Whenever we write to or email someone who does not know us, we normally need to explain in the first line or two who were are and why we’re writing to them. And the Apostle Paul is doing the same thing here at the beginning of his letter to the church in Rome. Paul hadn’t yet been to Rome, though it appears that for some time he wanted to go to that city. Look down to verse 11 for a moment where it tells us that Paul longed to see the people there. Then look at verse 13 where he wrote that he planned several times to come to them, but so far had been prevented from doing so. And look at verse 15 where he tells them that he was eager to preach the gospel to those who are in Rome. And, of course, later in the book — in chapter 15 — Paul outlines his travel plans: how he hoped to travel to Spain to preach the gospel there; and on his way, he hoped to stop off in Rome. So, Paul, when he wrote this letter, hadn’t been to Rome, though he was looking forward to the time when he could go there. And so, at the beginning of his letter, he writes to explain who he is.
And look how he describes himself. Verse 1: He regarded himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. This speaks to us of his commitment to Christ and his devotion to him. The servant is responsible to his Master and devoted to him, going wherever his Master sends him, doing whatever his Master asks of him, and absolutely committed to doing his Master’s will. That’s how Paul regarded himself.
And who is his Master? Well, it’s Christ Jesus. The word ‘Christ’, I’m sure you know, is a title, rather than a name. Jesus is ‘the Christ’ and it means Jesus is ‘the Anointed One’. And it refers to the fact that the Lord Jesus was anointed by God the Father to be our Great Prophet, Priest and King. As our Great Prophet, he teaches us by his word and Spirit the will of God for our salvation. In other words, he teaches us everything we need to know for our salvation. As our Great Priest, he offered himself as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins; and he now lives to intercede for us. In other words, he has done everything that needs to be done for our salvation. And as our Great King, he makes us his willing subjects and he rules over us and defends us, restraining and conquering all his and our enemies. In other words, he rules over everything in order to complete our salvation and to bring us finally and forever to be with God. Paul regarded himself as the servant of the Christ who is our Prophet, Priest and King and who does all things necessary to deliver us from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life.
And, of course, the name Jesus means ‘the Lord saves’. So every time we hear the Lord’s name, we’re reminded that the Lord Jesus is the one, and the only one, who saves us from sin and from death so that we might enjoy everlasting life in the presence of God.
Paul regarded himself as the servant of Christ Jesus, who is our Great Prophet, Priest and King and the one who saves us and gives us everlasting life. And being Christ’s servant, Paul was devoted to the Lord Jesus and devoted to serving him. Of course, we’re all servants of Christ Jesus and so we should all be devoted to him and we should all seek to do our Master’s will. But while we’re all meant to serve Christ the King, we do it in different ways, don’t we? We all have different callings from the Lord. And Paul had a particular calling from the Lord. He was called to serve Christ Jesus as an Apostle. Do you see that in verse 1?
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle.
The word ‘apostle’ means ‘sent’ or ‘messenger’. It can be used in a general way in the New Testament to refer to anyone who has been sent. And so, in Philippians 2:25, for instance, Paul describes Epaphroditus as an apostle. In other words, Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians and therefore he was their messenger, their apostle. However, usually the word ‘apostle’ is restricted to that small group of men who were eye-witnesses to the Lord’s resurrection and who were appointed and equipped by the Lord to be his witnesses in the world. And Paul was numbered among them because the Risen Lord Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and the Lord not only converted him from his unbelief, but he also appointed Paul to go and take the gospel into all the world and to the Gentiles in particular.
So, here’s Paul writing to the Romans, and he’s introducing himself and explaining to them who he is. And right away he’s explaining to them that he’s one of the Apostles. We’re all servants of Christ Jesus, but Paul was one of that small group of men who were called to serve the Lord Jesus as an Apostle. So, just in case there were any in Rome who might have wondered who he was and why they should listen to him, here’s the answer: They ought to listen to Paul because he was one of the Lord’s Apostles.
But Paul hasn’t finished his description of himself yet. Yes, he was Christ’s servant. Yes, he was an Apostle. But he was also set apart for the gospel of God. In other words, when the Lord called him to be an Apostle, he also set Paul apart to make known the gospel. Again, the Lord calls his servants to serve him in different ways. And Paul was called by God and set apart from everyone else to make known all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus to deliver us from our sin and misery. And look how Paul describes the gospel: He calls it ‘the gospel of God’. It’s God’s gospel, because it’s the good news of what God has done for us.
So, here’s Paul introducing himself to the church in Rome. He was a servant of Christ Jesus. He was an Apostle. And he was set apart to preach the good news about what God has done for sinners by his Son.
