Profile of a Servant - Romans 1:8-13

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles (Romans 1:8-13).


In this opening prologue, the apostle Paul is primarily concerned with establishing the essential truths of the gospel. Everything that he will explain in the rest of this epistle is found in seed form in these opening verses. But Paul is also concerned with the messenger of the gospel. There is a certain kind of man, marked by personal holiness, that God uses to proclaim the glories of the gospel of God. It matters to God that the saving message be proclaimed by men who are possessed with the heart of a servant.


This being so, Paul is transparent with the believers in Rome in these verses as he gives them a brief insight into his inner spiritual life. He wants them to know his desire to sacrificially serve them in the Lord. His heart is humble, and his motives are pure. They must receive the message that he is writing to them, because he writes to them as a servant of the Lord, who gives himself to them, selflessly, for their spiritual good.


In the last two weeks, we have looked at Romans 1:1-7. These verses begin the prologue for the book of Romans, which continues to verse 17. These verses are designed to point us to the central theme of the entire rest of the book, which is the gospel. In one sense, to understand this opening prologue is to understand the whole rest of the book. Romans is Paul’s major treatise for the gospel of God. In fact, it is so for the entire Bible. Here is the fullest theological treatment on the gospel in recorded Scripture.


It has been well said that the apostle Paul was the greatest Christian who ever lived. That would be hard to dispute. Paul was the most dynamic, and, arguably, the most die-to-self, live-for-Christ believer who ever walked this earth. In these verses, we are allowed to peer into Paul’s heart and see what drove him in his ministry for the gospel. We need the same qualities to be on the inside of each one of us, driving our spiritual lives. These same realities need to be found in our souls as well. Here is the kind of man whom God uses, and we must pursue being the same kind of person.


A God-Given Love

What is amazing about Paul as he writes this epistle is the fact that he had never been to Rome. He had never met these believers to whom he is writing this letter. It was not as though Paul had been planted the church in Rome, seen their faces, known their names, and is writing to those he knows intimately. He has never been to Rome at this point. Yet this is how large-hearted the apostle Paul was. The more Paul loved God, the more he loved the people of God. His heart was enlarged for his fellow believers with warm affection. The same will be true in our lives. The more we love God, the more we have the love of overflowing from our heart for others.


People who love God never stay isolated from others. Those who love God want to impact this world for Jesus Christ. They do not withdraw into seclusion to be removed from people. To the contrary, they are advancing to the frontlines of this world, where they can rub shoulders with others who need the gospel. They have a contagious faith to impact and influence others with the gospel. That is why the Lord has left us here on the earth, and why we are not already in heaven. We remain here to be a witness with the gospel and to try to reach as many people as we possibly can with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Simply put, we must try to take as many people with us to heaven as we possibly can.


A Life of Service to Others

As Paul is writing verse 11, look at it again. “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you.” He is saying, “I want to come see you so I can give to you, so I can pour my life into you. Not so I can take from you, but so I can sacrifice for you and help you in your Christian life.” This has to be our spiritual mindset as we live for Christ. It is an attitude that I am here to be a servant of God and to minister to others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


As we consider these verses, I want to extract some timeless principles that we need to be real in our spiritual lives. It is one thing to know the gospel, but it is something else to be used by Him to impart the gospel to others. Now that we know Christ through the gospel, we need these character qualities to be dynamically alive within us. The following virtues should be present in our lives as servants of God.




As Paul begins in verse eight, I want you to see his spiritual-mindedness. Paul sees everything in life through a spiritual lens. He says, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world” (v. 8). What excited Paul was these believers getting the gospel out to other people. This is how he sized up a church, by how well they spread the gospel. This is Paul’s spiritual mindset, his spiritual orientation.


