Paul’s Ministry to the Gentiles Part 2 – Romans 15:18-21
Pastor Mark Hardy February 23, 2014
While ministering in London, England, one day D.L. Moody was holding a meeting in a theater packed with a large number of nobility—people who were members of the highest social class, including a prominent member of the royal family. Moody arose to read Luke 4:27, which says, “And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
But when he came to the name of “Eliseus,” which is the authorized KJV translation for “Elisha,” he stammered and stuttered over the word. He went back to the beginning of the verse and began to read, but when he reached the word “Eliseus” he again got tongue-tied. So he started over a third time, but he simply could not pronounce it correctly.
As he stood before this group of prominent people in humbled weakness he closed his Bible and with deep emotion looked up and said, “Oh, God, use this stammering tongue to preach Christ crucified to these people,” and then went on to preach his sermon. After his sermon was over, someone in attendance who had heard him often at other times, said that he had never heard Moody preach with such power and conviction as he did then. Likewise, the whole audience was melted by the power of God that had come upon him.
This is very similar to Paul’s experience that he described to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:3-4, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” It is the power of God working in and through our lives that is most important if we are going to experience spiritual victory and success in our Christian lives and ministry. But how do we get this? This is one of the things we are going to be looking at this morning as we continue our study of Romans 15.
In Romans 15:14-21 we see five characteristics of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry, especially in light of defending his boldness in writing to the Roman believers on a number of points. Last time we saw the first three characteristics:
1) It was personally received by God’s grace (vv. 14-15)
2) It was a priestly ministry before God (v. 16)
3) It was all accomplished for God’s glory (v. 17)
This morning we will be looking at the last two characteristics. The fourth characteristic of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry is this:
IV. It was fully Performed by God’s Power
A. Look at v. 18: For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed,
1. Having concluded in v. 17 that he boasts only “in Christ Jesus” for what He has accomplished in and through his life and priestly ministry to the Gentiles (vv. 15-16), Paul now gives some specific reasons for his boasting in vv. 18-19.
2. When Paul says, “I will not presume (tolmeso—or dare) to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me,” he is acknowledging that the success of his ministry had absolutely nothing to do with his own wisdom, ability, strength or giftedness. Instead, it was due entirely to Christ’s power working “through” him.
3. Paul always conceived of himself as merely an instrument in the hands of the Redeemer. He was simply a channel or conduit through whom God was effectually working.
4. After the death of a great painter a young Italian boy went to the studio and asked for the great artist’s brush. He thought that if he could just have his brush then he could paint like the artist. But when he tried it he found he could not paint any better with it than with his own. This is because he lacked the master’s power.
5. Just as no brush takes credit for a masterpiece the artist paints with it, and no violin takes credit for the beautiful music the musician makes with it, so we as believers must never take credit for what God does through us in our Christian service for Him. We are merely an empty vessel that God’s power can flow through.
6. Paul then describes the purpose or goal for which Christ was working through him. Look again what he says, “…resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles.” (Stop there)
7. This “obedience” () refers to the Gentiles obedience to the gospel. It is equivalent to what Paul said back in 1:5 about “the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles” (16:26).
8. Saving faith must include obedience to the gospel to be genuine, but here Paul simply says obedience. Obedience is an indispensable consequence of saving faith and is also a vital ingredient of Christian discipleship.
9. So here we see that Christ was powerfully working through Paul, as an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands, for the conversion of Gentiles. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We are Christ’s ambassadors as well!
10. Now notice that the means by which Paul gave the gospel to the Gentiles was both “by word and deed.” By “word” (logo) refers to his speaking or preaching; and by “deed” (ergo) refers to all of the work and activity that he lived out.
11. This speaks of the personal integrity of Paul. What he said to people was backed up by a godly life.
12. Likewise, if we too are going to have a powerful influence in the lives of others, we must have personal integrity. The manner of our lives must be consistent with the message from our lips.
B. Paul further explains Christ’s work through him in v. 19: in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.
1. In light of all of Paul’s godly “deeds” (v. 18), here we see that some were “in the power of signs and wonders.” These “signs and wonders” refer to miracles.
2. John Murray accurately states, “Signs and wonders do not refer to two different sets of events. They refer to the same events viewed from different aspects. A miracle is both a sign and a wonder. As a sign it points to the agency by which it occurs and has thus certificatory character; as a wonder the marvel of the event is emphasized.” (pp. 212-213)
3. Therefore, “signs” (semeion) speak of the purpose of the miracle; and “wonders” (teraton) speak of the miracle’s effect on people, causing them to be filled with a sense of wonder and awe.
