I find it interesting that Paul, considering how often he rebukes the ideology that cultural heritage equals spiritual favor, addresses this letter using his Greek name of Paul rather than his Hebrew name of Saul. It’s something to keep in mind as you study through the Book of Romans, almost like a slap in the face to the Jews in the beginning of the letter, and a warm embrace to the Gentiles who read it.
Paul begins this letter by declaring himself to be a bondservant, a slave (doulos in Greek) to the Lord Jesus. It’s important to note, however, that he doesn’t stop with merely declaring himself to be a slave, for the services of a servant are many. In any household, there are many specific tasks assigned to individuals, and so it is in the house of the Lord as well. We see this concept applied in the Book of Acts, when the apostles decree that “it is not desirable that we should be taken from the Word of the Lord to serve tables” (Acts 6:2). Similar to that, Paul here specifies that he is “called to be an apostle” and in ministering the gospel of God. In his letter to the Corinthians, he even states that he was “not called to baptism, but to minister the gospel of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:17). “Called to be an apostle” he states, thereby removing any concept of personal assumption of the role into which he has been placed. See, as Saul of Tarsus, he would never have dreamed of becoming an apostle, one sent, of the Lord Jesus. However, once his eyes were opened and the truth revealed, he embraced that calling with such fervor that none could ever hope to quench. Separated, set apart, for the gospel, means that his specific calling was to spread the gospel, to be a teacher for the Lord.
“Which he had promised through His prophets concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David in the flesh.” Concerning His Son reveals the spiritual essence of the Lord Jesus, while being born of the seed of David, according to the flesh, shows the human essence of the Lord. This thereby decrees that Jesus, who walked upon the earth in the flesh, was, in fact, of two natures, spiritual and flesh, both human and divine. While this teaching may seem elementary to us, we have to be mindful that the very letter that the Church received explaining this for possibly the first time is this very letter which is considered one of the most important books of the New Testament aside from the Gospels. We have to remember that the Church didn’t have a New Testament, thus all of this was very new to them. They had only the Torah to read, and thus this letter for them was like a contemporary Christian reading a commentary on the Scriptures. It explained the areas for them that they didn’t understand. I consider this fact often when I read the words and lessons of the Church fathers and apply that to Scripture. Athanasius’ teachings on Ephesians would be comparable to Paul’s teachings to the Romans on Hosea and Joel; Chrysostom’s teachings on 1 Timothy would be comparable to Philip’s explaining Isaiah to the Ethopian eunuch. While I would never hold Chrysostom or Athanasius’ teachings in the same esteem as Paul or Philip, neither would I disregard them, especially on passages that were harder for me to understand.
“Through Him we have received grace and apostleship.” Consider for a moment the humility with which Paul would have had to pen those words. Paul was always very cautious not to allow himself to be praised for anything that he had accomplished, but was always careful to assure that the Lord alone received the glory for all things. In the Book of Acts, we see a period where Paul and Barnabas are lifted up and held as gods, and they respond by stating, “men, why are you doing this? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach that you should turn from these useless things to the living God.” (Acts 14:15). In his letter to the Corinthians, he writes, “to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom, to another, the gift of knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 12:8). Our knowledge, our wisdom, our faith, everything that we have is a gift of the Holy Spirit, to Whom all credit is due. And here, Paul states that the grace, the very apostleship that they’ve attained to, they received through the Spirit. Not through their work, no amount of toil, or study, no work, nor theological studies; but through their relationship with the Holy Spirit. There was nothing that they had achieved, but rather they had received, from Him and through Him.