It is so easy to be sidetracked when you are trying to size up a church. What makes a church great? It is easy to be lured in estimating the greatness of a church. I once pastored a church with a facility that is jaw-dropping.  When I first went to preach a trial sermon, they had a sanctuary that was built to hold 4,000 people. As I stepped into the pulpit, I stood on an Oriental rug. There were brass chandeliers and a white marble floor. When the choir sang and the orchestra played, it felt like the heavens had opened up. That was heady wine for a young preacher to step into that glamorous setting and to begin to preach. I accepted their call to be the pastor and once I was there, it dawned on me that this was an unspiritual church. They were a major section of people who did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. I remember the Sunday morning when I said, “Take your Bible and turn with me to Romans chapter 1,” you could almost see the flowers on the altar wilt when it dawned on them that we were going to go verse by verse through this whole book. I was learning to size up the greatness of a church differently than I had before, not by its size, but by its spirituality – or lack thereof.


As Paul sees the church in Rome, what catches Paul’s attention is not the building. Who knows what that would have been like in Rome in the first century? They were probably meeting in catacombs underground, for all we know. They were certainly meeting in houses. It was not the oriental rugs or the brass chandeliers. The church in Rome certainly had none of those things. The true spirituality of a church is found in their personal faith in Jesus Christ. Their authentic godliness lies in their knowing God through His Son, Jesus Christ. They were moving out as they lived out their faith.


“Your Faith is being Proclaimed” 

That is really the idea of what Paul is saying down in verse 17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” This is saying that we start with saving faith, which progresses to stronger faith as we grow in grace. It is not merely an initial step of faith as we go through the narrow gate. It is a maturing faith as we walk down the narrow path that leads to life. Faith is not stagnant after we commit our life to Christ. Saving faith is only the beginning, and we continue to grow from faith to faith. This is what Paul is referring to here in verse eight when he writes, “I thank my God…because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”


These earlier believers to whom Paul writes are in Rome. That is not exactly the buckle of the Bible belt. There was not a more wicked, immoral, pagan cesspool of iniquity in the entire western civilization than Rome. Every foul depravity grew in Rome. Yet this is where God planted a vibrant church. This should be an encouragement to us, because God never needs the circumstances to be right to establish His church. Sometimes we think a church can only work in a certain zip code, or a church can only work if you get the right people to come together. God delights in building churches on the doorsteps of the gates of hell. He glorifies Himself by establishing a gospel witness in the most difficult, dark, demanding places. That is exactly what happened in Rome.


The reason their faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world is because Rome was the nerve center for the known world. All roads led to Rome, and travelers leaving Rome took their Christian testimony with them throughout the Empire. They did not have a modern day media ministry to get the word out. Their faith spread by word-of-mouth. Their faith was so dynamic that it was out in the open. As they lived for Christ in Rome, they stood out like stars on a dark night. Even the unbelievers could see the reality of their commitment to Christ in that sin-infested city of Rome.


“I Thank My God”

As Paul begins verse eight, he expresses, “I thank my God.” Please note, he does not say, “I thank you.” He says, “I thank my God…for you.” This is a subtle acknowledgment that God is the Author of everything spiritual that is taking place in their lives. God is the Author of their regeneration, conversion, and saving faith. That is why he thanks God, because he recognizes that the growth and outreach of their faith has come from God. If it had not come from God, why thank Him? This is an acknowledgment that there is no way we can grow in godliness except by His grace. What a spiritual mindset Paul has. When he thinks of the believers in Rome, he thanks God for their vibrant, robust faith in Jesus Christ.


We need to be known for the same contagious faith in God. We must not hide it. We must not conceal it. It should go out to the whole world. People should know where we stand with Jesus Christ. As you think about your church, what should come to your mind is not the building or the choir, although those things are fine in their place. They are only secondary to what is primary. What is primary is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and making Him known to the world. It is not merely that we have been baptized and joined the church. It is not just that we grew up in a Christian home or attend a Bible study. We must be known for a living faith in a living God. That is the priority.


