The first few verses of Romans establishes Paul is the author; Paul lays out for all to see, this is who I am. This is how I see myself. Not really that different from the poem I read of Cheri: “I asked the Lord for Strength…I was made weak.” How do you see yourself? Who are you? Specifically Paul has three relationships he expands: Paul’s relationship to himself, Paul’s relationship to God, Paul’s relationship to others.
This actually sounds a lot like and expansion of the amazing response Jesus had with the disciples in Mark 12:28-31. A teacher of the law asks, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." God, neighbor, self. Your attitude towards God, your neighbor and yourself defines your character.
Let’s look at each of these in Romans 1, Paul is to be admired.
1. Himself, as Paul sees himself. Romans 1:1. A servant of Jesus Christ. Slave. What a fascinating way to begin this monumental book. I am a slave. I am obligated to serve Jesus Christ. No exclusive rights to my own life, but I was bought with a price.
A ring of humility in the phrase, “a slave of Jesus Christ” then another note: “called to be an apostle.” That was Paul, our calling is surely different. I know there is a movement in the Christian world in the last 10-15 years to designate Apostles, but that’s beyond me. I recognize Paul as an apostle, set apart to represent Christ and have authority over a whole region, his gift. My gift and setting is much smaller. For me personally, I strive to be able to say something closer to “A slave of Christ Jesus, called to be a pastor in Sumas… Patrick startled me momentarily yesterday when I was talking to someone in the parking lot during the Clothesline, and my back was turned, and her rode up on his bike right next to me. But as soon as I heard his Irish brogue, “Pastor, how ya doin…” Pastor of Sumas.
And for you? What is your calling? How does God see you? If you don’t have an answer right now, pray to the Lord and he will give you an answer in time, for it is his calling upon your life. “A servant of Jesus Christ” is for all. “Called to be _________” that’s individualized. I believe in the spiritual gifts. I believe in the calling of God.
Then Paul speaks of himself as “separated.” Separated to the gospel. This is important. Paul is not saying I am called to preach the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ (although he does that with wonderful mastery), but he is separated/set apart to the gospel. In other words, to live the gospel. Much like Samson was set upart to be a Nazarene, Paul is divinely set apart to live the gospel. We can talk about his training, his background, his years of preparation, but not enough time. The idea is of utmost importance that Paul sees himself as one striving to live with Christ in his life. Is that how you see yourself? You can. It’s humbling. It’s amazing. Set apart to live the Christian life. “Are you a Christian” is no passive question. Add in the element of being set apart, and suddenly “Are you a Christian” is more like a verb. Are you a Christian is not a matter only of if you believe certain things, the question is more do you live with certain values, is your faith alive in your life, set apart to live for Christ.
Slave of Christ, called to serve, living for Christ. There are many more clues in those first six verses of how Paul views himself… but let’s move on.
2. God, how Paul sees God. The entire book of Romans is pretty much an expansion of how Paul sees God. You can certainly pluck out many clues introduced here but expanded in the larger letter. God promises and fulfills his promises, the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ is in v. 3-4, culminating in that life changing phrase: Jesus Christ our Lord. That phrase alone is worth shall we say four sermons, one on each word. (I think maybe I will do that in Seeds of Hope someday). God is He who calls, and sets apart. Paul sees God as the one who is above all else, God who controls, God who has power and authority. Paul sees himself in relation to God as one who is subject to the purposes and guidance of God.
Let’s focus for a moment on the three words Paul uses to describe God in v. 7. Love, grace and peace. How does Paul see God? The one who loves us. In those days, to imagine a God that loves is unheard of. Gods don’t love, gods rule, gods have whims, gods compete with each other. But to love? Suddenly, to conceive of a God who is motivated by love is transforming.
Then Paul throws in this word grace. Paul sees God as a God who loves and is gracious. Grace is necessary because we are imperfect. The word grace opens up a huge window for God to have a relationship with humankind. To see God as gracious, means he does not demand perfection, does not demand the best. It’s coming in the rest of the book, this gift of Amazing Grace, incredible grace. Paul is saying, my God, your God if you will accept him, found a way to overlook my flaws and imperfections, my sins, my inadequacies. God is a God of love and grace.//
And Peace. To know God is to have an internal peace that all is well. The world may rage, but to know God is peace. How do you see God? Be honest. Does God seem distant? Does he seem remote? Too big not having time for you? Too inconsistent? Paul sees God as love, grace and peace. You can too.
3. Others, How Paul sees others.
To the Romans, sees them as Saints, loved by God.
He is thankful for them.
He knows their story and reputation.
Prays for them.
Wants to be with them.
Wants to affirm their spiritual gifts.
There’s a silly old joke told among pastors: “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for people.” /// God’s calling on your life, anybody’s life, is to serve others in some form or another. We are each given different niches, different roles, different skill sets, different passions, but the focus is always on others. If we see other people as a nuisance, a bother, lesser, then woe to us. But to see other people as loved by God is our calling, just as we are loved by God and saved through grace to find peace in Christ, so that is how we are called to see others. This list of Paul’s attitudes and practices towards others is something to grow into:
See people as loved by God. To be thankful. To know their story. To pray for them. To desire to be with them. To affirm their gifts, place in the world, how they can serve Christ, mutual encouragement. Paul’s attitude towards other people in incredible. An incredibly gifted man, sees others as Christ sees himself, as Christ sees others.
How you see yourself, God and others defines your character, your lifestyle. The challenge for us is to fully live for Christ, to not accept second best.
See Yourself: slave, called for a purpose, set apart to live for Christ.
See God: love, grace, peace.
See Others: as Christ sees them.
I had this strange thought. How about if we do pretty well with two out of three of the categories, after all, my favorite tv show is on.
Let’s try forgetting others. After all, other people cause problems and I have enough problems of my own. This makes sense, after all, because Christianity is supposed to be a personal religion isn’t it. God and me, that’s all there is. Leave out others and personal piety becomes a self absorption with a Christian twist. God becomes like a personal cheerleader. You need others, you need to love others, serve others, care about others, pray for others, be encouraged by others.
Let’s try forgetting God. Non-Christians do good things after all. People who don’t believe in God or reject God are not bad people after all. The problem is then you are leaving out God’s love, grace and peace. We are limiting ourselves to our own strength, our own vision, and the goal is for people to become whole by their own deeds. Where’s the grace if you leave out God. Grace is replaced by doing the right thing. We will fail. Our weakness will overcome us. We cannot be good enough.
Let’s try forgetting about ourselves. Maybe there is some truth in this one. After all, we sing the song, “Let’s forget about ourselves and magnify the Lord and worship him.” True enough. But we cannot ever forget that we have needs ourselves, that God loves us so much that he died for us, that God has called us to be slaves, we have a purpose, we are set apart to live for him. God came for others, and that is a powerful truth, but he also came for me.
How you see yourself, how you see God, how you see others is all part of the equation of who you are: you are called by God, given a gift to serve him, and set apart to live for him. God is love, grace and peace. Love tells us what he thinks of us, grace is his power to make us, who are imperfect, accepted by him, and peace is the resulting transformation of our lives and attitudes. And how we see others, equally valuable to God, loved by God, and to give thanks and pray and desire others to know the same God is our calling. How you see yourself, how you see God, how you see others is all part of the equation of who you are.