YouTube video sermon
The year was 1492. Christopher Columbus had labored for seven years to convince European monarchs to finance his seaborne explorations. Finally, on August 3rd, having won the support of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, he set sail for India only to “discover” the new world.
Columbus wrote a book later in life; actually, it was more of a journal that he kept (El Libro de las Profecias), and in it he recorded a remarkable set of perspectives concerning his voyage. See, in his mind, he wasn’t sailing or exploring for himself; he was sailing by the will of God. Listen to what he wrote:
I prayed to the most merciful Lord about my heart’s great desire, and He gave me the spirit and the intelligence for the task: seafaring, astronomy, geometry, arithmetic, skill in drafting spherical maps and placing correctly the cities, rivers, mountains and ports. I also studied cosmology, history, chronology and philosophy. It was the Lord who put it into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. All who heard of my project rejected it with laughter, ridiculing me. There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with the Holy Scriptures, encouraging me continually to press forward, and without ceasing for a moment they [the Scriptures] now encourage me to make haste.
His continued remarks give evidence of an unshakable confidence in the purposefulness of his “calling,” when he writes:
All things must come to pass that have been written by the prophets… I am a most unworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy… I have found the sweetest consolations since I made it my whole purpose to enjoy His marvelous presence… No one should fear to undertake any task in the name of our Savior… The working out of all things has been assigned to each person by our Lord… The fact that the gospel must still be preached to so many lands in such a short time, this is what convinces me.
Now, if I hadn’t told you that was Christopher Columbus, you might expect it to be from the Apostle Paul or some other biblical writer, yet he had a remarkably similar outlook on life:
- God is the ruler of all things;
- We are His servants;
- He communicates His will to us;
- We are responsible to fulfill it;
- The Scriptures are our guide;
- The Holy Spirit is our strength;
- Courage is our banner, and
- The gospel is our message.
Now, I’m not proposing that Christopher Columbus was a perfect Christian or that he had apostolic credentials, but one thing can be said for sure – his identity as a faithful servant of God is clear. And that’s the question that I want us to consider today. Are you identified with Christ? Do you consider yourself His servant, His slave, His ambassador? Am I? Are we doing what He’s called us to do, which is to show (in our living) and share (with our lips) the love of God through Jesus Christ? As my dear friend, Dr. Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Spartanburg, always says, “How are you doing, brother? How are you doing, sister?”
With that as our challenge, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 1 (again). Last week, we began a new series on this monumental epistle. I mentioned my great hesitance and excitement in undertaking this journey with you, and last week we focused our attention on verses 14-17 as we considered Paul’s purposes for writing:
- Clarify the Gospel
- Connect the Church
- Confirm God’s Righteousness
Today, I want us to give attention to verses 1-17 and see Paul’s call from God, his concern for Rome, and his commitment to the gospel. Would you follow along as I read the Word of God this morning:
1 Paul, a servant [slave] of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh 4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by His resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations, 6 including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have to pause for just a second and tell you that those seven verses in your English translation are all one long verse in the Greek. There are 93 Greek words in that single sentence in the original text. And for all of you English and Grammar teachers out there, see, I’m not the only one that struggled with run-on sentences. That’s just a bit of free trivia. But let’s pick back up with verse 8.
8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, [and sisters] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, [non-Greeks] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
The Word of God for the people of God; thanks be to God.
The first thing I want us to see is Paul’s…
Call from God
The common opening for a letter in Paul’s day was “Party A to Party B, greetings…” In fact, Paul used this pattern in almost all of his letters, with only slight variations, but here the “Party A” portion runs from verse 1 through verse 6. We don’t get the “Party B” part until verse 7. In other words, Paul takes six verses to introduce himself. Now, some of that is to be expected. After all, Paul had never been to Rome and he hadn’t met any of the people that he’s writing to. So, he felt compelled to share a little bit more with this crowd than with others. And that’s understandable.
