To launch this blog, I've decided to look at the book of Romans. It is one of my favorite books, because it is a book of almost pure theology. Some have said that Paul wrote the epistle to the church in Rome, the members of which were somewhat skeptical of him, because of his reputation both as a fierce persecutor of the Christians and as his new position as a prisoner of the state, with the intent to defend his doctrine and conversion, and to demonstrate his dedication to the cause of Christ.
Paul starts out with his familiar apostolic greeting, identifying himself as both an apostle, which gives him authority, and as a bondservant of Christ. (1:1) I love this word, bondservant, because Paul uses it often in his writings, both describing his relationship to Christ, and in describing Christ's submission and dedication to His purpose; that is, the cross (Philippians 2:7). This word, in the Greek, is doulos, which refers to the passage in Exodus 21:5-6: "But if the servant plainly says, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,' then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever." Quite literally, what Paul was saying when he called himself a bondservant, was that he had a choice in serving God and obeying His will and calling, and that Paul willingly gave up his liberty to be bound by the commission and calling of Christ.
This is important, to me, because Paul had to be a bondservant first, and then an apostle. He couldn't receive the office of apostle until he submitted himself to be a bondservant of Christ.
Paul continues his greeting, and reminds the believers that through Christ, we have received grace and apostleship (vs. 5). We receive grace, so that we can go and tell the world about Jesus. The only requisite to apostleship is to be justified and saved; at that point, we can go forward and tell the world who Jesus is. And it's an exciting thing. By grace, we're commanded to go out and tell the whole world about Jesus, resulting in their turning towards Him. Like Paul, we should be bondservants, sacrificing our own lives and wills for the sake of our Master, because we love Him. Every Christian is called to apostleship, not as an office, but as an ambassador, testifying to what God has done in our lives.
After his greeting, Paul commends the Romans for their faith (v. 8) - it is widely spoken of. He prays for the Roman church, and hopes to visit them soon (v. 9-15). Paul wants fellowship with the Roman church, for two reasons - to benefit them, and to benefit himself. It's good to have fellowship, particularly in a day and age when people are less and less interested in going to church, but more and more likely to identify themselves as "Christian." Hebrews 10:25 says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." Each day, we need each other more and more. We need the fellowship of the body of Christ for encouragement, for discipline, for correction, and for edification. It's not good for believers to be apart from each other for very long, because none of us were meant to be solitary Christians.
Paul had a special calling and a special love and affection from the Gentile believers; in Acts, he was called specifically to be a minister to the Gentiles (Acts 9:10-16). It was Paul that championed the liberties of the gospel against the traditions of Judaism; he withstood the influence of Jewish legalism in the conversion of the Gentiles; and he rebuked Peter for his double-standard in dealing with the Gentile believers. No matter what it may have cost him in his reputation or standing in the Jewish community, Paul was determined to take the gospel to the "least of all the brethren."
Next Week: Romans 1:16-31