- A Ministry Mentality (Romans 1:1–7)
Glen Coffee was a great football player. Like many young men he dreamed about playing in the NFL. After a successful high school career, Coffee accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. In 2008, he concluded his collegiate career by leading his team in rushing. Coffee then realized his NFL dream when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. During his first season with the 49ers, Coffee was the team’s number two running back. Many fans had high hopes for him going into the 2010 season. But in August of 2010, the twenty-three-year-old Coffee shocked the country when he walked away from his 2.5 million dollar contract. Why did he leave the NFL? He believes that the NFL is not God’s will for his life. Coffee became a Christian his junior year of college, and that decision changed his views on everything. He determined that the NFL wasn’t where he needed to be.
Coffee’s life-altering decision demands personal reflection. Would you be willing to forsake your hopes, your dreams, and your goals for Christ? Or do you resist His will because it’s not what you want for your life. Today, God may be calling you to leave your current occupation and serve Him in a new way. It’s more likely, however, that God is calling you to remain in your current occupation, and to adopt a biblical mindset. True ministry isn’t about occupation or location, it’s about vocation. Your vocation is to glorify God and represent Him; your occupation is a temporary platform for your vocation. There’s no such thing as secular jobs versus sacred jobs. You’re in full-time Christian ministry whatever your job is.
You have a calling, and it isn’t your career. Your career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Answer the call and abandon all.
The apostle Paul exemplifies what it means to answer the call and abandon all in his introduction to Romans. In 1:1–7, we find Paul’s longest introduction. In his other twelve letters his greetings range from one to four verses, whereas his greeting in Romans takes a whopping seven verses. These first seven verses are all one long sentence in the Greek text. This lengthy greeting permits Paul to identify his calling, his message, his mission, and his readers. Two very important invitations come out of these verses: (1) Imitate Paul’s calling and (2) Appropriate your calling.
- Imitate Paul’s calling (1:1–5)
While it is easy to assume that these words are only relevant to Paul or to a pastor, these verses are applicable to every believer. Paul wants you to imitate him in all things, including his calling. Read carefully the opening words of Romans: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul, meaning “asked for.” But he used his Roman name Paul, which means “little.” His name change is recorded in Acts 13:9, 13. When I write a letter, I begin with a greeting: “Dear whoever.” I then conclude with “Love, Wayne or Sincerely, Wayne.” In Paul’s day people did it differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of his readers second, and a formal greeting third. In Romans, Paul is writing a church that he didn’t know. So how did he introduce himself? He identifies himself with three strategic descriptions.
First, Paul declares that he is a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.”7 He could have introduced himself as “Paul, the premier theologian, the Old Testament scholar, the master church planter/evangelist, the front-line spiritual warrior,” but he chooses doulos—meaning “bond-servant” or “slave.” The most important thing that we can know about Paul is that he is a “slave.” In America we avoid the term “slave” because of our national history, but the word “slave” fits the idea that Paul is trying to express. It means a person who is wholly and completely owned by another. A slave has no rights, no ability to decide their own activities or the direction of their life. A slave lives and functions to carry out the will of his or her master. Paul saw himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Elsewhere Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). He was another person’s property. Jesus owned him lock, stock, and barrel. It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME. A true slave says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.” Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in
Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s conversion to Christ resulted in a radical response of zealous obedience. He went from persecuting the church to perfecting the church (see Phil 3:15; Col 1:28).
Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He at the forefront of everything you do? Answer the call and abandon all.
