I have spent the bulk of my life living in three of the UK’s biggest conurbations. I grew up in West Yorkshire, spent 4 years in London and then we moved to the West Midlands. This has given me a huge concern for the city. I am keen to see churches rooted and established on our estates and inner city areas.
So, what do believers in our cities need to hear if they are to be encouraged to persevere in faith and share the good news with others? Well, we wouldn’t do worse than to look at a letter sent to some of the earliest churches in the metropolis of their day.
The letter to the Romans is written to a context which seems to be predominantly but not exclusively Gentile. Jews and Gentiles present. It is from Paul and it is not disputed that this is the apostle who took the Gospel around the Eastern Mediterranean. It would have been written between 55-58AD.
We can divide the first section into an identification of the author, a description of the recipients and the giving of a greeting.
From Paul V1-6
Paul introduces himself with three descriptors. He is a servant of Jesus, Christ, he is an apostle and he is set apart for the Gospel. As is often the case, we may do well here not to see these as three different attributes but three descriptions or perspectives on the same thing. Paul is telling us who he is and the key thing is that he is someone who has a responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel. This means he has been set apart to this distinctive role and has been commissioned or sent out as an ambassador or messenger (apostle). He is doing this in the service of Jesus, carrying the status of servant, or more properly a “slave”(doulos), recognising that he now belongs to Christ and this all-encompassing task. Moo notes that when Paul calls himself a slave of Christ, “The phrase connotes total devotion, suggesting that the servant is completely at the disposal of his or her Lord. “ The designation slave reflects both humility and honour due to the status of the master. (V1)
The Gospel, or good news is from God. It is God who first promised in the Old Testament through his prophets that he would send Jesus (v2) who the good news is all about (v3). Jesus is fully man, a descendent of king David. Notice that two lineages are set in parallel. If he is of David’s kingly line and therefore God’s Son according to “the flesh” or “in the realm of the flesh” but in he also has an identity with regards to the spiritual realm or through “the spirit of holiness.” (v4). If his human lineage takes us back to David, his spiritual descent takes him back to the resurrection. It was there that he was appointed “Son.” Note that this is more than simply recognising something to be the case but can in no way be taken to mean that he only becomes The Son at that point. Moo notes a tautology here “It is the Son who is ‘appointed Son.” Along with Schreiner, he sees the “in power” – refers to his Sonship. He always was “The Son” but not that “sonship” is designated as something with a particular power. The resurrection leads to his appointment to a specific role in relation to creation.  This is now the one who is both God and man reigning from heaven. This would relate to kingly status of the Son often indicated in the Psalms.
Paul says that it is through this same Jesus that he has received his status of apostleship and it is through him also that he has received “grace” (v5). This is important because Paul is about to wish grace to his recipients. We are going to spend a bit of time thinking about what the word means, what does it mean to receive grace? Well, the fact that it is something received through Christ, through his death and resurrection is already giving us some clues. The specific grace and calling Paul has been given is “to bring about the obedience of faith” or in other words “to make disciples” for Christ (“for the sake of his name) and those were disciples from the nations, Paul’s apostolic calling is to the Gentiles.
It is in Christ, the one promised from long ago, descended from David, declared Son in resurrection power, the one who called Paul into service that the Christians in Rome find their identity as also called (v6)
To the Roman Christians (v7a)
Paul addresses “All those who are loved by God in Rome. Notice that in some letters he addresses the assembly (Ecclessia) or church in a city, here this label is not used. That might reflect the possibility that the church in Roman was dispersed over multiple gatherings or it might give us a hint that we are not to over-emphasise one word and its meaning when determining what it means to be part of God’s chosen people in one particular place.
They are loved by God and they are called saints. As with the three phrases describing Paul, we should perhaps see the two here working to emphasise the one thing, namely that they belong to the people of God and that means they have been called by him, they have a relationship with him being loved by him and they have a purpose, just like Paul they are set apart (saints/holy) from all other people.
The word “called” is clearly significant having been used three times in this short passage. Paul is called to be an apostle (v1) and the Christians in Rome are also called, by Jesus (v6) to be saints (v7).
Grace and Peace (v7b)
The normal greeting at the start of a letter was chairein – literally “greetings”. Paul modifies to “grace and peace” This brings together two important concepts. First there is the concept of “grace” (charis) which becomes clear in his epistles. Secondly, it is combined with the Jewis concept of shalom or peace.
I want you to notice something very exciting here. The use of the conjunction “and” shows that we have co-ordinating phrases and clauses that can exist independent of each other in the text. This means we can drop some of the clauses and phrases without losing the flow and sense of the verse. In other words, it would function grammatically and syntactically if we were to quote verse 7 as saying
“To all those loved by God and living in Rome, called to be saints, Grace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, it is possible to receive grace and peace from Jesus the Son as equally as it is possible to receive it from the Father. Here Paul ascribes to Jesus divine action as he does the same work that the Father does.
Grace and peace are something to be received and treasured.
What is it that will keep Christians persevering in tough contexts such as the inner city neighbourhoods of London and Liverpool, the schemes of Edinburgh or the council estates of Bradford and the Black Country?
Well, first of all it will be God’s grace and God’s calling. It will be knowing that you have been called and have been given the specific grace you need to serve Christ where you are. This will not be some woolly feeling, rather, it is something that comes from hearing the apostolic message. It is not that we have our modern day Apostles to replace Paul. Rather, it is that we have Paul’s apostolic message with us in the New Testament.
Secondly, we have peace. We know that we belong to Christ, that we have reconciliation and security in him so that there is nothing for us to fear.
Both these things are important as we persevere in out witness because like Paul, we have good news to pass on. We too can offer grace and peace to a needy world because of what Christ has done for us.
 Schreiner, Romans, 37.
 Schreiner, Romans, 3.
 Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 41.
 Moo, Romans, 41.
 See Moo, Romans 50.
 Moo, Romans, 48.
 Moo, Romans 48-49.
 Schreiner, Romans, 39.,
 C.f. Psalm 2:7.
 Schreiner, Romans, 31