GOD’S CALL PROMOTES GOSPEL MINISTRY —
7 ESSENTIALS OF GOD’S CALL FOR THE APOSTLE PAUL (AND FOR YOUR LIFE)
Douglas Moo: Ancient letters typically began with a simple identification of the sender, the recipients, and a greeting. New Testament letters follow this pattern, but often elaborate by adding distinctly Christian nuances. No New Testament letter shows as much elaboration as Romans. Perhaps because he is writing to a church he has never visited before, Paul spends six verses identifying himself before he mentions the recipients (v. 7a) and extends them a greeting (v. 7b).
Frank Thielman: He seems especially concerned for his Roman readers to know why he considers it appropriate to write such a letter to them (1:5–6) and that the gospel he will proclaim in the letter has its foundations in the Scriptures that both he and they consider authoritative (1:2–4). . . Paul probably had in mind the practical impact his proclamation of the gospel in the letter would have on the disunity that had affected Roman Christianity. Some gentile believers there had adopted an attitude of arrogance toward Jewish unbelievers (11:18), and people within the Roman Christian community were divided over matters of diet and Sabbath observance (14:1–15:7). The whole community needed to hear again the gospel that transforms one’s thinking and, in the process, eliminates boasting in any humanly conceived badge of honor (12:2–3), whether one’s ethnic group (3:27–30), one’s special piety (4:1–8; 11:5–6), or even one’s good judgment in embracing the gospel (11:17–21). . .
The length and structure of the letter’s opening, then, sets the tone for a document of immense gravitas. It communicates that the letter’s author is the official messenger of God himself and that the message he brings concerns the fulfillment, through the Lord Jesus Christ, of God’s purposes for the world. These purposes require an obedient response of faith not just from Jews but also from gentiles. Because the Christians in Rome have believed the gospel, God has also summoned them to live in a distinctive way within the unbelieving world.
Michael Bird: Paul introduces himself to the Roman churches. Paul wastes no time and hits the ground running in this letter by bringing up that which matters most: the gospel and the cause of the gospel, which he endeavours to promote as an apostle. Ultimately, Paul wants to make sure that he and the Roman Gentile Christians are singing off the same sheet of gospel music. Since Paul cannot be in Rome in person, he wants to embed the gospel in their community, to defend himself against any rumor of antinomianism or anti-Israelite sentiment, and to prevent a diverse and potentially fractious Christian community from fragmenting along ethnic lines of Jew versus Gentile. In other words, Paul wants to gospelize the Romans, that is, to conform them to the pattern of teaching that the gospel imparts. Paul pursues this for the sake of unity with the Roman churches and for the promotion of the gospel in a wider pan-Roman theater that reaches from Jerusalem all the way around to Spain.
Greg Herrick: The apostle Paul was unreservedly committed to Christ and to the ministry of the gospel. He regarded himself as called to both his master’s side and to the promulgation of the good news—news inextricably bound up with the death, resurrection, and exaltation of his Lord and God’s richest blessing upon sinful, erring human beings. In short, his self-construal was—and always will be—since the Damascus road anyway, one who was a free and willing slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. Undoubtedly, he could think of no higher calling and privilege. . .
The actual introduction to Romans begins in 1:1 and ends in 1:17. This unit itself, however, can be broken down into three distinct, yet related sections.
- The first section is the salutation proper in 1:1-7. It concerns Paul’s apostolic calling and mission, along with his heartfelt, yet semi-typical greeting given to a church.
- The second section is 1:8-15 and concerns Paul’s desires and plans to visit the church in Rome.
- The third section, namely 1:16-17, concerns the power of the gospel. It serves as a thematic outline for the entire book.
I. (:1a) OWNED BY THE MASTER – SENDER OF THE EPISTLE
“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus,”
Security that comes from knowing we belong to Christ; leads to dedicated service
Thomas Constable: As in all his epistles, Paul used his Roman rather than his Jewish name, Saul, perhaps because he was the apostle to the Gentiles. Even though he had not yet visited Rome, his readers knew Paul’s reputation well. He just needed to give his name to identify himself.
