[Romans Study 1-2]
Introduction I: Romans And The Key Figures
PAUL: Who Is He?
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the Gospel of God” (1:1)
We find that the first word in this Epistle is PAUL; it is an Epistle written by a man called Paul. The Epistle cannot be understood apart from the man. Likewise, only when we understand an artist can we comprehend his work easier and fuller, therefore let us take time to study about this man.
Apostle Paul-who is he?
He is, at once, an amazing person. He authored more than a half of the New Testament and pioneered numerous churches throughout Asia Minor and Europe. When he was moving from one city to another, he sent letters to teach and encourage the young Christians in the matters of faith in his pioneered churches. And his letters were so powerful and profound that his words have come to occupy the universal history, and forming a core of the Holy Scripture.
Some say that without him, Christianity, in the context of world religion, would have been just a small sect in Palestine and that today’s worldwide church would not exist.
Unmarried his whole life, Paul fully devoted himself to the spreading of the Gospel of God with unwavering faith and a fiery passion.
Greatest Persecutor To His Church, Called By Christ
However, do you know that Paul was initially one of the greatest persecutors of Christianity?Paul kindly introduces himself in Acts: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city.
Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:3-5)
Let us backtrack and examine Paul, a.k.a. Saul of Tarsus, prior to his conversion in a little more detail.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2)
Here was this man, an unyielding, rabid, nationalistic Jew, hating the Lord Jesus Christ and everything related to Him, regarding Him as a blasphemer; Saul tried to destroy the Christian church, going to Damascus breathing out words of threat and slaughter in order that he might exterminate the little church there.
He was once Saul of Tarsus, but when he became the Apostle of Christ, his temperament did not change. When he became an Apostle, he was not transformed into a submissive preacher. He preached with all the intensity of his zealous and righteous character. He weeps, he tells us, and at times confronted fears within, and at other times was cast down. The man’s temperament is exactly what it was; the zeal with which he persecuted is the same zeal with which he now preaches. The temperament remains a constant.
Greatest Sufferer For The Sake Of The Gospel
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied. (Acts 9:3-5)God surely works in the most mysterious and profound way that humans oftentimes fail to fathom. At the time that the Christian Church should expand its boundary to the Gentile world outside Jerusalem, the path of the pioneering missionary was destined to be thorny and rugged. “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16)
For this very ministry, God chose Saul of Tarsus, a man stubborn, violent, and bloodthirsty, who persecuted and was responsible for many deaths of God’s very own Christians.
Paul’s life would be filled with of adversaries and suffering. Paul himself revealed about the great distresses he had to face in multiple instances throughout the New Testament.
“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger.” (2 Corinthians 6:4-5)
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27)“We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.” (1 Corinthians 4:10-13)
“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.” (Acts 14:19)
These records vividly depict the life of Paul. He lived the life of real suffering and yet, he endured and never gave up on his commission of being an apostle of the Lord.
Why Saul Of Tarsus? ‘Because Of Love,’ Says The Lord
Still, why did God have to choose Saul?
Because when you are forgiven more, greater love is revealed. Paul himself testified to this mysterious grace.
“Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” (5:20b) Where there is much sin, the greater grace of God is uncovered.
When a sinful woman poured perfume of an alabaster jar on his feet, the Lord taught his disciples: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
The Lord knew so well that the only power that can overcome these indescribable trials and persecutions was love, the love of God. The Lord knew so well that only the one who is perfectly reborn by the love of God, who breathes and speaks in His love, can overcome all things.
Republished with permission from Dr. Christy Tran, the author of “The Epistle to the Romans: Paul’s Love Letter from God.”