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Romans 10:17 and 12:1-21

Konstantin Nikolakopoulos

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard come through the word of Christ.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. It if is possible, so far as it depends on youl live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The theme

The faith which comes from listening to this message and taking it to heart strengthens fellowship and mutual solidarity within the congregation and further afield.

Interpretation and Reflection

Through his well known letter to the Romans Paul addresses two groups within the Roman congregation of that time: the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. Through his highly developed theological arguments he highlighted the most important source of Christian experience for both groups: the Word of God as it is heard (Rom. 10:17), the proclamation, the kerygma. It does not matter whether the privileged Jewish Christians have inherited the basic foundations of their faith through their forbears and the prophets or whether the Gentile Christians have experienced faith through later evangelisation, for both groups it is through the proclamation of the word that they have learnt of and experienced faith which saves.

It is true that in the first instance the source and mainspring of faith is the word that is heard, the proclamation, however the word alone does not suffice to bring about salvation. On the one hand the word that is heard, called by Paul, "the word of Christ", demonstrates the invitation of Jesus Christ or his call to every human being. Faced with this call Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians - and in our modern society all people - are equal. Paul underlines this truth in crystal clear terms "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him"(Rom. 10:12). On the other hand the human response to this proclamation is of enormous importance. Paul calls this response people make "obedience" and makes a direct link with eschatological salvation (Rom. 10:16). One must give oneself up in obedience to the Gospel, to become part of the Church which makes up the body of Christ (Rom. 12:5).

The immediate consequences of consciously lived out faith are mirrored in the life of the congregation. In Orthodox ecclesiology the congregation is the most lively cell of what we refer to as the Church. This is the beautiful biblical image that Paul offers us in Romans chapter 12, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another" (Rom. 12:4-5).

Through the word (the proclamation) that is heard in Jesus Christ we are called to follow and serve him. It is precisely through this calling (in Greek: ek-kalein) that we Christians get to the substance of the Church (in Greek: Ek-klesia). The call, the invitation of our Lord also continues within the Church, within the congregation. Romans chapter 12 impresses upon us the interrelation between the kerygma and the function of the congregation in a way which is a continuations of the issues dealt with in chapter 10. This part has the clear characteristic of an paraenese (exhortation) or paraclesis, which depends upon the word that is heard and demonstrates the consequences of faith in this kerygmatic word.

In Pauline congregational theology every member plays an important role. Every Christian can, according to their talents and abilities, offer their particular services to the life of the congregation or community (Rom. 12:6-8), which presupposes that everyone will "be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Rom. 12:2). People's spiritual metamorphosis which Paul both reminds us about and encourages us towards should always have as a goal "that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect".

After the first 8 verses of chapter 12, which outline the spiritual directions of the following exhortations and which serve as both an introduction and a form of conclusion to the whole chapter, Paul concentrates on an analytical description of the congregational life he seeks. Although the whole of the passage Romans 12:9-21 makes up a beautiful mosaic of virtuous exhortations, the requirements of agape (love) are unmistakable from the very beginning. Verse 9a could even serve as the title for the whole of the following passage "Let love be genuine."

The essential features of Christian congregational life are clearly set out in the 12:9-21 passage. Paul offers us a series of practical exhortations which are not only valid for the congregation in Rome but which are of timeless value. To practice love one must reactivate various other virtues as well, such as mutual affection, showing honour (12:10), hope, patience, prayer (12:12), hospitality (12:13), blessing and goodness (12:14), mutual assistance (12:15), harmony and no haughty feelings (12:16), not repaying evil and taking revenge, but seeking peace and reconciliation (12:17-21).

It is of course significant that in part the exhortations of the letter to the Romans address the situation within the congregation and in part they address the relationship of the congregation with non-Christians. The Apostle exhorts Christians to make bodily offerings of themselves, in other words, to be a holy and living sacrifice, pleasing to God and resulting in putting this spiritual transformation into practice for one neighbour. Human relations need continual salvation and lasting reconciliation. And these two great visions (salvation and reconciliation) should from a Christian point of view, regard both we Christians amongst ourselves and also our non-Christian fellow human beings as the final recipients. Over the centuries relations between Christians have deteriorated leading to so many divisions, this needs the antidote of salvation and reconciliation. But after restoring the shattered image of ecumenical Christianity then all Christians need to be concerned about reconciliation and healing their relationships with all citizens of this planet who have not necessarily accepted the Christian message.

Methodological material

1.The following issues for discussion could be dealt with in groups:
- What is the theological and sociological significance of the concept of "Church"
- The heavenly church (triumphant) and the earthy members (struggling)
- What should the organization of a Christian congregation be?
- To whom do we address Christian evangelization today?
- Where should we engage in Mission and where in evangelization or neo-evangelization?
- A reflection on the differences within Christianity and the discovery of the attitudes of various groups that hinder ecumenism.
- How is Christian obedience to be understood and practised?
- Spiritual father - obedience - Orthodox spiritual life
- The theological basis and significance of the saving of each human being from an Orthodox perspective
- Symbiosis within the congregation (The application of the virtues that have been mentioned in various situations)
- The relationship of Christians to non-Christians

2.The following current situations could be discussed in a group:
- The Orthodox and Roman Catholic version of Christianity
- Orthodox Greece and its small Protestant minority
- New developments in western European Christianity: the recent arrival of Orthodoxy in the 20th century
- Ancient traumas - new attempts at healing: church schism (1054), the fourth crusade (1204)
- The centuries-old coexistence of Orthodox and Jews (e.g. in Greece)
- Orthodox traditions in a Muslim country: the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Turkish Istanbul
- Reconciled coexistence between the three great monotheistic traditions

3.The following illustrations might be helpful
- The encounter of a committed Christian with a well-intentioned heathen (illustrated example: Acts 8:26-39)
- The situation of a Christian before they have confessed - the need for reconciliation with ones enemies (illustrated example: Matthew 5:23-26)