Visiting the Romans

Chatswood Baptist Church

Romans 1:1-15

1. Dropping in

1.1 Us

When you visit someone you usually let them know that your coming. It used to be that people would sometimes drop in unannounced but generally that doesn’t happen nowadays. But when I was a boy it wasn’t uncommon to have someone (a relative or a friend) turn up on your door unannounced just because they were in the neighbourhood. We didn’t have mobile phones and so you couldn’t ring or text and so people just took their chances that you would be in and not busy.

But now days we don’t expect people to turn up on our doorstep unannounced. We expect a phone call or a text telling us that they are planning to drop in for a visit. Of course, if you are travelling some distance you usually write or email and warn people that you’re coming especially if the trip is in part to see them. We are travelling to the UK at the end of the month and while we are there on holidays we are hoping to drop in on some old friends. We told them some time ago that we were planning to come so our visit wouldn’t be unexpected and so hopefully they might be there when we turn up.

1.2 The apostle Paul

Now in part this is what the letter to the Romans is about. Paul wrote to let his intentions known. He was planning to drop in on the Romans.

We know from chapter 15 that for many years Paul had been longing to see the believers in Rome (15:23) but his work in the eastern part of the Mediterranean seems to have prevented him. But now Paul believed that this was all about to change as he had fully proclaimed the gospel all the way around from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:19). He wrote that that there were no more places for him to preach (15:23) and what he meant by this was that there were no more places where the gospel to some extent had not already been preached in that part of the world. Therefore, his plan was to move his ministry from the eastern side of the Mediterranean to Spain on the west so that he could preach the gospel there where he would be breaking new ground[1] (see Romans 15:19-24 for more details). On the way to Spain, Paul was planning to drop in on the believers in Rome and spend some time with them.

2. Introductions

In the first fifteen verses that we are looking at today Paul writes to the believers in Rome to make his introductions. He introduced himself and his gospel and his plan to visit them. In these opening verses of his letter we will examine these introductions to understand the apostle and what was motivating to visit the Romans. Today I wanted to look at these verses under two headings.

1) Paul and his gospel (verses 1 to 7) – here we see who Paul was and what his gospel was about.

2) Paul and his visit (verses 8 to 15) – here we hear about his plans to visit and why he was so eager to preach the gospel there in Rome.

2.1 Paul and his gospel

It was normal to begin a letter in the ancient world introducing yourself and stating who it was that you were writing to. While Paul follows this convention in his letters, his introductions were a fair bit longer than the average ancient letter and his letter Romans is his longest. This wasn’t because Paul was a man who was vain and loved to endlessly talk about himself, but because he was establishing his credentials and that of his gospel and his reasons for wanting to visit. Paul does this because Paul had never visited the churches there and the believers there needed to understand who he was and what it was that God had given him to do among them before he got there. In the first verse Paul describes his God given role in the opening verse.

Romans 1:1

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.[2]

  • Paul was a servant of Christ, set apart for the gospel

Paul described himself as a servant of Christ Jesus who had been called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel. Paul refers to himself as a servant or more literally ‘a slave’ of Christ Jesus making it clear that Paul completely belonged to Jesus and what he was doing he was doing for the sake of his name (see verse 5). He wasn’t coming to them in his own name, but he was doing what he was doing under the authority of his Lord and Master, Christ Jesus.

Paul goes on then to describe what he as a slave of Christ was called to do. He had been called to be an apostle. While the word “apostle” meant “messenger” and at times this word could be used more broadly, Paul here is referring to a specific group of messengers who had been commissioned by the Lord Jesus. The Lord Jesus used the term “apostle” with respect to a narrow group of disciples, who had been there to witness his resurrection and who he then commissioned and sent out to be his witnesses to make known the gospel. Paul claimed to have been added to that number as an apostle to the Gentiles (see Gal.1:1 and 1 Cor. 15:7-11).

In these verses Paul explains what that involves for him. It meant firstly that he had been set apart for the gospel of God. The word “to set apart” came from the idea of being “separated” from other things for something else. Paul had been set apart by God as an apostle for the gospel of God, to live it out and share it with others[3].  

