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Romans (Series 1)

Wrath of God

Romans  1:18 - 2:11

 

One of the fascinating things about the Scriptures is that they are not “edited.” By that I mean that they were not cleaned up so that all the characters look totally virtuous or totally evil; they appear in real life, sins and all. This gives us the ability to look at these people as if they were with us. Paul, in particular, can be studied in his letters, for they are his personal correspondence in the deepest sense. In this passage today, we will see the character, plans and prayers of the Man of God portrayed.

Character

(Rom 15:14-22 NIV) I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another. {15} I have written you quite boldly on some points, as if to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me {16} to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with 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 miracles, through the power of the Spirit. 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.

Tact

Paul sometimes seems quite blunt; but in his “all things to all people” style he can also be quite tactful. Recalling that he has never met the Roman church as a whole (the next chapter has a list of people he has met), he ends his letter with these tactful reminders:

·         First, he thinks that they are quite capable of handling their own instruction. Full of goodness, knowledge, and competent to teach. There is no hint of “wait until I get there and I’ll tell you what to do.” The effect of “I know you guys can handle this” is very positive. It helps to know the boss has confidence in you.

·         Next, he encourages them to teach each other. This is another example of the church as “body”, each element helping the next. It builds a team spirit; it also encourages humility, for each of us is not only instructor but student as well. (My own experience is that nothing is so instructive as teaching, and no one so instructive as students).

·         Finally, he gives them to understand that he is not so much teaching them as reminding them of what they already knew.

The Instrument of God

Paul conceives himself to be an instrument of God. Most of us would feel that such a title is too exalted for us, but I submit we are the same. In that sense, he shows us the attitude of such an instrument:

·         First, his glory is in Christ Jesus. He knows where the credit belongs and where it does not. This is an enormously practical principle for the man of God; it means that (since he can’t take credit for success) he should focus on the work, not on the results. The results will flow naturally -- as God gives the increase. It is not mine to compete with the other teachers here; it is mine to support them, for the glory of God. This is not my class -- it’s his.

·         He describes himself as a “servant” of God. The usual Greek word -- doulos -- is not used here. This word is “leitourgos” -- meaning a priestly servant (in the Hebrew sense) or one who performs a public service (we still speak of our elected officials as “public servants.”) It is the word from which we get the English word “liturgy.” He sees himself as “priest” in the Old Testament sense -- a bridge between man and God -- but one whose service is strictly described.

·         He is therefore outspoken -- for his Lord’s sake. It may seem inconsistent in character, but boldness is required sometimes, and Paul is never hesitant to proclaim the word of the Lord. This is non-trivial {remember the lion who cowered in a corner of the arena when the Christian told him, “You’ll have to make the after dinner speech?”)

·         He recognizes that all he does is by the power of the Spirit, and is under control of the Spirit. This is most difficult for Christians today. We do not want to be controlled; we want to be in control. We particularly don’t want to be controlled if it means life style changes. It is difficult; it is required.

The spirit of a pioneer

Paul is careful in this passage to lay our his dream (verse 20). He wants to be a pioneer, one who goes for Christ where no one else has gone. In this I see three chief characteristics:

·         The office of an apostle is that of a pioneer. He was sent to the Gentiles, to the Gentiles he went. There is at root a matter of simple obedience. Most of us have the “noble” feeling that if God called us to preach overseas (I suspect most of us mean “Waikiki” by “overseas”) we would go; but since the heavens haven’t opened up with the phone call, we sit and do nothing. He is true to his call.

·         He wants to gather in those who have not heard; he has a passion for the lost. Others may stay behind (as is their call) and reap what he has sown; he wants to move on so that more may hear. This is a beautiful passion.

·         He is anxious for the greater glory. He knows that whoever takes on the more dangerous, the more arduous task will be rewarded more by the honest Judge. It is this “green beret” spirit that sets him apart.

Plans

We sometimes think that “take no thought for the morrow” means that we should not plan ahead. This is incorrect (as we see in this passage); but we need to recognize the difference between our proposal and God’s disposal.

(Rom 15:23-29 NIV) But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to see you, {24} I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. {25} Now, however, I am on my way to Jerusalem in the service of the saints there. {26} For Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. {27} They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings. {28} So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this fruit, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. {29} I know that when I come to you, I will come in the full measure of the blessing of Christ.

Church historians have some slight evidence that Paul did achieve a trip to Spain, those this is by no means certain. The passage begins with the thought that Paul has accomplished his work in his current location, and it’s time to move on to the next task. There is a difference between changing tasks and retirement. For Paul, Spain is the next “duty station.” Some of us won’t quit -- and some of us won’t move on.

