8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Not Ashamed of the Gospel
Over the course of the summer, I have been working through a book on church history titled “2000 years of Christ’s Power,” which is a series that details many of the major moments and major figures throughout Christianity. A series that I would recommend to you.
And as I have read through this book series, I have continued to reflect on the title of this series.
2000 years of Christ’s Power. And I have reflected on the title.
I have come to the conclusion that the title is such a perfect description of the 2000 years of Christianity.
It’s a perfect title, not because of how smooth and seamless the story of Christianity has been. In fact, reading through this series details the opposite reality.
Church history has been a bumpy, windy road with plenty of twists and turns that have not always been pleasant or encouraging. At times, some of the twists and turns have actually been tragic and sinful.
Yet, despite a less than pleasant history, despite all of the ups and downs, twists and turns, despite flawed characters that lead flawed movements… through the power of Christ for 2000 years, Christianity has continued to advance. Christ continues to keep his promise that he will build his church, and hell itself can’t overcome it.
So, as I have read through this series detailing how the gospel advanced throughout the centuries, I have found myself deeply encouraged. In fact, I am so deeply encouraged by the power of Christ and his gospel that continue to advance that today, as I get back into the pulpit, I wanted to work through this passage in Romans before we get back into our study of 1 Samuel starting next Sunday.
Now before we work through the text, let me set some real brief context.
This letter that we refer to as Romans is called that because the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to an early Christian church in the city of Rome. In the 2000 years of Christ’s Power, this church was there from virtually the beginning. And as Paul wrote this letter, he did so by giving the church in Rome some of the deepest and richest theology in the New Testament canon.
In fact, because of the depth and riches found in this letter, the great Martin Luther said that we could never read the book of Romans too much and that it was the purest gospel.
If you have read through Romans, you also know that this letter is not just a deeply theological letter but is also an incredibly practical and pastoral letter. As we read Romans, particularly the last 1/3 of it, there are so many practical truths that help us know how to live out the Christian faith in light of the deep theological truths. And for us this morning, this includes the deep theological truth of the power of Christ that we are practically to live out by testifying to it to those God has placed in our life, who we are obligated to.
Which brings us back to the text that I wanted us to work through this morning. If you wanted to look back with me, starting in verse 8:
As you are looking there, as you skim over verses 1-6, we see Paul start the letter by identifying himself and his credentials, which was pretty typical for his letters. And then after identifying himself, he turned to address the church in Rome, which he did in verse 7, our text, verse 8. He has a word that he would like to share with them – a word about his love and appreciation for the church family in Rome.
Telling the church in verse 8, Church in Rome, that first of all, before we get too far into this lengthy letter that I am writing to you, first of all, I want you to know upfront, before we get into anything else, please know that I thank God through Jesus Christ for you.
Upfront, know how much I appreciate you and how grateful I am for how the Lord is at work through you in Rome.
And while there are many things I am sure Paul was thankful for, the thing he specially wanted the church in Rome to know upfront, that was driving his thankfulness for them, was that their faith, the reputation of the faith, the strength of their faith was being proclaimed in all of the world.
A couple of quick thoughts here:
1st, I do like the model of Paul not just telling the church that he was thankful for them but also specifically telling them why he was thankful.
Now, it is good to tell people things like “I am thankful for you,” “I appreciate you,” or “I love you.” Those are good things that we should be telling others.
But it is even better to give specifics on why you are thankful, why you appreciate them, what are specific things you love about them.
Friends, specifics can just show an added level of care and attention and thoughtfulness.
So, married couples, I hope you are doing that with your spouse – giving specifics. Parents, same for you with your children. Children, same for you with your parents.
I hope we all are doing that with our friends and family, people we care about, including others in the church – specifics on why you are thankful for them have added levels of care and attention and thoughtfulness. That added level can be so encouraging to receive.
2nd, what an incredible reputation for the church in Rome to have – to have people all over the Roman world speak so favorably about this local church, that their reputation was spreading all over the region.
And if I can remind those who have read the book of Romans, it wasn’t like this was a huge, enormous 1st-century mega-church. This was a small community of believers. So small that in chapter 16, at least part of the Rome church, if not all of the church in Rome, was small enough that they met in houses.
The church in Rome was not a large church in terms of numbers, yet it was such a faithful church that it had a large reputation.
Verse 9, because of Paul’s gratefulness for this church, for their reputation, for how God was clearly using them, Paul wrote, as God as his witness, the very one whom Paul serves, that in his spirit, a spirit that was filled with the powerful Gospel of God’s Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, that he was always praying for them – they were always on his prayer list.
