A portrait of righteousness
Verses 1 through 17 are more than just an introduction of a letter from a man to the members of the church in Rome. They also introduce some the important ideas which will be discussed later in this letter. In these verses we meet "Jesus," the righteous God-man who designed, promised and fulfilled His Gospel. In these verses we also meet "Paul," a man who was made righteous by that Gospel, and whose life illustrates the design and objectives of that Gospel.
For example, in these verses we first encounter the power of God, faithful power to keep His word of promise, resurrection power to bring life out of death, and salvation power to all who believe. Also, in these verses we first encounter the objectives of God, which are to mold and redirect lives, to display His righteousness and to glorify His name.
Romans 1:1-17 illustrates God's righteousness in the lives of Paul and the Romans. Through them as an example, we learn who a Christian is, how he becomes a Christian and what a Christian's vocation is while he lives on the earth. They demonstrate "obedience to the faith." That is, they thankfully serve God and submit to His will. They prayerfully desire that others may have spiritual blessings. They tirelessly seek to bring the Gospel as they are able.
Therefore, Romans 1:1-17 is a word portrait of righteousness, described by the lives of Christians. The portrait is not just of Paul and the Romans, but of any Christian who has ever lived throughout time, whom Paul and the Romans represent. So the opening verses of Romans 1 reveal to us what a Christian looks like spiritually, in what he is and what he does, and reveal why he looks like that.
The portrait is not just a picture of the outward service Christians offer to God and men. It also includes their inward motivation and attitude. Romans 1:1-17 illustrates how God's people obey Him from the heart out of love for Him and others (Rom. 6:17, 8:29, 13:10). So we can also say that Romans 1:1-17 is a picture of a saved heart.
Verse 1, "Paul"
In general, people are careful what they name their children because many names convey special meanings. For example, American Indians and Chinese people give their children names that will hopefully be signatures of their future success. Christians avoid names with unholy connotations, even though they realize that salvation is a matter of the soul and that two people with the same name can have very different spiritual futures. While people might choose names for superstitious reasons or because of some vague connotation, names are nevertheless important. In fact, the Bible uses names in a special way and attaches great significance to them.
Names in the Bible are more than just labels that distinguish one person from another. This is because every word in the Bible, including every name, has a spiritual denotation, assigned to it by God (e.g., Hosea 1:6,9). On one hand, men in their rebellion try to take control of their lives and show it by how they use names (Gen. 11:4). On the other hand, God displays His sovereignty in judgment and in grace by how He uses names (Gen. 12:2, Isa. 62:2, 65:15, Matt. 1:21). Therefore, we should not be surprised to see some spiritual relevance to the first word in the book of Romans.
In Paul's name is his identity as a Christian. That is, we know something about him as a Christian because of his name. Of course, a name does not make a man what he is nor does a name always tell a true tale about his character. There are good and bad men with the same name. Some Johns are villains, enemies of the Gospel, while other Johns are heroes of the faith. But in the Bible, names are part of God's revelation and add to the message which He brings to men. Therefore, we must seek to understand the meaning behind God's use of the name Paul.
The Bible does not tell us how Paul, a Jew, received a Gentile name. It is not likely that he was renamed by either the Christian community or himself after he was saved. Certainly he did not repudiate his Jewish heritage. Nor was he trying to disguise himself in order to avoid his Jewish persecutors. He was probably given the Gentile name Paul by his Jewish parents, if not as part of his official family name, than at least as a nickname, as an accommodation to the Roman controlled society in which they lived as well as an assist to their son who would have to work within that Gentile society. Whatever the historical reason, as in all things, God was able to use the fact that he was given the name Paul to promote His own purposes.
We first meet him as "Saul," an Israelite name that means "asked for" or "demanded." This name reminds us of King Saul, who was the man the people demanded when they rejected God's rule over them (I Sam. 8:4-7, 19). King Saul's character matched the sinful choice of the people. He was a self willed man. He was a spiritual phony, a person who wanted to satisfy his own human desires but at the same time pretended to serve God (I Sam. 15:13-26). All of this is a perfect description of Paul before he was saved. Saul the Pharisee was full of pride because of his own religious accomplishments. He was a religious man, a Hebrew of Hebrew, a Pharisee who had the law but did not have righteousness, and he showed it. He was a picture of someone who had designed his own righteousness. He was also full of hatred toward God and Christians who through the witness of their message and life were a threat to his human philosophy. Truly, Saul of Tarsus displayed all the evil prophesied for the tribe of Benjamin from which he came (Gen. 49:27, Phil. 3:5), full of pride before God (Acts 9:4) and hatred toward believers (Acts 7:54 - 8:1). When the Bible introduces him as Saul, he was truly a "Saul," a man who demanded himself as king of his life and was an enemy of anyone who threatened his rule.
A short while after he was saved, the Bible abandons the use of Saul, from Acts 13:9 on referring to him only as "Paul," a name that means "little." The name "Paul" reminds us of the new, accurate self estimation of a true Christian. A believer is least or little in his own eyes. The name Paul describes what God makes of a man before He can use him for service that glorifies Himself. By grace, he had truly become a "Paul." The Christian, Paul, humbly displayed a new perspective of God, himself and others. Out of that attitude came a zeal to serve his Lord Jesus Christ for whom he had a heart of grateful love for his salvation. Paul was a picture of a man who sought and found God's righteousness.
The name "Paul" is a good label for the new character which accompanied his salvation. Someone who is saved is very different from what he was before he was saved. It is as if the change of emphasis from the name Saul to the name Paul highlights his inner spiritual change.
The name "Paul" is also a good label for the new calling in his life. Once he hated the one true God and persecuted Christians who faithfully proclaimed and obeyed His Gospel. Then he gave his life as a willing sacrifice so that God might be glorified and men might be saved, Jews and especially Gentiles (Rom. 1:8-13. 10:1). The Bible's emphasis upon his Gentile name, Paul, is appropriate for a man who is sent into the Gentile world to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 9:15, Gal. 2:7).
The Bible's change in the emphasis of his name was a token of the tremendous change in his heart wrought by an Almighty God. God wants us to remember what he had done in Paul's life. Paul is an illustration of the power of the Gospel which he proclaims in the book of Romans. Paul is an example of an important message of Romans, namely "God be thanked, that ye were servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you" (Rom. 6:17).
From these words we learn something about how Paul, and all believers, become Christians. We learn, in a manner of speaking, something about the Gospel mechanism of God which He employs to save His people.
The words do not refer to a drudge who mindlessly carries out his master's will and who has no more value than any other of the master's physical possessions. The words do not refer to a domestic who is an independent contractor, someone of equal authority with his master and who has no emotional loyalty or legal obligation to continue serving. Rather, the word doulous is better rendered "bondservant" and expresses an idea closer to a "willing slave."
Deuteronomy 15:12-18 provides a wonderful illustration of the kind of "bondservant" in view. These verses can be understood as a parable of the salvation of God. In the parable Jesus is being instructed how to perform His job as a Savior. The word "thy" in Deuteronomy 15:12 refers to Christ, and "brother" refers to those whom Christ will save. They are brothers to Jesus as humans and as the elect, members of the family of God. The parable begins with the brother in bondage. It is an onerous enslavement based upon the requirement to serve due to a debt. This is just like the situation in which all men find themselves. All men have sinned and are in bondage to the Jesus' (God's) law.
The Gospel program is that in the seventh year, the year of Sabbath rest, the decree goes out "thou shalt let him go free from thee," independent of any action of the "brother." This is just like the Gospel message which declares release from the Law, unrelated to the efforts of sinners to fulfill its demands (Rom. 3:28, Eph. 2:8,9). The "brother" is graciously released from his obligation to continue to obey the demands of the Law. The formerly enslaved brother has entered into the rest, the eternal Sabbath rest of God (Heb. 4:9,10)
The riches of God's grace are illustrated in Deuteronomy 15:14, for the brother must not be sent away empty. Similarly those who are saved are given abundance (John 10:10). In fact, they share in the riches of their former master (Rom. 8:17, Eph. 2:7).
The words in Deuteronomy 15:15 remind Jesus Christ of His work as a Savior which allows Him to justly release His servant. Of course this is not a reminder to Jesus in the sense that He might forget, but in the sense that God wants to explain the basis for the salvation which He has secured for His people. As in the parable, Jesus was a "bondman in the land of Egypt (a figure of sin)." That is, Jesus became sin for His people by taking upon Himself their iniquities (Isaiah 53:6, Gal. 3:13, II Cor. 5:21). Wonderfully, "the Lord thy God redeemed thee (Jesus)" from that sin, in the sense that Jesus needed to be saved from Hell as a representative of man, as a second Adam (Psalm 22:1,18-21, 31:5,16). He was released from Hell because He completed the payment required by the law and so was released from death (Psalm 116:8). Based upon all that has been done to make the release of the servant just, we read in verse 15 "I command thee this thing today." That is, "release the servant for today is the day of release." To this command Jesus was obedient. Jesus is always obedient (Phil. 2:8, Heb. 5:8), for the Gospel is His own will as well (John 5:19, 21). The command also highlights the fact that Jesus had to release men from bondage to the law because the debt was paid. Jesus was duty bound by the terms of the Gospel. Verse 16 gives us the brother's response. The brother who is released desires to remain a servant of his Redeemer. His willingness to serve his Master is a great testimony to the kind of person the Master is and the kind of heart the slave has. In terms of the Gospel, a saved sinner has a love for Jesus and His "house," which can be understood to mean he has a love for God (Psalm 90:1) and all other believers too (Heb. 3:6). A believer willingly and joyfully continues to serve under the yoke of his Redeemer (Matt. 11:28-30). He is a "willing bondservant." That is the kind of servant to which Romans 1:1 refers.
Deuteronomy goes on to further explain the relationship of the servant to his Master. For the sake of completeness, we can briefly say that the "aul" in verse 17, a word used only twice in the Bible, is an instrument which the judges used (Ex. 21:6) and represents the Word of God, the judge of all mankind, which makes a hole or opens up the ears of the redeemed (Ps. 40:6), but only when the "door" is wounded at the same time. Therefore, the picture is that Christ, pictured by the "door," is wounded in order to open the ears of the elect to the Gospel. The word "forever" convinces us that these verses in Deuteronomy 15 are truly a description of salvation, the only kind of willing servitude that lasts that long. Finally, verse 18 tells us the words "he hath been worth a double" associate with the servant the idea of a firstborn, the heir of a double blessing (Deut. 21:17), which is similar to the label attached to Christians (James 1:18).
Essentially the word servant focuses upon Paul's willingness to serve his Lord. That service from the heart is a testimony to the work of God within Paul. That willingness is a reflection of the wonder and joy of Paul, that he would be able to be of any use to the Almightily Creator and Lord of the Universe, especially considering how he had treated Him before. Paul is overflowing with gratitude, always eager to do whatever he can for such a gracious God.
The word "servant," as many other words which are related to believers, can be understood in three different ways. The word can be thought of as a command, "Be a servant of God." In that light the word is a Gospel call to serve the Creator. The word can also be thought of as a description, "A true Christian is a servant of God." In that light the word states the objective and results of Gospel, a statement of the amazing fact that men are designed, enabled and allowed to serve the Creator. The word can also be thought of as a boast, "I am a servant of God." In that light the word is an expression of the heart that delights is serving the Creator, a word of love in response to God's grace.
"of Jesus Christ"
The words "of Jesus Christ" form a genitive phrase of possession. They can be rewritten as "Jesus Christ's" which clearly describes Paul as belonging to or being owned by Jesus Christ. This observation leads us to the following ideas.
The fact that Christians are the possessions of Jesus Christ is the basis for their salvation. We can understand this is several ways. For one thing, possession refers to election. The Father has given a people to the Son and it is the Son's assignment and determination to give them eternal life (John 6:37,39, 17:2,9). For another thing, possession refers to payment for sin. Jesus has bought His people with His blood in the sense that, having paid the penalty of eternal death on their behalf, they have been released from bondage to sin and Satan and captured by Jesus as if they were the spoils of war (Matt. 12:29, Acts 20:28, I Cor. 3:23, I Pet. 1:18,19). Finally, possession refers to the love that the Savior has for His people and which they have for Him (Song. of Sol. 2:16, 6:3, 7:10).
The fact that Christians are the possessions of Jesus Christ is the basis for their identity. People can only understand who they are by their relationship to something outside of themselves. Sometimes, in our modern society, people are identified by their vocation, attitudes and behavior, that is, their personal qualities. Sometimes who they are is described by their relationship to other people, especially their family members. As it turns out, real identity always requires an external relationship.
Perhaps we can clarify the idea of a need for an external relationship in the following way. Imagine a man in a small boat in the middle of a calm ocean. Let us imagine that the sun is directly overhead in a cloudless sky. We shall also imagine that he has no measuring devices and that can he cannot see any land on the horizon. In this situation, it would not be possible for him to answer the question "Where are you?" Other than the fact that he is somewhere in the middle of an ocean, there is no answer to the question. The reason is that there is no frame of reference. He can only explain where he is in relationship to external things. This illustration, in a limited way, highlights a person's spiritual situation. He needs a frame of reference too, not just to tell him where he is but to know who he is as well. A believer's frame of reference is Jesus Christ. A believer is identified by the fact that he belongs to Jesus Christ. Who he is and for that matter where he is depends totally upon Jesus.
God can say "I am" and leave it at that, because that says enough. However, there is no such human independence in this universe. Therefore, the Bible is saying that peoples' identity is not found in their personality or in their achievements, rather they know who they are when they know to whom they belong.
The fact that Christians are the possessions of Jesus Christ is the basis for the meaning to their lives. A believer's life has value and purpose because he is doing the perfect eternal will of his Lord (Isa. 43:1,21, Rom. 1:15, I Pet. 2:9). Jesus alone has a goal that lasts and which provides the maximum benefit for men. As servants of Jesus Christ, busy fulfilling His goals, Christians accomplish the most and the best by doing what He wants them to do.
"called to be an apostle"
This phrase does not mean that Paul was called an apostle by those among those with whom he lived, although he may have had that reputation. Nor is the idea that God gave him that title. Rather, the word "apostle" refers to a commission. The phrase could be rendered as "a called apostle" to show that he was conscripted by God. This leads us to two conclusions.
First, we can say that Paul brought to his job the authority of God. The fact that he was an apostle and the words which he spoke, as an apostle, were God's ideas. Paul was not an apostle as a result of his character or achievements but of God's grace (I Cor. 15:9,10). Secondly, we can say that Paul, called and also empowered by God to be an apostle, really was an apostle. That is, he was not called to apostleship and on probation. It was not that it was uncertain if he could do the job and so had to prove himself. Paul's job was unique and important in the construction of God's church and God saw to it that Paul's ability and effort matched his calling.
We can think of the words "called to be an apostle" as a summons from the King. The King calls His people to stand before Him so that He can give them an assignment. Having called His people to Himself and instructed them concerning His will, the King then employs them. The King sends them out as Christians to a foreign land, earth, in order to do His business as ambassadors on His behalf. The King's people are called to complete His program before He returns to complete the course of this universe. This call is part of every Christian's new life. No Christians today are given the official office of an apostle. But all, when they are saved, are dispatched to earth on temporary assignment to serve their King as His witnesses.
