Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 6, 1991
Purpose: To help us get to know the human author of this book and to encourage us to follow his example.
Every July, the Christian Booksellers Association has a huge convention in some major US city. It's one of the great events of the Christian year, really, along with the National Broadcasters Convention normally held in Washington D.C. every year. Thousands of people gather together. Believers who are in leadership positions. There are always many Christian celebrities there--well known people: authors, broadcasters, and so on. Some of them are there to address the convention, some are there to go to the publisher's booths and sign books at autograph parties. Maybe you've had an author sign a book at some time or other.
Mary and I had the opportunity of attending that convention on a couple of occasions and we were amazed, sometimes, to see the long line of people waiting to have some famous author sign their book. We've seen lines--40 or 50 people long--waiting to meet the author and chat with him and shake his hand, and get to know him a little bit, and get a signature in that book--because we just find something pleasurable about contact with famous people, Christian leaders.
Of course, these so-called celebrities are just ordinary people like you and me, you know. They put their pants on one leg at a time; or, the women authors, I guess, put their pantyhose on one leg at a time. Even I have been in a booth signing books on a few occasions. That blows my wife's mind, since she knows me so well! Why, I can remember lines as long as one or two people waiting to meet me and get my autograph!
If there was one famous Christian author we would all like to meet, I think we could agree it would be the apostle Paul. This man wrote inspired Scripture. Scripture inspired by God and preserved in God's word for us today. At least 13 books in the New Testament were written by the apostle Paul--maybe 14, if he wrote Hebrews. And we don't know that for sure. What an honor to have been chosen by God to pen inspired Scripture. And although he lived nearly 2000 years ago, his life and ministry have touched us all.
I was looking at a history book several years ago that discussed some of the key men that have made a lasting impact on all of history in the entire world, and the apostle Paul was among those top few. That's how great a man he was. But wouldn't it be great to meet him? Someday we will. Unfortunately, he's not going to show up this morning to sign your Bible. And we're not going to have an autograph party today, because Paul is in heaven.
But we can meet him and get to know him a little better, because after 15 and a half chapters that are predominantly doctrinal in nature, the apostle Paul suddenly adds a brief section that is intensely personal. And we get to know a little bit a more about the man himself.
It's not my purpose to glorify him this morning. He's just a man. And because he was a man, he had weaknesses just like we do. In fact, some of his weaknesses are told to us in the Scripture as well.
But he was, in a very real sense, a positive example for us to follow in many ways. He himself said, "You be imitators of me as I am also of Christ." So since he said that, let's take him at his word. Let's meet the human author of this book of Romans that we've been studying and see what we can learn from his life that will help us with our lives.
I want you to see four things in this passage about the apostle Paul.
Paul Had a High Regard for Other Christians
Romans 15:14. "Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brothers, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another."
This is the great apostle speaking now--the man whom Jesus appeared to personally on the Damascus road, and laid hold of and called to salvation and to worldwide ministry. The man who wrote a large part of the New Testament. The man whom people said turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). And he's writing to relatively young Christians who have a long way to grow in their walk with the Lord and in the strength and maturity of their faith, and yet he commends them enthusiastically for some three amazing things.
1. They Were Filled with Goodness
They maintained a high standard of moral excellence, and they reached out to people in need with kindness and compassion. They were filled with goodness, that is, they maintained a high standard of moral excellence, and they reached out to people in need with kindness and compassion.
2. They Were Filled with All Knowledge
While Paul had been teaching them doctrinal truths, he didn't assume that they were totally ignorant of them. It was more of a reminder--in fact, he uses that word in verse 15. We all need to be reminded once in awhile of what we have learned. I need to be reminded periodically about some of the things I've preached. Mary is pretty good about reminding me of things I've preached and maybe you need somebody in your life to remind you of the things that you've learned, or studied, or taught, or heard proclaimed from this pulpit. But to say that these people were filled with all knowledge is a high compliment.
3. They Were Able to Admonish One Another
They were able to instruct, warn, guide, and counsel one another. That's the way a church ought to be, where the pastors are not expected to do all the counseling, but everyone in the congregation is growing in the Lord and in an understanding of His Word, and all are using their spiritual gifts to help one another spiritually. Again, that's a high compliment.
