Calvary Road Baptist Church

“PAUL”

Romans 1.1

 

“Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking your time to come to our little meeting today. To be very brief and get right to the point, I represent a man many of you have heard about, but just a few of you have actually met. He is the godliest man I have ever known. His name is Paul. Not that it is terribly important, but my name is Phoebe, and I reside in the city of Cenchrea, which is where the city of Corinth’s East port is located. When I last saw our beloved Paul he was beginning a journey to Jerusalem to take a very large offering given by our fellow Gentile Christian brothers and sisters from the Church in Philippi, from the Church in Thessalonica, and from the Corinthian Church, as well as others. Please pray for Paul, however, for during my own travel here to Rome to meet with you who represent the Churches here in this vast city of Rome I learned that Paul has been arrested in Jerusalem and that he is even now in a Roman jail in Caesarea Maritima. The reason for my own journey here to Rome, and the reason for this meeting that has been called is this large epistle dictated by Paul to our brother Tertius, in whose hand it has been written. I would like to ask that one of you men come forward and read Paul’s letter to the Romans. Men, though I am only a women who has been greatly blessed to serve somehow the needs of great men of God such as Paul and Timothy, and though I would never presume to occupy a position of authority and great responsibility as you men do, I would humbly beseech you to pay most close attention to what our beloved Paul has written in this letter. For in this letter is truth of such a profound nature, and in this letter is truth which has answered so many of my own questions, as I have never seen in my Christian life.”

Folks, imagine yourself to have been a leader in one of the many congregations scattered throughout the immense city of Rome, the largest city in the entire world. Minding God’s business and winning souls to Christ, one day you receive a message indicating that all of the pastors of the various Churches in and around Rome have been urged to attend an important meeting. You arrive at the meeting with the other pastors gathered in a courtyard. And although you are excited and eagerly anticipating whatever the Lord may have for you, this little speech by a woman from one of the Corinthian seaports is not at all what you expected. This previously unknown woman claims to have been entrusted by the great Apostle Paul with an urgent dispatch, a letter, that she claims he sent by her before going to Jerusalem. Her facts about Paul seem to be correct, since you also have heard that Paul departed from the port city of Cenchrea and, after a number of stops along the way, delivered his offering and was promptly arrested. But as you are thinking about what kind of reaction you ought to have about the selection of this unknown woman to bring such an important letter, and as you get excited about the contents of the letter that will be read aloud to the group, your friends push you to the front of the crowd. As the best public reader of all the pastors, they ask you to take the letter and read it to them as they all begin to sit around you.

Taking the letter, two thoughts run through your mind: First, you marvel at how large a letter it is. You have seen a letter of Cicero, the famous Roman orator, to one of his friends, the largest letter ever written, and you would swear that Paul’s letter is twice the size of Cicero’s. But, more importantly, you wonder whether your voice will hold up. True, you are an exceptional public reader of letters. But this letter is immense. What things must be contained herein.

My friends, using my own imagination I have attempted to reconstruct the kind of scene that may have occurred when Paul’s letter to the Romans was presented for the first time to his audience. And though there was, doubtless, eager anticipation to learn what was in the letter, there was no way in the world those men could have guessed the importance and the impact of that scroll on Christianity. Through our study of Romans, we shall not only attempt to understand what Paul wrote but also seek to understand what kind of impact his letter had upon its first readers, as well as strive to determine what kind of impact it ought to have upon us. But to understand what Paul wrote, to clearly comprehend what Paul said, you have to know Paul. For you see, what you know about a person determines how you interpret what he says to you.