"separated unto the gospel of God"
The word "separated" is aphorizo. It is composed of a prefix which means "away from" and a root which means "to border off," "keep away," or "separate." Our English word "horizon" is derived from the root, and is used as a label for the imaginary line that separates the earth from the sky. It is a very strong word, translated in Acts 10:42 as "ordained" to describe God's authoritative and certain plan in which He separated Jesus as the unique Judge of men. The complete word "separated" is translated in Matthew 13:49 and in II Corinthians 6:17 as "separate" to emphasize the separation of believers from unbelievers. It is used as "separate ... divided" in Matthew 25:32 to make a similarly strong contrast.
The word "unto," eis, is in the accusative case. The accusative case is used to highlight the fact that the action of the verb is directed toward a specific object in the sentence. In this phrase, the word "unto" restricts Paul's separation to the Gospel of God. Paul is not separated to anything else but the Gospel of God in the sense that the Gospel alone defines his calling. In other words, there is no political or social dimension to his calling. He has no other message than the spiritual message of the Gospel of salvation from the wrath of God and the reconciliation of souls to God.
Paul's separation is a witness of his calling by a sovereign God unto salvation and service. Paul was separated before he was born, even though he was not actually born again until he grew up (Gal. 1:15). From this we can say that it was always God's intention to separate Paul. He was a man reserved by God for the Gospel. In that sense, all of God's people, even when they are still unsaved, are separated unto the Gospel. This is the idea behind the fact that Jesus comes for His lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7, 19:10). He knows who are His own. He then comes into the world to save them. From this point of view, the word "separate" is a reference to God's election. It does not refer to what God does to a person after they respond to the Gospel, but to what God decides to do before He comes with the Gospel. All the elect, Paul included, are those whom God seeks and separates by the Gospel.
The word "separated" also highlights limits and boundaries. As God separates people, it becomes clear that they are not people of the world. Rather they are people who are part of the Gospel. As God directs His peoples' lives, they are witnesses in both word and deed that they have been separated. Therefore, the word "separated" is also a reference to the character of a Christian's life of service to his Lord, in the sense that there are limits to his behavior. As a Christian separates from sin and the allurement of the world, he leads a different life from those around him. He is able to faithfully obey the Word of his God (see Leviticus 20:22-26, compare Isaiah 52:11 with II Corinthians 6:17).
Verse 2, "which"
The antecedent of this pronoun is the phrase "the gospel of God" in verse 1. We also ought to point out that the parenthesis is not part of the original Greek text. They are uninspired punctuation marks inserted by the translators and will be ignored.
"he (God) had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures"
This phrase means that the Gospel of God was anticipated in the Old Testament. The implication is that, since no specific Scripture is mentioned, the Gospel is found throughout the Old Testament. Therefore, we must not think that the Gospel is exclusively a New Testament program. It was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8) and to the Israelites in the wilderness (Heb. 4:2). In fact, in the light of such verses as Titus 1:2, we may state that Romans 1:2 is pointing out that the Gospel was planned before the creation of the world and then promised in the Old Testament.
It is instructive to briefly illustrate how we can find the Gospel in the Old Testament. Let us see how Genesis 1:2,3, in addition to being an accurate historical account of the creation of the physical heaven and the earth, is also a picture of the Gospel which God had already prepared for His people. The phrase "without form and void" by comparison with Jeremiah 4:23 can be understood to describe the Judgment of God, a time of great "darkness." The word "moved" is also used in Deuteronomy 32:11 to refer to the gentle care of God for His people. Therefore, the spiritual Gospel picture in Genesis 1:2 is that God follows the threat of judgment with a promise of salvation.
The fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 1:3 is that "God said, Let there be light." The words "God said" remind us that the fulfillment begins with the entrance of God's word, a word which comes in all of its power to create. Ultimately, Jesus is the word of God who creates, not only the physical universe, but also the new life in all believers. The word "light" also refers to Jesus. Jesus, the light of the world, is the fulfillment of God's word of promise (John 1:1, 8:12, 9:5).
As it turns out this spiritual Gospel understanding of Genesis is not something which we have forced into the verses. It is the interpretation of Genesis 1:2,3 which God Himself gives, as we see in II Corinthians 4:6. No matter where we turn in the Bible we will see the Gospel, but only if we let the Bible explain itself. The grand conclusion is that the whole Bible is a Gospel message for people of all times (II Tim. 3:6).
The reason the Gospel is called a "promised" Gospel in Romans 1:2 is that it is God's original idea and is a plan which He alone must and can fulfill. He first invented and designed the Gospel and then promised it through His prophets. It was a well-thought out idea long before He disclosed it to men. God alone planned how He would bestow grace upon men. God alone decided who would be the recipients of that promised grace. God alone sees to it that the grace does its work as promised. No one participates in the formation or the application of that promise. The concept of promise will be discussed further in Chapter 9. For now it is sufficient to say that the Gospel of promise reveals man's inadequacy and God's sovereignty.
Verse 3, "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord"
Linking this phrase to verses 1 and 2, we can say that Jesus was spoken of in the Old Testament, not occasionally, but everywhere (John 5:39, Luke 24:26,27). From this phrase we not only learn that He is prominent in all of the Bible, we also learn that He is always the "Lord." The Jesus of the New Testament is the same Lord God whom we meet in the Old Testament. He is the same Creator (John 1:3, Col. 1:16), the same consuming fire who will judge the wicked (Rom. 2:16) and the same Deliverer of His people (Rom. 11:26).
"of the seed of David according to the flesh"
We shall look at this phrase in reverse order as it appears in English.
The phrase "according to the flesh," a translation of the words kata sarkos, can be rendered "down flesh." The idea of the phrase used here can be expressed as "down the road of humanity" or "down the road of human genealogy." The phrase "according to the flesh" emphasizes that Jesus did not sort of look like a man. Rather, it means that He really became a specific human like all other humans because if we go down the road human genealogy, we will meet Him. He is part of the human race that can be traced from David and from Adam. However, He did not share in the curse which is part of Adam's race, for Joseph was not His father. He became part of the human race through Mary. We could hardly believe that the Almighty God, the King of Kings, became one of us if it were not told to us (Matt. 1:23, Gal. 4:4, I John 1:1-3).
That Jesus became a human gives us hope. We have the comfort that He took upon Himself a human nature so He has truly represented us, paying the penalty demanded for sin which only a human could pay (Rom. 5:15, 8:3, Heb. 2:14-17, 10:1-10, I Pet. 2:24). We also have the comfort that He will never abandon His humanity (Heb. 2:17, 18, 7:25). God does not have a plan that somehow excludes men from Heaven. In Christ, humanity has a place in Heaven forever, and so we believers who are human can be assured that we also belong in heaven (I Thess. 4:17). Finally, that Jesus is part of the human race means that He is a comfort to us as we struggle to live faithfully for Him now. As our Creator - God, He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows what is needed to help us. Yet, because of His identification with us, we are encouraged by the fact that He, from first hand experience, understands and cares for us who are weak (Heb. 4:15).
Although this is not the place to exhaustively discuss the Incarnation, we must warn every student of the Bible not be careless about what he thinks about it. A weak analogy to the incarnation, which nonetheless points us in the right direction, would be to compare it to a room added to a house. The existing structure is not affected by the addition but the whole house in no longer the same, for the new room is part of the house. Similarly, God did not change any of His divine attributes when Jesus was conceived and born of Mary. The best statement we can make is that the Son added or attached to Himself a human nature. The divine and human natures are not mixed up in one person, nor are they detached as if Jesus were two people. Jesus is one person but with both a divine and an additional human nature.
