Laugh at me if you will, but I actually enjoyed the 1991 movie City Slickers starring Billy Crystal as Mitch. Probably the most famous line comes from the rugged old cowboy “Curly,” the tough old cowboy character played by Jack Palance.
Here’s the scene from the movie where Curly espouses his life philosophy to Mitch, Billy Crystal’s character …
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? … This. (holds up one finger)
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean “poop.”
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: (smiling) That’s what you have to find out.
So today I’m going to tell you what the one thing is!
But first, Paul shares some warm words of affirmation for those in the church at Rome…
1:8 – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.
14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.
It can certainly be said of the Apostle Paul that he was a team player. His passion was “team church” wherever it was found. The Roman church was not the result of his ministry or preaching, as were many others we read about in the New Testament. And Rome, being the center of the world (where all roads lead to), would have held great interest for Paul as to the nature of the local church ministry there. Clearly they were doing well, as Paul mentions the reputation their faith had throughout the Roman world. Travelers would have been in and out of the imperial city with news of the Christian community there being relayed to other churches.
Some of my fondest memories of my 40 years in ministry have been of Christians I have met and worshipped with in various corners of the earth: Puerto Rico, Kazakhstan, Scotland, England, Turkey, France, Uzbekistan, etc. Sometimes the verbal communication was scant, but the “feeling” of being with true brothers and sisters in the faith was almost palpable. Paul was energized by this fellowship, rejoicing in the expanse of the gospel.
He wanted to see them because he knew that by God’s empowerment of his gifts, he could be a blessing to them to enable them to go forward in the work there. Yet note again how Paul looked as well to the blessing he would receive from them. (I literally had a personal illustration hit me of this very thing, just now as I write this paragraph. Here I am writing something that I hope will be of benefit to the readers of this devotional, and as I am typing this paragraph, a note pops up on my screen that a message just came into the devotional page. It was from Joni Sgaggero, writing to say that she is looking forward to this study on Romans. Wow! That was a blessing to me at just the right moment! This blessing and ministering stuff really does go both ways.)
Paul wanted the readers to understand that it was not a lack of interest in the church at Rome that was the cause for his absence. Rather, it was the extensive press of ministry that God continually put before him that always filled his schedule with obligations. These opportunities involved all sorts of people from all types of backgrounds, and that “all peoples” aspect was the exciting part of the gospel message for which Paul was especially called.
Here comes “the one thing” …
1:16 – For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
This is a favorite question I have asked people in Bible studies and sermons over the decades: What is the one most important thing that you need to be saved?
I ask that, and then receive the answers. What invariably comes back is first something like “faith.” And I’ll say that yes, we need faith for sure, but there is a better answer. And the next person will say “grace.” After all, it says in the Bible that we are saved by grace through faith … but I’ll again say there is a better single answer. A few other suggestions will be offered, but seldom does someone give the very, very best answer. And that is “righteousness.”
God is perfect; that is what righteousness is — perfection. God’s justice demands judgment on anything in his presence that is not perfect and pure. So, if we are to be saved and to be with God and not face his judgment, we have to be perfect; we have to have righteousness. And there is the great problem. We do not have it, we cannot earn it, it has to come from somewhere else, only one person has ever had it, and we therefore need to get it from him.
This is therefore the theme of the book of Romans: The righteousness of God, revealed in the gospel and received by faith … and by faith we also live.
And to bring back a description of the gospel that we used in a series on that topic a year ago … the gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed than we could imagine, yet more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
We’re just getting started to unpack that.