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THE MESSAGE1

(Romans 1:1-32)

In the past decades marketers, in coming up with a good advertisement, whether in radio or
television, ask this question, “‘what is the most motivating thing we can say about this brand’? In other
words, ‘what is the message that can capture consumers?’ The answer, usually, was expressed in words, the
fewer words the better.”2 But in the 21st Century, Market experts observe that, “the time and place your
message is conveyed is also part of the message itself.” Brand advertisements today, if we are very
observant, are not anymore expressed in a word or two but in, what we call, brand themes. The shift from a
single-focused message to culturally relevant brand themes is a result of media fragmentation, shorter
attention spans and the pressing need for a constant stream of relevant ‘content’.3
As God’s church we have ‘The Message.’ But the question we are confronted with today is, “Did
‘The Message’ change with the passing of time?” Can we conclude then that, like the evolution that
occurred in advertising, the church must also shift from a single-focused message to culturally relevant
brand themes? Our series of study on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans entitled “A Word in Season: A
Systematic Exposition on the Gospel” will address these questions? Chapter 1, particularly, answers the
questions: What is The Message? And ‘Did the Message change?’
Why did I choose this Epistle? To answer, let me quote how the early Christian leaders regard the
Epistle to the Romans: 4
 “The profoundest book in existence.” – Coleridge
 Chrysostom had it read to him twice a week.
 “This Epistle is the chief book of the New Testament, the purest gospel. It deserves not only to be
known word for word by every Christian, but to be the subject of his meditation day by day, the
daily bread of his soul....” – Martin Luther (In his famous preface)
 Melanchthon, in order to make it perfectly his own, copied it twice with his own hand. It is the book
which he expounded most frequently in his lectures.
 The Reformation was undoubtedly the work of the Epistle to the Romans, as well as of that to the
Galatians; and the probability is that every great spiritual revival in the church will be connected as
effect and cause with a deeper understanding of this book. – Godet

1
Ptr. Jun Hernani. Berean Fellowship: Expo 1. UCCP Davao City, July 02, 2010.
2
“How Social Media is Redefining the meaning of message” taken from http://millennialmarketing.com/2010/05/social-media-is-
redefining-the-meaning-of-message/ (Cited: June 16, 2010).
3
Ibid.
4
Frederick Louis Godet. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. (Translated from the French By Rev. A. Cusin, M. A. Translation
Revised and Edited with An Introduction and Appendix By Talbot W. Chambers, D.D.) “Introduction” In Pradis, CD-ROM.

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 The Epistle to the Romans ‘has no equal as a concise, reasonable statement of the Christian faith.’
(from the Introduction of Romans in KJV2000 Devotional Study Bible)

This particular Epistle is “arguably the most influential book in Christian history, perhaps in the
history of Western civilization. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easy to read! While theologically
minded people love it, others steer away from it, thinking it is too deep for them.”5 But tonight, as we
begin our study, we pray for God’s discernment through the Holy Spirit. Let’s learn together what ‘The
Message’ is all about. (Read Rom.1: 1-6)

First, we see an AUTHORIZED GOSPEL-MESSENGER, vv.1-6.


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Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God- 2 the gospel he
promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human
nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be
the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name's
sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that
comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

a. Paul’s authority comes from being Christ’s servant. Paul, as a gospel-messenger, got his authority
from being a servant of Christ Jesus. Of all descriptions, Paul chose the word ‘doulos’(Gk.), which
refers to a person of lower social status, owned as a possession for various lengths of time either less
than seven years for Hebrew slaves or without time limit in the case of Gentile slaves. Among the
thirteen epistles attributed to Paul in the New Testament, the word ‘doulos’ is used only in the epistle to
the Romans, Philippians and Titus.
I am convinced that when Paul used the word ‘doulos’ to describe himself, it has a great impact to
the Roman believers who knew firsthand what the condition of the slaves are in a Greco-Roman society
that maintains millions of slaves. In fact, the whole socio-economic development of the Roman Empire
would have been impossible without the manual labor provided by the slaves in Roman building
enterprises, highway systems and their vast commerce in land and sea.6
The analogy Paul used for himself speaks of his lifetime commitment to serve his Master, Jesus
Christ, a descendant of David and the Son of God who, by the power of the Spirit, resurrected from the
dead. Paul serves, no other than, the Risen Christ! His total commitment, wholehearted devotion and
undying service are to Christ and nobody else. He confirms this in his letter to the Philippians by saying,
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

