Romans 1:1a-c Introduction
In 58 A.D. Paul was in Corinth, headed to Jerusalem with an offering for the saints there. Having never been to the Imperial City, and not sure he would be able to visit the church in Rome soon, he wrote this letter to them. 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 deemed 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 “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh” (RM 13:13-14). 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).
Sent on a business trip to Rome, 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 steps 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 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 as a missionary, but 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?” After two years, he returned to England 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 which 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 which rocked the religious world. In essence, he simply said men are sinners.
Romans is a mountain which erupts as a volcano every few centuries. This epistle has power to change lives. 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.
Let me stretch your memory a little farther back. What about Pharisee, maniac, persecutor, murderer? It is a miracle 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?” 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 this 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–but 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 which 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 his 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 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.
Greeks also despised the term “slave.” To them it was the lowest degradation to lose one’s freedom. This 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.
To Paul, though, “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 which deludes its victim into thinking it has freedom to choose. The man in sin is in bondage. “Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin” (JN 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. This is the worst tyrant of all. When Paul was obeying himself, he was a lost sinner. His whole life was in a mess. We, too, are 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.
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 this is “I am slave.” Jesus needs us to be what we confess to be.
George Herbert always added the words “My Master” when he mentioned Jesus. 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 this 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?
Romans 1:1d “. . .called to be an apostle. . .”
I almost envy Paul’s certainty. He had no doubt about to whom he belonged; he was a slave of Jesus Christ. Also, Paul had no doubt about what his master wanted him to do. He was “called to be an apostle.”
The phrase is literally, “a called apostle.” The word “called” is an adjective used here in the sense of being summoned to assume an office. Paul knew God had appointed a special sphere of activity to him. He had been designated an Apostle.
In general usage, the word “apostle” simply meant one sent forth. “Ambassador” would adequately translate its general meaning, but in the church, “apostle” took on a very specific meaning. It referred to the men selected and commissioned by Christ Himself to be the original deliverers of His message. They were His immediate messengers, men who had seen Christ after His resurrection.
This select group originally referred to the eleven true disciples plus Matthias, who replaced Judas. God decided to add one more name to this list. Paul did not accompany Jesus in his earthly ministry, but was made an Apostle by a divine commission (GL 1:1). Paul was no ordinary Apostle. Christ had to make a special trip from heaven to earth to capture his attention. He was an Apostle “born out of due time,” but nevertheless called.
These Apostles were called for a specific reason. They were not meant to be beautiful show pieces and lord it over the rest of the saints. Their purpose was toil, not honor. They were to provide “scientific proof” to the Gospel’s accuracy.
They were to be first-hand witnesses to the fact Jesus rose from the dead. They saw Him, touched Him, walked with Him, and knew He was alive. Their lives gave testimony to the fact of His risen life. “These historical facts are the Gibraltar of the Christian faith and the Waterloo of infidelity” (Barnhouse).
There is more solid historical evidence to substantiate the resurrection of Jesus than to verify Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon or Washington’s crossing of the Delaware. At least six Bible writers confirm the resurrection by their own eye-to-eye encounters with the risen Lord (Matthew, John, Paul, James, Peter, Jude).
In addition to their verbal testimony, they validated their words by their blood. All the Apostles, with one possible exception, died for their belief in the Resurrection; and men do not die for fairy tales. Paul saw the risen Lord on the Damascus Road and knew he had to spend the rest of his life telling others what he saw.
Romans 1:1e “. . .separated unto the Gospel of God.”
The word “separated” would have extra meaning for Paul. He had been a “Pharisee” (PH 3:5), which means “separated one.” The Pharisees viewed themselves as separated ones. They were separated to the law, and from the common people.
They disdained the lay people, and separated themselves from the rabble. A Pharisee would not let his robe brush against an ordinary Jew, much less a Gentile.
When God shook Paul’s tree, Paul fell out and ended up being separated unto the very people he had formerly been separated from. A Hindu in India once said, “My religion forbids me going to the untouchables.” A Christian friend replied, “My religion compels me to go to them.” Paul went from being “Hindu” to being “Christian.” He had been proud of his separation “from” people, but became proud of his separation “to” people. No wonder he spent three years in Arabia. It would take that long to get over the shock.
