Paul opens his letter by calling himself a slave of Christ. But this slave of Christ is also His apostle, not by Paul’s choice, but by the divine intervention and call of God. Paul’s divine call to apostleship occurred in the direct appearance of Christ to Paul on the Damascus road, and, presumably, under the direct or inspired teaching of Christ as Scripture is silent concerning Paul’s whereabouts for several years following his conversion. The purpose of God’s calling of Paul to be Christ’s apostle is the gospel of God. The gospel of God is nothing else but the person and work of Christ, the Son of God, whose perfect obedience, death on the cross, and vindicating resurrection have secured righteousness before God and the hope of eternal life in His glorious presence for those who believe in Him. For this reason Paul was set apart.
The gospel of God is not a promise that was recently made to Paul, or to any other at that time. Rather, the gospel of God concerning the person and work of Christ was promised in the inspired written word of God’s prophets. These prophets of God who composed the holy Scriptures including the Law (the Mosaic Pentateuch) and the Prophets (the Major and Minor prophets as well as the Wisdom books). From the first promises of God to Adam and Eve after their fall from righteous preservation, the people of God looked to the Word of God through the mouths of His prophets concerning the Messiah who would crush the deceiver and restore God’s people to righteousness and blessed peace on earth.
Paul speaks clearly that the promise of the holy Scriptures in their entirety is Christ the Messiah, born as a descendent of David according to the flesh, though revealed by the Spirit to be the eternally begotten Son of God. Son of God and Son of Man, Christ Jesus is fully human and fully divine, possessing the nature and attributes of both, excepting the sinful nature of Adam, the federal head of fallen humanity. It is important to notice that the incarnation is indicated by Paul to be part of the promise of the holy Scriptures. Though some still contend that the Old Testament nowhere prophesies the birth of God’s own Son, Paul affirms that it indeed does prophesy the same.
We know that Jesus the Christ is the Son of God because of His resurrection. We must not miss the importance of this point. The resurrection of Christ is the proof of His divinity. The Jewish leaders rejected the prophesies of the second Elijah, who was John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders rejected the teachings of Christ, who spoke with divine authority. The Jewish leaders rejected the miracles of Christ, accomplished in the power of the Spirit of God. Yet having rejected him in these external witnesses, they also rejected the witness of their own standard, the holy Scriptures, and therefore condemned Jesus as a blasphemer worthy of a death worse than even the Law commanded—for rather than stoning Jesus according to the Mosaic Law, the Jewish leaders saw it fit for Jesus to suffer at the hands of pagans, according to the most vile and cruel punishment of the day—death on a cross. Yet in the resurrection of Christ Jesus from the dead, God proved Jesus to be the Christ, and this final rebuttal to the false doctrine of the Jewish leaders was the final vindication of Jesus’s Messianic Kingship and Sovereign rule as the Son of God whom He claimed to be. The cross became the objective sign for all men to look and see their salvation accomplished in Christ, and the resurrection became the objective sign for all men to look and see their hope of eternal life accomplished in Christ for our blessedness of fellowship with God, and to His glory. Moreover, Paul refers to this resurrection of Christ from the dead as in accord with the spirit of holiness and identifies Jesus once more as its object for perfect fulfillment. That is, the resurrection was set apart by God’s righteous aim so that Christ Jesus would receive the first fruits of glory for our glorification; eternal life in the presence of God.
In Christ Jesus Paul asserts himself as a recipient of God’s grace and apostleship, for the purpose of bringing Gentiles into the obedience of faith for the sake of Jesus Christ. As Lord of Creation, the glory of the King is manifested in the multiplication of worshippers from all tribes and tongues of men. He who created all things, desires that all things worship Him in the fullness of His glory. For this reason Paul is called to be an apostle to the Gentiles, so that God’s grace might be manifest unto those who are called according to the purpose of God and in the name of Christ Jesus alone.
For it is in the name of Jesus Christ and by His power that Gentiles have been called, even those Gentiles who are among the Romans to whom Paul is writing.
Therefore, Paul gives thanks to God for all the beloved of God in Rome who have been given the titles of saints, the holy ones. And it is according to the unsurpassed and all surpassing grace and peace of God that Paul commends grace and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, the slave of Christ, reminds us that our slavery to Christ, that is, our complete fidelity to Him according to the knowledge we possess in seeing and beholding Him—this realization of Christ is that by which we experience the grace and peace of God the Father, Who, but for the sake of Christ and His own glory, would only bestow His wrath upon us.
Paul transitions from this brief expression of praise into a more substantial expression of gratitude for God. His thankfulness to God springs from the inclusion of these Romans into the faith by which and through which the grace of God is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. These Romans were living in such a way that others around them were expounding upon the profound faith that they were exhibiting. Certainly this proclamation is one reason why Paul is writing to them, for though he had not yet visited them, he had heard of their faith through witnesses or emissaries who were traveling throughout the Roman empire and testifying of their faith in Christ.
Paul pleads to the witness of God, and according to God’s commissioning of Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus, of his unceasing prayers for the Roman Christians. Is this not an example to us that we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus? And what should be our prayer, but that God would strengthen their faith, enlarge their hearts to serve God and one another, and by His grace that we might share in their fellowship by visiting them in their joys and afflictions.
What is the chief desire of Paul in his prayers to God on behalf of the Romans? It is to finally be granted to visit them and to impart to them the wisdom of God that has been granted to him by the power and revelation of Christ. So too should we wish to share what God has granted us in the way of knowledge and wisdom to those who will benefit from hearing.
