Then its manifestation, which is power (Verse 19): “by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit.” What about that? Has the Spirit of God changed? Has he diminished in His power or influence over people’s heart? Nope. He is the same today and He was in the days of Paul. Remember he wrote to the Corinthians, who had the nerve to write him and say, “The next time you show up in Corinth, how about bringing a letter of recommendation from Peter and James and John?” Paul wrote back and said, “Do you really mean that? Could you really mean that? Don’t you understand that you are my letter of recommendation? Look at what has happened in your lives: You used to be drunkards and homosexuals and thieves and murders—such were some of you! But look at you now! Look at the change! You are all the letter of recommendation I need,” (II Corinthians 3:1-3).
Paul’s life and ministry was continually characterized by a display of the power of God to change lives. Again I ask: Has the Holy Spirit changed? Has His means of influence weakened? No! He is just as strong and influential today! He touches our hearts with the Gospel of peace; He brings healing, when it is needed; He provides wisdom when it is lacking . . . Paul did some remarkable things besides writing 2/3rds of the new testament. Just look at how widespread his ministry was (Romans 15:19):
“So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.”
You really have to have a map to see that. Jerusalem is way down on the eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, in Asia. Paul had traveled up and down that coast, on into what we call Turkey, in Asia Minor, up and across the Dardanelles, into Europe, then into Macedonia and Greece. He had gone, as he tells us here, into what we call Yugoslavia (Illyricum is Yugoslavia, now dominated by the Muslims), but the Apostle Paul preached there. Not only that, the nature of his ministry was pioneering (Romans 15:20):
“It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known.”
He never wanted to build on someone else’s work.
Many years ago, I ran across an old book that described the difference between “Settler” theology and “Pioneering” theology. The book stated that there are two kinds of Christians: Some who want to be Settlers who live around the courthouse and let the mayor run everything. They have lost all desire to reach out. Then there are the Pioneers, like Paul. They want to be getting into new areas that have never been touched adequately. I believe this is characteristic of the Spirit of God. He loves to thrust out into new areas.
That was Paul’s great hunger. We are to reach out with the good news, as Paul did. Now, let’s take a look at how he practiced this ministry (Romans 15:22-23):
Perhaps this will explain why I have so frequently been prevented from coming to see you. But now, since my work in these places no longer needs my presence, and since for many years I have had a great desire to see you, I hope to visit you on my way to Spain. I hope also that you will speed me in my journey, after I have had the satisfaction of seeing you all. (Romans 15:22-24)
This describes how practical his ministry was. It always involved three things: First, it involved planning for the future. I am always running into Christians who think that God gives his orders directly to them while they are moving. They think of the Christian life as going on automatic pilot, where they just float around, waiting for orders as they go. They never think of planning or looking ahead. However, Paul did not live like that. For many years, he had longed to go to Spain, and he planned to go there. He then goes on to describe the second factor about his planning:
Now my next call is to Jerusalem, to look after the welfare of the Christians there. The churches in Macedonia and Achaia, you see, have thought it a good thing to make a contribution towards the poor Christians in Jerusalem. They have thought it a good thing to make this gesture and yet, really, they received “a good thing” from them first! For if the Gentiles have had a share in the Jews’ spiritual “good things” it is only fair that they should look after the Jews as far as the good things of this world are concerned. When I have completed this task, then, and turned their gesture into a good deed done, I shall come to you en route for Spain. I feel sure that in this long-looked-for visit I shall bring with me the full blessing of Christ’s Gospel (Romans 15:25-29)
What I see here is that not only was Paul practical in what he planned, but he also fulfilled past commitments. Some Christians, I find, are always jumping into new things before finishing the old. But Paul did not do that. Many years before this, in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, which tells about the council of the church, Paul and Barnabas went to Antioch with a letter to the church, settling the question of circumcision for the Gentiles. In that letter, Paul specifically asked that they remember the poor in Jerusalem. Now, many years later, he was fulfilling that requirement. He had received an offering every place he has gone, and now he wants to deliver it personally to the famine-stricken saints in Jerusalem. Notice that it is not beneath Paul to give material help. He is not going up there to preach to these people; he is going to help them with material things. Christianity involves that as well.
I once read a story about Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, who was invited by a wealthy man to preach in a country church in order to help them raise funds to pay a debt. The man told Spurgeon he was free to use his country house, his town house, or his seaside home. Spurgeon wrote back and said, “Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself.” Now how practical is that?
Paul was willing to receive offerings and personally carry the money to those in need. However, more importantly, don’t miss his principle of sharing (Verse 27):
“for if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.”
Paul is saying that if somebody blesses you spiritually, and the only way you can thank him is with material things, then do it. That is God’s program. He gives back in material things for the spiritual blessings you have received. Notice it says, “After I have completed this task. . . .” He is not going to quit until he is through. He will wrap it up well and do it right. “When I have made sure that they have received this fruit, then I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.”
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Letter to Christians at Rome