Romans 1:1 Introducing Paul

“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…”

Throughout Paul’s incredible and miraculous conversion to Christianity, one thing never wavered: his “utter and unswerving loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who made promises to Abraham, the God who gave the law, the God who spoke through the prophets.”[1] The first way Paul introduces himself is as a slave of Christ Jesus, who is God incarnate, one of the Holy Trinity, a part of God Himself. Many of your translations will have softened the original Greek word “doulos” to “servant” or “bond servant.” In our society today, we have such an aversion to the word “slave” because of the horrific history our nation has with slavery, as well as the increasing numbers of slavery in the world today.[2] In our culture, we hold independence and free will as the highest right of life; therefore, to willingly give up every bit of free will and independence goes against everything this culture holds dear. It goes against everything this world says is your birthright – that you deserve to experience every single thing you desire, that you are cheating yourself if you don’t reach for your every goal, your every wish, your every craving.

In the complete opposite fashion, to be a doulos of Christ means that one has “totally lost [his or her] freedom and are dominated by Christ…. With his work of redemption, Christ has made believers his own possession and now gives them the goals that shape their lives.”[3] Paul’s first claim upon his introduction is as a slave of Christ, which means that this is what he considers the most important aspect of his identity. His life is literally not his own; it belongs to God. Paul’s desires and wishes are no longer relevant – his sole desire is to follow the will of his Master, Jesus the Christ.

You see, Paul did not use this word “Christ” as we do today. The name “Christ,” has become part of Jesus’ name to promote the idea that he is the Savior of the world. In Paul’s time, however, the word had a much different meaning. For Paul, “Christ” means “Messiah,” and “Messiah” means “the anointed one.”[4] To the Jews, “the anointed one” referred to the coming King – the literal king who was of the line of King David; this was the one who would reinstate the Jewish throne and assert his kingship over the world and bring world peace under his reign. Therefore, when Paul refers to Jesus as “Christ,” he is referring to Jesus’ title as King of the Jews. In Paul’s thinking, Jesus was KING.

It took so long for me to understand this—not as a distanced sovereign throne like we sometimes see God—but as as the official, political, King of the Jews. When they crucified Jesus and nailed a plaque above his head that stated, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews,”[5] they did it out of malicious irony. Each Jew rightly believed that Jesus was King of the Jews, coming to reinstate the throne of David, and when he did not take over as they thought he would, they turned on him and killed him. Paul, however, fully believed that Jesus was the true king – one who turned everything “upside down” – but, nonetheless, the one, true king.[6] Therefore, N.T. Wright believes that every time Paul refers to “Jesus Christ,” we could translate it as “King Jesus” to remind ourselves of Jesus’ kingship.[7] Thus, Paul was not just a slave of the son of God, but of the King of the Jews. Paul saw his position as slave to Jesus in both a spiritual and political light. It was his duty to his king, as well as to the son of God.

I am writing this study a month before the presidential election of 2016. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have studied this material leading up to this election. It has polarized and divided our nation like never before, and has people shaking their heads in despair at our choices of president. Without becoming too apocalyptic, I fully believe that we are seeing the degeneration of the world as it approaches the last days. As I look toward the future of our nation and this world, I am reminded that, like Paul, it makes absolutely no difference to us who leads the nations of this world because there is only one king: King Jesus. God has a plan for the leaders of our world, and I pray his will be done – no matter how ugly it must get before King Jesus returns. Because, beloved, King Jesus is returning. Not only that, but we have a King who is right now sitting upon his throne in heaven, and he is sovereign! We can face this election, we can face this new president, we can face each trial this world throws at us because King Jesus sits upon his throne in victory, with complete sovereignty over all of it. Praise you, King Jesus!

Paul understood this concept and clung to it with tenacity. It’s why we see him in so much legal trouble throughout his ministry, spending the last three years of his life in prison. He believed that Jesus was King over Caesar, which was treason in Rome. Is there any wonder why he chose to commit himself as a slave to this sovereign, eternal king instead of a temporal one?

Not only did he give his will up to his king, but being a slave of the King gave Paul a special status. Paul goes on to claim in Romans 1:1 that not only was he a slave of Christ, but he was called by the King to be an apostle. This word “apostle,” is the Greek word apostolos, which means to be a “legally charged representative;”[8] essentially, the one sent speaks directly for the one who does the sending. As we know, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, which was a church in which he had no inherent authority. Therefore, Paul’s introduction must rest on God’s authority and his appointment by God to be the apostle to the gentiles.[9] Consequently, Paul’s claim to be called by Jesus to be an apostle (one who legally speaks for Jesus), would give him enough authority to teach the Roman church and instruct them in the gospel.

What is this gospel for which Paul was set apart? Paul spends the next 14 chapters explaining exactly what the gospel means to him. The short answer is “King Jesus.” Upon resurrection, King Jesus ascended to the throne over the entire earth and every power and principality within it. Through him, each person has access to the love, grace, and mercy offered by God through the sacrifice of the King.

As I read Paul’s introduction, I find myself convicted. Do I believe that Jesus is King? Do I follow and submit to Jesus as my king? More than that, do I treat each person as if they were my fellow slave under Jesus, my king? My prayer is that you will ask yourself these questions and through our journey together, find this King Jesus and fully submit to him in every aspect of your life. Amen.

 

[1] Wright, 38.

[2] During the period of African slave trade, there were 25 million slaves world-wide; today there are more than 45 million enslaved, according to the Global Slavery Index.

[3] K. H. Rengstorf II, “doulos,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) 261-80.

[4] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 54.

[5] Matthew 27:37

[6] Wright, 54-55.

[7] Ibid.

[8] K. H. Rengstorf, “apostolos,” TDNT, 70.

[9] Witherington, 34.

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