At this time, we enter into a study of Romans in much the same way as a child steps into a swimming pool that he fears is full of cold water. He first dips his toe into the water. This evening we will dip our toe into the water. We will begin an examination of Paul’s introduction of himself to these Romans, most of whom he has never met, having never been to Rome and having had no direct part in the planting of the several Churches spread out over that great metropolis. That is not to say that these Christians have not felt the effects of Paul’s ministry. For you see, since all roads in the Roman Empire led to Rome, a few in attendance must certainly have known Paul, while others sitting there who had come to Phoebe’s meeting were in effect the spiritual grandchildren of Paul, having been led to Christ by those whose lives he had had great influence on in such cities as Philippi, Ephesus, and Corinth. But knowing that secondhand information is rarely reliable, Paul seeks, in the very beginning of this letter, to inform them about himself directly. Why, again, does Paul do this? Because he understands that “What you think I am determines what you think I have said.” Paul merely wants his readers to be properly informed about what he is.

Though my text for this message is only a single verse, let us still stand as we read together Romans 1.1:

 

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.”

 

Notice, my friends, the three ways in which Paul introduces himself in his letter to the Romans. Three phrases we see in Romans 1.1 explain three relationships that are so important to Paul that he wants his readers to appreciate them and, thus, to know what kind of man writes to them:

 

TO PAUL’S MASTER HE IS A SERVANT

 

“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ”

 

This word “servant” refers to a typical slave in the Greek-speaking world of Paul’s day.[1] And if ever a statement could be made which would evoke different reactions from different audiences, this one happens to be it. Just as in our society references to slavery evoke profoundly different reactions from different ethnic groups, the same was true in Paul’s day. And he knew this. He knew that by referring to himself as a slave he might very well get a negative reaction from the Gentile Christians, but he also knew that he would get a positive reaction from the Jewish believers.

And why was this so? Because the concept of being a slave was totally different in the mind of the Gentile than in the mind of the Jewish man or woman. The Roman might have conjured thoughts of degradation and torture and human bondage at the mention of being the slave of anyone. Indeed, perhaps some of the men present had themselves been slaves at one time. But to the Jewish mind, the concept of slavery was totally different. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world to a Jewish person to be a slave under the Mosaic economy, with guidelines and laws laid down for the rights and protection of the slaves who were owned by Jews. Furthermore, in the Old Testament Scripture, there were a whole host of the godliest men who ever lived who were referred to as “servants.”

“This phrase, or parallels (e.g., “your servant”), is occasionally applied to Israel generally (Neh. 1:6; Isa. 43:10) and sometimes to the prophets (2 Kings 9:7; 17:23), but it more often depicts a particularly significant and outstanding ‘servant’: Moses (e.g., Josh 14:7; 2 Kings 18:12), Joshua (Josh. 24:29), Elijah (2 Kings 10:10), Nehemiah (Neh. 1:6), and, especially frequently, David.”[2]

Probably realizing that a great deal of discussion would ensue after the initial reading of this letter, Paul surmised that this group of preachers would exchange information and views of what he had meant by what he had written. The Gentile believers would talk about the humiliation of being such a servant while the Jewish believers would talk about the exaltation of being such a servant. Imagine what Paul did. He slipped himself, with one single phrase at the beginning of this letter, in on equal footing with the prophets of the Old Testament, as well as placing his Lord Jesus Christ on the same footing as Jehovah, the covenant God of Israel.

Did this meaning of the phrase cause confusion? Perhaps it did initially. But once thought and meditation were directed to this single little phrase it must have been realized by one and all that several truths are contained in this little gem:

#1     There is humility related to serving Jesus Christ. After all, what is accomplished in His service is all of Him and none of you. He Who humbled Himself expects the same from His Own. Amen?

#2     There is also exaltation related to serving Jesus Christ. After all, to be a servant of Jesus Christ is to be on equal footing with any Old Testament prophet of Jehovah, because Jesus Christ is Jehovah. So who would complain about the hardships that might accompany such an exalted privilege as being the servant of Jesus Christ?

