Paul starts out his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 1:1-18) by introducing himself, his message, his desire to visit with the Christians in Rome and finally, his desire to preach the Gospel — the Good News — to the Gentiles in Rome. The Good News is Paul’s focus. It is what he was called to preach. It is what we all are called to live. Romans is Paul’s sermon about the Good News and how we are to live it.
Paul begins by designating himself as a slave, as an apostle, and as one set apart. All three are interrelated. As a slave of Christ Jesus, Paul must do whatever Christ would demand of him. As one called to be an apostle, Paul is an authorized representative of Christ. As one set apart, he has a specific job of preaching the Gospel, primarily to the Gentiles.
Slavery was common in Paul’s day. It was a practice that Paul apparently disapproved of but he always taught slaves to accept their place and treat their masters with respect. He uses this very strong term to indicate the strength of his bond to Christ, of Christ’s ownership of Paul. We all should feel this strong sense of duty to Christ. We often say He is our Lord yet we disobey Him, run from Him, or just ignore Him. If we truly believed we were bought and paid for by Christ on the cross, that we are His slaves, I believe we would not act the way we do sometimes.
Some would tone down this term to servant – someone who willingly serves someone else, sort of like a butler or maid. I believe that this is a mistaken idea, probably brought up because of the stigma of slavery, especially among Afro-Americans. Slavery has a very negative connotation and I understand the desire to not associate our servitude to God with that negativity. However, I am not sure servant is strong enough of a word to indicate the way Paul felt. I believe he didn’t consider service to God a job to do with the option to find a new master anytime he wanted. No, he was a slave of Christ’s. Jesus said his yolk was easy, his burden light. We should not fear or repudiate our slavery to Christ for He is our Master. In Him we find rest.
Paul’s apostleship was apparently called into question on more than one occasion (1 Cor 9:1-2). Apostle as a term could be used as generic as “representative” and as specific as “One of the Twelve.” It was used to refer to several people including a woman (Rom 16:7), most likely in a generic sense of someone who had been commissioned by Jesus to preach the gospel. They were apostles with a little a. The word missionary comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word for apostle. Today’s modern missionaries are apostles (little a) called by Christ to preach the Gospel.
Paul believed he had been called to be an Apostle (big A), equal in calling to one of the Twelve although he wasn’t one of the Twelve and was least of the apostles (see 1 Cor 15 and Gal 1-2). Sometimes I think Paul was a man full of himself and really struggled to stay humble – you can see it in the way he says, “I am an Apostle – Big A – but really, I am the least of the apostles, little a.” He felt the need to defend his authority to preach the Gospel but on the other hand knew it sounded rather bragadocious. He knew he had been called by God and authorized by Christ to preach the Good News, especially to the Gentiles (Rom 1:5). This was his appointment, it was what he was called to do. He knew what he was all about.
No one today is an apostle in the truest sense of the word – one who witnessed Jesus’ ministry here on earth and was commissioned to preach what they had seen. However, I do believe that there are those that have been called by Christ, just as Paul had been, to preach the Good News to the world. Today’s missionaries are apostles (little a) in a very real way. They face the same challenges that Paul faced almost 2000 years ago, including death. We need to lift them up in prayer continually that they may fulfill their calling.
Paul was set apart to preach the Gospel, specifically to the Gentiles. Where the Twelve felt first and foremost a calling to preach the Good News to the Jews, Paul had been called to the Gentiles. This isn’t to say that the Twelve didn’t minister to the Gentiles, they did. Acts 10-11 tells of how God shows Peter that the Gentiles were to be included in their ministry. I have to chuckle every time I read the church’s conclusion in Acts 11:18. “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” Hadn’t they listened to Jesus? Hadn’t they seen His works among the non-Jews? Sometimes we need a real kick in the head to finally hear and understand what God would tell us.
The Body of Christ has many members yet we are still one Body. We are each set apart to do something within the Body. Paul talks about this in 1 Cor 12. God has given us through the Holy Spirit gifts that we are to use within the body. Some are called to preach and teach, some to pray for others that they may be healed, others to minister to the Body in prophecy and messages in tongues. Yes, those are the more visible gifts but Paul also says there are some who are called to the more invisible ministries within the Body. We don’t always see who mows the lawn or vacuums around the church building but they have a calling, a ministry just as important. Some are called to secretly pray for others, to provide extra financial help to the church, to provide food, clothing, and shelter to the needy.
Paul’s calling was a very visible one. It was his passion, to preach the Good News and it shows throughout his writings. Some of us have a very invisible calling but it should still be our passion. Very few may ever know of that passion but God, who sees all things, will reward us for following that calling and making it our passion.
If you were to introduce yourself in light of your relationship to God, how would you do it? Could you claim to be a slave of Christ Jesus? Could you define what God has called you to do? What gift(s) has the Holy Spirit bestowed upon you for ministry among the church and/or in the world?
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