So time and time again, without ceasing, he was mentioning this little church in Rome to God in his prayers.
And while I am sure that there were many different things Paul was praying for as it related to this church, we see once again in verse 10, Paul communicates a very specific thing he was praying over – which also is such a good model for us – to let people know specifically how we are praying for them.
In our text, verse 10, the specific thing that Paul was praying that he wanted the church to know about was his ongoing prayer – that somehow, by God’s will, he would at least succeed in coming to visit them.
Now it is hard to know exactly where Paul was at the time of this letter, but church history tells us that it was very likely Paul wrote this letter while he was in Corinth. And it seems likely that this is where it was written because of clues left in chapter 16 of some people Paul mentioned he was with during the time of this letter – people who we know in other places lived in Corinth. So it seems very likely that is where he was located.
For our purposes today, the point of interest that I wanted to draw attention to is that Corinth was about 600 miles or so from Rome and, as we know, it is a lot farther back then than it is today with modern transportation.
However, even though this was a long trip, probably a difficult and challenging trip, even a dangerous trip to take, in the text, this was a trip that Paul really wanted to make.
So over and over again, he asked the Lord in prayer to open up the door for this trip to happen. He was longing to get to this little church, a church that at this point all he knew of was their reputation, meaning he had not yet ever visited them.
And we see in the text the reason behind Paul’s prayerful longing to be with them was not for some kind of self-centered, selfish reasons. He wasn’t just trying to add stamps to his passport, cross things off his bucket list, or take a tour of the Colosseum.
Rather, in verse 11, the reason Paul was prayerfully longing to be with them was to serve them with his spiritual gifts, with the hope that him serving this church with his gifts would be used by God in such a way to further fan the flame on this little faithful church. So that this little faithful church in Rome would be strengthened and encouraged to not grow weary in the good they were doing.
Which, by the way, is the purpose for all of the various spiritual gifts that we have been given by God. They are to be used in such a way that for the glory of God, He uses them to bless others, to strengthen others, to encourage others.
And let me also mention that faithfully using our gifts to serve others is a very real part of our spiritual worship, which is why we are to use them. Later in Romans 12, Paul wrote:
“For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
And if right now you are trying to figure out how to best use your gifts to serve others here at Red Village, with the hope that you would be used by God to bless and strengthen others, I would love to talk to you. We always need people to serve the body that is Red Village Church to help build us up.
And who knows who God might use you to strengthen and encourage us? I will be circling back to this at the end of this time.
Keep going. Verse 12, which communicates something Jay hit on last week in the sermon. As Paul prayed and desired to come to Rome to serve the church in Rome with his gifts, he understood that not only how that could encourage the church, but how the church could also encourage him, providing a two-way street of encouragement.
Verse 12: “That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.”
Which, by the way, as a church, when we talk about being connected, this is how and why behind our desire to connect. That we are connecting in such a way that we all are using our gifts to serve others, so that our tanks of encouragement are always being filled by one another.
It was several years back, when I was still in seminary, one of my buddies was really struggling. He was very discouraged, very frustrated, and had no real joy in his Christian walk.
This friend of mine probably has the strongest gift of hospitality of anyone I know, he is really good at it.
And one day, when my friend and I were talking, as he was conveying to me his struggle, his discouragement, his frustration, his joylessness, I asked him, “When is the last time you had someone over to your house for a meal, to use your gifts of hospitality?”
His response was that it was so long that he couldn’t remember when. For him, he was not connecting in ways to use his gifts, to provide mutual encouragement, which I think was a large reason why he was so joyless.
Now, I don’t want to oversimplify the challenges and struggles with things like discouragement, frustration, we might face. At times, there can be a lot of complexities tied to those realities.
But with that being said, sometimes the simple answer to the complexities, at least in part, is right here. We have stopped using our gifts, stopped serving others, we are pulled away from community, from connecting. So we are removed from God-given means of being strengthened, being mutually encouraged.
Verse 13, even though Paul’s prayer, his desire, was to come to Rome, to visit this church, yet, as mentioned, up to this point, he had never been able to get to Rome.
And perhaps because he had not yet been there, Paul was concerned that the church in Rome was starting to doubt the genuineness of his desire to come to them, as if he was just saying that to be nice, but deep down he really didn’t desire to make the trip.