5
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Manila: OMF Literature Inc, 2002),
317-318.
6
Douglas J. Elwood and Patricia L. Magdamo. Christ in Philippine Context (New Day Publishers: Quezon City, 1971).
2
b. Paul’s authority also comes from his call to be an apostle. ‘Apostolos’ (Gk.) means a messenger or
representative. In Christian history it refers to divinely appointed founders of the church. But in verse 1,
Paul’s claim to be an apostle, points primarily to his being ‘set apart for the gospel of God.’ Paul,
therefore, introduces himself as an official representative from God who brings His good news to
everyone, both Jews and Gentiles. He pointed out, in v.5, that the grace and apostleship he received
entitles him ‘to call people (including the Romans believers)…to the obedience that comes from faith.’
It is through Jesus Christ and for his sake that Paul had his ministry (v.5). A contemporary church
historian reiterates by saying:

It was Paul who had by revelation of God the largeness of vision to see the
need of the Gentile world and to spend his life carrying the gospel to that
world…Paul realized the universal character of Christianity and dedicated
himself to the propagation of it to the ends of the Roman Empire (Rom.11:13;
15:16)7

Because of this apostleship, Paul and his trusted companion, Timothy became the first official
missionaries to set foot on European soil. Needless to say, by hindsight, we can confidently say that Paul
became the pioneer of modern missionary enterprise that includes church planting. Paul, a servant and an
apostle of Christ has been ‘set apart’ for the gospel of God. Being set apart refers to moral quality and
ceremonial acceptance. In v.5 Paul reveals his challenging task: to call people from among all the gentiles to
the obedience that comes by faith. This means that after the gospel proclamation and acceptance, people are
expected to obey God because obedience is the appropriate response to God’s revelation. The old hymn
states, “Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”
More than ever, the 21st century world needs authorized gospel-messengers like Paul. Are we truly
Christ’s servants ready to give our lifetime commitment to His service? Are we living a life worthy to be
considered as Christ’s representative? Can we say that we are set apart for the gospel of God? Let’s make it
our duty to call people to the obedience to Christ? (Read Rom.1: 7-10)

Second, we see an ADMIRED GOSPEL-READER, vv.7-10.


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To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our
Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because
your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the
gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that
now at last by God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

7
Earle E. Cairnes. Christianity Through The Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan,
1996), 64.
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Paul’s epistles, including this one, follow the “typical pattern of a Greco-Roman letter.” First is the
Salutation containing the author, addressee and greetings. This is followed by the Thanksgiving then the
Central section or Body which usually contains exchange of information and various teachings and
doctrines then the Closing statement which may include the benediction, doxology, greetings and, final note
with signature of the sender’s own hand.8
Paul’s original recipients are the people of the church in Rome which are predominantly Gentile but
may include substantial minority of Jews.9 They may have heard the preaching of the gospel from early
believers who came from Jerusalem during the Pentecost. We must note that in the first thirty years of
Christianity most of the followers were Jews. But after that, believers became predominantly Gentiles which
explains the profile of the church in Rome when Paul sent his epistle. The reason given is that missionaries
like Peter, Paul, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquilla and others met increasing success among gentiles and
decreasing success among Jews.10
Paul describes them as (a) loved by God and; (b) called to be saints, v.7. Paul was confirming the
special affection and relationship the Roman believers had with God and their position as sanctified people
both morally and ceremonially.
Now, in v.8 we note that Paul has heard good feedback from his recipients. He personally admired
them for one reason: The Roman believers’ faith has been made known around the world (that is, the Greco-
Roman World). As a center of the Roman Empire, believers situated in Rome had a very significant role.
Rome is the center of influence in law, culture, religion and learning. One common saying during those days
is that “All roads lead to Rome.” This may refer primarily to the systematic highway system that the empire
built but it has also a great bearing in the spread of the Christian faith to other parts of the world as traders
and Roman citizens visit the capital in a regular basis. This might explain the popularity of the faith of the
believers in Rome. They did not keep quiet but share their newfound faith to anyone thus making it known
to other churches and the larger society. And so naturally, Paul admired this gospel-reader.
Friends, the moment we receive Christ we become God’s child. But more than being recipients of
God’s grace, we are called to be saints. Salvation can be acquired in an instance but sanctification is a
lifetime process. Is your faith in Christ changing you from glory to glory? Do people near and far know and
admire your faith in Christ? Let’s pray that our faith will be felt in our own sphere of influence: first in our
family, neighborhood, church, school and, the marketplace. This is how Jesus outlined the way we do
evangelism: first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. (Read Rom.1: 11-14)

