Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ve been using our sermon time to examine the book of Romans. We’ve got two Sundays left in this series. Today we’re going to take a look at some verses found in the second to last chapter of Romans.
The book of Romans is actually a letter that Paul wrote to the Christian congregation worshipping at Rome during the first century AD. Judging from information contained in letters of Paul, it appears that he was on the tail end of his third missionary journey when he wrote his letter. He was probably staying in the city of Corinth at the time.
If you look at a map of Paul’s missionary journeys, you’ll notice that they grow. He was constantly widening the circle of his preaching. Carrying the message of sins forgiven through Jesus to more and more new cities.
When Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, he wasn’t even finished with his third missionary journey, and yet he was already planning another big trip. He wanted to push West with the Gospel, all the way to Spain. But, first he had an obligation to take care of ( see Romans 1:1-17).
The congregation at Jerusalem was stricken with poverty. The other believers scattered throughout Asia Minor had heard about the problems their brothers and sisters were facing at Jerusalem. They had responded with compassion, starting to gather a money-gift to help them out. Paul had volunteered to collect and deliver this gift on behalf of the congregations. So, Paul would have to tend to this responsibility before he could head out to Spain.
While in Corinth it occurred to Paul that he could get a head start on preparations for the Spain mission by writing a letter to the congregation at Rome.
Paul wasn’t independently wealthy. He had to pay his own way most of the time when he carried the Gospel to new places. So, it made good practical sense to stop in at Rome on his way to Spain. In Rome Paul could get his bearings. Make a little money. Get information about which roads to take, etc.
At Rome Paul could meet with fellow Christians. They could worship together, read the Bible, Paul could preach, and all could be strengthened before he left for Spain.
The Roman congregation was well known as a mature group of Christians. When Paul wrote to them, it wasn’t to correct or rebuke. Basically, Paul wrote his letter to the Romans to say, “Hey, I’m coming your way soon, God willing. Here’ are some things to chew on concerning our great Savior and our lives as His people. Be encouraged. Be at peace. Be strong in the faith. We’ll talk more when I get there.”
I’m not making this stuff up. This historical context for the book of Romans comes Romans chapter 1, 15 and other Scriptures.
One more thing about congregation at Rome. Paul had never been there. He knew a lot of the people in the congregation there, but he wasn’t the one who planted this church.
So, there’s the historical context of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As I prepared for this devotion, one of the things that stuck out to me was how deliberate Paul was. So, as we read, look for how deliberate Paul is.
Romans 15:14-22 (NIV)
14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.
Now, I said I wanted you to concentrate on how deliberate Paul is in this section. Paul seems very experienced here in the things that he says, and does. He has a purpose in each one. He’s not just flying by the seat of his pants in what he says here. He’s got a reason for each thing.
First of all, Paul knows his calling.
Look at verses 14-16 again. Paul says…
“14 I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 15 Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:14-16 NIV).Paul had just spent fourteen chapters preaching to a congregation that he’d never visited. How would we feel if a pastor from one of our sister congregations were to write us a fourteen page letter? We’d probably think, “Apparently you think you need to teach us a few things?” We might be a little offended, right? We might think, who does this guy think he is? We’ve been a congregation for many years now, and he thinks he needs to educate us in the faith?
Paul takes care to express that he didn’t write this letter because he felt the Roman Christians weren’t competent. He wrote to remind them of these things that they already knew, and he wrote to carry out his role as God’s preacher to the Gentiles (This congregation was made up of both Jewish born Christians, and Gentile born Christians).
You and I have God given roles as well. I’m a pastor, a husband, a father, a Christian brother, an employee, part of the Church Council, a Voter for our congregation.
Paul’s deliberate attention to his role as God’s preacher to the Gentiles moves us to ask ourselves, what are our God given roles? Are we fulfilling those roles deliberately, or in a haphazard and unplanned way?
Whatever our individual God-given roles are, we’re should do what Paul does here. We should take care to strengthen each other in the Christian faith by continually reminding each other of the things we have already been taught by God’s Word.
That no matter how much we’ve failed in our callings, our Savior still loves us dearly. And His sacrifice still stands valid over all our failures. We stand forgiven in Christ. Share this with a fellow Christian this week. Someone who knows it already. Remind them of the grace they stand in because of Jesus.
