Sabbath School Lesson for September 30-October 6, 2017
Writing this epistle shortly after his experience with the Galatian believers, we sense that Paul fears that some of the same doctrinal misunderstandings may exist in the Roman church. He makes it a point to explain and defend the basic gospel tenet of righteousness by faith, not by works, even before he gets there.
This letter, considered the greatest of Paul’s thirteen epistles, carries a message that resonated with Martin Luther and the Rome of his day as well. His Ninety-Five Theses were left on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church exactly 500 years ago in 1517.
Can it also then be timely for our day, when God’s people are so divided and misunderstanding of what it takes to be saved?
Memory Verse: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Romans 1:8 NKJV
“Faith” is one of the key words that appears in this epistle. We will see, through Paul’s question-and-answer format, a systematic study of this topic that will bring with it more than theological argument, but actual encouragement for its practice.
Martin Luther wrote about Romans:
“The Epistle is really the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest Gospel, and is worthy not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.” ~Commentary on Romans, translated by J. Theodore Mueller (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1976), p. 8
It was in the book of Romans that Luther found the great truth of the plan of salvation and what it meant to be justified by faith. This was clearly expressed in Romans 3:28:
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” NKJV
Sunday: The Apostle Paul’s Letter
Studies have determined that Paul’s letter to the Romans was written near the Greek city of Corinth, probably in the early months of A.D. 58, while on his third missionary journey.
The difficulties endured by the Galatian believers over the issue of circumcision and other Jewish customs caused Paul to want to warn the Romans of this threat to the gospel message, and perhaps avert some of the same turmoil and division suffered by those in Galatia.
Paul hoped to assure them that the same promises of salvation were to be enjoyed by Jews and Gentiles alike. The free gift of God’s Spirit was available to all, without need of man’s futile attempts to earn it. Sanctification must come from the heart, as touched and molded by God alone.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 16:1-3, and 16. This begins a rather long list of individuals, doing important things in the church. What was Paul’s purpose in mentioning their names? What does this tell us about the Paul’s personality?
Read Acts 18:23 and 14:22. How did Paul go about “strengthening all the disciples”? What may have been the topic of some of his sermons?
What are some of the issues facing our church today? Is there a role we can play in defusing some of these debates, and preventing them from being so divisive? Must we take a stand on every issue, or is there a better way to strengthen the brethren?
Monday: Paul’s Desire to Visit Rome
A few tips are worth pointing out as we begin to understand Paul’s desire to visit Rome:
- Evidently, nothing can take the place of personal visitation. (something we in the digital age may lose sight of)
- Allowing others to do their part of evangelizing and nurturing that they are most gifted for will best serve the church’s needs.
- It is important for the churches in different areas to support each other.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 1:11, 12. What benefits would come from Paul’s visit to Rome and who would receive them?
Read Romans 15:20-23. Why was Paul careful about where and when he visited various churches?
Read Romans 15:24-27. What are some of the ways we can support other churches?
Tuesday: Paul in Rome
The circumstances that Paul found himself in Rome are important for us to understand. The book of Acts tells us that he was under house arrest there. But this was after being held prisoner in Caesarea (near Jerusalem) for two years. It was three, long years following his arrest that he finally arrived in Rome.
Paul must have been weary by this time of his life as a captive. Yet, he did not let it deter him from preaching to others about the way to be truly free, free from sin. We can only imagine the impression it must have given his listeners to hear him talk about freedom, when he himself was under arrest and in bonds.
It was certainly not a way Paul expected to spend his final days as a missionary. We must be satisfied with where God places us as well. We may not always be in the place we’d hoped for, but God can still use us in His service if we let Him.
Discussion Questions: Read Acts 27:3 and 28:16. Why do you think Paul was treated so kindly by his captors? Would we be as cooperative, if we were incarcerated, especially for no valid cause?
Read Acts 23:11. How would God’s encouragement have helped Paul? Does God always speak so directly to us about our future, and why or why not? Did it make a difference in how Paul endured his imprisonment? How can we know we are in the right place for service?
