Today I am going to start a new series. For quite some time (years in fact) I have wanted to tackle Romans and have always shied away from it because it is such a long book and I felt that it would take too long and start to drag. I have decided that is not a good enough reason to avoid studying what is possibly one of the most influential books in the Bible.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Scripture which inspired Martin Luther, and is therefore indirectly responsible for the reformation and the establishment of the Protestant church. From Augustine, through Luther to John Wesley and more besides, many people over the centuries have cited Romans as significant in their walk with God and their understanding of the Gospel.
So, what about us? As we read through Romans together and study and consider what it means and what God is saying to us through it, my prayer is that we will be really transformed by His word and His Spirit.
Read Romans 1v1-7
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the 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 in 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.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God”(Romans 1v1).
Paul makes three comments in his opening title which I want to develop. He describes himself as a servant (δουλος—doulos) of Christ Jesus, an apostle (ἀπόστολος—apostolos), and, thirdly, he is set apart (ἀφορίζω—aphorizō) for the gospel.
I want to consider this morning those three things: δουλος, ἀπόστολος, and ἀφορίζω.
The word “δουλος” which is the one Paul regularly uses of himself is sometimes translated in our Bibles as “Servant” and sometimes as “slave”.
So, for example, in Pauls’ description of Christ in Philippians 2v5-11, we read …
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Note here v5, when Paul says that Christ takes on the “very nature of a Servant”, he is taking on the nature of a δοῦλος. But during the exchange in John 8v31-36 the word δοῦλος is translated three times as slave,
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The problem is this. The word “servant” conjures up images of Carson at Downton Abbey or Jeeves the butler in Jeeves and Wooster. And “slave” conjures up images of negro slaves in antebellum southern states of America. These are two extreme images, neither of which accurately reflects the Roman culture of Paul’s day. A δοῦλος was nowhere near as free as employed servants of the aristocracy in Edwardian or Victorian Britain, but neither were they treated with the utter disregard for their humanity that plantation slavery exhibited. Both images distort our understanding of this Biblical word.
Characteristics of Roman slavery …
No Freedom. The essence of slavery is that you are not your own person. The word δουλος carries with it the meaning of being totally belonging to and dependant upon a master. There is no possibility of ever ending your task. From the moment he wakes up, to the moment he goes to sleep at night a slave is at his master’s beck and call. Human individuality is set aside, the slave is not seen as a human, he is a possession, and his master can do whatever he pleases with him. In calling himself a δοῦλος of Christ, Paul recognises that he does not belong to himself, but to Christ. In fact he says as much to the Corinthians when he writes, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6v19-20) and he repeats this concept in 7v23 when he says “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men”. We live in an extremely autonomous culture where no one wants a master and everyone wants to be in charge of their own destiny (“too many chiefs and not enough Indians”). Consequently the idea of making yourself subservient to anyone or anything is not a popular one. If you see yourself as a slave of God, you are recognising that you are not free. You are accepting that you MUST do what God says and that you must NOT do those things God forbids. The paradox of this is that when you put your destiny into the hands of God, you experience more freedom in life than you can possibly imagine!
No Choice. Choice is something that we all hold so very dear. We cherish and defend choice in pretty much every aspect of life, in the way we dress, what shops we shop at, in what church we go to, or even what religion we have. Choice is seen almost as a basic right in our society, sometimes this is true even if it harms a someone else (“my body, my choice”). A first century slave has no choice. He must do what his master says, he must not do what his master forbids. He must wear what his master tells him to wear, he must get up when he is told to get up, and carry out whatever tasks he is given. Paul mentions this in Romans 7 where he describes the state of being a slave to sin, and says that sin compels him to do the wrong stuff he doesn’t want to do, and prevents him from doing the good stuff he wants to do.
I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7v14-17)
This is a graphic illustration of the lack of choice that sin implies. Far from freedom, living in a sinful way is a slavery we can’t escape. When we give up our choice to live our own way and, instead, become slaves of righteousness, paradoxically, our ability to choose our own way doesn’t diminish—it increases. Instead of slavery, we have chosen freedom!
