I think it would be pretty easy to make the argument that Romans is the Apostle Paul’s most known, studied and appreciated epistle. Its influence ranges from Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation to the everyday Bible student. In the first five verses, Paul takes a moment to introduce himself to the readers he has never met who live in a city he has yet to visit.
Maybe you’ve had the experience of being asked to introduce yourself to a group of people. Introductions are pretty uncomfortable when they come from another. They are even more difficult when you have to offer one on your own behalf. Paul’s self introduction is short on credentials and long on doctrine. First, the credentials.
“This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach the Good News” (Romans 1:1, NLT)
Paul calls himself a slave and an apostle in the same sentence. At first glance these would seem contradictory in nature. The word slave (doulos) is sometimes translated “servant,” but slave gives the full impact of what Paul is attempting to convey. Slave bears the connotation of humility, personal insignificance, and of one who bears no rights of his own.
On the other hand, Paul is an apostle. The word apostle is a distinctively Christian word. Jesus used it to designate the Twelve. An apostle was viewed as an authoritative figure among first generation believers. In order to be an apostle, one had to have been personally called by Jesus and have been eyewitness to the resurrection. Paul would claim to have experienced both.
So how does one blend the lowly self assessment of slave with the authoritative position of apostle? I think what Paul is trying to convey here is that he is servant to the gospel he has been sent to proclaim. More than the churches he plants or the communities he visits, Paul is first and foremost a servant to his calling. That is the platform on which he stands.
Brent Clark shared a blog post with me today by a mainline pastor who was bemoaning the fact that their denomination placed ineffective pastors in effective churches and vice versa. As I read the thread of unmoderated comments, it occurred to me that too much emphasis was being placed on pastors being placed to serve churches. There was no comment on whether or not pastors were serving their ultimate calling to the gospel.
I sometimes wonder if pastors and staff members in the 21st century get that there is a higher calling than the churches they serve. The calling of the minister is primarily to serve the gospel and to proclaim it boldly in churches and communities. Sheep are certainly needy, and the pastor assumes some responsibility for their feeding, leading, and equipping. But the primary calling is to the gospel. Anything else makes the pastor a chaplain.