Sermon on Rom. 1:1, preached on 9 Sep 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Isaiah 43:1-15 / (NT) Romans 1:1
I. A servant of Christ Jesus
II. Called and set apart for the gospel of God
When we meet people first time, we introduce ourselves. How we do that may depend on whom we meet at where and in what situation, but, in whatever form, we greet each other and share each other’s brief self-introduction. We not only say it, but also write it as in a letter or resume. Introducing oneself is inseparable from us.
It is also important because doing so is the very first step in building a relationship with others. So, it requires good summary information about each one and should be right in length. So, if someone introduces himself well, people will get not only a good impression, but also a clear understanding about him. The opposite case would hinder anyone from building up a good relationship with another. This inseparable and important introduction is, in fact, someone’s self-understanding. When you introduce yourself to someone else, that is a summary of how you understand yourself.
Having said, let me draw your attention to the text we’ve just read from Rom. 1 and ask you to see how the Apostle Paul does introduce himself to us of the 21st century as much as those Christians in Rome of the 1st century. This is his self-introduction: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul’s self-introduction is how he understood himself, and, by considering his self-understanding or awareness, we may find and hear God’s message for us. In Paul’s self-understanding, God speaks to us what we should know about ourselves – I mean, know about our true identity – so that we should know what we are and what our tasks are in this world. To say the conclusion first, Paul’s introduction should be your self-introduction and mine, thus, we should say, ‘I am a servant of Christ Jesus, call to be a child of God, set apart for His gospel.’
Let me now explain why this Paul’s introduction should be ours too. In other words, what our true identity is in Christ Jesus we believe and follow. I’d like to go on with two points – first, ‘A servant of Christ Jesus’ and, second, ‘Called and set apart for the gospel of God.’
I. A SERVANT OF CHRIST JESUS
You need to understand, first of all, the meaning of the word translated here as, ‘servant.’ A few other English Bible translations like NASB and NKJ render the Greek word used here, ‘dulos,’ as a ‘bond-servant’ rather than simply a ‘servant’ of Jesus Christ. Paul introduces himself as a ‘servant’ – or more than simply a servant, but a ‘bond-servant’ – of someone. I guess, no one gathered together here this building would like to introduce himself/herself as a ‘servant’ of someone else. Or to have this title on their business card. But for Paul, it’s the first part of his introduction. Moreover, he seems to be quite willing and even enthusiastic to say, ‘I am a bond-servant of Christ Jesus.’
There’s more we should know about this Greek word ‘dulos.’ It’s more than simply a ‘servant.’ ‘Bond-servant’ is not its full picture. It also means a ‘slave’ who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another who is his master. Interestingly, it is not Paul alone who introduces himself as a ‘slave’; the Apostle Peter introduces himself with this title and so does Jude in their letters included in the NT. It is the opposite to a free man. In the 1st century Greco-Roman world, being slave was a curse; it was a despised and disgusted status.
But, Paul introduces himself as a ‘slave’ of Christ Jesus. Why does he begin and say a ‘servant/slave’ instead of introducing himself as an apostle or missionary or even as a Roman citizen? The answer for this question is found in the following words, that is, a servant ‘of Christ Jesus.’ He acknowledges his bond-servanthood as to Christ Jesus. By this, he understands that his life is strongly tied to Jesus; he breathes, thinks, does and says all things in Jesus; his whole life revolves around Christ. In this sense, his relationship with Jesus is exactly like that of a slave with his master. He finds his will, intellect and emotion inseparably connected and submitted to Jesus and all work for the sake of Jesus. He has no willingness to have or claim his own right apart from Jesus’ will. He has no need for being autonomous and making his own decisions apart from Jesus’ directions. All he has and need is Jesus and, in this sense, Jesus is his Master and he is His slave/bond-servant.
Moreover, his Roman citizenship, his free status in that world was a part of his servanthood in Christ Jesus. His apostleship was a part of his servanthood to Jesus either. His entire life was filled and occupied with Jesus. That’s the answer for the question, ‘Why Paul begins and introduces himself as a slave.’
Interestingly, this introduction of Paul does something that is far greater than his self-introduction. By saying, ‘I am a servant of Christ Jesus,’ Paul introduces Jesus as the Lord through whom alone salvation comes. He says, ‘I am Paul, but I am a bond-servant (or slave) of Jesus who is Christ.’ ‘CHRIST’ means the anointed Saviour and ‘Messiah’ in the OT term!
Paul instinctively preaches about Jesus here. So briefly, but strongly and vividly he talks about Jesus and declares Him as Christ. This is an amazing thing. He began this letter to the Romans with his name, Paul, and that was an act of presenting not himself, but God’s amazing grace because he used to be Saul and that enemy of God and church had been changed to be Paul, a man of God. Then, by this self-introduction, he preaches Jesus as Christ. Every word that comes out of Paul’s mouth reveals God’s saving grace and His Son who came to be the Saviour and Lord of all. Do you see how amazing this is? He opens his mouth and speaks the truth of Jesus, declares the way to Christ, that is, to submit to this Saviour! Like a boiling kettle thrusts vapour out of it, every word from this man of God points God and Christ. How good and wonderful this is!
I truly pray to the Lord that He might nurture all of us to be likewise. So, opening our mouths, we may bring forth all and every form of heavenly treasure, that is, the knowledge of God and Christ, His salvation for the mankind, and Jesus’ free grace offered to the sinners in His gospel! Furthermore, when you and I speak, even by just mentioning our name to the unbelievers, they might hear the gracious voice of God, see their sinfulness, thus, their urgent and desperate need of a Saviour, and find the only way to God –Jesus Christ through faith in Him alone!