No Possessions. Because the slave belongs to his master, everything he owns or earns, everything he ever owned or earned becomes the property of his master the minute he becomes a slave the very clothes on his back and even his family become the possessions of his master (an uncomfortable concept in today’s modern world). Christians recognise that the very clothes on their backs are ultimately not theirs and everything they possess belongs to God. David (yeah, I know he was before the time of Christ) recognised that all things come from God. In 1 Chronicles 29 he prays to God, “Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand”. In Acts, the first believers shared everything they had. Luke records that “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4v32). The account of the “offering” that Ananias and Sapphira gave in Acts 5 tells us something about our possessions as Christians. Ananias and Sapphira held some money back, but we must note that when Peter was confronting Ananias he says of his property, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5v4), So our relationship with our “stuff” is a complicated one. Our possessions are, in fact, ours. They DO belong to us, AND we do have control over what we do with them. But that brings with it a responsibility. John writes “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 John 3v17)—what we do with our stuff and how we use it is is a mark of the authenticity of our faith.
Finally, in Greek culture, slavery was seen as the opposite, the antithesis, of everything that might bring respect or admiration. You could not get lower than a δουλος. All slaves were to be despised and scorned and rejected. These people were the lowest of the low.
All around us today, many people are slaves, though they don’t recognise it. So often they’re trapped in their lives and powerless to do anything about it. There is even an expression that many people use to describe the treadmill of life, they call it the “rat race”—describing a constant unceasing treadmill with seemingly no choice and no way out. People around us are not nearly as free as they’d like to think, the things they chase after do not make them happy, yet they seem to be unable to stop. If I can get that that extra pay rise, if I work just that little bit harder, or have that better holiday, or if I change my car, buy a better house, or in some cases, if I can escape this marriage I’m in—THEN I’ll be free! The problem is that those things don’t free us, they trap us, they don’t even bring satisfaction to us—except, perhaps, for a time. Then we realise that the very thing that we think will make us free proves to be a snare to us. And although many instinctively understand this, it seems as if they are totally unable to stop chasing after them. People often feel that they are helpless in their situation, and totally unable to help themselves. I have met people describing this reality, they recognise that the things I have mentioned won’t bring the happiness they search for, but that they chase after them anyway. This powerlessness to stop is slavery—which the Bible recognises.
- Romans 6v16, says “don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves you are slaves to the one whom you obey?”
- In John 8v34, Jesus says “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin”
- Romans 6:11-12 “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”
How to be free from Slavery.
So, how can we be free of this slavery to sin? There were a number of ways a slave could be freed in the Roman world, and each one of them gives us a picture of how we can be set free by the Son.
Manumission. This was a process where a smart slave could gain his “freedom”. Except it was not really freedom. What he would do was he would give his master the price of his freedom. Since a slave has no right to purchase anything, the money would be given to the temple priest, who would then “buy” the slave on behalf of God. The slave would have his liberty, but I think that it is interesting to note that the slave was still technically a slave—of God. 1 Corinthians 7v23 tells us that we were bought with a price. The good news is that God does not insist that we pay that price. The price is too high in any event, nothing less than the sacrifice of God himself is sufficient to pay the price. Jesus in dying on the cross paid that price. The death he died is sufficient to redeem all humanity for all time, if only we will allow ourselves to be bought by him. Then and only then will we be freed from the slavery that is sin.
Death. It sounds obvious, but a dead slave no longer has to obey his master! There is nothing that a master can do to make a dead slave obey him! Becoming a Christian breaks the hold of sin in our lives in the same way. We show that death publicly in baptism, it is a symbol of dying to the old sinful life, then of living as a child of God. Romans 6v11 says, “count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to Christ.” When we have died to sin, that hard slave master, we no longer have to obey him. Sin has no more hold over us, it has no power to condemn us.
Adoption. Occasionally, very occasionally, a slave would be adopted by a master, particularly if there was no natural son to be an heir. When a slave became a son, he was no longer a slave. The things required of him were different. Galatians 4 reads, “we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights (i.e. adoption—RSV) of sons. ……………so you are no longer a slave, but a son, God has made you also an heir” (vv3-5 & v7). As Christians, we have been adopted as sons, and we are entitled to receive all that that entails. Jesus says that “a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever” (John 8v35).
