Paul The Preacher On The Go
Re-Translated In April 2000
In Order To Present A Holy Offering
1. We have come close to the end of The Epistle To The Roman Disciples which we been reading since January 1998. Actually, the main section, the body of this epistle, will come to a conclusion today since as of chapter sixteen personal greetings and additional exhortations are written in the letter.
2. Please recall the very first thing written in this epistle. After the salutation which included Paul's self introduction, he began to write of his wish to visit Rome. The church at Rome was not founded by Paul or his co-workers. And he had still not visited it even once since its founding. When we read chapter sixteen, it seems like there are some people Paul knows in it, but as a whole it is a church he is unacquainted with. As far as making a visit to them, he needed to tell them of his desire to do so as one might expect. Or, it could be his plan was to enlist the co-operation of the church at Rome as a base for westward missions because he intended to enlarge the mission in Hispania (ancient name for Spain and Portugal) after his visit with them. Either way, this epistle reaches its last lines and returns back to his discussion of his plans for a visit, which was his purpose for it in the first place.
3. When we look back again at the whole letter from here, it's hard not to be surprised at the strangeness of the material which this letter has. If our church were to receive a letter like this, what would we think? From our perception, it would seem like this person Paul was somewhat lacking in common sense. Indeed, even the people back then probably thought the same way. Paul himself seemed to feel a bit anxious about such a reaction, too. Therefore, he offers a slight apology [or justification for his intentions]. In this section, Paul's disposition comes to light and he is even amused.
"O brothers, I am confident that you yourselves are filled with good will and with all knowledge and are able to admonish one another. In trying to refresh your memories I have written parts of this epistle quite boldly," (Romans 15:14-15).
5. I did not write these things thinking you were ignorant of the gospel. I did not write these things thinking you were unable to build up each other in your daily lives which has been grounded on the gospel. I knew you were already filled with the knowledge of knowing Christ. The only reason I wrote these things was to refresh your memories regarding what you already know. That's what Paul is saying to them.
6. Paul has certainly written plunging in with a great deal of boldness. However, it was not because Paul was senior to them and the Christians at Rome were junior to him. At least in Paul's awareness no such rank structure existed between them. Since Paul had no duty to govern them, the church at Rome likewise had no duty to be under his rule. He was only hoping to direct his attention along with the Christians at Rome onto Christ and to be a participant with them in the grace of Christ.
7. So, Paul tacks on even more extreme and pushy things. Paul says about himself that he "serves in the role of a priest for the gospel of God," (verse sixteen). Well then, what is this sacrifice which [he as] a priest offers up? He says, it is the Gentiles. "And [my being a priest] is only so that the Gentiles might become an offering pleasing to God, sanctified through the Holy Spirit." When we consider that many of the Christians at Rome are Gentiles, it's hard not to say that this is an excessively bold statement. Paul the Jew is offering up as a priest the Gentiles as a sacrifice to God; for, he says that that was his duty in preaching the gospel as an apostle.
8. However, the reason Paul dared to write like this was that he believed the Romans understood it. They are words with which he could begin speaking because he is a person who is directing his attention along with them on the love of God as revealed in Christ. Therefore, unless we turn in the same direction as them, they may even be words that we may never understand.
9. In actuality, don't we often times have a completely wrong way of looking at the work of proclamation? [Our] focal point is not on Christ. It is only on [some] human being. That's why I suppose we are unlike Paul in how we speak and we just say things like: "[The work of proclamation] is none other than for Gentiles to know Christ who are in need of salvation and for them to be saved in [preaching]." That is not wrong, but I would suppose that if we were only to think of preaching from such a perspective of "human need," it would be different in the final analysis from the understanding of preaching as shown by the Bible.
10. The love of God as revealed in Christ does not mean that because we are in need of God God has responded to that need. We weren't looking for God. We didn't even realize that we were in need of God. On the contrary, we were sinners in rebellion against God and we were opponents of God. Yet, Christ died for the sinful. It so true that, "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us, and through that, God showed his love for us," (5:8). In short, it means that before we ever looked for God, God had been looking for us. God was seeking for humans. God was looking for Gentiles. God was looking for us [though] we were not worth truly loving, and he sought us [though] we seemed to have no significance.
11. That's how proclamation is not based on human need but on God's seeking [of humanity]. Therefore, Paul was able to serve as a priest and sought to present Gentiles as offerings to the God who was looking for them. Because this was a service to Christ who revealed the love of God to us. This is nothing other than the church's work of evangelism.
12. And on the other hand, the Gentile Christians at the church at Rome must have understood the meaning of being presented to God as an offering. They should have known that [being presented to God as an offering] takes its start in the mercy of God. In chapter twelve and verse one Paul had already put it like this: "For that reason, o brothers, I urge you by the mercy of God. Please present your bodies as a holy living sacrifice pleasing to God. This very thing is the worship which you ought to be doing." Sinners can first become offerings pleasing to God through the mercy of God, justified by Christ's redemption and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. And when all is said and done, that is the very place where a person's salvation lies. Salvation lies not in getting God for one's need, but in becoming God's people which he is looking for and in living as people who have been presented up to God [as an offering].