Thomas: He [Paul] regarded himself as the purchased possession of his Lord and Master. The two ideas of property and service are suggested. There was no serfdom or servility, and yet there was an absolute loyalty in the consciousness of absolute possession. The bond-servant owned nothing, and was nothing, apart from his master. His time, his strength, everything belonged altogether to another. There was nothing nobler to St. Paul than to be a slave of the Lord Jesus. He desired to be nothing, to do nothing, to own nothing apart from Him.
II. (:1b) PLUGGED INTO GIFTED MINISTRY
“called as an apostle,”
- Delegated authority by Christ, the Head of the Church
- Deputized on a mission
Frank Thielman: Paul’s elaborate emphasis on his authority at the letter’s beginning shows that he wrote in an official capacity and in order to carry out a mandate.
John Toews: The verb called expresses divine calling in opposition to human self-appointment. Apostle denotes an authorized agent or representative. Paul is a slave, like many readers in his audience, who has been called to represent God.
III. (:1c-4) DEDICATED TO THE GOSPEL OF GOD
A. Nature of the Gospel
- Defined as Good News
“set apart for the gospel”
John MacArthur: Is there any good news? Really good news? Good news about sin: That it can be dealt with? Good news about selfishness: That you don’t have to live that way? Good news about guilt and anxiety: That it can be alleviated? Is there any good news about the meaning of life? Is there any good news about the future, life after death? Is there any good news?
I submit to you that Paul says in verse 1, there’s good news; and that’s the gospel, the good news of God. And that is what Romans is about. Paul begins in verse 1 with the good news of God. And in chapter 15, as he draws to an end, in verse 16 he says: “I, the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the good news of God.” So bracketing this epistle is the great reality that Paul is bringing good news, good news.
2. Directed by God
Douglas Moo: But the “setting apart” probably refers to the time when God called him on the Damascus Road to come into relationship with Christ and to proclaim him to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:1–19, esp. vv. 15–16; note the use of this same verb in 13:2). The “gospel” is the central, unifying motif of Romans, and Paul signals its importance by referring to it three other times in the introduction to the letter (vv. 9, 15, 16). God has appointed Paul to the special task of proclaiming and explaining the good news of God’s intervention in Jesus Christ.
John Murray: “Separated unto the gospel of God” is parallel to “called to be an apostle”. The separation here spoken of does not refer to the predestination of Paul to the office, as in Galatians 1:15, but to the effectual dedication that occurred in the actual call to apostleship and indicates what is entailed in the call. No language could be more eloquent of the decisive action of God and of the completeness of Paul’s resulting commitment to the gospel. All bonds of interest and attachment alien or extraneous to the promotion of the gospel have been cut asunder and he is set apart by the investment of all his interests and ambitions in the cause of the gospel. It is, of course, implied that the gospel as a message is to be proclaimed and, if we were to understand the “gospel” as the actual proclamation, dedication to this proclamation would be an intelligible and worthy conception. However, the word “gospel” is not used in the sense of the act of proclaiming; it is the message proclaimed. And this is stated to be “the gospel of God” (cf. Mark 1:14). Perhaps the thought could be more aptly expressed in English by saying, “separated unto God’s gospel”. The stress falls upon the divine origin and character of the gospel. It is a message of glad tidings from God, and it never loses its divinity, for it ever continues to be God’s message of salvation to lost men.
B. (:2) Promise of the Gospel
“which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures,”
George Ladd: Paul frequently appealed to the Old Testament in support of his teaching, quoting from it ninety-three times.
1:2 – the origin of the gospel.
1:3-4 – the subject of the gospel.
1:5-6 – the propagation of the gospel.
