The Epistle to the Romans
An Expression of Paul's Personal Feelings (1:8-15)
In the first seven verses of the epistle, Paul established an official relation between himself and the church at Rome. The official gap is bridged. The average ecclesiastic would be satisfied with this. Paul never shrinks from declaring his official position as an apostle, but that is not enough for him. He continues beyond to establish a more intimate relation - a heart relation. There are occasions and times in our lives when, under the stress of circumstances, we unconsciously reveal our souls; and sometimes, perhaps, the revelation may be shameful. At other times, it may be glorious. If it is glorious, then we are like Moses who "wist not that ... his face shone" (Exodus 34:29). It is so here with the apostle Paul, and these verses are a glorious unconscious revelation of his great and tender heart: "I thank my God", "I serve with my spirit", "I long to see you", "I purposed to come unto you", "I am a debtor", and "I am ready".
These personal statements reveal seven characteristics in the life of the apostle Paul: 1. his thanksgiving, 2. his service, 3. his prayer, 4. his longing, 5. his purpose, 6. his indebtedness, and, 7. his readiness.
These items are essential and should be normal characteristics of every true Christian life. Practically, it would not help us to study what Paul was like unless these characteristics somehow come into our lives and transform us too.
"First, I thank my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all. that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (1:8). Thanksgiving for his fellow Christians seems always to have been first in the heart of the apostle Paul. Whatever epistle you may read in the New Testament from Paul to a church, soon after the salutation or greeting is over, he expresses his gratefulness to God for the church. There is just one exception to that rule, the epistle to the churches in Galatia. But there is a reason for that exception; those churches in Galatia had left the grace of God and had turned aside to what Paul called "another gospel."
Paul's thanksgiving is rendered to God "through Jesus Christ." That passage can be read in two ways. Either the apostle's thanksgiving was rendered to his God through Jesus Christ, or Paul was saying that his right to call God "my God" is through Jesus Christ. In other words, that God is my God through Jesus Christ. It does not matter which way you read it, because both interpretations are true. Every good thing we have - whether it is the glorious privilege of thanking God for the favors received, or the right to look up into the face of God and say, "My God," comes through Jesus Christ.
His thanksgiving is "for you all." The idea of thanking God for our fellow Christians is not new to us. We have often done it. We thanked God for those who have led us to Christ, for those who taught us the Word of God, for those who have helped us in time of need. But how many can say, "I thank God for you all"? Even for those who have spoken evil of you and misunderstood you, as they had Paul, who have caused you sorrow - can you thank God for all those who, nevertheless, trust the name of Jesus? We must be acquainted with the deep things of God in order to do it. Isaiah 53:11 points the way, speaking of the suffering of our Lord: "He shall see the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied." Out of Christ's anguish on the Cross, there are born into the kingdom of God individual souls, and when He sees that, He is satisfied! If every soul saved is the fruit of the travail of His soul and brings satisfaction to Him, shall I not thank God for every one of them, even though there may be among them some that mistreat me?
Paul thanks God that their faith is spoken of through the whole world. That phrase "the whole world" was very customary in the days of Paul. To say "the whole world" meant the whole Roman empire. Luke's gospel says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the "whole world" should be taxed (Luke 2:1). Of course, Caesar had no jurisdiction outside of his own empire, but the Romans were accustomed to speaking of their empire as "the whole world." The faith of the saints at Rome was so rich and remarkable that wherever Paul went throughout the whole Roman empire, he heard it spoken of. Today when our churches are spoken of throughout the world, it is too often notoriously. Frequently information comes through the newspaper that there is immorality in the church, or blasphemous pastors - and not faith. And this brings reproach on the faith for which our Lord died.
"For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son" (1:9). I want to call your attention first of all to that word "serve." It means literally 'to serve as a priest." It was the Greek word used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament to refer to the service of the priests in the temple, including also the idea of worship. The same word is translated "worship" in Philippians 3:3. This word is a commentary on what rue Christian service ought to be: we serve God as priests, and therefore every act of our service should be rendered to God as an act of worship. In this light the distinction between sacred and secular disappears. The very ground you walk on is holy, and every trivial act acquires meaning. If you remember that, all your Christian service (no matter what it is) will become to you significant of that time when we shall be before the throne of God and "serve Him day and night in his temple" (Revelation 7:15). Again the same Greek word is used that Paul uses here.
This exalted conception of service fits in perfectly with the next phrase that Paul uses: "with my spirit." Since all Christian service partakes of worship, it dare not be a mere fleshly service. It must find its origin in the spirit and be rendered with the spirit, which is why Paul says, "Whom I serve in my spirit." This echoes what our Lord said to the Samaritan woman: "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 13)