Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Romans 1:1-7 in the English Standard Version (ESV). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: I still remember sending my first email to the only other person I knew in the world who had an email address as well. It consisted of a really long number and nothing about it was convenient. My wife Becky and I relied on writing letters to each other during our year-long separation before we were married. Neither of us had a computer. For a long-distance trans-Atlantic relationship in the mid nineteen nineties, the letter was the strongest and most affordable medium of communication. And they are incredibly rare today. Because I have written so many letters (but not very recently) I am always intrigued by how someone starts a letter. We don’t give careful written composition much thought in our super visually- oriented world, but even the films and advertisements we watch begin with someone penning the opening pitch.
Today, let's just focus on the context of this letter to the Romans. Unlike all his other letters, in which Paul was writing to a church he knew personally, this letter was addressed to several unknown churches. It was also going to the center of power at that time—Rome! Paul had not visited Rome. He did not know if he was ever going to make it there at all. So just in case he never did, he had to make sure that this letter not only arrived at this seat of power, but left an imprint of the Jesus he knew on the lives of the people there. He wanted them to know that Jesus would change Rome. Jesus would change the world. How would you begin a letter like that? How would you speak to power? How would you get the attention of people who have no reason to pay attention?
“Paul, a servant,” is how the English Standard Version translates the Greek word (doulos), which means "servant" and also "slave." This is how Paul opens his letter. He introduces himself not with any grand title, not with any attempt to show himself as an authority, but as a servant, a slave. Paul says, "You don’t know me, but let me give you my credentials: I belong to Christ Jesus. The same one I spoke of in when I wrote to the Philippians, who took on the nature of a servant Himself, even though He is God." Paul intended to turn his readers' world upside down. The things that mattered the most to them, he would push aside. Using the image of the servant, Paul claims that title for himself in Jesus.
Recalibrate: What term would you use to describe yourself in Jesus?
Respond: Pray for the space and the courage to live in a positive and healing relationship with Jesus.
Research: Read Philippians 2:6-11. What does it say about Jesus?
Remember: “This letter is to all of you in Rome whom God loves and has called to be his holy people.” —Romans 1:7 (ICB)
Japhet is senior pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, CO, and was co-founder of the One project. Originally from southeast London, Japhet served as a pastor and as youth director in the South England Conference for nine years before moving to the United States in 2006. He was director for the Center for Youth Evangelism (CYE), chaplain for missions, and university chaplain at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. Japhet has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Andrews University (Newbold College campus). He has taught youth ministry, coordinated a master’s in youth ministry program, and spearheaded numerous conferences and initiatives. He is married to Becky and they have two sons, Joshua (18) and Jonah (14).
Our text begins with Paul, a servant of Christ. There is nothing like having a baby to remind you that you are a servant. To put the needs of your newborn baby above your own needs is a big learning curve, and yet that is what love does. This is also what Jesus did for us.
Make a list of all the things you think it means to serve. Paul says in our text that he is a servant of Christ. What do you think being a servant of Christ would look like? Draw some pictures of what you think serving Jesus looks like.
Paul gives himself quite the introduction in the first few verses of Romans Chapter One. He gives a great description of who he is and who God has called him to be. If you could only use five words to describe yourself to someone who has never met you, what would those words be and why would you use them? Do you hope those words will have changed in ten years or stayed the same?