Over the last several weeks, we have looked at Romans 1:1-7. The prologue for the book of Romans actually continues into verse 17, so think of Romans 1:1-17 as the front porch to the house. These verses are designed to point us to the focus of the entire rest of the book. In one sense, to understand this opening prologue is to understand the whole rest of the book.
Romans is Paul’s magnum opus, if you will, for the gospel of God. We need to understand the gospel, and Romans has the fullest theological treatment on the gospel in the entire Bible.
“The Gospel of God”
Paul throws his cards down at the very outset to let us know this book is about the gospel of God. When he says “the gospel of God,” he does not mean that it is the gospel about God, although it is about God. In this case, it is the gospel that has come from God. It has come down out of heaven. This is God’s gospel. This is God’s solution for your life. This is God’s solution for the human dilemma, in which we have been separated from God by our sin.
In these opening verses, Paul unfolds what the gospel is. It was recorded in the Old Testament, verse two. It is not a new message. It is about God’s Son, verses three, four, and five. This gospel is to bring about obedience, verse five. The obedience of the faith is for the whole world, also verse five. For the glory and honor of Jesus Christ. That is the purpose of the gospel. Ultimately, it is not even about us being saved. It is about Jesus Christ having more voices in the Hallelujah Chorus to sing His praises. What is ultimate is that Christ be glorified and honored. God Himself guarantees that there will be a worshipping body around the throne in heaven.
Verse six, because there are those who are “the called of Jesus Christ.” This is the sovereign, effectual summons of God Himself to all of the elect, to draw them from the four corners of the earth into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. God Himself guarantees that this gospel will be received and will be believed. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ this morning, it is because God called you out of darkness. He called you out of this evil world system and out of a lifestyle of self-righteousness and self-centeredness, into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This was God’s doing in your life.
He came after you and pursued you. He is the One who called you and drew you to Himself. He is the One who regenerated you and converted you. He is the One who gave you repentance and saving faith. That is why, when you get to heaven and are given a crown, it will be on your head for about half of a millisecond, and then you are going to cast it back at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. Because it was all of Him. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36). That is what we have looked at to this point. These first seven verses are like a stick of dynamite ready to explode in our spiritual lives.
Where we are headed to next time is Romans 1:14-17, which is really the thunder and lightning of the entire book of Romans. This is what brought Martin Luther to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It just happens to be the beginning of the year 2017, the 500-year anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door. We are going to look at that next time.
The Messenger of the Gospel
This time, we have what we call a bridge in verses 8-13. It is a transition. What we see in Romans 1:8-13 is really the heart of the messenger of the gospel. These verses lift up the hood and look into the heart and soul of Paul, the messenger of the gospel. What we will read in these verses, you and I should emulate in our spiritual lives. We want to be like Paul.
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 I think the most die-to-self, live-for-Christ Christian who ever walked this earth. In these verses, we are allowed to look into Paul’s heart and soul, to see what drove the apostle Paul in his ministry. I need this to be on the inside of me, driving me in my spiritual life. This needs to be poured into your soul as well. We will look at the kind of man whom God uses, and we, too, want to be the kind of men that God uses.
Let me read verses 8-13. This is the bridge section.
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 (Romans 1:8-11).
A God-Given Love
I will stop here for a moment. You know what is amazing? Paul has never even met these people to whom he is writing. It is not as though Paul has been to Rome, planted the church, seen their faces, known their names, been gone for three years, and now he is writing to those he knows intimately. He has never even been to Rome at this point. Yet this is how large-hearted the apostle Paul is. He is not sitting in an ivory tower, parsing verbs, and having nothing to do with people. The more Paul loved God, the more he loved the people of God. His heart is being enlarged for people, and the same will be true in your life. The more you love God, the more you are going to want to show the love of God to others and reach them for the gospel of Christ.
People who love God never stay locked up in a small room by themselves. Those who love God want to impact this world for Jesus Christ. They do not withdraw into seclusion, isolated from people. On 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 we are still here on the earth and not already in heaven. It is to try to reach as many people as we possibly can with the gospel of Jesus Christ. 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 mentality every morning when we wake up and put our feet on the floor. It is a mindset that I am here to be a servant of God and to serve other people for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I love the story of Mr. Armour, who started the Armour meat packing business in Chicago. He was a business baron, a financial titan up in Chicago. He once got on an airplane in Chicago and was flying to Los Angeles. There was a young kid, like 25 years old, fresh out of college with his first job, and he sits down on the plane next to Mr. Armour. He has no idea that this is the Mr. Armour. This young kid says to Mr. Armour, “So, what do you do for a living?” Well, Mr. Armour could buy Chicago over a few times, certainly buy the plane and everyone in the plane. Mr. Armour says to the kid, “My job is to tell other people about Jesus Christ. I just pack a little meat on the side.”
