“Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).
“Paul” (or “Little”) was his moniker of choice. At his birth his devout Jewish parents of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) named him after Israel’s first king—Saul. On his first recorded missionary journey with Barnabas, he began to use this Roman name (Acts 13:9) after exercising his apostolic authority by striking blind a false prophet in the presence of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Paphos and convert to Christ (Acts 13:6-12).
“A bondservant of Jesus Christ” defined his mindset. Like His Savior who went unceasingly about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), Paul unceasingly sought to do his master’s will. Like an Old Testament slave who volunteered to remain enslaved to his master (Exodus 21:5-6; Deuteronomy 15:16-17), his love for Christ constrained him to willingly live for Christ (Philippians 1:21). Because he had been crucified with Christ, it was no longer Paul who lived, but rather Christ lived in him (Galatians 2:20).
“Called to be an apostle” describes his vocation. Just as Jesus personally selected twelve disciples and appointed them to be apostles (Mark 3:13-19), Paul—though born out of due season (1 Corinthians 15:8)—was personally selected by Jesus and appointed by Him to be an apostle (Galatians 1:11-15). He was not self-appointed, nor did any of the other apostles have any input into whether he would be an apostle (Galatians 1:16-19). His life’s vocation was determined by his risen Lord who had called him to be an apostle to the Gentiles and sent him “to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18).
“Separated to the gospel of God” delineates his passion. His intense zeal culminated in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times he received forty stripes minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned; three times he was shipwrecked; a night and a day he had been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 12:23-27).
By the time he writes this epistle, he can declare “that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ” (Romans 15:19). If a citizen of Italy sailed across the Adriatic Sea from almost any seaport, he would most likely land in the region of Illyricum (also known as Dalmatia). As the proverbial crow flies, the city of Jerusalem and the region of Illyricum are separated by over 1,000 miles.
In this first inspired self-portrait in Romans, the apostle Paul blazes on the canvas these four vivid strokes: Little. Bondservant. Apostle. Separated.
This self-portrait could also be titled: Humble. Obedient. Passionate.