I asked everyone at our Bible study to think about Romans chapter 1 and ask questions about what they didn’t understand. There was silence around the room. I jokingly said that this made sense for those who have been Christians for a long time. When you have diligently read the Bible for many years, you become so familiar with it that you feel like you completely understand it. Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous place to be because you may have the knowledge and Biblical truth but could lack in new spiritual insight given by the Holy Spirit. God’s word should be a living (Rhema) Word to us. Romans 1:17 says, “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.” St. Augustine was said to be so inspired after reading this verse that he repented and was saved. Martin Luther restored the truth of justification by faith after this verse inspired him.
We focused on Romans chapter 1 in mid-May, 2020. I told everyone that the Holy Spirit would illuminate this chapter and speak a timely word to us. Our intention isn’t to explain the chapter verse by verse or word by word, but to enter into fellowship with the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to speak.
The book of Romans was written during Paul’s three months in Corinth. Why did he write the book of Romans in Corinth? Romans is a long letter with sixteen chapters. The letter was probably written on parchment because Paul obviously didn’t have a computer back then. Can you imagine the burden he must have had to write such a long letter to the church in Rome?
Paul wrote the book of Romans in Corinth, having never been to Rome, so more than likely, the church in Rome wasn’t established by him. It seems strange that he would write such an intimate letter to people he wasn’t close to. As an example, if you were Paul today and established churches in Los Angeles and New York, you would naturally want to stay connected by writing or visiting those that the Lord had burdened your heart for. Wouldn’t it seem odd if you suddenly wrote an incredibly long, personal letter to a church in Texas that you never even visited? There must have been some sort of hidden connection that Paul had to the Roman church for him to send this letter. If we can understand why he had the burden to write the book of Romans, we might have a better understanding of how it applies to us today.
The Holy Spirit will often disrupt our thoughts with questions because he wants to speak to us through them.
Paul mentioned in Romans 15 that he planned to go to Jerusalem. Believers in Macedonia and Achaia collected an offering for Paul to take to the poor in Jerusalem. He also planned to go to Rome later, and then to Spain (Romans 15:25-28).
Acts 19:21 (ESV) said: “Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” At that time, Paul was in Ephesus in Asia, while Apollos was in Corinth. Paul laid his hands on and prayed for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to fall on those under Apollos’ ministry who had not received yet. Later, he was “resolved in the Spirit” that he would pass through Macedonia, Achaia, and go to Jerusalem. He even said that he “must” see Rome. We know that the reason why Paul went to Jerusalem was to deliver the contribution from Macedonia and Achaia to the poor Jewish Christians. But why did Paul say that he “must” go to Rome?
What is the reason Paul decided that he must see Rome? Although Paul felt that he must see Rome, he didn’t know whether it would happen because he said in Romans 1:10 (NIV), “I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” Paul was saying that he wasn’t sure if he would be able to go to Rome. He was still praying that God would open the way for him.
After Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, Agabus and some disciples (Acts 21) prophesied that he would be bound in Jerusalem. Even the disciple Luke opposed him of going up to Jerusalem. But Paul was determined to go, saying that he was ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (NIV, Acts 21:13). Therefore, when he went to Jerusalem, he was prepared to die, not knowing whether he would go to Rome. It was only after Acts 23:11 that the Lord appeared to Paul at night and promised that he would go to Rome safely. But when Paul was writing the book of Romans in Corinth, although he had a burden for Rome, he did not know whether God would open the way for him to go.
Where did Paul’s burden for Rome come from? The Holy Spirit stirred us to look at the verses in Acts 18:1-3, which answered the questions we raised.
Acts 18:1-4 (NIV) said: “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
The Holy Spirit has particularly pointed our attention to the phrase “Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” Why did Claudius order all the Jews to leave Rome? We know that most of the Christians in the early churches were probably Jews. Although they were in gentile nations, there were also many Jews in the church. It was only after the gospel had spread before the Gentiles gradually increased.
We checked the history of this period online. Historically, the conflict between the Jews and the Gentiles existed in the city of Rome. At that time, the situation was similar to the case of Germany during World War II. Anti-Semitism was flourishing to the extent that there were many conflicts between the Jews and the Gentiles. At about 40 AD, the Roman consul was drawn in by the anti-Semites. They began to persecute the Jews. These persecution measures included burning the Jewish synagogue and forcing them to eat pork, causing many riots. At that time, Caligula did not handle the situation well. Later, after Claudius succeeded to the throne, he regained some favor with the Jews. This matter was then temporarily resolved. But later, the Jews were incited by others to stir up trouble. Because the spread of the Christian gospel was very active there, it caused conflicts between Christians and non-Christians, and between Jewish Christians and other Jews who had opposed the gospel. Perhaps to avoid these troubles, Claudius had driven the Jews from Rome. However, no one knows when Claudius’s decree became invalid. Anyways, many Jews had begun to return to Rome later.
In short, from these historical records and Romans 1, we can speculate about the situation there. The message of the gospel was flourishing in Rome. Paul said in Romans 1:8 that he thanked God for the people of the Roman Church because their faith was being reported all over the world. Rome had a revival before Paul went there. Why did God burden Paul and confirm that he was to go there in Acts 23? Romans 1:11-13 (NIV) says, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 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.” From these verses, Paul’s meaning was clear. His purpose of going to Rome was to strengthen these Roman Christians, mutually encourage each other and to preach the gospel more to bear some fruits.