Your job is not to sell real estate. Your job is not to build apartments. Your job is to tell other people about Jesus Christ. Your vocation, how you pay the bills, is secondary. What is primary is that we try to reach people with the gospel, just like you were reached with the gospel. That is what Paul is saying here in verse 11, “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established.”
Verses 12-13, I will finish reading this and then we are going to go through it.
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 1:12-13).
Now, these verses are easy to overlook because of the neighborhood they live in. Verses 16 and 17 are towering verses. They almost tower over the New Testament. Verses one through seven are a systematic theology unto themself. It would be very easy for us to overlook verses 8-13.
This morning I want us to extract some things that you and I need for our spiritual life. It is one thing to know the gospel. It is something else to be used by God to impart the gospel to others. Now that we know Christ through the gospel, we need verses 8-13 to be dynamically alive within us. The following character qualities in Romans 1:8-13 should be present in our lives as servants of the most high God.
I. A GODLY SERVANT IS SPIRITUAL-MINDED (1:8)
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). You know what gets Paul fired up? It is when a church and a group of believers are getting the gospel out to other people. That is what fires up Paul. He acknowledges this when he says, “Your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” This faith is in the gospel, it is faith in Jesus Christ. How Paul sizes up a church is their faith in the gospel and how well they get the gospel out. That is agenda item number one.
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? What catches Paul’s attention? I know how easy it is to be lured in and even seduced by 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. In the pulpit, I stood on an Oriental rug. There were brass chandeliers. There was a white marble floor. It was incredible. Then the choir came out to sing. It was like the heavens had opened up, and the sound was coming down. There was a huge orchestra, and that was pretty 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 went there to preach. Once I was there, it dawned on me that this was an unregenerate church. They were a group of people who did not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In fact, I remember the Sunday 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 the whole book. I know that they were unregenerate because they began to be saved, one after another, after another, after another. By their own testimony, they had been unconverted and did not know the Lord.
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 choir or the chandeliers. It was not this or that. Those things are all fine and good, but that is just the external shell. The reality of a church is their personal faith in Jesus Christ, that they are people who actually know God through His son, Jesus Christ. Not just an initial step of faith, but they are living the walk. They are moving out and they are going from faith to faith.
“Your Faith is being Proclaimed”
That is really the idea of what Paul is saying down in verse 17. Let your eye look down to verse 17 just for a moment: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” There are about 18 different ways to interpret, “from faith to faith.” I will tell you what I think it is. You start with faith, and you progress in faith, and you end up with faith. It is not just faith as you go through the narrow gate. It is faith as you go down the narrow path. It is not over once you commit your life to Christ. That is only the beginning, and you continue to go from faith to faith. This is what Paul is referring to here in verse eight. He says, “I thank my God…because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
Think about this, they are in Rome. That is not exactly the buckle of the Bible belt. There was not a more wicked, immoral, Pagan cesspool of iniquity city in the entire western civilization than Rome. Everything foul grew in Rome, and yet this is where God planted a church. This should be an encouragement to us. God never needs the circumstances to be just 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 things to come together. God delights in building churches at the gates of hell and 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 epicenter of the world at that time. All roads led to Rome and all of the businessmen leaving Rome took the testimony of what they saw in these believers. They did not have a live stream internet ministry going on like we do to get the word out. It was by word-of-mouth. Their faith was so dynamic, it was so real, that it was out in the open. As they lived 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 says, “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 that is going on in their lives. God is the author of their regeneration, of their conversion, and of their saving faith. That is why he thanks God, because he recognizes that it has all come from God. If it had not come from God, why thank God? “I thank my God through Jesus Christ…” This is an acknowledgment. There is no way we can even get to God except through His son, Jesus Christ. He is the only way to the Father. “…For you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” What a spiritual mindset Paul has. When he thinks of the believers in Rome, he thinks of their vibrant, robust faith in Jesus Christ.
