There are many different models of Christian ministry competing for dominance in the church today. But here in Romans 15:14-33 we find a biblical concept of Christian ministry modeled by the apostle Paul. Three times the apostle Paul calls upon his readers to follow his example or imitate him (see 1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1; Philippians 3:17
In this section at the close of his letter to the Romans, Paul has finished with his doctrinal exposition and practical exhortation and is now concluding with personal remarks. Here in the context of explaining why he had written so boldly (vv. 14-15) and why he had not yet visited them (v. 22ff), Paul provides a revealing glimpse into his own heart. Here in this personal remarks we see Paul’s view of the ministry.
Explanation of Paul’s travel plans (vv. 22-29) and prayer request (vv. 30-33)
In Romans 15:14-21, we see the mandate, message and motive of Paul’s ministry.
Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. (15) Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God, (16) that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. (17) Therefore I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus in the things which pertain to God. (18) For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient– (19) in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. (20) And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation, (21) but as it is written:
“ To whom He was not announced, they shall see;
And those who have not heard shall understand.”
(22) For this reason I also have been much hindered from coming to you. (23) But now no longer having a place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come to you, (24) whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while. (25) But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. (26) For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. (27) It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things. (28) Therefore, when I have performed this and have sealed to them this fruit, I shall go by way of you to Spain. (29) But I know that when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ. (30) Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, (31) that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, (32) that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you. (33) Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen. Romans 15:14-33
I. The Mandate of Paul’s Ministry.
Paul discusses his ministry to the Gentiles always with a conscious awareness of the call of God. He didn’t just decide that the gospel ministry was a good career choice, he was sovereignly called out by God to be an apostle. Paul explains his boldness in writing to the Romans by appealing to this call in verses 15-19. This is a reference to God’s declaration to Ananias after his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. In Acts 9:15, God tells Ananias that Paul is “a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Paul consistently appeals to his call in defending his apostolic ministry (See Galatians 1:15-17 and Ephesians 3:1-8). In verse 16, Paul describes his ministry among the Gentiles as a priestly ministry. Three terms related to priestly sacrifices (“minister”, “ministering” and “offering”) combine to express this idea. Paul saw himself as providing a sacrifice of praise to God as the Gentiles came to faith in Christ through his ministry. This, as we’ll see in a few minutes was the true motivation for his ministry. So the first aspect of Paul’s view of ministry that we see in this text is his conscious awareness of a divine mandate: a call.
God is still calling men to proclaim his gospel. We must distinguish between the call which Paul received and which pastors, preachers, missionaries, etc. receive today. We are not called to be apostles, but God still is calling men into the gospel ministry to proclaim the teachings of the apostles! How does God call a man? It is helpful to think of God’s call into the ministry in two different ways. First, there is the internal call of God. This is what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 3:1 when he says “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” This godly desire is partial evidence of God’s call in a man’s life and essential to gospel ministry. This is not to be a desire for power, position or prosperity (as the qualifications which follow make clear), but a desire to preach, teach and shepherd God’s flock. Second, there is the external call which includes the confirmation of others. This is the evident when other Christians recognize that your life and desire compares favorably with the Bible’s teaching about what a minister of the gospel should be. This is also evident when given opportunities to minister and God’s people seem to be helped by God through your ministry. If you believe that God may be calling you into the gospel ministry, please talk to me and there is a resource back in the back that I would like to recommend that you read. It is a paper on “The Call of God to Preach the Gospel” by Don Whitney.
Finally, we must recognize that every believer has been called to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Paul’s reference to “the grace given” to him by God as a called apostle recalls Paul’s own description of all believers in 12:3-8. There Paul states:
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (4) For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, (5) so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (6) Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8) he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Each of us have been called by God into a specific ministry that we need to be fulfilling. Paul states that each believer has been called to proclaim the gospel as an ambassador of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21,
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (18) Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, (19) that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (20) Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
This is the mandate that each of us has received and it is the foundation for biblical ministry. We would never and should never proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father if we had not first been called to proclaim this message. We are ambassadors! We don’t get to invent the message, but we must proclaim the message that we have been given!
But what is that message?
II. The Message of Paul’s Ministry.
What was it that the apostle Paul was called to proclaim? He refers to it in verses 16, 19 and 20. It is the gospel! Note how everything that Christ has accomplished through Paul is for the purpose of the proclamation of the “gospel of Christ” in verses 18-19. All signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit were not an end in themselves, but rather served to magnify and verify the message of the gospel!
Paul claims to have preached this gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (verse 19). This is from the birthplace of the church to the distant eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea (which you can see in a map of Paul’s journeys in the back of your Bibles).
What was the gospel message which Paul proclaimed? Paul outlines for us the message that he had proclaimed in Corinth in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 1ff:
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen . . .
This is the message which the apostle Paul proclaimed and it is still the message that you and I have been entrusted with to proclaim today!!!
Many things have changed in the last 2,000 years, but this message has not changed and will not change!!! The Gospel of Judas has not changed it. The Da Vinci Code has not changed it. As Brother Charlie said last Sunday morning regarding the first message of the Christian church, preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, this is still the message that we proclaim 2,000 years later.
The message of Paul’s ministry was nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ and this is also our message. This is the heart of Christian ministry. Without this message, there is no ministry, indeed there is no Christianity!
But what motivated the apostle Paul to proclaim this message?
III. The Motive of Paul’s Ministry.
Paul’s motivation to preach the gospel is found in verses 20-21. His desire, aim, goal is to proclaim Christ where He has not yet been named. He is motivated by an understanding of the condition of those who have not heard that he described earlier in 10:14,
How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
But Paul’s motivation for proclaiming the gospel to those who have not heard is thoroughly biblical as demonstrated by his quotation from Isaiah 52:15 in verse 21. This verse fits with Paul’s emphasis in this passage of showing the importance of taking the gospel message to those “to whom He was not announced” and “those who have not heard”. But the context of this verse provides even more color as Paul himself understands this verse and expects the Roman believers to recognize as well. This verse is from a extremely Messianic prophetic section of the book of Isaiah (as we read earlier in the service). It is all about the “suffering Servant” (Jesus) who will bear the sins of many. The message of Christ’s passion must be taken to those who have not heard. Paul’s goal is that the effect of Christ’s passion would be fully realized. Paul knows that there are people all over the world for whom Christ has died who have not yet heard the message of Jesus Christ. This motivates Paul! He is motivated by the idea of the vision which John saw over thirty years later in Revelation 5 of the throne room of heaven filled with people from every tribe, tongue, people and nation! He can imagine their voices sing around the throne of God,
You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth. (vv. 9-10)
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing! (v. 12)
This is what motivated the apostle Paul. His desire to offer up to God an acceptable sacrifice to God from among the Gentiles who would praise His redemptive grace throughout all eternity!
This is what should be our motivation as well. Yes, we should be motivated by the lostness of mankind and the horrors of hell, but ultimately we should be motivated by a desire to see Christ praised by all peoples for the eternal glory of God.
This was Paul’s view of the ministry, a biblical model for ministry, that recognizes the call (mandate) of God upon our lives, that proclaims the message of the gospel and is motivated by a desire to see worshippers in heaven from every tribe, tongue, people and nation!