#3     We must realize that abject slavery to Jesus Christ is far and away more preferable to the alternative. Those who will not be servants of Jesus Christ think they serve no one and are bound by no thing. Tragically, they do not realize that man’s destiny from birth has always been slavery, for you are either the slave of Jesus Christ, bound by arms of strength and warmth and love, or you are the slave of sin, bound by the cold steel chains of sin and death, and roughly handled in the harsh and painful grip of Satan. Slaves of Jesus Christ go to heaven, but those who have been deceived into thinking they are no one’s slave and that they are free to do what they want . . . shall someday be dragged into Hellfire. Then they will find out. But they will find out that they are a slave too late to change masters.

Paul wanted his readers to know that for all they had heard about him the first thing he wanted them to learn about him from his own letter was that he was “a servant of Jesus Christ.” What is the first thing you communicate to people about who and what you are?

 

TO HIS MASTER HE WAS A SERVANT. SECOND, TO HIS MINISTRY HE IS CALLED

 

“called to be an apostle”

 

Two words are translated by this phrase. And as we read these words we need to understand that what Paul is communicating is not that he was called to become an apostle, as if that was an office that some man could strive for and acquire over time. Paul was called an apostle. From the very instant that he was a new creature in Christ Jesus he was an apostle of Jesus Christ. But what is an apostle? Actually, there are three answers to that question, since there seem to be three categories of apostles in the New Testament. With the word “apostle” referring to “one sent,” usually with a message, it comes as no surprise that the Lord Jesus Christ, in Hebrews 3.1, is designated as the “Apostle and High Priest of our profession.” So, Jesus Christ, being sent of His Father, is clearly an apostle.

But there are other apostles that we are much more familiar with. There are the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, and there is the Apostle Paul. These are apostles specifically sent forth by the Son of God, the twelve to the nation of Israel, and Paul to the Gentiles. And we know that Paul was not one of the twelve for three reasons:

#1     Matthias was legitimately chosen, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, to replace Judas Iscariot, according to Acts chapter 1. He replaced Judas Iscariot as the twelfth apostle.

#2     Paul refers to the apostles in First Corinthians 15.5 as “the twelve,” not referring to himself.

#3     The twelve apostles will someday sit in judgment over the twelve tribes of Israel, according to our Lord.[3] Since Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, he will not have that role.[4] So, for there to be the proper number of apostles there have to be the twelve, and the twelve does not include Paul.

With the first level of apostolic ministry being Jesus Christ and the second level being the twelve and Paul, there remains another group of men referred to as apostles in Scripture. In Second Corinthians 8.23, the men who traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys are referred to as “messengers of the churches.” The word “messengers” is our word “apostle.” The third level of legitimate apostles, then, are those sent, not by God the Father as was Jesus Christ, not those sent by Jesus Christ as were Paul and Simon Peter, but those sent forth by local congregations like ours. Though I am personally convinced that the apostles of the Churches are really Church planting missionaries, the point that needs to be made here is that Paul is not that kind of apostle. His appointment to apostolic office was made by Jesus Christ personally. He represented the Son of God in a most personal way and was sent on a most unusual life’s mission that is not exactly duplicated by anyone else’s call and service to the Savior.

So, what is Paul trying to get across to those who are listening to this letter being read? First, that he is merely a servant of Jesus Christ. But being merely a servant of Jesus Christ isn’t being merely anything. Though it is a position rightly filled by one who is most humble, it is the most exalted of relationships. Second, however, Paul wants to declare emphatically that he is a special envoy. He is an ambassador with extraordinary powers of representation. And not by his choice or ambition. He was called. And, as we shall learn later on in his letter, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

Understand that Paul is communicating truth about his most special authority to people, many of whom do not know him. Why do so? It must be at least partly so that they will respond to his authority that he declares himself in this way. So, this letter that he writes is quite different than any letter these people have ever heard of before, according to men who study about such things.[5] Most unusual are two features: First, he is writing a letter of surprising intimacy considering he does not know most of these people, in an age when intimacy in written correspondence was almost unheard of. Second, this rather intimate letter starts off with the flare and the authority of an official Roman government declaration. Don’t you know that by this second phrase of the first sentence of the letter he already has their rapt attention? You bet he does.