At the time Paul was writing Romans, there were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. To be a slave in the Gentile mind was to be at the bottom of the social order. Slavery was something to escape; freedom was a goal to attain. How arresting it must have been to the Gentile believers to learn that Paul had “given up” his freedom and willing submitted himself to Christ Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
Here, he is talking about a slavery undertaken voluntarily out of love, unlike the forced slavery well known to many in the Roman Empire. If a person could find a master that he or she enjoyed serving, then voluntary slavery makes sense. There is a picture of this kind of willful subjection in the Old Testament in Exodus 21. If a man had to sell himself as a slave, he could serve a Hebrew master for only six years. In the seventh year, he had to be released and sent away with gifts that would enable him to become economically independent. An exception was made for the person who had grown attached to his master. He could refuse his freedom and stay with his master permanently because he loved his master. If that happened, he was to have a hole bored in his ear, marking him as a permanent slave. This is what Paul declares he has done. Paul found that pleasing Christ gave his life such pleasure, purpose and meaning that he willfully bound himself to Christ out of sheer joy.
Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus” because he wants to communicate to his readers his commitment and devotion to Jesus the Messiah. “Christ” is a title which means “one who has been anointed.” “Jesus” is a personal name meaning “the Lord saves.” The Old Testament uses the phrase “the servant of the Lord” of men like Moses, Joshua, and David. Paul’s substitution of “Christ Jesus” into the Old Testament expression “a servant of the Lord” shows that he considers Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as the Lord God—Yahweh. Moreover, 1:1 demonstrates the priority of Paul’s life and ministry. The apostle’s consuming passion was Jesus. In all thirteen of his existing letters, the name “Jesus” comes in the first verse. Paul always makes a beeline for Jesus. This is the goal of great preaching, great churches, and great believers. Jesus must be supreme and paramount in everything that we think, say, and do. Answer the call and abandon all.
Paul is a slave who has been sent on a mission. After becoming a “bond-servant,” he became an “apostle.” Paul moves from humility to authority demonstrating that service is always a prerequisite for leadership. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” (apostolos) is used with a general force to designate someone who is sent. It is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God, and by implication, someone to whom the churches were responsible. This latter, more elevated meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is preparing to communicate revelation from God, and the Roman church needs to know that as an apostle he has the authority to do so. This word “apostle” means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. Paul is saying, “I have been sent with the authority of King Jesus to speak the very words of God to you.” Like Paul, are you where Jesus Christ has “sent” you to be? Has He directed you to your present ministry or vocation? Have you sought Him in this matter? Have you prayed for His direction and guidance? Is anything standing in the way of your going where you feel you are sent?
The final characteristic that Paul shares with his readers is his mission of being “set apartfor the gospel of God.” Being “set apart” has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first fruits (Num 15:20) and of God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). One of the great failures of Judaism was that the Jews considered themselves separate from everyone else. They considered themselves too good for the rest of the world and retreated into their own closed circle. Yet, God did not intend for the Jews to be separated from, but separated for! He intended them to be separated for service (Gen 12:1–3; Isa 42:6; 43:10, 21; 44:23; 49:3, 6; 60:3; Ezek 28:25).
The verb “set apart” (aphorizo) means “to select one person out of a group for a purpose.” The make up of the word literally means “off horizon,” which conveys the idea of being removed from one sphere and placed into another. In Paul’s case, he was removed from the sphere of sin to the sphere of salvation, from the horizon of rebellion against God to the horizon of service under God. This Greek word has the same root meaning as “Pharisee” (“one who is separated”). A Pharisee set himself apart for the law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. Perhaps you don’t feel like your life and ministry is significant. I can assure you that if you are a believer God has set you apart to fulfill a specific purpose. As you faithfully serve the Lord, He will reveal your ministry niche in your occupation and in your local church.
Paul concludes 1:1 by stating what he was set apart for—“the gospel of God.” The key word in Romans is “gospel” (euaggelion) and it appears twelve times. The “gospel” or “good news” encapsulates the message found in the entire book of Romans. This good news is the truth that God has for both believers and unbelievers. It is not limited to salvation but encompasses the full counsel of God’s good news to man. This leads to the following questions: Do you increasingly view your life as set apart for the gospel? Does your life revolve around getting people the good news and then helping them live out that good news? Do you go to work or school with a sense of urgency to share God’s good news? Are you strategically looking for ways to help others grow in their faith? This is your calling, and it is the reason you’re still on planet earth. Answer the call and abandon all.
