A church on mission – part 2

  1. A Church On Mission Is Focused (1:11-13).

Paul’s mission is focused on building up people. In other words, he is others-focused. Paul expresses his heart in this way: “For I long to see you so 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. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” In 1:11, Paul writes that he “longs” to see the believers in Rome. The verb “long” (epipotho) literally means “to strain.” Compelled by Christ, Paul longed to visit the Roman church and he had three good reasons for such a visit.

 

First, Paul sought to impart spiritual benefit. In this context, the word translated “spiritual gift” (charisma) means “blessing or benefit.” Paul is speaking in a very wide and generic sense, not attempting to refer to the “spiritual gifts” discussed elsewhere in the New Testament. Are you on mission to bless and benefit your church family? What steps are you presently taking to bring this about?

 

The second reason that Paul longed to visit Rome was to establish believers. The verb translated “established” (sterizo) in 1:11 simply means “to strengthen.” This term was originally used of buildings, where it means “to be firmly fixed in place.” A building with a strong foundation that is made of solid materials can stand up under pressure. Similarly, a person who has spiritual stability spends most of his time standing up spiritually. The world may knock him down, but he doesn’t stay down. He isn’t easily moved. People who are spiritually stable don’t change their theology to conform to what they want. They know what they believe and stay with those beliefs regardless of what happens in their lives. Paul wasn’t just the greatest evangelist and church planter of all time; he was also a discipler. He understood the need for believers to be established.

 

Within the past few years, I have had trouble running. As a result I haven’t been able to run in 5K races like I used to in the spring. But after a long layoff, my endurance has undoubtedly diminished. I am likely as weak as a baby if I tried to run today. Spiritually speaking, many believers assume that yesterdays spiritual workouts are enough to sustain today’s spiritual strength. Nothing could be further from the truth. You can’t stay strong unless you continue to workout. Likewise, we must continue to spiritually work out and challenge other believers to do the same. How will you establish someone today?

 

One of the ways you can establish yourself and other believers is through encouragement. In 1:12, Paul uses a very unusual word for “mutual encouragement” (sumparakaleo), one that is used nowhere else in the New Testament. This verb ought to motivate you to verbally comfort and encourage other believers. One of our top goals as believers is to encourage one another as Christ’s return draws near (see Heb 10:25). Notice too that “faith” is to be the stimulus of encouragement.

 

My faith should encourage others, and their faith should encourage me. I need encouragement, and so do you. I like to say, “Every preacher needs a preacher.” One of the reasons I repeat this phrase is to remind myself of this great truth. No believer can make it alone; we need each other. Regardless of how long we have been a Christian or how active in church we have been, we will never be so mature that we can’t benefit from the spiritual input of other believers. Leaders must be humble enough to learn from others. We must learn not only to give, but also to receive.

 

Typically, the best place for mutual encouragement to occur is in small groups. When we come together for a corporate worship gathering there are certain things we can do well: We can sing worship songs to the Lord, we can listen to the Scriptures expounded, we can greet scores of believers, and we can reach out to unchurched people who come through our doors. But mutual encouragement from each other’s faith happens best in smaller groups. In a small group context, we can intimately share our faith struggles and successes. We can comfort one another and bear each other’s burdens. We can encourage each other to press on, and in doing so find inspiration in one another’s faith. If you’re not currently involved in a small group with other believers, please consider joining one today.

A third reason that Paul longed to visit Rome is found in 1:13—to bear fruit. If the church at Rome was already so fruitful, why was Paul on a quest for “fruit?” An answer to that question can be found in the fact that Paul never used the word “fruit” (karpos) to refer to new converts. “Fruit” is a broad term that points to the work of God in the believer. Thus, Paul was saying that he wanted to go to Rome to be used by God to see something supernatural occur in the lives of fellow believers who lived there. This is fundamental Christianity—living life in such a way that the fruit of spiritual maturity spills over into the lives of others. Indeed, the thrust of the book of Romans is a presentation of the process of discipleship, a virtual manual on how to be “established” in the faith. When we meet with other believers, the purpose is to obtain fruit.

 

Sadly, one of the reasons that many individuals and churches are unfruitful is because we don’t expect God to grant “much fruit” (cf. John 15:5, 8). But if (when) we expect God to bless our meager efforts, He often shows Himself in a mighty way. We must, therefore, be people of great expectation. We must have confidence that whenever we meet as a church family, God desires to pour out His Spirit and accomplish far more than we can ask or think (Eph 3:20-21). May we move forward as a church of faith-filled believers, for God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

[Paul has shared two evidences of a church on mission: A church on mission is thankful and focused. Now he shares a third and final evidence.]

