Unity In Times of DisagreementPaul had the heart of a missionary. He had a love for people that he did not know, he had a desire to go to places where he had never visited, and all of this was rooted in a deep sense of obligation that he felt towards all people. When we think of the word, “obligation,” we think about “owing” someone something. If someone helps you move into your new house and a couple of years later they let you know that they are moving, then you feel a sense of duty to help them out because they helped you out. If you get into a financial bind and someone bails you out, then you feel a sense of obligation to pay them back…or at least you should. This is what we think of when we hear the word, “obligation.” This is not how Paul used the word.
God rescued Paul. He opened Paul’s eyes to the glory and salvation of His Son, Jesus. Paul knew that what God had done for him, He wanted to do for others. Paul knew that apart from the good news of God we are all like blind people trying to navigate our way around the world. Once the Lord transformed Paul’s life he had an overwhelming passion to share the possibility of God’s transforming power with others. How would they know about this possibility if he didn’t tell them? Paul wrote in Romans 10:11-15.
11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile– the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:11-15 NIV)
Paul stood in a long line of people who had experienced the transforming power of Almighty God and then, in turn, felt that they had to share that saving, transforming power with others. The prophet Isaiah felt like he was falling apart at the seams when his sinful heart was revealed to him. The Lord touched Isaiah and forgave him of his sin. Right after that we read in Isaiah 6:8.
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8 NIV)
“Here am I. Send me. I’m not worthy. I’m not qualified. I’m not even confident that I can do what you want me to do Lord, but send me. I’ve got to go.” Do you feel that same sense of urgency about letting others know about Jesus and His saving, transforming power? Are you compelled to go to those the Lord leads across your path? Do you pray for opportunities to bless others, to share with others, to speak to others about the Lord?
These are relevant questions to ask in light of the Scripture that we will take a look at this morning. In Romans 1:8-15 we read about Paul’s great desire and love for the brothers and sisters in Rome. Let’s read our Scripture together.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. 11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. 14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome. (Romans 1:8-15 NIV)
In the Scripture that we will take a look at this morning Paul shares his heart-felt love for all of the brothers and sisters in Rome. He says that he thanks God for them, he is in constant prayer for them, he has a deep, deep desire to visit them so that their face-to-face visit will be a mutual blessing for both. All of this is rooted in a great sense of obligation that he feels towards the people of Rome, both Greek and non-Greek, to the wise and the foolish. I want to spend the rest of our time taking a look at these four statements Paul makes in his letter because I believe there are some great lessons for us, those of us at Britton Christian Church, in Paul’s message.
Giving Thanks to God!
First of all I want you to notice that Paul is thankful to God for all of the folks in Rome. He is not thankful in some vague, generalized way, but he is thankful “because your faith is being reported all over the world.” Paul is thankful for the genuine, contagious faith of the Roman believers. He doesn’t thank the people of Rome for their faith, but he is thankful to God. Paul traced the faith of the Roman believers to God, the One who was the initiator of their faith. If you will remember our study last week then you will remember that faith is from God. He opens our eyes to our need, He draws us to Himself, and He gives us the desire to live for Him. God had moved upon the hearts and minds of the people of Rome and they had responded to God’s call upon their lives with great faith, faith that was being reported “all over the world.”
Paul was thankful for the faith of the Romans because he knew that in Rome there were many gods who were worshipped. People had faith in many things and worshipped at the altars of many gods, but this was not the case with those whose faith was being reported all over the world. Are things any different in our day? We may not live in a society where there are altars on every street corner or a multitude of visible idols that call for our worship, but we do live among a multitude of people in our society who “believe” many things, who give their time and money to many things, and who have surrendered their hearts to many things other than God who alone is to worshiped.
I was at Starbucks visiting a friend when an employee of Starbucks came up and joined the conversation. She had a tattoo on her arm and I asked her what it said? She held her arm out and said, “I believe.” I said, “What does that mean?” She said, “Well, it is a statement of faith that is left open to whatever one believes.” I said, “Oh, I see. It’s open-ended so it can mean whatever you want it to mean.” She agreed. That is the belief of our day. What do you believe? It really doesn’t matter as long as you believe something. If you were to ask one of the brothers and sisters in Rome what they believed it would not have been open-ended. They would have told you that they believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and there is no other. He was born of the Virgin Mary. He lived a sinless life. He suffered and died for our sins according to the will of God. He rose victorious from the grave and He reigns forever as Lord and God! That’s a faith we can all be thankful for don’t you think?