In verse 2, Paul goes on to say more about the gospel of God. And the first thing he says in this verse about the gospel is that God promised it beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. Well, by the Holy Scriptures, he’s referring to the Old Testament. And by the ‘prophets’ he means not only men like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Jonah, whom we normally think of as Old Testament prophets, but he probably means anyone God spoke through in the days of the Old Testament. And so, that would include men like Moses and David. God spoke through them. And when God spoke through these Old Testament prophets, he announced what he intended to do in the future in order to save us from our sins. He announced through them the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And we’ve seen this from time to time: those passages in the Bible where God speaks about his Suffering Servant who would come to suffer and to die for the Lord’s people. And there are passages which speak of the Lord’s resurrection as well. There are passages where God promised to send his people a great prophet to teach them and a great king to help them and where he promised to deal with our sins once and for all. God announced the good news of the gospel through the Old Testament prophets; and their message was written down and recorded for us in the pages of the Holy Scriptures. And their message was about what?
That’s the next thing Paul says about the gospel of God. The gospel concerns God’s Son,
who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
That’s how the NIV translates Paul’s words; and that translation assumes that Paul is contrasting Christ’s two natures: he is both a man descended from David and also the Son of God. And the fact that he is the Son of God was made abundantly clear when he was raised from the dead and exalted to the highest place.
All of that is true, of course. Jesus Christ is both God and man. However, the NIV’s translation is not the most accurate translation of what Paul wrote. A better translation is as follows:
who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
You see, Paul is contrasting, not the two natures of Christ, but two phases in his existence. When the Son of God first came into the world, he lived ‘according to the flesh’. Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ in several ways, but here he’s using the word ‘flesh’ to refer to our earthly existence which is characterised by weakness and dishonour and death. So, for a time, the Son of God experienced that kind of existence. However, by his resurrection from the dead, he left behind that old life in the flesh to begin a new life in the Spirit. And life in the Spirit is characterised by power and honour and life. So, Paul’s gospel concerned Jesus Christ, who is God the Son, who entered this present evil age as one of us and experienced the humiliation and weakness and dishonour and death which marks this earthly existence. But now, by his resurrection, he has left behind that weak earthly existence to begin a new life in the Spirit. No longer is he the Son of God in weakness, but Son of God in power. That is Paul’s gospel and he will, of course, say more about it during the whole of this letter.
For now, Paul goes on to say in verse 5 that through Jesus Christ our Lord, we received grace and apostleship. It’s not altogether clear who Paul is referring to when he says ‘we’ here. Some commentators think he’s referring to other Christians generally. However, not every Christian is called to be an apostle. So, other commentators think he’s referring to his fellow apostles. However, it’s possible that he’s simply referring to himself the way Queen Victoria was referring to herself whenever she said: , ‘We are not amused.’ And the reason some commentators think Paul is referring to himself here is because of what he goes on to say. He says: We received grace and apostleship from God in order to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you see, that was Paul’s particular calling. Whenever the Lord appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, the Lord also appeared to Ananias to instruct him to go and find Paul. And the Lord explained to Ananias that Paul was his chosen instrument to do what? To carry the name of the Lord before the Gentiles as well as before the people of Israel. Paul’s special calling as an Apostle was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. And that’s what he refers to here in this verse. Paul received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles.
Let me make four brief points about this in closing. Firstly, Paul was to take the gospel to the Gentiles. That reminds us that the gospel is to be taken into all the world, to people everywhere, because Christ is the Saviour of the world.
Secondly, Paul was to call people to the obedience that comes from faith. The Reformers used to say that we are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — through faith alone, but true faith is never alone. What they meant is that we are justified through faith in what Jesus Christ has done and not on the basis of anything we have done. However, God then fills us with his Spirit in order to sanctify us so that we become more and more willing and able to obey him. So, obedience comes from faith, because whoever believes in the Lord is enabled by the Lord to obey him.
Thirdly, Paul received this apostleship ‘for his name’s sake.’ Do you see that at the beginning of verse 5? He wasn’t serving the Lord for his own personal gain. And though his ministry would benefit his hearers, their welfare wasn’t his primary motive for his work. No, as a servant of Christ Jesus his motivation for all that he did was the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. His aim in all things was to please his Master and to bring glory and honour to his Master’s name. Even though we’re not apostles, nevertheless we’re servants of Christ Jesus. And no matter what our calling is, nevertheless, we too must seek to do all things for the sake of his name.
And finally, in verse 6 Paul refers to the believers in Rome as those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. We belong to him. We’re his possession. And therefore we can count on the Lord Jesus who rules over all to help us and to defend us and to bring us at last to our heavenly home. We belong to him and we can count on him to keep his people safe for ever.