One day Hudson Taylor, the British Protestant Christian missionary, was travelling on a Chinese junk from Shanghai to Ningbo. He had been witnessing to a man named Peter who rejected the gospel but was under deep conviction. In the course of events, Peter fell overboard, but no one made any effort to save him. Taylor sprang to the mast, let down the sail, and jumped overboard in hopes of finding his friend. But no one on board joined Taylor in his frantic search. Taylor saw a fishing boat nearby and yelled to them to help, but they wouldn’t do it without money. Finally, after bartering for every penny that Taylor had, the fishermen stopped their fishing and began to look for Peter. In less than a minute of dragging their net, they found him, but it was too late. They were too busy fishing to care about saving a drowning man.
We can easily condemn the selfish indifference of those fishermen, but by indicting them, we may condemn ourselves. Are we too busy with our jobs and other activities to take the time to rescue those who are perishing without Christ?
(Kenneth Cole, The Crucial Message. From a sermon by Gerald Flury, Why Are You Standing Around? 8/16/2012)
Before we think further on this let us first recap as to what we learnt from verses 1 to 7 of Romans 1.
- Paul had a miraculous conversion experience on the road to Damascus and was personally called by Jesus to be the last apostle to preach the gospel.
- The gospel message was there in Paul’s opening greeting. Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah through the Old Testament prophets; He was from the line of King David; He was declared the Son of God by God Himself and He was raised from the dead.
- We are called of Christ Jesus. God foreknew us before he created us and called us into His kingdom. We have been called out of darkness into God’s glorious light and we can only be effective witnesses for Him in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
- Lastly Jesus has given us His peace which resides within our hearts and there is now no animosity between us and God. Through Jesus’ saving death on the cross God has given us His Shalom, His peace.
This is what we learnt from the beginning of this chapter. Let’s now look at the verses to verse 17, the body of Paul’s message here in chapter 1.
Jerusalem – The Centre of the World
Paul had wanted to visit the Christians in Rome, not only because they were suffering persecution but also, even though he had not met any Christians from Rome yet, he had been praying for them and cared deeply for them. More than this, the faith of these Roman Christians had been made known throughout the Empire. In today’s technologically advanced society we think nothing of hearing of events the other side of the world, thanks in a large part to the advent of the internet. But in Paul’s day there was no such thing as the internet, Paul couldn’t ring up the Roman Christians for a chat to ask how they were getting on. The main method of communication was the humble letter. So thinking about it, it’s quite remarkable that the faith of these Christians was known as far as Paul was in Corinth. But then Rome, was at that time, the centre of the world, as far as commerce, culture, rule and military was concerned.
Today Americans may think that New York is the centre of the world but just like in Paul’s day, as far as God is concerned, the centre of the world has always been and always will be, Jerusalem. Don’t believe me? Look up Ezekiel 5:5.
“Thus says the Lord God: ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations and the countries all around her.”
The NIV says, “This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the centre of the nations”.
I digress but it is an important point to make, if you want to know where the world is headed, then look to Israel and what is happening to her.
However, back to our text. News of the faith of these Roman Christians had reached far into the Roman Empire and for us today with our technology we too hear of the faith of Christians from the other side of the world as well as here in our own country. The only difference is that we hear within a short time compared to in Paul’s day but Paul shows us what our response should be when we hear of what is happening to Christians in other areas of the world. We should pray for them. Paul says that,
“without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers” Romans 1:9
God loves us all and deeply cares for His children wherever we are and so should we. If we aren’t praying for Christians in other countries perhaps Paul’s example here might challenge us to do so.
Waiting on God
Paul had been waiting to visit the Christians in Rome and he says,
“making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.” Romans 1:10
We often might have a desire to do something, perhaps just for ourselves but Paul here shows us how we should be directing our prayers. We might have desires to do all sorts of things and somethings are left up to us to decide upon, like, should we buy a puppy or where should we go on holiday. There are other decisions though that we need God’s guidance on and we need to pray that if it be in His will for us that we might be able to accomplish whatever it may be.
Philippians 4:6 says,
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Let us bring all matters before the Lord, the big and the small, and ask for His will to be done so that He may bless us and we will know that we are walking in His will. And let us have the patience to wait on God for His purposes to work out. We can’t force the hand of God. Myself and my wife waited 7 years before we could move house but we never stopped praying.
It has been said that seven days without prayer makes one weak and this is the key to remaining strong in our faith. Paul wanted to go and see the Christians in Rome to encourage them and to make them strong. He wanted to impart a spiritual gift to them which might have just been the gift of grace, meaning a general blessing from God or a specific spiritual gift. Whatever the meaning, the point is that Paul wanted to encourage them so they would be strong in the Lord. We have to be certain and strong in the Lord in order to withstand the trials of this life and especially new fellowships need to be strong in order to stand together.
Paul even says in verse 13 that in strengthening this fellowship of believers would also strengthen his faith. Isn’t this what we also enjoy when we meet together? And isn’t it good when we hear of God’s provision, help and grace in the lives of our fellow believers? Fellowships that pray together stay together. This is the mutual faith and love that joins us together in common purpose. Let us continue to pray for one another and encourage each other.
