NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XIV)
This apostle to the non-Jews had the same attitude that we find in the prophet Isaiah. After he saw the glory of the LORD, and one of the Seraph’s took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips, he heard the LORD calling out desperately: “Who can I send? Who will go for us?” So without hesitation, Isaiah responded immediately: “Here I am. Send me!”1 Paul would share that same passion for the Corinthians: “It’s not my work of telling the Good News that gives me any reason to boast. That is my duty—something I must do. If I don’t tell people the Good News, I am in real trouble. If I did it because it was my own choice, I would deserve to be paid. But I have no choice. I must tell the Good News. So I am only doing the duty that was given to me.”2 Here Paul gives a clear signal that when someone receives a calling they should constantly be reminded, they are not in it for themselves but they are in it for the One who called them. That’s why Paul could endure his inconveniences, persecutions, rejections, beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck, to exclaim quite assuredly: “I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.”3
This means that Paul’s sense of duty was not a formality. He was compassionate about spreading the Gospel to all who would hear, especially those who had never heard the name Messiah before. As far as he was concerned, he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. All that he had accomplished as a compliant Jew and Pharisee was now thrown aside to put on the apron of a servant of Christ. He told the believers in Philippi: “At one time all these things were important to me. But because of Christ, I decided that they are now worth nothing. Not only these things but now I think that all things are worth nothing compared with the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Christ, I lost all these things, and now I know that they are all worthless trash. All I want now is Christ.”4
Early church preacher Chrysostom has this to say about Paul’s testimony of faithfulness: “What a noble soul Paul was! Having taken on himself a task full of such great danger, a voyage across the sea, temptations, intrigues, uprisings—for it was likely that one who was going to address so great a city, which was under the tyranny of ungodliness, should undergo temptations thick as snowflakes. He lost his life in this way, cut down by a tyrant. Yet still, he was ready to undergo great troubles. In fact, he was enthusiastic even in travail, even as one in haste. He was in a constant state of preparation.”5 The most recent candidate nominated for approval to the United States Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, said in his acceptance speech: “A judge who likes every result he reaches is very likely a bad judge.” Meaning, we are all susceptible to misjudging situations, and such should be taken as learning curves, not failures.
Preacher Charles Spurgeon makes this point: “He had preached the gospel throughout a great part of Asia, he had crossed over into Europe, he had proclaimed the Word through Greece; and if ever an opportunity should occur for him to get to the capital of the world, whatever might be the danger to which he would be exposed, he was prepared to go. He was ready to go anywhere for Jesus, anywhere to preach the gospel, anywhere to win a soul, anywhere to comfort the people of God. I do not suppose that Paul guessed that he would be sent to Rome at the government expense, but he was. The Roman Empire had to find a ship for him, and a proper escort for him, too; and he entered the city as an ambassador in bonds. When our hearts are set on a thing, and we pray for it, God may grant us the blessing; but, it may be, in a way that we never looked for.”6
Albert Barnes hears Paul saying, as he reaches a crescendo at the end of this first section of his letter: “’I am prepared to preach among you, and to show the power of the gospel, even in the splendid metropolis of the world.’ He was not deterred by any fear; nor was he indifferent to their welfare; but he was under God’s direction. and as far as He gave him the opportunity, he was ready to make known to them the gospel, as he had done at Antioch, Ephesus, Athens, and Corinth. This closes the introduction or preface to the Epistle. Having shown his deep interest in their welfare, he proceeds in the next verse to state to them the great doctrines of that gospel which he was desirous of proclaiming to them.”7
John Stott makes these points about the Greek text: “The NIV, ‘I am bound, and the RSV, ‘I am under obligation’ should properly be translated ‘I am [a] debtor’ (AV).”8 The question is why did Paul feel indebted to the believers in Rome? Stott says the answer is because Jesus Christ had entrusted him with the Gospel for them and he would be remiss if he did not pass it on to them. In other words, he is in indebted to them for Jesus’ sake. When taken in that sense, it should make every believer feel indebted to God after having been given the truth of the Gospel to share with those around them.9 And that feeling of indebtedness should never be satisfied until the believer actively witnesses to everyone the Holy Spirit leads to them or those He leads them to, about the good news of Jesus Christ. To say that Jesus would be pleased is an understatement. As Stott concludes: “We are debtors to the world, even though we are not apostles. If the gospel has come to us (which it has), we have no liberty to keep it to ourselves. Nobody may claim a monopoly of the gospel. Good news is for sharing. We are under obligation to make it known to others.”10
Verse 16: For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ because it is the power God uses to save everyone who believes – to save the Jews first, and now to save those who are not Jews.