  1. A Church On Mission Is Eager (1:14-15)

Individual believers and churches must be thankful and focused, but it is especially critical to be eager. Apart from a passionate zeal, our mission falls flat. Paul puts it like this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (1:14-15). The phrase “I am under obligation” is placed at the very end of the sentence for emphasis; the entire sentence builds up to this startling statement. The word translated “obligation” (opheiletes) refers to someone who is a debtor. Paul recognized that he had been bought with a price; therefore, he wanted to glorify God in his body (1 Cor 6:20). Later in 9:16b, he exclaims, “…for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” Why is Paul “under obligation?” The metaphor of a monetary debt doesn’t capture the urgency. It is like a city being conquered by a new king, who entrusts to the herald the proclamation of his victory and the offer of his pardon. The herald, therefore, owes it to all the citizens to tell them urgently. If he does not, they will incur the anger of the new king by not bowing the knee to him and accepting his pardon. This urgency makes Paul eager to preach the gospel.

 

After Paul’s Damascus Road encounter, he was overwhelmed with a burden to share Christ with others. Paul was not an intellectual snob. He saw Jesus Christ as an equal opportunity Savior. So he preached Christ to every language (Greek or any other Gentile tongue) and culture (wise or foolish). Likewise, we must seek out anyone and everyone—people from every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev 5:9). Since we don’t know who God is drawing to salvation, a universal offer upholds God’s sovereign call. Furthermore, it allows our church to display a representation of the eternal state where there are people of different colors, classes, cultures, education, etc. Today, will you pray for a greater burden for those who have yet to believe the good news of Jesus? Plead with the Lord of the harvest to set your heart aflame.

 

One question remains: How can Paul “preach the gospel” to “saints” (1:7) whose “faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (1:8)? These individuals are already saved and on their way to heaven. As I discussed in 1:1c, the gospel is more than merely believing in Christ and being delivered from hell. In this context, “to preach the gospel” (euaggelizo) means more than just initially proclaiming the Christian message, but includes providing solid “building up” of those who have made an initial response (cf. 15:20).

 

In the book of Romans Paul preaches an expanded and developed explication of the gospel in all of its ramifications. It is the gospel of the “righteousness of God” by faith. And it is this gospel which impacts earthly lives and determines eternal destinies! Are you preaching this gospel to saints? Believers require both justification truth and sanctification truth to help us press on to full maturity in Christ.

 

Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is a study of how human organizations change. How does a system reach the “tipping point” whereby an organizational culture is transformed? Gladwell documents that it takes no more than six children in a school to begin wearing a certain brand of sport shoe to reach the tipping point, whereby in just a few days one hundred children will begin wearing the same brand of shoe. This principle is relevant to businesses, organizations, and churches. When certain individuals step up and lead, dramatic change can occur. This can be especially true in the church. Christianity tends to be a minority movement. But when a remnant becomes emboldened and sold-out, a small group of believers can set the world on its ear. Just read the book of Acts and observe the exploits of Jesus’ eleven disciples.

 

Today, if you’re tired of playing it safe and are longing to fulfill God’s mission in your life and within your church family, step out in faith. God wants to lift you up and take you to a place of unprecedented health and growth. He wants to use you in a way that He never has before. All that He asks is that you humble yourself before Him and make yourself available. He will do more with your life and your church than you ever thought possible. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

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A church on mission – part 1

In 1903, a group of seventeen men got together to form a small political organization. By 1917, this organization of seventeen men had grown to 40,000 members and had become powerful enough to overthrow the Czar of Russia. Hammer & Sickle began to make its way across our world. And before the Iron Curtain fell, communism dominated up to two-thirds of the globe. In spite of our aversion to communism, we still must ask ourselves how seventeen men could possibly have made such an amazing impact upon the world in as few as seventy or eighty years. I believe the answer is simple: The men who founded the Communist Party were committed to impacting their world. They had no plan B. They were sold-out. Nothing was going to deter them in their cause.

Today, I must ask you a very important question:

Are you a person who longs to impact your world?

Think about that question for a moment. Is there something within you that yearns to join a cause that makes a difference in this life and reverberates throughout eternity? Are you tired of going through the motions at church? Do you feel restless in your occupation? Is there something within you that senses there must be something more to life? I’m convinced that the Lord is looking for a few good men and women who yearn to make an impact. If you are teachable, available, and faithful God will use you in a powerful way. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

Rom 1:8-15 explains how we can join a mission that will change the world. In these eight verses, we’ll see how to make a spiritual impact like Paul. We’ll also gain a better understanding of how we can serve on an impact team—a team such as the one Paul writes to in Rome. In 1:1-7 we looked at Paul’s greeting; now in 1:8-15 we will study his thanksgiving and prayer. Remember that Paul doesn’t know these believers personally. This is unusual for Paul, because he usually visited a city (e.g., Thessalonica or Corinth), then left to continue his travels, and later wrote a letter back to the believers in that city (i.e., 1 Thess, 1 Cor). But that’s not what Paul is doing here. Hence, he spends a great deal of time introducing himself to his Roman readers. He provides three evidences of a church on mission.