The fact that it is the “gospel” of God meant that Paul and the other apostle didn’t make it up, but it was God who entrusted the good news that they were to share to them. In verse 9 Paul says that he serves God with his whole heart through preaching the gospel and in verse 5 he also explained that he had specifically been given the task to call people from among the Gentiles to the obedience that comes by faith. Therefore, the Romans needed to listen to what he had written and welcome him for he was preaching the gospel of God, that which God had promised beforehand in the Holy Scriptures.

  • The gospel is about the Son of God

Paul in verses 2 to 4 went on to explain that the gospel of God is a message regarding God’s Son, and it is on account of who the Son is that we are called to belong to him. Paul explains that as to his earthly descent, he was a descendant of David, but through the Spirit of holiness and by his resurrection from the dead he was appointed to be the Son of God in power as the 2011 NIV puts it. It wasn’t that he wasn’t always the Son of God, but with his resurrection, he completed his work and triumphed over his enemies and sat down at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is now the all-powerful Son of God who sits at God’s right hand and reigns over our world. He is the Christ (the king that God has appointed) and he is Lord, the one who reigns over this world and who is the master of all of us. The word “Lord” in the Greek was used of someone “who had the undisputed possession of a person or a thing. It means master or owner, in the most definite and absolute sense”[4]. As Paul will go on to explain, God is calling people to belong to Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of all.

  • The gospel calls people to belong to Jesus Christ

The gospel is God’s call for people to be belong to Jesus. Paul wrote that he had received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience of faith. He was preaching the gospel of the Son of God calling people from all the nations to belong to Christ.

How do you come to belong to Christ? It’s through faith that we obey the call of the gospel and submit to Jesus as Lord and belong to him. We must realise that the gospel, the good news about Jesus is not just information about what Jesus has done but also a call for people everywhere to belong to him. To be obedient to that call is to put your faith in Jesus and acknowledge him as your Lord and what is ours when we do is the grace and peace that Paul refers to in verse 7.

Friends, if you are a believer, then you have been called to belong to Jesus. You don’t belong to yourself any more, you belong to him who gave himself for you and was raised to life and appointed the Son of God in power. You can no longer think of life in terms of just what you want to do, or who you want to be, but rather you are now called to be his holy people and called to live a life that is pleasing to him through faith in Christ (see passages like 1 Cor. 6:19-20, 2 Cor. 5:15, Gal 2:20).

You have a new identity for he is your Lord and you too are a servant of Christ. You have been called to belong to him because he is the Son of God in power. He is Christ our Lord and every knee should bow and every tongue should confess his name. We are to live a life worthy of the calling we have received as those who belong to Christ (see Eph. 4:1, Col 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:12). Paul wrote that he did what he did for the sake of Christ’s name and that’s how we are to live.  We are to live so that name of is honoured and glorified as it ought to be and that’s why we, like the apostle, are to be people who live out the gospel and tell others about Jesus. I don’t think I can put it better than what John Stott has written.

The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is…., but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.[5]

John Stott, Romans, The Bible Speaks Today

Do you belong to Christ? Then wake up each morning asking God to help you live a life worthy of the calling that you have received to belong to Jesus. Live for his glory as his servant through faith in him. You have been called to belong to him who died for you. You are not your own, so we are to stop living as though we are and live for him who gave himself for us.

2.2 Paul and his visit

Having explained his gospel, Paul went on to explain his plan and his eagerness to visit the believers in Rome in verses 8 to 15. In verses 8 to 10 he explains how he had been praying for them and specifically he told them and specifically how he had been praying that the way might be opened for him to be able to visit them. Paul then goes on in verse 11 to 13 to explain why he wanted to visit them, and it is these verses that I want to focus on for in them we see how the servants of God live for the glory of their God and king.

Romans 1:11-13

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, c that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

Paul explains that he had longed to see them and had planned many times to visit them but had been prevented thus far. Although Paul didn’t know it even his current plan wouldn’t work out in the way that he was hoping it would and it would be many years before he got to Rome and when he finally got there it wasn’t to be a layover on his way to Spain but as a prisoner in chains. But these verses highlight his two reasons for wanting to go there.

  • He wanted to strengthen the believers

Firstly, it would strengthen the believers in Rome. Paul wrote that he wanted to impart to them a spiritual gift that would result in making them strong. This wasn’t because he thought that they lacked something (see 15:14), but because we all need encouragement. He believed that the believers there would also encourage him. He talks about them and him mutually encouraging one another. We encourage one another to remain strong standing firm in our faith (see Acts 14:22). As a servant of Christ Paul believed that he was called to encourage and strengthen believers and especially the Gentiles for he had a special calling to work among them.

