Romans 1:1–16. Introduction. Paul As Servant-leader

Key Notes: The impact of Romans on spiritual leaders. How can a servant be a leader? Pastor or CEO?

Romans is unique among books of the Bible because it is not history, prophecy, wisdom literature or a personal letter. It comes closest to the Law-books of the Pentateuch, where Israel is instructed in the way to interact with God under the Old Covenant. Romans is a formal outline of salvation in Christ, using the Old Covenant as background or foundation. It addresses itself to Israel as the primary example of God’s dealing with humanity. It also discusses the situation of the Roman believers in the pagan world. F. F. Bruce discusses the situation in Rome in the introduction to his commentary on Romans.
(The Epistle of Paul to the Romans. F. F. Bruce; Eerdmans,’63)

It was strategic to send this major doctrinal work to Rome. Rome was the center of the world. This letter to the Romans would likely be heard in Caesar’s palace and eventually Paul would be there himself to reinforce the message. (Phil. 4:22). From there the message will be broadcast in all directions.

Its importance to the world cannot be overestimated. Augustine was saved as he read Romans. The year was 386AD in Milan. He was a 32-year-old teacher of literature, and struggling with what we would call sexual addiction. He was “twisting and turning in my chains” in his garden and heard a child’s voice say, “Pick up and read, pick up and read.”  He opened the Bible and his eye fell upon,

“...Not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13:13–14)

In his Confessions, he wrote, “At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” Augustine went on to become the greatest leader of the early church. He made enduring contributions to the world’s literature with his Confessions and The City of God. (From Romans. J. Stott; IVP,’94; p.20)

Martin Luther’s conscience tormented him in spite of fastings and prayers. It was 1515 in an Augustinian cloister in Erfuhrt, Germany.
 “If ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery, it was I,” he wrote. Yet he hated and feared God.

“Night and day I pondered until…I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justified us by faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before ‘the righteousness of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gateway into heaven.”
Luther became the Father of the Protestant Reformation. (Stott, op.cit. p.20–21)

John Bunyan (1628–1688) came to faith after a long struggle and deep depression which he told about in his spiritual autobiography, "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners"

“As I was walking up and down in the house, as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, Ye are ‘justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’. (Rom. 3:24). But oh, what a turn it made upon me! Now was I as one awakened out of some troublesome sleep and dream, and listening to this heavenly sentence, it was as if I had heard it thus expounded to me: ‘Sinner, thou thinkest that because of thy sins and infirmities I cannot save thy soul, but behold My Son is by Me, and upon Him I look, and not on thee, and will deal with thee according as I am pleased with Him.’”
(The Epistle of Paul to the Romans; F.F. Bruce; Tyndale,’63, p. 104)

John Wesley joined The Holy Club in Oxford in 1729 and set about living a spiritual life of devotion and abstinence. In 1735 He and his brother Charles came to Georgia (America) as missionaries. They went home to England discouraged and disillusioned. But in 1738, John Wesley went “very unwillingly” to a Moravian meeting in London where someone was reading Luther’s Preface to Romans.

“About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone,  for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

John Wesley, now a born-again preacher, worked with his brother Charles and stirred great revival in Britain and the United States. (Stott, op.cit, p.21–22)

An Orthodox seminary professor, Dumitru Cornilescu, in Bucharest, 1916, was seeking greater spiritual reality and began a study of Romans. He came to realize that Christ had done everything necessary for our salvation.
“I took this forgiveness for myself. I accepted Christ as my living Savior.”
He made a new Bulgarian translation of the Bible in 1921. He was driven out of Bulgaria, exiled by the Orthodox Patriarch in 1923, and died later in Switzerland. (Stott, op.cit., p. 22–23)

Karl Barth was a liberal German theologian before WWI. In 1918 he published a commentary on Romans which was his decisive break with liberalism. He wrote with a joyful sense of discovery. On Romans 1:18 he wrote,

“Our relation to God is ungodly…We assume that…we are able to arrange our relation to Him as we arrange our other relationships…. We dare to deck ourselves out as His companions, patrons, advisers and commissioners…. This is the ungodliness of our relation to God.”
His commentary dropped “like a bombshell on the theologians’ playground.” (Stott. op.cit., p.23)

1:1   Paul introduces himself as a servant or slave, and also as an apostle, set apart for the Gospel of God, set apart from his mother’s womb. (Gal. 1:15). Would that we all had that same sense of calling. If we put servant and apostle together, we have servant-leader, a concept that is of current interest. We shall see if Paul carries out this theme.