 

  1. A Church On Mission Is Thankful (1:8-10).

One of the greatest indications of Christian faithfulness is thankfulness, particularly for other believers. Paul made a practice of beginning his letters with (1) a word of thanks to God, (2) a specific prayer, and (3) a personal message to those who would read his letters. In ten of his thirteen letters, Paul states that it is his relationship with others that actually causes him to be thankful. This repeated emphasis indicates the priority he placed upon thanking God for other believers. In 1:8a he writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all.”

Other than the Lord Jesus at the time He spoke from the cross, Paul is the only other person in the NT who speaks of God as “my God” (2 Cor 12:21; Phil 1:3; 4:19; Philemon 4). The addition of the pronoun “my” (mou) draws our attention to the intensely personal relationship Paul had with God. Obviously, Paul was not some crusty, bookish theologian; he was a lover of God. To Paul, the Lord was not some distant abstraction to be worshipped from afar; He was close and personal—his Father and his friend.

The word “first” (protos) is not followed here by the word “second,” for in this reference the word “first” implies importance rather than the beginning of a list. The verb translated “I thank” (eucharisto) is in the present tense and can be rendered: “I continually thank” or “I thank God over and over!” It is quite obvious that Paul loved his fellow believers. His gratitude to God is expressed “through Jesus Christ.” He understood that Christ’s work on the cross brought believers into union with each other.

 

Why is Paul so thankful? In 1:8b he gives the reason: “because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Notice what Paul doesn’t say.

“Your drop dead preacher is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your killer worship team is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” “Your unprecedented church growth is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your cutting edge programs are being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

“Your glorious building is being celebrated is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”

These are the types of statements that you might hear about a “successful” church today. We can be an arrogant, consumer-oriented people. Paul, however, has a very different perspective than many contemporary believers. He is not commending the Romans for superficial things. He indicates that their “faith” was being reported all around the world. He is not referring to the fact of their faith; he is speaking of the nature of their faith. In a sin-saturated society these Roman believers progressively grew to maturity in their faith. In just a few years some of these believers would be thrown to the lions in the coliseum. Some would even be dipped in wax and lit on fire by the satanic Emperor Nero. These believers were disciples indeed. They were consistent and reflected the nature and character of Christ in their lives. Hence, Paul could affirm them for the quality of their faith.

The verb translated “proclaimed” (katangello) is a very strong verb that could just as easily be translated “advertised.” These believers were living advertisements for Jesus. They were on-fire! Stop for just a moment and let this fact sink in. The Roman Empire was desperately dark… sin abounded! No one would expect a church to thrive in Rome, the capital of the pagan world. Yet the house churches in Rome stood out as a living light in a dark world. The fervent faith of these believers was so contrary to the societal norm of their day that all who observed them couldn’t help spreading the word about them.

 

The same is true in the community we live in. No one expects a church in the Longview area to stand out and make a mark. Our culture assumes that they can dominate us and intimidate us. In many cases, this is exactly what has transpired. Consequently, there’s really no cultural pressure on us. It is assumed that the church is irrelevant. We are a non-factor. So we’ve got nothing to lose! We need to grow in our faith and trust that it will be proclaimed throughout the world. What is the Christian community saying about us? What are unbelievers in Longview saying about us? Do they recognize our faith and our faithfulness? What do people hear about us? Let’s give our county something to talk about!

 

It is also worth noting what Paul meant by the use of the phrase “the whole world.” In the New Testament, that phrase normally refers to the Roman Empire. Since Rome was the capital city, it seems reasonable to suggest that the faith of the Roman church was being proclaimed throughout the whole empire, not the “whole world” as we know it today. Obviously, the whole world couldn’t include the still undiscovered Western Hemisphere, nor would it indicate the Far East. But with the increase of technology, we have the opportunity to literally impact the entire world (e.g., video, Internet, Facebook, etc.). The key is: Let’s seek to impact our world with what really matters—our faith in the Lord Jesus. Word spreads quickly about growth, new facilities, innovative programs, but what about faith? God receives the most glory from the world when our lives point to Him. God seeks ordinary believers to join an extraordinary mission.

 

How can we follow Paul’s example and effectively express thanks for our fellow believers? In 1:9-10, Paul expresses thanks through prayer to God. He writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Surprisingly, the key phrase in these verses is: “God is my witness.” This phrase is moved to the front of the Greek sentence in 1:9. In the Greek New Testament words were often moved about in the sentence structure for the purpose of emphasis. Thus, placing “witness” (martus) as the first word in his Greek sentence would be analogous to placing it in boldface or italics. “God is my witness” is a strong expression that Paul uses on a number of occasions. It probably represents an oath that he had taken to be faithful to pray for the church with great constancy and fervency. This is confirmed by the language in 1:9-10. In 1:9, the adverb translated “unceasingly” (adialeiptos) means “without letting up or leaving off.” The word suggests that there is no great length of time between prayers. His prayers were frequent and regular. In 1:10, Paul indicates that the Roman believers are “always” (pantote) in his prayers. Although praying so consistently and repeatedly may seem to be an unusual commitment for a man who didn’t personally know most of the people he was praying for, such unceasing prayer characterized Paul’s life and ministry. He was a man of great prayer. He prayed fervently for the church at Rome in the same way that he prayed for all of the other churches. Prayer was the invisible power behind his ministry. In fact, it was Paul’s passion for prayer that ensured the success of his ministry and led to the growth and maturity of the early churches.

