Romans 1:1-7

Romans 1:1-7

Romans starts at chapter 16?

We start our introduction to Romans at the beginning and in this case the beginning is in chapter 16!

Chapter 16.

(1) I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,

(2) so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. (NRSV)

Who was Phoebe, why was she important and why were we starting with her?. Phoebe is a gentile name so most likely she was a Greek, gentile convert. Phoebe was a deacon in the church in Cenchreae in Corinth; Cenchreae was a sea port near Corinth on the eastern side of the isthmus of Corinth. Paul had founded the Church in Corinth earlier as outlined in Acts chapter 18 and later Paul used Corinth as a base, staying with one of the early converts called Gaius. There were probably several Christian groups in the area and one was in the port of Cenchreae and that is where we find Phoebe. Phoebe was clearly a well respected person in the Church and trusted by Paul. Paul describes her as a "benefactor" so she may have been financially better off than the average church member, she may have been a trader. Paul is commending Phoebe to the Roman Church because Phoebe had the job of delivering the letter to the Roman Church. That would entail carrying the letter to Rome, reading the letter, explaining the letter and answering questions on the letter. Furthermore the Church (Eklesia) in Rome was not a building or one place "The Church" refers to the Christians themselves and all the Christians in Rome, wherever they met, would have considered themselves part of the Church in Rome. So Phoebe would have toured around Rome presenting the letter from Paul to small groups of people meeting in homes and shops. Its interesting to ponder the thought that when the first people heard the letter to the Romans it was being read by a Greek lady, probably in a small house in the poorer area of Rome.

Romans 1:1-7

Lets look at the first few verses of Romans.

(1) 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 was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, 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 the sake of his name,

(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. (NRSV)

In the original text verses 1-7 form one long sentence. Paul starts by explaining who he is and by describing his role in spreading the gospel:

Romans 1:1

(1) Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

A servant. Actually the word is slave which more clearly reflects the fact that Paul belongs to the master and doesn't just work for him. Paul does not see this slavery as a demeaning position but a dignified state. The phrase also reflects old testament usage where prophets were described as slaves of God - Obadiah even translates as "servant of God". For Paul the idea of a slave means someone who belongs to the master and is completely focused on doing the masters work. Some modern translations use "servant" in place of slave but that does not really communicate the ownership type of relationship implied by Paul. A key thought in Paul's thinking here is that his life is owned by another. The NASB uses bond-servant but that is probably even less clear to the modern reader; the Lexham bible, which aims to be very literal, uses slave.

Paul claims to be "called to be an apostle". This also does not translate well. What Paul means is that he became an apostle by being called. The "call" was not an invitation or summons but was a work of God that changed Paul. The audience would also remember that Israel was called out and set apart as a chosen nation; so this was understood to be a way that God worked. We need to remember that God's calling for us is not an offer but a transforming work of grace by God in our lives. We are all called in different ways and most people struggle to see that - remember the calling is not an offer but a work of grace in your life.

The term apostle was used to refer to the original twelve but was also used generically to refer to those sent out to spread the word. Paul claims he was an apostle, an apostle was someone commissioned as an envoy or messenger with the emphasis focusing back on the sender, hence ambassador would be a similar idea.

"Set apart for the gospel of God". Galatians 1:15 says "set apart before I was born". Paul's apostleship was not an accident or chance opportunity but was God's destiny for Paul from the beginning. Paul was not a man lacking in confidence and his confidence comes from a strong belief that God had chosen him by a special action (the calling) for a special mission (apostleship).

Gospel refers to the goods news that Paul is preaching. Paul later references Isaiah, so these passages were clearly in his thinking:

Isa 52

(7) How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns".

(8) Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion.

Isa 61

(1) The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;

The use of "Good news" was also used to refer to the birthday of the emperor. Paul may have been using the term provocatively. Paul may have been saying this is the only real good news, other claims of good news are false. Certainly his audience would have understood the dual meaning.

Romans 1:2-4

Verses 2-4 summarises the gospel just referred to.

(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 was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

The first point here is that God had promised the gospel beforehand, this leads us to several conclusions:

  • God keeps his promises.
  • The promises where outlined in scripture and Paul was reading scripture to find precedent of how God works.
  • God's prophets were Paul's predecessors in that they were also "set apart".

"Descended from David" is a common Jewish understanding of who the Messiah would be. From the flesh means a literal descendent not a metaphorical descendent, someone who was actually related to David and not just someone who behaved in a similar fashion, the phrase literally means "of the seed of David".