By this point in Paul’s life, he had started quite a few churches in quite a few different towns. He had brought many Gentiles to know and trust in the Savior that God had promised. Yet, Paul never lost sight of the fact that it was not his power that had accomplished this.
In his letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul wrote…
“…I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect …I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed” (1 Corinthians 15:9-11 NIV).Paul echoes these same thoughts in verses 17-19 of our reading from Romans.
Romans 15:17-19a NIV
17 Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. 18 I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—19 by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.
Paul was very aware of the fact that everything that he had accomplished, had been done by God working through him. Paul wasn’t an eloquent speaker. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes…
“3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:3-5 NIV).At the beginning of his letter to the Romans he says…
“…I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16 NIV).Paul knew that without the message of Christ all he would have to offer would be rules and regulations that wouldn’t set anyone free from guilt and sin. Paul knew that without the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of his hearers, all his words couldn’t do a thing.
And because Paul knew this, he deliberately came back to the Gospel over and over, throughout all his preaching and throughout all his letters.
This is the same thing that you and I have to do in our ministry to the sinners around us. Whether it’s our families, or our friends. Whether it’s the stranger on the bus, or the co-worker at lunch, we have to deliberately come back to law and Gospel, our sin and God’s grace given through Christ Jesus’ suffering and death.
Our lives and our interaction with others will not bring freedom to other sinners if those lives and actions aren’t accompanied with the specific message of the Gospel. We have to communicate that message that Christ died for sinners, and that life was given so that our sins stand forgiven.
The best way to make sure this message does get into our conversations is to continually come back to the Word of God to hear the Gospel for ourselves. When we are filled with the peace and joy that the cross of Christ gives, then that peace and joy will spill into our speech.
The last way that Paul was deliberate in his ministry comes out in the final verses of our reading for today. Look again at verses 19-22. Paul writes…
Romans 15:19b-22 (NIV)
So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20 It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21 Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
22 This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you
When the resurrected Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, He told Paul that he would be a messenger for God. Paul’s primary mission would be to bring the Gospel to non-Jews. So, when Paul went out to preach the Gospel, he deliberately went where people didn’t know about the Savior God had promised. He deliberately went where people didn’t know that Jesus was that Savior.
Now, the job of every Christian congregation is two-fold. We exist to proclaim the grace and forgiveness given through Christ Jesus. We are to build up the people who know and believe this message, and we are also to reach out into the world of hopeless sinners to give them the sure hope of forgiveness through Christ.
One preacher has said, “The Gospel of Christ is to penetrate down and deep, and also grow up and out.” Like the yeast that spreads through the batch of dough, God’s message of forgiveness is to spread throughout every part of our being. Like the little mustard seed that springs into a many branched tree, God’s message of forgiveness is to reach up and out into the world.
Part of our role as God’s people is to teach, correct and encourage one another. Part of our role is to reach, instruct and bring others to know Christ’s love.
Let us do these things together with deliberation and thought, not in a haphazard and unplanned way.
I guess what I’m saying is, let’s be like Paul. Let’s meet with each other like he desired to meet with the Roman Christians. To talk about the glorious Gospel message. To encourage each other and lift each other up in prayer and in many other ways.
And when we leave our worship on Sunday, refreshed in Christ, let’s be like Paul traveling out to Spain. Let’s deliberately take the message of sins forgiven through God’s Son, to people who don’t know it. To people who struggle against it. To people who misunderstand it. To people who, though they don’t know it yet, need this message more than they need the air they breath.
This may sound like a tall order to fill. But Paul reminds us here, that it isn’t our efforts that will accomplish miracles in the hearts of sinners. The Gospel of Christ will do the real miracle of bringing people peace and joy when it brings them to believe their sins truly are forgiven through Christ’s cross.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for sending men like Paul out with your message. Men who had no eloquence, but who had your powerful message of free forgiveness. Build us up in faith, so we are filled with the same peace and joy that he was. Set us squarely on the Gospel of Jesus, so that we feel its power in our hearts, and speak of that power with our mouths. Amen.