The second statement Paul makes is found in verse 9 where Paul says that he constantly prays for the brothers and sisters in Rome. He is not just praying for those in Rome, but he is also praying for the Lord to somehow open a door of opportunity for him to visit them in Rome. Paul writes,
9 God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you. (Romans 1:9-10 NIV)
Before we talk about Paul’s prayer life, I want us to take a look at a statement Paul makes about his relationship with God. Paul says that he “serves” God with his whole heart in preaching the gospel of His Son. The word that Paul uses for “serve” is an interesting word, it is the Greek word, “latreuo.” The word means, “to serve, minister to, either to the gods or men and used alike of slaves and freemen.” The word can just as easily mean, “to worship.” The word is found 21 times in the New Testament. Let me give you a couple of examples. In 2 Timothy 1:3, Paul writes,
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. (2 Timothy 1:3 NIV)
Luke uses the word when he tells the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. In Luke 4:5-8 we read,
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” (Luke 4:5-8 NIV)
The word that we are taking a look at is found in verse 8, but it is not the word that is translated, “worship,” but rather it is translated, “serve.” The last example that I want to give to you this morning is found in Hebrews 12:28-29 where the writer of Hebrews says,
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28-29 NIV)
Here, the word is translated, “worship.” I think this is an important lesson for us because so many of us think that serving is working when in reality our serving is worship. Whether you are preaching the Gospel, working at BritVil, The King’s Klinic, The Learning Center, cooking a meal for someone who has just gotten out of the hospital, picking up kids for Sunday school in the church van, or doing any number of the things that you all do each week–this is worship. You need to see what you do as worship. Our whole life is to be an act of worship to the Lord. What an awesome view of life! What a transforming view of life!
Now, let’s take a look at Paul’s prayer life. Paul says that God is his witness that he is a constant intercessor on the behalf of the Roman church. We find in Scripture that Paul was a man of prayer. He was constantly praying for other churches as well as the brothers and sisters in Rome. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes,
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16-19a NIV)
Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica and he told them that he was praying night and day for the opportunity to see them again. Read with me from 1Thessalonians 3:10.
10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:10 NIV)
This past week, as I was studying our section of Scripture from Romans, I was struck by Paul’s passion and commitment to pray for a city that he had never visited, for people he had never met. David Darnell has written,
Why should he pray in this way? Why, with all of the pressing obligations that surround him, should he constantly take time to pray on behalf of the Roman believers? By the time of his writing Romans, Paul had established churches throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and in Greece (Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth). At the very time he wrote, he was deeply involved in raising a large amount of money to take to Jerusalem in an effort to keep the Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus together as one Church. His plate was full–why be thinking of, and praying for, the people of Rome? The answer is that Paul has the ‘heart of a missionary.’ He would never be satisfied until the saving message of God in Jesus had reached the whole world! (Darnell, David. Notes on Romans. pg 17)
It didn’t matter if Paul had never met the people of Rome. It didn’t matter that he was a busy man; Paul was never too busy to pray. He had a great desire for the people of Rome to know the good news of God, to grow in their faith. This should be our heartbeat. It doesn’t matter if we have never been to Belize, Burma, South Africa, or Sweden–we should pray for the brothers and sisters who are there. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know anybody in North Highlands, Gaillardia, Paseo, Nichols Hills, or the 10 Penn neighborhood–we should pray for those brothers and sisters who are laboring there.
Sharing the Gifts of God
The third statement Paul makes that I want us to take a look at will help us gain a better understanding of why Paul had such a great desire to visit the people of Rome. Paul writes,
11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. (Romans 1:11-12 NIV)
Paul wanted to visit Rome so that he could share the gifts God had given him with them so that they would be made strong. God had given Paul gifts that were to be used to bless the lives of others. God had also given gifts to the brothers and sisters in Rome to bless the lives of others. Isn’t it interesting that Paul does not know the people of Rome and yet he knows that God has gifted them? How can Paul know this? Paul knows that every gift, every ability that we possess is a gift from the hand of God. He wrote to the believers in Corinth and said,
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 NIV)
Look for opportunities to bless the lives of those around you. I will promise you that if you will do this you will be blessed. I’m not talking about some t.v. evangelist’s promise of “sowing and reaping” so that you will get financial gain, but I’m talking about God blessing you in ways that you never dreamed. Let me give you an example. Each week I go to hospitals, to visit nursing homes, or people who are homebound and I’ve never left one of those visits and not been blessed by hearing the stories of those I’ve visited. I’ve even had some of them ask me if they could pray for me. I went to encourage them and ended up being encouraged! Now that is a blessing that money can’t touch!
In Romans 1:13, Paul let the people of Rome know that he had planned many times to come and visit them, but it just had not happened, not because he didn’t want to, but because God had not opened a door for him to make the trip. We don’t know when or how Paul had planned to go to Rome, but we learn in Acts 19:21 that it was on his mind. Read along with me.
