Paul's Three "I AMs" Part 1 of 2 (series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
Paul's Three "I AMs.
(3) Paul’s Three “I Ams”
14 I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise.
I am debtor. Paul views himself as a debtor to the whole world. He has been placed in debt by the love of Jesus Christ. “For the love of Christ compels us…” (II Cor 5:14). Paul’s concept of Christian service is that each believer is deeply in debt. It is probably this same concept that inspired Isaac Watts to pen the words of the hymn “At the Cross” when he said, “But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.” Paul felt he had a responsibility to give nothing less than himself to the spreading of the gospel by which he was saved.
To the Greeks, and to the Barbarians. In the Jewish mind, there were only two classes of people, Jews and heathen; in the Greek mind there were Greeks and barbarians; but in God’s mind there are only the saved and the lost; “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I Jn 5:12).
Anyone who has Christ has the answer to the world’s deepest need. He has the cure to the disease of sin, the way to escape the eternal horrors of hell, and the guarantee of everlasting happiness with God. This puts him under the solemn obligation to share the good news with people of all cultures—barbarians—and people of all degrees of learning—wise and unwise.
15 So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.
So, as much as is in me is Paul’s way of saying that he will give 100% of himself to the preaching of the gospel. He won’t hold anything back.
Paul has already said that he was in debt to the whole world, and in order to discharge that debt, he was ready to preach the gospel to those in Rome with all the power God gave him. He is not talking about the believers in Rome, as this verse might seem to suggest, for they had already responded to the good news. But he was ready to preach to the unconverted Gentiles in the capital of the Roman Empire.
I am ready to preach appears to be the middle statement of a trilogy of three first-person statements concerning Paul’s preaching of the gospel of Christ. The first statement is I am debtor (14), and the third statement is I am not ashamed (v. 16).
All of us are debtors to Christ. All of us should be unashamed of the gospel of Christ. But not all are ready to preach that gospel. Paul was not only able and willing, but he was ready to preach as well. He was a clean vessel, not just a chosen vessel. He was ready to be used of God. Paul was like the old country preacher who, when asked how he prepared his Sunday sermon, said, “I read myself full, think myself clear, pray myself hot, and let myself go.” Many believers are not ready to be let go because they are not read full, clear-minded about Christian doctrine, or prayed up. Paul was ready to be “let go” and sent to Rome by any means.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. In stating the theme of the gospel as the good news that Christ died for our sins, Paul makes a bold claim that he is not ashamed of that news. He may have had our Lord’s warning in the back of his mind: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Lk. 9:26). Someone might ask why Paul could have been ashamed of the gospel. Perhaps he would be ashamed to spread the gospel because of the fierce persecution for those who had come to believe in this message. As a Jew, Paul could have been ashamed of the gospel because the Jews despised it as undermining the law. As an educated man he might have been ashamed, because to the wise Greek the gospel was sheer foolishness. He may have been ashamed of the gospel of Christ because, by the pagans, Christians were branded as atheists, a brand no Pharisee could tolerate. This atheism was not a theoretical denial of the existence of the gods, but was a practical refusal to recognize pagan deities as truly God. For those whom the Romans considered to be “Christian atheists,” the consequences were severe, perhaps forced labor in mines or even capital punishment. Although Paul could have been ashamed of the gospel of Christ for these and other reasons, there is never a hint in any of the New Testament writings that he ever was ashamed. Quite the contrary, since he is pictured as being zealous in his efforts to bring the gospel to the lost and to start new churches—“As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” (Rom. 9:33). Paul was not ashamed to take God’s good news to sophisticated Rome, even though the message had proved to be a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, for he knew that it is the power of God to salvation—that is, it tells how God by His power saves everyone who believes on His Son. This power is extended equally to Jews and Greeks.
It is the power of God unto salvation. Paul now gives the reason why he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. It is the power of God, the great and wonderful mystery which has been hidden with God from before the foundation of the world. The gospel, through the work of the Holy Spirit of God, does what no amount of mere human reasoning or debate can do. The gospel compels men to face the reality of their own sin and guilt, the certainty of divine judgment, and the need for a perfect substitute to make atonement for sin. The gospel is the influence which blasts away self-complacency, self-delusion, and sinful self-reliance. Nothing else can do this, for nothing else is in itself the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes
To the Jew first. Paul has deliberately proclaimed that the gospel is for everyone. He did so because there were many Jewish believers who thought the gospel was not for the heathen, the Gentile. Paul says no. The gospel is for all, it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone, without distinction of age, sex, race, or condition. But faith is the key to receiving the gospel and the gospel is to be proclaimed first to the Jew. From the days of Abraham, the Jews have always been highly distinguished from all the rest of the world in receiving many great God-given privileges. They are the royal family of the human race. They are the rightful heirs to the Promised Land. They are the chosen nation of God. They were given the oracles (word) of God. They had a covenant with Jehovah God. It was through the Jews that Christ Jesus came. Originally the preaching of the gospel was addressed to them exclusively; “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5–6). During His ministry on earth Jesus Christ was a minister to the circumcision only (Jews): “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Rom 15:8). The spread of the gospel was to begin in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Paul did not forget that the gospel was to be first directed toward God’s chosen nation, Israel, but the words and also to the Greek indicate that Paul was well aware that the message of the gospel is a universal message, for everyone needs it. It is not for just the Jew or the Roman citizen, it is not just for the wise, but it is for the heathen and the Roman slave as well. The gospel is open to all, it is for everyone, but there is a condition or restriction put on that everyone. That restriction is faith. The gospel is for all who believe. It is effective to every one that believeth.
While we have an enduring obligation to God’s ancient people, the Jews, we are not required to evangelize them before going to the Gentiles. Today God deals with Jews and Gentiles on the same basis, and the message is the same to all.