The words "of the seed of David" mean that Jesus could trace his human ancestry back to David. The line could be traced back through Mary, whose father was Heli, eventually to David's son Nathan and therefore to David himself (Luke 3:23-31). This link to David was part of God's promise "by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures." We can see that by turning to the words of the prophet Nathan as they are recorded in II Samuel 7.
God promised a future King, heir to David's throne (II Samuel 7:12). That king is Jesus Christ. This fact can be verified by comparing II Samuel 7:12 with Acts 2:29-30. God twice used the word "forever" (II Sam. 7:13,16), a word that can only apply to Jesus' Kingdom, the Kingdom into which all believers enter when they are saved (Col. 1:13; I Thess. 2:12).
II Samuel 7 tells us that He is a King who serves. The kind of service he provides is explained in verse 14, which when compared to I Peter 2:24, tells us that He will give up His life for His people. Joyfully, we have the Old Testament Gospel promise in verse 15 that God's mercy would not depart from Him. That is, according to Acts 13:32-34, His sacrificial service was successful. He triumphed over death and reigns as an eternal King over His people (Col. 1:13, I Thess. 2:12).
Verse 4, "And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead"
Before we can understand this phrase, we must first clarify a few of the details. Then we must look at the logic, that is, see how the different parts of the phrase fit together.
The word "declared" is a translation of essentially the same word translated as "separated" in verse 1, except that it does not have the prefix meaning "above." The reference, "Son of God" highlights the fact that Jesus Christ is very God. Jesus is one of the persons of the One Almighty God of the universe and equal to both the Eternal Father and the Holy Spirit.
We must dismiss the idea that as the Son, Jesus was somehow less than the Father and had to still grow up. The word "Son" is not equivalent to "immature child" or "less than the Father." Instead, it refers to the fact that Jesus is a different person than the Father or the Holy Spirit but still equal to them in all of His divine glory and majesty. We must recognize that Jesus is always the Son, eternally. This verse is explaining how that fact is declared.
The word "with" can be more accurately rendered "in." Normally we would say that power is in the Son of God. Instead, the order is in reverse, that is, Jesus is "in power." This sequence of words is used to express the fact that Jesus is exhibiting one of His attributes, as if power were a garment on display. Since there is really only one power in the universe, God's, we can conclude that Jesus exhibits divine power.
The words "spirit of holiness" do not refer to a quality of holiness, but to the Holy Spirit, the only spirit in the universe which is holy. Holiness is not some character trait which God dispenses to His people as if it resides independently in them. Only God is holy. Christians become holy because holiness accompanies His Spirit who abides in them.
Now, how we understand, the whole phrase depends upon how we think that the different parts are related to each other. One logical connection in this phrase which we will make is between the words "declared to be the Son of God" and the words "according to the spirit of holiness. Another connection which we will make is between the words "with power" and the words "by the resurrection from the dead."
First of all, we will ask, "how does the Holy Spirit declare Jesus to be the Son of God?" The answer is in the words "according to" a translation of the single word kata. The idea associated with the words "according to" is a written standard which governs behavior. In other words, we assemble a bicycle only if we do it "according to" the instructions that explain how to put the parts together. The phrase "according to the spirit of holiness" refers to the written directions of the Holy Spirit. What are those? They are the words written by the Holy Spirit in the Bible. Therefore, we can conclude that Romans 1:4 is saying that the Bible is the work of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of declaring and glorifying the Son.
All of the words in the Bible do that, but the focus of attention in Romans 1:4 is upon the words that speak of Jesus' "(in) power ... by the resurrection from the dead." Romans 1:4 is saying that we know Jesus is the Son of God because the Holy Spirit used the written record to declare His divine power, namely the power of the resurrection, not first of all the general resurrection, but the personal resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Son of God. He is, in a manner of speaking, dressed in resurrection power, and that divine power shows Him to be the Son. His personal resurrection displays that kind of power. The Holy Spirit's record of that resurrection in the Bible declares that fact to men.
Therefore, the message of Romans 1:4 is that the Holy Spirit described in His Word how the resurrection marked Jesus off as the One who was the Son of God. That is, the Bible describes Jesus' unique resurrection power, power which reveals Him to be the only Son of God (Acts 2:32 and 10:42), the person of the Trinity assigned the task of being a Savior as well as someone who is capable of successfully completing the assignment.
The resurrection revealed Jesus' authority (John 10:18) and His power to redeem His people (John 6:39, II Cor. 4:14). The resurrection revealed His majesty as the only begotten Son (compare Mark 9:10 with II Pet. 1:16-18). In a way, the resurrection was sort of a declaration, namely, that He was the Son and the Savior of mankind. Therefore, the King James Bible's use of the word "declared" is appropriate.
Together, Romans 1:3 and 4 declare that Jesus possessed the two essential attributes of the Savior. He must be fully man (verse 3), in order to pay the penalty for man's sin, and He must be fully God (verse 4), not only to be a worthy sacrifice, but also to endure the full payment for all the sins of all His people. This is the Gospel of God that was promised before in the Scriptures.
Verse 5, "by whom (Jesus Christ) we have received grace and apostleship"
If the word "we" is in contrast to the "ye" of verse 6, as if Paul were contrasting "we apostles" with "ye Romans," then this phrase refers to the personal experience of church leaders like Paul and Peter. The word "grace" in that case would be in the sense of I Corinthians 15:10 and the focus would be upon the special offices God ordains and the calling by which the Lord fills those offices in order to bring His Gospel to the nations of the world.
However, because all of God's people receive grace and are called to bring the Gospel to the nations, the phrase can also have a wider application. Not all are apostles, but all share in the same evangelistic calling no matter what their station or vocation in life. The Gospel shapes and dominates the lives of all of God's people.
"for obedience to the faith"
The preposition "for," eis, can be rendered "into." From this we learn that Jesus gives grace to His people for the specific objective of placing believers into obedience. Obedience to what? According to this verse, the answer is, "obedience to the faith."
We can think of the words "to the faith" as a reference to a specific standard which controls the obedience of God's people. That is, the words "the faith" can be understood as they are commonly used in the phrase "To what faith do you belong?" to refer to a religion defined by its doctrines of beliefs. The Gospel results in obedience to the faith, not just trusting as a character trait, but obedience to a particular kind of faith, namely, the doctrine described by the Bible. The Bible not only specifies the object in whom Christians trust, but also shapes the way in which they express that trust.
Verse 5 helps us to decide if the picture of a Christian which is being drawn in Romans is our picture too. In other words, it helps us answer the question, "How do I know I am saved?" We know we are saved if we have the joy of obedience that accompanies grace as verse 5 points out. Salvation is not a mental thing, but a big deal life commitment with real life consequences. Additionally, we know we are saved if we have the peace that is a result of abandoning ourselves to what is true, namely, the Word of God. If we have the heart to trust and obey the Bible and only the Bible, then we have good reason to say that the Gospel described in the introduction to the book of Romans has saved us too (I John 5:2).
"among all the nations, for his name"
The words "among the nations" hint at the grand and sweeping scope of the Gospel of grace. We can pick out certain words from verses 1 through 16 and end up with this statement: "the gospel of God which he promised afore in the Holy Scriptures ... among all the nations ... also to the Greek." From these words it is clear that people of the Gentile nations were anticipated in the Gospel promise. They were always targets of grace. Gentiles were part of the promises expressed in the Old Testament which foretold of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The plan of salvation to the Gentiles is not a surprise or an isolated idea in the Bible. Therefore, the Gospel of grace is the hope of sinners from all nations (Acts 15:14-19, Rom. 15:9-12), including the Roman empire (Rom. 1:7). Essentially, the point of verse 5 is that there are no national prerogatives or liabilities. There is one kind of a man - a sinner (Rom. 3:9), one kind of a problem - the wrath of God upon sin (Rom. 1:18), one kind of a solution for man - the Gospel (Rom. 3:29,30).
