This first chapter of Romans is introductory. It sets the stage for the rest of the epistle. Romans 1 may be divided into four major parts as follows:
All letters begin with an opening greeting or salutation. The epistle to Romans follows this habit. Some great messages can be found in the opening greetings of Paul's epistles.
"Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). Most letters do not tell a great deal about the sender, but this one does.
• His surname. "Paul." A surname is, according to one of our dictionaries, an added name derived from occupation or other circumstances. We generally think of a surname as the name borne in common by members of the same family, but it can also be a second name given to someone such as "Simon he surnamed Peter" (Mark 3:16). First, the giving of the name. The name of Paul was given to Paul sometime during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:9). His first name was Saul which fit the fact that he was of the tribe of Benjamin from which the first king of Israel came whose name was Saul. What a contrast these two Sauls were; one started well and ended badly, the other started badly and ended well. Second, the glory of the name. When Paul received his name of Paul, it was not a famous name. The name that was famous at that time was Nero, the Roman emperor. Scripture says, "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot" (Proverbs 10:7). That has a lot to do with the fact that we name our boys "Paul" but our dogs "Nero."
• His slavery. "Servant of Jesus Christ." The word translated "servant" is the Greek word "doulos." "The most abject servant term used by the Greeks to denote a slave. The word designated  one who was born as a slave,  one who was bound to his master in cords so strong that only death could break them,  one who served his master to the disregard of his own interests, and  one whose will was swallowed up in the will of his master" (Wuest). Paul became a bondslave of Jesus Christ when he was born again, and he was dedicated to serving Him until he died. Paul was a "servant"/slave before he was an "apostle." Many want to be an "apostle" but not a "servant." They want honor and position, not work and submission.
• His service. Here is Paul's calling, his Christian service. First, the origin of his service. "Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1). Paul was a "servant of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1) so Christ decided his service. Our Christian service is a Divine decision. Second, the office in his service. "Called to be an apostle" (Romans 1:1). "Apostle" means "sent one." Paul was sent of the Lord. The words "to be" are not in the original text but were added by the translators. It is a most unfortunate insertion. There was nothing future about Paul being an apostle. The "apostle" term can be used in a generic sense for all who proclaim the message of the Gospel, but the term is also used in a special sense, as here, for the twelve apostles who were given special authority. These twelve comprise the original eleven disciples and Paul. Acts 2 reports the believers choosing Matthias as the twelfth apostle, but Paul was chosen by Christ, not the crowd, and he defends his office (I Corinthians 9:1; II Corinthians 12:12). Being an apostle gave him authority that he needed for his service. Paul says this office came as a result of "grace" (Romans 1:5). All called to serve can say the same thing. Third, the orders for his service. "Separated unto the gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). Paul's service was specified as a Gospel ministry. His orders were to proclaim the "gospel of God." "Separated" says he was called into a full-time ministry. Many do not want a full-time ministry, for to be full-time requires more dedication, sacrifice, and energy than they are willing to give. Fourth, the objective of his service. "For obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name" (Romans 1:5). Paul's ministry was to proclaim Christ to lead men to obey the call to repentance to be saved (Acts 17:30) and then to live a life of obedience in faith.
The main theme of the epistle of Romans is mentioned here in a brief appendage to Paul's calling.
• The salvation in the subject. "Gospel of God" (Romans 1:1). This term speaks of the salvation offered to man by God. First, good news in salvation. The word translated "gospel" means "good news." There is no better news than that God will forgive the sinner and let him in heaven instead of sending him to hell. Second, God's news in salvation. The Gospel is sometimes called "gospel of God" (Romans 1:1) and sometimes "gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16). The first term speaks of the source of the Gospel; the second term speaks of the Savior in the Gospel. God planned the Gospel. It is not man's plan. Man could not have invented the Gospel, but if he could have, he would not have done so, for man does not like to portray himself as a sinner needing God's forgiveness.
• The support of the subject. Paul tells of the support for this Gospel. First, the seers support the subject. "Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures" (Romans 1:2). The Gospel was prophesied and promised in the prophets in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53 as an example). Second, the scriptures support the subject. "In the holy scriptures" (Romans 1:2). The Gospel is Scriptural. It is not a man-made doctrine like the doctrine of the cults. It is Biblical. Paul emphasized this truth when he said, "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried... rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3, 4). If you preach the Bible, you will preach the Gospel.