"Declared" means to mark off, define, designate or appoint. Thus the statement says that the son was appointed to a higher status - son of God with power - above and beyond his historical position, he is more than just a figure in history. Paul does not mean the son of God is being declared with power where the power is in the declaration but that the declaration is about the son of God who has the power. The resurrection of Jesus is the defining event that shows that power. Without the resurrection Jesus would have been an historical Messiah, a revolutionary or another prophet. The resurrection makes Jesus more than that, the resurrection implies a transformation, Jesus was not just resuscitated, that would have brought him back to life as his former self. Lazarus was resuscitated. Jesus was resurrected because he came back in a wholly new state. The resurrection declares Jesus as the son of God. Resurrection always implies a transformation and the resurrection marks Jesus out as different, by overcoming death it marks him out as the son of God. If we share in his death then we also share in his resurrection and that brings transformation, we are no longer our old selves.

Finally Paul refers to Christ as "our lord" reinforcing a common lordship between him and the Romans. Its not "my Lord" or "your Lord" but "our Lord"; this is Paul setting up a common understanding for the coming statements. He is laying a foundational understanding of a shared Lordship, even though he doesn't know most of these people they have something in common and if Paul was appointed by God to a special mission by the very Lord they share in common then Paul is worth listening to.

Romans 1:5-7

(5) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,

(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. (NRSV)

"grace and apostleship" actually refers to one gift, not two. Apostleship is a working out of grace in the life of Paul. This type of phrase is known as a hendiadys where two words are used together but they refer to one thing through connected phrases such as "warm and cosy". Paul's apostleship is part and parcel of the grace he experiences. Paul states that the purpose of this gift is to bring the gentile world to faith. The use of the phrase "obedience of faith" in the NRSV is a bit misleading and the NIV "obedience that comes from faith" better expresses the meaning. The point is that this new faith must be worked out in a new morality, it is not just a belief but a transforming new life. For Paul to two are inextricably linked. This concept is made clear in Paul's teaching on the fruits of the spirit in Galatians Chapter 5.

Sometimes we focus on faith to the point that we forget the accompanying transformation that is manifested in the fruits of the spirit. We can't say a magic phrase and be right with God, we need to share in his resurrection. Faith is about a relationship with Jesus, often we confuse faith with belief in certain doctrines and we will be right with God when we can tick the necessary boxes. That is man's thinking. Paul sums this up later in chapter 12:

Romans 12

2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul also points out that his mission is "among all gentiles" and that implies his mission includes the people in Rome itself.

Paul uses two terms in his greeting and it is a common phrase he uses in many of his letters: "grace and peace".

Peace is the standard Jewish greeting (Shalom) it is not the absence of strife but whatever makes for someone's higher good. Peace is independent of someone's external circumstances.

Grace is a play on words. The standard Greek greeting is Chaireie which means rejoice. However Paul takes the standard greeting and twists it to Chaire – Grace. However it has an edge here because of the squabbling going on in Rome. In the same way apostleship was an outworking of grace for Paul so he wishes them peace as an outworking of grace in their situation.

What can we conclude from this

The Christian Church was very different from Judaism. The temple had separate areas for women and gentiles, the Christian meetings did not distinguish between Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male or female as Paul says in Galatians 3:

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

This was a totally new society and one both Jews and Romans would have seen as scandalous.

People within the Church held a variety of believes. They were united in their believe in a resurrected Jesus but they held differing views on issues like diet.

The Christian Church, the Eklesia, met in peoples houses in small groups but there was no concept of "go to Church", they were the Church. In fact by coming here today you have not come to Church, you have just brought the Church to this house. In fact we need to be wary of traditional christian constructs because they separate us from God, for example:

"Going to Church" implies the Church is a place and takes away from the message that we are the Church, every day. It is going back to building the temple that Jesus rendered redundant. Man desperately trying to put God back in the box. Scholars actually believe there were almost no buildings used exclusively as Churches for the first two hundred years of Christianity.

"Going to Church on Sunday" - implies that Sunday is a day we put on our best clothes and go to meet God. It is right that people should have time to rest and relax but Sunday is not special - we meet with God every day, not just on a Sunday. we need to be careful that rather than keeping Sunday special we actually relegate God to Sunday and forget him the rest of the week.

Finally a question: Paul talked about his ``grace and apostleship'' and he wished the Romans "grace and peace". How is grace working out in our lives? Is grace worked in in our being patient with someone in need - grace and patience. Do we need to forgive a family member - grace and forgiveness? Grace is being worked out in everyone because that is part of the transformation the resurrection promises, but as people we sometimes struggle to see it.