As those who belong to Christ, we are not to have the same sort of user or consumer mentality that often characterises the people of this age. Often people are involved in things and with people so long as their own needs are being served or their desire being met or their egos are being stroked and they are being made much of, but we serve others because we are making much of Christ. We want to honour his name and encouraging and strengthen his people is part of that. This is why we gather together. We come together to encourage one another so that we might persevere in our faith until Jesus returns (see Heb. 10:24-25).

  • He wanted to have a harvest among them

Paul secondly, mentioned that he wanted to have a harvest among them. This would involve not only the strengthening of the believers in Rome but also calling others in Rome belong to Jesus Christ. Paul wanted to go to Rome and then on to Spain so that he might preach the good news so that people might call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. He was calling all people to the obedience that comes from faith for the sake of his name (the name of Christ).

  • He was eager to preach the gospel

Lastly this was why Paul was so eager to preach the gospel to those in Rome. For Paul the preaching the gospel, opening up the Scriptures and making Christ known, was the way you both called people to belong to Christ and the way that you encouraged and strengthened believers who did belong to him. I think Paul spends a lot of time outlining his gospel for them in this letter so that even if he didn’t get to Rome, they already had what they needed. He was reminding them of what they needed to know to encourage and strengthen them (see Rom. 15:14-15) and in turn I think he wanted to encourage them to be preaching the gospel. Everyone not only needs to hear the gospel, but we also need to be constantly reminding one another of it. We too quickly forget what Christ has done for us and who it is that we really belong to.

3. Insights

As I have read through this introduction to this letter there have been a few insights that I think we can take away from the way that Paul describes himself, his gospel and his visit.

3.1 We belong to Christ and not ourselves

The first is that we must recognise is that God has called us to belong to Christ. We are servants of Christ. Paul had been called to a servant of Christ Jesus and so have we. Through the gospel God has called us to belong to him who died for us and was raised to life and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven in power. We don’t belong to ourselves anymore but to him who has been appointed the Son of God in power. He is our Lord and master and we are his servants and have received grace and mercy through faith in Christ. Paul understood who he was, do we? Paul was acutely aware of his identity, are we? God has called us to belong to Jesus and we are to live for the glory of his name. Sometimes I’m not sure that it is so clear to us or if it is how quickly we can forget.  We want things to revolve around us, but our lives are to revolve around him who died for us. We are do everything do for the sake of his name. We are to be people who live by faith in him.

3.2 We need keep on encouraging one another

The second thing that becomes clear is that we need to be people who keep on encouraging one another so that we stay strong. Paul longed to go to Rome to encourage them and make them strong and he expected them to also encourage him. If we belong to Christ, then we are to be living a life that encourages and strengthens others. If we belong to Jesus, then we are to live a life for others and not for ourselves. As God’s holy people we are to be looking for ways that we can build up other believers so that they might remain firm in the faith in Jesus. We need each other to remain strong. If don’t regularly turn up to be encourage and to encourage others then I’m putting myself and my brothers and sisters in danger.

3.3 We need to be preaching the gospel and praying

Lastly, we are to encourage and strengthen one another through preaching the gospel and praying. Paul believed the gospel is what encourages people and he was eager to preach it among those in Rome. He was also eager to go all the way to Spain and preach it there for as we will see next week, he knew it was the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes (v16). Like the apostle, we are to be people who are eager to preach the gospel to one another and to others and like the apostle we are to be praying for them. Paul prayed because he knew that it is only through the work of the Spirit that people understand and accept the truth and believe (see 1 Cor. 2:10-15).

We are not apostles. There are no apostles anymore, not in the same sense that Paul was an apostle, but we have the gospel that the apostle were given by God. It is the message of the Son of God. It has been entrusted to us here in the Scriptures as servants of Christ we are to be sharing it with others and making Christ known for the sake of his name and because, as we will see next week, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. We are to preach it so that other might also belong to Jesus and find grace and peace.

[1] “Breaking new ground” means starting work in an area where no body has been working previously.

[2] Except where otherwise indicated all Scripture citations are taken from The New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Tim Keller, Explore Bible reading notes, Romans 1 v 1-15.

[4] William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, The Daily Study Bible, page 1.

[5] Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (p. 53). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.