One of the great frustrations in life, at least for me, is that there is so much more I would like to do, but I am limited and cannot do them. I am limited by time and space. I cannot be in two places at the same time, and the time it takes to travel from one place to another takes away from what I could have otherwise done. All of you who have long commutes to work understand that very well. I am also limited in capacity. There is only so much I can deal with before becoming overloaded and bogged down. My mind can only comprehend so much at a limited rate. Sometimes it feels like I need to be multi-tasking with many windows open on the screen, but the operating system is still handling one item at a time. I am further limited by my abilities. I simply do not possess all the abilities I would like and need to accomplish all I would desire. Whether it is a limitation in knowledge, understanding, skill, physical ability, or any combination of those, I simply do not have the ability to do all that I would like. Perhaps some of you also share in this frustration.
As the years go by, the wise learn to live with this frustration even as the level of it increases. All of us see the opportunities to accomplish certain things in life pass us by, but the wise set their priorities accordingly so that they can accomplish what is actually important. When I was a young man, there were a host of things I wanted to do in my life. Now that I am older, I know that I never will accomplish many of those things. For the most part that is okay, because some of them were not really that important to begin with, and others were replaced by more important things. Yet, there are those things I wish I had done, and there are those things I still long to do. Hopefully . . .
I have learned enough to keep the priorities in order
So that I do accomplish what is important,
But I know that because of my limitations
There will be things important to me that I will not do.
The desires are there, but I must leave t
The accomplishment of them in God’s sovereign hand.
I think the apostle Paul understood this, from the passage we will be looking at today we will see
the expression of his desire of something he could not control. He wanted to go to Rome to meet with the believers there. However, it would not be long after writing this, while on his way back to Jerusalem, that the Holy Spirit would keep letting Paul know that bonds and affliction awaited him, and Paul’s own statement is that he would be ready to die in Jerusalem if need be (Acts 20:23; 21:13).
Paul did not know the future,
But he could still express
His desires and then let
God work out the details.
We need to do the same and so there is an important lesson in these verses as Paul continues in his introductory statements.
Review – Verses 1-7.
In the first seven verses of his letter to the Romans, Paul identifies himself and the subject of his letter as well as bringing an opening greeting to them.
The writer is Paul who had been Saul,
A persecutor of the church,
But by the grace of God had been
Changed into a bond-servant
Of Christ Jesus and called as an apostle
With the specific commission of
Proclaiming the Gospel of God.
The subject of Paul’s letter would be
This Good News of God concerning
His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who had been promised beforehand
By the Old Testament prophets.
Paul’s quest was to glorify God
By bringing about the obedience of faith
Among the gentiles, and that
Included the saints in Rome.
Paul expands on this in verses 8-15 as he expresses his desire to come and minister among them. In expressing this desire, Paul also reveals his own character. A character that is well worth emulating because of his thankfulness, prayerfulness, and desire for ministry and faithfulness.
Thankfulness – Verse 8.
The first characteristic we find in Paul is thankfulness, but note the reason for his thankfulness. It does not have to do with something that he personally received from them. Anyone can and should express thankfulness for things that are done for them. That is simply common courtesy. A courtesy, I am sad to say, that seems to be expressed less and less within our culture. But even in a society such as ours, all of us understand that being thankful for something that benefits you personally is a normal reaction.
But the Romans were not doing anything that benefitted Paul personally. Paul had received gifts from the Philippians and was thankful to them for that (Philippians 4:15-16,16), but the Romans had not sent anything to Paul. Why then was Paul thankful to God for them?
Because They Were Doing Something That Was Dear To His Own Heart.
That is why Paul’s expression of thankfulness
Here is so significant in revealing his character
And the driving force in his own life.
Paul was thankful because God was
Producing in the lives of the Romans
The very thing that made Paul
The most excited. Living for Christ.
Paul was thankful because the Romans were playing on the same team as him and they were making progress. There is no jealousy in Paul over what they were accomplishing, just as there should not be any jealousy in any Christian over what the Lord is accomplishing through other Christians. It is a sad commentary on the true sinful heart of a person when jealousy arises because God is doing something through someone else instead of them, yet I even find that to be true among pastors. We should rather be like Paul.
I like to hear of what God is doing through His people in various parts of the world even if I have never been there myself or met the people doing the work. I get excited when I hear that the Lord is doing great things though someone else. There is no cause for jealousy because we serve the same Master who is head of the same Body. We are part of one another, and as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26 concerning the Body of Christ, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if [one] member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” I hope that you respond the same way. That is the case of Paul here. Chapter 16 reveals to us that Paul and some of the people with him knew some of the people that were in Rome. However, Paul had not been to Rome, and as we shall see in a few minutes, he has not imparted to them any Apostolic ministry, though that is something he desires to do (vs. 10-15). Paul was excited and thankful for the reports he was hearing about the faithfulness of the Roman believers.