Paul often had to confront people about their weaknesses but he almost always bathed it in sincere commendation. It wasn't empty flattery; he's not just saying something nice for the sake of saying something nice. He was observant of people's strengths. He observed their strong points, they're good commendable traits, and he was careful to point that out to them and praised them for those things. And we can learn a valuable lesson from the apostle Paul in that regard because there is great power in praise.
Unfortunately, I think some believers think that the best way to get people around them to improve, and grow, and change, is to criticize them. And the more they criticize them, the more they think they're going to improve. I don't know why they haven't figured out the fact that that doesn't work--because it doesn't, and it never has, and probably never will. I mean, they criticize their spouses, and they criticize their children, and their fellow workers and their employees, and they think if they criticize enough, maybe those people will shape up. But it doesn't work. You see, we all respond better to genuine praise.
Somebody said, "No man ever tells a woman she talks too much when she's telling him how wonderful he is" (Quote, July 1, 1986).
I saw a plaque in a missionary's home in Quito, Ecuador, that said, "Nothing improves by hearing, better than praise." That plaque ought to be on every wall in every home because whether it's husband and wife, or parents and children, that is absolutely true. Nothing improves our hearing like genuine praise.
I read an interesting story about a woman who complained to a neighbor that she had received poor service at a local pharmacy. She was hoping the neighbor would pass it on to the druggist so that he would change. The next time the woman went into the store, the druggist was altogether different. He greeted her warmly, expressed his appreciation to her for her business, filled her prescription immediately. And then said, "If you ever need anything--you or your family--please feel free to call me. Even if it's after store hours." And she was utterly amazed.
So the next time she saw her neighbor, she said, "I want to thank you for telling the druggist my complaint. It certainly worked, you know, you repeating my dissatisfaction and he was altogether different."
And the neighbor said, "Well no, that's not exactly what I did." She said, "I told them you were impressed with the way he built his business up and that you felt his was one of the best run drugstores you've ever dealt with" (Reader's Digest, December 1988).
Just a good illustration of this principle of the power of praise that some of us have yet to grasp. When we criticize people, it discourages them. You may think you're shaping them up but what you're doing is breaking their spirit. And that often even destroys their incentive to want to do any better. But when we hold them in high esteem and let them know it, then they usually want to grow more.
Some Christians seldom ever give a word of commendation to anybody. I guess they really don't think very highly of other Christians. It's much easier for them to see the faults than it is to see the commendable traits because that's all we ever hear from them. There are people in this church who have been quick to criticize things they don't like and, yet, no one has ever heard them give a word of commendation to anybody. That's sad.
You know, that's where we need to follow the example of the apostle Paul. We need to begin by cultivating a high esteem for other people. I'm not talking about empty flattery or just saying something nice for the sake of saying something nice. I mean being able to see the strengths in other people and genuinely commend them for those things. Their family and their friends would be happier. It's a good example to follow. Paul had a high regard for other Christians.
Paul Had a Strong Sense of Divine Commission
There's a second thing that we learn about Paul in this meet-the-author session. That is that he had a strong sense of divine commission.
Romans 15:15-16. "Nevertheless, brothers, I have written more boldly to you on some points as reminding you because of the grace given to me by God, that I might be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Ministering the gospel of God, that the offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable; sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
Now there's a man who knows where he's going in life. He knew what he was here for and what God wanted him to accomplish. He says he felt the liberty to write to them so boldly even though they already knew a good bit about what he told them, because that was his calling in life. That's what God had chosen him to do.
God had appointed him a minister of Jesus Christ, he says, to the Gentiles. That word "minister" always refers to religious type of service. Then he goes on and uses a different word also translated "ministering" in my version. But it's altogether a different word. Ministering the gospel of God. That word usually means refers to priestly service in the temple. Paul saw himself as a priest and his practice of sharing the gospel as a priestly service.
That's interesting, isn't it? He didn't wear his collar backwards and he didn't say Mass, but he did view telling people about Jesus as a sacred and solemn responsibility. A divine commission. A priestly service. And he viewed the people who trusted Jesus Christ through his witness as an offering, which he, as a priest, gave to God. See: "That the Gentiles might be well pleasing, set apart by the Holy Spirit."
