Missionary Lessons from a Pastoral Letter

Teaching Romans as pure theology has hampered me in several ways.

 

First, it comes across a little cold. And it misses the intended audience, teaching this way confuses Torah observant Christ-followers with first-century Jewish people. Finally, the doctrinal emphasis misses Paul’s obvious pastoral lessons.

 

This is a pastoral letter.

 

One false assumption I made was that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of believers in Rome when Paul addressed them. A deeper look reveals tens, not hundreds—probably more than he named in chapter 16 but maybe double or triple their numbers at most.

 

I’ve overlooked his stated goal of making Romans a hop-off for ministry in Spain.

 

So what have several weeks of research and soaking in scripture taught me?

 

The church had problems, for starters. Torah-observant Jewish believers and non-observant mostly gentiles weren’t getting along.

 

These folks were mostly poor, some slaves although folks like Priscilla and Aquila had enough wealth to show up in several cities in the short span of Paul’s ministry. Phoebe, normally presented as a messenger or helper (in many Bible translations) who presented the letter, was Paul’s “benefactor.” Read that—a wealthy woman helping fund his ministry. She also was well regarded enough to carry and probably read the letter to the various gatherings who made up the church.

 

A portion of 1 Corinthians gives us insight into Paul’s relationship with the early believers. It would certainly fit those in Rome.

 

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

…Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.“  1 Corinthians 1:26-31 NIV

 

These are the people who partnered in creating what we define as Western Culture.

 

We need to consider this carefully.

 

It’s so easy to pursue influential people, the wealthy and those high-visibility people who I identify as “trophy members.”

 

The problem with all that is that we don’t fully appreciate or equip and actuate those who make up the bulk of our congregations. And we tend to marginalize the poor.

 

Having gathered resources and smart people there is a temptation to depend on our strategies and strengths. The inherent weaknesses of a bunch of Christ-following slaves in Rome forced a dependence on the Holy Spirit which we could use by the bucketful today.

 

Don’t get me wrong. We do things well! Unless we’re looking at theatrical productions or top end commercial enterprises the modern church mostly does things as well or better than its secular counterparts.

 

Don’t believe me? Attend a local government hearing then compare the meeting to any business meeting in your own church. Ask yourself who does things better. Mostly we do.

 

We’re good at programs. Good at middle-class behaviors. Yet we lack the power that history records emanating from Paul’s Roman audience.

 

Some business owners, one wealthy woman, slaves from the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus (no suggestion that either householder was a believer), and a bunch of folks arguing over religious issues. Yet they changed the world.

 

I love it that Paul could compliment them, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another” Romans 15:14 NIV.

 

Read through the lenses of chapters 15 and 16, the entire book takes on a pastoral tone. I only wish I had copped to this several decades ago. The empire fell while the church stood. Paul’s very pastoral letter still guides us into a firm future in an uncertain world.

Note: This goes a little deeper on YouTube. Click here to view the episode. Also, look for parts two and three in the coming posts.

 

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