NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part VI)
Charles Spurgeon made this observation: “What a glorious Lord we serve! He is God’s Son: ‘Jesus Christ our Lord.’ In His human nature, He is a Man of royal race: ‘of the seed of David.’ He was a man, therefore, He died: but He rose again, for He was more than a man. He is as much the Son of God as He was the Son of man. The humanity is as true as the divinity, the divinity as true as the humanity.”1 So often the divinity of Christ is expounded on to exhibit His Godly characteristics that awed His followers and even silenced many of His critics. But His human side is important too because we can relate to Him more realistically on that level. Not only that, but all that He went through physically, emotionally, and mentally gives us greater reason to admire Him for enduring what He did just so that we too could partake of His divine nature. Our Lord’s incarnation is an important factor in sharing His story with the world. As Paul told Timothy: “And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”2
John Stott gives us an interesting comment on this subject: “It seems then that the two expressions ‘according to the flesh’ and ‘according to the Spirit’ refer not only to the two natures of Jesus Christ (human and divine) but to the two stages of His ministry, pre-resurrection and post-resurrection, the first frail and the second powerful through the outpoured Spirit. So here is a balanced statement of both the humiliation and the exaltation, the weakness and the power of God’s Son, His human descent traced to David, His divine Sonship-in-power established by the resurrection and gift of the Spirit.”3 Not only was Christ a divine being before His incarnation, but after His death and resurrection, He received a new spiritual body. Not to make Him better as a celestial being, but that He could pass that same experience on us so that we can now follow Him into His heavenly realm after our time here on earth is finished.
Bible scholar Douglas Moo points out two parallel participial clauses found in verses 3b and 4 (NKJV) to show the effect of His incarnation.
Verse 3b Verse 4
“who has born” “declared to be”
“of the seed of David” “Son of God in power”
“according to the flesh” “according to the Spirit of holiness”
Moo goes on to say: “This parallelism, coupled with the presence of several words and phrases unique or unusual in Paul, raises the possibility that Paul is here quoting from, or adapting, an earlier tradition. Such use of traditional material is unobjectionable in itself, paralleled in other Pauline texts, and entirely appropriate as a means to establish some common ground with the unfamiliar Roman church.”4
Verses 5-6: Through Christ, God’s grace gave me the special calling of an apostle—to lead people of all nations to believe and obey Him. I do all this to honor Christ. You are some of those who have been chosen to belong to Jesus Christ.
Now that Paul introduced himself as to who he is, he continues by defining his mission and why he felt inspired to write this letter. Notice, he says that his “calling” was from God, but it came through the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was not bashful to admit that this gift was all due to God’s grace, not because of who or what he was. He told the Corinthians, the Galatians, and the Ephesians: “By the grace of God I am what I am.”5 Paul acknowledged: “We are insufficiently qualified in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency and qualifications all come from God.”6
Paul describes this calling as being that of an “apostle.” The difference between a “disciple” and an “apostle” is this: a disciple is one who is a “learner, follower, and pupil.” An apostle is one who is “sent out with orders, an emissary, messenger.” This illustrates that one must first learn before they can be sent out to teach. That’s why we see the followers of Jesus called disciples in the Gospels, and apostles in Acts and the writings of Peter and Paul.
But there was also a tradition in the early church that required anyone who was called an apostle to be someone who actually saw Jesus in the flesh. We see this reflected in the qualifications needed for someone to replace Judas Iscariot among the twelve: “He must be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. He must be one of those men who were part of our group during all the time the Lord Jesus was with us. He must have been with us from the time John was baptizing people until the day when Jesus was carried up from us into heaven.”7
So we can see why there were those who questioned Paul’s claim to be an apostle. That’s why he told the Corinthians: “I am an apostle. I have seen Jesus our Lord. You people are an example of my work in the Lord. Others may not accept me as an apostle, but surely you do. You are proof that I am an apostle of the Lord.”8 Even when Paul was ministering in Galatia, the Judaizers doubted his claim to be an apostle. So Paul gave this reasoning: “God gave Peter the power to work as an apostle for the Jewish people. God gave me the power to work as an apostle too, but for those who are not Jews.”9
Paul did not see this anointing as an apostle of Jesus the Christ anything to brag about, nor did he expect it to place him above others. As far as he was concerned, it only meant that he was to serve as a tool and vessel of the Holy Spirit in delivering the message of salvation available through grace. He tells the Roman believers, it was all intended to lead people to the knowledge of Christ and their submission to obedience to Christ. All that he said and did was to the glory and honor of the One who sent him. It is similar to the role of an ambassador. His pride and prestige are not in himself or his own laurels but in the reputation and honor of the country that sent him.