8
Gordon Zerbe. The New Testament: Introductory Lectures (Silliman University Divinity School: Dumaguete City, 2002-03,
unpublished), 6a-b.
9
“Romans” in The New International Version Study Bible Notes. In Pradis CD-ROM.
10
Zerbe. 2b.
4
Third, we see an ABORTED GOSPEL-MESSENGER’S VISIT, vv.11-14.
11
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong- 12 that is, that you and
I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I
planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might
have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. 14 I am obligated both to Greeks and
non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you
who are at Rome.

One of the many purposes of this letter is to “to prepare the way for his coming visit to Rome and his
proposed mission to Spain (1:10-15; 15:22-29).” The letter is so important in that it explains the reason of
Paul’s aborted visit to Rome. First, he longs to share some spiritual gifts for mutual strengthening and
encouragement, v.12. Second, as a Roman citizen, a status achieved by his father, he wanted to personally
visit the capital to have a harvest among the believers there. But the greater reason of his desire to visit them
is in vv.14-15, which states Paul’s life purpose in a nutshell: “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-
Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are
at Rome.” We know that Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles and Rome is the center of the Gentile world
during those days which explains his eagerness to preach the gospel to them.11
Paul’s longing to see the Roman believers met some hindrances which may have frustrated him in a
certain degree, v.13. Yet it became an occasion to produce a very systematic presentation of God’s plan of
salvation to both the Jews and Gentiles. Do you think we will have the epistle to the Romans in the New
Testament had Paul visited the Roman believers without any obstacle? We can, therefore, say that the
aborted visit of Paul became a blessing in disguise not just for the original recipients of the letter but for all
the Christians in the whole spectrum of Church history. Recently, a well-known contemporary Bible
teacher/preacher/writer, Chuck Swindoll, has done a series on the Epistle to the Romans which he entitles,
“The Christian Constitution.” Friends, we will have a little difficulty explaining and living out our Christian
faith in this world had Paul failed to write the Epistle to the Romans. In addition, it is believed that
Augustine, Luther and, John Wesley encountered spiritual renewal out of their study of the Epistle to the
Romans. Thanks to Paul’s aborted visit to Rome. It was such a blessing in disguise. (Read Rom.1: 16-17)

Fourth, we see an ALL-POWERFUL GOSPEL-MESSAGE, vv.16-17;vv.2-4


16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a
righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