Why Spain? No one really knows, but there are a few possibilities:

·         There is a sense of “completeness” to it -- Spain was the limit of the known “civilized” (i.e., Roman) world.

·         Spain itself was in a time of intellectual ferment (Seneca was there at this time, for example). Perhaps Paul saw the possibility of bringing the light into that turmoil.

·         It may simply have been the biggest plum left on the tree.

Whatever the reason, it is not a tourist trip. Indeed, Paul planned to get to Spain by way of Jerusalem. This is another sign of the man of God; he is doing things “as he goes by.” In this case, he is taking a gift of money from the churches (located in what today would be Northern Greece and Southern Bosnia) to the church at Jerusalem. Considering that such things are normally left to the deacons[1] one may wonder why Paul took on the task. There is often a feeling about church leaders that they should not “handle the funds.” Indeed, Billy Graham has made a point of this, and largely because of the scandals of other evangelists. Why then, does Paul make a point of this to the Romans?

·         First, because he was specifically commissioned to do so! We read about it as Paul describes his “commissioning” as an Apostle:

(Gal 2:8-10 NIV) For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. {9} James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. {10} All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

(Italics added). So we see that as a part of his charge, his “sending out”, he was asked to remember the poor.

·         Next, it is an excellent illustration of the unity of the church. Our song leader here often reminds us that we are just one of thousands of congregations who have met this Sunday to praise the Lord. Is there any finer demonstration of the unity of the church than when, crossing all lines of race and tribe, one part of the body contributes to another part far away?

·         It is also an example of practical Christianity. Over and over we see the command to give to the poor, Old Testament and New.

·         Finally, this is an excellent example of true leadership -- by example.

Paul sets an excellent example here of handling the funds of the church. Note his attitude towards this:

·         He handles the funds in public. Nothing so convinces people of honesty as doing it in public. This is a point which conjurers know well. The essence of their sleight of hand is that you were watching them all the time -- and you still don’t know how they did it. You depend upon your eyes to keep others honest.

·         He considers this a “task” (verse 28). It is not a privilege, it is a burden.

·         He takes it on as a servant of the saints -- one who is doing a chore, performing a service. The attitude is not one of someone “put upon” but of someone who is doing a worthwhile job.

·         The object of his task is “fruit for the giver.” He is under no illusions as to who gave the money! His object, as a servant of the church, is to complete the task to the point where God will reward the givers.

Prayers

We now come to the inner man: in his prayers.

(Rom 15:30-33 NIV) I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. {31} Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there, {32} so that by God's will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. {33} The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Courage is the foundation of all virtue. We need to review just what courage is:

·         It is not the denial of danger. That is lunacy.

·         It is not the denial of fear. That is bravado

·         It is the overcoming of fear.

To overcome fear, Paul seeks the aid of those who love him. There is no greater indicator of struggle than the cry for help. When we face difficult situations we often call upon those who love us to “pray for us” because we are afraid of what might happen. To ask for prayer in such circumstances is to admit fear -- in the hope of overcoming it.

Paul here asks for the Romans aid in prayer. Note carefully just what he requests:

·         He asks them to “struggle” alongside him. The prayer of a genuine “prayer warrior” is just that: a struggle. We must feel the heat of combat with those for whom we pray. Pain with their pain, joy with their joy, we must put our hearts with those for whom we pray.[2]

·         He asks them to pray for his deliverance. Note that Paul is not asking them to pray for his strength when handed over; he’s asking to get out of the situation. “Lead us not into temptation” is still good advice.

·         He asks that the results be acceptable. It is not altogether clear what the problem might be, but it has been speculated that Paul might be delivering an offering from Gentiles who sacrificed for Jews who wanted nothing to do with them. Sometimes pride will tell you that the food basket should go to someone else.

Finally, Paul closes this section of the letter with the hope that he will soon see them. He invokes the God of peace, again reminding us of the unity of the church, and then anticipates his arrival:

·         He wants to come to them with joy. It is not his wish to come to reprimand them (though the letter often sounds that tone) but rather that his coming would be a joyous time. The Man of God comes in joy and peace; a glimmering on the horizon of the time when the Son of God shall return, bringing us joy and peace.

·         He wants to be “refreshed together” with them. In this he reminds us that Christianity is not a solo flight. The Man of God needs to be among the people of God.


[1] See, for example, Acts 6, where the Apostles thought it not appropriate to “wait on tables.”

[2] see Romans 12:15

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