Paul knew exactly what God wanted from his life. Do you? What can we draw from Paul’s life to help us in finding God’s will for our lives?
A. Paul truly believed God had specific tasks for him to do.
Since he believed this, he faithfully continued seeking God’s will for his own life. If you do not believe God has a special plan for you, you will not seek His will very diligently.
God has a purpose for every man. Each believer has a gift he must learn to exercise most effectively for God. No man’s life is purposeless. God has a definite plan for each of us. Paul believed this so strongly that he said, “God. . . .separated me from my mother’s womb” (GL 1:15). No point in time could be marked as the moment of Paul’s call. He had always been an Apostle in the mind of God. There was never a time when Paul was not an Apostle, as far as God was concerned. What we describe in our vernacular as “call” is technically the verification in time and history of an appointment made before time.
The successful man is the one who is doing exactly what God planned before the world for him to do. Paul was separated by God long before his conversion. All the training and diversified exposure (Jewish, Greek, and Roman learning) of his earlier years were foreordained by God to help prepare Paul for his later world-wide ministry.
Moses was trained in Pharaoh’s courts for his task long before he learned what his task would be. Surely he often thought, while tending the flocks of Jethro, all his education was a waste.
Jacob was separated as the chosen son before he was born (GN 25:23). Samson was a chosen child before he was born (JG 13:5). Notice, Jacob and Samson were not preachers; they were laymen.
The Lord let Hannah conceive once she vowed to give the child to YHWH (I SM 1:11,17). God told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee” (JR 1:5). The angel said John the Baptist would be “filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (LK 1:15). I am convinced my life was also marked long before birth. Yours was, too. This being the case, we now consider the question, how can we find our task?
B. Paul was always busy for God.
It was not until the Antioch Church set apart Paul that he fully knew his ultimate role in life. It was there he was set apart as a missionary (AC 13:2), but in the meantime he had been serving the Lord.
Avoid the mistake of doing nothing while waiting for a definite word from God. Always be engaged in constructive service, and God will guide your movements. It is easier for Him to re-direct your movement than to get you started from dead center. Samuel was serving in the Tabernacle before God spoke to him. I preached two years before the Lord verified my call. Get busy and God will speak.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (EC 9:10). The key words in this verse are “do it.” Paul found his specific task by being faithful in general tasks. His early consecration and commission led him to a later concentration. He had a specific work to do, but was busy wherever he was until he found that work.
C. Paul was a willing slave.
Finding the will of God is not as mystical as we often think. The hardest part is being willing to do anything God wants you to do. Paul mentioned he was a slave before he mentioned he was an Apostle.
“Separated unto the Gospel” means he would never have anything else to do. He was detached from all other attractions. Such consecration should characterize the life of every believer.
God never expected anyone to serve Him half-heartedly. God has never been content with an outside corner of our affection. God claims us every inch, for He made us every inch, and redeemed us every inch.
Not everyone is called to the preaching of the Gospel, but everyone can be personally dedicated to the Gospel. God has need of good carpenters, good employers and employees, good workers in every profession.
Men in business must dedicate their business to the Gospel. We should be able to point to something in our everyday work which proves it is a God-sanctioned position (distribute tracts, help others, stand for right). Once you become willing to do whatever God desires, then He will guide in one of many ways: the Bible, prayer, others, opportunities, strengths, weaknesses.
Romans 1:1e Conclusion
The Gospel of God must become our life-breath. It produces what a great Scotch preacher called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” The power of the new life pushes out the vestiges of an old life. The pin oak retains its dead leaves through the winter. But in the spring, when the sap begins to flow again, the old leaves drop off because new life is pushing out from within. Thank God for new life which pulsates within us. Thank God for something worth living (and dying) for. The Gospel–the news that Jesus died, was buried, rose, and was seen of witnesses–it is worth our life’s commitment.
The Gospel is a death story that ends in life. It covers three days, from the cross to the resurrection. It is proof of God’s love for us.
