This letter was written to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God and called to be saints” – Christians. Its postscript says that it was “written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church Cenchrea.” As you may recall from our study of the Book of Acts, Cenchrea was one of the suburbs of Corinth, one of the two seaports of the city. Perhaps when Paul learned that this Christian lady was going to Rome, he sat down and penned this letter for her to carry with her. As hard as it is for some people to realize, there was no public postal service 2,000 years ago – no e-mail.
Generally speaking, it’s to the Christians in Rome that we will be looking this evening. But I want us to briefly think about Paul as well. Our title is “Paul and the People.” It needs to be understood that Paul was really just like one of those people. The only thing that made him different from any other saint of God, was a special calling of the Lord, which resulted in areas of special service. As he would freely admit, this second calling did not make him a better person than Phebe or anyone else, just as I am no better a person, because you permit me to stand up here and teach you a little from the Word of God.
As we saw this morning, Paul introduces this letter with the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. Through that gospel – through the Saviour and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (v.4) both the Roman Christians and Paul himself, had received saving grace (v.5). Titus 2:11-14 applied to Paul as much as it did to the Cretans and the Romans. “For the grace of God that bringeth SALVATION hath appeared to ALL men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for (ALL OF) US, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” A man jokingly said to me the other day, “Well, this proves that you aren’t royalty.” I replied as I think that Paul might have replied, “You’re right. I’m just a sinner saved by grace.”
So Paul was just one of the people in one sense, but for the sake of this study, we are separating them.
I hope that everyone is sufficiently familiar with the Book of Acts to make a detailed study of Paul unnecessary. We were told that he was a Jewish Pharisee born in Tarsus, Cilicia, on the southern shores of Turkey. That made him a Roman citizen, which probably meant absolutely nothing to him, until his conversion and the commencement of his ministry serving Christ. He was trained at the feet of the greatest teacher of Israel and became well-know to the Jewish leadership. From a human standpoint, His spectacular conversion to Christ was one of the Lord’s greatest coups. But in fact the miracle of his salvation was no harder or easier than the salvation of any other sinner. He instantly went from being a Jewish prima donna to being the most hated man in Israel. And for the church in Jerusalem, he went from being feared in one way to being feared in other ways. Whereas he had been the great persecutor of the faith, it was feared that he became a spy or a mole. And he certainly brought a different perspective on the relationship of Israel to the Gentiles.
Here Paul begins by calling himself “a servant of Jesus Christ.” Everything about these five words is wonderful. First there is the respect and the meaning that he gives to the name and title of our Saviour. We looked at that this morning, and I won’t repeat it now. But then there is the word “servant.” He considered himself subject to the will of Christ. He wasn’t an hypocritical sycophant, pretending to honour Christ, but doing so only out of selfishness. He really was wholly at the disposal of Christ Jesus, ready to anything that the Saviour wanted of him. Was it to walk into a den of lions like Daniel – Paul did that at Ephesus. Was it to go into heathen Ninevah to preach the Gospel like Jonah – he did that at Athens. Was it God’s will that he be cast into prison like Jeremiah – Paul did that in Philippi. Was it to be beaten with many stripes – Paul did that on several occasions. Notice that Paul didn’t call himself “the servant of Christ” – it was nothing more than “another servant.” He certainly didn’t think of himself more highly than he ought to have thought. Every Christian ought to be a servant of God, although very few really consider themselves that way.
I have been thinking: what would happen if we recognized and acknowledged this office more often? What if we addressed ourselves as “servants” rather than as “brethren”? Would it be unbiblical to greet each other as servants? “Good morning, servant Bill?” “Hey, servant James, how has your week been going?” I know that sounds a bit strange, but is it unbiblical? “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:1. “James a servant of God of the Lord Jesus Christ” – James 1:1. “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” – II Peter 1:1. “Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James” – Jude 1:1.
When he said that he was a servant of Jesus Christ, Paul was saying that he was not a servant of sin. He was not a servant of the Devil, nor of self, nor of Moses, nor of the traditions of the elders. He was taking his orders from Christ alone. Shouldn’t this be true of us as well? And one other thing: he was “CALLED to be an apostle and SEPARATED unto the gospel,” but he simply was a servant of Jesus Christ. Would I be reading too much into this to say that the other things were the Lord’s choice, but to be a servant was Paul’s choice? It may be an obligation that falls upon all of us, but it is our choice whether or not we actually serve. Maybe it is better to call ourselves “brothers and sisters” because it is true of every Christian. But if we call ourselves “servants,” that may be stretching things just a little – if not actually deceitful.
In addition to being a servant of Christ, Paul had a special calling to be an apostle. The Greek word refers to someone who has been sent with a message, and equipped to carry it. But without a doubt, in the early days of the Christian era, there was a special office called “Apostle.” Most of those Apostles came out of our Lord’s primary disciples, but Paul was a special one.
