Called to Serve the Gentiles

Romans 1:1-7

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his letter to the Romans Paul’s first statement about himself is that he is a servant of Christ. This puts in perspective his next claim, that of being an apostle, a bold statement that would most likely appear to those who don’t know anything of him as somewhat arrogant. However, Paul is not being arrogant instead he knows that his place as an apostle comes out of his place of service to Christ. He has not chosen to make himself an apostle; rather he was chosen and called by Christ, as Paul himself tells us in verse 1. He did however make the choice to take up and follow that call, choosing to be the apostle God called him to be. Acknowledging this calling and the responsibilities it brings is what allows Paul to have the strength to spread the gospel, even in difficult and dangerous circumstances. Being prepared to face the responsibilities and trials of his calling also allows Paul to move in the authority of his position. Authority which is seen numerous times in the course of his ministry through such things as his ability to speak in the lives of churches and individuals and to cast out demonic spirits (Acts 19: 11-12).

Accepting his calling as an apostle meant that Paul consciously allowed himself to be set apart for God’s work and in particular the work of God’s gospel and taking it to the Gentile (non-Jewish people groups). This decision also involved allowing himself to be led by God, so that, while Paul still made his own decisions, he tried to put the Lord’s desires ahead of his own.

In verse 2 Paul speaks of the gospel as the fulfillment of a promise made before hand. Paul sees that promise as being made in the scriptures that we would now refer to as the Old Testament and he sees Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of that promise. In this way Jesus is placed at the center of history. Everything before Jesus came was leading up to and pointing towards his birth and everything after Jesus arose has been fundamentally altered by his death and resurrection. This is why Paul says that the gospel is, “regarding his Son” and by Son he means Christ, the Son of God. He goes on to tell us that the Son has a human nature and is a descendant of David. This reference to the humanity of Christ is significant and emphasizes the reality of Christ as a person who walked among men. It also contrasts with Paul’s following statement telling us that Jesus was declared through the power of the Spirit to be the Son of God. So to those who doubt that Jesus was divine, because of the fact that he was human, Paul refers to the miracles that in the time of Paul’s writing would still have been common knowledge. It is still possible though that the intended audience may have been somewhat doubtful of the reliability of the many rumours they had heard, so Paul himself reaffirms that Christ was the Son of God and reminds his readers that the Spirit of God had confirmed this also.

Verse 4 talks of power as accompanying the declaration of Christ’s true identity as the Son of God and this power is evident to his followers not only in the miracles of Jesus but also in his resurrection. The resurrection of Christ appears to Paul to be the defining factor of Jesus’ lordship, perhaps because it was with the risen Christ that Paul met and experienced a profound change of direction in his life (Acts 9:1-19). Having met the risen Lord and accepted his call to serve, Paul believes strongly that Jesus is still intervening in people’s lives and that Christ still demonstrates his power among men through the Spirit of God. Paul received the grace of God along with his call to apostleship and these together motivate him to reach out to the Gentiles and make God known to them. This is perhaps the broadest reach of the application of the Word of God seen till this time in the ancient world.

Paul makes another statement that is profound and fundamental to understanding the process of living a life of obedience to Christ. In the end of verse 5 he says that, “obedience… comes from faith.” Paul understood that people who didn’t know God, people who did not have a belief and relationship with Christ, were not going to obey his word. Here Paul tells the reader that having faith in God is what enables people to obey God. This is why Christians, both in Paul’s day and today, cannot expect those who do not have a relationship with God to obey him. They cannot expect to look and see the signs of godliness in the lives of those who do not know God. The basic point is that it is harder to obey God when you do not know him. As Christians we cannot be judgmental of those that don’t have a relationship with God and so do not live in a godly way because having a relationship with God makes it easier for us to obey God.

In my article entitled: Where is Wisdom? I explored the concept of faith as being the fear of God and discussed the idea that the phrase, “fear of God”, in the scriptures actually describes a relationship with God. This relationship invokes trust and places the highest priority on what God thinks or desires. From this I conclude that maybe even belief in God is not enough to help someone obey, they therefore need more than belief; they need to have a relationship with God. Belief is a possible starting point in a relationship, but having a true relationship also involves choosing to acknowledge God and let him be part of our everyday life. So perhaps this verse is a hint from Paul to his readers, saying something like: getting to know God will help you live in a way that is pleasing to him.

Paul goes on to encourage his readers, saying to them that they also are called to belong to Jesus Christ, and that this means they have reason to possess hope. Because they have both an opportunity and an invitation to enter into a relationship with Christ, a relationship that can provide them with direction and information about their own call in life.

Paul, now at the end of his introduction, in verse 7 identifies who his audience is and in fact we find that it can be applied to many people. He is specifically writing to the Romans and this will affect the context of much of what he says, but the audience of his work is intended to be anyone in Rome who is or may become part of the kingdom of God. In addition to this he is so focused on his calling to bring the Gentiles to Christ that the tone of Paul’s letter suggests to any reader that doesn’t have a relationship with Christ to get one and encourages them to experience the benefits of such a relationship. So this letter would have had a growing audience (and in fact still does today). As the church in Rome grew and taught the concepts and beliefs that Paul wrote about so more people would be exposed to Paul’s word. In time the messages contained within the letters of Romans, like several other writings of Paul, were recognized as being universally beneficial to the church. Eventually they were incorporated in to the canon of scripture which Christianity as a movement relies on to help us shape our understanding of God, and his purposes for our lives, both individually and collectively.

In closing Paul blesses his readers, he blesses them with grace and peace, using his relationship with God and his surety of his calling as a servant of Christ to invoke both God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son to bless Paul’s readers with these good gifts.

References

Alexander, D. & Alexander, P. (Eds.), (1984). The Lion Handbook to the Bible. Herts, England: Lion Publishing.

Barker, K. (Ed.), (1995). The NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Brand,  C., Draper, C., & England, A. (Eds). (2003) Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Reference.

Davis, J.D. (1977), Davis Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Goodrick, E. W., & Kohlenberger, J. R. (2012). The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.

Price, D. J. (2014), Where is wisdom? Wanganui, New Zealand: Faith with Wisdom.

Thompson, F.C. (Ed.), (1988). The Thomson Chain-Reference Bible: Fifth Improved Edition. Indiana, USA: B. B. Kirkbride Bible Co., Inc.

Zondervan. (2010, November 1). Updated NIV Bible Text. Retrieved from http://www.biblica.com

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