John MacArthur: You’ll recall that the apostle Paul was accused of being anti-Jewish. The Judaizers went around condemning Paul and condemning his message because they said, he’s anti-Jewish, he speaks against Moses, he speaks against the law, he speaks against this people, he speaks against the temple. They accused him in Acts 21 of dragging Gentiles into the inner area of the temple where they were forbidden to go. They accused him of desecrating Moses. They accused him of denying circumcision and the sustaining of the law. They were saying, he preaches some new, some revolutionary new message that is no way connected to traditional Judaism. And so, Paul, in order to put the record straight, says the good news of God which I preach is not new good news; it’s old good news that was indicated to us in the promises of the prophets who wrote in holy Scripture.
C. (:3-4) Focus of the Gospel = Jesus Christ
- (:3a) Relationship to God the Father
“concerning His Son,”
John Murray: Jesus is here identified by that title which expresses his eternal relation to the Father and that when the subject matter of the gospel is defined as that which pertains to the eternal Son of God the apostle at the threshold of the epistle is commending the gospel by showing that it is concerned with him who has no lower station than that of equality with the Father. The subject matter of the gospel is the person who is on the highest plane of reality.
2. (:3b-4b) Relationship to God’s Historic Redemptive Program
Michael Bird: It is likely that this is a short summary of the gospel that Paul himself received (perhaps it was an early creed, hymn, prose, or confession of faith given the non-Pauline language). It is probably the case that this gospel summary was already known to the Roman churches so that Paul quotes it to affirm their sharing of a common gospel tradition. In these brief verses we are instantly struck by its forthright announcement about the messianic identity and sovereign name of Jesus. The gospel here is the declaration that Jesus is the climax of Israel’s hopes, he is installed as God’s vice-regent, and his resurrection has inaugurated the beginning of the end of the ages.
a. (:3b) His Incarnation Made Him Fully Human as the Promised Messiah
“who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh,”
John MacArthur: The good news is God became a man. God became a man. A real man, He came into the world born in a family like all of us have a family, with flesh like we have flesh. He was actually born of a virgin, but nonetheless born of Mary.
Why? That He might become one of us according to the flesh, that He might have that perfect humanness, that He might be a sympathetic high priest, that He might succor us, that He might understand us, that He might be at all points tempted like as we are yet without sin, that He might be a man who could die for men, who could take the place of men, who could substitute for men, who could bear the brunt of God’s wrath for men. He had to be a man. And He wasn’t just any man. Look what it says. He was of the seed of David. It wasn’t just any family, it was the right family, it was the royal family, the only family that had a right to rule in the land, a right to establish the throne on Mount Zion in that holy hill in Jerusalem, the holy city, and from there to rule the world. He was the right man in the right family. If He hadn’t been the son of David, He couldn’t have been the Messiah. He would have contradicted 2 Samuel, chapter 7, Psalm 89, Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah 33, Ezekiel 33, Ezekiel 37. All of them would have been contradicted if He had not been the son of the family of David. So He was a man and He was the right man.
b. (:4a) His Resurrection Invested Him with Manifest Power
“who was declared the Son of God with power
by the resurrection from the dead,”
Frank Thielman: the term “Son of God” here refers to Jesus’s function: from the time of his resurrection he began to function as “Son of God in power.”
Frank Murray: In the history of interpretation this parallelism has been most frequently interpreted as referring to the differing aspects of or elements in the constitution of the person of the Saviour. . . It cannot, of course, be doubted that “born of the seed of David according to the flesh” has reference to the incarnation of the Son of God and therefore to that which he became in respect of his human nature. But it is not at all apparent that the other expression “Son of God . . . according to the Spirit of holiness” has in view simply the other aspect of our Lord’s person, namely, that which he is as divine in contrast with the human. There are good reasons for thinking that this type of interpretation whereby it is thought that reference is made to the distinguished aspects of our Lord’s human nature or of our Lord’s divine–human person is not the line to be followed but that the distinction drawn is that between “two successive stages” of the historical process of which the Son of God became the subject. . .