A paradox describes something that cannot be true but is! The paradox of the message of this morning is that we are freemen (John 8v36 “If the son sets you free you are free indeed”) and adopted as sons in Christ (Ephesians 1v5 & others), yet we are, as Paul describes himself here, slaves of him. Paul talks of our Christian life as being a slave to righteousness in Romans 6v15-22 which we will come to in due course. He describes himself as a slave (δουλος) of Christ at the start of Philippians (1v1), and Romans (1v1). 2 Peter 1v1, Jude 1v1, Rev. 1v1 also use the term δουλος when referring to Christians. Therefore, as slaves to righteousness, we Christians have a new master, God. Paul recognised it, and said so, Jesus, our supreme example took the nature of a slave, and we are commanded to do so too.
Another paradox that we find in Romans 6 is that Slavery is Freedom! (read Romans 6v20 and 22a) you see, a slave only has to obey his master. Because we are slaves of righteousness and God, we are free of Sin. When a slave was purchased by a new master, he no longer had to obey his old master, he had a new one. Likewise, we are now slaves (or if you prefer servants) of God. Our old master, sin has no more hold over us! and in the same way, sin need have no more hold over those to whom we witness.
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There are two things to note here.
- Paul understands he is called. It is not HIS message, it is not his choice as such, it is that He is on a mission. This leads into and accords with his sense of being as …
- An Apostle. Apostle means “sent one”. In other words, he didn’t just start his ministry on a whim (“It would be great if I did this”), and it isn’t his ministry anyway. He was SENT by God on a mission from God. Acts 9v15 “this man is my chosen instrument…”
Paul actually has to defend his apostolic status in 2 Corinthians because there were some also claiming to be apostles, but who were questioning his apostleship. He says, “I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12v11-12).
Note he claims “marks of an apostle”. It seems to me then that there are some marks of an apostle which we might seek to discern from the Scriptures. But where to look?
In the Gospels the word “apostle” does not play a strong role, it is used, but not very frequently. The Twelve is the preferred term,
- Matthew uses the term “apostles” only once at Matthew 10v2, introducing the list of twelve apostles. Otherwise, he wrote only of the “twelve” (11v1; 20v17; 26v14,20,47; compare 19v28).
- Mark uses “apostles” only once (6v30) as they returned from their mission trip (6v7-11). He, too, referred more often to the twelve (3v14; 4v10; 6v7; 9v35; 10v32; 11v11; 14v10,17,20,43).
- Luke is the Gospel of the apostles, especially using the term most frequently (6 occurrences — 6v13; 9v10; 11v49;17v5; 22v14 and 24v10.), which is not surprising given its continuation in Acts.
- John only use the term once, when Jesus says that: “he that is “apostolos” (is not) greater than the one who sent him” (13v16).
So, the gospels give us very scant information about what an apostle actually is. The word apostle mostly occurs in the book of Acts (33 times) and the letters of Paul (32 times).
Acts the apostle is an important person. Jesus chose the apostles through the Holy Spirit and instructed them concerning their missionary mission which the Holy Spirit would empower them to carry out (1v2-8). They had a forty day instruction period with the risen Lord before the ascension, but still they could not know “the times or seasons” of the full restoration of the kingdom (1v3-7). They were eyewitnesses of the ascension (1v9) and heard the angelic promise of His future return (1v11). They understood the betrayal by Judas as fulfilment of Scripture (1v16) and felt the need to replace him to keep their number at twelve. It appeared that qualifications for an apostle were clear: participation in Jesus’ earthly ministry beginning with His baptism and a witness of the resurrection (1v21-22). At Pentecost people asked the apostles’ leadership in how to respond to Peter’s sermon (2v37). New converts remained in “the apostles’ teaching” (2v42). The apostles did signs and wonders 2v43; 5v12; compare Mark 6v7-13). They both preached the gospel (4v33) and directed social ministry to the poor (4v35). With the exception of Acts 14v4,14 which introduces Paul and Barnabas as apostles, Acts tends to reserve the label apostle exclusively for the twelve.