 

How can you and I take steps to grow in our prayer lives?

We can write down our prayers or our prayer requests so that we will pray consistently.

We can pray out loud.

We can use the time we have commuting in the car for prayer.

When we exercise we can devote a portion of that time to prayer.

We can spend time in prayer before we go to bed and when we wake up.

We can pray with our church family every Sunday morning.

We can also volunteer to pray in the overflow room during one of our worship services.

One of the keys to growing in prayer is to look for any and every opportunity to pray.

Romans – Answer the call

  1. A Ministry Mentality (Romans 1:1–7)

Glen Coffee was a great football player. Like many young men he dreamed about playing in the NFL. After a successful high school career, Coffee accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama. In 2008, he concluded his collegiate career by leading his team in rushing. Coffee then realized his NFL dream when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. During his first season with the 49ers, Coffee was the team’s number two running back. Many fans had high hopes for him going into the 2010 season. But in August of 2010, the twenty-three-year-old Coffee shocked the country when he walked away from his 2.5 million dollar contract. Why did he leave the NFL? He believes that the NFL is not God’s will for his life. Coffee became a Christian his junior year of college, and that decision changed his views on everything. He determined that the NFL wasn’t where he needed to be.

 

Coffee’s life-altering decision demands personal reflection. Would you be willing to forsake your hopes, your dreams, and your goals for Christ? Or do you resist His will because it’s not what you want for your life. Today, God may be calling you to leave your current occupation and serve Him in a new way. It’s more likely, however, that God is calling you to remain in your current occupation, and to adopt a biblical mindset. True ministry isn’t about occupation or location, it’s about vocation. Your vocation is to glorify God and represent Him; your occupation is a temporary platform for your vocation. There’s no such thing as secular jobs versus sacred jobs. You’re in full-time Christian ministry whatever your job is.

 

You have a calling, and it isn’t your career. Your career is what you’re paid for; your calling is what you’re made for. Answer the call and abandon all.

The apostle Paul exemplifies what it means to answer the call and abandon all in his introduction to Romans. In 1:1–7, we find Paul’s longest introduction. In his other twelve letters his greetings range from one to four verses, whereas his greeting in Romans takes a whopping seven verses. These first seven verses are all one long sentence in the Greek text. This lengthy greeting permits Paul to identify his calling, his message, his mission, and his readers. Two very important invitations come out of these verses: (1) Imitate Paul’s calling and (2) Appropriate your calling.

  1. Imitate Paul’s calling (1:1–5)

While it is easy to assume that these words are only relevant to Paul or to a pastor, these verses are applicable to every believer. Paul wants you to imitate him in all things, including his calling. Read carefully the opening words of Romans: “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1). Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul, meaning “asked for.” But he used his Roman name Paul, which means “little.” His name change is recorded in Acts 13:9, 13. When I write a letter, I begin with a greeting: “Dear whoever.” I then conclude with “Love, Wayne or Sincerely, Wayne.” In Paul’s day people did it differently. The writer placed his name first, the identity of his readers second, and a formal greeting third. In Romans, Paul is writing a church that he didn’t know. So how did he introduce himself? He identifies himself with three strategic descriptions.

First, Paul declares that he is a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus.”7 He could have introduced himself as “Paul, the premier theologian, the Old Testament scholar, the master church planter/evangelist, the front-line spiritual warrior,” but he chooses doulos—meaning “bond-servant” or “slave.” The most important thing that we can know about Paul is that he is a “slave.” In America we avoid the term “slave” because of our national history, but the word “slave” fits the idea that Paul is trying to express. It means a person who is wholly and completely owned by another. A slave has no rights, no ability to decide their own activities or the direction of their life. A slave lives and functions to carry out the will of his or her master. Paul saw himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. Elsewhere Paul writes, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal 1:10). He was another person’s property. Jesus owned him lock, stock, and barrel. It’s like the sign on the back of a rental truck that said: ANY LOAD-ANY PLACE-ANY TIME. A true slave says, “I’ll do anything my master mandates, no matter how hard, at any place, at any time.” Paul’s serving spirit goes all the way back to his first words to Jesus, spoken right after his conversion and found in

Acts 22:10: “What shall I do, Lord?” Paul’s conversion to Christ resulted in a radical response of zealous obedience. He went from persecuting the church to perfecting the church (see Phil 3:15; Col 1:28).

Do you see yourself, first and foremost, as a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He at the forefront of everything you do? Answer the call and abandon all.