The apostle is dealing with some particular event in the history of the Son of God incarnate by which he was instated in a position of sovereignty and invested with power, an event which in respect of investiture with power surpassed everything that could previously be ascribed to him in his incarnate state. . . The apostle could still say that he was appointed Son of God with express allusion to the new phase of lordship and glory upon which Jesus as the incarnate Son entered by the resurrection without in the least implying that he then began to be the Son of God. The statement would be analogous to that of Peter, that by the resurrection God made Jesus “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Peter cannot be understood to mean that then for the first time Jesus became Lord and Christ. He is referring to the new phase of his messianic lordship.
c. (:4b) His Ascension Initiated His Mediatorial Rule by the Spirit
“according to the Spirit of holiness,”
Frank Thielman: God’s eschatologically given Spirit brings with it the holiness that is a necessary characteristic of God’s restored people.
John Murray: Just as “according to the flesh” in verse 3 defines the phase which came to be through being born of the seed of David, so “according to the Spirit of holiness” characterizes the phase which came to be through the resurrection. And when we ask what that new phase was upon which the Son of God entered by his resurrection, there is copious New Testament allusion and elucidation (cf. Acts 2:36; Eph. 1:20–23; Phil. 2:9–11; I Pet. 3:21, 22). By his resurrection and ascension the Son of God incarnate entered upon a new phase of sovereignty and was endowed with new power correspondent with and unto the exercise of the mediatorial lordship which he executes as head over all things to his body, the church. It is in this same resurrection context and with allusion to Christ’s resurrection endowment that the apostle says, “The last Adam was made life-giving Spirit” (I Cor. 15:45). And it is to this that he refers elsewhere when he says, “The Lord is the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:17). “Lord” in this instance, as frequently in Paul, is the Lord Christ. The only conclusion is that Christ is now by reason of the resurrection so endowed with and in control of the Holy Spirit that, without any confusion of the distinct persons, Christ is identified with the Spirit and is called “the Lord of the Spirit” (II Cor. 3:18). Thus, when we come back to the expression “according to the Spirit of holiness”, our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. The text, furthermore, expressly relates “Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness” with “the resurrection from the dead” and the appointment can be none other than that which came to be by the resurrection. The thought of verse 4 would then be that the lordship in which he was instated by the resurrection is one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers. The relative weakness of his pre-resurrection state, reflected on in verse 3, is contrasted with the triumphant power exhibited in his post-resurrection lordship. What is contrasted is not a phase in which Jesus is not the Son of God and another in which he is. He is the incarnate Son of God in both states, humiliation and exaltation, and to regard him as the Son of God in both states belongs to the essence of Paul’s gospel as the gospel of God. But the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection states are compared and contrasted, and the contrast hinges on the investiture with power by which the latter is characterized.
John Harvey: When taken with the preceding phrase’s reference to power and the following phrase’s reference to the resurrection, therefore, the contrast is between Jesus’s humiliation in taking on “flesh” and his exaltation as the one with all power who sends the Holy Spirit.
Henry Alford: To what does “the Spirit of holiness” (v. 4) refer? It may be another way of referring to the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, in view of the parallel expression “according to the flesh” (v. 3), and the fact that Paul could have said Holy Spirit if that is what he meant, probably Paul was referring to the holy nature of Jesus. Jesus’ nature was so holy (perfectly sinless) that death could not hold Him.
- (:4c) Relationship to Believers
“Jesus Christ our Lord,”
IV. (:5-6) CHALLENGED BY WORLDWIDE VISION
A. (:5a) Goal of Evangelizing Gentiles of All Nations
“through whom we have received grace and apostleship
to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles,”
Inclusion in the one body of Christ on an equal faith basis with believing Jews
Frank Thielman: It is precisely in his role as the Messiah and Lord, sovereign not only over Jews but over all the earth, that Jesus gave Paul the mission of proclaiming the gospel to the gentiles. .