Christ Works Through People
13. Paul says that he felt proud in Christ to serve in the role of a priest in this way and to work for God. However, when we translate this as "to work for God," perhaps it may generate a misunderstanding; because what Paul was proud of was not "anything that he was accomplishing for God" at all. What he is trying to say here, as it says in verse eighteen, is that Christ worked through Paul.
14. We often think, "What should we do for others?" It's not bad to think that. On the contrary, that is good and right [for us to think]. Since we're believers we think to combine together both "What should we do for others?" and "What should we do for God?" Some people say "I did this for God," others will cry over themselves that "I'm not doing anything for God." But, the Bible says that the truly important thing is not saying "A person performs for God," but that "God is performing through a person."
15. Of course, it doesn't mean that Paul did nothing and just waited for the miraculous work of Christ to be revealed. No, far from that, we know that he did a wonderful job. The scriptures say of him that, "I went around from Jerusalem to Illyricum and widely proclaimed the gospel of Christ. In this way I fervently endeavored to make the gospel known in those places where the name of Christ was still unknown," (verses nineteen and twenty).
16. However, his deeds were preparations for the work of Christ and were nothing more than what you might call stage props. And because he discerned this he labored all the more fervently. This is an important mindset for us to have as well. If we don't understand this, we will become either lazy or arrogant. A person becomes lazy making no preparations expecting only the work of Christ. On the other hand, those who think nothing gets done except by their efforts might not be lazy, but they get arrogant. Because they get all proud of their works. Or they act so humble claiming they can't do anything. But, such humility is only the flipside to arrogance.
17. In this passage especially, we should not overlook the fact that when Paul makes statements regarding the work of proclamation he carefully chooses his words and makes a distinction between his own work and Christ's work. Paul strove to make the gospel known in places where the name of Christ was unknown. That was Paul's work. But, Paul wasn't the one who made the Gentiles obedient to God. Christ was the one who by means of the words and deeds of Paul worked through the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring the Gentiles into obedience. We often think too highly of ourselves and think as if we could convert someone with our words and deeds or we could change someone's heart. But, by our acting like that, we instead get in the way between Christ and the other person. What we can do is only tell them the name of Christ. [What we can do] is but to live for Christ and show him forth.
18. Paul knew that. As a result, Paul devoted himself to what was entrusted to him [to get done]. While aware of himself as "a servant of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles," he didn't try to do by himself all that was related to the proclamation of the Gentiles. The work of Paul was to lay a foundation where no foundation had been laid. Building the house was to be someone else's job. Paul was not entrusted with building anything on a foundation which someone else had constructed. He made the following statement in an epistle sent to Corinth: "I planted, Apollos poured the water. But, it was God who made it grow. Therefore, the important one is not who plants or who waters, but God who makes it grow," (First Corinthians 3:6-7). Also, he wrote the following as well: "I, by the grace I received from God, laid a foundation like a skilled architect. And other people have built a house on it," (First Corinthians 3:10). Paul, knowing that he had received the task of laying a foundation in the manner so described, felt that the work in the eastern part of the Roman empire was over and made plans to head for Spain. In hoping to visit Rome along the way and wanting to be sent out [by them] from there to Spain, he wrote [them] this letter.
19. However, at the moment he was pressed to go in a completely opposite direction from Spain, because he had to deliver some relief money for the impoverished Christians in Jerusalem. This was also an extremely dangerous trip. Even in the passage we read today we can see that there were two things Paul was worried about. His first concern was that there were still many Jews in Jerusalem after his life. The other concern was whether the work in collecting monetary donations among the churches that were primarily of a Gentile Christian focus in Macedonia and Achaia would be accepted by the churches that were primarily of a Jewish Christian focus in Jerusalem. Therefore, Paul was seeking for their prayers.
"O brothers, I would make a request of you by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love which 'the Spirit' gives us. Would you please pray fervently to God with me and for me! [Pray] that I would be preserved from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service for Jerusalem would be welcomed by the saints, and thus, I might come to you in joy by the will of God, and be able to [find some] rest among you," (thirty through thirty-two).
21. Well, did Paul's request come to fulfillment? We can see in The Acts Of The Apostles the circumstances that followed. Paul was certainly able to go to Rome. But, it wasn't in the way he had desired. It turned out that he was arrested in Jerusalem and set foot on Roman soil as a prisoner bound in chains. Was he able to go to Spain? There is some possibility, but we can't say for sure. At any rate, whether or not his wish was fulfilled was ultimately not Paul's chief concern. Because what really meant the most for Paul had always been that "Christ is at work" using him as a tool. For us as well it must not be whether our plans have turned out or not that ultimately has meaning for us, but rather the work of Christ which he has done through us should.