In 1:2–4, Paul launches into a parenthetical statement that elucidates the good news. He writes, “[This good news] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 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.” The only other place where Paul mentions this is 2 Tim 2:8. It is possible that both passages may have been quotes from a creedal formula of the early church. From the very beginning of Romans, Paul wants to make it clear that his message didn’t originate with him. Instead, it was “promised beforehand” (proepaggello) by God. Furthermore, the gospel didn’t just suddenly burst upon the scene of history with the birth of Christ. It has always been the theme of the “prophets,” which is shorthand for all the Old Testament authors. Paul relied heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures to give authority to his gospel message. In Romans, he quotes the Old Testament approximately fifty–seven times, which is more than he did in all of his other letters combined. I would argue, therefore, that if you and I want to understand Romans and fully appreciate the gospel, we must grasp the Old Testament.
During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were. They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper, and they then mailed the other half to the other agent. When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper. If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt. In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament. The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him. This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.” This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used. This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.
The good news of the gospel is focused upon Jesus. Notice the phrase “concerning His Son.” The gospel concerns Jesus. It’s all about Him. The word “concerning” is the Greek preposition peri, from which we get our word perimeter. Since this means “fully around,” the Lord Jesus is not just a part of the gospel; He is the gospel. He fully engulfs the good news of God. Some do not see Jesus the way we do. They mistakenly assumed that there are many equally viable paths to God. However, Jesus is the whole gospel and the Christian life, and He must be everything in our preaching, our teaching, and our very lives. We need to understand that Jesus is supreme. We then need to look for ways to speak more freely about Jesus.
Verses 3–4 describe Jesus’ relationships in two spheres. The phrase “according to the flesh” refers to the fact that Jesus was born in frail humanity and limited Himself by taking on human nature (Phil 2:7). The phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness” means that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (see 8:11). Christ was raised in the same way that we will be raised by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. A critical phrase in 1:4 is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The verb translated “declared” (horizo) is more accurately rendered “appointed” (NET). The key phrase in this verse is “with power.” Although Jesus was obviously God’s Son before His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection put the exclamation point on His deity.
It is also important to note that Jesus Christ is called “our Lord.” Unfortunately, much confusion has arisen regarding the issue of lordship. Yet, it is relatively simple: When we trust in the gospel message we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—He is God. Whether our lives demonstrate His lordship or not, the truth remains: Jesus Christ is both Lord and Master. That fact remains unalterably true. We don’t make Jesus Christ “Lord”; He is Lord! Yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of accepting Christ’s lordship in every area of our lives.
The kingship of Jesus grants Paul the privilege of carrying out his mission. In 1:5 the apostle writes that through Jesus “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul begins by making sure he puts grace in its proper place. Paul first received grace on the Damascus Road, and then later he experienced the call of God on his life to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul’s call was certainly unique when you read 1:5, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role, or grace and singing, or grace and studentship, or grace and singleness, or grace and widowhood, or grace and motherhood.” In doing so, you will be declaring that God has given you the power to fulfill a calling. Answer the call and abandon all.
Paul’s mission is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” The expression “obedience of faith” (eupakoen pisteos) means obedience to the command to believe the gospel (cf. 16:26). Faith is obedience to God because God commands everyone to believe in Christ. Paul linked obedience and the gospel in 10:16, but possibly the closest parallel is 15:18–20. In this passage, Paul indicates that Christ has sent him “to make the Gentiles obedient” and so he concludes, “I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel.” Paul’s mission is to proclaim faith as an act of obedience to God’s command to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hart agrees: “Obedience is required to become a Christian! But the obedience that is required to become a Christian is obedience to just one command—the command to believe in Christ.” Have you obeyed His command to believe the gospel? If not, do so today. Give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him.
