Lesson 1: Chapter 1: 1-7
“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. 5 Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
What a greeting Paul opens with. I want to open our study for 2020 with a look at this greeting. This a greeting filled with hope, confidence and truth. A greeting that resonates with us even to this day some 2,000 years later. A greeting that tells us a lot about the man and makes us check ourselves as well. We recall Paul was once named Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee he tells us in Philippians 3:4-7,
“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.”
Paul once had confidence in his fleshly place. He was a Jew who followed the Law to the letter, or so he thought. He was a Pharisee, one very zealous for the Law, and he was blameless in his righteousness, not sinless, but he was blameless as far as following the law. He took his commitment to Judaism and the Law so far that he hated Christians and hated the local churches. He actually presided over the murder of Stephen, the first martyr, whose death is recorded in Acts 7. We find Saul in Acts 7:58 overseeing his murder. But here in this letter to the believers and churches in Rome, we see Saul of Tarsus, now Paul, writing about the grace of God in Romans 1:7; he is calling himself a ‘bondservant’ to Christ and he is an apostle sent by God to teach about the person of Jesus Christ.
Paul now has no confidence in his flesh, no confidence in himself or his self-discipline, no confidence in the Law, and only confidence in Jesus. What could have brought this type of change? What could have facilitated this complete turnaround? What would have made the hunter choose to become the hunted?
As we explore the lessons of the Book of Romans, we will find all these answers and more. But for today, let us look at the greeting that met all who would read this letter, including us here in 2020.
- A Bondservant, verse 1.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we find Moses giving instructions to the people of Israel as they are about the enter the Promised Land. He is addressing the children of those who had once been slaves in Egypt. Their parents died because of rebellion, and so Moses has to give the children a bit of a history lesson. He reminds them that they too were once slaves and he tells them that if a Hebrew brother or sister becomes poor and needy and becomes one of their slaves, they can only be slaves until the 7th year, and then they must be freed. But if the slave begins to love his or her master and family, then they can choose to stay; and once they do, it is a lifetime commitment. See Deuteronomy 15: 16-17,
“And it shall be, if he says unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house because he is well with thee; Then thou shalt take an awl and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever. And also, unto thy maidservant thou shalt do likewise.”
This servant would be marked for life by boring their ear with an awl, then putting an earring in, usually the sign of the family. They were becoming bondservants; they did it out of love. They could have been freed from their debts and free to leave, but they chose to stay of their own free will.
Paul calls himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ here in verse 1. A servant because of love; not compulsion, not coercion, but love. He was a slave to the Law, but now he is free in Jesus. This is what true Christianity is all about. We love Jesus. You and I, mere humans, love the God of gods, the King of kings, and we choose to serve Him. The longer we serve Him, the more we love Him. The longer we serve Him, the more we understand and stand in awe of His love for us. There is trust and confidence that transcends the ups and downs of life, and we are secure in Him. This is no mere infatuation; Paul would die for this Savior. He was a hunted man from the day that He was saved in Damascus; finally, the hunters would catch up with the hunted, and they would take his life. Paul loved Jesus enough to die for Him.
Just this past week we can check the news and see that Christians in Nigeria and other places are being executed for the name of Jesus. Though we have not come to death yet, make no mistake the tides have turned in North America, and the cost of Christianity is becoming more and more expensive. I don’t know if executions will come to us, but we should not be surprised if they do.
Are we, like Paul, in love with Jesus enough to die for His Holy Name?
- Separated, verse 1.
Paul is not only a bondservant, but he is separated unto the Gospel of God. If you are a husband or a wife, you are separated from all others unto your spouse. Because of your love for them, you have chosen to be separated from all other men or women in an intimate way for the bond that you have. Paul understood that you cannot be ‘halfway’ in as a Christian. Jesus pretty much said the same thing in the Gospels. See Matthew 6:24,
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The principle is that you cannot be a bondservant to two people at once. You cannot be a bondservant of Jesus and anyone or anything else at the same time. You and I must be separated unto the Gospel of God. Elijah made the same call to the nation of Israel in 1 Kings 18:20, and Joshua made the same call in Joshua 24:15. If we truly are bondservants to Jesus Christ, then we must be separated to the Gospel of God.
What is the Gospel of God? Paul explains this to us in the next few lines of Romans 1: 2-4,
“which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.”
Jesus came as fulfillment of the scriptures in the Old Testament, like Genesis 3:15, Genesis 22:8, Isaiah 53, Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, Hosea 11:1, Psalm 40:6-8, Isaiah 9:1-2, Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah 40: 3-4, Zechariah 9:9, and on and on I can go. There are some 300 prophecies about the first coming of Jesus in the Old Testament; and Paul, as a former Pharisee, would most likely have known all of them, but probably saw and understood them for the first time when he met Jesus.
Here then is the Gospel: that Jesus is God in the flesh, that He died for our sins, and God raised Him up on the third day, and that one has to believe and place one’s trust in this death, burial and resurrection for the complete removal of one’s sins. Paul would later put it this way in Romans 10:8-10,
“But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart, man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.”
This Gospel is good among all nations. It is all the Gospel, all the Good News they have. This is why we must be separated unto God. There is no other name for salvation to any man anywhere but Jesus. This is it; we must be committed to this no matter what. This is why it is so important that we love Jesus. Only a fervent love for our Saviour will bind us to Him, His Gospel and His promises. Paul was all in; he did not waver. He committed to Christianity with the same passion that he had for the Pharisaical order. He was all in. He pursued the doctrine if life, the Gospel, with the same intensity that he has pursued the doctrine of death.
- Grace and Peace, verse 7
The Law did not know grace and it offered no peace. Paul knew this. The Law drove him to beat, imprison and at times kill Christians. The Gospel drove him to become all things to all men; the Gospel drove him to teach to Gentiles, those whom, in the Law, he would have shunned. In Galatians 3:21, Paul tells us that the Law could not bring righteousness, it only reminded us how sinful we were and in need of a Saviour.
Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.
Nothing has changed in the almost 2,000 years since. Jesus is still the only Savior and the Law; other philosophies cannot save. Jesus and Jesus alone. We, like Paul, are to preach Christ and Him crucified. We too, like Paul, can offer grace and peace to all men. The grace of God in that He is willing in Jesus to save us and bring us into His family and that we can have the peace of and with God; once we are saved and our sins washed away by the blood of Jesus, we are no longer the enemies of God and we have true eternal peace. The peace that is eternal and surpasses all the trials and troubles of life.
Many of us wonder if we will ever attain the level of the apostle Paul. But here in the very opening verses, Paul gives us a simple formula to be like him for Jesus. Be so in love with Jesus that you serve Him willingly; be separated to the Gospel, don’t mix it, don’t dilute it, don’t change it and don’t be quiet about it; and finally, tell others the Gospel; tell them about Jesus, His death, burial and resurrection and offer them grace and peace. This offer is good for all people, in all nations. This is what Paul did.
As we enter a New Year, let us seek to be in love with Jesus and give ourselves to be His bondservants, and let us be separated unto the Gospel of God.
Grace and peace to you all.
God bless you,
Pastor Sean Gooding
Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church