• The spotlight in the subject "Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 1:3). The spotlight in the Gospel message is focused on Jesus Christ. Take Christ out of your message and you will have no Gospel for the sinner. First, His Person. "Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God" (Romans 1:3, 4). The humanity of Christ is in the first part of the statement and His Deity in the last part of the statement. He was "made" the seed of David [humanity] but "declared" the Son of God [Deity]. "Made" indicates a time, a beginning—Christ was born in Bethlehem, but He always existed as God so His Deity is simply "declared." The Gospel requires both humanity and Deity in order for Christ to be our Mediator between God and man. Second, His purity. "According to the spirit of holiness" (Romans 1:4). Christ was sinless otherwise He could not have been our substitute on the cross and therefore, our Savior. Third, His power. "The resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). His resurrection is necessary for our salvation (Romans 4:25). Without the resurrection of Christ from the grave He would have no power to save (I Corinthians 15:17).
Here we learn something about the people to whom Paul wrote this epistle.
• The conversion of the saints. "Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:6). Griffith Thomas says, "The term "called" as used in the Gospels and Epistles has a very distinct difference. In the Gospels it always means simply the invitation of God, but in the Epistles it invariably implies both the invitation and its acceptance by us." So here Paul is speaking of the invitation to be saved and the acceptance of the invitation of the Gospel. This is the conversion of the saints to whom he is writing. They have been converted through Christ.
• The city of the saints. "To all that be in Rome" (Romans 1:7). Paul had not yet been in Rome, the capital of the great Roman empire, so these saints heard the Gospel message from someone else. Paul did not reach Rome until some years later; and when he came, he was a prisoner. The saints already had an affection for Paul, for some of them came to Appii Forum (Acts 28:15) to meet Paul when he was coming to Rome.
• The compassion for the saints. "Beloved of God" (Romans 1:7). God loved us before we were saved ("For God so loved the world"—John 3:16) and loves us after we are saved. This is a tremendous blessing to be loved of God. Mankind counts it special to be loved of some human, but how much more special to be loved of God.
• The calling of the saints. "Called to be saints" (Romans 1:7). Paul calls the believers in Rome "saints." First, the precept for sainthood. "Called." As we noted a bit earlier, the word "called" implies an invitation and acceptance. These saints heard the Gospel message and obeyed the command to repent (Acts 17:30). Mankind is commanded to repent and receive Christ. If a person is not saved they are disobedient to God. Second, the purity of sainthood. The word "saint" implies holy conduct. Many saints do not live like saints. However, when a person is truly saved, it will purify his conduct. Failure to live a holy life can justify questioning one's claim of salvation. Third, the process for sainthood. "To be." The words "to be" are not in the original but have been inserted by the KJV translators. It is a most unfortunate insertion. The believers in Rome were already saints. You do not have to be dead at least four hundred years, have worked some miracles in your lifetime, and be canonized by the church of Rome to be a saint. You become a saint when you receive Christ as Savior.
"Grace... peace from God... and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:7). Paul uses a typical salutation of that day when he finally gets to the salutation in the letter to the Romans. The typical salutation is in the two words "grace" and "peace."
• The significance of the words. "Grace" is the Greek greeting while "peace" is the Jewish greeting. We in our country simply say "hello" which is cheap and shallow in comparison to the Greek and Hebrew greetings. In my former church in Detroit, which was in a Jewish neighborhood, it was customary for some of my members to greet one another with a Hebrew "shalom" which means "peace." In fact, one Baptist church in that area had "shalom" printed on the building over its entrance. Jews still use the "peace" greeting today. Paul used both because he was speaking to both Jews and Gentiles.
• The sequence of the words. "Grace... peace." In every epistle in which Paul uses grace and peace in his greeting, it is always grace before peace. This is the right order in experience. If one wants peace, one must first have grace. If you want peace in your marriage, you need to show some grace to your spouse. If you want peace in your soul, than you must receive the grace of the Gospel.
• The source of the words. "Grace... peace from God... and the Lord Jesus Christ." Grace and peace will not come from the United Nations or from legislation but only from the heavenly source of God the Father and Jesus Christ. The reason our world does not have grace and peace is because it has forsaken God and rejected Jesus Christ. When God is forsaken and Jesus Christ is rejected, the best blessings of life will not be ours. What a tragedy has occurred in our land in the anti-God attitudes that prohibit honoring Him or Jesus Christ. We desperately need grace and peace in our land but they will never come with our anti-God attitudes.
Paul's goal was to sojourn in Rome—"to come unto you" (Romans 1:10)—to minister to the people there. He did indeed visit Rome but under far different circumstances than he expected, for he came to Rome as a prisoner. Paul wrote this epistle in Corinth toward the end of his third missionary journey. After this journey, he was apprehended in Jerusalem and later shipped to Rome as a prisoner.
