Chapter 1: Salutation
While reading these first sentences of Romans, consider the nature of a soul that could compose such a statement. While so doing, remember that only twenty years earlier this same man was consumed by hatred that manifested itself in murderous violence. It was at this man’s feet that the stoners of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, placed their robes (Acts 7:58). He then proceeded to initiate a cruel persecution of the Christian Church with vile verbal outbursts of hatred on his lips (Acts 9:1). And then, a mere two decades later, this is what he wrote.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, 6 including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; 7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s primary goal here is to establish his apostleship for a church that he hadn’t founded and hadn’t ever visited. The Great Apostle wrote Romans during his third missionary journey, likely while in Corinth. The map of Paul’s journeys following this paragraph clearly shows that his closest proximity to Rome had been in Berea Macedonia, which is approximately 580 miles from Rome “as the crow flies.” Note that this map also shows Paul’s trip from Jerusalem to Rome (A.D. 59) as a prisoner to be tried before the Emperor.
Although the church in Jerusalem held the honor of being the “home church,” the church in Rome would have been of great import due to its proximity to the Empire’s power center. In particular, it was in Rome that the most powerful rulers would most directly experience Christians in their beliefs, worship and behavior. Their impressions could make the difference between benign neglect and terrible persecution.
Paul could have sought to establish his Apostleship by recounting the dramatic story of his meeting with the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. Or, he could have pointed to has amazing missionary journeys, resulting in new, vibrant Christian communities planted throughout Greece, Macedonia and Asia Minor. He could have explained his central role in the allowance and continuance of Gentile conversion to Christianity. He could have bragged about his suffering for the cause. He chose to ignore all of these powerful arguments.
Rather, for this critical introduction that would make or break his reputation with the church in Rome, Paul simply and plainly stated his servanthood to and love for Jesus Christ. Every word points towards Jesus, and thus away from Paul. Yes, Paul is an Apostle, but only because of Christ’s grace towards him and chosen purpose for his life. This text is thus primarily focused on establishing Jesus as the Christ and only secondarily on Paul’s apostleship.
Given all his amazing experiences and accomplishments the temptation to focus on himself could have been decisive. But this is the man who said in all truth that:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
So, this man who could have said so many impressive things about himself simply pointed to the source of it all — Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.
And, by the Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Roman church did indeed find in this Epistle the Gospel of Jesus Christ expounded with a power, clarity and completeness that time cannot diminish.
Let’s return to it now with expectant hearts.