Paul continued his letter to the Roman church and said,
. . . I feel myself under a sort of universal obligation, I owe something to all men . . . I have a burning desire to tell the great story . . . That is why I want, as far as my ability will carry me, to preach the Gospel . . . —Romans 1:14-15
If you were driving down the highway, suddenly the road ended and there was a 300 ft. drop . . . wouldn’t you feel compelled to run back down the road to warn the other drivers? We have been given Life! The very life and nature of YHWH, The Creator of Life; we have been rescued from death; healed of our sickness and diseases; delivered and rescued from our sins; united with our Lord and Brother—our Messiah and Son of YHWH. Why wouldn’t you want to share that?
Bible teachers will often refer to this as the three “I am’s” of chapter one. First, “I am under an obligation [or as King Jim puts it, ‘l am a debtor’] to both Greeks and to barbarians”] “I owe something to all men . . .” Paul is describing his desire, his longing, to reach others with the message of Christ. He doesn’t care what status you are talking about (rich, poor, street people and homeless, or the more affluent in our society) Paul says, I have a sense of obligation to all of them. I am under compulsion to reach them and to help them and change them. His heart beats for other people!
Okay, that’s nice but what does it all mean? Well, sometimes we read these verses incorrectly. We tend to read them as though Paul was referring to the needs of these Greeks, with their culture and their refinement, and to the “barbarian world” with its primitive conditions, its lack of understanding and education and, seeing the need deep in each heart that he wanted to meet these need out of compassion.
Let me explain what I mean. Every night we can hear the humanistic appeals, the needs to help people who are in trouble. However, this was not what drew Paul to people. Paul’s comments reveal a man in whom the power of self has been broken. Most of us listen to our favorite radio station, WII-FM, or “What’s in it for me?” Paul never asks this question. He was never concerned about what he was going to get out of life, he was breathing out a hunger to be involved, to be poured out, for the life of someone else. He was a man for others.
Selfishness grips at all of our hearts. We find ourselves inevitably and instinctively relating everything to what it is going to do to us, and what we will get out of it. As one Christian honestly put it,
I lived for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside,
Just as if Jesus had never lived
And as if he had never died.
Sadly, this is how many Christian live—despite the influence of our Messiah. We live for ourselves; what we want and hope to get. There has been a huge resurgence in Ayn Rand’s writings—even with believers. She had a large cult following back in the 1930’s and 40’s when she promoted “Objectivism,” which teaches that human beings are inherently self-contradictory and illogical. Essentially, Objectivism teaches, among other things, that “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.
That is something Paul could have never accepted. He was willing to risk his life, his health, and his fortune for the sake of others. You can see the intensity of Paul’s passion in the eleventh chapter of II Corinthians. In our next post we are going to take a deeper look at this . . .
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome