When I was in middle school, I remember having to write a mock letter to the Kentucky Department of Education. I couldn’t possibly have started the letter more awkwardly. I wrote, “I know you don’t know me, and I know you probably don’t care what I have to say, but I need you to listen…” What? I’m just glad this wasn’t a real letter. After laughing at me a little bit, my teacher said, “Mathew, if a stranger started a letter to you like this, would you keep reading?” I think you know the answer. First impressions are really important, especially when you’ve never met your audience. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote to a church he did not plant and to people he had never met. His greeting was incredibly important to get right. Thankfully, Paul’s greeting is much better than mine. Paul introduces his role as an apostle and the gospel that he brings to assure his readers that the gospel is central to his mission and ministry, and that he is a trustworthy source.
Paul begins his greeting by listing his credentials. It’s important to notice that none of Paul’s credentials are Paul-centered. Instead they are all God-centered. In each description of himself, Paul describes what has happened to him. He is a “servant of Christ Jesus.” Would you be glad to describe yourself in this way? He was “called to be an apostle.” God is the one who called him. He realizes his ministry is the work of God in his life. Finally, he is “set apart for the gospel.” Again, this is an action of God.
God has set Paul apart for the gospel, both in believing and bringing it to those who have never heard it. When Paul describes himself, the grace of God is evident in his life. Is this true of you? When you talk about yourself to others do they see God’s grace? Paul’s greeting is unique because in the process of listing his credentials, he gives a brief explanation of the gospel. He highlights four aspects of the gospel.
First, Paul describes the prominence of the gospel. He says the gospel is of God. The gospel is central to Paul’s ministry because it belongs to God and comes from God. He didn’t invent the message of the gospel. He is the messenger, not the creator. You can find rest in the God-centeredness of the gospel, because salvation does not depend on your work; it depends on God’s.
Second, Paul describes the promise of the gospel. The gospel was “promised beforehand” in the Old Testament. God promised to save his people through a Savior who would reign as a King long ago (2 Sam. 7:16). There isn’t a disconnect between the Old and New Testaments. There is a continuous flow of redemptive history that culminates in Christ. The promise of the gospel means you can fully trust God to do what he says he will do. All the implications of the gospel become all the more real when we can trust God’s promises.
Third, Paul describes the person of the gospel. The gospel is all about God’s “Son, who was descended from David…declared to be the Son of God…by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The gospel is all about Jesus. God’s historical redemption of his people finds culmination and fulfillment in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. He is the ultimate Davidic King. He is the Son of God. Without him and his work on our behalf, there is no gospel.
Finally, Paul describes the purpose of the gospel. The goal of the gospel is “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations.”The goal of the gospel is not for you to be reunited with relatives. The goal of the gospel is God’s supreme glory in the joy of all peoples.
The prominence, promise, person, and purpose of the gospel are all on display in the first seven verses of Romans. The message of the gospel is central in both Paul’s life and in his letter to the church at Rome. Is the gospel central in your life? Are you marked by the gospel in the way you speak and the way you live? The prominence, promise, person, and purpose of the gospel radically transforms the way you live every day.
Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.