Summary: What we can learn from Paul's future plans as he lays them out in Romans is what the nature of our focus should be. Our three-fold focus should involve our mission to save the loss, our devoted fellowship with each other, and prayer, which is a reflection of our devotion to God.
Introduction: Have you every noticed how things get so hectic as we approach the holiday season? You can't even go to the store to get something simple like a gallon of milk without fighting the crowds. Yet, when we finally do arrive at the holidays, everything slows down. There is a peaceful excitement in the air. We take time to enjoy family and reflect on what God has done for us.
Then we come to January and we start all over again. The old year is over, and a new year begins. Many of us have various plans for the new year. Some plan to finish a project they have begun. Some plan to get in better shape. Some plan to spend more time with the ones they love. Some plan on having a better relationship with God.
This morning we are going to look at the closing verses of Romans. As Paul typically does in his letters, he includes some personal greetings and comments toward the end. Paul shares some of his future plans with the Romans. After an extended exposition of the Gospel, Paul has made practical application to the church, and now applies it to himself. He shares what his goals and aspirations are. We can learn something about what our three-fold focus from this text.
Rom 15:14-21 "And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; but as it is written, "They who had no news of Him shall see, And they who have not heard shall understand."
We should have a focus on being good preists
First of all, we see that Paul is concerned about taking the Gospel to those who were lost. Paul calls himself two things. First, he calls himself a "minister" of Christ Jesus. Now there are several words for "minister" or "servant" in Greek. The one Paul uses here is "leitourgos." Our English word, "liturgy" is related to this word. This type of servant wasn't a common slave or household servant. This was a minister who served in sacred duties. A person who worked and served in temple services would be called a "leitourgos." As a sacred servant, Paul literally says his job was to be involved in the priestly service of the Gospel. Paul understood his role to be that of a priest. What does that mean? What is a priest? To put it simply, a priest is a person who mediates between God and his people. They teach of God, lead in worship, and offering up offerings on behalf of the worshippers.
But Paul is not talking about specifically about services related to worship. Notice what his offering consists of. As a priest of God, his offering to God are the Gentiles. He does so by preaching the Gospel. As a result of the preaching of the Gospel, Gentiles were laying themselves on the altar as living sacrifices.
We may not relate to the "priest" designation very well because it conjures up images of Old Testament men in special clothing serving in the temple. We understand that the priesthood was done away with. But was the priesthood done away with, or was it transformed?
1 Pet 2:9 - "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;"
Part of this is a quotation from Exodus 19. There, God calls ALL his people a nation of priests. Even though Israel had a specialized priesthood, every Hebrew in one sense was a priest. They were to glorify the name of God among the nations.
Our Role as Christians is not much different. Since we are all part of the priesthood, we all are to proclaim the excellencies of God. That is why Jesus calls us the Salt of the Earth. That is why we are the "Light of the World." That is why Jesus used the phrase "fishers of men." The service we perform as priests is not confined to a place. Paul says that our bodies are a sanctuary of God. We perform the priestly duty of ministering the Gospel wherever we are.
How do you do it? I remember learning something about Soul Winning from a teen named Terry when I was in High School. He was always bringing someone to Christ. I had the hardest time. I would try and get people to come to church, and people would visit, but that was all. We would get into arguments about church, the Lord's Supper, instrumental music, and baptism. I always found myself getting into these personal debates. What was Terry doing differently? I noticed he avoided the debates. He avoided focusing his discussion on the church or other doctrines. Instead, he talked about Jesus. After all, he was trying to convert people to Christ, not just to an organization or particular doctrine.
That is basically what Paul was saying in this passage. In verse 18, he says that he would not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me. He didn't just try to present himself. He said in verse 19 that he preached the Gospel of Christ. Why? He said in 1:16 that the Gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes. Not him, not the church, not doctrinal issues. It is the Gospel.
That's why Paul reminded the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2 that he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified so that their faith would rest on the power of God.
If we are not in the habit of doing so, we need to always be ready to give an account for the hope that lies within us. That means being ready to tell what Christ has done for us, and how he has changed our lives for good. We need to be ready to share the hope the lies in us. That is what telling the good "NEWS" is all about - telling others what you have discovered. That is a major part of our role as priests.
We should have a focus on fellowship and unity
Rom 15:22-29 - "For this reason I have often been prevented from coming to you; but now, with no further place for me in these regions, and since I have had for many years a longing to come to you whenever I go to Spain--for I hope to see you in passing, and to be helped on my way there by you, when I have first enjoyed your company for a while-- but now, I am going to Jerusalem serving the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things. Therefore, when I have finished this, and have put my seal on this fruit of theirs, I will go on by way of you to Spain. I know that when I come to you, I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ."
On the first reading, it may seem that Paul has moved away from a discussion on unity, but that is still a major concern of his. Beneath his discussion of his mission plans is a discussion of the fellowship and unity of the church - ALL of the church.