Read Acts 28:17-24., 28-31. Why were the Jews against Paul, more than the Roman Gentiles? What part of Paul’s message caused the dispute among the Jews?
Wednesday: The “Saints” in Rome
Paul addresses his letter to the “saints” in Rome. “Saints” refers to God’s redeemed people, according to Strong’s Concordance. The Greek word signifies “holy ones”, those who have consecrated or dedicated themselves to God to be holy.
He uses the expression, “beloved of God” to designate His saints, showing that love is a mutual bond between God and His people. God loves everyone, of course, but just as we have a special kind of love for our close family members, God reserves a special bond for Himself and His church.
God has made it clear that all humans are called to be saved. The plan for that to happen was laid “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Christ’s death covered ALL our sins. Therefore, we are all called to be saved and have the opportunity to be called saints.
Discussion Questions:d Read Romans 1:7. How would you describe God’s love with His saints, as compared with the love He has for all people?
Read Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 2:9, and 2 Peter 3:9. How do these verses inform us who are called by God? What prevents us from all joining Him in heaven then?
Read Matthew 25:41 and 2 Peter 3:9. For whom were the everlasting fires of hell prepared?
Thursday: The Believers in Rome
We can learn a lot about the believers in Rome by one of Paul’s introductory statements:
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Romans 1:8 KJV
Complimenting them for their faith seems a strange way to begin an epistle designed to teach them about faith. But then, faith is something that grows and becomes perfected. We can never stop working on our faith. It’s so easy for our faith to waver, become diverted and twisted, or be totally extinguished.
Where did the believers in Rome get their faith? We aren’t sure how the church got established there. Many have supposed that either Peter or Paul brought the message there. But other experts feel that the gospel message may have preceded both these gospel workers. Most likely it was some who witnessed what happened at Pentecost and came back to their home city in Rome who were responsible for the presence of the Christian church in Rome. Whoever it was, their faith was well known in that region of the world.
Paul pays them another compliment toward the end of his letter. Romans 15:14 declares them to be “full of goodness”, “filled with all knowledge”, and able “to admonish one another”. And all this, just a few decades after Pentecost. We can see why Paul wants to preserve the good faith that already exists in the empire’s capital.
Discussion Questions: Read Romans 1:8. Why would Rome’s reputation be especially important for the growth of the church else where in the empire?
Read Romans 15:14. Why are all three of these characteristics important for the effective mission of the church in spreading the gospel? Describe what a church would be like if just one of them was missing.
What kind of compliment would Paul have had for your local church? What is your reputation in the community at large? What steps could be taken to improve your image?
Our goal this week was to become more educated about the Rome that Paul wrote to in the first century.
- when and from where was Paul’s letter to the Romans sent
- why was the letter written
- to whom was the letter addressed
- how does this letter benefit us
As we dwell on the book of Romans for the next three months, it might be well for us to highlight or personally note in some way the verses and passages there that seem to touch us the most. As Martin Luther suggested and wrote in his Commentary on Romans, it would serve us well to memorize the spiritual gems we find there. He even recommends memorizing the entire epistle!
So, at least we might commit to memory those parts that seem tailored most to our understanding of the gospel. The memory texts at the beginning of each week’s lesson seem to be especially well chosen this quarter. We mustn’t pass up the chance to place these verses and others in our hearts and hold them there permanently.
Psalms 119:11 encourages us to do this very thing. David wrote:
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” KJV
Why not hide God’s word in your heart fully by taking the necessary steps to more permanently place it in your memory? Will it require time and effort on our part? Yes, of course, but what better way to honor God’s word than by hiding it in your heart and mind, so it can be shared more readily with others, and comfort us more profoundly when we are in need.
Next Week: The Controversy
To read the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly or see more resources for its study, go to https://www.absg.adventist.org/
All Outlook blogposts by Teresa Thompson, are at http://outlookmag.org/author/teresathompson/