Rome and Romans, more thoughts

I started my study of Romans with a search for information about the people Paul was writing to. Christians, he says, but other than that, who? Several reference books and online sources indicate they were a mixture of economic, racial, educational, and religious backgrounds. Probably they had become believers after Roman Jews attended the feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out, became Christians, and then brought the Gospel back with them to Roman. (See previous post.)

Paul wrote other epistles to correct things, either mistaken beliefs or practices. So, I wondered if perhaps he had written this epistle with that idea in mind also. Of course, as he planned to visit them, he used the occasion to introduce himself and gave an impressive list of personal references toward the end. But with all of the teaching about the gospel that he included, why did he stress certain things?

I sort of started at the back of the book, to stir up a different train of thought in my mind. I’ve read this book numbers of times, and it always just seemed to me a theological discussion – Paul’s Gospel, so to speak. But obviously it is more than that.

As I flipped through this book, I came to chapter 12, about presenting your bodies as living sacrifices. Why did Paul even mention sacrifices? Why not just say live godly lives, think godly thoughts? Was there something about sacrifices themselves that he was addressing? Correcting? Back to the reference stuff, online searches, etc.

Yes, there was quite a lot about sacrifices in the daily Roman life, Jews and Gentiles and other ethnic groups alike. Rome was a hodge-podge of religious activity. It had no particular one religion that was clearly Roman itself, it had every imaginable kind and variation of religions. And many, many sacrifices! For every lifestyle choice, every problem, every decision, whether by the government or the individual – even when it came to construction of an addition to a public wall – there were sacrifices to some god or other. Asking for favor, asking to avoid displeasure, asking for good weather, good crops, good success, etc.

Okay, lots of sacrifices. What kind? Many kinds. Animals and vegetables, similar to Jewish sacrifices. Very, very rarely, human sacrifices had been made but only in extreme circumstances, according to one historian I read – that is, before the days of Nero.

One interesting kind of sacrifice was where a kind of doll was sacrificed or offered, representing the person making the sacrifice. That of course was supposed to satisfy the particular god. So now these verses in Romans 12 have a deeper meaning for me – offer you yourself to God, your own body, your own person, and not some kind of effigy substitute for yourself like Roman religions do.

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Dreams, visions, the Holy Spirit is at work

This is exciting! The following news reports are from several mission updates I received by email April 17, 2008:

(1) Many reports have been received of Muslims who are finding Jesus through experiences of dreams and visions.

(2) Over the past few years Burma’s Buddhist monks and nuns have invited Christian missionaries to come share the gospel in the privacy of their monasteries. “It appears that the Holy Spirit had urged these monks and nuns to call our evangelists to come and share the gospel of hope and love.” Several thousand Buddhist monks have now been led to Christ as close to 80 percent of the monks in each of the monasteries prayed to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. [Adapted from MISSIONS INSIDER, 18 March ’08.]

In Acts 2:17 Peter quotes verses from Joel chapter 2, about visions, dreams, and the Holy Spirit being poured out – in the last days. Those days, and these days!

When in Rome…

Praying and meditating before going to sleep last night, the Lord asked me a strange question – have you considered Rome and Romans? The apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans, that much I knew. I had read and studied, even taught about the book of Romans, but had I ever considered – really considered who these people were, that the book was originally addressed to?

Well, no, I can’t say that I had. Weren’t they all Christians who lived in Rome? That’s about all I could remember. I guess to instigate more study on my part, the Lord told me a little bit about these people.

Some were immigrants to the city. Some were natives. Some were Jewish. Some were not. Some were born there. Some were not. Rome was a “melting pot” (like America) of many ethnicities, cultures, traditions, religions, societal level, education, morals and ethics.

Some had parents who had immigrated there from Israel, others had grandparents who had immigrated there from Israel, and those parents and grandparents were orthodox Jews who kept the Jewish traditions. Thus, their adult children were not integrated into the pagan Roman culture.

But for many or most of the others, they had been integrated into the local culture, politics, business, religion, society, legal and moral systems.

Into this multi-faceted Roman society came the Gospel. How? What happened next? That’s all the Lord told me. It’s as if He was smiling, knowing my love of Bible study and innate curiosity would take over from there. And of course it has.