The people he wanted to see in Rome would provide good Christian fellowship for him.
• The thankfulness for the people. "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all" (Romans 1:8). We can all thank the Lord for Christians wherever they are. Christians are the salt of the earth, and this world benefits more from this group of people than any other group. People who receive Christ and honor Him are always a great benefit to the world.
• The testimony of the people. "Your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8). The believers in Rome has quite a testimony for Christ. Word had spread throughout the world of their faith. This would happen as merchants came to Rome and heard and told others. Paul got real excited when learning of others who were great testimonies for Christ. Paul spoke similarly about the believers in Thessalonica (I Thessalonians 1:8).
• The talking about the people. "Without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers" (Romans 1:9). Paul not only preached to people (talked to people about God), but he also prayed about people (talked to God about people). First, the sincerity in his praying. "God is my witness" (Romans 1:9). Some folk can fool man but you can never fool God. Paul says God would support his claim of praying. Second, the subjects in his praying. "You." Paul teaches us that we are to pray for our fellow believers as well as for lost souls. Third, the steadfastness in his praying. Paul's steadfastness is emphasized twice in "without ceasing" and "always." Paul was not spasmodic but faithful in his praying.
Paul's desire to come to Rome was bathed in prayed.
• The ardency in the petition. "Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey" (Romans 1:10). The earnestness of Paul's prayer is seen in our text. First, the providence in the ardency. "Any means." Paul was so earnest in coming to Rome, he was not particular ("any means") how he got there; the important thing was to get there. He did get there, but the means was as a prisoner. Second, the patience in the ardency. "At length." True spiritual ardency will be patient. Enthusiasm that goes beyond patience invites ruin. Patience is submission to Divine plans. Third, the prosperity in the ardency. "I might have a prosperous journey." Paul did indeed have a successful journey howbeit it was through a shipwreck. And the prosperousness of the journey included some miracles and evidently more converts (Acts 27, 28).
• The approval in the petition. "By the will of God" (Romans 1:10). Paul submitted to the will of God regarding his request to go to Rome. Would that he had done the same about his trip to Jerusalem of which he was warned repeatedly not to go there (Acts 21:4, 11, 12).
"For I long to see you" (Romans 1:11). Paul wanted to be with the saints. This was evident in the past by his seeking Christian fellowship in such places as Tyre (Acts 21:3, 4) and in Puteoli (Acts 28:13, 14). This attitude is sorely missing in our churches today or there would not be so much absenteeism in the church services. Of course, some saints are not nice to be around, for they are so unspiritual, unkind, and uninspiring.
The profit of Christian fellowship is a two-way street, that is both Paul and the saints of Rome would profit from his visit.
• The profit for the saints in Rome. "That I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established" (Romans 1:11). This profiting was twofold. First, a spiritual gift. "Spiritual gift." This term is not used in a technical sense here to refer to special gifts like those spoken of in I Corinthians 12, but the term is used in the generic sense of spiritual blessing. Second, a strengthening gift. "To the end ye may be established" (Romans 1:11). Paul would strengthen the faith of the Roman saints. Pastors should be doing that, too. All their sermons should not be just evangelistic but should be explanations and exhortations for the saints to help them grow in the faith.
• The profit for the servant in Rome. "That I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith" (Romans 1:12). Paul's profit from fellowship with the saints in Rome is detailed here. First, the character of the profit. "Comforted." This involves encouragement. Spiritual fellowship comforts saints in their trials and encourages them in their Christian walk. Second, the cause of the profit. "Mutual faith." The faith others have in Jesus Christ is a great blessing to fellow-saints. It is comforting and encouraging like few other things. If you want to be encouraged to walk in the faith, fellowship with God's people. Fellowship with the world encourages worldly thinking while it discourages faith.
"I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, but was let hitherto" (Romans 1:13). Lest the saints at Rome question the sincerity of Paul about coming to Rome, Paul notes his many attempts to come to Rome and also the opposition he encountered that prevented his coming to Rome. First, the presence of opposition. "Was let hitherto." The word translated "let" means to prevent, forbid, hinder. Hindrances will be ever present for the true servant of God as long as Satan is free to oppose the Gospel. Second, the persistence in spite of opposition. "Oftentimes I purposed to come unto you." Paul never gave up but "oftentimes" planned to go to Rome. We must not quit when opposition hinders our work. That is just what Satan wants us to do. Rather we must put forth greater effort to overcome opposition. Sometimes God lets us experience opposition just to see if we are interested and earnest enough in the work of God. Those who quit quickly show a great lack of dedication to God's work.