1:2–6   In these verses, Paul gives us a compact statement about the Gospel.

  1. It was promised beforehand by the prophets in Scripture. The most notable explanation of the Gospel in the OT is Isaiah 53 where God’s servant is sacrificed for the sins of the people.
  2. The Gospel concerns God’s Son.
  3. God’s Son was David’s son according to human biology. (Isaiah 9:6). It is good news that He was made like us.
  4. God’s Son was demonstrated to be God’s Son by His resurrection from the dead. The Resurrection was the one sign Jesus offered to His people proving His claim to be the Son of God. Matt. 12:39
  5. The Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11) and empowered His disciples to go out in faith to preach and teach.
  6. Jesus Christ is our Lord. We are related to Him. Saved ones call Him “Lord.”
  7. Jesus gave Paul the job of being a salvation apostle and gave him the tools of grace.
  8. The goal of the Gospel is to bring about the obedience of all nations, including the Romans.

1:8–15   In this section, Paul speaks as a servant about his desire to visit the church at Rome, a church he did not start but whose reputation was widely known. His desire is strong, expressed in multiple words and phrases: I pray without ceasing… I long… asking…  that somehow… by God’s will… I may now… at last… succeed… I have often intended… I am under obligation… I am eager....

We often see people who are driven to do evil, but those who are even more driven to do good seem rare indeed.
“Lord, give me one pure and holy passion….”

In this passage, Paul first speaks as an apostle, a spiritual leader, giving a lesson on the Gospel (1:2–6). Then he speaks as a servant, with an ardent desire to be of service to the Roman church (1:7–15). He is a servant and a leader, a servant-leader.

Servant-leadership is a current buzzword, combining two words that seem opposite. A leader uses power. A servant responds to power. We would like to form an image of this paired role.

A leader is a person who has a vision and can use power to effect change. Leadership requires both vision and power. There are two kinds of power, coercion and authority. Authority depends on the credibility and morality of the leader. Coercion depends on the ability to influence the outcome with money, ridicule or physical force. The two powers operate inversely; the more authority the leader has, the less coercion is necessary; the more coercion is required, the less moral authority the leader retains.

A servant is a person who carries out commands and obeys orders, benefiting another person, a family or a society. Servanthood implies meekness and self-effacement.
How can the servant lead a group if that group is telling him what to do? We call it the delegation of powers when the group gives its authority to an individual member. We see it demonstrated in our political system and in church life. The congregation authorizes the elders to act on its behalf when the congregation is not in session. The elders delegate their authority to the pastor to act when they are not in session.

The servant-leader is viewed as a dedicated public figure who follows the mandates of the group he or she represents. He operates by consensus, depending on the group for authority, and rarely uses coercion. However, when we look at our two best examples of NT leadership, this concept of servant-leader does not apply.

Jesus is our Servant-Leader. He called Himself servant.
“I am among you as one who serves.” Lk. 22:27
He was also master.
“You call me Master and Lord and you are right, for so I am.” Jn. 13:13
He served the disciples by instructing and training them, giving them an example by washing their feet (Jn. 13:1–20). But as their Master, He never depended on their consensus for His decisions. His orders came from His Father:
“I can do nothing on My own authority…” Jn. 5:30.

