In the opening verses of the letter, Paul seeks to link himself to his Roman readers in three ways.
1. HE PRESENTED HIS CREDENTIALS (1:1–7)
He was a servant of Jesus Christ (v. 1a). The word Paul used for servant would be meaningful to the Romans, because it is the word slave. There were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire, and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. In loving devotion, Paul had enslaved himself to Christ, to be His servant and obey His will.
He was an apostle (v. 1b). This word means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” One of the requirements for an apostle was the experience of seeing the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1–2). Paul saw Christ when he was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–9), and it was then that Christ called him to be His apostle to the Gentiles.
He was a preacher of the gospel (vv. 1c–4). When he was a Jewish rabbi, Paul was separated as a Pharisee to the laws and traditions of the Jews. But when he yielded to Christ, he was separated to the gospel and its ministry. Gospel means “the good news.” It is the message that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again, and now is able to save all who trust Him (1 Cor. 15:1–4). It is “the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1) because it originates with God; it was not invented by humans. It is “the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16) because it centers in Christ, the Savior. Paul also calls it “the gospel of his Son” (Rom. 1:9), which indicates that Jesus Christ is God.
The gospel is not a new message; it was promised in the Old Testament, beginning in Genesis 3:15. The prophet Isaiah certainly preached the gospel in passages such as Isaiah 1:18 and chapters 53 and 55. The salvation we enjoy today was promised by the prophets, though they did not fully understand all that they were preaching and writing (1 Peter 1:10– 12).
Jesus Christ is the center of the gospel message. Paul identified Him as a man, a Jew, and the Son of God. He was born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18–25) into the family of David, which gave Him the right to David’s throne. He died for the sins of the world and then was raised from the dead. It is this miraculous event of substitutionary death and victorious resurrection that constitutes the gospel, and it was this gospel that Paul preached.
He was a missionary to the Gentiles (vv. 5–7). Missionary is the Latin form of “apostle—one who is sent.” There were probably several assemblies of believers in Rome and not just one church, since in Romans 16 Paul greets a number of “home church” groups (Rom. 16:5, 10–11, 14). There were both Jews and Gentiles in these fellowships, because Paul addresses both in this letter.
Paul’s special commission was to take the gospel to the Gentiles (the word nations means Gentiles), and this is why he was planning to go to Rome, the very capital of the empire. He was a preacher of the gospel, and the gospel was for all nations.