II. A GODLY SERVANT IS Sacrificial (1:9a)


Second, I want you to see Paul’s commitment to serving God sacrificially. He writes, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel” (verse 9). Paul understands that he is on the earth to serve God. For him, it was principally to serve God through the teaching and preaching of the gospel. He knew that he was saved to serve. This word “serve” is translated other places in the New Testament as ‘worship.’ For Paul, his service was a form of worshipping God. He did what he did for the glory of God. As he ministered the word, it was an act of worship. Worship was a lifestyle for him, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


The same must be true for each one of us. Not one of us is saved to sit on the bench. Not one of us is saved to be a passive observer of what is going on in the church. We need to be putting our shoulders to the plow and doing our part in serving God. Think of it this way. Every one of us is either a swamp, a desert, or a river. The swamp is where there is a stream of water flowing into it, but nothing flows out of it. That pictures someone who is receiving the word of God, but is not passing on the truth to anyone else. They are a spiritual cul de sac. The truth is self-contained within a believer, but it never moves through him to other people. That life is a spiritual swamp. There is a lot of bacteria that grows in swamps. You do not want to be a swamp. Other people are like a desert. There is little to nothing flowing into their life. They go to a church where the word of God is not preached or taught. The worship service is either an entertainment hour, or it is a dead, dry funeral service. There is no truth being pumped into their lives, and it is no wonder they are a spiritual desert. There is very little spiritual growth in their barren lives.


Yet other believers are like a mighty river. Much truth is flowing into them and rather than remaining with them, it is flowing out of them into the lives of others. The truth is not just for their own sanctification, but it is for the good of other people. It is so that they can be equipped to serve other people. The most fulfilled Christians I know are those who are under the preaching of the word and are being used by God to get the word out to other people. Their minds are constantly thinking about how to impact others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.


We Never Retire

None of us will ever retire from doing God’s work. You may retire from the bank, you may retire from the real estate company, but you will never retire from God’s work. As long as you are on planet earth, there is work for you to do in the will of God. In fact, Ephesians 2:10 says He has foreordained good works for us to walk in. God has already written the script of what He wants you to do. There is a sense of destiny about every moment of our lives with every opportunity we have to serve God. We are fulfilling the eternal purposes of God through our lives as long as we are here on this earth.


This is how Paul lived, and it needs to be how each one of us lives our lives. How has what Paul writes here already triggered your mind in regards to how you need to be serving God?


III. A Godly Servant is SELFLESS (1:9b-10a)


In the middle of verse nine through the first part of verse ten, Paul goes on to say, “how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers.” Here is a clear indication of how selfless Paul was. He was constantly praying for others. He had a focus that was off of himself and onto others. He is not merely thinking about them, but actually interceding with God on their behalf. Paul continues, “making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you” (verse 10b). He was praying that he would be able to come to them so that he can serve them.


Paul understood the necessity of praying for those to whom he ministered. He was constantly in prayer for the believers in Rome, long before he arrived there. If anyone could have relied solely on their own giftedness, it would have been Paul. He was trained at the feet of Gamaliel. He was taught personally by the risen Christ Himself. Paul had everything going for him. He was the writer of thirteen books in the New Testament. If anyone could have rested on their own preparation, their own giftedness, and what their brain knew, it would have been the apostle Paul. However, he understood that he must pray for the people he is trying to reach. This was a key part of Paul’s selfless Spirit.


You and I need to be much in prayer. I have never met a Christian yet who has said, “I think I pray too much. I need to cut back on my prayer life. There is too much prayer going on.” That has never been true in my life. I am always convicted that I need to be praying more. I even find myself starting a lot of my prayers confessing that I have not prayed enough. Our prayers need to be inclusive of praying for needs in the lives of other people, especially people to whom we want to minister, because ultimately the success of our ministry to them lies in the hands of God. I can deliver the message to others, but God must open their ears, move their hearts, and enlighten their eyes to receive the truth. D.L. Moody once said, “I must speak to God about men before I speak to men about God.”


There has recently been a shift in how I pray before I preach. Previously, I have been so focused on myself, praying, “God renew my mind and enflame my heart.” I still pray for that, but I have been convicted that I need to be focused on those to whom I am speaking. I need to pray that God would prepare their hearts to receive the message. I need to pray that those who hear me will be sanctified and edified. I am totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit to bring this message home to their hearts. You need to be praying for others. You need to be praying for the circles of people around you, for the success of the gospel with them.


