Paul begins his epistle this way:
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord. . .
Wow. Paul loves to speak volumes in a single sentence.
Paul, the Bond-Servant
First, he considers himself a bond-servant, because he is like a freed slave who has returned to his Master voluntarily. His ear has been bored to the Door, Jesus Christ, showing that his ear has been opened to hear and know the love of Christ. This law is found in Exodus 21:5, 6,
5 But if the [freed] slave plainly says, "I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man," 6 then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him permanently.
Boring a hole in the ear lobe spiritually signified opening the ears to hear the Word of God, as we read in Psalm 40:6-8,
6 Sacrifice and meal offering Thou hast not desired; my ears Thou hast opened. . . 8 I delight to do Thy will, O God; Thy Law is within my heart.
The voluntary bond-slave delights to do God's will, because His Law is written in his heart, rather than being imposed upon him from the outside. This passage applies to Jesus Himself, as we read in John 4:34,
34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work."
Most Christians desire to do God's will. The problem is in knowing His will. We must be led by the Spirit in our daily life, but also we must know the Scriptures to see the examples of men in the past who were led by the Spirit and who did the will of God. Paul defines the will of God more specifically in Romans 2:18, saying,
18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.
When Paul calls himself a bond-slave of Jesus Christ, he recognizes Christ as his Master. A slave does what his Master says. What the Master commands is His Law, whether it is written in Scripture or by direct hearing. His will is expressed in many ways. The slave is given commands only because he does not already know the will of the Master. But as time passes, the slave gets to know his Master and knows His will without being told.
Even so, the slave may not agree with the Master. He may know the Master's will and yet be resentful of it or disagree with it. Agreement is proven when the time of release occurs, for then the slave may go his own way or return as a voluntary bond-slave for the rest of his life.
In this case, Paul says that he has returned to become a voluntary bond-slave because he not only knows His will, being instructed out of the Law, but he is also in agreement with Him. For this reason he later gives testimony to the Law in Romans 6:12, saying,
12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
It is this very agreement that makes Paul a voluntary bond-slave of Jesus Christ. Thus, at the very outset Paul establishes his knowledge of the Law and his agreement with it. This sets the tone for his entire epistle, which is largely a commentary on the purpose of the Law itself. That purpose, as we will see, is first to establish the will and mind of God; secondly, it is the standard of righteousness by which the whole world is measured, judged, and found wanting (3:19).
Against this backdrop of universal condemnation comes the provision of Jesus Christ, who upheld the Law by paying the Law's full penalty so that the world would be saved.
Paul the Apostle
An apostle is "one who is sent." Every true apostle has a divine commission with the authority to do a particular work. Paul's commission was to preach the Gospel to the ethnos ("nations"). This was simply the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19 and 20.
As the details of this calling were revealed, Paul came to understand this to mean that the gospel and the promises of God were to be distributed as a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3), giving all men of faith equal access to God as full citizens of the Kingdom. It was his commission to break down the dividing wall that characterized Judaism (Eph. 2:14). He discovered also that he was God's antidote to the Judaizers within Christianity who had tried to remain tied to the temple in Jerusalem and the mindset instilled in them by that dividing wall.
Paul Set Apart
An apostle is one who is sent or commissioned, and a priest is one who is set apart (consecrated) for divine service. Anyone who is set apart must be willing to take the lead, even if no one follows. He must be willing to follow a lonely road or blaze a new trail in the wilderness, so that others may come afterward with greater ease and with maps.
Paul was commissioned by Christ Himself on the Damascus Road, but it was many years later before he received the double witness that actually established his commission and sent him out on his first missionary journey. Acts 13:2 says,
2 And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them."
Verse 9 says, "But Saul, who was also known as Paul. . ." Paul was his new identity in Christ, whereas Saul was his fleshly name given to him in Judaism. Acts 13:9 is the last time that Luke calls him Saul, because from then on he wanted to be known by his new identity. Paul discusses his two identities in Romans 7, as we will see later.
The Gospel Promised by the Prophets
Paul says that the gospel was "promised beforehand through His prophets." Modern perception is that the gospel is purely a New Testament innovation. But Hebrews 4:2 (written by Paul, I believe) says that the Israelite "Church in the wilderness" under Moses also heard the gospel: "For indeed we have had the gospel preached to us, just as they also. . ."
Paul says that this gospel was "concerning His Son." Every time the Old Testament prophesied of Jesus Christ, it was an element of the gospel. It was the "good news" of a Savior who would save us from sin and its effects. It was also good news of a righteous King who would arise after the kingdoms of men had proven themselves to be incapable of ruling God's creation with true justice and equity by the love of God.
The Scriptures tell us that the Messiah was to come of Judah (Gen. 49:10) and then more specifically of the lineage of David (Ps. 89:29). Jesus' mother was Mary, who was of the lineage of David, and it was through her that Jesus was "the son of man." This term refers to His lineage from Adam ("man"). Adam was given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:26), and this Dominion Mandate was passed down as part of his Birthright in an unbroken succession through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, and finally Jesus.
That was His earthly heritage that gave Him authority ("dominion") in the earth as its highest King.