Verse 5 concludes with the statement that the Gospel, the method God uses to bring it to men and the results of the proclamation of that Gospel are "for his name." That is, the ultimate objective of all things is for the honor of the name, not just the honor of specific name Jesus Christ, but for the glorification of the person of the Son of God, Who is God Almighty (Rom. 11:36, 16:27).
Verse 6, "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ."
The genitive phrase of possession, "ye also ... of Jesus Christ," highlights the fact that there is no such thing as human autonomy or independence. Once free of bondage to sin, believers become the possessions of Jesus Christ who bought them with His blood, earning the right to be their Lord. People are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:16-18). As we discussed in verse 1, the idea of possession is based upon love. The wonder of God's love is that "Jesus actually wants me! And paid a great price for me!" This is, of course, a reflection of His grace rather than a consequence of any merit in those who are saved.
Verse 7, "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God called to be saints"
We must be careful about our understanding of the word "called." The particular word, kleetos, translated "called" is a spiritually neutral word. That is, the use of the verb alone does not imply that the subjects of the verb (the members of the Roman church) are saints. It simply means that the people were called to be saints as a goal or an objective. The word is not the same as a similar word translated "called" in Romans 8:30, which seems to refer to an effectual call of God. The calling in Romans 1:7, mentioned also in Romans 1:1,6 and 8:28, could lead to salvation but does not always do so. In fact, the word is used in Matthew 20:16 and 22:14 to refer to a calling which many times does not lead to salvation.
The word "saints" does not mean "particularly godly or holy." It is a label that applies to all Christians to refer to the fact that they are not part of the world anymore, that they are separated from the world and unto God. The implication is that if they are truly saved, they will show it. For the most part, they will behave unlike the unsaved people of this world and behave like their holy and heavenly Father. Paul's desire is that the church members will display the righteousness of God in unrighteous Rome.
Therefore, the phrase "called to be saints" does not describe the reputation of the members of the church among men. They are not called saints by the Roman community. Nor does it mean that the members of the Roman church are exceptionally holy. Instead the phrase highlights what the objective of the members of the church ought to be.
From the words "to all" we see that Paul is writing a letter that will be read in the whole church. Therefore, since Paul cannot know the hearts of men, he writes in a general way for the whole church at Rome. How each individual member of the church reacts to the message depends upon his spiritual condition and ultimately the grace of God. The Holy Spirit will apply the message to whom it fits. For example, when the letter comes addressed "to all ... beloved of God," the response of all who read the letter ought to be "Is that message for me?"
"grace to you and peace"
These words express Paul's personal desire for the members of the church at Rome. Both grace and peace refer to the same thing, salvation (Rom. 3:24, 5:1). Paul always hopes for the best for others, for spiritual blessings (Rom. 1:11). Paul's desire matches God's desire for His elect.
The hearts of unsaved men are dominated by their egos. From the rotting stinking cesspool of their hearts come impatience, frustration, jealousy and anger toward God and men. In contrast, a Christian is loving and selfless. Notice the emphasis on the words "you" (verse 7), "you," "your" (verse 8), "you" (verse 9), "your" (verse 10), "you," "your," "ye" (verse 11)," etc. The Christian atmosphere is full of concern for and interest in others. There is not a selfish, self-centered focus dominated by the words "I," "me," or "mine," but a caring, sacrificial, others-directed focus. This is because the Christian heart is made to be like Christ's.
"God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ"
We cannot say that we fully understand God, but what we say about Him must be accurate. We must not say things about God that the Bible says are not true. For example, we must dismiss any idea that this phrase teaches the Father is God but that Jesus is different from God and less than the Father. The Father and Jesus are both God. One support, among many, for this fact is found in a comparison of Titus 1:3 which has the phrase "God our Saviour" with Titus 2:13 which states "our Saviour Jesus Christ." The word God and Jesus Christ are used interchangeably.
One purpose in using the conjunction "and" is to emphasize the fact that there is perfect agreement in the Godhead. Both the Father and the Son desire and send the blessings of grace and peace for all those who believe. That is the foundation of a security which is unbreakable (Rom. 8:31).
Verse 8, "I thank my God"
Verses 1 through 7 introduce both the righteous Savior and the people whom He saves. Verses 8 through 15 focus more upon the believers, whose character and behavior illustrate the righteousness of God. According to verses 8 through 12, one of a Christian's dominant occupations is prayer. After God initiates a work of grace, believers reveal that work in many ways, one of which is the response of prayer.
We thank Him who gives. Therefore, Paul is thankful to God, who is the only giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Paul is thankful to God for "your (Roman Christians') faith" because faith is a gift which He alone can bestow (John 6:29, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). Paul is thankful to God for the fact that their faith is "spoken of," meaning that they are faithful witnesses in Rome, because only He can keep His people walking in His will (Phil. 2:13). Paul is thankful to God for the fact that they have an opportunity to be a witness in cosmopolitan Rome so that people who visited the city were affected by that witness and returned "throughout the whole earth," with the result that other people far away could hear and be saved. God alone creates opportunities for evangelism and is in charge of its effect upon men (Col. 4:3).
Paul was motivated to give thanks to God for the witness of the gift of faith in believers because the faith in the lives of God's people advertised His character and vindicated His honor. After all, it is really His faith which is spoken of throughout the world. Their faith showed the handiwork of God, that He was able to make His people trust in His word. The fact that some Romans had faith in the first place showed that God means what He says and keeps His promises. It was a great relief to Paul that God can be held to His word, that He is not wishy washy, forgetful or devious. Paul was thankful that God is the kind of God that He is, that He is holy, true, gracious and especially righteous. When we think about it, prayer is a thing of wonder. God is so Big. He is the Creator, Sustainer and Judge. He is the Designer of the Gospel and Fulfiller of its promise. We are so small, of the dust and sinful at that. We must not misunderstand the prayers of we, who are creatures, to our Creator. It is amazing that we can talk to God and that He will carefully listen. But we do not grovel before God in the sense that we seek to influence Him, either gain His favor and blessings or escape His wrath. Instead humble prayer means that we recognize that we are dust and dependent upon His grace. He deserves all the honor for its own sake. True prayer is a realistic conversation from the creature to the Creator who loves him.
"through Jesus Christ"
It is frightening to approach such a big God. How can a creature, a fallen creature at that, pray to Him? The Gospel message is that through Jesus Christ we are able to come to Him, in fact, in Christ we are comfortable in His presence.
The basis for our boldness before God can be explained as follows. When we see how awful sin is, we then understand the awful judgment which must come upon us because of it. When we understand the awful judgment which must come upon us, we know the extreme to which God was willing to go in Jesus to save us from that judgment. When God has shown that no effort is too big to rescue us from judgment, we are assured that He will not someday run out of patience with us. We know for sure that He truly loves us to the uttermost. Therefore, when we are assured that God loves us, we are able to approach Him, through Jesus Christ. After all, we only speak freely to whom we believe will not condemn us but who wants to hear us because he loves us (Psalm 116:1,2). Also we speak to whom we trust will give us a wise and helpful answer (Prov. 3:6). For those reasons we pray to God.
The words "through Jesus Christ" express the authorization believers have which allows them to come before a holy God. They will not be consumed because their sins have been paid and because their hearts are pure. They are, in fact, "in Jesus Christ" (Rom. 8:1), so that when the Father looks at His people praying, He sees Jesus Christ and accepts them because of His love for the Son.