An offering well pleasing to God. Bringing people to Christ was, in Paul's opinion, one of the highest forms of worship. Introducing somebody to the Savior, who then subsequently trusts Christ as savior, is an offering to God that nothing else begins to match. It should clearly be one of our top priorities in life just as it was for Paul's. When something is a top priority, it affects the way we act.
What do you do when the boss comes into your office and throws down a folder on your desk and says, "This is top priority"? You put everything else aside and you get on that thing right away. It affects your behavior and your actions.
What do you do if a dear friend of yours suddenly loses a precious loved one? You drop everything and you go over there just to be with that person and comfort him, and encourage him, and support him. Do whatever needs to be done. That takes priority over everything else.
Priorities affect actions, behavior, lifestyle. You see, priorities determine what we think about, what we dream about, what we talk about. What we spend our time and our money on. They change our lifestyle and our behavior.
What are your priorities in life?
If you were to list the things that occupy your attention and your time and your money, what would they be? Maybe it's making money. That's the priority--you'd have to admit it--because that's what you spend most of your energies on. Maybe it's getting ahead., or having fun, or buying things. Maybe it's finding a spouse and getting married. Maybe it's becoming famous.
Wouldn't it be sad to come to the end of your life and realize that you'd lived for the wrong things? That you had your priorities all twisted around when compared to God's priorities for you? Wouldn't it be sad to spend your life climbing a ladder only to find at the end, as someone has put it, that your ladder was leaning against the wrong wall and that you had wasted an entire lifetime?
Jesus gave His followers a clear commission: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). That was the priority; that's what He left us with. What priority do you have?
Some of us spend our lives accumulating things, bank accounts, properties, money. And when we go, we'll leave it all behind. The only thing you take with you is the people whose lives you've influenced for Christ. It's something that will last for eternity. That sounds like top priority to me. Doesn't it to you? Has it affected your lifestyle? Have you put other things aside so you can put an emphasis on this priority?
That's what Paul did. He had a strong sense of divine commission. And when he came to the end of his life, he had something of eternal value. People to occupy heaven. What will you have?
Paul Had a Humble Dependence on God's Power
So there are two things we've found out in this meet-the-author session: He had a high regard for other Christians and a strong sense of divine commission. There's a third thing we learn about Paul: He had a humble dependence on God's power.
Romans 15:17-19. "Therefore, I have reason to glory in Christ Jesus, in the things which pertain to God. For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient, in mighty signs and wonders by the power of the Spirit of God [or Holy Spirit], so that from Jerusalem and roundabout to Illyricum, I have fully preached the gospel of Christ."
Paul had reason to boast. He had accomplished some notable things in life of which he was justifiably proud. But his boasting and his pride were not in himself. They were in the Lord, who by his grace chose to accomplish those things through Paul. And Paul is always careful to give Christ the praise. And he refuses to even speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through him (Romans 15:18a).
All he wants to talk about is what Christ has accomplished through him. That's the only thing worth discussing. And then he goes on to list some of those things that Christ accomplished through him.
- He had brought countless multitudes of Gentiles to the obedience of faith--that is, to leave their former way of life and commit themselves in faith to Christ (Romans 15:18b).
- He had performed countless signs and wonders by the power of the Holy Spirit that had relieved human suffering and had turned the hearts of many to Christ (Romans 15:19a). Read through the book of Acts and see how many miracles God performed through Paul's hand (see Hendriksen, 487).
- He had preached the gospel in every province lying in a great arch extending from Jerusalem in the southeast to Illyricum in the northwest (modern Yugoslavia and Albania; see map in Hendriksen, 489). "so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:19b). Those were striking achievements for a person in that era with primitive modes of transportation.
But he's not taking any credit for it. He knew full well what he was--just a clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7). All the power was of God and not of him. And that's the lesson we need to learn if we hope to accomplish anything of eternal value: that it must be accomplished through the power of Jesus Christ working through us. We are nothing. He is everything.
It's so easy to begin thinking of our abilities--what we can do or can't do--and to start promoting ourselves and seeking strokes for our accomplishments. Seldom a week goes by that I don't receive in the mail some glossy literature describing the escapades or accomplishments of some professional Christian worker describing the wonderful things he has done for God. And you know where I put those things, don't you? We don't do anything for God. He, in His grace, chooses to work through us when we are clean vessels. To think otherwise is folly.