Wherever it is that you go to church, what needs to be at the very top of the ladder at your church is that you are known for your faith in Jesus Christ. We must be known for our faith in God. We cannot hide it. We cannot conceal it. It should go out to the whole world. People should know where we stand in our faith in Jesus Christ.
So that is number one, the spiritual mindset. As you think about other churches, what needs to come to your mind is not the building or the choir, although those things are fine. But they are secondary to what is primary. What is primary is faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ and that they are a congregation of people who actually know the Lord. It is not just that they have been baptized. It is not just that they have joined the church. It is not just that they grew up in a Christian home. It is not just that they attend a Bible study. They actually have a living faith in a living God. That is number one.
II. A GODLY SERVANT IS SERVING (1:9a)
Number two, I want you to see Paul’s commitment to serving. Look at verse nine, “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel.” Paul understands that he is on the earth to serve God. This is why we are all here. For Paul, it was to serve God through the preaching of the gospel. For others of you in this study, it is to serve God in other capacities and in other ways. We are all saved to serve. 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. Every one of us has a game jersey and needs to be out on the 50-yard line. We need to be going full-tilt, 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 it does not flow out. That picture’s someone who is receiving the word of God, but not passing it on to anyone else. They are a spiritual cul de sac. The truth is self-contained within us, but it never moves through us to other people. That life is a spiritual swamp. There are a lot of bad things that grow in swamps. You do not want to be a swamp.
Some people are like a desert. There is 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.
What you want to be is like a mighty river. Everything flowing into you is flowing out of you, and you are passing the truth you receive on to others. The truth is not just for your own sanctification. It is so that you can talk to other people about Jesus Christ. It is so that you can be equipped to serve other people. You have to do something with the message you have received.
When I was in seminary, I had a professor who said, “I am going to come hear you preach. I am going to sit on the front row and I am going to hold up a placard in the middle of your sermon that will have two words on it: So what?” All this doctrine is great. All this truth is great. But so what? What are you going to do with this? How should the congregation live this out? What is the application? This Bible study is just the locker room. We are drawing a play. This is not the field. This is not the game. You have to get out there and do it. So what?
Paul says in verse nine, “God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel.” Some of the most fulfilled Christians I know are those who are being used by God as Christian businessmen to get the word of God out to other people. Their minds are constantly thinking about how to impact others, how to tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Service as Worship
This word “serve” is translated other places in the New Testament as ‘worship.’ Our service is a form of worshipping God. We do what we do for the glory of God, soli deo Gloria. As you serve the Lord, you need to think of it as an act of worship. Worship takes place more often than Sunday mornings from 11:00 to 12:00. Worship is 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is a lifestyle of serving others. We see this in Paul. I need to be like this. You need to be like this.
None of us will ever retire from 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, of fulfilling the eternal purposes of God through my life as long as I am here on this earth.
This is how Paul lived. This needs to be true in my life and it needs to be true in your life. Let me just ask you, so what? How has what we talked about already triggered your mind and encouraged your heart in regards to how you need to be serving God? We have said the character qualities of a godly servant are spiritually-minded and serving, and now I want you to see the selflessness of Paul.
III. A Godly Servant is SELFLESS (1:9b-10a)
Paul goes on to say in the middle of verse nine through the first part of verse ten, “how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers.” Paul was selfless. You and I need to become more like this. When I pray, so much of my prayers are focused on me and what I need. Paul is always praying for others. Now, this does not mean we should not pray for things in our own lives. Jesus said we are to ask for daily bread. But Paul has a focus that is off of himself and onto others. This can be counterintuitive in the midst of our self-centered culture.
Paul said, “how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers.” Please note that he is not just thinking about them, he is actually talking to God, mentioning them to God. Paul continues, “making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you” (v. 10b). He is praying that he will be able to come to them so that he can minister to them and serve them. 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. I am too out of balance. 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 find myself starting a lot of my prayers confessing that I have not prayed enough.
Having said that, our prayers need to be inclusive of praying for needs in the lives of other people, especially people that we want to minister to, because ultimately the success of our ministry lies in the hands of God. I can deliver the message, but God is going to have to open their ears, open their hearts, and open their eyes to receive the message. Therefore, I have to pray. I love what Dale Moody once said, “I must speak to God about men before I speak to men about God.”