Paul’s purpose was mainly to stabilize and strengthen the church in Rome. I’ll use a war example to illustrate. For example, two armies are fighting for a mountain top. But if they advance and retreat, this can’t be regarded as stabilizing the place. Only if they fight for a place and establish a base there can they be considered as stable. The same is true in Rome. Although Rome had a revival, since the Jews were driven out, this shows that the church had not yet established a foothold in Rome. When Priscilla and Aquila and Paul were setting up tents together, they might have discussed these situations with Paul in detail, giving Paul the burden to help strengthen the church in Rome. According to the record from the book of Acts, Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18, and it was only recorded in Acts 19 that Paul was resolved in the Spirit and decided to go to Rome. Therefore, we can boldly speculate that Paul’s encounter with Priscilla and Aquila fueled the burden for the church in Rome.
Next, let’s look at the record of Romans 16. Paul mentioned a lot of names here. This shows that he knew many people in Rome. In Romans 16:3, His greeting to Priscilla and Aquila shows that they returned to Rome. But neither the Bible nor history records when they returned to Rome. In addition to Priscilla and Aquila, Paul also greeted Sister Phoebe (Romans 16:1), as well as Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (Romans 16:5) and Andronicus and Junia, who had been in prison with him and dozens of others. This shows that Paul knew a lot of people there. Therefore, although he had not established the Roman church and he had never been to Rome, his connections with Priscilla and Aquila and others more than likely fueled his burden for the church.
Because Paul was not sure whether he would reach Rome safely, he was heavily burdened with writing the content of the gospel in detail to the church in Rome to help them understand the pure gospel. Paul said at the end of Romans 16, “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past.” (NIV, Romans 16:25). He is raising the bar with these words. Although revival had come to the church in Rome, many believers there may not have understood the depth of the gospel message. It’s possible that some of the preaching may have deviated from the truth. Priscilla and Aquila may have passed this information on to Paul or perhaps Andronicus and Junia, who were in prison with him. This could be why Paul felt burdened to write such a detailed letter about the gospel of Jesus Christ to educate and strengthen the believers there.
The book of Romans is often called “Paul’s Gospel” by theologians. Although it is not included in the gospel, it is a very detailed explanation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many theologians have commented that Paul’s gospel is very helpful for future generations to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. People such as Augustine and Martin Luther, who we mentioned earlier, represent some of the people who were helped by the book of Romans.
To better help the members of our study understand Paul’s experience in Rome (including Paul’s burden to go, the environment does not allow him to go, and finally continuing the trip later), I shared some of my experiences. I hope it can help everyone better understand Paul’s spiritual experience and its significance to us today.
I went to Oregon in January 2016 to attend a prophetic meeting hoping to hear from God about my wife’s ten-year infertility problem and to learn how to listen to God’s voice. In this special meeting, God told me that not only will I have a child in 2016, but also “Jairus Bible World Ministry” came out of Him. I was saved in the Local Church Movement. I never thought of having my own ministry, nor did I ever think of serving the churches in China. But before this special meeting, I read a book by Chuck Pierce, who is an American prophet. He talked about Jesus appearing to him in the 1980s, telling him God’s plan for China until 2026, and China becoming a very powerful country and having a great spiritual revival that will spread to the whole world, significantly changing China and the world. One of the keynote speakers of the special meeting that I had attended was Chuck Pierce, and he repeated this story.
One day after coming back home, I was walking the streets of Washington, DC, and I remembered this vision. Suddenly I heard the Holy Spirit asking me, “What is a great revival?” At this point in my spiritual walk, I wasn’t used to hearing God’s voice clearly, so I was taken aback at His question. I immediately answered Him in the spirit, “I heard that one-tenth of Chinese people are Christians. Isn’t this already a great revival?” Because I was saved overseas, I never participated in the church services in China. The teaching I received at the Local Church Movement was mainly to minister to Chinese scholars and students overseas. I never thought of serving the churches in China and the United States. The Holy Spirit immediately asked me, “How about two out of ten?” I was even more surprised. I quickly counted in the spirit, and I realized there would be 100 million more Chinese that will be saved. The conversation with the Holy Spirit this time had changed me a lot. I started to have a burden on China.
God placed a burden for China in my heart, but He hasn’t opened the opportunity for me to go yet. His current path for my life is training. I’m studying for my Doctor of Ministry degree at the United Theological Seminary. Part of the training was leaving the Local Church Movement and exploring truths from the Charismatic movement, which led me to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and learn about the various gifts of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has assured me that the burden for China will be fulfilled. A Korean prophet prophesied that God had set my base of ministry in the United States but would send me all over China to minister. God would also open the door for ministry in the United States. Other prophets confirmed this prophetic word. My experience is similar to Paul’s in that God gave the burden, but the circumstances didn’t permit the door to be opened right away. Through the waiting period, Paul wrote the book of Romans. My waiting period includes finishing my Doctoral degree and other writing projects. As I’ve been going through this series of processes, I realized what God’s plan was for me. He is preparing me to help stabilize and strengthen Chinese and American churches someday.
The application of Paul’s experience isn’t to be limited to me. I would like to challenge every believer to ask God how He is preparing you for His purposes during this coronavirus pandemic. One woman felt like God allowed her time to prepare for the CPA exam. Another woman said that God used these circumstances to draw her deeper into faith for healing a physical illness to prepare her to serve Him better in the future. The Chinese character or word for crisis has two meanings, crisis, and opportunity. It’s important to look at situations like the coronavirus or the riots from God’s perspective so that we can take advantage of any opportunities he has for us in the middle of the crisis. One man in our study said that this pandemic has exposed sin in many people. God is more than willing to give them the opportunity to repent and strengthen their faith through this trial.
At the end of our study, we blessed and prayed for the people in China, the United States, and the world. May God be merciful to them; let them not ignore the grace of God for giving them sun, air, and water. Like Romans 1:20 (NIV) says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” God has allowed our circumstances to change pretty dramatically, and people are feeling weak and helpless.
It’s time to turn to God with a repentant heart, surrendering our will to Him and allowing Him to work through us in power.