This verse must be viewed in context to gain a fuller understanding of what Paul announces here about His commitment to the Gospel. First, in verses 11-12 Paul tells the Roman believers that he has long desired to come to Rome to meet them and teach about spiritual gifts so that both he and they will be encouraged to remain faithful. Then in verse 13, the apostle admits that things kept getting in the way but that he still hadn’t given up. And, in verses 14-15, he talks about how indebted he feels to all races and classes of people that they should hear the gospel preached to them, especially those in Rome. So that raises the question, why did he feel so purpose-driven? Why was he so insistent on delivering his message about the Gospel of Christ to them? Because he was not ashamed to preach the message of salvation through Christ to everyone who believes. I used to paraphrase this verse to read: “For I am proud of the Gospel of Christ…” Paul showed his allegiance to the Gospel during the time he traveled preaching the Gospel around Asia Minor and Greece. As he told the Corinthians: “This is the message we tell everyone: Christ was killed on a cross. This message is a problem for Jews, and to other people it is nonsense. But Christ is God’s power and wisdom to the people God has chosen, both Jews and Greeks.”11
It should be noted that Paul refers to the power of the Gospel to liberate. “Power” was Rome’s big claim. They had political power, military power, and economic power. Today we hear echoes of the same applied to groups and countries: such as “people power,” “super power.” We can add to this: “money power,” “voting power,” etc. But even as it was in the days of the apostles, the Gospel of Christ is still the only power today that can set people free from the bondage of sin. No wonder the apostle wanted to come to this empire city and show what real power looked like, and that was the power of the Good News.
When it came to proclaiming what God says is the right thing to share, even David was not bashful about telling everyone. He writes: “I told the good news of victory to the people in the great assembly. And, Lord, you know that I will never stop telling that good news. I told about the good things you did. I did not hide these things in my heart. I spoke of how you can be trusted to save us.”12 And another Psalmist had this to say: “I will tell people how good you are. I will tell about all the times you saved me – too many times to count.”13 One Psalmist went so far as to say: “I will discuss your instructions with kings, and no one will embarrass me.”14
Paul grew up in this Jewish culture where God’s Word was respected and revered. So it’s not hard to imagine that when he was given the Gospel directly through God’s Son, his esteem and awe for the Word would be enhanced. And little did Paul know at this time, how he would, in fact, do what the Psalmist said, be willing to tell kings about what he was given from above. And since Paul received his revelation from Christ, he was determined to do what Jesus said: “Don’t be ashamed of me and my teaching. If that happens, I will be ashamed of you when I come with the glory of my Father and the holy angels.”15
Then Paul gives his reason why he was so proud of the Good News he carried to every place the Holy Spirit led him. He defines it clearly: “It is God’s method of saving everyone who believes in what they are hearing.” The prophet Isaiah said it was God’s way of revealing how strong His arm is to save.16 And Jeremiah was told by God: “Isn’t my word like fire, like a hammer shattering rocks?”17 So Paul had no trouble telling the Corinthians: “The teaching about the cross seems foolish to those who are lost. But to us who are saved, it is the power of God.”18 So for Paul, the dynamo producing the power in the Gospel was that the Messiah had come to deliver. It had the power to draw; the power to break the chains of sin and set sinners free; the power to sanctify believers for God’s use, and the power to inspire them to give their all for the One who gave His all for them.
Early church scholar Pelagius had this point to make: “This is subtly intended to censure the pagans who, although they do not hesitate to believe that their god Jupiter turned himself into irrational animals and inanimate gold all for the sake of his monstrous lust, think that we Christians should be ashamed to believe that our Lord was crucified in the flesh he assumed, in order to save his image.… At the same time Paul is also bearing in mind those heretics who think that the crucifixion is something unworthy of God, not realizing that nothing is more fitting for the Creator than to care for the salvation of His creatures, particularly as He could not suffer any loss to His own nature, which is not subject to corruption. There is no power greater than the one which overcame death and restored to man the life he had lost,19 even if this seems like a weakness to an unbeliever.”20
1 Isaiah 6:8
2 1 Corinthians 9:16-17
3 Philippians 4:13
4 Philippians 3:7-8
5 Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 2, loc. cit.
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 See 1 Corinthians 9:16b
10 Stott: ibid.
11 1 Corinthians 1:23-24
12 Psalm 40:9-10
13 Ibid. 71:15
14 Ibid. 119:46
15 Mark 8:38
16 Isaiah 53:1
17 Jeremiah 23:29 – Complete Jewish Bible
18 1 Corinthians 1:18
19 See Hebrews 2:14
20 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.