We continue with Paul’s introduction to the letter to the Romans. These opening words of the letter are often hurried over, but they should not be dismissed so quickly. The apostle Paul was not one to waste parchment. His words are carefully chosen and filled with meaning. We have already seen that the letter was written by Paul; written to the believers in Rome; and written to explain to them the gospel that is focused on Jesus Christ.
In these verses Paul exchanges greetings and expresses his regard to the Romans. In doing so, Paul gives us some pictures of faithfulness. He gives us a picture of a faithful church, reveals the heart of a faithful leader, and highlights the motivation of a faithful witness.
THE FAITHFUL CHURCH
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. [v. 8]
Paul speaks with admiration and pride as he talks about the Romans. He thanks God because their faith is being reported all over the world. Notice first, what he doesn’t say,
- Your large numbers are being reported over all the world
- Your great programs are copied around the world
- Your broadcasts are being received by millions
- Your majestic building is being celebrated as an architectural masterpiece
This is the kind of thing you might hear about a “successful” church today. There seems to be a simple gullibility in the mind of many, “If it brings in a bunch of people – it must be a work of God!” Hopefully you see how shallow that is. Sporting events, concerts, trade shows, and even the circus bring in crowds! That doesn’t make these things a work of God. Just because the crowd gathers in a church, doesn’t make it a work of God either.
Paul was not commending the Romans for superficial things. He said their “faith” was being reported all around the world. It was not the fact that they believed that was being reported. It was the nature of their belief. These people lived in Rome which was the center of power in the world at that time. These Christians lived boldly with credibility and integrity. They stood tall in times of persecution and refused to compromise. Some of these same believers in just a few years would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum. So would even be dipped in wax and lit on fire by the satanic Emperor Nero. These believers were true followers. They were consistent and reflected the nature and character of Christ in their lives.
The faithful church should be striving to magnify Christ, obey His instructions, and are loving toward one another. A faithful church reveals a genuine faith and in a world of pretenders, the genuine stands out.
THE HEART OF A FAITHFUL LEADER
In verses 9-13 Paul shares his heart and in doing so gives us a clue as to the kind of heart that faithful Pastors, leaders, and teachers should have.
A Love for God Paul says he served God with his whole heart. A faithful leader is not half-hearted in his work. He is passionate about the work God has given him to do. God wants us to serve and follow Him with ALL of our heart, ALL of our soul, ALL of mind, and ALL of our strength.
Sadly, this is a rare occurrence. We often give our all to our profession, to our kids, to our hobbies . . . but find it difficult to give our all to the Lord. We would rather serve Him when it is convenient and when there is something to be gained. Paul understood that if God is God . . . He deserves our very best and He deserves it, all the time.
A Heart of Intercession. Paul told the Romans that he prayed them regularly and fervently. Just in case the people thought Paul was simply speaking pious words (“I’ll be praying for you” when in reality we often forget) He calls God as his witness to his faithfulness in intercession for them.
Paul understood that it is God who changes people’s lives. It is the Lord who brings life and growth. Even though the Romans were known for their faith Paul knew that without God’s help even the most faithful person could fall. One of the best things the leaders of this church can do is pray. Even when we give our top effort we cannot begin to do what the Lord can do in someone’s life.
I don’t know how prayer “works”, but I know it does. We need to keep our Missionaries in prayer, our students, our families, our soldiers, our government leaders, our church leaders, our teachers, our board members, our judges, our outreach ministries, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers, classmates and more. We must pray that these people remain faithful to the Lord and that His work is done in their lives.
I’m encouraged by the fact that Paul had been praying for the opportunity to visit Rome but his prayers had been unanswered. When our prayers are not immediately answered it is important that we not give up. There are many reasons a prayer may seem to go unanswered:
- It is the wrong timing
- It is the wrong work . . .God wants to move in a different direction or has a better plan.
- It is the wrong person . . . God has someone else prepared for the job
- It is for the wrong reasons . . .James tells us that that we pray and don’t receive because we ask with selfish motives.
- It is because a spiritual battle is taking place. In Daniel 10 an angel appeared to Daniel and said, Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. [Daniel 10:12-13] Sometimes the Devil is fighting the answers to our prayers.
If we want to be faithful servants and leaders of God we must be people of prayer and never give up.
A Love for the People. Paul longed to be with these folks. He couldn’t wait to see them and meet them. He was eager to get to Rome not to see the sights, but to meet the people. It is easy to forget that faithful leadership is not about meetings, deadlines visions statements and productivity; it’s about people.
I had to learn this early on in the ministry. I would come to the office each morning with my “to do” list and get to work. When someone would stop by the office I would often find myself a little irritated by the interruption. Finally the Lord helped me to realize that people were not an interruption to ministry . . . they were the ministry! These interruptions were not a waste of time; they were the best investment of time!