However, Paul seems to use the term with a slightly different meaning… He starts many of his letters by introducing himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ. Here in Romans, but also in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. In almost every greeting, he describes his apostleship as a calling by God’s will.
Those who opposed Paul’s claim to apostleship simply sought to be his equal but in reality were “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11v13). Paul had performed the signs and miracles which were “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Corinthians 12v12), along with his life of patient endurance, preaching, and suffering for Christ. Paul claimed he did not have to go to Jerusalem to other apostles to get his apostolic mission and authority (Galatians 1v17). He did meet Peter and James, eventually, but the church at Jerusalem glorified God because of Paul’s ministry of evangelistic preaching (Galatians 1v18-24). Ultimately Paul proved his apostleship not by asserting personal authority or demanding praise from other people. Rather, he tenderly ministered among the churches (1 Thessalonians 2v5-8).
When speaking of apostles, apart from defending his own role as an apostle, Paul emphasises that acting as an apostle was one of the spiritual gifts which must be done in love (1 Corinthians 12v28-13v13). Such a gift is to equip other saints for ministry (Ephesians 4v11-12). The apostles represent the foundation of the church along with the prophets (Ephesians. 2v19-20; compare 3v5). Peter’s apostleship could be distinguished from Paul’s as an apostleship to the Jews as contrasted to an apostleship to the Gentiles (Galatians 2v8).
There are hints in Scripture that in addition to Paul and the 12, there were others who were seen as apostles, for example, Andronicus and Junias (Romans 16v7), possibly a husband and wife team.
Human authority has nothing to do with apostleship, for it comes through Jesus Christ and God the Father (Galatians 1v1), through the “commandment of God our Saviour” (1 Timothy 1v1). Often in his letters, Paul defends his authority and position as an apostle, equal with other apostles. He was the apostle for the Gentiles with a heart for the Jews (Acts 9v15 & Romans 11v13-14). He, along with other apostles, appeared on the scene late as poor fools for Christ to be an example over against the pride of the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4v9). Indeed, existence and ministry of the Corinthian church sealed Paul’s apostleship, showing he had done the work of an apostle. He also qualified because he had seen the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 9v1-2). He compared himself and Barnabas to the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas (1 Corinthians 9v5-6). Apostles had the right to marriage and to being paid for their ministry (1 Corinthians 9v5-6). Paul was the least of all apostles because he persecuted the church and was the last to see the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15v6-11). Still, he considered himself “not in the least inferior to these super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11v5, NRSV).
What does it mean to be an apostle?
The New Testament has taken a common Greek word from naval and commercial language and given it 2 distinct meanings,
firstly it is a description of the 12. To them Jesus gave a special commission to lead the church into worldwide mission. They functioned as leaders of the church in the early chapters of Acts mainly from a base in the church at Jerusalem. The number twelve in some way identified them as continuing God’s work through the twelve tribes of Israel. They had the spiritual gift of functioning as an apostle in giving leadership to the church and training others for ministry. They maintained and transmitted the teachings of Jesus to the early church. Having fulfilled their mission of leading the church’s missionary activity and preserving the teachings of Christ, the twelve apostles passed from the scene. They did not occupy an office which they could hand on to others or which the church had the power to fill.
But it also has a more general meaning. Which is applied to those who have been “called” to be messengers of the gospel. Paul apparently argued with representatives of the Jerusalem church who claimed apostolic authority for themselves and that Paul had to defend his right to be an apostle. Paul also pointed to others outside the twelve and himself as apostles. Thus the term, at least for Paul and apparently for others, had both the narrower meaning of the twelve and a wider meaning.
Clearly if we think in terms of apostle today, there is no way we fit into the first category, but there is a very real sense in which we fall into the second. Just as we are all called to be witnesses but we are not all gifted with the gift of evangelist, as Christians every one of us is called by God to proclaim his message in the world today yet we are not all (some would say none of us are) apostles in the Biblical sense of the word.