IV. A Godly Servant is SUBMISSIVE (1:10b)


Another aspect of a godly servant is found in verse 10, and it is the quality of being submissive. Paul says, “If perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Here, we see that he was submissive to the sovereign will of God in his life. Proverbs 16:1 says, “Man plans his ways, but God directs his steps.” Paul understood that truth. Ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ alone holds the keys that open the doors of providence. Paul knew that he could not go to Rome, which he desired to do, except by the will of God. There is a submissiveness that Paul understands. He could not use his influence and make it happen. There was the recognition on Paul’s part that he can push on doors, but it will not open except by the sovereign purposes of God. Paul will eventually make it to Rome, but it will not be by the means he thought he would travel to Rome. He had no idea he would be the prisoner of the Roman Empire and spend two long years under house arrest in Rome. He finally made it to Rome, but not the way he thought it would work out.


All of us need to have this same submissiveness to the overruling, overarching, eternal purposes of God. There have been many doors in my life I have tried to open that were like pushing on a brick wall. They would not budge. But God knew better and had a better plan for my life than what I thought was supposed to happen. This is true in our lives, is it not? Even when we reach the desired end we had in mind, God often uses a far different path for us to arrive at that end. We must submit to the sovereignty of God over our lives.


V. A Godly Servant is Steadfast (1:11)


In verse 11, we see that a godly servant is steadfast in pursuing God’s will. Paul says, “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you so that you may be established.” Paul was not merely a project man, but also a people person. It is not either/or, it is both/and. As Paul was in the gospel ministry, he was also in the people business. He persevered in trying to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul realized a sacred stewardship had been entrusted to him, and he must invest what has been deposited with him from the Lord. When he says “spiritual gift,” he is not referring to a spiritual gift like what he mentions in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Rather, he is talking about a spiritual blessing, that is, a spiritual good for others. He desires that their roots will be more deeply grounded in the Lord. It would have been selfish for him to keep the Christian faith to himself. It would have been self-absorbed for him to horde the doctrine that he knows. Conversely, he was selfless to expend himself for the good of other people.


This is a good word for us. Having the knowledge of the truth is not the end game. The goal is to do something with all this information. The goal is to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Success is having it in peoples’ souls and having it in their lives. That means we have to go to where people are and bring the message to them, whether that is at your office or at a family Christmas gathering. However that works out for each of us, we are to reach out to others.


We all have different arenas, different venues, and different ways that this is done. For some, it is to preach. For you, it may be a one-on-one lunch conversation. It may be talking to one of your children in their bedroom. It may be ministering to your wife. It may be teaching a class. It may be speaking up in a small group Bible study. It may be being in a car with another businessman and, at just the right moment that God has prepared, you are able to talk to them about the Lord. We must seize the moment and capture these opportunities, some of which will never come about again. There are times when we are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We must love others enough to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them.


VI. A Godly Servant is humble (1:12)


Next, I want us to see Paul’s humility in serving the Lord. He writes, “That is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine” (verse 12) That is a humble statement by the apostle. In many ways, Paul is on a level by himself. He could have easily said, “You know, I will just have fellowship with myself. I will drop some crumbs down to the rest of you pedestrians in the Christian faith.” But instead he expressed, “I need you just like you need me. I want to encourage you, but I need you to encourage me.” Paul understood that fellowship is a two-way street. He knew that whenever they would be together, he would not do all the talking. Paul realized that he needed to hear from them too. He wanted them to minister to him as he ministered to them. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man another” (Proverbs 27:17).


How extraordinarily humble Paul was and how contrary this is to what you see with many believers who strut around like peacocks. Too often, each one ties to outdo the other with what they are doing for God. They come across as egomaniacs. But for Paul, he says, “I want to come to Rome. I want to give of myself. I want to pour myself into you. I want to give everything I have to you. Oh, and by the way, I want you to minister to me.” He is inviting them into his life, anticipating that time when he will come and they will minister to one another. Paul does not have an elitist mentality. He has a very humble, selfless heart, making him easy to talk to. I have been with some pastors that are very hard to talk to, as so must we.


