While our “Dear John” letters usually include minimal details about ourselves, the ancient letter writers wrote differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of the reader next, then a greeting.
Romans begins with the author, Paul, following this format. He identifies himself in three ways:
1) A “servant of Jesus Christ”
- Although Paul was a Roman citizen, he no longer embraced the average Roman’s attitude that being a servant was uncool. Instead, Paul threw his energy into dependence and obedience to his new found Master. Paul’s former zeal for his ancestral tradition had garnered him honor and high ranking in Judaism. As a religious Pharisee, Paul’s fierce intensity targeted killing Christians because he thought they endangered Judaism (Acts 9:1-25). But after his conversion from Jesus’ confrontation, Paul declared himself Christ’s bondslave (Gal. 1:1-14).
2) “Called to be an apostle”
- God chose Paul’s role. Paul responded by preaching Christ throughout the Roman Empire on three missionary journeys.
3) “Set apart”
- God set Paul (formerly Saul) apart to serve Him by sharing and spreading the gospel.
Paul’s Purpose for Writing (vv. 2-6)
Paul declares his purpose for writing to verify his apostolic message. God had promised His gospel earlier “through the prophets in the holy Scriptures.” Some of these prophecies about Jesus Christ and the Good News are Genesis 12:3; Psalm 16:10; 40:6-10; 118:22; Isaiah 11:1; Zechariah 9:9-11; 12:10; Malachi 4:1-6.
In verses 3-4, Paul presents Jesus Christ as the center of the gospel. Jesus, descendant of King David, fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures predicting the Messiah coming from David’s line. Several New Testament passages also verify the Davidic descent of Jesus: Matthew 1:1; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 2:29-30; Revelation 5:5.
In relation to Jesus’ present exaltation, Paul cites “Jesus Christ our Lord” as “the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead”.
After receiving unlimited, undeserved forgiveness (grace) when meeting Christ on the Damascus road, Paul’s heart received a transformation. Upon following a new leader, Paul strove to fulfill his calling of sharing the Good News of Christ by aligning himself with God’s directives.
The same Jesus Christ who “set Paul apart” also invites us to be “saints”—set apart, holy, dedicated for His service; whether through formal or informal ministry. It is a great privilege and responsibility to share our Father’s Good News: Forgiveness and eternal life are a gift of God’s grace—received through faith in Christ—available to all.
I like the following excerpt from my NIV Study Bible: “God did not waste any part of Paul—his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind, or even his weaknesses. Are you willing to let God do the same for you? You will never know all He can do with you until you allow him to have all that you are!”