FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE
“Through Him we received grace and apostleship to call all Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for His name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.
“To all at Rome who are loved by God and called to be His holy people: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 1:5-7.
What a power-packed greeting — the whole gospel in a nutshell, packed into two paragraphs!
In his address, which was the typical way in which ancient letters were written, Paul gave his own credentials; the subject of his letter; and the credentials of his recipients.
Since he was not personally known to the Roman church, he introduced himself to them as a servant and an apostle, set apart by God to deliver His good news to the world. But was Paul not a son of God, like everyone else who believed in Jesus? Of course he was! That was his standing before God, but from his point of view he was a servant. In another letter he described himself as a servant of God, a servant of the gospel and a servant of the church.
Paul was not subservient. He was as an apostle, one sent by God with a message and with authority, but he served God, the gospel and the church in his capacity as an apostle. It was not his right to do things his way. Since his apostleship was a calling from God and his authority delegated by God, he was first and foremost accountable to God for the stewardship of his calling and gifts.
Everything he had and did came from God, both the calling and the grace to carry it out. He was in a partnership with the Holy Spirit. It was not his right to call the shots; to make the decisions about where to go and what to preach. If he encountered trouble and persecution on the way, he was to stick to his calling and trust God for the grace to obey.
His apostleship gave him the right to declare and explain the gospel to the Roman church. He stood alongside the other apostles to whom Jesus had given the commission to place His yoke on those who believed in Him, His way of interpreting and living out the Torah — God’s teachings about Himself, them and the way to live.
The subject of his apostleship was the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the centre of everything, wherever Paul went and whatever the circumstances for him. Unfortunately for Paul, Jesus was a hot potato in the Jewish, Greek and Roman worlds.
To the Jew, Jesus was hated as an imposter and blasphemer because He said He was the Son of God. He angered the Romans because He challenged Caesar’s claim to be the son of God and the Greeks despised Him because He just did not fit their philosophical system. Their gods were powerful and despotic, not weak like Jesus who died on a Roman cross. That was nothing but foolishness to them.
And what of Paul’s readers? However they viewed themselves in the middle of all this antagonism and suffering, from God’s point of view they were His holy people, called and passionately loved by Him, the objects of His special attention, who provided both grace — everything they needed to be who they were — and peace — the outcome of being justified, declared not guilty because Jesus paid their debt.
How much both they, (and we), needed Paul’s reassurance in a world gone crazy! It is easy to doubt that we are God’s beloved children in the filth of the world around us. Just like the believers in Paul’s day, society today is just as rotten with violence, greed, promiscuity, corruption and every other kind of wickedness now, as then, and it is only getting worse.
Like lilies blooming in the swamp, we are God’s beautiful recreation, and we need to keep it in mind constantly lest we also be sucked into the cesspool of sin around us. In the midst of it all, we are called to be obedient to God because of our faith in Jesus. Much more than an intellectual assent to some teaching or other, faith in Jesus has brought us into fellowship with a holy God and requires us to be separated from sin and separated to Him.
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