We have to pray for those people that we are ministering to. There has been a shift in how I pray before I speak. I used to be so focused on myself, saying, “God do this with my mind and in my heart.” I still pray that, but I need to be focused on you and others whom I am speaking to. I pray that God would prepare the way for the message, so that those who hear me will be sanctified, edified, and built up. I am totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit to bring this message home to your heart.
Paul understood the necessity of praying for those he ministered to. That is why he was constantly in prayer for the believers in Rome, even long before he arrived there. You need to be praying for your family. You need to be praying for those in your Sunday school class. You need to be praying for those in the Bible study groups you are a part of. You need to be praying for the circles of people around you, for the success of the gospel. That is what Paul is doing here.
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 13 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. The same is true for you and for me. This is part of Paul’s selflessness.
IV. A Godly Servant is SUBMISSIVE (1:10b)
I want to give you another word for a godly servant from verse 10, and it is the word submissive. At the end of verse 10 Paul says, “If perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.” Paul was submissive to the sovereign will of God in his life. Proverbs 16:1 says that man plans his ways, but God directs his steps. Paul understood that, ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ holds the keys that open all the doors of providence. Paul knew that he could not get to Rome except by the will of God. There is a submissiveness that Paul understands. I cannot pick up the phone and make this happen. I cannot just use my influence. God works through means, and God does work through phone calls and influence, no mistake about it. But there is also the recognition on Paul’s part that he can push on the door all day long, but it is not going to open except by the sovereign will of God. He acknowledges this at the end of verse 10. All of us need to have this same submissiveness to the overruling, overarching, eternal purposes of God.
There have been many doors I have tried to open that were like pushing on a brick wall. Praise God, because God knew better and had a better plan for my life than what I thought was supposed to happen. Paul will eventually make it to Rome, but it will not even be close to the means by which 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, just not the way he thought it would work out.
This is true in our lives, is it not? Even when we reach the end we had in mind, God often has a far different path to get to that end than we expected. Paul understood that he must submit to the sovereignty of God over his life and over his plans. You and I must do the same.
V. A Godly Servant is LOVING (1:11)
In verse 11, we see that a godly servant is loving. Paul says, “For I long to see you…” Paul was not just a project man, he was also a people person. It is not either/or, it is both/and. When we are in the gospel business, we are in the people business, because we are trying to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For I long to see you.”
This is a good word for me. I have been holed up in my study in my little house for the last few weeks just writing. Soon I am getting on an airplane and flying to Los Angeles. I am going to teach for 10 days non-stop at The Master’s Seminary, preach for John MacArthur, preach with John MacArthur, and preach in some other places. I have a notebook this thick on both sides. I know what it is to be locked up at a desk and just study, and research, and write. But that 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 not just having the message in the notebook. 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.
Paul says in verse 11, “I long to see you.” In other words, Paul realizes a sacred stewardship has been entrusted to him and he must invest what has been deposited within him from the Lord. He says, “I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you.” When he says “spiritual gift,” he is not referring to spiritual gifts like what we see in 1 Corinthians 12. Here he is talking about a spiritual blessing, a spiritual good, a spiritual impact. It is used in a large umbrella-term sense. He continues, “so that you may be established.” So that your roots will be more deeply grounded in the Lord. It is really selfish for us to keep the Christian faith only to ourselves. It is very selfish for us to horde the doctrine that we know. It is very selfless and very loving for us to expend ourselves to pass it on to other people.
Now, we all have different arenas, different venues, and different ways that this is done. For Paul, it was 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. We must 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)
In verse 12, I want you to see Paul’s humility. He says, “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.” That is a pretty humble statement. This is the apostle Paul. 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 no, Paul says, “Listen, I need you just like you need me. I want to encourage you, but I need you to encourage me.” Paul understood it is a two-way street. Paul understood that when they got together, he would not do all the talking. Paul understood that he needed to hear from them too. I want you to minister to me as I minster to you. As iron sharpens iron, so one man another (Proverbs 27:17).
What strikes me is how extraordinarily humble Paul was and how contrary this is to what you see on Christian television today with these peacocks strutting around, each one trying to outdo the other with statistics and numbers. They are 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, because they do all the talking and I do all the listening. If they want my opinion, they will give it to me. I have been with a lot of them. I used to meet once a year with the top 50 pastors who pastored the largest 50 churches in America of a certain denomination. There were a lot of people talking about themselves in that room. I have been with other men, let us say John MacArthur, and it is a whole different perspective. It is a whole different kind of conversation. It is a whole lot easier to talk. You want to be like Paul. I need to be more like Paul – humble, on the same level, so that we are ministering to one another.
