For I want very much to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. Now I don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often planned to come to you (but was prevented until now) in order that I might have a fruitful ministry among you, just as I have had among the rest of the Gentiles. I am obligated b both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. ~ Romans 1:11-14
Missions (and ministry in general) is a difficult calling that requires nothing less than God’s sustaining work. Within Scripture, we find varying passages that address the qualities of ministry and that qualifications of the person in ministry. However, there exists this passage in Romans chapter 1, specifically in verses 8-15, that unexpectedly provides some insights into the qualities of a God-given ministry.
Previously, verses 8-10 showed Paul as a man of prayer, specifically a man who prays for those he is ministering to or desires to minister to (you can read that article by clicking here). However, verses 11-15 continue to reveal more essential qualities of missions.
Paul’s Passion (v. 11-13) Paul was a man of passion. His actions are always motivated by an enthusiasm that exemplifies a man of deep conviction and dedication. Consider his testimony very own testimony (which can be read in Acts 22). He was a man of intensity before Christ, actively pursuing those who were dedicated to Jesus Christ, even to the point of putting them to death. However, on that road to Damascus, his life was transformed by the appearance of Christ (see Acts 9). He was still a man of intensity and passion, but it had changed from a man against Christ to a man for Christ. Much of the New Testament in our Bible bears testimony to that passion and what was accomplished as a result of it.
That passion is exemplified in Romans 1:11-3 as Paul describes a passion for God’s people and a passion for God’s work. He expresses first a strong desire to visit the believers in Rome, and it is a visit that he expects to be mutually edifying to both of them. Ultimately, when believers get together, that should be the result: mutual edification. However, that mutual edification comes from Paul’s desires for something specific to take place. He expects to see a fruitful ministry among them. How can this be? From the spiritual gift that he expects to impart to them, a gift that can be nothing less than the gospel message (something he later declares to be the power of God in verses 16-17). For Paul, the greatest motivation, the greatest passion he has is to see the gospel go forth in all of the world. Certainly, the gospel is the ultimate source of encouragement because it is the provision of life. However, to see a person both receive the gospel message and continue to spiritual growth (as the author of Hebrews indicates is essential in Hebrews 5:11-14). There is a great joy at being able to rejoice at one’s acceptance and living out the gospel.
Paul exemplifies a passion that should be part of missions both in proclaiming the gospel and in living the gospel, taking beyond just a message of faith, but fulfilling the Great Commission by making disciples. Later on in Romans, such a passion is fully exposed as Paul describes a great desire and prayer for the nation of Israel to be saved (Romans 10:1-2). Just how intense are his prayer and desire? It’s extraordinary when we consider his words in the previous chapter in which he tells of his great sorrow and unceasing anguish at their loss without Christ (Romans 9:2) to the point that he is willing to exchange his own eternal promises so that they may receive God’s gracious gift. How many of us could say our passion for God’s gospel drives us to this same point?
Paul’s Position (v. 14) He writes that he is obligated to Greeks and barbarians. Paul’s phrasing is unexpected. How is it that he could be obligated to people? The answer lies in verse one, where Paul states “a servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Paul’s position is not merely about being obliged to fulfill the roles placed upon him by man, but instead, he is obligated to them by his calling from God.
In the world in which Paul lived, the Greeks considered them to be those who were wise, while all others were considered to be fools (or barbarians as the translation here says). In other words, Paul’s calling is not merely to minister to one group or another, but instead, he has been charged by God to bring the gospel to all people, whether they are ‘wise’ or ‘foolish.’
It is a position accentuated in 1 Corinthians 9:16 where he writes, “For if I preach the gospel, I have no reason to boast because I am compelled to reach – and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Once again, Paul’s passion comes through here, but we also see that he takes seriously the charge with which God has laid upon him.
Missions will always be difficult no matter where it is. However, Paul’s introductory words to the Romans in 1:8-15 reveal that the seriousness of a God-centered ministry outweighs the difficulties that may lie ahead. Therefore, a God-centered ministry must be characterized by prayer, passion, and position (or calling). However, there is one more important piece, and for that, we will wrap up next week.
Photo “Globe” courtesy of user Jason Bachman and Flickr.