Romans 1 - Session 1 (Romans 1: 1-7)
by Pr. Abri Brancken, Ph.D
Let us read Romans chapter 1 as we prepare to study it.
ROMANS 1 (NASB)
The Gospel Exalted
1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship [e]to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6 among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
7 to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. 9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, 10 always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; 12 that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Unbelief and Its Consequences
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
EXPOSITION OF ROMANS 1
V1. Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,
In verse 1 Paul identifies himself and he presents his credentials. We know that Paul studied under the best instructors and at the best institutions of his day. We would expect him to present his academic credentials in order to establish credibility with the church in Rome. Yet, Paul does not do this. For him, his most important credential is that he is a bond-servant of the Lord. Let’s take a closer look at the first three words of Romans 1:1 namely, “Paul, a bond-servant”. For Paul, it was important to start his letter in this way because it reveals to his audience how he sees himself. The title bond-servant reveals to his readers his heart attitude and his devotional commitment to the LORD. There is a difference between a slave and a bond-servant. Let’s explore the differences.
In ancient times, there were a number of ways in which you could end up becoming a slave. Here are three basic ways;
- If your parents were slaves, then their children were born into slavery.
- If you were captured during war (POW) you could become the slaves of the victor
- You could sell yourself into slavery, e.g. to repay personal debt, etc.
Historical records reveal that it was not unusual for Jews to own slaves, neither in ancient times or during the New Testament period. Because slavery was a familiar part of the culture, Jesus quite often referred to slaves and owners in His parables (Matthew 25:14-30 & Luke 12:41-48).
Under Roman law, a slave was considered the owner’s personal property with no free will except his masters will. Slaves essentially had no rights under Roman law, and that is what the church in Rome would be familiar with. To wilfully choose to be a bond-servant was unthinkable to a Roman citizen, who prided himself in his freedom and would never identify himself as a bond-servant. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) neither does it function according to this world.
WHAT IS A BOND-SERVANT?
The Greek word used meaning bondservant (v1) is doulos ( δουÍ‚λος doo'-los ). To be a doulos was to be the lowest form of slave and to labour without receiving wages. The term bond-servant was used to describe someone who held a permanent position of servitude by his or her own free will. In other words, a bond-servant was different from other slaves in that the bond-servant had the opportunity to be free, yet chose to come back and serve his/her master for the rest of their lives.
Under Mosaic law, every slave had the opportunity to be set free every seventh year (Ex 21:2). Also, the Mosaic Law allowed for a freed servant to become a bondservant if chosen voluntarily. God’s grace and mercy enabled slaves to be set free after serving their master for 6 years. In the seventh year, slaves had the opportunity to start anew in life. If, however, a slave was set free after serving his master for 6 years and that slave wanted to continue serving his master, he could do that by becoming a bond-servant. After informing his master about his desire to continue serving him, the master would then take a tool and pierce the servant’s ear on the doorpost. He would then stand there for all who pass by to see, declaring through this action that he has now become the bondservant of his master whom he loves. This bondservant was now his master’s servant for life and lived for His master's will and desires.
5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ 6 then his master shall bring him to [a]God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently.
A bond-servant is, therefore, one who is subservient (submissive) to, and entirely at the disposal of his master, by own free choice. Paul wanted the believers in Rome to know that he is entirely at the LORD disposal. He saw himself as someone who had the opportunity to live the life he wanted, but he chose to submit willingly to serve God’s purposes. Paul wanted them to know that he does not live for himself and for his own purposes, but for the will and purposes of God.
Something to think about:
“A bond-servant’s life is shaped by the will of his master”. Are you a bond-servant of Christ or are you living your life as you please? Do you have Paul’s attitude in serving Christ and obeying Him as your Master, or are you the master of your own life?
Most people want to be free, but freedom involves much more than just natural freedom. There is a spiritual freedom that is much more important than natural freedom and that freedom can only be found in the LORD. God wants us to be free both naturally and spiritually. Many people are living in spiritual bondage. The reason for this is that they think that being free implies that they can live their lives any way they want. This view is erroneous. True freedom is not the ability to do what you want when you want, but rather it is the ability to do what is right. Spiritually, you become free by surrendering your life fully to the LORD because then you move into the protection and provisional realm of God’s Kingdom. Unless you do that, you will never be truly free, for real freedom is only found in Jesus Christ.
