to carry the collection of money that the churches of Galatia, Macedonia, and Greece have assembled for the relief of the Christian poor at Jerusalem. This collection has been in process for several years (verses 25-27; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1Ń9:15. We know that Paul eventually did make the delivery (Acts 24:17).
To assist in carrying this money Paul has gathered a group of sturdy Christians who will bear and defend it. These men would have to be strong and efficient. After all, this money was in coins only, not bills nor travelersŐ checks. The money bags were heavy, and armed brigands were everywhere, so Paul was obliged to choose the biggest, toughest, and perhaps scariest Christians he knew. The list of them is contained in Acts 4:20, where we see that they were drawn from Macedonia, Asia Minor, and Galatia. At Troas they would be joined by Paul himself, Luke, and some others whom we may be able to identify from Colossians 4:7-14.
Second, after delivering these financial resources to Jerusalem, Paul plans to sail west and visit the church at Rome, a place that he has long wanted to visit (verses 22-23,29,32; 1:10-15; Acts 19:21). In fact, Paul would arrive in Rome a bit over two years later.
Third, after visiting Rome, it is PaulŐs intention to expand his missionary mission to include Spain, at the far end of the Mediterranean (verses 24,28).
Did Paul ever reach Spain? In spite of the testimony of the Muratorian Fragment, it would seem that he did not. That anonymous testimony is fairly weak, given the absence of any other records of PaulŐs life after his two years of house arrest in Rome in 60-62 (Acts 28:30). Indeed, the few testimonies to PaulŐs alleged ministry in Spain come from outside of Spain. If Paul had actually established churches in Spain, as he had in Galatia, Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, it is inconceivable that Spanish history would have preserved no records on the matter. A Pauline succession of Spanish bishops would certainly have been preserved and cherished in the official testimonies of the Spanish churches.
Indeed, there is no clear and compelling evidence that Paul lived past his house arrest in Rome, so it is reasonable to conjecture that he did not live past the year 62. This would also explain why there is no mention of him in PeterŐs First Epistle during the next year or so.
Meanwhile, still in Corinth and writing this epistle in early 58, Paul asks the Roman Christians to pray for three things: First, safety in Jerusalem, where he knows he has many enemies; Second, that the aforesaid collection will be well received by the church at Jerusalem, where he fears that some Christians were not especially enthused about the Gentile ministry anyway; Third, that he will find his way to Rome after all this is done. The account in Acts 21-28 narrates the irony with which this last prayer was fulfilled.
Friday, February 27
Romans 16:1-16: As the rising sun moves up toward the eastern horizon each morning, one by one the myriad stars of heaven start to disappear. They do not depart the sky, of course, but the stars do become invisible by reason of the sunŐs larger and more garish light, and we upon the earth may no longer gain our bearings by observing them.
Not so the saints who shine on high. The true Sun or Righteousness does not, at His rising, eclipse those lesser lights by which the Church on earth is guided. On the contrary, He Himself illumines the saints, who have no light apart from Him. The reign of Christ does not dethrone the saints, who have no reign apart from His.
The saints, because they are so many and their serried ranks so closely stand together, are described as a "cloud" (Hebrews 12:1). Yet, on closer inspection we perceive that not one of the saints loses those personal and particular traits by which each friend of Christ may be distinguished from the others. The Good Shepherd calls them each by name.
The individual and particular names of the saints are inscribed in the Book of Life, and the names of many of them are written likewise in the Bible. It is the singular merit of Romans 16 that it contains the New TestamentŐs largest collection of names of individual Christians. They belong to the "church," a word that now appears in Romans for the first time (verses 1,4,5,16,23).
In verses 1-16, here under consideration, these are all names of Christians at Rome, with the exception of Phoebe, the "deaconess" of Cenchrea (the eastern port of Corinth), who will carry this epistle to the church at Rome.
Since Paul himself had never been to Rome, how are we to explain the obvious fact that he knows so many of these Christians personally? Indeed, this problem has so vexed commentators over the centuries that they have doubted that chapter 16 belongs at the end of the Epistle to the Romans at all. They have suggested that it originally may have been attached to some other epistle, such as Ephesians.
Since there is no manuscript evidence for such an hypothesis, however, it seems better to regard chapter 16 as an integral part of Romans, seeking some other explanation for PaulŐs personal familiarity with so many Christians in a city that he has never visited.
I suggest the following explanation. When the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome in A. D. 49 (Acts 18:2), that expulsion also included many Christians. Many of these came east and settled in cities that Paul evangelized. This is how they came to be the friends of Paul and even his coworkers. However, with the death of Claudius in the year 54, about three and a half years before the composition of Romans (January to March of 58), some of these Christians naturally returned to Rome, where they owned homes and other property. PaulŐs greetings here, then, are directed to those who had returned to Rome over the previous forty-two months. This suggestion, I believe, reasonably explains how Paul came to know twenty-eight Christians at Rome personally.
This suggestion is especially clear in the case of the first two whom Paul greets, Prisca and Aquila (verses 3-4), whom he had first met as exiles from Rome in Greece in the year 49 (Acts 18:2). It is significant that the next one named, Epenaetus, who is also from Greece (verse 5). Moreover, it is reasonable to think that Phoebe herself, who is described as a "patroness" (prostatis, or patrona) of Paul (verse 2), is another of these exiled Romans returning home.
The "Rufus" who lived at Rome with his mother (verse 13) was known to Paul from Jerusalem itself. They were the son and wife of Simon of Cyrene. Eight years later, writing in Rome during the persecution that followed NeroŐs fire (July of 65), Mark mentioned him and his brother Alexander, who had also arrived in Rome by this time (Mark 15:21).
Since the Epistle to the Romans and the other New Testament epistles were composed to be read at the ChristiansŐ weekly Eucharistic gathering, and because Christians normally greeted one another with a kiss after the prayers that followed such readings (Justin Martyr, First Apology 65.2), the closing remarks of these epistles sometimes refer to that kiss (verse 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14).
Saturday, February 28
Romans 16:17-27: Having finished his greetings to friends at Rome, Paul will now send the salutations of those who are with him at GaiusŐs house in Corinth (verse 23; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:14; Acts 19:29).
Prior to sending these salutations, however, Paul warns the Romans against schism, heresy, and dissension (verses 17-18). He knows there are trouble-makers abroad. Indeed, among the Jewish Christians who were returning to Rome during those years, he may have recognized some of the very individuals who had been sowing dissent among his own congregations in the East.
The tone of PaulŐs warnings here differs greatly in style from the rest of the Epistle to the Romans. One would think that Paul, as thought on the friends in Rome that he had just named, had somewhat forgotten that he was writing to a church that he had not founded. He reverts to his more usual style, so that these few verses more closely resemble the other epistles. For example, one may compare verses 17-20 with Galatians 6:12-17.
Once again Paul commends the good reputation of the Roman Christians (verse 19; 1:8).
The crushing of Satan underfoot (verse 20), of course, fulfills the prophecy in Genesis 3:15.
Greetings are first sent from Timothy, who had recently arrived at Corinth and will soon be leaving to accompany the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
In verse 22 we learn that PaulŐs scribe, who has written this epistle at his dictation, is named Tertius, a Latin name signifying that he is the third son in his family. Tertius sends along greetings from his younger brother, Quartus (verse 23). Their older brother, Secundus, will be one of those carrying the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 20:4).
"Erastus, the treasurer of the city" (verse 23) has become a Christian. This municipal commissioner for public works is well known from archeology. Visitors to Corinth can still see his name on a Latin inscription on a marble pavement block.