Pride is an ugly thing. It crops up so easily; we all struggle with it at times. When Mohamed Ali was in his prime, he was never famous for his humility. He never claimed to be humble. One time he was traveling on an airplane, and the flight attendant told him to fasten his seatbelt. And he looked at her and said, "Superman don't need no seatbelt."
And, quick as a flash, she snapped back with, "Superman don't need no airplane, either."
You know, we can all get carried away with ourselves at time, can't we? We need somebody to kind of bring us back to reality. We need a reminder to give God all the credit and all the glory, because it's all of Him and not of us. Our adequacy is of God.
One evening, the great conductor, Arturo Toscanini, brilliantly conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. And the audience went wild. People clapped and whistled and stomped their feet, and Toscanini bowed and bowed. And then he turned to the orchestra and had them rise and take their bows. And it went on and on. And finally, it began to settle down. And as it did, Toscanini turned to the people in the orchestra and he seemed angry, at least it sounded like it. It was very intense. And he said, "Gentlemen, gentlemen!"
And they wondered what had happened. Why was the maestro so angry? Had they missed a cue? Had they flawed the performance in some way?
But no, Toscanini was not angry. He was stirred to the depths of his being by the magnificence of Beethoven's music. And scarcely able to talk, he said in whispered tones to the orchestra, "Gentlemen, I am nothing!" And that was rather an extraordinary announcement, since Toscanini was blessed with an enormous ego.
And then he said, "Gentlemen, you are nothing!" And that was hardly news to them. He had told them that every rehearsal, you know. "But," he said, "Beethoven is everything! Everything!" (Leadership, Winter, 1981.)
Now we know that Beethoven isn't everything. But Jesus Christ is. Paul said all the fullness of the Godhead rests in him bodily, and we are complete in Him. Anything we ever hope to be or to do of any significance in God's sight, must be done through the energy and power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ living in us. He is everything!
And we need to cultivate that same attitude that the apostle Paul had. "I will not dare speak of any of those things except what Christ has accomplished through me." He had a humble dependence upon the Lord.
A high regard for other Christians, a strong sense of divine commission, a humble dependence on God's power. There is one more thing we learn here about the author of the letter to the Romans: He had a firm commitment to pioneer missions.
Paul Had a Firm Commitment to Pioneer Missions
That's an interesting thing to add to this self revelation, isn't it?
Romans 15:20. "And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation." Paul was a foundation builder. A foundation layer. He didn't stick around for the superstructure. God called him to lay foundations and that was it.
It wasn't a very glorious calling. I mean, you in the building trade know that laying foundations is not the most illustrious part of the trade. You have to grovel around in the dirt and you leave the site before you see the superstructure take form. And sometimes you never do get back to see the beauty of the building itself.
One foundation man told me last night that he had to really deal with this. This was hard on him. Nobody cared about the foundation. He poured himself into that job and he got that thing done and the only time anybody ever called him back with when it cracked, you know. And then, he says, the carpenters would come in and in a couple days, they'd get all the glory.
It's not very glamorous work. But Paul wasn't interested in glory. Remember what he said over in 1 Corinthians 3? "According to the grace of God, which was given to me as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation" and somebody else builds on it (1 Corinthians 3:10). Using the figure of agriculture he says, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6).
That's what Paul wasn't interested in: the increase. People coming to know Christ as savior and growing in His likeness. And then, as he's done so often in this book, he quotes an Old Testament passage to validate what he's saying. This one's from Isaiah 52:21.
Romans 15:21. "To whom he was not announced, they shall see. To those who have not heard, they shall understand."
You see, even Isaiah predicted it: Somebody was going to go to those difficult areas where no believers had ever been, and the name of Christ had never been heard. Somebody had to go to those pioneer mission fields and lay the foundation. Do the tedious spade work that was necessary to found the church: establishing friendships, building relationships, winning the right to be heard, teaching the truth of the Scripture, leading people to put their faith in Jesus Christ, organizing the local church, getting it going, and then moving on someplace else to do the very same thing all over again. Paul was a foundation layer. That was his calling.
