When the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans he had never been to Rome yet although it was his desire to visit them and preach the gospel in Rome (Romans 1:8-15). Paul also wanted the Christians at Rome to support him on a planned missionary journey to Spain (Romans 15:23-24) and therefore at the beginning of his letter to the Romans he set forth the credentials for a minister's mission to show that he was indeed qualified as the apostle to the Gentiles. Here we see three necessary credentials for the minister's mission.
I. Paul was a bond-servant of Jesus Christ (1:1a).
His position as a bond-servant:
The modesty of the position of bond-servant.
Paul was subservient and insignificant but His Master was everything! In 1 Corinthians 4:1, Paul referred to himself as a galley slave who was an under-rower, referring to the lowest level of rowers in the large galley of a Roman ship. The position of bond-servant expresses modesty because the bond-servant does not lord it over those allotted to his charge, but proves to be an example of a faithful and loyal servant of his Lord to the flock.
The majesty of the position of bond-servant.
Paul was not belittling his position – there is no greater position than to be a bond-servant of Christ Jesus. Servants of the Lord do not exalt themselves – they exalt their Master and they do His will from the heart because He is worthy! The position of bond-servant expresses majesty because the bond-servant glories in his being a servant of the King of kings and the Lord of lords! Jesus Himself expressed the truth that with modesty comes majesty – “He who humbles himself will be exalted,” and the opposite is also true – “He who exalts himself will be humbled.” And the Lord said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27).
His practice – as a bond-servant.
Paul’s primary practice was to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul gave himself wholeheartedly in love to the Lord who saved him from sin and the wrath of God – (Exodus 21:5-6) – Paul enslaved himself to Christ, to be His servant and obey His will because of Christ’s love for Him (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). A man’s enslavement to Christ as one of Christ’s servants is always based on the man’s grateful and adoring heart for Christ’s goodness and greatness as revealed in His willing sacrifice of Himself as an atoning substitute for our sins. We love Him because He first loved us! This is why we sing songs like – “Amazing love, how can it be, that you my King would die for me? Amazing love, I know it’s true, and it’s my joy to honor You in all I do.”
It is because of the love for us that the Lord demonstrated in giving Himself up for us that we serve Him with gladness by faith and not by flesh – “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).
But not only do we love the Lord Jesus Christ and serve Him from a heart of gratitude because of His love for us; we also love God the Father and serve Him from the same heart of gratitude because of His love for us. Not only did the Lord Jesus love us and give Himself up for us but we also read and know that God the Father loved us and sent His Son so that He could pardon us on the only legal and righteous basis that would satisfy His own holy nature – penal substitution.
This is why we sing songs like, “How deep the Father’s love for us! How vast beyond all measure! That He would give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure. How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away, as wounds which mar the chosen One, bring many sons to glory. Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders, ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished. I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no powr's, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom."
You see, Paul’s practice as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus; giving himself wholeheartedly in love to the Lord and His service; where Paul was now willingly obeying the first and greatest commandment; to love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind; was based on his Lord’s loving him first.
Paul’s secondary practice as a bond-servant of Christ Jesus was to serve men.
Paul’s love for God which was primary, issued in his love for men and their salvation, which is secondary. Jesus put it this way when He was tested by a Pharisee with the question of which is the greatest commandment in the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” ‘This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it,’ “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ‘On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40).
Paul put it this way in Romans 1:14-15, “I am under obligation [literally a debtor] both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach to gospel to you also who are in Rome.” As a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, Paul was also to be a bond-servant of men in order that he might preach the gospel to them.
Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”
And again listen to these words, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5). As we love and serve God because He first loved us we will also love and serve men because of our love for God. Any love and service to man that does not flow from genuine love for God is nothing short of religious humanism; is a work of the flesh and not of faith; and is an attempt to be justified by works of the law rather than the loving and loyal obedience of faith.
II. Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1b)
His authority - as an apostle
The word apostle means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. As an apostle of the King of kings Paul’s message from the King was one of all authority. When Paul spoke people had better listen because he wasn’t speaking on his own initiative and own authority but was speaking on behalf of the Lord Himself.
His authorization as an apostle
Paul was called by the Lord to be an apostle. Paul’s position as an apostle was not of his own doing. Paul did not volunteer for that office, he did not campaign for that office, and he was not elected to that office by fellow believers. Paul was divinely called by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Paul didn’t choose Jesus, Jesus chose him (see Galatians 1:1).
There is great and grave danger to enter the ministry without a divine call and divine authorization. Woe to those who would dare take upon themselves the pastoral office without a divine call. There are many people preaching and teaching and presuming to prophesy in the name of Christ whom Christ clearly has neither sent nor has He called them. “I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied” (Jeremiah 23:21). For the false prophets and false teachers who claim to be called and claim to be sent the Bible says, “Their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:3).
When the Lord calls and authorizes a man for the ministry, the man is called and authorized to speak only that which His Lord has spoken and revealed to them through His Word. Even the apostle Paul said that the gospel that He preached was the same gospel that was promised beforehand by the Lord’s prophets in the holy Scriptures (see verse 2). False prophets speak as from the world and the world listens to them. True prophets speak God’s Word and those who know God listen to them (1 John 4:1-6).
III. Paul was set apart for God’s gospel (1:1c)
Set apart means separated unto and in this context it means that every part of Paul’s life was dedicated for the sole purpose of God’s use in spreading the gospel. As a bond-servant, Paul was the Lord’s for whatever service He required; and as an apostle, Paul was divinely authorized and divinely sent to proclaim the gospel of God. As Christians we should also be set apart for the Master’s use – “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2).
Paul was singularly set apart by God to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He said to the Galatians, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16).
It is when God calls us through His grace and we view the mercies of God that we give ourselves willingly for His service and discover that one task to which God has set us apart.
The gospel is God’s gospel; it doesn’t originate with man and isn’t an afterthought with God. It was God’s gospel to which Paul was separated and this along with being a bond-servant and being authorized by God gave Paul the necessary credentials to be a minister of Christ Jesus.