v1-17: Introduction; the author and his message. Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles, writing around 57 AD, at the end of his third apostolic journey. As early as Acts 2.10, Jews from Rome heard the gospel; here perhaps was the seed of the church there. Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18.2) also came from Rome. There was certainly a church established before Paul arrived.
v1: Paul the servant, Gk: DOULOS, the bond slave. He has been called by God, not by man, and separated for God's work (Gal 1.1). He is called to proclaim the gospel of God, or the gospel of His Son (v9), the gospel of Christ (v16), my gospel (2.16), as distinct from the gospel of the kingdom. The message has a divine origin, but it has so affected Paul's life that he calls it his own.
v2: The gospel is found in the OT; the coming of Christ is predicted in the OT.
v3-4: "Regarding His Son;" for the gospel is about Jesus Christ;
- He is man, the seed of David, the red thread (Ex 26.1; 2 Chr 2.7);
- He is God, the Son of God with power, the blue thread; the deity of Christ being particularly declared by His resurrection, here by the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of holiness, using Jewish phrasing); and
- He is Jesus Christ our Lord, the purple thread.
v5: We have received grace; this is for all nations, not just for Jews. We are called to the obedience of the faith; what we believe, and who we believe in, leads to obedience of life. And this is "for His name's sake," for His glory. The obedience of faith begins and ends the letter (see 16.26, RAV, not NIV).
v6: We are called of Jesus Christ, called to belong to Him, and to one another.
v7: We are therefore called saints (rather than "called to be saints"); and our lives must reflect this reality. Grace and peace come from God only through Jesus Christ.
v8: Paul's commendation; an existing church, made up mainly of Gentiles, with some Jews. They already have a wide reputation, as in 1 Thess 1.6-8; he gives praise where it is due, and opens most of his letters with some commendation.
v9: "My whole heart," or 'my spirit;" such is Paul's total commitment to serving God. God is his witness, for he is not exaggerating. His commitment is first in preaching the gospel, and second in praying constantly for Christians. Such unceasing prayer is a mark of the NT church, see Acts 12.5.
v10: Paul's commitment to the Christians at Rome is clear, even though he has not yet met them;
- he prays for them without ceasing;
- he prays that he might see them;
- he has a real desire to meet them (v11);
- and he planned many times to see them (v13).
In all things, however, Paul is submissive to God's will, and his own plans are changed as he hears God's voice. He awaits God's time, and the divine door of opportunity.
v11: Paul's desire is to see spiritual growth; he shares the NT command to make disciples of all the nations. He plans to come bringing apostolic approval to the church; and to impart some spiritual gift; the sense here is wider than that used in 1 Cor 12; and implies sharing any spiritual blessing.
v12: Paul expects also to be blessed together with them. He has no sense of pride or superiority.
v13: Paul has planned, for his journeys were never aimless; see 15.23-25; Acts 18.21. But in all things he has submitted to God's will. His own desires and preferences are readily dropped in favour of God's plans. He looks forward to a fruitful visit; it seems that Paul was a man of great fruit.
v14-15: A debtor, a slave; one bound to the gospel, a man under obligation. As a result of this obligation, Paul's burden and duty is to preach the gospel. His motivation is proved in his actions (Matt 14.14).
v16-17: Paul's text and theme; the gospel is the power of God, and it brings the righteousness of God; this dual truth is expounded in the later chapters. There are a number of clear consequences;
- we do not need to be ashamed of the gospel;
- the gospel is about Christ, a person;
- through the power of God lives will be changed;
- through the power of God none can be lost;
- our faith, however weak, brings us the full blessings of this salvation;
- through God's righteousness we are guaranteed acceptance by God.
The gospel of righteousness has been revealed. The word here is APOKALUPTO, meaning an unveiling. There is a similar idea in 3.21, although a different Greek word is used. See also Eph 3.3, 5.
Matthew Parris (writing in The Times, 27 Dec 2008,); 'now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.'
It is no wonder that, in 8.31-39, having developed these themes, Paul launches into a hymn of praise to God.
1.18 – 3.20 the wrath of God and the unrighteousness of man; Paul explains man's natural tendency towards sin, and similarly God's wrath towards sins and sinners. This section powerfully demonstrates man's unsuitable-ness for God.
v18-20: The universal witness of God; He has revealed Himself; "they knew God," he says (v21) although not the whole truth about God, albeit sufficient (Acts 14.17; 17.27). Thus man is without excuse if he rejects God. Carnal man rejects God even though the testimony of God is "plain to them" and "clearly seen."
The verbs in v20 are 'present passive participates.' 'the realiy of God's nature and our obligations to him are continuously presented to us.' (Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavour, page 194).
v21: Hearts and minds of men are naturally against God; part of the reason for this is the 'challenge' to personal behaviour. When men realise that faith demands repentance, they become unwilling to believe. Thus, our hearts and minds are naturally affected by unbelief, and are therefore "darkened." This is manifest in four stages (v22-32).
v22-23: Stage 1 of the moral and spiritual decline. Man has a high opinion of himself, thinking himself wise; but in reality he is foolish. Progress in science and technology is contrasted with moral regression. Any view of God makes him like "corruptible man," fallible, impotent, unreliable, even capricious; we make God in our own image.
v24-25: Stage 2; therefore God gave them up; He delivers them to what they really want; uncleanness and idolatry. Idolatry is more sophisticated than the worship of a golden calf (see Ex 32); men now worship money and fame; the result is further moral corruption.
v26-27: Stage 3; for this reason God gave them up; He delivers them to "shameful lusts," or vile passions, especially sexual perversion. Some judgment falls upon them; they receive in this life some penalty for their sins.
v28-32: Stage 4; God gave them over; to a debased mind, to do those things that are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness. There is an avalanche of sins; inevitable yet deliberate. This is true of individuals, of families, and of society as a whole.
v32: Sin is promoted and condoned, even where there is some conscience of sin; they rejoice in their sins.
Since God has such knowledge of the human condition, we can be confident that the remedy in Christ is sufficiently powerful. Our own diagnosis, even as Christians, is all too mild; we need to hear and understand God's view of human sinfulness. A further problem, addressed in chapter 2, is that we tend to condemn sins in others