“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16–17)
What is Paul saying in these two verses? In order to grasp the magnitude of what he’s saying, it’s important that we understand, briefly, what Paul has said in Romans 1:1–15. There are two important points to note.
First, in vv. 1–15 Paul is giving a directional understanding to the Gospel. In vv. 1–7 Paul shows that the Gospel originates in heaven and comes down to man. The designation: the Gospel of God (v. 1) shows that the origination of the gospel is with God. The Gospel is not a message that begins by men bringing themselves to God, but it is God bringing men to himself. This accounts for the repeated use of “called” (vv. 1, 6, 7). This is the vertical dimension of the Gospel.
In vv. 8–15 Paul shows that though the Gospel is of divine origin coming down to man, that there is a horizontal dimension to it as well. That is, the Gospel shapes and influences and unites us one to another. In v. 12, Paul is quick to show the Romans that there is a mutual edification that transpires through the Gospel. It forms union, not only with God, but with one another.
So in the opening section, Paul wants us to have a God-centered view of the Gospel–this is his Gospel. And he wants us to have a church-centered view of the Gospel–this unites us to one another.
Second, in v. 5 Paul tells the Romans that his commissioning call was to bring the Gentiles to the obedience of faith. Paul understood his calling well (cf. Romans 15:20ff; 1 Corinthians 1:17). But there is a tension. Because if this is what Paul has been called to, why has he not visited the church in Rome (cf. v. 9–11)? So Paul reassures the Romans he desires to see them and is eager to “preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (v. 15). Paul’s calling was to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Keeping these two points in mind, vv. 16–17 have an important thing to say concerning preaching. Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” What is Paul saying?
Paul is assuring the Roman Christians that despite the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel, he is not ashamed of it. But more specifically, he is not ashamed to preach the Gospel. There is a close connection between v. 15 and v. 16. Paul is neither ashamed of the content of the Gospel (see vv. 2–4) but he is also not ashamed of the mode of communicating the Gospel (i.e. preaching).
In Paul’s theology, the content and mode can’t be divorced (see 1 Cor. 1:23ff). But this introduces a number of interesting questions:
1. Does Paul consider all modes of Gospel communication to be equal?
2. What precisely is Paul’s understanding of the nature of preaching?
3. How ought we to understand the value of preaching today?