How many times have you heard a master of ceremonies say, “And now it is my pleasure to introduce to you a man who needs no introduction …”? Why are the longest introductions often for those who “need no introduction”? A good introduction will accomplish several important tasks. It will arouse the interest and attention of the audience. Also it can build a relationship between the speaker and his audience. This is especially important if the speaker is not well-known by his audience. The introduction can also acquaint us with the speaker’s message and his method so that we can follow him as he speaks.
In the days when I listened to sermons rather than preached them, I had a “five minute rule.” It was a simple rule applied to preachers during the first five minutes of their message: the speaker had five minutes to get from his introduction to the text in the Bible. If, in that five minutes, the speaker had not begun to expound the Scripture text, I knew he would never get there. And so I would mentally turn the speaker off and read from my Bible for the rest of the sermon.
As my five minutes are passing quickly, let us turn our attention to our text in Romans 1:1-17. This is Paul’s introduction to the entire Epistle to the Romans. While all of Paul’s epistles have introductions, this particular introduction is especially important. The church in Rome was not founded by Paul. The Roman saints had not been brought to faith through the preaching of Paul. He did not seem to be well-known in Rome.51 Paul had not yet been to Rome, and most of the saints there would not recognize him if they saw him.52
Our study of Paul’s introduction will concentrate on the reasons Paul gives for writing this epistle, which will also prove to be the reasons why the Romans should read and heed his words. Paul’s introduction will also help to explain why the Romans did receive Paul’s epistle, and why this epistle has continued to bless and to impact the lives of men and women down through the ages of church history.
Beyond this, I believe Paul’s introductory words provide us with a “mentality of ministry,” which is a bench mark for every believer. Paul’s words describe, as the title of this message indicates, “Paul’s Motivation for Ministry.” Before we hear so much as one word of preaching from Paul, he lays out for us his “perspective.” Paul will tell his readers how much he cares for them, how often he has tried to come to visit them, and how long and diligently he has prayed for them. Paul will tell all of his readers “where he is coming from” and “where he is going” in the rest of his epistle.
I believe that Paul’s perspective, as revealed in his introduction to Romans, is a model for every Christian. If our ministries were motivated by those things which inspired Paul in his ministry, our ministries would take a different form and would have a much greater impact on others. Were our ministries to be patterned after Paul’s ministry to the saints at Rome, we would not have to work so hard to get a hearing from those we are striving to reach with the gospel.
You and I should not need to be convinced that this epistle is worthy of our diligent study or that its message is desperately needed today. We will find, however, that we are drawn to Paul as a person as we read his words of introduction. Here is a man with a heart toward God, toward the saints, toward Israel, and toward the lost. Even though this man lived centuries ago, we shall find ourselves drawn to him as a person and his proclamation of the gospel. Let us listen well to these inspired and heart-warming words.
Our text is composed of three segments. The first segment (1:1-7) is Paul’s greeting which identifies both the writer and the recipients, and their relationship. The second segment (1:8-13) explores the relationship of Paul with the saints at Rome in greater depth, describing both his prayers and his plans concerning them. The final segment introduces the theme of this epistle, which is the key to Paul’s motivation and his ministry.
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever seen one of those long limousines, the “stretch” kind that looks like the car has been cut in two with a third section sandwiched in between? They are unusual, and they catch our attention. Paul’s greeting, in verses 1-7, is what I call a “stretch version” of his usual greeting. It is the longest greeting of any of his epistles. Here is a sampling of his more typical greetings:
Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace (1 Thessalonians 1:1).
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope; to Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 1:1-2).
Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:1-3).
Paul’s other greetings range from one to four verses, while his greetings in Romans take a whopping seven verses. Why such a long greeting here? Let me suggest an explanation.
When you compare the greeting in Romans to those in Paul’s other epistles, you will see that all of the greetings begin and end in a similar way. What is unique in this greeting in Romans 1:1-7 is Paul’s synopsis of the gospel in verses 2-4. Why would Paul give a synopsis of the gospel here, in the introduction?
