First in a Series of Messages on Romans
First in a Series of Messages on Romans
Romans 1:1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.
Ro 1:1 Pau'lo" dou'lo" Cristou' jIhsou', klhto;" ajpovstolo" ajfwrismevno" eij" eujaggevlion qeou',
The Author of the Greatest Letter Ever Written is Paul. Romans is the gospel of the glory of Jesus Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), and seems more glorious to me now than it ever has. And there is no greater exposition of the Gospel of God than the book of Romans.
I am often moved by the tyranny of the urgent and by the need to respond to every trendy view that blows across the cultural sea in America. I am young and so it is expected of me, but I have a deep confidence that the best way to be lastingly relevant is to stand on rock-solid, durable old truths, rather than jumping from one pragmatic bandwagon to another. Romans is as solid and durable and reliable and unshakable and thorough as the truth can get.
I have a personal history with this book. And so do many, many people. I will be telling you some of their stories in the weeks - and years - to come (for instance, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Karl Barth. For now, suffice it to say as it has been said that speaking for many, “the Epistle to the Romans is the most profound work in existence" And as John Knox said that it is "unquestionably the most important theological work ever written"
So, How did this happen? How did it come about that the most important theological, Christian work ever written came from a former Jewish Pharisee who hated Christianity (Acts 9:1), and helped kill the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58; 8:1), and persecuted the early church with passion (1 Timothy 1:13)? How did it happen that this man wrote a 22-page, 7100-word letter that "century after century . . . has been the flame at which one great Christian leader after another . . . has kindled his own torch to the revival of the church and the enrichment of Christendom" ?
The answer begins in Romans 1:1, in the first three phrases of the book - "Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God."
Lets now take them one at a time and ponder what they mean about this man and his letter and his God. In all three phrases the crucial thing is not who Paul is, but whose Paul is. And this will, in the end, be what makes your life significant or not - not who you are, but whose you are.
A Bond-servant of Christ Jesus
First, Paul, the writer of this letter, says he is "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus." We are confronted immediately with a choice: is this man a deluded maniac? Jesus, called Christ, was killed in about A.D. 30 by a Roman governor named Pilate. We have several secular, historical testimonies to that fact. He was dead. Now here is Paul saying that this man, Christ Jesus, is not dead but is his master, and that he is the man's slave. Are these 16 chapters the rantings of a delusion? We must decide.
Paul's own testimony is not that he is deluded but that he is bought and owned and ruled by his own contemporary, who died and rose from the dead - Christ Jesus. I say "bought and owned," because that's what being a bond servant implies. In 1 Corinthians 7:23, Paul says, "You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men." In other words, Christians are slaves of Christ because he bought us by dying for us, and therefore he owns us. "You are not your own. For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Paul is the bond-servant of Christ Jesus because Christ bought him and owns him. The Greek word Paul uses is the same word used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew text which existed 3 centuries before Jesus, for figures who served Yahweh, Moses, Joshua, Abraham, and David. Paul is implying to the Romans that his ministry and service put him in the line of such revered slaves of Yahweh in the Old Testament. It implies the submission of himself as an instrument to the will of God.
It also means that this living Christ rules him. In Galatians 1:10, Paul says, "Am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." In other words, being a bond-servant of Christ means utter submission to what pleases him, not what pleases anybody else.
So Paul's self-understanding is that he is bought and owned and ruled by Christ Jesus - a man who was killed as a criminal perhaps 25 years before this letter was written, and who, Paul will say in verse 4, was raised from the dead and is the absolutely unique Son of God in power. In other words, here in this history-making letter we are not dealing with a man and his genius. We are dealing with a man and his Owner and Ruler and God. This should begin to explain why the letter is no ordinary letter.
Called as an Apostle
Second, Paul says that he is "[not only] a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, [but also] called as an apostle." He is not only bought and owned and ruled; he is also called. Paul's significance is not first or primarily what he has done, but what has been done to him - he has been bought and owned; he has been called and he has been set apart. Someone else is the Primary Actor here, not Paul. We are not dealing in this letter merely with the work of a man, but with the work of God in a man.
In Paul's mind, to be an apostle was to be a person who had seen Jesus Christ risen from the dead so that he could give first-hand testimony, and who had been commissioned and authorized by Jesus to represent him and speak for him and provide a foundation for his church through true and authoritative teaching.
Paul saw Jesus on the Damascus Road. And there Jesus called him into his apostolic ministry. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8, "[Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also." There Jesus said to him, "For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you" (Acts 26:16). With this commission he became one of the founders of Christianity, as it says in Ephesians 2:20, The church has been "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone."
If we ask today where the foundation of the apostles is for the church and its life and ministry, the answer is: in the deposit of writings that they left behind. And among all those apostolic writings there is none like the Letter to the Romans. It is simply the great Biblical summary of the great gospel and is therefore preeminently the foundation of the church, with Christ as the cornerstone. Paul says that he is "called as an apostle" so that the church - so that we - will receive the book of Romans as the message not just of a man, but of Christ. Romans is not great because it is the word of a genius, but because it is the word of God (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:13). That's the significance of being called as an apostle.
Set Apart for the Gospel of God
Finally, Paul says that he is not only "a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, [and not only] called as an apostle, [but he was also] set apart for the gospel of God."
When did that happen - being set apart for the gospel of God? Galatians 1:15 says, "God . . . set me apart even from my mother's womb." This means that before Paul was bought as a slave, and before he was called on the Damascus road, and before he was born, God set him apart for the gospel of God. Which means that God did not look around for a person to fill the apostolic role; he prepared Paul from his mother's womb to serve the gospel - which is an astonishing thing when you realize the pathway that led from the womb to the Damascus road, namely, Paul's unbelief and persecution of the church.
Which means that in the very first verse of this great book we taste some of the magnitude of God's inscrutable wisdom which Paul worships in 11:33-36 ("Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!"). God did not leave anything to chance in the founding of his church through the writing of his apostles: He set him apart before birth; he purchased him by the death of his Son; he called him effectively on the Damascus road.
Lastly, today, Romans is about God
So verse one may look like it is about the author of the letter; but behind every phrase is Someone far greater. God bought him by the death of his Son, God called him to be an apostle (Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 1:1), God set him apart from before he was born. And he did it all, "for the gospel of God" - which we will look at next week. In other words, even in the first verse we hear Romans 11:36, "From him and through him and to him are all things. To Him be glory for ever."
"God is the most important word in this epistle. Romans is a book about God. No topic is treated with anything near the frequency of God. Everything Paul touches in this letter he relates to God. In our concern to understand what the apostle is saying about righteousness, justification and the like we ought not to overlook his tremendous concentration on God. There is nothing like it elsewhere"
This is why the epistle has had the effect it has. It is from God and through God and to God. God chose the author before he was born. God purchased his freedom by the death of his Son. God called him to be an apostle. And then God gave him a gospel - the Gospel of God himself. So God is at the bottom and God is at the top and God is in the middle. And since we are dedicated as a church to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, it is, I believe; time to meet God in the book of Romans. I believe God has chosen us, (do you believe that, I pray you do) called us and set us apart for this very thing. Pray with me that his word would run and triumph in the salvation of many and the building up of His, of this church to the glory of his name.