Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Introduction: Paul was in Corinth in 58 A.D. headed to Jerusalem with the offering for the saints there. He had never been to Rome and was not sure he would be able to go there soon. Hence, he wrote this letter to the church at Rome. Since Paul had never been there, he supplied all his major teachings in this one book. Romans is Paul at his best and most thorough.
Chrysostom had this epistle read to him twice a week. Luther called it “the true masterpiece of the New Testament.” Coleridge called it “the profoundest book in existence.” Godet said, “It is probable that every great spiritual renovation in the church will always be linked to a deeper knowledge of this book.” He truly has history on his side.
Monica prayed for her son who had followed his father into debauchery. This son fathered a child out of wedlock and lived with the child’s mother 13 years without marriage. He became a professor and set up his own school in Carthage, North Africa. One day he went to hear Ambrose preach. The message was this: “That David sinned is human, that he repented is exceptional. Men follow David into sin, but they leave him when he rises into confession and repentance.”
As days went by, this professor’s past began to haunt him. He finally cried out, “O Lord, this hour make an end of my vileness.” He looked down and saw a copy of Romans, which he had left there earlier. His eyes fell on 13:13-14, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh.” Thus Augustine entered the faith.
Luther was a devout monk. He often fell before his superiors crying, “My sins, my sins! Give me God’s mercy and yours.” He was told to live in poverty, chastity, and obedience. He was made a professor of Bible in the Augustinian seminary at Wittenberg, Germany. As he taught Romans he became aware the church’s teachings contradicted Paul’s. He became fascinated by one statement, “the just shall live by faith” (1:17).
He was sent on a business trip to Rome, where he visited every shrine he could find seeking indulgences for his sins. He came to the famed Sancta Sanctorium, in which was a flight of 28 steps reputed to be the very steps which Christ climbed in Pilate’s judgment hall. The Pope had promised nine less years in Purgatory for each step climbed by a pilgrim while saying the designated prayers.
Luther started his way up the steps, but suddenly recalled, “the just shall live by faith.” The truth dawned on him. He hesitated a moment, then abruptly stood to his feet and descended the stairs. The Reformation had begun.
Bunyan was a tinker by trade, a Baptist preacher on the side. While in Bedford jail for his faith, he was laid hold of by the truths found in Romans. This transformed his thinking. He now had clear insight into the struggles along the Christian way. While in this state of mind he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
John Wesley came to Georgia to convert the Indians. But as he taught them, he came to realize he did not know the Lord personally. He wrote, “I came to Georgia to convert the Indians, but, oh, who shall convert me?” He returned to England after two years a miserable failure. On May 24, 1738, he attended a prayer meeting where Luther’s commentary on Romans was being read. Wesley wrote, “My heart was strangely warmed. I felt that now I really believed and trusted in Christ and Christ alone for my salvation.”
When the twentieth century dawned, Christianity was in the grips of a post-millennial fiction that made men think the human race was good and getting better. But then came World War I. Karl Barth walked over a battlefield and then read the book of Romans. He said, “the mighty voice of Paul was new to me.” In 1922 he published his commentary that rocked the religious world. In essence, he simply said men are sinners.
Romans is a mountain which erupts as a volcano every few centuries. There is power to change lives in this book. I pray God will use it to ignite fires of revival among us.
Romans 1:1a “. . .Paul. . .”
Letters in ancient times began with the name of the writer. Next to Jesus Himself, Paul is probably the most beloved figure in the church. His name is associated with pleasant thoughts: church-starter, evangelist, Gentile-lover, preacher, teacher, writer, champion of grace, etc.
But let me stretch your memory a little farther back. What about Pharisee, maniac, persecutor, murderer? It is a miracle that Paul’s name should appear at all in the Bible in a good light.
Paul was going to be remembered in Christian history, one way or another. He was headed for the ranks of Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, etc. But something happened and he landed in the ranks of Jesus, Peter, John, etc.
Paul had an excellent resume if he wanted to serve a Jewish synagogue, and another excellent resume for a Baptist position (as long as the two groups did not get together and compare notes).
What happened to Paul? How did he change? The next phrase provides a clue.
Romans 1:1b “. . .a servant. . .”
While on the way to persecute believers in Damascus, Paul was blinded by a bright light. As he lay in the dust, his first words were, “Who art thou, Lord?” And once he learned it was Jesus, his next words were, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Paul’s was an instant surrender. He met the Lord and immediately acquiesced.
