Greeting: The Source, Subject, and Scope of the Gospel (vv.1-7)
¶ Paul, bondman of Jesus Christ, a called apostle, separated to God’s glad tidings, v.1 The Source. Notice that Paul was “a called apostle”, that is, he was an apostle from the time he was “called” (Acts 9). His “separation” took place at Antioch about ten years later (Acts 13:2) when he was sent out into the mission field. Notice also that it is “the gospel of God“, because God’s heart is the source (Rom. 8:33). Later in v.9 it is “the gospel of His Son”.
2 (which he had before promised by his prophets in holy writings,) v.2 A parenthesis follows in which we get further details concerning the gospel. The gospel was not fully declared in the Old Testament, but it was “before promised” in that it was hinted at (see Rom. 3:21, 1 Peter 1:9-11). By contrast, the mystery was not even hinted at (Eph. 3:3-9)!
3 concerning his Son (come of David’s seed according to flesh, 4 marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead) Jesus Christ our Lord; vv.3-4 The Subject. Christ, not man, is the subject of the gospel. We must preach Christ, not self-help for man. Another parenthesis begins. “Come of David’s seed” refers to His earthly lineage, born in the Royal Line. The KJV has the article in two places where it should not be. First, “the flesh” denotes a sinful nature, but “flesh” denotes humanity. The point here is that Jesus was a real man on this earth. Secondly, “the Son” should not have the article. Jesus didn’t become “the Son”, because He always was the Son, but He was marked out as “Son” at the time of His incarnation. His miracles of power identified Him as the Son of God (John 20:31), and it is that power which saves us. Specifically, it is the power to give life that marked Him out as the Son of God (John 5:21; 28-29). “The dead” should be more properly translated “the dead ones”, plural. He raised Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 9:18-26), the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:12-17), Lazarus (John 11:14-46), and Himself (John 2:19; John 10:17). Raising Himself was the ultimate display of His power! A dead man who can raise Himself is none other than the Son of God! Ultimate power in the face of ultimate weakness. His miracles were all “according to the Spirit”, in fact, all He did was by the power of the Spirit. Yet it was the Spirit of “holiness”, because His sinless nature must be carefully guarded. To summarize, God’s gospel is founded on “His Son”, the union of two natures in one Person:
- (v.3) first, His human nature – “come of David’s seed according to flesh”
- (v.4) second, His divine nature – “declared to be the Son of God with power”.
The divine titles in vv.3-4 each have a meaning; (1) “His Son” speaks of His eternal relationship with the Father, (2) “Jesus” speaks of His manhood, (3) “Christ” is His Messianic title, and (4) “Lord” speaks of His place as risen and ascended.
5 by whom we have received grace and apostleship in behalf of his name, for obedience of faith among all the nations, v.5 The Scope. The scope of the gospel is to “all nations” – the whole human race – a new, broader field, in contrast to the Nation of Israel. God now commands the “obedience of faith”. Previously, God had “overlooked the times of this ignorance” (Acts 17:30), but the gospel now goes to all nations, calling them to bow the knee to the name of Christ. The good news will only be “good” for those who obey it in faith. Notice that it is “faith” here, not “the faith“, because Paul is speaking about individual faith, not the body of Christian truth. The primary purpose of the gospel is not man-centered, but Christ-centered; it is “for His Name”, for the glory of Christ.
6 among whom are *ye* also the called of Jesus Christ: v.6 Christians, and specifically Gentile believers (the Romans), are being addressed in this epistle. They had obeyed the “gospel call”, but more specifically, they had been beckoned by God’s “sovereign call”, which creates a response in the receiver.
