Paul begins his letter in a very personal way. He is evidently anxious from the start to establish a close relationship with his readers. He deviates from the letter-writing convention of his day by giving a much more elaborate description of himself than usual, in relation to the gospel. The probable reason is that he did not found the church in Rome. Nor has he yet visited it. He feels the need, therefore, to establish his credentials as an apostle and to summarize his gospel.
Paul identifies himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul’s twofold designation as slave (a better translation than servant) and apostle is particularly striking when these words are contrasted with one another. First, slave is a title of great humility; it expressed Paul’s sense of personal insignificance, without rights of his own, having been purchased to belong to Christ. Apostle, on the other hand, was a title of great authority; it expressed his sense of official privilege and dignity by reason of his appointment by Jesus Christ. Second, slave is a general Christian word (every disciple looks to Jesus Christ as Lord), whereas apostle is a special title reserved for the Twelve and Paul and perhaps one or two others such as James.
Paul now proceeds to give an analysis of the gospel, for which he has been set apart.
The origin of the gospel is God. The apostles did not invent it; it was revealed and entrusted to them by God. This conviction underlies all authentic evangelism. Although God revealed the gospel to the apostles, it did not come to them as a complete novelty, because he had already promised it through his prophets in Old Testament Scripture. There is an essential continuity between the Old Testament and the New. Both bear witness to Jesus Christ.
The substance of the gospel is Jesus Christ. Paul makes references, direct or indirect, to the birth (descended from David), death (presupposed by his resurrection), resurrection from the dead, and reign (on David’s throne) of Jesus Christ. Here is a balanced statement of both the humiliation and the exaltation, the weakness and the power of God’s Son, his human descent traced to David, his divine sonship-in-power established by the resurrection and gift of the Spirit.
This is the Christ, weak and powerful, incarnate and exalted, who owns and rules our lives.
From Reading Romans with John Stott by John Stott with Dale and Sandy Larsen.