Today we start a new series that will take us through Romans 1 & 2
Meditations in Romans : 1 : Humble Origins but Divine Origins
Rom 1:1,2 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God– the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures
Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt. For some of us who have been Christians a long time, ‘Romans’ is a familiar book, an important book in the canon of Scripture, and we know it well. I wrote verse by verse studies in Romans over ten year ago. It is a familiar book, but to avoid taking any of it for granted, I’d like to approach it completely fresh, as if I knew nothing about it, nothing about its background, as if someone had just handed it to me with no explanation. What would I find?
I would first observe that it seems to come in the form of a letter, from a person called Paul. A little bit later I see that he writes to people in Rome but that is not immediately obvious. To start with he is more desirous of saying things about himself. He doesn’t say where he is writing from (we believe Corinth) and he doesn’t date his letter (we believe it to be somewhere about AD57). But he immediately identifies himself with another historical figure – Christ Jesus, or Messiah Jesus: “a servant of Christ Jesus.”
It’s an interesting way of describing Jesus because it’s like putting his role or title first, and we don’t usually do that with Jesus; we usually just call him Jesus Christ. It’s as if Paul wants to emphasise Jesus’ role or activity. When he came he came as the Christ (the Roman term) or Messiah (the Jewish term), the one sent by God to fulfil a task on behalf of the Godhead. It is as if Paul has Jesus’ servant role in mind when he uses this form of address about Jesus. Yes, he was God’s Son, but he came to earth to perform a task on behalf of heaven.
Now Paul puts his own role first in this letter. Paul identifies himself as one related to this historical figure, Jesus but his relationship is simply that of a servant or slave (the word used can mean either). When someone introduces themselves to us as, “I’m the PA to Sir. James….” this person is gaining their status by their role and their role is as a representative of Sir. James. But when Paul attaches himself to Jesus, it is in no grand way; he simply describes himself as Jesus’ servant: “a servant of Christ Jesus.” A servant of a servant?
The immediate sense that we have, therefore, is that Paul (whoever he is, and we’d have to look elsewhere, especially in Acts, to see who he is and what his background is) is writing because he is Jesus’ servant and that he has something from Jesus to share. That’s the only reason a servant might be writing to us, to convey something from their master, certainly if that is how he starts out his letter, drawing his role to our attention. But there’s more to this. He doesn’t come as an ambassador, which might sound somewhat high flying; he comes as a servant, a more lowly figure. Now when you think about this, this adds greater weight to the letter, because the individual is not coming with his message but that of his master.
The strength of the letter comes because of the master, the originator of it, the one who has inspired it. So, if we were able to strip away all that we’ve previously heard or read about this letter, we’d be left with an immediate impression that here we have a letter written by this lowly servant on behalf of, and perhaps at the direction of, his master, Jesus (whose title suggests another servant).
Now of course Paul himself in another letter declared that “All Scripture is God-breathed,” (2 Tim 3:16) or God-inspired, and so, looking back and realising that this letter is now acclaimed as part of the Scriptures, we may assume that it is inspired by God, that God put it on Paul’s heart to write and inspired what he wrote. The point I think I am making, is that we often forget that these writings have their origins in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ. Our belief, as Christians, is that Paul didn’t just have some bright idea and then wrote, but that as ‘a servant’ of Jesus, he knew Jesus’ heart and responded to it and thus responded at that point in time.
John the Baptist, who we read of early in the Gospels, clearly came as a messenger from God with a God-given message. Now we have Paul, who doesn’t come with such blatant and obvious origins, but nevertheless comes as a divine messenger to us. He comes as a servant of the servant Son of God. Any status that he has comes from that role, as one who works for and serves Jesus. What he brings to us surely has its origins in the heart and mind of his master.
How easy it is to pick up a Bible and let it drop open and just read the words and then put it down – unmoved! Especially this is true when we have been tainted by the unbelief of liberal unbelieving theologians who have sought to take away any of the supernatural element from the holy Scriptures. For many people, these words on the page of the book or letter called Romans, could just be words that stay on the page – until we start reading and thinking about what is infront of us.
This is a man writing who claims to be a menial servant of the Messiah, the sent One of God. He writes because he IS a servant and writes to convey something of his master’s heart and his master is THE unique Son of God, Jesus Christ, who left all the glory of heaven and came and served his Father in the environment of earth before returning to heaven. Yes, all right, that description is staggeringly more than we would know if this was the first time we had ever picked up the Bible – but it is the truth conveyed by the New Testament and if it the truth, then we should reverently hold this letter from Paul, wondering what he might be wanting to convey from his master. This simply says, come reverently to this letter, realise afresh the wonder of what we have here and take time to read it and reflect upon it, and then marvel.