Summary: This is the first sermon of a group on the Book of Romans.
Paul, Jesus’ Slave
“Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ, called apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.”
Today we begin an in depth study of the Book of Romans, on of the most influential documents in all history. Besides it being instrumental to the conversion of St. Augustine. Martin Luther, and John Wesley, millions of Christians have been won or nurtured by this writing. As this is 2017 and the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation, it seemed good to me for us to begin this study. I do pray that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to the truth of Romans.
We do know a few things about Romans. Romans itself tells us that it was written in Corinth before Paul’s journey to Jerusalem which would lead to his prolonged arrest and confinement. So it can be dated to around 58 AD. So it reflects the thinking of Paul over a long period of ministry.
We don’t know all that much about the Church of Rome of this day. Was there just one church, or were there different congregations at Rome? We don’t know that answer either, although it is likely that the churches met in different houses. We can surmise from the book of Acts that the word of Christ came to Rome before 50AD. Acts tells us that there was a riot of the Jews in Rome that caused the emperor Claudius to expel the Jews from Rome. A roman historian tells us the expulsion was due to a riot concerning one “Chrestus.” It is probable that this was a misunderstanding of “Christus” or Christ, or it could be a deliberate smear of the Christians as the term “Chrestus” means worthless. What seems likely that this riot was over Jesus and would fit in with riots recorded in the synagogues over the gospel in Acts. There is no evidence that Peter had ever been in Rome at this point, although if there were several congregations in Rome, it is not impossible.
We don’t even know the ethnic makeup of the congregation. Were they Jews or Gentiles? Scholars are deeply divided over the question, but it seems from following Romans that there were probably some of both.
We can probably say that the church knew about Paul, but at least for the majority of the people there, they had never met Paul. What they knew about Paul might or might not have been correct. It wasn’t Paul’s intent. But his message, like that of Jesus Himself was divisive. So what we have in Romans may serve to clarify to the Roman Church what Paul was preaching. This is especially so as Paul was planning to visit there and get support for a mission trip to Spain. We do know that Paul got to Rome in an unintended way and got into some disputes with the Jews there. We don’t know if he ever got to Spain or not.
We know a bit about Paul. Acts 8 talks about that Paul was a zealous Jew who tried to destroy Christianity in the bud. This is confirmed by Paul in several of his letters, including Galatians. He was dramatically converted on the way to Damascus and called to be an apostle to the Gentiles. After a time of preparation, Paul boldly proclaimed Christ in both the synagogues and in public venues. We know he met great opposition, especially from the Jews, and suffered greatly. Several of his letters to the churches he founded have been preserved for God’s purposes in the bible for our learning.
Now that we have had a very brief background sketch, let us now dive into the text of Romans. Today, we will cover just the first verse. It is Pauls introduction of himself to the Roman Church. This brief introduction is necessary before he introduces Jesus and the gospel. Even know this is a short introduction, it is, nevertheless, theologically packed. Paul uses three phrases to describe who he is. The three phrases overlap to make a composite picture of Paul’s ministry.
The first of these phrases is that Paul calls himself “a slave of Jesus Christ.” It is important to differentiate “slave” from “servant.” The Greek term used is “doulos” which means “slave” and not “diakonos” or “deacon” which means “servant.” Paul was not a hireling, a servant who was free but hired himself out for wages. He was in bondage to Jesus Christ. In the Roman world, slavery was common; in fact, it made up a majority of the population of Rome. There were probably slaves in the Roman congregation. But we must not think of slavery in the terms of American enslavement of Africans as well as native Americans. Slaves could actually commanded some authority. They ran households and served as tutors. Some actually became wealthy enough to buy their own freedom. Slaves actually were graded into 4 classes from “primus” to “quadratus” or one to fourth rank in English. Paul would have belonged in the Lord’s economy to a higher rank as he was invested to run the Lord’s affairs here.