21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” (Acts 19:21 NIV)
In Acts 23, we learn about a time when the Lord appeared to Paul and told him that just as he had testified about Him in Jerusalem, he would testify about Him in Rome. So we know Paul had Rome on his mind throughout his ministry, but the Lord had not opened a door for him to go. We can learn an important lesson from this Scripture.
We have all kinds of plans for our future don’t we? Sure we do. We talk about them all of the time and yet God may have other plans for us. We need to always leave room for God’s plan as we make our plans. We also need to hold onto our plans with a loose grip, a very loose grip. James wrote and said,
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.” (James 4:13-15 NIV)
The last section of Paul’s letter that I want us to look at this morning is found in verse 14 where Paul writes to the folks in Rome and tells them that he has an “obligation” to the “Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” Paul’s language is very descriptive in this verse. He uses two Greek words that speak volumes to us. The word for “Greeks,” to the Greeks, meant those who are of the Greek language and culture. The word Paul used for “non-Greeks” is another word all together. The Greek word, “barbaros” means, “one whose speech is rude, rough and harsh, one who speaks a foreign or strange language which is not understood by another.” The word was used by the Greeks to label any foreigner who was ignorant of the Greek language and way of life.
When the Jews used the word for “Greeks” they used it in a derogatory way. It meant those who were not Jews, those who had come under the influence of the Greeks. They used the word to label people as pagans, Gentiles, or barbarians. For the Greeks it meant their own people, those they held to be highly sophisticated and cultured, the elite in society, but the very same word to the Jews meant the equivalent of a barbarian.
Isn’t it interesting that there were cultural and racial divisions in Paul’s day just as there are racial and cultural divisions in our day? Those divisions may have existed in society, but they didn’t exist in Paul’s mind–he was a debtor to all people. Paul doesn’t stop with saying that he is obligated to all races, he goes on to say that he is obligated to the wise and the foolish. What he is talking about is education. The Greeks were highly educated and placed the highest value on education, but for Paul education was not the grand prize, knowing Jesus was.
It is interesting that Paul says that he is obligated to the wise, because, from my experience, the highly educated are some of the most resistant to the message of Jesus. They’ve been to the university; some have even completed their post-graduate studies. They have learned all of the arguments against faith, but they have never tested those arguments with God’s Word. They talk about the miracles of the Bible as something that uneducated, unsophisticated people believed in days gone by. They talk about education as a remedy for the weak and uneducated who have to believe in silly superstition. They fail to recognize that Paul was one of the most highly educated persons of his day. He was given a great Greek education. He was also given a great religious education in Judaism under rabbi Gamaliel. He was a Roman citizen. Paul knew what it meant to be educated and yet he wrote,
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NIV)
Education is not the problem, but a lack of understanding about the purpose of education is our problem. When understood with a proper perspective all fields of study will point us to God. It is a tragedy that in our day so many who teach at advanced levels in the halls of academia use their classroom as an opportunity to misinform their students and raise questions about God’s Word and faith. The gospel is for all people, even the educated. James Montgomery Boice wrote,
The gospel is for you if you are among the educated of our world. You need this ancient Christian gospel. Whatever your educational attainments, however wise you may be, you are still a sinful man or woman and are cut off from the God who made you and to whom you must one day give account for your many sins. You are mortal. One day you will die. You will enter eternity with or without the Lord Jesus Christ, just as surely as any other man or woman. (Boice, J.M. Romans, Vol. 1, pg. 95)
The gospel is not just for the educated, the gospel is also for the uneducated. In the years that I’ve served as pastor at Britton Christian Church the Lord has allowed me to become friends with so many people who do not have much of anything other than problems. They don’t have the most basic education. They don’t have any marketable skills. They struggle to pay their bills on a monthly basis. They feel cut off from life and don’t feel like their life can get any better. They feel so cut off from life that they also feel cut off from God. They think, “Why would God want anything to do with me when my life is such a mess?”
If the only hope I could give them would be to tell them that suddenly, at the age of 35 with four kids, they will go back to school and gain some new skills so that their economic situation will suddenly change then I wouldn’t be able to give them any hope at all. You and I can say that is a possibility, but it just isn’t realistic for many of the people I know. I’m so glad that I’m not limited to this type of hope. What a gospel we’ve been given! I can offer them, and I can offer you, the greatest hope, but it’s not found in job security, economic prosperity, or educational achievement–our hope is found in Jesus. He is our Savior. He is our Friend. He is the One who gave us life. He knows where we are at this very moment and He cares. He cares so much that He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. What a friend we have in Jesus!
No wonder Paul felt an obligation to get that message out to all people! Maybe you are hearing that message for the first time today. I want to urge you to ask Jesus into your heart as your Lord and Savior this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 23, 2007