The reason seems to be clear when you consider the uniqueness of this situation. Paul had never been in Rome. He had never previously taught these saints, as he had those in all the other churches to which he wrote epistles. And until now he had never written to them. In his other epistles, Paul was writing to those who knew him, those whom he had led to Christ and whom he had taught. Here, Paul was writing to those whom he had never met, who did not know him and did not know his doctrine. Because the purity of the gospel is vitally important, Paul immediately sought to demonstrate that his gospel was the same as that which the saints in Rome had believed, resulting in their salvation. In very few words, Paul highlights several of the fundamental elements of his gospel:
(1) Paul’s gospel was based upon the belief in a triune God. Paul was a trinitarian. In verses 2-4, Paul refers to all three members of the Godhead: the Father (verse 2), the Son, who was of David’s seed, and who is exalted in the heavens, ready to reign over God’s kingdom (verses 3-4), and the Holy Spirit (verse 4).
(2) Paul’s gospel was established by the resurrection of Christ from the dead (verse 4).
(3) Paul’s gospel was not “new,” but was the fulfillment of that which God had promised His people through the Old Testament prophets (verse 2).
(4) Paul’s gospel was God’s provision for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles (verses 5-6).
(5) Paul’s gospel was a sovereign calling, a calling to salvation, a calling to service, and a calling to a Christian lifestyle, a lifestyle of obedience (verses 5-7).
Paul’s gospel was an orthodox gospel. It was the same gospel which the other apostles preached and which the Roman saints had believed. Since Paul professed and preached the same gospel, the Roman saints could welcome him as a fellow-believer, and they could welcome his ministry in person or by letter.
Christians today, I fear, are too quick to accept those whom they do not really know to be fellow-saints. Satan deceives the saints and corrupts the church by sending his “false apostles” as “angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). Paul urged the saints to be on guard for such false apostles, and he gladly articulated the gospel which he preached. We should be as careful as Paul. We should know what gospel men preach, before we heed their teaching.
When we began to meet as a church, one of my fellow-elders and I met with a man who had just come to our city. He had the reputation of being a Christian and following Christian principles. Nevertheless, my fellow-elder asked this man to share his testimony with us. He was right to do so. We should be very careful to check out the doctrine of those who would have us welcome them as fellow-believers. The church would be spared much grief and error if it were more careful in this regard.
The first and most fundamental bond which Paul had with the Roman saints was the bond of a common faith. There was yet another link between Paul and the Roman saints which he wanted to set out at the beginning of his epistle. His ministry was the result of a divine call and of divine enablement. He was called and set apart as an apostle, to proclaim the gospel of God (verse 1). The specific focus of his apostleship was to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles, leading to their “obedience of faith.”53
Paul was divinely designated and set apart to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. He was to bring about “the obedience of faith” among all the Gentiles (1:5), which included “Greeks and barbarians,” both the “wise and the foolish” (1:14). Many of the saints at Rome were Gentiles (1:6). Paul saw his specific calling and ministry as obligating him to minister to the church at Rome. His calling (as an apostle to the Gentiles) and their condition (as Gentiles) was a link Paul could not and would not overlook. He was obliged to minister to them in some way.
Before we move on to the next segment to see how Paul did minister to the saints at Rome, let me point out three observations from verses 1-7. Each of these three observations is inferred by our text, and each has to do with Paul’s perspective.
First, we find in these verses Paul’s strong sense of calling and his resulting authority, balanced with an equally strong sense of servanthood and humility. Paul manifests a boldness and authority which comes not from himself, but which is the result of his calling as an apostle.54 He begins this epistle by referring to his calling, and thus, indirectly, to his apostolic authority. And yet this authority does not “go to his head.” Paul is equally conscious that his calling is to the role of a “bondslave” to God and to a life of service to men. Paul is greatly humbled by his calling and authority. Paul’s words in Romans reflect both a boldness and a humility.
Second, we find in Paul’s words here a strong sense of unity and continuity. Paul ties together the gospel which he proclaims and the promises of God made through the Old Testament prophets. He joins together both the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul will not allow a misguided polarization (taking of sides) between the Jews and the Gentiles. He stresses that the gospel unites all believers. He emphasizes the continuity between the Old Testament and the New.
Finally, Paul emphasizes what he possesses in common with the saints at Rome, while at the same time recognizing his unique calling and ministry. Paul shares with the Roman saints a “like precious faith.” He shares in being divinely called of God unto salvation. But Paul also has a specific calling. He, unlike the Roman saints, has been “called as an apostle,” and “set apart for the gospel.”
