For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “But the righteous one will live by faith." Romans 1.16-17
How are you at making cold calls? You know the kind of communication I’m picturing: walking up to someone you’ve never met and starting a conversation intended ultimately to sell them something – goods, a service, the message of Jesus… Salespeople do it all the time: they ring or visit or write or e-mail someone they haven’t met, hoping to leave a good impression and open the door to a purchase. For most people, these encounters are terrifying. Rejection looms as a likely outcome. It takes a whole lot of self-confidence to put oneself out there and risk rejection time after time.
The apostle Paul made cold calls for a living. His job was to walk into a city and start Christianity there, where they had never heard of Jesus before. It’s hard for you and me to imagine this, as we meet in a big building to attend Christian worship, and pass a handful of other big buildings where other Christians are worshipping. But Paul lived in a time when almost nobody in the world knew about Jesus of Nazareth.
That said, Paul did not normally cold call with his letters. Instead, he started in person, walking into a city, setting up in the part of town where his tent-making guild did their work, building relationships, and then starting conversations to spread his good news. He made his cold calls face-to-face, except to the Romans. This letter is the only one he wrote to a group he hadn’t started. Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote, and the Christians there had a different founder, whose identity is lost to history.
This letter is different because of Paul’s unfamiliarity with the Roman church. It’s not as close the ground, not as aware of the day-to-day challenges and victories of his audience. Bible readers who continue past Romans will see Paul call the Corinthians out on their bad behavior, help the Philippians solve internal conflict, chide the Galatians for abandoning the gospel, and compliment the Thessalonians on how quickly they are growing in Christ – all because he knows the communities intimately. Paul is not oblivious to what’s happening among the Romans – in chapter 1 he says that their faith is being feted around the broader Christian community; and in chapter 16, he greets a long laundry list of Roman Christians by name. But he doesn’t know them like he knows his other churches.
All of this unfamiliarity is our gain, in a sense. Since, Paul can’t assume that the Roman Christians have heard anything that he plans to say. He can’t rely on past conversations or times teaching among his audience, so he has to say everything here. The result is a magnum opus, and a passionate conviction energizes the whole letter.
Paul's opening salvo, his thesis statement, exudes this conviction and confidence:
I am not ashamed of the gospel/good news, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith -- to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God has been revealed, from faith to faith, as it written, "the righteous shall live by faith.."
Cold calls for Jesus. Friends, whether in the flesh or via papyrus letters, Paul lived unashamed. He freely told anyone he knew about the profound good God had done him and them through Jesus Christ. Unashamed and passionate. Not a bad way to live! And his gospel confidence still resonates in our lives twenty centuries later.
Prayer -- God of Paul's good news and ours, give us !