4. Now the phrase “signs and wonders” occurs often in descriptions of the miracles God performed at the time of the Exodus (Ex. 7:3, 9; 11:9-10; Deut. 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 11:3; 26:8; 29:3; 34:11; Neh. 9:10; Ps. 78:43; 105:27; 135:9), and in the history of the early church (Acts 2:43; 4:30; 5:12; 6:8; 13:6-12; 14:3, 8-10; 15:12;16:16-18, 25-26; 19:11; 20:9-12; 21:19; 28:8; Heb. 2:3-4).
5. The overall purpose of these miraculous “signs and wonders” was to provide credibility for the apostles and prophets as the messengers of God and to authenticate their message of the gospel as coming from God Himself, before it was inscripturated in the New Testament. They were God’s way of saying to people, “Listen to My messenger, his message is from Me.”
6. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Although there are no more apostles or prophets today, never forget that we now have in our hands the authoritative Word of God!
7. Whereas miraculous signs and wonders in themselves could never bring anyone to saving faith in Jesus Christ, they did arrest people’s attention and draw a crowd, so that God’s messengers could preach the gospel to them.
8. It is always only the Spirit of God using the Word of God as delivered by the messenger of God that people are effectually moved to believe the gospel and be saved. This is why Paul goes on to say next in v. 19, “…in the power of the Spirit.”
9. The Holy Spirit was the Source of power in Paul’s life and ministry. Thomas Schreiner accurately states, “The dynamic of the Spirit is the means by which Paul achieved all that he did in every area: his speech, his actions, and his signs and wonders. All of these were energized by the Holy Spirit.” (768)
10. No wonder Paul declared in 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…”
11. It is only the power of the Holy Spirit in every single believer’s life and ministry that enables him or her to experience spiritual victory and success. Jesus said in John 15:5, “…I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
12. Absolutely nothing of any spiritual significance can ever be accomplished unless the Spirit of Christ empowers us. And it is in our weakness and dependence on Him that His power flows.
13. Remember what Jesus said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” To which Paul replied, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (vv. 9-10).
14. When Robert Morrison, the first missionary to go to China, disembarked from his ship in a Chinese port, the captain sneeringly said, “So you think you are going to make an impression upon China.” Morrison quietly replied, “No, sir, but I believe God will.”
15. Are you feeling pretty weak and inadequate in yourself right now? Don’t let that intimidate you, but like Paul and D.L. Moody cry out to God in your weakness, so that the power of Christ through His Spirit can be demonstrated in and through your life and ministry!
C. Paul then identifies the results of the Holy Spirit power through his life and ministry in the last part of v. 19: “…so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
1. On the back of your outline I have given you a map showing Paul’s missionary journeys and the great distances he traveled either by foot or by boat.
2. Now when Paul says, “…from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum,” he is giving the limits of his preaching so far up until the time of his writing this letter from Corinth on his third missionary journey. This is Paul’s modest summary of ten years of strenuous apostolic labor.
3. Now not only was Jerusalem the starting point of the Christian movement as a whole (Lk. 24:47; Acts 1:4, 8), but it was also the geographical beginning of Paul’s ministry, for he briefly ministered in Jerusalem (Acts 9:26-30; 26:20; Gal. 1:18-19).
4. And Illyricum was the outer limit of his ministry, also called Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10), which is 1,400 miles from Jerusalem. It was the Roman province northwest of Macedonia along the Adriatic Sea; the area of present-day Albania, formerly Yugoslavia.
5. Although the book of Acts does not record Paul going to Illyricum, Douglas Moo represents the opinion of most scholars, saying, “…it is quite possible that Paul ventured into Illyricum during his apparently circuitous (i.e. circular) trip from Ephesus to Corinth on his third journey (Acts 20:1-2). (pg. 894)
6. F.F. Bruce said it like this, “Illyricum is not mentioned in Acts or in any of the Pauline letters up to this time. But the interval between the end of Paul’s Ephesian ministry and his setting out on his last journey to Jerusalem, while compressed into brief space in Acts 20:1-6, probably covered the best part of two years. At some point during this period Paul appears to have traversed Macedonia from east to west along the Egnation Way and turned north into Illyricum. To spend some time in a Latin-speaking environment (such as he would find in Illyricum) would be a helpful preparation for his planned campaign in Spain.” (pp. 262-263)
7. Look again at what Paul says, “…from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum.” The expression “round about” (kuklo mechri) here refers to the circular path or arc that you can see on the map by which Paul preached the gospel as he traveled from Jerusalem in the southeast as far as Illyricum in the northwest.
8. Now having traveled about from Jerusalem to Illyricum, Paul declares at the end of v. 19, “…I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Whereas we saw last time that Paul was a priest only in a figurative sense, he was a preacher in a literal sense.
9. He proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.”
10. Now the one Greek word translated “fully preached” (peplerokenai) in v. 19 means “to have fulfilled or to fully perform.” Therefore, having preached throughout the geographical area “from Jerusalem to Illyricum,” Paul’s unique apostolic ministry was fully performed by God’s power.