The recognition of his unique calling and ministry as distinct from his common calling is vitally important. Paul will call upon all the saints to live up to their common calling. And he will (in Romans 12:3-8) call upon each saint to live up to their specific and unique calling. But Paul will not urge the saints at Rome to do all that he does as a part of his unique calling. Paul hopes to go by way of Rome to Spain, but he will not urge the Roman saints to accompany him, only to accommodate him while he is in Rome, and to pray for him as he takes the gospel to unreached places and peoples (see Romans 15:14-33). How often I hear saints urging other saints to imitate their ministry and calling. We dare not ignore our individual calling, nor dare we impose it on others who have their own gifts and calling from God (1 Corinthians 7:7).
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.
Verses 1-7 establish Paul’s authority as an apostle and declare the basis for Paul’s ministry to the saints at Rome. On this foundation of Paul’s creed and his calling, Paul will establish yet another basis for his ministry to the Roman saints. What Paul will say here, in verses 8-13, will warm the hearts of the Romans, so that they will be eager to hear what Paul has to say to them.
Paul had been a believer and an apostle for a number of years. It was approximately ten years earlier that Paul, and Barnabas, were “set apart”55 for “the work to which God had called them” (see Acts 13:2). He had never before visited or written the saints at Rome. Why should the Roman saints give him a hearing now? Granted, he was orthodox, and he had apostolic authority. But what did Paul know about them? And what evidence was there that he cared about them? Much indeed, as Paul is about to inform them.
Paul’s interest and involvement in the church at Rome can best be seen in his prayers for them. Paul’s prayers include praise and thanksgiving for this church in Rome. Paul knows a great deal about this body of believers, even though he has not yet been to Rome. Paul has kept track of this church, of its witness, and of its progress. He was thankful to God because their faith was being proclaimed throughout the whole world (verse 8). These saints not only had come to faith in Jesus Christ, their faith was being practiced and proclaimed. The gospel which had come to this church was now going forth from it.
This very positive statement from Paul must have been an encouragement to the Roman saints. It would have been an encouragement to hear that their faith was evident and was being shed abroad. It would also be an encouragement to hear from Paul that his letter (not to mention his appearance, in days to come) was not occasioned by problems in the church, but with a view to their progress. This letter to the Romans was not a “trouble shooter’s” attempt to fix a problem in the Roman church, but rather it was to encourage this church. When Paul was able to come to them, he expected also to be encouraged by their faith (1:12).
Paul’s ministry of prayer was much more extensive than his recent prayers of praise. He had, for some time,56 been eager to visit Rome and to spend some time with them. While he persisted in trying to get to Rome, he was consistently prevented from doing so (1:13). He looked forward to his visit as an occasion for mutual ministry, one to another.57 Paul did not have to be physically present to minister to those in Rome, however. For a long time Paul had been praying for this church. Included in his prayers was his petition to visit Rome. If Paul’s absence suggested to any that he did not care much about the saints at Rome, Paul’s petitions and his plans indicate otherwise. If he could have visited Rome before this, he would have.
In Paul’s absence, there were at least two ways which he found to minister to the saints at Rome. The first was to pray for these saints, as he prayed for all the churches (see, for example, Ephesians 1:15-19a; 3:14-19; Philippians 1:3-5; Colossians 1:9-12). The second was to write them an epistle, in which he would convey those truths which he wished to teach in person and which he had taught the churches where he had ministered in person. Paul’s letter was not an impersonal gesture, but the most personal ministry he could provide at the moment. It was the outgrowth of his love, interest, concern and prayers for these saints.
The saints in Rome could listen to Paul because he was an apostle, an apostle whose ministry was to all the Gentiles. But they would listen to Paul because he was a man who cared much for them, who had (unknown to them before now) invested heavily in their faith and ministry. They would hear Paul, and they would hear him gladly. He was a man with a heart for God and for God’s people. He was a man whose love and concern ran deep.
Three years before Paul arrived at Rome in person, he had taken up his pen to write those “beloved of God in Rome,” one of the most profound and powerful epistles ever written. And long before Paul took up the pen, he had been on his knees in prayer for them. One can hardly avoid concluding that the ideas which Paul put into words in this epistle were the product of his prayers and also the answer to them. How often we find that God uses us to have a part in the answer to our own prayers.
