We’re in the middle of Paul’s letters to the churches this week. We’ll hear all about the task given to ministers of the gospel. We’ll see how stern words of rebuke lead to godly grief and repentance. We’ll hear Paul’s fullest explanation of the gospel to the church at Rome. Hopefully through it all – we’ll be in awe of the person and work of Christ and inspired to move out into the world loving and serving our neighbor because of our overflowing gratitude for the freedom we have in the gospel.
Here at the end of the letter in which Paul dealt with disorderly worship and numerous questions from the Corinthians, he reminds them of the foundation of their faith and the load-bearing pillar of the gospel: the resurrection. Corinthians 15 is perhaps the most glorious treatment of the resurrection in Scripture and one worth reading slowly because it will also be true of you one day. Chapter 16 concludes with a few final details and plans (so that he might not be accused of vacillating).
After 1 Corinthians, there was more communication between Paul and the Corinthians that we’re missing – but apparently Paul wrote a tearful, corrective letter to the Corinthians which grieved the church and harmed its relationship with Paul briefly. We’re hearing Paul’s reflection about this from 1:1-2:13. Paul wrote and was eager to hear their response from Titus. This reflection about not finding Titus leads Paul to reflect on his ministry from 2:14-7:1. Chapters 3-4 reflect on what it means to be a minister of the new, glorious covenant of Christ and the gospel-light that comes from the proclamation of the gospel.
In 5:1-7:1, Paul continues reflecting on his ministry and urging the Corinthians toward repentance and faith. In 7:2 he transitions back to his original line of thought from 2:13 where he spoke of his previous pain in writing the previous letter. We see the result was godly grief which produced repentance, which is a great comfort and encouragement to Paul. Then Paul uses this repentance and eagerness to “clear themselves” as an opportunity to show generosity to the church in Jerusalem. Grace is the fuel for generosity.
In these final chapters, Paul offers another defense of his ministry. This time, it’s in comparison to the self-proclaimed “super apostles” who thumb their noses at Paul and his weakness. Paul pours the sarcasm on in chapter 11 and “boasts” of his accomplishments – but then turns it all around in chapter 12 and boasts of his weaknesses instead of writing a letter of recommendation. The point of Paul’s “foolish talk” is to help the Corinthians know that he does not want their possessions but them. Because he wants to find them faithful when he visits them again, he exhorts them to test themselves to see if they are in the faith.
Romans is Paul’s introduction of himself and his gospel to the church at Rome. He has not yet made it but is clear in 1:11-13 about his desire to get there (because the Lord told him he would get there in Acts 23:11). Paul begins outlining his gospel with the bad news that no one is righteous – not Jews or Greeks. But his turn in 3:21-31 is the hinge of the first half of Romans. It’s the turning point from which he’ll begin illustrating that righteousness never came from the law but through faith.
In this section of his argument, Paul strives to illustrate how righteousness has always come through faith. In chapter 4, Paul states clearly that righteousness is not of works (4:6), not from circumcision (4:11), not by the law (4:13), but by grace through faith (4:16). Chapters 5-6 unpack the implications of this radical truth for believers. Should we continue in sin so that we can get more grace? No. Should we keep sinning because grace covers it? No. Instead, we strive for righteousness (6:17-18). The logical question, which Paul hinted at in 3:31, is: what’s our relationship with the Law? Chapter 7 is Paul’s answer: we’ve been released from the Law because we have died in Christ and now live under the law of the Spirit – which Paul discusses in Romans 8.
Paul continues telling the church at Rome how we live this new life in the Spirit in chapter 8. Having put our faith in Christ, there really is no condemnation. The Spirit has set us free from sin and death so that we might live freely as God’s children. Nothing that happens in our life will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, so we press on in hope. But Paul doesn’t stop there because if this is true – then why don’t the people of Israel see this? Has God’s word failed? Paul emphatically says “No! God’s word has not failed! Nor is God unjust.” in Rom. 9-11. In Chapter 10, Paul illustrates from Deuteronomy 30 that the law and faith are not at odds but work in tandem. God’s hands remain open for ALL disobedient people to repent and believe in Christ’s righteousness for them!