"Romans: Longing and Light"
Many years ago, I taught Romans 9-16 at a local fellowship of believers after a teacher who had begun the epistle left the church. Having taught Romans many times, it was interesting to begin in the middle of Paul's vital teaching in the letter. We addressed the Apostle's writing that concerns God's historical working in His earthly nation Israel (chapters 9-11), and the practical admonitions in chapters 12-16, based on Paul's doctrinal dissertation in chapters 1-8. I recall the time being a wonderful, but different opportunity to consider the latter portion of the document declared by the poet Coleridge to be "the most profound writing in existence."
In the same church mentioned, we will begin this week a study of the first 8 chapters of Romans. We just completed 1 Corinthians in this same church, which serves as a wonderful prelude to Romans. I decided that since I omitted the first portion of the epistle in our Romans study years ago, we would return to its bright and shining light to ponder together the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as declared in perhaps the most pointed, personal, and principled way offered by the Bible. I would argue that Romans serves as the summit of all Scriptural revelation, without meaning to minimize the vital necessity of every portion of God's Biblical revelation. "Every word of God is pure… All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (Proverbs 30:5; II Timothy 3:16).
I share this with you to address a particular point about Paul's letter to the Romans, namely, this gift of light would perhaps never had been written if our brother could have had his way.
"Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let - prevented - hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles" (Romans 1:13)
"Yea, so have I strived to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation: but as it is written, To whom He was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand. For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you" (Romans 15:20-22).
Because Rome was the power of the world in those days, one would have thought the Holy Spirit would have expeditiously led Paul to this venue of which it was said, "All roads lead to Rome." God delayed the Apostle for many years, however, and when Paul did reach Rome (on at least two occasions), he came and stayed as a prisoner. He "longed" to see his Roman brothers and sisters, but never did in the way he hoped. Paul ultimately died in Rome at the bloody hands of Nero. Thus, an unfulfilled longing characterized our brother so precious and vital to our walk with God, especially in light of the epistle to the Romans. Again, would Romans have been written had Paul been able to visit his brothers and sisters in Rome according to his desires?
We do not know. However, of this we can be sure: Romans, as it exists, blesses us with its uniquely glorious fullness of light because Paul could not be with the church at Rome personally. Unfulfilled desire resulted in the glory of Christ proceeding from the Apostle as "the most profound writing." This speaks personally to each of us. What epistle to the Romans, as it were, is being written in our lives because longings that seem proper and beneficial have never been satisfied? Certainly it would have seemed to Paul that visiting Rome would have led to glorious outcomes of God's grace and truth in Christ. Instead, our brother wrote a letter. And oh what a letter he wrote, as inspired by the Spirit of God! And what a letter we may be writing as we join the Apostle regarding longings unfulfilled, choosing to trust our Lord rather than giving into paralyzing bitterness and sorrow.
I look forward to once again teaching Romans over the next few years. Doubtless its truths will yet again fill and thrill my heart as I read, ponder, and study. Hopefully others will also be encouraged as we journey to the Biblical summit whereupon God's brightest display of glory awaits. However, I hope to remember Romans exists because a most blessed brother experienced disappointment that led to glory rather than despair. And I hope such truth will be of help to our hearts as we realize our Lord's working in each of our lives involves blocked pathways that lead to vistas of the most glorious illumination shining in the Person and work of Christ.
"The Light shineth in darkness."
Weekly Memory Verse
I will remember the works of the Lord. Surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.