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
There was one consuming passion in Paul’s life—the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was by means of the gospel that Paul was saved. It was for the purpose of preaching the gospel that he was called and set apart. It was for the world-wide proclamation of the faith of the Romans that Paul gave thanks to God. It was to preach the gospel that he desired to go to Rome. For Paul, the gospel was everything; it was the all-consuming focus of his life and ministry.
The gospel is also the subject matter—the theme—of his epistle to the Romans. In verses 14-17 Paul speaks to the Romans about the gospel and its impact on his life and ministry. In so doing, Paul distills for us the central themes of his epistle and prepares us for what will follow in this epistle.
In verses 14 and 15 Paul explained his eagerness to reach Rome: The gospel made him a debtor, a debtor to the Gentiles through the grace of God. Works-righteousness always seeks to get ahead, to have a “positive balance” of righteousness on account with God. The righteousness of God, obtained by faith, places one in eternal debt. The righteousness which we receive by faith is that which we do not deserve. We are debtors to God for having received it. We are, and eternally will continue to be, debtors to God’s grace.
This debt of grace was no duty, thrust upon Paul; it was a debt of love. If we are indebted to love others (Romans 13:8), we are first indebted to love God. Paul looked upon himself as a debtor, a debtor to God, and a debtor to all men. Paul especially saw himself as a debtor to all the Gentiles, among whom were some of the saints at Rome. His eagerness to minister to the Romans was the result of God’s grace, an overflow of the grace which had saved him.
To Paul, the gospel was much more than a means to men’s salvation, though it was surely that (see 1:16). The gospel was the message which Paul was compelled to proclaim to those who were in Rome and who were saved. I am convinced that Paul is not saying that he wanted to reach Rome so that he could hold revivals in the church, or so that he could hold an evangelistic campaign (though he might have done so, if he could). I believe Paul wanted to proclaim the truths of the gospel to Christians, because this was profitable for them.
Why would this be so? Why do Christians need to hear the gospel, when they are already saved? I believe there are several reasons. First of all, we are inclined to forget. How often in the New Testament the writers will speak of the need for and the benefits of being reminded.58 God warned the Israelites that they would tend to forget God’s deliverance and, in the process, would forget that it was by His grace and not due to their own goodness or works that His blessings had been poured out upon them (see Deuteronomy 8:11-20). We tend to forget that God’s blessings come as a result of His grace, and thus we need to be reminded. This is why we, as a church, remember His death on a regular, weekly basis (see Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).
Second, the gospel is a truth which is so vast we will never grasp or fathom it, though we spend our whole lives studying it. The gospel to which Paul has referred in 1:2-4 is that which has its roots in the Old Testament, its fulfillment in Christ, and its ultimate consummation in eternity. The gospel is a simple message, which men must believe in order to be saved, but it is a vast sea of truth which men will forever seek to fathom (see Romans 11:33-36; Ephesians 3:14-19; Colossians 2:1-3). Those who love God and who rejoice in His gospel will never tire of exploring its riches.
Third, the application of the gospel involves far more than just repentance and faith, leading to salvation. The gospel, as Paul will show in Romans chapters 6-8, provides both the motivation and the means for our sanctification, as well as our salvation. The gospel is not only the message by which we enter into salvation; it is the motivation and the means by which our salvation is lived out. The gospel is a part of God’s eternal plan and purpose, which is still being worked out. And thus, as Paul will show in Romans 9-11, the salvation of the Gentiles is happening now, so that God can save and bless Israel.
Let me pause for a moment to share an insight which I think is valid and which may be profitable to you as well: Evangelists do far more than evangelize, or to teach others to do so; they focus attention on the gospel. I have always thought the role of the evangelist in the church to be two-fold. First, the evangelist evangelizes; that is, the evangelist preaches the gospel to those who are lost so that some are saved. Second, the evangelist promotes evangelism. Often (I speak out of my own experience), the evangelist tries to get other Christians to evangelize (usually in the ways he thinks we should). Some would-be evangelists browbeat the saints, motivating them by guilt, and teaching them the certain stereotyped methods whereby souls can be saved.