The love of God is something a man can never escape. His love is well illustrated by a fable: A godly mother deeply loved her son. But he loved a wicked woman who took him deep into sin. The mother tried to woo her son back to righteousness, and the wicked lady resented it deeply. One night the evil lady chided the drunken young man with an accusation he did not really love her. He vowed he did. She appealed to his drunken mind and said if he loved her, he would get rid of his nagging mother. The young man immediately went home, killed his loving mother, and ripped out her heart to take back to the wicked one. In his drunken haste, he stumbled and fell. From the bleeding heart there immediately came a voice, “My son, are you hurt?” This is how God loves. Wesley penned it this way:
Depth of mercy! can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
I have long withstood his grace,
Long provoked Him to His face;
Would not harken to his calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls.
Yet God still loves us. This is the Gospel.
Romans 1:2 “(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the
The Gospel was not something new, concocted by men. It was ordained before the foundation of the world. God used the years before Jesus’ coming to prepare the world for it.
Buddha and Confucius preceded Jesus in the flesh, but Jesus was the Creator God who gave life to their bodies. Jesus existed before they were born, and before the world was created.
God gave His people hints along the way foretelling the One who would someday come. Surprisingly, God’s main source of communication was not kings or priests, but prophets–a group often disliked by the people at large.
Paul here placed honor on a group of men who were usually considered fanatics or rebels. Jeremiah, Amos, Malachi–they were unpopular but right. The prophets continued to proclaim their message from YHWH when no one listened. Their persistence resulted in the highest accolade–the pre-heralding of the Gospel.
The greatest Old Testament passages referring to Christ are found in the prophets’ books (Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Micah, Malachi). These men could be rude, sharp spoken, and cutting in their messages. Yet God saw their sincerity of heart and used them.
The line of the prophets was especially honored when one of their own, John the Baptist, was chosen as forerunner of the Messiah. The King, wicked Herod, was completely by-passed. The priesthood had become lazy and neglectful of the people’s real needs. Hence, Caiaphas was by-passed. The honor fell to a prophet.
The world’s outcasts were Heaven’s heroes. The prophets were scorned by men, but honored by God. Time has a way of “turning the table.” Winston Churchill, “the” hero of the early years of World War II, was later defeated in a re-election bid. Now he is considered one of the twentieth century’s most important men. Grant and Harding, two of America’s most popular presidents while in office, are now viewed among the weakest presidents this country ever had. Harry Truman was maligned and ridiculed, plagued by Roosevelt’s overwhelming shadow. Now the Missourian is viewed as having been a remarkable leader. Lincoln is now universally viewed as one of the two greatest Presidents, but riots, complaints, and jokes against him abounded. He won re-election only because the Civil War turned in his favor at just the right moment.
These men, and the prophets, show us popularity will not cause us to make a long-time impact on the world. Enlist on the side of truth, honesty, and conviction. Time vindicates right.
Do not be blown about by the whims and fads of popular opinion. Stand with the truth of God. Hold to high moral standards. Cling to righteousness and holiness. Only then will our lives have lasting significance. Pleasing God withstands the test of time. The kings had their wealth and power; the priests had their regalia and prestige; but the prophets had the smile of God–the best thing of all.
Romans 1:3a “Concerning his Son. . .”
The focus of the Gospel is God’s Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Enthralled with the Master, Paul stops a while to heap accolades on his Beloved. The sinner is here compelled to express love and honor for the Savior.
Romans 1:3b “. . .Jesus. . .”
It is no accident the angel commanded Joseph to give this name to Mary’s first child. The name means “YHWH saves” and was given “for He shall save His people from their sins” (MT 1:21). He was God who had become man to help us. He became what we are, to make us what He is.
Romans 1:3c “. . .Christ. . .”
“The anointed One”–In the Old Testament, prophets, priests, and kings were anointed. The Jews longed for “the” anointed One, the One who would combine in Himself all three offices. Jesus did this. As prophet He was the ultimate mouthpiece of God. As priest He entered the Holy of Holies once and for all for us. As king He reigns at the right hand of the Father.
Romans 1:3d “. . .our Lord. . .”
“Lord” is the word the Hebrews used in their scriptures as a substitute for the Holy Name, YHWH. When Paul, the Hebrew scholar, used the word “Lord” with reference to Jesus, he knew exactly what implications would be drawn. He was putting Jesus in the position of God. Paul was saying Jesus is Supreme Master and Possessor. We belong to Him.
Christianity is not primarily a system of theology or ethics. It is a Person. Becoming a Christian means letting a new Person live in you (GL 2:20). To reject Christianity is not to reject a sermon, or church, or Bible, but to reject a Person who offers Himself.