"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will
When you surrender your life in loving and serving the LORD, you are set free. In God’s Kingdom, the bondservants are the ‘free men’ while those who freely live their lives apart from God are slaves to darkness. If you try to save your own life, you lose it, but if you give your life to the LORD, it is preserved. Paul knew this principle and therefore, he introduces himself not as a “free man” doing his own thing, but as a bond-servant, indicating to the church in Rome that his agenda in writing to them is God’s agenda and not his own.
True freedom is only found in Christ and doing the will of God. Being a bond-slave to God is to enjoy spiritual freedom.
Your life becomes the product of your master. Every man walking this earth serves something and whatever you serve, is what you are a slave to. You are a slave to the one you obey.
SERVING TWO MASTERS
Jesus made it perfectly clear that you cannot serve two masters.
Mat 6:24 - “No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
PARADOXES IN THE BIBLE
Those who are slaves to this world will live their lives for the temporal, neglecting the eternal. We need to guard against living our lives and defining its worth based on what we own, our position in life, who our friends are, what we have achieved and the praises of man, etc. Rather, we should abandon ourselves for the sake of living for the LORD. There is no grey area here. It is either one or the other. That which is highly esteemed by man is often highly despised by GOD. The way up in God’s Kingdom is the way down. Those who serve others are the ones who are great in God’s eyes, not the ones being served.
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 21And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” 22But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” 23He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.”
24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. 25But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. 26“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, 27and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Jesus came to serve humanity and therefore God the Father exalted Him. The same principle applies to us. The way up in God’s Kingdom is the way down on earth (Mark 10:43). The Bible is filled with paradoxes like this, e.g.
Examples of paradoxes in the Bible
- If you want to become great in God’s eyes, you must become a servant (Matt 20:26).
- Those who are last will be first (Matt 20:16).
- The Lion, Jesus, is also the Lamb (Rev 5:5-6)
- Believers in Christ are an army, but we are also a passionate bride (2 Cor 10:3-5 and Eph 5:25-32)
- To live as a free man you must become a slave unto righteousness (Christ)(Rom 6:18)
- To be God’s friend you need to be his bondservant
We as people become slaves so quickly. The enemy wants to entrap us in losing our focus of the eternal. Temporal pleasures and satisfaction often weigh heavier than eternity itself.
THE "ME" GENERATION
We are living in a "me" generation. All about me. Paul wrote this in one of his other letters, the one addressed to Timothy. Speaking of the last days, Paul states that; “For men shall be lovers of self...” - 2 Tim 3:2. If you live your life for yourself, you get trapped in a downward spiral leading to destruction. Many people are trapped in a cycle of serving self, a self-gratifying cycle that cannot be fulfilled. “What is in it for me to go to church.” “What is in it for me to have this relationship with such and such a person.” Living for yourself produces arrogance and pride.
God is calling us to live beyond ourselves in serving Him and serving others to greatness. He loves it when we have a servant heart. James 4:6 says, Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
The bondservants of God are humble nobility. Being God’s servant is an honourable position.
BIBLICAL MEN WHO WERE SERVANTS OF GOD
Many prominent men of the Old Testament were referred to as servants. God spoke of Abraham as His servant (Genesis 26:24; Numbers 12:7). Joshua is called the servant of the Lord (Joshua 24:29). David is called God’s servant (2 Samuel 7:5) and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:3). Even Jesus Himself, the Messiah is called God’s Servant (Isaiah 53:11).
Paul, Timothy, James, Peter, and Jude all describe themselves as “bondservants of Christ” (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1, NKJV).
We, as followers of the LORD should consider ourselves as bondservants of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22; Ephesians 6:6; 2 Timothy 2:24). He is our Lord, and our allegiance is due to Him alone. As bondservants, we renounce other masters (Matthew 6:24) and give ourselves totally to Him (Matthew 16:24).
BEING A BOND SERVANT IS NOT TOIL AND DEPRESSION
To serve Christ as a bondservant is not a depressing exercise. In fact, it is a joyful reality. Jesus said;
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” - Matt 11:29-30
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. A yoke can be heavy and what you need to pull is normally heavy as well. In the first century, a yoke was used metaphorically to refer to a Rabbi's expectation of his followers. It referred to the interpretation that a Rabbi placed on Scripture and how he expected his followers to obey it. Some Rabbi’s required extremely difficult and almost unachievable things from their disciples. Yet, Jesus said it is not that way with Him. He said that His interpretation of Truth is easy, and His teaching is not burdensome, but it liberates us. The Pharisees were a group of people who laid heavy yokes and burdens on the people. Jesus confronted them about this, He said, they “tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.” - Matt 23:4. If you are tired of carrying heavy burdens, come to Jesus Christ, for his yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt 11:30).