Introduction to Romans (Romans 1:1-7)

Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn’t able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase the beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner’s home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. “Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?” he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector’s emotions were deeply stirred. “I have no right to keep that to myself,” he exclaimed. “It’s yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it.” (From Our Daily Bread, February 4, 1994)

We too have a gospel message that is so wonderful that we have a responsibility to share it with anyone who will listen. The main theme that runs through Romans is the gospel message. The Apostle Paul, the author of the Epistle to the Romans intended his explanation on the Gospel of Christ Jesus to not only be read out in the Church in Rome but also to all of the other churches.

Introduction

Before we start looking into verses 1 to 7, let us first consider some facts about the Apostle Paul and this Epistle by way of introduction. Paul was known as Saul before the Lord Jesus Himself appeared to him on the road to Damascus in a great light. This dramatic account is detailed in Acts 9:3-16. Saul was his Hebrew name, after the first King of Israel and means “The Child We Asked For”  and following his conversion he chose the Roman name of Paul, which means “small”. Paul had a great heritage, He was a Jew but also a Roman citizen.  Being a Roman citizen entitled Paul to several privileges including;

  • The right to have a legal trial (to appear before a proper court and to defend oneself).
  • The right to appeal from the decisions of magistrates and to appeal the lower court decisions.

A Roman citizen could not be tortured or whipped, nor could he receive the death penalty, unless he was found guilty of treason. If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in Rome, and even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die on the cross. See Wikipedia

Paul was a Roman citizen but he was also a Rabbi and a zealous one at that. Prior to his conversion he personally oversaw the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 7 and was tasked by the Sanhedrin to persecute the Christian church, as far as it extended. Following his conversion though, he was even more zealous to preach the gospel to the Jews and Gentiles as far as the church reached at that time. Paul was a pioneer for the Lord; he wanted to conquer fresh places for the Kingdom of God. Where there wasn’t a body of believers he would preach and plant a church. Paul was the last apostle by definition. The qualification to be an apostle is to be sent directly and personally by the Lord Jesus Himself. This is what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus. The apostolic age has already been so beware of anyone calling themselves an apostle. (“But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ:” Jude 17 and “….And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;” Revelation 2:2)

So that is an introduction to Paul the man but what of the Epistle that he wrote? Well Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans in around 55 A.D. which is actually before the 4 Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were penned. As with the full cannon of scripture it was written though, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is relevant for us today as it was then. As I said earlier on, Paul intended for it to be read out not only in Rome but at other churches also.

 

Slave to Christ

Paul introduces himself as a ‘bondservant of Jesus Christ’ and in the original Greek this would have comes across as someone who is willingly following their master whom they love and respect. The word ‘bondservant’ literally means ‘a slave’, which tells us that that he did not try to exalt himself by listing his credentials, rather he identified himself humbly as a slave to Christ. As a slave, or as a servant, you are only concerned with doing the masters will and your life belongs to him. This is the attitude and thinking that Paul had. This of course runs contrary to the world’s attitude to position.

Personally struggle every year when it comes to my performance review to identify all of those things that I have done which enables my managers to grade my performance against my peers. The Bible says that should be humble and exalt others above ourselves but I have to praise myself to make me stand out from my peers. If you’ve got a CV (Curriculum Vitae) then you’ll know that you have to ensure that the wording on the CV comes across so that any prospective employer would think that that you’re the best person in the world for their job vacancy. This world places value on our title and position whereas God places value on our faith and love for Him.

Paul wasn’t interested in accolades or praising himself. He wants us to know that he thought it absolutely necessary to state from the start that he was a slave to Christ Jesus set apart, as he says, for the ‘gospel of God’.

The Gospel

Now where does the gospel or the ‘good news’ of God start? It doesn’t start in the New Testament. Paul reminds us here in verse 2 that the gospel originates in the Old Testament where the Messiah was, “….promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures”. In Paul’s day he didn’t have the New Testament mainly because he was busy writing a large part of it! But what Paul does here in these first few verses (2-5) is outline the gospel message:

  1. Verse 2; Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah through the Old Testament prophets
    • Throughout the Old Testament there are prophecies concerning the promised Jewish Messiah such as in Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah 53
  2. Verse 3; He was from the line of King David
    • Matthew chapter 1 chronicles the Davidic line of Jesus
  3. Verse 4; He was declared the Son of God by God Himself (Matthew 17:5)
    • When Jesus’ cousin John baptised Jesus, we read in Matthew 3:17, that God spoke from heaven and said, “…“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.””
  4. Verse 4; He was raised from the dead
    • All 4 Gospels record this world changing event (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and 20)
  5. Verse 5; through faith in Jesus, Paul is called to all Nations (in other words, to spread this gospel message to all Gentiles) for the glory of the Name of Jesus.
    • The Book of Acts records Paul’s missionary journeys around the Mediterranean spreading this gospel message.

In these few verses Paul outlines the essence of the gospel message and he makes a statement that no other religion in the world can claim. Did you spot it? Jesus was fully God and fully human. Paul says in verse 3 that Jesus,

“was born of the seed of David according to the flesh”

Jesus had an earthly heritage; he was directly descended from King David and yet in verse 4 he also says that Jesus was,

“…declared to be the Son of God”

Jesus was fully the Son of God, part of the Trinity, and yet fully human.