7 to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. v.7 The recipients of this epistle were “all that are in Rome”, not one specific assembly. We find from Romans 16 that there were at least three assemblies in Rome, maybe more. But another reason is that the truths in this epistle are individual, not collective. It is fitting that Romans is the first epistle in our Bibles, because we need to be established in the individual truths first, then the collective truths as to the Church, etc. Paul refers to them as “beloved of God”, which would be a comfort to any believer who is struggling with peace, another theme throughout this epistle (see Rom. 15:34). Referring to “all” believers in Rome, Paul calls them “saints”, which means ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified ones’. Many who don’t understand Romans are laboring to become holy, but God has told us that we already are holy. In fact, we have been positionally holy from the moment we were “called“. Paul desired two things for them: “grace and peace”, from God as our Father, and from Jesus Christ as our Lord. First, grace or ‘favor’ which characterizes our standing before God, and peace which characterizes our condition. Paul desired that neither grace nor peace would be disturbed. Mercy is only added when an epistle is addressed to an individual.
¶ 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed in the whole world. v.8 First in Paul’s prayer for the Romans was a note of thanks. The reality of their faith had spread through Christian channels to “the whole world”, a term that would refer to the Roman Empire, the known world (Luke 2:1). The prayer is addressed to God, but “through Jesus Christ” as our great High Priest.
9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the glad tidings of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, v.9 Paul calls upon God as a “witness” of his sincerity, a gesture that shows his genuine care for their spiritual welfare. Paul’s service to God was “in my spirit”, because Christian service is a spiritual thing. It must flow from direct communion with God. When it is “the gospel of His Son” (c.p. v.1, “the gospel of God“) it is because His Son is the subject of the gospel. Paul’s prayers were “unceasing” in that he wouldn’t give up praying for someone after time passed. Paul’s prayer list always got longer, never shorter. See 1 Thess. 2:13, 2 Timothy 1:3.
10 always beseeching at my prayers, if any way now at least I may be prospered by the will of God to come to you. v.10 Paul prayed that he might be “prospered” or given the financial resources to make the journey to Rome. When he finally did come to Rome, it was as a prisoner (Acts 28) and the Roman government footed the bill! But it was the “will of God” that brought him.
11 For I greatly desire to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to establish you; v.11 Paul’s purpose in writing was to establish them in the fundamental truths of the Gospel. When he arrived in person, he would deliver a “spiritual gift”, or a body of truth designed by God to “establish” Christian hearts. In one sense, we can impart a spiritual gift to others as well. He promised upon his arrival to give them “the fulness of the blessing of Christ” (chap. 15:29); an allusion to the truth of the Mystery. Both lines of truth – the gospel and the Mystery – are necessary for establishment in the Christian faith (Rom. 16:25). We also learn from Paul’s words that nothing can replace face-to-face communication!
12 that is, to have mutual comfort among you, each by the faith which is in the other, both yours and mine. v.12 His second reason for coming was that they would mutually be comforted. Paul’s doctrine is always connected with Christian fellowship. When we experience it in practice, we learn it in a deeper way.
Paul’s prayers. Not including benedictory prayers at the ends of his epistles, Paul records twenty-eight of his prayers! It is nice to trace these prayers through his writings. We are very thankful for them because they give us:
- An insight into the heart of the apostle
- A pattern for the way we should pray.
Thirteen of them are petitions (asking for something). Eleven of them are prayers of thanksgiving. Four of them are a combination of both: a note of thanks, then a request… like this one. Rom. 1:8-10, Col. 1:9-14, 1 Thess. 3:9-13, and Phil. 4-7.
13 But I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren, that I often proposed to come to you, (and have been hindered until the present time,) that I might have some fruit among you too, even as among the other nations also. v.13 Explaining the reason why he hadn’t been to Rome yet; because the door had been shut. Perhaps this was because the word in Asia and Greece had not been completed before this time (chap. 15:22-24). In the meantime, he undertook to write this epistle. Paul finally did see the brethren in Rome but not in the way he expected. When he finally did come he was in chains. But it is nice to see the reception he received from the brethren when “they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and the three taverns” (Acts 28:15) at much risk to their own lives.