 

At the time Paul was writing Romans, there were an estimated sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire; and a slave was looked on as a piece of property, not a person. To be a slave in the Gentile mind was to be at the bottom of the social order. Slavery was something to escape; freedom was a goal to attain. How arresting it must have been to the Gentile believers to learn that Paul had “given up” his freedom and willing submitted himself to Christ Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

 

Here, he is talking about a slavery undertaken voluntarily out of love, unlike the forced slavery well known to many in the Roman Empire. If a person could find a master that he or she enjoyed serving, then voluntary slavery makes sense. There is a picture of this kind of willful subjection in the Old Testament in Exodus 21. If a man had to sell himself as a slave, he could serve a Hebrew master for only six years. In the seventh year, he had to be released and sent away with gifts that would enable him to become economically independent. An exception was made for the person who had grown attached to his master. He could refuse his freedom and stay with his master permanently because he loved his master. If that happened, he was to have a hole bored in his ear, marking him as a permanent slave. This is what Paul declares he has done. Paul found that pleasing Christ gave his life such pleasure, purpose and meaning that he willfully bound himself to Christ out of sheer joy.

 

Paul calls himself a “bond-servant of Christ Jesus” because he wants to communicate to his readers his commitment and devotion to Jesus the Messiah. “Christ” is a title which means “one who has been anointed.” “Jesus” is a personal name meaning “the Lord saves.” The Old Testament uses the phrase “the servant of the Lord” of men like Moses, Joshua, and David. Paul’s substitution of “Christ Jesus” into the Old Testament expression “a servant of the Lord” shows that he considers Jesus worthy of the same obedience and devotion as the Lord God—Yahweh. Moreover, 1:1 demonstrates the priority of Paul’s life and ministry. The apostle’s consuming passion was Jesus. In all thirteen of his existing letters, the name “Jesus” comes in the first verse. Paul always makes a beeline for Jesus. This is the goal of great preaching, great churches, and great believers. Jesus must be supreme and paramount in everything that we think, say, and do. Answer the call and abandon all.

Paul is a slave who has been sent on a mission. After becoming a “bond-servant,” he became an “apostle.” Paul moves from humility to authority demonstrating that service is always a prerequisite for leadership. In the New Testament, the term “apostle” (apostolos) is used with a general force to designate someone who is sent. It is also used by Paul to speak of someone who is specially gifted to communicate revelation from God, and by implication, someone to whom the churches were responsible. This latter, more elevated meaning is the sense Paul intends here. He is preparing to communicate revelation from God, and the Roman church needs to know that as an apostle he has the authority to do so. This word “apostle” means “one who is sent by authority with a commission.” It was applied in that day to the representatives of the emperor or the emissaries of a king. Paul is saying, “I have been sent with the authority of King Jesus to speak the very words of God to you.” Like Paul, are you where Jesus Christ has “sent” you to be? Has He directed you to your present ministry or vocation? Have you sought Him in this matter? Have you prayed for His direction and guidance? Is anything standing in the way of your going where you feel you are sent?

 

The final characteristic that Paul shares with his readers is his mission of being “set apartfor the gospel of God.” Being “set apart” has in it the idea of consecration and total devotion to the service of God. It was used of the offering of the first fruits (Num 15:20) and of God setting apart Israel as His special possession (Lev 20:26). One of the great failures of Judaism was that the Jews considered themselves separate from everyone else. They considered themselves too good for the rest of the world and retreated into their own closed circle. Yet, God did not intend for the Jews to be separated from, but separated for! He intended them to be separated for service (Gen 12:1–3; Isa 42:6; 43:10, 21; 44:23; 49:3, 6; 60:3; Ezek 28:25).

 

The verb “set apart” (aphorizo) means “to select one person out of a group for a purpose.” The make up of the word literally means “off horizon,” which conveys the idea of being removed from one sphere and placed into another. In Paul’s case, he was removed from the sphere of sin to the sphere of salvation, from the horizon of rebellion against God to the horizon of service under God. This Greek word has the same root meaning as “Pharisee” (“one who is separated”). A Pharisee set himself apart for the law, but God set Paul apart for the gospel. Perhaps you don’t feel like your life and ministry is significant. I can assure you that if you are a believer God has set you apart to fulfill a specific purpose. As you faithfully serve the Lord, He will reveal your ministry niche in your occupation and in your local church.

 

Paul concludes 1:1 by stating what he was set apart for—“the gospel of God.” The key word in Romans is “gospel” (euaggelion) and it appears twelve times. The “gospel” or “good news” encapsulates the message found in the entire book of Romans. This good news is the truth that God has for both believers and unbelievers. It is not limited to salvation but encompasses the full counsel of God’s good news to man. This leads to the following questions: Do you increasingly view your life as set apart for the gospel? Does your life revolve around getting people the good news and then helping them live out that good news? Do you go to work or school with a sense of urgency to share God’s good news? Are you strategically looking for ways to help others grow in their faith? This is your calling, and it is the reason you’re still on planet earth. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