We can understand even more of Paul’s thankfulness when we consider what these Roman Christians had already endured. Some eight or nine years earlier (49 A.D.), Emperor Claudius expelled Jews from Rome under the belief that they were all followers of someone named Chrestus – a variant of Christ. This seems to have been the result of the reaction of the unbelieving Jews against the testimony of the Jewish believers. The result was a turmoil that threatened the peace of the whole city. Claudius sought to solve the problem by driving them all out. The powerful testimony of these Christians not only affected Rome, but as Paul states here in verse 8, their “faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” That is a good cause to be thankful. Are you not thankful when you hear of faithful believers in Russia, China, the Middle East ,or elsewhere? You certainly would rejoice if God was doing through you and your church family!
But Note As Well Who Paul Is Thankful For.
Paul states, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.” Paul uses the personal possessive pronoun in reference to God. It is not “I thank God,” but “I thank my God.” A pagan could not have done that and even most Jews would have refrained from such an expression. But Paul has a personal, intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe and he is not hesitant to let others know it. What about you? How willing and bold are you to let others know that you know God personally?
Paul gives thanks to his God for the Roman believers “through Jesus Christ.” This is appropriate because Jesus is the one and only mediator between us and God the Father (1 Timothy 2:5), and it is through Him that we are given access to the Father’s throne (Hebrews 4:16) as His adopted children (1 John 3:1).
Prayerfulness – Verses 9-10.
Paul’s use of “first” in verse 8 is not “first” in the sense of the points of an outline, but more in the
sense of “let me begin by saying” and then starting his discourse.
Paul’s thankfulness leads him
To the response of prayerfulness.
The same is true for all who have hearts like Paul’s.
When the righteousness and kingdom of God
Are the primary focus of our lives,
We get excited when we hear of people
Who are living in righteousness
And extending that kingdom,
And that in turn motivates us to pray.
The prayer then motivates us to want
To be personally involved if at all possible.
That is Paul’s heart here.
Verses 9 and 10 say, “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.” The evidence of Paul’s thankfulness is his prayerfulness, and here, with the specific desire to come to them. Paul was not trying to impress them with nice thoughts, but was seeking to reveal to them what was really on his heart. That is why he starts these verses by calling God to be his witness to the veracity of what he would say. The proof of his heart would not be just that he calls God as his witness, for many people will swear by God without even a thought that what they are saying is true. They do not have a relationship with God so they do not care. The proof here is in the expression of Paul’s relationship to God as one who serves Him by his spirit in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s life was one of service to God, and so God is the proper witness to Paul’s expression of his devotion in praying concerning them.
The specific request in Paul’s prayers is that he might at last, if God should so will, be able to come to Rome. If the passage ended there, you might think, “so what, many people would like to see Rome.” Perhaps you would like to see Rome yourself and all its sights. Imagine what it would have been like before it fell into ruins over the centuries? But Paul did not want to go to Rome either as a tourist or to gain something through visiting the capital of the empire. Paul expands on his reasons to . . .
Ministry – Verses 11-13.
These verses state, “For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you [while] among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. And I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented thus far) in order that I might obtain some first among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” Paul’s reason for, as he states here, “longing” to go to Rome was for the purpose of ministry.
The tourist goes to a place in order to get,
While Paul’s heart was set on what he could give.
I wonder how many of us have desires similar to Paul’s of wanting to go someplace in order to give? I would hope that would be the desire when you come to worship God and interact with His people. That is a characteristic of spiritual maturity that I pray each of us are continually developing.
Worship is about giving to God,
Not getting from God.
Your spiritual gifts are given
To you for the purpose of
Building others up and not
Seeking your own edification.
There is, of course, a benefit to yourself in doing this, and Paul points this out here too, but that does not detract in anyway from his heart to minister. Specifically . . .
Paul desired to share with them
What God had entrusted
To him as an apostle.
He wanted to impart spiritual gifts
To them they might be
Established, or strengthened.
The very purpose of spiritual gifts is for the building up of the whole body (1 Corinthians 12-14). Paul expands on this idea in Ephesians 4:11-16, where he states: “And He gave some [as] apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 1ing the truth in love, we are to grow up in all [aspects] into Him, who is the head, [even] Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
This was Paul’s goal. To use his giftedness as an Apostle to help equip them so that the body of Christ in Rome would be stronger. This is not arrogance on Paul’s part in anyway. This was a proper desire for him as an apostle just as it should be your desire to use your gift, whatever it maybe, in the
service of God in building up other Christians. It is not arrogant to use what God gave you to accomplish what God wants.
Further proof of Paul’s humility is seen in his acknowledgment and desire to gain from them too.
The first thing Paul expected to gain himself from them was encouragement. This is an important truth . . .
When you minister your spiritual gift
To others you likewise receive back
The ministry of others spiritual gifts to you.
That is God’s design.