On the other hand, it’s very informative for us today because Paul identifies himself as a servant/slave, an apostle, and one who’s been set apart. And if you consider yourself a Christ-follower today, if you’ve genuinely confessed Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then you ought to have the same understanding of yourself. You and I – we should honestly and with full sincerity think of ourselves in each of these ways.
You say, “Wait a minute. It’s easy for Paul to say these things. He was an apostle. He’d been knocked off his horse on the Damascus Road. He literally saw and heard the resurrected Jesus. He was smart; he was goal-oriented; he was committed; he wasn’t married; he didn’t have a family and children to look after; he was this, he was that…” and on and on we go. We respond that way, or at least we think those things, as if to excuse ourselves. Yet, if we stop and think about it for a minute, when Paul had his spiritual eyes opened to the reality of who Jesus was and what He has done for him, he was the same as you and me.
Paul was an enemy of Christ when he was saved. Isn’t that exactly what we were? Sure, it is. Therefore, the potential exists for our identity to be the same as Paul’s – a servant of Christ who’s committed to calling every man, woman, boy, and girl to faith in Jesus. After all, we’ve inherited the same Great Commission that was entrusted to the original disciples. Yes? Sure, we have.
Real quickly, let’s look at those three terms. First, he refers to himself as a “servant.” The Greek word is doulos and its everyday meaning was “slave.” Now I know it’s hard for us to think of ourselves as slaves, especially when the world that we live in has such a negative understanding of that word. But the fact of the matter is this, there were some slaves in the Old and New Testament that voluntarily chose to remain with their masters. Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 15, both describe the process for those slaves that have been set free but who choose to remain with their masters.
Can you and I say with integrity that we don’t want to leave? That we love God and the family of God (the church) that much? That we are better off with Him – regardless of the trials and problems that we face – than we would be anywhere else in the world? Christian apologist and theologian, Francis Schaeffer, put it like this, “Paul had [a slave’s] iron band around his neck, not because it had to be there but because he held it there by the fingers of his own will.”
Second, he says he’s “called to be an apostle.” In the strictest sense, one could only consider themselves an apostle if they had ministered alongside Jesus in His earthly ministry. Paul, though he couldn’t claim that in the strictest sense, certainly saw the resurrected Christ and received a commission, of sorts, to be one of His apostles. After all, the word apostle means a “sent one.” And that’s who Paul was.
Even before his conversion, he had been sent by the Jewish authorities to capture and incarcerate believers in Damascus. And after his conversion he was sent by Christ to release the captives and set the prisoners free. Which camp do you belong to? You say, “Now Pastor, that’s kind of odd. Aren’t you preaching to Christians? Are you saying there are people in the church who are trying to imprison believers?” Well, maybe not civilly or socially, but spiritually, yes.
Listen, there are plenty of people in our churches today that want to burden believers with guilt and obligation and hoops of all kinds to keep them from growing in their relationship with God. In that sense, yes, there are those that want to imprison other Christians. But there are also many who have a desire to come alongside brothers and sisters in the body of Christ and help them to be set free and nurture a growing, vibrant relationship with Jesus.
Are you, as best as you’re able to determine, going and doing according to the will of God? Or is anything standing in the way of you going where Jesus is sending you?
Finally, Paul refers to himself as one who was “set apart for the gospel of God.” It’s unfortunate, but this is where many of us get off the train. Being set apart for the gospel sounds too much like the pastor’s job. Being set apart for the gospel sounds too much like the missionary’s job. Being set apart for the gospel sounds too much like the evangelist’s job. Much like being a “sent one,” if we consider ourselves Christians, then we’ve been set apart for the gospel. It should be a joy to proclaim the death and resurrection of God’s Son and the forgiveness and reconciliation that people can enjoy through faith in Jesus.
Paul had been called as a servant, an apostle, and one who was set apart, and we have to as well, beloved. May the Holy Spirit empower us to take up that calling and live it out for His glory.