So this morning I looked in my NIV at Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans, to see who he addressed and why he said he was writing. That gave me a little information — he didn’t know these people but he planned to come there for a visit. He wanted to impart some spiritual gift to them, to make them strong, and for them to mutually encourage each other. He also wanted a harvest from among them, I assume he meant new believers.

Of course, he wanted them to know who he was before he arrived, and what he believed, so they would know he was legitimate. Okay, so far, so good.

But those introductory verses didn’t describe the Roman believers to me very well, so I went to the internet to see if I could find a bit of historical information. I did, and this information will help me understand why Paul included all he did in his Epistle to the Romans as I begin a new read and study of it.

If you like history too, keep reading. The following is from the online Catholic Encyclopedia, April 11, 2008:

“ROME

After the sixth decade B.C. many Hebrews had settled at Rome, in the Trastevere quarter and that of the Porta Capena, and soon they became a financial power. They were incessantly making proselytes, especially among the women of the upper classes. The names of thirteen synagogues are known as existing (though not all at the same time) at Rome during the Imperial Period. Thus was the way prepared for the Gospel, whereby Rome, already mistress of the world, was to be given a new sublimer and more lasting, title to that dominion — the dominion over the souls of all mankind.

Even on the Day of Pentecost, “Roman strangers” (advenœ Romani, Acts 2:10) were present at Jerusalem, and they surely must have carried the good news to their fellow-citizens at Rome.

Ancient tradition assigns to the year 42 the first coming of St. Peter to Rome, though, according to the pseudo-Clementine Epistles, St. Barnabas was the first to preach the Gospel in the Eternal City. Under Claudius (c. A.D. 50), the name of Christ had become such an occasion of discord among the Hebrews of Rome that the emperor drove them all out of the city, though they were not long in returning. About ten years later Paul also arrived, a prisoner, and exercised a vigorous apostolate during his sojourn. The Christians were numerous at that time, even at the imperial Court. The burning of the city — by order of Nero, who wished to effect a thorough renovation — was the pretext for the first official persecution of the Christian name. Moreover, it was very natural that persecution, which had been occasional, should in course of time have become general and systematic; hence it is unnecessary to transfer the date of the Apostles’ martyrdom from the year 67, assigned by tradition, to the year 64 (see PETER, SAINT; PAUL, SAINT). Domitian’s reign took its victims both from among the opponents of absolutism and from the Christians; among them some who were of very exalted rank — Titus Flavius Clemens, Acilius Glabrio (Cemetery of Priscilla), and Flavia Domitilla, a relative of the emperor. It must have been then, too, that St. John, according to a very ancient legend (Tertullian), was brought to Rome.”

Normal Christian, more thoughts

What is a “Normal Christian?”

Years ago I experienced miracles, instant answers to prayer and faith healing as an integral part of my everyday life. I took them for granted. I was part of a small church where this kind of God-life was taught, expected and experienced from the smallest toddler to the eldest senior. Due to many factors that church disbanded and the members found other church homes across the region, but the life in the Spirit we had experienced didn’t seem to move with us.

Why should we settle for living like the world lives? Curling into ourselves because we’re too busy, too occupied with earning a living, paying the bills, doing the housework, attending committee meetings, hurrying to get to work or church and back home again. We don’t take time to study, meditate, worship, listen, or just bask in God’s presence personally. We let the Sunday School teacher, the praise team and the pastor take care of those spiritual chores, we’re doing good just to get there. And we settle for getting the same colds and flu and heart attacks and car accidents and divorces that the world gets.

We settle for our friends and family getting sick and dying without Christ, because after all, it must have been God’s will for them, right? “I was too busy or too ignorant to help them and nobody else helped them, so it must have been God’s will for them to die and go to hell, right?” I am tired of hearing that excuse.

What’s a normal Christian? One who hears God’s instruction to him and goes out and does it. It sounds simple but the “How to” will take commitment, and work. Here is my outline from a Bible study course l taught last year.

The Normal Christian

Week 1 — Introduction

A. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the father.” (John 14:12 NIV)

He went on to say, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name… You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

Why? “…so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:13-b)

This is Jesus’ idea of the Normal Christian. Are you a Normal Christian? Most would say no — and this course is designed to help us learn how to get there from here.

B. Where is here? Survey of where we are — how we would describe ourselves and our progress right now today.

C. What stops us from doing what Jesus did?
Ignorance of what and how; Embarrassment of what others would think; Fear of failure and humiliation; Doubt that it’s God’s will for me or anyone; Sin

Week 2 — Definitions from scripture

God — Triune: Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19; Father, Son, Holy Spirit
Man — Also Triune — Body, Soul, Spirit
Satan — Devil, tempter, accuser, murderer, thief, liar, doesn’t fight fair
World — Earth, Spirit World, Universe, Heaven; world system
Life and Death — Natural — has a beginning and an end
Eternal Life — Zoe, God’s life, imparted at salvation, has no beginning, no end; God-life
Sin — Missing the mark — errors, mistakes, omissions and comissions, rebellion
Christian — Christ’s ones, “little Christs”; God initiates, we must respond

Week 3 — Who are we really, according to God?

A. In the beginning — God created man in His image, gave authority & instructions
B. Adam (and Eve)’s sin and fall — temptation and rebellion
C. Jesus’ death on the cross — paid penalty for sin for all who accept Him
D. Holy Spirit poured out — on those who accept that Jesus paid the penalty for sin
Indwells at salvation — like taking a drink of life
Baptized with (filled) upon request — like bathing in, breathing in life

Week 4 — #3 continued — Who are we, really, continued; What are we supposed to do?

A. New identity — child of God, joint heir with Christ of the kingdom
B. New line of command, new relationship to God and the body of Christ
Jesus — older brother, intercessor, head of the body of Christ, captain of the Lord’s Army
Holy Spirit — instant communicator, enabler and empowerer to follow instructions
Father God — director of our activities, now and in the future
C. God’s goal for Himself and us — the Normal Christian life: fellowship / friendship with Him; partnership in His work — exercising authority again

Week 5 — Recognizing and overcoming obstacles to getting there

Ignorance — not knowing how to begin or what to do
Doubt — wavering, believing you can one minute, you can’t the next minute
Fear — of what others may think; fear of failure
Sin — errors, mistakes not confessed, repented of, forgiven and erased
Opposition — from Satan, demons, unbelievers or well-meaning believers

Recognize these obstacles in your own life, ask God’s help to overcome them

Week 6 — How to break the pattern of the subnormal life

Clothing, equipment, communication, tools & weapons, training
Baptism / Filling of the Holy Spirit — upon request, not forced or automatic
Bible — studying, meditating, 2-way conversing with God along the way
Prayer — inspired, instigated by God — “Telling God what he tells us to tell him”
Awareness and obedience of God’s direction in daily activities
Fruit of the Spirit — character development
Faith — how to get it / grow it / exercise it

Week 7 — #6, Clothing, equipment, continued

Armor of God — what it is, why is it called that, why do you need it
Fellowship — with other believers, preaching, teaching, discussion, sharing
Praise and worship — public and private
Gifts of the Spirit — different tools for different tasks
Calling / assignment — be in the right place at the right time, do the necessary thing

Week 8 — What lies ahead?

In heaven — If we die before Christ returns, what will we be doing? Constant R&R? I don’t think so…
Worship / fellowship with Christ and others / training / preparing to return with Him
On earth — Certain things must happen before Christ returns — some done by us: spreading the gospel to the whole world, or people group

Week 9 — #8, What lies ahead, continued

End times — Conflict in spirit world and on earth increases, War of Gog and Magog, War of Armageddon eventually
Second Coming of Christ — timetable debated for years. I’m “pan-trib, it will all pan out”
Thousand year reign — Glorified believers ruling under Jesus’ authority; unchanged people still on earth, some believers, some unbelievers; lots of work to do
Final conflict — Eternal Lake of Fire for Satan and all unbelievers
Heaven and earth united — new heaven and earth; New Jerusalem arrives, God’s headquarters here on earth

I haven’t included all the scripture references I used in the class, but they’re pretty easy to find, if you’re really interested in this subject.

What’s normal for a 21st century believer?

Normal.  Sick.  Broke.  Conflicted.  Unhappy at work, at school, at home, at church.  Is that normal?

Where’s the prospering and being in health, as your soul prospers?  (See III John 2.)  Food multiplying? Storm stopping?

I think there’s a clue in that “as your soul prospers” phrase… more about that after I do a bit of study.