VII. A Godly Servant is sensitive (1:13a)


At the beginning of verse 13, we see that a godly servant is sensitive. Paul writes, “I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that I have often planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far).” Why would he say that? The reason is, because they were expecting him to come. However, he had not yet arrived, and they were doubting his sincerity in waiting to come. They are thinking, “If Paul really loved us, he would be here.” Paul has a genuine sensitivity for their feelings. He wants them to know that he has been trying get there, but the will of God has not yet provided the open door he needed. God had not opened that door yet, but Paul wanted them to know that his desire was to be there with them.


Here is a sensitivity toward others that is needed by every one of us. We need to be thinking about what others are feeling toward us. We have certain expectations of each other and must be aware, as best we can, to how we may be disappointing others around us. We must anticipate and discern how we may have injured others. We see Paul’s sensitivity as he takes into consideration the feelings of the believers in Rome. We would do well to do like toward those to whom we minister.


VIII. A Godly Servant IS SOULWINING (1:13b)


The last character quality of a godly servant is found in the middle of verse 13, that of a soul winner. Paul sought to reach people with the gospel so that they may be saved. He says, “So that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.” This “fruit” refers to people being brought to faith in Christ and being conformed into His image. This is what Jesus said, “You did not choose me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain” (John 15:16). He was referring to a fruitful gospel ministry. Paul’s belief in sovereign election in no way hindered his aggressiveness to share the gospel with others. In fact, the doctrines of grace fueled his aggressiveness to reach others with the saving message of Christ. Wherever Paul went, his goal was to win souls. He wanted people converted to saving faith in Christ.


Paul was not content to merely proclaim the gospel, and his listeners could either take it or leave it. Paul was driven that people be saved. He longed for people to be converted. As he made the gospel known, he urged and pled with people to commit their lives to Christ. He did not just toss out the truth with a cavalier attitude. He must see fruit from his labor – and so must we. We must see a harvest from our labor. Why be here if people are not being brought into the kingdom through our efforts as we lock arms together?


Martin Luther talked about the drunk man on the horse. He is always falling off the horse to one side or the other, and that is the way we tend to be in our Christian life. We fall out of balance. We are either so turned on by the doctrine, and rightly so, that we lose sight of our personal responsibility to tell other people about Christ. Or some people are so into evangelism, yet they are shallow and superficial in their knowledge. They have little gospel gimmicks that they are trying to toss out to people. What a challenge it is to be right in the center.


This is not just an external routine for Paul to go through. There is an internal driveshaft. It is in my spirit. It is in my bones. It is down deep in my soul. This is bleeding out of me. It is pouring out of me. This is not just man-service on the outside. This is not just grit your teeth and do it. This is in my spirit down deep. This is who I am and what I am. In many ways “in my spirit” is the eye of the storm here. It is the very center of this whole bridge section, and this is the way we need to be.


The earnestness to me speaks of sincerity. The word “sincerity” out of the Greek language, is the idea of ‘without mixture of alloy.’ In other words, there are no other false motives mixed in with this. This is a pure, gospel-driven desire to see people warm to Christ and conform into His image. As pure as it can be in a sinful saint.


Are You a Servant?

As I have gone through these character qualities, let me ask you this question: Which one of these has most convicted you? Which one of these has most challenged you? It may be different for each of us. Which one of these made you think, “I need to get back in the game on this. I need more of this in my life?” That would be a very important self-diagnosis for you to have. On the other end of the spectrum, as we have looked at this, how do you see God at work in your life right now? Remember Philippians 2:12-13, “For it is God who is at work within you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God is the one who is driving our sanctification. Where do you see God at work in your life in these areas? Where do you see progress? Where should you be encouraged because you see the hand of God at work in your life? 


Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.