Paul begins his letter with an introduction that is longer than usual. It is also more theological and personal than any of his other epistles’ introductions. The apostle is tremendously concerned that the Roman people receive what he has to say – that they not “turn him off” before they have read his arguments. Thus, he reveals himself and his theology, hoping that if they understand something of which he is and what he believes, they will give him a hearing. Paul’s introduction introduces us to deeper and more productive levels of spiritual life.
“Paul” – The Man from Tarsus: Here is the man who meets us at the very beginning of our study, in fact at the very first word. Who was Paul? In an appeal to the Roman commander of the Jerusalem garrison, recorded in Acts, Paul identified himself as a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, which he modestly called “no ordinary city” (Acts 21:39). Tarsus was a Greek city, the seat of a well-known university where we assume that he received an outstanding Greek or pagan education in Tarsus. He shows evidence of this by occasionally quoting from the pagan poets (see Acts 17:28). Important as Paul’s Greek education may have been, however, there is no doubt that his education in Judaism was the chief factor in his academic and intellectual development. Paul was a son of a Pharisee (Acts 22:6) and became a Pharisee himself, trained under the renowned Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Education in itself is neutral. It can be used for good or for evil. What matters is whether it is given to God to be used by Him as He wills. In his early years Paul used his education and zeal to oppose Christianity. It was only after he had his dramatic encounter with Christ that he was able to use these important tools rightly.
A Servant of Christ Jesus: This leads to the next set of words in Romans: “a servant of Christ Jesus.” As we have seen, Paul was a thoroughly educated man. But important as that is, it is necessary to add that he was also a thoroughly converted man. Paul had met Jesus Christ, and from that moment he was never his own man. He was a servant of the Lord. Paul was a super achiever; he could have introduced himself by a long list of accomplishments. But Paul overlooked these achievements because what he is most concerned about simply overshadows them. Above all else, Paul saw himself as a servant of the Lord. Paul’s description of himself as Christ’s servant accomplishes a few other things worth noting: 1) Paul’s description of himself as a servant of Christ puts him in the same category as those to whom he is writing. In other words, it identifies Paul first and foremost as a Christian. In essence he is saying, “I’m like you. Like you, I, too, have been purchased by Christ and am His follower.” 2.) Paul’s description of himself as a servant of Christ Jesus emphasizes that his chief function as a disciple of Christ is service. This is worth noting, because it is a missing element in many of our fellowships. 3.) Paul’s description of himself as a servant of Christ reminds his readers that he is nevertheless Christ’s servant – a servant of Christ first and a servant of man second – and that he is writing to them in this capacity.
Called to be an Apostle: What is an apostle? The misunderstanding of this word involves a misunderstanding of much about Christianity. The best passage for understanding the meaning of the term apostle is Acts 1:15-26, in which the eleven apostles elected a twelfth to complete their ranks after the treachery and death of Judas. This episode teaches that an apostle was to be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that he was also necessarily chosen and equipped by Jesus for this function. The apostles knew that they were to witness in an extraordinary, supernatural sense. Because they were apostles, God spoke authoritatively through them, so that what they said as apostles carried the force of divine teaching or Scripture. We see this clearly in Galatians, in which Paul defends his apostleship. By calling himself an apostle in Romans, Paul reminds his readers that he is writing as no mere ordinary man but rather as one who has been given a message that should be received by them as the very words of God. This also has a bearing on ourselves, for it tells us how we are to receive the book of Romans and benefit from it. If we would profit by it greatly, we must receive it as what it truly is – a message from God to your hearts and minds – and we must obey its teachings, just as we would be obliged to obey God if He should speak to us directly!
Set Apart for the Gospel of God: The third phrase Paul uses to introduce himself to the believers in Rome is “set apart for the gospel of God.” In the days before his meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Pharisee, and the meaning of that word is “separation” or “a separated one.” This is the word Paul uses of his commitment to the gospel. When Paul met Christ, a life-shattering change occurred in him. Before, he was separated from all manner of things, and as a result he was self-righteous, narrow, cruel, and obsessive. Afterward, he was separated unto something, unto the gospel. That separation was positive – expansive and joyful, yet humbling. Paul never got over that divinely produced transformation. Nor should you!
Romans 1:1 Reflection Questions:
What type of education do you have? Have you turned it over to God for Him to use as He wills?
Are you a “servant of Christ Jesus”, if so, what does that mean to you? How are you Christ’s servant?
Who do you put first, serving man or serving Christ?
Do you know what it is to be released from a negative legalism into the liberation of a positive Christianity?