In 1:2–4, Paul launches into a parenthetical statement that elucidates the good news. He writes, “[This good news] which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The only other place where Paul mentions this is 2 Tim 2:8. It is possible that both passages may have been quotes from a creedal formula of the early church. From the very beginning of Romans, Paul wants to make it clear that his message didn’t originate with him. Instead, it was “promised beforehand” (proepaggello) by God. Furthermore, the gospel didn’t just suddenly burst upon the scene of history with the birth of Christ. It has always been the theme of the “prophets,” which is shorthand for all the Old Testament authors. Paul relied heavily upon the Old Testament Scriptures to give authority to his gospel message. In Romans, he quotes the Old Testament approximately fifty–seven times, which is more than he did in all of his other letters combined. I would argue, therefore, that if you and I want to understand Romans and fully appreciate the gospel, we must grasp the Old Testament.

 

During the days of World War II, the French underground used a very simple means of identification to know who their secret agents were. They simply took a piece of paper and ripped it in half, giving one man half the paper, and they then mailed the other half to the other agent. When they met, all they had to do was compare the two pieces of paper. If the papers lined up, the agents were identified without any doubt. In a similar way, Jesus fulfills all of the prophetic promises found in the Old Testament. The pages of Scripture line up; there is no other match but Him. This good news comes from the “Holy Scriptures.” This is the only time in the New Testament this phrase is used. This means that the Bible is no ordinary book and that it has the ability to make us holy as we get it into our hearts.

 

The good news of the gospel is focused upon Jesus. Notice the phrase “concerning His Son.” The gospel concerns Jesus. It’s all about Him. The word “concerning” is the Greek preposition peri, from which we get our word perimeter. Since this means “fully around,” the Lord Jesus is not just a part of the gospel; He is the gospel. He fully engulfs the good news of God. Some do not see Jesus the way we do. They mistakenly assumed that there are many equally viable paths to God. However, Jesus is the whole gospel and the Christian life, and He must be everything in our preaching, our teaching, and our very lives. We need to understand that Jesus is supreme. We then need to look for ways to speak more freely about Jesus.

 

Verses 3–4 describe Jesus’ relationships in two spheres. The phrase “according to the flesh” refers to the fact that Jesus was born in frail humanity and limited Himself by taking on human nature (Phil 2:7). The phrase “according to the Spirit of holiness” means that the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (see 8:11). Christ was raised in the same way that we will be raised by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. A critical phrase in 1:4 is that Jesus was “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” The verb translated “declared” (horizo) is more accurately rendered “appointed” (NET). The key phrase in this verse is “with power.” Although Jesus was obviously God’s Son before His resurrection from the dead, the resurrection put the exclamation point on His deity.

 

It is also important to note that Jesus Christ is called “our Lord.” Unfortunately, much confusion has arisen regarding the issue of lordship. Yet, it is relatively simple: When we trust in the gospel message we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord—He is God. Whether our lives demonstrate His lordship or not, the truth remains: Jesus Christ is both Lord and Master. That fact remains unalterably true. We don’t make Jesus Christ “Lord”; He is Lord! Yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of accepting Christ’s lordship in every area of our lives.

The kingship of Jesus grants Paul the privilege of carrying out his mission. In 1:5 the apostle writes that through Jesus “we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake.” Paul begins by making sure he puts grace in its proper place. Paul first received grace on the Damascus Road, and then later he experienced the call of God on his life to become an apostle to the Gentiles. Although Paul’s call was certainly unique when you read 1:5, put your calling in the place of the word “apostleship.” You might put, “Through Christ I have received grace and the teaching role, or grace and singing, or grace and studentship, or grace and singleness, or grace and widowhood, or grace and motherhood.” In doing so, you will be declaring that God has given you the power to fulfill a calling. Answer the call and abandon all.

 

Paul’s mission is to “bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” The expression “obedience of faith” (eupakoen pisteos) means obedience to the command to believe the gospel (cf. 16:26). Faith is obedience to God because God commands everyone to believe in Christ. Paul linked obedience and the gospel in 10:16, but possibly the closest parallel is 15:18–20. In this passage, Paul indicates that Christ has sent him “to make the Gentiles obedient” and so he concludes, “I have made it my aim to preach the Gospel.” Paul’s mission is to proclaim faith as an act of obedience to God’s command to trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Hart agrees: “Obedience is required to become a Christian! But the obedience that is required to become a Christian is obedience to just one command—the command to believe in Christ.” Have you obeyed His command to believe the gospel? If not, do so today. Give Jesus your sin in exchange for His righteousness. Cross over from death to life (John 5:24) and spend eternity with God and with those who love Him.

[The first invitation in this text is: Imitate Paul’s calling. In 1:1–5, Paul has identified his calling, his message, and his mission, and we’ve been invited to imitate his ways. The second invitation is . . .]

