Introducing Paul and his Gospel in the Letter to the Romans (Romans 1:1-17)
From last week’s studies, we sought to introduce the letter to Romans. It was established that Romans is one of the most important books of the New Testament both theologically and in the history of the Church as we saw from the ministries of Luther, Wesley and Karl Barth. We also learnt that the Letter to Romans can be thematically divided into three major sections such as doctrinal (Romans 1-8), dispensational (Romans 9-11) and practical sections (Romans 12-16). Today’s study begins the doctrinal section by highlighting Paul’s credentials and his message, the gospel. Among some of the questions that this study seeks to answer include: how does Paul present his credentials and what can contemporary Christians learn from Paul as far as the gospel ministry is concerned?
Brief overview of Romans 1:1-17
These opening verses of the letter contain customary introduction, greetings, and thanksgiving. All thirteen of Paul’s letters begin with his name. It was customary in those days to open a letter with the writer’s name and personal greeting, rather than place them at the end, as we do today.
In verses 6-7, Paul describes his readers as the saints in Rome. They are also called by Christ to be saints. Note that a saint is a living believer in Jesus Christ. Only God can make a sinner into a saint. they are also loved of God, (cf. Matt. 3:17). Jesus states that the Father loves us just as the Father loves him (John 17:23).
Ways in which Paul Presents his Credentials
Paul then introduces himself to the believers in Rome. Some of them must have known him personally, since he greets them in the final chapter; but many of them he had never met. So, in these first seventeen verses, Paul seeks to link himself to his Roman readers in four ways.
- He was a servant of Jesus Christ (V. 1a). The word Paul used for servant would be meaningful to the Romans, because it is the word slave. There were an estimated 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Christ, to be His servant and obey His will.
- He was an Apostle (v 1b). This word means one who is sent by authority with a commission. It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. One of the requirements for an apostle was the experience of seeing the risen Christ (I Cor. 9:1-2). Paul saw Christ when he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9), and it was then that Christ called him to be His apostle to the Gentiles. Paul received from Christ divine revelations that he was to share with the churches.
- He was a preacher of the Gospel (v. 1c-4). When he was a Jewish Rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the Laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded Christ, he was separated to the Gospel and its ministry.
- Gospel means the Good News. It is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, and now is able to save all who trust Him (I Cor.15;1-4).
- It is the Gospel of God (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; man did not invent it.
- It is the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16) because it centres on Christ, the Saviour. Paul also calls it the Gospel of His Son (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God and that He is the centre of the Gospel message.
The Gospel concerns Christ: according to the flesh, a Jew (V. 3), but according to God’s power through the resurrection, proved to be the very Son of God (V.4). This proves the humanity and the deity of the God-Man who alone can be our Mediator
- In Rom. 16:25-26, Paul called it my Gospel. By this he meant the special emphasis he gave in his ministry to the Gospel and his own personal experience of it.
The Gospel is not a new message; it was promised in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 3:15. The Prophet Isaiah certainly preached the Gospel in passages such as Isaiah 1:18, and chapter 53 and 55. The salvation we enjoy today was promised by the prophets, though they did not fully understand all that they were preaching and writing (I Peter 1:10-12).
4. He was a missionary to the Gentiles (V. 5-7). Missionary is the Latin form of apostle – one who is sent. There were probably several assemblies of believers in Rome and not just one church, since in Romans 16 Paul greets a number of home church groups (Rom. 16:5, 10-11, 14). We do not know for certain how these churches began, but it is likely that believers from Rome who were at Pentecost established the assemblies on their return to Rome (Acts 2:10). There were both Jews and Gentiles in these fellowships, because Paul addresses both in this letter (Jews: Rom. 2:17-19; 4:1; 7:1 and Gentiles: Rom 1:13; 11:13-24; 15:15-21). Neither Peter nor any other apostle found the churches in Rome. If they had been, Paul would not have planned to visit Rome, because his policy was to minister only where no other apostle had gone (Rom. 15:20-21).
Note the repetition of the word called: Paul was called to be an apostle; the believers were the called of Jesus Christ; and they were also called saints. (Not “to be” saints; they already were saints! A saint is a set-apart one, and the person who trusts Jesus Christ is set apart and is a saint). Salvation is not something that we do for God; it is God who calls us in His grace (2 Thess. 2:13-14). When you trust Christ, you are saved by His grace and you experience His peace.
Paul’s special commission was to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (the word nations means Gentiles), and this is why he was planning to go to Rome, the very capital of the empire. He was a preacher of the Gospel, and the Gospel was for the nations. In fact, Paul was anxious to go to Spain with the message of Christ (Rom. 15:28). Having presented his credentials, Paul proceeded to forge a second link between himself and the believers in Rome.
The Reasons for His Visit (1:8-15)
Paul now explains why he wants to visit them in verse 8-15. For a long time, Paul had desired to visit the saints in Rome. Their testimony had spread throughout the Roman Empire (V. 8, and see I Thess. 1:5-10), and Paul was anxious to visit them for three reasons:
- That he might help establish them in the faith, v. 11
- That they might be a blessing to him, v. 12 and
- That he might have some fruits among them, that is, win other Gentiles to the Lord, v. 13.
Keep in mind that Paul was the chosen messenger of God to the Gentiles, and he certainly would have a burden for the saints (and sinners) in the capital of the empire.
- He explains that he had been hindered (V. 13) from visiting them sooner, not by Satan (See I Thess. 2:18), but by his many opportunities to minister elsewhere (Rom. 15:19-23). Now that the works was ended in those areas, he could visit Rome.
- Explain four ways in which Paul presents his credentials (Rom 1:1-7).
- What titles do contemporary Christians and for that matter ministers of God look for and do these titles reflect their ministries in the Church?
- What does the Gospel mean? (Rom 1:1c-4)
- Who are saints and what does it mean to be saved?
- State three main reasons why Paul wanted to visit the Romans (Rom 1:8-15).