We’ve spent a few weeks now exploring the book of Romans, particularly focussing on the development of the early church and what we can learn about being Christian community.
In the last of the series, we look at the writer of Romans, Paul; at his character and at what God might want to challenge us about as we do this.
Remember Paul is a very different man from when he was named Saul. He’s gone from being a hater and murderer of the followers of Jesus to one of their key leaders. This came about through a radical realisation of God’s love for him – his heart was captured by Jesus and from then on he was a different man.
As a follower of Jesus, he understood his role as someone who was called along with all other followers to declare and demonstrate the kingdom of God to those who had yet to hear about and experience it.
For Paul, this particularly meant taking the good news to the gentiles. As he says in verse 20 of Chapter 15,
“My driving ambition has been to announce the good news in places where the Messiah has not been named, so that I can avoid building on anyone else’s foundation”
You and I share in this mission, to connect people to God and in doing so also connect them with the wider people of God. Paul saw this as a priestly action; an offering to God that gives him great joy. (v16) The challenge to each of us therefore is:
‘Do we share the same conviction that Paul did; that the gospel is good news and our job is to help others encounter it’.
If like me you sometimes find Paul’s conviction a little bit intimidating, then maybe we need to seek God afresh and ask him to renew our minds; ask him to give us a passion for and confidence in the good news of the gospel once more.
And as Paul reminds us in v18, it’s Christ who does the work in and through us; we simply need to seek him and make ourselves available.
“Far be it from me, you see, to speak about anything except what the Messiah has accomplished through me for the obedience of the nations, in word and deed,” v18
Maybe there is also something to learn about expectations from this passage. Paul obviously had big plans to carry the gospel to Spain (v24). For him this will have been the edge of the known world and therefore was a great mission opportunity.
Did Paul ever get to Spain? There’s no evidence whatsoever that he did. But his desire to do so and the fact that he wrote Romans as part of the preparation for the trip teaches us something important.
Tom Wright suggests this in his commentary on this passage,
“Perhaps God sometimes allows us to dream dreams of what he wants us to do, not necessarily so that we can fulfil all of them – that might just make us proud and self-satisfied – but so that we will take the first steps towards fulfilling them. And perhaps those first steps (as they appear to us) are in fact the key things that God actually wants us to do…. We should never underestimate what God will do through things which we see as small steps to a larger end.”
Wright, Tom. Paul for Everyone: Romans Part 2 (New Testament for Everyone) (Kindle Locations 1964-1966). SPCK. Kindle Edition.”
So let’s have the big expectations for what we would like to see God do, but also hold them lightly knowing that things don’t always turn out the way we expect.
And as we look towards these big expectations, what are the small steps we need to be taking now? Who are the people in front of you, in your street, at your work place, in the places you live, that you can make friends with and show something of the good news of God to?
It’s nothing new and we don’t need permission to be getting on with it.
Spend time with God, put yourself in places where you meet non- Christians (or recognise the places you are already in), make friends, love them, look for what God is doing and join in with Him.
And as we do this we will be part of the fulfilment of this wonderful verse from Isaiah that Paul quotes:
“‘Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.’” V21