Paul's Purpose in Life, and Ours! Romans 15:14-21
Introduction: Paul's Desire for People's Salvation Should be Our Own
In his book: 'A History of American Revivals' Frank Grenville Beardsley wrote a section about the conversion of one of America's greatest evangelists of the late 19th century. He said this:
D.L. Moody told the story of his conversion this way: “When I was in Boston I used to attend a Sunday school class, and one day I recollect my teacher came around behind the counter of the shop I was at work in, and put his hand upon my shoulder, and talked to me about Christ and my soul. I had not felt that I had a soul till then. I said to myself, ‘This is a very strange thing. Here is a man who never saw me till lately, and he is weeping over my sins, and I never shed a tear about them.’ But I understand it now and know what it is to have a passion for men’s souls and weep over their sins. I don’t remember what he said, but I can still feel the power of that man’s hand on my shoulder tonight.”
The concern and tears of a godly teacher resulted in the conversion of a man who saw a million souls saved in his evangelistic campaigns.
I wonder how many Christians today weep over souls? The Apostle Paul certainly did in his day. It was the driving passion of his life to preach the gospel of grace to a world that was lost and facing the wrath of God and an eternity in Hell apart from Him. The great Apostle gave his entire life to this endeavor and ultimately paid for his efforts with his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans when he was beheaded. If anyone doubted his sincerity at the beginning of his ministry, certainly no one did by the time it was ended.
Paul never got over the mercy and grace that God showed him in taking the "chief of sinners", as he called himself in I Timothy 1:15, and making him arguably the greatest proponent for the Gospel of the Grace of God this world has ever known and allowing him to write a good portion of what is now known as the New Testament.
The question that we should be asking ourselves is not: "Why was Paul so burdened to preach that good news of salvation"? It should be: "Why aren't we as burdened as he was?" Do we believe that Christ has saved us from Hell or not? Are we grateful for that salvation? And do we care that most of the world doesn't have the same assurance of eternal life that we have?
In Romans 15:14-21 we get a glimpse into the heart of a minister and the lengths that he went to fulfill his calling to reach the entire Gentile world to whom God had given him to serve. Let us look at the characteristics of the ministry of Paul in which the Apostle steadfastly fulfilled his calling by God and see how this can help us in fulfilling our own calling today to reach our world with that same Gospel that Paul gave nearly every waking minute of his life to proclaim.
I. Paul's Minsitry was Priestly (15:14-16)
The first characteristic that we see in this section is that Paul's ministry was like that of a priest. He begins this section by letting the Romans know that the reason he wrote this epistle was not that he felt as if they were somehow lacking knowledge or were incompetent to teach and counsel one another. After all, he was writing to a church that he didn't found and had, up to this point, never visited. He didn't want to offend them by writing such a forthright letter without giving a good rationale for it.
On the contrary, rather than lacking competence, Paul knew that these believers were full of goodness or high moral character. They hated evil and loved righteousness. He had heard that their lives clearly displayed these things and wasn't worried in that area. They had knowledge and were doctrinally sound. He used the word 'admonish' here to show their capabilities. This word means: "to encourage, warn, advise. It is a comprehensive term for preaching and personal counseling. And the believers in Rome were quite able to do these things.
We today must realize that God gives the responsibility to every believer to encourage and strengthen their fellow believers in the Word of God and not just the evangelists, preachers and teachers. Paul is saying that each Christian is divinely equipped to do this. And the Romans were no exception. So the question was: " Why was he writing them?"
The truth is that, in spite of our spiritual strength, all Christians need to be reminded of the truths that we already know because we can easily reject or neglect them in this world in which we live. So Paul writes to the Romans boldly in order to remind them of these things because of the grace that was given to him as the minister to the Gentiles.
It is here that he uses the language of the priesthood. The word for minister in verse 16 is the Greek word 'leitourgon' from which we get our English word liturgy. It is used in the New Testament of one who serves God in some form of public worship such as a priest. Paul's goal is to offer the whole Gentile world as living and holy sacrifices to God. It is interesting that he isn't saying that he is allowing them to offer themselves. Rather Paul was offering them before the Lord as a priest would do.
It should be noted that, although the Body of Christ was a mystery, the idea that the Jews who were scattered would proclaim God's glory in distant lands and bring people to Jerusalem from all nations as an offering to the Lord, was prophesied in Isaiah centuries before this date. Isaiah 66:20 says this very clearly. And Paul's prayer, as a member of the scattered Israelites, was that his offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable and sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
And how does Paul's mission then influence our mission today? Although the Apostle had a unique priestly ministry, we can nonetheless follow the principles that drove him in our day as well. The church's major roles are to worship and to witness. As we worship the Lord, we are then driven out into the world to proclaim His love and His salvation to a lost humanity. And as we witness, those who come to the Lord are lead back into the church to worship. They, in turn, are driven back out into the world to tell what Christ has done for them and to bring others to the Savior as an offering to Him. Worshippers should always be witnesses and witnesses should be lead to worship the One of Whom they witness. As John R.W. Stott says in his commentary on Romans:
"It is a perpetual cycle. No wonder Paul is grateful for his share in this privileged ministry and breaks out: 'Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God.' "
II. Paul's Ministry Was by God's Power (17-19a)
This brings us to the second characteristic of Pauls's ministry. It was done in God's power. The Apostle found it important to tell us that his ministry was not done under his own strength. He informs us, starting in verse 17:
"Therefore in Christ Jesus, I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit." (17-19a).
Paul would never boast that his accomplishments as an Apostle were his own. They were only what Christ had done because he was a willing vessel and fit for the master's use. God, in turn, used signs and wonders to authenticate his ministry and show that his preaching and teaching were from the Lord and not from men.
