The third thing they needed, Paul says, is that “the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” Every believer needs this. We need to labor, to pray, to work, to counsel, to evangelize. But all of the activity of the Christian life means nothing if it is not sanctified by the Holy Spirit. I think Paul is reminding them of the ministry of prayer, and the need to remember that our Father himself must touch something—otherwise it is dead and useless. So Paul calls this church at Rome back to this tremendous reality. Yes, they had so much, but they needed this as well.
I have visited many churches and most of them are tremendous. They have great sermons; outreach to the poor; active and vibrant children’s ministry. Their worship ministry is inspiring and truly draw the congregation to sincere worship . . . however, every one of them also need the same thing: daily reminders of the truth! Without that, the church grows ingrown and isolationist.
It is a very sad thing to watch when great churches begin to falter and fade away. That is why we need our minds renewed, or we will slip right back into thinking like everybody else. We need a model, and many churches do possess such models that they can follow, men and women who are exercise this kind of ministry. We need the touch of God above everything else, that sense that God Himself must make it go.
Which brings me to the theme that Paul develops regarding his own ministry. Here is a fantastic verse, where, for the first time in this letter, we get a close look at Paul’s heart. Did you ever stop to ask yourself what influence Paul had in your own life? He lived two thousand years ago, yet we won’t find a man or woman who has not had their life drastically affected by his words. The truths he taught have influenced the whole course of history. In fact, for the most part, history itself has been built around the letters, teachings, doctrine, and ministry of the Paul. We would not even be here, because America as a nation would not exist if he had never lived. Even today, we can feel the freshness of his spirit, the greatness of his mind, and the fullness of his heart. That’s right. His words have touched each of us.
Do you disagree? Well, we can see three things that Paul tells us about his own ministry in this last section: The principles that he worked under; the practice he used as he carried them out; and finally, a word about the power he relied on:
“I think I have something to be proud of (through Christ, of course) in my work for God. I am not competent to speak of the work Christ has done through others, but I do know that through me he has secured the obedience of Gentiles in word and deed, working by sign and miracle and all the power of the Spirit. I have fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem and the surrounding country as far as Illyricum. My constant ambition has been to preach the Gospel where the name of Christ was previously unknown, and to avoid as far as possible building on another man’s foundations, so that: ‘To whom he was not announced, they shall see; and those who have not heard shall understand” ’(Romans 15:17-21)
Concerning the principles of his ministry, Paul tells us five things: First, everywhere he went he found himself rejoicing. He said, “I rejoice, I glory in Christ Jesus, in my service to God.” Why? Because when he entered a city, he usually found it in the grip of Roman authority, and ruled with an iron hand. He would find the people in widespread despair, empty and longing for something they could not find. He found them prisoners of degrading habits that were destroying homes and the very fabric of society itself. He would find them in the grip of superstitious fears. No church existed where he went, but after he had been there a while, and had begun to preach these tremendous truths, light began to spring up in the darkness. People were changed; they began to live for the first time.
Many years ago, in the town I grew up in, a particular neighborhood became run down; many homes were falling into disrepair; and crime was beginning to grow. Someone had opened an adult book store, then, a short time later, an adult theater followed. It was the neighborhood I had grown up in, and it was depressing to see what was happening.
However, a church had moved into the area, bringing many young families who purchased homes and began to “spruce up” their own properties—and began to help their neighbors. It took a few years, but the change in the whole neighborhood was substantial, that even the city “fathers,” noticed. Eventually even the adult book store and theater moved out of the area.
No, they didn’t walk up and down the streets holding placards and shouting Bible verses to those passing by. Instead, they simply lived their faith and allowed the life of Christ to influence the lives around them.
That is what Paul was witnessing and he simply spent his life rejoicing over what was happening. That is the kind of ministry he had, and he gives us the secret of it in Romans 15:18:
“I don’t dare speak about anything except what Christ has done through me to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles. He did it by what I’ve said and what I’ve done.”
That is the greatest secret God has to teach man—that man was designed, not to do something to make God happy, but to allow God to work through the man. God would do the work—that is what Paul said, “. . . Christ has accomplished through me.”
I find that quite significant. Paul didn’t run big campaigns promoting what his ministry was doing, he was amazed at what Christ was accomplishing. It reminds me of the story of Barnabas, as told in the 4th chapter of Acts. Do you remember the story? Barnabas (which means, “Son of Comfort.” Which is cool because the text tells us the apostles were the ones who named him that. What testimony! I want to be a “Son of Comfort”!) oh, sorry for the sidetrack . . . anyway, Barny sold some property he owned and he could have done anything with the proceeds. He could have bought some CDs with it; he could have given it to his children (if he had any); he could have taken a Mediterranean cruise; he could have done whatever he wanted to because it was his money! But he didn’t. He gave the money to the church! Nobody required him to give it to them. However, something had happened in his heart and he felt inspired—compelled—to joyfully offer the funds to the church.
Wow! How about that? I bet a big deal was made about it. Everybody was shouting and hooting, slapping “high-fives” . . . I suppose it’s possible that only a few people knew about it, but the fact that it’s mentioned here, gives you the impression that the church was excited and rejoiced that Barnabas gave the money . . . and I can picture Barnabas kind of shrugging it off . . . “No, big deal. I knew the funds were needed, so I just sold the property . . .”
Today, I am continually bombarded with mail, emails, posts on my Facebook page, of some pastor or church promoting the work they are doing, telling me how much they have done for Christ. I have learned to throw most of them into the waste basket unopened. In fact, I recognize them from their titles by now, and I just throw them away. You never hear that from Paul. You never hear him mentioning how much he has done for God. No, it is always about how much God has done through him, and that, my friends, is the secret of a truly effective life. It took the apostle ten years to learn that secret.
Just like many young Christians today, he started out with a tremendous amount of zeal and desire to turn the world upside down, and he thought he had the equipment and the gifts to do it. However, it took God ten years to show Paul that his brilliant mind, his mighty gifts and great personality and influence and contacts meant nothing in the service of God. All God wanted was the man himself; he would work through him. When Paul learned that secret, he launched on this great ministry that changed the history of the world.
I remember hearing Bill Bright talk about a young man who had come to Campus Crusade for Christ because he wanted to be a minister with their outreach, and when Bright explained how he had to raise his own support, he snorted, “Shoot, I could make more in a secular job . . .” and left CCCM. Too bad for that young man.
Not too long ago, someone sent me any email asking why God punished King David when he took a census to number the number how many people there were in Israel. Well, that has been one the big controversies in the Old Testament. Why did God punish the king and his people when all he did was take a census of Israel? I mean, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, does it? Well, it was. You see, it represented David’s departure from his dependence on God as his source, and a shift to the world’s resource of numbers.
I don’t think anything has contributed more to the weakness of the church than its dependence on numbers. How many of you attend one of those “mega-churches”? Is there really anything special about a large number of people? I don’t think so. I believe that when you meet a man or a woman who is willing to trust God to work through them, there is no limit to what God can do. This is the secret of Paul’s ministry.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome