1:1-7 (The Greeting)
In this first passage, we learn three things about Paul, two things about the Gospel, and three things about Christ.
The three things we learn about Paul are that he was a servant of Christ, he was called to be an apostle, and was set apart for the gospel.
SERVANT – Paul considered himself a servant of Christ. The word he uses for “servant” means a slave, one who completely belongs to another and has no freedom to leave his master, an also one who willingly serves a master. He was one who was totally devoted to Christ, and used his life completely to serve him. He suffered greatly, but considered it an honor to join the sufferings of Christ. He went to prison and used it as a mission field. He died for his Lord after saying that to die is better for it would bring him into the presence of Jesus.
Paul told us in Philippians 2:7 that Christ took on the very nature of a servant when he came and dies on the cross, and said our attitude should be the same. Jesus expected us to be his servants. In John 12:25-26, He said “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”
CALLED TO BE AN APOSTLE – The record of Paul’s conversion and commissioning is in Acts 9:1-18. Some things for you to notice in this passage are: (1) the resurrected Jesus revealed himself to Paul, which is the basis of Paul’s claim to apostleship; and (2) Jesus chose Paul to be his apostle to the Gentiles and to suffer.
The idea of people being “called” by God, into relationship with Him, runs throughout the Bible. God called Abraham to go and establish the people of God. He called Aaron to the priesthood. Jesus called the 12 to be apostles. Even today, we speak of ministers being called by God into service. Calvin said “We must here observe, that all are not fitted for the ministry of the word; for a special call is necessary: and even those who seem particularly fitted ought to take heed lest they thrust themselves in without a call.”
God gives grace, sometimes called gifts, to those he calls so that they can fulfill his calling of service to him and the church. Ephesians 4:7-13 is one list of these, including apostles. 1 Corinthians 12:28 speaks of God appointing apostles, then prophets, then teachers. God decides who will serve him, and in what capacity, and gives the grace necessary to fulfill that calling. In 2 Corinthians 1:1, Paul calls himself an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.
Jesus called Paul to the apostle to the Gentiles. In Romans 15:15-16 he refers to the
grace God gave him to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God
The New Testament also speaks of God calling us as believers into salvation and fellowship with Him. Jesus spoke of his sheep hearing his voice. God is the initiator in his relationship to us. Verse 7 refers to the believers in Rome as “called to be saints”.
The Reformers believed, and Reformed theology still teaches that this calling is always effective. That is, when God calls someone to him, they will come. They labeled it God's Irresistible Grace. A person feels the inward call of the Holy Spirit, when the outward call is given by the evangelist or minister of the Word of God. This is based on verses such as John 6:37 and 44, where Jesus said “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away” and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL – In Acts 22:14-16, Paul recounts his commissioning from Ananias in greater detail. He was told that God chose him to know his will, to see Jesus (the Righteous One) and to hear words from his mouth. Paul refers to this in Galatians 1:11-12, when he said “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. So, to those who try to separate the words of Jesus from the words of Paul, or to say the words of Paul are lesser, I say Paul’s words are the words of Christ and must be accepted.
Then, in Acts 13, Luke recounts the setting apart of Barnabas and Paul, then known as Saul, as what we would call missionaries. In Acts 13:2-3, it says “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Again we have the picture of God calling a person to ministry and the church recognizing and formalizing it.
Paul takes this “setting apart” even further in Galatians 1:15, where he says he was set apart from birth (NIV), literally from his mother’s womb. This is reminiscent of Jeremiah, who said the Lord told him “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (It is kind of interesting that Paul became a Pharisee, as the Pharisees were separated from the people by their desire to study and strictly follow the law – it is like he innately knew of his calling to be separated, but expressed in fleshly terms until the Lord revealed himself to Paul.
This book of Romans is Paul’s great explanation of the gospel. Paul was set apart from the rest of men to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles all over the Roman Empire.
This passage also tells us two things about the gospel itself: (1) it was promised beforehand; and (2) it concerns Jesus.
Paul says the gospel was promised by God through the prophets in the what we call the Old Testament. When the resurrected Jesus appeared to the two men on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:27 says he began with Moses and all the prophets and explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. When Paul explained the Scriptures in the synagogues, he was preaching about Christ from the Old Testament. That is the scripture they had. In Acts 13:13, he preached in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, explaining the Scripture beginning with the Israelites in Egypt. In verse 32, he said “We tell you the good news. What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus.”
We saw many instances of the promise of the gospel message in Isaiah.
Secondly, the gospel is about Jesus and his work on our behalf. That is why Paul preached only Jesus and him crucified. When we stray from this message, we cease to preach the gospel. Paul even said “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than wht you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:9.
Finally, there are three things we learn about Christ in this passage. He was descended from David in his humanness, he was declared by the Resurrection to be the Son of God, and he gave grace and apostleship to Paul.
Jesus was born of Mary, who was of the lineage of David. This was important especially to the Jews, who realized God had promised a king on the throne of David and understood it to be the Messiah. So, the first words of the New Testament are “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David…” in Matthew 1:1. Luke records that the angel told Mary about Jesus “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David…and his kingdom will never end”. See Luke 1:32. In Peter’s first sermon, he said about David that “he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.” See Acts 2:30.
We also know that Jesus was raised from the dead, and Paul adds here that the resurrection was a declaration that he is the son of God. Psalm 2:7 says “He said to me ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’”
Paul says, in verse 5, that he received grace and apostleship from Jesus. He did not claim any entitlement or merit, but that God in grace brought him both salvation and apostleship. That grace was given him specifically to call people to Christ from among the Gentiles. You know, Jesus told Peter he (Jesus) would build his church and here you see him doing it, by commissioning Paul to this great work of evangelism. Do you see Jesus as actively involved in building the church and advancing the kingdom of God? That is the picture of him presented by the New Testament.
Paul acknowledges that those to whom he writes are loved by God and called to be saints. They are believers living in Rome. Paul has plans to go there after he goes to Jerusalem and while he is on his way to Spain. He wrote this letter to introduce himself and his message, to fully explain the gospel to those who had not heard him preach and teach in person.