Paul also calls himself servant.
“…I have made myself a slave to all, that I may win the more.” I Cor. 9:19
He was also one of the apostles and speaks of “…our authority which the Lord gave for building you up…” II Cor. 10:8. He never depended on consensus for his decisions. He was also not above using coercion on the unruly Corinthians, excommunicating an incestuous couple (I Cor. 5:3–5), and ‘jawboning’ a gift for the Jerusalem church. II Cor. 9:1–5

It was the task of Christ and the Apostles to establish the consensus, not to respond to it. They give us the material to which we say Amen.

Jesus does not expect us to follow His example in this respect. We are to have no masters in our fellowship.
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one Master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant…” Matt. 23:8–11

Nevertheless, it was necessary in the early church to name elders or overseers and deacons to give order to the churches (I Tim. 3; Titus 1–2). As the church developed, elders became rulers, bishops, cardinals, with a supreme head, the Pope, the Vicar of Christ on earth. At one time the Pope exercised great power both in the Church and in secular government. This created a power structure that Jesus forbade. Luther reasserted the priesthood of all believers and the diffusion of power began.

A pastor’s personal walk with God puts him in a position to lead his congregation by precept and example, without recourse to overt control. His authority comes from his knowledge of the Bible and his ability to communicate it with clarity and conviction. Let John Stott teach us.

"The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are ‘under’ people (as their servants) rather than ‘over’ them (as their leaders, let alone as their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders…is humility not authority, and gentleness not power. Thus the Christian minister is to take as his model not the Gentiles (or the Pharisees) who preferred to be lords, but the Christ who came to serve. This is not to deny that some authority attaches to the ministry but rather to define and circumscribe it…. It is the authority which inheres in sound teaching and consistent example. A congregation’s attitude to their minister should be determined by his loyalty to the apostolic message. No minister, however exalted his rank in the visible church, is an apostle (in the sense of the NT leaders) of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, if he is faithful in teaching what the apostles taught, a godly congregation will humbly receive his message and submit to it."
(Authentic Christianity; J. Stott; Edit, T. Dudley-Smith; IVP,’95; p. 287)

There is a crisis in the leadership of evangelical churches. Pastors are losing their authority and respect as preachers and leaders and are compensating with managerial power.  [“When I meet a Buddhist priest, I see a holy man. When I meet a Protestant minister, I see a CEO.”] They lose authority partly because there are superb preachers on the radio and television who far surpass what any small church pastor can produce. (One uneducated African pastor said he quoted Rick Warren’s sermons verbatim—and we applaud.)  The crisis in the churches may also represent simple rebelliousness and ill will in the congregation.

There is progressive growth in church size, so that congregational government with deacons and deaconesses is being replaced by Presbyterian-style elders. As the churches grow larger, even elders (all volunteers) cannot keep up, and the governance of the churches goes by default into the hands of the pastors. Many pastors are acting as CEO’s, demanding complete control of the church’s operations.

A second consideration is that our churches are filled with seekers who are in no position to guide the church. This trend toward centralization of power is occurring in the denominational as well as the free churches, in small churches and large.

Remarks heard firsthand from four pastors:

  1. “I don’t care whether you had your window shades all the way up or halfway down. From now on things are going to be different.”
  2. “I have sole control of the things that are done here.”
  3. “I have a right to experiment.”
  4. “I am the apostle…. You are table-waiters.”

We must return our churches to servant-leadership. We must also strive for peace in the church. Individually we each have some gift, some power. We can—and must—use it for God’s Kingdom. It may be wiser at this time to use our leadership outside the professionally-run church. We must operate by consensus, endeavoring to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). We must work in groups, preferably attached to an authorized ministry such as Navigators or Intervarsity, World Vision or the Salvation Army. We should never try to go it alone. Jesus never sent his disciples out alone. Whether we are trying to work with street children or develop an overseas mission, writing a letter to the editor or working with international students, we should not try to do it alone.

For another voice on servant-leadership, see Brothers, We are not Professionals,  by J. Piper; Broadman, Holman, 2002. He says, “We pastors are being killed by the professionalization of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophets.”