I believe that one of Paul’s spiritual gifts was probably that of evangelism. I doubt that many would argue this point. Yet in his epistles, Paul spent very little time urging the saints to evangelize. The final chapters of Romans do not, surprisingly enough, urge personal evangelism. Paul does not try to teach any methods of evangelism. And yet Paul was an evangelist! If Paul was an evangelist, why did he not do what we think an evangelist should do? Here is something to ponder.
I now see Paul as the model evangelist. Paul, the evangelist, sought to focus men’s attention on the gospel. He sought to turn the attention of lost men to the gospel, so that they could be saved. He sought to turn the attention of the saints back to the gospel, as the means, the motivation, and the goal for our lives. So it was for him. So he wishes it to be for us. Evangelists see the gospel as “home base,” so to speak, and they seek to continually “turn our hearts toward home.”
In verses 16 and 17, Paul explains his boldness in proclaiming the gospel. He was “not ashamed of the gospel,” negatively speaking. He boasted in the gospel, positively speaking (see Romans 15:7-19). One reason for Paul’s boldness was the power of the gospel message itself. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” for both the Jew and the Greek (verse 16). Here is a truth which we profess, but which we fail to practice. The message of the gospel is the means by which God’s power is implemented so as to save men.
In our own time, it is often not our message itself which is primary, but our method. We have more faith in our marketing techniques than we do in a simple gospel message. As a result, we tend to water down and compromise the message, subordinating it to our “Madison Avenue” methods.
I watched an interesting television program this week. The program, “Nightline,” was addressing the image of the American automobile as inferior in quality to the Japanese automobiles, even though many of the Japanese cars are made in America, by American labor. It was an interesting discussion. No spokesman could be found to speak up for the American automobile manufacturers. It was generally agreed that the Japanese cars were, overall, better cars. The question was raised, “What is the difference? If many Japanese cars are made here, by American labor, how is it that they can be so much better than American cars, made by American labor?” My suggestion is that we have so much confidence in our methods of selling a product that we have slacked off in our efforts to design and build a good product. We believe that with just the right marketing technique, we can sell snowballs to Eskimos (or lemons to Americans).
I fear that this same “marketing mentality” has gained a strong foothold in the church of Jesus Christ. Most of the fund-raising programs employed by churches and Christian ministries are identical to those developed and used by those who sell soap, toothpaste, cat food and cars. Paul rejected the smooth and subtle tactics of the “merchandisers” of his day (see 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2). Paul’s desire was to be clear, simple, and bold (see 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; Ephesians 6:18-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). If the gospel is, itself, mighty to save, the power of God resulting in salvation, then we need but to proclaim it, in simplicity, in purity, and in dependence upon God, who will by His Word save men.
Finally, in verse 17, Paul explains his boldness to proclaim the gospel in terms of what it reveals about God. The gospel, Paul says, reveals “the righteousness of God.” The gospel displays God’s righteousness. It reveals God’s righteousness in His standards of holiness, as revealed by the Law. It reveals God’s righteousness by declaring God’s condemnation of sin. It reveals God’s righteousness by the way in which He saves men, by faith, and by pouring out His wrath on the Lord Jesus, so that sin’s penalty is paid.
The righteousness of God is revealed in other ways than by saving sinners. The righteousness of God, Paul says, is revealed “from faith to faith” (verse 17). The righteousness of God is revealed when men come to faith, but it is also revealed as men live by faith. The righteousness of God is revealed through men, as they live out the gospel. The expression “from faith to faith” is interesting and important. Faith has its origin, but it also has its outworkings. The Christian life begins with saving faith, and it initiates a life which is characterized by an ever-growing faith. Faith is the means by which men are saved, it is also the means by which saved men live, and it is the outworking of men’s faith.
Let me attempt to illustrate this with another concept—love. Love is the basis for marriage. Love leads to marriage. Marriage then becomes the context in which a man’s love for his wife (and her love for him) grows. Marriage begins with love and continues to grow and express itself in love. Married life is “from love to love,” just as the Christian life is “from faith to faith.”
This is the point of the passage Paul cites from Habakkuk 2:4: “But the righteous man shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4). Habakkuk had protested to God that Judah was corrupt, that God’s Law was ignored, and that justice was swallowed up by violence and wickedness (Habakkuk 1:1-4). He asked God why He had not come to save His people (1:2).