When Christ is rejected, the unbeliever is the loser. Rejecting Jesus does not topple Jesus from the throne. The Rock of Ages stands secure. Refusing the Bible does not make it less true. The infallible Word abides forever. Scorning the sermon does not nullify it. The truth remains.
Jesus is Lord. He is Master. His throne is secure. Someday every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. But for many it will be too late.
What will you do with Jesus?
Neutral you cannot be.
Someday your heart will be asking,
“What will he do with me?” (B. B. McKinney)
Romans 1:3e “. . .which was made of the seed of David. . .”
Everyone agreed the Messiah would be a descendant of David. YHWH Himself told David, “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever” (2 SM 7:16). The Coming One had to be a descendant of David. Jesus met this requirement through both parents. Matthew 1 gives His legal connection to David through his step-father. Luke 3 gives his actual connection to David through His mother. He was a legal heir to David’s throne. Not even His bitterest enemies disputed his Davidic ancestry.
Romans 1:3f “. . .according to the flesh;”
The incarnation was an amazing provision for human desires. All humanity seems to cry out for something tangible with regard to God. Idols, statues, figurines, crucifixes, beads, etc.–these are products of human hearts groaning after God incarnate. Jesus has filled this need. We have no reason to want any other tangible evidence of God. Jesus in the flesh suffices.
Paul’s statement here obviously implies there was more to Jesus than humanity. This phrase would be redundant if used of any other human being who ever lived. This points to the next verse. . .
Romans 1:4 “And declared to be the Son of God with power,
according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection
from the dead:”
Verse 3 emphasized Jesus’ humanity. Now Paul emphasizes Christ’s superior nature, the Divine nature. The genealogical records established beyond question the physical ancestry of Jesus. The Resurrection proved His spiritual ancestry.
The foundation of our faith rests upon the premise Jesus is the Son of God. By this we mean of the very substance of God. He is God of very God–not all of God, but nevertheless, God. If this position is forfeited, we end up having nothing more than Judaism under a new name.
Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. The Jews called Him a liar and crucified Him for blasphemy. One of them had to be completely wrong. The Resurrection proved Jesus was right.
The word “declare” means to manifest, to mark with a monument. It refers to placing a monument somewhere to provide permanent evidence. The resurrection is the monument which declares “Jesus is the Son of God.” It did not make Him the Son of God. He never “became” the Son of God. He always was. The resurrection just proved it.
The proof was given in the sphere of power. Christ was irresistibly and eternally proven to be the Son of God. The Resurrection was God’s solemn and powerful “Amen!” to everything Jesus claimed to be. The Father had gently said, with a dove, “This is My Son” at His baptism. The Father said it again at the Transfiguration, but in more glorious tones, “This is MY SON!” Then finally, at the resurrection, He said it once more; this time with emphasis, effectually, loud and clear, “THIS IS MY SON!!!”
The Father had a hard time getting this message across to sinful, thick-headed men. But the Lord has ways of getting His message heard. It took a staggering dream to get Jacob’s attention, a burning bush to get Moses’ attention, a series of plagues to get Pharaoh’s attention, a flaming angel to get Balaam’s attention, a rain of fire to get King Ahab’s attention, a blinding light to get Paul’s attention, and a mind-boggling, inexplicable, unprecedented, death-defying resurrection to get the world’s attention.
The miracles of Jesus did not overwhelmingly convince men of His deity. Some believed, but more disbelieved and said His power was magical or Satanic. However, when it came to His resurrection, no one ever attempted to say it was caused by magic or Satan. Only God can raise the dead. Everyone knew if Jesus actually rose, it would be impossible to deny Jesus is God.
This is why Paul calls it a declaration of power. If men will not be convinced by the resurrection, they will not be convinced by anything. We do not have a more powerful argument.
I doubt anyone in the world believed very strongly in the deity of Christ on the day after he was crucified. His message, His cause, His claims, and the disciples’ faith were buried with Him. But they all returned with vitality on Sunday morning.
Many men have died, leaving behind wonderful legacies and outstanding memories. But when Jesus died, He left as His legacy a resurrected presence, mighty with power.
Romans 1:5a “By whom we have received grace and apostleship”
Notice, Paul did not obtain grace, nor work for it. He simply received it. God gives, man receives. Grace is a word which perfumes Scripture. In one word it says man deserves nothing, but God gives good things anyway.