So perhaps to address that potential concern from the church, in the text, Paul said, “I don’t want you to be unaware of my desire to be with you or doubt my desire to be with you. Rather, church in Rome, please know that often I have truly intended to come to you, where I legitimately tried to coordinate my plans, work through logistics to make it happen.”
“Please know I am not just saying I would like to come visit you because it is a nice thing to say. No, I want to come, I long to be with you, I have honestly been trying to come.”
But in the text, thus far, Paul has been prevented from coming, which was something that Paul experienced in the past as well. Here I am specifically thinking about Acts 16 where Paul desired to go to Bithynia, yet he was prevented from going there. And in Acts 16 and in our text today, perhaps surprising to us, the one that was actually keeping Paul from getting to the place he desired to go was praying to go. It was actually the Spirit of Jesus.
Meaning God was not giving Paul what he wanted, and this was not happening because God was cruel. Rather, God prevented Paul in his desires because the Lord had something else in store.
In Acts 16, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul from going to Bithynia in order to direct Paul over to Macedonia, where Christ was about to release his power through Paul’s preaching of the gospel to the Macedonians.
In our text today, the same dynamic was at play with the church in Rome. Paul desired to come to them, he often intended to come to them, he prayed that it would work out, yet in the wisdom and plan of God, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul from coming to Rome.
So that Paul would be used in such a way that he would reap a harvest among the church in Rome as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
Which, by the way, hopefully gives us some perspective and even hope when things are not quite going the way we originally hoped and planned and prayed.
Where we have tried very hard to do something, to accomplish something that just never seems to work out.
Friend, if that is you, have hope. Perhaps God is preventing you and this thing you want to work out because in His sovereign wisdom, He has something else in mind, something else He is going to accomplish.
Which is why the words of Romans 8 are so important for us to hold on to and cling to, especially when life is not going the way we hope and pray:
“And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
And, by the way, let me mention that eventually Paul did get to Rome, but I am sure not in the way that he would have necessarily picked or hoped he would get there. A few years later after this letter, Paul would arrive in Rome as a prisoner, where eventually he would lose his life for his faith in Jesus. Yet even that reality was God used to accomplish His will.
Verse 14: As Paul let the church in Rome know that him being prevented from seeing them was part of a bigger plan that God was working out, he told them that he was under obligation to proclaim the message of Christ’s power both to the Greeks and the barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. This reference to the Greeks being viewed culturally as wise, educated, and cultured, perhaps in a snobby way, while the barbarians were culturally viewed as being foolish, uneducated, and lacking sophisticated culture because they lived differently from the Roman world.
Yet, despite both these groups being different from Rome and different from Paul, who was a Jew, Paul felt obligated to reach both sides of the society scale. By including these two groups in verse 14, both of which were pagan groups, Paul was communicating to the church part of the reality of God’s kingdom – that people from all sides of society, who are culturally different, yet who put their faith in Jesus, have equal footing in the kingdom of God.
Because of this obligation, this responsibility that Paul had, we see this also added to his eagerness to get to Rome in our text. He was champing at the bit to come in order that he might be able to preach the gospel.
Now, I will define the word “gospel” for you in just a bit, but for now, just notice that the obligation, this responsibility that Paul had to the Greeks and the Barbarians, wasn’t a crushing joyless burden placed on him by God, that he was trying to weasel his way out of like the Old Testament prophet Jonah or perhaps like we do.
Rather, this obligation, this responsibility, was a joyful delight for him, one that he was eager to walk in, eager to fulfill. Going back to Romans 12, this obligation to preach the gospel was also part of Paul’s spiritual worship, a joyful responsibility.
And because this was his joyful responsibility, part of his spiritual worship, he wrote in verse 16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel,” or ashamed of this responsibility given to him to preach it.
Now, here is where I want to take a few moments to define the word “gospel” just because of how important it is. One more time, going back to the church history series I am reading, far too often throughout church history, the word “gospel” has either been lost, taken for granted, or misunderstood, which was a large part of the reason there have been so many twists and turns.
The gospel, or the good news, is the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen on behalf of sinners.
And this good news, that Jesus came to die for sinners only to rise again on the third day, because Romans 1, 2, and 3, and so many other places in the Scripture teach us, there is bad news that we all are under apart from Christ. The bad news is that Romans teaches us, when left to our own, none of us are righteous, no, not one. And not only are none of us righteous, none of us can make ourselves righteous.
Because none of us are righteous, Romans 1:18 teaches us that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness, which, to say it again, apart from Christ, is all of us. We all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God. We all are at enmity with God by birth and by choice. We all are under the judgment of God. And this is bad news for us.