“obedience of faith” — It is likely, then, that Paul used this phrase to refer both to the obedience of believing the gospel (cf. 10:16; 11:23, 30–31) and to the obedience that arises from the powerful reign of God’s grace in the believer’s life (5:21; 6:1–23; 7:5–6; 8:4, 7–9).
Thomas Constable: Paul’s point in this verse is not the obedience of Christians but the obedience of non-Christians who need to obey God by placing their faith in Christ.
John Murray: “Obedience of faith” could mean “obedience to faith” (cf. Acts 6:7; II Cor. 10:5; I Pet. 1:22). If “faith” were understood in the objective sense of the object or content of faith, the truth believed, this would provide an admirably suitable interpretation and would be equivalent to saying “obedience to the gospel” (cf. 10:16; II Thess. 1:8; 3:14). But it is difficult to suppose that “faith” is used here in the sense of the truth of the gospel. It is rather the subjective act of faith in response to the gospel. And though it is not impossible to think of obedience to faith as the commitment of oneself to what is involved in the act of faith, yet it is much more intelligible and suitable to take “faith” as in apposition to “obedience” and understand it as the obedience which consists in faith. Faith is regarded as an act of obedience, of commitment to the gospel of Christ. Hence the implications of this expression “obedience of faith” are far-reaching. For the faith which the apostleship was intended to promote was not an evanescent act of emotion but the commitment of wholehearted devotion to Christ and to the truth of his gospel. It is to such faith that all nations are called.
John Harvey: A “plenary genitive” (both subj. gen. and obj. gen.) understanding might be best: “obedience to the call of faith (the gospel) that results in a lifestyle of faithful obedience” (cf. Wallace 119–21). The ambiguity honors both Jewish (obedience) and Gentile (faith) concerns in Rome (Jewett 110). By repeating the same phrase in 16:26, Paul creates an inclusio that frames the letter (Longenecker 82).
Michael Gorman: As the letter unfolds, it will become clear that faith and obedience are not two separate responses to the gospel, one requiring or generating the other, but one unified response of obedient faith. Recent ways of rendering this phrase include “faithful obedience” (CEB), “believing obedience” (KNT), “believing allegiance,” and “covenantal believing allegiance.”
Bob Deffinbaugh: The scope of the Gospel which Paul preached was universal (vv. 5-7). The Jews wanted to keep the Gospel in their own little corner of the world. They wished to make it exclusively Jewish. If they could not succeed in doing so, at least they would insist that in order to be saved men must in effect become Jewish proselytes to Judaism (cf. Galatians, Acts 15:1ff.). Paul’s primary calling was to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (v. 5). Paul’s concern for the salvation of the Gentiles explains, in part, his interest in writing to the Roman saints.
B. (:5b) Goal of Glorifying Christ
“for His name’s sake,”
John Murray: It is not the advantage of the nations that is paramount in the promotion of the gospel but the honour and glory of Christ.
Steven Cole: Paul’s ultimate goal was to glorify the name of the Savior who gave Himself to redeem rebellious sinners.
This principle is so important to keep in mind in your service for Jesus Christ. It’s easy to fall into the trap of serving Christ for personal fulfillment. It makes you feel good to help others. It feeds your pride when others tell you how kind or generous or caring you are. But then someone criticizes you because you didn’t meet his expectations or you neglected to do something in the right way. Or you don’t receive the thanks that you thought you deserved. Your feelings get hurt and your pride is deflated. But, also, your motive for serving gets exposed. You weren’t serving for His name’s sake. You were serving for your name’s sake!