Concern for Rome
Verses 7-15 turn from Paul’s introduction of himself to them – to the people of Rome, who, by the way, Paul calls “saints.” Listen, at the end of the day, whether you’re a preacher or a banker, a missionary or a mechanic, sharing the gospel has its ultimate application in the lives of people. You and I and the apostle Paul weren’t called to share the gospel with rocks and trees, and birds and bees. Our targets are the hearts and souls of real, live, flesh and blood people. The gospel changes people. The title of Steve Green’s song from back in the 80’s is People Need the Lord, and Paul was eager to tell the people of Rome and anyone else that would listen the story that could and would change their lives.
Also notice, while he was eager to preach the gospel (v. 15), he also desired to fellowship (vss. 11-12). He desired to be an encouragement and also receive encouragement himself. Listen to how John Stott captured the heart of what Paul was saying:
Paul knows about the reciprocal blessings of Christian fellowship and, although he’s an apostle, he’s not too proud to acknowledge his need of it. Happy is the modern missionary who goes to another country and culture in the same spirit of receptivity, anxious to receive as well as give, to learn as well as teach, to be encouraged as well as to encourage! And happy is the congregation who has a pastor of the same humble mind!
You might recognize the names William and Catherine Booth. They founded the Salvation Army. Their daughter, Evangeline, characterized her parents this way: “Very early I saw my parents working for their people, bearing their burdens. Day and night. They did not have to say a word to me about Christianity. I saw it in action.”
Are you concerned for the eternal souls of the people around you? Am I? Do we shed tears over them? Are we praying for them? Do we have their best interests at heart? And if the answer is “Yes,” then we need to ask ourselves whether we’ve verbally shared the gospel with them. If not, then we’ve just lied to ourselves because it’s in their best interests (eternally) to receive Jesus Christ.
Think about your family. Are there some who haven’t heard the Good News about Jesus? If we love them, then we must be concerned about their eternal destinies.
Think about your friends, your work colleagues, your neighbors. If we want the very best for them, then why wouldn’t we nurture relationships that allow us to gracefully and lovingly share the Good News. Are we concerned about people?
There should never be a question about the identity of those called by God and concerned for people, and finally…
Commitment to the Gospel
I spoke about this last week, but it’s just too hard to leave this first chapter without hitting it one more time. It’s the theme of this letter and the theme of Paul’s entire life and ministry.
Scottish theologian, James Stewart, once commented on verse 16 when he said, “There’s no sense in declaring that you’re not ashamed of something unless you’ve been tempted to feel ashamed of it.” Think about that for a minute (repeat). We think of Paul as invincible, yet he was human. Peter – that solid rock – boldly claimed that he would never deny Christ and then he did (3 times). When you read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians you hear him say, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3).
Where you and I stand/sit at the moment, it’s quite comfortable to say that we’re not ashamed of the gospel. But might I ask you to think back over the last 7 days, or even the last 48-hours, and see if there wasn’t an opportunity for us to share a word of hope and encouragement in the name of Jesus, or perhaps even utter the words “God bless you” in place of “Thank you,” and we didn’t?
If you’re a Christian today, then there was a moment in time when someone was not ashamed to share the gospel with you. Maybe it was your pastor. Maybe it was your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather. Maybe it was a teacher or a coach. Perhaps it was a boss or co-worker. Maybe it was a friend. But somebody, at some point in your life, was not ashamed of the gospel and shared it with you, with me. And in that moment, it was the power of God for salvation – and in that instant we went from being consigned to eternal damnation in hell to eternal exaltation in heaven. There’s no news and no moment in our lives that remotely comes close to comparing with that.
Folks, there’s someone out there that will cross our paths this week that will be like we used to be – headed to hell and not even aware of it. Will we be ashamed of the gospel, or will we (maybe, just maybe) give this verse a try – scared as we may be, nervous as we may be, unsure of ourselves as we may be – and just see if it isn’t the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
- Paul was called by God. You and I have been called by God.
- Paul was concerned for people. We should be concerned for people.
- Paul was committed to the gospel. We should be committed to the gospel.