From that first moment he saw himself as a slave of Jesus Christ: not a hired helper, voluntary attendant, subordinate officer, ministering disciple–just a slave! He still had free will. He wasn’t coerced by force or legal orders. He was bound by an inward necessity. He knew he had been purchased, and he wanted to give his life in return. We should all feel an obligation to Christ. Our lives must be based on a sense of personal debt. A slave, upon hearing he had been purchased by an Englishman, gnashed his teeth and vowed never to obey so unworthy a representative of the land that boasted freedom for all. His new master soon arrived and told the slave he had been purchased in order to be set free. The slave immediately fell at the Englishman’s feet and cried, “I am your slave forever.” This attitude should illustrate our response to the Lord.
In the Old Testament, slaves were set free every seventh year. But if the slave wanted to remain in slavery, he could. He was taken to the Tabernacle where a priest would lead him to a doorpost and bore a hole in the lobe of his ear with an awl. He was a slave from then on. He could have been free, but had chosen to remain. Wherever he went, the hole in his ear was a testimony to the good character of his master.
Christian slavery involves a person finding a personality higher and better than its own, and yielding allegiance to it. It means having your interests and desires swallowed in a higher and more important interest. Frances Havergal penned, “I love, I love my Master, I will not go out free.” This is how Paul saw himself with regard to Jesus.
By 58 A.D. Paul was recognized in many areas as one of the church’s mightiest men. But in others he was despised. He decided to write to Rome and, by custom, is expected to give his title.
Paul could have selected numerous titles. But he did a surprising thing. He used a contemptuous title to introduce himself to the proudest city in the world. To a city proud of its “Lordship,” Paul boasted of his slavery.
Slavery was the most despised of all vocations. A slave could own no property, not even his wife and children. Even his own body belonged to the master.
The Jews said a dog is of greater worth before God than a slave (Cetyl, II, 261ff). In fact a Jew could be excommunicated from the synagogue for calling his neighbor a slave.
The Greeks also despised the term “slave.” To them it was the lowest degradation to lose one’s freedom. That explains why democracy was born among them. They were fanatics on freedom. Kneeling, the position of a slave before his master, was not a part of their religious ceremonies. The Greeks saw themselves as brothers, not slaves, of God.
But to Paul, “slave” was a title to be cherished, a name to be desired. It gave evidence his life and dreams had been buried and replaced by Another’s more worthy life and dreams.
Romans 1:1c “. . .of Jesus Christ.,. . .”
No man can be a slave to two masters. Hence, for Paul, slavery to Christ meant freedom from slavery to:
1. SIN: Sin is a tyrant that deludes its victim into thinking it has freedom to choose. The man in sin is in bondage. “Whoso ever committeth sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34).
2. THINGS: Since a slave can own no property, he has nothing to gain or lose materially. By realizing all belongs to God, one finds freedom from the desire to accumulate wealth. A slave to God will be free from the lust of money.
3. OTHERS: The slave cares not what others think. All that matters is the Master’s desire. The tyranny of peer pressure is broken.
4. SELF: The worst tyrant of all. When Paul was obeying himself, he was a lost sinner. His whole life was in a mess. We are also corrupt. Hence we cannot control our own lives well.
Only by being Christ’s slaves do we find real freedom It is better to be a slave to Jesus than to yourself because Jesus loves you more than you love yourself. He did something on the cross for you that you probably would not do for yourself. Slavery to the one who loves us deeply and seeks our best interest is true freedom.
Conclusion: God still desires such slaves, bound to Him in the midst of this world. If God could use Paul, He could use anyone, including you and me. Paul went from being religious to being devoted, and so must we.
The earliest confession of the church was the short formula, “Jesus is Lord” (RM 10:9). The corollary to that is “I am slave.” Jesus just needs for us to be what we confess to be.
George Herbert always added the words “My Master” when he mentioned Jesus Christ. His consecration to Christ as Lord was a perfume to his life.
Henry Varley once said, “It remains to be seen what God will do with a man who gives himself up wholly to Him.” D. L. Moody heard that statement and decided, “Well, I will be that man.” The world has never been the same since.
Where are the men and women who will be what they confess to be? We say, “Jesus is Lord,” but is he?