God responded, in a way that Habakkuk never imagined (1:5-11). God was going to chasten His people with a strong and cruel people—the Chaldeans. They would sweep down on Judah and take these rebellious people into captivity. The cruelty and sin of the Chaldeans would not be excused or overlooked, however, for God would punish this people for their pride and arrogance (1:11).
Habakkuk was horrified. He could not understand how God could use wicked men to achieve His purposes. The Chaldeans, in his mind, were even more wicked than the people of Judah (1:12-17). He determined to “file a protest with God.” He knew he would be rebuked, but he planned to challenge God’s rebuke as well (2:1). In Habakkuk’s mind, God had a lot of explaining to do.
God’s answer was extensive. We shall only refer to a portion of His response. He assured Habakkuk that God’s plan was fixed, certain, and coming without delay (in spite of his protest—see 2:2-3). The proud soul, God said, is “not right” (2:4a). This might have included Habakkuk, as well as the Chaldeans. But the righteous man, God said, must live by his faith (2:4b).
As I understand these words, God was telling Habakkuk that he would have to live his life, day by day, by faith. He might not see the day of Israel’s restoration and blessing, but by faith he must believe God’s promises would be fulfilled. His days might be lived out beholding the victory of the Chaldeans and the defeat of his people, but this too must be handled by faith. He must, by faith, understand that Judah’s defeat by the Chaldeans was the chastening by God and was the outworking of God’s good plan and purposes for His people. Faith was, for Habakkuk, and for every other Old Testament believer, the rule of the day, the rule for life. So it is for the New Testament saint as well. All who are justified by faith must continue to live by faith.
In his words of introduction, Paul has explained why he is writing to the Roman saints. He is a man with a mission, an apostle with a commission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, leading to the “obedience of faith.” He is also a man with a heart for the saints at Rome. He has rejoiced at the reports of their testimony, which has gone abroad throughout the world. He has prayed for them and has petitioned God to grant him to visit them, so that he might minister the gospel to them. This gospel is not only the theme of his epistle, it is Paul’s motivation, his message, and his calling. It is the shaping and driving force in his life.
There is no doubt that Paul is committed to the gospel. There is no doubt that Paul is also committed to his audience. He loves them, has invested in them over a period of years, and he intends to visit them as soon as possible. Paul’s love for the gospel is already becoming contagious. With an introduction like Paul’s, who would not be ready to “read on,” to learn more of the gospel and of the God who has purposed and provided it, and who is working it in accordance with His eternal plan?
Our text suggests a number of implications. As I conclude, let me summarize some of these for your consideration and further study.
(1) Paul sought to conform his life to his calling. As the basis for his ministry, the very first thing to which Paul referred to was his divine calling as an “apostle” and his being “set apart” for a ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul was absolutely convinced that he was called to the work which he was doing.
I do not see that same sense of “calling” today. The only “call” which I hear much about today is the mystical and curious “call to the full-time ministry” or a “call to the mission field.” These callings seem to be man-made categories, and I am suspicious of the way in which we use them. In the Scriptures, I see that the Christian has a common “calling,” along with all other saints, and a specific calling to a particular ministry for which God has gifted us, and to which the Lord has directed us (see 1 Corinthians 12).
Our common “calling” is, first of all, a call to faith in Jesus Christ, resulting in salvation (see Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:9). You may not yet have responded to this call. If not, you may “call upon the name of the Lord” and become one of the called (see Romans 10:9-13). All who have been called to faith are also called to holiness (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:9), to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15; Colossians 3:15), to freedom (Galatians 5:13), to hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4), and to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12).
In addition to a common calling, which every Christian is to live up to, there is an individual calling as well. Each Christian has a specific calling, which may not necessarily be declared in the specific and unusual way that Paul’s calling was revealed to him (see Acts 9:15-16; 22:21; 26:14-20). Nevertheless, God reveals our calling by the spiritual gifts He has bestowed upon us and by His leading in terms of our ministry (see Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12, especially verses 4-6).
