Continuing our look at this very meaty first verse of Romans. We’ve already met the author Paul and found out that he is first a servant of Christ Jesus, next he is a called apostle, and now we see that he is “set apart” for the gospel of God.
If you look at this word and attempt to speak it out loud, you will find it sounds like another word we read over and over again throughout the first five books of the New Testament. Can you guess what it is? If you said Pharisee, you are correct. This is an amazing choice of a word for Paul to use here. As we have seen, he is a former Pharisee – a set apart one – which was a religious sect that “set themselves apart”, not really to God, but to a strict conservative religious system. They venerated the Old Testament and because of this had some very sound and orthodox beliefs. However, instead of this profiting them, it brought about a spiritual superiority that led them to hold others who were not like them in contempt. They were into ceremonial washings, fastings, prayers, and alms giving. They were very proud of themselves because of their good works. They had a spiritual pride that allowed them to elevate themselves above the common people. The story of the Pharisee and the despised tax collector told by Jesus in Luke 18:9-14 highlights their fatal flaw as a group brilliantly. To 21st Century Christians, they stand as a great warning. As the world appears to be growing darker seemingly by the day, some Christians begin to see themselves as better than those outside the Church. You hear it in the words they say, and see it in the way they act. “Holier than thou” is an expression that illustrates this sentiment. This attitude of spiritual snobbery turns people away from the very God who died to save them. Because of this, the Pharisees found themselves in Christ’s cross-hairs more than once. His handling of them tells us much about his heart. Woe to them, and woe to us if we portray Jesus as an arrogant rule making God who only allows perfect, rule following people into his Kingdom.
In contrast to this, Paul makes the bold statement that he is still separated. He is still set apart. However, instead of being set apart to phony holiness, he is separated to the Gospel of God. Instead of blasting people for how unworthy they are he is now proclaiming how worthy Christ is and how amazing God is. This God has made a way for all people to be made right with Him. Paul is no longer set apart to the law and pretentious righteousness. He is now set apart and is the messenger of the good news! No wonder he sometimes breaks out into a fit of praise as he is writing. He is in a constant state of awe and amazement at this God who loves so deeply and forgives so completely. What an incredible statement we have here!
The Gospel of God
Paul doesn’t wait long to give a sneak peek as to the theme – the reason for the whole epistle – which is the gospel! Paul actually is a man ablaze with purpose. Now that he has been saved by Jesus through faith, he has received a call to be the Apostle to the Gentiles and is set apart for the gospel of God. He is no longer a Pharisee in the traditional sense of the word – set apart to rules, regulations and external acts of righteousness. He is still set apart, though. But now he is set apart to the most beautiful, perfect message the world has ever known. We will dig into this in greater detail when we get to 1:16-17, but it’s important to note the important fact that the core of the Christian message has just made its entrance in this amazing letter. For the next 16 chapters we will have the great privilege to unpack it, and see its beauty and glory! How glorious the Word of God is!
Questions for Reflection
As we see in Matthew 23, Jesus was extremely tough with the Pharisees. Why do you think this was so?
How can a modern follower of Jesus fall into Pharisee like attitudes and behaviors?
If you are struggling with judgmentalism, or spiritual pride what is the remedy?
For further Study
Well, that’s it for this time. Thanks again for stopping by 🙂 It’s one of the great pleasures of my life to share God’s Word with you. My prayer is that you are finding them beneficial!
Until next time may God continue to richly bless you and yours.