Today, we also get our power for ministry from God, specifically from God, the Holy Spirit, as we go out and preach the gospel to a world desperately in need. We don't have the signs and wonders anymore. They were specifically for that time. However, we still have the power of the good news of salvation that changes lives and brings people back to God and to one another. So if we think that we aren't able to do great things for God, then maybe we don't have enough faith in the One who is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and the One who is the Savior of mankind.
We need to pray that God will lead us to do great things, just as Paul did, and then make plans to accomplish them in Jesus' name. Specifically, we must have plans to reach many people with the Gospel in the area in which God has placed us. And, if we aren't being lead ourselves to go into the mission field, then we also should search for those who have ministries in the world that can extend our reach far beyond our own back yard as well. We must pray for them and give monetarily as the Lord leads us to give.
Let's not get the idea that there are only certain people who are to have a vision for God and do His will. We must remember that we are all ministers. We are all ambassadors for Jesus Christ to implore people, in Christ's place, to be reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5: 20).
III. Paul's Ministry Was as a Pioneer (19b-21)
Now we come to the third and final characteristic of Paul's mission to the Gentiles from which we can learn something for today. Paul's work was a pioneer ministry.
The Apostle to the Gentiles summarizes 10 years of travel and apostolic activity, including 3 missionary journeys, by saying:
"So that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." (19b).
The region of Ilyricum roughly corresponds to the former Yougoslavia and current Northern Albania. During Paul's day, this area was more commonly known as Dalmatia.
The term 'round about' here means 'in a circle' or 'in a circuit'. Paul encircled the Eastern Mediterranean. From Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch, then further North and West through the provinces of Asia Minor, and across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia. From there, his circuit lead South to Achaia, then East across the Aegean Sea again, and by way of Ephesus back to Antioch and Jerusalem. The total distance traveled was 1,400 miles. And all of that was done without modern transportation. The Apostle was indeed dedicated to the ministry given to him by the risen Christ.
Paul's stated goal in all of this was that he would preach the gospel not where Christ was already named so that he would not build upon another man's foundation (20). He wanted to be the first person to introduce Christ to the people in each of the places that he went so that he could preach to those who had never heard. The Apostle desired by this that the good news of Jesus Christ would cover the world of his day.
In justifying his actions, the Apostle quotes Isaiah 52:15 which is an Old Testament quote that refers mainly to Christ's second coming. However, in this context, Paul is using it to refer to the whole process of evangelism which began in his day and continues throughout all of Church history until Christ returns.
But as it is written: "They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand."
In looking at our own day, most of us will never travel like Paul did to preach the gospel. However, there are those in our own immediate world who don't know Jesus Christ as Savior. If they are relying on anything for eternal life, it is their own good works. And they are hoping that their good works will outweigh the bad so that they will earn a place in Heaven one day. As we have seen in the book of Romans, salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. He has paid the penalty in full. We don't have to know the 4 spiritual laws to help people come to know Jesus Christ. We just have to be able to tell them what Jesus has done for us. We are merely beggars telling other beggars where they can find bread.
Christians today can mimic Paul's pioneer spirit by planting seeds of faith in the hearts of people who don't know the gospel of God's grace right in our own neighborhoods. As our society gets more and more secular, it is amazing how many people that we work with, go to school with and see on a regular basis that have never really encountered the true gospel of the grace of God.
Not only that, but we in the United States have the unique privilege of having the world come to us. As people are being displaced in certain regions of the world, and others leave their homelands for a better future in America, many different people groups, cultures, and religions are living just a stone's throw away. It is a wonderful opportunity for us who haven't been called to go overseas like the Apostle Paul was but still want to reach the world with the gospel.
And, once again, as stated earlier, if we hear of someone, who, like Paul, is going to the regions beyond, the Lord may lead us to give toward that ministry also. They need both our prayers and our financial contributions. In that way, we can be a part of the evangelization of the entire world of our day as well.
In a February 4, 1994 article of the Magazine 'Our Daily Bread' there is a beautiful story that relates to the topic of our duty to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to the world. The story goes as follows:
Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962), the world-famous violinist, earned a fortune with his concerts and compositions, but he generously gave most of it away. So, when he discovered an exquisite violin on one of his trips, he wasn't able to buy it. Later, having raised enough money to meet the asking price, he returned to the seller, hoping to purchase that beautiful instrument. But to his great dismay, it had been sold to a collector. Kreisler made his way to the new owner's home and offered to buy the violin. The collector said it had become his prized possession and he would not sell it. Keenly disappointed, Kreisler was about to leave when he had an idea. "Could I play the instrument once more before it is consigned to silence?" he asked. Permission was granted, and the great virtuoso filled the room with such heart-moving music that the collector's emotions were deeply stirred. "I have no right to keep that to myself," he exclaimed. "It's yours, Mr. Kreisler. Take it into the world, and let people hear it."
The bottom line is that we have the greatest story ever told that is more beautiful than the most delightful music ever written played by the greatest virtuoso who ever lived, on the most exquisite instrument in the world. It's the story that takes souls condemned to Hell and eternal separation from a Holy God and gives to them eternal life that is more abundant than anything we could ever imagine on this earth in which we live. It changes lives, changes relationships, changes marriages and will one day bring an end to death, war, disease and pain and all the evils of this universe. We have no right to keep that story of Jesus Christ to ourselves. We need to take it to the world and let people hear it!
Paul saw the gospel as something worth living for and something worth dying over. He tirelessly worked and struggled to see that the good news of Jesus Christ was heard by every person on this earth at the time. And we are the beneficiaries of that struggle. Our job, should we decide to accept it, is to carry on that legacy of sharing the gospel.
When it comes right down to it, life is short. Eternity is long. And the only thing worthy of giving your time to that will last, is the sharing of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we not waste our time on anything less.
© 2019 Jeff Shirley