A Minister’s Heart
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 1:8–15
(Read Text) Two weeks ago I mentioned that the theology and practical exhortations in Romans usually get all the attention. We think of Romans as a systematic theology or a book of wisdom. But it’s important to recognize that Romans is much more than this. It is about an older apostle who was passionately working to finish his ministry well, and it is about a real church that was asking big questions and enduring big challenges.
We must appreciate this side of Romans because it brings the theology and practical guidance that is coming in the body of Romans to life and demonstrates why it matters for us. This story shines through in our text for today. We will see that Paul’s passion for the spread of the gospel had not dwindled after all his successes. He loved the church and wanted to serve the church.
As a result, this passage gives us an important window into Paul’s heart and into early church relationships. In the process it sets a valuable pattern for how we should love people, pray for them, fellowship in the church, and participate in the work of evangelism and discipleship. I’m sure that the Holy Spirit has several ways he wants to use this greeting to encourage and challenge your heart. The greeting begins in v. 8 with Paul’s thanksgiving for the church. The challenge for us in this verse is to…
I. Acknowledge God’s work (v. 8).
This thanksgiving is typical for Paul’s letters. He loved the churches, and he was determined to build them up. Even when he had major concerns like he did for the Corinthian church, he still paused at the beginning of his letter to recognize God’s grace among the saints and to encourage them with it.
That’s a good example for us. Sometimes we are consumed with all that is wrong with those closest to us—our children, our spouse, or a brother in Christ. We approach conversation with one goal—to expose their faults and fix them. As a result, our conversations are more disheartening than edifying.
We must learn to follow Paul’s pattern of intentional encouragement. Make sure that you see evidences of grace and that you a acknowledge them at the front end, even when you must address important concerns.
That’s what Paul does here. He offers glowing encouragement to the Romans because “your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
That’s quite the statement. Remember that Paul had never visited this church. But we can imagine him traveling among the churches throughout Macedonia, Greece, and Asia. Every so often, someone in his church meetings reported that God was doing great things Rome. People were getting saved, the church was overcoming adversity, and believers were maturing. These reports really encouraged the other churches.
The fact that these reports were coming from Rome probably made them particularly impactful. Afterall, Rome was the largest, most prestigious city of its day. It had an aura about it much like New York or Washington D.C. has today. Therefore, it was especially encouraging to the other churches to hear about what God was doing in Rome and to remember that God is alive and at work. If he can work in Rome, he can work in our community also.
God has used our church in a similar way. It’s fun to interact with pastors and Christians from other parts of the country or to have them visit our church. They are consistently impressed and encouraged to see and hear what God is doing in California of all places. God is using our church to glorify his name and to encourage other people to serve Christ expecting him to do great things. It’s a blessing to be part of it.
Paul also tells the church that these reports also encouraged him. Therefore, when Paul prayed for the Roman church, he always gave thanks for them and for God’s work among them.
And I don’t want us to miss the fact that Paul prioritized thanksgiving in his prayers. Sometimes we have a mile of requests and no gratitude. It’s not because God hasn’t been good; it’s because we are proud and selfish, and we have a worldly perspective. Godliness demands that we see God’s blessings and thank him for them.
We especially must see evidences of grace in those around us, thank God for them, and tell our brothers what we see and how God is using them to encourage us. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov 16:24). See God’s work, give thanks to God, and be an encourager who builds people.
Then in vv. 9–12 Paul moves from his thanksgiving for the Romans to his prayer for an opportunity both to minister to them and to receive ministry from them. The second major challenge in vv. 9–12 is to…
II. Invest in God’s people (vv. 9–12).
I’d like to highlight 4 aspects of Paul’s example. 1st, notice…
Paul’s Care: This prayer report is noticeably different from the other prayer reports in Paul’s letters. Typically, Paul lays out a specific vision of what he wants to see God do in the church such as increase their wisdom or love or spiritual strength.
But the only request in this report is to visit the Romans. And while he wants to “impart some spiritual gift” (v. 11), v. 12 adds that he also hopes to receive ministry from the Romans. That’s not what he normally says to churches he started. Instead, he’s razor-focused on his ministry to them.
The gentler tone in Romans is due to the fact that Paul is not the spiritual father of this church, he had never even visited them, and he couldn’t assume the same credibility among them that he could at say Philippi. So, Paul wisely avoids entering like a bull in a China shop; instead, he adopts a gentler, more deferential approach.
Again, we can learn something from Paul’s thoughtful, humble approach. When you enter a new relationship, do so with humility, focused on earning trust instead of demanding it. Be confident but don’t be a bully. And don’t come with the attitude that you are God’s gift to this person; instead, humbly desire to benefit from what the other person has to offer.
