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 Writer and Subject. 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. We have in the very first verse of Romans the subject of the epistle; “the gospel of God” or in a better translation, “God’s glad tidings”. Romans lays out in order all the technical aspects of the gospel, and answers any questions that might arise, especially in the mind of the Jew. The book of Acts gives us the preaching of the gospel, and Galatians gives us the defending of the Gospel, than Romans gives us the teaching of the Gospel. There are two parts to “the gospel of God” which Paul preached. He distinguishes them elsewhere as (1) “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), which emphasizes God come down to meet man’s need, and (2) “the gospel of the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 1:11), which emphasizes Christ accomplishing the will of God and being exalted at His right hand. Romans centers around the first aspect – the gospel of the grace of God – in other words, what God has done for man. 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 Parenthesis. 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 of the Gospel. 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, 6 among whom are *ye* also the called of Jesus Christ: vv.5-6 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. Christians, and specifically Gentile believers (the Romans), are being addressed in this epistle (v.6). 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 Greeting. 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 then 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.
Personal: Paul’s Relationship with Rome, Prior plans, etc. (vv.8-15)
Paul’s prayer for the Romans (vv.8-12)
¶ 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. The expression “in my spirit” excludes Paul’s intellect only being involved in service; his whole heart was engaged. When the gospel is called “the gospel of His Son” it is because the Son is the subject of the gospel, and the means of salvation for man. Compare with v.1, where it is “the gospel of God“, because God is the source. 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 eventually to Rome. Three times in scripture Paul uses the expression “at my prayers” (Rom. 1:10; Eph. 1:16; Philemon 1:4), indicating that Paul prayed for the saints at his regular prayer times. When Paul speaks of praying “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 4:17), he doesn’t mean praying every hour of every day, but rather to not give up those regular prayer times.
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: (1) an insight into the heart of the apostle, and (2) a pattern for the way we should pray.Thirteen of them are petitions (asking for something). Eleven of them are prayers of thanksgiving, like this one. Four of them are a combination of both: a note of thanks, then a request. Read more…
11 For I greatly desire to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to establish you; 12 that is, to have mutual comfort among you, each by the faith which is in the other, both yours and mine. vv.11-12 Paul’s desire was to see the Romans in person. When he arrived, he would impart some “spiritual gift”. This is something that he had the ability to do as an apostle (2 Tim. 1:6). In a certain sense, we can impart a spiritual gift to others as well by sharing Christian fellowship together. What exactly is meant by this spiritual gift is not said, but it would be transferred through mutual comfort and fellowship face to face. How gracious of Paul to connect the blessing of his visit with their fellowship! Paul’s doctrine is always connected with Christian fellowship. When we experience it in practice, we learn it in a deeper way. Later we read that Paul promised upon his arrival to give them “the fullness of the blessing of Christ” (chap. 15:29); an allusion to the truth of the Mystery. Perhaps that is what is hinted at. Alternatively, it could be the practical demonstration of Christianity in Paul’s conduct, which could only be seen in person. Both lines of truth – the gospel and the Mystery – are necessary for establishment in the Christian faith (Rom. 16:25). But we learn from Paul’s words in these verses that nothing can replace face-to-face communication!
Paul’s Motives for Preaching and Teaching the Gospel (vv.13-15)
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: 15 so, as far as depends on me, am I ready to announce the glad tidings to you also who are in Rome. vv.14-15 Paul was a “debtor” in that he felt compelled to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. This was the sphere that was committed to him (Gal. 2:7). He was a debtor to the whole range of Gentiles (Greeks and barbarians, wise and unwise, etc.), and therefore it follows that Rome – the capital of the whole empire – was much on Paul’s heart. 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. Why would he want to bring the gospel to those who were already saved? 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. If the Romans needed to hear this truth, then you and I do as well.
The Apostle’s Thesis: The Righteousness of God Revealed (vv.16-17)
¶ 16 For I am not ashamed of the glad tidings; for it is God’s power to salvation, to every one that believes, both to Jew first and to Greek: v.16 What the Gospel is: God’s Power to Salvation. Paul hadn’t avoided Rome because of the shame of bringing the gospel into that prestigious city. He was not ashamed of it. The gospel preacher never has to be ashamed of the message, because it is impossible to overestimate the Person and work of Christ. Often this verse is thought to mean that Paul was invincible to doubt and shame, as if the reproach of the cross never 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 all the questions that might be raised are answered in the cross of Christ, and how God can 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! The gospel is good news because it is “God’s power unto salvation”. 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] v.17 How the Gospel Works: God’s righteousness revealed, by faith. This verse shows how God is able to save sinners without compromising what He is in Himself. God’s righteousness, His consistency of character, is revealed in the Gospel. God’s mercy is also revealed (Titus 2), but in Romans the subject is God’s righteousness. It is a general statement here in ch.1, but the technical details of how the gospel reveals God’s righteousness are given in ch.3. The basis for man’s salvation is fully disconnected from the ground of man’s responsibility, and entirely a matter of God’s righteousness. It is revealed “from faith to faith” or “on the principle of faith” (versus works of law) “unto faith”, because only those of faith can receive it; i.e. like a “faith frequency” (see 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. The same scripture is also quoted in Gal. 3:11 and Heb. 10:38, each with a different emphasis.1 This is the scripture that came home powerfully to Martin Luther on the steps of the Scala Sancta, when God showed him that salvation was by grace through faith alone. Habakkuk lived in a day when all things were outwardly in ruins. The fact that Israel had not kept the law was evident. Then God told Habakkuk that the just really lived on the principle of faith, trusting in the mercy and wisdom of God. Faith is the only principle a soul can take, because the principle of law is a lost cause.
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. Read more…