[The first invitation in this text is: Imitate Paul’s calling. In 1:1–5, Paul has identified his calling, his message, and his mission, and we’ve been invited to imitate his ways. The second invitation is . . .]
- Appropriate Your Calling (1:6–7)
In the closing verses of this section Paul fleshes out the calling of every believer. He puts it like this: “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 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.” The addressees of this letter (the “you also”) are connected with “all the Gentiles” mentioned at the end of 1:5, indicating that the church at Rome was predominantly Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish). Speaking to those Gentiles, Paul shares three truths about their identity and calling in Christ that are equally applicable to you and me. First, we are loved by God (1:7a). One of the greatest truths in this universe is that we are unconditionally loved by God. Perhaps you have been abused and rejected by parents or siblings. Maybe a spouse has left you. Or maybe a church has sinned against you. God wants you to know that when people disappoint, and even devastate you, His love is the one constant in this life. There may be times when this promise is what helps you make it through the day.
Secondly, we are called saints (1:7a). Three times in the first seven verses, the words “call” and “called” appear. Here, Paul states that we are called “saints.” However, we are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. The words “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” all refer to the same word group, which means “set apart” (cf. 1:1). Thus, a saint is a “holy one” or “set apart one” on account of his or her faith in Christ. Consequently, even when you feel that you are unworthy to pray or be in a relationship with God, He sees you through the perfect righteous of Christ. As a result, He can call you “saint.” You are not individuals trying to get by. You’re a saint. God wants you to act like one.
Lastly, we are recipients of “grace” and “peace” (1:7b). Real peace (eirene) comes only as a result of God’s grace (charis). Grace is what we receive; peace is what we experience as a result of God’s activity on our behalf. The word “grace” resembles the familiar Greek greeting which means “favor from me to you.” In a theological sense the word grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and gifts to humanity. The word itself is used one hundred fifty five times in the New Testament—over 100 times by Paul, 24 of which occur in Romans. We cannot understand this book if we don’t comprehend grace. Therefore, we must be certain that we understand that we are saved by grace and then are given grace to live the Christian life and fulfill our mission. The word “peace” is the typical greeting used in Jewish letters to refer to the wholeness and well being in all relationships. Paul will say much more about both grace and peace later in his letter. In a figurative sense grace and peace are twins, grace being the firstborn. Where grace abounds, peace thrives. Where grace is stunted, peace shrivels.
Today, can you honestly say that you have grace and peace? If not, you can. But you can’t have the grace and peace of 1:7 unless you first believe the gospel. As we’ve seen, Romans is all about the gospel, and the focus of the gospel is the person Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is more important today than knowing who He is, without question, without doubt. What do you say about Jesus? Who is He to you? Do you know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally? He loves you so much that He died for you. The Apostle Paul called him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can you say that as well? Is He your Savior? What is your answer? Grace and peace can be yours today if you simply believe in Jesus.
When Hernan Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin the conquest of Mexico, he had only a small force of some seven hundred men. He was about to invade a subcontinent of unknown size, filled with belligerent tribesmen of hugely superior numbers. How could he motivate his soldiers to devote themselves to the conquest? Cortez came up with precisely the right motivator. As soon as he had all the equipment off his fleet of eleven ships, he gave orders to burn them. The men who had come ashore with him stood on the beach and watched as their only means of retreat slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward into the interior of Mexico to take on whatever might come their way. That’s precisely the approach God calls Christian disciples to take. We are to be obedient to our faith, allowing our decisions to always be subject to the word of Christ. That usually involves burning your ships at some point. Are you ready to do that for the sake of your relationship with Christ?
Today, God may be calling you to burn your ships. How will you respond to God’s call upon your life? Will you relinquish your hold on your occupation? Will you reaffirm your vocation to glorify Jesus Christ? Will you go where God has sent you? Will you see your life as a mission to proclaim Christ? Will you be His doulos? Answer the call and abandon all. It’s really that simple.