“My brothers, I myself am convinced about you that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit. As a result, I have fully proclaimed the good news about the Messiah from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.” (Romans 15:14-19 HCSB)
Now that Paul has reached the conclusion of his letter, he begins to tie up a few loose ends and to open up and share his heart for its recipients. He is convinced that they are full of Godly virtue, that they have an inherent goodness or kindness. This goodness is not just something they express towards God, but it specifically flows from their relationship with God and is directed towards other believers. The reason I state this is because the word used here (and in a few other verses: Gal. 5:22, 2 Thess. 1:11, Eph. 5:9) is not found outside of the New Testament and is the direct result of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. In addition, they are filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. These aren’t just good people, they are maturing disciples who are helping to make other disciples.
Is Paul just using flattery to gain their trust and develop a ministry base to launch his mission to Spain? He has just spent the bulk of his letter giving them a very robust theological basis (chapters 1-11) that was used to challenge them to “give themselves as living sacrifices” to the cause of Christ (chapters 12-14). Is this just an effort to “butter them up” before he makes an appeal for them to support his ongoing mission work? I don’t think so. In fact, in the following sentences he actually tells them his purpose. He has written to remind them “more boldly” on certain points so that “the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable.”
This may not seem immediately obvious or clear, so go back and read those first three verses of the focal passage. Paul uses language that is clearly referencing the priestly office. Paul says, “because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Back in Romans 12, Paul had used the previous eleven chapters of “instruction” to call the Roman Christians to consider God’s mercies as justification to give themselves as living sacrifices to God – their only reasonable response in true worship. Now he harkens back to this very act of self-sacrifice as Paul, the priest, lays them, their Godly obedience and worship-filled response upon the altar before God.
So, this isn’t about Paul flattering the Romans in order to secure a sponsoring church for his ongoing mission and to advance the Gospel to Spain. This is all about the Roman church being on mission, this is all about you and I being on mission as we give ourselves as living sacrifices to God in response to His mercy and in worship of Christ. Supporting Paul’s mission to Spain may be the fruit, but the purpose is to offer up a proper sacrifice of obedience and praise to God. In doing so, I want you to notice five things Paul uses to direct their focus and to call them to be on mission:
1) everything is the direct result of what Christ has accomplished;
2) but it specifically included the Roman church’s obedience;
3) through Paul’s words and deeds;
4) by the power of signs and wonders;
5) through the power of God’s Spirit.
First, the church is the bride of Christ and He specifically stated “on this rock I will build MY church and the gates of hell shall not overpower it.” We must never make the mistake of taking credit for what Christ is doing in and through His church. Paul’s boasting is only and always in Christ Jesus regarding what Christ has accomplished through him. The church doesn’t need more political clout, influence or power but we desperately need more of God’s power flowing in and through us. We don’t need a friend in the White House because our KING sits on Heaven’s throne at the right hand of Almighty God! I firmly believe that the biggest need the modern church has is more of God’s power and the biggest reason we don’t experience His power is because we are consistently self-sufficient and selfishly motivated.
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps. (Proverbs 16:9 HCSB)
“John responded, “No one can receive a single thing unless it’s given to him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the groom. But the groom’s friend, who stands by and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine is complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30 HCSB)
Second, God gives mercy and offers grace and forgiveness but the receipt of these should drive us to our knees in surrender and then to our feet in obedient service. Grace and forgiveness aren’t shields to hide our disobedience but are bridges to return us to the path of obedience. Being legalistic and judgmental are how you view others in light of obedience to God’s commands but never how you view yourself. While Jesus condemned legalism and a judgmental attitude He never, ever discounted or downplayed obedience to God’s commands. In fact, He said this: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19 HCSB)
Third, Paul says that he wrote this letter to boldly remind the Roman Christians regarding specific points but only through what “Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed.” If they knew these things, why did they need to be so “boldly” reminded and by whose word and deed? We often neglect those things we know in the midst of an emotional, spiritual or ethical crisis. When we get pushed back against that “proverbial” wall and there’s no way out we often react from our old, sinful nature instead of intentionally acting from our faith-filled, Jesus-trusting, God-honoring nature.
Did you notice, Christ was achieving obedience among these Christians through Paul’s “word and deed.” In other words, Paul was not only teaching them what Jesus said, he was living it out in his own daily Christian walk and Christ was using this to lead them into obedience. Paul not only talked the talk, he also walked the walk. Faith isn’t just something you know in your head, feel in your heart or say with your lips, it is something you do with your hands. “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26 HCSB) Works are never the source of saving faith but true saving faith is ALWAYS the source of obedience to the commands of Christ (see Eph. 2:8-10).
Fourth, Paul points out that his words and deeds were accompanied by the power of miraculous signs and wonders. Signs and wonders are consistently grouped together throughout scripture as evidence of God’s power, presence and authority. In this instance, signs and wonders accompanied Paul and the other Apostles as evidence of Christ’s authority and power on their lives. Signs were the visible display of the miraculous events and wonder was the lingering effect it had on those who observed them. They saw what God did and it left them with a sense of wonder or awe. Paul didn’t just claim Christ’s authority, he displayed the evidence of Christ’s presence and power through the miracles and the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder they caused in those who observed them. While I believe that miracles still occur, there’s no doubt that God used signs and wonders to validate the calling and ministry of the Apostles.
Fifth, none of this is possible without the express presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit. The church isn’t an institution that exists solely to perpetuate itself, build edifices and acquire and accumulate wealth. No, the Church is the ongoing expression of the person of Christ and His mission to proclaim the Gospel, build the Kingdom of God and to give herself in selfless service to Her Lord. We don’t go to church, we ARE the church. We don’t have church, but we do serve, worship and edify Christ. We need to stop focusing on our need for resources, financial or human, for church programs and start focusing on joining Christ in the work He’s doing because He’ll provide the necessary resources.
“He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” (Luke 10:2 HCSB)
As you know, we recently celebrated our 75th anniversary as a church. In many ways, it is easier to start a new church than it is to rebuild an old one – and I’m not talking about the physical building. New churches tend to start out with sense of anticipation, excitement and direction but as they age they often lose those same things. My hope for us in the coming year is that we will recapture the sense of awe and wonder at the miraculous work of God among us and we’ll have our anticipation, excitement and direction restored. Like Paul, I’ve shared many of these things a bit boldly because of the grace given to me by God as the minister of Christ Jesus among you. And my desire is to be able to offer you up as a sacrifice of praise to our God, acceptable to Him and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. My boasting is not just about what God has done in and through us in the past, but what He still desires to do in and through us in the days ahead.
For those of you who read my weekly posts, I pray the same for you. May the boldness of my words remind you of those things you know, the foundations of our shared faith and the commands we’ve been called to obey. Never let your faith be simply knowledge in your head or feelings in your heart that allow you to passively view the world around you, but let it be a fire that burns within you, one that moves you to obedience and action.
“When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him… This is why I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? …But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” (Matthew 6:7-8, 25, 33 HCSB)
Happy New Year