Each part works together. Paul understood what it meant that he was an apostle, but he did not view this as a superior position that did not receive back ministry from others. The thankfulness he had expressed earlier already revealed he had been encouraged by the report of their faith. He expected to gain even more encouragement from them when he could meet with them in person. He expected their mutual faith to encourage and build up both them and himself.
In verse 13 Paul mentions the second expectation, but before mentioning it he emphasized again his
desire to come to them by speaking about his earlier efforts. Paul uses the phrase “I do not want you to be unaware” in several places to call attention to the importance of something he was about to say (Romans 11:25; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Going to Rome was not something that was a new or fleeting thought with Paul. He had “often” or “repeatedly” made plans in the past to go to Rome, but up to the time of writing the letter, he had always been prevented. In chapter 15:23 Paul mentions that this had been his desire for many years. In Acts 19:21, when Paul was just starting his third missionary journey, he speaks of going to Rome after the completion of that journey. Paul does not specifically say here what had prevented him from making the trip earlier. We do know that Paul was very sensitive to the moving of the Holy Spirit and diligently sought to do God’s will and not his own. Acts 16:6-10 gives us an insight into this, “And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
In Romans 15:18-21 Paul speaks his earlier ministries and is aspiration “to preach the gospel, not
where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation; but as it is
written, ‘They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.’” Paul then states in verse 22, 23 “For this reason I have often been hindered from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you”
In truth, it was Paul’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that hindered him from coming earlier.
Paul’s desire to do God’s will in God’s timing
Was greater than his desire
To do his own will in his own timing.
So should it be for all of us. Doing good things is not enough, nor can it really be good, if it is done apart from God’s will including His timing. The right thing done at the wrong time, is still wrong. Paul
contented himself in serving the Lord as He directed and trusted Him for the specifics of time and place of future ministry.
Paul’s second expectation of gain was fruit among them. In some ways it could be said that obtaining fruit was Paul’s continual quest.
Paul’s ministry of preaching and teaching the Gospel
Were not ends in themselves, but were for
The purpose of bearing fruit for God.
Remember what Jesus said in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.” While all that God requires of a man is faithfulness (1 Corinthians 4:2), if a faithful man is not seeing some sort of results from his ministry, then he will want to find out why and see if he can overcome any obstacle in order to gain fruit.
What kind of fruit? There are several types of spiritual fruit spoken of in the New Testament, and it would be safe to say that Paul would expect all them since they all result from the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching of God’s Word.
- The first type of fruit is converts or new believers in Christ. Epaenetus mentioned in Romans 16:5 was the first convert, literally the “first fruit,” from Asia.
- There is also the “fruit of the Spirit” mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 that refer to the attitudes and characteristics of those who walk in the spirit as contrasted with walking in the flesh.
- There is fruit of worship that comes from conversion. Hebrews 13:15 states, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
- There is the fruit of holiness exhibited in the changed life.
- The fruit of being freed from sin and enslaved to God is sanctification (Romans 6:22).
- There is the fruit of service to the Lord.
- That changed life includes the fruit of shared ministry. In Philippians 4:16,17, Paul thanks the Philippians for the money they sent to support him which he specifically called the fruit which increased to their account.
Paul concludes this section with a final reason for his desire to come to them.
Obligation – Verses14-15.
Given Paul’s commitment to obeying and serving God, he did not have any other choice. Verses 14-15 say, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Paul states that he was under “obligation” or “debt” to the Greek and barbarians and to the wise and the foolish. This was part of Paul’s commission at his salvation (Acts 9:15; 26:17,18). Paul considered himself crucified with Christ and no longer living himself, but it was Christ living through him (Galatians 2:20). He exclaimed to the Corinthians, woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel for he had a stewardship entrusted to him (1 Corinthians 9:16-17).
The two sets of contrasted groups covers all people. Those who spoke Greek and all the barbarians, which is simply a reference to those that did not speak Greek. Paul had an obligation to preach the gospel to every ethnic group he encountered. He also was called to the wise and the foolish. The education and intellect level did not matter either. The Gospel is for all people.
For that reason Paul was eager to go to Rome and preach the gospel there. What about you? Do you have a heart even faintly similar to Paul’s? Do you understand the obligation that you are under to serve the Lord Jesus Christ? It is not a harsh obligation, for Jesus’ yoke is easy and light (Matthew 11:30), but we are in debt to Him, for every true Christian is no longer his own, but has been bought with the price of Jesus’ precious blood, the price of our freedom from sin.
My own prayer is that God will bring about fruit in your life and in your church. Fruit of new converts . . . . Fruit of true worship . . . Fruit of people walking in the spirit and becoming holy . . . Fruit of willing use of spiritual gifts in the service to God for the benefit of the whole body. As each of us strives to emulate Paul’s priority of seeking God’s kingdom and will above all else, that fruit will grow.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!