However, even though by birth and by choice we are all under bad news, according to God’s eternal plan, according to the riches of His grace and mercy, He has given us good news. The good news is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And as Christ died for us on the wooden cross, He stood in our place, to take on the punishment of our sin. So that through faith in Jesus and Jesus alone, not only would we find forgiveness of sin, so that there is no condemnation on us before God, but we also would eternally be under the love of God. God will eternally love us as His adopted children, which is such good news.
Through the gospel, God loves sinners, and to go even further, Romans 8 reminds us that nothing will ever be able to separate us from God and His love.
Romans 8: For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Friends, this is good news, good news for all who, by faith, turn from sin and come to Jesus.
Romans 10: Whoever, including Greeks and Barbarians, wise and unwise, whoever, including you, calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. Also in Romans 10, whoever, including Greeks and Barbarians, wise and unwise, whoever, including you, confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, will be saved.
And for Paul, and hopefully for us as well, proclaiming this good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ was a joyful burden, a responsibility that he was eager to walk in, where he was eager to tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ, including those he was obligated to tell.
In the text, not only was Paul joyfully eager to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but we also see that he wasn’t timid, scared, or ashamed of the message or his responsibility to declare it. As he simply, yet powerfully, wrote in verse 16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”
The reason he was not ashamed, our text tells us, is because the gospel, the message of Jesus crucified and risen, is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Once again, this includes those who were pagan Greeks or Barbarians, including those in your family, places of work, neighborhoods, and social circles who have yet to believe. And once again, this also includes any here who have yet to believe in Jesus.
The gospel has the power to bring salvation to all who come to Jesus, to forgive sin, no matter how dark and vile it might be. The gospel has all of the power necessary to sign the adoption papers and bring people into the eternal family of God.
Friends, we can’t forget or doubt or lose sight or take for granted how powerful the gospel is to save. It is mighty to save. We are living in a culture that seems to be falling apart around us, where sin is becoming more and more celebrated. And because of that, it is easy for us to lose hope, to pull away, to get cynical, to think the world around us is too far gone, and it is just too dark. But that is just not true.
As the powerful light of Jesus shines into darkness, the darkness can’t overcome it. Even the darkest of darkness bows down and submits to the light. Christ will bring to faith all those whom He is calling to Himself. As mentioned at the start, Jesus will build His church, and hell itself will not prevent Him from doing so.
Red Village, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who would believe.
Christ’s Power is what brings us to faith. None of us who are here today, who have faith in Christ, is in that place because of our own power. The only way we come to faith is because of Christ and His power found in His gospel. None of us who have faith can boast, which is why as Christian people, we are to be the most humble and gracious of people.
It is only because of the power of God found in the gospel and grace of God that we believe. And that is important for us to remember, not only for the glory of Christ and our enjoyment of Him, but also because when we forget that it is only because of the power of Christ that we believe, it becomes easy for us to get proud and sinfully judgmental towards those who have yet to believe, as if in ourselves, we are better than them. It is Christ’s power and His power alone that brings us to faith.
Secondly, Christ’s power places us into a community. While we all have to come to Christ on our own, needing our own personal saving faith in Him, as we come to Christ, He powerfully puts us into a community where we are to live out our faith collectively. This community is primarily found in a local church, which, as we read in Romans 12, is the body of Christ.
In this community that Christ powerfully puts us in, His desire is to continue putting His power on display through each of us in the community. We are called to serve the rest of the community with the gifts given to us, so that He will powerfully strengthen the church in ways that everyone feels mutually encouraged.
Now, for us here at Red Village, there are two broad categories by which we hope everyone is serving others by using their gifts. The first broad category is a little more structured and organizational. For example, think of our Village Kids ministry, which has some real structure and organization tied to it. We are always looking for people to help serve in that ministry. Another example is our hospitality team, where there is also some organization and structure to ensure that every Sunday we have people greeting at the doors and serving coffee and food in the kitchen.
And by the way, we are always looking for help here.
There are other examples that I could give you, but let me give you just one more. Think about our small groups, where there is a bit of structure and organization tied to small groups. And yes, we really could use more small group leaders and hosts to help keep our groups small and make it more accessible for others looking for a small group to join.
So that is one broad category where we are always looking for people to serve with their gifts in our structured and organizational ministries in the church.
But then the other broad category is much more organic in nature, where we are just seeing needs and meeting needs, often on a personal and relational level.