VII. A Godly Servant is sensitive (1:13a)
At the beginning of verse 13, we see that a godly servant is sensitive. He says, “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? I think the reason is because they are expecting him to come. They are thinking, “If you really loved us, you would be here.” Paul has a real sensitivity to their feelings. He wants the believers in Rome to know he has been trying get there, but it has not been the will of God up to this point. God had not opened that door yet, but Paul wanted them to know that his desire was to be there with them.
There is a sensitivity here that is applicable for every one of us. I need to be thinking about how you are perceiving me, and vice versa. If there is a certain expectation that you have of me, I must have a certain sensitivity to realize that I may need to address a grievance or disappointment. Such as, I am sorry I did not speak when I saw you. I am sorry I was preoccupied, or I was talking to someone else. When we do this, we affirm our relationship. I show that you are still a very important person in my life. We see Paul’s sensitivity as he takes into consideration the feelings of the believers in Rome. We, too, would do well to be sensitive to the feelings of those to whom we minister.
VIII. A Godly Servant is a SOUL-WINNER (1:13b)
The last character quality of a godly servant is found in the middle of verse 13. It is that of a soul winner. Paul sought to reach people with the gospel so that they may be saved. He says, “So that,” stating the purpose of all this, “so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles.”
If we had the time to do a study on the word “fruit” in the New Testament, we would see that it is used in different ways. There is the fruit of our lips, which is praise and worship. There is the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is also the fruit of a ministry, which is the results of that ministry – people being brought to faith in Christ and being conformed more into the image of Christ. Because of the context, I think it is very obvious that it is this third and last use of fruit that Paul has in mind.
“So that I may obtain some fruit among you.” The key prepositional phrase is “among you.” Spiritual fruit in ministry is not “from you directly,” but “among you.” Spiritual fruit is seen in your midst, corporately, in the larger circles. The fruit here is really what Jesus said in John 15:16, “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.” It was a commissioning verse. “I have chosen you to go out and to bear fruit.” It is referring to a fruitful gospel ministry.
Paul is the man who wrote Romans 9, which is about as direct teaching on sovereign election as you are going to get in the Bible. But Paul’s belief in sovereign election in no way hindered his aggressiveness to share the gospel with others. In fact, it fueled his aggressiveness to want to be an evangelist and to reach people with the gospel of Christ. Romans 10 certainly bears this out. Here in verse 13, Paul is saying the same thing, “I want to come to you in Rome so that there can be fruit, even as among the Gentiles.” Wherever Paul went, his goal was to win souls. He wanted people converted to saving faith in Christ.
Paul was not content to say, “I have thrown it out there and you can do with it whatever you want.” Paul was not a hyper-Calvinist. Paul wanted people saved. He wanted people converted. He urged, he pled, and he begged for people to commit their lives to Christ, even after he shared the gospel. He did not just toss the truth out there in a cavalier, boring, mild manner, and then close in prayer without any gospel appeal. He wanted fruit. He must see fruit from his labor. Men, we must see fruit from our labor. Otherwise, just take me on to heaven now. Why be here if people are not being brought into the kingdom through our efforts as we lock arms together?
This is a quick run through these verses and much more could be said. But I want to reiterate that when you pull back the veil and look into the heart of Paul, these verses reveal aspects of a truly spiritual man. These same aspects need to be in our lives as well.
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?
As I go through these, there are some that I could easily say, “Wow. That has to be God, because that is so unlike me. This must be God maturing me, helping me get to the next level, because that has to be a work of grace. I do not normally think this way. I am normally more selfish. For the first time, maybe, I am starting to see some evidences of what I see here.” What do you like about Romans 1:8-13? What captures your attention? What really impacts you?
Audience: Paul is going to, for the next chapters, outline the great doctrines of the faith. But this is the fire of evangelism. The interesting thing is, I heard you speak about Spurgeon, that he was the man who took the doctrines of sovereign grace and married them with the fire of evangelism. Typically, you have one or the other. Typically, you are not balanced. You are tilted one way or the other. That is the beauty and the challenge of this.
