Summary: Starter message for a series through Romans which, in storytelling form, introduces us to the Apostle Paul
As we look back over the centuries, there are few cities that stand out above the rest as outstanding; worthy of being remembered throughout the generations. Some of these cities, like Athens Greece, are remembered for their greatness in influencing the world as a whole. Some, like Paris or London, are remembered because of the outstanding people who called them home. Some are remembered for their measure of goodness. Yet others, like the ancient city of Corinth, are remembered for the stench of evil that remains for ages, much like the stench of a rotting animal remains after the carcass has been removed.
In many ways, Corinth was a spectacular city. Once overshadowed by the cities of Athens, Thebes, Sparta, and Argos—Corinth became the wealthiest and most important city in Greece. When it was later destroyed in 146 B.C. some of the worlds greatest treasures of art were carried away. The city laid waste for 100 years until it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in B.C. 46—afterward growing so rapidly that it once again became on of the most prominent cities in Greece.
Yet another century later, this city situated on a thin isthmus of land was pulsating with activity as the commercial center of the region. Walking through the streets of this place, one would take notice of the stadium of the foot race, used in the Isthmian Games that took place every two years. Pine trees, from which the victors crown was weaved and presented to the winner of the race, flourished. The smell of salty sea air would draw us to three principle ports that served this city and secured it as the commerce capitol. This would have been a spectacular scene of hundreds—maybe thousands of ships from the east and the west bringing to the people material goods, along with a wave of philosophical and religious thought from around the known world.
On our way to the coast, however, we would have passed statues, temples, and various structures built to honor and pay homage to the Greek gods and goddesses of Poseidon, Aphrodite, and Venus. As we pass the temple of Venus, with it’s 1000 female temple prostitutes, as we listen to the conversations around us, we would easily come to understand why Corinth was famous even among the pagan world for her immorality. This city, know for vile corruption that astounded even the most morally hardened person, is where we find an extraordinary man who just a few years earlier had succeeded in bringing a flood of God’s light into this incredibly dark place.
This is his second visit to a city which he had previously entered in fear and trembling following a time of extreme discouragement in her sister city of Athens a few mile away. Where no good could seemingly exist, there now flourished a community of believers, the fruit of his cooperative work with a couple named Priscilla and Aquilla a few years earlier. This would be a brief visit...three months at the most. He was on a journey to Jerusalem to deliver to the persecuted believers there a collection of money and goods generously given by churches throughout the region.
These three months were a reflective time for this man who had been named Saul by the world and renamed Paul by no other than Jesus Christ, the risen Messiah some thirty years earlier. He knew several things at this point. He somehow knew that his time on earth was drawing to a close. He knew that his life had been a dramatic illustration of God’s ability to totally transform a person. He knew that this day-by-day transformation had been kept on course through critical defining moments over the years. And he knew that before his life drew to a close, he desperately wanted to communicate God’s truth to the people of Rome...the capitol of the world.
As he spent these three months, enjoying the fellowship of the church he had planted there, and writing down his thoughts to be delivered to the Christians in Rome, his mind no doubt carried him back to those defining moments that had made him the person that he now was. I’m sure he laughed as he thought about how the path he had spent the last 30 years traveling was so different from the journey that he had begun as a child. The first defining moment would have involved a life decision in which he had very little choice. The direction of his life was chosen for him by his parents.
Born to a Jewish family living abroad in the city of Tarsus, on the southern coast of what we know as Turkey, young Saul was taught the trade of making tents out of the heavy hair of goats which were grazed by the thousands in the neighboring mountains. Being a devout Jew himself, Saul’s father had greater ambitions for his son. Though tent-making would be his trade, Saul’s father sensed a divine calling upon his son and sent him at the age of 13 to Jerusalem to enter the school of the rabbi’s under the direction of one of Israel’s greatest teachers, a man named Gamaliel. Through birth and circumstance Saul had been perfectly situated in a great commercial city to live life as a successful businessman. However, this defining moment situated him to spend his years learning everything there was to know about the God that his people had worshipped for thousands of years. Knowledge that would shape him into something he would never have imagined for himself.