A few examples here: Maybe someone you know in the church is sick, so you powerfully serve them by taking them a meal. Or maybe someone is new in the area, so you powerfully invite them to join you at the Terrace for a sunset to help them get acclimated to Madison.
Or maybe someone has some kind of house project that you have skills to powerfully help them.
Or maybe someone is just really down because the tidal wave of life never seems to let up, so you just intentionally and powerfully seek ways to encourage them by being there for them.
None of these things are necessarily church-wide, structured, organized ministries. But we know how God uses things like this to powerfully encourage and strengthen others.
And for us as a church, I hope all of us are finding ways to serve in both of these broad categories.
That you are helping the organization, the structure that is Red Village Church. Honestly, we need everyone in the community to help. But also, I hope we all are active and involved in serving others in organic and relational ways, which can be so important and impactful. So that by serving the community that Christ has powerfully placed us in, we can build each other up in love and unity.
Which actually leads to the final thing that I wanted to share here this morning.
Christ’s power is sending us out to reap a harvest. And friends, this is actually one of the great reasons why Christ puts us into a church community. This is why it is so important that the church community is seeking to build each other up in love and unity.
It is to help us to be sent back out into the harvest field where we are to be witnesses for the cause of Christ and his gospel.
And if we are honest with each other… this is not always easy for us to do. It is not always natural for us to do. We are not always eager to leave the community in ways that we are engaging the world around us.
When we get placed into a church community, what is easy and natural is to just hunker down in it, in ways that we isolate ourselves from the world, and we never are sent out. Where practically and relationally, we cut ourselves off from the world around us. Which is not good, which is not what God has for us.
The community is meant to continue to build each other up in ways that we continue to send each other out.
Now, this week, I was thinking for myself why that is so easy and so natural for me to just stay isolated in community. I came up with 3 reasons, at least in my own life, why this has been true.
I wonder if you resonate with any of these. The first, I can isolate in community out of fear, where I am afraid of the world around us, afraid of what others might think of me if I was sharing Christ with them. Afraid of being rejected or judged. Afraid that maybe the darkness will overcome the light.
So, in truth, when I am too afraid to be a witness for Christ, I am actually ashamed of the gospel, and I am doubting its power.
But it is not just fear that can keep from being sent as a witness to Christ. The 2nd reason is that I can isolate in community because it can be fun. And hopefully, church life is fun and enjoyable for us. Hopefully, we can echo the words of Paul in verse 11, where we long to see each other.
But if we are not mindful, what can happen is we can have so much fun that over time we isolate ourselves from others, to the point that the only people we ever do things with are fellow believers.
Maybe having a fear of missing out, that if I spend time trying to engage with those who have yet to believe, I might miss out on some church community type event.
The 3rd reason I wrote down this week is related to a pharisaical attitude, where I can beat my chest, declare myself better than others, as I stand in judgment over them. Rather than having compassion and grace in ways that are compelling me to share the gospel with them. I deem myself too righteous to stoop down to share Christ with someone who I deem too sinful.
And by the way, even though this church in Rome was commended for their faith that was spreading around the known world, I did wonder this week if this was an issue for them, particularly when it came to the Greeks and the Barbarians. Who perhaps they judged for being too smart for their own good or too uncivilized that they were not worth their time.
Friends, whatever the reason that keeps us from being sent out as witnesses, we must confess that as sin, perhaps confess it even to others in the church so that they can help you turn from it. And so that others can help you be a faithful witness as God has powerfully called us all to be, to those we are obligated to reach.
And by the way, before I close, if you struggle to know who you are obligated to reach, most likely, for the vast majority of us, the people we are obligated to share Christ with are simply the people that God has already placed in your life.
Co-workers, neighbors, people at the gym, or wherever else you might see the same people over and over again, these are the people that we should feel a real obligation to talk about Jesus. To bloom where God has already planted you, to be a good steward of the relationships that are already around you. That you are intentionally seeking to foster and grow them.
To say it again, that is the obligation that the majority of us have. The people God has already placed around us.
But let me mention, for some, maybe your obligation might lead you to the mission field. To a place where Christ is not being proclaimed. One of the joys this summer is having a few different of our missionaries back home on a break. And who knows, maybe similar to them, your obligation might take you to the mission field, to proclaim the powerful message of Christ.
With the hopes that Christ will continue to build his church in areas where it has not yet been built, which really has been the story of the last 2000 years.
Red Village Church, may we be a faithful church, who has a reputation for being faithful both in how we serve each other with our gifts, as well as how we proclaim the gospel to the world around us. That perhaps Christ might use us in powerful ways.