An Introduction to the Gospel of God

Text: "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an Apostleto all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 1:1-7).

Thought: The Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Romans is devoted to presenting and defending the Gospel of God. The word for "Gospel" itself is used three times in first seventeen verses as Paul begins this letter. But Paul is not simply defending his Gospel, he is defending his Gospel in the light of his plan to travel to Rome and to preach there (1:10-15). Furthermore, the Apostle is seeking the help of the believers in Rome, as he intends to take the Gospel all the way to Spain after his visit (15:23-24).

As Paul opens his letter (1:1-7), he introduces himself as a messenger of the Gospel, he then summarizes the message of the Gospel, and within these same verses he describes the ministry of the Gospel. Let's consider. 

I. The Messenger of the Gospel (Rom. 1:1)
Paul's name is the first word in this letter. This is not unusual, but it is worth noting. In the following phrases Paul describes himself. He is a "slave" of Jesus Christ. The first thing we learn about Paul is his ownership by and allegiance to Jesus Christ. No other affiliation or allegiance is mentioned. There is a sense in which this is Paul's simple identity. Then Paul speaks of himself as a called apostle "set apart for the Gospel of God." This is Paul's responsibility, his calling, in the light of his identity. This apostleship is directly related to the Gospel of God. This majestic letter serves as an introduction to at least some of his readers in Rome. Paul concisely presents himself, and then moves quickly to the message.

II. The Message of the Gospel (Rom. 1:2-4)
The Gospel of God is what Paul has been set apart to proclaim. This Gospel was promised beforehand through God's prophets "in the holy Scriptures." This reference to the Old Testament's witness to the Gospel is not only in keeping with the way the Gospel is presented in the Book of Acts, it alerts us to an important aspect of Paul's presentation and defense of the Gospel in this epistle. Having tied his Gospel directly to the Old Testament, Paul presents the subject of the Gospel: God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Much of Romans proclaims what God has done through His Son to bring about salvation, but here in Paul's introduction, he clearly states that the Gospel is ultimately about a person.

In this brief description of God's Son, Paul does not refer to the atoning death of Jesus Christ specifically. Rather, he speaks of Jesus' "Sonship" in two ways. According to the flesh, as a man, Jesus was of the lineage of King David. This again points back to the Old Testament and to the fulfillment of God's promises. But, Jesus was "declared" to be the Son of God "in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead." The resurrection is at the heart of the Gospel, and leads to the understanding of Jesus' Lordship. As a side note, we see the Trinitarian aspect of the Gospel revealed, as the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit are all referred to in these opening verses.

The Apostle is writing to the city (Rome) that represents the most political power in Paul's day and world. Before Paul even greets his readers, he is proclaiming Jesus Christ, his master, is the Son of God "in [or with] power." Furthermore, the Son of God is "our Lord," the one worthy of worship. These are strong words to open this remarkable letter, especially given the context of his readers.

III. The Ministry of the Gospel (Rom. 1:5-7)
After exalting the subject of the Gospel, Paul returns to his role and briefly describes the ministry he exercises as an apostle. He clearly states that his ministry is a "received" or "grace-given" ministry. The risen Lord is the one who has granted and authorized Paul to be an Apostle. So, the ministry that Paul has received comes from the ultimate authority source, the Lord Himself. The Apostle is making clear that his ministry and this very letter are under the authority of the Lord. The ministry is then described in terms of its goal, its scope, and its motivation.

The goal or result of apostolic ministry is to be "the obedience of faith." Some see this phrase to mean the obedience that is faith, and others interpret the phrase to mean the obedience that comes from or is tied to faith. Ultimately both of these interpretations could be the meaning in context. If the letter were to end at the end of chapter four, you probably would lean in the direction of the "obedience that is faith;" faith as the right response to the Gospel. But, as we view Paul's presentation from chapters 5-15, the second meaning seems appropriate as well. In either case, Paul states that his apostolic ministry is not simply one of Gospel presentation, it is Gospel presentation with a goal. Ultimately, Paul's ministry leads to salvation by faith (1:16) and the believers presentation of their bodies as a living sacrifice (12:1). Romans 15:18 points to "obedience" as the result of Christ's work through the Apostle's ministry. Regardless of the specific emphasis in 1:5, it is clear that faith and obedience are closely related.

The scope of this ministry is "among all the nations." The Apostle is clearly affirming his apostolic ministry and authority to write to Rome and to preach in Rome. Paul goes on to view these readers as within his sphere or scope of ministry, "including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." Both Rome and Spain were within Paul's scope of ministry, not to mention the regions that were his focus in previous ministry (15:19).

The motivation or the ultimate reason for Paul's ministry was "for the sake of His name" (1:5). What a simple and yet all-inclusive motivation. Paul is speaking of the honor and glory of the name of God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. It was Paul's mission to see that name served, proclaimed, honored, and glorified. Other names were in the headlines of the Roman world. Others may have desired or demanded allegiance in Rome. But Paul's ministry among the nations was for the sake of Jesus Christ and his honor alone.

Thrust: Due to short attention spans and the nature of social media, it is helpful in our day to "get to the point" quickly. In this greeting at the beginning of Paul's letter to Rome, he does just that. Before he even greets his readers with "grace and peace," he has described himself, his Gospel, and his ministry. And if there was any question concerning who was at the center of Paul's life, message and ministry, that question was answered, "Jesus Christ." May we be as clear in our allegiance to God's Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

David L. Olford teaches expository preaching at Union University's Stephen Olford Center in Memphis, Tennessee.

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