Paul had received grace and knew what to do with it. He was to be an apostle, one sent forth with a message. Grace is a free gift; going forth should be the result of that gift.
It is amazing Paul viewed his apostleship as an honor. The Apostles were made a spectacle to the world, led a life of toil, trouble and danger. They “were killed all the day long,” and yet Paul regarded it an honor.
This is a noteworthy outlook. It is an honor to be employed in any work or service for God, whatever dangers or difficulties we face in it. No one can deny the work is hard. Augustine said, “The ministry is a weight from which even an angel might shrink.” Luther, “though an old preacher, trembled every time he ascended the pulpit.” The strain is intense; the problems are many. But still it is an honor to represent God.
Romans 1:5b “. . .for obedience to the faith. . .”
Paul had a specific goal: to encourage men in all nations to follow Christ. The obedience of faith is obedience which exists due to faith, and follows the controlling lead of faith. Faith implies submission and surrender. Obedience is the child of faith, and the child always reflects its parent’s strength or weakness. Abraham was able to obey and offer up Isaac only when he was strong in faith (HB 11:17). He believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (HB 11:19).
“Obedience of faith” essentially begins (here) and ends (16:26) this letter. The concept was important to Paul. Justification by faith will ever prove itself by the justified obeying the Justifier.
Romans 1:5c “. . .among all nations. . .”
Notice the international scope of Paul’s vision. The disciples were not diocesans. They did not restrict their jurisdiction to a particular territory. Wesley was following their exact footprints when he said, “The world is my parish.”
The commission was a general one, worldwide in its range. This is why Paul had the right to address the church at Rome regarding spiritual matters. Yea, it was more than a right; it was an obligation.
There can be no limit to the sphere of our service. Jesus died for “all nations” and they must be included in the proclamation. Why is this so important?
Romans 1:5d “. . .for his name:”
Because Jesus’ name deserves to be honored everywhere. There can be no limit to the sphere of our service. After what Jesus did at the cross, His name should be reverenced by every descendent of Adam. “For” His name means “on behalf of” his name. Our motive is that the Name of Jesus might be honored among men.
Jesus has done good things for us and deserves plenty of “good press.” We absolutely must share a good word for Jesus whenever we can.
He who has been blessed is under obligation to be a blessing. The Gospel was given to us on its way to others. Paul happened to be on the path which the Gospel was travelling to the Gentiles. And once he received the Gospel, he decided to “go with the flow” and help it on its way.
Romans 1:6 “Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:”
The word “called” does not mean named, but rather summoned. It is not a description of us as much as of what we are to be doing. We are “called,” summoned to the work of God. There was an outstanding Christian layman who, when asked his occupation, would say, “I am a witness for Jesus Christ, but I pack pork to pay expenses.” This is a great attitude. Our first vocation is a witness for Jesus; our salaried job just pays expenses.
Romans 1:7a “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God. . .”
God loves all men, but believers hold a special place in His heart. Down on the stinking manure pile of Rome, there was a beautiful flower-bed sending sweet aromas to Heaven.
When God came to visit Rome, He by-passed the palace. He stopped, rather, in catacombs, in houses where two or three were gathered together in His Name, in places where Christians huddled.
God loved them, even if nobody else did. When Paul arrived in Rome (AC 28:16-31), he assembled a group of Jewish leaders. They were anxious to hear because “as concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (28:22). Others may disparage us, but God loves us. We should let the love of God soak deeply within us. It is a comfort, an encouragement, and a delight.
The special affection of God is the compensation for believers. The world’s reproaches are basked away by His love.
The smile of God also motivates us to even greater heights for Him. The craving for the lesser things of this world can be thwarted by replacing it with a craving for the greater things of God. The Lord ever offers us more and more of Himself. Napoleon once said, “If you would truly conquer, you must replace.” And Jesus lures us from worldliness by offering better things. Let me illustrate: Remember the fabled Isle of Sirens, where sailors were lured to doom by the beautiful singing of the nymphs who lived there. Ulysses handled the problem by putting wax in the ears of his men. Orpheus, on a different trip, used a different approach. He played such lovely music on his lyre that animals, trees, and stones followed him. Rivers even stopped flowing to listen. When the sirens began their bewitching music, Orpheus simply played sweeter music, which held his crew like a magnet. The nymphs charmed the ear, but the music of Orpheus thrilled their whole being. This is how God woos us to Himself. He does not “wax up our ears” and remove the world’s attractions from us. He rather offers something better–Himself and His smile.