"That I might have some fruit among you" (Romans 1:13). Paul had a noble goal for coming to Rome. His motivation was holy and commendable. It was not to make more money or become famous or to sight-see. Paul's purpose in coming to Rome was to gain converts, and to strengthen Christians. We do not have to be an apostle or even a minister to produce this kind of fruit. Not many saints desire or produce these blessings when they show up on the scene.
"I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise" (Romans 1:14). "Debtor" here does not mean Paul owed money or other material goods to the folks he mentions, but rather that he is under a Divine obligation to help these people spiritually. That which prompted Paul wish to travel to Rome to have some "fruit among" (Romans 1:13) them was the great obligation that burdened him continually about proclaiming the Gospel. God had commissioned him with the call to the Gospel ministry (Romans 1:1) which made Paul feel obligated to all kinds of people (Greeks or Barbarians, wise or unwise) to minister to them spiritually.
"As much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also" (Romans 1:15). The word "ready" gives us at least two thoughts. First, readiness. Paul had things ready to leave for Rome. He had his message and whatever else he needed all ready to leave for Rome. Second, eagerness. The word translated "ready" also involves eagerness to go immediately. Paul was so enthused about going to Rome that he would be glad to leave at anytime. "At the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, Lord Clyde... when asked how long it would take him to get ready to start for India, is said to have replied, 'I am ready now'" (Griffith Thomas). That expresses the spirit of this "ready" in our text—prepared in readiness and eagerness.
Romans 1:16, 17
The main theme of the epistle of Romans is the Gospel. After the initial greeting, Paul, with unsurpassed skill, begins the exposition of the great Gospel message. These two verses introduce the Gospel theme of the epistle.
"I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16). Culture and modern philosophies (which are just old philosophies in new clothes) do not change the greatness of the Gospel and no one ever needs to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the greatest blessing known to man.
"Gospel of Christ" (Romans 1:16). Christ is the key to the Gospel message. Leave Christ out and you have no Gospel. Some may claim to preach the Gospel, but if they do not preach Christ as the key to the Gospel, they are not preaching the Gospel. Christ is what makes the Gospel different than any other religious belief.
"It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth" (Romans 1:16). The word translated "power" is the root word for our English words dynamic and dynamite. Nothing has the power to change men like the Gospel. Look at Paul as an example. The Gospel changed him from a brutal anti-Christ persecutor to the greatest of ambassadors for Christ.
"Salvation" (Romans 1:16). The purpose of the Gospel is to save people from the damnation in hell. The Gospel is the good news that salvation is available in Jesus Christ. The greatest need of man is salvation. No other need compares. Salvation through the Gospel of Christ satisfies the greatest of need of man for all eternity.
"Believeth" (Romans 1:16). One can possess the blessing of the Gospel by faith in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not of works. "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves... not of works" (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Some think money will buy them a ticket to heaven, and these folks are willing to shell out great amounts to avoid purgatory, but it is only faith in Jesus Christ that will keep one out of the fires of hell and get one into the glories of heaven.
"To the Jew... also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is for everyone. The Gospel message is universal in application. It is not limited to any race or nationality. Anyone, be he Jew or Gentile, who by faith believes in Jesus Christ will be saved. "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). The rich and the poor, the famous and the obscure all need the Gospel and are all included in the Gospel invitation.
"Therein is the righteousness of God revealed" (Romans 1:17). The Gospel, like nothing else, tells man what is right and what is wrong. The Gospel comes to save sinners—therefore man needs to know what is wrong, what is sinful, and the Gospel will inform man of God's righteousness which is a contrast to sin. If men preach the Gospel, they will preach the righteousness of God. To claim to preach the Gospel but not declare the righteousness of God exposes one as a fraudulent witness of the Gospel. The Gospel message will clean up society as nothing else.
"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). When a person becomes saved, he will live a different life which will be a better and holier life. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (II Corinthians 5:17); "Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Salvation sanctifies. It changes ones lifestyle. Lack of change in a person's lifestyle after salvation can justify suspicion that there has been no salvation in that person.
Here Paul begins to show the great need of the Gospel. Paul speaks plainly here about the sinfulness of mankind. Unless people see their sinfulness they will see no reason to be saved. Preaching against sin is vital in preaching the Gospel. The preacher who does not expose and condemn sin in his sermons may be a popular preacher, but he will not truly convince many of their need of salvation.
This is the general but poignant and powerful statement about the judgment upon sin which should drive every soul to Christ for salvation from Divine judgment.