You may not realize it, but we finished the teaching portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans last Sunday. Paul’s incredible orderly explanation of the Christian faith has been completed even though the process of Christian living continues.
What is left is this letter are miscellaneous greetings and comments. It is tempting to skip over these verses as being unnecessary. However we are reminded of Paul’s words in verse 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
With that in mind we look at these last verses in Paul’s letter. We are like detectives trying to find what it is that God wants to teach us from this portion of His Word. This morning we want to take a broad picture of the remainder of chapter 15. I think if we put all of Paul’s comments together we get a pretty good picture of what a healthy believer will look like. Let’s call these three observations, “a strategy for faithful discipleship.”
PURSUE A BALANCED FAITH (v.14)
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.
After all Paul has said to the saints in Rome, he wants to encourage them. Paul points out the fact that the believers in Rome were healthy and balanced in their faith. They are full of goodness (which is moral living), they were complete in their knowledge of the truth and they were able to counsel each other.
It is important that we see the sense of balance here. It seems to me (if you pardon my alliteration) that there are four major types of believers. First there is the self-sufficient saint. Some of these people are true believers and some are not. These are people who are working hard to be kind and good. They want to be like Jesus.
Unfortunately, these people have no foundation. They don’t understand the truth of Scripture and truly believe that if they are to be saved they are going to have to do it the old fashioned way, they are going to have to EARN it! As a result they either must water down the nature of their own sin or try to live up to impossible expectations. These people are often exhausted from trying to do everything. They lack joy and they seem to be filled with guilt.
The second group of people are the scholar saints these are the people who are the flip side of the self-sufficient saints. These folks are well read. They are adept at theology. They are great in a debate. Unfortunately, their faith is all theoretical. They are great at pointing out the flaws in other people’s theology but they are very week and putting that theology into practice. They seem to see no connection between the Christ of their theology and the Christ who wants to be Lord of their lives. They have knowledge but no obedience or love.
The third group is the sideline saints. You can ask any coach about the people who like to coach from the sidelines. These people criticize every play (after it doesn’t work), question personnel moves, and question the coach’s “heart”. All the while they sit on the sidelines, eat their popcorn, and visit with their friends. When the game is over they won’t return until the next game.
There are people like this in the church. They are part time believers. They are great at telling other people what they should do and they are always ready with a critical comment about someone. They are good at making demands but they do little in the area of service and don’t see any need to grow in knowledge (since they already know everything). When they leave the company of believers, they leave their profession behind.
The Roman Christians however were scriptural saints. The true believer is the one who is characterized by goodness or Godly living that is anchored in the truth. Jesus taught the truth. He believed the truth was important. He told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would guide them into “all truth”. However he also told his disciples that you would be able to distinguish a true believer from a false believer by . . . . . their FRUIT! The true believer knows the truth and applies it to the way they live their lives.
A balanced believer studies “to show themselves approved, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) But a true believer also works at applying that truth to their living. They not only talk about expanding ministries, they give their time and energy to those ministries. They are competent to help others because they are balanced.
MAINTAIN AN EVANGELISTIC FOCUS (v. 15-22)
Paul talks about his missionary strategy. He feels he has been called to reach the Gentile peoples of the world. He has traveled extensively in an effort to add new believers to the faith and to establish churches in communities where there were no churches. Paul hasn’t tried to go places where others had not gone.
God does not ask us all to be missionaries or church planters. However, he does ask us all to be witnesses. Notice a few things about Paul’s approach to evangelism that can help us.
First, he understood his limits. Notice that he says, “I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me.” (v. 18)
Think about some of the objections we give for why we do not share our faith more faithfully,
- I don’t know what to say
- I’m not a good talker
- I don’t want to say anything stupid
- I’m afraid
The common denominator in each of those statements is “I”. We have this mistaken notion that we are the ones who ultimately change another’s life. Paul understood that it is God who changes people. God gives us the words, uses the words He gives, and He brings conviction and new life to the other person. Our job is to be faithful, to share what we can whenever we can. Our job is to plant seeds and trust God to bring growth.
Paul shared by word and deed. He proclaimed the power of God but also revealed the power of God through what Paul calls “signs and wonders”. Signs showed the validity of Paul’s authority and wonders underscored the power of the gospel. Paul spoke the message of truth but at times also saw people speak in tongues, get healed, and he saw the demon possessed set free. There is a debate on whether or not signs and wonders continue in the same manner as in the early church. Whether these kinds of signs and wonders continue misses the point. A good witness augments his/her witness with evidence of God’s power. They don’t just talk about grace, they reveal God’s grace and mercy by the way they handle others.
Third, Paul looked for unreached People (20-22). Do you sense that we spend most of our time, sharing the gospel with those who already have heard the message? We try to grow our churches by encouraging people to come to our church from other churches. Paul was different.
God has placed in your path a host of people who have not heard the gospel message. They are people at work, people who are in organizations with you, neighbors, family members, friends of your children, people you spend time with at ballgames. These people are YOUR mission field. You are their missionary. Our job is to share the truth of the gospel with our own mission field.
Ask yourself some questions,
- When was the last time I told someone about Jesus (I don’t mean the entire gospel story . . . when was the last time you told anyone anything about Jesus?)
- Do you know how to explain the message of the gospel? If not, what are you doing to equip yourself for the job God has given you to do?