This was the mission statement that God gave to Malachi: “People all around the world respect my name. All around the world they bring good gifts to me and burn good incense as a gift to Me because My name is important to all of them.”10 But now that the sacrifice of Christ has replaced such offerings of incense to God, those who accept His Son are showing honor to Him by offering their talents and abilities and openly, with raised hands, offer Him praise and worship. Paul tells the Ephesians: “God decided to make us His own children through Jesus Christ. This was what God wanted, and it pleased Him to do it. And this brings praise to God because of His wonderful grace. God gave that grace to us freely. He gave us that grace in Christ, the one He loves.”11 Should not then that which we received so freely inspire and motivate us to give back to Him freely all that we are, all that we have, and all that we will ever be, in honor to Him who loved us so?
But Paul wants everyone to know that this calling and apostleship was not only for the original twelve, or for him and Barnabas, Mark and Silas. It was for everyone who believes. Paul says: “In Christ, we were chosen to be God’s people. God had already planned for us to be His people because that is what He wanted. And He is the one who makes everything agree with what He decides and wants.”12 Paul was so excited about what God was doing that he tells the Colossians: “Throughout the world, this Good News is bringing blessings and is spreading. And that’s what has been happening among you since the first time you heard it and understood the truth about God’s grace.”13 Giving our talents and abilities to God for His use should not be seen as a burden or some form of spiritual slavery, but an honor and privilege to carry His Name into all the world as ambassadors of His kingdom.
Apparently, Paul saw too many sitting in their pews and not participating in spreading this Good News of Jesus the Anointed One. So he wanted the Roman believers to know that they too were called by Christ to be His apostles. This idea of being chosen was not just for the Roman believers. Paul told the Corinthians: “God is faithful. He is the one who has chosen you to share life with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”14 He had the same message for the Galatians: “A short time ago God chose you to follow Him. He chose you through His grace that came through Christ.”15 And to the Thessalonians, he said: “We encouraged you, we comforted you, and we told you to live good lives for God. He’s the One who chose you to be part of His glorious kingdom.”16 Knowing this should help us better understand what Paul would say later about how all things work together for good to those who are “the called” (also “invited”, “selected”, “appointed”) – Thayer’s Lexicon), according to His purpose.17
Early church commentator Ambrosiaster had this to say about Paul’s special work as an apostle: “After the resurrection, Christ was revealed as the Son of God in power. He gave grace to make sinners righteous and appointed apostles, of whom Paul says here that he is one so that the apostleship might be granted by the grace of God’s gift and not because the apostles were Jews. They received this authority from God the Father through Christ the Lord, so that as representatives of the Lord they might make his teaching acceptable by signs of power. Unbelieving Jews, who had been jealous of this power when they saw it in the Savior, were all the more tormented at seeing it admired by the masses in His servants. For power bears witness to the teaching, so that although what is preached seems incredible to the world, it might be made credible by deeds. He says that the apostles have been sent to preach the faith to all nations, that they might obey and be saved, that the gift of God may appear to have been granted not only to the Jews but to all the nations, and that this is the will of God, to have pity on all in Christ and through Christ, by the preaching of his ambassadors.”18 This was said by a Church scholar between 366-384 AD, was considered by many historians to have been a member of the clergy in the Roman church. We must ask ourselves if this message is still preached by those who represent that same church today?
1 Charles Spurgeon: op. cit., loc. cit.
2 1 Timothy 3:16 – New English Translation
3 John Stott: op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Douglas Moo: op. cit., loc. cit., p. 45
5 1 Corinthians 15:10; Cf. Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 3:2
6 2 Corinthians 3:5
7 Acts of the Apostles 1:21-22
8 1 Corinthians 9:1-2
9 Galatians 2:8
10 Malachi 1:11
11 Ephesians 1:5-6
12 Ephesians 1:11
13 Colossians 1:6
14 1 Corinthians 1:9
15 Galatians 1:6
16 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14
17 Romans 8:28
18 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.