And what was the test to prove that He was fully God? He was raised from the dead, as verse 4 states.

So when Jesus was here on Earth He was fully God and fully Man but what is your impression of Jesus when you pray to Him? Do you think of Jesus as somebody who is far off and disconnected from the events here on Earth or from your life? Do you think that He has any empathy with your situation? Well Jesus lived and breathed, ate and drank, cried and laughed, worked hard at His carpentry job and faced all sorts of interesting and challenging emotional situations; just like us. He dealt with difficult people and easy people. Jesus has complete empathy with whatever situation we are going through and wants to be intimately involved in every detail of our lives. Don’t ever think that He doesn’t quite understand your situation. No matter how trivial you think your situation is to God, don’t ever think that He is not interested.

Jesus, who was fully God and fully Man, knows what it is like to face your situation and knows what it is like to share the same concerns and joys. After all, He created you. There is no one who knows you better. There is no one who cares for you more.

Now Jesus is no longer with us on the Earth but is in heaven and seated at the right of God the Father but He sent His Holy Spirit as the Comforter at the Jewish feast of Pentecost to fill the hearts of all of those who were in the upper room and since that time He fills the hearts of everyone who comes to faith as a guarantee of our inheritance.  What is that inheritance? Our inheritance is to be with our Father God in heaven, forever. This is the joy that we look forward to.

Called of Christ Jesus

Not only do we have a glorious future to look forward to but Paul says here in verse 6 that we are “called of Jesus Christ”. In other words we are called by God from a life of sin to a life for His divine purposes. We have been called out of darkness into light and we are known by the Lord Jesus and are known as His.

Later in Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us that,

 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (that is the Christ Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29

God chose us to be part of His kingdom before we were even born and even before the foundation of the world as it says in Ephesians chapter 1,

“… He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,” Ephesians 1:4

We were called of Christ Jesus before the world was created to be part of His Kingdom and we are called to be saints, as it says in verse 7,

“To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints” Romans 1:7

With this calling comes a responsibility. That responsibility is to be set apart for our God. God has called us out of the world not to remain like the world but to be set apart from the world for His purposes. You might be familiar with the expression, in the world but not of the world. How we live our lives should be different from those around us. We should be expressing Christ’s qualities everyday so that we are different from the crowd. It has been said before but it’s a true statement: if you were ever arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Sounds easy doesn’t it, living a life that is radically different from those around us?

No it isn’t and this is where we need the power of the Holy Spirit to help and guide us. We need, every day, to humbly ask the creator of this universe for power to overcome our own selfish attitudes and desires in order to please Him and bring glory to His Name. Jesus promised the disciples to help of the Holy Spirit in John 14 and that promise is also for us today. We read in Romans 8:26 that Paul says,

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

The Holy Spirit gives us strength to carry on and helps us to pray to God when we don’t know what we should pray for. The Holy Spirit within us, which is God’s power, makes those deep groanings to God which we cannot understand but is that intercession for our situation. This is only possible of course because we are at peace with God.

In verse 7 Paul says,

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul was extending his standard greeting to the Christians in Rome but he makes the point that grace and peace are freely available to all Christians. Through the grace that God has given us we now have peace with God. Jews greeted each other with this phrase in Hebrew, “Shalom” but let pause for a moment – what does ‘peace with God’ mean?

Jesus said in John 14,

“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27

The peace that Jesus leaves with us and that God gives us is firstly a Shalom (peace) with God. When we were sinners we were unknowingly at war with God and He with us because of our sin. We were antagonistic towards Him but when we accepted Jesus into our hearts and turned our backs on our way of life and embraced Jesus’ way of life, that war was declared over and God is now at peace with us. So with have peace or Shalom with God.

Secondly Jesus gives us His peace which is a spiritual peace. In this world, peace only comes in the absence of conflict. As soon conflict occurs, peace disappears. Jesus though has given us His peace within our hearts that assures us of His love for us.

Thirdly, the peace that God gives us is evidence of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-23 it says,

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

The peace of God within our hearts is evidence of the Holy Spirit and a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we take with us wherever we go. Later in Romans chapter 10 Paul says,

“… As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”” Romans 10:15

In other words those that bring the message of the gospel are very welcome. As I said before, the Jewish word for peace is Shalom and is rooted in the word שלם (shaleim), which means completion. Jesus paid the price of our salvation on the cross and cried out,

“It is finished!”

He had completed the work of salvation for us on the cross; this is God’s Shalom for us.

Conclusion

So let’s just recap what we have learnt

  1. Paul had a miraculous conversion experience on the road to Damascus and was personally called by Jesus to be the last apostle to preach the gospel.
  2. The gospel message is here in Paul’s opening greeting. Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah through the Old Testament prophets; He was from the line of King David; He was declared the Son of God by God Himself and He was raised from the dead.
  3. We are called of Christ Jesus. God foreknew us before he created us and called us into His kingdom. We have been called out of darkness into God’s glorious light and we can only be effective witnesses for Him in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Lastly Jesus has given us His peace which resides within our hearts and there is now no animosity between us and God. Through Jesus’ saving death on the cross God has given us His Shalom, His peace.