11
“Letter to the Romans” in The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Zondervan Publishing House: Grand Rapids,
Michigan) in Pradis CD-ROM.
5
‘Evangelion’ (Gk.) literally means “good news.” The English word ‘gospel’ is derived from the Anglo-
saxon word godspell, which meant “good tidings” and, later “the story concerning God.” The word, gospel,
appears 95 times from Matthew to Revelation. In the epistle to the Romans, it is mentioned 12 times and
half of that is found in chapter 1. Paul’s repetition of the word in chapter 1 gave emphasis to the all-
powerful gospel-message. Today, ‘gospel’ refers to the entire message of Christianity and the first four
books of the New Testament which tell the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.12
But in his epistle, when Paul uses the word ‘gospel’ he refers to “the Good News that God has provided
a way of redemption through his Son Jesus Christ.”13 In the earlier part of this chapter, vv.2-4, Paul cites
that the gospel is about the long-awaited Messiah whom God promised in the Old Testament through the
prophets and later fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ who walked this earth, died for humanity’s sin and
conquered death through his resurrection. Paul was telling the Jews who were now part of the church at
Rome that the gospel is the continuation of God’s plan of salvation which began in the Old Testament. The
covenant that God established with Abraham, Moses and Israel is now made perfect through the life,
ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which contains the gospel message.
Why is the gospel-message all-powerful? First, it is God’s instrument in bringing salvation to a
believing person regardless of his ethnicity, gender or social status. Jews are given first priority by virtue of
Christ’s Jewish heritage. But gentiles, which refer to all other races, are given equal priority to hear the good
news.
Here, we see two preconditions of God’s transformative work in a person’s life: the gospel proclamation
and a response of faith. Therefore, Paul, as God’s messenger of the gospel message, is not ashamed to send
it out to any hearer because he is confident of its transformative power. The Gospel is the power of God for
the salvation of everyone who believes. The word power, ‘dunamis’ in Greek, is sometimes compared to the
English word dynamite which is highly explosive. But I like Chuck Swindoll’s explanation. He says, the
power of the gospel is unlike dynamite that destroys but it is more comparable to the word ‘dynamic.’
Dynamic in such a way that the good news of God’s act of salvation through Jesus Christ gives us fullness
of life and makes us active participants in proclaiming and building the Kingdom of God in this world.
Second, it reveals the way of righteousness from God. We can only have a right state of relationship
with God through our faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Thus, Paul quotes the words of the
prophet Habakkuk (Hab.2: 4), “The righteous will live by faith” (v.17). Meaning, the totality of our
righteousness rests in our faith in what God has done in Christ. Our good works will never merit God’s
righteousness. Jews believe that by obeying God’s law a person is saved. Other religions teach that ‘good
works’ can merit salvation. But the point is clearly made that righteousness is obtained through faith in the
12
“Gospel” in The New International Dictionary of the Bible.
13
Ibid.
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redemptive work of Christ. Romans 1:17 is explained further by Paul in 3:21-26 (this form part of the
‘central theological passage in the Bible’),

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to
which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes
through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his
grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as
a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate
his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed
beforehand unpunished- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present
time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Contained in this passage is Paul’s summary of the human malady: For all have sinned and fall short of
the glory of God… and the universal remedy for such condition: This righteousness from God comes
through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. And so, according to Paul only faith in the all-powerful
gospel-message will enable God to work out salvation and transformation in a person’s life. There’s nothing
more and nothing less.
In vv.18-32 we will discover how the gentiles abandoned God’s way in spite of God’s general
revelation. This leads us to the last point which is: (Read Rom.1: 18-32)

The ANGER OF THE GOSPEL-SENDER, vv.18-32.


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The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who
suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because
God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal
power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men
are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to
him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be
wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal
man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their
hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of
God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised.
Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural
relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and
were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in
themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
28
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to
a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness,
evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30
slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their
parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree
that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve
of those who practice them. (NIV)