"that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world"
The word "spoken" is a combination of a prefix meaning "down" and a root meaning "messenger." The word "world" is kosmos, indicating the whole creation and all who dwell within it. From this we get the picture of their faith being spoken of down into creation from heaven above. The idea is not just that the Roman Christians had a faithful reputation in the world, but rather that God of heaven is in charge of the progress of the Gospel.
Rome was the hub of the empire. It was where people came from all parts of the world for commerce and civil affairs. From a human point of view, we can see how some men from every part of creation could be in contact with believers in Rome and after being converted return to their own corner of the world with the faith of the Gospel. However, Paul is looking deeper than the mechanism and circumstances by which the Gospel spreads its influence in the world. His thanks go all the way to heaven where God is, because He is the one who really is delivering the message down from Heaven to the hearts of people to whom Christians witness. All the opportunities to show a light in this world, and the opportunities would be many in crowded Rome, would result in nothing unless God gave some men the desire and ability to speak it faithfully, as well as gave to other men the mind to understanding and the heart to obey what they heard.
We must not forget that it is God who really does the witnessing and who changes hearts (I Cor. 3:6, II Cor. 5:20). The thanks is really that people from many parts of the world are speaking, not just about the Roman Christians, but also about their faith, namely, the Gospel. Paul is thankful that God is doing His spiritual work in His creation. Additionally, he is thankful that the Romans are among those whom God uses to do His work.
The words "the whole world" imply that the whole world will hear the Gospel as God has planned (notice 3:19 and 10:18). Therefore, Paul thanks God that the whole world hears so that God will be glorified by the whole world and so that men of all nations will hear and believe, inasmuch as God is the only one who can save them. The Gospel is the only hope of the world.
Verse 9, "without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers"
We are continually amazed by the change in Paul, not only in his outlook as expressed in verse 8, but also in his actions. A man who once trusted in his own might and used it to destroy the work of the Gospel was changed to a man who relied entirely upon the might of God, as he sought His help to proclaim the Gospel as well as rejoice before God in the triumphs of the Gospel.
Of the many new activities which occupy Paul, Romans 1:8-10 emphasizes prayer. Prayer is not a peripheral Christian exercise, but a central part of a new life (Heb. 13:15, Eph. 6:18, I Thess. 5:17). Prayer is the natural expression of a heart that has been made right by God. In fact, prayer itself is a creation of God (Isa. 57:19) as is the new heart that thankfully offers prayer to God (Ezek. 36:26).
Verse 10, "if by any means ... I might have a prosperous journey"
The words "if" and "might" are used to highlight conditional phrases. They indicate what is potential but which may not necessarily come to pass. From Paul's point of view, what he requests is possible but not certain.
The two words "prosperous journey" are a translation of one word in Greek, a form of euodoumai, and can be translated as "be prospered." It is used in I Corinthians 16:2 to refer to material prosperity and twice in III John 2 for both physical and spiritual prosperity.
Why is Paul so tentative? Doesn't he believe that God wants such prosperity for himself? Is Paul so uncertain of God's care and interest in his welfare?
This verse does not express Paul's doubt in God's intentions or program for believers such as himself. The words "by the will of God" hold the key to its understanding. Paul is expressing a healthy respect for God's sovereignty and his own status as a redeemed creature who must not dictate to God (Psalm 100:3). In other words, Paul is a servant of the King, who trusts that He desires the very best for him. Paul is not uncertain of His care even though he does not know the details of all of His plans. Therefore, this verse gives us the proper attitude of Christians' prayers. Christians pray humbly, always ready to conform to God's will (I John 5:14). They pray trusting that God is willing and able to turn all things for the benefit of His people (Rom. 8:28).
There is an abuse of prayer that is so serious that we ought to digress from our study of Romans and say a few words about it. Sometimes people expose their lack of trust in God as well as their stubborn willfulness by how they use prayer. For example, sometimes people will say, "I know that my decision is the will of God because I prayed earnestly and much about it," as if the amount and the fervor of their prayers alone determined what was the right thing to do. This is a common statement of many people who are in rebellion against God, especially church leaders who wish to change the course of their church away from the expressed will of God. Too often people will not base their decisions on a correct understanding of the Bible, but upon their own desires. They not only twist the meaning of the Bible but also emphasize their prayer, in order to validate their plans and justify their actions. As another example, people will use their prayers to preach to someone else in their presence, as parents sometimes use prayer to lay out the sins of their children in prayer in the presence of their children. This kind of prayer, which is really not talking to God but an unbiblical criticism of others, is often a method for the person who is praying to highlight the sins of others in order to deflect attention from their own sins. It is the kind of prayer that is recorded in Luke 18:9-14.
Prayer that God accepts comes from a truly humble heart, humble before God and humble before other people. That kind of prayer is guided by a faithful understanding of God's word. That kind of prayer comes from someone who has a content trust in His will and a patient trust in His schedule, for himself as well as for others.
Verse 11, "that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift"
This verse highlights the chief content of Paul's, and for that matter, every Christian's prayer. Above everything else, Paul prays for the spiritual enrichment of the members of the Roman church. The words "spiritual gift" particularly refers to the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13, Acts 2:38, 10:45, Rom. 8:9) and blessings which the Holy Spirit provides (Gal. 5:22-25). Therefore, the words "some spiritual gift" in this verse refer to anything which accompanies salvation. The greatest desire of a believer must be that others learn to love, trust, and obey the Lord Jesus Christ.
Spiritual is not the opposite of real, but the opposite of material (John 3:6). Therefore, the focus of a Christian's prayers for others is not primarily for material prosperity but for spiritual prosperity. In fact, it is sometimes appropriate to pray that God would not bless someone physically if their indulgence in the world seems to be an impediment to their seeking salvation. In all cases, by all means, we should earnestly desire the spiritual blessing of others.
The word from which the phrase "I may impart" is translated is used only 5 times in the New Testament, to refer to physical giving (Rom. 12:8, Eph. 4:28, Luke 2:11) and to spiritual giving (I Thess. 2:8). The words "I may impart" do not mean that Paul personally has the power to distribute spiritual blessings. Rather, we must think of Paul's involvement as a means through which God bestows spiritual gifts. Paul acts in a physical way, witnessing and praying with his physical body, the only thing which he can do. At the same time, he prays that God will use his actions to bring spiritual blessings. As this verse puts it, Paul's does what he can physically "to the end ye may be established" spiritually.
Verse 12, "that I may be comforted together with you"
This desire of Paul was fulfilled, as we see in Acts 28:15, when he arrived in Rome. However, the comfort was not simply the reinforcement he obtained in their mutual fellowship as humans, but in the fact that as II Corinthians 1 states, they all found comfort in the Gospel. He wants to fellowship with them as a Christian. The point of this verse then is that Paul is thankful to God that they both share the comfort of salvation. There is a certain confidence in Paul's prayers that God has indeed established the members of the Roman church in the Gospel (Rom. 1:8), and an expectation that God will establish them in His righteousness.
Verse 13, "let"
This word is best translated "forbid" or "hinder" as in Acts 8:36 ("doth hinder"), or Acts 16:6 ("and were forbidden").
"fruit" This word, karpon in Greek, refers to the evidences of spiritual maturity, for that is how it is used in John 15 and Galatians 5:22. It does not refer to people who are saved as if Paul were saying that he might have many converts among the Romans. Rather, it implies that he might have the joy of seeing evidence of the fruit of righteousness in the lives of the Roman believers.
