In this introductory passage in Paul's letter to the Roman church, Paul tells us that he was "set apart" by God to make known "the gospel." In the opening verses of the letter he gives us a shorthand version of this message from God. Paul begins with the "time is fulfilled" statement - Jesus is the Christ, descended from the royal house of David. He then gives the typical "kingdom of God is at hand" statement - Jesus is now declared to be what he always has been, the Son of God, Lord. He then goes on to explain his part in the gospel - God has graciously charged Paul with the task of gathering the Gentile "remnant" into the kingdom. Paul concludes with a greeting.
v1. Paul begins by describing himself as a "slave" of Christ, called to be an "apostle" of Christ, one of those officially sent out by Christ. The "sent ones" were originally those who could claim to be "a witness of the resurrection" and who had been with Christ from the beginning. This narrow definition widened as time passed. Paul was "called" to this task in the sense of directly authorized by Christ to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles.
v2. Paul here defines the gospel as the fulfillment of God's promises revealed through the Old Testament prophets.
v3-4. He now gives a summary of the gospel. With respect to Jesus' fleshly nature, Jesus is the messiah, of the royal Davidic line. Which respect to his spiritual nature, Jesus is confirmed, consequent on the now/not yet reality of the resurrection of the dead, to be what he always has been, Son-of-God-in-power in contrast to Son-of-God-in-humility - Jesus is Lord.
v5. Paul and the other apostles, were shown mercy and kindness ("grace") when God gave them the ministry of apostleship. For Paul and his team, this "grace" consisted of a special authority to preach to the Gentiles. His task was to call the Gentiles to "the obedience of faith", to yield in faith, to accept God's offer of salvation in Christ. From such "obedience" comes righteousness, a right-standing in the sight of God.
v6. His Roman readers are among those so "called". The call is not the predestination of individuals to salvation, but rather an invitation to join the chosen and elect people of God.
v7. Paul finally addresses the Roman Christians as "loved by God" and "called to be saints" (children of God).
When I was a young assistant minister in my first appointment, I got to know an amazing old believer. He was affectionately called Pop. In his younger days he worked as a street evangelist. There is nothing more difficult than preaching the gospel to people on a busy sidewalk. I have spent my life hiding in a pulpit, but to stand on a milk crate at the corner of a busy city street is something else. Of course, his passion for the gospel never waned. When we first met he took me aside and explained to me the way of salvation, just in case I had missed it at theological college. What passion for the gospel! They all knew him around the district. Even the most mundane remark about the weather or something else, gave Pop an evangelistic opportunity. The gospel came into every conversation.
Paul the apostle had the same passion. By the second sentence of his letter to the Romans he is into a short outline of the gospel. It's the classic two part presentation, properly adjusted for his Gentile readers. He begins with the "time is fulfilled" statement, but only makes a passing reference to Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The events of Jesus' life proclaim him as the messiah, of the royal house of David.
Paul then touches on the "kingdom is at hand" statement. He tells us that God has declared Jesus to be what he has always been, Lord. This declaration rests on what Jesus has achieved for us in his death and resurrection, namely, the resurrection of the dead - life eternal.
In reminding us that he has been given the task of communicating this message to non Jews, Paul tells us about the required response, namely, "the obedience of faith." There are many who would argue that Paul is speaking about the doing of obedience, ie. the godliness that flows from faith. Yet, it is more likely that Paul is speaking about an obedience which consists of faith, "a yielding in faith", Berkeley. In simple terms Paul calls for a belief in the message of salvation.
We would do well to emulate Paul's gospel message and his gospel passion.
1. Outline the summary of the gospel presented in this passage.
2. Does this summary need to be contextualized for our generation, and if so, how would you adjust it?