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Verse 18 talks about God’s wrath against godlessness and wickedness. This word which is found
196 times in the Old and New Testament generally points to God’s holy anger. It is “a righteous indignation
and compatible with the holy and righteous nature of God.”14 The anger of the gospel-sender is provoked
mainly, according to Paul, by not giving what is due to God: worship and thanksgiving, v.21. When people
forget to give what is due to God, something terrible can happen. Paul had a long list of the negative effects,
vv.21-32:
 Futile minds and foolish hearts, vv.21,22;
 Idol worship/worship of images and created things, vv.23,25;
 Sexual immorality, v.24;
 Shameful lusts and indecent/unnatural acts, vv.25-27;
 Depraved mind with its evil behaviors, vv.28-31;
 Espousing and promoting wickedness, v.32.
Paul aptly describes the increasing and intensifying degree of godlessness due to failure of
recognizing God’s position in one’s life. The last verse of chapter 1 tells us of the final consequence of
denying God which is death. In the epistle to the Romans, the word ‘death’ is mentioned 28 times. It refers
to ‘bodily death’ and ultimately the ‘second death’ which is eternal separation from God. How terrible it
will be to live eternally apart from the Creator.
We must take note that God is actively involved in human history. Verse 18 tells us of God’s holy
anger because of human waywardness. Verse 19 tells us of God’s work to put the truth about Him in human
heart. Verse 24, 26 and 28 repeats the phrase, “God abandoned them over…” (‘gave them up’ in KJV) This
does not mean that God is passive but that He allowed people to involve in the intensifying, aggravating and
worsening human degradation due to their failure to acknowledge God for who He is. Consequently, people
suffer because of human evilness and ultimately face God’s bitter judgment.
New Testament interpreters agree that this group of people Paul is referring to is the gentiles or non-
Jews. Paul is describing the State of the gentile world. Won’t you agree with me that the list enumerated by
Paul is still true today after almost two thousand years? Let’s read again vv.29-32. The gentile world has no
excuse because knowing God has been made plain and obvious, v.22. God’s invisible qualities which
include His eternal power and divine nature are displayed in Creation. The universe and its vastness
obviously tell us of God’s greatness. Nature and its grand beauty resonates God’s glory. The diversity of all
the created beings shouts God’s genius. Is this not enough to cause us to give glory and honor to God? But
history has shown us that people chose to do otherwise.

14
“Wrath” from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft.

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Here’s a word of caution: before we point our accusing fingers to this group and feel self-righteous,
we must admit that in one way or the other Paul’s description of human depravity also depicts our own
lives. Did we not abandon God and trusted our own abilities? Did we not put other things above God? Did
we not fail to acknowledge the glory and wisdom of God? Did we not do shameful things? Friends, it is
only by God’s grace that we were able to escape death and now find new life in Christ through the
proclamation of the Gospel – this is “The Message.” Like Paul we will continually say, “Oh, what a
miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thank God! The answer is
in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom. 8: 24-25, NLT)
This is why sharing the gospel is not a burden but a joy because it is a grateful response to what God
has graciously done to us in Christ. We are headed to destruction but God, through Christ, saved us. I’d like
to affirm Chuck Swindoll’s analogy that evangelism is like a man telling another to escape an imminent
disaster. These times are critical because people are not aware of the imminent disaster. We must go and tell
them The Message of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
Now we have a glimpse of how valuable the Epistle to the Romans is. This ‘message’ is actually
addressed also to us. Chapter one tells us of the authorized gospel-messenger, the admired gospel-reader, the
aborted gospel-messenger’s visit, the all-powerful gospel-message and the anger of the gospel-sender.
As we go along our study of the whole Epistle, let’s put in our minds the four major parts:15
(1) First part focuses on the issue of human sinfulness, its universality and the effectiveness of Christ
in dealing with sin making faith alone in his redemptive act as the basis of being made right with
God (1:16-4:25);
(2) The second part shows how faith in Christ and the gift of the Spirit effect the kind of
righteousness intended by the law but is powerless to do (5:12-8:30);
(3) The third part demonstrates God’s faithfulness in spite of Jewish unbelief (9:11-11:32) and;
(4) The last part shows us the kind of righteousness effected by Christ and by the spirit in terms of
relationships within the believing community and beyond.
As part of our preparation, I’d like to request everyone to read in advance Romans chapter two. In
the second exposition, we will uncover why the Jewish people are at fault. Meantime, let’s go into small
groups and discuss the following questions for 15 minutes: (a) What is ‘The Message’ of the church? (b)
How can we make “The Message” relevant for our time? (c) Where are we now as God’s messengers for
our time?
Let’s end with a prayer…

15
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, 318.
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