It was not an honour which Paul brought upon himself. He was “called” to that position. The Greek word is ‘kletos” (klay-tos’) and it speaks about a special invitation. Out of the thousands of Christians in the world by Acts 9 God chose only one more to be an Apostle. A special, undeniable and irresistible invitation was given to Paul at the time of his salvation. When Ananias, probably the pastor of the church in Damascus, expressed doubts about Paul’s repentance and faith in Christ, the Lord said, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” Without a doubt this was in reference to Paul’s calling as an Apostle. It was offered to him on the day of his salvation from sin and deliverance from Judaism. But there is another sense in which it was determined and ordained from the foundation of the world.
Something else that Paul said of himself was that he had been separated unto the gospel of God. This, of course, refers to the message that Paul was commissioned to carry – the Gospel of God. Since we have been looking at the gospel in our Sunday School lessons, there is no reason to review it again right here. But perhaps the words “separated unto” might lead to some interesting cogitations and inditations. There is nothing special about the word itself – it means what it appears to mean. But following the nine times that it is used in the New Testament opens some interesting doors. Skipping some of them just for the sake of time, we come to Acts 13:1-3 – “Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, SEPARATE me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.” Paul and Barnabas were separated from their friends and family to carry the gospel to the heathen. Then there is an interesting comment in Galatians 1:15, where he says, “It pleased God, who SEPARATED me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen.”
Then in II Corinthians 6 we have what might be considered one of the qualifications to success in the kind of ministry to which Paul was given. “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompence in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be ye also enlarged. Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye SEPARATE, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” If any man was, Paul really was separated unto the gospel of God and separated from his former heresies. If any man was fit for his God-given ministry this man was. Our world would be a very different place if it had not been for what God did through Paul the Apostle.
But we must move on to consider some of the things about the people to whom he wrote.
Verse 7 says that Paul was writing to “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.” Once again, we see that the word “all” doesn’t always refer to an absolute all. Obviously in this case Paul was writing to all the Christians in Rome, which may, or may not, have been an exceptionally large number. But this letter could reach them all, because they were all, as they should have been, members of the Lord’s church in that city. And it didn’t matter if they were rich or poor, free men or slaves, male or female, young or old, this letter was meant for all of them.
Verse 6 uses a word that has already been introduced to us – they were the called of God in that city. Notice the definite article – they were “THE called.” This is the same Greek word “kletos,” and it is used in exactly the same way as before. These people had been especially invited by Christ to become saints. It is found only eleven times in the Bible, three of which are in this scripture. And the Holy Spirit used “kletos” in only two situations.
There are very few who begrudge Paul of his calling to the Apostleship. They don’t quarrel with God, for choosing that man, electing him to that office. That is exactly what the word means, and few would argue the point as it is found in verse 1. The word is used in the same way in I Corinthians 1:1 – Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” But the rest of the nine times that we see this word in the Bible it is a calling unto SALVATION. And for some reason this use of the word is greatly hated by the wicked and professing Christians alike. Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are THE called according to his purpose.” I Corinthians 1 – “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then later in the same chapter – “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” I think that the unprejudiced mind is forced to admit that God has chosen – or elected – these people to become His saints. And they were called “of” or “by” Jesus Christ, not Paul. This call of God is irresistible, efficacious and unchangeable, because Christ is King, Lord and God.
And the cause behind this calling is the fact that they were beloved of God. Herein is one of the watersheds of Christian theology. Here is the continental divide which splits the Christian world into two hemispheres. Did these Roman Christians make themselves beloved of God, or did God love them in spite of what and who they really were? The vast majority of professing Christians think too highly of themselves and take the first idea. Out of their native pride they believe that they somehow made themselves so beautiful, so moral, or perhaps so grotesque and pitiful that God became obligated to love them. Some of them think that when they repented of their sin and believed on Christ, they became instantly loveable and forced the Lord to love them and save them. Nothing could be farther from the truth of the Scriptures. Those Romans, like all the rest of us, as we see the next chapter and again in the third, were spiritually dead, morally detestable, sinfully corrupt, outwardly lawless and generally putrid before the Lord. There wasn’t anything that they could do to please the Lord. They were so intrenched in sin that they were incapable of repentance. They were so full of themselves and full of hatred against God that faith in Christ was impossible. They were spiritually dead. “But God, who is rich in His love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
The people to whom Paul was writing this Epistle, began their lives like everyone else does – as sinners. Some of they had been raised in Jewish homes and some of them were heathen. But out of His own sovereign love, God chose to save them, and so He called them to Himself. As the Holy Spirit worked in their hearts they repented of their sin and trusted the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. The Lord saved them and sanctified them – thus making them saints. It was to this kind of people, who happened to be in Rome, that Paul wrote this letter.
And by the grace of God, the Lord made this letter available to us, the same kind of people as those in Rome.