  1. Appropriate Your Calling (1:6–7)

In the closing verses of this section Paul fleshes out the calling of every believer. He puts it like this: “Among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The addressees of this letter (the “you also”) are connected with “all the Gentiles” mentioned at the end of 1:5, indicating that the church at Rome was predominantly Gentile (i.e., non-Jewish). Speaking to those Gentiles, Paul shares three truths about their identity and calling in Christ that are equally applicable to you and me. First, we are loved by God (1:7a). One of the greatest truths in this universe is that we are unconditionally loved by God. Perhaps you have been abused and rejected by parents or siblings. Maybe a spouse has left you. Or maybe a church has sinned against you. God wants you to know that when people disappoint, and even devastate you, His love is the one constant in this life. There may be times when this promise is what helps you make it through the day.

Secondly, we are called saints (1:7a). Three times in the first seven verses, the words “call” and “called” appear. Here, Paul states that we are called “saints.” However, we are not saints because we are so good; we are saints because God is so good. The words “saint,” “sanctify,” and “holiness” all refer to the same word group, which means “set apart” (cf. 1:1). Thus, a saint is a “holy one” or “set apart one” on account of his or her faith in Christ. Consequently, even when you feel that you are unworthy to pray or be in a relationship with God, He sees you through the perfect righteous of Christ. As a result, He can call you “saint.” You are not individuals trying to get by. You’re a saint. God wants you to act like one.

Lastly, we are recipients of “grace” and “peace” (1:7b). Real peace (eirene) comes only as a result of God’s grace (charis). Grace is what we receive; peace is what we experience as a result of God’s activity on our behalf. The word “grace” resembles the familiar Greek greeting which means “favor from me to you.” In a theological sense the word grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and gifts to humanity. The word itself is used one hundred fifty five times in the New Testament—over 100 times by Paul, 24 of which occur in Romans. We cannot understand this book if we don’t comprehend grace. Therefore, we must be certain that we understand that we are saved by grace and then are given grace to live the Christian life and fulfill our mission. The word “peace” is the typical greeting used in Jewish letters to refer to the wholeness and well being in all relationships. Paul will say much more about both grace and peace later in his letter. In a figurative sense grace and peace are twins, grace being the firstborn. Where grace abounds, peace thrives. Where grace is stunted, peace shrivels.

Today, can you honestly say that you have grace and peace? If not, you can. But you can’t have the grace and peace of 1:7 unless you first believe the gospel. As we’ve seen, Romans is all about the gospel, and the focus of the gospel is the person Jesus Christ. Therefore, nothing is more important today than knowing who He is, without question, without doubt. What do you say about Jesus? Who is He to you? Do you know that there is someone who loves you unconditionally? He loves you so much that He died for you. The Apostle Paul called him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Can you say that as well? Is He your Savior? What is your answer? Grace and peace can be yours today if you simply believe in Jesus.

When Hernan Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 to begin the conquest of Mexico, he had only a small force of some seven hundred men. He was about to invade a subcontinent of unknown size, filled with belligerent tribesmen of hugely superior numbers. How could he motivate his soldiers to devote themselves to the conquest? Cortez came up with precisely the right motivator. As soon as he had all the equipment off his fleet of eleven ships, he gave orders to burn them. The men who had come ashore with him stood on the beach and watched as their only means of retreat slowly sank into the Gulf of Mexico. There was only one direction to go, and that was forward into the interior of Mexico to take on whatever might come their way. That’s precisely the approach God calls Christian disciples to take. We are to be obedient to our faith, allowing our decisions to always be subject to the word of Christ. That usually involves burning your ships at some point. Are you ready to do that for the sake of your relationship with Christ?

 

Today, God may be calling you to burn your ships. How will you respond to God’s call upon your life? Will you relinquish your hold on your occupation? Will you reaffirm your vocation to glorify Jesus Christ? Will you go where God has sent you? Will you see your life as a mission to proclaim Christ? Will you be His doulosAnswer the call and abandon all. It’s really that simple.

 

Hope shared

WHAT IS SOMETHING YOU HAD TO SHARE WHEN GROWING UP?

Sharing can mean less – such as less sleep due to sharing a bed with a sibling, but sharing can also mean more – sharing a good book or movie does not diminish our experience, it gives us conversation and perspective.

When it comes to sharing our faith with others, you may think of learning a set gospel presentation (Roman Road, 4 spiritual laws, etc.).  In our culture, though, people don’t want to just hear the truth, they want to see it.  We should certainly talk about the hope we have in Christ, but we must support what we say by living it out and showing hope to others.  The Bible gives us a great example through Peter – a man who took the hope he had in Christ and shared it with others – in a way that caught the attention of others.

READ Acts 3:1-4

WHAT WAS PLANNED (time of prayer) AND UNPLANNED (not a mission to heal) ABOUT THAT DAY?

Jesus told His followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came.  They did and were empowered – including Peter, who was forgiven and restored.  He became the chief spokesperson of the group.  Acts 1 tells us how Peter told the crowd that they could have hope in Jesus just like he did.  It was some exciting times!  But, what about the other times?