I can say that the people who most encourage me are the people who are thoughtful and intentional with everything they do. They are considerate, not reactive. If you want to invest in people like Paul did, conduct relationships with great care. The 2nd aspect of Paul’s example is…
Paul’s Request (vv. 9–10): Paul was a preacher, so naturally, it takes him a while to get to his point. He says a lot before he gets to his simple request, which is to “succeed in coming to you.” But the prior stuff in vv. 9–10 is not mere filler.
First, Paul rejects the notion that he wants to visit Rome as a tourist. Instead, Paul describes himself as serving God “in my spirit.” In other words, Paul’s drive for ministry sprung from deep in his soul. Specifically, he was driven to serve God through “the preaching of the gospel of His Son.”
That is so convicting. So often, we have little drive to share the gospel. We can go long stretches without talking to anyone about Christ, and it doesn’t faze us. We desperately need Paul’s deep-seated zeal to share the gospel with the lost and to invest in God’s people.
Then notice that this gospel zeal compelled Paul to unceasing prayer for the Romans (vv. 9b–10a). Once again, Paul’s example is so convicting because Paul had no previous relationship with the Roman church, and yet he constantly prayed for them. Colossians 1:9 says he also prayed constantly for the Colossian church even though he had never been there either.
So, imagine Paul’s prayer life. He and his associates had started a large web of Gentile churches, and Paul prayed unceasingly for all these church as well as other churches like the one at Rome. And his prayer reports demonstrate that he knew details about these churches and prayed personalized, thoughtful prayers.
Together, it points to a deep devotion to meaningful prayer. It’s very different from our bland, half-distracted prayers that God bless this person and that person. We all need to move closer to Paul’s example.
Then he finally gets to the request, which is simply that he would be able to come. Based on Paul’s other prayer reports, I imagine he prayed more than this, but this all he mentions here, probably due to his desire to build rapport with a church he had never visited. But that does not mean it is a meaningless request. Verses 11–12 explain why Paul wanted to visit. This brings us to the 3rd aspect of Paul’s example, which is…
Paul’s Passion (v. 11): There’s some debate over what Paul means by “some spiritual gift.” I think we can rule out a typical spiritual gift like hospitality because the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts at conversion.
Rather, the Greek word for gifts, charisma, comes from the root, charis, or grace. As such, I believe that Paul is thinking generally of the fact that he wants to impart grace or be a blessing to this church for the purpose of seeing that the church is “established,” or you could also say “strengthened” or “matured.”
He adds “some” before “spiritual gift” because he doesn’t presume to know exactly what he can contribute. But Paul is determined to make it to Rome, to see where he can contribute, and then to be a distributor of grace to this dear church.
I love Paul’s selfless, thoughtful example. So often we view the church (and by extension our families, friends, etc.) purely in terms of what I need, or I want. Or if you have a forceful personality like Paul, you show up determined to assert your plans. But Paul’s passion was to be a channel of grace that would build the church based on their needs.
That’s a great ambition for those of you who will be ministering at Ironwood this summer. Your passion should be to “impart some spiritual gift” to every person the Lord puts in front of you.
The same passion should drive our perspective toward Life Point. Come every week zealous to be a channel of grace. If you do, you will surely be a blessing, and you will almost certainly receive far more grace than if you have a selfish focus. The 4th aspect of Paul’s example is…
Paul’s Humility (v. 12): This verse catches our attention because we often think of a guy like Paul as pretty much invincible. He never gets discouraged or afraid, and he never struggles with sin. So, when Paul shows up in town, he doesn’t need anything; he’s just there to give.
But like every other great Christian leader, Paul also put his pants on one leg at time. He endured the same types of struggles we do, and he says in 2 Corinthians that the pressure of his ministry was often overwhelming.
Therefore, Paul was fully aware that he needed support. That’s a big reason why he almost always travelled with a team, and he talks in Philippians, for example, about how God often used the churches to minister to his needs.
Verse 12 reflects this spirit. Paul was eager to experience the Roman church, to be encouraged by all that God was doing there, and to enjoy his fellowship with them.
I especially love the last thought, “each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” It’s such a blessing to engage in deep spiritual conversation with other Christians and to hear about what God is teaching them, how they are struggling and succeeding, and to just talk about the Lord and ministry. Paul was eager for that kind of fellowship.
His example provides an important challenge for us. If Paul needed and longed for the mutual support of the church, then certainly I need it and so do you. The Christian life is too hard to do it on your own. We need each other to thrive spiritually and to fulfill our ministry.
Yes, all of this is anchored in the weekly assembly of the church, but Paul was clearly looking forward to something more than sitting quietly in a church service. He was excited to build meaningful relationships based on significant spiritual conversation.
