NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part VII)
Concerning what Paul meant by identifying the Roman believers as being part of those chosen to belong to Christ, some early church scholars see it this way: “This is a part of our mission who are preaching the name of Christ to people of all cultures, among whom you too have been called, because the gift of God has been sent to all, so that when they hear that they have been called along with others, they will know that they must not act as if they are under the law, since people of all cultures accepted the faith of Christ without the law of Moses.”1 Another writer says: “Paul says this in order to show that the Romans too, made up as they were of people from all cultures inhabiting the world, rightly accepted the preaching of his message.”2 Then Chrysostom notes: “Paul does not say that God called the others along with the Romans but the Romans along with the others.”3 And Augustine observes: “Paul teaches here that this salvation had come not only to the Jews, as some Jewish Christians thought.”4 And the early church bishop of Cyr adds: “Paul tells them here that he is not doing anything improper, nor invading fields assigned to others, for God had appointed him to preach to the Gentiles.”5 What these early church writers are expressing here is that they agree with Paul that Christianity is not broken down to fit the various cultures, manners, and customs of the world. We all pray to the same God, have the same Savior, and are led by the same Holy Spirit. Even among all languages, we share similar words such as “Amen” and “Hallelujah.”
This is a clear indication that writers and scholars of the early church did not attribute one becoming a firm believer in Jesus Christ as their Savior based on their heritage, family ties, joining the church, or participating in certain rites and rituals. Every true believer was “called” into the Kingdom of God and the Body of Christ. There are not there by accident, good fortune, or by someone else’s decision. They heard the call to salvation and responded in faith.
Reformer Martin Luther makes an interesting point on what Paul says here about his calling. He does not want those in Rome to get into arguments about their faith, or that which they are to believe. Luther says that those who are called are not ordained for their own sake, but on account of others, namely, to make them such as obey the Gospel, and thereby obey Christ who is the heart of the Gospel.6
Charles Spurgeon takes this calling personally. He preached: “That is a sweet name for every truly converted person. ‘Called of Jesus Christ.’ He has called you personally, He has called you effectually, He has called you out of the world, He has called you into fellowship with Himself: ‘the called of Jesus Christ.’ The revised version has it: ‘Called to be Jesus Christ’s.’ Those who are called by Christ, are called to be His.”7 Just as Jesus called His disciples to follow Him, and Paul was called by Christ on the road to Damascus to be an apostle to the Gentiles, so we are called by God, to Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to be His ambassadors to those around us and to whomever He may send us.
Albert Barnes focuses on how Paul refers to his calling: “Many suppose that this is a figure of speech by which one thing is expressed by two words, meaning the grace or favor of the apostolic office. Such a figure of speech is often used. But it may mean, as it does probably here, the two things, grace, or the favor of God to his own soul, as a personal matter; and the apostolic office as a distinct thing. He often, however, speaks of the office of the apostleship as a matter of special favor.8”9 Douglas Moo has a similar thought: “The third modifier of ‘grace and apostleship’ is ‘for the sake of His name.’ The phrase expresses the ultimate focus of Paul’s ministry: the name of Jesus his Lord. Generally in Scripture, ‘name’ connotes the person in his or her true character and significance. Ultimately, Paul ministers not for personal gain or even the benefit of his converts, but for the glory and benefit of Jesus Christ his Lord.”10 This should be the mission statement of every believer: I have been called to honor my Lord and bring Him praise and glory. And for every one called into the ministry: I have been called for the sake of His name to make Him known to everyone I meet.
To this we add John Stott’s six fundamental truths about the Gospel: “Its origin is God the Father and its substance Jesus Christ His Son. Its attestation is Old Testament Scripture and its scope all the nations. Our immediate purpose in proclaiming it is to bring people to the obedience of faith, but our ultimate goal is the greater glory of the name of Jesus Christ. Or, to simplify these truths by the use of six prepositions, we can say that the good news is the gospel of God, about Christ, according to Scripture, for the nations, unto the obedience of faith, and for the sake of the Name.”11 To this, we should all say, Amen!
Verse 7: This letter is to all of you in Rome who are beloved by God, and who He has chosen to be His holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now Paul makes the letter very personal. It is not like the letter to the Galatians which involved many congregations. This community of believers in Rome has never been visited by Paul. Little did he know at this juncture that one day he would spend a lot of time in Rome as a prisoner. In describing them as “beloved,” he suggests a close spiritual relationship. This phrase is used of someone highly esteemed, a favorite who is worthy of some gift. It was a cherished term used by Solomon for his one true love.12
Paul felt the same way about the Corinthians. He wrote to them: “I am writing this to counsel you as my beloved children.”13 To the Ephesians he wrote: “You are God’s beloved children, so try to be like Him.”14 And he congratulated the Philippians for being his beloved because they always obeyed, not only when he was there but when he was away.15 Paul also referred to Epaphras as a beloved fellow servant; Tychicus as a beloved brother; Onesimus as a beloved brother; Luke as his beloved physician; and Timothy as his beloved son.16 So Paul knew well what this term meant, and I’m sure he would not use it carelessly when applying it to the Roman brethren.