Paul referred to his calling as an “apostle to the Gentiles” as a gift of God’s grace (1:5, 11; see also 12:3). Our calling is also evidenced, I believe, through the gifts of grace which God has given us (see above). God always enables us to do that which He has called us to do. Thus, by considering our spiritual gifts, we have insight into our calling. If God gave us the gift of teaching, we can be certain He has called us to teach (see Romans 12:7). Christians also have a sense of their “calling” by virtue of their place and function in life at the time of their conversion (see 1 Corinthians 7:17-24). In spite of this, few Christians have a definite sense of God’s calling, and so their lives are lived aimlessly, without the purpose and direction which we see in Paul’s life and ministry.
Paul’s calling was to “the gospel.” I believe that Paul is teaching us that the gospel is our calling as well. Paul’s calling to the gospel was, more specifically, a calling to apostleship and to ministry to the Gentiles. Our calling, with respect to the gospel, may be teaching a Sunday school class or ministering in a retirement home. The specific task God has given us to do must be seen as a part of the general mission, the mission of practicing and proclaiming the gospel. The greater our sense of calling, the clearer our sense of direction and purpose.
Paul’s calling with respect to the gospel had both its visible, public manifestations (his preaching and teaching), and its private manifestations. Many years were spent by Paul praying for the church at Rome before he ever wrote or visited them. Paul’s public ministry was “the tip of an iceberg.” Whatever was seen was but a small part of what was unseen, but very much a part of the whole. And, in addition, Paul’s ministry was also underwritten by the prayers of other saints, on his behalf (Ephesians 6:18-20).
(2) Paul’s motivation and basis for ministry was not a “healthy self-image,” but the certainty that he was called to play a part in the divine plans and purposes of God. Everywhere we turn these days, a “good self-image” is said to be the basis for life. The sad thing is that Christians are buying this error as readily as unbelievers, and then preaching it as a kind of “gospel.”
Paul’s ministry was not founded on a healthy self-esteem, but on a healthy view of God and His purposes. Paul was not caught up by his own worth, but in his work. He was not thinking in terms of his status (bondslaves have no status), but in terms of his service to the Lord and to others. Paul did not think in terms of his credits, but in terms of his indebtedness. Paul’s life was not self-absorbed, but dominated by the gospel. Paul’s life was in Christ. The gospel is not an excuse to “find ourselves,” but to “lose ourselves” in the grateful “service of worship.”
(3) Paul’s words and actions, even his Epistle to the Romans, display the sovereign providence of God. Paul had a clear sense of the purposes of God but not of the details of God’s plan. Paul was convinced that God is sovereign, that He is in complete control, and that His purposes will be achieved. He knew God too well to think any man could anticipate how God would achieve His purposes. Paul believed that he would go to Rome, but he surely did not know how God would arrange for his transportation.
The Book of Romans is an illustration of the providence of God, using what seems to be a hindrance to the gospel to actually promote the gospel. Paul yearned to go to Rome. For years, he petitioned God to let him go (Romans 1:10; 15:22-23) but was prohibited. The result of this was the fullest exposition of the gospel in all the Word of God—the Epistle to the Romans. In Paul’s other epistles, he wrote to those whom he taught previously, thus his other epistles are based upon previously taught truth. Romans is not based on previous teaching, because Paul has neither written to nor taught these saints before. Because of this, Paul’s foundational teaching, not recorded elsewhere, is recorded for us in Romans. And all because Paul was prohibited from going to Rome personally. Paul’s prohibition (which must have caused him some agony) is the source of our prosperity—in the riches of the Book of Romans. Thank God, Paul could not make Rome until after writing this book for all of us to read. The depth of his teaching is preserved here for saints throughout the ages.
(4) The gospel is God’s provision for all of our needs. The gospel is far more than the message through which the power of God works to save men—though it surely (and thankfully) is this. The gospel is God’s provision for all our needs. The gospel is the means through which God overcomes and overturns all of the “fallout” from Adam’s sin (see Romans 5:12-21; 8:18-26). It is the Christian’s motivation and means for godly living (Romans 6-8). It is the key to understanding world history (Romans 9-11). If there is a “need” which the gospel does not meet or address, I doubt that it is a valid need at all. The gospel is God’s provision for sinful men who live in a fallen world. The gospel should be our motivation, our mindset, our message, and our means. As J. B. Phillips has suggested, “our God is too small.” As Paul indicated in Romans, our gospel is too small, too restricted, too seldom considered, taught, and practiced.