Paul states explicitly the content of his desire, which is to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans, which includes his preaching of the Word, but also the presence and service of his body, which makes all words more remarkable to the mind, more palatable to the affections, and more lasting to the will. The word of this spiritual gift of Paul’s preaching, teaching, and serving in person is that the Church in Rome should be established in faith.
The encouragement in faith is accomplished not only by the presence of Paul in his preaching, teaching, and service, but in the additional and reciprocal works of the saints of Rome to exhort and serve Paul, thereby encouraging his faith in Christ and in the work He is accomplishing in their hearts. What better encouragement can there be to a minister of God’s Word than to see that Word take precedence in the hearts and lives of those to whom he ministers, and to be the recipient of their love and good deeds as well? Surely there is not only the sharpening of minds in this divine transaction, but also the deepening of relationships such that the Body of Christ is sanctified in the unity that resembles that much more the unity of Christ the Son with God the Father. Let us remember that the unity of the Son and the Father is not only one of Being, but of knowing and willing—can the Church express the unity of the Godhead if it is not united in mind and will, that is, by the doctrines that determine the content of its beliefs and the impetus for its actions? Only when mind of Christ pervades the minds of His people shall a proper unity of the Christ’s Body be revealed in the world.
Paul wants the Romans to know that his long absence in coming has not been the result of willful neglect, but of necessity and circumstance. Paul has longed to visit them in order to reap the fruit of Christ that they are bearing according to God’s faithfulness among them. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Asia Minor and throughout the Roman Empire had not yet had firsthand fruition in Rome, and Paul has desired to cultivate the Gospel there by his own efforts according to the call of Christ. Can we not see the enduring passion of Paul for the call of Christ to be His witness to the Gentiles? No other thought consumes his mind so superlatively, so extensively as does the thought of preaching Christ to the Gentiles, and particularly the Gentiles in Rome. What a lesson this is to ministers today! Here Paul desires to preach the gospel—not simply to the unconverted (though certainly that is also his desire)—but to the converted! A minister who does not cease to desire to preach the gospel to his congregants is a minister who does not cease to see both the greatness of our need for Christ, and the greatness of Christ in supplying all our needs in Himself.
Paul continues to press home the purpose of his desire and its driving force. Paul is compelled, he is obliged, by the commission of God, to preach to Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wisest of their ranks and to the most foolish of their number. In this simple phrase we are reminded of Paul’s willingness to become all things to all men so that by all means some might be saved.
And in light of these preceding statements, Paul expresses his eagerness (as though it bore repeating!) to preach the Gospel to the Romans. Would that all of us who are called by the name “Christian” recognize in Paul’s eagerness that all important motive that ought to characterize our proclamation of the gospel to our fellow believers and to those who languish in unbelief. It is not that we might attain the satisfaction of men, nor that we should advance our justification before God—for the praise of men cannot reach the heights of heaven, nor can the works of our hands accomplish what God alone can do (and this shall be the theme of Paul’s letter). We do not preach to win the praise of men, nor do we preach to win the favor of God. Yet we preach the gospel of God in order to see His glory and grace poured out in the hearts of others as it has been poured out abundantly upon us. Grace manifests grace, whereas self-interest only manifests self-destruction. Let us then recognize that we can only preach the grace of God to the extent that we have understood and accepted the grace of God for ourselves, according to Christ Jesus and by His illuminating power.
Is it any other reason than Paul’s understanding of the manifest grace of God given to him in Christ that he could say with confidence, “I am not ashamed of the gospel?” For surely the proclamation of the gospel had brought him much shame as the world counts shame: beatings, shipwrecks, scourging, rejection, threats, insults, and a host of hardships were Paul’s lot in this life, his reward for preaching the gospel unashamedly. Though few of us shall endure the reward that Paul endured in this life, fewer still will receive his reward in heaven, and fewer still than that shall understand and experience the grace of God to the degree that Paul experienced it in his sufferings for Christ. But as potent as were the persecutions that Paul endured, and as sweet as was Christ’s support in his suffering, above these things Paul expresses his boast in the gospel according to its great power to save everyone who believes, first the Jews, but also the Greek. It was not Paul’s greatest boast, and his chief confidence that Christ had done so much for him, but rather it was Paul’s greatest boast and chief confidence that Christ has done so much for the world, and that for the sake of God’s own righteousness. The eternal vision of Paul sees far beyond his own subjective hope and joy, and by his eternal vision his subjective hope and joy is surpassed to overflowing.
Here we encounter the reason for Paul’s confidence, the source of His hope in Christ, and the theme that will drive his exposition of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Romans: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘BUT THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.’” Paul uses the word that came directly from the mouth of God to the prophet Habakkuk as his theme and point of departure for the declaration of the gospel in its essential structure. How shall a man be found acceptable in God’s sight? How shall a man attain the satisfaction of perfect peace? How shall a man be vindicated of his faults? To these questions and others Paul’s response is: from faith to faith, God is the righteous One who makes men righteous: God who is all of justice is also all for our justification. No work but His own shall satisfy Him who works all things according to the pleasure of His Will. No work but His own shall accomplish the Good end that He has determined from the beginning. No work but His own will He heed as hale to withhold His righteous wrath when a sinner stands before Him on the day of judgment.