It is probably true to say that no single book of the Bible has received more attention and study than Paul’s epistle to the Romans. It stands so monumental in the New Testament scriptures that students of the Word have been attracted to its sweeping statements and profound truths from the very beginning of Christianity. The early Christian fathers were fascinated by Romans and one distinguished 20th century Christian writer occupied many volumes in writing a commentary on it.
Yet this series of articles does not only challenge the intellect; it equally instructs and assures the least academic reader about the glories of the gospel and the deeply caring concern of our God for fallen men and women. The earnest believer in the Lord Jesus Christ carries Romans 1:16 as a song in his heart: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’ And at times of trial and difficulty, what words can compare with Romans 8:35-37: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’
In this series of articles, we shall consider some of the very precious truths expounded so ably by the distinguished Pharisee of Tarsus, turned apostle of Jesus Christ. For the author of this wonderful gospel treatise was endowed by God with considerable intellectual powers, abilities in due course sanctified in the service of the God who revealed His Son in Paul, and commissioned him as ‘my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel’ (Acts 9:15).
Now it’s very plain in the opening chapter of Romans that Paul had never been to Rome when he wrote this letter to the Church of God in that city. Rome was the heart of the most powerful empire the world had seen, and its rulers claimed no less than deity for themselves. Paul probably wrote from Corinth about 57 A.D. during his third missionary journey and surely there was deepening in his heart a long-standing desire to visit Rome. Paul speaks about this in Acts 19:21 “I must visit Rome also,” he says, and soon afterwards God assured him, as we read in Acts 23:11 at a time of great danger and threat, “You must also testify in Rome.” So in Romans 1:11 he says, ‘I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.’ The Christians in the Church in Rome soon realized that, even before they saw Paul in the flesh, they were receiving a rich spiritual gift in the letter they held in their hands.
The apostle in the very first verse declares his bondservant (and that means slave) character in the service of Christ; his conviction of a call, and his special consecration by God to the ministry of the gospel. ‘Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.’ He then relates the gospel to the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament and immediately turns the full spotlight, in sharp focus, on the person of the Son of God. Paul’s gospel was unmistakably ‘regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead (by the resurrection of the dead as the Revised Version puts it): Jesus Christ our Lord’ (vv.3,4).
A man of Paul’s abilities might have chosen many a different career, and that of diplomat might well have suited him. He deploys the skills of diplomacy with total sincerity in the service of Christ. He says to the Church in Rome, ‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world’ (v.8). Here was a great spiritual teacher whom most of them had never met, but he was well informed about them, he cared for them and he prayed for them. ‘God … is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times’ (vv.9,10).
Having then assured them of his long-standing desire to visit them, he gladly acknowledges his debt to all cultures, both Greek and ‘barbarian’, as the less cultured nations were often known – and his deep sense of obligation to share the riches of gospel truth with them. Then comes Paul’s ringing declaration, ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “the righteous will live by faith”‘ (vv.16,17). These last words are, of course, a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, and draw out the golden thread of the truth of justification by faith which was to illumine the whole of this marvellous letter.