You need the same. God never intended life in the church to be a spectator sport. He wants you to build meaningful relationships of mutual ministry. That’s why we do things like picnics and summer small groups. We want to provide good contexts for relationships to grow and bear fruit.
So, embrace Paul’s humility. Admit that you need the church. And then push yourself into mutual partnerships that strengthen you and everyone around you. So, vv. 9–12 challenge us to invest in God’s people. The final major challenge comes in vv. 13–15.
III. Participate in God’s mission (vv. 13–15).
In these verses Paul broadens his ministry vision beyond the Roman believers to the worldwide mission God had given him as the apostle to the Gentiles. In the process, he strongly reinforces the worldwide vision of the Great Commission God has given us. I’d like to begin in v. 14 with…
Paul’s Stewardship (v. 14): This verse is rooted in Christ’s prophecy about Paul to Ananias when Paul was first converted, “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:15).
God called Paul to transform Christianity from a Jewish phenomenon characterized by a monolithic Jewish culture into a worldwide, multi-ethnic, multicultural movement. Paul says that he wasn’t merely obligated to reach people for Christ; he was responsible to see the gospel established among Greeks, barbarians, the wise, and the foolish.
The Greeks were considered the cultured, elite people of Paul’s day who enjoyed power, freedom, and governmental rights. In contrast the Greeks referred to all other peoples as barbarians.
The word is actually an onomatopoeia. It mocked other supposedly inferior languages as just saying, “bar, bar, bar.” To the Greeks, it wasn’t just their languages that were inferior; they were too. Aristotle and plenty of other Greeks believed that all barbarians should be slaves. But God despises such and idea. He obligated Paul to take the gospel to both the cultured and the uncultured.
Then Paul contrasts the wise and the foolish. This contrast is not synonymous with the first one because the Greeks admitted that some Greeks were fools. This is a contrast between the educated and the uneducated.
Together, these four terms emphasize that God intends for the gospel to go to all people. It is not solely for the upper class or the lower class; it is not solely for the powerful or for the weak. No, God specifically wants it to go to every corner of society and every corner of the world, and he wants all those peoples to be gathered in one church.
Therefore, it’s hard to comprehend how anyone has ever tried to use Scripture to justify racism. The Great Commission was anti-racist centuries before it became popular.
We are responsible to build on Paul’s stewardship. It’s our job to take the gospel to every corner of our community no matter how culturally near or far they may be from us. And we should do so with confidence that God wants to save every type of person and that the gospel can overcome every barrier.
Don’t be particular about your evangelism. Share Christ with anyone and everyone that you can. So, God gave Paul a great stewardship; however, v. 13 says that so far God had providentially hindered Paul from fulfilling this stewardship in Rome.
God’s Providence (v. 13): Paul says he had long desired to “obtain some fruit among” the Roman believers, speaking of both new converts and maturing disciples. That makes sense because Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles, and Rome was the center of the Gentile world. As well, there was a thriving Gentile church in this context.
But Paul notes that so far he had been “prevented” from fulfilling this ambition. On a human plane, we can guess that the demands of the Eastern churches consumed Paul’s time. There had always been problems to resolve, leaders to train, and new places to go; therefore Paul couldn’t get away.
But Paul ultimately understood that God’s providential will had prevented him from coming. And it’s interesting to note that God’s delay created the circumstances that inspired Paul to write Romans. If Paul had visited Rome and taught his gospel, there never would have been a need for Romans, at least in its present form.
There’s a good lesson for us in that because we often get frustrated that God closes doors that appear so right. Why would God not want Paul to preach in Rome? But we must remember that God’s perspective is far bigger than mine. He sees every threat and every great opportunity much better than we do. It’s up to us to humbly trust and embrace whatever God’s will is for me today.
But by the time Paul wrote Romans, he was confident that his work in the East was done. Churches had been started throughout the region, and leaders were in place to shepherd the churches through whatever challenges were ahead. Therefore, v. 15 presents Paul’s vision for his next work.
Paul’s Work (v. 15): It is noteworthy that Paul doesn’t say he wants to preach the gospel to the lost in Rome, though he certainly wanted to do that. Instead, he includes the church among those to whom he wants to preach the gospel. That’s because we never outgrow the gospel. It is the foundation of spiritual growth. All true ministry is gospel ministry.
And Paul was “eager” to extend his gospel ministry into new horizons. And he tells us later that he didn’t just want to get to Rome. He wanted to use Rome as a springboard to take the gospel further West into places it had never been. Paul’s zeal is so convicting and inspiring.
We can’t afford to get comfortable. We need to pray that God would give us a zeal for church planting in every corner of the world and zeal for disciple making in every corner of our community. And then we need to get busy sharing the gospel, discipling each other, and investing in the church. And we must do so expecting like Paul that God will do great things.