“For obedience to the faith.” This has a dual meaning, and I think that both need to be applied here. See, obedience to the faith can mean acceptance of the faith itself or the virtue of obedience practiced by those who believe it. And, it’s imperative that we learn this dual meaning and each side of it, for elsewhere in Scripture we see that: to please God we must believe that He is God, accepting the faith itself (Hebrews 11:6); and that once we believe, we must obey Him as our Lord, the virtue of obedience (Luke 6:46). To please God we must believe that He is the Lord, and not only believe that He is the Lord, but act as though He is OUR Lord. I think of how often in Scripture we see Jesus command someone, “follow Me.” Now, consider those who obey immediately and contrast that to those who come up with excuses. To those who wished to bid farewell to families or bury the dead or any other excuse they could come up with, He deemed them unworthy to be His disciples, and thus unworthy of the kingdom. Only those who immediately followed Him were considered worthy. Delayed obedience is disobedience in the eyes of the Lord, and those who are disobedient are not worthy because they choose the world and their own desires over the commands of their Lord. Why would we call Him Lord if we’re not willing to obey Him? Those who do are those of whom the Lord spoke when He said, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship is based on mere human rules as they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13).
Consider this, the apostle Paul, perhaps the most deserving saint in all of Church history; how does he refer to himself? A bondservant, doulos, a slave, to Christ. Is that how we would define our relationship with the Lord? Do we obey what He commands, or do we make excuses? Do we break out theological science books to try to determine the formula that says that we can get to heaven still chasing after our own desires? Do we delay our obedience as long as possible before we finally break down?
See, in our generation, we have this very dangerous habit. We think that church is about us. How it makes us feel, what kind of social groups it has, what the youth group is like, how we like the band, the speaker, whatever. And, whatever we don’t like, we try to change. If we don’t like a doctrine, we change it. It’s easy to find a Scripture to support whatever we want to change it to. Pick a sin, I can find a verse that we can twist to make it seem like it’s okay to do. But, Paul says something very important here. He says that we are called of Jesus Christ. We can’t skim over this, we can’t let it pass us by. We are called by Jesus Christ, which in turn means that we are called by His Church, the Body of Christ. And, we are called by that Church to a life of faith. See, we don’t create the Church, Jesus already did that. And He has placed people where He needs them to preserve the integrity of His Church, and we have to trust in that. We can’t change the Church just because we don’t like something that is there. When we disagree with the Church, which has Christ as the cornerstone, the Church doesn’t change, we do. And I know that’s not a popular thought, but Scripture warns against those popular thoughts that we all want to hear, something about “itching ears.” (2 Timothy 4:3). If we don’t have faith in the Bride of Christ, then how can we claim to have faith in Christ Himself? If the Church ever goes against the word of God and corruption enters in, as we see in the Books of Jude and Revelation, then the body removes the corruption, but we must never turn away from the Church as a whole, regardless of how convincing a leader steps up and tries to lead the people of God away from the Church of God.
Paul tells us that we are “called to be saints.” That is in the present tense. It is not some far off distant ideal, it is a very real and present command for those who claim to follow the Lord. We, His disciples, His children, are called to be His saints, His followers. He tells us to be the “salt and the light” of the earth, displaying His greatness and His goodness for the world to see, that His name might be glorified. We are His ambassadors, His representatives in a lost and dark world, and whatever we do, we attach His holy name to. He tells us that we are to humble ourselves, looking to Him and our elders as our role models, living godly and holy lives, blameless among men, and offering ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice. I would warn against any teaching that teaches contrary to these commands, as they are taken directly from Scripture. Any teaching that teaches that we can continue to walk in sin, to walk in darkness, that nothing that we do will have any impact on our salvation; nowhere in Scripture are any of those teachings found. Rather, they are more the words that the serpent used in the garden. “Did God really say…no He didn’t say that. Surely you won’t perish…”
“Grace and peace to you” is the end result of walking in righteous obedience with our Lord, our beloved Christ. It is the “assurance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1), it is “walking as children of Light, trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10), it is “walking in a manner worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10). Through His Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord asks us, “Do I have pleasure in the death of the wicked, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23). See, the most miserable thing in the world is a believer, one who truly believes and declares that Jesus is Lord, and yet still clings to His sin. That person creates for themselves a war within themselves. The true grace and peace come from knowing and loving the Lord, delighting yourself in the Lord, and receiving the greatest gift that you could ever receive, the grace of the Lord. The assurance of knowing that you are walking with the Lord, and that “he who endures to the end will be saved.”
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.