Declared the Son of God
Romans 1:3 speaks of Jesus as a descendant of King David "according to the flesh." This is what made Him "the Son of man," for it was his physical lineage that could be traced back to Adam, the "man." But Paul understood that Jesus Christ was more than the Son of man. He was also the Son of God, for verse 4 says,
4 who was declared the Son of God with power by [as a result of] the resurrection from the dead, according to the spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Who declared Him to be the Son of God? When was this declaration made? It occurred on the day of His resurrection, after He ascended to His Father in heaven.
Jesus was raised, I believe, about 3:00 a.m., as the temple gate was opened to admit the new course of priests who were coming to minister for the following week. Mary came to the tomb "while it was still dark" (John 20:1) and found that He was already gone from the tomb. He later appeared to her and told her not to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father (20:17). However, later that evening, Jesus showed Himself to the other disciples (20:19).
Jesus had ascended on the third hour of the day after speaking with Mary in the garden, because He had to fulfill the prophecy of the wave-sheaf offering. It was fulfilled when He presented Himself to the Father as the living, resurrected Son of God, the "first-born of all creation" (Col. 1:15).
The priest was to wave the sheaf of barley "on the day after the Sabbath" (Lev. 23:11). It had to be done on the eighth day of the week, because the Law commanded that the first-born sons must be presented to God on the eighth day (Ex. 22:29, 30). Hence, the wave-sheaf offering was always done on the eighth day (or the first day of the week).
This is the Law of the Presentation of Sons. When Jesus was presented to the Father on the eighth day shortly after His resurrection, it was the Father Himself who "declared" Him to be the Son, because of His resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4).
The Spirit of Holiness
It was done "according to the spirit of holiness," because holiness has to do with being set apart for divine service. Having attained His position as Son of God through resurrection, as indeed we all must do—for He is but the FIRST-born of all creation—His new form of existence separated Him from the rest of humanity. At that point He stood above humanity, having blazed the trail that others would follow at their appropriate times.
5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the ethnos, for His name's sake.
"The obedience of faith" is actually a compound Greek word that Dr. Bullinger renders as "faith-obedience." This word is of interest, because it connects faith and obedience in much the same manner as the book of James, who says, "faith without works is dead" (James 2:28). In other words, true faith results in obedience (compliance, submission to a command or law). Later, Paul distinguishes between pure faith and obedience (works), but none should think that he was contradicting James. He was merely separating faith-obedience into its component parts to show the purpose of each.
Furthermore, Paul's apostleship was a calling "to bring about the faith-obedience among all the ethnos," and not merely among Jews or Israelites. The word ethnos means "nations." Here is our first hint in this epistle that the Law was applicable to all the nations and not limited to a certain ethnic group.
The Jewish idea that the ethnos are given the so-called Noahide Laws only (Gen. 9:3-7), while the rest of the Law was reserved for the physical seed of Abraham, is contradicted by Paul's gospel. There is only one gospel—the Gospel of the Kingdom. It was given to the seed of Abraham as a revelation in order to equip them to administer its principles of equitable justice to all the ethnos of the earth, so that all the families of the earth might be blessed (Gen. 12:3, 4).
Who are the Saints?
6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints; Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
They were "called as saints," or as holy-ones, set apart for divine service. They are "beloved of God," as are all the ethnos, Israelite or otherwise. This idea that God actually loved the ethnos was largely foreign to the Jewish mindset, who fancied themselves as the only ones worthy of the love of God. But Paul's apostolic calling was to view the creation itself as the object of God's love, showing (as did Isaiah before him) that He was not only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but also "the God of all the earth" (Isaiah 54:5). God had created all things as an expression of His character, and God is Love. Even as Adam's sin brought the entire creation into the bondage of sin and death (Rom. 8:20), so also has the Last Adam redeemed the entire estate (Rom. 8:21).
The universality of the divine plan forms the backdrop of the entire book of Romans. There we see the universal equality of all men as sinners (Rom. 3:23), because all men are accountable to God's Law (3:19). Accountability is modified only by one's level of knowledge (2:12). All men receive the grace of God through faith equally as well (3:28, 29), with no ethnic group having the advantage of God's indulgence on account of their genealogy.
Although the gospel itself had to have a geographical starting point (in Jerusalem), due to the limitations of men, the divine plan was to save all that was lost in Adam (Rom. 5:18). Human limitations and the logistics of geography itself at first restricted the gospel to accessible parts of the world, but this in no way could thwart the divine plan to save all who died before they could be reached with the gospel. God has taken all of this into account from the beginning and has taken personal responsibility for the salvation of His creation.
In the end, all injustice will be corrected, even the injustice of being born in a land that could not hear the gospel of Christ for many centuries. God is good, God is just, and God is equitable in all of His judgments. His judgments, we discover, are corrective in nature and not merely punitive. The purpose of divine justice is to bring all of creation into the glorious liberty of the sons of God (Rom. 8:21).
When we understand the mind of Paul as illuminated by the Holy Spirit, we can more fully appreciate the full panorama of the divine plan as set forth in his epistle to the saints in Rome. It is only when we fail to grasp the universality of the plan and the equitableness of divine justice that we will make excuses for Paul's language and say, "Surely, Paul, thou art mistaken," or "Paul must have meant this" instead of what he says in plain language.
Romans 1:7 ends Paul's introduction to his epistle. From here on, he speaks directly to his audience in Rome and begins to lay out the divine plan in an unprecedented way.