Dr. Lawson: You are right. 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. Paul is modeling this for us. As God lifts up my hood and your hood, those pistons need to be firing inside of us like this. Mark, thank you so much for saying that. Someone else? What struck you about these verses?
Audience: I think Paul’s earnestness, in that this is not something he is thinking about for the next day, or for the next week, or the next year. It is something that, even if he is not in Rome, this is his present mindedness. This is what he wants to be doing, and it is a holistic earnestness. You hear that. You sense that. This is at a heart level and a soul level. It is not just something that he is thinking about as a good idea to do, but it really consumes him.
Dr. Lawson: I am so glad you said that. Look in the middle of verse nine, “In my spirit.” Do you see that? I do not know how it is in your translation. In many ways that is almost the key for verses 8-13. In other words, 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. Thank you for saying that. In many ways “in my spirit” is the eye of the storm here. It is the very center of this whole little 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 really the idea of ‘without mixture of alloy.’ In other words, there are no other false motives mixed in with this. This is just 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. Great insight.
Audience: I think about that earnestness with something you said in the very beginning. The gospel ultimately is for our salvation, in some sense, but even greater is that it is for Christ’s glory. You see that in Paul here. He is not only going, he is not only compelled to save sinners, but desires that Christ be glorified first. It seems like that is really where his fire comes from. That was a really good reminder. I think we do not think about that enough.
Dr. Lawson: Amen to that. We want the body of Christ enlarged and enriched. It is all about Christ and I think too often it is more about us or them and not enough about Christ. I need that reminder. Solas Christus means it is for Christ alone. Amen. It has to be that way to endure the difficulty, opposition, resistance, rejection, and persecution that come with serving Christ. If it is not for Christ’s honor and glory, then we are going to pack it up and move, or do something else, or pull our hand out of the fire. But when it is for Christ and we see how He suffered, bled, and died for us, can we do any less in our sacrifice for Him? It amps it up to a higher motive as we serve the Lord. We must have this higher-octane gas in our tank igniting us in our service for the Lord.
Audience: The big picture of this is that Paul was the opposite of this for a large part of his life. He was going totally opposite. He had everything in the world, and was pursuing Christians to eliminate them. We cannot start any further back than where Paul started. We can start and move in this direction. We see what the apostle Paul did and what his heart is like, that it was so far from all this when he started. It is just great. It is amazing.
Dr. Lawson: Tell them where he started for any who do not totally know.
Audience: Well, he had a great pedigree. He could count his descendants all the way back to Adam. He was educated in the highest halls of learning of the day. He studied and followed the greatest men of the day, and he was so in love with his religion that he pursued anybody and would eliminate all Christians that were against him. That is how intent he was. Then God just saved him and you can see why he says, “Look. Here is the truth.” I think that is great that God would allow such a change in his life, so that we could see God’s amazing grace in his life and in our life. That is who we are. It gives us all great encouragement, grace, and hope.
Dr. Lawson: Paul said he was the chief of sinners, and he actually meant that. I do not know where all of you have come from, but you may think, “Man, I am so far away. I did not grow up with this or that. How in the world could God ever use me?” You ought to be so encouraged by this. I am. I did not grow up in a Bible-teaching church. I never had a minister in my home. I was late to the party. But God loves to take people who are going so hard and so fast in the wrong direction and just pivot them, sending them in the right direction. He re-harnesses this energy and drive, and now fuels it with the Holy Spirit, with a new heart and a new mind. He turns their entire direction around. That was Paul.
There is an old saying we use in sports: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Well, that was Paul. There was not a bigger sinner in town than the apostle Paul, by his own admission. But he became, really, the lead apostle. No matter what your background is or where you have come from, God is looking for someone just like you to use in a dramatic way. This is a little bit of what it looks like to have those pistons firing as you are being used by the Lord.
Well, I know I need to bring this to a close. I wish we could go further and longer. Let me close in a word of prayer.
Father, thank You for what You did in the life of the apostle Paul. Lord, we need this in our lives. Begin with me. Deepen me. Mature me. Grow me. Remove the weeds from my soil and cultivate greater Christ-likeness. I pray this for all the men here in this room. As we leave this room and as we go to the marketplace, Lord, may we see that our job is to tell other people about Christ, and we do these other things on the side. It is a matter or priorities. Lord, establish within us the priority of the honor and glory of Jesus Christ in all things. We pray this in His name. Amen.