What a ministry he has been called to. To what ministry do you believe you have been called? And if you do not yet know what ministry you have been called to, what steps are you taking to discover God’s perfect area of service for you?

 

TO HIS MASTER HE IS A SERVANT. TO HIS MINISTRY HE IS CALLED. AND FINALLY, TO HIS MESSAGE HE IS SEPARATED

 

“separated unto the gospel of God”

 

Some commentators are of the opinion that this “separation” refers to Paul being “elect according to the foreknowledge” of God from eternity past. But although he was and that is true, I am of the opinion that Paul is talking about something different here. In Galatians 1.15 the Apostle Paul uses this same word concerning his birth. Let me read it to you:

 

“But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace.”

 

In that context, I think Paul is suggesting that his entire life, from birth to the time of his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, was a preparation time used by God to get him ready for a Gospel preaching ministry. And Paul’s word for this whole process is “separation.”

I think as he looked back over his lifetime to his theological training, to the discipline of being a Pharisee, to his instruction at the feet of Gamaliel, to all of it, that he realized that although none of that was of any spiritual value so far as meriting salvation, God did use all of that to prepare him as a person for the ministry He had for him. The same is true of you. God uses your life before Christ to prepare you for your life of serving the Savior. And notice that God didn’t separate Paul to do nothing, to have a good time, or to be all he could be. God had a definite plan for his life that He began preparing him for from the moment of his birth. And that plan was for him to deliver a message. The exact same can be said of you. Not that God necessarily has preaching in mind for you. However, every believer in Jesus Christ is separated in some way to the Gospel of God.

What is that message given to him? It is the message of the good news, which is what “gospel” means. Used in a variety of contexts, from the arrival of a new provincial governor to the birthday of one of Caesar’s sons, the good news that Paul refers to is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ the Son of God. That’s why he terms it the “gospel of God.” God is the source and point of origin of both the salvation and the message declaring that salvation that Paul preached.

 

He described himself in terms of three relationships. A servant of his master Jesus Christ. Called to the ministry of being an apostle. Separated to the message of the saving Gospel of God. To be sure, Paul’s audience is paying attention like they have never listened to a letter before. He is saying things about himself that assures them that he is very special indeed. But do you realize, friend, that almost these same things can be said of you? If you are a Christian you ought to be described as a servant to the Master, called to your ministry, separated to the Gospel message. Question is, how well do you live out these relationships? Do you serve Jesus Christ at all? It is a profound privilege. How do you serve Him? It is a great opportunity. Where do you serve Him? And if you say you serve Him at all, is what you do something that anyone else would recognize as service? And if you don’t serve Him, what plans are you making to become equipped so that you are able to serve Him? Second, to what ministry have you been called? Not because his mother or father or pastor wanted him to be one, Paul was a called apostle because Jesus Christ wanted him to be one. What has God called you to be for Him? Are you a God-called pastor in the making? A missionary? A Sunday School teacher? An evangelist? Just as Paul was an apostle for years before he actually began to function as one, you, too, need to be prepared for what God has called you to become. And finally, as to your message, you have been separated. Separated from what? I’d rather deal with separated for what. For a message. For the Gospel. Just like Paul, God began working in your life from the moment you were born to make you a unique messenger of the saving Gospel that God has given to us. Recognize the truth of that. Capitalize on that. Do that.

Now I turn my attention to those of you here today who do not know Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Why are you here? What is your function? Are you an accident? Are you a mistake of nature? Think what you will, but I know otherwise. Just as God had a plan for the life of a man named Paul, he had a plan for the life of a man named John Waldrip, and He has a plan for your life as well. But you will never know that plan, much less fulfill it until you first come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior. I urge you to come to Christ at this time.

__________

[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 259-260.

[2] See footnote 7 for Romans 1.1 from Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle To The Romans - NICNT, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), page 41.

[3] Matthew 19.27-28

[4] Romans 11.13

[5] Moo, page 40.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org