Paul had already spoken about those who were “chosen” by God. But now he adds to that by saying that he felt they were elected to be God’s holy people. Of course, the term “holy” denotes something or someone set aside for God’s use only. Therefore, it was often used as a synonym for being pure in heart, soul, body, and mind. As such, holy people with minds pure of prejudice or bias, given over to the work of God, were often referred to as “saints.” This was how Paul addressed members of the congregation in Corinth: “You were chosen to be God’s saints with all people everywhere who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.”17 So in other words, Paul wanted the Roman believers to know that he considered them as God’s special, holy people, saints of God.
One early church scholar speaks about the beloved in Rome this way: “Although Paul is writing to the Romans, nevertheless he indicates that he is writing to those who are in the love of God. Who are these, if not those who believe rightly concerning the Son of God? These are the ones who are holy and who are said to have been called. For someone who misunderstands this, they have not been called, just as those who act according to the law have not rightly understood Christ and have done injury to God the Father, by doubting whether there is full salvation in Christ. Therefore they are not holy, nor are they said to have been called.”18
He follows this opening with a greeting that was aimed at both the Gentile members and Jewish members of the congregation. He greets the non-Jews with “Grace,” and the Jews with “Peace.” He uses “chairo” (grace) in Greek, which was the way Greeks said hello and goodbye, and “shalom” (peace) which the Jews used for the same purposes. But he adds a special note to his greeting. He wants the readers to know that he does not speak on his own behalf, but for the One who called him, chose him, commissioned him, and anointed him to preach the Gospel to them.
Augustine also comments on this in seeing it as a reference to their personal relationship with God: “Instead of saying ‘greetings,’ Paul says ‘Grace to you and peace.’ Grace then is from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, by which our sins, which had turned us from God, are forgiven; and from them also is this peace, whereby we are reconciled to God. Since through grace hostilities dissolve once sins are remitted, now we may cling in peace to Him from whom our sins alone had torn us.… But when these sins have been forgiven through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall have peace with no separation between us and God.”19
Let’s look at it this way: if you received a letter in the mail signed by someone named, “I. M. Nasty,” you might laugh. But if at the top you see a letterhead marked: Internal Revenue Service, I’m sure you’d suddenly take agent I. M. Nasty a little more seriously. That’s what the Apostle Paul attempted to do here. He made sure they understood that even though he signed the document, the divine letterhead read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Paul uses this same greeting in all of his epistles.20 But Paul was not the only one, Peter and John used the same salutation.21 This shows the unity they had in the faith even though many were from different races, cultures, and ethnicities, yet the were one in Christ.
However, we must note that it wasn’t Paul’s grace or peace, but that which only God the Father and Christ the Son could give through the Spirit. It is important to point out that some Christians believe that calling the Creator of Heaven and Earth by the title, “Father” is only seen in the New Testament. Some believe and teach that God Almighty was distant to His people in the Old Testament, but came into a ‘Father-Son’ relationship only after the appearance of Jesus His Son. Are these claims true? Was calling God by the title “Father” a new teaching?
The answer is found in the Old Testament itself. For instance, Moses admonished the children of Israel because of their behavior: “Is this the way you repay the Lord for all He has done for you? You are stupid, foolish people. He is your Father and your Creator. He made you, and He supports you.”22 David acknowledged God as father when he wrote: “Lord, the God of Israel, our Father, may You be praised forever and ever!”23 Then we read in Isaiah: “Look, you are our Father! Abraham does not know us. Israel does not recognize us. Lord, you are our Father!”24 And again: “Lord, you are our Father. We are like clay, and you are the potter.”25 We also read in Jeremiah where God said: “I thought you would call me ‘Father.’ I thought you would always follow me.”26 And then: “I am Israel’s Father and Ephraim is my firstborn son.”27 And finally, God was grieved when He said to Israel in Malachi: “Children honor their fathers. Servants honor their masters. I am your Father, so why don’t you honor me?”28 To which the prophet added: “Don’t we all have the same Father? Didn’t one God create us all?”29 It should be noted here, that the term, “father” was also used as a synonym for male ancestors, a title of respect for a chief, ruler, elder, the author or beginner of anything.30 So its use must be understood in context.
2 Apollinaris of Laodicea: op. cit., loc, cit.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies Romans, loc. cit.
4 Augustine: Rudimentary Exposition of Romans 6
5 Theodoret of Cyr: op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Martin Luther: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Charles Spurgeon: op. cit., loc. cit.
8 See Romans 15:15-16; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7-9
9 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 53
11 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Song of Solomon 6:3
13 1 Corinthians 4:13
14 Ephesians 5:1
15 Philippians 2:12
16 Colossians 1:7; 4:7, 9, 14; 2 Timothy 1:2
17 1 Corinthians 1:2; Cf. Ephesians 1:15; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2
18 Ambrosiaster: Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Augustine: Rudimentary Exposition to Romans 8
20 See 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3
21 See 1 Peter 1:2; 2 John 1:3; Revelation 1:4
22 Deuteronomy 32:6
23 1 Chronicles 29:10
24 Isaiah 63:16
25 Ibid 64:8
26 Jeremiah 3:19
27 Jeremiah 31:9
28 Malachi 1:6
29 Ibid. 2:10
30 See Deuteronomy 1:11; 1 Kings 15:11; Matthew 3:9; 23:30; Judges 17:10; 18:19; 1 Samuel 10:12; 2 Kings 2:12; Matthew 23:9; Genesis 4:20, 21; Compare Job 38:28