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Romans 1:1-7                                            

PAUL A SERVANT – These opening seven verses of the book of Romans moves from Paul to the gospel and then back to Paul in quick, then out into the world of Jewish, but also Gentile worlds in quick, successive flourish. Notice this self-portrait in the personal introduction. He presents himself as a slave bearing a commission from royalty. Clearly, his announcement carried overtones of social degradation—slaves had no rights, no property, and no prospects; they existed to do the bidding of someone else. Yet, when it is placed beside the next two word, Christ Jesus, we hear more overtones of royalty and thus Paul bears a slave-of-the-king status.

AN EXTRAORDINARY BIRTH – Jesus’ birth is but the beginning of the disruption of this world by God’s intervention. Paul expresses this disruptive quality of the gospel of Jesus in his very opening lines. Jesus, Paul affirms, comes from a Jewish milieu—a long lineage of Jewish families and Jewish traditions. Yet, in the next sentence Paul declares that he is now the universal savior of humanity: "through Christ, God has given us the privilege and authority to tell Gentiles everywhere what God has done for them, so that they will believe and obey him, bringing glory to his name" (1:6, NLT). For Paul, the divine energy that produced the resurrection of the Jewish savior exalted him as savior of Jews and Gentiles. Why should God reach across the boundaries established by the law to embrace the outsiders? Such is God’s nature. And God still breaks beyond, permeates, tears down boundaries "to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles." [1]



Paul deliberately allows himself to be defined by the gospel in his opening remarks his self-description carry overtones of how he understood his call. How are we defined by the gospel? How are we characterized by the news of the gospel? Can anyone tell?

You’ve sat in the chair opposite an interviewer. "Tell me a little bit about yourself," they ask us and then (especially if we haven’t prepped!) we have to hurriedly decide what to disclose and what to withhold in a very brief amount of time. How would you describe yourself from the perspective of Paul’s phrase, a "servant of Christ"?



It seems reasonable to listen to this passage while keeping a pulse on the other lessons so that this lesson more clearly delineates Psalm 80 and also Isaiah 7. Matthew 1 even more particularizes the story of the gospel to which to previous passages have alluded—at least through the lens of Christian faith.

You might consider a homily that spins around Paul’s self-portrait. Paul clearly and with meaning describes himself as "Jesus Christ’s slave" (v. 1, NLT). You could explore what that title meant to Paul and his age, and what title before our name would approximate the meaning. You could also shift to the royal description of Christ and explore how Paul saw his call as being the ambassador of the Son of God.

A few more additional thoughts – Paul wasn’t scouring the "help wanted" section of the newspaper when the call came. Paul wasn’t looking to be a celebrity. The apostle rather frames his opening lines in the language of mission, divine call, and complete obedience to God’s mission for him. In fact, in view of the "call" he considers himself a slave of the one he represents, Jesus Christ.

Why the letter? Why not let Paul go chasing after his "call"? What possible impact could this mission of a single man of Jewish origin have on non-Jewish persons from another part of the world? As Paul rehearses his mission, he believes he is an apostle, a special agent sent on an assignment with an announcement—the Good News. That GN is what impacts Rome. Because of the gift of Paul’s apostolic commitment to the preaching of the euangelion, the possibility of a new relationship with God emerges for the Gentile world, including the Roman citizens (vv. 5-6). Such generosity and shalom is the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus which forms the core of Paul’s Good News.

[1] Charles B. Cousar, “Disruptive Hope,” in Journal for Preachers (Advent 2001): 30.