This verse establishes the important attitude of contentment that must accompany prayer. The phrase "but I was let hitherto" or in other words "but I was prevented from fulfilling my purpose of coming to you" is not a whine of frustration but a realistic and trusting recognition that all things are in God's control. If Paul's intention to go to Rome was thwarted, it was because God restrained him. Paul looked past the physical reasons that prevented him from going to Rome and realized that God directed all the events in his life for His greater purposes. As he mentioned in verse 10, all prayers are subject to God's will.
In this regard we can understand the words "Now I would not have you ignorant brethren" to imply that Paul wants the Romans to also react to his delay in appearing in Rome with contentment and trust in God's will. They are not to be ignorant of the fact that God is God and in control of all things, for the spiritual benefit of His people. There are few if any rebukes in the Romans, so that we can think of verse 13, not as a corrective of the sin of discontent, but as a word of encouragement which is meant to maintain the Romans' attention heavenward and reinforce their walk of righteousness.
Once Paul planned and prayed for the details in his journey the next step was to trust that God had his best interests at heart and abide in the way the events eventually unfolded. God uses many instruments to guide, direct and at times restrain men's actions. He is always in control (Prov. 21:1, Acts 16:7). That is a spiritual perspective only a Christian understands (Psalm 23:3). However, it is not as if believers are resigned to the arbitrary whims of a person who is mightier than they. Rather, they know that what God does is purposeful, specifically for their spiritual benefit. As this verse puts it, Paul is looking forward to the spiritual fruit he might expect among the Romans. In the meantime Paul was not losing out, for he was witnessing spiritual fruit "among other Gentiles" with whom he resided. Paul recognized that it is God's will that he works among the people with whom he currently lived before he moved onto Rome.
This verse helps us see what Paul was thinking about while he was constrained to remain away from Rome. It was his observation that God was challenging him to stay put and see to it that spiritual blessings come upon Greeks and non Greeks, or barbarians as the Greeks called them.
"I am debtor"
The word "debtor" is based upon a word that has the straightforward meaning of "debt" as "to owe" (Rom. 8:12, Gal. 5:3). The focus is upon the commitment to make full payment. The word "debt" must be tied to the words "preach the gospel" in the following verse which explains what is owed.
The phrase is a statement of recognition of the obligation which accompanies the calling to be a Christian and in Paul's case, of an apostle as well. There is no escape from the debt. The phrase expresses the fact that when we enter the kingdom of God, preaching the Gospel comes with the territory. If we have been saved, we have an obligation to God to carry out His commands (Matt. 28:18-20; II Tim. 4:2, II Cor. 4:13), one which is to share with other men the way to salvation (II Kings 7:9, I Pet. 29). To put it crudely, whether we like it or not, we have that obligation (I Cor. 9:16,17). The phrase also expresses a mature personal commitment to make the full payment for a debt owed. Paul is a man who recognizes all that Jesus has done for him. Therefore, he loves his Master and delights to do His will. As a man who understands the peril of an unsaved soul, Paul gladly does his daily "chores." From that point of view, verse 14 expresses a statement of Paul's heart. Not only does Paul want to do God's will, but also he has the same desire for the salvation of others that God has (Rom. 10:1, I Cor. 9:22). That is the mark of righteousness.
"wise and unwise"
The word "wise" (sophos) is a general term. It is applied to both unbelievers who are proud of their mental accomplishments (I Cor. 1:19, 26) and to God who deserves to be praised for His wisdom (Rom. 16:27). Because it is a word shared by both man and God, we can think of it in the following way. God is the original intellect. Man who is created in the image of God to some extent imitates that ability of his Creator. Therefore, we can think of it as the capacity we normally label "intelligence."
All men to some extent have the ability to observe, analyze, and come to a conclusion. However, because unsaved men start with unbiblical suppositions, their thoughts will lead them nowhere (Rom. 1:22, I Cor. 3:19). They rest in and defend their self-made knowledge, which only serves to encourage their pride. How different they are from believers. The Gospel is the foundation of and guides believers' thinking. Their thoughts lead to wonderful results (Phil 4:8,9, II Tim. 3:14-16).
We must not think that the word "unwise" is the same as the word "wise," but with a negative prefix. It is a completely different word, a form of the word anoeetos. It is composed of a negative prefix "a" which is equivalent to our "un," "non," or "in," and a root which is based upon the word noeo, referring to spiritual intelligence (Rom. 1:20, "being understood"). The root refers to a way of thinking that is acquired through faith (Heb. 11:3 "understand") and which accompanies a heart that seeks to do God's will (Mark 8:17). The word "unwise" refers not so much to a lack of the ability to make conclusions based upon mental process but to a lack of the heart perception which comes as a gift from God through faith (John 12:40).
Therefore, unwise is not the opposite of wise as if it means unintelligent. Rather it is applied to unbelievers, who no matter what their mental abilities, cannot achieve wisdom because of the barrier of a lack of faith that stands in the way (Luke 24:25, "fools"; Gal. 3:13, "foolish"). Paul is saying that he is obligated to teach both those who are intelligent, who know much about the world and think that is enough to be righteous and those who cannot learn about spiritual things on their own. Actually, these words apply to the same people, people in need of the Gospel.
From one point of view Paul's debt is to God. But it is still appropriate to say that he owes a debt to other people. To Ananias and other Christians whom God used to bring him the Gospel, he owes thanks. However, this verse focuses upon the people who were walking unrighteousness, as he had once walked. The wise and unwise are the objects of Paul's evangelism. The principle is that believers recognize the spiritual need of their fellow man. They hear the cry of spiritual distress, which is not even recognized by the person who makes it. They owe a debt to be a good neighbor, a spiritually helpful Samaritan. That is why they respond in prayer and in deed.
We shall take the next three verses together in order to properly understand their main intent. We shall think about them in light of the phrase "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ" found in verse 16.
"I am not ashamed of the Gospel"
The word "ashamed" (epaischunomai) is a word composed of prefix meaning "over" and a root meaning "shame." It is a verb in the middle or reflexive mood, which is a grammatical construction that points out that the action of the verb is applied back to the subject of the sentence. The idea of the phrase is that Paul is not "overcome by his own shame" or as we might properly say it, "overwhelmed by shame." What does he mean by that? Well, it has to do with the phrase "of the Gospel." That is, there is something about the Gospel which potentially could overwhelm him but which he says does not.
Imagine the tremendous population of the city of Rome. According to verse 16, the Gospel is the great dynamite of an Almighty God. It is the "power of God unto salvation." But what happened when men preached that Gospel? Was there a great impact on the city? Did their work result in a great revival? Did many citizens become saved? Was there a city wide repudiation of moral and social depravity? No. Perhaps only a few dozen people were saved. The city was pretty much as wicked as it ever was, full of rebellious sinners. From his own human point of view, Paul could easily be wondering if God was with those evangelists or if the Gospel was really all that wonderful and effective, and then be over come with doubts and confusion about the Gospel's power.
The key to understanding the confidence expressed by the words "I am not ashamed of the gospel," despite the fact that there were many Romans but not many Christians, is found in the words "to everyone that believeth." The words are in the dative case, which highlights the fact that "everyone that believeth" are objects for whose benefit the Gospel power of God operates. That is, when God sent His powerful Gospel into the world, He had certain people in mind whom He wanted to bless with the Gospel.
God did indeed send His Gospel through Paul into the city of Rome and then into the world, but He was not in suspense as He waited and wondered who would take heed and be saved. Nor was He dismayed that something went wrong because only some responded to the Gospel. It was God's intention to save only some specific people. As the grammatical construction called "dative" implies, God had certain people in mind whom He would bless with salvation when He sent His Gospel into Rome through Paul. As verse 16 states, salvation is exclusively meant for the benefit of believers. In fact, the word "believeth" is a participle, describing not so much the action of believing, but the people who believe. It is a word that labels their character, as "believing ones."