C. (:6) Goal of Discipleship to Jesus Christ
“among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;”
John MacArthur: We’re called. And that is the effectual call. That is referring to the actual call to salvation. And we’ll see that in detail when we get to chapters 9 and 10. But we have been called. We are saved because of the sovereign act of God. This isn’t referring to some general external call. Not just the proclamation as in Isaiah 45, “Be ye saved all the ends of the earth,” or Isaiah 55, “Seek the Lord while He may be found.” This isn’t just the general call like Ezekiel 33 when He cried, “Turn ye, turn ye,” or Matthew 11 where Jesus said, “Come unto Me all ye that labor,” or John 7, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink,” or Revelation 22, “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come,’” or Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing a speech about Christ.” It isn’t just that general calling out of the gospel. This is an indication of that very effectual purposeful call to redemption that comes by the sovereign will of God. We are the called. It’s another word, if you will, for the elect, for the elect. We are the chosen. The Bible says chosen in Him before the foundation of the world; a tremendous truth. We are the called, called by God, the elect.
Steven Cole: (:5-7) Big Idea: God saves us and gives us spiritual gifts so that we will be His channels for the gospel to go to the nations.
- God saves us by His grace and gives us gifts to be used in His service.
- God saves us and gives us gifts to bring about the obedience of faith in others.
- God saves us and gives us gifts to take the gospel to the nations (Gentiles).
- God saves us and gives us gifts to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ.
- God’s saving us and giving us gifts is based on His calling us and setting His love on us.
V. (:7a) SOURCED IN GOD’S LOVE – RECIPIENTS OF THE EPISTLE
“to all who are beloved of God in Rome“
John Harvey: Paul adds two appositives to describe the recipients.
- beloved of God
- called as saints
VI. (:7b) CHARACTERIZED BY HOLINESS
“called as saints“
Frank Thielman: The Roman Christians are “called to be holy.” God also constituted Israel to be “a holy nation” (ἔθνος ἅγιον; Exod 19:6 LXX), and urged them in the Mosaic law, “You shall be sanctified [ἁγιασθήσεσθε], and you shall be holy [ἅγιοι], for I am holy [ἅγιoς], I the Lord your God” (Lev 11:44 LXX; cf. 19:2). To be “holy” in such contexts meant to be separate from other peoples. “You shall be holy [ἅγιοι] to me, for I the Lord your God am holy [ἅγιoς], who has separated [ἀφορίσας] you from all the nations to be mine” (Lev 20:26 LXX). This separation was both something that God accomplished at his own initiative and something that required a distinctive way of life described for God’s people in the Mosaic law. Israel’s holiness was both a reality created by God and a summons given by God to his people. The Roman Christians too have been set apart at God’s initiative to live in a way that separates them from other people.
John Murray: The use of the word “called” in this connection is significant. Paul had previously drawn attention to the fact that it was by divine call that he had been invested with the apostolic office (vs. 1). Now we are advised that it was by the same kind of action that the believers at Rome were constituted the disciples of Christ.
Michael Gorman: The same God has called the Roman believers (1:6–7) to be “beloved” (children) and set them apart to be “saints,” or, better, “his holy people” (NIV) who “belong to Jesus Christ.” To be holy is to be marked out for God’s purposes; it is to be part of an alternative culture, a different way of being human: in the world but not of the world. Paul will have much more to say about this holiness in chapter 6 and especially chapters 12–15. (What he says needs to be heard by contemporary Christians who, in the words of Jesus in Rev 3:16, are sometimes more “lukewarm” than they are holy.)
The word “saints,” then, does not refer to a special class of people but to all who belong to Christ: God’s holy ones (Gk. hagioi). Holiness with respect to humans is the scriptural language of covenant relationship, now reconfigured around Jesus, who makes a new covenant possible. The children of Israel were called to be holy because God is holy (Lev 11:45; 19:2; 20:26). So also Christians are called to be holy, sharing in the holiness of God by being reshaped into the image of Christ, God’s son and our elder brother (Rom 8:14–17, 29).
VII. (:7c) DEPENDENT ON GOD’S RESOURCES – GREETING OF THE EPISTLE
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Continual supply of grace & peace
John Toews: Paul combines his distinctive theological term “grace” with the Hebrew peace greeting to form his own religious greeting.