Romans 1:7b “. . .called to be saints:”
“Saint” is God’s designation for a believer. The word we use most often, “Christian,” was coined by the lost world as a term of derision. “Christian” is used three times in the New Testament, and each time it is in the context of being an appellation forced upon us by outsiders. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch” (AC 11:26). Agrippa said to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to become a Christian” (AC 26:28). “If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (1 P 4:16). Peter was speaking of persecution based on the “crime” of being a Christian.
The world said “Christian”; God said “saint.” “Saint” means holy one, one set apart. Saints are set apart as belonging to God. We are His. He claimed us for Himself when He gave us Jesus Christ.
The yielding of ourselves to Him is only the echo of His giving Himself to us. His love comes first. We love Him because He first loved us. Unfortunately, there is much confusion over the word “saint.” There are two reasons for this:
1. Roman Catholicism uses the term for its super-heroes. This is sad, because every believer has the right to the title of saint as much as Peter, Paul, and Mary do. Exalting a few super-saints puts honor on individuals rather than on the Lord Jesus.
Saying a sinner has been made a saint glorifies God. Look at the material God has to start with, and then look at the final product. The rainbow is more beautiful because of the ugly cloud which is its backdrop. The pearl is even more beautiful when contrasted with the ugly oyster. The butterfly is an unspeakable miracle of loveliness when compared to the caterpillar. The diamond gleams even brighter when viewed next to the ugly black coal it came from. “Saint” is the new name. “Sinner” was the original. The difference between a sinner and a saint is a Savior.
2. The world uses the term to describe “goody-goodies.” “Saint” does not refer essentially to our moral conduct, but to our spiritual condition. Nevertheless, we who are saints in fact should realize we are under obligation to be “saintly” in conduct. Too many saints live low-level lives.
If a letter addressed to “saints” were dropped in our streets, would anybody recognize for whom it was meant? The world would taunt us if we began calling ourselves saints. I wish their taunts would be undeserved. It is sad that “saint” is not always synonymous with “good man.”
The idea of holiness is prominent in the first few verses of Romans. The Scriptures are holy (v.2), Jesus’ spirit is holy (v.4), and now believers are called holy ones. Holy writing, a Holy Savior, and a Holy people: the three go together. The Holy Ones should obey the Holy writings and live like the Holy Savior. If you are in the trilogy, get in it all the way. Never forget, when you said, “I believe,” it also involved, “I belong.”
Romans 1:7c “Grace to you. . .”
Anything bestowed on the undeserving may be called grace. Grace pleads the merit of God for those who have no merit of their own. Grace is not meant for the good, but for the sinful. There can be no grace applied until there is a sinner who confesses he needs it. And every man needs it.
Adam and Eve both sinned. The whole race, in essence, was present when that happened. We were in the loins of Adam and fell when he did.
Grace is the beauty which lures men to the Lord. You cannot argue a man into loving God, any more than you can hammer a rosebud open. To attempt such a thing would spoil its petals. Sunshine falls on the closed flower and expands it into beauty.
Love which looks up is worship; love which reaches out is affection; love which stoops is grace. We were not lovely nor loveable when God reached out for us. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners.
Oh! the love that drew salvation’s plan,
Oh! the grace that brought it down to man,
Oh! the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!
(Wm. R. Newell)
Grace “brought it down.” Revel in it.
Romans 1:7d “. . .and peace. . .”
Peace is the outgrowth of grace. Peace involves rightness with God, others, and self. Such peace is impossible apart from the grace of God.
This is why Paul always put “grace” before “peace.” The order is important. Never reverse it or use peace alone. Peace can spring only from the grace of God. Grace is the cause; peace is the effect. To say “peace” to a lost man is a waste of breath. There is no peace to men separated from God.
“Grace and Peace” was probably Paul’s attempt to unite the Greek and Jewish modes of greeting. The Jewish greeting was “Peace,” but Paul knew this was hollow and meaningless apart from Jesus. It needed something more.
