Thursday, June 09, 2005

Paul's Apostleship

By way of confirming my safety and well-being, and to give God the glory, I thought I would share what I just finishing writing when our communications with the outside world came back.

(The Division my Battalion belongs to lost two Soldiers yesterday in a rocket attack. Commanders in Iraq impose phone and internet communications blackouts when there are casualties at a base. All of us in our Battalion are fine, nor were we in any danger during the attack.)

Please pray for the health and well-being of Division Soldiers, for peace and comfort for the grieving survivors of these men, and for direction for me and the other leaders to model appropriate grief, while at the same time offer encouragement. Such a meaningful word, as I think on it. En-courage. To create or establish or generate courage, which after all is really a confidence of purpose.

Many of you will remember my previously frequent reflections on Proverbs with a friend. He and I desire to resume this practice, and I wanted to share my first effort. I think God can use these tragic events in our lives to remind us of His abiding love, and the strength that only He can provide. I decided to start in Paul's letter to the Roman fellowship.

To start right in, (forgive any errors, I didn’t have my handy “Bible Gateway” online tonight, so it was the old manual keystroke method for me).

Romans 1:1-7 (New King James)
1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4and declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, 5through whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, 6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; 7To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I find Paul’s declaratives fascinating in this introduction to Romans. What he says about Jesus, what he says about himself, and what he says about his Roman brothers in Christ.

Paul describes himself first and foremost as a servant of Jesus. He serves Jesus, and he cannot mean by this that he was a servant of Jesus when he walked the earth, because of course Paul doesn’t have his Damascus Road experience until after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to the Father. No, he means that he serves Jesus as he continues his earthly ministry. He doesn’t just follow Jesus, he doesn’t “work” for Jesus, he is a servant of Jesus. He is captive to Jesus, he is under bond.

He then declares that he has been called to be an apostle, and in calling himself both servant and apostle in two short phrases says something essential about both. To be an apostle is to be a servant.

He goes one step further, by then asserting that he has been separated to the “gospel of God,” a gospel which he instructs God has promised before through His prophets in scripture. God’s good news or gospel is the fulfillment of an ancient set of promises, promises of covenant, fulfilled for all time in the person of the Messiah. And Paul rightly finds himself not just accepting the fulfillment of these promises, not just observing them, but in some fundamental way separated to this gospel of fulfilled covenant. Paul is only starting to scratch the surface here in Romans, but separated for this gospel he shall surely be, until his death and the individual satisfaction of God’s promise to believers.

Jesus Christ is his Lord, He is the Lord of the Roman believers to whom Paul writes. Paul recounts the pedigree of Jesus, in demonstration of the manner in which God fulfills His promise. Jesus, of the seed of David in a fleshly sense, is nevertheless declared divine by the Spirit of holiness. Paul is describing the manner in which God sent His Holy Spirit to anoint Jesus in His ministry, and fulfilled His divine purpose with His resurrection of the dead.

This is the gospel that binds Paul resolutely to the Romans, why he remains committed to their progress and united with them in common purpose. And it is the power of this gospel, of the salvation we are offered through belief and acceptance of this gospel of the risen Christ, that Paul reinforces as the tie that binds. They are all the servants of Jesus.

Paul and his Roman fellow-believers have received grace and apostleship, but it came at the price of obedience. One can’t help but reflect on the costs this will incur for these and their fellow believers. Certainly in Rome, where persecution and carnage awaits not far off, but also throughout the ancient world, as Paul says, “among all nations for His name.” This indeed will be a heavy price to pay, but that is the price and promise of obedience for all those who are called of Jesus Christ.

This is a very sober reminder. Our travails are trivial in comparison to what was asked of believers in Paul’s days. Especially in Rome, at the very heart of the still powerful Roman Empire.

Paul concludes his introduction by describing those who have been called to be saints as beloved by God. He also wishes them grace and peace from both the Father and the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I can imagine how this might have seemed as Paul’s Roman friends read these greetings. Certainly they must have fully accepted His apostleship, else how outrageous would be his presumption to extend greetings as it were from God and Jesus. I’m struck also by how readily and without further explanation Paul can refer to two of the triune persons of God. Would the Romans at this time fully understand or at least accept this mystery? If not, Paul shows no fears for their comprehension. For the Romans, no less for believers today, this totality of the gospel and the mystery of the trinity is an essential feature of God’s character. Jesus is the embodiment of the promise God extended, first by means of the Law to the Jews, and subsequently to all mankind through the atoning sacrifice that Jesus fulfilled once for all.

And I ponder what must have been the atmosphere and tenor of these times in Rome. For it was Rome, not Jerusalem, that was the center of the known Universe in the ancient world. The center of power. The seat of civilization. The sum and total of both the higher aspirations and the utter depravity of humanity. The rock upon which the Christian Church would grow, against all odds, and form the cornerstone of faith for the modern world. And a city and society that Paul determined to conquer, if necessary one believer at a time.


Blogger Barb said...

Dadmanley - I was reviewing your profile to seek an email address, and found this lovely site. I especially was intrigued at this post - as I enjoyed reading "Great Lion of God" so much in high school, that I decided to take a full semester course in college on the teachings of St. Paul.

I have not been a student of the Bible, nor am I terribly religious, but I think that the story of Saul's conversion is powerful - and all of his writings are worthy of deep review. I shall return and read more here.

7:30 PM  

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