Thursday, August 27, 2015

God's proposal in his gospel: Love in a Roman Sandwich


Over the past year I've been reading Romans with a few different groups and individuals, and will be doing so again with several more soon. It's been great to dig into this heavyweight letter repeatedly. Working through this passage by passage, seeing it's message unfold, and as with the best stories, things become clearer with repeated viewing.

It's widely agreed that the letter breaks into four coherent sections, which together build Paul's argument as he writes to the church in Rome to catch them up in his attempt to serve the churches of Judea and take the good news of Jesus to Spain.

A few thoughts on part 2: chapters 5-8.

Structure is important in any literature because its one of the tools writers use to convey their message. I think that's particularly true here. Several commentators have identified some kind of chiastic structure, and I've found Peter Leithart's attempt at this particularly helpful (image above). The thought here is that it's like a sandwich with matching layers building to the meat in the middle. In this case five layers.

An argument flows from chapter 5 through to 8, but it also builds through parallels between sections to its centre in chapter 7:1-6.

Layer 1. Love and suffering frame this section. Suffering is described that is relentless, dying daily. This suffering is producing character (chapter 5) and however bad the storm gets will not separate those in Christ from his love. A love anchored in the crucifixion of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. A love strong as death, stronger even.

Layer 2. Those in Christ move from Adam to Christ... they come to reign in life but not triumphalisticallyReigning in life is cruciform not triumphalist.  They suffer, weak, groaning, waiting as sons adopted in Jesus. This presents a bigger view of the world that says the world has not always been struggle and will not always be... it was once taken down into death and resurrection awaits.

Layer 3. There's no condemnation for those in Christ... they've been buried in baptism - condemned in Jesus' death and in hope of resurrection. Life is not to be patterned on performance but on the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Are you baptised? Then there can be no condemnation, nothing to add.

Layer 4. A change of rule has occurred in those who follow Jesus - from commitment to "flesh" to commitment to "righteousness". The confident assertion of the back end of chapter 6 is tempered by the experience of chapter 7, and the believers raging against their wretched flesh and its persisting desires... in hope of eventual liberty.

Layer 5. At the centre of these chapters is a marriage illustration - framing the move through death and resurrection, from Adam's helpless race to Christ's fruitful family. The old marriage is ended and a new fruitful marriage begins... on the other side of the darkest night, one can stand in Christ's deathless 'always and forever' love. This is God's proposal in his gospel.

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