Fascinating, wouldn’t it be, to sit down with the apostle Paul and get to know him? I think that’s why we’re drawn to those parts of his letters that reveal the man. We have many. The conclusion of Romans is one. I’ll divide it into two blogs . . .
“I myself feel confident about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (15:14-16).
Here’s Paul–secure in grace and worshipful in service. He believes wholeheartedly that God has given him grace to be Christ’s servant to the Gentiles. So he’s bold to preach the gospel, even to those who know it and can teach it. Furthermore, he sees “his” saved and Spirit-sanctified Gentiles as his offering of worship to God. In other words, Paul says, “God’s grace is the source of my ministry to Gentiles and God’s praise is the end result of my ministry to Gentiles.”
A teachable moment for today’s church leaders. Do we see God’s grace as the source of our ministry? Or our ministerial training as that source? And do we see the people under our care as a Spirit-sanctified offering we present to God? Or as a sign of our ministerial success?
“In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and as far around as Illyricum I have fully proclaimed the good news of Christ. Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him shall see, and those who have never heard of him shall understand’” (15:17-21).
Paul clearly claims his achievements. He’s spread the gospel from southern Palestine, north through Syria, across today’s Turkey, southwest through Greece, and then up to today’s Albania. His driving desire has been, and still is, where Christ hasn’t been heard. But if we stop there, we think, “Prideful preacher”. But Paul’s boasting of Christ. Christ, he contends, has worked through him by the power of God’s Spirit, both in word proclaimed and deeds of signs and wonders done.
We need leaders who build strong churches and missionaries who plant the gospel solidly. But too often we brand them “successful”. Or they write “how-to” books about their methods. We need leaders who can speak openly about their accomplishments–but make it crystal-clear that the worker is Christ by his Spirit.
“This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do this, and indeed they owe it to them; for if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material things” (15:22-27).
That desire to preach where Christ is unknown has kept him from Rome. But, remarkably, there is “no further place for me in these regions” , he wants to fulfill a long-held desire to visit the Roman church on his way to Spain. (Did he ever make it? Clement of Rome, writing in the early years of the 2nd century A.D., said, “Paul, having taught righteousness to the whole world, having gone to the limits of the west, and having given testimony before the rulers, thus was removed from the world and taken up into the Holy Place, having become the outstanding model of endurance”.)
In any case, he’s first going to take a 2000-mile detour to Jerusalem (assuming, as most scholars do, that he’s writing from Corinth). He wants very much to deliver a Gentile collection for the poor Jewish Christian church there.
Paul the delivery man. Anybody could have done it. Granted, the apostle to the Gentiles delivering an offering for poor Jews had impact. But Paul still could have sent someone else. But “delivery man” wasn’t beneath him. He was Christ’s servant. No work was beneath him.
Pastors can’t be custodians too. But they should be able to bend down to clean up a spill or kneel down to talk to a child.
“So, when I have completed this, and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will set out by way of you to Spain; and I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ. I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. The God of peace be with all of you. Amen” (15:28-33).
Paul appeals for prayer “that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy”. Here’s a tenacious pioneer humble enough to ask the church to pray for him. But even more his request recognizes that his ministry is subject to God’s will. ” . . . so that by God’s will I may come to you”.
Maybe his submission to God’s sovereignty is why, when Paul’s prayer wasn’t answered, we never get a hint that Paul felt hopeless. Even though he was imprisoned, spent months languishing in jail awaiting trial after trial, was shipwrecked and taken to Rome to stand before Caesar, Paul believed the Lord in sovereign control and working for good.
A world-traveling apostle spreading the gospel where it hadn’t gone, yet content with not “running the show”! Surrendering his will to God’s. Accepting when his plans fall through and years of suffering drag on instead. Confident God is sovereign and good.
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We’re not all pastors or missionaries. But most of us lead in some way–small group leader, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, parent. The list goes on. Paul was a leader who not only taught the gospel–he “in-fleshed” it. Knowing Paul helps us to also.
And doesn’t incarnation lie at the gospel’s heart?