Other Jewish Christians, along with Peter and John, continued to participate in the established Jewish worship meetings and rituals in the temple complex, as well as to participate in worship and fellowship times in their homes (Acts 2:46).  The difference was that these new believers were completing the story and fulfilling the prophesies about Jesus.

On one occasion, Peter and John were minding their own business going to one of these regular Jewish meetings when they encountered a man who had been unable to walk.  According to the customs in those days, a man who had been unable to walk since birth was carried by family or friends to the temple complex (various courts, storage rooms, and work spaces) every day and place as the gate called Beautiful.  Not only did this man not have the ability to work and participate in everyday functions, but he was not able to be a part of worship either.  Putting him at this location allowed him to beg from those coming to pray or make offerings as they entered the temple area.

He saw Peter and John and asked for help like he did with anyone else.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, Peter and John had compassion on this man (and there may have been many like him).  Peter just came from an experience of hopelessness and then receiving God’s grace in his own life after betraying Jesus. He knew the power of what God can do in one’s life.

Speaking for himself and John, Peter looked closely at the man and told him to look at him.  He saw the need – not just physical, but spiritual.  DO YOU SEE THE NEEDS IN OTHERS WHEN YOU LOOK AT THEM?

Read Acts 3:5-8

Peter and John did more than merely see the lame man’s need for food – they saw his need for hope and the healing of Jesus.  The crippled man looked expectantly at the two men.  DO YOU THINK HE WAS IGNORED BY MOST?  DO YOU IGNORE THOSE LIKE HIM?

Peter’s next statement, however, must have shocked the man.  Many refused to give him a look, much less a hand out. Peter did not simply reject the man’s request, but offered him something better. He told the man to get up – by the power of Jesus!  The lame man probably had heard about the thousands who believed in Jesus and then His crucifixion and death.  He most likely heard about those that Jesus had healed.

WAS PETER’S STATEMENT THE PASSWORD FOR HEALING?  No – Peter was not using a mystical formula.  He expressed faith that Jesus would do this healing without question.  He didn’t say, “Well, you know, I know Jesus and have seen Him heal, so maybe if I say His name, you can be healed too.” Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, spoke with authority and believed that Jesus would heal the man.

Evidently, the lame man did not hesitate in getting up! God did a work in this man’s body to bring physical healing.  When God does something, He does it well!  Notice what the man did – he did not just walk, he began leaping and praising God.  From hopeless to full of hope. He was able to go into the temple for the first time – a spiritual experience his lameness had prevented before this occurred.  God had done a miracle in his life.  WHAT ABOUT PETER?  This was a testimony to the power of Jesus working in Peter’s life.  The Holy Spirit had made Peter sensitive to the needs of others.  He was willing to take the risk of faith and reach out to someone else.  THIS IS AN EXAMPLE FOR US, TOO.

Before we leave these verses, let’s talk about one thing – Peter’s action was not a condemnation of giving money to people in need.  One way God’s power works to meet material needs is through those who love Him.  Gifts of money can express the love and care of Jesus to others.  Scripture encourages us to give:

READ James 2:15-16

READ Acts 2:44-45

This verse does indicate, however, that financial needs are not the most significant needs we have.  Our greatest need is to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  That is how Peter responded to the man’s need and let’s see how it impacted the community.

READ Acts 3:9-10

Healing the lame man was only the beginning.  At the time God did this, it was about 3 pm in the afternoon – when the temple courts were filled with people – people who saw this man and, most likely, ignored him and passed by. When I leave Walmart, I rarely see the same person with a sign asking for help.  It always seems like a new person is there.  In this case, the same guy was at the gate every time these people walked by.  They recognized him – and they were astonished. This was not a “oh, the lame guy is walking now” – it was a “WOW, that’s the guy who was lame – and now he’s WALKING!”  “How did this happen?”  They started talking and gathering to find out how this happened.

READ Acts 3:11-12

Peter went on to point out how the religious leadership rejected Jesus and put Him to death.  God, however, had raised Him from the dead and Peter called on his listeners to repent and turn to God so their sins could be forgiven.  The Holy Spirit directed this whole experience so that God could be glorified.

In Let Hope In, Pete Wilson wrote of discovering that life is more meaningful if he makes a decision each day before he gets up to do three practical things that day to share hope and love with others.  WOULD YOU CONSIDER DOING THE SAME?

  1. Find value in every person – rather than hurt others by what we say or do, we can enrich their lives by affirming good qualities and showing respect, love and grace. This will require us to open our spiritual eyes to others.
  2. Overcome self-centeredness – Philippians 2:1-5 tells us to live in unity, and have the goal to consider others as more important than ourselves, to look out for the interest of others, and become more like Jesus. It is a tough call to arms – but it is one that will change the world, one person at a time. Maybe this means to open our homes and lives to others.
  3. Love people more than being right – if we love people as we should, we will choose not to be offended by what they say or do. Then we will be able to be used of the Holy Spirit to see their need and offer them healing through Jesus.  Listen more than speak.  Pray for discernment and sensitivity.