A Desire to Serve. Paul yearned to be in Rome so he could enrich the lives of the people. He said he wanted to impart to them some spiritual gift. He wanted to teach them and give of himself to them. Paul was not seeking power – He was eager to serve. Jesus said,
whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Mark 10:42-45]
Unfortunately many leaders desire power and influence. They want to prove their importance by dictating to others. They constantly talk about spiritual authority and submission to that authority. Jesus wants leaders to be servants rather than dictators.
A Deep regard for the gifts of others. Paul told the Romans that he expected they would be “mutually encouraged”. Like any good teacher, Paul recognized that he was also a learner. He valued what the Romans could give to him. Every good Pastor, teacher or leader will tell you that receive as much as they give. Paul had a humble heart and recognized the value of the people he served.
THE MOTIVATION OF A FAITHFUL WITNESS
I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (vv. 14-15]
A Faithful Witness is Motivated by a Sense of Obligation. The word translated “obligation” in the New International Version is actually the word “debt”. I think the idea is best illustrated by an account in the Old Testament.
In 2 Kings 7 there is the story of four men who had leprosy and lived in Samaria. The Arameans had put a siege on the city. The people were hungry and inflation was rampant, so what food was available was priced beyond the reach of common folks. These leprous men decided one day that they were going to die if they stayed in the town so at dusk they left the city determined to surrender to the Arameans. When they arrived in the camp, they found it had been deserted. All the food and belongings were still there; the soldiers had disappeared. God had caused them to scatter in fear.
These men knew they had hit the jackpot. They feasted on the food and took treasures and hid them. In the midst of their celebration they came to their senses,
they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and not a man was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace. [2 Kings 7:9-11]
These men understood that they had an obligation to pass this good news on to the others who were suffering under the siege. Their fellow citizens were dying. They could not keep silent about such good news. In a similar way, when we discover God’s grace and experience the transformation of the gospel, we have an obligation to share this message with others. Our friends, neighbors and family members are dying and headed to eternal destruction. We have an obligation to share the truth based on common decency.
We live at a time when we are fond of saying, “to each their own”. We profess that we don’t want to “intrude” on the life of another. If someone we loved were sleeping in a burning building, wouldn’t we make every effort to wake them up and get them out of the building? Sure we would. None of us would stop and say, “I don’t want to intrude”. We wouldn’t stand back and say, “Well, it’s their house and I guess just because it’s on fire doesn’t mean I have any right to wake them.” It would be insane!
Isn’t it just as insane to withhold the truth of the gospel from those who are in danger of the fires of Hell?
A Desire to Reach anyone who will listen Paul said he was eager to preach the Gospel to both the Jew and the Greek (the gospel is not restricted by nationality) and to the wise and the foolish (it is not restricted to a certain intellect or income level).
John Harper understood this passion. He was a man born in Scotland at the end of the 19th century. He came to Christ at an early age and was determined to share the message of salvation with others. In 1911 he spent three months preaching at a revival service at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. There was such a powerful response that he was asked to return the next year for three months in April.
Harper agreed. He was originally scheduled to sail on the Lusitania but when he schedule changed he had to take another ship . . . the Titanic. The night before the ship sank, Harper was seen leading a man to Christ on the deck. Not long after this the Titanic struck an iceberg and ripped a hole in the hull of the ship.
In the mayhem of realizing the lifeboats and jackets were insufficient, it was every man for himself. As they loaded the lifeboats, Harper cried, “Let the women, children and unsaved into the lifeboats.” He took off his life jacket and gave it to another man. At 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912 the Titanic sank and Harper and many others were left stranded in the icy waters.
One man in the water was clinging to a piece of wood. He saw Harper struggling in the water. Harper cried out, “Are you saved?” When the man answered “No” Harper recited Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The man did not respond and they lost sight of each other. A few minutes later the current brought them together again. Harper urged the man to place his trust in Jesus. Harper then slipped beneath the water, never to resurface. With his dying breath he was calling people to faith in Christ. The reason we know this story is because that man did put his trust in Christ. He was later rescued from the water by a lifeboat. [One Year Book of Christian History p.212]
John Harper understood that sense of obligation he had to those who were perishing. He did not fear for himself because his destiny was certain. His concern was bring as many people to Heaven with him as possible.
I hope you have been surprised by the richness of Paul’s words in Romans 1. I hope as a result of our study you will do several things.
First, let’s work together to be a church that is known for our faith. Instead of pointing to what we have, or what we are doing, let us point to Jesus. Let us serve boldly and stand firm. Let’s base our decisions on His Word. Let’s determine to show the world the difference that Jesus can make by the love we show to each other.
Second, I encourage all who are in leadership to measure yourself by Paul’s example. Are you giving your all to the Lord or are you half-hearted in your service? Do you have a servant heart? Are you praying for the people you serve? Have you forgotten that you have been called to lead people rather than meetings? Do you see the rich treasure that can be found in everyone who is around you? Are you also teachable?
Finally, I hope you will determine to be more faithful in your witness. I hope you have come to see the obligation and debt that we have toward those who are lost and looking for true life. May God grant us the spirit and heart of John Harper, so we might use every opportunity to introduce others to one who can set them free, take away their fear, make them new, and lead them home.