Paul was hoping that when he got to Rome that there would be many new converts to the faith and not just Jews but also Gentiles who had accepted the Lord. Paul actually says in verse 14 that he is a, “a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise”. Or as the NIV puts it, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish.” In other words he is obligated to preach the gospel to every kind of person, whether they are educated (the Greeks) or uneducated (the non-Greeks). Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:16,
“For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”
Why would Paul be obligated to preach the gospel? Because his thinking was that since Jesus had paid the price of his debt to God, and he had therefore been rescued from eternal judgement, he felt that he had to repay God by preaching the gospel to those who had not heard. This was Paul’s mission that he felt passionately about. So passionately he strived to ensure that he took every opportunity to share the gospel. If you were to ask Paul what he did in his spare time or did he have a hobby, he probably would have replied that he no time for hobbies unless praying could be considered one; so passionate was the man about saving the lost.
Do we take every opportunity to share the gospel? Probably not. Why? Because we probably fear what the other person might think of us or say to us. This is why God gave us His Holy Spirit to be with us to give us the words to say when we are in those situations. Let us continue to pray for those situations and the words to say so that we are doing God’s will and in His will.
The Power of the Gospel
This point leads us to our final two verses in Romans, verses 16 and 17. Paul says here in verse 16 that he is “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”. This is coming from the man who received 39 lashes, beaten with rods 3 times, stoned once, shipwrecked 3 times and spent a night and day in the open sea (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). An ordinary man without the Lord would quit but Paul didn’t. His passion for the lost didn’t diminish but he wasn’t a superhero either. He was plagued by a ‘thorn in his side’ that kept him humbled and grounded in Jesus but he also had asked the Lord 3 times to take it from him.
Despite all of what Paul went through he was still not ashamed of the gospel and willing to endure more persecution if it meant that opportunities for people to hear the gospel wasn’t missed. Why was he willing to put his own personal safety to one side and risk everything? Because he knew that no matter what the trial was in his own weakness, Christ Jesus made him strong.
He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,
“And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
It is only by staying close to the Lord through prayer and asking Him for His Holy Spirit to give us strength that in our weaknesses we can be made strong. It is this character of Christians that confounds the world and makes it want to know why.
Paul knew that in preaching the gospel it had the power to transform lives,
“because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes”
As he says in verse 16. The words of scripture are not simple words. These are words that carry the Holy Spirit’s power and are the very voice of God. These words are not the same as any good piece of literature such as the works of Shakespeare. No these are the very words that God has spoken and carry the authority of God. This is why it says in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Did you get that? In order for the listener to hear the gospel message it first has to be spoken. There is nothing more powerful than the spoken Word of God. This is why it is so important for us and our children to memorise scripture so that when the Holy Spirit prompts us we can recite the very words of God and allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting.
Jew first then Greek
Paul knew though the responsibility of the order in which the gospel should preached;
“first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”
Why to the Jew first? Well the answer is quite simple. Jesus was the Old Testament promised Jewish Messiah that the Jews rejected. Jesus is their Messiah that they rejected but Israel is God’s witness to the Nations (Isaiah 43:10) and because they rejected their own Messiah then God did something else that is not mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament; and that is to use the church (Colossians 1:26) as his witnesses in all the Earth. This was done to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 11:14). However, the message is still the same, that the gospel should be preached first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. This is why personally I support Christian Witness to Israel (CWI).
However, regardless of whether or not you are a Jew or a Gentile, the basis of our saving faith is and has always been the same – that by faith we are saved. This is the quote from Habakkuk 2:4 in verse 17,
“The just shall live by faith.”
Paul is proving that the requirement for salvation has always been the same – faith. The Old Testament Jewish saints, in faith looked forward to the promised Messiah and we now in faith look back to Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. The point is it is only by grace, that we can enter heaven. God’s grace to us to provide Jesus as His requirement for our redemption and our faith in Jesus’s saving work that allows us to have peace with God and that knowledge that we shall be with Him when we die or He comes again; whichever is sooner.
Some people is this world use the word faith to mean different things. In Ed Milliband’s resignation speech before he stepped down as the Leader of the Labour Party he said,
Finally, I want to say this. The course of progress and social justice is never simple or straightforward. Change happens because people don’t give up. They don’t take no for answer. They keep demanding change. This is my faith. When we see injustice we must tackle it.
In a couple of hours, I will no longer be leading this party, but for me that has never been the only way to achieve change. I believe it isn’t simply leaders who achieve change, it is people that make change happen.
I will never give up on that idea.
I will never give up on that cause
I will never give up on fighting for the Britain I believe in.
That faith will always be my faith.
That fight will always be my fight
That cause will always be my cause.
And I will always be there in that cause with all of you.
A noble sentiment don’t you think but what Jewish atheist Ed Milliband is missing is, well, you might have guessed it. Saving faith. Faith with real substance not merely political noble sentiments. Ed Miliband’s faith is sadly misplaced.
In summary then;
- Let us pray for those Christians in other countries who are being persecuted.
- Let continue to pray that God’s will is done in our lives
- Finally, let us not be ashamed of the Gospel but rather pray for opportunities to share our faith for God’s glory and take every opportunity to do so.