(5) Ministry is a long-term matter. As I read through Paul’s introduction, it becomes more and more evident that the writing of Romans and Paul’s involvement in ministry to the church was not a short-term commitment. Paul had kept up with this church, its witness, its growth, and its needs for many years. He desired to visit Rome for years. He prayed and he planned for a long time before he ever wrote, and then he was “delayed” three more years until he could visit.
As I look at this “long-term” dimension of Paul’s ministry, I am convicted by the “short-term” thinking of Christians (including myself) today. Perhaps we excuse this by our conviction that the time of the Lord’s return is near, but Paul believed this, too. Too much of what we do is last minute, poorly conceived, poorly planned, and shabbily executed. The Book of Romans may have been written in a relatively short period of time, but it was conceived over a period of years, I am convinced. Good meals take time to simmer. Good things take time to accomplish. God is not in a hurry, and He does not need last minute programs. Paul looked much farther ahead than we do, and I am convinced that he was right.
(6) Ministry requires preparation and introduction. Ministry takes time because it requires preparation and introduction. Paul’s prayers prepared him for the writing of this epistle. Much of our ministry plans and programs look for quick results. We have a kind of “fast foods” approach to ministry and to evangelism. Paul’s ministry through the pen was preceded by years of ministry through his prayers. His introduction to his epistle drew the attention of the Roman saints to his perseverance in prayer for them. Paul’s words to the Romans were preceded by his prayers to God on their behalf. There is too little preparation for our ministry, and our “messages” to others have little or no introduction by way of prayer or service. I am rebuked by the prayer life of Paul. Paul prayed long and hard before he preached the gospel. The effectiveness of his preaching was, to some extent, the result of his prayers.
(7) Those who are used of God to communicate His heart to men are men who have a heart for God. Paul’s exposition of Romans is not only his expounding on the gospel, but his expression of the heart of God. As I think through the books of the Bible, I find that those men who were chosen to explore the heart of God in depth were those men who had a heart for God. Those whose expression of God’s heart were the most thorough (as seen by the length of their book, or by the number of books they wrote) were those who themselves had a heart for God. This list of authors includes Moses (the Pentateuch—the first five books of the Old Testament, including Psalm 90), David (many of the Psalms), Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul, John, and Peter.
It is not surprising to me that Jonah is a short book. Jonah, like Israel whom he represented, did not have a heart for God. In fact, Jonah found God’s heart irritating and disgusting. He protested against God’s mercy and compassion and resisted having a part of it (see Jonah 4:1-4, 9-11). Jonah could not reflect God’s heart, but he was more than able to reflect the hard heart and the stiff neck of His people.
I believe that God desires to manifest His heart to men and women today. He does so through the gospel. He does so through men and women who have not only been saved by the gospel, but who have been transformed by it, so that the gospel has become their mindset, their motivation, and their message. May God incline our hearts toward Him, through the gospel.
51 Notice, for example, the words of the Roman Jewish community in Acts 28:21-22, which imply that they knew little about Paul prior to his arrival in Rome.
52 In some ways, not knowing a great deal about Paul and his ministry may have been an advantage. Wherever Paul went there seemed to be trouble. In Philippi, Paul was thrown in prison because he was accused of advocating belief and behavior which was against the (Roman) law (Acts 16:19-21). In Ephesus, much of the city was in an uproar because of the presence and preaching of Paul. Paul could have appeared to be a troublemaker. Some churches might not have wanted him to visit because he might stir up trouble for them.
53 I understand the expression, “the obedience of faith” to be broad and all-encompassing. There is the initial “obedience of faith,” of repentance and calling on the name of the Lord for salvation. This initial conversion will lead to a life of obedience, stemming from faith.
54 We see this, for example, in Romans 15:15-16.
55 This is the same basic expression as we find in Romans 1:1.
56 From Romans 15:23, we learn that Paul had been eager to come to them “for many years.”
57 It is interesting that Paul did not seem to know which “gift” he would bestow on these saints (1:11), just as he did not know which “fruit” would result (1:13). Both of these matters would only be evident in time and in the sovereign outworkings of God’s plan. Paul did not presuppose what God would do, or should do, through his visit.
“But I have written very boldly to you on some points, so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God” (Romans 15:15).
“For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17).
“Therefore, I shall always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. And I consider it right, as long as I am in this earthly dwelling, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13).
“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (2 Peter 3:1).