Our website requires folks to join in order to engage the comments section, so this may list interaction, but at the very least I am going to post thoughts here for reading, even if folks don't want to register to comment. I don't plan on picking apart the entire reading, whew, but will take one or two things that jump out at me and write a sentence or two about them and then pose a question for thought or comment. Here we go...
Romans 1:1-7: The salutation to a letter is commonly skipped over quickly to get to the "meat" of the communication. This would be unfortunate with Romans as these first seven verses offer some good material for consideration. The salutation found in Romans offers a few nuggets that are on my mind:
1.) In verse one Paul refers to himself as a "servant" of Jesus Christ. Many commonly used translations (NRSV, KJV and NIV) use the word servant; however, the original word in Greek is much closer to the word "slave." The substitution likely takes place to avoid associations with the institution of slavery as we know it throughout history. I think this dilutes Paul's intent and what it means to "belong" to Christ. Paul uses the word to convey being "acquired property" in the same unfortunate way a "slave" in the traditional use of the word through history has belonged to a master/owner. Paul, however, does not seem to view this as something that is humiliating or criminal, but, rather, sees it as liberation and himself as dignified to be totally in service of the "Lord."
A few questions I am asking myself today: What do you think of the use of the word slave vs servant? Does it cause discomfort? What does it mean to "belong" to another? What does it mean in thought and practice to be God's "property"...to be at the complete disposal of God? How does this play out in everyday life?
2.)In verse one Paul also says he is "called" to be an apostle. There is some thought that modern translations frame it in such a way that Paul is called to be an apostle, as if someone called you to invite you to a particular job or activity. This assumes that the job or activity could be refused. However, as we see in other writings of Paul and later in Romans itself, this may leave out the compelling nature of the call and ignore Paul's use of the previous word translated "slave." Some believe that a closer reading to the original Greek word, especially when taken in context of other writings, is that it is not Paul's choice based on evidence set before him that made him an apostle, but, rather, a sovereign act of God, the creator or "owner" if you will. This frames apostleship as a gift of God, a grace given to Paul. This reminds me of the words from a hymn: "I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew- He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Savior true; no, I was found of thee." This echoes other places where Paul calls "faith" a "gift of God", specifically in Ephesians 2:8-9.
A few questions: If you read the concept of Paul's calling as one of sovereign action, could he have said no? Where does this leave the will of man in the face of the creator's action? What does it mean to say that "faith" is a "gift from God"?
3.) Paul says he is "set apart" for the Gospel of God?
A few questions: What does it mean to be set apart? How are we set apart for God? How are we set apart generally in life? Does this fill you with excitement or dread?
4.) In verse five Paul talks about the "obedience of faith."
A few questions: What do you think obedience of faith means? How does this obedience manifest itself (or not) in your life?
5.) In verse 7, I love the way Paul calls the recipients of the letter "God's beloved" rather than using the word "church" as is common in many of his other letters.
A question: What does it mean to you to be called the beloved of God?