What is fellowship anyway? The Greek word for fellowship is translated by the english words, fellowship, communion, sharing, participation, and giving.
Paul mentions two specific expressions of fellowship in 15:26-27.
The first is sharing in spiritual things. He is talking specifically about the Gospel. The church began among Jews in Jerusalem. They became witnessess from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. They shared in spiritual things. When we share the Gospel, that is an expression of fellowship. We are participating in what we hold in common. When someone obeys the Gospel, they enter into fellowship with us.
The second is sharing in physical things. When we were in Vermont, there was a year in which the church had over 3,000 dollars in benevolence among just the members. For several members, it was a rough year financially. The church took seriously the mandate to "do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith," and they did not become weary of doing good. The church took seriously the example of the first congregation in Acts 2 that had "all things in common" and did not consider anything they had to be their own. When we help each other physically, we are expressing our fellowship in Christ.
There are many examples of fellowship in the New Testament. We who are many partake of one bread because we are one body in Christ. That is an expression of fellowship. The church in Jerusalem met from house to house, that was an expression of fellowship. When we put our voices together and sing, we are expressing our fellowship in Christ. When we talk about fellowship we are talking about sharing and participating in things we all hold in common.
We are now talking about the purpose of the book of Romans. There has been a scholarly debate about whether Romans was an occassional letter, or just a general exposition of the Gospel. We can clearly see why Paul wrote Galatians or 1 Corinthians. He is dealing with some very specific problems in the church. Does Romans deal with some specific problems? Note the amount of space he gives to fellowship and unity. It is a theme that actually begins in chapter 12 and runs through chapter 16. His final exhortation has to do with fellowship:
Rom 16:17 - "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them."
So, the major purpose of the writing of Romans is to preserve the unity and fellowship of the church.
But how do we get there? Notice Paul's benediction in 16:25.
Rom 16:27 - "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christů"
Paul has a problem with unity in the church. How does he solve it? A refocus on the Gospel and what it is all about. He begins Romans with the Gospel, and ends with the Gospel. He does the same thing in 1 Corinthians. Do you realize that in nearly all of his epistles, he begins in some way with the Gospel?
The Gospel should be the center of all we do. Once we lose that center, disunity and self-centerdness will occur.
A focus on prayer
Rom 15:30-33 - "Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints; so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God and find refreshing rest in your company. Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen."
This is a reflection of our relationship with God. You can't have a relationship without communication. How would you define prayer if you had to define it precicely by the way we demonstrate it?
I remember reading about a child that had visited a church for the first time, and noticed that the auditorium had grown quiet and everyone was bowing. She looked up and asked her mother what everyone was doing. Why, everyone is praying dear. She looked around in amazement, and asked, "with their clothes on?"
To her, prayer is what you do when it is bed time. For others it would be defined as what you do at the dinner table. For some folks, it would be defined as asking God for needs when they arise. For some, it is what you do in church. For others, it is what you do in order to comfort someone else. We speak of the power of prayer, and what God does when we pray to him.
Have you ever tried to pray to God without asking him for anything? I was a Christian for a long time before I tried this. Other than the pius catch phrases I was used to hearing, it was really difficult to pray and spend more than two minutes thanking, praising, complimenting and confessing to God. Oh, I used to say things like, "God forgive us of our many, many sins," or "Thank you for all your blessings," But that was more or less a recording in my brain. That was one of the liturgical formulas one was supposed to say in a prayer. It revealed to me how small and immature my relationship with God was. Like a child whose conversation centers on what he wants, I had been centered on my needs.
I am convinced we do not spend enough time praying together. I mean praying honestly and transparently together. We don't confess enough together. We don't lament enough together. We don't praise, adore, and thank God enough together.
This is really a challenge for myself, and for the leaders in this congregation. We need more time in prayer together as a body. Anytime we embark on something important, anytime we have a success, anytime we need to spend time in reflection, we should come together and pray.
So, there is our three fold-purpose. I want to challenge us to be a balanced church this year. Our Lord is the foundation of all we do. We need to bathe ourselves and our plans in prayer. He is central to the balance we are to have in our service to him. Then, one one side of the balance is fellowship and unity. We are to build each other up, support each other, share with each other, love each other. Without healthy fellowship, we would be an unbalanced church. On the other side of the balance is our priestly duty of sharing the Gospel. God doesn't want us to just keep the faith, but he also wants us to share the faith. As a matter in fact, sharing the faith is part of keeping the faith. If we don't share the faith, we aren't keeping the faith, and we become unbalanced.
Have you obeyed the Gospel? If you believe it, you can become a child of God. You can wash away your sins and enter into fellowship with him, and with us, his family.
If you have done this already, then the question for you is, Are you balanced in your spirituality? Do you have this three-fold, balanced spirituality? Are we a balanced church? Do we balance keeping the faith and sharing the faith on the fulcrum of our relationship with God?
We have just begun a new year, let's make this a year of balance.