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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.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Romans 16:21-27 - Praising God

The original listeners to this doxology may not have been the Christians in Rome. Instead it could have been the group of men mentioned by Paul in verses 21-23, most of whom belonged to the church in Corinth which was the place where Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. Maybe they were having a meeting of elders just as Paul was dictating the letter. Whether they were or not, we can imagine the sense of awe and worship that they would have as they listened to the beloved apostle’s closing words.
I suppose it is worth asking about the structure of this closing set of verses. Paul does not close with a benediction, but with a doxology. Obviously, a benediction is a form of praise, which we could describe as expectant praise because when we say one we are looking to God to do something in our lives. Nevertheless, it is spoken towards the listeners. A doxology is a more direct form of praise and is spoken to God rather than to listeners, although they obviously receive a blessing from digesting in a spiritual way what was said.
It is reasonable to suggest that Paul closed with a doxology because he wanted the minds and hearts of his readers to focus on God. After all, throughout his letter Paul has explained in a clear and God-exalting way the great plan of salvation and he would have been aware of the possibility that some of the readers might focus on him rather than God. They could have said to one another after hearing the letter read to them, ‘It will be great when he arrives here. It is a pity that he was not coming here immediately. And it would be wonderful if we could persuade him to stay here instead of going to Spain.’ Of course, if they had said that, they would have been man-centred. All that is imaginary, but what is not imaginary is Paul’s determination that God alone would get all the glory. And in that desire, he is a good example to us.

Another feature of doxologies in the New Testament is that they are usually addressed to God the Father. This is a reminder that we should think of God as he has revealed himself as the God of salvation. It is possible to think of God as he is in his essence and focus on each of the divine persons apart from their involvement in salvation. There is nothing wrong in doing so as long as we remember that their greatest activity is salvation. And in the Bible’s description of the plan of salvation, it usually describes it as being the Father’s plan. To be able to recognise this distinction is one of the privileges of Christianity.

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