From all that we have said so far, we learn that the power of God's saving Gospel is focused upon specific people, namely the "believing ones." It is as if we said, "do you want to see the power of God's Gospel? Well then look at the people who believe and you will see the trophies of that power." The words "who believe" describe the people who have been saved already. That is, it is not their believing that causes them to be saved, rather the belief is a mark that distinguishes them as ones who have been saved by the power of God's Gospel.
The message of Romans 1:16 is that salvation is given to specific "someones," people who are recognized as believers. Salvation is not just made available like products on a grocery store shelf, which people may shop for as they wish, the value of which is determined by its popularity. No, God has certain people in mind when He sends Paul to Rome. God sovereignly targets certain people to be saved by His Gospel. He also sovereignly causes those people to respond to that Gospel and display that salvation by means of their faith.
Therefore, as a mature missionary veteran, Paul did not take his clues about the progress of God's plans from what he saw in the world around him. Even though there were many Romans but not many Christians, Paul knew that his preaching or the preaching of others was not a failure. The results of the powerful Gospel are exactly what God intended them to be, no matter how few are saved. Even if the majority of the world rejects the Gospel, it is still the power of God unto salvation. The results of the Gospel are seen in the believers. If you want to see the power, look at the believers, look at the Biblical principles that guide their decisions and how they courageously walk faithfully amongst their unsaved neighbors. From that point of view, the results of the Gospel are excellent and not at all an embarrassment.
The leaders and the general population of Rome were impressed with power, great physical power and political authority. Although God was supreme in the physical world and among the nations of the world, His greatest work was in the affairs of the soul. That is what Paul understood about the Gospel. He knew that the Gospel has power to overcome the condemnation of the law. He knew that there will be no surprises on Judgment day for true believers. The shame of Ezra 9:6 will not be the believers' experience (Isaiah 45:17, Joel 2:26). He knew that the Gospel has power to enable believers to live an obedient life (Rom. 1:6,8,12). He knew that believers are not dominated by their weaknesses and troubles. And he knew that the Gospel has everlasting power (John 10:28, Eph. 1:13). He knew that even if believers sin after they are saved, the Gospel has power to cover those sins. He knew that as believers live on into eternity, they are protected from any future separation from God.
"to the Jew first and also to the Greek"
This is highlighting a chronological sequence and not a preference or privilege based upon value (Rom. 2:11). That is, the Jews were the first people in history to receive the promises (Rom. 3:2, 9:4). All men are the same but in the book of Romans, Paul must deal with the historical reality and show that it carries no spiritual advantage. Righteousness is not a blessing meant primarily for the Jews but which God condescendingly offers at a later time to the Gentiles.
"from faith to faith"
The first preposition, "from" is a translation of ek, meaning "out of." To this we add the fact that faith belongs to God. It is something which He possess and which He then bestows according to His own prerogative (John 6:29, Galatians 2:16, 20, Ephesians 2:8, and Philippians 1:29). With these ideas in mind, we can understand the first two words of this phrase to mean that faith is a gift that comes out of God. It is as if God has a bag out of which He pulls the gift of faith, which He then gives to His people.
The two words "to faith" are somewhat more difficult to understand. The preposition comes from eis, meaning "into." Perhaps a similar phrase in II Corinthians 3:18, "from (apo) glory to (eis) glory" can help us. The glory referred to is the "glory of the Lord." The words "from (apo) glory to (eis) glory" are preceded by "But we all ... are changed into the same image." These words of context lead us to say the words "We ... are changed ... in (or into) glory" are equivalent to the statement "We ... are changed into the same (i.e., Christ's) image." The conclusion of all this is that the words "to (or as it really is, into) glory describes a transfer of what God has, from Himself into believers. In the case of II Corinthians 3:18, it is a transfer of glory in the sense that we now bear the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). Similarly, then, Romans 1:17 is referring to a transfer of faith from the main reservoir, namely God, to the vessels of deposit, namely people called the believers. Believers now live with God's own faith within themselves.
The whole phrase, "therein (that is, in the gospel) is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" means that the righteousness of God is revealed when God transfers His faith to His people. We can observe the righteousness of God in that way, namely as we observe the behavior of His people. We will see how that works out in more detail when we begin to look into Romans 3:21 and following.
There is another idea, not necessarily taught in verse 17, but of which the words "from faith to faith" reminded us. The idea is that Christians always grow in faith, that is, grow in the obedient exercise of faith. In other words, a life of faithfulness begets more faithfulness. For example, the experience of trusting God in a crisis and seeing that He is true to His promises, makes us more trusting, which stands us in good stead when we face the next crisis. Trusting in God, even through sad and bewildering circumstances, encourages a believer to continue in his habit of trust.
Incidentally, the converse is also true. According to Romans 1:21 and 6:19, unbelief begets more unbelief. The troubles in the world tend to make an unbeliever think that God is capricious, absent or even mean. The lack of trust leads to less respect for God and His ways.
Taking a larger view, we could say that spiritually speaking, no one ever stays the same in their life. As time goes by, a person will either draw closer to God or fall farther away.
"as it is written"
Paul supports his statement of confidence in the Gospel by an appeal to the Old Testament. Paul's statement in verse 16 is not bravado or an expression of his stubborn refusal to face the facts. Paul's confidence is based upon God's Word. Paul knows that God's word is as good as He is and that the Bible's promises are reliable. Paul will never be ashamed if he trusts in them.
"the just shall live by (ek, out of) faith"
The quotation is from the book of Habakkuk. Notice that in Habakkuk 2:4 the phrase is written, "the just shall live by his faith." The disappearance of the word "his" in Romans 1:17 does not mean that Paul carelessly misquoted Habakkuk. Rather, it simply means that Paul left understood what Habakkuk stated explicitly. The word "his" refers to God. The just or righteous live out of God's own faith, which is a principle Paul had already stated in the phrase "from faith to faith."
The phrase "the just shall live by faith" does not teach people will be saved if they hang on to God by teeth clenched determination. It does not support a Gospel of works as if to say they shall secure salvation by their faithfulness. The proper interpretation comes out of our understanding of the phrases in Romans which precede that quotation, that faith is God's possession which He distributes to those whom He gives a new life.
The situation in Israel in Habakkuk's day was similar to the situation in Rome and, in fact, to the situation in our world today. The dismal scene is set in Habakkuk 1:4. Nevertheless, despite appearances, Habakkuk understood God's program for the earth (Habb. 2:14) and understood the power of heaven (Habb. 2:20). Habakkuk 2:4, the verse Paul quotes in Romans 1:17, is a boast that God's justice and grace will prevail no matter how bad things seem. Paul imitates Habakkuk's confidence, for they both had a spiritual perspective which transcended the social and moral events of their day.
Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted in two other places in the New Testament, with each context providing a slightly different emphasis. Galatians 3:11 adds the idea that God's faith is necessary for salvation because there is no other alternative to obtain righteousness. In ourselves, we are all, so to speak, like the Romans before Paul arrived with the Gospel. We do not possess any answers to our spiritual dilemma. Neither is there any hope in the pagan "Roman" society in which we live. Hebrews 10:38 quotes Habakkuk 2:4 to support the idea that we must stand fast amid a wicked world. Once we are saved, we must keep our focus upon the promises of God and be sustained by His faith, because living in "Rome" is difficult.
All three New Testament quotes of Habb. 2:4 can be merged to provide one message. "Rome" is no friend of grace, and we must not seek our hope in it. Our only hope rests in God who has all the resources for life. That is the Gospel which Paul preaches confidently.
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