The Greeks greeted one another with “Chaire!” which means “Rejoice!” Paul knew this was also meaningless apart from Jesus, the source of all true joy.
Paul changed “chaire” to the similarly sounding and more distinctively Christian word “charis,” which means “grace.” Hence, the new greeting was born–Grace and Peace.
Romans 1:7e “. . .from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
To Paul, this greeting was not a pleasantry only. It was a serious matter. He rendered it earnestly.
The greeting was not given as a good wish, but as having the authority of a blessing. This is a significant fact, because a blessing is actually a form of prayer.
Notice, the prayer is offered to the Father and to Jesus equally as objects of prayer. Paul obviously regarded Jesus as God.
The Father is Author of grace and peace; Jesus is Bringer; Holy Spirit is Maintainer. None of these functions is more important than the other. Grace and Peace hinge on all three equally.
Grace and peace can be yours right now. The Lord delights in mercy. At one time God regretted He created man, but the Bible never hints He ever regretted showing grace to us. Jesus wants to save you now.
Romans 1:8a “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you
Luther often referred to Christianity as the religion of possessive pronouns. Anyone can say “God,” but only a Christian can say, “My God.”
Romans 1:8b “That your faith is spoken of throughout the whole
Even in the midst of a den of sin, the saints at Rome were living cleanly. They had established a worldwide reputation.
The purity of this struggling band, not founded or fathered (yet) by an apostle, was known throughout the world. News spread without conventions, telephones, radios, mass media, annual reports to the association, weekly mailouts, etc. God sees to it a genuine work of His Spirit is well-publicized. Whenever and wherever there is real revival, word gets around.
When real revival arrives, no one has to wonder if revival has come. History teaches that Heaven-sent revival shakes everything and everyone within reach. Not everyone gets saved, but all know something unusual is taking place.
The Roman church continued as a model to Christendom for generations. It stayed Orthodox and true for centuries. Heresies assailed from many quarters, but Rome, where both Peter and Paul eventually labored, stayed true. In fight after fight, the Roman leadership stood doctrinally true. Hence, its Bishops became stronger and stronger.
Rome became the premier church of the faith. It was the unrivalled and unquestioned leader, but along with esteem came pride and apostasy. The rest of the story is sad.
The great church at Rome lost its lustre. The gold tarnished. They had a reputation of faith, but lost it. Even the strongest light can fade, and the strongest faith wither.
It is sad to look upon the ruins of a fallen civilization, and even sadder to consider the ruins of a great church. Many are the examples of churches whose glory is past tense. The church at Rome is the classic example.
The spirit of a living Church in Rome is not found at the cathedrals there, but rather in the catacombs. Though the smell is musty, and the scene dark, one can sense there the spirit of what was a living faith. The church of Rome is now large and rich, but they were much better off when small and poor, for then they had a vibrant faith.
The Roman church became the center of a faith which oppressed men and suppressed the Scriptures. It became the heart of the system Luther toppled. Paul’s epistle “to” the Romans eventually became Paul’s epistle “against” the Romans. Luther used this very book to rend Rome’s regime.
Romans 1:9 “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit
in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make
mention of you always in my prayers.”
The church at Rome had a friend praying for them. Though separated by a great distance, Paul and the Roman church could meet together at the throne of God. Both had immediate access to that common ground. This form of long-distance communication has been around a long time.
Romans 1:10 “Making request, if by any means now at length I
might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to
come unto you.”
Paul’s prayer all along had been that he might be able to come to Rome. But something always happened to obstruct the fulfillment of his plan. We should be thankful Paul was prevented from traveling sooner to Rome. It is to this delay we owe this wonderful letter. The Lord’s way and the Lord’s time are always best.
Romans 1:11a “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you
some spiritual gift. . .”
It would happen three years later. His desire to see them was matched by theirs to see him. The church at Rome “came to meet” (AC 28:15) Paul. This Greek word “was almost a technical term for the official welcome of a visiting dignitary by a deputation which went out from the city to greet him and escort him for the last part of his journey” (Bruce, Acts, p. 527).
Paul walked a total of 132 miles on the Appian Way. A delegation met him at Appii Forum, 43 miles south of Rome. Others met him at Three Taverns, 33 miles south of Rome. When Paul saw them, “he thanked God, and took courage” (AC 28:15).
