Romans 1:1-17- The Apostle Paul
Explanation- Paul opens us up in the Epistle to the Romans with a brief defense of his own apostleship. He declares that he was ‘called to be an apostle’ and ‘set apart for the gospel of God’. This was not an office that Paul took upon himself but, as we know from the book of Acts, he was radically configured for this office by the Lord Jesus Himself. Paul set out on the road to Damascus with the intent of persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ. In his eyes they were vile blasphemers who had deified an even greater blasphemer. He was zealous for what he believed to be the cause of God and was fervently bent in a certain direction. When Paul encountered Christ on the Damascus road, his life changed. He immediately was struck with a change of mind which led to a change in direction and purpose. No longer was he to be Paul the Pharisee from Tarsus, but he was anointed to the office of apostleship.
The word apostle comes from the Greek word ‘apostolos’ and carries with it the idea of one who is set apart and sent with the authority of the sender. In this case it highlights Paul’s position as being called by God and set apart for the preaching of the gospel. Paul was uniquely commissioned to go forth to the nations and speak as the delegate of God. This means that when Paul spoke it was as if Christ Himself was speaking. Or in other words, he carried the authority of the sender and that sender was the Lord Jesus Christ. Much like the office of the prophet in the Old Testament, the office of apostleship was not a chosen one. Kings and Priests fell into hereditary lines, meaning that if you were of a specific family lineage you would follow in the office of your predecessor. The prophet, on the other hand, was one who was called specifically by God despite his lineage, social status, or heritage. With the death of John the Baptist, it would seem as though the prophetic voice has ceased, thus ushering in a new office of men called by God to proclaim His word. This was the office of the Apostle. Acts chapter one sets for us the requirements of one who would hold the apostolic office. First, God must call an individual to the office and second, that individual must have been an eyewitness to the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, beginning with His baptism until the day He was taken up. While we are well aware of Christ’s specific calling of the 12 (with the exception of Judas Iscariot) and the choosing of Matthias in Acts one, Paul is one that, in technical terms, was not specifically qualified for office. He was not an early disciple of Jesus, nor was he an eyewitness to the events mentioned by Peter in Acts one. Yet it was the providence of God to reveal the risen Lord to Paul on the Damascus road and thus make him a chosen instrument to carry the name of Christ to the Gentile nations. Paul refers to himself as an apostle who was born out of due time and even says that he is not worthy of the title because of his previous persecutions of the church (1 Cor. 15:8,9). Yet an apostle Paul was, and it was with this authority that he is writing to the church of Jesus Christ stationed in Rome.
The Gospel that Paul was sent to preach was the good news of Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, who came to die for the sins of His people and was raised to life by His own will. This same Jesus has commissioned men, such as Paul and the other apostles, to go into the nations and spread this glorious message. Although he had not yet come to this church, the news of their faith had come into his (and the world’s) hearing and he is writing to these men and women to encourage them in the faith. The heart of Paul cannot be overlooked when it comes to the flock of Christ. Here, as in other places, he reminds them that they are constantly in his prayers. Paul was not simply seeking to ‘punch the clock’, he was passionately involved in seeking to edify and encourage the saints whether he was present or not. Paul was not omnipresent and therefore was unable to be in as many places as he would have liked to. He was a man on a mission; to preach the gospel to all men in the hopes that they would come to glorify God.
Paul’s final words in this section are ones that nearly every Christian will be familiar with. ‘I am unashamed of the gospel’, he says. For Paul (as well as true believers of all time), the gospel is the greatest news that mankind has ever received. It is a bright shining light in a world full of darkness and offers hope to all of those who truly put their faith in it. It is the will of God that through the gospel of God men should come to know God and be saved by God. This good news is for all who would believe. First the Jew and also the Greek. Notice that the Jew is mentioned first. This is not because the Jews are of more importance in the eyes of God than the Gentiles, for He shows no favoritism. The Jews are mentioned first because it was to them that God first revealed Himself. He made a covenant with the Jews in the Old Testament and although they have forsaken Him, He is still the faithful God who makes good on His promises. It was to the Jews that Christ came to and presented Himself as the Son of God. Now with the Jew’s rejection of the Messiah, the gospel finds furtherance in advancing to the Gentile peoples.
This is also Paul’s first mention of the reality that justification is by faith alone. He will continue to explore this theme in the following chapters, as well as his other epistles.
Application- I believe that there is a common misconception amongst many Christians in that there seems to be a misunderstanding of the place and purpose of the apostolic office. To be clear, the canon is closed, special revelation has ceased, and all those who were eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection are dead. Based on the qualifications set forth in the book of Acts by Peter, there is no one alive today who is able to meet the requirements for the apostolic office. There are still those called as missionaries, bishops, elders, deacons, and evangelists, but the apostolic office carried the weight of being those who spoke new revelation from the mind and will of God. With the forming of the 66 books of Scripture, that office has been retired. When we preach, we preach from what is already written. This does not mean that God has a lesser purpose for the body today. The work of missions, evangelism, church planting, preaching and teaching, counseling, administration, eldership, and ‘waiting tables’ are crucial to the body of Christ. God calls and equips each of His people to serve in the body and is glorified in all of these things. The work of the apostles was to lay the foundation of the Church. They spoke as the mouthpieces of the Lord Jesus Christ and established sound doctrine and a proper view of God based on what He desired the people to know. Although this foundational work has been completed, there is still plenty to be done for the advancement of the kingdom and we will find ourselves thoroughly furnished to accomplish all that God places before us.