11. Paul says essentially the same thing in v. 23, “But now, with no further place for me in these regions…” And notice that what Paul called the “gospel of God” in v. 16 (that which originated from God), he now calls the “gospel of Christ” because Jesus Christ is its substance.
12. Paul was faithful to fully perform by God’s power the preaching of the gospel of Christ throughout these regions. However, this doesn’t mean that he had preached to every single individual within these regions. We see this in the fifth characteristic of Paul’s unique apostolic ministry, which is this:
V. It was a Pioneer church planting Ministry
A. Look at v. 20: And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation;
1. The word “aspired” (philotimoumenon) here means to eagerly strive, to have a driving desire or ambition. In this verse we see Paul’s personal ministry policy or plan for reaching the Gentile world with the gospel of Christ.
2. Notice in preaching the gospel, his primary passion and focus was to go “…not where Christ was already named.” The word “named” (onomasthe) refers to being confessed or acknowledged.
3. The missionary heart of Paul had no desire to go places where people already heard about Jesus Christ; he wanted to go where the gospel had never been before. Places where there was no worship of Christ at all.
4. Nothing made Paul happier than blazing new trails and preaching the gospel in new territories. He saw his unique apostolic ministry as a pioneer church planting ministry.
5. Notice how Paul states his God-given purpose, “…so that I would not build on another man’s foundation.” He didn’t think that this was wrong; it was just not what God had called and gifted him to do.
6. We can see Paul’s personal ministry policy or plan when he said in 1 Corinthians 3:5-10, “What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted. Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers: you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.”
7. Paul had a pioneer ministry of planting strategic churches in new territories. His primary passion was to labor where no seed had been sown, not reap what others had sown.
8. How this worked was that Paul would evangelize key influential cities no one else had gone to, such as Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth, and plant a church there. He would stay for awhile and minister there to build up the believers in their new faith.
9. However, he would eventually leave and have others assume the responsibility for the pastoral care and building up of the believers. It was also their responsibility evangelize the lost in the surrounding towns and villages.
10. Now this does not mean that Paul never engaged in other ministry activities or worked with churches that he did not plant himself. But his primary passion was to be a pioneer church planter and lay the foundation, not to build on another man’s foundation.
B. Paul then supports his personal ministry policy or plan by partially quoting Isaiah 52:15 in v. 21: but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”
1. In this context, the word “They” used twice in this verse refers to the Gentile nations and their kings. Isaiah’s prophecy is that the Gentiles “who had no news of Him (i.e. the Messiah Jesus) shall see,” in that, by God’s grace they will spiritually perceive who Jesus Christ really is.
2. And the Gentiles “who have not heard shall understand,” in that, by God’s grace they will hear the good news of salvation and be able to understand it, so as to respond to it in saving faith.
3. As “the apostle to the Gentiles,” Paul saw that his pioneer church planting ministry was an important part of fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy as he preached the gospel of Christ to them. C.E.B. Cranfield states, “Paul sees the words of the prophet as a promise which is even now being fulfilled by the spreading of the knowledge of Christ, the true Servant of Yahweh, to those who have not yet heard of Him, accomplished by his own mission.” (pg. 765)
4. By the power of God working through him, Paul was blessed to see multitudes of Gentiles who were once spiritually blind and deaf, now through his preaching be able to spiritually see and hear so as to understand that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of the world and turn to Him in saving faith.
5. What a blessed privilege it is to be used by the Almighty God to help fulfill His redemptive purposes in the world. No matter what spiritual gift we may have, God wants to use every one of us as believers to flow through powerfully to accomplish His purposes through us.
I close with an illustration about Charles Spurgeon, who once preached what in his judgment was one of his poorest sermons. He stammered and floundered, and when he got through he felt that it had been a complete failure. He was greatly humiliated, and when he got home he fell on his knees and prayed, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing. Please bless that poor sermon.”
All through the week he uttered that same prayer. He woke up in the night and prayed about it. In his flesh, he determined that the next Sunday he would redeem himself by preaching a great sermon. Sure enough, the next Sunday the sermon went off beautifully. At the close he had many compliments by people on how good it was. Spurgeon went home pleased with himself, and that night he slept well. But prompted by God he said to himself, “I’ll watch the results of those two sermons.”
From the one that had seemed a failure he was able to trace that forty-one people came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. And from that magnificent sermon he was unable to find that a single person was saved. The Spirit of God used the one in a powerful way to bring people to salvation in Christ and He did not use the other in the same way.
May we, like Spurgeon, Moody, and Paul, learn that the Holy Spirit is the Source of all of our spiritual power. It matters not our ability but only our availability to Him. Only as we depend fully on Him, especially in our weakness, will He fill us and flow out through us in the fullness of His power, so that we too can say “…when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10) to the glory of God alone.