Though in chains as a prisoner, Paul was welcomed into Rome as a dignitary by the Christians. While Rome’s government amassed armies to keep invaders away, their downfall was walking through the gate in chains. All his traveling expenses were even paid by Rome.
Romans 1:11b “. . .to the end ye may be established;”
Paul wanted to share his understanding of the Gospel. He wanted to help them gain a better, firmer grip on their relationship to Christ. Paul not only wanted them to flourish and grow upward in many branches; he wanted them also to grow downward in the root.
We all need help in this area, and often share the songwriter’s lament:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
The most effective tool for establishing ourselves is the Word of God. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 P 2:12).
The Word is the food by which the Holy Spirit helps us grow. Paul complimented the Christians at Berea because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily” (AC 17:11).
Romans 1:12 “That is, that I may be comforted together with you
by the mutual faith both of you and me.”
Lest the Romans mistake Paul’s attitude and view him as haughty, he adds this verse to verify he himself is also in need. Paul was going to give to them, but he needed to receive from them in return. They were to be pipes, not sponges. Each side would have to give and receive.
The word “comforted” refers to the strengthening of faith and consolation we find in fellowship with one another. Paul was hoping for “concurrent encouragement.” He, as well as they, needed strength and courage to banish weakness and depression.
Congregations and ministers need one another. The listeners need the spiritual feeding provided through the speaker; the minister’s encouragement is in the conversion, growth, and response of the listeners.
The conscientious pastor has few opportunities to hear others speak. He is called as Pastor-Teacher and must devote his life to that task. This means he does not sit under someone else’s teaching regularly.
Who is to be the pastor’s pastor? Who will minister unto him? The people to whom he ministers and is pastor. When Jesus had won the Samaritan woman, the disciples offered Him food. He was not interested, however, and said, “I have meat to eat that ye know not of” (JN 4:32). He had been refreshed by the response of a listener.
The pastor’s encouragement lies, at least partially, in seeing what God has done for the listeners. Are you closer to God than you once were? Are you closer to one another? Has your faith grown? Can you say the teaching of your pastor has helped you know the Lord better? If so, then you are seeing illustrated what Paul meant by saying, “that I may be comforted together with you.”
Romans 1:13 “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that
oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let
hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also,
even as among other Gentiles.”
Paul wants to win men in Rome as he has elsewhere. God is ready to save men everywhere. Rome, like most cities, was characterized by:
Rome was the capital of the world. It was the Empire city. Militarism was their pride and joy. Great triumphal marches filled the streets often.
It was a city of wealth. All kinds of tourism, commerce, and business flowed in and out of it. It had a population approaching one million and was as cosmopolitan as New York or London. Truly, all roads led to Rome.
The population was increased daily by poor drifters who came to Rome to join the dole-fed urban mob. The city leaders were constantly building huge tenements to house the indigents. These places became wretched slums, islands of overcrowding and squalor.
The city was plagued with the perils of fire, traffic, violent crime, and unsafe buildings. It was better to be a slave, than a free man in the slums of Rome.
These slums played a key role in church history. A fire broke out among them in July 64 A.D. and destroyed half of Rome. Nero had been wanting to get rid of those slums to make way for his huge building plans. He was immediately blamed by the people and needed a scapegoat. He blamed it on the Christians, and persecution of the church by the Roman government officially began.
The Roman historian, Tacitus, described Rome as a city into which “flow all things that are vile and abominable, and where they are encouraged.” Lust, vulgarity, and immorality thrived. Fourteen of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were openly and unashamedly homosexuals. Julius Caesar was known as “every woman’s husband and every man’s wife.” Nero married young men in public. One of the Emperors had a wife who worked at night as a prostitute for the sake of pure lust.
The average Roman was concerned mainly about his job, his security, and his pleasure. Entertainment was provided in abundant measure to satisfy the masses. The average Roman cared little for speculation about life after death. His universe was wrapped up in this life. He would have been very comfortable with the slogan, “You only go around once in life, so grab for all the gusto you can.”
Rome was the epitome of carnal, organized paganism. It had everything which was opposed to the nature and character of Christianity, but Paul wanted a shot at it. Paul was not afraid of Rome, and nothing could keep him from going there. The next verses tell us why.