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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Romans 1:16-17 – The apostle’s attitude to the gospel

Paul informs his readers of the outlook he had with regard to the gospel, which was that he was not ashamed of it. As we think about this response, it is obviously a personal one, which leads us to consider what kind of person Paul was.
To begin with, we can notice that Paul was a man with a towering intellect. He tells us that he studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the famous Jewish rabbi, which is a reminder that Paul had grasped the teachings of Judaism. His mind could take in the profoundest thoughts of those who had contemplated the ways in which God had revealed himself to Israel. In addition, Luke describes for us Paul’s encounter with the philosophers on the Areopagus in Athens and how he was able to quote their famous philosophers from the past and interact with their present ideas, or lack of them, about the unknown areas of existence. Paul was able to assess the greatest thoughts of the ancient world as well as the greatest ideas of Judaism. His assessment was that there was nothing in the message of Jesus about which a person should be ashamed in an intellectual sense.
Further we know that Paul was an individual with powerful emotions. He did not merely assess things in detached ways, instead he felt them. Indeed Luke tells us about what Paul felt when he saw the statues on the Areopagus and how his spirit was disturbed within him when he observed their ignorance about God and their wrong ways of depicting him. We know that some people can discuss important issues clinically. Paul was not such a person. Instead his whole man was involved in all that he thought. He hated what he considered to be wrong and he loved what he believed to be right. He was also sorry about what was wrong and delighted in what was right. The gospel had brought joy into Paul’s heart and therefore he was not ashamed of it; the gospel had brought peace into his soul and therefore he was not ashamed of it.
Again we can think that Paul was a very determined man regarding his choices. The one thing that can be said about him is that he could not be forced to do anything against his will. Some people can be ashamed inwardly of something but force themselves to affirm it outwardly because of other pressures on them, such as what can happen in the political world when a decision is made that a person feels embarrassed about. Paul was not such a person. His will was an expression of his desire to please God, and what pleased him about God was the gospel of his grace.
Are there any other reasons why Paul affirmed here that he was not ashamed of the gospel? One would have been the awareness that others had become ashamed of it because of opposition to the message of Jesus. The Christians in Rome would have been aware of persecution elsewhere and indeed even in Rome previously when Priscilla and Aquila were forced to leave there. So Paul would have wanted to assure the Roman believers that he was not like those who had become ashamed of the gospel because there was an element of danger connected to it.
They would also have been aware that some, particularly Jewish people who had begun to follow Jesus, had adjusted the gospel in order to reduce the possibility of trouble from their fellow Jews. Had Paul become like them? He assures them that he had not moved an inch from what the gospel contained and required. Compromise was not an option for Paul with regard to the gospel.
No doubt Paul was aware of the teaching of Jesus concerning those who were ashamed of him. The Saviour had warned people that if they were ashamed of him in this life he would be ashamed of them on the Day of Judgement. Paul did not want to endure such a future response from his Master. Therefore he was not ashamed of Jesus anywhere, whether in a palace or in a prison, whether speaking to the crowds or to an individual.

The challenge for us is that Paul here is not stating the aspiration of a hopeful man who wished to be something in the future. Instead here is the outlook of an honest man as he faced his immediate circumstances. Since his conversion Paul could look within and find no sense of being ashamed of Jesus and he could look without and say that there had not been a circumstance where anyone could say he had been ashamed. I wish I could say that, but I cannot. But we can resolve to be like Paul in this regard from now on.

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