That work needs to be done today as well. There are still places in our world where there are no believers. No churches. No witness for Jesus Christ; where His name has never been heard. Somebody has to go there and lay the foundation. It's not the easiest work in the world, and you don't get a lot of glory for it. You leave a work when it is still small and you go on and start another one that is small. Somebody else comes in and gets the glory and sees it grow. But it has to be done. It is absolutely essential if we are to fulfill Christ's commission. Somebody has to lay the foundation.
Some from our own ranks have done that. A number of them could be mentioned at this point but the ones that come to my mind just because of the most recent developments is Brian and Cheryl Russell. Fine young couple from our church who have gone out to minister to the Kurds. A people group that, as far as we know, have no believers and no Christian church and no Christian witness whatsoever. A million of them in Germany, and they've been ministering to them. They've spent several months in Iraq--which has been in the news lately--ministering to those Kurdish people there, learning their language, establishing relationships, sharing Jesus Christ. They're foundation layers. How we thank God for them.
But you know, thinking about them, and thinking about what Paul said here, caused me to think that maybe God would be calling some others from our congregation to be foundation layers. To move into areas where the gospel is unknown. I wonder if God could be laying His hands on some in this room right now. Have you considered the possibility that God wants you for this kind of ministry? Obviously, He doesn't want everybody to do it. But He surely needs some. Maybe some here today. Are you open to His call? Would you tell Him that you're willing to go if that's His plan for your life? Will you surrender your will to Him? Tell Him, "Lord, I'm willing to go wherever You tell me to go and do anything You tell me to do. I present my body to You as a living sacrifice." Have you done that? Would you be willing to do it? You see, that's the challenge from Paul's life.
We've met the author this morning and his life is a great encouragement and challenge to us. Are you willing to follow his example?
What do you plan to do to show your esteem for other Christians in your life? Have you thought of some people, even while the message was being delivered, that you've criticized but you really haven't commended? Would you take a page from Paul's life and commend that person for something genuinely good that you've observed in his or her life?
With whom do you plan to share the Gospel this week? That is top priority. Somebody you've been thinking about, maybe praying for. Are you willing to reach out and put it right there in love and kindness and grace, but tell them about Jesus?
Are you willing to invest your life any way God chooses? If He wants you to be foundation layer, you're ready, you're willing, you'll go. Will you tell Him so right now?
Let's bow our heads prayerfully in His presence.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Has the Spirit of God challenged you through the life of the apostle Paul today? Will you ask God to help you be an encourager, a builder? Will you be a commender of other believers?
Will you set as your top priority to share the Gospel? Ask God to give you the wisdom and the alertness to take advantage of every opportunity that He makes available to you.
Have you surrendered your will to Him? Are you willing to do whatever He wants you to do with your life?
These are the issues that come out of this passage of Scripture this morning. Will you deal with them? While we are bowed reverently before God, I have to remind you that the message we preach, our central message, is the same one Paul preached 2000 years ago. He called it the Gospel. "Good news," that means. The good news is that Christ died for our sins. That He was buried and rose again the third day. He paid for our sins in His own body on that cross and then He rose from the grave to give us eternal life. To save us from hell. Have you put your trust in Him alone as your savior? There is no other savior. He said that.
If you believe in Jesus at all; if you believe even that He was a good man, then you have to believe what He said, and He said He was the only way to the Father. No one comes to the Father except through Him. Have you put all of your trust in Him alone? Not in us, not in this church, or any other church, or any other religion or any other good deed, but in Him. Would you do that right now, if you've never done it before? Settle it, will you? Just in the quiet of your own soul where you sit, commune with the Lord.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I know I don't deserve your goodness and your grace, but thank you. Thank you for going to that cross and paying for my sin. And Lord Jesus, I'm trusting you right now, putting my faith in you as my savior. Come into my heart. Save me from sin, its guilt and its eternal penalty."
And He'll do that. That's why He left heaven's glory and came to this sinful earth: to deal with this sin problem we all struggle with.
Father I pray that you will speak powerfully to those who have never put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Bring them, I pray, to that point of faith and eternal salvation. In Jesus' name, amen.
Continue to ROM 35: Keys to Useful Service