- What non-Christian friends are part of your mission field? Is there someone that you are overlooking? Maybe it is someone you encounter every day but you haven’t even noticed that person. Is there something you can do to build a bridge of love? Is there a way to show love to your non-Christian friends? Could you bake some cookies? Invite someone over to watch a big game? Could you meet for dinner? Could you offer to baby-sit their children?
Evangelism is the job of everyone. God will use you if you let Him.
BE WILLING TO ADJUST YOUR PLANS (23-33)
I love this last section. Paul teaches us that we need to be flexible. Paul told the Romans that he had planned to come and visit them. In fact, Paul shares that his missionary strategy also included Spain. It seems apparent that Paul had a goal that was from the Lord.
Paul says he has been hindered from coming to Rome for two primary reasons. First, Paul has been busy reaching out to people who have never heard the message. The Romans had already believed. The needs of the new believers have delayed Paul
Second, Paul is delayed by a mission of mercy. Paul is probably writing this letter to the Romans from Corinth. If that is the case he is already half way to Rome. However, he is turning and going back to Jerusalem first. His mission is to bring an offering from the Gentile churches to the hurting believers in Jerusalem. Paul had a mission to lend aid and to build a bridge between the Gentiles and the Jews.
If you remember the story, Paul did get to Rome but he didn’t go quite the way he expected. Paul planned to “stop off” in Rome on his way to Spain. Instead, Paul came to Rome as a prisoner. He barely survived a shipwreck. He was confined under house arrest for a couple of years. The book of Acts ends before we find out what happened to Paul. Most scholars believe that Paul was released from Roman prison, perhaps did go to Spain, was re-arrested in Rome and probably executed by Nero.
If we are going to be faithful in the Christian walk we need to be flexible. In the book of James, the brother of our Lord wrote,
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
The reason that such boasting is evil is because we do not control the future, God does. One of the challenges of life is to remain faithful when God changes our plans.
My parents are one example of this kind of “change of plans”. My dad worked hard putting in lots of overtime over the years. My parents spent two years in Korea because dad was a team player and knew that there wasn’t much work in the home office of the design firm he worked for. My parents looked forward to the opportunity to travel and enjoy their retirement years. As you know, before my dad was even 60 years old he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Things have not gone as my parents planned. There are a host of stories just like this,
- the woman who looks forward to having children but can’t become pregnant or never marries.
- The sudden loss of a mate
- A job lay-off or a plant closure in the job you thought was secure
- An economic change that wiped out your investments
- The student who gets a rejection letter from the college they planned to attend.
- A disaster that destroys what you spent a lifetime building
- A spouse who announces, “I don’t love you any more.”
In these times we need to remember a couple of key truths. First, there is nothing wrong with making plans. It is good to develop a plan of action. It is appropriate to set goals.
Second, we must always be aware that plans can change for a number of reasons,
- Circumstances change so plans must be adjusted
- The Devil sets up obstacles and we have to address those obstacles
- God has a better idea
Third, we must remember that God has a plan. When our plans change our job is to trust the Lord who sees the big picture. Our job is to remain faithful. Paul didn’t plan for things to happen as they did. However, if the Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon) were written while was Paul was in Rome Prison we should be most grateful that Paul had the time to write. What comfort these words have brought to many! Because Paul went to Rome in chains all the expenses were paid by Rome. Because of the Shipwreck during the journey, the gospel came to the island of Malta.
I have no idea why my parents plans did not work as they had hoped. I don’t know why fairytale romances sometimes end in divorce. I don’t understand the seemingly random way in which disease strikes. It doesn’t seem right that someone would invest a lifetime working and saving and have a company take away the promised benefits. I do know that such things happen. And when they happen, we can turn from God or we can trust Him. The believer trusts that God knows what He is doing . . . even when we have no idea what He is doing.
We can learn a great deal from these concluding words of the Apostle Paul. We are reminded that living for Christ means LIVING for Christ. Jesus didn’t merely call us to be students; He called us to be disciples. He told us to take up the cross and follow after Him. Our job is to live out our faith.
Let me get personal. Are you living the life of faith? Are you trusting Christ or trusting your own methods? Are you seeking to serve Him or are you waiting for Him to serve you? Do you merely serve Christ when it is convenient? If people looked at your habits, your calendar and your checkbook would they believe that you are a true follower of Jesus?
I encourage you to take a hard look at your life. Don’t point your fingers at others . . . look at your life. If you were to radically follow Jesus how would your life be different? How would it change the way you relate to people? Respond to conflict? Interact with the hurting? Once you have answered the questions decide whether you are willing to count the cost to be a true follower of Christ.
Second, Do you talk about outreach and then stand around and wait for others to “do something?” I suspect we are all guilty of this to some degree. The work of sharing the gospel message of grace is not just for the evangelists, pastors, and those who are fluent in speech. This is a message given to all of us. It is our job to tell others the good news. We can do this by supporting the work of others but we must also be willing to share the truth with those God brings to us. Are you willing to trust God to use you? Are you willing to plant seeds and then let God bring the growth? Will you open your eyes to hurting people around you?
Wherever life takes you, no matter what turns life takes, the faithful believer is the one who keeps going, keeps serving, and keeps sharing because the believer knows that God is in control. The faithful believer understands that the things of this life are nothing in comparison with what is yet to come. Our goal is to follow God wherever He leads, even when we don’t know where exactly God is taking us. We learn this from the example of the apostle Paul.