14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and barbarians, both to wise and unintelligent: v.14 Paul was a “debtor” in that he felt compelled to bring the gospel to Rome. Grace had such a hold on Paul that he felt he would always be in debt; and so should we. Since Christ gave all for me, then I owe all to Him; a debt that I will never repay. Paul was ready to preach to the civilized and uncivilized, educated and uneducated, covering the whole globe.
15 so, as far as depends on me, am I ready to announce the glad tidings to you also who are in Rome. v.15 Why would he want to bring the gospel to those who were already saved? Answer: so they would know the truth of it better. Paul would preach to lost sinners, but teach it to saints. The gospel is much broader than salvation from the penalty of sins. Paul’s intention was to announce the full gospel.
¶ 16 For I am not ashamed of the glad tidings; v.16a The gospel preacher never has to be ashamed of the message, because it is impossible to overestimate the person and work of Christ.
Not ashamed of the Gospel. Often this verse is thought to mean that Paul never had a weak moment where the reproach of the cross got to him. But what it really means is that Paul was not ashamed because he knew the gospel worked. Paul knew all the details of the gospel: how every question that might be raised is answered in the cross of Christ, and how God has come forth in love to sinners on a righteous basis. Could you imagine trying to sell a product if you knew it had design flaws? Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because it is founded on the peerless Person of Christ and His finished work. Also, from experience he knew the gospel worked in his own life! It had turned him around on the Damascus road. Note: the word “power of salvation” is a strong one, it is ‘dunamis’, the root for our English word “dynamite”. Furthermore, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel because it offered salvation to the worst of people; “also to the Greek.” The gospel is good news to the worst of sinners; you might say the target audience for this product is universal!
Three Elements of the Gospel (vv.16b-18). We get three things “for it is…” (1)+ (2) + (3).
16b for it is God’s power to salvation, to every one that believes, both to Jew first and to Greek:
- “The power of God unto salvation” (v.16b) – What the gospel can do for the sinner who believes. Specifically, this “salvation” is in the eternal sense, salvation from sins. “Belief” is how the gospel is received. To Jew then the Greek is the historical order (Acts 15:11).
17 for righteousness of God is revealed therein, on the principle of faith, to faith: according as it is written, “But the just shall live by faith.” [Hab. 2:4]
- “The righteousness of God is revealed” (v.17) – How God is able to save sinners without compromising what He is in Himself. God’s consistency is revealed in the Gospel. “From faith to faith” or “out of faith unto faith” – the faith frequency (2 Cor. 4:13). Paul quotes Hab. 2:4 to show that blessing on the principle of faith is consistent with the Old Testament; a fact which he develops more fully in chap. 4. See also Gal. 3;11 + Heb. 10:38. This is the scripture that came home powerfully to Martin Luther on the steps of the Scala Sancta.
The righteousness of God. Righteousness means “equity of character” and has the thought of consistency. The Righteousness of God is God’s total and absolute consistency in His actions with who He is in His own character. A great scriptural example is Daniel 6. The law of Medes and Persians could not be altered. Daniel had to go down under the full sentence so that the law could be fulfilled, even though he himself was innocent. Likewise, the king was righteous in bringing him up from the den after the sentence was passed. In a much greater way, God cannot be inconsistent; and so Christ had to die on the cross to put away sin. Often this scriptural expression is ignored and replaced with “the righteousness of Christ”. Without Christ’s righteousness there is no Savior, but the subject of Romans is not the moral qualifications or fitness of the Lamb of God, but rather God’s consistency in saving sinners.
¶ 18 For there is revealed wrath of God from heaven upon all impiety, and unrighteousness of men holding the truth in unrighteousness.
- “The wrath of God” (v.18) – Why men need to believe the gospel. We all must bear the judgment for our own sins if we do not receive Christ. Note: the gospel doesn’t reveal the wrath of God; rather it is “glad” tidings. But it is on account of the “bad” news (v.18) that we feel our need of “good” news. The three groups are introduced… three aspects of man’s depravity, which roughly correlate with the three sectors of the human race.