How To Crush The Devil
What is the point of church? Why do we have an institution like this, and why do people put so much value in it?
The truth is that the value of a church has little to do with the building, the artwork and decorations inside, the pews, the music, the hymn books, the baptismal tank, or the offering plate. All of those things have their place, yes, but the real purpose of the church and the defining characteristic that makes church what it is is people. The Church exists as a community of people coming together and is meant to help those people strengthen their connection to God.
A Christian church is meant to be a place where broken, imperfect, open-hearted people who believe in God get together to support each other, worship together, share their life experiences, study the scriptures, and make deep, meaningful friendships with others who share their belief in God. A Church is the fellowship and sense of family within a group of believers, and is not simply a man-made building and it's furniture.
When a Church is truly healthy - when it's members love God, love each other, and serve the world outside - it becomes a light in the community, a beacon of hope and goodness. It encourages morality and spirituality, and it attracts people to a better way of life. It promises support for people who are suffering from isolation, hunger, or addiction. In short, a healthy, thriving, active church community attacks and undoes the evil that the devil seeks to spread throughout society. A healthy, active church can oppose the work of the devil.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans, he was not only writing a textbook on "how to get saved." There was a practical purpose he had in mind as well. Paul, as we have seen in previous studies, needed to address a number of issues that were causing division and strife within the church in Rome. Throughout the book, we read about a tense ethnic distrust between Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) people in this church, and we also learn in chapter 14 that there were disagreements about lifestyle choices that different people in the church were making. Paul wrote the letter to the Roman church to help them overcome these differences, and to show them that they were all equals under God's grace.
Paul, as it turns out, had a specific goal in mind for this church. In his own words: "In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum [...] But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.(Romans 15:19b, 23-24 NLT)
It turns out that Paul wanted to use the church in Rome as a launching base for a new mission trip. He wanted to take the gospel to the furthest west place in the world he could think of: Spain. But a church that was stuck in perpetual fights about culture and ethnicity would not be a good base for a mission of God's love. Paul needed to remind these people who they were supposed to be - examples of God's unconditional love for all people.
The ending of the book of Romans is interesting. This final chapter, number 16, consists mostly of greetings. Paul takes the chance in his letter to say "hello" to a number of people from many others. This is not a distraction from Paul's spiritual or religious teachings. Rather, they are the best example of Paul's teachings: the church is one family that needs to keep in touch and take care of its own.
And after saying "hello" to and from all the people he needed to - after investing emotionally and theologically in a community of people, Paul makes this observation:
"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Romans 16:20a)
Even after all their quarreling and disagreements, Paul is confident that God is working to destroy the kingdom of darkness through this community. He is confident in why this church exists - to expose people trapped under the devil's influence to a better way of life under a better God. Paul knows that if this church can fully live out the implications of the gospel, they will undermine the devil and bring new life to their communities. To Paul, that is a cause worth writing and fighting for.
We don't know that Paul ever made it to Spain, but we do know that his desire to go there led him to write one of the most important and influential pieces of literature in the history of both Christianity and the world in general. The book of Romans overviews the Gospel in a comprehensive and eloquent way that has shaped Christian spirituality and human history.
So here you are now, facing your own set of circumstances nearly 2000 years later. Where do you see the influence of evil in the world around you? Where do you see contention, division, discrimination, strife, and hostility? God is calling you to make a difference there, and to speak about the peace and love that he made available through Jesus.
Stand side by side with the people in your life who love Jesus. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Read Romans 15:1-13. What does this first half of the chapter teach us about unity?
Read Romans 15:14-16. What does it mean when Paul says that he wants to present the church members as an "offering" to God? What might that look like?
What conflicts has Paul had to resolve in the church in Rome? How would you describe them? Do churches still deal with these kinds of issues today?
Read Romans 16:1-15 and note the short biographies that Paul gives about many of these people. What are some of the interesting things they have done? Which ones stand out the most to you? How would you describe the relationship that Paul has with each of these people based on how he talks about them? Do you have relationships like that with anyone in your church?
Think about people in whatever community you have belonged to that impacted you spiritually. Are you still in touch with them? Do they know that they did something helpful for you? How would you go about reconnecting?