I don’t intend to argue whether this is an office which is appropriate to today – except to say as one of the gifts in the lists found in the Bible, then if we believe that these gifts are available to us today, then we are constrained to believe the apostolic gifting is available to us. Secondly we should be consistent. The term missionary comes from the latin “missio” which is a direct translation of the Greek “Apostolos”, so if we call someone a missionary, then we are calling them an apostle!
“aphorizo” to set off by boundary, i.e. to limit, exclude, appoint, etc.To divide, separate or sever. There are a number of words in our Bibles which carry this or very similar meanings: holy, sacred, consecrate, hallow(ed), sanctify (ied), dedicate.
I also find it very interesting and a real warning for us that pharisee also means “set apart”. The Pharisees emerged during the inter testament period in a time of real persecution and they set themselves apart to protect the true faith of the Jewish people. In fact it could be said that the passion and commitment of the pharisees at that time saved the Jewish faith. That something which started with such a Godly purpose could become so far removed and changed from its original purpose and become the group of people Jesus clashed with should be a real caution for how our faith develops.
There are many references in the New Testament to our separation from the world (and not always in the sense of our withdrawing from them) –
- Matthew 13v49; 25v32 good is separated from evil
- Luke 6v22, unbelievers exclude believers
- Acts 19v9; 2 Corinthians 6v17 – Church withdraws from unbelief.
Our separation has many different facets…
We have in us a different Spirit (1 Cor 2v12) We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.
We fight with different weapons (2 Cor 10v4) The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.
We serve different master (Gal 4v3ff.) So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son;
We have different friends and enemies (James 4v4) You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
We speak from a different viewpoint (1 John 4v5) They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us..
But it is more than being separated from – it carries with it a meaning of set apart for we are set apart for a purpose – which Paul often expands upon. Here he doesn’t just talk about being set apart – but being set apart for the Gospel.
We are not talking about being withdrawn from the world for the sake of separation like monks & monasteries were/are. We are called to in the world but not of it. We are called to be a holy people, but we are called to engage with the world, which produces a real challenge for us – how do we engage with the world, without being tainted by it?
This is a real problem for us as Christians – one of the biggest barriers to the gospel is us!
A number of years ago now, the figures cited by the Evangelical alliance for the EA day of prayer gave us the information that a vast percentage of people in our communities don’t come to church and are not interested because of Christians. We are called to be in the world but not of the world and we’ve got it upside down. We’ve taken the concept of being set apart too far and have alienated ourselves from the world (and therefore are not in it), but at the same time few Christians live truly holy lives and appear on the outside to be no different to moral non Christians, sometimes a lot worse. The Christian businessman who uses sharp business practice, the Christian employer who treats an employee like dirt, the Christian who skives at work or fiddles his expense claim is not being a good witness.
What has happened is rather than being in the world and therefore identifying with the pains and struggles of those around us, yet being Godly and righteous in the way we conduct ourselves so that as Paul says your daily life may win the respect of outsiders (1 Thess 4v12). interestingly this is the only Biblical reference to the need to earn respect!
Rather, we have become seen as being old fashioned and irrelevant, yet not really different in the way we conduct ourselves. We have switched in the eyes of the world from being in the world but not of it, to being of the world but not in it – the challenge for us is to recapture lost ground!
We find then a number of concepts right here at the beginning of Romans.
Servanthood (or slavery): the concept of being owned by God. You are not your own, you have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6v19; see also 1 Peter 2v9).
being dependant upon Him: In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17v28)
being responsible to Him: each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14v12
Apostleship: the concept of being chosen by God. “You are a chosen people” (1 Peter 2v9)
having been sent: c.f. the great commission (Matthew 28v19; Mark 15v16)
for a purpose: who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8v28f.)
Set apart: the concept of being “different”. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.”(John 17v16)
being appointed to a task – see rest of v1 and // also with apostleship
What is God saying to you this morning? Can we say these about ourselves as Paul did about himself?
Do we need to be convinced that we have transferred from slavery to sin to being owned by and a slave of God?
Do we feel called — really called by God?
Have we been convicted of a need to be different?