Whenever I start a new letter, I like to figure out to whom the letter was being written. It was especially helpful for me to do that with this letter written to the Romans because it gave some clarity to the reading.
We just got finished reading about Paul’s trip to Rome where he spoke to Jewish people. “Some were convinced” and “others would not believe” (Acts 28:24). Paul then stayed in Rome for 2 years preaching to the Gentiles as well (Acts 28:28).
So, now we are reading a letter he sent to “all in Rome” (1:7); that would be to both believing Jews and Gentiles.
I bet the Gentiles were glad to have their believing Jewish brothers there to help them understand Paul’s letter since it had a lot of references to Old Testament teaching that they may have been unfamiliar with (2:17-28 and ch.4 as well). We can even see who Paul is addressing at certain times in the letter with specific remarks like, “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew…” (2:17) and “I am talking to you Gentiles.” (11:13)
So, keeping the audience in mind, I can see that Paul is using this letter, in part, to teach these 2 groups of believers how to integrate and get a long.
The issue I see Paul addressing in these first three chapters has to do with the Jewish believers. I think they might have been feeling a little superior to their Gentile believing brothers and Paul calls them out on it (2:1-4). They were judging their fellow Gentile brothers and acting self-righteous. I bet that was an easy behavior for the Jews to slip back into, after all, for hundreds of years they had been “the chosen ones”. Paul’s letter came at a good time if they were starting to revert back to old habits of judging people by the law.
Paul reminds these Jewish brothers “Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.” (3:9) “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (3:20).
I can image, while this letter was being read out loud to the believers in Rome, the Jewish brothers might have been feeling like they were getting their hand slapped and the Gentile brothers were sitting up tall in their chairs with a gloating smile on their face…. But that will change when we get to chapter 11…..