Unfortunately, all of us are too good at and well trained for bragging about ourselves. When we open our mouth, we pour out how good we are and how better we are than others. We boast our own righteousness, instead of Christ’s righteousness and His forgiveness!
As you know well, Paul had done some great works in his ministry. I think he would be one of those who deserve some boasting in Jesus. But, instead of writing a lengthy list of self-admiration, he boasts in Christ; he draws everyone’s attention onto Jesus and God!
So, this is a noble and lofty challenge for all of us who are Christians. With our mouth, we glorify God and present Christ to all we meet. This is the introduction we ought to give to the world. Giving such an introduction is, in fact, what you and I ought to do from the beginning of our walk in Jesus because we are bond-servants of Christ Jesus, because our life revolves around Him, the Lord, because we breathe and talk, we think and do because of Jesus! This is our true identity in Christ Jesus! We are Christ’s!
II. CALLED AND SET APART FOR THE GOSPEL OF GOD
This is not all; Paul the Apostle speaks something more in the next two phrases in v. 1. He must’ve felt that he had to give a bit more information about himself. So, he says in the rest of v. 1: “called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” A bond-servant, called to take a specific role for a specific task.
Let’s have a look at each of these points and, firstly, being called to be an apostle. More specifically, to be an apostle for Gentiles. Apostleship in God’s kingdom is a unique position. No one else but those called by Jesus in specific time for specific task hold this special office. The Bible clearly speaks about it and anyone or any church claims anything that is different to what the Bible teaches is unbiblical and false.
In addition to apostleship, there are many offices and various roles and functions in Christ’s church. The Bible teaches that everyone in Christ is called in Jesus and, according to this call, each one has received a specific gift for service in Christ’s church. The metaphor of human body or house explains our call. So, Paul introduces himself as one ‘called,’ and we should see ourselves as the ones ‘called’ by the same Christ, to be members of His body. This is another aspect of our true identity in the Lord.
With Christian’s call, at least three points must be understood. Firstly, each of us must be confident of our call. Each one is called to take a specific, thus, special and unique position and role in Christ’s church. I’m here because of this specific and unique role assigned to me and you’re here because of your special assignment assigned by Christ. So, there’s no reason to be boastful, claiming one’s eminence; no reason to envy others.
There’s a well-known hymn that sings about this and gives thanks to the Lord. That is, ‘Jesus bids us shine.’ The words in v. 1 go like this: ‘Jesus bids us shine with a clear pure light/ like a little candle burning in the night;/ in this world of darkness we must shine:/ you in your small corner, and I in mine.’ Each of us have our own ‘corner’ or part in Christ’s world to shine. The corner each one shines is a unique assignment received from Jesus. Paul was called to be an apostle; we’re called to be members of this local body of Christ called St Columba’s Presbyterian Church! And we thank the Lord for this!
Secondly, our call urges us to recognise other members of Christ’s church and work together for our one Lord Jesus. As the metaphor of human body teaches, one member cannot do all things of the whole body. All cannot become eyes or nose or arms or feet. Each one who is called for a specific role must carry that out. So, recognising others and working together in church is not only essential, but also natural and rewarding.
And thirdly, our call adds to our hearts and souls ever increasing gratitude to God because we work side by side and see God’s will revealed clearly to us and graciously accomplished in our midst as well as in the world. A good example is to see fellow Christians’ growth in faith, to hear about Jesus’ gospel preached to peoples and nations. We rejoice for seeing and hearing such things, don’t we?
It is unfortunate that people occasionally misunderstand the uniqueness of each one’s call and their togetherness with fellow believers. So, problems arise in their midst; they dispute and are driven into conflicts. Misapprehension of our true identity in Christ causes all troubles in His church. We’re ‘called’ by God according to His specific will – that’s who we are. We’re servants (bond-servants) of Christ Jesus; our life starts and ends with the Lord; we’re called to take unique parts in His church and work together with fellow members of His body to achieve our common goal, that is, glorifying God and enjoying Him in Christ forever.
This is the meaning of the last phrase in Rom. 1:1, namely, “[being] set apart for the gospel of God.” We’re called by God and set apart for nothing else of this world, but the gospel of God.
This setting apart has two aspects. One, we’re severed and detached from the world: two, we’re attached to Christ Jesus. Thus, we no longer think or do or live like those who belong to this world, but look to our Master and Lord, Jesus Christ alone; we live for Him alone; we speak about Him alone; we begin every day with Him and end it with Him. We belong to Him and He is all in all. This is what the gospel of God does; it changes selfish sinners and turns them to be God’s children, members of Christ’s church! So, we’re bond-servants of Christ Jesus, called and set apart for the gospel of God!
Let me conclude. Let us know this our true identity in Christ. Pray and ask the Lord to deepen your understanding of who you are in Him. Then, by the Holy Spirit, introduce yourself to all people around you as a bond-servant of Jesus the Saviour and Lord. So, your ‘hello’ to a stranger on the street may be a revelation of Christ to that person; your ‘hi’ to your family members and friends be Jesus’ greeting to them.
Furthermore, let all things you say and do may be your work of accomplishing the purpose of your call as well as your enjoying of its blessing. May the Lord Jesus, our Master, deepen our joy of being and living our life as His bond-servant! ***